Several weeks ago I was in Managua, Nicaragua, teaching at a university when I was approached by one of the resident theologians. He spent some time talking with me about the doctoral work that I am doing in theology and science and then made a general statement that he thought technology has been the primary reason for the decline of spirituality among young people.
A lot of people, parents in particular, tend to share such concerns. They say their children seem detached from the surrounding world. Or, maybe a better way to describe what they feel is, they believe their children to be overly attached to technology. Their kids always have a phone in hand. They are always texting, on the Internet, or playing a video game of some sort. This draws concern because, in parents' minds, with this over attachment comes a withdrawal from relationships.
As with anything, though, usually our perceptions of what is occurring is only a percentage of what is actually happening. As such, it is often helpful to consider a different way of thinking.
If we really consider the issue, none of us is against technology. When people complain about their kids' attachment to devices I often ask the parent how they managed to get to work during week. The answer is obvious; they typically used technology. From the clothes we wear to the foods we eat, right on down to however you are reading this article, technology was used. So the problem really isn't with technology, is it? Most people I know don't want to return to outhouses as restrooms or dentists fixing cavities without some kind of anesthesia.
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Let's take things a step farther -- when a person texts their friends, or interacts on Facebook, or plays online video games they are actually engaging in relationships with others. With applications such as Facetime and Skype, people actually see one another and talk face to face. Virtual communities only enhance such experiences. So the relational aspect isn't really the problem either.
So what then is really the issue at the heart of the matter? Well, theologically speaking, the concern really doesn't even have much to do with technology. The Bible has long since told us what the problem really is and it stems back as far as the stories regarding the Tower of Babel and beyond. The issue isn't with technology in and of itself, is has to do with one of the major foundational problems that we as human beings face -- idolatry.
If you remember, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the first two of the Ten Commandments are 1.) you must have no other gods (notice little "g" gods - i.e., idols) before God; and 2.) You must not make for yourself an idol. From very early on, knowing who we are as people, God commands us to refrain from our addiction to idol worship. Of course, you know how the story has played out over time all over the world. ... Time and time again we all have failed to follow God, and thus we end up worshipping something other than the creator of everything. As such, maybe the next time we find ourselves concerned or complaining about another's person's use of technology, it might be wise for us to address them from a position of empathy and humility, considering a theological approach, in order to lovingly help them to address their own addictions. After all, that is exactly what God did with us by sending us Jesus.
The Rev. Christopher Benek is the associate pastor of family ministries at Providence Presbyterian Church. Read his blog at www.christopherbenek.com.