Faith Matters: Ancient wisdom for modern (technological) times

  • Jan Flaska stands in front of Deerfield Academy in Old Deerfield, where Flaska is the dean of ethical and spiritual life. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life
Published: 2/3/2017 8:45:25 PM

(Editor's note: The following is a submission to The Recorder's weekly column, “Faith Matters.” Each Saturday, a different faith leader in Franklin County offers a personal perspective in this space. To become part of this series, email or call 413-772-0261, ext. 265.)


Dean of Spiritual and Ethical Life

Idioms are those wonderful snapshots of culture, where ideas are conveyed in a particular language and whose meaning is, at best, elusive in translation. In an identity heavily influenced by the Christian spiritual endeavor, and notably manifest on the national flag, an illustrative Slovak expression warns, “nemaluj čerta na stenu”: Don’t paint the image of the devil on the wall. Worth heeding today, in one application it is a reminder of the dangers associated with the posting of embarrassing ideas and photos on social media: they remain there in perpetuity.

For the nearly 4 billion folks that find germane wisdom in the Judeo-Christian-Islamic faith scriptures, they can be thankful that our human ancestors already anticipated the ubiquitous global conquest of the iPhone and related technology (it is worth mentioning that even Abraham would have wanted his Samsung Galaxy replaced). God’s message to Mohammad, in the 7th century, prepared countless generations to not only find customs to simplify their lives through efficient practices and technological advances, but also to read the Qur’an in ways that are “[most] easy for you” (73:1-8; 20). Got Google, God? Amin!

Perhaps the most foreboding and salient story, though, brings us to Noah’s tent, and notifies the reader that voyeurism is not new, but making it permanent record in the Cloud is. Human failings abound in the Bible, and even a postdiluvian setting, with a renewed Covenant, quickly devolves into a lesson on immorality. Ham, that fraternal rascal as one of three sons of Noah, stumbles upon his father’s drunken and naked body, “[laying] uncovered in his tent,” after a night of consumption of wine from the fruits of the first vineyard to rise from the recently flooded soil. In modern terms, Ham saw, snapped and shared the image. In contrast, his brothers, Japheth and Shem, “turned away their faces… and covered the nakedness of their father.” These two boys refused to record the scene, and certainly did not “like” or share the image that Ham provided. When Noah went to Facebook and saw himself lying there, with his bare backside up, he pronounced an eternal curse on Ham (Gen. 9:20-27). Needless to say, when Ham now applies for jobs, a simple search of his name on the Web reveals this curse, and certainly compromises his candidacy for employment.

The great questions of human civilization are timeless — they have been asked for tens of thousands of years, in different settings and by different beings. Today’s concern, as to how one should act when one is acting under a perceived veil of anonymity, is no different. Similarly, the answer is discerned by invoking another universally applicable idiom: Experience is the father of wisdom. I would even invite us to accept this claim on more literal terms: When it comes to cyber postings and cyber sharing, would your parents approve? Again, we look to the wisdom of the ancients: “A wise child makes a glad father, but a foolish child is a mother’s grief” (Prov 10:1).

Noah, the ancestral dad, did not approve.


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