What bothers me is how his name gets used as a talisman to ward off evil technology but I am convinced he is more referred to than read. I admit I find much of what I have tried to read of his tedious and I am put off with how he seems to have a knack for highlighting the wrong technologies (I think it is the beginning of The Technological Bluff where he reveals how amazing he thinks lasers are).
However, Ellul is a pivot point in the literature on technology, he mounts a serious intellectual argument against technique in general and from that particular technologies from a Christian point of view - gathering together the loose threads that have gone before him. After Ellul those that are against technology at the very least start with Ellul (and Heidegger), the former for Christians might be okay the latter I find much more troubling.
So to Ellul. What was the premise of his arguments. Where can we begin in digestible format finds keys to his thinking. We actually start with two interesting articles.
Vanderburg, W. (2010) 'How the Science Versus Religion Debate Has Missed the Point of Genesis 1 and 2: Jacques Ellul (1912-1994)' Bulletin of Science Technology & Society 30: 430-445. This is a journal article of Ellul's writings from a book of material that Vanderburg has translated from Ellul. The second I will introduce later.
(In this Case Vanderburg is the translator - the text belongs to Ellul) I can't do justice to Ellul by trying to paraphrase so I will quote at length.
(pp431ff) Before we begin the study of the text, I would like to make two remarks. First, we have become accustomed to thinking that the creation story is so fundamental that the Jews put it first. Commonly referred to as the doctrine of creation, this text is thus thought of as the decisive point of departure of Jewish thought. However, the most recent studies of this thinking, which occurred between the eighth and seventh centuries b.c. (the text is thought to have been written during the seventh century), show that this is simply not the case. There was no ‘problem’ of creation requiring an extensive discussion. The most important given, functioning as a point of departure for Jewish thought, was the salvation of humanity and the covenant with Israel. They began with salvation, and because they learned that humanity was saved, they asked questions such as, Saved from what? Were they saved from death, from evil, or from something else? How did this whole situation develop? In other words, their train of thought went in the opposite direction to the one we are accustomed to. They did not begin with a theory of creation, to come to the recognition that because humanity is separated from God
it is lost and thus in need of salvation, which in turn requires a saviour, an election, a covenant, and so on. Jewish thought developed in the opposite direction, working back from where they were. This helps to explain why the text is in fact posterior to most of the accounts in the Pentateuch (the five books of Moses). My second remark is that we must be mindful of the purpose of this text when we seek to understand it. It is not a question of these texts explaining how the world was created. That is not its objective, ...
(pp436ff) Compared to the diversity of animals, there are no differentiated groups of people. Humanity is a single and unique animal, while the other animals are a plurality of
sorts. The difference stems from humanity being created in the image of God (or in the form, or likeness of God). This brings me to the question of the image of God, about
which libraries full of books have been written. What does the text mean when it says that Elohim created Adam (humanity) ‘in our image?’ What is so strange is that the word ‘image’ has been interpreted independently from the rest of the text. Commentators have zeroed in on this word ‘image’ and attempted to analyse in what way people are the image of God. In traditional Catholic theology, humanity is in the image of God either because of the existence of a free will or because of their intelligence. Sometimes, but principally in Orthodox theology, it is held that humanity is in the image of God because it is the microcosm of God the macrocosm. God is seen as the All, of which humanity is the microcosm and the reflection. For Calvin, the image of God means to be endowed with a personality: as persons they are the image of God. I believe that to sort this out, one has to stick to the text. Verse 27 clearly states: ‘Elohim created humanity in his image (or in his form), in the image of Elohim he created him (or her), male and female he created them.’ It cannot be more straightforward: what is the image of God in this text is that he is man and woman. That is the image of God. However, this is not first and foremost a question of sexuality, but of his being two in one. The text is intriguing: ‘Elohim created humanity, Adam’ (which is in the singular) ‘in his form/image, in the form of Elohim he created him (or her)’ (in the singular), which is followed by: ‘male and female he created them’ (in the plural). Because there is no punctuation, the Hebrew text could also be read as follows: ‘In the image of Elohim he created him (or her) male and female. He created them.’ So he creates him (male and female), and he creates them afterwards. In what way is this the image of God? Recall that Elohim is a plural singular, that is, the name Elohim is a plural which grammatically is always treated as a singular.
Hence, God is several in one. Humanity is the only being created as one person separated into two forms. This, I believe, is what the text tells us. This raises the question of what the relationship is between these two who are one. It can only be love. The relationship
between man and woman is love, which expresses the fundamental relation, as Jesus puts it later, that the two will not be two but become one. Here we are faced with something complex because this love is, at the same time and in inseparable ways, a sexual and physical love and a spiritual love of the entire being. The Bible does not distinguish between these two elements. Hence, the image of God is love; and this corresponds
exactly to what the text has already taught us in speaking of Elohim. God is love. When we spoke about this plurality within the unity of God, we were in effect saying
that the only relationship is that of love. I believe this is a vision of the image of God as love, and the love of a man and a woman as two in one. It is in accordance with this
vision that all of humanity and all human beings should conduct themselves. I will return to this question of the image of God; and we will also see that in Hebrew Adam is a collective name. It is therefore not a question of a single man and a single woman, from which the rest of humanity has descended. Adam could be translated as ‘humanity,’ understood through this vision of love...
Humanity is therefore both an autonomous and a non-autonomous being, and in the same vein, perfect and imperfect. Humanity is autonomous in being free, because he-and-she is the image of God and thus necessarily free. (Freedom is a prerequisite for love). At the same time, humanity is not autonomous, because he-and-she is image. Here I return to what I mentioned before, namely, that the principal orientation of this text is to remind us of the ambiguity of humanity. Humanity is free and not free at the same time: free because humanity is an image of God, and not free because humanity is an image.
The ambiguity of humanity is also confirmed by observing that each time God creates something during the preceding days he proclaims, ‘Here is the good.’ However, following the creation of humanity God does not say this, and this is the only exception. A radical difference is thus established: humanity is not the good. Humanity is not good in him-and-herself. All this fits with the thrust of the text: humanity is independent and free, and thus neither good nor evil in itself.
(pp439ff) God’s decision to rest takes place within history. The implication is clear: it leaves humanity its freedom in history. God stops acting in order not to interfere in the activities of humanity. Once again, this revelation is fundamental and decisive with respect to all other religions because of this difference. As soon as God has created humanity as the element that brings love and implies freedom within this world of harmony, he will not constrain what he has created to be free.So to be clear then, it appears that for Ellul the 'image' language is purely and only relational - it has no meaning other than love. It doesn't appear that image has maybe more implications - it only has one! Now to be clear, this reading of Ellul is terribly interesting but it is not the only way to read Genesis - apart from the natural language approach we all gravitate to with the Bible in our own language. Rikk Watts, for example, places special emphasis on how the imagery of Genesis must be read (as Ellul actually alludes to as well) in the context of the other Near East stories. Watts points out in particular that the imagery is very similar to idols in the temple/palaces of the people around Israel. But God in the Jewish version is placing his idol in his temple - rather than the other way around. But what is important is that this gives meaning to the function of humanity - we are to provide for the ordering of creation under the King - humanity is the vice-regents of God. [Watts, R. (2002) The New Exodus/New Creational Restoration of The Image of God in Stackhouse, J. What does it mean to be saved. Baker Academic. Grand Rapids.]
But we can analyse Ellul further, we can find the source of his belief that without the fall (which he understands theologically not literally we would not have techniques of any kind including technology. Ellul, J. (1984) “Technique and the Opening Chapters of Genesis.”
(pp125) And, of course, as the preceding text shows, whoever says "work"means "technique." The assumption that there was work in thegarden of Eden leads to an assumption that there was technique.Adam was an inventor and a technician in Eden. As people havecomplained to me: "If Adam was commanded to cultivate, what didhe do it with - except with tools?' ,...We do have one certainty: creation as God made it, as it left hishands, was perfect and finished. "And God saw everything that hehad made, and behold, it was very good" (Genesis 1:31). "Godfinished his work ..." (Genesis 2:2). Provided that we take thesetexts as they stand, we have to recognize that God's work wasaccomplished, that it was complete, that there was nothing to add.This does not mean that a static situation was created in whichnot.hing changed. There was certainly change, according to theinternal rhythm of creation, as is in fact indicated. There was,however, no imaginable progress; there was no change derivingfrom a third party. What would progress mean, since everything wasperfect?
Perhaps God did call man to a certain collaboration, but it was by no means creative. It was only a matter of accomplishing the will of God, of fitting into the order of creation, of being vis-a-vis God, the image of God. This collaboration was such that it had nothing in common with any work we are able to imagine. Man worked in creation without completing it, without expanding it, without making something new, but only living within this perfection.
(pp126) Within creation there was work without necessity (Adam would not die of hunger if he stopped working) I work without finality, without production. It was not work to gather a surplus, to make a living, to produce: it was work for nothing.
(pp127) Why then did Adam work? There is only one reason that should appear compelling and sufficient-because God told him to do so.
(p129) Furthermore, let us note that those who hold to the idea of technique in Eden and say that, for cultivation, it was necessary to have a tool, should not stop when they are doing so well. For alas, our text does not say only' 'to cultivate" but it says to cultivate and to guard. Therefore, we have to conclude that if Adam needed tools for cultivation, then he also needed weapons for guarding. The two things are identical. If Adam's world was the point of departure, the beginning and the justification of technique, then his mission to guard was the point of departure, the beginning and the justification for police and armies. Is this not unlikely? It could not be more so. And if we reject weapons then we have to reject tools as well.
(p130) When Adam named a plant, for example, he would not call it "crucifer" because it exhibited such and such characteristics, and plants exhibiting all these characteristics were of such and such a family, etc. He conferred on it a destiny to fulfill before God. Master of creation by and for God, in naming the animals, Adam thuspresented them to God. He was free to do so.
And now it remains for me to beg the reader not to have me say what I did not say. I did not say that technique is a fruit of sin. I did not say that technique.is contrary 1;0 the will of God. I did not say that technique in itself is evil. I said only that technique is not a prolongation of the Edenic creation, that it is not a compliance of man to a vocation which was given to him by God, that it is not the fruit of the first nature of Adam. It is the product of the situation in which sin has put man j it is inscribed exclusively in the fallen world; it is uniquely part of this fallen world; it is a product of necessity and not of human freedom.
Ellul as an extremely logical thinker follows an explicit line of reasoning and therefore it is possible to find the crucial 'hinge' points in the argument where disagreements make profound differences.
There are at least 2 of these points in the papers above.
A. I believe that to sort this out, one has to stick to the text. Verse 27 clearly states: ‘Elohim created humanity in his image (or in his form), in the image of Elohim he created him (or her), male and female he created them.’ It cannot be more straightforward: what is the image of God in this text is that he is man and woman. That is the image of God. .. that there is a relationship and love at the centre of the mystery of humanity.
Much of the selected writings collected in the first journal article by Vanderburg emphasises that we can not read into the Genesis story anything about the science of the creation event as the text says nothing about this. Genesis is the theology of creation; we were made for a purpose by a creator and that has implications for how we live. We can apply the same standard to the question of 'image'. While other writers have inferred from the context of other near east writings that image is a big concept we would not even need this information. The Bible is not a text book of our attitudes to sociology or technology, even if the the writer wanted us to understand the importance of humanity as a set of relationships, its quietness on a topic is not the absence of meaning. The text maybe silent simply because it has other purposes. Applying Ellul's own standard would force us to ask is it reading too much into the text to say 'image' only means one thing.
B. Therefore, we have to conclude that if Adam needed tools for cultivation, then he also needed weapons for guarding.
This it seems is a really fundamental point for Ellul. But there is a massive assumption here. Guarding automatically means guarding from terrors from without - enemies at the gate. But as Ellul points out this is a ridiculous concept for Eden. However, there is a meaning that Ellul fails to even consider. The enemy within. Man even in freedom in cultivating can overstep the boundaries and destroy the garden. Cultivate and keep - create but not fall into greed. Garden but not just for our purpose you must also consider all the species of the garden - a message we still need to hear.
Cultivate and guard the garden from your own ability to destroy it - is surely a possible meaning of the text.
For me these are crucial points at which the assumptions and arguments of Ellul break down, Ellul is not infallible and it is possible he was wrong. The same standard to me.
My other arguments concerning this work of Ellul are:
1. In the first reading Ellul highlights than Humanity has a rather ambiguous place - he is free but his freedom rests on imaging God. (pp439ff) God’s decision to rest takes place within history. The implication is clear: it leaves humanity its freedom in history. God stops acting in order not to interfere in the activities of humanity. If there is no creativity in that picture - as Ellul ruled that out in the second reading then truly there is not much freedom for man except to go off the rails. However, in ambiguity there is also uncertainty and thus to absolutely rule out possibilities seems to be a challenge.
2. A number of Biblical scholars would dispute the conclusion that 'it is very good' means 'perfect' - finished complete - as we moderns understand that term. Creation may have been finished but that is far from excluding the possibility of change and new creations.
3. Even if that were not the case, the story of God himself reveals he has a passion for design. The Tent of Meeting and The Temple did not emerge from the ideas of men they were the designs of Yahweh himself. Read the end of Job or the new city in Revelation - we worship a God who like a fine craftsman loves to design and build.
4. Finally, let us examine the very end of the Bible to see what light it might shed on what perfection may look like.
TOur Bibles have God taking on a city for his dwelling - not a garden and then notice that the city has open gates through which the nations bring their splendor (creations perhaps).
All this seems to indicate a God with expansive views of creation where even the end is just the beginning. Perhaps our God in creating an entirely inconceivably massive universe has grand designs. Is that too big a God to believe in?