Sunday, April 27, 2014

Fear, Foreboding, and Getting a Grip About Technology

Maybe some folks still have religious scruples about 'defying God' with lightning rods: but I haven't run into any, and I'm certainly not one of them.

My house has a lightning rod, installed by a previous owner. I made sure it's in good working order, since our chimney is one of the taller structures in the neighborhood. Ben Franklin and Prokop Diviš's invention is on most tallish structures in my part of the world.

Lightning rods have apparently joined movable type and the moldboard plow as technology that 'we've always had.'

Even the Internet seems to be gaining grudging acceptance: although I regularly encounter folks who don't seem at all comfortable about social media: and express their grave misgivings in online posts.

My guess is that every generation has included a few with profound misgivings about newfangled technology: or change of any sort, and that's almost another topic.

I grew up in a world of AM radio and dial telephones. Some folks my age never had reasons for learning how to use computers, the Internet, or anything else invented after about 1970. I kept learning new skills, thanks partly to what might charitably be called an eclectic assortment of jobs.

My hat's off to anyone who held down the same job for decades, and still mows grass with a reel mower.

I'm a tad less appreciative of folks who apparently feel that using new tech isn't ethical.

I often share their concerns about Internet fraud, hate-drenched online screed, or vapid 'discussions.' But I've got a good memory, and remember the 'good old days.' We had jerks, fools, some sensible folks, and a few wise ones, then: just as we do today.

I am quite certain that keyboards don't make people do bad things. Technology makes it easier to cut grass, or share ideas: but how often we mow the lawn, and what we say, is up to us.

I'm convinced that we're expected to use the brains God gave us: developing and using new tech wisely.

Fire, Brimstone, and Blank Smiles

I trust that they're sincere: but folks who lap up fire and brimstone tracts, and others whose spirituality involves vacuous smiles and bland platitudes, miss the big picture. My opinion.

God is good, God is merciful, God is loving. God is also just, and all-powerful. (Genesis 35:11; Esther C:2; Psalms 103:8; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1, 268, 2711604, 1846)

God knows our needs. We should trust God to give us what we need, the way a child trusts parents. (Catechism, 305; Matthew 6:31-33)

Getting back to fire, brimstone, and making sense: I don't ask God to wreak terrible retribution on sinners because, often as not, I'm standing on the target. God seems to be very patient, and I'm okay with that.

God Plays Hardball: Occasionally

(From Oliver Spalt, via Wikimedia Commons, used w/o permission.)

By cherry picking verses like Job 37:3, Job 26:10, Psalms 18:3, and Revelation 4:5, I could paint a picture of the Almighty as a sort of action movie hero, with lightning bolts instead of Rambo's morphing M60.

That might appeal to folks who imagine a God with anger management issues, which may explain the continuing appeal of "fire and brimstone" preachers.

I'll grant that God can play hardball. But spectacular displays like the sulphurous fire and plague of frogs in Genesis and Exodus are very rare. (March 31, 2014)

(Detail from John Martin's "The Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.")

Dangerous Technology: Learning the Right Lesson

There's an old cartoon showing cavemen and a fire. Several enthusiastic younger folks are admiring the fire. Two older cave men, standing at a safe distance aren't impressed.

One of them says, 'just wait: someday it'll get out of control, and burn down the whole village.' I've used that story before. (July 9, 2011)

They had a point. When villages grew into cities, they caught fire with distressing regularity.

Rome burned in 64 AD. London's memorable fires were in 122, 675, 1087, 1135, 1212, and 1666. Edo burned in 1657, 1668, 1682, 1697, 1772, and 1806. Chicago has only had one famous fire, the one in 1871: but it's a new city.

Instead of deciding that fire was too dangerous, each time we cleaned up the mess and rebuilt. Eventually we developed less flammable buildings, halon extinguishers, and I've been over that before, too. (March 14, 2014)

Make no mistake: fire is a dangerous technology. So is string, for that matter. Both can kill, if not used properly.

But both have been around for so long that they're often not seen as tech at all.

Franklin, Fear, and Lightning Rods

Folks seem much more likely to get upset about new technology: like lightning rods.

Ben Franklin wasn't the only one experimenting with static electricity in the 18th century. He was, however, one of those who survived the experiments.

Georg Wilhelm Richmann, a pioneer in studying electricity and atmospheric electricity, conducted one of the more spectacular experiments. While in St. Petersburg, he set up an insulated rod: and waited to see how it would respond to a nearby electrical storm.

The explosion blew open his shoes, singed his clothes, and left a red spot on his forehead. Georg Wilhelm Richmann was sincerely dead.

Small wonder that some folks in the English colonies feared the 'wrath of God,' when someone suggested adding "metalline conductors" to a church steeple:
"I have read in the Philosophical Transactions the account of the effects of lightning on St. Bride's steeple. 'Tis amazing to me, that after the full demonstration you had given, of the identity of lightning and of electricity, and the power of metalline conductors, they should ever think of repairing that steeple without such conductors. How astonishing is the force of prejudice even in an age of so much knowledge and free enquiry!"
(Letter, To Benjamin Franklin from John Winthrop, 6 January 1768, via

Trusting God, Using Our Brains

Getting back to the lightning rod on my chimney, if God wants to level this house: that's gonna happen. God the Almighty, Ineffable Mystery, Who creates and sustains all things, is not going to be stopped by a pound or so of metal.

I don't, by the way, think that God will smite my house: and I'm confident that lightning rods don't upset an uptight Deity.

We're designed to be curious, to study this astounding creation: and learn new ways of using and managing it. Using science and developing technology is part of our job. (Genesis 1:27-31; Catechism of the Catholic Church, 31, 355-361, 374-379, 2292-2296)

Imagining that science, technology, money, or anything else, will take the place of God is daft: and a very bad idea. (Catechism, 2112-2114)

Trying to do an end run around God's plans by consulting mediums is also against the rules: but we're expected to plan ahead.
"God can reveal the future to his prophets or to other saints. Still, a sound Christian attitude consists in putting oneself confidently into the hands of Providence for whatever concerns the future, and giving up all unhealthy curiosity about it. Improvidence, however, can constitute a lack of responsibility."
(Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2115)
'Trusting Providence' and counting on neighbors to take up the slack isn't new: and it's, ah, imprudent. (2 Thessalonians 3:10)

We have free will, so using what God created for good to an evil purpose is always an option. (Catechism, 311)

But I do not see how honest study of this universe can interfere with faith, since the things of faith and the things of this world are both made by God. (Catechism, 159)

(image courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
"Since the same God who reveals mysteries and infuses faith has bestowed the light of reason on the human mind, God cannot deny himself, nor can truth ever contradict truth."
(Dei Filius (1870), quoted in Catechism, 159)
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Matthew Chinian said...

I enjoyed this post, you have a refreshing voice, Thanks!

arvindswamy said...

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Marian Apparition: Champion, Wisconsin

Background:Posts in this blog: In the news:

What's That Doing in a Nice Catholic Blog?

From time to time, a service that I use will display links to - odd - services and retailers.

I block a few of the more obvious dubious advertisers.

For example: psychic anything, numerology, mediums, and related practices are on the no-no list for Catholics. It has to do with the Church's stand on divination. I try to block those ads.

Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

Bottom line? What that service displays reflects the local culture's norms, - not Catholic teaching.