Throughout written history, primitive and technologically stagnant civilizations slavishly hold superstitious beliefs and practices while advanced and technologically dynamic civilizations cast aside such superstitions as irrational or unnecessary. When an advanced civilization meets a primitive civilization, conflict often arises, as the primitive civilization rejects the technologically enhanced knowledge of the advanced civilization as some false or disordered superstition. The Jesuits report a conflict of this kind in their relations written during the French Colonization of Canada between 1617 and 1791. Desiring to spread the Catholic faith and learn more about the American Indians, the Jesuits found themselves in direct conflict with the Indian medicine men during an outbreak of those European diseases to which the Indians were extremely susceptible. The medicine-men used lies and tricks to maintain or increase control over the tribe during these outbreaks and the Jesuits often stepped in to stop the ridiculous ceremonies in order to administer real treatment and prove the claims of the medicine-men false. In one account, a Jesuit tried to give orders for the treatment of an Indian child suffering from a fever. The medicine-man who was present said, “That is very good for you people but, for us, it is thus that we cure our sick” and proceeded to beat a tambourine and blow all over the child’s body. The parents of the child, however, took into account the priest’s recommendations and, upon the child’s recovery, came and thanked him for his help Using more advanced medical treatments, the Jesuits discounted the superstitions on which the power and control of the medicine-men relied, weakening and embittering them. As seen in this account, technological advance led to the rejection of superstition. However, as superstitions fall by the wayside, an increasingly compelling current of thought forms that all things spiritual, including those which are truly moral and holy, are irrational and only that which can be corroborated through scientific experiment or computation is reasonable. This current of thought questions that very existence of man’s moral dignity which Joseph Ratzinger warns must be defended. Is Ratzinger right in his warning, or is he a medicine-man whom technology will eventually prove wrong?
In the next few blog posts, I will first examine recent technological advances and their possible consequences on the human person, then I will examine whether Ratzinger is a medicine-man who is behind the times or whether he is a prophet seeking to save man from enslaving himself to technology, and finally I will examine some of the consequences that follow from this conclusion.