“On the seventh day God finished his work which he had done and he rested” Genesis 2.2
The first issue involving New Media and Christian holiness is that of rest. The Lord created the heavens and the earth. After that, he rested. The act of creation (space, time, and the ordered matter within it) was an act of divine love. God did not need to create anything in order to add to his own holiness and perfection. However, from all eternity God rested.[i] Being at rest, in other words, is an intrinsic part of his nature. Being a creator was an act of gratuitous love. The fact that creation and rest are the first two things revealed to us about God means they are fundamental to how we are to understand him. At the beginning and centre of the act of creating everything, there is a God who rests. After creating he returns to rest, and invites all that he has created to join him in it.
As created in his image, we create also, in accordance with the gifts and limitations of our natures. We are also to rest. I think it is important to say that the need to rest (in God) is of deeper importance than our many ways of being creators. Of course this is not meant to drive a wedge between creation and
rest, but only to keep in mind a proper order of importance. This is especially important in late modernity where the value of human beings is often set in relation to questions of productivity. All human beings can participate in the rest of God (e.g., those who never see the light of day, those who labour in their own way with profound physical or mental challenges etc). Those who are able to labour and work must do so “to the Lord their God” with a view to participating in the rest of the Lord. However, an inability or denial to labour (for example, if a human is denied the opportunity to work due to the violence of abortion or the tragedy of miscarriage), is not fundamentally a denial of our being as created in his image.
There are many aspects to being creatures that make rest necessary for us in a way that it is not necessary for God (as it is just part of his nature). As rest is a necessary part of our being, and because we fell away from participating in God’s rest, God made rest a command. “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy” (Exodus 20.8). It is the fourth command, and it is amongst the commands directing proper and holy worship to God. Worship is understood here as the orientation of our souls and bodies in all our activities, towards the Lord.
The commands, all of them, in some way point to the actualization of our being, whether those commands are of commission or omission. The things we are commanded to do by God are commanded because they make clear how our conduct is to coincide with God’s own life and holiness. The things we are commanded not to do are prohibited because they further alienate us from God and thus alienate us from one another and fragment our own beings. So, the command for us to rest is an act of participation in God’s own rest, and is thus a way for us to be more truly human. For the Christian, this Sabbath rest is taken up and beyond the Ten Commandments into the life of the Kingdom of God which Jesus opened for us. I’m not going to look at this (at least not here). But I do want to look at rest in relation to New Media and the holiness to which we are called.
Anecdotally and scientifically it is apparent that more and more people are recognizing the need to ‘unplug’ in order to rest. So called ‘digital sabbaths’ are becoming increasingly common and popular, and they may have nothing to do with religious observance, but are perhaps more an act of desperation to recover some degree of creaturely equilibrium. I’m going to assume that we all know the importance of observing digital Sabbaths. If we don’t unplug regularly, we should.
What interests me more, however, is why New Media activity appears to be incompatible with genuine rest. Why is it that an activity that requires virtually no physical effort, can be so profoundly draining on our being? If we consider this we may have a better idea regarding the importance of fasting from New Media, and the intrusive technology which delivers it, on a regular basis.
Intellectual activity is now clearly regarded as ‘work’.[ii] However, intellectual activity is also a basic component of godly leisure (as is wholesome physical activity). Rest is not the same thing as being idle. Merely being idle is of no benefit whatsoever. It is, in fact, a refusal to be who God wants us to be.[iii] This is not to say that a time of ‘doing nothing’ is never appropriate if we are physically or mentally exhausted, but only that it is not to be confused with the kind of rest we’re talking about here. If someone is mentally exhausted, physical activity is a benefit, and vice versa. If you’re both physically and mentally exhausted, perhaps sitting down with a nice glass of wine and looking at a sunset is just what you need. But this helps us sharpen what we mean by idleness. Idleness doesn’t bother looking up at the sunset.
It is becoming clear that a steady diet of New Media is not merely intellectual activity. Quite apart from the nature of the medium itself (which seems to work against focused intellectual effort anyway) there is the fact that it is itself a way of engaging our bodies which is not entirely natural and thus needs to be carefully managed. Studies indicate that too much internet use has a negative effect on sleep patterns and bodily rhythms.[iv] Chris Kresser has a helpful article outlining many of the ways and reasons why too much internet use is unhealthy for us.[v] It seems that in many subtle ways, our minds (the artificial light that affects our bodily rhythms) and our bodies (the lack of shift in focus and depth that strains our eyes) are made weary by excessive internet and electronic use, and that immersing ourselves in a digital world is toxic for certain aspects of our being. Ontological toxins are perhaps inevitable in late modern life, but are we overburdening ourselves with the toxins and doing ourselves harm?
I know that my own sleep improved significantly when I banished my iPhone and iPad from my bedside. I have noticed the difference between the quality of my leisure time (mental and physical) when I’m not at all tempted or able to look at my mobile devices or computer.
Rest, or more specifically, godly leisure involves our body, mind and spirit. New Media does not, actually cannot, involve these three elements of our beings in a coherent way. So if we want to engage in godly leisure, or a sabbath rest, abstaining from New Media is as necessary as abstaining from our other labours. Taking a sabbath rest from New Media will help us focus upon those things which are of most importance. We can rest in the Lord, we can enjoy community with our families and friends face to face, we can enjoy the gift of creation. For some of us, we can emerge from our dark caves and allow our skin to reacquaint itself with sunlight or rain.
[i] Aquinas, Thomas. “Q.73, Art 2.” Summa Theologica. Vol. 1. New York: Benziger Bros., 1947. 354. Print.
[ii] Pieper, Josef, and Alexander Dru. “Chapter II.” Leisure, the Basis of Culture. New York: Pantheon, 1964. N. pag. Print.
[iii] Ibid, 38.
[iv] SUGANUMA, N., KIKUCHI, T., YANAGI, K., YAMAMURA, S., MORISHIMA, H., ADACHI, H., KUMANO-GO, T., MIKAMI, A., SUGITA, Y. and TAKEDA, M. (2007), Using electronic media before sleep can curtail sleep time and result in self-perceived insufficient sleep. Sleep and Biological Rhythms, 5: 204–214. doi:10.1111/j.1479-8425.2007.00276.x
[v] Kresser, By Chris. “Is Too Much Internet Use Making Us Sick?” Chris Kresser. Www.chriskresser.com, 06 Apr. 2016. Web. 14 Sept. 2016.