Theology of Technology: A Faceless World
The Eastern Church Fathers specifically painted the Triune God as being in a relationship within Himself in a kind of “face-to-face dance.” The word used for such a reality was perichoresis; John’s use of the word, and its being with God in John 1 also testifies to this reality of face-to-face relationship. It means that, in the beginning, the Word (Jesus) was toward the Father—conjuring up a beautiful picture of a face-to-face God.
However, the kingdom of the world is far different in its nature. In our day and age, with platforms like FaceTime and Fakebook, oops I mean Facebook, marketers work tirelessly to put a personal spin on impersonal technologies. The truth of the matter is, our global platforms for remaining social have only proven to further remove us from each others physical space. These technologies, when left to themselves, can produce a faceless theology of presence. This not only shapes theology and belief, but it influences our true and genuine love of others. To utilize these technologies appropriately, then, we must first think theologically and learn how to redeem them, not merely consume them.
In considering this, I arrive at a few theological conclusions, delineated here and outlined as the “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.”
The Good: Firstly, Jesus says that it’s not what is outside us that defiles us, but within us. Therefore, Facebook—, and or anything for that matter—, simply helps to expose what’s already in our own heart: our values, ethics, commitments, and deepest objects of worship. Like fire to stubble, the wise will use things like Facebook to deal with impurity and bring refinement to their faith. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that value structure of certain technologies will actively help us form away from Christ’s image, not toward it.
Second is God’s call to disciple all nations. Facebook, YouTube, and the like become tribes in and of themselves. They possess values, ethics, frameworks, judicial processes, leaders and chiefs, networks, and other things similar to the cultures of every society. Social platforms can train us to be effective communicators of the Gospel, insomuch as we utilize the platform to care for, pastor, shepherd, and lead people to and in Christ.
The Bad: The bad side of all this is that our “face” gimmicks is not good enough to cover the reality. These technologies do lean toward making us faceless. Through the language of the face and body most of communication is conducted, and when people are given a platform that effectively hides their true selves behind what they “want us to see” of who they are, true “knowing” of another person is hindered.
I’ve also noticed a complication trend in conflict management in my circles over the past five years due to social media. There’s a shift happening in that email, Facebook, and even texting are becoming popular in their use for those wanting to acceptably vent, conduct conflict resolution, gossip, initiate break-ups, induce bad mouthing, initiate resignations, and even handle divorce. These faceless mediums cause us to ignore biblical imperatives to love each other even in the hardest of situations—namely, when there’s tension and conflict of opinion. As found in Matthew 18, for instance, we are instructed to go to people with issues, as Scripture clearly commands us, not go around, through and to others.
Created here is a petri dish for breeding gossip, covetousness, and a host of other forms of disobedience to Scripture, and it trickles into everyday “real face” interaction. People become insecure, cowardly, and silently subversive toward one another. We become more related to our phones than the people on the other side or around us. We hold a “social” badge up in the name of technology while the hard work of real relationship—namely forbearance, honesty, love, kindness, self-control, and the like—grow anemic and quickly atrophy, as we are never challenged to use them. We trick ourselves into believing we’re becoming better, and meanwhile, like a pick-axe at the wall of a coal mine, these technologies—let’s call them theologies for they clearly not only reinforce the beliefs of those making them, but the shape the belief and praxis of those using them—chip away at us. They shape us with their glory-seeking liturgies—, their investigative, evasive, passive, and sometimes altogether covetous rhythms.
The Ugly: This is the ugly! These things can shape us, our love of people, and our relationship to a personal and face-time God. In Matthew 18:20, the Scripture makes it clear to us that “where two or three are gathered” the presence of God is surely in their midst—a face to face image! We often quote this verse to assure ourselves of God’s presence with us in our worship and our prayers, but the context here is clear that God is making a special promise to us regarding His presence in our conflict—a special presence in our conflicts with each other. This is his dedicative statement toward reconciliation. He commits Himself to bringing us face-to-face again in love, not only with each other but also with Himself.
We must consider the rhythms and theologies that our social platforms are preaching to us, not for the purpose of condemning them, but for welcoming how they expose our own hearts, utilizing them to best love others and serve God, and being excited to lay them aside at the opportunity of spending REAL FACE TIME in the presence of others and with the Triune God.