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Ethics and Religion Talk: Are Technological Innovations Forbidden Until Religiously Approved?

We are in the midst of a technological evolution that is almost overwhelming in its speed. I curious to know if each innovation or invention is reviewed by religious leaders who then pronounce whether their adherents should indulge or not.

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“Ethics and Religion Talk,” answers questions of ethics or religion from a multi-faith perspective. Each post contains three or four responses to a reader question from a panel of nine diverse clergy from different religious perspectives, all based in the Grand Rapids area. It is the only column of its kind. No other news site, religious or otherwise, publishes a similar column.

The first five years of columns, published in the Grand Rapids Press and MLive, are archived at More recent columns can be found on by searching for the tag “ethics and religion talk.”

We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up on the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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Fred Stella, the Pracharak (Outreach Minister) for the West Michigan Hindu Temple, responds:

Within Hindu circles there are very robust conversations about the technological innovations that abound. If you are not aware, Indian-Americans (who are usually Hindu) are at the forefront of these industries.  But it’s important to note that these discussions do not originate from the top down. Religious leaders influence adherents in core values. How this translates to particular matters evolves from these conversations within the community.

Rev. Salvatore Sapienza, the Senior Pastor at Douglas Congregational United Church of Christ in Saugatuck/Douglas, responds:

Without technology, I don’t know what our churches would have done during the COVID pandemic lockdown. Online worship services on YouTube, announcements on Facebook, and Bible studies on Zoom kept our congregations connected during the time when our church buildings were closed.

Even now when we’ve resumed to in-person services, most churches have maintained their online worship, as well. The upside is that people from all over the world are now participating in our Sunday services and weekly classes, and they’re even tithing, too, thanks to online giving. Therefore, we churches should be extremely grateful for all the technology at our fingertips.

Like with most things, however, there is also a downside to technology, especially when it comes to our mental health. Though we can’t control the speed of this technological evolution, we can control the amount of time we stay connected to it. 

During the season of Lent, our church encouraged “fasting” from technology for at least one day each week. The goal was to “unplug” our devices so that we could more fully “plug into” the presence of God.  

The Reverend Colleen Squires, minister at All Souls Community Church of West Michigan, a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, responds:

As far as I am aware, technological evolution happens without any religious oversight. Which I believe is completely appropriate. Technology advancement is largely seen as a secular endeavor. 

When it comes to new technological advances associated with a medical procedure it may go before a hospital medical ethics committee which often has some clergy representation on the panel. Clergy serve on these committees because sometimes the ethical questions deal with matters of life and death. 

Rev. Ray Lanning, a retired minister of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, responds:

Very few Reformed or Presbyterian ministers are qualified by training to review or assess modern technological innovations or inventions. Most of us have had to overcome technophobia and acquire a working knowledge of computers, cell phones, etc., albeit reluctantly. In the past religious leaders have protested various advances such steam railways or motion pictures. Some even felt it was wrong to preach over the radio because the Bible says that Satan is “the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). The Westminster Confession of Faith asserts the liberty of Christians and the rights of conscience (Chapter XX), so no Presbyterian minister has power to command or forbid the members of his congregation in matters not expressly commanded or forbidden in Scripture. He can offer his own opinions, or make recommendations, but only as such. He can also point to any part of God’s Word that may bear on decisions or choices which all Christians must then make for themselves.

My response:

There are some very insular parts of the Jewish community which discourage or forbid certain kinds of technology to reduce or eliminate the possibility of coming in contact with images or video they find objectionable or even just to reduce potential points of contact outside of their part of the Jewish community.

Most of the Jewish community, however, doesn’t look at the technology itself as potentially forbidden, but might be concerned with whether the technology may be used on the Sabbath, whether it might affect observance of Jewish dietary laws (Kashrut).

One example: There is fairly wide agreement among Sabbath-observant people that using a gasoline powered-engine is a violation of the Sabbath restriction against lighting fires. There is a certain number of such people who will use electricity and battery-powered devices, because no actual fire is generated. Those people are now wondering about the status of electric vehicles on the Sabbath.

Another example: The technology of generating cell reproduction using stem cells has led to the creation of cultured meat, grown from the cells of animals. It is real animal tissue derived from an animal, but it never was an actual animal and its production did not lead to the suffering or death of an animal. Kosher-keeping Jews are now wondering if such a product is kosher and whether it has the same status as animal flesh (and thus cannot be eaten with dairy products) or whether they way it is produced gives it a non-animal, non-meat status.


This column answers questions of Ethics and Religion by submitting them to a multi-faith panel of spiritual leaders in the Grand Rapids area. We’d love to hear about the ordinary ethical questions that come up in the course of your day as well as any questions of religion that you’ve wondered about. Tell us how you resolved an ethical dilemma and see how members of the Ethics and Religion Talk panel would have handled the same situation. Please send your questions to [email protected].

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