A couple of weeks ago, I wrote some thoughts on identity and freedom, prompted in part by Apple’s iPad Air commercial. So to continue the theme of ads-from-tech-companies, I thought I might also offer just some brief comments on Microsoft’s ad from the Super Bowl, which is begging for religious reflection. (If you happened to be grabbing some wings from the kitchen while it aired on Super Bowl Sunday, be sure to watch it below.)
Here are the lines from the video:
“What is technology? What can it do? How far can we go? Technology has the power to unite us. It inspires us. Technology has taken us places we’ve only dreamed. It gives hope to the hopeless. It has given voice to the voiceless.”
In my last post, I noted the similarity of all human ideologies: that man is the protagonist in his own story, while God, if mentioned at all, tends to be in a supporting role. But Microsoft poses a slightly different question from the one asked by Professor Keating: not “What will your verse be?” but “What can technology do?”
Here we have an important question to say the least, since in our globalized world, technological advances are increasing apace and are ever encroaching into our everyday lives. Microsoft is observant: we humans have indeed ventured far, thanks to the assistance of our gadgets we have created for ourselves. Alas, we modern humans are nearing the pinnacle of ingenuity, for our creations have provided us with exactly what we need to be self-sufficient. One must wonder, then, what place God would have in the picture. Indeed, religion is now found wanting, and many of us are headed for the exit from religious devotion.
But I wonder if Microsoft even recognizes the religious overtones in the video. A united, inspired, and hopeful humanity? In former times, those achievements were under God’s job description, but with the acquisition of wealth, information, and technological advances, modern man no longer needs its gods to get along. It would thus seem that as man advanced, God progressively proved to be of less practical use for our purposes. And now that we have come close to reaching our potential, we can dispense with him altogether. After all, what place could he possibly have in our scientific era?
Sigmund Freud fascinatingly noted in Civilization and Its Discontents that in the ancient days, man came up with things he himself could not achieve and attributed those to a god, whichever god it might have been. Since then, humanity has done much and gone far. The things humanity has created for itself have enabled it to lift itself beyond its prior limitations, so much that it has acquired a near god-like status. Its innovations and acquisitions were just what it needed. Nearly invincible, humanity has almost arrived at saving itself. As Freud put it,
[Man] has almost become a god himself…. Man has, as it were, become a kind of prosthetic God. When he puts on all his auxiliary organs he is truly magnificent; but those organs have not grown on to him and they still give him much trouble at times…. Future ages will bring with them new and probably unimaginably great in this field of civilization and will increase man’s likeness to God still more…
Freud has a point: humanity’s gods truly are projections of humanity’s highest ideals. But have we not come full circle to Professor Keating (and Stephen Cave) again? After all, the god to which Freud is referring is concerned primarily with man’s upward ascent. Humanity’s god (or gods), then, is the one who can be found in humanity’s conception of power and glory, which it turns out is not all that powerful and glorious. Freud is correct. Humans are obsessed with the theology of glory (as Martin Luther would put it), which conjures a god in man’s image. Or to quote John Calvin,
For as rashness and superficiality are joined to ignorance and darkness, scarcely a single person has ever been found who did not fashion for himself an idol or specter in place of God. Surely, just as waters boil up from a vast, full spring, so does an immense crowd of gods flow forth from the human mind, while each one, in wandering about with too much license, wrongly invents this or that about God himself.
If Luther and Calvin are correct, it would seem that though we might no longer need our ancient gods, we have simply transformed them into machinery for use in our daily lives. Whichever god that we have dreamt up has now been turned into a “prosthesis” to assist us further in our own story of glory, our race to the top.
But whatever gods (or technological gods!) humanity has constructed throughout the ages, they don’t exactly reflect the self-giving God of the Bible. The Triune God of the Bible, who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is ineffable in his holiness and glory. He is past finding out on the part of humanity, for the only god humanity can find is the one he wishes to create. But the Triune God, we Christians confess, makes himself known to us. He reveals himself where none of us would ever look: the cross. As Luther wrote about the theology of the cross, “God can be found only in suffering and the cross.” Christianity then places God in his descent to humanity in which he comes to be crucified in the person of Jesus Christ.
Whatever hope our technological advances have afforded us, it seems that we’ve not quite made it. The ground we stand on is still pretty shaky. Freud even agrees: our god-like achievements haven’t freed us from our misery after all. We may think our gadgets are prosthetic gods, but in our flight to the top, we are hopelessly lost. For though we have injected ourselves with hopeful and endless possibilities, their dependence on us renders them impossible possibilities. “Voiceless” as we are, it is God who must utter the word of grace to us.