What follows are my reflections on Elizabeth Scalia’s book Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Every Day Life, Chapters 5: The Idol of Technology. Click here to read my other reflections on Scalia’s book. There’s more to read than my reflection contains. I highly recommend you check out the book for yourself.
Chapter 5: The Idol of Technology
Family brought us home. No tragedy, no crises, just wanting our daughter to know her grandparents. We moved back to California without a plan, other than to work on making it work here. It was not long before we missed the culture and art of the big city. I have continue to yearn for the life and people I knew in Minnesota while in college. We don’t fit in here, just like we didn’t fit in while were in school. And we know it.
But it is worth it to be here. Some time ago I read The Little Way of Ruthie Leming, by Rod Dreher. His book taught me the why it is important for us to be here and the benefits we’ll derive. We know from the spiritual life that what matters is relationships, God is relationship. The search after art and culture can be talked about as a search for beauty, one of those very important transcendentals. But to seek a life that revolves around it, choosing to enjoy the art and food over family or community, is in a way, a search for pleasure. If pleasure is the goal of life, in the end, it turns up empty, because we are made for relationship.
In Strange Gods: Unmasking the Idols in Everyday Life, Chapter 5, The Idol of Technology, Elizabeth Scalia gets to the heart of the matter. Like seeking out a town solely based on pleasure (albeit, pleasure that has to do with the good and the beautiful, trancendentals), is like the personal reinforcement we seek through an internet community. I look at what makes me feel good, what reinforces my beliefs, either about life or myself. I can click away if it disturbs me or challenges me. It is my world and I make it for myself. Pandora and Netflix uses my preferences to introduce me to new things, but never new things that will shake me up, only once that cater to what I already know I like. I’m simplifying of course, but why not?
If I come back to my roots, living in a town for higher reasons (relationship, family), I find myself less comfortable. We have to seek more. We have to accept more. Instead of locking ourselves away in a lovely artistic tower of a narrowed culture, we live side by side with people who continually make us assess our values, keep our radical ideas in check, and cause us not to live by the letter of any law, but approach with a pastoral and open mind. On paper and online it is easy to say, “this is way it should be in liturgy,” for example. But to meet with a variety of mindsets and learn to communicate not just on the level of ideas but on the level of the human person. This forces us to grow. This is for our good. This is the good of a relationship.
As Scalia and Dreher point out, living and loving a community or country, are a lot like loving a person. You take the good with the bad, the quirks with the charm, and in the end, because your love has been tested and tried, you love them better for it. You can’t plant roots in an asphalt jungle. We’d grow, but wouldn’t grow well without a little fertilizer. We need people, both to help us grow, and to remind us that we are capable of having that role in other people’s lives, keeping that idol of self molten and not molded.