I. Terminology and Related Issues - II. Technology: Interpretations and Evaluations - III. Technique in the Different Historical Times - IV. The Humanistic and Philosophical Critique: Utopia and Futurology - V. Anthropologic and Humanistic Perspective - VI. For a New Technological Culture - VII. Original Technicality and Theological Hope - VIII. Work and Technique in Christian Revelation - IX. Planning, Hope and its Commitments - X. Conclusions.
I. Terminology and Related Issues
Technique came along with mankind. Along the years, the term has acquired several meanings, indicating rules and practical methods issuing from an art, a profession, a job, an intellectual activity, a sport etc.; practical activities based upon regulations evolving from experience, at different times and areas, procedures enabling to work the raw matter or to produce objects. In a more general and cultural term, the word “technique” refers to a number of activities aiming at the production of means that would improve life conditions and work. Even the term “technology” has different meanings. These meanings include: the study of the tools in the solving of practical problems; as well as the need to get the best out of the various procedures, strategic choices and decision making in order to reach specific goals. These meanings also refer to a whole range of theoretical and systematic concepts aiming at planning and rationalizing the activities of the production process, and also to address the scientific analysis of the most advanced techniques in a given field of research or production. As well as to describe the understanding of the nature of the various instruments and their use and applications etc. With respect to such realities as instruments, objects, things, today the term “systems” fits the best. The term “technological system” is used in a general sense, to indicate a whole set of human elements, both conceptual and material. All of them are coordinated together to form an organic and functional organism undergoing its own regulations. Instead, in a more particular sense, the same term refers to a whole set of elements coordinated according to specific methods, aiming at specific operations. The term “technological culture” implies a whole set of ideas, feelings, lifestyles, attitudes, and behavior characterizing the sociocultures undergoing technology applications. In this case, “technological” culture and “technoscience” are synonyms.
Usually, affirmations and evaluations on technology are concerned instead with the technological culture. This triggers a certain misunderstanding and a number of generalizations. Thus, I will try to distinguish, without separating, these two different aspects. The analysis of technological cultures, remains however a real challenge given that the realities and the technological developments are tied to quite complex situations, always new, involving several elements: historical, cultural and social conditions, philosophical pre-understanding, ideological biases, economical, as well as political interests of many other kinds etc. I will focus here on the most significant aspects related to this topic, that is to say the technology and the technological culture in its relationship between science and faith. It is important to consider at the same time science and technique, because they can be distinguished but not separated. Both of them raise complex issues for the Western world as well as in many other areas in the world. With respect to the relations between technology and “science”, the latter is understood as a human activity that searches for causes, laws and effects of specific phenomena, through theoretical conceptualizations and experimental studies. However, it is implicit within technology, which is at the same time technical science and science of the technique and, nowadays, it is characterized by three specific elements: a) systems that are more and more comprehensive and complex; b) a growing energetic potential; c) an increase in the operational efficiency. Moreover, the following main features are involved: planning, materiality, structural presence. These elements and peculiarities, generally speaking, distinguish technique from science. Rather, are the rational procedures which render technique closer to science: defining the problems that can be empirically checked out; strictly analyzing the conditions for their solutions, to be able to come up with the strategies needed to trigger other conditions. But also to coordinating the understanding in order to turn it into strategic and efficient tools (cf. Agazzi, 1985, pp. 15-16).
Hence, technology also includes reality and specific planning sciences (engineering), aiming at turning a present situation into a desired one (cf. Simon, 1996). This means that it would not be fair to just treat it as the mere application of technological understanding (applied science). In fact it is totally consistent with the modern ideal, which was not a contemplative one but a practical one: to get to know the way nature operates to be able to imitate it, to reproduce it, to correct it, to dominate the laws that “make” things in order to produce new ones (cf. M. Heidegger, What is a thing?, 1962; H. Volkmann-Schluck, Einführung in das philosophische Denken, Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1965). Those sciences called “pure” are also intrinsically technological sciences, just because of their observations. Measurements, calculations and experimentation, also require tools capable of artificially producing those phenomena that need to be observed and to be measured and with which it becomes possible verifying hypotheses and theories. Thus, modern culture is characterized by a science that has become a technical science; and a technique that has become a science (technology). Both the scientist and the technologist cooperate so closely, up to the point of becoming united. Thus, Heidegger was correct when he defined technique not as a pure application of scientific results, but as that part of science capable of translating thinking from a theoretical into a more practical process. Historians as well have been able to demonstrate that the idea of pure science did not exist in the past, that it is rather a recent invention (cf. Jacob, 1993). Hence, a good technological culture must acknowledge that mankind invented both techniques and sciences for a number of reasons: to fulfill primordial needs, or to produce complex technologies in tune with the complexities of its growing needs, but also to create technological systems that would free mankind from the natural and biological needs, hence to be able to focus on more human tasks, thus fulfilling cultural and spiritual exigencies.
II. Technology: Interpretations and Evaluations
Many interpretations and evaluations can be found about technology, both positive and negative; here below I will only look at the most important ones (humanistic-anthropological, bio-systemic, social, evolutionist). The “humanistic-anthropological” interpretation assigns to technique a revealing value, given that its planning component shows the limitations, the dissatisfactions and the lack of fulfillment that need to be overcome. Hence, it perceives a different way and a different life that are more appropriate to mankind of which it reveals the inner abilities as well as the cognitive and creative ones. It also unveils the intimate need for transcending, liberating, and saving oneself, as well as to hope. All of them are extremely important to experience in mankind, thus emphasizing its spiritual nature and its need for a totally and radically Other. John Paul II’s Encyclical Veritatis splendor (1993) also starts out by emphasizing: "The development of science and technology, this splendid testimony of the human capacity for understanding and for perseverance, does not free humanity from the obligation to ask the ultimate religious questions. Rather, it spurs people to face the most painful and decisive struggles, those of the heart and of the moral conscience" (n. 1). Thus, the humanistic-anthropological vision puts an emphasis on the fact that a valid topic about technology cannot be limited to the relationship, the depending nature, and the priority with economic science and production. On the contrary one needs to keep in mind a wider humanistic and sociocultural context, that also includes the liberation of mankind from the limits and the conditioning of its material nature. Thus, one must ponder, when talking about mankind, on the meaning of “original technical skill” owned by our progenitors, open to the “planning” aspect and to “hope.” The “principle of hope” underlined by E. Bloch, is the proof of the need for a technological humanism, open to the philosophical, anthropological, ethical and theological reflection (cf. Gismondi, 1995, pp. 6-7, 150-151). Hence, it opens up a conversation on the need, the fundamental meaning and the global cultural values that go beyond the pure techno-scientific field (cf. Gismondi, 1993a, pp. 243-245; 1995, pp. 20-22).
Contrary to the humanistic interpretations of technology, the remaining ones also undergo mythological and biased ideologies. I will only mention the most important ones with little regard to the details. I will start with the “bio-systemic” or “bio-naturalistic” interpretation of technology, which sees in technology the systematic extension of the biologic human abilities by the means of instruments capable of reducing directly depending on the environment. It defines “bio-some” or “bio-somatic” the unitary system of people, society, machines, tools and activities that build up the socio-biological extension of mankind. In other words, the technological development would be a biological organism coordinating both society and machines. In another interpretation, the “social technology” studies the complex relationships among technology and society, in order to evaluate the usefulness, the social benefits, the risks and the dangers that come from the huge technological enterprises (highways, dams, nuclear plants etc.). In particular, it studies the sharing of risks and costs of the new technologies between worldwide and direct beneficiaries. Thus, it analyzes, the positive consequences (liberation from pain and dangers), the negative ones (damages and nuclear, chemical and biological danger) and the issuing problems (changes in the job market, and in the professions, growing automating, need for always newer materials and energetic sources).
The “evolutionist” or “neo-Darwinian” interpretation takes technology not as a single system, but as a “population of systems” in constant progress, guided by particular pragmatic goals but without any specific anthropological aim. The goals would have nothing but a purely mechanical nature deprived of any specific human, spiritual, ethical, or cultural values. With this respect Samuelson, who received the Nobel Prize for economy, claims that he finds methodologically unjustified and conceptually equivocal to force the concepts of one science upon another. On the other hand, historians contend that technological processes come with historical nature. According to them, the principle according to which it is impossible to stop technique, and to let continue it is catastrophic, is one which is ideologically built, fouded upon presuppositions that are in themselves deterministic, evolutionistic, materialistic, naturalistic and scientist. In other words, they do not fit for the study of a complex phenomena such as the technological society. More specifically, the following description applies to a neo-Darwinian vision of technology: the cultural and human components of the systems come before the purely material ones. Moreover, the guiding-role belongs to the purpose itself; the complexity cannot be limited to a general picture that is purely deterministic and mechanistic in nature (pure need) or casual and undetermined (pure chance). In addition, these perspectives tend to emphasize the advantages, while underestimating the disadvantages. They also tend not to make a distinction between to be and ought to be. In addition, they tend to drop the topic concerning the goals to be reached (cf. Gismondi, 1995, pp. 35-36). For this reason, the historical, cultural and social perspectives that allows new modes that keep into account complexity, planning and information, appear to be more adequate for our purposes (cf. Gismondi, 1993a, pp. 103-123).
III. Technique in the Different Historical Times
The historical perspective takes into consideration the attitudes, conceptual standing, reality and conditions that form the very identity and the characters of technology, of the systems and of the technological nature and from which the pure theoretical technique and negativity derive (cf. Giedion, 1948). In the ancient classical world, the distaste for manual work and the abundance of slavery and prisoners represented an obstacle to the evolving of technique, hence the pre-technical mentality grew stronger (cf. Actis Perinetti, 1977, pp. 1176-1178). Christianity, with its spiritual and religious message on dignity, freedom, fraternity and equality set the ground to overcome slavery and the exploitation of mankind bound to pure physical energy. In 580 Gregory of Tours condemned the use of the “rotating tympanum”, big wheels moved by people in order to produce human energy thus favoring the spreading of water mills and windmill. In the Middle Ages, theology developed even more the concept of nature as creation, but also as the place of the Logos, so containing the “traces” of God (cf. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I-II, q. 105; St. Bonaventure: Determinationes quaestionum, Pars I, q. 11, Opera Omnia (Quaracchi), vol. VIII; De perfectione evangelica, q. 2, a. 2, ibidem, vol. V; Sermones de Verbo Incarnato, V, ibidem, vol. IX). Morality developed a growing distaste for the exploitation of “human energy” to the point that, in the 12th century, instruments that were turned by the tide were also invented. The human genius was building rudders and compasses for ships, and in the 13th century, mechanical clocks. When printing made books available, craftsmen and technicians could perfect their knowledge and improve the metallurgic techniques (ovens) and start producing cast iron.
New demands, always more complex and diverse would push the development of new techniques. However, the medieval innovations as numerous and as important as they were, remained at the level of technique without becoming a science or techno-logy. It was the Renaissance that opened the so called Faustian period of technique, as a result of the Baconian scientia et potentia in unum coincidunt (knowledge and power coincide), or of the non contemplative, but dominating science (Francis Bacon, Nova Atlantis, I, 27). The concept of knowledge as power was supposed to lead to the technological paradise equipped with all the possible inventions (cf. Farrington, 1973). Descartes suggested leaving behind the theoretical aspects, to carry out a science that would be used to dominate nature and give mankind a better life. Thus, knowledge was transformed from being “deprived of interest” towards “becoming useful”, counter posing what can be manipulated by mankind to the Christian-biblical creation and to the ends established by God. The “Promethean” spirit inspired the modern technological culture and prepared huge systems aimed at building up the world of a mankind capable of dominating the universe. Stronger links were forged between th exact sciences, both natural and technical. The technological intellect grew stronger, supported by additional conditions: the rediscovery of Greek science, intellectual and social fervor, the gathering of huge financial resources, the birth of societies and banks etc. The practical control over nature was born through a technological rationality.
To operate, science needed instruments and tools that were more powerful and complex: pendulum, watches, telescopes, binoculars, microscopes, etc. In 1776 steam machines rendered mankind independent from the natural energies (wind and water), thus pushing ahead technological advances. It was the beginning of the industry that made work and production “mechanical” (the industrial revolution). It was necessary to produce and to accumulate energy for newer projects. It was necessary to move from single technical operations to bigger technological systems (cf. Ellul, Tecnica, 1984, p. 334). The next step would have been the production of machines produced and managed by other machines (automation) (cf. Abbagnano, 1980, p. 860; Spengler, 1992). In the 20th century, this exceptional growth, the ideas that triggered it and the consequences that it had determined, underwent a systematic reflection. Some people would foresee radical changes with respect to the working conditions. They would see the end of those less gratifying aspects and the lessening of hardship. Others would see in the technological progress a human fulfilment of individuals and peoples. Instead, the criticism, would underline the breaking of the alliance between mankind, technique and nature operated by modern technology. The problem was the exploitation and destruction of nature, due to scientific, technological and industrial projects. These historical accounts, as short as they might be, show the several changes of technique and of its compounds in the various eras and cultures. Mankind kept exploiting it always, without any theoretical structure whatsoever, only to meet its own material needs. Using it to survive, to improve one’s standard of life and of being, to improve the world and enhance the sense, meaning, value and beauty of things.
Technique’s best uses seem to be linked to a conception of nature as creation to respect and to love. On the contrary, the scientific, rational, and positive visions of the absolute autonomy of reason and rationality to dominate and to manipulate nature brought about the ideology of an omnipotent and omni-comprehensive technology. Today the history and contingency of its several forms is being brought to light. This means that those that presently work could be replaced by others and disappear altogether, while others are made possible. These ones, on the other hand, depend upon some fundamental choices capable of putting down the meaning of technology and of the technological culture upon the material things or upon the spiritual terrain. That is to say the making of deeper choices concerning life, society, culture and the future. Given that they affect the future, they raise the problem of hope and utopia, of liberation and rescue. In other words, those big goods and values in which mankind intends, or not, to believe and to commit (cf. John Paul II Ex corde Ecclesiae, n. 7; Gismondi, 1995, p. 59).
IV. The Humanistic and Philosophical Critique: Utopia and Futurology
Concerning the future, the 20th century has developed a “scientific futurology” trying first of all to understand the future in order to set the pace for the present. Unable to accomplish such a feat, it tried to understand the present in order to anticipate the future, but once again unsuccessfully (cf. De Jouvenel, 1972; Jungk, 1969; Gismondi, 1976; De Rougemont, 1983). The last attempt, the analysis of contents, was based on the analysis of space reserved to a given topic, a given publication, a given time (cf. Naisbitt, 1990). This project also, after a few unclear results was abandoned due to the fact that social transitions add to technology and economy some related issues. Those ones that are more complex and impossible to predict a group of people that escape the making of some sort of generalization. The limits of “technocratic strategy” misleadingly identify technological progress with human and social progress. Yet, it includes the expansion of economic activity. But also the growth of the job market as well as the demand of industrial products; productions and mass consumption; the rise of productivity and salaries; the elimination of heavy and unhealthy jobs and of long working hours (cf. Noble, 1993, pp. 10-13). These elements are only partially important and they undergo all sorts of misinterpretation depending on who reads them. In the era of global mobility, the “linear technology progress” remains nothing but an old scientific approach. For this reason, the “economical” interpretation becomes unreliable when it comes to reading investment trends and the growing of mechanical ways to produce goods that do not guarantee social prosperity nor stable employment because of the competition among enterprises and production.
The so called “prosperity chain” remained utopia, in fact it was supposed to link investment to innovation, innovation to production, and production to competition, but also competition to prosperity and social well-being. Instead reality speaks of structural unemployment, social unbalance, and professional erosion with respect to the skills (competence, creativity, elasticity and productive versatility etc.). Thus, it is important to turn such an approach upside down, by taking the following as constant rather than variable: full employment, a stable community, strong infrastructures, environmental and regional integrity, a decent health structure, a working education system. As difficult as it might appear, the only alternative is “economic democracy.” This criticism applies to the culture of the technological society more than to technology itself. Hence, the individual as a cultural value must come first and life quality should be seen as an element to which the following must apply: competition, production, innovation, result etc. (cf. Noble, 1993, pp. 169-170). We read in the John Paul II’s Encyclical Centesimus annus: "one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones." Thus "obedience to the truth about God and mankind is the first condition of freedom, making it possible for a person to organize his needs and desires and to choose the means of satisfying them according to a coherent scale of values" (nn. 36, 41).
Also sociology confirms such an approach, and criticizes the bias according to which technological innovations alone would trigger new and better societies (for instance, the “information society”), through a natural and quasi-organic evolution as well as an endless and homogeneous development. This approach also seems to suggest that the strategic options for technology rely on human and social values, democratically chosen (cf. Lyon, 1988). The “silicon idolatry,” that is to say the computer mathematized rationality, can also affect huge human dimensions by influencing the spiritual, ethical and social skills of a person (cf. Shallis, 1984, p. 169). Scientism and technique bring about information societies as a solution to the future of mankind. The social-human sciences denounce them as a threat. The already quoted document Centesimus annus suggests that the solution to the most serious problems is never economic, legal, nor structural, to start with; instead, it is human and ethical-religious, given that it demands changes in mentality behavior and values (cf. n. 60).
V. Anthropologic and Humanistic Perspective
In line with what was said in the Vatican Council II document Gaudium et spes, which evaluates in a balanced manner the positive and negative aspects of technology, Christian thought supports the anthropological, humanistic and cultural approaches to technology. The above mentioned document acknowledges that technology opens new avenues, it enhances living standards and it spreads around culture; yet, it also underlines that technology does not always contribute to the pursuit of enhancing true human values. Thus, one of the most urgent tasks of the technological culture consists in establishing a balance between technological development and human values. Science and technique can both improve culture and society, they can help to reach a better understanding of nature and to change it. Scientific research and technical transformations can lead to a better social life and a higher sense of responsibility. Yet, they also trigger a certain agnosticism, as well as a loss of transcendence and the nurture of the illusion of self-sufficiency (cf. Gaudium et spes, nn. 54, 56-57; cf. Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 29, 1990, n. 6). In fact, the “so well refined rationality” of the technological cultures has also allowed the spreading of some miracle oriented utopian illusion such as: healing from all diseases, intergalactic journeys, wise men (technicians) global government, perfect prediction and control of the future, end of hardship and discomfort, defeat of old age and death. Despite such illusion, real mishaps have occurred: nuclear, biological and chemical disasters; environmental catastrophes; risks linked to the greenhouse effect and to the ozone holes etc. All of this has produced in the public opinion delusion and anguish, together with fear of the unavoidable and deadly pollution, the exhaustion of resources, thus blaming science and technology as being “refined irrationality” (cf. Ellul, Tecnica, 1984, pp. 340-341). Moreover, the perception is also increasing that those tools that deprive mankind of ability and experience that distinguished it in the past, now make it empty and vulnerable (the so-called Leroi-Goughan’s thesis) (cf. Cotta, 1968; Finzi, 1977).
The anthropological reflection looks at these problems at different levels (cf. Baudrillard, 1974). At the material level, the most obvious one, it shows that unlimited growth of the technological systems is out of the question. This is due to the limitations of the “system” Earth ,as well as the lack of prediction concerning how much growth the bio-sphere can sustain (cf. Ellul, Tecnica, pp. 348-349; Kranzberg, 1980). At the epistemological and philosophical level, the intermediate one, it asks for a verification of the ideas that determine the orientation of the technological systems and the innovations (cf. Serrand, 1965). At the spiritual, ethical and moral level, the deepest one, the question is about the fundamental values that must inspire the technological cultures. The first two levels must be set by considering the third level as the starting point. In other words, the meanings, ends, and deeper values will make it possible to free the technological culture from “technicality” and to bring back more authentic values and meanings. Actually, up to the 1960’s an attempt was made to integrating people into the techno-scientific socio-cultures. During the 1970’s and the 1980’s the attempt instead moved in another direction: modifying those cultures. This was linked to the perception that technical development, considered as a prior factor or an independent variable, would reduce human and socio-cultural demands to becoming secondary factors and depending variables (“technomorphe” approach), thus turning mankind and society into nothing but technical “derivates” (cf. Koslowski, 2001). It also came out that knowledge and information would count more than matter and that historical, socio-cultural and anthropological analysis are more meaningful than those purely naturalistic.
Philosophy of culture also perceived that technology, born out of human choices and decisions, is subject to economical, historical and political issues and it is also linked to particular goals and interests. Thus, it took carrying out these studies under the anthropological aspect centered on the common wellbeing. The point was developing an understanding on how such an approach could be turned into a liberating element and not one of imposition. Technique would produce what does not exist if mankind did not make it happen (cf. Koslowski, 2001). Technology, perceived as an unveiling, opens up to the ends, the effects, the meanings, and the values, with important heuristic and ethical consequences. The ability to unveil shows that technique essentially belongs to the world of spirit, of representation of intellect and of intellect that acts (intellectus agens). It unveils its authentic human essence, outside of which it looses its meaning and value. This explains the lack of power found in its natural, materialistic, deterministic, biological, evolutionist, etc. interpretations unable to understand the human component in it. It is from now on that can be found the need to come up with “anthropo-morphe” and “techno-morphe” cultures. This would imply that a certain emphasis was given to the expressions of human consciousness and to the experience of spirit which cannot belong to the realm of technicalities, functionalism, and utopian technocrats (cf. Laborem exercens, n. 13).
VI. For a New Technological Culture
Modern European culture considered that the answer to the question of truth was man himself. It forgot, however, that it is not yet truth, nor is it all the truth, and that, in any way, truth is to be found beyond mankind. Religions had answered that truth is God, even if the role of mankind would suffer from such a conception. Christian faith on the contrary says that truth is God who became man, thus cultural projects cannot rely on mankind as truth. Neither they can rely on a truth understood as exclusively referred to God. It is necessary to understand the journey that goes from the culture of mankind to the culture of truth, from mankind’s truth to God’s truth from God’s truth to the truth of God made man. Thus, the value of each cultural project can be measured by comparing it to such a truth telling itinerary (cf. Koslowski, 2001). The recount concerning the humanistic approach taken with respect to the technological cultures is emphasized by a number of texts from the Roman Catholic Magisterium, based upon the technoscientific culture, the technologic progress and the values of conscience. "There is no reason to consider technique-scientific culture as opposed to the world of God’s creation […]. But there can be no doubt in what direction we must look at to distinguish good from evil. Technical science, aimed at the transformation of the world, is justified on the basis of the service it renders man and humanity" (John Paul II, Meeting with scientists and students in the Cologne Cathedral, November 15, 1980, n. 4, ORWE November 24, 1980, p. 7). «Technological development, characteristic of our time is suffering from a fundamental ambivalence, while on one hand it enables man to take in hand his own destiny, it exposes him, on the other hand to the temptation of going beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature, jeopardizing the very survival and integrity of the human person» (John Paul II, Discourse to the participants at the two Conferences on Medicine and Surgery, October 27, 1980, ORWE November 17, 1980, p. 19).
Still in the words of John Paul II, "we are faced with a great moral challenge which consists in harmonizing the values of technology originating with science with the values of conscience" (John Paul II, Discourse at the CERN, Geneve, June 15, 1982, n. 9, ORWE July 26, 1982, p.8); "we must combine the active forces of science and religion in order to prepare our contemporaries to meet the great challenge of integrated development, which demands skill and qualities which are both intellectual and technical, moral as well as spiritual" (John Paul II, Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 29, 1990, in Papal Addresses, p. 323) . This means that the limits and the shortcomings of the technological culture must be overcome in order to find back technology’s fundamental values and meanings. In particular, one must overcome the forgetfulness of the being; the limitations imposed by all those absolute false values. It is also important to rediscover “the hidden presence” of Transcendence; to reproduce a discourse on humanistic values and the anthropological meanings of technicality; to re-evaluate the authentic truth of mankind, the social and moral needs and the requirements of freedom. The task is with no doubt a hard one, but it is necessary given the rebirth of a new sensitivity towards deeper values that will lead to recognizing the “hidden presence” of Transcendence. Existentialist philosophies manifested the need to come out from behind the “iron bars” (scientism, rationalism, irrationalism, immanentism, nihilism etc.), imprisoning thinking and suffocating consciousness. Interestingly enough, the “principle of hope” was initiated by the author Ernst Bloch (1885-1977), who represented in fact a technical culture, which was one of the most critical and contrary to the notion of Transcendence (Das Prinzip Hoffnung, Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1959), and tried to impose to the world a project of total immanence (Marxism, Communism).
The option between immanence and Transcendence has come back in its full strength. For a technology attached to immediate material projects, a speech on transcendence might appear out of place. For projects aiming at producing and at fulfilling urgent material needs based upon certainties, the approach on hope might appear quiet unrealistic. Yet, if we relate these projects and goals to the context or to the current preoccupation and anxiety for the future, triggered exactly by the presence and management of the actual technological systems, then both arguments will appear less abstract. It is the daily reality of millions of people that demands the re-evaluation of the need for hope. Yet, time has come to ask oneself in all earnest: what kind of hope? The limited one, the one that simply fulfills our presence on earth, for our daily and secular needs, or the more authentic hope, the one that demands a transcending opening? The difference is fundamental. Authentic hope has a theological, religious and metaphysical dimension. The discussion on hope needs to address the latter because this is what the modern technological culture has in the heart. For this reason, the failure of the technoscientific , utopian, and revolutionary projects need to be seriously taken into consideration. It is important to underline that the Marxist hope principle of Bloch removed all gods from heaven; according to him, there is really no one, up above, nor there will ever be anyone. Thus, in order to transcend without transcendence one must look ahead and not above out there (cf. The Principle of Hope, Cambridge: MIT Press 1996; Atheism in Christianity, New York, London: Verso 1972, 2nd. ed. 2009). Another Marxist made of hope the militant anticipation of the earthly “becoming” (cf. R. Garaudy, Marxism in the Twentieth Century, New York: Scribner, 1970). These hopes evaporated in 1989. No hope melting away with the time can be taken as true. As I will show next, the only hope is one that cannot disappear in mankind or in the world.
VII. Original Technicality and Theological Hope
What gives hope its value is its capacity to have resisted throughout the course the history to any form of secularizing or immanent reductionism. Lévinas (1905-1995) underlines that modern immanentism in the titanic effort to eliminate transcendence, managed to deny the other. That is to say any other being with one’s own identity and dignity: the human being, the person, God himself. To overcome this crisis and to find hope back it is a must to recognize and respect the other (cf. Lévinas, 1991). With respect to nature, this means setting the end point of any domination, manipulation and endless exploitation of energy and resources. With respect to mankind, this means acknowledging its real truth, dignity, freedom and all its innermost dimensions and spiritual needs, relations and sense of community. With respect to God, this means re-evaluating the full spectrum of the essential spiritual, religious and ethical dimension of each being, culture and society that recognize in him the Lord, the Creator, the Universal Savior. Such acknowledgments make the journey of hope similar to ancient wisdom and authentic humanism. In full respect of the other, as equal (human person) or as inferior (nature), by taking the Other as the point of departure and superior (God) (cf. Gismondi, 1993a, p. 177). However, the earthly hope is authentic only for those who acknowledge the human limited scope. Being able to acknowledge this approach, if limited to the perception of the closed and disoriented temporality, will trigger nihilism, that is to say a feeling of the absurd and despair.
This attitude fails the desire and the human drive towards higher goals and the opening towards becoming, as Gabriel Marcel (1889-1973) said, "time consciousness as a prison" (cf. Marcel, 1962). The horizon of existence simply locked in the “here and now” deprived of a deeper transcendence, transforms each one’s hope into the impotence of illusion (cf. K. Jaspers, Philosophical Faith and Revelation, London: Collins, 1967). The humanistic dimension and the anthropological vision of technique, as a desire for a world and a life different than the purely natural ones, prevent from such falling down. To such an approach technique is the sign and the unveiling of a condition truly in tune with human needs, one that cannot be found in any other historical or earthly dimension independently of how perfect and idealized they are. The principle of immanent hope does not offer anything to a life that is empty, to the desire for spiritual realization, to the need to get rid of the limits of the present, to the anxiety that comes from totally opening up to the Other. The previous anthropological dimension of technique shows that technique and technology do not include, but demand a transcending perspective, they do not refuse, but they look for an ultra-earthly hope that keeps them from any immanent pretence towards self liberation and self preservation (cf. Gismondi, 1998b, pp. 124-126).
The modern secular hopes, for theoretical honesty and historical objectivity, must recognize that long before them there were the religious hopes and above all was the Christian theological hope, with its radical suggestions making it different from any other kind. The specificity of the Christian message is the annunciation-witnessing of a hope that nails down the passing of the time, that goes from creation to its escatological fulfilment, having its foundation, center and apex in the mystery of the Incarnation and the Redemption of Christ (cf. Paul VI, Evangelii nuntiandi, December 8, 1975, n. 27; John Paul II, Redemptoris Missio, December 7, 1990, n. 44). This type of hope is not only something to keep up with time, history and the “here and now.” It is instead the gift to someone who, in time and history, will offer full accomplishment beyond time and history. Christian hope and hope in Christ makes of time and history more than just a simple waiting for something or opening up to something. By his presence, Jesus Christ turns time into a time of grace and history into a history of salvation. Thus, Christian hope relies on the Absolute which, in a free and extraordinary manner, offers itself and manifests itself in the relative, by becoming for us the way, the truth, and the life and by working as mystery of grace and of salvation (cf. Gv 1:14; 14:6). Such a mystery does not contradict the intellect nor the reason, but only the rationalistic pretence of mankind in its absolute trust in self-reliance. On the contrary, for reason and intelligence that are truly human it represents a gift and a positive challenge that opens up new searches, reflections and endless commitments.
Without any explicit reference to Christian hope, there is no convincing answer to Kant’s question: “what should I hope for?” This kind of hope shows to the technological culture, its lack of understanding the fullness of human experience, its inadequacy of giving it a “meaning,” in a convincing and fulfilling manner. In fact, hope with its intentional needs, ends, sense and meaning, goes beyond all the limits of contingent knowledge and overcomes the boundary of each protocol for rationality. Instead it opens up into the full personal experience, where additional and humble human questions seeking true answers can be found. On these themes, the rational warrant cannot propound a comprehensive supervision, nor it can elude further openings. Although theological hope reaches such a height, it respects the needs of technological culture. It also advances the renewal of an authentic human attitude combining faith and reason, thus allowing the realization of new plans to solve the problems and to deal with the uncertainties and the risks for the future. It makes it possible to put forward a real “techno-scientific planning” which aims at reaching fair needs, in the respect of the required methods and in full awareness of the means and the resources to be exploited. True hope and authentic planning do no compete with each other; on the contrary they complement each other to promote the best in each human being.
VIII. Work and Technique in Christian Revelation
In order to explain the relationship between hope and technology I should talk about the original notion of technique described several times in the Bible. Here the concept is different than the one found in the classic Greek tékne (cf. Aristotle, Metaphysics, XII, 3, 1070a) later on used by the Christian philosophers to express human responsibility towards the universe. In the Bible the vision of technique capable of changing nature and mankind prevails above the notion of the production of goods. The Creator recalls the first man and woman, created in his image and likeness, to take care of created world (cf. Gen 2:15). Employment and technical ability express the “loving care for things” before taking on the meaning of support or adjusting to the environment (cf. Testa, 1959). Nature, understood as creation, invites to search for, to ponder upon, to respectfully and lovingly carry out such tasks. In the respect of God and his creation, creatures are not objects nor things, but they are allies and friends of mankind thus helping human beings to live in a world that is renewed and transformed by their own genius. Creation, which means nothing else than the loving and skillful action of God, can receive, without any harm, any human action inspired by the same love and wisdom (cf. Caprioli-Vaccaro, 1983). The universe reveals a system of reasonably ordered entities that human beings can observe and contemplate from various angles: religious, symbolic, aesthetic (cf. Gilson, 1991). By comparing this picture to the building of the tower of Babel, it becomes clear what triggered the manifestation of abuse. Those who go against God’s projects — at the beginning Adam, later on those who built the tower — produce negative effects, ending up confused and fragmented by their very work (cf. Gen 11:1-26). Thus, evil does not come from the technique, but from human stupidity and from lack of wisdom.
The Book of Genesis shows that creation of the world is a kind of work of God going from disorder to order. Time underlined by the Word does not belong to chaos nor does it belong to the cosmos. Instead, it only belongs to the will of God who, by creating each different thing during the passing of the six days, creates the time of each thing up to the last day. This last day is the time of mankind, to whom God entrustes all creatures and their time. The biblical originality is shown here with respect to pagan world of Heraclitus, locked in itself and deprived of a true notion of progress: "the cosmos we know which is the same to all and everybody, was not created by God nor by man. It was already there, and will always be there. The fire of his logos eternally burns up and it peters out once again according to unchanging times" (Diels-Kranz, fr. 30). To the biblical message, the fundamental relationship is not that between human beings and the world, but it is that between humans and God, as the foundation of the relationship man-world. For this reason the biblical conception of technique is positive. Contrary to the pagan or atheist view, it emphasizes the authentic human notion of technique. To the Creator, nature and the universe are not elements to be exploited, but they are creatures to be respected and nurtured, with intelligent love and loving intelligence. Thus, the biblical announcement supports the correct demands of technology, but it counteracts the illegitimate pretense of technicism. After the sin, the world remained the home of humans, but it became the place where good and evil would fight with each other. Each relationship between mankind and the world, including work and technique, takes part to the mystery of iniquity and salvation. According to the message contained in the book of Sirach and in other texts of the Wisdom books of Holy Scripture, human life without Transcendence does not produce surprises nor novelties, but only boredom, suffering and mortal despair (cf. Alfaro, 1972). In the pure immanence there is no room for real hope, which is to be found somewhere else.
In the OT the world appears unfinished: it needs to be completed and perfected, with the mark of the Creator. In the NT it has to be liberated and purified with the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit, in order to be transformed into a real image of the celestial reality (cf. C. Lesquivit, P. Grelot, Monde, in “Vocabulaire de théologie biblique,” Paris: Cerf, 1970, coll. 784-791). Once their reference to God, Creator and Lord, is clearly affirmed, human beings are no longer endowed with any undiscriminating or absolute power. The narration of the book of Exodus describes the negative and positive aspects of the technique. The negative ones come up from slavery in Egypt: oppression, domination, exploitation and ugliness (cf. Ex 6:6). The positive ones appear in the construction of the temple: art masterpieces, skills and geniality. All of which witnessed the glory of God and of mankind (cf. Ex ch. 35; Alfaro, 1972, pp. 40-41). Thus, work and technique complete the divine creation, improving mankind and the world as long as they are not bound to serving the greatness, richness and earthly powers. The NT stresses technique as evangelical prudence. In the Gospel the builder of the tower must calculate the expenses and the instruments before starting building (cf. Lk 14:28). The constructions must have strong and appropriate foundations (cf. Lk 6,48-49). St. Paul presents the value of hope for the universe by putting an emphasis on the dynamic aspect that draws to it faith and charity (cf. 1Cor 13:13; Gal 5:5-6; 1Thes 1:2 and 5:8; Eph 1:15-18; Col 1:4-14). His argument belongs to a context of universal salvation and total hope for the cosmos mysteriously transformed. The entire creation aims at reaching this liberation from vanity and corruption even if the way to achieve it still remains mysterious (cf. Rm 8:19-23). Technique and technological planning are both part of such an effort to build up a new world and a society in accordance with human dignity.
IX. Planning, Hope and its Commitments
Christian hope puts mankind in an endless dynamic process towards absolute transcendence bringing value to temporality by inserting it into eternity. It also creates an ethics of temporality that frees up the becoming of banality and meaninglessness by providing answers that are not always conceptual ones, but rather real “hope masterpieces” (i.e. human works built in the spirit of hope). Thus, it brings about a special value to human projects. These projects are seen as a preparation to the new divine future for the world. In this manner fatality is taken away from history adding a value to the responsibilities of the present. Marcel emphasizes that the virtue of hope engages each single individual and the entire humanity (cf. Marcel, 2001). Hope as “definition” of the Christian existence, also touches the problems of technology, economy and ecology because, says St. Paul, man is so deeply united to creation that his salvation implies the salvation of creation itself (cf. Rm 8:19-23). Thus, to the Christian faith, the recent attempts to talk once more about hope, although in a secularized manner, in support of the best human energies, cannot be underestimated; just as in the same way the failure of the purely immanent hopes cannot be underestimated. Paradoxically, they testify in favor of the need of hope for human life. Yet, the transcending hope is never new to the world and to mankind because it demands the daily translation in signs and commitments (hope masterpieces). Thus, the theological-escatological Christian hope, studies history and it directs it to the absolute future with concrete actions fulfilling human needs as well as the cultural and historical expectations. The technological culture thus becomes a big scenario of the innovative and liberating action of Christian hope.
The Second Vatican Council, by linking technological development to the industrial revolution has tried to enlighten the human, socio-cultural and salvation-related, spiritual meaning connected to the emerging problems of the techno-scientific cultures. According to the document Gaudium et spes, the efforts to improve conditions of life conditions as the fruits of the intellect and the courage of mankind, correspond to the intentions of God over mankind. They become nothing but signs of his big project. Human activity allows transforming things and society, to improve and enhance human knowledge, to develop its skills so that we can go beyond ourselves, thus reaching our full realization. The commandment of love is the fundamental law of human perfection and of earthlty transformation, making mankind capable of loving and respecting creation (cf. nn. 34-35, 37-38). In the encyclical Laborem exercens (1981) John Paul II put into a global perspective the work related problems provoked by the new context of automation and the huge transformations that it brought about. He confirmed the “human” aspect of work as the essential key to the “social question” (cf. nn. 1-3). He also observed that science, technique and industry have greatly improved human labor, and he emphasizes the immense ethical and spiritual values they embody (cf. nn. 4, 6). Moreover, he has evaluated technology as "work and mankind allied." He did not hide that technology is considered as an adversary of both work and mankind, by those who set the rules of economy and use it to “replace” the workers, taking away from them their creativity, sense of responsibility and occupation (cf. n. 5).
In the same way, the Encyclical Sollicitudo rei socialis (1987) speaks of the contribution of technique to the liberation of man, even on a worldwide scale (cf. nn. 7, 10). Here, it is reminded that technology and industrialization contribute to solidarity and interchange; yet they also produce negative consequences such as environmental contamination that damage the planet as well as people’s health (cf. nn. 34, 43). Finally, the teachings found in Centesimus annus (1991) have put an emphasis on the strict relationship between ideology, techno-scientific changes and the social question. They have conditioned not only economy but also society and people. It is also underlined that the economic, political and military powers may turn the technological and scientific progress into tools of devastation and death, and make them dreadful and destructive because they serve the ideological hatred of any sort of dark interests (cf. nn. 4, 17). This means that the injustice of the economic and technological systems cannot be attributed to technology itself. Instead it has to be attributed to the subjects that make use of it and, above all, to the cultural and ideological conditions rooted in the lack of basic spiritual, religious and ethical values in the culture and society (cf. n. 24).
Nowadays, the technological culture and the “social” agenda of hope are confronted with the very serious problems that I have analyzed and underlined. In the heated debate between the enthusiastic supporters of technological power and the radical pessimists that criticize or reject all innovation, the Christian message distinguished itself for can bring about a strong balance. In fact, while it acknowledges the difficulty, the risks, the dangers, but also the great possibilities issuing from the technological development as also being part of God’s plan, it recalls the importance of some guidance and direction to supervise such a plan. This brings about the need for principles in order to avoid all abuse. It also proposes to put into context the technological innovations, within the local culture. This must be done by taking into consideration worldwide needs and some new problems such as the growing rate of unemployed people triggered by a variety of socio-economic issues. Also, we cannot forget the growing number of those excluded from any sort of improvement (elderly people, the marginalized, new poor, the more fragile worldwide areas). It points out that none of the problems taken into consideration can be solved simply by using innovation technology, but by developing a new attitude that takes into consideration all the cultural human components. It emphasizes that the various scientific, philosophical, humanistic, anthropological and technological interpretations bring to light the need for integrating the components of the technological culture into the wider perspective of the transcending, escatological, and theological hope, capable of enduring the historical tests and the more strict supervisions.
The number of complex arguments here discussed does not allow to give a detailed synthesis of the emerging needs, but it only gives some general indications. With respect to the “technological cultures” the Christian faith must a) enlighten and guide planning according to the goals, meanings and values of the Gospel. It must b) evaluate the original instance of technique, as glorification of God in his creation prompting a change of reality to serve the common good and the fellow brother, and enhancing fulfillment and people’s growth. It also must c) drive the responsible to the supervision of technology and the innovations in full respect, conservation and development of creation and to serve mankind. It must d) face with consistent measures the constant reduction of unemployment due to innovations and technological advance; and e) face the loss of the human ability as the result of technological development. With respect to “technology,” faith must provide for guidance in order a) to ease working conditions, by freeing it from the most harmful, dangerous, cumbersome and frustrating aspects; but also in order b) to plan changes and transformations of the created world that are beneficial and reasonable; c) to supervise the negative consequences; d) to respect the needs of the future generations; e) to supervise and face the negative consequences of the technological advances.
Finally to the “technological man,” religious faith must remember his vocation of co-participant aware and responsible of the redemption of the world. It must invite us to put our hopes not only in the work in our hands and our intellect; it must encourage us to innovate for the shear well being of the whole of mankind; it must support us to face new challenges, risks and pain by trusting the real “hope of the world” (cf. Gismondi, 1998b, pp. 184-186). To reach this goal we will have to bring together the message of faith with the works of hope. These are needed to transform the technological culture into the social relational and the economic solidarity culture, so that technological mankind, technology and technological systems might all be applied to serve the needs of each one and of humanity (cf. Gismondi, 1995, pp. 180-181).
Gaudium et spes, 33, 39, 57, 5, 23, 54; Apostolicam actuositatem, 7; Populorum progressio, 42, 48, 65; Redemptor hominis, 15-16; Laborem exercens, 1-3, 4-6, 24-25; Sollicitudo rei socialis, 15, 27, 29, 46; Ex corde Ecclesiae, 7; Centesimus annus, 4, 17, 24, 31-33, 36-38, 50-51; Fides et ratio, 46. John Paul II, Meeting with scientists and students in the Cologne Cathedral, November 11, 1980; The responsibilities of science and technology, Hiroshima, February 25, 1981; Discourse to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, October 29, 1990, Papal Addresses pp. 319-324; Laudato si 102-114.
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