Editorial: The Zika virus and contraception: Has Pope Francis changed the rules?
Growth in the numbers of people affected by the Zika virus, spread predominantly by mosquitos, has been described as an “explosive pandemic”. While relatively harmless for most people, the virus is now strongly suspected (though not yet definitively proven) of being linked to a serious fetal malformation known as microcephaly. In light of that, various government health ministries in the most severely affected areas are warning women to avoid getting pregnant.
While returning from his recent visit to Mexico, Pope Francis was asked by a journalist about the dilemma this situation poses for couples and, more specifically, whether “abortion” and “avoiding pregnancy” (in the context clearly a reference to contraception) might be a legitimate moral response.
Pope Francis’ immediate reply was to reiterate in the strongest possible terms that abortion could never be a morally legitimate means: “It is a crime, an absolute evil.” In saying this he would have been aware of the intense debate in many South American countries about using abortion as a way of dealing with fetal microcephaly.
Unpacking the Pope’s endorsement of the moral legitimacy of “avoiding pregnancy” is less straightforward. It is clear from the language and examples offered by the pope that he was thinking specifically about the use of artificial contraception rather than the “regulation of births” – the right of couples to space births – which is an accepted part of Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality (see Catholic Catechism n. 2368). His analogous reference to the situation in the Congo, a 1960’s debate about giving oral contraceptives to religious sisters in grave danger of being raped, points to this. However, any doubts about the precise meaning of his words were dispelled just days later by official Vatican spokesperson, Fr Federico Lombardi, who clarified that “the Holy Father was indeed speaking of ‘condoms and contraceptives’ when on the flight back from Mexico.”
Further explaining the pope’s response, Lombardi added: “The contraceptive or condom, in particular cases of emergency or gravity, could be the object of discernment in a serious case of conscience. This is what the Pope said.”
Pope’s Francis’ brief comments have raised questions about Catholic teaching on the use of artificial contraception. Some have gone so far as to suggest that it potentially heralds a reversal of the long-standing Catholic position. I am not in a position to read or know Pope Francis’ mind but, as a moral theologian, I wish to offer three points as part of my own reflection on this debate.
1) The Pope’s response reminds us that whatever one’s beliefs about the use of artificial contraception (and we should recall that the backdrop to the question was a debate about the Zika virus and abortion involving a broad audience rather than a specifically Catholic one), the use of contraceptives is morally different from abortion in terms of its gravity – different because abortion involves the destruction of an already formed human life. At the same time, and in line with Lombardi’s reference to a “serious case of conscience”, this insight does not undermine the seriousness associated with the use of contraception.
2) Many have pointed out that Pope Francis’ reference to the use of oral contraception by religious sisters in the Congo reflects a very different moral situation to that of married couples. The situations differ because permission in the Congo case is neither a dispensation from the Church’s teaching nor an exception to it. Why? Because Catholic teaching on contraception speaks only to intercourse freely entered into by married couples.
Why then would the Pope appeal to this case? It illustrates that he has in mind a truly extreme situation. In doing so he is simply appealing to a fundamental tenet of Catholic moral teaching – the exceptional case does not nullify the ongoing validity of a particular law or teaching outside of the extreme situation. Evidence of this tenet appears in multiple places in Catholic moral teaching which address the different types of conundrums generated by extreme situations, including Aquinas’ discussion of ‘epikeia’, the ‘principle of the lesser evil’, and the role of conscience in helping perplexed persons find moral certainty in the face of a conflict of duties.
In other words, the possibility of couples making contraception an “object of discernment” in an emergency situation does not “reverse” Catholic teaching on the methods of regulating births. The Pope’s comments about the Zika virus need to be understood alongside his previous comments about the ongoing validity and prophetic nature of Humanae Vitae’s teaching on contraception rather than in opposition to them. As he noted in 2014: “Church teaching on contraception does not need to change but it must be applied with mercy.”
3) The reference to ‘mercy’, a defining theme in the pontificate of Francis, leads to the third point. Laws and teachings must always be applied with mercy if we are to avoid an extreme form of rigid moral legalism that stifles human flourishing. By his ‘spontaneous’ teaching on the Zika virus the Pope, with the instincts of a good pastor has, once again, reminded us that at the heart of Christian teaching lies the all-important idea of mercy.
Dr John Kleinsman is the director of The Nathaniel Centre
Immanuel Kant on Dignity
By William Michael
“Dignity” in talk of “the dignity of human beings” ascribes to humans a kind of worth that is supposed to be of the highest significance for how humans are treated and which all humans share in equally. We are maybe so used to this idea that we don’t find it puzzling. But how can it be true? And if it were, how would we know? Kant’s philosophy provides answers to these questions.
For Kant, our moral lives are an aspect of our ordinary lives that should astonish. In this mood he wrote (Critique of Practical Reason):
Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more frequently and persistently one's meditation deals with them: the starry sky above me and the moral law within me.
We’ll soon get to “the moral law within,” in the form of the Categorical Imperative, but for now let it stand for the whole of the moral, which it almost does for Kant.
Kant was deeply moved by humans acting purely for the sake of (moral) duty. His idea of the moral is very pure and for him acting for the sake of duty has nothing to do with psychology, even “nice” psychology like empathy, let alone anything neurotic, or the motive of gain or advantage. Doing one’s duty is a pure matter of willing (here meaning choosing) the good because it is good.
To find the meaning and reality of moral acts, Kant did philosophy. His philosophy teaches that moral acts disclose something real about the beings that can act morally: namely, that they are free, reasonable and rational beings. The thought is that only free, reasonable and rational beings would be able to act purely for the sake of duty.
The concepts “free” and “reasonable and rational” are difficult, and understanding Kant’s conception of “free, reasonable and rational beings” is difficult too. However, we have already come across a clue as to what he meant. The purity he finds in the motivation behind moral actions can be thought of as freedom from psychological determination. To be free in this sense is to be, as it were, master in one’s own house. At the same time, to be free in a related sense is to be determined only by that which is in agreement with, not foreign or alien to, one’s true nature. That nature is reasonable and rational, and so to be free is to act for reasons and from reason.
This is why for Kant morality is practical reason. (Practical reason – what I have reason to do – not theoretical reason: what I have reason to believe. Practical reason not sentiment or tradition, to name two key contrasts. It is notable that Kant did not oppose reason to religion. He was a committed Lutheran throughout his adult life.)
Kant’s idea that morality is practical reason is a general idea in need of specific content. “Be reasonable and rational” is not awfully useful guidance. We need some meaningful rule or law – “the moral law within” perhaps. The specific content Kant gives morality is found in the Categorical Imperative (CI). Here I’ll consider the CI to better understand “dignity”. The CI reads (in its second version in Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals):
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
If we think about the meaning of “dignity” using the CI, it suggests that we understand that always treating persons as ends and never simply as means is a fitting way to treat beings that have the kind of “inner worth” (Kant’s words) called “dignity”. Seeing this connection we gain a richer, deeper and more useful notion of dignity. We could keep thinking: The CI suggests that my own dignity is important, and not for selfish motives but as a result of the “humanity” in me. And so on…
We can now see how Kant’s philosophy answers the questions opening this essay. If there are free, reasonable and rational beings, then they possess a special kind of worth unlike anything else in the world. The word “dignity” – why not? – is used to express this worth.
How can all humans share in dignity equally? There is no guarantee that any human will act from their nature as a free, reasonable and rational being, but since they are such a being, they could, and in that, each of us is the same. Indeed, given the many ways humans are different – in upbringing, IQ and EQ, talents, tastes, looks, status etc – then perhaps there is no other cogent interpretation of the thought, so important to the modern world, that we are all equal.
Finally, I know all this how? It is disclosed to me in my experience of acts done purely for the sake of duty. Knowing Kant’s philosophy, I understand this.
William Michael studied philosophy and law at Otago and Auckland universities in the 90s … and, for better or worse, has never really stopped thinking about such stuff.
Dignity and the Environment
By Jonathan Boston
The concept of dignity is often thought to be restricted to humanity. Only human beings, some believe, possess true or genuine dignity. Theologically, this is because human beings are distinctive, indeed unique, within the created order. Only human beings bear the special mark of their Maker; only they are bearers of God's image or likeness (Gen 1:27). Hence, amongst all God's creatures, only human beings enjoy a deep, transcendent and intrinsic worth: they alone are sacred; they alone possess inherent and inalienable rights; they alone are ends in themselves rather than means; and they alone share an abiding dignity in equal measure. All other species, it is argued, are different. They lack any God-given dignity. So, too, does the non-living or physical environment – whether here on Earth or elsewhere in the universe.
But is this argument theologically and morally justified? Is not the whole creation, in all its extraordinary diversity, richness, vastness and beauty, endowed with dignity by God?
There are, of course, robust theological reasons for claiming that human beings enjoy a unique, particular or special dignity – indeed, an 'infinite dignity'.1 As bearers of God's image, humanity can claim a distinctive and elevated moral status in relation to the rest of creation. A person is more precious than other creatures. Accordingly, we need stronger justifications for harming a human being than we do for harming non-human species.
But an equally strong theological case can be made that every part of creation – every aspect of the entire universe, no matter how little or large – possesses a certain God-given dignity; it thus has some inherent or intrinsic value. That is to say, all non-human species and physical objects are of value in themselves and for their own sake; they are not merely of instrumental or extrinsic value. To quote Saint John Paul II:
Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person also extends to the rest of creation which is called to join man in praising God (Ps 148:96).2
Likewise, Pope Francis in Laudato Si, speaks of the 'intrinsic dignity of the world',3 and appeals to every person to respect and care for all God's creatures and humanity's 'common home'.
The theological basis for the proposition that the non-human world enjoys an inherent dignity lies, fundamentally, in the claim that God is ultimately the creator of everything that exists and that God values, and rejoices in, every aspect of the creation. Every part of it has worth; every part deserves respect. For everything that God has made, according to Genesis, is 'good'.
That does not mean, of course, that everything is of equal value, let alone infinitely precious. Nor does it imply that any form of human interference with the natural or physical environment is unjustified. But it strongly suggests the need for wise, responsible and sustainable management of the environment.
When people degrade and defile what God has made or cause irreversible damage, they violate their distinctive calling to exercise stewardship and guardianship. Moreover, in bringing destruction, rather than healing, they threaten their own dignity. In part, this simply reflects the fact that everything is interconnected and interdependent. Despoiling the environment destroys the ecosystem services and resources on which humanity depends. It thus reduces the capacity of human beings to meet their needs and ultimately robs them of their dignity. Human flourishing in a devastated wasteland is a contradiction in terms, as is living well in an ecological desert.
Taking the intrinsic dignity of the environment seriously requires urgent and systematic reform. Currently, human greed, poor planning, inadequate regulation and irresponsible economic policies are contributing to enormous ecological damage. Globally, we are exceeding critical planetary boundaries and time is running out to rectify the problem.4 We are already in the early stages of a mass extinction event, one in which a substantial proportion of all this planet's species will be destroyed. We are also rapidly warming the Earth through the unregulated burning of fossil fuels and massive deforestation. Not only will this bring dramatic changes to the planet's climate, but it will also contribute to severe, widespread and, in many cases, irreversible damage to critical biophysical systems.
Nationally, our water quality is deteriorating, our carbon footprint is growing, our land-use management and marine governance are weak, and many native species face extinction. Since human settlement about 800 years ago, we have lost 85% of our indigenous forests, over 90% of our wetlands, and more than 50 bird species. We have significantly polluted more than half of our rivers and many of our lakes, and we are losing soil at about 10 times the average global rate. Hence, claims that New Zealand is 'clean and green' lack substance.
In summary, humanity is currently suffering a chronic 'nature deficit disorder'. Our ecological footprints are far too large. We are borrowing from the future and leaving our children and grandchildren a dreadful legacy – a huge, unsustainable ecological debt and colossal, irreparable damage. As Pope Francis puts it:
We have come to see ourselves as ... [nature's] lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she "groans in travail" (Rom 8:22).5
God calls us to show kindness to His good creation, to treasure its diversity, to care tenderly for its creatures, to tread gently upon the land, and to be good stewards of its resources. Indeed, we are summoned to love what God has made, just as God loves and cares for it. In so doing we both protect its intrinsic dignity and honour our calling as creatures who bear God's image.
Jonathan Boston is Professor of Public Policy at Victoria University of Wellington.
1. Pope John Paul II, Angelus in Osnabrück (Germany) with the disabled, 16 November 1980: Insegnamenti 3/2 (1980), 1232.
2. Pope John Paul II, 'Peace with God the Creator, Peace with All of Creation', For the celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1990.
3. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter: Laudato Si' – On Care For Our Common Home, Rome, 2015, p.86.
4. See, for instance, Johan Rockström, et al., "A Safe Operating Space for Humanity', Nature, 461, 24 September 2009, 472-475; John Rockström, et al., "Planetary Boundaries: Exploring the Safe Operating Space for Humanity", Ecology and Society, 14, 2.
5. Pope Francis, Encyclical Letter: Laudato Si' – On Care For Our Common Home, Rome, 2015, p.3.
Culture, Human Dignity and Economic Rationalisation
By Gerard Burns
Cultural understandings of human dignity are culturally generated expressions of the perceived worth of human life at different ages and stages – they witness to the way persons are valued, honoured, esteemed and respected. While every culture has its own ideas and practices surrounding human dignity, the way that this dignity/worth is recognized varies from culture to culture and also undergoes change. The practices by which worth is recognized (or denied) reveal the culture’s values and beliefs about human life. This anthropological approach, starting as it does from observation differs from the philosophical approach of official Catholic teaching which brings a trans-cultural and meta-physical dimension to the discussion.
A simple definition of culture is to see it as the sum of the ideas, customs and social behaviour of a particular people or society. It includes morals, codes, traditions, dress, language and religion. Two simple examples from my own early years (Pakeha Irish-Catholic and middle-class, growing up in NZ in the 1960s) around the teaching of 'good manners' are illustrative.
The first example is the instruction: 'Don't eat with your mouth open because it’s impolite'. Here 'impolite' seems to mean it is insulting and ungraceful to show how you chew food. Perhaps implied is that eating is a semi-private or personal activity? Practically speaking, this instruction helps avoid food falling out of your mouth when eating. That would be wasteful of the food, inelegant in terms of tidiness and potentially mess-making on clothes, tables or floors. The values of respect for others and for oneself are to the fore.
A second example: We were told by our Catholic school teachers that when the priest or any adult came into the class, we were to stand up. This was a way of recognizing the presence of an important person. Standing up recognized the adult’s superior status and 'dignity'. Wrapped in this are certain cultural and hierarchical values, namely the value of the adult over the child. In the Catholic world the priest had a theologically superior status of a 'holy' man. If the priest was not ‘holy’ by behaviour then he was holy because he dealt with 'holy' things. Respect and dignity were ascribed not simply because of the priest’s personal qualities, but because of his role.
Hierarchies appear in all cultures and societies. In some Pacific cultures, one way of recognizing you are in the presence of 'more important' people (for example, chiefs) is to keep one's head below the level of the chiefly person. So you will see people bending over as they pass the chief to symbolically recognize their relative status. In Anglo-Saxon tradition the curtsy or bow before a royal personage served a similar role.
Value or worth can be intrinsic (such as simply by being born into a royal line), or gained through achievement (such as in battle or through academic qualification). In many traditional societies one's worth grows as one ages. The older person is seen as a source of wisdom and an asset even if requiring more assistance from family and neighbours. The honouring of kaumatua in the Māori world exemplifies this.
Are there universal values/practices which go beyond cultural variations? Anthropologists have looked for common practices in human behaviour but have not seen a common ethic. Such an ethic needs reflection on the commonalities and on the philosophical question of what is good for human beings. Hans Kung's work on a global ethic is part of that search.
One significant factor flowing from particular cultures but influencing world culture is what Pope Francis (among others) has outlined in ‘Laudato Si’: the 'technocratic paradigm' (LS.106) that has brought damage to the earth and its people. This worldview combines the influences of modern technology and industrial capitalism to shape social and economic practice.
Max Weber analysed this paradigm to some extent in his book the “Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism’ (1930). In ascribing the foundations of modern society to Puritanism he underestimated other factors. Nevertheless, it is true that the mind-set behind the economic and technological development in Europe and North America was significantly influenced by the religiously-inspired exploration of the mind of God by Copernicus, Mendel, Newton and others.
Gradually this exploration sought to distance itself more from religious belief (secularisation) and the idea of ethical constraints on new technology lessened. The classical economics of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, along with utilitarian philosophies, has gradually brought theories of marginal utility and the model of 'homo economicus' to the fore.
This model saw ‘rational behaviour’ as that of a ‘man’ carefully calculating what will bring increased profitability to himself. It is a model based on individualism and self-interest. Smith proposed that if every actor worked on this self-interested basis then all of society would benefit as if moved by an 'invisible hand'.
In practice, this approach, especially its more recent form of neoliberalism (Reagonomics, Rogernomics, the ‘Washington Consensus’) has been largely discredited by the Global Financial Crisis. However it is still the basis for much contemporary macroeconomic practice (for example, stock markets, etc). The pragmatism of this paradigm increasingly influences views about who and what is useful to society.
One consequence of this is a cultural shift in the perception of ‘worth’. Where in many traditional societies to be old was to be valuable, in fast-moving, mobile and pressured technological societies, what is valued is the capacity to handle the latest technology. This favours the young and quick-adapters.
However, with the favouring of the young and the quick, comes a devaluing of the old and the sick. Hence a push for euthanasia for 'humane' reasons, and individuals not wanting to be a burden on society or their families. The economic aspect of culture can shape more general values. The defence of human dignity in a Catholic sense relies on a philosophy (shaped by the doctrines of incarnation and redemption) that explains the broad basis for what is good for individuals and our societies.
Gerard Burns is a priest of the Archdiocese of Wellington, currently Vicar-General and working in Māori pastoral care. He has lived and worked in South America and has a Master in International Relations from Victoria University.
Art, Dignity and the Human Spirit
By Rachel Kleinsman
In the words of John Ruskin, art is an “expression of the vitality, inventiveness, heart, thought and spirit of humanity”. Art has the potential to offer insight into the human condition and exists as a cultural repository for the expression of our spirit and spirituality. It provides a means of connecting us with the oneness of the human experience.
The rich and varied tapestry of art history reveals a number of approaches to the expression and validation of human dignity. The Cambridge dictionary’s definition of dignity as: “the importance and value that a person has” offers a basic, albeit interesting starting point from which to consider that which characterises the relationship between dignity and art.
The great Abstract Expressionist Mark Rothko proposes a useful framework for navigating this relationship. In 1958, Rothko gave a lecture to New York’s Pratt Institute during which he identified a number of ingredients as collectively comprising the “recipe of a work of art”. One of these proposed criteria was that in art “there must be a clear preoccupation with death – intimations of mortality”.
Depictions of the dead have long been considered a fitting way of honouring the lives of individuals and affirming the enduring dignity of humanity after death. Renaissance art, in particular, facilitates an intriguing dialogue. Piero della Francesco, for example, painted the diptych portrait of Federico da Montefeltro and Battista Sforza after Battista’s death, her corpse serving as a life-model for the portrait (a point which seems evident in her pallor). In this vein, the Victorian tradition of post-mortem photography is also of note, combining photographs of deceased loved-ones with such memento as locks of hair and flowers. Similarly, John Everett Millais’ magnificent Ophelia painting of the body of this Shakespearean tragic heroine being carried down the river compels the viewer to confront the wrenching tragedy of her suicide and lost love, and the deepest questions of our human experience.
In exploring the relationship between art and human dignity, there is a certain tension which goes to the heart of the philosophical debate: What is art and what, if any, purpose should it serve? Is expression in and of itself the end goal, or is the artist obligated to contribute to a more complex framework of social responsibility?
On the one hand, the idea that art is valuable in its very own essence – l’art pour l’art – is compelling. The Kantian invocation that we should “act so as to treat people always as ends in themselves, never as mere means”, might lead one to think that art should serve no purpose other than to honour the individual through representation. However, historically, art has been an incredibly vital socio-political tool, one of protest and revolution, which has sought to affirm the dignity of underprivileged individuals. Eugene Delacroix’s Liberty Leading the People was a vital revolutionary voice in France and Gustave Courbet’s Stone Breakers, a protest against poverty and cry for the rights of the peasant class. Centuries later, Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party gave a voice to the previously-silenced cultural accomplishments of women. In terms of our own national identity, Ralph Hotere’s oeuvre comprises a politically-complex colonial protest defending the dignity and rights of Māori. There is no doubt that art’s role in ‘dignifying’ those of lesser privilege is significant.
In light of the above, it’s clear that artists have a role to play in crafting a broader social narrative which both affords and shapes human dignity – their role is not merely a documentary one. But there is a potentially problematic aspect to this representation also. The photographs taken by psychiatrist Hugh Welch Diamond of patients at the Surrey County Lunatic Asylum in the 19th century are one such example. These extant records of mentally-ill patients are valuable in that they capture something essential of their lives and spirits while affording a real sense of dignity and individuality. However, because they were taken with the intention of contributing to the physiognomy argument, they were ultimately damaging to both perceptions of these individuals and mental illness on the whole. A further example is the problematic nature of colonial depictions of kaumātua by Gottfried Lindauer and Charles Goldie; resplendent in their beauty and historic significance, the portrayal of Māori as a dying race through an overtly colonial lens is well-documented.
The essence of the relationship between human dignity and art is one of dualistic tension. It is incorrect to reduce art’s role in the expression of humanity to a purely utilitarian function. On the other hand, in order to be effective and afford respect to individuals it must “treat people always as ends in themselves”. The greatness of art through the centuries has the power to move us, to facilitate a spiritual connection and emotional response. Most importantly, it resonates with another criterion of note which Rothko laid forth in his consideration of art and life: that religious and divinely-eternal notion of hope, the ability of art to uphold human dignity through its power, properly used, to “make the tragic concept more endurable”.
Rachel Kleinsman is a freelance art researcher and writer based in Wellington. She has a Bachelor of Arts (Art History and Modern Languages, Victoria University of Wellington) and a Master of Arts (Art Business, Sotheby’s Institute of Art).
Dignity in a Digital World
By Colin MacLeod
I love digital technology! I love being able to read e-mails from a smart-watch, connected to my phone via bluetooth while watching a movie because the same phone is pushing video and sound from the internet to my TV through a dongle in its USB port. As a teacher I love the accessibility of information, the ability to collaborate and create, and the simple, practical ease of retrieving files and storing work electronically. What’s not to love about technology?
But it’s not really about the technology. The best and worst of human behaviour is played out in the electronic realm. People can be friended or un-friended with a click of an icon on a screen. We can post words of comfort and support or vitriolic rhetoric to persons whose faces we will never see. We can donate money immediately to those in need on the other side of the world and not know our neighbours’ names. We can share photos which celebrate humanity with millions and find images no family would ever want in their albums. We can maintain relationships with ease across the whole world, and be utterly alone while doing so. And all the while a new ‘normal’ and relentless ‘change’ unfold to tell us who we are and who we are not, impacting on human dignity in positive and negative ways.
There is a dignity in parenting that seems lost at the sight of a parent pushing a pram with a child inside chattering and pointing, while continuously gazing at a phone. There is dignity in the profound beauty of the human form, and the desire within us to connect with one another, that is utterly broken by addiction to pornography and associated fear of real human contact. Dignity is found in defining our identity, as we grow up through challenges, failures and successes, but it can easily be actively crushed by children who bully someone into becoming suicidal through social media. The dignity of family itself is undermined when a home no longer has a family table because all meals are eaten by individuals in their own spaces with their heads in their own devices. And, at a global level, even the dignity of our planet is at risk through the mountains of scrap dumped by yesterday’s devices and tomorrow’s BYOD.
I read an article some 30 years ago which reflected on the possibility of machines becoming sentient. While I’ve forgotten most of the content, one idea from the reading has always remained and challenged me. “What happens when a machine can choose its favourite colour? Not because of programming, but because of personal choice. Will it then have a soul?”
It challenges me because, in the 80s, the question felt more of a mental exercise in theology, or science fiction, than an actual possibility but, as the years have progressed, the concept looms likely. From Apple to Zuckerberg we are surrounded (and perhaps swamped) by machines and electronic information. Always more, better, smarter. Literally exponential growth as reflected in Moore’s Law.
So far, none of this technology comes close to sentience, despite predictions. Technology does not care about us. It does not reflect on its purpose. It does not love us back and it neither respects nor understands human dignity. Technology cannot choose to serve humanity - it is created by human beings and marketed in ways and forms designed to impact on our lives and generate profits. Unfortunately, it seems that the latter is the driving force of the digital age, and economic forces rarely place human dignity ahead of profit – the rise in job-loss through technology replacing people is an obvious example of this.
Rather, we are the ones made in the image of God. It is our decisions that are changing the world, not technology. We create, choose and use intentionally. My mother-in-law was incensed to get a letter from an aid agency saying they’d prefer her to set up an automatic payment for her $12 per year donation because it would save money on postage and processing. Reasonable enough, I thought. “Do they mean to say that even our giving now has to be thoughtless!” was her reply, in a long, hand-written letter to the organisation. (The extra $2 was always intended to pay for the processing of her $10 donation.) Making thoughtful choices goes to the core of what it means to be human.
A student once asked me what Jesus would do with technology. Would he have time to blog or catch up with Facebook friends? Would he be instagramming? Maybe, but I doubt it would be an obsession for him - he’d still be busy reaching out to real hands, eating physical food, speaking actual words.
You see, we don’t actually live in a digital world, it doesn’t exist. We live in this world, making choices within a myriad of blessings, distractions and challenges. We have dignity because we are made in the image of God, called into relationship with God and each other. And technology is just one of those blessings, distractions and challenges. It’s up to us.
At least until the first machine chooses its favourite colour.
Colin MacLeod is a husband, father and member of Mercy Parish, Dunedin. He recently took on the role of Director of the National Centre for Religious Studies after two decades as DRS at Kavanagh College.
The Dignity and Power of Education [Synopsis Only]
By Anne Tuohy
When the role of education is degraded, the intrinsic value of society and its members can likewise be diminished.
The full article is available by subscription to The Nathaniel Report
Losing and Finding Dad in Dementia
By Julie Guirgis
Dementia can be spiteful and cruel – when I reflect on who my Dad was before, it helps me separate him from the illness.
Article available online at: http://www.eurekastreet.com.au/article.aspx?aeid=49521#.WDSZmeZ961t