Technology & the Seven Deadly Sins

Monday, December 30, 2013

By Steven H. VanderLeest

Facebook is out, Snapchat is in.  Or so it seems from conversations with family this past Christmas.  Social networking might be a fad or simply technology fashion, but it does point out an underlying truth:  it is tough to keep up with technology.  Even engineers like me find it difficult to stay current with the flood of new gadgets, exotic engineered materials, new software apps, advances in medicine, advances in computing, and more.  As technology improves and grows, our scientific understanding of the world deepens.  As technology matures and expands, our ability to control our environment increases. 

We change our world and even ourselves with technology.  Nevertheless, human nature remains the same.  We remain God’s creatures made in his own image, created good.  God created us male and female, in community and relationship.  Even genetic engineering does not change our human need to connect.  God created us with an innate ability to recognize the divine and a special gift to worship our Creator.  Even precise descriptions of subatomic quantum effects does not change our human intuition that there is something more to life than that which meets the eye.  God made us the pinnacle of his creation with delegated authority and responsibility to care for the world.  Even the independence we attain through technology (such as personal transportation like the automobile or personal communication like smartphones) does not change our mandate to be stewards.  In fact, our role as stewards is the root of our ability to create technology.  It is not surprising that God created humans with innate ability to make tools.  We are homo faber, man the tool maker.  As stewards, we have the special gift to value the creation, to recognize the embedded worth of the resources around us, and then to cultivate and develop out of those gifts.  Our tool-making ability suits us well for these tasks.

We change our world and even ourselves with technology.  Nevertheless, human nature remains the same.  We remain fallen, tainted by sin so that we are inclined to hate God and each other.  We remain in need of redemption by the blood of the lamb.  While we humans have produced many new technologies, we have not invented any new means of salvation nor have we invented any new sins.  I suggest that every “new” human foible and failing that we see depicted in the latest video or read about in our newsfeeds is old news.  Creative humans will always develop new tools, and fallen humans will find ways to pursue old sins with these tools.  Not to minimize the danger of tools in our fallen hands, I recognize that technology is an amplifier, so the impact can be far greater when we use tools, whether the result of unintentional mistakes due to our finite nature, or the result of malicious acts due to our fallen nature.  Nevertheless, there is nothing new under the sun, in a spiritual sense. 

Thus, if you are looking for a good resolution for this New Year, consider resolving to redeem your personal use of modern technology in light of the ancient list of deadly sins, established since the Medieval period:

  • Lust
  • Greed
  • Gluttony
  • Sloth
  • Anger
  • Envy
  • Pride

Let’s take gluttony as an example.  Literally, the term refers to excessive eating.  How does that relate to technology?  Today’s foods are technological marvels.  Simply read the ingredients label on almost any food on the grocery shelf:  it reads more like a pernicious concoction of chemicals than a recipe of items you would willingly ingest.  Still, much of this engineering of food provides benefits, such as preserving the food longer, or making it look and taste better.  However, we also see some unfortunate side-effects from our ability to modify our food.  Much of the food on the grocery shelf is hardly food any longer, but rather a high-dose, quick delivery system for sugar and fat.  The convenience and low price of these pre-packaged wonders makes it easy to slip into gluttony.  Beyond the grocery store, American restaurants tend to cater to our gluttonous tendencies, so that an American-sized portion fills a large plate. We love to supersize our meals.  Unfortunately we rarely call this problem for what it is:  gluttony.  At most we might get some small admonishment from our physician or a health magazine to watch our weight, but rarely is anyone so bold to say that, at least for some, this excess is sinful.

Beyond the food excess of literal gluttony, technology can also tempt us into more figurative gluttony, such as consuming much more energy or other natural resources than we really need, buying gadgets just to fill our pockets, or going one-click crazy on Amazon.  Granted, some of our excessive consumerism is because we are trying to keep up with the Joneses (straying into greed or envy).  Nevertheless, when we have more than the Joneses yet still keep consuming, we likely have lurched into gluttony. 

For your New Year’s Resolution to avoid gluttony, consider tracking your progress not only by measuring your body waistline, but also by checking your technological waistline.  Do you have more mobile devices, televisions, or appliances than you need?  Check your grocery bill and also check your Best Buy, Newegg, and Amazon bill.  Are you purchasing more tech than really necessary? 

The opposite of gluttony is the virtue of temperance and moderation, which is a sign of contentment.  Paul writes to the church in Philippi about this virtue: “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:12-13, NIV)  For the new year, perhaps we can seek to emulate Paul, being content in all circumstances.


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(c) 2013, Steven H. VanderLeest