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ADD TO YOUR LEARNING - The Philippine Teaching Ministry

CHRISTIANITY IN A "DOT-COM" WORLD [PART 1]
By Rolan Monje, July 2003


The Internet is a tremendous tool and exciting facet of today's information superhighway. More than ever cyberspace is used to tell the truth about God. It's great that many of the "dot-coms" today help us know more about God and the Bible. But we must also stay aware of the traps set by the enemy to ensnare God's people.

As an electrical engineer I am fascinated by and have always upheld electronic innovation. At the same time, being a minister, I have grown to be more watchful of Satan's schemes and subtle efforts to destroy my life and those of others in God's flock.

I believe that the call for Christians is to be wise. Without become overprotective or paranoid, I would like to share some thoughts in line with God's warnings to the wise. I believe that I've become wiser because of my many, many mistakes. But I can also avoid future mistakes with the Bible's help. The Bible has always taught spiritual wisdom; many biblical principles can apply to our use of cyberspace. I am confident that together we can come up with strategies to overcome the temptations and walk above reproach.

PHP 4:8 (NASB) Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.

Col 4:6 (NEB) Let your conversation be always gracious, and never insipid; study how best to talk with each person you meet.

Rom 16:19 (NIV) Everyone has heard about your obedience, so I am full of joy over you; but I want you to be wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil.

· Dangers of the Internet

Is there good and positive material on the web? Definitely! But there is also a great deal of destructive material that can have a terrible impact on you, your friends, your marriage, and your relationship with God. We must remember that everyday, as many as 13 million users are on the web at any time of the day. That's a lot of people! Sadly, many of those people online have terrible motives. Here are some Web concerns that I'm sure many of you are aware of already:

· Suggestion and initiation of crime

Sadly, the information superhighway has been thoroughly abused. The Internet teaches everything from breeding orchids to making bombs. Cyber-evidence shows that man's sinful nature gets the better of him. In fact, because of the amount of weapons and drugs being advertised and sold of the Internet, several nations have put up agencies to track down and apprehend these criminals. Beyond this, there is much more untoward activity that is suggested and talked about, even if it does not actually happen.

· Hate and harassment

The Internet has been used to defame, abuse, harass, stalk, threaten or otherwise violate the legal rights (such as rights of privacy and publicity) of others. "Hate pages" abound, which are meant to destroy a person or company's credibility. Not uncommon are "cybersmears" that attempt to destroy products or services of certain firms. I know of a foreign evangelist who became the subject of these "hate" pages: A man was studying the Bible to become a Christian. When the evangelist challenged him to give up his immorality, the man walked away and created a web site "warning" people about the evangelist and saying all kinds of lies about the church. There is no telling as to the amount of destructive and "inappropriate material" on the Web which directly or indirectly relate racism, violence, suicide and terrorism. Disciples should make spiritual judgments about everything that they read.

· Internet pornography

It has been estimated that over 60% of all material on the Internet are suggestive or pornographic. Sadly, even the exploitation of children is becoming rampant. Multiple destructive sites are added daily. Even harmless mail accounts can be infected with sudden "pop-ups". Also, society is becoming more and more daring with pornographic material. Pornography is like masturbation. For men, it can lead to selfishness, other forms of addiction, unhealthy or unreal expectations, and even weirdness. It can never really satisfy and can never give fulfillment like a Christian marriage. Pornography enslaves but ends in frustration and emptiness. Research shows that many serial killers start off as soft porno addicts. Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid these traps. The disciple should surely stay away from these sites.

· Plagiarism

The Internet has become a main venue for plagiarism. Since in cyberspace property rights and boundaries are somewhat obscured, this kind of abuse becomes easier. There are several laws and proper channels for posting and transmitting protected data. Nowadays however, it has become common to post material that infringes patents, trademarks, or other proprietary rights. Many students will find it a lot "easier to do research" using the Web, but this should be coupled with conscientious notation and acknowledgment.

· Child abduction, molestation, and sexual exploitation

Some of the saddest stories I've heard have to do with children. I was shocked to hear of children being taken away or suddenly disappearing after several 'innocent' interactions on the Net. Whole families have been torn apart by pornography and sexual exploitation. Our society needs to be more and more cautious as technology 'takes over' in many of our homes and schools.

· Unmoderated chat rooms

Of course there's nothing inherently wrong with chatting, but the Christian should beware of meeting strangers on the Internet and striking up a cyberspace relationship with them. Like many forms of communication, chat rooms are often misused to conduct anonymous conversations. Quite often these talks are done with illicit intent. Unmoderated Internet chat rooms are potential venues for explicit sexual exchanges, joking about physical violence and assaults, aggression, and disturbing exchange involving racial prejudice. Besides, many have complained about the unwanted distribution of their personal information.

· Gossip, Urban Legends, and Chain letters

People can be very gullible. I know I have. Oftentimes, the Internet poses information that will sway your thinking so quickly, undermining even your deepest beliefs. As always, one should check information that is posted online, especially if it causes one to change views about a person or institution. Many documents with the theme "Did you know that…?" have to be double-checked. Dubious also are e-mails with "Very Important" or "urgent" in the message line, or one that closes, "send this to everyone in your address book." Chain letters that solicit money are illegal by both state and federal laws. Besides, these usually end up just clogging the Web. For instance: If you send a chain letter to 5 people and they each send it to 5 people and so on, by the 10th level of forwarding there would of been almost 10 million (unnecessary) e-congesting messages.

· Cyberscams

The Internet has been used time and again for various frauds. People have used the Web to impersonate persons or entities. Internet consumerism has so developed such that almost everything is being sold online. Some of these markets are legal and some are illegal. Certain e-businesses have also been found non-existent or insolvent after deceiving many people.

· Viruses and other destructive elements

One incident that made the Philippines famous (or infamous) was that of the "I Love You" virus. That was one virus that virtually circled the globe and victimized many people. You have to update your Viruscan regularly because it seems there's a new virus every week! The Internet has been the deliberate cesspool of viruses and programs that may damage the operation of another's computer. Issues such as bandwidth theft and cyberterrorism (a.k.a. hacking) are fast becoming national concerns. These issues have wide legal implications. It's crazy what some people can think of doing.

· When good things turn out bad

When you think about it, you may ask yourself "How could such a good innovation be used for so much evil?". Well, God is sovereign over all things. But the Internet is one proof that man, left alone to practice free will, can do so much damage to himself and to the world around him. So to answer the question, let's look at an example of something "good" that turned "bad". We recall that Moses' bronze snake in Numbers 21 was formed for good reasons. Those bitten by snakes could look at the bronze snake on the pole and survive the virulent poison.

NU 21:6-9 Then the LORD sent venomous snakes among them; they bit the people and many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, "We sinned when we spoke against the LORD and against you. Pray that the LORD will take the snakes away from us." So Moses prayed for the people. The LORD said to Moses, "Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live." So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.

This show of deliverance was even mentioned by Jesus in John 3:14-15. The snake on the pole was a foreshadow of him dying at Calvary. The bronze snake was intended for something good! Human weakness shows up again after several centuries - the snake became a symbol of idolatry in 2 Kings 18, during the time of Hezekiah.

2 Ki 8:3-4 …[Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done. He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)

The bronze snake started out as a cure but ended up as a curse. Why? Certainly not because of God, but because of man. In the same way, the Web can have an initial benefit as well as later backlash. Many good things in our lives can turn out to have negative effects when sin gets in the way. Can you think of other examples or warnings in the Bible?

[End of part 1; Part 2 will deal with biblical & practical advice]


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