What every parent should know about the Internet (4)
In the last 3 articles, we have considered both positive and negative aspects of the Internet. Sadly, there is no escaping the subject that we now need to consider – pornography
There are no positive benefits with pornography, only sinful, dark and life-destroying ones. No one with an e-mail account or who has browsed the Internet for more than a few minutes can have escaped the intrusive darkness of this sin and its money-driven industry.
Let’s make no mistake about it; this evil is all about money. The online pornography industry generates some $10B (roughly £6B) per year.1 It is vicious and deeply addictive, taking advantage of our sinful desires, preying on the weak, and destroying lives.
J., a 26-year-old man addicted to Internet pornography, says: ‘I go to work, I go to school, and I spend time with my family. The people around me don’t know that I’m a shell of a person. They don’t have a clue that I don’t feel my life is worth living…
‘I grew more and more consumed by looking at pornography on the Internet for hours on end … I grew more and more angry at the world … There’s no way to undo it now. The only thing that numbs the pain digs me that much deeper into the hole … I have ruined my life, and I did it one day at a time as I sat down in front of my computer yet again’. 2
Responding to J., Max says:
‘What a sad story. I can feel his pain right now. I was a porn addict myself. I know how destructive this thing is. It doesn’t let you think of anything, it breaks you slowly mentally and physically.
‘Porn addicts find no interest in anything; they don’t even like to be social, the world becomes a hell for them. This feeling takes them to depression – you stop believing in yourself, you feel like a criminal all of the time. In short, it just destroys your life’.
Pornographic material is easily found on the Internet. Here are a few statistics:
There are 4.2 million web sites (12 per cent of total web sites).
Every day, 1 in 4 search requests (68 million) and 2.5 billion e-mails (8 per cent of total e-mails or 4.5 for every Internet user) are about pornography.3
The average age of first exposure to Internet porn is 11.4
90 per cent of 8-16 year olds have viewed porn online, mostly while doing homework.
Just 3 or 4 years ago, the buzz in the Internet world and media was all about Second Life. People would immerse themselves for hours at a time in this virtual world, first creating computer representations of themselves (‘avatars’) and then flying around a computer world populated by other people’s avatars, buildings, events, and even companies with virtual shops.
Today, most of Second Life is deserted, except for one virtual ‘island’. In 2007, after some high profile investigations by the FBI over online gambling activities, Second Life owners decided to try to clean up their act.
They closed down all virtual casinos (where real money was being gambled) and relocated the ‘adult’ content to a separate virtual continent called Zindra. Today, most Second Life activity can be found on Zindra, a place which according to one reporter is full of ‘downright disturbing activities taking place’.5
Second Life is not a place for Christians and shows how the heart untouched by the light of the gospel influence tends naturally to evil.
Churches are not immune
John Steley is a Christian psychologist who contributed to the last article in this series. He has lectured at the London Theological Seminary on Internet abuse.
In a fascinating article he writes: ‘I work with people from a large number of Christian churches and mission societies, including some of the most conservative and evangelical. [I] conclude that the use of Internet pornography is a significant problem in the church today. None of us should consider ourselves to be immune from this temptation’.6
Other surveys have confirmed this. A recent US-based scholarly report concluded that ‘subscriptions [to pornographic web sites] are more prevalent in US States where surveys indicate conservative positions on religion, gender roles, and sexuality’.7
Ironically, the report goes to say that ‘in such regions, a statistically significant smaller proportion of subscriptions begin on Sundays, compared with other regions’!
This problem is not restricted to men. One in six women (17 per cent), including Christians, struggles with pornography addiction.8
Even pastors are not immune. An organisation dedicated to helping Christians who struggle with Internet pornography explains that 53 per cent of Christian men consume pornography, 51 per cent of pastors say porn is a temptation, while 37 per cent of pastors say it’s currently a struggle and 18 per cent of pastors look at porn a couple of times a month.9
Other studies confirm the problem. An Internet survey conducted by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in 2002 found 30 per cent of 6000 pastors had viewed Internet porn in the previous 30 days.10 It is simply not good enough to bury our heads in the sand and pretend that Internet pornography happens ‘somewhere else’.
We cannot hide behind the facade that because we are ‘Reformed Christians’, it cannot affect us or our church. The privacy that the Internet affords provides opportunities to visit pornographic web sites without anyone else knowing about it.
How many of our church members, pastors, young people, deacons, elders, youth workers hide a secret addiction? Can we really say that we are immune?
World Magazine, a Christian weekly publication in the USA, reported about a ‘Mr Burgin’, who for 20 years was a churchgoer and preacher, ‘trusted, revered, and believed to be of impeccable reputation’.
But beneath the thick varnish of smooth oration and doctrinally sound sermons, this conservative pastor secretly harboured a monster. ‘I was a master of duplicity’, Mr Burgin said of his addiction to Internet pornography.
For the entirety of his ministry, and even before, Mr Burgin tumbled silently through a cycle of shame, repentance and broken vows.
Despite a guilt-ridden conscience, Mr Burgin often preached on sexual purity, slogging through such sermons undetected. ‘I compartmentalized it in my mind’, he said.
‘I rationalized. I minimized’. When discovered, his ministry and family lost, his reputation soiled, Mr Burgin turned to the church for help and found little. ‘Churches didn’t know how to handle me’, he said.11
Christianity Today agrees: ‘Don’t assume that porn isn’t a problem in the church. One evangelical leader was sceptical of survey findings that said 50 per cent of Christian men have looked at porn recently. So he surveyed his own congregation. He found that 60 per cent had done so within the past year, and 25 per cent within the past 30 days. Other surveys reveal that one in three visitors to adult web sites are women’.12
How can we respond?
Aside from observing that pornography in any form whether Internet-based or not is wrong, we should apply three biblical practices:
1. Self-examination: In the Bible, we are called to ‘examine ourselves’ (1 Corinthians 11:26; Galatians 6:4). If we have a particular weakness, we are told to ‘flee’ from it (1 Corinthians 6:18; 1 Timothy 6:11).
The description of sin in James 1:14-15 speaks of being drawn away by our own ‘desire and enticed’. If sexual immorality is a particular weakness, then we must recognise this and stay well clear of anything (including the Internet) that could lead to this particular sin.
2. Self-control: The Christian grace of self-control is one we must ‘add to’ our faith (2 Peter 1:6). Often in Scripture, as well as everyday life, we encounter people who fall into sin because of lack of self-control. In the area of sexual conduct this can affect even the best of people. King David was known as God’s servant (Acts 4:25), but was overcome by his sexual desire for Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and lack of self-control in relation to her.
3. Accountability: In the minds of some, Internet pornography is justified because it ‘does no harm’ to anyone and is done in the privacy of a home. Yet, this is simply not true. The Bible tells us that we are accountable to a holy God for all our thoughts, words, deeds – or lack of action (Matthew 12:36; Romans 14:12).
In addition, the New Testament church emphasises mutual accountability. Not only will elders be held accountable for the way they led the local church (Hebrews 13:17), but we are encouraged to ‘confess our trespasses to one another’ and ‘pray for one another’ (James 5:16).
We are a family of believers, depending on one another (1 Corinthians 12). We are to develop a familial openness, a desire to share and, most difficult, a willingness to be helped. The strength of mutual accountability has been recognised even by secular organisations, such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
Find a ‘buddy’: The idea of making ourselves accountable to one another strains against prevalent culture. Yet, as explained, it is a biblical concept. Perhaps a spouse or close friend, or someone else in the church, could act as a ‘buddy’. A good illustration of this in practice can be seen at Carey Baptist Church (see box).
Protect the computer: One worrying development is revealed by the story of a man charged with child pornography when indecent pictures were found on his computer. In fact, they had been ‘stored’ there by a paedophile, using a virus to store pictures in the other man’s computer and thereby evade the risk of being found in possession of the illegal material.13
The best way to counter this problem is to keep an up-to-date antivirus program on each computer, and make sure your firewall stays switched on.
Install a family filter: These are pieces of software that filter out sites with pornographic or other undesirable content. The ‘Covenant Eyes’ software is a specialised example of this. There are other commercial products.
Keep away: For some, the answer may be to stay away from computers. Understanding our particular failings is important here. If you or someone you know has this failing, I urge you to pray, seek council (perhaps with your pastor or trusted Christian friend) and trust the wondrous, living Saviour, who can keep you and will never let you down.
In the next article, we will consider how businesses (big and small) use the Internet to market and sell their products, and such practices as ‘viral marketing’. You will be surprised by how much they know about you!
© David Clark
4. Family Safe Media, 15 December 2005.
5. From the article on Second Life in the January 2010 issue of PC PRO.
6. Evangelicals Now, October 2007.
7. ‘Red Light States: Who buys online adult entertainment?’ by Benjamin Edelman, found in the Journal of Economic Perspectives; Volume 23, Number 1, Winter 2009.
8. ‘Today’s Christian woman’, 2003, quoted in www.freedomyou.com/addiction/Internet_Pornography.htm
10. Quoted in www.worldmag.com/articles/10555
11. World Magazine, 23 April, 2005.
12. Christianity Today, 7 March, 2008.