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Technology and Religion: remaining human in a co-created world

Templeton Press, West Comshohocken, PA, USA, 2009
RRP $33.95

Reviewed by Alan Cook, a computer enthusiast who teaches the not-so-young to use computers and looks after the PowerPoint at Wavell Heights Uniting Church.

IN THIS relatively short book the author, Noreen Herzfeld, Professor of Theology and Computer Science at St. John’s University, Minnesota, explains why religion has a duty to understand and become involved in the rapid technological changes of today’s world because of their individual and societal outcomes.
There are substantial chapters outlining problems arising, or likely to arise, from the adoption of technology in various fields.

In the chapter on medicine, issues such as performance enhancing drugs in sport, and prolongation of life by respirators are discussed. In many areas the question is whether the aim is healing or raising the level or nature of human performance and consequent societal norms.

The chapter on information technology addresses the effects of constant use of the internet to live virtual lives, playing violent games, making and maintaining large numbers of social contacts. The author expresses concern that limitation of person-to-person contact in those activities reduces the capacity of the internet user to acquire the necessary wide range of interpersonal skills. There are similarly thoughtful chapters on genetically modified crops, and renewable and non-renewable energy sources.
The unintended effects of global promotion of technological advances without full appreciation of cultural factors are discussed and illustrations given.

This book is written for lay people, but the detailed chapter notes make it a useful resource for readers seeking more specialized information. It leaves the reader with the realisation that the relation between religion and technology is not a matter for apathy, or for knee-jerk reactions.