The Paradox of Technology and Global Affairs

Loving our neighbors in the digital age

Jason Thacker

One of my favorite email newsletters I read is from The Economist. It has become a go-to resource for world news. Each morning, they send a rundown called the Espresso. It highlights stories from other countries that many U.S.-based news outlets rarely mention or go in depth about because of their focus on domestic affairs. Routinely, I read about social trends affecting populations around the world or the various ways that authoritarian regimes are suppressing basic human rights through technology.

Being exposed to all these events has helped me see the vastness and gravity of world affairs, to break out of the isolation of American news, and more importantly, to understand the plight of so many people internationally who are created in the very image of God. This simple newsletter has expanded how I see the dignity of all people, no matter where they live or what they believe. It has allowed me to have a broader global mindset in my prayers and work as I think about the thousands of missionaries who are sharing the gospel, often in hostile places. 

But this same practice of news consumption also tends to bring with it unintended consequences that display the incredible power of technology to shape humanity. In our digital age, it is difficult to think wisely about technology given how it forms us—often unconsciously—for good and ill. Media theorist and cultural critic Neil Postman describes technology as having these complex and profound effects on every aspect of our life at its core. He explains that “once a technology is admitted, it plays out its hand; it does what it is designed to do.” That is, all technologies have good and bad uses and are designed toward specific ends. Postman goes on to say that “our task is to understand what that design is—that is to say, when we admit a new technology to the culture, we must do so with our eyes wide open.”1Neil Postman, Technopoly: The Surrender of Culture to Technology (New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1993). 7.

But how do we honestly evaluate technology when it is so deeply embedded into our lives? And how does the Christian ethic shape our approach to the dignity of people around the world? 

Our distracted age

We all know that we live in a distracted age. We have access to countless gadgets, social platforms, and other technologies on any given day. We are inundated with information and simply aren’t able to process the things we are exposed to daily or understand their gravity. One of the dangerous consequences of our current state of news consumption is described by English professor Jeffrey Bilbro as the “macadamized” or distracted mind.2Jeffrey Bilbro, Reading the Times: A Literary and Theological Inquiry into the News (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2021). 14-20.

Drawing on Henry David Thoreau’s insights, Bilbro describes how a macadamized road was one that was made up of many small stones that were easier to shape over time rather than larger stones that were used previously. Bilbro connects this concept to our modern-day information intake, where instead of focusing on larger concepts and ideas, we frequently take in small bits of “news” and information that tends to make it more akin to a spectacle than something morally upright and formative. We fail to think deeply on any one thing and give very little sustained attention to the thousands of things we see each day. Information overload, at times, may tempt us to feel like we are more informed, but in reality we are being formed for more shallow engagement and simplistic thinking.

Likewise, we are more easily shaped in ways that can be contrary to the biblical ideals. In a sense, when everything is seen as breaking news and worth our time, the reality is that nothing is truly important. This common practice of news consumption can lead to us hearing about the devastating plight of people around the world, yet not being altered by it in what we do or how we think about those indignities. Our heads—and email inboxes—may be full of information, but our hearts and hands are idle or distracted by whatever is deemed to be more important at the moment.

While technology can have innumerable benefits for learning about issues of human dignity around the world, it can also deaden us to the realities and horrors of a sin-torn world. In our digital age, we tend to gloss over the travesties that our fellow image-bearers are subjected to as mere headlines. We fail to see past the stories and news alerts to the fact that these updates are about actual flesh-and-blood human beings. They are not bits of data to be consumed and then forgotten. 

Behind this paradox is a call for authentic Christian engagement in world affairs that utilizes technology for good and acknowledges the bad. All of this is driven by the desire for nations and governments around the world to recognize the human dignity inherent in all people. But, most importantly, we are compelled by Jesus’ call to “love God” and “love our neighbor as ourselves” (Luke 10:27).

The good and bad of technology in world affairs

As already mentioned, technology is a good gift from God. One of the reasons is because it expands what we can know and how much we can learn. Take, for example, the plight of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, China. Through the use of social media and digital technologies, the world has been put on notice about the devastating human rights abuses by and the authoritarian control of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Millions of religious minorities have been surveilled, detained, and sent to “reeducation” camps where they are tortured and brainwashed to swear ultimate allegiance to the Communist regime.3Chelsea Patterson Sobolik and Michael Sobolik, “How the Chinese Communist Party Is Persecuting Uyghur Muslims,” ERLC, accessed November 11, 2021, https://erlc.com/resource-library/articles/how-the-chinese-communist-party-is-persecuting-uyghur-muslims/. These image-bearers are subjected to forced labor and even forced sterilization. And much of what the world knows about this genocide and these crimes against humanity comes through the access to information that we have in the digital age.4Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, “China (Includes Hong Kong, Macau, and Tibet),” 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (U.S. Department of State, 2020), https://www.state.gov/reports/2020-country-reports-on-human-rights-practices/china/. We simply would not know the extent of these abuses without technology such as social media, internet connectivity, and satellite surveillance. And we are now without excuse if we remain silent. 

These authoritarian practices and abuses are not limited to the CCP. Through technology, we have learned about the massive censorship and political power grabs in nations such as Cuba, Belarus, Iran, Russia, and more over the last few years.5Jason Thacker, “Wired for Tyranny?,” Liberty Magazine, accessed November 11, 2021, https://www.libertymagazine.org/article/wired-for-tyranny. These governments have routinely sought to oppress their people and wield unaccountable power through the widespread use of severe and dehumanizing measures. Technology has also enabled these draconian regimes to gain immense control and power over their people through the use of highly-advanced technologies such as facial recognition, government surveillance, and expansive data collection by private actors.

Christian ethics and global affairs

In conversations about global affairs, I usually notice two things: growing concerns about authoritarian impulses, but also a lack of empathy for those under these oppressive regimes. Our lives of decadence in the West make it hard for world news to puncture through the allure of modern conveniences, especially because it seems to have no bearing on our daily lives. We may acknowledge that the plight of Uyhur Muslims is a travesty, but we fail to take actions that hold corporations and governments accountable for enabling or turning a blind to these atrocities.

One of the fundamental aspects of Christian ethics and discipleship is the call to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Jesus knew full well that our tendency, in our sinful nature, is to focus exclusively on ourselves—and he calls his people to something greater. In the parable of the Good Samaritan, a lawyer questions Jesus about what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by stating that he must love God and love his neighbor as himself. The scriptures then show us that the lawyer, “seeking to justify himself” (Lk 10:29), asks, “Who is my neighbor?” This simple question reveals the core of the biblical ethic and directly applies to Christian engagement in global affairs.

Jesus answers in a parable and asks the lawyer to point out who was a good neighbor to the one who was attacked. The lawyer responds, “The one who showed him mercy” (Lk 10:37). Jesus agrees and calls him to go and do likewise. This is our call as Christians. Loving our neighbor does not simply mean platitudes, hashtag activism, or a knowledge of global affairs. While these things may have their place, we must seek to allow the Holy Spirit to break us out of our macadamized minds and transform us into people who seek mercy for our neighbors, no matter their perceived benefit to the world, location, or even religious beliefs.

We do this because they are made in the image of God and, even in their spiritual rebellion, are dear to their Creator. While many of the issues on the global stage are complex and can quickly become overwhelming, we still have a mandate to love our neighbors within the context God has placed us and urge that their God-given dignity be recognized. Not all of us are called to stand in the halls of Congress or advocate at the United Nations, but each of us can extend mercy to our neighbors. We can do this by using technology to stay informed about global affairs, making our voices heard at the ballot box, or loving the refugee family down the street and raising awareness in our own circles. The church, as the outpost of God’s coming kingdom, has the distinct calling and honor to demonstrate our love for him as we love our neighbors and extend mercy to all.

Jason Thacker serves as senior fellow focusing on Christian ethics, human dignity, public theology, and technology. He also leads the ERLC Research Institute. In addition to his work at the ERLC, he serves as assistant professor of philosophy and ethics at Boyce College in Louisville Kentucky. He is the author or editor of several books including the Essentials in Christian Ethics series, The Age of AIFollowing Jesus in a Digital Age, and The Digital Public Square. He is a graduate of The University of Tennessee and Southern Seminary, where he is currently a PhD candidate in Christian ethics and public theology.

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