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Ethics and Technology

by Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich

Originally, religion was the mother of ethics and technology. First of all, religion was a torrential spring flowing from hidden depths, ethic a life carrying river, and technology with the help of artistic channels, carried the water from this river into all the arteries of man's life.

God announced to man the law of faith, the law of behavior, and the knowledge of technology. 

By the directions of God, Noah built a boat that traveled one of the longest journeys in the history of navigation.

By God's inspiration Bezalel was filled with wisdom in understanding, in knowledge, and all kinds of craftsmanship, to make artistic designs for work in gold, in silver, and in bronze, and in the cutting of stones for settings, and in carving of wood, that he may work in all kinds of craftsmanship.( Exodus 31:1-11)

In the same way, the Temple of Solomon, one of the greatest architectural wonders of the old world, was built by people taught by the Spirit of God and directed by the hand of the Lord. This is the witness of the Holy Scriptures.

God was the reason of true faith and good behavior and of the knowledge of technology among people.

While people continually felt God above them, before them, and around them, in the same way air and light is felt, they attributed and dedicated all their technological works and handiwork to Him, their Lord and Creator.

When the feeling of God's presence became dulled and spiritual vision darkened, that is when pride entered into tradesmen and technologists, and they started to give glory exclusively to themselves for their buildings, handiwork and intellectual works, and began to misuse their work that is when the shadow of cursedness began to fall on technology.

Many complain against technology.

Many accuse modern technology for all the woes in the world.

Is technology really to blame, or those who create technology and use it?

Is a wooden cross to blame if somebody crucifies someone on it?

Is a hammer to blame if a neighbor breaks his neighbors skull?

Technology does not feel good or evil.

The same pipes can be used for drinking water or the sewer.

Evil does not come from unfeeling, dead technology, but from the dead hearts of people.

Completely conscious of the presence of God and without any pride, Noah built a wondrous ship that was for his salvation and of the new mankinds that was to be born.

In a darkened consciousness regarding God's presence, people filled with pride agreed among themselves, "Let us build a city and a tower whose top shall reach heaven, and make a name for ourselves." That was the building of the tower of Babel.

When King Solomon finished building the glorious Temple of God, he lifted up his hands to heaven, and in humbleness cried out, " Behold, heaven and the heavens above the heavens I cannot comprehend you, let alone this Temple I have built."

This wondrous Temple lasted for eleven generations. It was destroyed to dust and ashes when the godless descendants of King Solomon in deed, turned it  from a "house of prayer, into a house of trade."

Not to the credit of technology did the Temple remain standing for centuries, nor to the blame of technology did it vanish from the face of the earth.

Technology is deaf, mute, and unanswering. It is completely dependant on ethics, as ethics on faith.

Well known is the Biblical story of King Nebuchadnezzar. He built the city of Babylon with palaces, and hanging towers, with such technological workmanship and beauty as the world till then had not seen. The King looked down at the city he had built, standing on the roof of his palace and said pridefully," Is this not Babylon the Great, which I myself have built as a royal residence by the might of my power and for the glory of my majesty?" While he was yet speaking these conceited words, God smote him with insanity and he became insane, and in insanity he lived for seven years like a beast among the beasts of the forests.

His city Babylon the Great became a heap of rubble and was sneered at, and was a desert without any inhabitants, exactly how the Prophet Jeremiah prophesied. ( Jeremiah 51:37)

Wherever the fear of God vanishes, and the moral law of God is trampled, that is where the mountain of human technology falls into the dust from which it was built.

That is how the Eiffel Tower and the German cathedrals, and the American skyscrapers, the towers of human technology and architecture, will collapse into formless dust if human pride, and that yet even Christian, fight in defiance against God, and pass all measures of pride and sinfulness and succeed in ending the long suffering of God.

Why are so many glorious civilizations buried deep beneath the earth that on top of them the plowers plow the ground not even realizing that their towers and bones are lying beneath the plowed ground?

How is it that out of all the glorious marble buildings of the Greeks nothing is left but the Acropollis?

How has the earth dared to conceal from the sun and the eyes of men the titanic temples in Balbekka and Egypt, as well as the glorious cities Egbata, Perzopolis, Tyre, Sidon, and Troy, that now cows peacefully graze on top of them, and pigs bellow, and shepherds build stables from the scattered marble? Why did the proud cities and temples and castles of King Montezuma vanish without a trace? Also the kingdoms of the very cultured Incas and Peruvians? What unmerciful hand rolled mounds of mud over all these human constructions, who by their strength and design, and beauty, could compete with the best modern constructions?

Why are there breaks and not continuity in the civilizations of mankind?

It is because none of them were pleasing to the One Holy God.

None of those buried civilizations were destroyed by time nor by the lack of solid technological construction, but by sin against holy faith and holy ethics.

Instability of ethics and not technology buried them all in deep darkness.

"And you O Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You shall descend to Hades." This prophecy of Christ, in the days when Capernaum shined with glory, like a fairytale city beside a lake, was fulfilled. It was so dreadfully fulfilled, that when a traveler finds himself among the thorns and snakes, where once the rich and proud city of Capernaum exalted itself, frightfully asks," Is it possible that this loathsome place was once a dwelling place of men?"

Ethics are long-lasting and unchanging, that is, evangelic ethics, but technology is always changing. Ethics are likened to a lady, and technology like her handmaiden. That is why ethics have to control technology. Eternal values are the territory of ethics and not technology. It is devastating for an entire people to put the purpose of their lives in technology, and all of their labor and sweat they sacrifice to the advancement of technology, dragging behind them ethics, like Achilles dragged the dead Hector tied to a chariot. A people like that can succeed to build all of their cities from ivory and gold, but if people like Ahab and Jezebel live in them, dogs will have the last word and not people. Between honor and skill it is easy to choose. An honest man even without skill is more respected in our time than a skillful man without honesty.

Technology changes man's relation towards nature, but not towards man and God.

Whoever thinks otherwise values things more than people, and dust more than the spirit. A horrible tragedy of our time is the war between men and God.

God wants to raise up and exalt man's identity above dumb and lifeless materiality, while men want to bury their identity and forget their Creator, and make the sole purpose of their lives technology and material wealth.

Many people who are spiritually and morally handicapped by their unbelief in Christ, create out of modern technology idols that they worship, and call upon all peoples and nations to bring sacrifices to those idols.

From the Complete Works of Bishop Nikolai [in Serbian], Book 12, p. 23. Translated from the Serbian by Marija Miljkovic. Sent to the Orthodox Christian Information Center by Fr. Srboljub Jockovic. Although not necessarily from an Orthodox perspective, a very thought-provoking book that is relevant to this article is Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology, by Neil Postman. I highly commend it to the reader.