religion and technology
, this excerpt from Lynn White Jr's collection of essays, Medieval Religion and Technology
draws an interesting relationship between theology and technological development in the West,
The cumulative effect of the newly available animal, water, and wind power upon the culture of Europe has not been carefully studied. But from the twelth and even from the eleventh century there was a rapid replacement of human by non-human energy wherever great quantitites of power were needed or where the required motion was so simple and monotonous that a man could be replaced by a mechanism. The chief glory of the later Middle Ages was not its cathedrals or its epics or its scholasticism: it was the building for the first time in history of a complex civilization that rested not on the backs of sweating slaves or coolies but primarily on non-human power.
The study of medieval technology is therefore far more than an aspect of economic history: it reveals a chapter in the conquest of freedom. More than that, it was part of the history of religion. The humanitarian technology which our modern world has inherited from the Middle Ages was not rooted in economic necessity; for this 'necessity' is inherent in every society, yet has found inventive expression only in the Occident, nurtured in the activist or voluntarist tradition of Western theology. It is ideas which make necessity conscious. The labor-saving power machines of the later Middle Ages were produced by the implicit theological assumption of the infinite worth of even the most degraded human personality, by an instinctive repugnance towards subjecting any man to a monotonous drudgery which seems less than human in that it requires the exercise neither of the intelligence nor of choice. It has often been remarked that the Latin Middle Ages first discovered the dignity and spiritual value of labor -- that to labor is to pray. But the Middle Ages went further: they gradually and very slowly began to explore the practical implications of an essantially Christian paradox: that just as the Heavenly Jerusalem contains no temple, so the goal of labor is to end labor.