No, not what you’re thinking.
I’m not talking about Net Neutrality.
I’m talking about the silly statements I hear from time to time from well meaning but theologically shallow Christians. You know that friend or family member who reminisces about the “good ol’ days” before the Internet, with a statement like, “computers are evil” or “the Internet is ruining this world” (I’ve heard both in real life).
The fact of the matter is that technological advance is inherently neutral, always has been always will be. The Internet is no more evil than the scalpel. Each can be used for good or for evil.
A scalpel can easily take a life when forced into a jugular vein or save it when opening an abdomen to remove a burst appendix. The Internet can be used by sex traffickers to sell underage girls into prostitution or rescue them when authorities coordinate a sting. Sweeping aside the ridiculous notion that inanimate technological advance could have moral attributes; I’d like to address three ways for Christians to wisely navigate the web.
The way we approach our digital lives shouldn’t be much different than the way we approach our “real” lives. It takes discernment, prayer and study of the Scriptures. Nonetheless, a changing culture requires constant evaluation and returning to God’s Word to test new options against timeless truth. I use the same approach for navigating the web as I do for navigating the rest of the culture around me.
Some things I accept, others must be adapted, and still others avoided.
Since the Internet is not evil it should be accepted. I’m sure if we searched the Internet…err…I mean phonebook, we might find some sect of Christianity that is using the Bible’s version of a word search puzzle to show how the prophecies in Revelation all point to the Internet as the Antichrist. Not likely. In fact, I’m sure of it.
Christians should definitely be using the Internet to engage the culture and proclaim the Good News about Jesus Christ’s rescue mission to save sinners through His substitutionary death and miraculous resurrection. In fact, I’d even go so far as to say the Internet is paving the way for a new Reformation of sorts. For this reason the Internet itself should be accepted as a tool. Additionally, there is a lot of content that can be wholeheartedly accepted. I listen to anywhere between five and ten sermons a week from churches all over the country. That simply wouldn’t be possible without the Web.
Given that the Internet is neutral, there are also things that need to be adapted before a Christian can engage in them. Some things aren’t totally wicked, just bent in the wrong direction. Christians can redeem these things for God’s glory. Think about social networking sites or sometimes even email. A lot of people are using them to scam people out of money, spread gossip and rumors, post inflammatory comments or generally exalt themselves and make themselves into gods. Another area we should be careful is on websites like Craig’s List, which have lots of legitimate uses but are also used by criminals for shady business.
A Christian has the freedom in Christ to utilize these types of sites. We should however tread with caution and care as we seek to be salt and light to others on these venues. We’ve likely all said and done things in the virtual world that we wouldn’t do in real life. We’ve all said things we regret and the depersonalization of the web provides and environment where it is easy to be unnecessarily opinionated, rude and lacking in compassion. By all means, engage the world through the web, but do so wisely.
3) Avoid (or Abandon)
Finally, there are areas of the web that need to be avoided for those that call Christ Lord. Pornography and most of the stuff on the “deep web” (amongst many others) would be included in this. To extend this principle further those Christ-followers who already visit these sites should abandon them because saying yes to Jesus includes with it saying no to those things that He says are evil. Additionally, I’d add the Westboro Baptist Church website to this category because everybody should avoid that mess. All joking aside, there are some websites that are intrinsically evil and cannot be redeemed. The pornography industry thrives on making a profit out of the consumption of human beings who are made in the image of God. A deplorable industry that should be avoided by all who follow Jesus. There’s also software that can help you avoid these sites.
The Internet Isn’t Evil
My hope is that these three categories for assessing the morality of web content are generous enough that all Christians could agree. I hope that the “adapt” category is loose enough to give adequate room for Christians of different maturity levels and convictions to agree there is considerable gray area when it comes to Christian conscience.
So the next time you hear someone say, “the Internet is evil and it’s destroying the world!” be sure to encourage them that it is just as damaging as scalpels, knives, telephones, automobiles, and the typewriter. Then give them directions to the dark ages where they might feel more at home.