The last book of the Bible was written around 1900 years before the first web page was set up yet it is a surprisingly helpful guide to surfing the web.
The web makes the entire human experience available to anyone with an internet connection. From birth to death and everything in between, the internet makes it available to you, very few questions asked. Everything good and holy and everything that is the complete opposite can be found on-line.
It’s like air pollution, some parts of the internet are clean mountain air and others are dirty, grimy and unbreathable. Breathe too much in and you’ll suffer damage. It’s important then, like in a car, or a house with AC or in a place with poor air quality that you use a filter. The internet is a place that can be full of spiritually poor ‘air’. the advice is simple: watch what you’re breathing in.
If you use a web filter (and you should) then you’ll probably see a customizable list of categories that will filter out material you don’t want to access. The Bible handily tells us to put a filter on our souls (consider it your first, not last, line of defence).
As Seth Godin points out there are two kinds of filters we can use when it comes to the internet. This is about building one that’s worth keeping.
In various places the Bible has some handy lists of things to avoid (just like your web filter) and you can find them in places like 1 Corinthians 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-22; Ephesians 5:3-4; Colossians 3:5-8; 1 Timothy 1:8-11 and others. They’re a good place to start.
Sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, orgies, adultery…
This is the easy one. The internet is full of pornography and it is destructive and damaging to those that take part and those that watch. There are websites that encourage infidelity, quick sex, and whatever you want. Filter it out. Have nothing to do with it. Note though that sensuality is included and I find that a helpful reminder to me that where I start surfing may not be where I end up.
Sorcery, witchcraft, idolatry
For many Christians this remains straightforward. Websites that promote such things should be avoided. So does the website you’re looking promote any of these things? Filter it out.
Does the website encourage, celebrate or glory in drunkenness? And, having been drunk a fair few times in my past, I can confidently assert that drunkenness as a sin rarely stands (or stumbles and falls) alone. Filter it out.
Filthiness, crude joking, obscene talk, profane material
Growing up my parents had a 3 swear word rule when it came to watching TV . If the show got to 3 swear words it was switched off. I’m much more laid back but I don’t know that I should be. Comedy can sometimes be slightly trickier because sometimes crude joking is, well, funny and it makes you laugh. I find it helpful when I’m watching comedians, who can often be brilliant, to ask is obscenity or profanity or crudeness central to this? I don’t know what good any of this stuff is doing to my brain even if I hear myself laughing. Filter it out.
Covetousness, greed, jealousy, envy
This now gets a little trickier because it can be obvious – certain sites encourage you to want and desire what other people have (that’s covetousness) and encourage pure naked greed. Whenever someone asks me about gambling, the best question I’ve found is can you gamble without being motivated by greed? For most people they absolutely can’t. It’s about winning money after all. But these ones get sneaky into our hearts. We can be jealous of friends popularity on social media, we can envy them their looks, we can want what they have. Watch your heart, if that’s going on as you spend time on the internet – the advice is simple. Filter it out.
Idleness & busybodies
1 Thessalonians 3:11 was written for the internet. The internet is a time sink , it will swallow you whole and stop you from doing anything genuinely useful. My favourite form of procrastination is called ‘internet research’ and Facebook is a constant invitation to be a busybody. Involved in everyone else’s life to stop me from paying attention to my own.
Malice, slander, gossip, anger, hostility
Did you include these topics on your filter list? The internet is an angry place and you’ll know this if you’ve ever been foolish enough to read the comments on a newspaper article. There is a lot of hate, malice, lies and slander. The internet even has its own name for this: trolling. Sadly there are a lot of Christians who are trolls. There are ways of disagreeing without committing any of the above sins (for that’s what they are). If you spend time on sites, groups, that do this – filter it out.
Enmity, strife, dissensions, divisions
We live in an increasingly polarized world. When the internet was created there was hopes that it would foster a new era of openness and understanding which now seems incredibly naive. There are ‘news’ organisations and websites I will avoid because it seems to me that they actively create strife, enmity, dissension and division. You can have a side without being partisan (check out the verb meaning and not just the noun). There are plenty of Christian blogs and sites that foster mistrust and division. Have nothing to do with them. Filter it out.
Myths, speculation, controversies, conspiracies
The internet is a rabbit hole of conspiracy. No one can trust anyone. Invent a theory and someone somewhere will start following you. Impossible to argue against, impossible to prove wrong, impossible to point out the problem – except that the Bible does point it out as a problem and warns us against it.
1 Timothy 1:4, 1 Timothy 6:4-5, Titus 3:9
Avoid (and I would add like the plague) myths that promote speculations, those that crave controversy, that create suspicion, fear, and people (and blogs) who are fault-finders and grumblers (Jude 16). Paul had it right, ‘they are unprofitable and worthless.’ Personally I avoid ‘discernment’ blogs and ministries, I avoid ‘watchmen’ blogs and ministries, I avoid ‘news’ blogs and sites that tend to focus on the unproven, that fail to fact check, that mislead and misreport. They usually have an agenda and not a healthy one. Filter it out – your brain and your soul will thank you for it.
Now does that mean I’m not advocating discernment? Of course not, but our days are numbered and time is too precious to waste it looking for all that is wrong and stupid in the church, let alone all that is wrong and stupid in the world.
I’ll probably come back to the issue of discernment in the age of the internet in a later post.
So filter out all that stuff and your time on the internet (and your life as a whole) will be more productive, you will be happier, less angry, less fearful, less suspicious, less negative, less anxious, less guilty…you get the idea. Filter it out.