In the last three articles, we have considered aspects of the Internet that can have both positive and negative ramifications. Sadly, there is no escaping the subject that we now need to consider. There are no positive benefits, only sinful, dark, negative, and life-destroying ones. No one who has an email account or browsed the Internet for more than a few minutes can have escaped the intrusive darkness that this sin- and money-driven industry has cast.
Pornography ruins lives
Let’s make no mistake about it: this evil is all about money. The online pornography industry generates some ten billion dollars per year.1 It is a vicious and deeply addictive industry, 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. Such 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.”
Pornography is easily found on the Internet. Here are a few statistics:
• There are 4.2 million websites (12% of total websites).
• Every day, 1 in 4 search requests (68 million) and 2.5 billion emails (8% of total emails or 4.5 for every Internet user) are about pornography.3
• The average age of first exposure to Internet porn is 11.4
• 90% of 8–16 year olds have viewed porn online mostly while doing homework.
Don’t try a second life
Just three or four years ago, the buzz in the Internet world and in the 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 peoples’ avatars, buildings, events, and even companies setting up virtual shops. Today, most of Second Life is deserted, except for one virtual “island.” In 2007, after some high profile investigations by the FBI in the US 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 its “adult” content to a separate virtual continent called Zindra. Today, the vast majority of the activity of Second Life 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 last month’s article in this series and has also 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. What I am told by those I meet leads me to 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 websites] are more prevalent in those 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%), including Christians, struggles with pornography addiction.8
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 the opportunity to visit pornographic web sites without anyone else knowing about it. How many of our church members hide a secret addiction? Can we really say that we are immune?
World, a Reformed weekly publication, reported about a ‘Mr. B.,’ 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 harbored a monster. “I was a master of duplicity,” Mr. B. said of his addiction to Internet pornography. For the entirety of his ministry and even before, Mr. B. tumbled silently through a cycle of shame, repentance, and broken vows. Despite a guilt-ridden conscience, Mr. B. 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. B. turned to the church for help and found little. “Churches didn’t know how to handle me,” he said.9
Christianity Today agrees: “[D]on’t assume that porn isn’t a problem in the church. One evangelical leader was skeptical of survey findings that said 50 percent of Christian men have looked at porn recently. So he surveyed his own congregation. He found that 60 percent had done so within the past year, and 25 percent within the past 30 days. Other surveys reveal that
one in three visitors to adult websites are women.”10
How can we respond?
In looking at this area, aside from noting that pornography in any form, whether Internet based or not, is wrong, there are three biblical principles that should be applied:
1. Self-examination. This is perhaps not often emphasized for the fear of introspection or of the modern obsession with self. Yet, in the Bible, we are called to “examine ourselves” (1 Cor. 11:26, Gal. 6:4). If we have a particular weakness, we are told to “flee” from it (1 Cor. 6:18, 1 Tim. 6:11). The description of sin in James 1:14-15 speaks of being drawn away by our own “lust and enticed.” If this sin of sexual immorality or pornography is one that is a particular weakness for us, we must first recognize it, then either seek help, or stay well clear of anything (including the Internet) that could lead to this particular sin.
2. Self-control. As we have said in previous articles, the Christian grace of self-control is listed as one that we must add to our faith (2 Pet. 1:6). Over and over again in Scripture as well as in everyday life, we have examples of people who fell into sin because of lack of self-control. The problem of self-control in the area of sexual conduct can affect even the best of people. King David was known as God’s Servant (Acts 4:25), but yet he was overcome by his sexual desires for Bathsheba (2 Sam. 11) and his lack of self-control in the matter.
3. Accountability. We live in an age where we are told that whatever people do in the privacy of their own home is their business. In the minds of some, Internet pornography is justified because it “does no harm” to anyone and is something that is done in the privacy of a home. Yet, as we have already seen, 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 (Matt. 12:36, Rom. 14:12). In addition, however, the New Testament church emphasizes the idea of mutual accountability. Not only will elders be held accountable for the way they led the local church (Heb. 13:17), but we are encouraged to “confess our faults one to another” and “pray one for another” (James 5:16). True believers are a family; we all depend on one another (1 Cor. 12). We are to develop a familial openness with one another, a desire to share, to help, and most difficult, a willingness to be helped. The strength of mutual accountability is an area that even the secular organization Alcoholics Anonymous has recognized with its “buddy system”; it could be said that such accountability is responsible for much of its success.
1. Find a “buddy.” The idea of making ourselves accountable to one another strains against prevalent culture. Yet, as we have seen, it is a biblical concept. Perhaps a spouse, or a close friend, or someone else in the church, could act as a “buddy.” A good illustration of how this is done in practice can be seen at Carey Baptist Church (see inset).
2. Protect the computer. One of the more worrying developments is the story of a man who was charged with child pornography because indecent pictures were found on his computer. In fact, these had been stored there by a pedophile, using a virus to infect his computer so that he could use it to store his pictures and thereby evade the risk of being found in possession of this material.11 The best way to counter this problem is to have an antivirus program on each computer that is kept up-to-date, and to make sure that the firewall is switched on (this comes integrated into Windows and Apple Mac computers).
A positive response at Carey Baptist Church in Reading
In a society where it is estimated that 70% of men and 21% of women struggle with online pornography, it is not surprising that church leaders come across a number of Christians, mainly men, who want help in this matter. Some are fellows who have been addicted to Internet pornography in the past and never want to go down that road again; others are those who want to keep themselves pure amid all the onslaughts of the age. Both groups are to be commended and encouraged.
Like many churches, Carey Baptist Church in Reading, England, recommends that those who want help should sign up for Covenant Eyes. Started in March 2000, this is a program that helps a person stay pure online by monitoring their internet use and sending an e-mail report of all websites visited to an accountability partner—who may be their pastor, an elder, youth leader, or relative. The idea is that if the user knows the accountability partner will be keeping track of his or her Internet usage, he will be less likely to visit questionable sites. We recommend this scheme because
• It is inexpensive.
• It is difficult to by-pass.
• Reports can be sent to the accountability partner weekly, thus enabling immediate pastoral help if there is a lapse.
• It is based upon the biblical principle that Christians are accountable to the Lord and to each other.
• We want to do all we can to help one another to pursue holiness.
We are sure that Job (Job 31:1), and more importantly, Jesus, would urge people to use this scheme. —Basil Howlett
3. 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 specialized example of this (see inset). Others include a number of commercial products (such as Net Nanny and SafeEyes).
4. Keep away. For some, the answer may be to stay away from computers. Understanding ourselves and our particular failings is important here. If you or someone you know has this failing, I would urge you to pray, to seek counsel (perhaps with your pastor, elder, or trusted Christian friend), and to trust the wondrous living Savior 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, including dubious practices such as viral marketing. You will be surprised by how much they know about you.
4. Family Safe Media, December 15, 2005.
5. From the article on Second Life in the January 2010 issue of PC PRO.
6. Evangelicals Now, October 2007.
7. Benjamin Edelman, “Red Light States: Who Buys Online Adult Entertainment?”
Journal of Economic Perspectives, 23, 1 (Winter 2009).
8. Today’s Christian Woman, 2003, quoted in http://www.freedomyou.com/addiction/Internet_Pornography.htm
9. World, April 23, 2005.
10. Christianity Today, March 7, 2008.
11. See “Framed for child porn—by a PC virus” by Jordan Robertson, AP Technology Writer—Mon Nov 9, 20090, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/33778733
David Clark lives in England where he has served on the Boards of Evangelical Press and Evangelical Times. He has worked with information technology for over thirty years. This article is reprinted from the British newspaper Evangelical Times, March 2010. The author would appreciate receiving questions on this series of articles from readers via email to ParentsAndTheInternet@googlemail.com. These will assist him in writing future articles and where possible, posted contributions and emails will be answered anonymously in the final articles of this series.
Published by The Banner of Sovereign Grace Truth, used with permission.