Digital Technology Unleashes Spiritual Warfare On The Human Soul

In the age of digital technology, we’re facing a profound battle for the human soul. Luke Burgis, reflecting on his experience in a monastery in Umbria, Italy, shares insights into how technology is reshaping our spiritual lives. During a retreat, the abbot noticed novices bringing stacks of books into the chapel, a habit that began in the mid-2000s, coinciding with the rise of computers and smartphones. The abbot suspected that this behavior reflected a deeper issue: people were beginning to approach prayer like they do computers, needing constant input to feel productive.

Technology, while capable of solving many global issues, should not be our model for living. Burgis’s experience of going to the chapel empty-handed led to a painful yet purifying silence, highlighting how deeply a calculating, computer-like mindset can affect our souls. The more we imitate machines, the more we risk losing our uniquely human faculties.

As Psalm 115 warns, “Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them.” Humans, skilled imitators by nature, are now turning to their devices for models of desire, a concept explored by René Girard. We no longer just imitate fellow humans; we mimic our devices. This shift is problematic, as it obscures our ability to distinguish the fully human from the subhuman.

Dr. Andrew Meltzoff’s “like me” theory of infant imitation suggests that from birth, children naturally imitate other humans. However, this may be changing as adults increasingly mimic technological behaviors. General Jim Mattis once said, “PowerPoint makes us stupid,” noting that it stifles critical thinking. Similarly, Instagram has been shown to worsen mental health issues, making reality harder to grasp for its users. The prevalence of digital pornography also influences real-world behaviors, highlighting how consumption shapes our reality.

The lines between reality and mediated reality are blurring. Aristotle’s concept of technē, the technical, distinguished human-made objects from nature, which possesses its own life principle. Modern technology, however, blurs these lines, leading to confusion about human nature itself. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt predicted that the internet would “vanish” into everyday life, creating an all-encompassing cage as described by philosopher Martin Heidegger.

Yuval Noah Harari’s view of humanity evolving into a techno-species aiming to conquer death reflects a misunderstanding of human nature. The real challenge is not to upgrade ourselves but to rediscover what we truly want. This requires rejecting mediocre models of humanity and adopting new, inspiring ones.

To combat this spiritual warfare, we need to embrace an anti-mimetic approach, seeking models of humanity at its best, grounded in a vision that spans both future and past. Our true models should never be the work of human hands but should inspire us to achieve our highest potential.