Technology challenges to the Church: Relearn ‘embodied human existence,’ Christian professor argues

Showgoers wear Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets during the Intel press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017.
Showgoers wear Oculus Rift virtual reality headsets during the Intel press conference at CES in Las Vegas, January 4, 2017. | REUTERS/Rick Wilking

Churches have forgotten the importance of embodied human existence in response to the growth of modern technology, according to a recent book by a Christian college professor.

Craig M. Gay, professor of interdisciplinary studies at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, wrote Modern Technology and the Human Future: A Christian Appraisal to warn people about the harms associated with modern technology and social media, while stressing the need for people to critique such technological trends from a biblical perspective.

“I am not a Luddite. I am not anti-technology. But I am concerned about it, and particularly about the directions it appears to be heading,” wrote Gay in the book’s preface.

“… my sincere desire is that you will find this book useful in judging what ‘measure of harm and of profit’ you stand to gain by employing modern automatic machine technologies.”

While Gay notes in his book that biblical Christian theology has the answer on how to combat the harms of modern technology, churches by and large have not stressed enough or even have forgotten those keys points.

“Modern technological development’s apparent trend away from ordinary embodied human existence should have triggered alarms in our churches,” wrote Gay.

“Our churches seem to have forgotten the centrality of embodied human existence within the gospel of Jesus Christ. Indeed, what appears to account for the church’s failure to protest both the mechanical modern outlook as well as the modern tendency to objectify and enframe the natural world is that we have fallen out of the habit of reflecting upon—and living out of—the implications of core Christian convictions.”

In an interview with The Christian Post last Friday, Gay explained that he believed that this trend was common throughout Western Christianity, stating that “Catholics suffer from this just as much as Protestants.”

“My hunch is that it’s happening to all of us in all kinds of subtle ways. It’s a feature of modernity. Modernity and modernization tends to disconnect people from their religious or theological traditions,” said Gay.

However, Gay did believe that some congregations were trying to combat the harms of modern technology through a renewed emphasis on teaching Christian principles.

“Catechism, I think, has become a thing again. People are talking about it again. Whereas for at least a generation, it hasn’t really been something that happened in many large churches. And now it’s beginning to happen again,” said Gay to CP.

“I think the reason that is, is because people are realizing people just don’t know what the Christian faith is and how it holds together in terms of basic conviction.”

Examining modern technology with a biblical perspective

The 2018 book 'Modern Technology and the Human Future A Christian Appraisal' by Craig M. Gay.
The 2018 book "Modern Technology and the Human Future A Christian Appraisal" by Craig M. Gay. | Courtesy InterVarsity Press

Gay explained to CP that he wanted to critique technological advancements like social media using “the basic truths of the Christian religion.”

These convictions involve recognizing that the world is “not just a collection of stuff that happens to be there,” but rather it is “a creation that’s been quite crafted by a good God and it has been ordered to fruition, to flourishing, to thriving.”

“God delights in seeing his creatures thrive. And then the human task then within the creation is to facilitate this thriving. Both in terms of each other, in terms of human creatures, but also in terms of everything else. Our job in a sense, is to enable things to come most fully into being,” explained Gay.

With that framework, Gay went on to explain when critiquing technology, people should ask questions like “does it help us to become the kinds of people that God desires us to become?” and “is it enabling us to be, for example, more present to each other?”

“If the technologies are, and many of them do, then fantastic! We should use them, we should celebrate them, and we should be thankful for them,” Gay continued.

“But if they aren’t, if they are not helping us become who we desire to become, if they’re somehow interfering in our engagement with reality, then no, we shouldn’t use them. Why would we? That’s where I am hoping to leave the reader at the end of the study, is beginning to look at the world in that way.”

The ‘disaster’ of Virtual Reality churches

The concept of virtual reality churches has been the subject of debate, with at least one Los Angeles, California-based entity, named VR Church, planning to offer such services.

“Our mission is to explore and communicate God through virtual reality, augmented reality, and next generation technologies. All are welcome to attend our services,” stated the VR Church.

Gay told CP that he considered the idea of virtual reality churches to be a “disaster” that runs contrary to the coming of Jesus Christ on Christmas.

“It seems to me that the very thing that we celebrate this time of year, which is the incarnation of God in Christ and this huge endorsement of embodied human being in the world that that has to mean at the very least that we emphasize, that we prioritize always face-to-face embodied actual interaction,” Gay explained.

“That especially when it comes to meeting together at the church and celebrating the sacraments and doing all the things we do in churches.”

With his objections noted, Gay did believe that the concept of virtual reality churches could work “as a last resort” for those “who aren’t able to come for whatever reason.”

“Sure let’s make it possible for them to join in and let’s use technology to help,” acknowledged Gay. “But for all of the rest of us, no. We need to actually be together.”

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