There are no shortage of films out there playing on the notion that our technology has the power to propel us into a nightmarish and dystopic future—
The Terminator: artificial intelligence take over military command networks and create a time-traveling cyborg to destroy the future of the human race.
I am Legend: a human-made virus designed to fight cancer decimates humanity, except for those it turns into zombies, and except for Will Smith’s character who plays the last (normal) man standing.
The Matrix: technology takes over human beings who are reduced to batteries.
There are countless others (and Total Recall‘s remake is now in cinemas). I am drawn to these flicks, and they are quite successful on the big screen. Maybe part of it is because as our technological dependence rapidly grows, we hardly have time to process it all, leaving us excited about what the technology brings, yet sometimes a bit apprehensive at the same time. Where is all this going?
The story-makers of films like The Matrix or I, Robot are probably not the best folks to consult in answering that gnawing, underlying question. And let’s not forget the books: classics like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, or even something like Don DeLillo’s White Noise. Those of us who are more keen on technology and its obvious benefits will likely find such futuristic tales a bit excessive in their darkness, preying on unwarranted techno-anxieties, using fears to draw in readers and audiences.
Where is all this going? Maybe to somewhere really awesome…?
Futuristic scenarios are not always intended to offer predictions of the future so much as to offer warnings in the present.
This was often the case with the biblical prophets (who did not, of course, get direct deposits into their accounts from Hollywood by playing off public fears). Futuristic scenarios were often presented as a sort of rhetorical device in hopes of awakening an unwary populace, of inciting some current action in light of an uncertain future.
But many of the future scenarios presented by the biblical prophets were astonishingly beautiful. Lion and lamb playing side by side, children playing near the adder’s nest, weaponry reforged into farm equipment, a new heaven and a new earth—this is the imagery of future utopia.
Dystopia, however, seems to be the trajectory sinful humanity tends to hurl itself. The biblical story of redemption hangs on the surprising plot development that God intervenes in our path of self-destruction and offers the penitent an eventual paradise. The self-annihilation so thematic for the futuristic techno-films can be understood as quite biblical… except that the Bible, as often as it features self-annihilation as a theme, rarely does so without also presenting salvation as an overriding co-theme… assuming the self-afflicted turn heavenward.
Technology will not destroy us. Human beings can certainly destroy with technology—of that there is no doubt. Technology will also not save us. Nor will we save ourselves with technology. What we do and what we make will be fruitless in securing our own rescue—
Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the LORD.
Is. 31:1 (NIV11)
There is only One who saves, the Holy One of Israel.
We need not necessarily despise the novelists and the film-makers for painting ugly pictures of what awaits. Neither must we allow their scenarios to keep us awake each night in fear. But we can heed the warnings about technology and talk about them. We can be reminded of the inward (and thus defeating) orientation of sinful humanity, BlackBerry or sword, stylus or plowshare in hand.
And those conversations can bring us to lift our eyes joyfully to the horizon and long and wait. Someone is coming. He will likely not be impressed with the technology we are using for good—we need his salvation regardless, and no utopia we shoot for can compare to what he will bring. Nor will he be so daunted by how we have used technology for ill. His salvation is strong enough, strong enough for any dystopia.
Someone is coming….