By / Sep 5

In today’s digital world, how can we help children find their identity in Christ? Every child is looking for a place to anchor his or her identity, whether that be in the search for a best friend on the preschool playground, trying to make the team, or joining the right club in their teen years. It is essential that Christian parents guide their children toward their identity in Christ while protecting against spiritual identity theft in today’s digital age.

Internally, all people are asking three questions: 

  • Who am I?
  • Where can I have meaningful human relationships? 
  • And what should I do with my life? 

In Deuteronomy 6, God gave parents the task of forming their children’s spiritual identity. In that day, they spent time raising crops and herding flocks (Deut. 6:7-9). In our day, we spend time on social platforms and streaming platforms. In the middle of this digital age, we cannot replace the essential need for our children to find their identity in Christ, their calling in God’s mission, and deep community in God’s family If we can turn down some of the noise, they will hear the beauty of God’s design for their identity.

In order to nurture our children’s spiritual vitality, we must find ways to lessen the noise that is drowning out the beautiful symphony of God’s design for them. We need to protect our children’s spiritual identity from being hijacked by a digital identity. We have to challenge and propel kids toward real-life impact instead of virtual experiences. In a world in which many children have a myriad of superficial connections, we have to encourage them to cultivate real-life, meaningful connections.

Digital identity theft 

We live in a digital age where most of our day is a dance between screens. We are curators of our own content and sometimes pawns of algorithms that plunge us down rabbit holes of digital content. For many children, their dance between screens has begun to define them. 

Nearly 2/3 of teenagers are on screens for more than four hours a day. Research has shown that dopamine levels produced in the brain in response to social media interaction are comparable to that of drug or gambling addiction. It is not a stretch to say that children are addicted. Perhaps like me, you have witnessed a child melt down and exhibit withdrawal symptoms when a device is taken away. The child’s identity is so wrapped up in their digital identity that it is actually painful to be away from it. 

Pursuing a digital identity leads to addiction, but it is also leading to increased levels of anxiety and depression. Between 2006 and 2016, the suicide rate for those between ages 10 and 17 rose by 70%, and clinical depression rates rose by 40%.

Our children are swimming in a sea of digital content that misinforms them about their identity. As parents, we have the opportunity to anchor our children’s identity in what God says about them. My wife and I often remind our son to listen to the people who love him when he is trying to decide what he will believe about himself. Often, our children are listening to people who do not love them as we do or as God does.

Our job as parents is not to instill self-esteem in our children, but to guide them to the foundational truths about who God says they are. The God who breathed everything into existence says that they have inherent dignity and worth and that they are irreplaceable (Luke 12:7, Jer. 1:5). Once your child trusts in Christ, you can take them to even greater depth of identity through their adoption into God’s family, the indwelling in the Holy Spirit, the shepherding care of Jesus, and so much more. These realities will not shake with the wins and losses of the digital world, because they are rooted in the character, nature, and activity of God.

Differentiating between digital wins and real-life impact 

For many children, the rise and fall of their lives depends upon what happens in the digital world. We must separate digital identity from spiritual identity as we lead and empower our children to embrace their calling in the real world, not by living vicariously through YouTube or video games.  

A few weeks ago, I was talking with one of our children’s ministry leaders. He asked our church’s elementary-aged kids to name a challenge they faced recently. Almost every tough scenario named was faced in a video game. We have an opportunity to help call our kids to join God’s mission and gain a sense of accomplishment outside of their digital world.

We often undervalue the influence that our children can have, but preteens and teenagers have made a big impact throughout history. Think about young men and women like David, Daniel, Joseph, Samuel, and Esther. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are not giving our teenagers any challenges to face in the real world, so they are fleeing to a digital world.

Helping your children cultivate an awareness of God and desire submission and obedience to him is the biggest gift you can ever give them. Calling them to see his glory and purpose while inviting them to embrace their unique personality, gifting, and calling is the greatest privilege and joy of parenthood. The Bible says our children are like arrows, so let us aim them so that they hit the bullseye of eternity (Ps. 127:3).

From superficial digital connections to biblical community 

Finally, we need to model and prioritize biblical community for our children. When we do so, they will be able to distinguish deep connections from superficial digital interactions. We set the example for our children when we spend more time engaging in deep relationships at our church and in our neighborhoods than in our online communities or on social media. Orienting our lives around spending time with God and people will become the true source of our identity—for parents and for children.

The digital world is an extension of the real world, not a replacement for it. Although disconnection is not caused by devices, our devices can multiply our disconnection. Children need to understand that relationships are messy, but they are a mess worth making. In a digital confrontation, you do not have to look a real, living person in the eye. In the digital world, personality is often removed from intimacy and people can hide their flaws while magnifying their strengths. We need to figure out ways to get our children involved in deep relationships and invest in people rather than digital experiences. 

When Jesus was asked to summarize the Old Testament, he responded, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:25-28). Jesus took the same identity that God gave his people in Deuteronomy 6 and paired it with a missional imperative. When we listen to these passages, we hear God beckoning our kids to find their identity in Christ, their relationships in biblical community, and their purpose in their God-given calling. There are no perfect parents that handle this dance with screens perfectly, but all of us can help point our kids toward God’s glory and their good.

By / Aug 11

A recent article in Politico Magazine about a Louisiana law HB 142 has gone viral because of its astounding headline:  A Simple Law Is Doing the Impossible. It’s Making the Online Porn Industry Retreat. “Unlike past efforts to curb online porn that had simply declared the sites a danger to public health, these laws are not symbolic,” writes Politico’s Marc Novicoff. “And they are having real effects on how the massive online porn industry does business.”

Novicoff is referring to laws passed earlier this year that requires users to prove they are 18 or older before accessing pornographic websites. Louisiana was the first state to pass such a law, with similar bills passing in six other states—Arkansas, Montana, Mississippi, Utah, Virginia, and Texas. 

The positive effect of such laws—traffic to Pornhub has dropped 80% within Louisiana—shows why similar legislation should be adopted by other states and highlights why these efforts deserve the support of Christians across the country.

What is the Louisiana law HB 142?

The Louisiana law, known as HB 142, was the first of this type of legislation and provides a model for how they can work.

The process: That law requires users in that state to prove they are 18 or older before accessing sites that contain at least 33.3% pornographic material that is “harmful to minors.” To meet this requirement, users must show government-issued identification, such as a driver’s license, to verify their age. (Louisiana is one of the few states in the U.S. that allows residents to store government-issued IDs digitally on their smartphone.) Doing this helps to prevent minors from accessing adult content and ensures that the websites are complying with age verification laws.

The penalty: Companies that violate the Louisiana law can be sued for damages in civil court by the parents of minors who were able to access the site without being verified. The law makes it clear it does not apply to legitimate uses, such any “bona fide news or public interest broadcast, website video, report, or event,” nor does it “affect the rights of any news-gathering organizations.”

Why should state laws curbing online porn be embraced?

While some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the law, there are several reasons why this is a legal approach to curtailing pornography that should be widely embraced.

1. Such laws protect minors from exposure to adult content

Christians and other anti-pornography advocates make no apologies for wanting to see all pornography banned. But the primary reason for these laws is the more limited effort to protect minors from exposure to adult content. By requiring users to prove their age before accessing pornographic websites, the law ensures that children and teenagers are not exposed to inappropriate content. 

Decades of social science research has shown that exposure to adult content can have negative effects on young people, including:

  • increased sexual activity,
  • risky sexual behavior,
  • and negative attitudes toward women.

By preventing minors from accessing adult content, these laws are helping to protect young people from the negative effects of porn.

2. Such laws ensure compliance with age verification requirements

Another reason why the Louisiana law is a particularly helpful model is that it ensures compliance with age verification laws. Many states have laws that require websites to verify the age of their users before allowing them to access adult content. However, these laws are often not enforced, and many websites ​either do not comply with them or do so in a way that negates the effectiveness and intent.

By requiring users to show government-issued ID to prove their age, the Louisiana law ensures that websites are complying with a community’s efforts to protect its children.  

The law also puts the onus for compliance and enforcement on the community. Louisiana doesn’t identify which companies need to comply. Instead, the state allows companies to determine for themselves whether or not they decide to implement age verification to avoid legal liability. Parents, rather than the state, also bear the burden of determining harm and seeking restitution.

3. Such laws do not pose an undue threat to user privacy

Some privacy advocates have expressed concerns about the Louisiana law HB 142, arguing that it could lead to the collection of sensitive personal information. However, the law is designed to protect user privacy by:

  • requiring that the information be collected by third-party sites—rather than the porn websites,
  • and that all information contained on the user be deleted within 30 days of verification.

This means that websites cannot collect and store user information, which helps to protect user privacy. 

Additionally, the law only requires users to show government-issued ID, which is already required for many other activities, such as buying alcohol or tobacco products. Therefore, the law does not require users to provide any additional personal information beyond what is already required for other activities intended to protect minors from harm.

4. Such laws encourage other states to take efforts to protect our children 

These laws have already provided a positive example for other states to follow. If adopted by a majority of states, it could reshape the landscape of the internet in the U.S., reinforcing the importance of responsibility and accountability in the digital age.

While the main focus is on protecting minors from adult content, the implications of such laws go beyond this. They highlight the broader issue of how society should regulate online pornography to ensure the safety and well-being of its users, particularly among the most vulnerable groups.

The ripple effects of these laws can already be seen, with discussions and debates arising in legislative chambers across various states. This reflects the widespread recognition of the potential dangers of unrestricted access to adult content for minors and the need for concrete steps to address it. It’s also an invitation for tech companies and website developers to innovate in creating more robust age-verification mechanisms that are efficient, user-friendly, and respectful of user privacy.

Whether we should be all that concerned about the privacy of pornography users is debatable. What we should not do is put such concerns ahead of our need to safeguard the well-being of minors in the digital age. The Louisiana law HB 142 and the ones that have followed serve as pioneering models, emphasizing the importance of finding creative legal solutions and setting the stage for broader discussions on how best to navigate the complexities of the internet.

As other states consider similar legislation, it’s imperative that lawmakers are aware that Christians support such efforts to protect our children from the soul-destroying evil of pornography. 

By / Jun 14

NEW ORLEANS, La., June 14, 2023 —The Southern Baptist Convention became the first national denomination to pass a definitive statement on the ethics of artificial intelligence, which will become the cornerstone of the ERLC’s advocacy on this issue. 

Other significant resolutions were voted on and overwhelmingly affirmed by the messengers of the nation’s largest Protestant denomination during its annual meeting June 13-14 on the topics of immigration and gender transitions. 

The SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission will remain a strong voice for dignity on issues of artificial intelligence, immigration and gender, as the resolutions supported the current positions advocated by the organization. 

Brent Leatherwood, president of the ERLC, commented below on each of the three resolutions and how they related to the ERLC’s mission to assist churches by helping them understand the moral demands of the gospel. 

On Artificial Intelligence

“Our resolutions committee deserves all the appreciation we can muster for crafting this first-of-its-kind resolution for any denomination or network of churches. Artificial Intelligence has been a hot topic, both in Washington and on the international stage. This resolution comes at an opportune time and proves once again that even when it comes to the leading edge of emerging technologies, the Bible, as always, gives us principles to guide us in uncharted waters.” 

On Wisely Engaging Immigration

“Our convention of churches has consistently called for a secure border and for immigrants to be treated with dignity. This resolution once again asserts our commitment to these twin principles that should never be pitted against one another. It rightly calls on our nation’s officials to come together and create solutions to solve our immigration crisis.” 

On Opposing ‘Gender Transitions’

“As the Baptist Faith & Message states, gender is a gift and is an essential part of the ‘goodness of God’s creation.’ It is not fluid, self-defined, or subject to the whims of a prevailing culture at odds with biological reality. This resolution rightly affirms those state governments that have taken steps to protect children from becoming pawns in the sexual revolution through harmful interventions and surgeries. At the same time it confirms the SBC will continue to be a strong voice advocating against these exploitative efforts that render far too many children and young people vulnerable.”

The ERLC has long advocated for human dignity, life, religious liberty and marriage and family. To learn more about our work and current priorities, visit erlc.com

By / May 12

Over the past year, there’s been increasing debate about the nature and classification of Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT, an artificial intelligence chatbot developed by OpenAI and released in November 2022. Are these systems truly representative of artificial intelligence (AI)? Do they propose a threat to humans? The answers, as with many things in the complex world of technology, are not as straightforward as they might seem.

What is a Large Language Model?

A LLM is a type of computer program that’s been trained to understand and generate human-like text. It’s a product of a field in computer science called AI, specifically a subfield known as natural language processing (NLP). Chat-GPT (which includes a couple of variations, such as GPT-3, GPT-3.5, and GPT-4) is currently the most popular and widely used LLM.

If you’ve ever started typing a text message on your smartphone, and it suggests the next word you might want to use (predictive text) or suggests a spelling (autocorrect), you’ve used a basic form of a language model. LLMs apply that concept on a larger and more complex scale.

An LLM has been trained on a broad and diverse range of internet text. It then uses a machine learning process, including advanced statistical analysis, to identify patterns in the data and uses that information to generate responses for a human user. The training sets are also incredibly massive. The older, free version of Chat-GPT (GPT-3.5) was trained on the equivalent of over 292 million pages of documents, or 499 billion words. It uses 175 billion parameters (points of connection between input and output layers in neural networks).

When you interact with a large language model, you can input a piece of text, like a question or a statement (known as a “prompt”), and the model will generate a relevant response based on what it has learned during its training. For example, you can ask it to write essays, summarize long documents, translate languages, or even write poetry.

The output produced by such models can often be astoundingly impressive. But LLMs can also produce “hallucinations,” a term for generated content that is nonsensical or unfaithful to the provided source content. LLMs do not have an understanding of text like humans do and can sometimes make mistakes or produce outputs that range from erroneous to downright bizarre. LLMs also don’t have beliefs, opinions, or consciousness—they merely generate responses based on patterns they’ve learned from the data they were trained on.

In short, an LLM is a sophisticated tool that can help with tasks involving text, from answering questions to generating written content.

Are LLMs truly AI?

Before considering whether LLMs qualify as AI, we need to define how the term AI is being used. In broad terms, AI refers to the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems. These processes include learning, reasoning, problem-solving, perception, and the ability to use human languages. The key term is simulation. AI’s do not have consciousness, so they cannot perform such rational functions as thinking or understanding, or possess such attributes as emotions and empathy.

In the strictest sense, LLMs like GPT-3 fall under the umbrella of AI, specifically the subgroup known as generative AI. LLMs learn from large datasets, recognize patterns in human language, and generate text that mirrors human-like understanding. However, there’s a distinction to be made between what is often referred to as “narrow AI” and “general AI.”

Narrow AI systems, also known as weak AI, are designed to perform a specific task, like language translation or image recognition. Although they may seem intelligent, their functionality is limited to the tasks they’ve been programmed to do. Chat-GPT and similar LLMs fall into this category.

In contrast, general AI, also referred to as strong AI, represents systems that possess the ability to understand, learn, adapt, and implement knowledge across a broad range of tasks, much like a human being. This level of AI, which would essentially mirror human cognitive abilities, has not yet been achieved. Some Christians believe that AI will never reach ​that level because God has not given man the power to replicate human consciousness or reasoning abilities in machines.

While LLMs are a form of AI, they don’t possess a human-like understanding or consciousness. They don’t form beliefs, have desires, or understand the text they generate. They analyze input and predict an appropriate output based on patterns they’ve learned during training.

Are LLMs a threat?

LLMs are a category of tools (i.e., devices used to perform a task or carry out a particular function). Like almost all tools, they can and will be used by humans in ways that are both positive and negative. 

Many of the concerns about AI are misdirected, since they are fears based on “general AI.”  This type of concern is reflected in science fiction depictions of AI, where machines gain sentience and turn against humanity. However, current AI technology is nowhere near achieving anything remotely reflecting sentience or true consciousness. LLMs are also not likely to be a threat in the way that autonomous weapons systems can be. 

This is not to say that LLMs do not pose a danger; they do in ways that are similar to social media and other ​​internet ​​related functions. Some examples are:

Deepfakes: Generative AI can create very realistic fake images or videos, known as deepfakes. These could be used to spread misinformation, defame individuals, or impersonate public figures for malicious intent.

Phishing attacks: Phishing is the fraudulent practice of sending emails or other messages purporting to be from reputable companies in order to induce individuals to reveal personal information such as passwords and credit card numbers. AI can generate highly personalized phishing emails that are much more convincing than traditional ones, potentially leading to an increase in successful cyber attacks.

Disinformation campaigns: AI could be used to generate and spread false news stories or misleading information on social media to manipulate public opinion.

Identity theft: In 2021 alone, 1,434,698 Americans reported identity theft, with 21% of the victims reporting they have lost more than $20,000 to such fraud .AI could be used to generate convincing fake identities for fraudulent purposes.

While there are also many positive uses for generative AI, ongoing work in AI ethics and policy is needed to limit and prevent such malicious uses.

As the ERLC’s Jason Thacker says, a Christian philosophy of technology is wholly unique in that it recognizes 1) that God has given humanity certain creative gifts and the ability to use tools, and 2) and that how we use these tools forms and shapes us. “Technology then is not good or bad, nor is it neutral,” says Thacker. “Technology, specifically AI, is shaping how we view God, ourselves, and the world around us in profound and distinct ways.”

 See also: Why we (still) need a statement of principles for AI

By / May 8

In April 2019, a group of over 70 evangelical leaders signed and launched Artificial Intelligence: An Evangelical Statement of Principles (Spanish version) with two goals in mind. First, we wanted to help the Church proactively think about the myriad of ways that AI is shaping our society and provide a sound theological, philosophical, and ethical framework with which to wisely navigate these tools. Second, we sought to present a distinctly Christian view on the fundamental questions being raised amid the social and political ramifications of the expanding development and application of AI. 

One of the fascinating aspects of the current cultural conversation on AI is how quickly people have become entranced by these technologies, especially after the launch of ChatGPT and other generative AI tools. While many are excited about the advances these tools may bring, many are incredibly disturbed by their dangers and risks. Debates over the future of AI have centered on the reality that these tools are doing things once reserved solely for human beings, leading many to ask the age-old question: What does it mean to be human? 

Being human in an age of machines

The perennial question of what it means to be human becomes even more important in this age of emerging technologies. In the statement, we addressed it by affirming the unique nature of humanity and denying “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.” This is rooted in the Christian understanding of how God bestowed a unique status on humanity with the imago Dei

Many are amazed and fearful of advanced AI systems as they fundamentally challenge much of what we have assumed about the uniqueness of humanity. For generations, we have assumed that what it meant to be human was the ability to think, create, and to perform certain complex tasks. An attribute-based view of humanity and the imago Dei is prevalent throughout much of human history. While it is true that humanity does seem to model certain features such an reason/rationality (substantive), gregariousness (relational), and representation (functional), do these attributes or capacities ontologically ground human identity, or do they better represent a fundamental status that human beings have in light of how God set us apart from the rest of creation as those made is his image?

As German Catholic philosopher Robert Spaemann notes in Persons, “human beings have certain definite properties that license us to call them ‘persons’; but it is not the properties we call persons, but the human being who possess the properties.” A person in Spaemann’s framework is someone vs. something, thus, regardless of one’s capacities or attributes, they are a person by simply being a member of the human species. He writes that “there can, and must, be one criterion for personality, and one only; that is biological membership of the human race.”

While human beings are a specific kind of creature who might exhibit certain characteristics and attributes, human dignity isn’t based on the presence of those particular attributes or capacities. While much more can and should be said, this truth must be central to the ongoing debates over the development and use of AI today.

The future of AI

A related and second question rising above the fray today centers on where these technologies are headed in terms of their role in our society and how we are to view them as they grow in their imitation of certain human capacities. Much of the popular discussion surrounding AI notes the seemingly unstoppable nature of these tools and how they will soon rival (or even overtake) humanity’s place in society. In the 2019 statement, we noted 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 future of AI is an open question of sorts, but Christians must recognize that there are certain inherent limitations to these technologies. Indeed, much of today’s doomsday mentality is rooted in a view of technology at odds with the theological, philosophical, and ethical framework provided in Scripture. In contrast to the two most common views, a biblical framework recognizes that technology is neither autonomously deterministic nor is it simply a neutral instrument that we simply use. 

As I wrote in The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society, a Christian philosophy of technology is wholly unique in that it recognizes 1) that God has given humanity certain creative gifts and the ability to use tools, and 2) and that how we use these tools forms and shapes us. Technology then is not good or bad, nor is it neutral. Technology, specifically AI, is shaping how we view God, ourselves, and the world around us in profound and distinct ways.

While we rightly debate how to mitigate the risks and promote the good of technological advances, the Church must not give into the moral panic induced by AI, nor should we passively allow others to shape the conversation in ways that are directly at odds with the Christian tradition. As Carl F. H. Henry wisely noted, the center of the Chrisitan ethic is the concept of love which is modeled in the Great Commandment given to us by Christ (Matt. 22:37-39). The Church must see the love of God and love of neighbor, manifested in recognizing the dignity of all, as central to the ongoing work related to AI and its role in our society. 

The 2019 statement of principles was designed to jumpstart the conversation about AI in the Church, which is needed now more than ever. As the Church engages these questions, we must remember that the Christian moral tradition recognizes that no matter how advanced our technologies become, there is nothing that can fundamentally change what it means to be made in the image of the almighty God (Gen. 1:26-28). Embracing this truth today means retrieving a robust view of what it means to be human in an age of machines.

By / Mar 6

Addiction can manifest in many forms. Individuals can find themselves addicted to chemical substances, in addition to processes and behaviors. Process addictions, such as a pornography addiction, are equally as damaging to the brain as substance-related addiction, and therefore can lead to significant impact on one’s mental health. 

The Bible’s teaching on sexuality and the inherent dignity of all people should lead us to declare that pornography is a moral scourge, with spiritual consequences for all of those involved. But as we seek to serve those affected by it, research has provided us an opportunity to also understand the physical realities pornography inflicts upon a person. 

Today, more than half of the global population has access to the internet. While the growth of access to the internet can be viewed as something positive in general, it can also be viewed as something negative, or harmful. The ability to access internet pornography is now easy and anonymous and has opened the door for a serious health crisis. Pornography has even been referred to as the “new drug” to fight in the world of addictions. 

Pornography: What, when and where

Sexual material on the internet can take a variety of forms ranging from educational information about sexual practices to real-time, virtual sex shows. It is difficult to define but many scholars agree that at the most basic level, pornography is any sexually arousing material used as a sexual outlet. 1Grubbs, J. B., Kraus, S. W., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Self-reported addiction to pornography in a nationally representative sample: The roles of use habits, religiousness, and moral incongruence. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 8, 88–93. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.134

Pornographic material can include:

  • sexually explicit photographs in magazines,
  • movies,
  • internet images or online audio,
  • webcam footage,
  • computer-generated pornography,
  • and sexually explicit pictures texted via mobile devices (Giordano, 2021).

With the emergence of virtual reality (VR) came the arrival of VR porn, which creates unique experiences from two-dimensional pornography. 2Elsey, J. W. B., van Andel, K., Kater, R. B., Reints, I. M., & Spiering, M. (2019). The impact of virtual reality versus 2D pornography on sexual arousal and presence. Computers in Human Behavior. 97, 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.031

And pornography can be classified as softcore, hardcore, and illegal/deviant. 3Doring, N. M. (2009). The internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research. Computers in Human Behavior. 25, 1089–1101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.04.003

The pornography industry is estimated to make approximately 16.9 billion dollars each year, and their product is primarily viewed on the internet. 4Pornography facts and statistics: The recovery village. (2021, February 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/

How is pornography being accessed? Data from PornHub Insights—part of the largest online pornography company in the world—revealed that 86% of the site’s traffic comes from mobile devices. Moreover, using smartphones to access free pornography online is the most common means of viewing pornographic material. 5Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Wright, P., Paul, B., Gradus, R., Bauer, J., & Jones, R. (2020). Diverse sexual behaviors and pornogprahy use: Findings from a nationally representative probability survey of Americans aged 18 to 60 years. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 17, 623–633. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.01.013 & Ma CM, Shek DT. Consumption of pornographic materials in early adolescents in Hong Kong. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2013 Jun;26(3 Suppl):S18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2013.03.011. PMID: 23683822.Therefore, pornographic material can be accessed anytime, anywhere, via smartphones.

How porn affects the person and the brain

Easy access to the cyber pornography industry is an emerging health crisis. Individuals who struggle with addictive disorders may find themselves:

  • engaging in addictive behaviors more frequently over time,
  • may spend an increased amount of time seeking the behavior,
  • may experience increased desires to engage in the behavior,
  • may also experience an inability to decrease their engagement.

Addiction is considered a progressive disorder, which, over time, may begin to cause negative implications on one’s psychological, physical, and interpersonal aspects of life.

Pornography can literally rewire the brain. Viewing pornography begins to change the brain long before one may meet the criteria to be considered a compulsive viewer.

Sex is a naturally rewarding activity, activating the release of several neurotransmitters such as dopamine during sexual arousal and endogenous opioids during sexual consummation. 6Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Penguin Group. Dopamine is a chemical released in the brain that makes one feel good, causing individuals to search and seek a pleasurable reward. The viewing of pornography engages the reward circuit in the brain each time viewers click for new content. And research supports the conclusion that continued pornography use can lead to neuroplastic change,7 ibid. & Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction- A supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767 particularly in the arousal template. 8Carnes, P. J. (2001). Cybersex, courtship, and escalating arousal: Factors in addictive sexual desire. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. 8, 25–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720/60127560 & Carnes, P., Delmonico, D. L., & Griffin, E. (2007). In the shadows of the net: Breaking free of compulsive online sexual behavior (2nd ed.). Hazelden.

The sensations experienced when the reward (the material) is obtained (through a click), begin to fire together, causing neurons in the limbic system to rewire together. The limbic system supports long-term memory, behaviors, and emotions while ultimately storing the content viewed on internet pornography for the brain to retrieve again if wanted later.

Those who are “addicted” to pornography may view greater amounts and times of pornography. Recognizing that the use is hindering functioning in other areas of life, yet feeling as though one is unable to refrain and or stop viewing the material is common. When pornography begins to “hijack” the brain, viewers may find that their viewing of content poses physical and social risks.

A 2014 survey reported that 63% of men and 36% of women have engaged in watching pornography at work. 9Hesch, J. (2018, June 30). 2014 survey: Find out how many employees are watching porn on company time. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2014-survey-find-out-how-many-employees-are-watching-porn-on-company-time-271854721.html Pornography viewing is also linked to relationship and sexual problems. In almost 60 studies, the outcome showed that pornography viewing reduced relationships and sexual satisfaction (Your Brain On Porn, 2021).

A study conducted in Sweden in 2013 explored the impact that pornography viewing has on the brain. Using a 3-T Scanner for images of participants’ brains, researchers found that pornography viewing frequently had a significant impact on the gray matter within the brain. It was evident in the scans when patients’ brains were activating pornography material, which supports neurons anticipating a reward. Due to the anticipation, additional striatal neurons 10The striatum contains neuronal activity related to movements, rewards and the conjunction of both movement and reward. Striatal neurons show activity related to the preparation, initiation and execution of movements (Hollerman et al., 2000) are fired in hopes of a greater reward, causing an increase in gray matter.11 Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93

The stimulation from the pornography viewing is known to stimulate other areas of the brain causing an increase in the dysfunction of the circuit which can lead to drug seeking, and negative behavioral changes. Past studies for internet addiction (IA) have also shown changes in the brain including but not limited to decrease pre-frontal cortical thickness and decreases in function. The prefrontal cortex is a multifaceted region of the brain that controls one’s ability to learn new rules, exhibit executive functioning, and decipher amongst conflicts such as good and bad, present consequence and future consequences.

Types of pornography viewers

The three main types of pornography viewers include: recreational, highly distressed non-compulsive viewers, and compulsive viewers.

Recreational: One study indicates that 75.5% of recreational viewers of pornography reported that on average they watched just under 30 minutes of pornography a week.12 Vaillancourt-Morel, M., Blais-Lecours, S., Labadie, C., Bergeron, S., Sabourin, S., & Godbout, N. (2017). Response to editorial comment: “profiles of cyberpornography use and sexual well-being in adults”. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(1), 87. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.11.320 Recreational viewers self-report that the viewing of the cyberpornography does not cause distress, and it feels enjoyable. Users in this category report their lifestyle functioning has not be changed due to viewing the material, and it has not negatively impacted their relationship or sex life. 

Highly distressed non-compulsive: The second classification is called a highly distressed non-compulsive viewer. Nearly 13% of pornography viewers belong in this category of use. These viewers average 17 minutes a week but view the use as disturbing. 13Ibid. It is reported that use of pornography amongst this group was initiated to increase self-esteem and provide a soothing experience. 

Compulsive: The third category is an unhealthy attachment to pornography called compulsive pornography viewers account for approximately 12% of viewers, and the majority of those in this category are men. Those viewers in this category watch nearly 4.5 times the minutes of pornography each week than recreational viewers, and 7 times more than highly distressed non-compulsive viewers. Viewers in this category report giving up previous pleasure resources in their life to consume viewing more pornography, and many reported that they were unable to stop viewing pornography. 14Ibid.

Helping those with porn addictions

It is necessary to support those who are struggling with pornography, especially those classified as compulsive, thus experiencing an addiction to pornography. Currently 35% of downloads from the internet are pornographic. 15Pornography facts and statistics: The recovery village. (2021, February 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/ Pornography can lower self-esteem and create many negative physical, psychological, interpersonal, and spiritual consequences for individuals. It is important that individuals have access to a safe space where they can talk about their struggles and seek help. 

The impact that pornography has had on our culture and its people cannot be overstated. Every family and every congregation will experience its destructive consequences. The Church must be aware of this threat and its impact, proclaim the forgiveness of Christ, and provide resources to assist affected individuals in their journey to repentance, health, and wholeness.  

If you or someone in your life is addicted to pornography, please visit or talk with a trusted pastor and a local mental health provider.

  • 1
    Grubbs, J. B., Kraus, S. W., & Perry, S. L. (2019). Self-reported addiction to pornography in a nationally representative sample: The roles of use habits, religiousness, and moral incongruence. Journal of Behavioral Addictions. 8, 88–93. https://doi.org/10.1556/2006.7.2018.134
  • 2
    Elsey, J. W. B., van Andel, K., Kater, R. B., Reints, I. M., & Spiering, M. (2019). The impact of virtual reality versus 2D pornography on sexual arousal and presence. Computers in Human Behavior. 97, 35–43. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2019.02.031
  • 3
    Doring, N. M. (2009). The internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research. Computers in Human Behavior. 25, 1089–1101. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.chb.2009.04.003
  • 4
    Pornography facts and statistics: The recovery village. (2021, February 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/
  • 5
    Herbenick, D., Fu, T. C., Wright, P., Paul, B., Gradus, R., Bauer, J., & Jones, R. (2020). Diverse sexual behaviors and pornogprahy use: Findings from a nationally representative probability survey of Americans aged 18 to 60 years. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 17, 623–633. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsxm.2020.01.013 & Ma CM, Shek DT. Consumption of pornographic materials in early adolescents in Hong Kong. J Pediatr Adolesc Gynecol. 2013 Jun;26(3 Suppl):S18-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jpag.2013.03.011. PMID: 23683822.
  • 6
    Doidge, N. (2007). The brain that changes itself: Stories of personal triumph from the frontiers of brain science. Penguin Group.
  • 7
    ibid. & Hilton, D. L. (2013). Pornography addiction- A supranormal stimulus considered in the context of neuroplasticity. Socioaffective Neuroscience and Psychology, 3, 20767. https://doi.org/10.3402/snp.v3i0.20767
  • 8
    Carnes, P. J. (2001). Cybersex, courtship, and escalating arousal: Factors in addictive sexual desire. Sexual Addiction and Compulsivity. 8, 25–78. https://doi.org/10.1080/10720/60127560 & Carnes, P., Delmonico, D. L., & Griffin, E. (2007). In the shadows of the net: Breaking free of compulsive online sexual behavior (2nd ed.). Hazelden.
  • 9
    Hesch, J. (2018, June 30). 2014 survey: Find out how many employees are watching porn on company time. Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/2014-survey-find-out-how-many-employees-are-watching-porn-on-company-time-271854721.html
  • 10
    The striatum contains neuronal activity related to movements, rewards and the conjunction of both movement and reward. Striatal neurons show activity related to the preparation, initiation and execution of movements (Hollerman et al., 2000)
  • 11
     Kühn, S., & Gallinat, J. (2014). Brain structure and functional connectivity associated with pornography consumption. JAMA Psychiatry, 71(7), 827. doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2014.93
  • 12
    Vaillancourt-Morel, M., Blais-Lecours, S., Labadie, C., Bergeron, S., Sabourin, S., & Godbout, N. (2017). Response to editorial comment: “profiles of cyberpornography use and sexual well-being in adults”. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 14(1), 87. doi:10.1016/j.jsxm.2016.11.320
  • 13
    Ibid.
  • 14
    Ibid.
  • 15
    Pornography facts and statistics: The recovery village. (2021, February 25). Retrieved December 1, 2022, from https://www.therecoveryvillage.com/process-addiction/porn-addiction/related/pornography-statistics/
By / Mar 3

On this episode, Brent Leatherwood and Lindsay Nicolet talk to Jason Thacker about his new book, “The Digital Public Square,” and how Christian ethics apply in a technological society. They discuss the importance of Christians engaging various technological tools with wisdom and the motivation to love God and love our neighbors. 

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By / Feb 21

A few years ago, I read an insightful article by Shira Ovide of the New York Times on the splintering of the internet and the complexities surrounding digital governance around the world. 1Shira Ovide, “The Internet Is Splintering,” New York Times, February 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/technology/the-internet-is -splintering .html. She writes about how most countries around the world have their own car safety regulations and tax codes, but currently there is widespread debate over how online expression should be governed. She highlights how technology companies—many based in the Western world—are essentially governing speech and free expression online, which leads to major controversies and dissension as many countries want to retain that power for themselves.

One of the most salient points she makes in the piece concerns the promises of how technology was going to usher in a new world order. She writes, “The utopian idea of the internet was that it would help tear down national boundaries, but technology watchers have been warning for decades that it could instead build those barriers even higher.” Not only are those barriers being built higher around the world, but technological power is also being exerted by powerful governments and leaders to control and manipulate people created in God’s very image. 2For more on the widespread use of technology to suppress human rights and free expression around the world, see chapter 11 by Olivia Enos in this work.

Over the last few years, we have even seen numerous companies shut down the internet to quell protests and dissension among their own people, like that in Iran, Belarus, China, and Cuba. These stories represent a much larger question that is being debated about how technology companies like Meta, Twitter, and many others should do business around the world, especially in areas where there is significant disagreement over the basic freedoms we enjoy in America. 

But even in the United States, we have significant differences and major disagreements on the role of the government and third-party technology companies concerning issues like content moderation, free expression, and online governance. These complexities and differences are present even though we have some level of a shared culture and agreement on many basic human freedoms—even though that agreement seems to be fraying with each passing day.

An opportunity for Christian engagement

Technology policy expert Klon Kitchen, who serves at the American Enterprise Institute as a Resident Fellow, wrote a brilliant essay at National Affairs about the realities we face in this technological age. He states that “all governments must [now] acknowledge and adapt to the fact that they no longer wield exclusive power and influence on the global stage.” 3Klon Kitchen, “The New Superpowers: How and Why the Tech Industry Is Shaping the International System,” National Affairs, no. 49 (Fall 2021), https://nationalaffairs .com/the-new-superpowers-how-and-why-the-tech-industry-is-shaping-the-international-system. The rise of a technology industry operating transnationally with enormous power over public discourse presents a unique challenge to our society but also an opportunity for Christians to engage with these companies as we have historically done with governments, standing for human dignity and religious freedom around the world. The Christian church has a rich heritage of public theology and navigating church/state relations, drawn in large part directly from the scriptural calling to honor the leaders God has placed in charge, hold the government accountable to their calling to stand for justice, and honor the God-given freedoms of all as created in God’s image (Rom 13:1–6). 

While the rise of these transnational entities in the digital age may present unique challenges on issues like online governance, it also presents a unique opportunity for Christians to engage the technology industry with a robust public theology built upon an unchanging understanding of human dignity and freedom derived from Scripture. It is far too easy in our technological society to see other human beings as simply problems to be solved or as pawns in the pursuit of power. But a Christian understanding of humanity and the nature of society is rooted in the dignity of all people that transcends our national allegiances and even the technological order itself we spoke of earlier.

As Christians engage on these important ethical issues, we must do so from a position of principled pluralism—recognizing the inherent dignity of all people and with a clear moral vision of a common good grounded in God’s Word.

Grounded in these two truths, we can model for our society how to have these debates from a convictional, yet grace-filled perspective. In a society that prizes efficiency, speed, and at times public contempt for our political and social “enemies,” we should seek to prioritize the dignity of all, including those who disagree with us on these important issues. We can do so by recognizing that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against the cosmic powers of darkness (Eph 6:12). That means that we engage from a position of hope and grace, knowing that we are to seek the right changes in the right way (Rom 3:8).

A second and vital requirement is understanding the basic tenets of the debates at hand, rather than simply dropping into these complex debates or speaking to issues without a full understanding of the gravity of the situation. Just as we seek to gain insight and expertise in other areas of life—especially engagement with government—to honestly engage, we must do the same with the technology industry and the complex issues they face doing business around the world. This is one of the many reasons this volume consists of two corresponding chapters speaking to the domestic and international issues of technology policy as well as a host of important issues in the digital public square. 

It does not serve well the message of the gospel, much less our society, to engage on issues without knowledge or awareness of the issues at stake, even if our society seems to reward hot-takes on social media over true action oriented toward lasting change. Even with the immense complexity of these debates, one thing is clear: the dignity of our neighbor is at stake around the world, especially under repressive authoritarian regimes. We must keep that truth central in this debate over digital governance. Even though these issues may at times seem to be simply about tweets, posts, and even the contours of content moderation, these are simply expressions of how human beings, created in God’s image, are able to communicate, express themselves, and do life in an ever-increasing digital society.

Adapted from The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society, edited by Jason Thacker, and published by B&H Academic.

  • 1
    Shira Ovide, “The Internet Is Splintering,” New York Times, February 17, 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/17/technology/the-internet-is -splintering .html.
  • 2
    For more on the widespread use of technology to suppress human rights and free expression around the world, see chapter 11 by Olivia Enos in this work.
  • 3
    Klon Kitchen, “The New Superpowers: How and Why the Tech Industry Is Shaping the International System,” National Affairs, no. 49 (Fall 2021), https://nationalaffairs .com/the-new-superpowers-how-and-why-the-tech-industry-is-shaping-the-international-system.
By / Feb 13

Since 2020, I have sought to write about some of the top technology issues to be aware of and how we as Christians can address them in light of the Christian moral tradition rooted in the love of God and love of neighbor. There have been a couple prevailing themes over the years centered on the ways that technology is shaping us as people—namely our understanding of ourselves and those around us—and how we as a society are to think through the power it holds in our lives.

Already, it seems 2023 is going to be an interesting year as we deal with an onslaught of emerging technologies like advanced AI systems and virtual reality, as well as continue to navigate pressing challenges of digital privacy and the role of faith in the digital public square.

Artificial Intelligence and ChatGPT

Back in 2020, there was already social buzz about AI and how it was shaping our society. I published my first book, The Age of AI: Artificial Intelligence and the Future of Humanity, with the goal of thinking about how some of these technologies might affect our understanding of human dignity and our common life together. As 2022 came to a close, there was a major release of a ChatGPT (chatbot) from OpenAI that caught the attention of our wider culture and confirmed that AI is (and will continue to be) a major part of our lives, especially in education and business. 

The introduction of advanced AI systems like these in recent years has fundamentally challenged much of what we have assumed about the uniqueness of humanity. These systems are now performing tasks that only humans could in past generations.

In an age like ours, we all need to be reminded that the value and dignity of humans isn’t rooted in what we do but who we are as those uniquely made in the image of our Creator.

AI systems like ChatGPT have deeply concerning elements but also afford the opportunity for educators and students to evaluate with fresh eyes the purpose and design of education. Education is not simply about information transfer but whole-person transformation. These types of tools require that administrators, professors, and students alike learn about how these systems work, their advantages and limitations, and how we might seek to prioritize the transformation of their students above a simple letter grade. 

Similar to the classroom, these tools may have limited use in local church ministry but must be thought through with the utmost care and wisdom. They may be used to aid one in research, writing reflection questions, or even rudimentary copy for church functions. However, one must keep in mind their limitations as well as be on guard for the temptation to simply pass off the output as their own work. 

Current limitations with these systems are myriad and must be taken into account as one thinks through the ethical ramifications of their use. They are limited by data sets and human supervision used in training the system; are widely known to falsify information, misapply concepts, or even alter their answers based on the political and social views of their creators; and rarely account for nuance and complexity, leading to, at best, the production of entry level and/or basic material. 

Privacy rights and children

A second issue we should be aware of is one that will inevitably be perennial. With the ubiquity of technology and our growing dependence on it, there is the vast and growing concern over personal privacy and how this data will be used by individuals, governments, and especially the technology industry.

We live in a data-saturated world, and there can be a lot of money made by harvesting troves of data and creating predictive products or optimizing our interactions with our daily technology use. Governments around the world are beginning to or have already regulated the flow of data and who has access to it, often focusing on a supposed right to privacy—a term that has competing definitions and proposed safeguards.

Christians, specifically, need to think deeply about what a right to privacy is and what it is not

In 2023, four American states—Colorado, Connecticut, Utah, and Virginia—will follow a similar pattern to California’s groundbreaking privacy law, the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA) which went into effect in January of 2020, and begin implementing new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) on data collection and use. These new state laws share many of the same types of protections as the CCPA and GDPR of the European Union. 

This year, there will be increasing pressure across the board for federal legislation focused on privacy as it specifically relates to children, as is seen with the bipartisan Kids Online Safety Act (KOSA) and more broadly with other proposals. 

Regardless of where these policies end up, the framing of privacy soley in terms of moral autonomy and personal consent often makes it easy to overlook data privacy as such a central concern to Christian ethics.

Instead, Christians need to be the ones asking the hard questions about how we as a society want to protect and guard the rights of the individual but in ways that also promote the common good.

Virtual reality and augmented reality

One of the technologies that was discussed significantly in 2022 and will likely continue to be in 2023 is virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR). In recent years, we have seen a surge of new VR devices and an increasing number of wearable devices such as smart glasses. As the devices become more commonplace in our society and societal norms continue to shift, it seems likely that they will grow in prominence in our lives.

Some of the pressing ethical questions about their use are not as straightforward as ethical issues in technology, but a host of new challenges will arise, especially in light of the new mediums and means of connection that VR has created. 

Aside from the more common concerns of data privacy, including the use of advanced biometric data such as eye-tracking and more, there are also novel challenges to long-standing understandings of free speech and religious freedom in these digital spaces. These developments are often spoken of in terms of the wisdom of VR churches and gatherings. However, I think the more pressing questions will be over how religious groups who may hold to culturally controversial beliefs—especially on topics like sexuality, gender—will be treated in these digital environments. 

These spaces are not truly public because they are often hosted or even created by technology companies themselves. This represents a new angle on the continued debate over free speech, content moderation, and the nature of faith in the public square.

Overall, 2023 will be a year where Christians are continually pressed to think about how we will live out our faith in the public square amid an increasingly secular culture. One of the temptations when faced with complex or challenging ethical questions with technology is to rush to a position of full adoption or rejection. 

Wisdom, which is at the core of the Christian moral tradition, calls us to slow down and think deeply about the nature of these tools, and discern if their many uses can help us better love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.