Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A Post-Human World


I have a newer friend whom I am growing to appreciate.  By newer, I mean that I met him within the last couple years, so the relationship is young.  On top of that, Glenn lives in Australia!  So far, I have never visited Australia, so that means we have not met on his turf.  I met him a couple years ago at a conference.  We both had written papers and were paired to present in a session of the conference.  We took a liking to each other and a budding relationship began.

Glenn is an Anglican priest.  Much of his ministry is done as a chaplain in an Anglican school in Australia.  Essentially, he is working with high school students.  When I met him, I could understand why he was involved in this ministry.  Even though he must be in his 50s, he has a boyish look and certainly spirit.   It was easy to imagine him being the ringleader for a bunch of guys doing things that pushed the boundary of fun and acceptability. 

I recently read a little paper he wrote and found myself intrigued and challenged by his thoughts.  The title of the piece was inviting: “To Be or Not To Be: Identity Formation in a Post-Human World.”  Clearly the first part of the title shows him playing around with the famous words from Shakespeare. The focus on identity formation interests me because I give some focus to that in my own college teaching.  The traditional college age student predictably is going through a kind of identity transition.  Many of them are transitioning from the son or daughter who lives in the parents’ home.  At college, they are on their own---some of them for the first time in their lives.  They are now more free to become the person they want to be.

It was the last idea in Glenn’s title that challenged me.  Do I even know what a post-human world means?  I have heard of a post-Christian world and charges that America is now post-Christian.  While this is debatable, I know the debate is whether our country is functionally Christian any more?  Clearly, our country was for much of our history.  But post-human, that was a new one for me.

I get a clue what Glenn is up to when I got into some of the details of the article.  He claims, “It appears we have entered into the ever-changing, ever-challenging world of the post-human and post-humanism.  The world of the human and humanism was understood as the place where human beings were recognized as the pinnacle of all creation, the finest and most perfect of all beings.”  This description fits very well the impression I took from my Sunday school days.  Humans were the top dogs of the created world.  In some real sense, humans were the reason the world was created.

The post-human world understands humans have a place in the world, but we are not top dogs.  We are just part of a larger picture.  Glenn also adds the emphasis upon technology as a shaper of identity.  In fact, he argues, technology is creating worlds most of us have no clue how to navigate.  But often the younger ones do know how to navigate these new worlds.  Are they becoming different kinds of people---having a different kind of identity than those of us who are more pre-techies?

I do think there is something to this. I have read some studies that suggest people who spend ample time on computers playing games, etc. so seem to have their brains wired a little differently.  It also seems true that some folks who are electronically addicted spend much less time in personal interaction.  Sitting in a coffee shop having a conversation is not the same as relating to others via Twitter or Facebook.

Put simply, I think it can be argued that how we are with each other determines in part who we are.  This does have implications for understanding humans in spiritual terms.  And specifically, those of us who take seriously the biblical account that human beings are children of God may have to think about this in new ways.

I join the chorus of spiritual people who want to affirm that humans are created in the image of God.  Of course, I don’t take that literally.  God does not look like me.  The image of God in which I am created is spiritual; it is invisible.  But I do make that image visible in the ways of love and act.  In the old days that would have been called the godly life.

The way I connect this to Glenn’s idea that we now live in a post-human world is not to assume we are not humans any longer.  We have not become sub-human.  What is at stake is our sense of being humans in a bigger world and universe than we ever were able to conceive.  Humans have not been demoted.  We simply have been put in our place.

I covet the idea that I am created in the image of God.  Frankly I don’t care whether I am the center of the universe or if I am marginal and at the edge of the picture.  My goal is not to be king of the world.  My hope is to be a member of the kingdom of God.  If I can become a kingdom-participant, I will have fulfilled God’s dream for me: to have become a child of God. 

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