The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age (Part 5)

L. Video games are highly addictive and some have serious consequences. 1. Dr. Hart in The Digital Invasion had this to say about video game playing and addiction: “As we write this book, it is estimated that 95 to 97 percent of our youth are playing video games of one sort or another.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 124) 2. “Video game addiction, also known as video game overuse is the extreme use of video games to the extent that it interferes with daily life. Gaming addiction is a form of impulse control disorder. People with this impulse control disorder can't resist the urge to engage in behaviors that harm themselves or others and are disposed toward developing other addictions such as alcohol, drugs, eating disorders, and compulsive gambling. The impulse to play these games is overwhelming. Teens are the most vulnerable to gaming addictions, and their need to play can be obsessive to the extent it is harmful to themselves or to others.” (Ibid) 3. “What causes gaming addiction? Again, the pleasure and reward system of the brain plays a major role in delivering extreme euphoria while gaming. This also explains why it is so addicting. Gaming provides a make-believe world for the gamer, providing an escape from the real world. In the case of a gamer in China who committed suicide, the head of one software association was quoted saying: 'In the hypothetical world created by such games, they become confident and gain satisfaction, which they cannot get in the real world.'” (Ibid) 4. “Kevin Roberts, a nationally recognized expert on video gaming addiction...offers the following risk ratings for major games. The risk goes from 1-10, 10 being the severest.... .... - First Person Shooter Games: Counter-Strike, Halo, and Call of Duty - Addiction Risk 7 - Real Time Strategy Games: Command & Conquer, Age of Empires, Empire Earth - Addiction Risk 7 - The Narcotics of the Game World - MMORPGs (Massively Multiple Online Role-Playing): RuneScape - Addiction Risk 7, World of Warcraft - Addiction Risk 10” (Ibid, p. 126) The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 18 a. With the pervasiveness of video games, especially first person shooter and war games, is it any wonder why it is now far easier than in previous generations for a soldier to kill an enemy in battle since he has been doing it virtually since he was a child? b. The military uses video games to train soldiers. According to an insightful article published in the online version of The Atlantic, the military sponsored the first video game's development through MIT, and essentially the benefits of preconditioned warriors have been reaped for military purposes ever since. (Playing War: How the Military Uses Video Games, Hamza Shaban, Oct. 10, 2013) URL: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/10/playing-war- how-the-military-uses-video-games/280486/ c. With each new war, it has been statistically shown that higher percentages of soldiers will actually kill an enemy soldier. d. Could this be a factor in the dramatic increase in PTSD and suicide among soldiers in or returning from modern wars? e. Could these type of video games elicit wicked imaginations which God hates? PRO 6:18. f. Could these type of video games elicit a love of violence, which puts one in the cross-hairs of God's hatred? PSA 11:5. 5. Video gaming might not be a sin, but is it wise? M. Consider taking a digital fast. 1. Fasting is Biblical and we should be doing it from time to time. MAT 6:16-18. 2. A digital fast where we keep all non-essential digital devices turned off for a day would do us all good. 3. It will also indicate to you whether you are addicted to technology. 4. “The fact is that anything we can't fast from owns us.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 161) 5. Be doers of the word, not simply hearers of it. JAM 1:22. XIV. Our digital technology gets between us and God. A. “Some pastors excuse smartphones, believing that church members may be using a Bible app to follow the sermon. More likely, members, especially the younger members, are playing games or texting others. One pastor shared with us that some of his members even criticized his sermons while he was preaching, by texting other church members or someone at home during the service. How disconcerting! Another pastor told us that he is seriously considering leaving the ministry because of these distractions.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 71) B. Heretofore I have permitted adults to use these devices during the church service. I have come to a decision that this practice must stop. 1. My research and personal experience have convinced me that these innovations have not increased our attention to, nor knowledge of God's word. 2. Likewise, my research and personal experience have convinced me that these innovations are a distraction or at least a potential distraction and our goal ought to be, in our worship if nowhere else, to “...attend upon the Lord without distraction” (1CO 7:35). 3. I am also persuaded that there is no substitute for a printed Bible and an increased reliance upon digital devices is reducing our proficiency in the Holy The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 19 Scriptures. I guarantee that you cannot remember the place or wording of a particular text of Scripture on a digital device like you can with a printed Bible. 4. Therefore, starting immediately, there will be no smartphones, tablets, etc. used during service for Bibles, outlines, or anything else. 5. With the exception of emergency or “on call need” purposes (or such like), phones, etc. need to be turned off or put in airplane mode and put away out of sight during church. 6. Bring your paper Bible and feel free to make marks or notations therein and/or write down notes on separate paper. 7. I am neither requiring nor asking you to abandon your digital devices in other settings but only while we are assembled together in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for worship. This is our time with God and His written word. C. We need to be protective of our “Godspace.” 1. God should be supreme in our lives. We are to love God with our entire being: our heart, soul, mind, and strength. MAR 12:30. 2. We are to keep ourselves from idols. 1JO 5:21. 3. idol: 1. An image or similitude of a deity or divinity, used as an object of worship.... 2. fig. Any thing or person that is the object of excessive or supreme devotion, or that usurps the place of God in human affection. [1557 N. T. (Genev.) 1 John v. 21 Babes kepe your selues from idoles.] a. An idol may be tangible or intangible (as an abstract). b. Covetousness is an idol in the abstract. COL 3:5. 4. Anything that takes the place of God in our lives is an idol. a. This could be your spouse, children, job, hobby, pleasure, or possessions. b. This could also be the Internet, your computer, your smartphone, your tablet, social networking, texting, etc. 5. Our God is a jealous God. EXO 34:14. a. God is jealous for our worship and our attention. b. We need to jealously guard our “Godspace” and not let anything replace the time and devotion that God deserves in our lives. 6. Consider the observations of Dr. Hart in The Digital Invasion: a. “It's almost as if the distractions that we allow the digital world to impose on us is a form of an idol that we worship instead of God.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 187) b. “If, as Keller suggests, an idol is anything that is so important to you that if you were to lose it, you would feel that life wasn't worth living, then could we become guilty of creating 'counterfeit Gods'?” (Ibid) c. “Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flicker, Pinterest, texting, or just plain emails are 'time ravenous.' While speaking with Christians, we keep hearing one consistent message: 'I'm finding it more and more difficult to find time for God.' Pastors and church members, male and female, young and old, are all being impacted, if you want a spiritual life, you will have to make space for it. It won't come naturally.” (Ibid, p. 188) d. “The digital world has robbed our Godspace in another important way. It has made us informationally rich, but as a consequence, spiritually poor.” (Ibid, p. 189) 7. Has all the information about God, scripture, theology, etc. on the Internet made The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 20  us more knowledgeable about God than prior generations who did not have it? a. Have Bible apps on the phones and tablets of Christians which allow them to be able to read the Bible any time and any place made us better students of scripture than our spiritual forefathers were? b. An inquisitor (circa 1050 A.D.) made this observation of Waldensians: “They had the Old and New Testament in the vulgar tongue; and they teach and learn so well, that he had seen and heard a country clown recount all of Job, word for word; and divers who could perfectly deliver all the New Testament; and that men and women, little and great, day and night, cease not to learn and teach.” (G.H. Orchard, Concise History of Baptists, p. 266) D. Digital technology poses a threat to our ability to connect with God. Consider what Dr. Hart has to say about digital technology negatively affecting our ability to connect with God: 1. “Scientists tell us that they are already seeing a diminished ability to reflect, meditate, or contemplate in those who over-engage with the digital world. With these decreased abilities, our intellectual capacity is also on the decline. While this foretells serious consequences for how we learn or develop our creativity, our greatest peril is that we can also lose our ability to commune with God. If we can't disengage from our digital technology and keep a vital Godspace alive, we may not be able to engage with God at all. We will not have the physical brain mechanisms to make this connection. Moreover, just in case you think this a little far-fetched, it would only take a neurosurgeon a minute to cut a few connections in the brain, and our ability to experience God would be gone. In other words, we need a healthy brain in order to maintain a healthy connection with God. “Dr. Gary Small, a neuroscientist and expert on Alzheimer's disease and aging, has spent a lot of time researching the effects of the digital world on our brain. He has this to report: 'Technology side effects appear to be suppressing prefrontal lobe executive skills in the brain. Today, video- game-brain, Internet addiction, and other technology side effects appear to be suppressing frontal lobe executive skills and our ability to communicate face-to-face.' “Our conversations with others help us to have conversations with ourselves and in turn to have conversations with God. If you can't communicate in a healthy way with people, you will also struggle to connect with God and to have good self-awareness.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 192-193) 2. “In essence, he states that when the prefrontal part of our brain, the part that does our main thinking, gets overloaded, it begins to shut itself down. Guess what is in our modern world that overloads the frontal part of the brain? Today's digital invasion targets mainly the frontal part of the brain, not only overusing it, but also depleting it of simple energy. This impairs our ability to think deeply, and consequently, communicate with God in a meaningful way.” (Ibid, p. 193) 3. “This now leads to the question, How can we protect our Godspace from the The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 21 digital invasion? Christian psychiatrist Dr. Curt Thompson tackles this topic in his book Anatomy of the Soul. He proposes that the key to this protection lies in the realm of our spiritual practices, such as regular prayer, reading Scripture, and face-to-face connections with other people who can help us develop a vital and healthy relationship with God.” (Ibid, p. 193) 4. Recall the instruction in the first part of this outline about the importance of meditation in the scriptures. E. Consider the need for silence. 1. One important commodity in our lives which the digital invasion has robbed us of is silence. 2. If we are going to experience God, it will only be by being still and silent. a. There is a time for silence. ECC 3:7; HAB 2:20. b. If we are going to know God, we need to be still. PSA 46:10. c. We must stand still in order to consider the wonderful works of God. JOB 37:14. d. consider: To view or contemplate attentively, to survey, examine, inspect, scrutinize. 3. trans. To contemplate mentally, fix the mind upon; to think over, meditate or reflect on, bestow attentive thought upon, give heed to, take note of. e. We must stand still a while if we are to be shown the word of God. 1SAM 9:27. f. God can be near and we might not even know it. GEN 28:16. g. Sometimes the Lord speaks in a still small voice (1KI 19:11-12) and we must get someplace alone to hear Him. 1KI 19:13. 3. Dr. Hart had the following to say about the importance of incorporating silence into our lives if we are to maintain a sound mind: a. “Silence is a 'Sabbath of the mouth' and is about letting go of our inner distractions. It is probably the most challenging and least experienced spiritual discipline among Christians today. Technology is not only robbing our concentration but also our ability to just be alone and remain silent.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 195) b. “It seems like the more our senses become numb to the subtle ways in which God is speaking, the greater our hunger is for sensory overload. It is ironic that what our soul longs for is silence and solitude, but instead we fill our lives with noise and activity to pack the void.” (Ibid) c. “Our brain desires and is wired for relaxation and rest from life's busyness. Amazingly, when we practice inner silence, it actually helps to restore important parts of the brain, especially the prefrontal cortex that is the thinking part of the brain, thus increasing our capacity to be creative and productive.” (Ibid, page 196) d. “Studies have shown that the average person today, surrounded by the cyber world, can only bear about fifteen seconds of silence.” (Ibid, p. 197) F. Consider the need for solitude. 1. “Without solitude it is almost impossible to have a spiritual life.” (Henri Nouwen) 2. It is very important to take time each day to be alone. 3. Jesus Himself needed time alone. MAT 14:23; LUK 6:12. The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 22 4. Jesus exhorted His disciples to come apart into a desert place to get away from the crowd. MAR 6:31. 5. If we are to have silence, we must first have solitude. 6. “Whereas silence is a 'Sabbath of the mouth,' solitude is a 'Sabbath of involvement.' Silence is about letting go of inner distractions and solitude is about letting go of your outer distractions.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 197) 7. “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.” (Blaise Pascal) G. “Retire from the world each day to some private spot, even if it be only the bedroom... Stay in the secret place till the surrounding noises begin to fade out of your heart and a sense of God's presence envelops you. Deliberately tune out the unpleasant sounds and come out of your closet determined not to hear them. Listen for the inward Voice till you learn to recognize it. Stop trying to compete with others. Give yourself to God and then be what and who you are without regard to what others think. Reduce your interests to a few. Don't try to know what will be of no service to you. Avoid the digest type of mind--short bits of unrelated facts, cute stories and bright sayings. Learn to pray inwardly every moment. After a while you can do this even while you work. Practice candor, childlike honesty, humility. Pray for a single eye. Read less, but read more of what is important to your inner life. Never let your mind remain scattered for very long. Call home your roving thoughts. Gaze on Christ with the eyes of your soul. Practice spiritual concentration.” (A.W. Tozer) XV. “But can't digital technology be used to preach and further the gospel?” A. Digital technology can be used to further the gospel, just like the technological invention of the printing press was used to further the gospel by printing Bibles. B. We have a website for our church which truth-seekers can use to find out about us. C. We digitally record sermons and Bible studies and put them on the Internet for people to listen to or download. I have published many meditations online also. 1. The downside of this is that it not only facilitates truth-seekers or church members who cannot be here, it also facilitates outliers who like religion without commitment. 2. I fear that this has also engrained in us a false sense of accomplished duty for Christ relative to witness and evangelism. Have we mentally substituted digital publishing online for personal witness? 3. The track record of members being added to the body because of the church website is dismal. D. E-Sword and other Bible study programs are wonderful tools to help us search the scriptures. But with all these “helps,” could any of us match 5% of what those old Waldensians could do? E. Whereas God can use technology to accomplish His purposes, He doesn't need technology to do so. 1. The apostles turned the world upside down without even a printing press. ACT 17:6. 2. They preached the gospel to all the world (COL 1:6) and to every creature under heaven (COL 1:23) without the Internet or modern transportation. 3. The devil needs technology to accomplish his goal of world empire, but God does not need it to accomplish His goals. ZEC 4:6. The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 23 XVI. Closing thoughts. A. Outside of a major catastrophe which wipes out electronics, digital technology is here to stay. Neither is it going to fizzle out like the Pony Express. Consumer-level digital technology is likely to soon be in the hands of every person on earth and its sophistication growing exponentially. The genie is out of the bottle and we are not likely to get him back in it. 1. Mankind has demonstrated an incredible capacity to adapt to technological innovations but not without significant social, cultural, emotional and spiritual damage sometimes. 2. Digital technology, particularly its pseudo-connectedness, its virtual reality, its erosion of privacy, its trigger-points of control and pleasure and its addictiveness represent a level of potential social, cultural, emotional and spiritual damage that, in my opinion, exceeds that of previous innovations and the necessary “scaling back” for the sake of survival will be a long time coming, if ever. 3. The biggest threat from digitalization is its substitution for an ever-present, all- knowing God at Whose right hand “...are pleasures for evermore” (PSA 16:10). B. Children are especially at risk for having their healthy development thwarted by the digital revolution. I cannot impress upon parents strongly enough the need to not give in to the societal pressure to allow children unrestricted use of digital devices and unregulated access to the internet. Even secular observers recommend limits, as seen in the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics (cited in The Digital Invasion, pp. 168-169): “Recommended Screen Limits for Children Children ages 0 to 2 -- No screen time. Babies need all five senses to develop at this stage, and the digital screen only develops two of these senses, namely seeing and hearing. Children ages 3 to 5 -- One hour per day. This is the age of make-believe. They have no logic at this age so they need to spend playtime with other children. Children ages 6 to 12 -- No more than ninety minutes per day. Teenagers 13 to 19 -- Two hours a day.” 1. Frankly, I am persuaded that these limits are set too high, especially if the screen time is devoted to idle pursuits. 2. Parents: be honest and realistic! What would you have done as youths if you had unlimited and unregulated access to the internet? 3. Let not the inevitability of something offensive ruin your child. LUK 17:1-2. C. We need to strive to distinguish between digital sin (pornography, pride, narcissism, emulation, envy, gossip, addiction, neglect of duty to family or job, etc.), digital danger and digital etiquette. This world may be used if not abused. 1CO 7:31. D. “That laptop or smartphone you have is not inherently evil, but the value you place on it will determine whether it serves you or you serve it.” (Dr. Archibald D. Hart, The Digital Invasion, p. 41) The Downside and Dangers of the Digital Age 12-21-14 Page 24
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