TRANSCRIPT: Ashley Madison and the absurdity of sin

September 11, 2015

Hello, this is Russell Moore, and this is Questions and Ethics, the program where we take your moral dilemmas and look at them in the light of scripture and the gospel. And today, the question that I have is actually not from one of you. The question is from me. And that is because with all of the news and controversy right now about the Ashley Madison hack—For those of you who are not aware of this, it’s a website that is designed to help people to have affairs—so, people pay in order to find people to commit adultery with. And hackers, of course, have gotten into the list of customers. They’ve made that list available. So, I have just been—I don’t know about y’all, but I have been seeing all week long just one devastating situation after another where people have been caught in this, and marriages breaking up, and all sorts of awful ramifications.

So, the question I have is when this started to happen—because I have to tell you I assumed when I first saw Ashley Madison talked about on some television news program, I assumed that this was really just kind of a publicity stunt because I thought nobody’s really going to be paying money to do this. Well, I was wrong. Millions and millions and millions of people signing up and doing this. So, I found myself the other day on the phone saying to someone, “How could people be this stupid?” I mean, how could you think that you are going to go in and use your credit card and get involved with some website and that you weren’t going to get caught? I had several conversations with friends in ministry about that. It just seems crazy and irrational and self-destructive.

But as I said that, and I heard myself even asking the question, are these people really that stupid, the more I’ve started thinking about that, and to realize that the people who are Ashley Madison customers are not more stupid than anybody else. And I really should have known that even from the very beginning. Everybody who has an adulterous affair is acting in ways that are irrational and ultimately self-destructive. I mean, every situation like that is the case. I mean, even the guy who founded Ashley Madison told a New Zealand newspaper in 2010 that he’s happily married, and he’d be devastated if his wife ever cheated on him or if she ever used a website or something like Ashley Madison herself. So, it is inherently something that doesn’t lead to good results.

I mean, even if you just bracketed biblical morality and the gospel for a moment and just used that Proverbs sort of wisdom that says look and see how this ends up. You know, the Proverbs say that one doesn’t take a dog by the ears. Well, why is that? because we can observe and say people who come up and just take a random dog in the street and grab him by the ears, it doesn’t end well. And people who cheat on their spouses, it doesn’t end well. So, why do people do it?

And I think the problem that I was having as I was looking at Ashley Madison is that I was thinking in inherently rational ways which is not the way that any of us think. And that is precisely the danger of temptation, whatever the temptation is. We can assume that these people just lack intelligence or skill or foresight, and if they had just been a little bit smarter they wouldn’t have gotten caught in this. That is not the case at all. I mean, if you think of the pattern of temptation that we see in scripture, it always attempts to conceal potential consequences and to give the person a feeling as though the person is above consequences, as though the person is special. When the serpent comes to Eve, he says if you eat of this you will be like God knowing good and evil, and you “will not surely die.” Well then when we look in Proverbs 7 at the father saying to his son don’t go in the way of the adulteress—well, how does it happen? He gives the example of a young man who it just seems like everything is happening just right: He goes out onto the street, and he happens upon this woman, and she happens to be interested in him, and her husband happens to be out of town, and so she happens to invite him over. And he doesn’t realize that he is being gradually lured toward his destruction, “as an ox is taken to slaughter,” the Proverbs is saying to us.

And so what we need to realize is that temptation isn’t merely cognitive. People aren’t just marking out here are the benefits of this action and the consequences of this action. That’s not the way people think. It’s not merely biological either. There is a biological instinct toward sexual expression that is designed by God to lead us into marital intimacy with one another, toward the one-flesh union. And so it is very powerful. And that is exploited by the flesh, is exploited by what the scripture refers to as both the world—the environment around us and the system of the universe around us—and the by the devil—by those invisible personages in the universe that really seek our destruction. And the tempting powers come after us in much the same way, whatever your particular point of vulnerability is. They want to distort the way that we see the future.

So, if I am wanting to—if I know that eating deep fat fried doughnuts every morning is going to raise my cholesterol levels, you know, it doesn’t matter if I know that, cognitively, unless I can imagine myself having a heart attack. If I start to imagine heart attacks as the things that happen to other people and not to me, then it is easy to pull myself towards something that is going to be destructive in that way. If I choose to give my children building blocks, and I don’t choose to give them matches to play with, it’s because I can imagine what it would be like to see my house burning down.

And in almost every adultery situation I’ve ever seen—and I say almost—I think every adultery situation I’ve ever seen, there has never been a rational decision-making process going on. The person never really believes that he or she is going to get caught. And in many cases, in many of the adultery situations I’ve seen, the person who is cheating doesn’t want the marriage to end. In many cases, the person wants to keep everything the same—spouse, kids, and the lover too. Now, that is irrational. That is not the way the world works. I mean you just look around and you see this taking place, and you are able to say to this guy or to this woman, that is not going to happen, that is not the way that you can build a healthy marriage. But you can convince yourself, or you can be convinced that this will work for you.

And the way that you become convinced of that is to think that you are special. You start to see yourself as having power over—just as our first parents did—what the serpent said to them is you can be the one to discern between good and evil. You can have that power in and of yourself. And if you have the power to discern between good and evil then you have the power over life and death—“You will not surely die.” Once we become convinced of that, through whatever reason—if we’re in a place of deep vulnerability, we’re in a place of distance from God, we’re in a place of—whatever’s going on in our life, once we fall for that we can do crazy, crazy things. It’s not simply just a matter of intelligence.

Satan is intelligent. Satan is hyper intelligent. And yet, Satan is able to see and know that God made a promise that he would crush his skull. He is able to see that Jesus of Nazareth has been raised from the dead. He is able to see the presence of the Holy Spirit in the church through the life of the world. He is able to see all those things, and yet he rages all the more, Revelation 12 tells us, against Christ and his people because he knows his time is short. Now, that’s crazy. That’s crazy. Just in terms of military strategy, that is crazy because why would you continue to fight, when you know that you are on the losing side?

But the issue is not intelligence here. What we need is wisdom, and what wisdom does is not just give us consequences and benefits. Wisdom shows us the way that we are to walk. It shows us a picture of where our sinful choices are going to lead us—that sort of destruction—and it shows us the way to walk in which is sometimes a way that doesn’t seem right to us. “There is a way that seems right to a man,” the scripture says, “and the way thereof leads to death.” Okay. The scripture tells us that way is a person, Jesus of Nazareth, and we follow him even when it doesn’t make sense to us or it doesn’t feel right to us in the moment.

And so, you may be in a situation where you just aren’t in a place of vulnerability like these people who have been caught in the Ashley Madison situation are. And that may well be. We all have different points of vulnerability. But all of us, this side of resurrection, are on the verge of wrecking our life, at any point and at any time. We are always walking through the valley of the shadow of death. And the answer isn’t going to be found in our talent, it’s not going to be found in our strategy, it’s not going to be found in our brilliance—it is found only in wisdom, and wisdom is rooted, the scripture says, in fear, the fear of the Lord, and the vision of his future. And so we are constantly in need of the power of the Spirit. We are constantly in need of mercy.

And so, if you are tempted to do what I was tempted to do and to look at these guys caught and to say, “How stupid! How could you do that?” Well, take heed lest you fall because intelligence can’t save us from this. Planning can’t save us from this. Only the Spirit and the gospel can.

This is Russell Moore. This is Questions and Ethics. What’s your situation that you are dealing with? Do you have a moral dilemma? Maybe a conversation that you are having with a coworker and you are kind of stumped, or maybe you are reading your Bible and you come across something you don’t know how to make sense of it, or maybe something going on in the culture around you or in your neighborhood, and you are thinking I just don’t know what to do about this. Well, give me an email at [email protected] and I will be glad to take it up here on the Questions and Ethics program. Talk to you next time.

Russell Moore

Russell Moore is a former President of the ERLC. He holds a Ph.D. in systematic theology from the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. His latest book is The Courage to Stand: Facing Your Fear Without Losing Your Soul. His book, The Storm-Tossed Family: How the Cross Reshapes the Home, was named Christianity Today’s 2019 Book of the … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24