I came across the following statement in an article in the February IEEE Spectrum Magazine. The article was on setting (technology) targets, but the context matters not:
Terrorism, chaotic climates, cyberweapons, mysterious diseases, vanishing species: The list of fixable perils grows longer with each year. Technologies of abundance altered our existence but came at a cost that is only now being more accurately counted. This tension-between the glories of our engineered lives and the price to be paid for them-is the essential drama of our times.
Now I might add to the list of terrors (note some listed are man-made, others are not), and I might dispute that “the tension … is the essential drama of our times”. The essential drama of our times, as in all times, is that between man and God.
But this statement from an engineering magazine reminded me of some things I read and meditated on in Spes Salvi.
Pope Benedict notes about Karl Marx: “His real error is materialism: man is not merely the product of economic conditions.” And commenting on Bacon, Benedict writes: “Man can never be redeemed simply from the outside.” (both from PP 21)
Both statements make a lie that any particular lifestyle (other than one that is intrinsically evil) or particular possessions (or lack thereof) make a man intrinsically closer or farther from God.
Pope Benedict goes on to note that a pessimist (I forget his name) defined progress as simply “the slingshot to the atom bomb.”
Benedict notes (now I am paraphrasing) that progress and technology build on itself from generation to generation. The right use of development of technology and progress is dependent on these being guided by virtuous men. The problem is when it is not guided by the virtuous. (I recall that one of the Founding Fathers noted that our Constitution would only work for a virtuous people – a warning for us to be sure.)
However, virtue is not like technology. Virtue does not build (necessarily) from generation to generation. Sure, we have the shoulders of Augustine, Aquinas, and all the Church Fathers, saints, and holy men and women to stand on, but the virtue is chosen (or not) to be acquired anew with each man.
One of our problems (paraphrasing from Pope Benedict again) is that temporal hopes are fulfilled (targets met in the engineer’s realm) and leave us wanting-so the search goes on-progress marches, not counting the cost.
But our world, which reverences science and technology, has not yet learned the lesson. Technology and progress not guided by the virtuous and for the common good-the common good in one sense being that man can concentrate on salvation of souls - truly leaves use to pay the price for the glories of our “progress.”
Note, that the solution is not simply to go back to the slingshot or to a Luddite farm as “Man can never be redeemed simply from the outside”, but to acquire virtue and sanctity in whatever our circumstances are and to live the gospel with our lives and speech.
Oremus pro invicem!