On 12 April 2018, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew addressed the 21st Eurasian Economic Summit that took place in Istanbul, with the support of the Marmara Foundation, on the theme: “Dilemma of the Century: Technology vs. Politics. Beyond Dilemmas”.
In his address, the Patriarch said:
“Our world today is undoubtedly changing with rapid pace. The cause of these astonishing changes is the amazing development of technology and biotechnology, and the revolution of information and its multifaceted branches—an event which constitutes the greatest worldwide cultural revolution in the history of humanity. Today, technology is not simply a use of scientific knowledge, but rather it has become the focus of human existence—the perspective in which all the aspects of civilization receive meaning. As was recently said, “technology today holds the key to all the areas of life: science, politics, economics, medicine etc. No one can disregard it without being punished with marginalization or even extinction.
Indeed, technology is the “great power” of our time. It effectively serves the human being, the prevention and treatment of diseases, it prolongs our lifespan, it facilitates our daily life, the outpouring of knowledge and information, and it promotes communication. What was once considered to be irreversible and fatal—an insurmountable obstacle—today, it can be addressed and overcome. Most likely, the words “fate” and “fatal conditions” are unpleasing terms for contemporary science and technology.
According to the American media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman, contemporary technocracy has taken on the form of “technopoly,” the complete domination of technology in all aspects of life, “the surrender of culture to technology.” Technology penetrates society in every area. It reforms society and imposes upon it its own logic and solutions. The target of technopoly is the unrestricted adaptation of the human individual to the demands of technology. The emblem and the symbol of technopoly is the computer, which now has basically become the center of our life.
No one can deny the positive contributions which emerge from the progress of science and technology. Moreover, no person can close his eyes to the numerous negatives of technopoly. In any case, criticism against technology cannot signify the overall rejection of technology’s achievements. For, such a rejection—as mentioned by Neil Postman—would actually equate to us denying the very act of breathing.
In our lives today, we experience the uncontrollable dominance of machines. Technology has been autonomized from the human being’s basic needs, as a robot that does not adhere to its creator. Instead of being man’s servant, it has become an “all-powerful goddess,” which demands that we completely submit to her will and every order. In turn, “information” is glorified and thus acquires a metaphysical status. The computer leads us to evaluate everything (i.e. things, events, even people) as “data,” as something to be processed, hence, making fast and measurable effectiveness the chief aim of human thought and action. The almighty means of electronic communication do not simply transmit information; they shape our views regarding life and its meaning, they steer our desires and needs, and they influence the ranking of our values. Consequently, age-old traditions are weakened, symbols erode and progress itself ends up being identified with technological progress.
Artfully, an impression is given off that the key to the solution of all problems lies in the ability of computers to store and compute a tremendous volume of information in a lightning fast rate. Unfortunately, within this context, we can easily forget that our greatest problems are not of technical nature and do not derive from a lack of information. Violence, crime, starvation and social injustice, fanaticism and the clash of civilizations, are not caused by a lack of information or technology, nor can they be addressed through computer science. It is also evident that scientific progress and the development of technology do not answer the deep existential questions of man, and they most certainly do not eliminate these problems either.
Bearing these aforementioned reasons in mind—while still enjoying the benefits of technology—we simultaneously worry for our endangered freedom, our precious traditions that are lost and the natural environment that is being destroyed. Finally, a quantitative reality is not the only thing that exists. Also existing, is the “dimension of the depth” of reality, its mystery, the meaning and the beauty. Science is a “great power” but it is not almighty. In one way or another, whatever is scientifically and artificially feasible, does not necessarily mean that it is also essential and good. For this reason, it is erroneous to hold the view that nothing but self-deception exists outside of science; when, actually, it is not at all self-deceiving to expect solutions from outside of science when it is unable to provide them.
At this point, we would also like to make an additional observation: Never before has the human being possessed so much knowledge, and simultaneously, never before has he acted so destructively against his neighbor and nature. We are keenly aware, but instead act as though we are unaware. Knowledge does not have immediate practical consequences on our attitude, but rather, it coexists with cynicism and aggressiveness. Scientific knowledge and technology have been used and continue to be used for the manufacturing of terrifying weapons of mass destruction. In the western world, the explosion of knowledge fostered individualism and consumerism. Elsewhere, the development of technology coexists with various forms of fundamentalism and social injustice. It is obviously apparent that the development of science and technology does not automatically lead to progress in other vital areas of life.
What can a religious leader say in the face of all this? Firstly, we underline the following: That the most precious truths for the human being and his final destiny are stored within the sacred religious texts of humanity. For Christianity, the human person and his protection from every threat—wherever it may come from—lies at the apex of its scale of values. From the Christian perspective, it is impossible to declare today’s immense progress of technology a “real progress,” given that within its framework, the human person and his freedom are broadly undermined, as the mayor of Kadiköy already said.
In this spirit, the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, which convened in Crete during the month of June 2016, in its Encyclical, referred to contemporary technological and scientific developments with the following:
Through the contemporary development of science and technology, our life is changing radically. And what brings about a change in the life of man demands discernment on his part, since, apart from significant benefits, such as the facilitation of everyday life, the successful treatment of serious diseases and space exploration, we are also confronted with the negative consequences of scientific progress. The dangers are the manipulation of human freedom, the use of man as a simple means, the gradual loss of precious traditions, and threats to, or even the destruction of, the natural environment. Unfortunately, science by its very nature, does not possess the necessary means to prevent or address many of the problems it creates directly or indirectly. Scientific knowledge does not motivate man’s moral will, and even though aware of the dangers, he continues to act as if unaware of them. The answer to man’s serious existential and moral problems and to the eternal meaning of his life and of the world cannot be given without a spiritual approach. (par. 11)
In closing our address, we would like to emphasize a second point from the perspective of Orthodox Christian theology, which has a direct relation to the formulation of our symposium’s topic, “The Dilemma of the Century,” as well as the title of our address, “Beyond Dilemmas.” There is neither dilemma nor doubt of any kind when it comes to the need of cooperation between technology, politics, economics and religion, in order to address the problems that are primarily due to their autonomous function—exclusively on the basis of their own specific principles and criteria. As long as these powers continue to ignore one another, they can never truly benefit humanity. They all have to serve man, his freedom and his well-being, and they must work together for the protection of his dignity.
It is by this genuine criterion that a civilization’s identity and humanistic content should be primarily assessed, and not by the level of its technological development and prowess.“