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One way to express our relationship to technology is the religious view. At first glance, religion and technology do not fit together. At the core of Western culture lies secularization which broadly refers to the idea of the religion’s loss of influence in society. This idea has also created two poles between religion and technology. While religion has irrational and spiritual connotations, technology seems to relate to the rational and scientific principles.

Along with philosophical insights about technology, religion can help us to contemplate our relationship with technology and its place supposed to be in our lives rather than developing a merely reactionary ethics.

There is growing concern that pioneers of new technologies such as Apple, Google, and Facebook, who all reside in Silicon Valley – have focused too much on the technological aspect.

Such a degeneration of the spiritual aspect has been already criticized by scholars, most importantly the French philosopher Jacques Ellul, for whom “mystery is a necessity of human life”. As Ellul states:

Technique worships nothing, respects nothing. It has a single role: to strip off externals, to bring everything to light, and by rational use to transform everything into means.

Ellul, like Heidegger, claims that not only are technologies too shallow to cause mystery which is an essential part of being human, but they also deprive us of this humaneness.

Recently, Elon Musk claimed that developing technologies like AI (artificial intelligence) would be akin to “summoning the demon”. It is also not surprising that Musk provides a positive image of developing technologies when he gives a proposal to build a human colony on Mars. According to Musk, technologies which can be controlled and which can enrich our human depth should be encouraged for their use. This is in alignment with religious ideas about the sacredness of the life of the human-being who are created as God’s stewardesses on Earth. For instance, the Holy Qur’an and hadith (sayings of the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.w)) include several pieces of evidence in support of stewardship. As the Qur’an mentions, “It is He who has appointed you vicegerent on the earth…” (Qur’an 6:165). So, there is nothing contrary to religion if the use of technologies is to ensure the ongoing survival of the mankind.

As business, technology, and money may be seen to be worshipped as idols in our digital age, it is crucial to reflect on these religious concepts and mystery in-depth.

To give a specific example, there is often a discussion about the possibility of loving machines, which may be related to the depth of human love that may or may not exceed what can be programmed into machines. Such concerns should be examined within the light of how technologies suggest or compromise a sense of mystery and how we perceive it, which in turn affects our interaction with such technologies.

Theological language is an important resource for expressing – and understanding – how we think about technologies in terms of hope and doom. While human-beings possess attributes of both being awesome and awful, they may have a similar experience with technologies, involving both promise and peril. Therefore, it would be right to ask why we seem to be reluctant to connect religion to technology?

In order to answer this question, we should go back to the big question of what lies at the core of being a human and how a digital future might really look like without going into the realms of sci-fi. As it is claimed in this article, while our fears may obscure our awareness of everyday ethical challenges prompted by technologies, we should try to gain pragmatic insights into how to use new technologies to make the most of their potential to change lifestyles.

To give a more specific example, Facebook has recently come under fire over its data privacy policy and its impact on the public sphereglobal politics, and democracy. Moreover, technologies have also been criticized for exacerbating inequalities via algorithmic bias. Needless to say, there is no quick fix to such solutions although the most common response has been to develop a new technological solution to resolve such issues.

Regardless of our religious choice or level of spirituality, it is worth to ponder on the extent to which we adopt a techno-centric attitude when it comes to developing technologies to fix our issues. Instead, we may try to believe in both our human and technological abilities to solve our problems. To use the jargon used in In Silicon Valley, we should as whether “we should do this?” rather than “we can do this”. The first statement belongs to the realm of religion which aids deeper reflection on our values.

This does not mean that there needs to be more religious people in Silicon Valley. It highlights the fact that in order to reflect on the relationship between the secular and the religious we may need more theologians. Eventually, in order to shed light on what we value in a complicated digital world, we first need to understand how we think about rationality and spirituality. After all, technology like religion is also a necessity for human life.

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Ayse Kok
Ayse has over 8 years of experience in the field of social, mobile and digital technologies both from a practitioner and from a researcher perspective. She participated in various projects in partnership with international organizations such as UN, NATO and the EU. Ayse also acted as an adjunct faculty member in her home town Turkey. Ayse attended various international conferences as a speaker and published several articles in both peer-reviewed journals and academic books. She completed her master and doctorate degrees at both University of Oxford and Cambridge in UK.

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