Alliance instead of competition

by Archbishop Józef Życiński, Catholic University of Lublin

The relationship between the technological and the religious vision of the world is often presented in the terms of mutual competition. In the process of scientific growth, it was P.S. Laplace who - after eliminating any reference to God from his exposition of celestial mechanics – claimed: “I had no need for this hypothesis”. Today the same motive of self-sufficient nature has been proposed  by Stephen Hawking in “The Grand Design” published together with Leonard Mladinow in 2010. We cannot reject similar proposals when auto-sufficiency is conceived of as epistemological and methodological autonomy appreciated in scientific research already by Galileo. There is no cognitive competition between religious faith and natural science as far as one does not accept ontological naturalism which forbids reference to God even on the level of philosophical investigations. Such a rejection of the classical philosophy of God has nothing in common with new scientific discoveries; it simply discloses methodology transformed into metaphysics. Its critics could paraphrase Laplace saying: We do not need this strong version of metaphysics without God.

Also on the level of the debates concerning the cultural transformations of our epoch, when new achievements of science and technology are praised, very often one repeats the leitmotiv: “We have no need for God; what is God for?” In the style of such pragmatism, one could ask:  “What is Mozart for? What are Dante and Rubens for?” To list new axiological proposals for the society of postmodern pragmatists one could declare pathetically: “We do need neither friendship nor altruism. Success, pleasure  and financial profits are elementary values important for contemporary society.” In this perspective, one ignores the basic values that shaped for ages our civilization; the very concept of human cultural identity could be easily lost in this version of pragmatism.

Trying to bring a Christian answer to the challenges of our epoch it seems necessary to refer to John Paul II’s famous phrase: “Do not be afraid!”. Let us not be afraid either of new technological achievement or the Internet. We should notice their possible positive role in discovering truth and in teaching responsible freedom. To accept the importance of the new forms of communication we should try to consistently place Jesus Christ at the center of new technologies[1]. New perspective for evangelization by appropriate use of novel technologies brings a chance of pastoral care for the milieu called by Czesław Miłosz “homeless religious minds”. At the same time, an important question arises: How to find – with the help of the Internet – the lost home for the culturally homeless, the home in which we can form a community that shares the fundamental human values?

In order to answer the latter question, it is first necessary to ask: Is it possible to create – in the global world – a global parish carrying universal truths and stressing the role of absolute values? The positive answer was given by John Paul II on the 36th World Communications Day, making the following appeal: “I dare to summon the whole Church bravely to cross this new threshold, to put out into the deep of the Net, so that now as in the past the great engagement of the Gospel and culture may show to the world «the glory of God on the face of Christ» (2 Cor 4:6)”.[2]

To develop an optimistic vision of “electronic evangelization” and to counteract the competition mentality, we should interpret new scientific discoveries in the spirit of Christian  hope – which inspires an optimistic vision of the axiological dimension of modern technology. This optimism has been grounded in history.  After the Gutenberg Revolution, the transition from the spoken word to the printed one was no cultural tragedy. However, it was necessary to recognize that the truth could be proclaimed in the context of the radically new cultural conditions. Homer’s verse, learned by heart and recited, was significantly different from large philosophical treatises issued in print; that, however, was not considered the basis for dramatized prognoses of the crisis of culture. Similarly, in the actual situation one should not follow the mentality of competition between new technologies and Christian cultural heritage. Instead of creating an atmosphere of inevitable conflicts, it is necessary to make use of the new evangelization opportunities opened up by the electronic media.

It would be a dramatic misunderstanding for the Church to distance itself with fear from those new technologies that introduce the sense of great intellectual adventure into the contemporary culture. It is our duty to accentuate the fact that God speaks to humanity according to the cultural level of the time, and it is our task to make efforts to read the message addressed to our generation. The style which Saint Paul adopted in his message on the Athenian Areopagus reminds us of our obligation to preach Jesus on the cultural Areopags of the contemporary world. We cannot concentrate upon looking for threats and enemies. The joyful truth about the Resurrection should be united with our respect for human dignity. "Our" culture, built on the foundations of the Apostles' faith, needs not competition but new sources of spiritual energy. To find them, one should emulate the Apostles' courage and preach the Gospel of hope by using new forms of communication provided by modern media.

[1] Congregazione per l’Educatione Cattolica, Internet e la formazione nei Seminari, 13.

[2] John Paul II, Message of the Holy Father for the 36th World Communications Day, 2002.