The Bible’s Viewpoint
The Internet—How to Avoid the Dangers
IN A remote village in India, a farmer checks the price of soybeans in Chicago, U.S.A., to determine the best time to sell his crop. At the same moment, a pensioner smiles as she reads an E-mail from her grandson, a traveler sees the weather forecast at his destination, and a mother finds helpful material for her child’s homework—all through the Internet. With an estimated 600 million people connected worldwide, the Internet revolution has transformed the way the world communicates and does business.
Especially has the younger generation, sometimes called the Cyber Generation, embraced the Internet. Increasingly, students use it to replace the library as a primary source of news and research. “In a nutshell, these students are . . . virtually 100 percent connected,” said Deanna L. Tillisch, director of a study involving college seniors in the United States. Yes, the Internet is a valuable tool in our modern society.
Generally, the more powerful a tool is, the more dangerous it can be. A gas-powered chain saw can accomplish far more than a handsaw; yet, it must be used carefully. The Internet is likewise extremely powerful and useful, but we must exercise caution when using it, as it also poses serious dangers. Concern about these dangers has caused more than 40 member nations of the Council of Europe to draft an international treaty aimed at the protection of society against cybercrime.
Why all the concern? What are some of the dangers that are of particular concern to Christians? Should they cause you to avoid using the Internet? What guidance does the Bible provide?
Need for Caution
Centuries ago, the Bible warned of dangers posed by evil men described as “master[s] at evil ideas” and “scheming to do bad.” (Proverbs 24:8) The prophet Jeremiah described them as “wicked men” whose “houses are full of deception.” Like birdcatchers, they “set a ruinous trap” to catch men and “gain riches.” (Jeremiah 5:26, 27) Technology has provided modern-day “wicked men” with deceptive traps of new dimensions. Let us consider some schemes that can present grave dangers for Christians.
Internet pornography is a 2.5-billion-dollar-a-year industry. The number of pornographic Web pages has grown at the explosive rate of nearly 1,800 percent over the past five years. It is estimated that there are currently over 260 million of such pages, and the number continues to grow at an unprecedented rate. “Pornography is becoming so prevalent on the Internet that it is now difficult to avoid unwanted exposure, and this makes cybersex addiction more likely,” said Dr. Kimberly S. Young, executive director of the Center for On-Line Addiction.
The Bible tells us that “each one is tried by being drawn out and enticed by his own desire.” (James 1:14) Viewing anyone with a computer as a potential victim, peddlers of pornography employ a variety of tactics to appeal to each one’s “own desire,” that is, “the desire of the flesh and the desire of the eyes.” (1 John 2:16) Their intent is to entice—or as Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words explains, “to lure by a bait”—unsuspecting Internet users whom they “try to seduce.”—Proverbs 1:10.
Like wicked men in Bible times, pornographers frequently employ deception. It is estimated that as part of an aggressive effort to attract new customers, some two billion pornographic E-mails are sent each day. Often the unsolicited E-mails have subject lines that make them appear harmless. However, opening one can launch a barrage of immoral images that is difficult to stop. Requests to be removed from the mailing list may result in a deluge of further unsolicited pornographic messages.
A birdcatcher carefully places seeds along a path. An unsuspecting bird pecks at one tasty seed after another until snap! the trap is sprung. Similarly, curiosity leads some to nibble at sexually stimulating imagery. And the viewers hope that no one is watching them. Finding it arousing, some return to this exciting and powerful imagery with increasing frequency. Shame and guilt may plague them. In time, what was once shocking becomes ordinary. For those inclined to view pornography, the Internet is like fertilizer that causes desires rapidly to grow into sinful actions. (James 1:15) Eventually such individuals may develop “a ‘dark side’ whose core is anti-social lust devoid of most values,” reports Dr. Victor Cline, a clinical psychologist who has treated hundreds of patients who were caught in this snare.
The Dangers of Chat Rooms
Internet chat rooms can be time wasters and are increasingly associated with relationship breakdowns. Expressing frustration over the amount of time his wife spends on-line, one man wrote: “When she gets in from work, the PC goes on and it can be five or more hours before she logs off. Our marriage is suffering as a result.” Yes, time spent on the Internet is time spent away from your mate and family.
Angela Sibson, chief executive of the marriage guidance service Relate, says that the Internet “is a gateway to other relationships. They can be very potent and break up existing relationships.” What starts as a friendly on-line conversation in a chat room can quickly become something more serious. Intent on engaging in immoral relations, those “cunning of heart” use “smoothness of the tongue” to tell potential victims what they want to hear. (Proverbs 6:24; 7:10) Nicola, a 26-year-old victim from the United Kingdom, explains: “It was like a love bombardment. He kept saying how wonderful I was and I fell for it.” Dr. Al Cooper, editor of Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians, says that we need to “warn people about the slippery slope that starts with online flirting and too often ends in divorce.”
Children are even more vulnerable to exploitation and harm by “computer-sex offenders.” Using “crookedness of speech” and “deviousness of lips,” pedophiles target inexperienced children. (Proverbs 4:24; 7:7) Engaging in a practice known as grooming, they shower the child with attention, affection, and kindness to make the youngster feel special. They seem to know everything a child is interested in, including that one’s favorite music and hobbies. Minor problems at home are accentuated in order to drive a wedge between the child and his or her family. To fulfill their evil desires, predators may even send their target victim a ticket to travel cross-country. The results are frightening.
Bible Principles Can Safeguard You
After assessing the dangers, some people have concluded that it is better for them to avoid using the Internet altogether. However, it must be acknowledged that only a small percentage of sites on the Internet pose a danger and that most users have not experienced serious problems.
Thankfully, the Scriptures provide guidance to “safeguard” us from danger. We are encouraged to acquire knowledge, wisdom, and thinking ability. Such qualities will ‘keep guard over us’ to ‘deliver us from the bad way.’ (Proverbs 2:10-12) “But wisdom itself—from where does it come?” asked God’s ancient servant Job. The answer? “The fear of Jehovah—that is wisdom.”—Job 28:20, 28.
“The fear of Jehovah,” which “means the hating of bad,” is the basis for developing godly attributes. (Proverbs 1:7; 8:13; 9:10) Love and reverence for God, along with a healthy respect for his power and authority, result in our hating and avoiding the bad things he hates. Clear thinking ability, coupled with godly knowledge, helps us recognize dangers that can poison our mind, heart, and spirituality. We come to abhor selfish and greedy attitudes that can wreck our family and destroy our relationship with Jehovah.
So if you use the Internet, be aware of the dangers. Be resolved to keep God’s commandments, and avoid flirting with trouble. (1 Chronicles 28:7) Then, if Internet dangers confront you, you will wisely flee from them.—1 Corinthians 6:18.
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STAY CLEAR OF PORNOGRAPHY!
“Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people.”—Ephesians 5:3.
“Deaden, therefore, your body members that are upon the earth as respects fornication, uncleanness, sexual appetite, hurtful desire, and covetousness.”—Colossians 3:5.
“This is what God wills, . . . that each one of you should know how to get possession of his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in covetous sexual appetite such as also those nations have which do not know God.”—1 Thessalonians 4:3-5.
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BEWARE OF INTERNET CHAT ROOMS!
A female police detective specializing in Internet crime invited Awake! to see the dangers of Internet chat rooms. She entered a chat room, posing as a 14-year-old girl. After just a few seconds, a number of individuals made contact. The strangers asked such questions as: “Where are you from?” “Are you a girl or a boy?” “Can we talk?” Several responses were from suspected sexual predators whom the police were tracking. That shows how easily a pedophile can get into a chat room with your child!
Some parents think that children are safe when using chat rooms because their conversations are accessible by everyone in the chat room while the discussion is taking place. However, once in a chat room, you can be invited to have a one-on-one conversation. Referring to this practice, sometimes called whispering, the United Kingdom’s Internet Taskforce on Child Protection warns: “This is like stepping out of a party full of people into a private room and having a separate conversation with a stranger.”
It is also important for parents to understand that most pedophiles want to do more than chat with a child. A paper prepared by the Internet Crime Forum reports: “Contact initiated in chat rooms may well be developed through other media, such as email and (mobile) phone.” A report from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation states: “While talking to a child victim on-line is a thrill for a computer-sex offender, it can be very cumbersome. Most want to talk to the children on the telephone. They often engage in ‘phone sex’ with the children and often seek to set up an actual meeting for real sex.”
To accomplish this, computer-sex offenders will give out their phone number. Should your child call them, caller ID will reveal the child’s phone number. Other predators have toll-free numbers or tell the child to call collect. Some have even sent the child a cell phone. Offenders may also send letters, photographs, and gifts.
Children are not the only ones succumbing to the dangers of chat rooms. Using smooth speech to tell women what they wanted to hear, one man recently made six women in the United Kingdom fall in love with him at the same time. One of the victims, Cheryl, an attractive 27-year-old postgraduate student, said: “I just can’t explain it now. It became so intense it took over my whole life.”
“Women find cyberspace comforting because they are not being judged by their looks,” said Jenny Madden, the founder of Women in Cyberspace. “But they also leave themselves very open to manipulation because there is a tendency, in chat rooms particularly, to give away a lot about yourself very quickly.”
“All I have to do is turn on my computer and I have thousands of women to choose from,” said one man questioned for a University of Florida research study conducted by Beatriz Avila Mileham. She stated: “The internet will soon become the most common form of infidelity, if it isn’t already.” “We are hearing from therapists around the country reporting online sexual activity to be a major cause of marital problems,” said Dr. Al Cooper, editor of the book Sex and the Internet: A Guidebook for Clinicians.
In view of these sobering facts, it is wise to take sensible precautions when using the Internet. Talk to your children, and teach them how to protect themselves from danger. Equipped with proper knowledge, you can avoid the dangers of the Internet.—Ecclesiastes 7:12.