I don’t remember the novel, I think it was Dostoyevsky’s The Idiot, in which one character is a mid-nineteenth century version of our contemporary biblical prophecy/end of the world fanatics. For this nineteenth century millennialist, the demonic star Wormwood that had fallen to the earth was the railroad with its power to overthrow the long-established order of things, moving peasants from the land to the cities, moving armies hundreds of miles in a day, moving food and goods to markets across the continent.
Each major technological development throughout history it seems has been a mixed blessing. On the one hand technology has brought abundance and has extended life expectancy and made universal education possible. On the other hand, technology has made sinful thoughts and impulses much more easy to act out. Take the railway as an example. Living one’s entire life in a village in which everyone knows just about every detail of every person’s life keeps the price very high for indulgence in sinful indiscretion. Each serious fall is known by everyone and forgotten by no one. However, if you get on the train and go to the city, then (using the money that should probably be spent getting your children shoes) you can secretly indulge just about any sinful fantasy you can imagine.
Does that mean that trains are evil. Not at all. But sin, that it might be seen as utterly sinful uses what is good for evil. This is St. Paul’s argument modified from Romans 7:13.
Today, electronic technology has made the acting out of sinful desires easier than ever. Every sin imaginable (and many I’ve never imagined) is only a few key strokes away on the internet. And yet, the internet has made the entire library of the holy patristic Fathers of the Church available to everyone. You can learn a language on-line, see the wonders of the world on-line, even access the liturgical texts for any service of the Church on-line.
In the clergy meeting today, His Eminence Archbishop Joseph read the opening prayer from his iPad. He did this on purpose, for he said that he wanted to demonstrate to the clergy that technology is not our enemy. Sin is our enemy. If technology helps us pray and love and care for others, then we need not be afraid of it. He even went so far as to say, “We must in every way embrace the 21st century, in every way but sin.” This sounds to me very much like what I imagine St. Paul would say were he living today.
I am sending you this message through the internet, an internet that I use only with the child protection software set at the highest level. Technology is a mixed blessing. I guess that is why Jesus told us to be as wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.