Technology, Religion and Human Security in the 21st Century

Time to publish a lecture I gave ten years ago as part of the 40th Anniversary Lecture Series at the University of Winnipeg:

(November 22, 2007)

I want to thank the Alumni Association for the invitation to be part of the 40th Anniversary Lecture series. Since I began my studies here thirty-one years ago, I have accumulated a number of debts to this institution and its faculty, staff and students.

As a student, I experienced the best of a challenging and rewarding liberal arts education. Over the intervening years, as I wandered through the academy, I always found a welcome back at the University of Winnipeg as my professors became both mentors and friends.

Ten years ago, when I returned to Winnipeg to teach and my professors became colleagues, the courses I taught in the departments of History, Philosophy, and Religious Studies and in the Faculty of Theology enabled me to work in a multi-disciplinary way that I had always felt important.

Other responsibilities made it impossible for me to attend Bob Young’s wonderful first lecture in this series, but he was entirely correct in identifying the significance of interested students in the creation of good teachers.

Under the hot lights of the television studio, broadcasting live in prime time to the whole city in a way that brought the university into the community in a truly remarkable fashion, I thrived on the ideas and passion of hundreds of intelligent, articulate and concerned students, while the staff of the Centre for Distributed/Distance Learning filed away some of my rougher edges and diplomatically challenged any inconsistencies that the students might have missed.

So, when I considered what to present to you this afternoon, I was reminded of an intriguing course I inherited and taught in Religious Studies, called “Images of Power: The Religious and Technological Imaginations.” If I were teaching it now, this lecture would have been part of our conversation.

I want to start by offering a conclusion about technology, religion and human security in the 21st century, and then will spend the rest of the lecture unpacking what it means, and why I would reach such a conclusion.

Human security is clearly one of the most compelling and troubling issues of our time. However human security is construed or constructed, the tendency of globalized western scientific culture is to use technological means to maintain security, or at least to minimize insecurity. In a post 9/11 environment, moreover, religion – all religion and not just Islam – seems to be regarded as a negative or destabilizing force.

I argue, however, that the reverse is actually more accurate – we will never achieve any significant measure of human security in the 21st century by technological means alone. Further, the uncritical reliance on technology – and the marginalizing of religion – is more likely to decrease such security.

Only a better understanding of our own technology, and a willingness to acknowledge and incorporate existing religious beliefs in the context of human security on a global scale, will make it possible for the 21st century to be less bloody at its end than it has been to this point.

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Faith, Culture and Dialogue in the Global Village

(May 10, 2016)

To mark Earth Day 2016, I flew to Tehran, Iran, for the weekend.

On one level, this is as crazy as it sounds, but there were good reasons to make the trip.

It was the second International Seminar on Environment, Culture and Religion, hosted by the Islamic Republic of Iran and co-sponsored by UNESCO and the United Nations environment program (UNEP). It brought together about two dozen global representatives of different religions to meet with colleagues from Iran, for an inter-faith talk as part of the UN’s 2030 agenda for sustainable development.

I was there as a speaker, sponsored by UNEP, and I headed the final plenary panel on global partnerships.

The first such seminar was held in the spring of 2001, just before the world changed with 9/11. Since then, global tension and politics had made further progress difficult, at least until the election of a more moderate government in Iran and the nuclear agreement reached last July.

We were warmly welcomed, hospitably treated and met a host of Iranians working on environmental issues who were delighted to share opinions.

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The Hand of God

When I travel, I go for local. Every place has its opportunity for iconic experiences.

A recent trip to Nova Scotia meant a spontaneous trip to Peggy’s Cove, when the weather belied the forecast, to catch a glorious sunset and strong winds crashing the waves on rocks that kicked spray on my camera lens.

After the sailing ship tour of Halifax harbour there was steamed lobster on the wharf – disdaining the net, I plunged my arm into the tank and bravely grabbed the feistiest two-pounder for my supper.

On the road to Sydney (with McLobster sandwiches for fuel), the sunny and clear day meant wonderful views of the Bras D’Or Lakes – and picking up a CD, oatcakes and tea at Rita McNeil’s Teahouse in Big Pond.

Collecting stones washed up on the shore at Glace Bay led to bird watching at Dominion Beach early in the morning, after a night of singing local music in a pub marred only by drinking imported Guinness because they ran out of Cape Breton Scotch. Keeping the maritime theme, there was another lobster for supper at the ferry docks in North Sydney (four pounds!) before it was time to trek back to Halifax.

Leaving the coal mines of Sydney and Glace Bay in the early morning fog and rain to drive along the Louisbourg road along the east coast of Cape Breton, I pulled out the CD from Big Pond and drove to the rhythms of Rita and the Men of the Deep, headed for Port Marien and then – the ultimate iconic destination – to Main a Dieu, the Hand of God.

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