How rebuilding our moral infrastructure can prepare us to thrive in the tech age

March 8, 2022

The advance of technology has outpaced our morality. It’s a grim assessment, but it’s hard to argue against. In some ways it’s an inevitability — technology is always more potent with possibilities than we can initially conceive of. Who would have ever thought the advent of television, for instance, would one day lead to the moral dilemmas the television industry has delivered to us? Or, maybe a bit closer to home, who would have thought the iPhone could have ushered in such a temptation toward narcissism? Technology opens new worlds of possibility that we must respond to morally. With respect to much of today’s technology, we are proving ourselves morally ill-equipped to handle it.

With technology advancing at such a dizzying pace, how can we keep up? How can we maintain our moral bearings when the tech world has cracked open so many new frontiers of possibility, so many gray areas, so many moral dilemmas? In short, we must rebuild what we’ve so casually let fall into disrepair: our moral infrastructure.

What is our moral infrastructure?

There are two foundational components of what I’m calling our moral infrastructure. First, for believers and non-believers alike, our God-given conscience serves as a foundation upon which the tracks of our moral-ethical lives are built. Secondly, the Holy Spirit, himself, functions as a kind of moral underpinning in the lives of believers. Or, to extend the metaphor, he is the superintendent who razes our morally hazardous foundations, lays new ones in their place, and anchors them in the sure footing of Christ. The whole of our moral-ethical lives is lived (or not) out of one or both of these two moral components.

But there are other infrastructural components to our moral-ethical lives as well, which we might equate with the roads, guardrails, and road signs built on the foundations mentioned above. These teach us how to behave and guide us in the right direction. While the following is not an exhaustive list, I’ll highlight two crucial components of our moral infrastructure, one fueled by the properly formed conscience and one born of the Spirit.

Cardinal virtues: Prudence (wisdom), justice (righteousness), fortitude (courage), and temperance (self-control) have historically been known as the cardinal virtues. Dating back to the writings of Plato, the cardinal virtues were eventually recognized and adapted by the likes of Augustine and Thomas Aquinas and are widely acknowledged, most notably within the Catholic Church, to this day. 

While some may squirm at their arguably Platonic origins (though I would contend that these virtues preceded Plato) and Protestants, in particular, may be uncomfortable with their association with Catholicism, it is indisputable that the cardinal virtues are morally virtuous ways of being. Objectively, wise and just living, for instance, contributes to people’s flourishing, as opposed to foolish and unjust living, which contributes to misfortune and ruin. The cardinal virtues are “naturally revealed,” we might say, to be good. Add to these the Christian virtues of faith, hope, and charity (love), and what we have is a fundamental component of our moral fabric as human beings.

Fruit of the Spirit: In the life of the Christian, the Spirit of God builds up our moral infrastructure by bearing his fruit in us: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23, CSB). These are the road signs guiding us, saying “This is the way, walk in it” (Isa. 30:21, NASB). And, Paul goes on to say in Galatians, “If we live by the Spirit [build our lives on his moral footing], let us also keep in step with the Spirit [walk with him on the road he’s laid for us]” (v. 25). The Spirit gives us the raw material — the moral-ethical equipment — and the power we need to live lives that go with the grain of the kingdom. 

So, as the tech age leads to ever more frontiers of possibility and yet-to-be-conceived moral-ethical dilemmas, it is imperative that we maintain and, where necessary, rebuild these and other components of our moral infrastructure.

Why does our moral infrastructure need to be “rebuilt?”

Have you logged on to social media lately? Watched the news? While American culture as a whole could easily be critiqued, what’s often most discouraging and confounding is the behavior of many Christians. Technology, as it has repeatedly done throughout our history, has put new tools in our hands that we are noticeably unprepared for morally. 

But, why are we unprepared? Why must we rebuild our moral infrastructure? Because we’ve let it fall into disrepair. What’s becoming clear by our very public misbehavior is that, by our own moral neglect, we’ve seared our consciences, collectively and individually, and we’ve quenched the Holy Spirit. In our interactions with others, we have publicly traded the fruit of the Spirit for “enmities, strife, outbursts of anger, dissensions, and factions,” which Paul calls the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:20). 

Considering our public, moral-ethical behavior in the technological age, I can’t help but think of the famous exchange between G.K. Chesterton and The Times, a London newspaper, which reportedly sent out an inquiry to Chesterton and other authors asking, “What’s wrong with the world today?” “I am,” he said, abruptly. We would do well to join the likes of Chesterton, and confess our own moral neglect.

How do we rebuild it?

The natural follow-up to “why,” is “how” do we rebuild our moral infrastructure? The fruit of the Spirit, after all, is not ours to produce; it is the fruit of the Spirit. The cardinal (and Christian) virtues, as well, are not virtues that we can simply muster up; we are entirely dependent on God to work these virtues into us. So what do we do? Here are three steps we can take to begin this much-needed rebuild. 

1. Posture: In A.D. 410, Saint Augustine wrote a letter replying to a young man named Dioscorus, who, in a previous letter, sent to him (Augustine) “a countless multitude of questions” inquiring about the Christian religion. Near the end of Augustine’s response, he said this: “if you were to ask me, however often you might repeat the question, what are the instructions of the Christian religion, I would be disposed to answer always and only, Humility . . .” 

In the same vein, the beginning, middle, and end of rebuilding our moral infrastructure is humility. Recognizing our need to have our moral-ethical foundations shored up, step one is clear: we are to fall on our faces before God in absolute humility. There is no other place to begin. 

2. Prayer: “Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God—who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly—and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting” (James 1:5–6, CSB). When God’s people are in need of something, James’ instruction is for us to ask God. To pray.

In our tech age, we need wisdom because of the world’s new and unexplored gray areas; we need kindness and gentleness because anger and outrage are so richly rewarded; we need self-control because excess has never been more attainable; we need courage because Christianity in our society has never been less palatable. And how do we get these crucial components of our moral infrastructure? We ask. We receive from the God who gives generously. 

3. Practice: In James’ letter, he tells us to “be doers of the word” (James 1:22). And though Paul uses the language of fruit to describe what the Spirit produces in our lives (Gal. 5:22–23), he contrasts the Spirit’s “fruit” against the “works of the flesh” and warns us “that those who practice such things [works of the flesh] will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Gal. 5:21, CSB). In each case, James and Paul — along with the entirety of the biblical witness — are telling us to “put these things into practice” (1 Tim. 4:15, NRSV). 

One of the unsettling truths about asking God for something is that, often, he not only provides us with the thing we’re asking for, but he also puts us in situations where it’s needed. And he expects us to exercise what he’s given us. All of our asking is for nothing if we don’t actually practice the virtues and ethics of the kingdom. After all, “Faith without works” — without the exercise of virtue, without Spirit-born fruit — “is dead” (James 2:26). 

The way forward

As the technological age marches forward, we might assume that we need to discover an equally innovative path forward to ready us for the “brave new world” the tech age promises. That would be a mistake. All the tools we need to rebuild our moral infrastructure lie within our sacred text, the sacred community, and our Triune God. To go forward faithfully, we need only to rediscover the “ancient paths” (Jer. 6:16).

For the people of God, the way forward may seem counterintuitive, for it is both down, to the way of humility, and back, to the cross of Christ, time and time and time again. And it is up, looking lovingly upon God with our whole selves, and around, loving our neighbor as ourselves. This way is “narrow and difficult” (Matt. 7:14), but it “leads to life,” to blessing, to flourishing. Though “few find it,” we have found it, and now we have the joy of showing this dizzied and disoriented world what life with God looks like. But they won’t be allured by Jesus and his kingdom, and we won’t thrive in the tech age, if we let our moral infrastructure crumble away piece by piece.

So may we take seriously God’s command to be a set-apart people. And may this culture that has gone so far astray know us and God’s kingdom by our fruit (Matt. 7:17–18). And through our faithful witness, may they find the ancient path that leads to life.

Jordan Wootten

Jordan Wootten serves as a News and Culture Channel Editor at the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and a writer/editor at RightNow Media. He's a board member at The LoveX2 Project, an organization seeking to make the world a better place for moms and babies. Jordan is a graduate of … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24