“Why don’t English women haul water on their heads, like many Indians and Africans?” I asked, in a class in London.
“Because . . . they are lazy,” answered one of my African students.
Actually, the answer is more complicated. I asked because in Uganda I had seen hundreds of women and children hauling water on their heads right next to a hydroelectric plant at the source of the River Nile. The abundance of water and electricity made me wonder why women were bringing water on their heads, morning and evening, 365 days a year. That wasted millions of hours of labour. Worse, it meant eating poorly washed food from badly washed dishes with unwashed hands. That infected people with easily preventable diseases that drained their energy.
By using their minds, a handful of people can supply more water to a million homes than a million people hauling it on their heads.
My experience in Uganda refuted the proverb that “necessity is the mother of invention.” Every family needs water. If a wife cannot bring enough water, men forced their children to work, took additional wives, or bought slaves. They didn’t invent.
Many scholars, such as Stanford’s Professor Lynn White Jr., have documented that humanizing technology came out of biblical theology.
Why did Christian monks develop technology?
Buddhist and Christian monks shared the same problem: they could not take wives to haul their water or grind their grain. Buddhism required monks to beg for their food. But the Bible said that a person who does not work should not eat. [2 Thessalonians 3:10] To work was to be like God. He is a worker, not a dreamer, dancer, or meditator like in some other religions.
But the monks had come to the monastery to pray, not to grind grain. The Bible resolved their tension by distinguishing “work” from “toil.” To work was to be like God, but toil was a curse on human sin. [Genesis 3:17–19].
Toil is mindless, repetitive, dehumanizing labor. This theological distinction between work as godliness and toil as curse enabled Christian monks to realize that human beings should not have to do what wind, water, or horses can do. Creative reason should be used to liberate human beings from the curse of toil.
“Gospel” means good news: sin brought upon us the curse of toil. But the Saviour took our sin, its curse, and punishment upon himself. The Lord Jesus died upon the cross to save us from sin and its consequences, including the curse of toil.
This is in marked contrast to every other worldview, for example Hinduism teaches that this world is Maya, not real; and Buddhism teaches that engaging with this world is the CAUSE of suffering rather than a solution.
Francis Bacon made this point most strongly in his New Science, [Novum Organum , “By the Fall, man fell from both his state of innocence and from his dominion over creation. But even in this life both of those losses can be made good; the former by religion and faith, the later by (technical) arts and sciences.” (Nov. Org. II 52)
The Bible birthed technology in monasteries. The Reformation took it out of that closed environment and taught it to everyone. That made available to the world God’s gracious gift of salvation, including salvation from the curse of toil through humanising technology.