Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Problem of the Internet

About a year ago, I signed up to be part of a network called The International Fellowship of St. Bruno, and so I regularly get emails by the members discussing spiritual topics. I never enter into the discourse because I do not know how to access the website, I forgot how, I should say. (Nevertheless that is how I am with groups, I rarely join any, and if I do, I rarely participate. Friends know this about me.)

For the past week or two members had been discussing the Internet and the temptations inherent in its use, as well as how it may or may not take one away from a contemplative life. Thus I have been ruminating their questions and concerns for a few days.

I realized my Internet use can be excessive, to say the least. It's a captivating tool. I rarely realize how fast time passes with its use. As a person who rarely expresses his opinions in public conversations, I have no problem blogging just about anything and everything I think. Although writing has always been my preferred means of communication, aside from painting.

Visiting the author Michael O'Brien's website I came across his reflections concerning the Internet, which I will share with you.

Michael O'Brien
"Does the apparent connection to a global community offered by the internet give us a genuine communion, or does it offer us a dangerously misleading pseudo-communion? Does it disconnect us even as it tells us it is connecting us? Is it merely a new language of communication, or is it a palantir, the “seeing stone” in Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, opening the portals to the eye of the Dark Lord at the tap of a computer key? The palantir was all about communication, all about transcending the limitations of human sight and hearing, dissolving distance, dispelling separation. But what is this newfound power, this instant knowledge of good and evil, really about? Why has it appeared so swiftly, and spread everywhere, and why does it engender so much addictive behaviour in its devotees? That it is a tool with potential for immense good is undeniable. That it is a tool for immense evil is also undeniable. The internet is neither good nor evil in itself. Evil cannot be created. No created thing is evil. As the Lord says, it is not what goes into a man that is evil, but what comes out of him. Even so, we must always consider whether our tools and powers are disposing us toward good or toward evil. Do they make it easier for us to live the good, or more difficult? The question I’m asking today is, are there consequences to an omnipresent e-culture other than its obvious good and evil effects?

Alas! Sigh! Here I am trying to connect with you via the very medium that is killing us.

Killing us? A bit extreme, Mr. O'Brien! Well, yes, but in all honesty I think it fair to say that this very useful, morally neutral tool is now devouring countless lives, warping our sense of time and our scale of human values—not to mention the moral absolutes. The subject is vast and crucial. I will try to write more about it in forthcoming newsletters—hopefully in January, after Christmas, in time and in eternity (if I do not employ an axe of my own on this slave that enslaves me)." Michael O'Brien December 2005

Internet Porn
Since I've started blogging I have spent less time in prayer on some days, much less time reading, even less time watching television - which is perhaps the best thing about this laptop. I notice things as I look for images or surf the net for stories. The most brief accidental viewing of a pornographic image can embed in one's memory. Not unlike a provocative scene in a movie, or a television ad. Images get filed away in the unconscious. To be honest, they do not move me to lust, yet there remains something sinister about them.

Priests frequently mention that Internet porn is one of the top sins Catholic men, of any age or status most frequently confess. I can indeed see how a person can be ensnared by these images when they so easily pop up while searching the net. Curiosity can lead one to click on the pop-up, or an image, or even a suggestive title. If one let's one's curiosity get the best of him - he's just about captured already. Once captured, it's hard to get out, a habit may develop, and a sort of addiction is born.

Fortunately, for myself, I have never liked pornography. When I was younger, before high blood pressure problems and the medications one takes for it, chastity was indeed a battle for me. Nevertheless, pornography always repulsed me. I imagine it is a grace that I could see the diabolic in it. However, that is not to deny a mere glimpse of it could incite my passions - when I was younger - I simply never indulged in it, or used it. Thanks be to God.

St. John of the Cross wrote - sadly I can't find the quote - that a soul united to God could look on the most obscene image and not be disturbed. I am not there yet, nevertheless, I have the grace that when I see even the most obscene image, I immediately turn away, repulsed, without taking pleasure in it. That is sheer grace however. Having said that, there is much to be said for mortification and penance, and the so-called purification of the senses to acquire this attitude.

Sometimes God permits a soul striving for holiness to engage in a tremendous battle with sins against chastity. In and through the humiliation of continually falling and rising, as well as the dryness and distaste one may experience in one's perseverance in spiritual exercises - what takes place, almost imperceptibly, is at once both an active and passive purification of the senses. Almost unnoticed by the soul engaged in the spiritual combat. This may take many years, but the soul may suddenly find itself undisturbed by the things that once captured it so easily. The soul is purified in and through it's struggle with actual sin - not just the temptation, to such a degree it no longer finds delight in those things by which it was stimulated in the past.

Yet it is indeed a ferocious battle - albeit victory is assured, provided the supreme weapons be the Sacrament of Reconciliation, Eucharist, and constant prayer - with complete trust in the Divine Mercy. (This final victory is possible in any struggle with sin involving the senses.)

The falls the Lord permitted, along with the humiliating struggle He supported the soul in, cause the soul to understand that it was His grace alone that freed him from the bondage of his sins. That is why, perseverance in the struggle is so important, even more so than the victory, that at times seems so unobtainable. Souls become discouraged by their failings, yet if they are humble and humbly persevere, grace triumphs and the soul eventually finds peace. But I digress.

Is the Internet Addictive?
Aside from the obvious issue of pornography, can internet use be excessive and even sinful? Is it addictive in itself? I'm inclined to think so. Unless one's occupation requires one to be at the keyboard all day, it seems to me there are some issues with excessive use.

These may or may not involve such things as neglecting one's other responsibilities, or family, and friends. Neglect of prayer and good reading - Lectio Divina. Indulging in idle curiosity. Scripture says somewhere, in much speaking one cannot fail to sin. Blogging is a lot of chatter, don't you think? What about people who blog at work or surf the net at work? That is sort of a "little white collar crime" as well as a sin.

Don't get me wrong, because I think the Internet is an inestimable good, and blogging is not only fun, it's informative. However, for myself, I think I have to practice a greater discipline in my use of this laptop.

I so envy the Carthusian grande silence.


  1. This is a post that is extremely long overdue; and one that should be posted at least every New Years,if not more often.

    If you include cell phones, ipods and the like, half the population or more has one or wants a communication device at a relatively inexpensive price that allows them to communicate with each other at little additional cost.

    And they can be abused. All of us need to think about what we have, what we are using it for and who and what we are neglecting when we are using them.

    I need to ponder more on whether the huge amounts of time I spend on my computer are valuable.

    Thanks for posting this Terry. And post it again from time to time.

  2. I think it's addictive - have known more than one person who resisted learning how to surf the net, knowing they'd be hooked. & once they did, they were...

    I'm one of them - but I'm not sorry. I started by looking for info on an author I'm interested in - & found you & others. God has given us this opportunity to communicate with & learn from & encourage each other, & it really is miraculous. However, not to the exclusion of everything else He has given us.

  3. I can waste vast amounts of time with or without the Internet (by reading, watching TV, working crosswords, sitting around talking or just dinging around), unless I'm focused on getting something done.

    When I first started using the Internet, it was captivating. I wanted to explore and learn everything! Now that I'm accustomed to the Internet, it doesn't eat up as much time. But as with any other activity, I still have to keep an eye on the clock. Otherwise I find myself frittering away too much of my time instead of accomplishing something useful.

    Any tool or pastime can be used well or poorly. Thank you, Terry (and a nod to Mr. O'Brian) for reminding us.

  4. Correction: O'Brien, with an 'e' not an 'a.'

  5. The Internet is absolutely addictive. So is sugar, caffine, nicotine, etc. The golden phrase is "virtue lies in the middle." MODERATION in all things. Use it as God intends it to be used. Take into consideration your state in life. PRAY about it. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you, and "Do whatever he tells you." (Jn 2:4)


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