January 27, 2009

The Dark Night of the Web

You don't have to spend much time with souls these days to realize that the internet is an occasion of sin for a lot of people. I've been trying to figure out why this should be, and why the attachment to sins facilitated by the internet become so binding so quickly.

My proposal for how to think about it has to do with the indulgent spoiling of the curiosity of the mind and the eyes. When using or surfing the web, you can get an immediate answer--though not necessarily the best or correct one--to anything you might have a casual or passing thought about. The same goes for images. As soon as some useless or passing curiosity comes into my thoughts, (e.g. How big is the sun? Why is White Castle so good? What did Zooey Deschanel wear to the Screen Actors Guild Awards?) all I have to do is type it into the search box and in a third of a second or so (according to Google anyway) I have what I want.

This process trains the mind and eyes to get what they want immediately, without reflection or effort. So, having made a spoiled child out of the curiosity of the mind and eyes, one has little defense when curiosities emerge that are objectively sinful, hurtful or degrading to oneself or others, or against one's state in life.

In order that I might have something to say to people thus afflicted, as well as a practice for myself, I have come up with a spiritual practice for the struggle against this occasion of sin. It's based on what John of the Cross calls the "active night of sense" in The Ascent of Mount Carmel. John recommends that in order to make a beginning of the spiritual life, we need to deny our outward senses what delights them, thus leaving them 'in the dark.'* My adaption of this for the use of the internet goes like this:

Look for opportunities to enter the "active night of sense" in the use of the internet. Before typing in that search term or clicking that link, examine yourself. Do I need to know this information? Is there a genuine spiritual or charitable concern the leads to my curiosity? If not, take the opportunity to leave the curiosity in the dark. By this practice we can unspoil our curiosity and become better equipped to deal with the more serious temptation to sin that the web affords.

*This is the first step of John's fourfold scheme for the spiritual ascent. After the active night of sense comes the passive, followed by the active and passive nights of spirit.


qualcosa di bello said...

i stumbled upon this same truth...one approach i have taken is to hold off on the search (unless it is related to my writing assignment!) for a bit. if the question to google keeps recurring in my daily life, i will ask my self why & possibly go ahead with the search.

though i must say adding your questions to my curiosity makes infinitely more sense to me.

Matthew Ignatius said...

Casual "surfing" tends to lead people to places they never intended to go in the first place. For example, just the other day on Wikipedia, I think I started by looking at some article on Korea and somehow ended up on an article about ancient funerary practices.

Sometimes this wandering yields a not so bad result. For example, yesterday while surfing I came across a video made by someone with the alias "Chi-City" who was handing out money to the poor in Chicago as a Christmas present. He sought out those who people usually avoid quite deliberately such as the homeless and prostitutes.

For the most part, however, I would say that surfing usually leads to far more negative places within the shady and creepy world of the internet. For example, I'm a big fan of Marilyn Monroe and her movies, not for the reasons that most men would be but because I genuinely believe she had talent. Naturally, searching "Marilyn Monroe" can inevitably lead to the less-than-wholesome photos of the former sex idol.

I will admit I certainly should surf far less than I do. I'll take into consideration your words... they will hopefully help.


for narnia said...

great advice, Fr. C! it's true that "we need to deny our outward senses what delights them," as John of the Cross recomends. this is a good spiritual practice and i think it can help us stay focused on God more and less on the things of the world. (it's so true that the world seems to want instant gratification in all circumstances, which is not a good thing - one can not learn patience or learn to wait for things this way.) i agree that we should stop and ask ourselves all those questions that you suggest before surfing the web. i think that another way to deny ourselves would be to not surf the web everyday - we could limit ourselves. i noticed that by not surfing everyday, that, even if i did have something that i intended to surf the web for, it will completely leave my mind and then i realize it wasn't that important after all. so, yes, it's absolutely excellent advice that we stop and ask ourselves all those questions that you suggest and, yes, even deny ourselves the opportunity. i feel that some of those old fashioned ways of self-denial are still important,(some of which the church has become somewhat less strict about),like fasting. even if it's just once a week or once a month, i feel that a day of fasting can really be good for us if done prayerfully and for the right reasons. PEACE!
~tara t~