What is it about technology that seems to lead to pride? During the enlightenment period of human history (the “age of reason” during the 17th and 18th centuries), there were tremendous strides in science and technology, but these brought with them a growing trust in the power of technology. Francis Bacon, a herald of the enlightenment, coined the phrase “Knowledge is Power.” Faith and trust in the power of technology is sometime referred to as technicism, a term that Christian philosopher Egbert Schuurman describes as “the pretension of humans, as self-declared lords and masters using the scientific-technical method of control, to bend all of reality to their will in order to solve all problems, old and new, and to guarantee increasing material prosperity and progress.” This attitude persists today, when people look to science and technology for the answers to the most perplexing problems faced by humankind. Modern social media brings additional pitfalls for pride and narcissism as people continually broadcast about themselves. It seems that the development of technology is often accompanied by increasing hubris in human power and autonomy.
Greek mythology includes the story of Icarus, which cautions against this kind of hubris. It’s the tale of a man whose father built him wings constructed of feathers and wax. He ignored warnings not to fly too close to the sun; the wax melted and he tumbled into the sea, where he drowned.
The Bible includes passages which speak of pride connected with technology. The tower of Babel (Gen. 11) tells the story of humans who built a tower to make a name for themselves (Gen. 11:4). In 2 Chronicles 26, we read of king Uzziah, who built strong towers, clever fortifications and invented effective military technology. We read “but after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall” (v 16) and he was struck with leprosy until the day he died. Psalm 20 warns against placing trust in chariots and horses instead of the Lord.
To be certain, technology is not the only source of pride; wealth, fame, power and accomplishments can all lead to pride. Pride can also be a challenge for professors – a profession built on establishing a glowing curriculum vitae (a fancy word for an academic resume). Recognition is obtained by adding titles and letters to your name and adding publications to your credit. Academic awards, prestigious grants and fellowships are important measures of accomplishment along with the respect of your peers. I know firsthand that the position of a professor comes with pitfalls for pride.
Pride can even result from doing Christian work. We can develop pride in our gifts and abilities and even in our good works. We can develop pride in our Christian schools, churches and other institutions. We can even be proud of our theology. It seems many good things can be a source of pride. As Calvin said, the human heart is a perpetual forge of idols.
In Romans 12:3 we are reminded “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you.” In a paradoxical statement, 2 Corinthians 12 teaches us that God’s power is made perfect in weakness. In the sermon on the mount we are taught “blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:3). In fact, we are told that God opposes the proud, but shows favour to the humble (James 4:6). In Proverbs we are warned that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (16:18). In Micah we are also called to “walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8).
It is not technology itself that necessarily leads to pride, nor other human accomplishments. It is the state of the human heart. In Psalm 8, David considers the heavens and the works of God’s hands, and wonders “what is mankind that you are mindful of them?” Christians who work with technology must cultivate a similar posture of humility, even as we explore and develop the powerful possibilities in creation.