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Computers and Theology

Posted on: September 09, 2018

Category: Theology

Computers and Theology

Quest Thoughts: Computers and Theology

I am no expert when it comes to computers. I wish I knew a lot more about programming than I do. I can build a computer, and I have built several computers myself. This might sound impressive except that building a computer is like putting Lego pieces together. It’s really very easy.

One thing I have learned on the technical side is the difference between what is called BIOS and UEFI. BIOS means Basic In/Out System. It is the first program that runs when you start a computer. It tells the computer where to find the operating system, which is normally on the hard drive.

BIOS, though, is the old system, and it is limited. It is found on a sector of the hard drive called the Master Boot Record (MBR). It works with 16-bit entries, which limits the amount of instruction it can give and the size of the hard drive you can use.

UEFI is newer (it was used only on Mac’s, and now it’s used on both Mac’s and PC’s). It is found on your hard drive, but it uses 64-bit entries. Windows 8 and 10 use UEFI in place of the old BIOS. UEFI is a file on your hard drive ending with .efi. It can do a lot more sophisticated things when your computer starts up. Though it is not really noticeable, UEFI makes your computer more secure, and it can support a much, much larger hard disk.

My comments are basically correct, but not nearly as accurate as a real tech person could make.

I recently built a computer and had to deal with the difference between BIOS and UEFI. The operating system I am using on the computer is a 32-bit operating system; it was built to use BIOS. The new computer's hardware (parts) are built to use UEFI. I had to learn to tell UEFI to use its “legacy mode” so that – at startup - it would pretend to be BIOS, recognize the hard drive, and start the operating system. Strangely, this made me think of theology.

I notice, in my life, that I often must talk with others about theology in “legacy mode.” This happens when in a discussion I must use old theology words, like revelation or Word of God or the Gospel (with a capital G), to make sense to my interlocutor. I find it difficult to use old words and to operate in legacy mode when explaining myself. Invariably people who still operate with a “BIOS” theology think that people like me who have a “UEFI” theology are atheists. The old words, I find, are limiting, and they do not allow very much space for subtle or more complex ideas. The old words, like revelation, depend upon an old worldview to make sense. When we talk about revelation, for example, we are “booting up,” so to speak, a three-tiered universe (one with a clear division between up and down and between divinity and nature). It’s like booting up your theology in BIOS. You can’t really do anything complicated.

I wish I did not have to use “legacy mode” in theology. I wish I could simply say what I wanted to say without worrying about my church, my colleagues, or my various oversight committees getting upset about something I said. I would like theology to be part of the twenty-first century and operate without a three-tiered universe in play.

Then I started thinking that legacy mode has its value. Even though it must communicate with what is out of date and limiting, legacy mode does allow some things to work. After all, the operating system I am using on my new computer needs “legacy mode” to be activated in order to work. I may not like it personally, but sometimes legacy mode is needed to communicate effectively with others and to be heard.

With the university term starting up this week and with many students visiting my office, I had to use legacy mode to talk with students who come from evangelical backgrounds. The students are not used to theology being about questions; they are used to theology being about authority. Like with a BIOS system, a few simple rules suffice. But if legacy mode is used, the BIOS system can be introduced to UEFI and can see that there is a larger horizon to take in. Instead of using words like “revelation” as if revelation is a fact, we can help someone see that revelation is not about facts. If we engage theology in legacy mode, we can build a bridge to the other side and invite someone to cross over to a more complex and nuanced religious operating system. Words like revelation, as an example, express principles like justice. They do not relay technical information about nature or humankind. Revelation really means, in a UEFI way, “I have a dream.” It does not mean, in a BIOS way, “I know a fact.”

Human beings need dreams, inspiring dreams, to live with a sense of meaning and to hold intention for their lives. Dreams are complex, and there is no simple formula for making them come true. We can dream about a world of equality and justice, and we all know that we need the dream. Still, that world will not come about unless we live and work for its arrival. The BIOS people in theology, it seems to me, do not have enough memory to hold that dream, so BIOS theology places the dream in heaven for a time after we die. A UEFI theologian does not do this. The dream is the reality of life on earth now. However, to get a dream out of heaven and placed on earth, sometimes the UEFI theologian needs to use legacy mode to get the point across.

By David Galston

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