Playing With Fire

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  Episode Transcript  


Is the Internet Spiritually Dangerous?

The internet has been around for a long time now, and everybody knows and pretty much relies on the benefits the internet has brought to the world. But there are also a lot of people who are nervous about the internet and the moral and spiritual threat it poses. 

Sometimes the folks who worry about the internet, or who are constantly harping on about “screen addiction,” just sound prejudiced against technology, or even pretentious, like they just don’t like the internet because everyone else does, and they want to be contrarian and different.

Now we Christians believe that, actually, there’s only one thing that counts as a spiritual evil and that’s sin, and there’s only one thing that counts as a spiritual threat and that’s temptation to sin.

So it might be a good idea to just stop and think about ways in which we make ourselves vulnerable to temptation by the way we use our screens.


Fighting Temptation

Temptation is just an impulse to sin. And when there’s a temptation you suffer from a lot, then you need to figure out how you’re going to fight temptation. And really, the only way to fight temptation, is to put a lot of steps between yourself and the sin you’re tempted to commit. 

So, for instance, if someone suffers from the habitual temptation that is alcoholism and that person has a bottle of whisky in his house, then he’s never going to beat that temptation because it’s often going to happen that there will be a battle between his temptation and his good resolution to stay sober. But if that whiskey is in his house, then the temptation only needs to get the upper hand over his good resolution for a second or two – that’s all it will take before he gets the glass to his lips. And then it’s over.

But if he doesn’t have any liquor in his house, then there will be a lot more steps between him and the sin. He’ll have to get his keys, get in his car, pull out of his driveway, drive to the store, find the bottle, pull out the money, hand the money over to the cashier, get back in the car, drive home, and the whole time his good resolution will be struggling to get the upper-hand again. And if it does, he can turn around, walk out of the store, or even throw the bottle in the trash on the way out.

So if you have a habitual temptation, what you want to do is put a lot of space between you and the sin you’re tempted to commit, which will give your will the time to put that good resolution back in the driver’s seat.

But when you surround yourself with the internet, well then there are a whole lot of sins which now need very few steps and almost no time for you to commit.


The Immediacy of Screens

So the problem with our screens is that they take so many of our temptations and make it possible to gratify them almost instantly.

If you struggle with anger, boom! A few seconds will take you to news sites or Twitter accounts that feed your anger instantly. If you struggle with arrogance, boom! You can google yourself, check responses to your latest posts, or try to gain a little more attention by over-sharing or over-opinionating to the world at large. If you struggle with envy, you can go follow all the people who make you depressed about yourself. If you have a gambling problem or a spending problem, you can burn money instantly, money that should be spent on more important things. If you have a problem with laziness and procrastination or with sloth generally, you can instantly waste your time scrolling YouTube or social media or games or in a hundred other ways. And, of course, if you have a lust problem, a very sizable portion of the internet is dedicated to helping you sin in that way.

An alcoholic who walks around with a bottle of whiskey in his pocket all day is just not going to be able to successfully fight his dominant temptation. If you walk around with the means of instantly giving into temptation in your pocket all day, what makes you think you’ll do any better?


Putting Steps Between You and the Screens

So look, we’re all tempted to sin with the internet in one way or another, whether it’s lust, anger, envy, vanity, overspending, or just the constant distraction. Which means, if you really care about overcoming sin, you have to figure out a way to put steps between yourself and your screens. And here’s where people have to just get creative. What will it take for you to be less vulnerable to screen-related temptation? 

Do you need to switch out your smartphone for a flip phone? Do you need to digitally detox? Set a time every day or week to disconnect your phone from your body. It is not a part of you and you won’t die without it. 

Start small and build from there. We are conditioned to reach for our phone constantly, so find good alternatives instead. I always have a good book at hand to turn to instead of my phone.

Set achievable goals. I can search for specific things on YouTube but no scrolling. I can search for specific information on current events that impact my personal responsibilities or talk to people who have first-hand information. But no news, because it generally has no bearing on my areas of responsibility and is usually not an accurate source of truth.

If you tell me you need to be well informed about everything in the world to be responsible, well you are just telling me about your addiction…because you are not responsible for everything in the news. If you are not responsible for or have some control over these things, then why do you need to know about them? Because you're addicted!

Do you need to delete your credit card account from websites where you shop excessively?

Most people think fighting temptation just means gritting your teeth, closing your eyes, and white-knuckling as you resist an urge. But that’s almost never how you fight temptation. Fighting temptation is much more interesting and involved than that because the key is fighting temptation ahead of time. Fighting temptation means creative initiative. It means figuring out in advance how to arrange your life so that you’re less likely to end up falling into sin.

So how are you being creative in the ways you pursue temperance with screens?


Lead Us Not Into Temptation

We end the Lord’s Prayer by saying, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” But we can’t pray that prayer honestly if we’re deliberately putting ourselves directly in the way of temptation.

The old line in the confessional says, “If you’re getting burned repeatedly, it’s probably because you have a habit of playing with fire.”

The internet burns a lot of people. Figure out how it’s been burning you, then ask God’s help as you figure out ways you can stop playing with fire.   

Invite others to pray with you this Lent. Share the Rosary and win a trip to Poland!

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