Here are some thoughts of an older reader for younger users of the internet

When I was a boy there was a debate about whether believers should have a radio in the house. It was a bit like King Canute’s struggle because nearly every home had one, and clearly used it! About the same time there was a debate about whether we should have a television. As disposable income increased, people ‘voted with their feet’, either by visiting others to watch televi­sion, or bringing one into the family home. In many homes the television, like the radio, was just ‘on’. The effect was to reduce significantly family discussion and time for Bible reading and prayer.

Insidiously it introduced a different set of ethics, through the various roles played by favourite stars, and the not so private lives they led. This was scintillating entertainment and soon there was no longer any clear sense of what was right or wrong. Life in soaps and TV dramas was far more exciting, and copying them brought spice into life.

The computer age has now taken over our lives with barely a whisper of warning, and certainly with no debate. The digital age swamps us with one innovation after another. Frankly there are times when I simply feel overwhelmed by the changes that are assumed to be necessary for this brave new technological world, and its morality has shifted too. “If it’s available on the internet, it’s legitimate” is the sentiment. Some things people say on social media seem beyond scandalous – they are downright wicked.

Basic social interactions we assumed in human society are presented as old fashioned and unnecessary. Things that were once private are now posted perma­nently on the internet’s public domain for all to see. Some hang out dirty washing with ridiculous abandon­ment. The opportunities for intimidation (and worse) seem endless. Many express opinions which would be best kept to themselves. Whatever happened to “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29)?

A force for good

There are a great many opportunities provided by this digital age. Mobiles improve personal security and make keeping in touch so much easier. Aspects of personal Bible study are enhanced, and the production of clear presentational material is made easier. The internet is used for giving Sunday School lessons, but even here the interaction between teacher and student should be overseen by parents. Before each of us is sucked in unquestioningly, as thinking believers surely we need to pause and think through the impact upon our personal lives. How should we apply our understanding of the Bible to our modern lives? Perhaps we should have done this earlier! Materialism and humanism on the Web draw us in like a drug. As Paul says: “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16, ESV). Paul also says:

“… I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward both God and man” (Acts 24:16, ESV).

A child in the armoury

Imagine a young boy, trying to find his way in a dark store of ammunition and explosives with a lighted match. It sounds ludicrous but with a computer ter­minal our children, and we, are like that boy with a lit match. There is a world of danger that will cause harm to us and our children and it has to be taken seriously. There have to be rules of engagement as harm may come at any moment. This may sound dramatic and some will say we should have nothing to do with this, but rightly or wrongly, we are way beyond that point. The very best now is that we learn how to use these things appropriately and face the realities about our own nature. When rules are followed, then (and only then) can good be obtained from the internet. Even so we must be discriminating. We all know you can’t believe everything that you read in the newspaper or see on the television, and the same applies to the internet. Newspapers can be put down and the TV switched off – and so can the computer – but it is very difficult to do. The internet can be accessed in very personal and private ways. We cannot say of our children or our friends, “Oh, they won’t be doing any harm” when they are online because we probably have no idea what they are up to!

Where do we begin?

Many youngsters play computer games, even young children. These can be a source of family fun. Watch out, however – don’t forget the quality time that is needed around the Bible. As time progresses the games become more sophisticated and more worldly attributes gradually creep in – more violence, warfare, crime and deception. As a people who are supposed to have:

1 A conscientious objection to warfare as believers in Christ, and

2 A Bible-centred view of the world, encouraging our children and friends and even ourselves to play war games is hardly the right thing to do. But there is something else to be aware of. Much of what we put on social media goes not to one person only but is out there for anyone to view. This includes those who might have something against us, or prospective new employers and even the security services. This is get­ting very serious. Imagine appearing before a military commander seeking exemption from military service. He will already know you have played war games in the past; he will already know of any political com­ments you have made on Facebook. Will your claim to have a conscience about warfare ring true? So how do we control our use of the internet? Every time you go on the internet, think that your angel is watching over you. Surely you don’t want to share your nefarious exploring with the angel! And of course if you don’t want your friends or your children to know what you are doing – then don’t do it.

Some basic rules

Let’s try a few basic rules, for everyone in the house.

1 Computers only in a family room or a place where others know when they are being used.

2 Use parental controls, even for yourself.

3 For young children especially, avoid using de­vices upstairs, especially not during sleep time.

4 If you find yourself being secretive, ask why you need to be.

5 Set a time limit for using the internet.

6 Ensure that family activities take place, that meals are eaten together, that Bible reading and family prayers are taken together, and discussions about the day’s activities are held together.

The internet with all its attachments is the world­wide voice of humanity and materialism, encouraging us to find satisfaction, comfort and solace in this world. Time online is a time to be as wise as serpents and as harmless as doves.

Footnote

Reproduced with kind permission. The Christadelphian, March 2015, 125-126. Birmingham: Christadelphian Magazine & Publishing Association.