Growing up forty years ago, my brothers, sisters, and I would often visit our local public library — especially during the summer months when we were not attending school. Usually, our parents were not with us during these visits as we lived within biking distance of the library. At that time, many of the current methods of entertainment (streaming music and video, DVDs, etc.) were not available. In the 1980s, the internet was in its infancy and not accessible to those outside of universities or the military.
At home, we did not have a television set, and instead, relied primarily on books to take us on adventures and experience historical events in our imaginations. As we grew older, graduated from high school, and attended college, we had less time for leisure reading. Now, as middle-aged parents, we are taking our children to the library. But, unlike some things in life, public libraries have not improved with age.
Public libraries have changed significantly over the last 40 years. Books promoting immorality have been part of libraries for decades, however now these themes are showing up in books for young people. Many books speak about “free love” and describe sexual acts without consequences; committing adultery seems quite normal. Books with LGTBQ characters are featured conspicuously for curious, young readers. Our local library featured a book about a little girl with “two mommies” on a shelf in plain view, easily accessible by its target audience — children. The children and young adult departments of our local libraries now contain large numbers of books dealing with horror themes as well as magic and fantasy motifs. Biographies and stories relating important historical events are now written from a left-wing “social justice” inspired point of view. They focus on marginalized persons, on “social justice” for the underrepresented and oppressed in society. When such books refer to religion, they give the impression that God’s Word deals solely with “social justice” – which can then become a religion of its own.
Some public libraries have a section dubbed “Christian fiction” or something similar. This might cause one to automatically believe that these books could be considered “good books”. However, the religion in those books is mostly a cheap, superficial religion which consists of “thanking God” and “always trusting God” during times of trouble. These books breathe Arminian thoughts and ideas which we should avoid. It is rare, in these types of books, to read about a sinner who became guilty before God and men. We do not hear how the Lord leads His people and begins His work in their life. Instead, these books generally speak of a religion where the characters begin immediately to “trust in God”. These types of books begin to sow the seeds of doubt about experiential truth as taught in the Scriptures. The question can then come to mind: is it really necessary for us to be converted according to what we hear preached in our churches? Are we the only church denomination which teaches the truth and necessity of conversion according to God’s Word? Are all of the other churches and denominations wrong? Do we become jealous of those people who can trust in God so easily, despite their circumstances and difficulties? Dear friends, do we see the danger of slowly, but surely, getting more detached from the experimental truth and drawn into an Arminian lie?
In addition to lending books, many libraries have, for many years, made DVDs and Blu-Ray discs available for borrowing by patrons. Over the last decade, libraries have added iPads, Chromebooks (with an included wifi hotspot for internet access), and video game consoles (for playing video games at home). One very popular item are the take-home internet hotspot devices which allow a library user to get internet access wherever they take the hotspot device. These items are either available for free, or for a low rental fee.
Computers with internet access are often freely available in libraries, for children as well as adults. And, even though the “Children’s Internet Protection Act”, in the United States, requires computers used by library visitors to have filtered internet access , children are still able to access a multitude of topics and1 information which we would not allow into our homes. Canadian parents should be aware that their local libraries are not governed by a similar “Protection Act” It might be wise to only allow computer access at2 home where the computer (and mobile devices) can be electronically and visually monitored.
As can be imagined and considering how libraries have evolved in the past forty years, giving children, especially teenagers, unsupervised access to all of these materials (and possibly more, depending on the library) would be a huge mistake. Think twice before allowing your younger children to visit the library unaccompanied by a parent or a responsible brother or sister. If parents allow their children to get books from the public library, they should monitor what materials are being checked out, based on the ten commandments. The question should be asked, “How do the contents of this book hold up against the standard of God’s Word and the commandments?” Make some effort to help your children find good, solid literature they will enjoy. True to their sinful nature, and left to themselves, children are often drawn to books and other media that invite them into worlds of fantasy and magic. Moving to books dealing with dark fantasy and the occult is a possible next step. It is of great importance that parents talk with their children about why we must not read certain books and why the contents of many books are sinful in the eyes of the Lord. If the Israelites were warned to, “Regard not them that have familiar spirits, neither seek after wizards, to be defiled by them: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19:31), certainly we should take care in avoiding books and other materials dealing with these evils.
If you have them nearby, visit several local libraries – you may find that one could have less of the problematic materials described above. Some libraries are not so quick in getting rid of older books, which will generally have less objectionable themes and topics.
Seeing that many items in the public library cannot stand the test of portraying a morality according to God’s Word and the ten commandments, the question might be asked, “Are there alternatives to using the public library?” Yes – one option might be for parents to consider acquiring their own “family” library. Over time, begin buying good books from library book sales, thrift stores, and garage sales that might be selling books cheaply. This is something to begin with as soon as children are born as it takes time and some money to acquire good reading material. It’s quite satisfying as a parent, however, to see your children enjoying good books, bought with them in mind before they were even able to hold onto a book.
We had to bike along busy roads when we visited our local library as children. Our parents expressed some worry when we asked to visit the library – mostly concerned about our physical safety. Today, our children’s physical well-being is still important; however, we and our children also need to be protected from the moral and spiritual dangers lurking at the library. We need the Lord’s help and strength to “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.” (I Peter 5:8).
1 Internet filtering is required in all libraries receiving funding from the United States federal government. Public libraries not receiving federal funds are not required to have internet filters installed.
2 Schulz, K. (2020). Internet filters in Canadian libraries. Pathfinder: A Canadian Journal for Information Science Students and Early Career Professionals, 1(2), 36-50. https://doi.org/10.29173/pathfinder23
This article, the last in a 3-part series written by Dr. ir. S.M. de Bruin, was obtained from the Lethbridge Modern Media Committee with permission from the author and has also been published in the September/October 2017 edition of “Insight Into“.
Living as a stranger here below, journeying to a city that has foundations – and then, at the same time, on YouTube and Snapchat… Can the two go together?
The greatest walking event in the Netherlands will commence in one and a half months, when 50,000 people will walk in and around Nijmegen for four days to receive the Four Day March Cross. The exertion and perseverance of these walkers can be used as an example for us when we contemplate the baggage of Christian Pilgrims and their media usage. These walkers don’t only make sure they have the right shoes and light clothing, but they also very carefully pack their backpacks. As they add every bottle of drink and every roll of energy candy, they ask themselves if they really need it. They will avoid all excess baggage, because they feel that every 100 grams they don’t need acts only as ballast. Similarly, the runners in Hebrews 12:1 are urged to lay aside every weight that can hinder them. During their journey, these walkers or pilgrims also manage their time carefully and avoid everything that can divert them from their destinations. A Greek myth relates that Princess Atlanta lost a race because her competitor rolled three golden apples over the racetrack. She couldn’t resist the temptation and picked up the apples, thereby losing the competition.
Habituation or addiction
What is the practical meaning of this for a Christian in the 21st century? How can a father apply this image of the pilgrim to the upbringing of his teens? “Come on, Dad. You can’t walk with your head in the clouds the entire day, can you?” One of the malicious sides of today’s media is that they continuously demand our attention. This was already the case back in the days of the old-fashioned telephone, which penetrated into our conversations, disturbed the peace or interrupted our meals. Modern media devices don’t ring anymore, but the vibrating signal is quite sufficient to interrupt our concentration.
Why is this? In the past few years, we’ve come to know more about what takes place in the brain during the use of social media. Checking emails, messages, or WhatsApp becomes a habit or even an addiction, because of the regular interesting “rewards” perceived by getting these messages. These rewards cause the brain to produce dopamine, a “stimulating hormone”, which gives it a kick and stimulates the recipient to go on: to another film, another reply, reading another couple of messages. Another vibrating signal again: perhaps there is another interesting tidbit? It is precisely the unexpectedness and the pull of the unknown (just think of Snapchat) that make this effect so strong. Dopamine is a material in the brain that performs all sorts of functions, but one of its involvements is in addiction and the associated experience of pleasure. Brains can become so used to dopamine stimulants that we need more and more of them in order to feel “normal”.
In his book Ontketen je brein (Unleash your brain), Compernolle, a Flemish neuro-psychiatrist, describes how we become so accustomed to all these small, unpredictable rewards from our smartphones that we are no longer able to go offline. The deceitfulness of this is that we find it pleasurable. A second result is that these media continually disrupt us when we want to concentrate or rest or sleep. This disturbs important mental processes, such as reflection and archiving. Therefore, Compernolle advises us to go offline for an hour a couple of times per day, only do one task at a time and take regular breaks. This will improve our concentration, our willpower, our self-control and our creativity.
Christians must take this advice seriously. Young people – but also older ones – regularly complain that they have a hard time concentrating. Do we realize that the devices that constantly demand our attention are like heavy concrete bricks in the backpacks of pilgrims? That those hundreds of stimulations per day are the golden apples that roll over our racetracks? They look attractive and promising, but they exact a high price when they distract our attention during the sermon, during Bible reading or during our prayers. Here, only a radical choice is fitting, and parents have the important task of being the example: Go offline an hour before going to sleep, reserve time to “reflect” and time to think about and meditate on God’s Word. Do not read your Bible on an electronic device. Make sure that digital stimulants cannot disturb your Sabbath rest, by silencing your smartphone from Saturday evening to Monday morning. Avoid social networks that exist precisely because of surprise and stimulation (i.e., Snapchat) as much as possible. If your (home)work allows, turn off the sounds and signals of other networks (i.e., WhatsApp, Facebook, e-mail, etc.) to the extent possible and limit yourself to only answering these types of messages at fixed times. If someone really needs
you, they’ll phone you.
Among the many forms of media distraction lies a second danger that the pilgrim should greatly fear. In Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress, we see how Christian continually met with diversions. When he, together with Faithful, passed the town of Vanity and could not bypass the fair, they put their fingers in their ears and looked upwards. Further on, when Christian and Hopeful passed the Enchanted Grounds, where sleep would be deadly, they kept each other awake by means of spiritual discourse and singing. In a previous article in this series, we have seen the excellent possibilities that these new media can offer. The other side of the coin is the secular influence of the “image culture” on our families. Games, videos, and vlogs on YouTube and series via NOP and Netflix slay their thousands. It is very important for parents to watch what their children are doing online and to familiarize themselves with sites like Facebook, Instagram, After School, ASKfm, Kik, and LIVE.LY to name only a few.
It often appears that parents themselves aren’t really that convinced of the associated dangers and, for the most part, are only concerned about the use of obscene language. The American preacher John Piper has an entirely different opinion about this. The article he wrote in 1995 about TV is still completely applicable to the image entertainment of the current era. “Turn off the TV. It is unimportant. And it is a lethal spot for your relaxation. The penetrating banalities, the sexual suggestions, and the God-denying values do not uplift your soul. It is mind numbing. It drives God away. It quenches prayer. It darkens the Bible. It reduces the value of your soul. It corrupts virtually everything. It is unnecessary for most of you and is spiritually lethal for all of you.” Later, he wrote that, although we can be more selective on the internet, “yet you can also search worse things on it, while only the Judge of heaven and earth beholds you.”
Whoever takes these words to heart, will say, together with the poet of Psalm 119: “I have refrained my feet from every evil way” (verse 101). Then, we will be happy with filters and other aids that keep this form of “recreation” at a distance; for ourselves, as well as for our children.
But filters – they don’t work at all, do they? Indeed, if someone wants to circumvent digital protection, they will most likely find a loophole. But those who know the deceitfulness of their own hearts and are afraid of it, actually feel the need for protection. These fathers and mothers will tell their children that, in the first place, they need the filter for themselves. Then, like Christian and Christiana, they will urge all their children to depart from the City of Destruction and join them on their pilgrimage.
In relation to this, we can also draw a valuable lesson from the Four-Day Race: not everyone can join, just like that. Someone can join up with the procession of walkers, go through the same difficulties, walk the same distance, and come into the same city along the same Via Gladiola. However, only those who have officially registered and can show their identity card will receive the Four-Day Cross.
The same holds true for the Christian pilgrim. Media education begins with conversion. The English evangelist Arthur Pink points out that we may not be satisfied with raising children to be “rich young rulers”, as “it will not profit us when we each try to form a good character and do that which will gain God’s approval, if our sins stand between Him and our souls. What good are shoes to us if we are lame? Or what good are pairs of glasses if we are blind? The matter of the forgiveness of our sins is fundamental, of vital importance. (…) At the hour of death, it comes down to this: Have our sins been blotted out by the blood of Christ?”
Dr. ir. S.M. de Bruijn