Spiritual discernment starved in digital dessert
By Ron Tinsley
As printed in The Marketplace – July/August 2018 .
Anyone who thinks technology has no impact on spiritual formation is mistaken, Ron Tinsley says
“The Bible consistently warns us about where we fix our gaze and how we direct our desires, he says. “From the golden calf in the Old Testament to Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, where we focus our inclinations tells others what is important to us. As Christians, our focus should be on Jesus and the Spirit he promised us.”
Abundant leisure time and media stimuli provide many more distractions than ancient peoples faced, he notes. “This can draw us away from the rich oasis of experiencing God and increasingly into a digital desert of distractions. Many of them are coming through technology.”
Here are a few ways the use of technology is impairing society’s ability to make good judgments:
Spectacle: Doxing involves finding someone’s private information (address, phone number) on the Internet and broadcasting it publicly. This is employed via social media during very contentious discussions. People have received death threats because of this practice. Is there such a thing as privacy anymore, even for those we disagree with?
Convenience: Some people believe viewing a Christian program or Sunday service on television is the same as being in Christian community. So, if we watch Communion on TV, is that the same as participating in it?
Comfort: Social media encourages us to be armchair activists by signing a petition with one click. How does this quick-click attitude affect our ability to discuss and participate in movements that need sustained participation in real time?
Pleasure: When a human is in danger, we are becoming accustomed to seeing ourselves as citizen voyeurs (recording the event) rather than caring citizens (intervening in the event). For example, a man drowned because five teens would rather record him with their smartphones struggling for life than help him. How is technology being used to validate our unhealthy gaze?
These four human pursuits aided by technology are also contributing to a society that is becoming more narcissistic.
This poverty of spirit thrives in the digital desert. My response is to practice being open to the opportunities the Lord provides outside my door instead of scrolling through Facebook. After all, we may live in a time plagued by a lack of discernment, but so did Jesus. All we need is that one seed to fall on good soil. And guess what? There is no app for that.
This is excerpted from Ron Tinsley’s article: “The digital desert: Is technology starving our spiritual discernment?” It first appeared in The April issue of The Mennonite magazine, which focused on technology and faith. Excerpted with permission. You can read the entire article at this link: https://themennonite.org/feature/digital-desert-technology-starving-spiritual-discernment/
Tinsley is creative director for Mennonite Church USA and a member of Oxford Circle Mennonite Church in Philadelphia.