Modern Technology within the Western Theological Imaginary

Neil Turnbull


In this paper, I claim that modern technology possesses certain general ‘onto-formative’ characteristics that indicate that our contemporary technological condition now defies orthodox theoretical forms of comprehension. In the light of this claim, I will propose that any adequate conceptual understanding of modern technics requires a decisive shift of disciplinary register: specifically, towards theology and to the formation of new philosophical paradigms founded upon metaphysically-inspired interpretations of the ‘total significance’ of modern technics. Such theological conceptions, I will argue, emerge from a startling recognition of modern technics’ incipient association with the infinite, the transcendent as well as with its capacity to “bring new worlds into existence”. I attempt this, in the first instance, by drawing upon the work of two major thinkers who I believe paved the way towards just such a theological conception: Martin Heidegger and Ernst Jünger. In a non-standard interpretation of their respective philosophies of technology, I will go on to claim that these two thinkers should be viewed as attempting to find a way towards a “radically conservative” revalorisation of ancient theological truths that they believed could provide 20th century modernity with the philosophical groundwork for a new techno-political order that they posited in contrast to a dying Platonic-Christian civilisation. For both of these thinkers a theological understanding of modern technics created the possibility of a new spiritual condition/zeitgeist where the very idea of modern technology is rearticulated as the focal point of a post-Platonic-Christian social imaginary that they believed to be revolutionary in its necessarily destructive relationship to extant historical worlds and their corresponding traditions. By these lights, I suggest, that modern social imaginary can only be con conceived within a new theological synthesis that transcends the Platonic/Christian dichotomy of techne and theoria - of the worker and the philosopher/priest - in a way that allows for the poetic root of both to be revealed in its primal, world-constituting, form. I will conclude with a brief comparison between these ‘pagan’ conceptions of technology and contemporary Christian theological conceptions which have been acutely aware of the highly ambiguous position of modern technics within Christian metaphysical schemes and the need to reform these in the light the manifestly destructive potential of modern forms of technological innovation.


Technics; modernity; theology; radical conservatism; Christianity; Platonism; myth

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