Pope Benedict XVI famously urged Catholic clergy, religious and laity to get on to the web, learn how to use it and then “give the internet a soul”, and it’s certainly gratifying to see the many fervent Catholic folk who have taken his words to heart, here at Patheos and elsewhere.
But working, even catechizing, online comes with its own spiritual dangers — sins so easily fallen into that they almost don’t seem like sins at all; they become “just a thing that happens on the ‘net.” Sort of like, “Forget it, Jake, it’s Chinatown.”
If we don’t see the sin, or we rationalize it away because, “it’s just the ‘net” we run the risk of doing true spiritual damage to ourselves, and to others. Sitting alone on one side of a monitor, we tend to forget that every word we utter, every tweet we send or “like” button we hit acts like a kind of pebble tossed into a pond — it reverberates outward to edges we can’t even see, affecting others’ way of thinking, their moods and morals.
When we are uncharitable, for instance, our polluted little pearls — flung outward into the net and into the path of all of those people “following” and “liking” and reading — give our readers tacit permission to be uncharitable, too; the filth, the waste, spreads outward. We can’t even see what sins we are encouraging or contributing to when we’re indulging our mean little snarks or more overt instincts to hatred. Even if we cannot see them, though, we have had a hand in it; we’ve contributed to the sins of others and to the overall stench invading what should be a place of plenty and — for people of faith — of charity and peace.
I’m as guilty as anyone — hence the trips to the confessional — and while I am failing too often, I really am trying to do better, a little better, every week, and that is why I was so happy to see this really useful, really clarifying Examination of Conscience for the Internet coming from the pen of Deacon Greg Kandra. It seems to me it belongs near the confessionals along with the usual examen prompts to be found there:
I am the Lord your God; you shall not have strange Gods before me. Have I treated people, events or things as more important than God? Have I elevated the Internet to a deity? Is commenting on Facebook, Twitter, or blogs supplanting my prayer life?
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain. Have my words, actively or passively put down God, the Church or people? Have I inflicted wounds on the Body of Christ by showing disrespect, dissent or disdain? Have I mocked online the leadership of the Church—whether it’s my pope, my bishop or my pastor?
Remember to keep holy the Lord’s Day. Do I go to Mass when I should? Do I avoid work that impedes worship to God? Do I spend too much time on Sunday surfing the Internet and chat rooms and forums, when I could be spending time with my family or with God?
Honor your father and your mother. Do I show my parents due respect? Do I maintain good communication with my parents? Do I criticize them to others, or online?
You shall not kill. Have I harmed another through physical, verbal or emotional means, including gossip? Have I destroyed another’s reputation online? Have I used comments to mock, disrespect, slander or attack? Have I gleefully ridiculed another person’s failings online and enjoyed their setbacks? Have I resorted to petty name-calling to score points or make another person feel bad? Have I robbed another of basic human dignity online?
You shall not commit adultery. Have I respected the physical and sexual dignity of others and of myself? Have I used the Internet to visit porn sites or engage in sinful conversations about sex?
You shall not steal. Have I taken or wasted time or resources that belonged to another? Have I spent valuable time at my job on the Internet when I should have been working?
Read the rest, here, and weep, because most of us have broken too many of these. Print it out and keep it at your desk, where you can let it prick your conscience a bit. Show it to your kids.
For what shall it profit a blogger — or social media maven — if he shall gain a whole world of followers, and lose his own soul?
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