Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew
during the lunch at the IAFSC House
(Wednesday, January 22, 2020)
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It is a unique pleasure for us to be among you this afternoon and to share some thoughts, from the perspective of the Eastern Orthodox Church and Orthodox spirituality, on the great challenges that our contemporary world is facing. Our world today is undoubtedly changing with rapid pace. The cause of the astonishing changes is the amazing development of technology, and the revolution of information and its multifaceted branches—an event which constitutes the greatest worldwide cultural revolution in the history of humanity. As it was properly said, “technology today holds the key to all the areas of life: science, politics, economics, medicine etc. No one can disregard it without being punished with marginalization or even extinction.”
Indeed, technology is the “great power” of our time. It effectively serves the human being, the prevention and treatment of diseases, it prolongs our lifespan, it facilitates our daily life, the outpouring of knowledge and information, it promotes communication and favors economic development. What was once considered to be irreversible and fatal—an insurmountable obstacle—today, it can be addressed and overcome. Most likely, the words “fate” and “fatal conditions” are unpleasing terms for contemporary understanding of development and of the trust to the power of science.
No one can deny the positive contributions which emerge from the progress of science and technology. Moreover, no person can close his eyes to the numerous negatives of the complete domination of technology in all aspects of life or, in the words of a contemporary theorist, of “the surrender of culture to technology.” Technology has been autonomized from the human being’s basic needs. “Information” is glorified and thus acquires a metaphysical status. The computer leads us to evaluate everything (i.e. things, events, even people) as “data,” as something to be processed, hence, making fast and measurable effectiveness the chief aim of human thought and action. The almighty means of electronic communication do not simply transmit information; they shape our views regarding life and its meaning, they steer our desires and needs, and they influence the ranking of our values. Consequently, age-old traditions are weakened, symbols erode and progress itself ends up being identified with technological progress.
Unfortunately, within this context, we can easily forget that our greatest problems are not of technical nature and do not derive from a lack of information. Violence, crime, loneliness, starvation and social injustice, fanaticism and the clash of civilizations, are not caused by a lack of information or technology, nor can they be addressed through computer science. We see that some of these issues are actually growing hand in hand with the technological progress of society.
Bearing these aforementioned reasons in mind—while still enjoying the benefits of technology—we simultaneously worry for our endangered freedom, our precious traditions that are lost and the natural environment that is being destroyed. Finally, a quantitative reality is not the only thing that exists. Also existing, is the “dimension of the depth” of reality, its mystery, art, poetry, philosophy, the meaning and the beauty. Science is a “great power” but it is not almighty after all! In one way or another, whatever is scientifically and artificially feasible, does not necessarily mean that it is also essential and good. For this reason, it is erroneous to hold the view that nothing but self-deception exists outside of science; when, actually, it is not at all self-deceiving to expect solutions from outside of science when the latter is unable to provide them.
What then can be said from the perspective of faith and religion in the face of all this? First, that we cannot ignore this immense crisis, because it affects human beings at the very core of their existence. And second, that nobody can face these problems alone. We need each other; we need a common agenda, common mobilization, common efforts and common goals. We are all called to common responsibility for the common good. We are all parts of the problem. Therefore, we are all parts toward the solution for the challenges that we jointly face.
It is our deep conviction that in this effort, the contribution of faith remains crucial, since the most precious spiritual and moral values and truths for the human being, his origin and his final destiny are stored within the sacred religious texts of humanity. Faith strengthens our commitment of human action, and it widens our witness for freedom, justice and peace. Our anthropology, our image of the human being and the purpose of his and her life, define our attitude toward humanity and social action. We don’t see the human being as homme machine that can be easily transformed into an object. We regard the human being as a person (“πρόσωπον”) created “in the image” of God. Evidently, a general orientation to the idea of “human being” is insufficient. Man must be approached in his relation to God and in respect to his spiritual nature. For us, the identity and value of a culture or a society cannot be judged by the level of its economic growth, its technological development or its social organization. In this sense, it is impossible to declare today’s immense progress of technology a “real progress,” given that within its framework, the human person and his home (“οἶκος”) are broadly undermined.
Of course, criticism against the deification of technology does not necessarily mean the devaluation of the beneficial works of scientific and technological progress. For, such a rejection would actually equate to us denying the very act of breathing. Science and technology have a human dimension and contribute to the solution of humanity’s problems today. Nevertheless, nothing amplifies the arrogance of contemporary man as much as faith in almighty science and technology. The future, though, does not seem to belong to the self-ordained “man-god” (ἀνθρωποθεός), who as a new “Prometheus” ignores or even abolishes limits and measures, as well as destroys the conditions of life on the earth. Real progress does not exist when the human person and his freedom are being undermined and his world is being destroyed.
We reject the cynical phrase “There is no alternative.” We reject the claim that non-conformity to the commandments of globalization and to the “autonomy of the economy” leads inevitably to the expansion of poverty and to uncontrollable societal developments and conflicts. From our perspective, the magic words are “solidarity” and “cooperation.” There is neither dilemma nor doubt of any kind when it comes to the need of common action between technology, politics, economics and religion, in order to address the problems that are to a great extent due to their autonomous function—exclusively on the basis of their own specific principles and criteria. As long as these powers continue to ignore one another, they can never truly benefit humanity. They all have to serve man and his world.
In fact, while technological developments are important elements, they are not the essence of a civilization. A civilization is judged by whether or not its final point of reference is the human person, in relation to his true divine destiny and the protection of his world. Thank for your kind attention.