A Look at Technology and the Effects on the Religious Personality

A Look at Technology and the Effects on the Religious Personality
This lesson is taken form an essay written by Andrzej Szczypiorski who addressed the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the United Nations. I expounded on it with the Messianic Jewish information provided us by the B’rit Chadashah for consistency and some comparison to the Orthodox perspective. The question was “What kind of a world will the next generation face?” He correctly posited that society’s reliance on science and technological advancements to create a better world is mistaken. I want you to think for a moment about how the Orthodoxy teaches that Jews must work to make the world better for only then will Messiah come. This is a parallel misconception. We should be able to readily observe that Messiah is coming soon, but it is in no way due to an improving world situation. In fact, Yahshua taught the opposite would be the case.
Before we move on, I want to call your attention to something I heard on the news today. A Catholic church in Pasco or Pinellas County purchased an overhead projector to display words for their musical selections for all to read. So far, so good. Then they started posting scriptures to go along with the teaching to facilitate the congregation’s being able to see them. Evidently, the Bishops shot down this idea, forbidding the projection of scripture on an overhead stating that scriptures must be “proclaimed” and not simply “projected.” The priest who came up with the projection idea is no less than stunned. Now, WHO are the legalists!!! Back to our essay.
If we go back to Babylon and the Tower of Babel, we recall the people thought themselves greater than G-d. They had one language to unite them and believed there was no need for G-d. Similarly, technological advancements and the desire to perpetuate newer, faster, “better” is based on a philosophy that man can change the world at will, similar to the Babylonians. It is aimed at eliminating moral responsibility to G-d and fellow men. It focuses on eliminating human fear-redeeming man from the dark, from the elements, from mysteries of the universe, placing in “sleep” mode the metaphysical yearnings of the soul to search out and connect with G-d. The conscious is removed and replaced with the latest computer that has no capacity for human sensitivity or ability to display a human’s principles or moral choices.
Although there is a paucity of evidence-based research on the subject of technology’s effects on human spirituality, there are four basic areas in which technology is affecting us. These include consciousness/awareness, interpersonal relations and communication, our respect for privacy, and our sensitivity to truth and not hurting others.
Let’s look at an example from Orthodox practice of Amidah and wrapping tefillin. The author relates an experience whereby he observed a young man in the synagogue had his siddur, tallit, and tefillin bags neatly arranged in front of him. Next to his tallit bag, he placed his cell phone. Later, when he stood up and moved to the isle for the Amidah, he moved his cell phone to the edge of the table, closer to him. Toward the end of the Amidah, the phone rang, but at least he didn’t answer it. However, when he stepped back three steps at the end of the Amidah, he had his phone in hand and he checked his messages before taking three steps forward. How much of this individual’s attention was available for the Amidah? If a person’s attention is partly dedicated to anything other than the primary subject at hand such as Torah study or participating in the service, he or she will be less aware of whatever else or whomever else he/she is engaged in or with. Unfortunately, this is rapidly becoming the norm. G-d knew this and strongly admonished us not to let anything come between our worship/study of G-d and our relationship with fellow believers. It’s called idolatry in case you forgot. This includes all forms of technology that can distract us from Torah study .While technology can be used as a tremendous asset to learning Torah, it is a two-edged sword with which we must control. The age-old expectation of immersing oneself in learning is a rarity, but a situation that is most rewarding. Try it and you’ll know of what I speak. Unfortunately, rather than taking comfort in growing connection to G-d, people choose to stay connected to the Internet and panic when service is interrupted. I notice the loss of the ability to interact with humans in practice. People who are totally dependent and immersed in technological equipment have no idea how to establish eye contact with other humans or “read” their body language. At least SKYPE, DISCORD, and ZOOM are options allowing people to virtually “see” other humans during a conversation.
In modern Hebrew there is an expression that says, “generally the urgent pushes aside the important.” When one is living a life of multitasking, there is always something urgent. Such a lifestyle generally guarantees that one will never be free to set priorities and concentrate on that which is of ultimate importance; G-d’s Torah. There is a saying in the Talmud that says “do not say ‘when I am free I will get wisdom.’ Perhaps you will never be free.” This says it all. Yahshua taught that where our treasures are, our hearts are also (Matt. 6:21). We are to store up our treasures in heaven and not on a virtual game board or a banking system.
Another highly valued aspect of technological advances is speed. More, faster, better. People pay hundreds of dollars more for 5G over 4G and purchase new equipment when there is nothing wrong with last years’ model. Unfortunately, this flows over in our relationships with humans, and with our children. If a child or other person with whom we communicate does not respond with the speed of 5G,we turn them off and focus our attention elsewhere. Patience is lost and those with whom we are “communicating” will simply shut down and become depressed and anxious. In these situations, there is no room for “down-time for the mind” in which we can cogitate, reflect on our thoughts, readings, studies, etc. let alone internalizing them. Becoming habituated to instant communication may also affect our ability to “wait”; to delay instant gratification, which certainly affects our spiritual growth.
It is vitally important for us to keep technology where it belongs in our personal lives. It can be a wonderful tool as previously mentioned, but it takes discipline to keep it in perspective. It is great to explore concepts, words, commentaries, etc. as they relate to a subject such as Torah study. However, freedom of speech and expression provides an environment ripe for non-credible teachers and “wannabes” to post opinions, commentaries, and “teachings” that promote false doctrines and personal agendas. Yahshua tells us “ I am sending you out as sheep among wolves: Be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves”(Matt. 10:16). Let us apply these timeless teachings and principles to everything to which we are exposed in this age, including technological advances.
Shabbat Shalom,
R. Tamah Davis-Hart