Abstinence, evolution, and technology

Say no to sexThis is probably obvious to everyone in the world but, perhaps, me. I’m so used to the idea that resistance to technology comes in the form of the Unibomber-esque, hyper-educated liberal humanist gone bad, that I somehow missed the consistent expression of technological resistance present in policies guided by the religious right. The plain reading of abstinence-only education programs (now being extended to adults) is simply that they are an attempt to marry (so to speak) Christian values to public policy. But the reason may not be “God’s plan” as much as it is “because condoms and birth control are repugnant.”

The most visible public policies affected by the religious right in the US seem to hinge heavily on issues of science and technology: abortion, sex education, evolution, stem cell research, access to the web by children, and gaming, just to name a few. Other moral issues (Darfur? AIDS crisis?), though certainly present, seem not to take the fore. Perhaps the only issue that doesn’t fit into that list is gay marriage, which seems to have little to do with technology, and yet is once again at the cutting tip of the Republican’s electoral sword of Damocles–toe-to-toe with “surrendering to the terrorists.”

This is interesting in part because there is a long history in the US in particular of understanding technology as being a part of God’s plan. We are responsible for cultivating Eden, in part through the tools of human industry. I suspect that swings back-and-forth over time. There are certainly religious groups who take to technology and engage it, but I think the anti-Enlightenment views go hand-in-hand with anti-technological views, both of which are ascendent in the American public sphere of late.

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  1. Garrett
    Posted 11/3/2006 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    I think part of this can be traced to the semi-explicit notion in western religions that pleasure is something that can only come from God, and any pleasure you find outside of fulfilling your religious duty is sinful. Science and technology complicate this by removing consequences (pregnancy, disease) that previously limited pleasure-seeking behavior, and simultaneously weakening the ability of religion to act as the “sole source of truth” for its adherents, freeing them to seek satisfaction elsewhere.

  2. Posted 11/4/2006 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    Oouch! Alex that hurts. I’ve got no problem with your take on the religious right. Trust me I don’t. But to tie them in with the Anti-Enlightenment? GAK. Them’s fighting words. I’d claim that it is the anti-enlightenment that is the creative force, the true hackers in the development of modern western culture. The Englightenment speaks to techno-positivism of the worst sense. We cannot have the EFF, WoW, scientists for social responsibility, or any form of social justice without the anti-enlightenment and its willingness to look for learning and knowledge in the dark and forgotten places of the earth. Blake hated Newton for good reasons. Newton would be, imho, the relgious right of his day, bounding and conforming and mapping and trapping. What was blake pissed off about? He hated that which limited the creative freedom of the human spirit. He hated the v-chip, government censorship of information, corporate control of technologies of communication, the mono-linguistic underpinnings of the net, icann… but not the little hacker children who needed to run wild and free. No, I have to beg you to reconsider the enlightenment/anti-enlightenment angle… Blake, burke on the sublime, bishop berkeley, collins, grey, young, lowth all await!

  3. alex
    Posted 11/4/2006 at 10:01 am | Permalink

    I’m not particularly anit-anti-Enlightenment–nor for that matter anti-religious–though I’ll admit I am edging that direction more so every day. And you are certainly correct: if anything the tie between technology and wizardry suggests its deep, dark underpinnings (a section of my dissertation not well liked by my committee), and so perhaps the “hand-in-hand” part is wrong. Nonetheless, the Enlightenment project was, at its base, a revolution against traditional forms of authority. I think some technologies are also inherently disruptive of existing authority, and things like birth control, genetics, life support, and virtual environments fall into this category. While none of these necessitate moving toward the intended destination of the Englightenment, they do tend to find the same point of departure from traditional authority.

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