“I this day am weighed down with much … desire and anxiety for the welfare of your souls” (Jacob 2:3). These are the words Elder David Bednar use to preface his powerful May CES fireside. If anyone questions whether the Brethren are in-touch, in-tune and on-target with today's issues, they have only to study this pivotal address.
He knew it would be a difficult, sensitive topic, one as timely for the rest of us as it was for his college-age listeners. His main subject was our use of the Internet, but his warning far exceeded previously addressed concerns over pornography, hitting even the seemingly innocent users of the wondrous expanse of Cyberspace. I have to admit that it was a wake-up call for me as well.
The source of his concern was the impact certain choices can have on the delicate and essential relationship between our body, our spirit and our mind. He reminded us that, "And in this dispensation the Lord revealed that “the spirit and the body are the soul of man” (D&C 88:15).
Some threats to the body, and therefore to the soul, are obvious. Elder Bednar pointed out that daredevil sports with high risk intended to provide a "rush" are a misuse of our bodies. But he went on to point out some far more subtle dangers--the addicting effect of excessive video gaming or online socializing; the enticement of "virtual worlds" where anything goes because it's "not real"; and the very basic threat posed by simply being too entertained to contribute to family and personal interactions.
"Thou shalt not idle away thy time, neither shalt thou bury thy talent that it may not be known” (D&C 60:13). On the very most basic level, cell phones, iPods, TV and online activities require a sacrifice of time. What are we doing with this most precious commodity? Take a look at the posts on a single Facebook page. How much time is idled away chasing down virtual Easter eggs, taking quizzes like "What type of shoe are you?" and scanning electronic pages of unknown people? What if that time were spent in service and friendship to real flesh-and-blood people?
On a deeper level, many people are getting caught up in more worrisome activities such as creating avatars and virtual realities that separate their mind and body. Some people admit that virtual world where their mind plays is more exciting and satisfying that the tangible reality of their real life. Elder Bednar reported that early 40% of men and 53% of women who play online games said their virtual friends were equal to or better than their real-life friends. Sobering.
He went on to point out that online flirtations are infidelities. Remember, "the spirit and the body are the soul of man." Just because there is no physical contact involved in online flirtations doesn't mean we haven't crossed a sacred line. "Remember, however, that apostasy is not anonymous simply because it occurs in a blog or through a fabricated identity in a chat room or virtual world. Immoral thoughts, words, and deeds always are immoral, even in cyberspace."
I thought about the popular video games today with their murders, hit-and-runs, and worse, and the "rush" they offer the players. Remember, "Immoral deeds are always immoral, even in cyberspace."
It's a lot to think about. While most of us would never rob a bank or shoplift at a mall, many of us feel less remorseful over downloading copyrighted material even though it's still illegal. Said Elder Bednar, "Deceitful acts supposedly veiled in secrecy, such as illegally downloading music from the Internet or copying CDs or DVDs for distribution to friends and families, are nonetheless deceitful."
Likewise, while we would never shoot a human being or have an affair, we live in a world where all these actions are available to us in a virtual world. The Adversary would have us believe it doesn't matter, it's just a game, but an apostle of the Lord challenges that lie. The same standards always apply, are always in force.
Aspects of technology have impacted each of us. Remembering why we are here in mortality may help keep our body and spirit in harmony, and help us keep our feet in real ground when technology calls, tempting us into virtual play grounds.
As for me? I'm trying to be more aware of how much time I spend online. Though my choices may be innocent, there are still so many other things I could be doing instead. As Elder Bednar said, "We are all accountable to God, and ultimately we will be judged of Him according to our deeds and the desires of our hearts."