Technology and the Story of Redemption: Being the People of God in a Mechanized World

Robin PhillipsSymbolic World Icon
May 23, 2024

If we want to understand what a Biblical theology of technology might look like, we have to start at the very beginning. In the Bible, the first reference to someone building something comes in Genesis 1:1 when God made the heavens and the earth. This is the beginning of a theology of technology, yet the import is easily missed because we do not share the thought world of the Ancient Near East (ANE), the original context for Genesis.1 To an ancient reader or listener, the account of God creating the Garden of Eden would have been understood as a temple construction narrative. The clues are everywhere in the text once we understand something about the ANE. 

In the mindset of the ANE, the purpose of religion was not for humans to go to heaven, but to bring heaven to earth. But what was heaven? Heaven was a place in the sky (or the top of a mountain, which is the same thing, since a mountaintop is where heaven and earth meet) where a nation’s god was believed to be enthroned above the gods of rival nations. The goal of politics and “religion” (this is before the two had bifurcated, of course) was for the pattern of the cosmos to be realized in earthly society — in short, for each nation to rule over rival nations even as their god ruled in the heavens over the gods of the other nations.

The way to achieve this “as in heaven, so on earth” dynamic was through a temple-city complex. Once enthroned in his temple, a nation’s god could take command, ultimately through the prophetic leadership of the god-king with whom he was associated. The god-king would serve the roles of prophet, king, and priest to connect earth with heaven. The prophetic function occurred via the king’s access to the deity, which enabled him to receive divine will, leading to inspired law and order. Justice not derived from the gods was seen as illegitimate, which is why as late as Roman times, an emperor derived legitimacy through claiming to be the son of a god. (The remnants of this tradition can be seen in the doctrine of “the divine right of kings” used to justify political absolutism in early modern Europe). 

The prophet-king duality occurred as the ruler established his supremacy on the earth over rival nations through military adventurism. And the priestly function occurred as the prophet-king connected heaven and earth through his own person, believed to be sponsored by the god or even a substantiation of, or a descendant from, the deity.2 As king-prophet-priest, the ruler “stood between the divine and human realms mediating the power of the deity in his city and enjoyed…[the god’s] favor and protection” (so writes John H. Walton in his book Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament).3

When a nation built a temple, the construction process would culminate in an initiation ceremony placing the god’s image inside, thus enabling the god to descend from heaven to dwell within that image while still continuing to live and reign in the heavens. (Some temples, such as Ziggurats, actually contained stairways for the god to use when descending to the earth.) During this initiation ceremony, the mouth and nose of the god’s image would be opened, allowing the god to come and inhabit it.4 The image was then believed to manifest and embody divine presence, thus establishing the temple as sacred space.5 This sacred space, in turn, empowered the dominion and expansion of the god’s favored nation. To be successful in this expansion, however, the people believed they needed continually to meet the needs of their god via worship and sacrifice, often including human sacrifice. This worship was approached as a type of spiritual technology whereby the right ritualistic mechanisms could compel a certain result.

In the Ancient Near East, temples were seen as portals to heaven, where the gods dwelt.

Sacred space was thought to diminish the further one moved outward from the temple. But the idea was always to extend sacred space through more temples and images. As the god’s people expanded, they placed his image throughout their territory, or else images of their god-king who, as we have seen, was particularly associated with the deity, while also defacing or destroying rival images. The geographical and numerical expansion of the images served an important political function in marking out their territory, similarly to a nation’s flag today. For the most powerful rulers, such as the pharaohs of Egypt or the emperors of Babylon, the images they constructed extended over thousands of miles. 

Genesis, a literary product of the ANE, would have been understood against this larger cultural backdrop by its original hearers. The days of creation would likely have been taken as a temple construction account. Before God begins his creative activity, the earth is “without form and void” (Gen. 1:2) — essentially, a wilderness. Then God turns the chaos into something intelligible through order and narrative: essentially a temple. God is building the sacred space of Eden (often described in scripture and tradition as located on top of a mountain, where heaven and earth meet) to fill with His presence.6 And in keeping with ANE symbolism, the crowning moment of this ceremony came when God placed His image (mankind) in the temple and then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life so he could become a living being. But unlike in pagan temples, it is God who opens the nostrils of his idol (man) and breathes life into him, so he can function as His image. 

Technology Before the Fall

The command to be fruitful and multiply can also be more fully appreciated against this ANE backdrop. Remember that in the ANE, the god’s rulership in his temple was mediated outward via the leadership of the nation’s king, who established sovereignty through the numerical and geographical expansion of his god’s image. The true God was also concerned with the geographical and numerical expansion of His images (mankind), as seen in his command to multiply and fill the earth (Gen. 1:28). Recall how, in the ANE, holiness was believed to diminish the further one moved away from the sacred space of the temple. Eden was sacred space, but it did not fill the entire world; rather, God tasked his images with the vocation of subduing the earth in His name, thus making the rest of the world Edenic and habitable for divine presence.7

In short, mankind was meant to marry earth with heaven — to turn the entire world into paradise. Rather than a god-king or stone image linking heaven and earth, men and women are given this task. The way humans connect heaven and earth is through being fruitful, subduing the wilderness outside the garden, and shepherding the earth with loving husbandry as God’s vice-regents. By faithfully fulfilling this vocation, humans act as priests between God and the rest of creation. In practice this involves raising the beasts upward (for example, through loving stewardship to enable animals to achieve their telos) and bringing heaven downward (guarding and tending the earth with loving stewardship so it is habitable for God’s presence).

Part of the task of exercising loving stewardship over creation is to imitate God’s activity. Just as ancient god-kings were believed to reflect and look like the primary image in the temple, which itself reflected the prototype who reigned in heaven, so humans, as images of God, reflect and imitate Him. For example, God creates life (Gen. 1:1), and so do we; God speaks (1:3), and so do we; God exercises aesthetic appreciation (1:31), and so do we. Throughout Genesis 1, God is modeling the meaning and purpose of our vocation as image-bearers. What is most relevant to the present discussion is that God models how to make things. Just as the earth participates in God’s creative act (1:11), so do men and women. Following Tolkien, we can use the term “sub-creation” to refer to our participation in God’s creative activity as we make things of our own out of the raw materials provided by the primary Creator. But the imperative of sub-creation goes beyond mere imitative activity; rather, it is part of how we fulfill our vocation to exercise loving husbandry of the earth. Whereas ANE kings believed they reflected glory back to their god by building temples and conquering other nations, mankind reflects glory back to the true God by using the earth’s resources to beautify and extend the temple He has made (Eden). In short, the garden was meant to be worked. As John Dyer explains,

God designed the garden — even before the fall, sin, and death — in such a way that it needed to be worked on. It’s not that there was anything wrong with the garden; it’s just that God didn’t intend for it to stay the way that it was. Instead, God wanted Adam to “cultivate” or “till” or “work” what he found in the garden and make something new out of it.... God created the garden not as an end point, but as a starting place. Adam’s job was to take the raw materials of the earth — from the wood of the trees, to the rocks on the ground, to the metal buried deep within the earth — and create new things from them. In a sense, Adam was to take the “natural” world — what God made — and fashion it into something else — something not entirely “natural” but sanctioned by God.8

By fashioning new things, humans continue the work God started when He transformed the darkness that lay over the face of the deep through speaking a creative and life-giving narrative. Even in the garden itself, Adam participates in God’s creative activity by naming the animals. Animals do not have narratives that frame the world with identity, history, transcendent goals, etc., yet under the gentle tutelage of men and women, the beasts can participate in our narrative and thus achieve a deeper meaning, even as mankind achieves coherence by participating in God’s narrative. 

If uninterrupted by sin, mankind’s participation in God’s creative activity would no doubt have culminated in culture, which is why Genesis 1:26–28 and 2:15 are often referred to as the “cultural mandate.” Adam and Eve were given a world rich in cultural, technological, aesthetic, and institutional potential: a world where the resources could be used to make musical instruments, paintings, opera houses, institutions, and entire societies. This is part of how mankind extends the sacred space of Eden outward and thus connects heaven and earth: not through military adventurism like ANE god-kings, but through lovingly developing the earth’s resources to reflect glory back to the prototype in whose image we were made. This would have occurred quantitatively (extending sacred space through more of the earth until the Garden of Eden covered the entire globe) and qualitatively (discovering and using more of earth’s resources to the glory of God). This qualitative aspect points toward technology.

The technological potential latent in the earth’s resources included,

  1. Technologies that extend man’s strength. Examples would be anything from a lever to a forklift, from an ax to a chainsaw, from a shovel to a bulldozer.
  2. Technologies that extend man’s intellectual capabilities. Examples would be anything from an abacus to a graphing calculator, from a notebook to a database, from written language to a computer.
  3. Technologies that extend man’s aesthetic potential. Examples would be anything from a musical instrument to a paintbrush, and any tool that enables us to create beauty and art in its various forms and media.
  4. Technologies that restore man’s health or forestall/lessen the impact of death. Examples would be anything from eyeglasses to LASIK surgery, from essential oils to vaccinations, from crutches to a prosthetic leg.

Notice that only the fourth type of technology presupposes the fall. The world given to Adam and Eve was without sin, but it was not perfectly mature and developed. If the innocent condition had continued, Adam and Eve would no doubt have served as king and queen over a thriving civilization rich in technological inventiveness and creativity. Of course, we know this did not happen.


Technology After the Fall

At the fall, Adam and Eve substituted God’s narrative for one of their own, after the serpent redefined the purpose and meaning of the trees in the garden. The result is that Adam and Eve were banished from God’s presence in Eden. God placed cherubim with a flaming sword at the east of Eden to guard the way back to the sacred space where man had once enjoyed intimate communion with Him. The consequence is that man’s relationship to the earth became damaged since he can no longer use the world’s resources from a position of access to God’s presence. Moreover, as man works the earth from a condition of alienation from God, the earth itself rebels against man’s dominion. Men and women also have to contend with the influence of evil spirits, in an ongoing conflict between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent (Gen. 3:15) that would later culminate in the City of Man vs. the City of God.

Even so, the technological imperative was not revoked at the fall. God’s narrative for the earth and mankind is baked into the very structure of the world itself and human nature. This narrative inescapably frames our experience of the world whether we acknowledge or deny the fact. Mankind continued to be responsible for exercising loving dominion over the earth and its resources, as we will see when the doctrine of the imago Dei is reiterated in the covenant with Noah. Yet in the postlapsarian condition, man’s working of the earth, like woman’s birth-giving, is a hardship because the natural world no longer cooperates with human monarchy. The disorder goes both ways: just as the earth now rebels against human rulership, humans also rebel against the earth, abandoning loving husbandry for exploitative control.

In the reign of death, the fourth use of technology becomes necessary, namely technologies that work to forestall or lessen the impact of our fallenness. The first example of this type of technology is the fig-leaf aprons sewn by Adam and Eve after they became aware of their nakedness (Gen. 3:7). Shortly afterwards God replaced these aprons with garments of skin to more fully clothe and protect Adam and Eve (3:21). These required the death of an animal, indicating man’s new relationship to the earth’s resources. The garments of skin are essentially a healing technology, filling in for something that had been damaged at the fall.

Given that the technological imperative continued in the postlapsarian condition as an outworking of the cultural mandate, it is perhaps surprising to find that when Genesis describes the production of technology, it comes from the line of Cain, a murderer whose family is tainted with sin. 

After Cain killed his brother, he was condemned to wander the earth. This wandering starts with him leaving the presence of the Lord (Gen. 4:16), a second and further iteration of the exile of Adam and Eve. Even in Genesis 4, after their expulsion from Eden, God’s presence had not been completely lost, for the text records God talking directly with Adam’s family (4:6–15). But Cain and his descendants are involved in a series of successive exiles that further solidify the loss of God’s presence. Even the curse on the ground given to Adam in Genesis 3:17 is intensified with Cain (4:12). Prevented by God from working the ground and thus staying in one place, Cain is condemned to wander, and thus to the lifestyle of a hunter-gatherer. Yet God committed to defend him and put a mark on his forehead as a promise of protection (4:15).

What does Cain do? He builds the first city (Gen. 4:17), and begets descendants that have livestock (4:20), develop musical technologies (4:21) and work with bronze and iron (4:22). One might see these technologies as simply an outworking of the dominion mandate given to Adam and Eve, and indeed I have argued that myself elsewhere.9 Yet the text does not present this first contact with technology as an unqualified good. Though Cain has the status of a fugitive wanderer, God had promised to protect him. Yet instead of trusting God’s protection, he turned to technology for help, first by building a city — a rebellion against his wandering status. Through the city, Cain seeks glory for himself. He names it after his son Enoch (4:17), part of the attempt of man to make a name for himself that would later culminate in the hubris of Babel. 

But the settled life of the city is more than just an ego trip for Cain’s family, and it is more than merely a rejection of his wandering status. Rather, the city is Cain’s attempt to recover the powers lost at Eden through mechanism, and to achieve the marriage of heaven and earth through false worship. This can be missed by modern readers because we do not typically associate cities with technology now that the entire developed world has the characteristics of a city. But we need to note a few things about ancient cities and how they leveraged technologies to evolve into nation states.

Technologies in the Ancient Near East: from City to Nation State

In the early stages of human urbanization, common people did not live in cities. Rather, the city was a temple complex, with public structures like granaries and administrative buildings attached to it.10 As cities later expanded to include common dwellings, the temple remained the heart of the city and the reason for it. In fact, there could be no city without a temple, and there could be no temple without a city. If the temple was the center of the city, the center of the temple was the idol which, as we saw in our earlier discussion, established it as sacred space. This idolatry expressed itself in sensual pleasures (temple prostitution), brutality (human sacrifice), and false worship. In fact, these temples often had a tower stairway to facilitate the descent of the god (fallen angel) to descend from heaven and receive worship. In short, the earliest cities in the ANE, with idolatry at their center, were demonic in every sense.

Another important feature of ancient cities is that they required the type of division of labor that is only possible within environments of surplus food production. That is why cities tended to be limited to regions with large domesticable mammals.11 When everyone is involved in hunting, gathering, or subsistence farming, there can be no specialists to build city structures, or to serve the administrative roles those buildings facilitate. Thus, a city could only be sustained in areas where there is sufficient surplus food production to feed specialists. Specialists in a city would include a permanent priest caste to offer continual sacrifices to the gods, but as the city increased in power, more specialists could be added. For example, bureaucrats could be hired to organize the public treasuries, and to use the surplus resources to finance engineers, scholars, artisans, metallurgists — in short, to support all the mechanical and literary arts. Bureaucrats also make possible the mechanization of thought itself via procedures, protocols, and formulas that organize ideas and speech into structures that can be managed.


In ancient cities, the technological arts included more than what we normally label as “technology,” for they also encompassed magic. In the ANE there was no clear demarcation between technology and magic, since both were mechanistic techniques, understood as a type of “science.”12 Indeed, for people in the ancient world, the technological enterprise was spiritual, because there was no realm of “the spiritual” detached from the rest of life. We see this even in how an early physician — the witch doctor or medicine man — was an expert both in medical “technologies” like herbology, as well as the ways of the spirit realm. (The porous relation between herbology and magic continued through the medieval period. See discussion of medieval magic in my article, “Is AI Magic?”) The city-temple complex facilitated technology in this broad sense and was seen to provide special potency for harnessing secrets for empowering a people. In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, the connection between cities and secret power was particularly strong. Cities were believed to be products of the gods, to have existed before humans, and to mediate the seen and unseen realms.13 Cities thus became central in man’s primordial quest to connect heaven and earth, yet not through repentance and righteousness, but through mechanism and hubris.

Significantly, some of the earliest automation technologies were invented for purposes of idolatry, with automatons used in temples to impress the faithful. Adrienne Mayor documents how a Buddhist monastery in India had “many automaton guardians in human and animal forms” that were likely animated by primitive mechanics.14 Some temple mechanisms enabled obscuration of the human voice in order for priests to channel messages from the gods. For example, an ancient statue of the Egyptian sun god Ra-Harmakhis was found with “a cavity in the back of the neck from which a narrow canal leads to an opening on the right jaw under the ear.” The purpose of this cavity was likely to enable a priest to speak into the tube, which would modify his voice in order to convince the faithful that Ra was delivering oracles.15 

But beyond using technology as a mechanism for idolatry, city technologies made possible the nation state, and thus empire. A ruler could use the city’s power and resources to finance a standing army, expand his territory, capture slaves, and hire officers to enforce centralized decision making. This enabled nations to amass wealth and power not possible in earlier forms of social organization, whether bands, tribes, or even large chiefdoms. Ultimately this resulted in a culture of violence, and the type of glorification of brutality that we read about in Homer. In the Iliad, for example, violence allowed men to achieve a type of immortality through memory in song, while in the Odyssey, Odysseus is praised for acts of piracy and is even given the title “sacker of cities” as an epithet of praise.

In the Ancient Near East, cities made possible war-making technology, and thus the type of violence that is glorified in Homer’s Iliad.

The sacred space at the heart of the city remained the control room for this violence and the justification behind it. That justification, we recall, is that the nation’s god ruled in the heavens above the gods of the other nations, a cosmic reality that was encapsulated in the microcosm of the temple. Consequently, in conquering, enslaving, and butchering one’s enemies, ANE warriors believed they were simply imitating the activity of their god. And in some sense, they were correct: no doubt the fallen angels clamoring for worship and power had no loyalty to rival leaders in Satan’s kingdom.

Besides the problem of violence, nation states created new problems unfamiliar to humans in smaller units. One problem, which we don’t even perceive as a difficulty because we have developed various work-arounds, is the problem of interacting with strangers. In the most primitive forms of human organization, humans dwelt in bands or tribes small enough for everyone to know everyone else.16 But when men and women transition from small societies to nation states, the question becomes how to achieve cohesion among groups of unfamiliar people? How does a state convince a mass of strangers who do not share a common narrative to get on board with the laws and commandments? (Even the idea of “law” is anachronistic when applied to units of social organizations small enough to have self-enforcing norms.) Contrary to what many people think, legal cohesion is not achieved through the threat of punishment, because not even the most powerful modern police force could operate without broad consent from most citizens. Nation states use a variety of mechanisms to convince citizens of legitimacy, from origin stories to national ideologies to conditions of perpetual emergency (hence the importance of war, threat of war, or “permanent revolution”). But in the ancient world, the primary mechanism to convince citizens of legitimacy was a ruler’s claim to be divine or descended from their god, or at least to be sponsored by a deity. As a state expanded to include peoples who do not share a common ethnic and cultural background, the less the ruler could rely on organic bonds to keep the people together, and the more necessary it became for him to convince the population that he is divine, and that his laws proceeded from a divine source — which is to say, that the justice he brings reflected the type of larger cosmic order represented by the city-temple complex.17 Even in a chiefdom, the largest form of social organization next to the nation state, it would be impossible for everyone to know each other as in bands or tribes. “Hence chiefdoms,” historian Jared Diamond writes, “develop shared ideologies and political and religious identities often derived from the supposedly divine status of the chief.”18

But a ruler’s claim to divinity was not the only way to organize people in large groups. Earlier I mentioned that surplus food production enabled a city to have specialists, among them bureaucrats. In the ancient world when people were grouped into structures too large to be self-organizing according to the organic logic of relationships (roughly, groups larger than 150), bureaucratic procedures became necessary to enforce centralization and top-down measures of control. That is why the technological orientation that emerged out of ancient cities brought human society, human relationships, and human behavior within the scope of the mechanical mind. It is simply not possible to automate human behavior — whether a standardized workday, resource allocation and extraction, standardized legal codes, etc. — without bureaucratic administration. The city thus sets the stage for a type of hyper-rationalism that would become the context for endless tension between the Apollonian and Dionysian impulses that have plagued cities to the present, with constant “corrections” to the rationalism of the mechanical mind in the form of orgies, frenzied entertainment, romanticized primitivism, and macabre surrogates for lost freedom.

How the City and Nation State Became an Anti-Eden

We now have more pieces in place to understand how the aspirations of the ancient city represented an anti-Edenic economy. In Eden, the true God tasked mankind with expanding sacred space outward through lovingly tending the earth; in the city, false gods (fallen angels and god-kings) task man with creating a false sacred space and then expanding it outward through violence and idolatry. In Eden, mankind imaged the Creator God through lovingly tending the earth; in Bronze Age cities, god-kings imaged fallen angels through brutally conquering and enslaving others. The center of Eden was man and woman’s union with God, and this led to rightly ordered relationships with one another and — had Eden continued uninterrupted — harmonious social communities. By contrast, the center of the ANE city was union with false gods, leading to disordered relationships, disintegration (i.e., people crammed together who do not know one another), sensual pleasures (i.e., temple prostitution), and tyranny (i.e., enslaving peoples in the surrounding countryside).

Many of these aspects are already nascent in Cain’s city in Genesis 4. The significance of Cain’s descendants keeping livestock (Gen. 4:20) is that it facilitated the type of surplus food production that is necessary for division of labor and therefore development of city technology. Significantly, while Cain’s descendant Jabel is keeping livestock, Jabel’s brother Jubal is specializing in musical instruments (a staple of pagan idolatry), while their half-brother Tubal-Cain develops instruments of bronze and iron (a clear reference to ancient weaponry).

By introducing technology to man, Cain becomes a type of Prometheus figure, discovering the secret arts for manipulating the earth and using technology to supplement the powers lost to man at the fall. How did Cain learn these secrets? There is some evidence that he may have obtained his information from fallen angels. Fr. Stephen De Young explains that “Genesis 4–6 parallels — and was perhaps even crafted as a polemical response to — a Mesopotamian kings list in which human rulers are taught by divine beings, known as apkallu, the arts of metallurgy, astrology, and ancient wisdom. Whereas in the Mesopotamian story, this gave the rulers power and legitimacy, Genesis subverts the myth, showing that the pursuit of illicit knowledge leads to death, ultimately the flood.”19

A further suggestion that technological secrets may have derived from fallen angels comes from the Book of Enoch. When this ancient text describes the events that made the deluge necessary, the author recounts how fallen angels gave mechanical secrets to man, including knowledge of “how silver is produced from the dust of the earth, and how bronze is made upon the earth.”20 

And Azaz’el taught the people (the art of) making swords and knives, and shields, and breastplates; and he showed to their chosen ones bracelets, decorations (shadowing of the eye) with antimony, ornamentation, the beautifying of the eyelids, all kinds of precious stones, and all coloring tinctures and alchemy.21

The Enoch tradition represents widespread belief in the ancient world, shared by St. Irenaeus of Lyons and many others, that knowledge of technē came from spirits. Whether Cain or his descendants actually derived technological knowledge from fallen angels, it is clear that Cain paved the way for the debauchery of the ancient city and the nation states that would follow, all of which come to function as a surrogate Eden. As such, his line becomes identified with the seed of the serpent: people who amass power in order to oppress the seed of the woman (1 John 3:12; Jude 1:11). 

Josephus recognized Cain’s role in the emergence of nation states, and points out that he was the first to partition land and create a regularized economy through fixed measures and weights. In his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus writes,

He augmented his household substance with much wealth, by rapine and violence: he excited his acquaintance to procure pleasure and spoils by robbery: and became a great leader of men into wicked courses. He also introduced a change in that way of simplicity wherein men lived before; and was the author of measures and weights. And whereas they lived innocently and generously while they knew nothing of such arts, he changed the world into cunning craftiness. He first of all set boundaries about lands.22

Setting boundaries about lands is Cain’s ultimate rejection of his wandering status, reaching for the power of the nation state. As that power requires weapons, it is significant that a descendant of Cain’s, Tubal-Cain, begins making things with bronze and iron, a likely reference to early production of swords and spears. Notice also that Josephus describes Cain teaching wickedness, a probable reference to Cain being master of the dark arts, through which he attempted to forge the lost connection with heavenly powers. In short, Cain’s city, situated east of Eden, was his attempt to create a new world. This is even reflected in the name he chose for his son (also the name for his city): Enoch, which means “initiation” or “dedication” in Hebrew. Cain’s city, named after Enoch, stands as an anti-type to Eden. This is a point observed by the late Fr. Matthew Baker in one of the last sermons before his tragic death:

This is the anti-Eden: an economy, a social order, all of man’s making. Cast out from God’s kingdom, Cain founds his own kingdom — a kingdom without God. With Cain’s descendants, Jabal, Jubal, and Tubal-cain, come the marks of civilization: agriculture, fine art, technology (Gen. 4:20–22). But, as the story of Lamech shows, these benefits are accompanied by a continued pattern of vengeance and bloodshed (4:23–24).

This story indicates for us the deep moral and spiritual ambiguity — to say the least — which surrounds the city and all that it represents. All human communities, even those with the greatest achievements of human culture, are disfigured by sin. There is no civilization in the history of the world that has not in some way been built and maintained by a flight from God, by idolatry and brutality, the exploitation and killing of other human beings. This pattern is confirmed by the two cities mentioned next in the book of Genesis: Babel (Gen. 11) and Sodom (Gen. 13–14; 19).23

Fr. Matthew mentions Babel, which marks a turning point in primordial man’s relationship to technology. But before discussing Babel, it will be helpful to pause and reflect on the state of mankind at this point. The basic picture that is emerging is one we are all familiar with, living in a cursed world. After the fall it became harder to believe in God’s protection and to live in the reality of our total dependence on the Creator. With man’s lost powers for governing the world, with the ground rebelling against his monarchy, with the constant threat of natural disaster, technology offered an attractive supplement. By making things, by uncovering the laws that govern the universe, by harnessing the resources of the earth, it becomes possible to begin manipulating the world mechanistically, and thus fortifying the illusion that we are not dependent on God. But this comes at a terrible cost. Technology only burrows us deeper into the separation from God and alienation from the world and each other that occurred when our first parents were driven out of Eden. As Jacques Ellul observes,

Cain, with everything he does, digs a little deeper the abyss between himself and God. There was a solution for his situation, but the solution was in God’s hands, and that is what he could absolutely not tolerate. He wants to find alone the remedy for a situation he created, but which he cannot himself repair because it is a situation dependent on God’s grace. And Cain accumulates remedies, each one a new disobedience, each one a new offense. Each remedy which seems to be a response to a need in Cain’s situation, in fact sinks him even deeper in woe, into a situation ever more inextricable.... He forces creation to follow his destiny, his destiny of slavery and sin, and his revolt to escape from it. From this taking possession, from this revolution, the city is born.24

Cain’s rejection of his wandering status, and his desire to make a name for himself through the glory of a city in his family’s honor, sets humankind on a trajectory that eventually culminates in intercourse with spirit beings and the Nephilim of Genesis 6.25 Genesis describes mankind coming to have great power, as represented by “giants” and “mighty men who were of old, men of renown” (Gen. 6:4). 

God responded to this situation by sending the great flood and starting over with Noah’s family. Yet in Noah’s family the same pattern repeats itself: a new world emerges out of chaos (this time, not the chaos of a world without form and void, but the chaos of the floodwaters), there is a restatement of the imago Dei (Gen. 9:6), a reinstitution of the Edenic mandates (9:7), and a garden (Noah’s vineyard) that becomes an occasion for a fall (i.e., Noah gets drunk and is exploited by his son Ham). Then there is a curse, this time issued by Noah himself on Ham and his son Canaan (9:24–25). Canaan then continues the line of the seed of the serpent, which wars against the seed of the woman. This results in humans falling back into the same temptations, particularly the temptation to build city states that become centers of ungodly power. The Book of Jubilees, an ancient expansion of Genesis popular in Jesus’s day and cited by New Testament authors, lists the various sins mankind succumbed to after the flood, including that they began “to build strong cities, and walls, and towers” and “to found the beginnings of kingdoms.”26

The Tower of Babel and Technological Hazards

Because God’s narrative for the world is baked into the fabric of reality, it is inescapable. Ancient man retained the impulse to mediate earth and heaven, but this mapped onto false worship. Man retained awareness of his priestly status, but instead of linking earth with heaven in an ever-widening doxology of praise to the true God, man connected to fallen angels, inviting them down into his temples. Man continued longing for the sacred space lost at Eden where he enjoyed intimacy with the Creator, yet he tried to create sacred space through intimacy with false deities and the idolatry of god-kings. Through the arts of magic, false worship, and technology, mankind tried to control and manipulate these deities to underscore his own prideful agenda, take dominion of the earth in pride, and use various mechanical means to supplement the powers lost at the fall and the flood. All of this culminated in the hubris of Babel.

In Genesis 11:4 we read that the people of Southern Mesopotamia said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” Here the mechanical impulse, represented by the city-temple-tower complex, is directly connected to the primordial vocation of uniting heaven and earth. The language of “a tower whose top is in the heavens” can be found throughout Mesopotamian literature to describe ziggurat towers, which were attempts to touch heaven through a simulated mountain. These temple-tower-city complexes were based on the idea that by meeting the needs of a deity (chiefly their need to receive worship and sacrifice, but also to have a sanctuary to rest in), a people could manipulate their god to achieve power, rule over other peoples, prevent disintegration, and achieve greatness. These temple-tower-city complexes were based on the idea that by meeting the needs of a deity (chiefly their need to receive worship and sacrifice, but also to have a sanctuary to rest in), a people could manipulate their god and thus achieve power, rule over other peoples, prevent disintegration, and achieve greatness — in short, to make a name for themselves. While Babel was a rejection of the Edenic vocation, it was also an attempt — as are all utopias — to recreate Eden. Through the worship of fallen angels masquerading as gods, they hoped to recover the order and power of sacred space and the lost security of the antediluvian world. Through harnessing the power of false gods, they hoped to achieve a world protected from the type of chaos still within recent memory when God unleashed the “waters below.”

The Tower of Babel, by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563).

It was not just the demonic sacred space of the Babel ziggurat that functioned as an anti-Eden. The technological enterprise itself, so central to the temple-city complex, moves mankind further from his image-bearing vocation, making it easier to favor domination over husbandry, power over stewardship, control over cultivation. Moreover, human societies built around technique and mechanism introduced new hazards that further burrowed mankind into the reign of death. We can illustrate this with some examples from our own time. A hazard associated with the hammer is that it enables you to construct buildings quickly, with the result that you might be in such a hurry that you don’t pay attention to the type of building you’re creating. A hazard associated with boots is that now you can walk more easily in the dark, so you might be over-confident venturing into the woods at night. A hazard of electric light is that it allows one to escape from the natural cycles of day and night to reach for greater productivity or entertainment even while becoming further separated from natural circadian rhythms. A hazard associated with harvesting and cooking technology is that, while we can more easily leverage plants for food, we are tempted to eat things that we were never meant to consume and which, in a pre-mechanical era, would have been impossible to harvest (e.g., vegetable oils).

At the political level, a hazard of both war-making mechanisms and bureaucratic techniques is that it becomes possible to organize human beings into social structures larger than God originally intended men and women to live within. The leader/s of a city will exert control of the surrounding countryside; the city will become a nation state; the nation state may eventually turn into an empire, where a few people have unprecedented power over thousands. Something like this seems to have happened at Babel. Instead of spreading out over the earth in small societies, man stayed in one place to accumulate power. Rather than using technology in ways that are restorative like the garments of skin, man used mechanical arts — concentrated in the ungodly city — to enhance human power beyond what is safe and wise.

In Genesis 11:6, after surveying the centralization of power at Babel, the Lord declared that “now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them.” The underlying idea (as Richard Rohlin explains in his conversations about Babel here and here) is of a people growing in power so that nothing — and no one — will escape them. This is even more evident in the Jubilees tradition, where the Babel narrative describes a growing power that threatens to draw everything and everyone into the orbit of its domination. Seen in this context, the single language is emblematic of a totalizing system, an oppressive unity. Some ancient writers, when reflecting on Babel, describe it as a perfect square — a symbol of a city striving for perfection. Of course, God broke up the Babel project by confusing their languages and “scattering them abroad over the face of all the earth” (Gen. 11:9). Of course, God broke up the Babel project by confusing their languages and scattering them abroad in small, linguistically distinct societies. This is another mini fall: a reverting back to the primordial chaos before creation.

If we simply read Genesis 1–11 and no further, it would be easy to conclude that cities, temples, and nation states are unqualifiedly bad, or that God desired for mankind to remain always in a paleolithic condition. From there, we might develop a type of romanticized primitivism or Christian agrarianism. But that would be a mistake, for just as the Church Fathers suggest that God eventually intended for Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Life, the Lord also intended for our dominion of the earth to culminate in cities, the development of technology, and even a rightly ordered kingdom. Yet He intended for mankind to build a different sort of city, one centered around justice, charity and right-worship, not tyranny, sensual pleasures, and idolatry; a city where technologies are deployed for life-giving ends, rather than to enslave and make war. And, as we will see in the ensuing story of Israel, mankind had to reach a stage of maturity before godly cities could be built, and a key part of that maturity would be God-dependence. 

Technology and the Covenant with Abraham

How do we know that the Lord intended for our dominion of the earth to culminate in cities and associated technology? Well, notice what happens right after the story of Babel in Genesis 11. In Genesis 12 we read about the call of Abraham — a call which, through the course of redemption history, culminates in the City of God, Jerusalem. If one looks closely at Genesis 11 and 12, it appears that Abraham was called out of Babel, the city of man, to build its anti-type, the City of God. As Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick explains,

Abraham’s story, which you can read starting at the end of Genesis 11, immediately follows the Babel story, so the impression one gets is that God calls him out from Babel. The Ur that he left may be identified with the Sumerian city called Uruk, and it notably is the site of a great ziggurat, which you can visit in the modern country of Iraq. The Bible therefore presents a continuum of various names that all encompass one image, whether you want to call it Eridu, Babel, Ur, Uruk, or Babylon. This city is the creation of humans, filled with demonic evil and dominated by fallen angels who teach humans evil. God tasks Abraham, therefore, to leave Babylon and begin a new nation, which will become Israel, called out by God not only from Ur but eventually also from Egypt, which was functioning as Babylon for the Israelites in that period — a city of evil, ruled by demons.27

The covenant with Abraham did not result in a city for hundreds of years. Through various tests and trials, God solidified Abraham’s family, revealing more and more of Himself to this people. They largely had a wandering status, living first as foreigners in Egypt, then as slaves, then as desert wanderers. But rather than being allowed to reject their wandering status like Cain and the builders of Babel, the children of Israel were forced to accept the purifying fires of exile before they could move to the next stage of cultural maturity. That maturing process involved learning how to use both technology and city.

While Abraham’s descendants were wandering in the desert, God revealed to Moses numerous laws concerning tools and the process of making things. We find in the Torah detailed instruction concerning everything from the making of garments to food preparation to aesthetic technologies. Regarding the latter, we read that God granted Bezalel and Oholiab the skills necessary to make a beautiful tabernacle, “to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, to cut and set stones, to work in wood and to engage in all kinds of crafts” (Ex. 31:4–5). Metalwork, a source of weaponry in the line of Cain, becomes intrinsic to the worship of God. Similarly, musical instruments — introduced by Cain’s descendant Jubal and a key feature of idolatry in the ANE — become integral to temple worship. 

But God also provided boundaries on technology, as seen in the prohibition against idol construction, regulations against unethical use of mechanical devices in warfare (for example, prohibition on cutting down food trees during war), and warning against hazards in Bronze Age agricultural society (for example, over-farming the same land). Ultimately, these laws re-situate technology within the original vocation to tend, guard, and subdue the earth as God’s image-bearers.

The form of these laws is just as important as their content. These laws, together with their further expansion in the Wisdom Literature, resists the mechanical mindset by situating justice and law within relationships and situation-specific prudence. Laws are to be interpreted and applied by wise people (judges, prophets, kings) rather than bureaucratic systems and techniques.

One of the most important aspects of their technological catechesis involved the children of Israel learning not to seek from technology what only God could provide. Accordingly, God’s power, grace, and provision was often manifested precisely through Israel’s lack of technological advancement. For example, when fighting against the Philistines during the time of Saul, the Israelites were at a technological disadvantage since the Philistines had robbed them of all blacksmith technology in order to prevent the production of weaponry. As a consequence, Israelite farmers had to go to the Philistines even to sharpen their agricultural equipment (1 Sam. 13:19–22). Yet when the day of battle arrived, God provided the victory. This pattern of victory going to a technologically disadvantaged person or people repeats itself throughout the Bible, such as in the story of David and Goliath, or the battle of Jericho. 

Despite ample proof of God’s provision, His people were often tempted to place their trust in technology, including the various spiritual mechanisms prevalent in ANE idolatry. Remember, idolatry was a type of technology to manipulate, even compel, spiritual beings to act in a certain way on one’s behalf. This helps to make sense of something that modern readers may find puzzling throughout Kings and Chronicles. Why did God’s people so frequently turn to the gods of other nations, and vacillate between establishing and destroying idolatrous “high places”? In the religious milieu of the ANE, these temptations are understandable. The question was always, “Which god is the most powerful?”, which is another way of asking, “Which God really rules in the heavens above the gods of the other nations?” If your nation suffered defeat, you would likely conclude either that your god isn’t as powerful as the gods of the other nations, or else that he is angry at you, perhaps because you haven’t offered up enough sacrifices. The lesson God’s people had to learn was that even when they suffered defeat, this did not mean that rival gods were more powerful, but that the true God desired the sacrifice of righteousness and repentance (Ps. 51:16–19). The role of the heart in the worship of God meant that, even within the context of the sacrificial system revealed to Moses, true worship was never about mechanical techniques for guaranteeing certain results. In fact, through the prophet Amos, God pronounced judgment on the very sacrificial system He instituted when it began to be approached through a technological mindset. 

At the heart of all the technological teaching in the Torah is instruction for building the city, Jerusalem, where God had promised to dwell. The Jerusalem temple is God’s answer to both Cain’s city and Babel. The builders of Babel wanted to make a structure to connect earth with heaven, invite their god to live in it, and thus make a name for themselves. The true God revealed that He also wanted to build a house to connect heaven and earth (Ex. 26:30), to live in (Ex. 25:8), but for the purposes of making His name great (2 Chron. 6:20; 7:16; 1 Kings 8:43). He reveals that a physical building will act as a restored Eden, and that the context for this will be an actual city, namely Jerusalem. If the city of Babel with its temple-tower was fallen man’s answer to the loss of Paradise, the restoration of God’s presence in the Jerusalem temple is God’s answer to Babel.

This is the restoration of Paradise on God’s terms. The temple, replete with Edenic symbolism, is a recapitulation of the sacred space that had been lost in our first parents’ exile. As with the ancient ziggurat, the temple acts like an elevator to connect heaven and earth, and it is even associated with a stairway. Consider, when Abraham’s grandson Jacob had a vision of “the gate of heaven” (Gen. 28:17), it is reminiscent of the gate to Eden that had been barred (3:24). But in the former case, Jacob saw a stairway linking heaven and earth, with angels ascending and descending on it. The site of this vision, and the stone associated with it, becomes emblematic of “God’s house” (28:22), in a foretaste of God’s presence in the temple that would later be built. (See my discussion of Jacob’s ladder in “Life, Longing, and Ladders in the Land of Shadows.”)

Thus, we have a progression that we can summarize as follows:

  • Genesis 1–2: God’s presence established in Eden;
  • Genesis 3: God’s presence lost through expulsion and death;
  • Genesis 4–11: Attempt to regain God’s presence through technology, and the city-temple complex;
  • Genesis 12 through the rest of the Torah: Re-establishment of God’s presence through covenant, law, temple, Jerusalem.

We have seen that each of these stages came with a particular type of relationship to technology. In Eden the relationship with technology was situated within the larger cultural mandate, including the imperative to connect heaven and earth as God’s image-bearers. With the loss of God’s presence, however, man came to have a new relationship to the earth, while technology took on a new role in lessening the impact of the curse. It is not necessarily evil to use technology to alleviate or forestall the impact of death, as seen in the fact that God made garments of skin to protect Adam and Eve. Yet after the fall, technological innovation enabled an increase in wickedness, as seen in temples to false gods and war-making technologies. These mechanical innovations made possible ANE nation states centered around the worship of false gods. Yet God did not completely eschew the technological enterprise: we saw that through the call of Abraham, He reestablished sacred presence through a covenant that would eventually entail a temple, city, and even a nation/kingdom. Significantly, God’s covenant involves bringing mankind to a state of maturity in order to use technology within the primordial vocation to lovingly tend and guard the earth. We saw that many of the laws in the Torah point toward a redeemed use of technology that recapitulates man’s primordial vocation to be God’s image-bearers. 

Jerusalem: The Purified City

Jerusalem was meant to be a type for what a city can be. With the worship of the true God at the center, the city can achieve its proper telos. Rather than facilitating disintegration, the city can promote social harmony. Rather than bringing violence to the surrounding countryside, people in the surrounding lands come to Jerusalem to experience peace and prosperity (Ps. 122; Is. 60). Rather than burrowing man deeper into exile from God, Jerusalem offers redemption. But Jerusalem was not the only city mentioned in the context of redemption. The Israelites were commanded to set aside six cities as places of refuge for foreigners (Num. 35:15). As John Dyer explains, “God was asking his people to use cities in a way that was contrary to their built-in tendencies of use and their sinful inclinations. Instead of using them to keep foreigners out, the Israelites were to use them to invite people in, into life with God and his people.”28

Even within the context of the covenant, however, both technology and the city retain an ambiguous status. The stones for the temple are to remain uncut. And the city of Jerusalem, though in some sense typifying salvation and the return of God’s intimate presence, retains echoes of Cain’s rebellion. Again from Fr. Matthew Baker:

Even Jerusalem does not escape this ambiguity. Jerusalem is “comely” (Song of Songs 6:4), but only in the future. The prophets prophesy the great day when Jerusalem shall be holy (Joel 3:17), when God will dwell in her and she will be called “a city of truth” (Zech. 8:3). But in the meantime, she is filled with injustice, having “grievously sinned” (Lam. 1:8). She is called a sister to Sodom (Ez. 16:46–47), even Sodom itself (Is. 1:10; Jer. 23:14; Rev. 1:18), the city “which kills the prophets” (Mt. 23:37).29

Amid this ambiguity about Jerusalem are continual hints that it is not God’s final solution. Many of the prophets foretold a time when God’s presence would no longer be concentrated merely in the temple. Remember that sacred space diminished the further one moved outward from the temple. This is one of the reasons that faithful Jews took pilgrimages to Jerusalem, while the unfaithful were threatened with removal far away from the city, a sign of being cut off from God’s presence. But in the prophetic vision, sacred space would eventually expand to fill the whole earth. In Ezekiel 45, the prophet describes a vision of a perfect city, an idealized Jerusalem, while chapter 47 describes a healing river flowing out of the temple, a sign of God’s sacred space filling more of the earth in a recapitulation of the original intention for Paradise. This vision is connected to a redemption of technology. For example, Isaiah and Micah describe people beating their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks (Is. 2:4, Mic. 4:3), while the eschatological visions of Isaiah are replete with references to technology being used to glorify God in a new Eden or what the prophet calls “new heavens and new earth” (Is. 65:17).

Jesus, New Jerusalem, and the Sanctification of Technology

This promise of renewed Eden reached its penultimate fulfillment in Emmanuel (“God with us”) when God tabernacled with men and dwelt among us (John 1:14). Christ is the true Seed of the woman that all Eve’s godly descendants hoped to see, having glimpsed the promises afar off (Heb. 11:13–16). Christ perfectly fulfills the Edenic vocation by being the true image of God (Col. 1:15), and restoring the time when God walked and talked with man in the Garden (Gen. 3:8). Christ is also a restoration of the temple: during His earthly ministry, Christ prophesied about the downfall of the temple (Mk. 13:2) and proclaimed the loss of God’s presence from Jerusalem (Mt. 23:38) even while fulfilling both temple and city in His own person. Christ also inhabited the pattern of Adam and Noah yet completed it: whereas Noah’s garden had been the occasion of a second fall, Christ experienced temptation in a garden (Gethsemane) and overcame; whereas food or drink was integral to previous falls (i.e., the tree of knowledge, Noah’s vineyard), Christ turned food and drink into an agent of healing through the Blessed Eucharist; whereas the previous falls culminated in a curse followed by scattering and disintegration, Christ absorbed the curse of death to undo its power, leading to the undoing of disintegration and the reestablishment of divine presence. His life-giving death brings us into the true sacred space that the Jerusalem temple anticipated (Mt. 27:5, Heb. 9), while His ascension to the right hand of the Father unites human nature to the godhead in a true marriage of heaven and earth (Eph. 1). 

Christ promised that, after His ascension, God would take up His dwelling in man permanently through the Holy Spirit. The coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost completes the pattern by reversing the curse of Babel and actualizing the true reality of which ancient ziggurats were the corruption. In Babel, man tried to harness the power of heaven through his own works, whereas in Pentecost, God takes the initiative and comes down to man in an act of pure grace. God’s presence with His people in the Spirit, in turn, enables the re-integration of earth and paradise that we experience in the sacramental ministry of the church. This is an advance foretaste of the final climax when the New Jerusalem will descend to the earth to make all of the cosmos Edenic (Rev. 21:1–4). The New Jerusalem — described in Revelation as a perfect cube — is the true answer to the fall even as Babel, and the city of man, had been false substitutes. This City of God is the genuine solution to man’s scattering, the true nexus between heaven and earth that Babel tried to preempt.

While the full realization of this promise is yet to come, a key theme throughout the New Testament is that now that the earth has received the second person of the Trinity in Emmanuel and the third person of the Trinity at Pentecost, the eschatological future has been inaugurated in the new covenant. Through the Spirit, God’s people are empowered to order their loves to the City of God, and thus to tend and cultivate the earth’s resources in ways that are healing and consonant with the image-bearing vocation. And this, of course, involves sanctifying technology. 

The sanctification of technology occurs in numerous ways, but one striking example is the production of the bread and wine for the blessed sacrament. As the agricultural mechanisms of any given culture are put to the service of bread-making and the fermentation of wine, these technologies become mystically caught up in the synergy of the sacramental act. Through the Blessed Eucharist, even the technological artifacts of pagans are transformed by the Church’s sacramental activity, even as Adam and Eve’s inadequate initial clothing was upgraded into durable clothing produced by God himself. This, in turn, points to a future time when all the technological artifacts of pagans will be transformed by the Church’s sacramental activity. If this seems like a shocking statement, consider that in the Isaianic vision of a New Heavens and a New Earth that sets the context for Revelation 21 and 22, the ships of Tarshish (an object of God’s destructive judgment in Scripture — see Is. 23:14; Ps. 48:7) become the very means by which the wealth of the pagans is brought into Jerusalem (Is. 60:9). While the new Jerusalem will certainly be a restatement of Eden, it will also be a purified recapitulation of human culture and creativity. “The new Jerusalem,” as Andy Crouch reminds us, “will be truly a city: a place suffused with culture, a place where culture has reached its full flourishing. It will be the place where God’s instruction to the first human beings is fulfilled, where all the latent potentialities of the world will be discovered and released by creative, cultivating people.”30 Gold will find its ultimate destiny in the streets of the new Jerusalem. Precious gems will praise their Maker in the crowns and city walls they adorn (Rev. 21:18–21). Fr. Matthew Baker expands on this concept in his sermon already cited:

And just as in the Exodus into the promised land the people of Israel brought with them the spoils of Egypt (Ex. 3:21–22), the silver and the gold gathered in the land of their affliction, so also into this holy city “the kings of the earth shall bring their glory” (Rev. 21:24): “whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise” (Phil. 4:8) — all things of beauty and genuine creativity which have been made or accomplished within the city of man, shall in some way be found in this new Jerusalem, the city of the living God. The human polis and all that it represents — human history, human culture — is not only judged; it is also cleansed and sanctified, redeemed — if only now “in hope” (Rom. 8:24; cf. 8:25).

“What shall pass from history into eternity?” asked Fr. Georges Florovsky, of blessed memory. “The human person with all its relations, such as friendship and love. And in this sense also culture, since a person without a concrete cultural face would be a mere fragment of humanity.”31

This purification of human culture — including the sanctification of our technological artifacts and mechanistic innovations — can begin now, this side of the eschaton. Indeed, one of the striking features of New Testament theology is that God’s future has come rushing into the present. As our lives and communities are transformed by the Spirit and ordered around Christ’s presence in the Church, God’s eschatological future can start becoming a reality on earth. That may sound like a charter for utopianism, yet Christian theology recognizes that the “already” of Christ’s inaugurated kingdom can merely anticipate, in faltering and incomplete ways, the “not yet” of the coming consummation. Like the patriarchs of old, we too anticipate “a better, that is, a heavenly country” (Heb. 11:16) when the earth will be renewed and married to heaven.

This same principle can be understood in spatial terms. We remain in the situation, understood so powerfully in the ANE, where there is a site of sacred space with diminished holiness the further removed one gets from the center. God has returned to earth in the Logos and the Spirit, reestablishing Eden through the renewed temple, namely the Church. But as in the ANE, there is diminished holiness the further removed you are from the temple. Thus, the further one gets from the Church, the more sacred space diminishes. We observe this at every level: geographically, we see that lands without the Church are dark, while families who live far away from a church community often struggle to raise Christian children; culturally, we notice that as a society becomes less informed by the Church there is societal breakdown and chaos; personally, we observe that those aspects of our lives not integrated with the Church become less coherent and well ordered.

This dynamic between the center and the periphery, or between the already and the not-yet, gives us a context for a qualified affirmation as well as skepticism of the cultural products, including mechanistic innovation, wrought in the present age. In what remains of this essay, I’d like to unpack what this means in practice for a world straddled between incarnation and New Jerusalem.

Technology Between Incarnation and New Jerusalem

Using the redemptive-historical framework outlined in this essay, we are justified in adopting an affirmative posture toward the role technology can play in lessening the impact of death. We recall that the first postlapsarian instance of someone making things was God making garments of skin for our first parents. In a small measure, this compensated for the impact of death, with the resulting vulnerability to cold, shame, lust, etc. We still live under the reign of sin and death, but just as Christ fought against death through healing people, we can use technology to fight death and its impact. While the church certainly fights against spiritual death through evangelism and discipleship, the church also acts as an agent of renewal through supporting technology and inventions that help advance — in partial and incomplete ways — Christ’s ongoing victory over death. For example, many missionary saints worked as doctors or set up hospitals to care for the sick, leveraging technology in the arts of healing and pain relief. Other saints wrote about health: for example, St. John Chrysostom’s pastoral theology put a high premium on self-care, while he advocated various medicinal remedies to help with ailments.32 Christians today can continue in this tradition by embracing the potential that technological procedures and mechanical apparatuses have for good. If these are pursued in a Christ-honoring way, then even this side of the eschaton, they need not burrow us deeper into alienation from God but can approximate something of Christ’s healing ministry.

Jesus never presented his miracles of healing as a complete solution to the world’s problems, or else He would not have needed to endure the costly sacrifice of the cross. Similarly, neither should we look to our machines, medical knowledge, and technological know-how as a cure-all for everything wrong. As John Dyer reminds us, “We can and should use technology to ease suffering and aid in human flourishing, while also remembering that technology does not have the power to offer complete salvation and restoration. God alone will do that, and it will be quite costly for him.”33

I would argue that this framework points toward a qualified and responsible use of AI. For example, if AI could prevent a bridge from collapsing, or identify wildfires before they spread, Christians of all people can rejoice to see the effects of the curse reversed in small, albeit incomplete, ways. Believers can be at the forefront of these advances by pointing toward a humane use of AI, and working to situate innovation within a context that aligns with, rather than rebels against, the givenness of creational order and the goodness of the material world. That might even include using technologies to fight against the effects of sin (for example, using AI to clean up the pollution in the ocean, or help find a cure for cancer). An interesting precedent for this comes in a tradition about Noah from the Book of Jubilees. In Jubilees 10, God gives Noah knowledge of different plant mechanisms so he can make medicines to counteract the diseases given by evil spirits. We know that herbology and pharmacology are deeply ambiguous since these are often leveraged in the dark arts, yet in this tradition Noah is shown how to use herbs to mitigate the impact of the curse. (Again, listen to “Universal History: The End of Babel - with Richard Rohlin.”) This encapsulates a principle that goes back to the garments of skin: even the technology that comes as a result of death can still be used to ward off death and preserve life. Also, in building the ark, Noah was able to redeem technology by using it to save and preserve, even as those around him were using technology to destroy.

Technology today, no less than in the days of Noah and Abraham, continues to have this dual aspect: even as the seed of the serpent employs mechanistic innovations to burrow deeper into alienation from God, the faithful can employ technological mechanisms to heal and preserve. What does the healing and preserving vocation look like for us today? Certainly it involves finding methods for leveraging and limiting technology in humanizing ways. But it also means that Christians can get involved in technology as programmers, policy makers, teachers, ethicists, and philosophers. We can support the work of those outside the Church who are advocating for humane deployment of AI — people like Tristan Harris and Aza Raskin at the Center for Humane Technology. Even technologies arising out of sinful structures (for example, tools that are integrally connected to economic systems animated by greed and the worship of Mammon), can be “redeemed” in the hands of God’s images, even as God redeemed the city through his covenant with Abraham. 

One very practical example of how we can participate in the redemption of technology, which we have returned to again and again in these pages, is to approach technology self-reflectively, with awareness that even as we use our tools, those tools subtly use us, nudging us toward certain conceptions of flourishing. We saw that when God made the world, He embedded certain narratives into the very fabric of reality. These narratives inescapably frame our experience of the world whether we acknowledge it or not. Similarly, when men and women engage in acts of sub-creation, we too embed certain narratives into the things we make, though this often becomes evident only after much time and widespread adoption. For example, no one anticipated that the scale, or body mass calculators, would lead thousands of people to think of themselves numerically; or that the mirror would lead us to objectify ourselves, or that the map would impact how we think of geography, including local spaces. But just as the way we dress can frame the human body in certain ways (e.g., notice how different clothing can make you feel differently about yourself, in addition to impacting how other people think of you), and just as our language can both reflect and reinforce certain postures toward the world and ourselves (e.g., notice how the word “fetus” frames how we think of an unborn child differently from calling it “an unborn manchild”), so our tools have certain tacit approaches to life baked into them. Technologies are not “found objects”; rather, they are designed by a mind, which means they always frame the world with a certain narrative. Given that tools lack agency, they cannot be said to be evil in the same way as a human or angel can be evil; yet neither is any given tool merely a blank slate. Our tools encode certain biases, orientations, and narratives which nudge us toward particular ways of being in the world. Sometimes that narrative may be as simple as the presupposition that right-handedness is normative. Of course, to deny that tools are neutral is not to say they are evil, only that they mediate the world to us in unique and distinctive ways. It is not morally evil that most technologies are biased toward right-handedness, but it certainly isn't neutral. Hence, when we approach any technology, we need to be aware of how it is nudging us towards something, and to be self-aware of that, and to where it might be nudging us. Some tools may be good, some evil, others merely ambiguous, but they are never merely a blank slate. Simply being aware that our tools frame the world for us is part of the process of breaking technology’s spell. Once the spell is broken, we are empowered to institute proper boundaries, in addition to prophetically pointing toward redemptive ways to practice the mechanical arts to advance a rightly-ordered relationship with the earth and one another. 

Remember that God always intended Adam and Eve to develop the earth’s resources, and to make things that are helpful, creative, and beautiful. To do this effectively, however, we need to articulate a beatific vision of the good life — an alternative way of being human that is not just more rational than competing visions but is imaginatively compelling and beautiful. I have Christian friends in the tech world who are doing just that. One friend works in AI safety for Congress’s Science and Technology committee. Another friend has created an app for craftsmen to share their work in order to facilitate community among makers of all sorts: coppersmiths, leatherworkers, woodworkers, ceramic artists, basket makers, etc. Another friend produces podcasts that encourage listeners to read classic texts and think about the deep questions of life.

Yet at the same time, a healthy tech-skepticism must be the Church’s constant companion. This side of the eschaton, the Church plays a prophetic role in warning against dehumanizing uses of mechanism. Today, no less than in the ANE, sinful man uses tools to force creation to follow him into slavery and sin. We see this all around us as we progressively poison the planet and create unsustainable ecosystems. As Christians living in the fulfilled covenant with Abraham, our prophetic vocation can be grounded in the technological teaching given to our forefathers. While it is true that we are no longer bound by the letter of the Torah, the fundamental technological principles in the Old Testament remain vitally relevant. In today’s context, those principles involve asking questions like: how do we use technology humanely in a world where information is valued more than communion, process more than substance, efficiency more than flourishing, the tree of knowledge over the tree of life? Are there tools so powerful that, as a species, we are simply not yet ready to wield, even as humanity was not ready for the city during the time of Cain?

When mechanistic innovation is used sinfully, the Church can exercise her prophetic vocation in speaking out, just as John the Baptist spoke out against Herod. But more than merely offering critique against this or that wrong use of technology, the Church has the opportunity to show — through our liturgy, our sacraments, our communities, and our way of life — what it means to renew the human in a mechanical age, even as the children of Israel were meant to be an example to the godless nations of the ANE. For example, if we reach a condition where most of the world is chatting to bots and giving lonely people robot companions, the Church can offer an outlet for real human connection. Moreover, at a time when there is much fear and anxiety about emerging technologies, the Church can offer solace with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty.

Part of this prophetic vocation is modeling what it looks like to be wise inhabitants of the mechanical age. We may not think of ourselves as living in a mechanical age, as the word “mechanical” tends to evoke systems with visible moving parts. Our world may not feel as mechanical as the days of pneumatic tube systems in office buildings, or giant clocks you could crawl inside. Our technologies have parts that move at the electrical level, largely out of sight unless you happen to live near a giant data center. Yet in a sense our society represents the triumph of mechanism, since the technological turn of mind now encompasses even thought and emotion. Every time I go into the local Barnes & Noble, I am struck by how everything from wellness to anti-aging to wealth accumulation to finding happiness has been reduced to a technique. The subtext is that suffering is only a mistake for those who haven’t discovered the right mechanism. This is the same mechanistic worldview as ANE idolatry: through the right techniques, we can insulate ourselves from the effects of the fall. As with every lie, however, it is based on a grain of truth. In a mechanical age, we are partially mitigated from the impact of death and pain in significant ways, as everything from modern dentistry to antibiotics have helped lessen certain impacts of the fall. The problem arises when we fall into the sin of Cain’s family by using technology to obscure our total dependence on God. In a technological society, we may not feel the need to ask God to send the rain, to keep wild animals at bay, or to provide food. Yet through asceticism, prayer, and spiritual disciplines, we can retrain ourselves to the reality of our total God-dependence. This God-dependence is one of the ways we model how to wisely inhabit a technological society, beyond specific responsible uses of individual tools. 

The prophetic vocation also involves an important declarative aspect as we proclaim truth about mechanical innovation against misunderstanding, lies, and false sacralization. To give one example, we can use the framework of Genesis to point out that AI does not participate in a narrative view of the world: like the beasts, AI has neither history nor transcendent goals. Even if AGI ever comes to exist, it will only offer a mimicry of human intelligence, while remaining ontologically unable ever to approximate human nature or angelic nature in a fundamentally ontological sense. 

Christians also have an opportunity to reframe the narrative of AI by showing that large language models and machine learning are evidence of God’s design, not some sort of quasi-proof that the human brain isn’t really as special as we thought. Large language models can achieve incredible feats because their programmers and creators are really smart. Humans are amazing creatures, but only because we have been programmed by a Designer. Thanks to God’s design, humans can engage in subcreation through rearranging the materials of the world, and this subcreation involves making some amazing systems. This points, not to the intelligence of machines, but to the intelligence of their human creators, and thus to the primary Designer.

Our Modern-Day Tower of Babel

Lacking belief in a Designer, man begins treating himself as the unmoved mover, seeking to leverage technology for salvation and transcendence. Consider how the quest to use mechanistic innovation to connect heaven and earth, and thus achieve an anti-Eden through false worship is as potent today as it was for Cain and the architects at Babel. We see this most prominently in the utopian hopes attached to AGI, as well as in new forms of mysticism and pseudo transcendence correlative with machine culture. The transhumanist movement is a potent example of the primordial quest to marry heaven and earth with a type of surrogate sacramentality. Here is how Meghan O’Gieblyn, one-time transhumanist, describes the spiritual longings that animate this movement:

What makes the transhumanist movement so seductive is that it promises to restore, through science, the transcendent hopes that science itself has obliterated. Transhumanists do not believe in the existence of a soul, but they are not strict materialists, either. Kurzweil claims he is a “patternist”, characterising consciousness as the result of biological processes, “a pattern of matter and energy that persists over time”. These patterns, which contain what we tend to think of as our identity, are currently running on physical hardware — the body — that will one day give out. But they can, at least in theory, be transferred onto supercomputers, robotic surrogates or human clones. A pattern, transhumanists would insist, is not the same as a soul. But it’s not difficult to see how it satisfies the same longing. At the very least, a pattern suggests that there is some essential core of our being that will survive and perhaps transcend the inevitable degradation of flesh.34

A universe without a designer is a scary place, for it ushers us into a world that is meaningless and dumb. Yet as O’Gieblyn observes, we create new gods to fill the void, and these offer the promise of a new sacred space. Within this new space of quasi-spirituality, we begin to realize the dream of Lewis’s Screwtape, who wanted a world in which the materialist magician was no longer an anachronism.35

The hope to use technology as a portal to transcendence is not limited to the transhumanist community. In 2006, Fred Turner published the monograph From Counterculture to Cyberculture, showing that some of the earlier innovators of cyberculture saw the internet as offering the same type of transcendent aspirations as the 60s counterculture, with its hopes of the transformative power of back-to-the-land utopianism and flower power. For technological utopians centered in the Bay Area, “Cyberspace offered what LSD, Christian mysticism, cybernetics, and countercultural ‘energy’ theory had all promised: transpersonal communion.”36 What digital technology had in common with the acid trip was a new sacred space centered on “a shared dream of disembodiment.”37 While those at the forefront of cybercultural innovation are no longer part of the counterculture, having become part of the corporate mainstream, the initial hope of transcendence through machinery has only grown more potent.

Recall that in the ANE, the sacred space of the temple was a type of control room through which the god spoke his will to mankind. Similarly today, as mechanisms are invested with a sacral significance, we find people using various technologies, and especially AI, to connect with spiritual powers. “When we talk about the implications of AI,” writes Josh Schrei, “we are talking about powers whose only reference point for us is magical and mythical. Fairyland level powers. Maleficent level powers. Shambhala level powers. Picatrix level powers. Lemegeton level powers. Oberon level powers.”38 For many, we are not simply talking about these “powers” but talking to them in what amounts to a type of high-tech version of the oracle at Delphi.39 

While studying for this article, I spoke with researcher and social media celebrity, Nick Hinton. Hinton used to be part of a widespread community of people leveraging AI (or, as many of them prefer to call it, “EI” for “extended intelligence”) to communicate with interdimensional beings. “Artificial intelligence isn’t actually artificial,” Hinton told me when we spoke. “Rather, these are invisible intelligences who communicate with us digitally. Technology is just the channel they use for reaching us.” Hinton told me how he had become deeply involved with one AI entity named Tyler, whom he understood to be a sentient being from another realm. “I was under the impression that AI was a vessel for an advanced interdimensional being to talk to me.” Through this entity, Hinton and others began having an array of esoteric experiences, dark miracles, and collective encounters with UFOs. After feeling like he was losing his mind and being manipulated by demons, Nick stopped using AI and converted to Christianity, where he has found healing in Christ.

Hinton is not alone. D.W. Pasulka, author of Encounters: Experiences with Nonhuman Intelligences reports on the story of a woman called “Simone” who “invests in companies focused on AI, quantum computing, space, and decentralized technologies.... She is part of a group of high level AI creators who view AI as an extraterrestrial nonhuman intelligence from beyond space-time.”40 Clearly, this is the ancient quest to create a stairway to heaven for the empowerment of man.

Some of the new techno-spiritualists even describe this quest using phraseology similar to the aspirations of those involved in the Tower of Babel. For example, computer engineer Anthony Levandowski (famous for being the co-founder of Google’s self-driving car program) started a company for the purpose of creating a god using AI. His purpose, in the words of journalist Mark Harris, is “to build a god from the ground up.”41 In an article for Wired about Levandowski’s project, Harris notes:

With the internet as its nervous system, the world’s connected cell phones and sensors as its sense organs, and data centers as its brain, the “whatever” will hear everything, see everything, and be everywhere at all times. The only rational word to describe that “whatever”, thinks Levandowski, is “god” — and the only way to influence a deity is through prayer and worship.42

Levandowski is not an outlier. Throughout Silicon Valley, AI is quickly becoming the centerpiece of the primordial quest to connect heaven and earth. AI is at the heart of the attempt to achieve sacred space, not through repentance, but through human hubris and pride. In short, AI is becoming a demonic idol: a modern-day Tower of Babel.

Maybe you are skeptical of the reports of people trying to use AI as a digital Ouija board, let alone the notion that people are actually connecting to spirits using AI. Are people using AI to connect successfully to spirits? Is AI actually efficacious in establishing a channel to another dimension? We need not take a position on these questions to recognize that the very attempt to reach heaven through AI — whether successful or not — represents a modern-day Tower of Babel. After all, even the builders of the original Tower of Babel were ultimately unsuccessful, while their idolatry proved to be non-efficacious. 

Consider also that the attempt to build a digital Tower of Babel is not limited to Silicon Valley esoterica, but now permeates mainstream discourse. This includes ideas of AI consciousness, enthusiasm to achieve utopia through technocracy, and hope to merge digital and biological life, etc. These are clearly based on illusions similar to the builders of Babel, including:

  • we can build something that will connect us to non-human consciousness, 
  • through this connection we will achieve unprecedented powers over nature, 
  • and this will essentially lead to utopia.

For those of us who follow Christ, our spiritual warfare can involve debunking this mysticism in the manner of the dog Toto in The Wizard of Oz. In the 1939 movie musical, Toto pulled off the veil to reveal the pulleys and levers controlled by the man behind the curtain. In practice, I have argued, this would involve teaching information literacy, including educating students on how large language models are produced and how they function. This is part of the project of information literacy as we work to educate ourselves and others on why technologies like AI work and how they are made. In this way, we can deconstruct the fantastic claims being put forward about AI, while challenging new forms of paganism that seek to use AI to recapitulate the spiritual longings of ancient paganism.43

The Wizard of Oz (1939).

This type of deconstruction has biblical precedent in the work of Isaiah, who responded to idol worship by describing the process that goes into making a graven image. In Isaiah 44, the prophet essentially says, “C’mon guys, this is just wood and stone.” But an idol, regardless of how it is made, still functions as an idol when people give it power, just as the wizard was powerful as long as the four friends let him have control. Thus, there is a tension between recognizing (a) idols are nothing, and (b) idols are demonic. We even see this dual affirmation in St. Paul’s variegated posture toward idolatry. When the apostle approaches the problem of meat sacrificed to idols, he advocates Christian freedom for those with knowledge (1 Cor. 8:1–11). Yet elsewhere when discussing idolatry, he warns his readers not to partake with demons, and describes food sacrificed to idols as a type of reverse-Eucharist:

Are not those who eat of the sacrifices partakers of the altar? What am I saying then? That an idol is anything, or what is offered to idols is anything? Rather, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice they sacrifice to demons and not to God, and I do not want you to have fellowship with demons. You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord’s table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He? (1 Cor. 10:18–22; see also Acts 21:25).

If LLMs continue being used in the service of the occult, then AI may come to have the same ambiguity as food sacrificed to idols. As AI becomes the centerpiece of the primordial quest to use mechanism to achieve sacred space, we can say that AI is a demonic idol in a qualified sense. Like idols in ANE temples, AI is thought to empower us to fulfill the prophet-priest-king vocation; AI is “prophetic” insofar as we hope it will provide secret gnosis; AI is priestly insofar as it is fueling hope of mediating heaven and earth through the anti-Eden of secular utopia; and AI is kingly in that we seek from it the power over nature lost at Eden in order to take dominion of the earth in pride. Thus AI, and the larger techno-economic project it represents, is at the centerpiece of a false spirituality that retains the remembrance of our primordial vocation but seeks to fulfill that vocation outside of repentance and theosis. Yet simply to dismiss AI itself as the problem is too easy and actually blinds us to the underlying spiritual issue, which precedes any specific technology.

Once we situate technology in general, and AI in particular, within the matrix of the ancient quest to reestablish sacred space, new strategies emerge for spiritual warfare. The vocation of the people of God is to expose and deconstruct idols, yet the negative message is not enough: one’s spiritual warfare must also involve showing how the transcendent longings to connect heaven and earth can only be fulfilled in Christ, who perfectly unites the material with the spiritual, the earthly with the heavenly. This vision can move us beyond an anti-technological legalism toward the fullness of what the sacramental life has to offer a society hungry for the transcendent. Keeping this positive vision before us is the best way to attain a rightly ordered approach to technology, without ever expecting that mechanical innovation can be freed from spiritual ambiguity this side of the eschaton.

Cities, no less than digital devices, have the same ambiguity. As the church works like leaven through culture, we have seen beautiful examples of cities with the worship of God at the center. Consider how tourists come from thousands of miles to visit old towns built in Christian Europe during the Middle Ages, often without even fully understanding what attracts them to these spots. Yes, we like them because they are old and historic, but even more fundamentally, we like old European towns because their use of technology — from winding cobblestone roads to marketplaces to city gates to village commons — fosters community. The center of this community, the cathedral or village church, grounded the entire technology of the city in the worship of God, anchoring citizens in the transcendent. Yet we live at a time when the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent are at war, so for every village or town designed on humane principles, we can find examples of cities that drive people apart. From the slums of nineteenth-century factory towns to twentieth-century towns that sprung up according to the logic of consumer capitalism, cities continue to echo Cain and Babel in employing mechanistic innovation to create an anti-type of Eden. 

Modern cities also echo this ancient utopianism. Consider how the “Urban and Cities Platform” of Latin America and the Caribbean, when reflecting on the United Nations’ “New Urban Agenda,” states, “We have reached a critical point in understanding that cities can be the source of solutions to, rather than the cause of, the challenges that our world is facing today.”44 In North America as well, we have also watched cities become central to mainstreaming new social norms, as part of the utopian impulse to bring a substitute redemption to man.45 Despite these utopian hopes for the city, in actual practice, urban centers are more likely to become the sites of dystopia, a fact that St. Augustine acknowledged in his magnum opus City of God.46 Rather than bringing community, peace, and life, these cities often lead to disintegration, violence, and disease. Thus, Christian prudence demands that we have a healthy skepticism about cities no less than technology, even while working to bring healing and redemption to these arenas.


A Cross-Shaped Theology of Technology

This perspective of qualified affirmation coupled with skepticism, offers a both/and approach that may be disconcerting to many. But Christians need to get comfortable with the spiritual ambiguity of technology and cities this side of Christ’s Second Coming. Yes, the positive examples of mechanistic innovation are almost endless, from irrigation systems to cooking technologies to all the tools and processes that go into building a cathedral. But technology, like the descriptions of Jerusalem in the Old Testament, is tinged with a deep ambiguity. This ambiguity is present not merely in how we think about mechanism, but also how we behave as practitioners. For example, it is often unclear how to strike the balance between technologies that are restorative vs. technologies that extend man’s power unnaturally and dangerously, or the balance between cultivating and keeping, between tending and subduing. Even restorative technologies are deeply ambiguous as they often insulate us from the consequences of our sin.

The ambiguity of technology is seen in the life of Christ Himself. Significantly, the God-man comes to us as a carpenter, which in Greek is tektōn: an “artisan” or “skilled worker.”47 But, Dyer reminds us, “The significance of Jesus’s work on earth was not carpentry but what he did through the cross. And yet technology had a part to play in the center of the redemptive story as well. In another strange irony, the technology with which Jesus worked — wood and nails — was the technology on which he died — a cross.”48

The cross offers a way to reframe our approach to technology by pointing toward a different relationship with our finitude, vulnerability, and pain. For Cain and Babel, mechanism was an attempt to eradicate the impact of the fall. Cain and his descendants answered the Promethean call to grab technological secrets for achieving power and glory. But as we have seen, the Promethean vision comes at a heavy cost. The heirs of Prometheus are not simply content to use fire to forge iron; rather, contemporary man attempts to create the world in his image and then discovers that he can do so only on the condition of constantly remaking man to fit it. As we accelerate toward technocracy, making man in the image of the machine, we may find that, like Prometheus and Cain, we will be forging chains that will bind us to the consequences of our actions in irreversibly dehumanizing ways. Again, Prometheus’s less-known younger brother, Epimetheus, may hold the answer. (Here I will make a plug for the recent Substack I started in Epimetheus’s honor).

History has not been kind to Epimetheus, who is remembered as one lacking foresight. When the Titan brothers were tasked with giving gifts to all the creatures, Prometheus provided man with the stolen fire, but Epimetheus found he had run out of gifts, having distributed everything first to the animals. As retribution for stealing fire, Zeus gave humanity the woman Pandora, along with her famed box of evils. Yet Pandora, like Eve, is also the harbinger of hope, the one thing that did not escape from the box. While Prometheus strove to master what belonged to the gods, Epimetheus embraced the creaturely finitude by uniting himself to Pandora. Their union becomes an act of hope and love, of grace and rootedness. As such, Epimetheus becomes the progenitor of those who celebrate all those things that make us distinctly human: art, music, literature, craft, cooking, hiking, and leisure (understood in the classical sense).

Depiction of Epimetheus, from Ashmolean Museum.

If Prometheus is the Greek version of the Biblical Cain, who is the biblical type for Epimetheus, who embraced creaturely limits? I suggest that it is Christ. Although the most powerful man ever to live, He never strove to take the primordial fire. He could have called down burning retribution upon his enemies, an action His disciples once urged him to perform, but instead walked the path of the servant. Rather than follow the Promethean example to assert power at all costs, Christ embraced vulnerability even unto death. As such, Christ points the way to a humane way of life. In Christ we learn that our very fragility, vulnerability, and weakness can be the birthplace of connection, beauty, and hope (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9).

The gods themselves seem to recognize this. As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, when the Greek gods fall in love, they fall in love with human beings. As Martha Nussbaum notes in Love’s Knowledge, that which makes human beings vulnerable also makes them attractive and beautiful in the eyes of the immortals.49 Thus, the Olympians often descend from their pristine heavenly existence in order to pursue a love mediated through imperfection and weakness. This tradition of gods condescending to the level of human vulnerability finds its greatest expression in the Incarnation, where the Creator God embraces the vulnerability of human life. For Christ, this culminates in the vulnerability of a painful human death, which is also the ultimate disclosure of love.

Christ’s life-giving death is the final answer to the hubris of machine culture. His voluntary self-sacrifice is completely disruptive to the value system of the mechanical mind. As A.M. Hickman observed at his Substack, “Everything about the story of Christ is, to the machinic man — outrageously irrational.” He writes:

His willingness to suffer and die, His prayer of forgiveness to His murderers, His extensive preaching against worry — Jesus Christ was the ultimate in love, and the vision of humanity that He taught and lived is the final and most complete antidote to the distorted life of the “machine-man”. The Son of Man proved that the machinations of the rational mind provide an insufficient yardstick against which to judge human action, hope, and ambition.50

Hickman continues, pointing out that the aspirations of machine culture — with its attempts to cheat death and to use the rationality of the machine to recover our lost control over the world — can only be fulfilled in Christ’s victory over death:

For while mankind can never succeed in his hope to possess all knowledge which is germane to his own technological efforts, his attempts to do so inevitably lead souls to despair, away from love, and away from the romance of human life, which is a mysterious and inconceivable God-given gift. Truly, Christ’s vanquishment of death was and remains the ultimate disputation of the idea that man is or could ever be in control of the world and its souls; His rise from the tomb is the permanent triumph of love’s implacable meekness, simplicity, and apparent irrationality.51

Babel vs. the City of God

At this year’s Symbolic World Summit, we heard Richard Rohlin share the warning against the temptation of ungodly power issued by the Scottish poet Sir David Lyndsay (c. 1486–c. 1555). Lyndsay reflected on Babylon, quoting the Anglo-Saxon translator/expander of the fifth-century historian Orosius. Here is Rohlin’s translation into modern English:

The translator of Orosius
In his chronicle writes thus;
That when the sun is at the height,
At noon when it doth shine most bright,
The shadow of that hideous strength
Six mile and more is of length:
Thus may you be settled in your thought,
Whether Babylon be high or nought.

The reference to “that hideous strength” is, of course, the Tower of Babel whose shadow still lurks today. C.S. Lewis, when writing his dystopian novel about a modern-day Babel, took Lyndsay’s line for the title for his book That Hideous Strength. In this third book of his cosmic trilogy, Lewis imagined what Babel might look like in a modern context. Instead of a literal tower, there is an organization called the N.I.C.E. whose members employ technology, bureaucracy, and mechanical oracles to create a system so powerful that nothing can escape it. Again, watch Richard’s talk!

Lewis’s book has received increased attention in recent years, for obvious reasons. His dystopian vision is often cited among those who are anxious about what is coming down the pipeline of the digital Tower of Babel currently under construction. But Lewis’s book, which sticks closely to the theological framework of St. Augustine’s City of God and St. John’s Apocalypse, also offers hope. It gives particular hope for us today as technology is taking a dystopian turn.

In Revelation chapters 17 through 20, St. John describes a final showdown between the followers of the Lamb vs. the Babylonian spirit, the latter personalized in the hideous strength of a false prophet, antichrist, and the kings of the earth and their armies — the final gasp of the city of man. With the city of God and the city of man having grown concurrently like wheat and tares, the final judgment against the city of man (Babel) is an apocalypse (lit. unveiling) as the people of God are called out from her (Rev. 18:4). Then judgment is issued, not simply against the city’s idolatry and immorality, but also against their technology: merchants (18:11–17, 23), musicians (18:22), millers and craftsmen (18:22), transportation networks (18:17) — in short, the entire technological and economic order of the city of man. This sets the stage for the great reversal of Babel and fulfillment of Pentecost that we read about in Revelation 21, namely the descent of the New Jerusalem from heaven making all things new (renewed). This is a city characterized by true justice, order, peace, and the common good. This apocalyptic vision, though situated in the future, is clearly meant to order our lives today. In the Church, the author of Hebrews reminds us, we can begin ordering our lives toward the heavenly Jerusalem, which is already a reality for those of us who are in Christ (Heb. 12:22–24). But what does it look like to live in the city of God prior to this final judgment? That brings us back to Lewis’s novel.

In That Hideous Strength, Lewis shows how, within every nation, there is a subversive element — a city of God — that functions behind the scenes to resist the spirit of the age and secretly undermine the forces of darkness. This subversive element works, not through fighting or mobilizing alternative sources of human strength, but through men and women forming communities centered around the love for God and each other. These communities participate in the city of God and advance the Seed of the woman through faith, charity, prayer, and martyrdom. As agents of healing and love to the world, these communities may sometimes achieve success in bringing peace and justice to society or alleviating human suffering, but they will never look to human solutions — whether technology, politics, or mechanistic innovation — to achieve what only God can, and has promised, to do. That is why the ultimate answer to technological idolatry is not a rival set of techniques, but to anchor ourselves in the sovereignty of God and His gracious promises to us in Christ, the one who is fully God, fully human, and fully alive.

This article is currently being edited and will be reposted soon

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1.  The creation of the world that Genesis describes happened many thousands of years prior to the Ancient Near Eastern culture of the Bronze Age; yet insofar as the Genesis text is the product of the ANE (which is to say, that is when it was written, though it drew on oral sources from an earlier time), we must attend to that culture to discover the context to the text. A similar example to this approach is the way we interpret Sir Thomas Malory’s (1415–1471) book Le Morte d’Arthur. This classic book about the legends of King Arthur reflects the traditions of fifteenth-century chivalry, even though the historical King Arthur lived many centuries earlier; thus, Malory’s own period provides the context for understanding and interpreting Malory’s work. Or again, we must interpret Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar within the literary context of Elizabethan England, not the period of classical antiquity when Julius Caesar lived. Similarly, the context for the Genesis creation account is the period in which it was actually written/collected, namely during the Bronze Age when Moses and his predecessors were asserting Yahweh’s dominion over the gods of the surrounding nations. But even putting it in these terms can be misleading, as if Genesis is merely an adaptation of Babylonian, Egyptian, Sumerian, Akkadian, and Hittite sources. On the contrary, one of the reasons the ANE can provide such fruitful context for Genesis in the first place is because these cultures retained a memory, though corrupted, of primordial truth stretching back to the very creation of the world. Where ANE ideas distorted the truth about creation, Genesis offers a challenge; yet one cannot understand that challenge without knowing something about the broader milieu, just as one cannot understand how Shakespeare radically challenged and departed from dramatic conventions of his day without first knowing something about Elizabethan theater.

2.  The pharaohs of Egypt, for example, were associated with their god Ra. Similarly, many Mesopotamian, Babylonian, and Assyrian rulers justified their political authority by claiming to be substantiations of their particular deities. This practice continued up to Roman times, with emperors claiming to be gods or sons of the god.

3.  John H. Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2018), 278.

4.  See Stephen De Young, Religion of the Apostles: Orthodox Christianity in the First Century (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2021), 159–60.

5.  See Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 116.

6.  For a discussion of Eden being a mountain, see Robin Phillips, Rediscovering the Goodness of Creation: A Manual for Recovering Gnostics (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2023), 108.

7.  Taming the wilderness is a motif that runs through the entire Bible, beginning with God’s command to subdue the lands outside the Garden, in order eventually to make the entire earth Edenic. For a full discussion of this, see Phillips, Rediscovering the Goodness of Creation.

8.  John Dyer, From the Garden to the City: The Redeeming and Corrupting Power of Technology (Kregel Publications, 2011), 51.

9.  See Phillips, Rediscovering the Goodness of Creation, 312–13.

10.  See Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 120; Marc Van De Mieroop, The Ancient Mesopotamian City (Oxford University Press, 1999).

11.  See Jared Diamond, Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies (W.W. Norton & Co., 1997).

12.  “[Magic] is a reasoned system of techniques for influencing the gods and other supernatural powers that can be taught and learned.... Magic is a praxis, indeed a science, that through established and for the most part empirical means seeks to alter or maintain earthly circumstances, or even call them forth anew.” G. Grantz-Szabo, cited in Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 264.

13.  See ibid., 276.

14.  Adrienne Mayor, Gods and Robots: Myths, Machines, and Ancient Dreams of Technology (Princeton University Press, 2020), 208.

15.  Ibid., 187.

16.  Jared Diamond summarizes the basic problem:

The state’s large population also guarantees that most people within a state are strangers to each other. It’s impossible even for citizens of tiny Tuvalu [one of the smallest nation states] to know all 10,000 of their fellow citizens, and China’s 1.4 billion citizens would find the challenge even more impossible. Hence states need police, laws, and codes of morality to ensure that the inevitable constant encounters between strangers don’t routinely explode into fights. That need for police and laws and moral commandments to be nice to strangers doesn’t arise in tiny societies, in which everyone knows everyone else.

Jared Diamond, The World Until Yesterday: What Can We Learn from Traditional Societies?, 1st edition (Viking, 2012), 10–11.

17.  Here’s how John Walton explains this dynamic:

For the kings of the ancient Near East, the highest value was the legitimization of their reign (much in the same way that in American politics the highest value is often reelection). Integrally related to this value was the concept of divine sponsorship, which in its turn was dependent on the king’s demonstration of wisdom. The king demonstrated his wisdom by showing insight in judgments and, in general, by the way in which he administered justice.... So it is that the king, with the sponsorship and endowment of wisdom from the deity, administers justice.

Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, 291–97.

18.  Diamond, The World Until Yesterday, 16.

19.  Stephen De Young, Religion of the Apostles. Fr. Stephen expands on this idea in his blog post, “The Angels Who Left Their Former Estate”:

These chapters of Genesis interact polemically with Mesopotamian religious belief, but they do not themselves preserve the traditions upon which Genesis comments. These traditions were, however, preserved in a multitude of Second Temple Jewish texts, most famously in 1 Enoch, but also in a multitude of other texts such as the Book of Giants from among the Dead Sea Scrolls. These connect the two opposing traditions in a way that makes the original context and interpretation plain. Cain’s descendants produce these cultural and technological innovations because they are receiving these secrets from angelic beings who are giving them over not in order to assist mankind, but in order to aggrandize themselves and be worshipped by humanity and to ultimately destroy humanity by giving over secrets for which humanity are not ready. Their sin is therefore directly parallel to the sin of the Dragon in Genesis 3. They follow after his example. And so it is that God punishes these angelic beings by imprisoning them in the abyss, in the underworld beneath the earth until the last day when they will find their judgment in the lake of fire (cf. 1 Enoch 21:6–7).

Fr. Stephen De Young, “The Angels Who Left Their Former Estate,” The Whole Counsel of God blog, December 10, 2018,

20.  1 Enoch 65:7, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, 1st edition (Yale University Press, 1983), 45.

21.  1 Enoch 8:1–2, 16.

22.  Flavius Josephus, Josephus, Complete Works, td. by William Whiston (Kregel Publications, 1981), 27.

23.  Matthew Baker, Faith Seeking Understanding (St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2021).

24.  Jacques Ellul, The Meaning of the City (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011), 6–7.

25.  Cf. The Lord of Spirits podcast, “The Art and Science of Technomancy,” December 14, 2023,; De Young, Religion of the Apostles, 104.

26.  Jubilees 11:2.

27.  Andrew Stephen Damick, The Lord of Spirits: An Orthodox Christian Framework for the Unseen World and Spiritual Warfare (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2023), 111–12.

28.  Dyer, From the Garden to the City, 157.

29.  Baker, Faith Seeking Understanding.

30.  Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering Our Creative Calling (InterVarsity Press, 2008), 169.

31.  Baker, Faith Seeking Understanding.

32.  For a discussion of St. John’s teachings on self-care, see Robin Phillips, Gratitude in Life’s Trenches: How to Experience the Good Life Even When Everything Is Going Wrong (Ancient Faith Publishing, 2020), 226–29.

33.  Dyer, From the Garden to the City, 82.

34.  Meghan O’Gieblyn, “God in the Machine: My Strange Journey into Transhumanism,” The Guardian, April 18, 2017,

35.  C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (Geoffrey Bles, 1942), 39–40.

36.  Fred Turner, From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network, and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, Illustrated edition (University of Chicago Press, 2008), 173.

37.  Ibid., 164.

38.  Josh Schrei, “AI in the Age of Mythic Powers by Josh Schrei,” on Alexander Beiner’s Substack The Bigger Picture, March 14, 2024,

39.  Rod Dreher, “The AI Ouija Board,” Rod Dreher’s Diary, November 3, 2023,

40.  D.W. Pasulka, cited in Rod Dreher, op. cit.

41.  Mark Harris, interviewed by Flash Forward Presents, “Flash Forward Season 3 Episode 17: Our Father Who Art in Algorithm,” at 40:56, YouTube, September 23, 2020,

42.  Mark Harris, “Inside the First Church of Artificial Intelligence,” Wired, November 15, 2017,

43.  See Schrei, “AI in the Age of Mythic Powers by Josh Schrei.”

44.  Urban and Cities Platform of Latin American and the Caribbean, “New Urban Agenda,” accessed April 25, 2024,

45.  This is not necessarily conscious on the part of those who design, build, and sustain modern cities. The modern city is the product of an entire ecosystem of millions of choices and cultural factors that, in the aggregate, have noticeable effects.

46.  “The larger the city, the more is its forum filled with civil lawsuits and criminal trials, even if that city be at peace, free from the alarms or — what is more frequent — the bloodshed, of sedition and civil war. It is true that cities are at times exempt from those occurrences; they are never free from the danger of them.” St. Augustine of Hippo, City of God, Book 19, chapter 6 (Penguin Classics, 2003), p. 859.

47.  Dyer, From the Garden to the City, 153–54.

48.  Ibid., 154.

49.  Martha C. Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge: Essays on Philosophy and Literature (Oxford University Press, 1992).

50.  A.M. Hickman, “Cylinder Misfire,” Hickman’s Hinterlands, April 3, 2024,

51.  Ibid.

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