One way to think about the role of Christian faith for [Jacques] Ellul is that it establishes the one indispensable tension that stubbornly reasserts the limits of technical means, as it is the tension for which no technical means can be devised ”” the personal encounter with the sacred Other. Here, dialectic cannot be smoothed out, and any meeting between the two, any real presence ”” in Christ and the Eucharist, in revelation and prayer ”” remains inscrutable, which is a point less apologetic than descriptive.
It is the premise of a dialectic, both in Ellul’s method and in society, that has arguably been the biggest stumbling block for readers of The Technological Society, at least in America. The Anglo-American tradition of analytical reasoning and empirical research in the social sciences is inhospitable to continental European approaches that, as Scott Buchanan explained in his 1962 conference paper, allow for “many-storeyed imagination and speculation.” The American preference for more “scientific” methods in social research renders Ellul’s social analysis hopelessly inadequate and too philosophical. Technique, in this light, is a uselessly vague concept; in its place, we prefer to investigate particular technologies and their effects. And by studying only technologies, it is unlikely that we will recognize a “technological system” of the sort Ellul describes; consequently, no dialectical opposite is needed to confront it, assuming it would be a problem if it existed. These sentiments go a long way toward explaining some of the obstacles The Technological Society has had in reaching a wide and sustained readership. They also help explain why of Ellul’s fifty-some books substantially more of his theological than his sociological ones have been translated into English.
But while America was not exactly fertile ground for Ellul’s argument, it was, at least in Ellul’s own estimation, the soil most thirsty for it as readers recognized their society’s over-commitment to technique.
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