Catholicism and the Perils of Technology

A confession: I am writing this column on my MacBook Air computer with my iPhone at my side. And I regularly enlist the help of a cellphone App to pray the Liturgy of the Hours. And after all, I live in the heart of Silicon Valley and have lectured to 300 actual and would-be Techies and Masters of the Universe.

In addition, the Church has actually pronounced itself in favor of modern technology, inasmuch as it enables people to communicate directly throughout the world, in directly personal ways (e-mail, texting, Twitter, Skype, etc.) as well as in more formal or purely informational forms of group collaboration and instruction. Through this assortment of techniques for “distance learning” of all kinds, the hope is that technology can help different countries and races to understand one another better and thus contribute to world peace and prosperity.

And technology, properly utilized, helps the Church evangelize globally by using the means of communication to preach the Good News to all. Just think about St. John Paul II and his use of the media, and Mother Angelica and her founding of EWTN, with its worldwide audience and dozens of Catholic radio stations throughout the United States. Now we have the charismatic Pope Francis energizing the largest Twitter account in the Universe.

Nonetheless. . .

I just went on vacation with some very close friends and was troubled by their inability to go almost anywhere, inside or outside, without their smartphones. I believe this could be called an addiction, and as Catholics striving for holiness we should only be “addicted” to the one thing needful: God alone.

             Dean Koontz

A few years, ago while I was resting from my pastoral duties, I picked up a paperback novel (not pulp fiction!) by the most popular and best-selling Catholic author in America. His name is Dean Koontz – you have probably head of him – but you are not likely to know that he is also a great defender of life.

Midway through the novel, I was stunned to come across this passage:

New technology – like the computer – freed men and women from all kinds of drudgery, saved them vast amounts of time. . . .And yet the time saved did not seem to mean additional leisure or greater opportunities for meditation and reflection. Instead, with each new wave of technology, the pace of life increased; there was more to do, more choices to make, more things to experience, and people eagerly seized upon those experiences and filled the hours that had only moments ago become empty. Each year life seemed to be flitting past with far greater speed than the year before, as if God had cranked up the control knob on the flow of time. But that wasn’t right, either, because to many people, even the concept of God seemed dated in an age in which the universe was being forced to let go of its mysteries on a daily basis. Science, technology, and change were the only gods now, the new Trinity; and while they were not consciously cruel and judgmental, as some of the old gods had been, they were too coldly indifferent to offer any comfort to the sick, the lonely, and the lost.

I might add to Koontz’s masterly description of the dangers of technology the practices of euthanasia, abortion, and pornography – all spilling out from the so-called developed countries in a floodtide of sin and death.

Well then, how do we combat an addition to technology?

Some suggestions:

1. Time. On average, how much time you spend online and watching television? (I shudder at the thought that you might play video games.)

2. How much time daily do you spend with your family? Is it more or less than the time you spend online?

3. Do you spend more online or on entertainment on a given day than you do on Mass or spiritual reading, such as reading the life of Christ so you can imitate him better in your friendships, family, and work life?

4. How much time do you spend on the spiritual and corporal works of mercy?  Or do you spend more time on YouTube?

5. What is better for you and your family? Each member of the family online or a joint excursion to a shrine of Our Lady with another family or two and an ice cream treat afterwards?

6. How about once in a while having an evening when the family stays at home and each family member reads a book for an hour or so?

7. Serious Catholics should make a retreat every year to grow in their relationship with the Lord. Well, why not make it a silent retreat? That’s right, no talking and no cellphone or computer usage.

Try any of these simple suggestions, or other like them: then you will start to see how addicted you may be to technology.

Fr. C. John McCloskey (1953-2023) was a Church historian and Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Faith and Reason Institute.