The playwright Oscar Wilde once wrote, “I can resist anything except temptation.” The humor of the remark is mixed with a sad recognition that we fail so often to resist the temptations that come our way each day and from every direction. Of course, there are temptations and then there are temptations writ large. What are people’s greatest temptations? Why? What are their “favorite” sins – indicated by frequency and repetition? Why do we so often find ourselves in the same position as St. Paul? “What I do, I do
not understand. For I do not do what I want, but I do what I hate.” (Romans 7:15) Each of us is called to name our temptations as part of a moral and ethical struggle in trying to live a holy and righteous life. Then once we name that temptation, to begin to unfold and inspect, to then start to answer what it is about this temptation that becomes especially alluring. Such are the first steps to healing.
I had been thinking about what I could write on the topic of temptation that might be helpful: temptations aligning to our greatest vulnerabilities? Our weakest hopes? Our strongest regrets? A desire unfulfilled? In the middle of musing and muddling, I ran across all kinds of articles that hold up technology as an amplifier of the deadly sins. Very conservative groups have identified texting, apps, and social media as great spiritual dangers because it was a delivery system for temptation and the occasion of sin. Their concern focused on such technology as the fuel that is accelerating and amplifying temptation in modern life.
The traditional seven deadly sins remain as temptations in our lives: wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony – no surprise there. Studies by the Barna Group and others find that technology is increasingly the lure and the means to commit these sins. Perhaps the most virulent problem is pornography. When I was in high school there were rumors of “a guy” across the street behind the gas station that for 25 cents would show you the foldout of Playboy magazine. Of course, no one ever saw the guy, and such was the limited access to pornography in my time. Things are different now. Technology makes it “one click away.” That is the easily seen technological accelerator and lure.
A growing problem is addiction to media – referring to television, online streaming, cable, social media, and a whole host of technologies whose use is pointing to an increasing expression of wrath and anger in a digital venue. Last week in writing about the virtue of patience (Galatians 5:22-23), I noted that the classical understanding of the opposite of patience was not called impatience, but “wrath.”
Consider the deadly sin of wrath. These days look at the comments section of online articles. The comments are extraordinarily aggressive without resolving anything. In a Scientific America article, Art Markman, University of Texas professor, commented about this phenomenon: “At the end of it you can’t possibly feel like anybody heard you. Having a strong emotional experience that doesn’t resolve itself in any healthy way can’t be a good thing.” That begs the question: If it’s so unsatisfying and unhealthy, why do we do it? Why do we give into the temptation of wrath?
There are several reasons researchers give. First, commenters are often virtually anonymous, and thus, unaccountable for their rudeness. Second, they are at a distance from the target of their anger — be it the article they’re commenting on or another comment on that article — and people tend to antagonize distant abstractions more easily than living, breathing interlocutors. Third, it’s easier to be nasty in writing than in speech.
That seems to me to more describe the milieu of the behavior that has been learned after the reordering of an individual’s moral compass. The Barna Group study results continue to point to technology as the means by which an alternative moral baseline has been embedded in the context of our lives. While parents are trying to teach and give an example of Christian discipleship and behavior, the kids are digitally exposed to behaviors that make the outrageous, shocking, and offensive (to one generation’s view) the new norm – and hence moral baseline.
As a parish we often ask you about your use of “Time, Talent, and Treasures” to build the Kingdom of God. Perhaps we should add a fourth “T” and ask about how we use “Technology” to build up or tear down the Kingdom. Something to think about in our ongoing reflection about our life in Christ.