23 Mar Being a Believer in Cyberspace
Where did you land when you logged into your smartphone and clicked the button in your app? Did you realize that as soon as you clicked and entered a website or application, you landed yourself in a different world? This world you entered into is known as cyberspace. In this article we would discuss cyberspace and how it impacts a believer and how a believer can behave in cyberspace. Cyberspace gives both opportunities and challenges for a believer to engage. But this article will explore only the challenges. Discussing the opportunities and positives is beyond the scope of this article.
Cyberspace-The word first appeared in 1984 in the science fiction novel Neuromancer written by William Gibson. Jeffrey P Zaleski in The soul of cyberspace defines cyberspace as “the virtual space created through the activation of a computer [or mobiles, etc]. By this definition, cyberspace is created when, for example, a solo user activates the software adventure game Myst on a stand-alone computer or mobile phone, etc], two or more human beings engage in computer-mediated communication, or two or more computers or mobile phone, etc communicate automatically.”
Why do we have to define it in the sense of cyberspace? Why not just consider it like any other activity like reading a book or jogging? It is much more than that. We enter into a world of realities with a click. When we are connected, we will not be able to focus on the reality of the physical world but we get immersed in cyberspace. Those who use technologies like Augmented Reality (AR) will realize it more vividly. One key thing is that we enter into this world disembodied, i.e. we live our bodies where we sit and enter into a different world to interact with machines, content, and people connected online.
Why do we need to be careful when we enter the cyber world?
It pressurizes people to conform to the patterns of the world
The cyberworld is primarily pushed forward by corporates to accelerate their profit-making interest. Because of this, there is a push for accepting a lot of evil patterns of the world. Attraction to sexual and explicit content is pushed variously. It is surprising to note sometime even explicit contents pop up in advertisements when we use freeware Bible software. Not alone sexually evil content but more and more worldly aspects like consumerism, selfishness, hatred, falsehood, ungodliness, division, and so on are pushed forward by the cyber world. So, when we enter into cyberspace, we need to be mindful of the Biblical command “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”. Romans 12:2.
Like Daniel and friends we need to enter into cyberspace with a resolution not to defile ourselves with the pattern of the world of cyberspace. (Cf. Daniel 1:8)
Cyberspace is a world of artificial intelligence
The cyberworld is moving towards automation in all possible ways. Many times when we want a solution, we are interacting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered machines and not people. Can AI-powered systems replace people? Humans alone are created in the Image of God (Genesis 1:26). Today automation is preferred in working systems. Even though it has positives, we have to understand how AI is impacting us. AI cannot love. It does not have emotions. It is callous. AI-powered systems usually are a world devoid of emotions. We have to be very careful that our minds are also getting programmed like AI as we interact with AI. Many times because of this we become callous to the needs of people around us. We find it difficult to relate to people. We have mechanical love and relation towards people. So as we engage in cyberspace we have to take efforts to relate with people who live in real flesh and blood and live in real times. AI-powered lifestyle forces us to be busy with routine work and live a mechanical life devoid of love and concern for others like the Levite and priest in the parable of the good Samaritan. They force us to mind our work and not be concerned about others. We have to understand and apply the model of the good Samaritan and be sensitive to others as we live our daily lives influenced by AI. (Luke 10:29-37). We have to carefully obey the Lord’s commandment “go and do likewise”.
Cyberspace offers a world to escape
People wish to stay in Cyberworld because they feel temporary relief there. Cyberspace tries to offer that everything is beautiful.
The real world is full of sorrows and painful real-life experiences. People do not want to face the realities of life. So they hook into the internet and surf heart-touching stories or those that give pleasure to them. Less are they realizing that they are withdrawing from their responsibilities and are living in a virtually created world. They become more lazy and waste their time. John 16:33 says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world”. But people escape from the realities of the world because they get the comfort of the cyber world. They do not rely on Jesus to live their lives carrying their daily cross (c.f Mat 16:24-26). We must reorient ourselves to heed Biblical advice of facing daily situations with the help of Jesus rather than escaping and finding temporary relief in cyberspace.
Cyberspace is a world of choices and alternatives
Cyberworld offers endless choices and alternatives. The advertisement shows something to us and we feel like buying and with a click of a few buttons we order it and get it delivered to our doorstep within a few days. Cyberworld gives the message that we are of worth only if we have everything the world has to offer. It forces to accumulate. But as we enter into the cyber world we have to heed the Bible’s call to simplicity as reiterated by the model of Jesus Christ and apostles and the exhortation by Paul, “I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want”. (Philippians 4:12-13)
Choices are also there in terms of spirituality. After the pandemic people do not prefer to attend the Bible study that they used to attend once. But they like a certain Bible study that gets aired in cyberspace. It may have a good ambiance, good music and so on which is missing in the older one. Cyberspace gives us more opportunities to hear what our “itching ears want to hear” and gives us a pleasing environment. Paul’s warning is realized more and more these days. “The time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3). It is time that we resort to our basic lively natural fellowship which professes sound doctrine and not be attracted by the sugar-coated message in cyberspace.
Cyberspace has become part and parcel of our life. We cannot escape from it. It also has a tremendous impact on our lives. A story is told of a frog being slowly boiled alive. The fundamental idea is that when a frog is thrown into a pot of boiling water, it jumps out as a result of the abrupt temperature change. The frog, however, does not recognise the danger when it is placed in room temperature water and the water is slowly heated to a boil, and as a result, he is roasted to death. It’s the ideal metaphor for expressing our incapacity or refusal to react to threats that cyberspace brings to us. Unknowingly we get influenced by it and when we realize it, we are too late. Let us commit ourselves to approach cyberspace with careful discernment.
Benalin is UESI-UP staff on study leave and is currently pursuing his theological studies at New Theological College, Dehradun. He resides with his wife Selin and two children Jagdeep Habeeb Lin and Kashvik Selva Lin