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Jens Zimmermann on Upcoming Series: Human Flourishing in a Technological Age

January 18, 2021
"My hope is for people to rediscover that being human is a vocation."

This winter, J.I. Packer Professor of Theology Jens Zimmermann is hosting a semester-long online public lecture series called Human Flourishing in a Technological Age. This series is being offered in conjunction with Dr. Zimmermann's winter seminar course and his ongoing Human Flourishing Project. We recently chatted with him to find out more about this lecture series and his work in the area of Christian humanism.

Tell us a bit about the Human Flourishing Project: How did it come about, and how does it connect to the previous work you've done regarding Christian humanism?

The Human Flourishing Project grew directly out of my research in Christian humanism. Christian humanism is basically the Christian answer to the question, “What does it mean to be a human being?” Christians have always looked to God becoming human—to the incarnation—to answer this question. 

Early Christian theologians argued that in becoming human, the Second Person of the Trinity assumed a particular human body, truly becoming a particular human being. How this can be is a great mystery, of course, but the incarnation became the starting point for working out important truths about human identity. For example, without the incarnation, we would have never arrived at the modern concept of personhood. The idea that a person is an enspirited body, irreducible to either flesh or spirit, developed out of the Christian belief that in Jesus, humanity and divinity were united in one unique person. Without this concept, we would not have the emphasis on personal dignity and human rights that are foundational to modern societies. The early church also believed that God’s becoming human was the means of salvation. In Jesus, God summed up or recapitulated all of humanity in order to show us the perfect human being, the true image of God. So early Christian humanists believed that by sharing in Christ’s humanity we could become truly human by becoming like him in charity and immortality. 

The connection between this Christian humanism and the Human Flourishing Project is not hard to see: today we look to technology for our salvation. We think technology will help us overcome disease, will cure us of social ills, and—if you believe transhumanists—even make us immortal. Once I saw this connection, I assembled an interdisciplinary group of scholars to discuss our human identity and how technology shapes our self-perception. For example, how does technology change our understanding of aging, or of suffering? The lectures given in this course are the result of this three-year-long research project.

Humanism is a hot topic right now. In what ways do you feel that this project, specifically as it pertains to Christian humanism, is important for the broader Christian community? Why should this matter to the church?

I think this project should matter not only to the church but also to the broader culture—that is, to anyone concerned about what it means to be human. I don’t think technology discriminates between users. Fundamentalist Christians and dogged secularists both carry iPhones, right? Christians and non-Christians use dating apps, don’t they? Technology, of course, can be very helpful. No one disputes that. However, we currently experience an unprecedented pervasive tech presence in every nook and cranny of our lives. I think we are turning too much into tech-chauvinists, thinking that there is a technological solution for human problems. Therefore, we don’t even notice how we begin to view every problem in terms of technology. I think it is time for both Christian and secular humanists to collaborate in preserving human dignity and freedom from the many ways, both subtle and obvious, in which it is being undermined by technology. 

What do you hope people will glean from this lecture series, especially at this particular cultural moment?

I want people to think critically about technology and rediscover the rich heritage we have, in both theology and philosophy, for understanding our human identity.

Our speakers are seasoned, well-respected scholars who will offer us insights into different crucial areas affected by technology. My hope is for people to rediscover that being human is a vocation. For Christians, and members of other religions, this vocation is to become like God in loving others and caring for the world. Yet even non-Christians can agree that being human is becoming human in the pursuit of what is true, noble, good, and beautiful. Becoming human takes effort. But all too often, technology promises that we can become human without much effort—and, therefore, we become something else in the process. If people start thinking about that, and what a healthy, truly humane society might look like, then this lecture series will have been successful. 

You can find out more and register for the lectures here.

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