Monday 18 March 2024

To A Chainsaw, Every Problem Looks Like A Massacre.

The adage goes, guns don't kill people, people kill people. And as a pro-gun person, I used to blindly accept this statement. I knew my gun safety basics, and intermediates, and knew that it takes a person to kill another person, via negligent or nefarious actions, and not via the gun. The gun does the dirty work but it's the person who brings the dirty.

But then I saw footage from the war in Ukraine. Saw Russian soldiers chased down by Ukrainian drones strapped to grenades and realized that what I was watching was also being filmed by a Ukranian drone. That men were no longer using guns to kill people. They were using remote controls.

Casey Neistat may have made the quadcopter drone famous. But Zelenski is making them infamous right now.

The question posed then, is if there is any difference between death by trigger or death by joystick. I imagine one is more fun for the sinner. And also less fun for the sinner. And I also imagine this is what it's meant when we're told war is hell. Sinners sinning against each other. The Ukrainians are embodying our much-praised value of innovation. They are exhibiting our much sought-after virtue of resourcefulness. But most of all, I think, they get what technology is and what technology does. They understand the difference between precept and concept, as it comes to drones. And it's exactly that which robbed them of their honour and courage. Even if it gives them a remote control edge on the battlefield. To be clear I have no dog in this fight. Both sides are bad guys by this point. And if you don't see that, you're drone footage needs to be a bit more clear.

When we look at tech as the church, we need to look at it as it actually is. Not how we think it will only get used. Calling virtual services, A.I., even smoke machines, tools as if that's all they are, is naive and a great example of conceptualization. We get enough of a grasp of the thing to use it without handling it long enough to understand it.

Most kids have this with video games. They have a concept of what it means to drive and jump and shoot. But have them attempt those things in the real world, doing real jumping and driving and shooting and a very different sort of thing happens. Kids who can ace a platform game like Mario can't get close to the rim of a basketball net, even when the court is as platformed as it can be, being the ground. Kids who have top scores on any given track in Grand Turismo, stall a standard transmission on their 1st through 20th time behind the wheel. And kids who fire a real gun, get a real level of respect for the destructive power that a firearm has when nefarious or negligent kids get behind them. Technological reality splits from technological use. And they learn to perceive the things they only have conceptions about from behind the controller.

We praise every online platform we can get our hands on, because of their innate ability to reach people. Oblivious that their creators don't use them and won't let their children use them either. That is like a gun maker raising pacifists but recording record sales in the Donbas.

"Don't worry too much. We know how this works, we're going to use this gun to do some non-gun things. I'm sure no one will get hurt. Now hand me that box of hollow points will you? We have missionary work to do."

Did that last bit of fiction have more kick than expected.

I'm sure DJI and GoPro are confident their flying cameras have found their intended market. What with the billions of dollars being spent on them in the Ukraine right now. And just like it would be absurd to think a gun made to kill people could bring them to new life in Christ, so is the idea that drones made for B-roll footage couldn't be used to send people to heaven. Technology is not neutral, because technology is only ever used by sinners. In some cases, in narrow and difficult circumstances, non-neutral technology is used for good. But it is always used by sinners. Sinners outright or sinners saved by grace. There are no innocent or pure people with tech at their disposal. The best we can hope for is sinners washed in the blood of the lamb before they end up shedding the blood of their neighbours. 

So if your church uses technology, nay, depends on it for its operation, maybe it's time to take a good hard look at its faux neutrality.

Are the projectors and lights and sound system helping your congregation grow in worship. Or are they performative outcroppings of a neutral view of tech? Because by that same neutral standard, we could turn every karaoke bar into a church plant. With only a few willing missionaries and a proper view of alcohol in the laity. All I did there was take your church's worship standard and their technological standard and remove the couch cushion reserved for the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit getting sidestepped by the emotional manipulation of a dark room and bright lights. But if I know that this is what gets asses in the seat, why wouldn't I pray at that church.

That by all means I might save some, right?

What we are rubbing up against is the chain of technology's saw. Do yourself a favour and look up why chainsaws were made, and what for. And that rub is only there because of the design of the thing. Turns out, it is the perfect instrument for a completely unrelated field. Forestry. One as distant from breached births as the east as is from the west. And I would argue that much of tech is actually not meant for church in the very same way. Designed for, sure. Intended for sure. But actually at home in drastically different settings. Worship and concerts shouldn't be as similar as they are. But when your songs are written with click tracks and light cues in mind, they don't lend themselves to other uses unless we shove them there. It's the shoving that does the damage. Especially with chainsaws.

How many choir lofts got the proverbial axe (read Gibson guitar), so that congregations could get worse at singing in church? How many baptistries got inserted into a sound stage so we can hide what was no longer important to liturgies of our faith. Because inflatable pools and cow troughs do the trick. 

Technology isn't neutral. And you can see that by looking around most churches using technology, to keep up with churches who use technology. There are pieces of this body lying everywhere. Blown off as old fashioned and backward as if it stopped working. Well, the truth is it was stopped from working. That moving a goalpost from filled pews to dynamic views on a live stream, changes the proverbial battlefield. You may think door-to-door evangelism is a dead idea. But statistically, it's not. You just can't use what it does for TikTok material. Basic, exegetical, through the books of the bible preaching is called boring but for some strange reason, everywhere Mark Driscoll does it, his church grows. Hard to repackage ad absurdum into 4-week bible study guides you can sell on Right Now Media. But great for the tithe.

Technology isn't neutral. It's actually more like a reverse gear in a standard. If you put it into place when a vehicle of faith is making good enough progress forward, it can kill the transmission of the gospel. The engine of the thing gets torn to pieces and the whole thing needs to be rebuilt. Don't worry. I hear you can find a YouTube video for that kind of automotive work. Why take an evangelical K-car to the dealership these days. 

Technology isn't neutral.

And neither are the people who use it.

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