Following closely on the heels of my post on Solitude, I offer this observation of our high tech society.
We live in a narcissistic world. Our tech gadgets, which have become increasingly portable, allow us to enter into our fantasy worlds no matter where in the world we might be. ‘Me time’ is experienced now anytime, anywhere and anyhow.
Sitting in an airport terminal, waiting on a delayed flight to resume? No problem, simply check the latest news and sports scores on your cell phone.
Waiting in a long line at the grocery store? Just whip out your MP3 player and tap your toes to your favorite tunes.
Bored with the Sunday sermon? Just crank up a favorite movie on your iPod and drift away.
Family get together at Grandmas? Forget about it! You have an appointment to take down the dragon’s lair with all your online buddies in a riveting massively multiplayer online RPG.
Itching to evangelize? No need to get your rear out of that chair. Just play on a virtual life simulation online, build a church and preach the gospel.
Notice what’s missing from all these scenarios?
Personal interaction with real live human beings!
But the real world is no longer the only reality. Technology has devised means for people to escape into any one of a billion different alternate realities. Our brains release tons of intoxicating dopamine into our systems manufacturing manifold pleasurable sensations
Pleasure apart from experiencing the peace of God is a false hope.
Are not these gadgets simply building materials to erect a temple of self worship, an isolated place where only you are allowed entrance? Inhabitants of the real world who seek your full attention, are largely ignored as you walk deeper and deeper into self-absorption.
I exaggerate not. Surely you have seen evidence of this brave new world of alternate reality.
I worked at Wal-Mart several years ago while I finished up college. I was stationed in Electronics. More than a few times I would check out a customer who would not so much as acknowledge my existence. I might as well have been a vending machine. Insert cash – get product – pick up change – walk away.
The cause of this rude non-interaction? A tech gadget of some sort, whether a cell-phone, iPod/MP3 player, etc. I know many of you can share similar experiences – on either side of the issue.
Do I think technical gadgets are evil?
Come on, I’m a PC tech, what do you think?
Of course they’re evil!! Stupid little devices don’t work the way they should and then I have to waste my time trying to get them to do their job… Wait- sorry- I’m ranting again. Been doing this too long I’m afraid…
The devices themselves are benign, an entirely neutral force in the universe. They can be used for good or for evil. They can accomplish tasks, bring pleasure or they can be used for overindulgence.
I’ve been listening to a message recently by CJ Mahaney. He says the great problem of mankind is the sin of idolatry. The bible speaks of it often and harshly condemns it. The first two commandments given to Moses referenced idolatry directly.
“You shall have no other gods before me.
“You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, (Exo 20:3-5)
Apparently, idolatry is a rampant transgression in the hearts of men. God thundered these commandments at the very forefront of his decrees. Idolatry is a plague upon humanity, blighting the very image of God. It seduces men away from worshiping the Creator, substituting his sufficiency with mere created things. Man has exchanged the truth for a lie.
Idolatry is not just some ancient mystical practice indulged by primitive pre-industrial cultures. It is the perfected practice of every person ever born. Mahaney said that man emerges from the womb an expert in idol-making. It is the one trade we all have an innate talent for achieving greatness.
The chief idol man exalts above God is himself. Sometimes this act of worship is channeled through a passionate desire manifested in an object or activity. But they are not the source of idolatry. Mahaney quoted John Calvin saying, (as best I can remember) “The sin of idolatry lies not within the things we want, but in wanting them too much.” Idolatry is a heart problem, not an object issue.
Mahaney went on to refine the definition.
Idolatry is an over attachment to something that in itself may be perfectly good.
So breathe easy. No need to cleanse your home of all your iPods and gadgets. Nor should you quit that job or leisure time hobby necessarily. In our carnality, we will just devise schemes to get them back, or else find another substitute to enthrone ourselves higher in self-worship. No, getting rid of these things really accomplishes nothing. They are not the source of our sin. The true culprit is our wicked heart.
Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desires... (Pro 18:1)
The desires of a wicked heart are tuned to self gratification. Isolation provides many avenues of pleasure-seeking, because the burdens of others are not a concern. Out of sight, out of mind. Postmodern society has thrown open wide the doors to a 24/7/365 anytime-anywhere brand of narcissism that is plunging society into the abyss of individuality and personal rights, trumping all morality, common sense, decency and biblical authority.
But again, I must stress, gadgets are not the problem.
An idol is only a lifeless object. We infuse life into it by way of godless devotion. Idols act as mirrors, reflecting false images of happiness and fulfillment back to us. Self is the soul of all idols. Smash the idol and the soul will seek refuge in something else. It is an endless cycle of desire and fulfillment, dissatisfaction, new desires, fulfillment, etc. etc.
In contrast to this bondage of nature Jesus demanded total commitment from his followers. Idolatry was not a disease he allowed to fester in his followers.
“Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Mat 16:24)
In other words, Jesus says, ‘give up your hopes, dreams and desires. Suffer through the trials, tribulations and persecutions with me and walk in love and in holiness.’
Idolatry of heart cannot take root in a man who has put to death his own fleshly desires.
So, leave your baggage at the foot of the narrow gate. This includes your stony heart and all the idols it has produced. It’s a tight squeeze, not even your clothing will make it through. Fear not, for you will not stand naked. A white robe of righteousness awaits on the other side. It belongs to Christ but he has bestowed it unto his called out ones, that we might stand before the Father unblemished and unstained. The gate is called repentance, the road is named faith. At the end lies eternal life. If you find another gate easier and more appealing; beware! It is a solitary superhighway littered alongside with the wares of the world, but its name is false hope and its end is eternal death.
I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. (Joh 10:9)Little children, keep yourselves from idols. (1Jo 5:21)
I think you have hit the nail on the head with idolatry. I believe that our constant desire for stimulation is one of the keys to this gadget fixation. Check out my experience with this same thing here: http://theologyandsteak.wordpress.com/2007/08/02/bored-to-death-in-a-world-of-stimulation/.
I have heard it said that if we get the First Commandment right, all of the others will fall into place.
Good article, and good insight!