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Lambeth report highlights benefits, perils of technology

Posted on: August 6, 1998 12:23 PM
Related Categories: Lambeth Conference 1998, technology

by Nan Cobbey
Lambeth Conference Communications

Bishops in Section One addressing modern technology describe the heaven-and-hell nature of "this gift with a price"-its vastly different effects in different cultures-in their report released to the Lambeth Conference.

"Modern technology can save lives, cure disease, increase productivity, connect people globally . . . . [Yet, it] can also alienate and isolate people, even kill and dehumanize," says the report issued by the 24 bishops in the subsection. 

"We cannot talk about technology without also talking about stewardship," declares the report in its first paragraph. "Technology is the means by which human beings exercise dominion."

In presenting global perspectives, the report recounts both promise and danger. "The west might be more immediately concerned about cloning or the effect of Y2K (the malfunctioning of computers programmed to recognize the year in two digits) which will affect banking, the food industry, military and security organizations, communications and the entire world-wide technological infrastructure," it observes. At the same time, "the two-thirds world might be more concerned about the technology of food production and the impact of technology on employment, the creation and deletion of jobs."

The report includes abundant examples:

  • In Uganda, television informs, educates, entertains, but tea-picking machines "make people jobless" and computers and information technology "bring loss of neighborliness."
  • In Sudan, genetic and medical experimentation is thought to be "potentially immoral in that they manipulate human life."
  • In East Asia "there are financial crises brought on by technology when investors can move in and out of markets quickly leaving workers without jobs."
  • In India, where half of the population cannot read or write, language-specific technology leaves half the population out, yet television means that even "people in the most conservative rural areas are impacted by the values of the west."

However, says the report, the new technology, the "pervasive presence of information," can also be liberating. "New ideas cannot be kept out and this has served to promote and extend democratic ideals. Tyrants and dictators cannot carry out their totalitarian rule in secret."

The technology of war - sale and deployment of arms, atomic testing - were another concern, especially since today "it is possible to learn how to make an atomic bomb on the Internet." 

The bishops conclude their report with a theological and a practical challenge.

"Our dominion over the earth has been at its best a reverent stewardship . . . at its worst [it] has despoiled the earth . . . enslaved and destroyed people," they write. 

Concluding that technology, like power, is never morally neutral, the bishops write, "From the perspective of the gospel, effectiveness is judged by whether the poorest end up with jobs, food and water." They suggest pertinent questions to ask in order to make moral decisions about use of technology. "Is the power appropriate? Does it preserve and enhance or does it destabilize? Is it ultimately manageable and controllable? Is it accessible to all and does it produce benefits available to all?"

Finally, they make a recommendation: Establish a commission through the Anglican Consultative Council to track technological developments, reflect theologically and ethically on them and keep bishops and leaders informed. Do this, they ask "through the very technologies we have been discussing: e-mail and Internet conferencing."

The subsection proposed three resolutions adopted by the Conference. The first, on nuclear weapons, calls upon governments and the United Nations to urge a halt in their production, testing and stockpiling and a prohibition of nuclear war. The second calls for a commission on technology and ethics. The third, on landmines, calls for ratification of the Ottawa Convention and funding from all governments for mine clearance programmes.