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Sin and the Internet: 4 Frightening Lessons



Tom Hoopes - published on 03/16/15

Your grandmother was right: "Be sure your sins will find you out!"

Social media is ubiquitous in a way that the lives of previous generations never had to deal with, and everyone from the high and mighty to the lowly and rowdy are learning hard lessons.

Here are some spiritual truths that are reflected in social media scandals.

1. We cannot rid ourselves of sin.

“To uproot sin and the evil that is so imbedded in our sinning can be done only by divine power, for it is impossible and outside man’s  competence to uproot sin.” —St. Macarius, Homily 3.4

Hillary Clinton’s email system is teaching her a lesson many have learned online. Her use of a separate server may have made good sense at the time, but she also seems to have skirted the Freedom of Information Act and other regulations in the processm and now is criticized for the way she deleted emails.

Emails are federal records, which is why Lois Lerner of the IRS is in trouble for deleting emails.

They are learning in their public roles what social media is teaching people in their private lives: Our choices are real, with real consequences, and we can’t make them go away. Sin won’t go away on its own. Ever.

2. Nothing you do is secret.

“There is nothing hidden that will not become visible, and nothing secret that will not be known and come to light.” -Luke 8:17

Parker Rice and other SAE frat members at Oklahoma University learned this the hardest way possible. They gleefully performed an ugly, violent racist chant on a bus. It was posted on YouTube, went viral and earned the condemnation of every single person that saw it or heard about it.

In apologies, both protested that they were not racists, but were repeating a traditional chant they had been taught. One can imagine that there is some truth to what they say: We can all remember saying or doing things in college that we regret. But those things probably fell short of leading a group in a chant that made light of lynchings.

Meanwhile, a woman is pressing charges against the rapper “50 Cent” because after she allowed nude videos of herself to be given to him, he posted them on YouTube.

One imagines she probably has a solid case. One also imagines that she probably wished she hadn’t consented to the embarrassing videos in the first place.

But both cases are a reminder for each of us that what we do is not really ever private. “Each of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12).

We can be grateful for that, actually. Jesus is a much kinder judge than our fellow human beings. Which is why we must …

3. Beware the accuser.

“The accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night.” —Revelation 12:10

Justine Saaco was on a flight to Africa and tweeted jokes about the annoying aspects of travel to her 170 followers. When she landed, she found that one of her jokey tweets—an ill-advised quip that she was not afraid of getting AIDS because she was white—had gone viral and made her the villain of commentators worldwide villifying her joke. The sad tale is told in the New York Times’ “How One Stupid Tweet Ruined Justine Saaco’s Life.”

It is certainly true that Saaco should not have sent an offensive tweet about AIDS and race. It is also true that the offense should not be punishable by international infamy.

In the same way, it is unwise for teens to use Instagram to share their every movement, but it should not be punishable by attracting predators, as it so easily can be. And worse than unwise, it is downright sinful for teens to share naked pictures of themselves, but that should not be punishable by becoming part of a child pornography website.

Horror movies act by positing the existence of an evil force in the world that uses your every weakness to destroy you.

There really is such a power: The devil. And his merciless hounding of us for our sins is the dark mirror-image of Christ’s healing rays of light.

4. Be prepared for hostility for your belief.

“Do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord … but bear your share of hardship for the gospel with the strength that comes from God.” -2 Timothy 1:8

A New Jersey Catholic school teacher took down her Facebook after being targeted by a petition criticizing her opinions against homosexual marriage there.

Patricia Jannuzzi is called a loving, caring teacher by her students—but one day she posted her frustration over homosexual marriage laws advancing across the land. “Real Housewives of New Jersey” cast member Greg Bennet, a 2004 graduate of Immaculata shared her post online and called her a “nightmare dumpster human.”

That’s right, she is the one being accused of hate speech, not him.

Meanwhile, Fred Hammond is the latest Christian evangelist who accusing Facebook of censorship. Christians feel censored and some say they can prove it.

Believers clearly do not have the same free speech rules as everybody else, but we should never let that stop us from speaking the truth.

It should make us very careful though, because social media is an unforgiving master. 

Tom Hoopes is writer in residence at Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.

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