I have never dreamed of flying through space. I have never yearned to travel faster than the speed of light. I’m not impressed by sightings of UFOs or the prospect of meeting aliens. I’m not interested in altering the genomes of any of my offspring. I’m not interested in refusing to age or refusing to die. I’m writing this on an excellent computer, but I’m not sure that I enjoy my computer any more than I used to enjoy the effect of a newly sharpened pencil on a crisp white sheet of paper, or the feel of making my way through the smooth pages of a mammoth encyclopaedia, or the fun of recording favourite songs off the radio onto a stuttering cassette tape or viewing a classic movie on a flickering, whirring VHS bought at a car boot sale. The fact is, progress is ambivalent, it’s not always 100% good and as it creates the new it destroys the old. We might one day enjoy the thrill of a shiny new self-driving car, but will no doubt look back with longing on the thrill of driving ourselves. Even as we get excited about technological change, we miss many of the things technological change obliterates.
Progress is a two-way street. What science promises with one hand, it takes away with the other. A cure for something might induce a condition for something else. All medication has side effects. All medical treatment is a balancing act between evils, as the present pandemic has clearly shown. Which is fine as long as the interests of the patient remain paramount. When medical treatment is predicated on money, however, it throws up ethical dilemmas. And since science and private money now always seem to go hand in hand, it’s a good time to ask: will the interests of patients take second place to corporate priorities? The recent rise in New Tech wealth does not bode well for the masses. When Bezos says his customers always come first, this is only until he has won them over and the competition eliminated, then profit returns to pole position. Profit and a growing GDP are the modern foundations of hope: hope for wealth, hope for new goods, hope that one day science will save us.
There is some evidence that technological change is being used for the general good, but far more that it is being used as a springboard for the ultra rich. Just when we had at our fingertips the prospect of free mobile communication and free access to the internet, wannabe billionaires intervened and turned these things into models for making extortionate profit. When an epidemic strikes, the first thing we ask might be “who can we save?” but this is swiftly followed by “how much money can we make?” The Covid year proved we are less interested in saving lives than in saving big business. As we unlock the mysteries of the known universe, entrepreneurs hear the ring of cash registers. This would be fine and dandy if profits were being used to reduce national debts, or to improve public services, or to save threatened species, but there is little to no evidence of this. Pletny however to show that the luxury goods market has been inflated.
How does this affect our spirit, our human essence, out experience of life in general? I believe the impact is a net negative. We are back at that point of civilization when men thought by building a tower high enough into the clouds, they would catch a glimpse of heaven. The Tower of Babel was the result of vain ambition rather than the wish to house the masses, and its ultimate failure held back science for centuries. This raises the spectre of an inverse link between money and morality.
Our modern Babel is a space rocket for billionaires obsessively on the lookout for new excitements and, don’t get me wrong, crossing new frontiers is a laudable aim. We are all curious about weightlessness and the curvature of the earth and Branson is about to satisfy that curiosity, at least for some. While some of us search the back of the sofa for the odd £175k to pay for a ticket, millions more are curious not about weightlessness and the curvature of the earth, but about feeding and clothing themselves and getting a good education for their kids, which is still beyond the ability of even the most adept politicians to deliver. While climate change wreaks havoc with urbanisations on earth, Musk’s plans for building settlements on Mars have been welcomed with excitement; yet what use is a mansion on Mars when affordable housing on earth is still in short supply? Is science becoming an elitist exercise, designing products for the few whilst dashing hope for the many? To take this to the extreme, consider a group of scientists, funded by billionaires, discovering a formula for eternal life: who would benefit? Would the formula be rolled out to everyone the world? Or, slightly more likely, if one day we rely on space rockets to escape our poisoned planet (poisoned by bad business choices) how many of us would be allowed aboard? There are a thousand other scenarios – self-drive cars, domestic robots, genetic modification – who will be able to afford these technologies?
A real heaven must include everyone or no one at all, for otherwise it’s a lonely sort of heaven. Only God’s salvation is for everyone. The only escape rocket we need is piloted by Jesus. The Bible tells us that “hope in the Lord will renew our strength” (Isaiah 4:31) and “the God of hope will fill us with joy and peace” (Romans 15:13). There is nothing to say that we can’t use science and money to help us along the way because science comes from God (Psalms 111:2), just as wealth does (Deuteronomy 8:18), but science taekn out of God’s hands and hijacked by selfish financial interest is not only misguided but dangerous.
Here’s the problem in an existential nutshell: as far as science is concerned everything matters but nothing has meaning.
Everything matters to science because to science everything that is observable matters, but nothing has meaning because beyond matter there is nothing. Matter and money have become inextricably linked and between them have constructed a new article of faith: that nothing outside money matters. Therefore, our hopes of peace and joy rest on the acquisition of goods in which we find short-lived gratification, while the real question of the general happiness of our species (and its ultimate salvation in eternity) is set aside as unrealistic, unattainable, even mythical.
In Godly faith, the opposite is true. Nothing matters yet everything is meaningful.
Nothing solid matters to the religious mind, be it the curvature of the earth or the arrival of ET, because to the religious mind matter is as nothing; it is dust. But everything is meaningful to the religious mind because we know that beyond our mortal lives is an eternity of peace in the presence of the Divine, which gives hope to all. Belief in God, therefore, restores hope and is, in fact, the only real basis for hope. Those who place their trust only in anything else will ultimately be disappointed.
So how does belief in God inspire hope? If I am a parent who cannot afford shoes for my children but know that God is there for me, the absence of shoes no longer matters. I explain to my children that running barefoot through the streets can connect them more viscerally with the world, enjoy creation more completely and find greater meaning in their lives. The sun, the stars, the moon, remain unreachable but that’s okay because unreachable things thrive in art, in romance and in dreams, all of which make life wonderful. Meanwhile the combination of science and money drives on toward an insatiable desire to make capital and concoct luxury goods for infinitely burgeoning bank balances. But empty dreams of owning a superyacht, a racing car, or even a space rocket, will only satisfy the corporeal senses for a brief spell before being discarded along with all the other spent toys of the past. Meanwhile, children running barefoot feel cheated if their trainers aren’t designer branded.