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.

To begin unpacking, the germ of this lecture came out of two incidents in a course I taught on technology and warfare to military personnel in the Officer Professional Military Education program in 2003.

In the first incident, to demonstrate the nature of technological systems and their fragility, I had challenged the class to a counter-terrorism exercise. Mayor Glen Murray had threatened to annex neighbouring municipalities to the city of Winnipeg as a way of making them pay for the city facilities they used.

On the spot, I became a member of the St. Andrews’ Liberation Front, and for $50 and a trip to Home Hardware, I told them I would terrorize the city – no one would be hurt, but they could have been – and challenged them to stop me. The confident smiles of the professionals faded as, time after time, I struck and got away unscathed.

It was a quieter group, at the end of our session, when I observed that I had no specific technical training, just an awareness of the ways in which systems of technology go together.

In the second incident, a few weeks later, as the invasion of Iraq continued to unfold, I was elaborating on my opinion that the Middle East would be more dangerous without Saddam Hussein, and that it was a huge mistake for the American coalition to invade Iraq, when a student erupted in response.

Angrily, he vented for several minutes on religious extremists, how they didn’t care who they killed, that they were a threat to all that was good and decent, that their world was not one in which reasonable people had a right to exist, and how we had to do something about them. He eventually wound down, and went a little pale when he realized how intemperate he had been.

The class looked at me for my response, and there was disbelief on their faces when I calmly said, first, “You’re absolutely right. I agree with everything you’ve said.” Then, in the stunned silence, I followed with the punchline: “Of course, there is also the problem of what to do about the Muslim extremists.”

From the looks on their faces, no one had considered that in the Iraq conflict, as in every other conflict in which religion plays a role, there are fanatics of all sects and sorts on all sides who are equally a menace to the rest of us.

In the first incident, the issue is the extent to which we can plan and act in ways that in fact make us secure.

In the second incident, the issue is the role that belief, particularly religious belief, plays in shaping our view of the world and our response to its problems.

Whether it is the tools of technological systems or the processes which employ these tools, the unsettling reality is the closer we observe the operations of these systems, the less secure we are likely to feel.

I remember taking a history class from the U of W on a tour of the virology lab, and having to spend time later on helping them overcome their consternation at the inadequate level of security we observed.

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, we were not reassured to find that security there had been increased by putting a security guard on the roof with a pair of binoculars.

We would like to feel secure, let’s say when we travel by air; whether it is more secure or not as a result of the measures taken at airports, it has certainly become more inconvenient to fly.

Yet every time I fly, I can’t help but identify a number of ways I could bring down the flight myself, knowing that I have no special training or tools, and knowing it would be impossible to stop me.

I am left to conclude that it is the appearance of doing something, and the feeling of security which results, that is the most important.

Perhaps this is why 9/11 was such a shock to the North American psyche — not that the tactics or targets were a surprise, but it was the way the delusion of security was stripped away, over and over again, and in full colour, that hit us so hard.

We could liken it to emergency preparedness or public health — it’s not that either will actually function in the event of a serious problem, but the optics are such that we feel more secure, provided we don’t look too closely at the systems involved.

It is ironic, therefore, that when we speak of security, we are effectively operating in the realm of belief.

We believe what we are told, we believe that the measures taken will keep us safe or healthy, we trust the pronouncements of those in charge, and little effort is expended on investigating the veracity of the claims that are made.

Even when investigations take place, and holes are exposed, somehow the belief continues that “things will be different” when something bad happens to us.

Pronouncements about security are usually couched in the language of science. We live in a culture in which popular belief in western science and technology seems, on the whole, more simplistic and naive than any equivalent set of religious beliefs.

If we are told the situation is under control; that we are spraying mosquitoes to control West Nile virus; that we have a flu pandemic emergency plan; or that there is indisputable proof of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, most people believe it.

From a distance, as the song goes, the situation looks stable and reasonable and trustworthy, but the moment our views and beliefs are scrutinized in the light of events, or the contexts are themselves are deconstructed, to our consternation the sense of security evaporates, along with confident predictions of what will come next.

We may couch our predictions in the language of probability or hide behind the statistical veil, but there is rarely a day when nature in some guise does not render human measures futile in the face of forces we can neither predict nor control.

But, like weather forecasting, as long as you can explain after the fact why you were wrong, people continue to have faith in the forecast, no matter how many times it is incorrect.

The alternative — that we can neither predict nor control despite the technological tools we have at our disposal — is too frightening in its implications for us to accept.

After all, if there is one characteristic of western science and technology that we celebrate, it is predictability; using the same method and materials, we get the same answer or result, every time.

One could easily argue that the only reason our systems continue to function despite their obvious flaws is because we live in what Ursula Franklin called a culture of compliance.

Air travel is only possible because the overwhelming majority of people, not only in western society but around the world, want to arrive at their destination and comply with whatever the rules and regulations happen to be, however pointless.

We don’t examine too closely their reasons for compliance, however; it might be habit, or good nature, but it could be that the majority of people simply believe crashing domestic airliners to be wrong, particularly when they are on board.

Overall security, therefore, depends more on the good will of the population, not upon coercion or any type of technological intervention. The moment the population chooses not to cooperate, refuses to believe or changes what it believes, the system disintegrates.

Security in a connected or wired society thus depends primarily on the compliance of all participants. Anyone who uses a computer, for example, is educated or coerced into compliance in order to use the technology.

To log-on, we must put in the right password to run a program, we must install it in a certain way, and if we forget the updates or a myriad of related support activities, we will be pestered repeatedly until we comply.

Whether we need or want any of these things is increasingly irrelevant, as the decisions are taken by the makers, not by the users.

In effect, we are surrendering our autonomy, not merely in terms of choice (which is an old complaint) but also the autonomy that comes from knowing and understanding the choices we might make and why.

As citizens of a globalized western scientific and technological society, we have come to live in a culture of not just of compliance, therefore, but of surrender, where in order to get something new, we must surrender what is old, preferably without thinking very much about whether it is a good idea.

As technological and social systems have become increasingly interrelated, this culture of surrender has meant three things: first, the loss of knowledge and skills gained by cultures over thousands of years; second, the abdication of individual responsibility for the daily choices humans make; and third, the exclusion of religious beliefs from their traditional place in the social sphere of those societies that have accepted the epistemological parameters of western science and technology.

To begin with the first, one of the tragedies of the residential school experience for aboriginal people in Canada was the loss of language, and the resulting loss of culture.

Language and culture are intimately interwoven, and never more so than in an oral culture, where the stories and what they mean are passed down from generation to generation. In oral culture, those stories are always one generation away from extinction; all it takes is for one generation to neglect or be denied its cultural responsibilities, and the next generation has lost most of the cultural heritage that has accumulated over a period perhaps of thousands of years. Lose the language, take away the social and cultural opportunity for the stories to be passed along, and the knowledge is lost forever.

While we now can see the tragedy of the residential schools, we still seem blind to what has happened to many families and local communities in western society as a consequence of our culture of surrender. In a generation or two, we have lost the skills and abilities, the stories and even the languages that have accumulated over many generations, and we neither notice nor mourn their loss, much less take steps to reverse it.

The cumulative knowledge of thousands of generations has been replaced by the latest Google search results, produced by some mysterious epistemic algorithm, and the language of Shakespeare has been truncated into a globalized English missing more vowels than it uses. One might say we are facing the MSNd of civilization as we know it!

I have surveyed classes for twenty years about knowledge and skills commonplace in my parents’ and grandparents’ generations – how to make bread; grow a vegetable garden; make soup from scratch; milk a cow; build a fire; make jam; preserve fruits and vegetables. Twenty years ago the results were troubling – fewer than half of any class could do or had done any of the sorts of things I mentioned. Today, the numbers are less than 20% and dropping. When I tell students that my father learned to team oxen as a child, and that I worked in a blacksmith shop, they jump to extravagant conclusions about my age or his, not really grasping the rapidity of technological change in the last century.

We lament the extinction of species, and worry about the loss of genetic diversity, yet we have already experienced the extinction of much of what humans have learned, the hard way, and the loss of epistemic diversity is far more catastrophic than anything the biosphere has yet to endure.

As the tide of western science and technology sweeps away the knowledge and skills of other cultures around the world, we face the reality that even what we have received in exchange for our own cultural heritage makes Esau’s deal for the bowl of pottage look like a bargain.

Go to any rummage sale, and there will be piles of knitting needles and yarn left at the end, things no one will pay a nickel for, because they don’t know how to knit.

Ask young people to write a set of instructions on how to make soup from a can, as I do in some of my courses, and prepare to be shocked at the level of cooking incompetence; I can only imagine the havoc they would wreak on a kitchen should they try to make it from scratch!

The answer I get in response to my critique always in some way involves the word “progress,” that progress toward the new and better requires the loss of whatever is old and out of date. We don’t need to know how to knit, I’m told, because there now are machines that can do it for us.

People in our society often say they believe in progress, but as I ask my students, what’s your unit of measure?

Progress requires measurement, and any measurement requires some kind of unit, some benchmark. When we look at the implications of whole systems, or at supposed advances in the light of life-cycle costs and their environmental or social implications, the confident statements we tend to make about progress are less than persuasive.

That there is change is indisputable; that many changes constitute progress is a fish of another colour.

Uncritical acceptance of these changes, and the absence of any real concern over what is being lost, is a result of the second element of the culture of surrender, the abdication of personal responsibility for the choices individuals make, every day.

Most people would agree that there are social and environmental problems today. Too few, it seems, recognize these problems are a consequence of the choices they make, nor do they accept responsibility for making different and better choices as part of any solution.

Someone else should do something; they don’t see that they have any real choices; the choices they make are submerged in habits of thoughtlessness or the imitation of others equally thoughtless, and the excuses for inaction multiply like the plague.

In the end, their own individual responsibility is transferred to external agencies, whether it is the government, or industry, or whatever else seems to be a likely candidate. Individual responsibility is replaced by a dependence upon other, often technological, agencies.

So there will be an answer to environmental problems, as long as science and technology can devise one.

The 1950s image of the superhero engineer still remains part of our cultural psyche (as do the heroic images of the doctor and the scientist) and so we live out our poor choices, oblivious to the damage we do, because we expect someone, from somewhere else, will rescue us from disaster just in time.

In teaching students about ethical choices, and challenging them on their philosophy of technology and the values reflected in it, I have been impressed by their responses. Once they have been confronted with the choices they are making, they are able to identify ways of making different choices, with different outcomes and according to different principles, even if sometimes they do it while kicking and screaming.

The troubling reality that confronts us when we take a close look at environmental problems, however, is that we already have all of the technology we need successfully to address them.

We don’t need more science or better technology; we just need the conviction and determination to use what we already have, to do what we know needs to be done.

In similar fashion, the social ills of our global society, whether they are identified in terms of food, water, healthcare, conflict or economic disparity, are equally amenable to solution with the tools at hand. Once again, we lack the conviction and determination to use what we already have to solve them.

This brings me to the third element of the culture of surrender, and by a circuitous route back to the discussion of religion with which I began this lecture. We have excluded religious beliefs from their traditional place in the social sphere of communities that have accepted the epistemological parameters of western science and technology. As a result, we can’t decide what we know or what we should do because we seem unable to discuss in the social sphere what we believe.

It may seem like a stretch to tie issues of human security and the troubling nature of the technology upon which we rely to a dispute between science and religion, but bear with me.

In the last 125 years, the separation between church and state in North America has led to the articulation of laws, structures and educational systems that, for the most part, were proclaimed to be independent of the influences of Christian religion. The tacit if not explicit assumption, of course, is that these influences somehow were malignant, that the presence of religion — and particularly Christian religion — somehow undercut the advancement of the true knowledge that came to be associated with the activities of science.

As we attempt to divide the sacred from the secular, however, I would argue we have created not only a false dichotomy that is not shared by other cultures around the world, but a dangerous one within the context of global society in the 21st century.

The myth of secularity, which we bundle together with the scientific method, the root myth of our culture, has two functions: first, the substitution of “the facts” for belief and second, the disabling of any critical function in society relating to the assessment and validation of beliefs.

In the myth of the secular, a separation between fact and belief is not only possible, but desirable and even necessary. While it would take more time than we have to unpack this dichotomy, suffice it to say that the popular view would hold that science deals with the facts, where religion deals with belief.

The popular view asserts the social character of the knowledge derived through science, that a fact about nature is a fact regardless of who happens to learn it; while religion is about belief that is expressed in the life and from the perspective of individuals. Science therefore takes on the mantle of the social, while religion remains in the realm of the personal. Bertrand Russell wrote that personal religion can survive and even thrive in the most scientific of ages, as long as it remains in the realm of the personal.

While this illusion may be maintained from a distance, up close the social sphere is indistinguishable from the personal. The personal religion of any individual, to a greater or lesser extent, shapes, guides — perhaps even determines – his or her actions in the public sphere. This can be said as much of the operations of science and technology as of any other area in western culture.

In The Religion of Technology, David Noble asserts “modern technology and religion have evolved together and that, as a result, the technological enterprise has been and remains suffused with religious belief” (5), especially in the United States.

Looking in particular at the space program, he cites example after example of the prominent roles believers have played in the development and operation of NASA, along with religious statements they have made interpreting their works and its significance.

He goes on to say, “Beyond the professed believers and those who employ explicitly religious language are countless others for whom the religious compulsion is largely unconscious, obscured by a secularized vocabulary but operative nonetheless” (5).

If we look at our educational institutions, it is one of the ironies of our time that while religious believers have been sequestered into obscure corners of the academy, believers in science and technology have entire faculties devoted to furthering their beliefs as well as their knowledge and skills.

Where courses and programs catalogue the skills and knowledge a graduate in science or engineering should possess, there is little time, space or faculty effort devoted to questioning the fundamentals of the scientific faith.

To be fair, one also does not find courses in a Christian seminary devoted to explaining why Christianity is a false religion, nor do the educational institutions of any other faith tradition make a point of dissuading the believer.

What will be different, of course, is the outraged reaction of those who profess the scientific faith, as members of faculty or as students, to the notion that they are engaged in furthering the faith rather than acquiring true and useful knowledge about the universe and how it works. I am regularly assailed with a ferocity normally reserved for heretics and apostates, and it doesn’t make my position any more secure to point out the religious fervour with which my opponents approach the subject.

Yet science or engineering graduates will have few or no courses in the philosophy of science, the sociology of science, the anthropology of science, the philosophy of technology, or any of a host of other academic fields in which the fundamental axioms of science and technology are considered. Nor are they likely to be challenged in any formal way about the ethical, environmental or social consequences of the science and technology they have learned to propagate.

Like the religious believer, faith is a prerequisite for admission; continued faith is a prerequisite for satisfactory performance; and maintenance of the faith tradition is expected of those whose missionary zeal propels them into the calling they have chosen.

Examine the language of the secular world, and wonder, as I do, about the origin of the concepts, principles and ideas that are used. You may well conclude, as I do, that these are all derivative of the religious traditions that spawned them, historically, and are infused at an individual level with the personal religious beliefs of the practitioners.

Yet despite this, we continue to live out the myth of the secular, especially in science and technology, and exclude beliefs, especially religious beliefs, from the realm of social utility.

While the disabling of belief within the public sphere — and the denial of its force and efficacy – does not remove it from play, it does make it difficult to use constructive beliefs or to defend against destructive ones in the pursuit of the collective social good. Instead, the beliefs that for good or ill characterize our society have been driven underground where they remain either disguised or inarticulate, if nonetheless powerful.

When we make claims about social knowledge and deny the social character or value of belief, we therefore define knowledge as what we have found to be useful, and social knowledge as that which is useful to society. If such knowledge turns out not to be useful– like weather forecasting — then we have no grounds for maintaining its status as knowledge. Left with the epistemic dilemma of whether to choose belief or nothing, it seems we are willing to choose nothing, continuing to act in the social sphere without assurance that our actions will lead to a meaningful or desirable end.

Thus, we have a dual problem: the knowledge we derive from western science and technology is not as useful as it needs to be, in securing our future as citizens of the planet or in defending that security against the forces of politics or nature.

At the same time, thanks to the myth of secularity, we have excluded from the public sphere, the social value or utility of the religious beliefs we hold, however inarticulately, as individuals, thereby undercutting the means by which we can assess the validity of our own beliefs or those of other individuals or societies.

As a result, when we are confronted with the simple, forceful and often ruthless recitations of “what I believe” from extremists or fanatics of all sects and sorts, whether or not their statements are punctuated by bomb blasts or their economic and political equivalents, we stand by helplessly as they take the high ground in the intellectual, social and cultural battlespaces of the 21st century.

As a scientific and technological society, we have little or nothing to say in response to extremism, because what we believe as a society or as a culture has been excluded from public debate, and we are left instead trying to find something to do.

This has not always been the case, as I discovered reading in the popular intellectual literature of the period between the two world wars, the interwar period as it came to be called.

In the aftermath of the Great War, the war that was to end all wars that saw instead the end of most of the world’s empires, the fundamental assumptions of all belief systems, including religious ones, were shaken to the core.

I was intrigued by the flood of popular writing, from intellectuals as well as relatively obscure people, on the nature of humanity, the problems of society, the future of civilization, and the role that values and beliefs needed to play in the brave new world that had dawned.

One of these writers was Raymond Blaine Fosdick, brother of the famous radio preacher Harry Emerson Fosdick, a friend of the Rockefellers. In 1928, he published a collection of commencement addresses and lectures he had given on a variety of themes, collected under the title of The Old Savage in the New Civilization. His theme, and the theme of many other popular authors, was that technological development had outstripped moral development, that science and technology had given dangerous new weapons to the same old savage, and that for civilization to survive, the old savage had to grow up.

It is a thoughtful book, and eighty years later Fosdick’s commentary is just as relevant on the issues our society continues to face. What makes it an interesting book, however, is the role Fosdick went on to play to put some of his ideas into practice.

First as trustee and then as president of the Rockefeller Foundation from 1936 to 1948, Fosdick was instrumental in changing the funding priorities of the Foundation toward the support of the social sciences, or as they were called at the time, the sciences of man, and away from the hard sciences.

The old savage had quite enough tools, it seems, but he needed to learn more about himself and how he should use them. This funding shift made significant progress possible in the fledgling fields of modern sociology and anthropology, in particular.

Looking at what else was said and done in the 1920s and 1930s obviously leads to the conclusion that people like Raymond Fosdick failed in what they attempted.

Yet once the dust settled in 1945, we may find their principles and ideas reflected in everything from the United Nations, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, to the Marshall Plan, the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal and eventually to the work of Lester Pearson and the peace-keeping activities for which Canada would like to be known.

The old savage continues to live in the new civilization, and though the tools and specifics may have changed, the same basic problems and concerns remain.

While in the 1920s and 1930s there were many religious and philosophical reflections on what the new civilization should mean, and what beliefs it should embody, there is little such public discussion today. The middle ground of discussion has given way to the polarities of debate.

While Islamic extremism tends to make the headlines these days, extremism in general is alive and well in the rhetoric and activities of many other individuals and groups. To pick up again on the second incident I mentioned at the beginning of the lecture, extremists are fanatical in their beliefs, some of which might be religious, some political, some economic, but all of which are ideological in nature. (That all such ideologies are not considered religious in nature as well is somewhat perplexing, as they tend to demonstrate the same psychological and sociological characteristics, though in the extreme.)

As a society, we are paralyzed by extremists because we are unable to have a reasonable discussion about what we believe. Instead, we skip straight to what should be done, assuming that in the application of our tools, we will find the answer we need.

So, we polarize the country for a decision about whether or not the troops in Afghanistan should be brought home; we apply the tools of a political commission, a referendum, or a rally in the streets.

We don’t ever take the debate into the public arena where it belongs, and ask instead what we believe our responsibilities as Canadians should be when it comes to grappling with the problems of our world.

Yet it is no real help for us just to ask the question, “What do we believe as Canadians?” and hope for some obvious consensus. Expressions of belief in the social sphere have been trivialized into what people believe about who will win the next football or hockey game, or which actor will win some award, or who would make the best prime minister.

We should instead begin with communities of conscious practitioners in the realm of belief, the various religious communities, and ask how what they believe, as Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Sikhs, or Buddhists living in Canada, can be reflected in what we do together as Canadians.

As First Nations and aboriginal communities heal and rediscover their spiritual and cultural voice, out of what they believe, they will also speak clearly about what Canada should do in the world.

Unfortunately, however, religious belief has been excluded from the social sphere with the acquiescence of the religious groups themselves. Religion in Canada has not only become personalized, it has become ghettoized, as well. Whether it is a United Church ghetto, a Jewish ghetto, a Muslim ghetto, or a Catholic ghetto, what goes on inside is isolated from what goes on outside, sometimes within sight of its own walls.

Christian groups, in particular, are so focused on their own survival or on internecine conflict that there is little time, energy and thought left over for what used to be a central element of institutional Christianity.

Yet while religious groups may have an important role to play in articulating and focusing what we believe as a society, even when they emerge from the ghetto to speak, society has little interest in what is said.

As an example, I spent a couple of years working with a fine group of articulate and knowledgeable people within the United Church developing a policy statement on genetically-modified foods. It was the most thorough and balanced document I have seen on the subject before or since, and yet when it was released, there was no response or comment from anyone outside the church. The work that was done, and the wisdom that was offered, vanished without a trace, because of its origin within a religious group.

While not all that religious groups have to offer is necessarily wise, by bringing belief back into the realm of public discourse, we have the means to consider, reflect and assess the value of what, at the moment, remains private conversation.

So, to bring this lecture to a close, I offer four final points:

First, we need to affirm the importance of belief in the public sphere, not as an indication of fanaticism, but as a collective expression of the values and choices we make every day as individuals.

Even in the world of science we so carefully construct, we cannot escape the essential role played by what we believe. Moreover, whether we hold or oppose religious beliefs, both our support and our opposition frame our personal perspective on the nature and value of the knowledge we gather in the secular world.

Second, we need to recognize that western science and technology, however they are globalized, are still white, western, European and North American capitalist Judaeo-Christian science and technology; they are not universal expressions of truth about the universe, but expressions of the culture that produced them, with the values of this culture embedded in everything from the axioms at the root of the scientific method to the applications of the technology that science has spawned.

We therefore need to unpack, consider, sort and judge these values, and be willing to relinquish or to change those values that threaten our future or the future of the planet.

Third, we need to refocus our educational institutions, and the research they support, in the direction of philosophical and social scientific analysis of who we are, what we know, and what we are doing, tying this analysis to a similar understanding of the nature and importance of religious belief.

While it would be nice to find another Rockefeller Foundation to divert in this direction, the same choices can be made by educational institutions that commit faculty and program resources, not merely rhetoric, to a more holistic, multidisciplinary assessment and study of the fundamental assumptions that lie at the heart of the scientific and technological society.

We don’t need more tools, the consequences of whose use we don’t really understand; nor do we need more ingenious ways of reshuffling the financial deck or constructing a more profitable business plan. Instead, we need a vision of a world in which it is possible for us all to live, and then to select and use the tools we need to create it.

Finally, for there to be security for all the citizens of Earth in such a future world, we need to enable the language and power of religious belief that is common to all of us, whether we are comfortable or familiar with using it or not.

Concepts like peace and justice, equality and individual worth, children and family, good and evil, need to be reclaimed from the personal religious repositories in which they have languished, and brought back out into the community where they belong.

Religious groups need to articulate what they believe, not just to themselves, but to the society in which they live. In its turn, society needs to respect and listen to the wisdom, particularly the wisdom of the elders, which is offered.

Only by doing this will we be able to silence the extremists whose narrow and selfish view of economics, politics or religion threatens all of our futures.


© Peter H. Denton, 2007