Monday, 4 April 2011

cjbanning: (St. Thomas)
Recently, I took a train up to New Brunswick to attend a young adult retreat hosted by the Diocese of New Jersey. There's a lot I could say about the event: I had a blast, came away renewed, and we did a lot of great hashing-out of the notion of original sin during the Ask-a-Priest period (in response to a young woman's question about the RCC doctrine of the Immaculate Conception) that ties into thoughts I've been thinking in such a way as to merit a post of its own. (Of course, at this point the topics which merit posts are legion, and the actual posts, not so much.) But for the moment to want to write a bit about a subject which came up during our lunch conversation.

Possibly in response to one young woman's giving up Facebook for Lent, we were discussing all the multitude of ways technology has shaped out lives. When one of our retreat leaders, the Rev. (and always awesome) Gregory Bezilla, asked if we ever thought about how Christianity fit into it all. I replied that I've often wondered just what what the implications are of Facebook (and of Dreamwidth and Livejournal and the cyberspace age in general) on the Christian doctrine of the resurrection of the body (affirmed in the Apostle's Creed, the creed of the baptismal covenant): if our body is that part of our selves which has extension in physical space, then isn't our Facebook, which can extend that self to a computer in California or Boston where a friend sees one's status update, part of our body? And insofar as it extends us through "virtual" space the way our physical body does through physical space, then doesn't it represent a "virtual body" just as real and as legitimate as is our physical one? Doesn't this blog allow me to express and/or mask what I am thinking in much the same way as my face does?

The German philosopher Martin Heidegger discussed a concept similar to this in his notion of Zuhandanheit ("ready-to-hand") in which a tool, through the experience of the user, is fused with the body. Heidegger argued that in using a tool (like Facebook, or the Dreamwidth blog I'm writing this) it becomes experientially invisible to us, an extension of our selves. The technology disappears completely as we focus on the immediate performance of the tool. (Full disclosure: most of the previous paragraph is recapitulated, often verbatim, from various websites, in particular this slideshow. It's been a couple of years since I picked up my Heidegger, although I do remember my professor, Tom de Zengotita, explaining this particular point.)

As I wrote above, I don't know what the implications of these thoughts are for the resurrection of the body, if it means that we should perhaps imagine the Facebook servers rising from the ashes on the day of the general resurrection. I don't know--but I do think the notion merits serious consideration

Now it is of course possible to think of information and communication technologies as something completely alien and foreign to our bodies and souls, as "the machine" which oppresses us. We can--but I don't think we should; indeed, I think doing so is seriously damaging to our Christian spirituality. We are not called to be alienated from that which God and/or human beings have created; at most, we are called to redeem it when it has fallen into sin.

There is a "strong" sort of transhumanism--where our humanity, and in particular our human bodies, is literally something to be transcended, escaped--which lies in conflict with our values both as feminists and as Trinitarian Christians, both of which should encourage us to celebrate our embodied natures. As feminists, we understand that the denial or devaluing of our embodied nature often represents a devaluing or erasure of femininity, femaleness, and/or womanhood (see the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article Feminist Perspectives on the Body for a comprehensive overview) by declaring it either irrelevant or inferior. As Trinitarian Christians, the above-referenced doctrine of the resurrection of the body tells us that our physical bodies represent a key component of the whole human person without which we are incomplete, that we are not destined to live out eternity merely as disembodied spirits. And the doctrine of the Incarnation tells us that Jesus glorified our human bodies by becoming one us, a human being, with a physical body which suffered and died on a cross. Indeed, it was the Gnostics of old who heretically denied Jesus's humanity, asserting that the Christ existed as a spirit only and that the death on the cross was an illusion.

In contrast to that sort of transhumanism, I'm thinking of a sort of "weak transhumanism," something more along the terms of Donna Harroway's cyborg feminism--a "Cyborg Christianity," if you will--in which, rather than allowing us to transcend our humanity and escape our human bodies, technology allows us to dissolve the dualism between our selves and our bodies and more fully, rather than less, live out our embodied humanity.
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My Prayer

"This is my prayer: that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best."
-- St. Paul's Epistle to the Philippians 1:9-10

All entries copyrighted © 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 by Cole J. Banning


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