November 2018 Print


by Fr. Juan-Carlos Iscara, SSPX

Why do people persist in doing things that can only end in creating an addiction?

The first use of any drug—or the performance of a morally disordered action capable of becoming an addiction—usually comes about without much reasoning about motives, and even without having any particular attraction to it.

The more usual motives are curiosity for new sensations and experiences, or the thrill of breaking the law, of challenging a prohibition or an authority, or simply due to peer pressure.

But the deeper causes of addictions are to be found in what could be called a “pathology of the spirit,” a spiritual malady that pushes the individual towards the addictive substance or behavior. In this sense, addiction is the sign of the profound disturbance of the modern world—the loss of firm criteria for distinguishing between good and evil, the lack of the sense of moral boundaries independent of one’s will.

The drug use or a certain behavior is seen as an expression of personal liberty, which seems today to be the overriding value to live by. It is a search for pleasure, which is today equated with happiness. The addiction helps to flee reality, to avoid everyday life and its obligations, which are perceived as unbearable burdens, due to the absence of convincing motivations for life. From the psychological viewpoint, factors such as loneliness, stress, depression and anxiety may trigger any addiction. The addictive drug or behavior provides an escape from suffering, solitude, isolation, loss. In the end, it is a consequence of the break of family structure and bonds, and, more fundamentally, a lack of knowledge of, or intimacy with, God.

All these characteristics of this “spiritual malady” might lead also to behaviors other than drug abuse, but which attain similar effects. For example, the practice of extreme sports (skydiving, bungee-jumping, etc.), seeking thrills and emotional “highs” that restore some sense of purpose or meaning to life, giving the sense that one is alive.

It could also lead to criminal acts (vandalism, theft, serial or random murders, etc.) that provide either thrills, or a perverted purpose in life, or even a means of escape from daily reality. But it more easily leads to the addiction to social media—allowing the unreality of a virtual world to overflow into real life—by either creating an artificial “society” with which to relate and keep at bay one’s sense of solitude and isolation, or by allowing the creation of an artificial “persona” that compensates for the dull reality of one’s self, for one’s lack of self-esteem, the lack of a sense of personal value

What can we do to protect ourselves and our children from the danger of falling into any of these behavioral addictions? 1

Today, the multiplication of technological devices allowing easy access to the internet—computers, tablets, iPads, smartphones, video games, television, etc.—which has turned it into the instrument of choice for pursuing a myriad of addictive behaviors, such as compulsive gaming, gambling and shopping, pornography viewing, an obsessive dependence on social media, a constant checking of feeds, blogs, news, our online accounts, etc. Such internet-mediated addictions will certainly have negative effects on school or job performance, and cause a reduced involvement with family or friends, a loss of interest in other hobbies or pursuits, and also feelings of anxiety or depression when not engaging in those addictive behaviors.

We must remember that, although we all can be affected, our young are the most vulnerable, not only because they are still in the process of formation and maturation, but also because they have grown in a world dominated by these technologies—indeed, for many of their peers the relationships developed online are more real than their daily, face to face contacts…

How can we bring the use of these devices—and the internet—under control?

The computer must be in a shared area of the house—never in an isolated room. In that way, it would be easy to know who uses it, for what and for how long. Such lack of “privacy” would be a good deterrent for any improper use.

Nothing is less apt to foster virtue than to distribute wireless internet access throughout the house, as it would be easy for our children to access the internet by their own phones, borrowing ours or that of a friend invited to the house...and one time or another such use will be for evil.

Limit the time and purpose of use. We must not let our time to be absorbed by these devices, and learn to turn it on for a specified amount of time only. When we use one of these devices, we have to ask ourselves whether or not it is necessary at this precise moment. As in any human behavior where passion could dominate, we have to have a true spirit of penance, and so we need to restrict ourselves in certain things.

In childhood, up to 12 years old, there is no legitimate reason to let a child spend time in front of a computer. A game—a game in reality, if possible outdoors—is the normal process of awakening to the world around him. In the slightly older years, computer access should only be an initiation to what is useful, like word processing or working with photographs. But even these experiences should not be prolonged outside of the effective and attentive presence of parents.

Restrict the kind of devices to which your children may have access. If a child has its own smartphone or tablet, it should not be a surprise that they access films or doubtful games behind their parents’ backs!

But what can we do when we have to use the computer?

Not only the young, but also adults of every age are faced with the necessary use of these devices, either for work or study, and must therefore have good sense and be honest with themselves in a number of domains.

First of all, it is imperative to establish some practical measures to help us to remain in the straight and narrow path of legitimate use of these technologies:

Set limits of time for this use. Follow a daily routine.

Set limits to the purpose of use—business, job, study, email, search for information needed, some shopping. Don’t use it for “recreational” purposes. Keep away from “social networks.”

If searching for information, once you have found it, make a printout of it, to break your dependence on the computer screen and, at the same time, avoid drifting to side issues, other pages, that will only serve to distract you from your original purpose.

Ask family and friends to help you in keeping the limits you have fixed, dragging you away from the computer if need be. For greater moral safety, give your passwords to a family member or a friend.

But we also need to discipline ourselves at a deeper level, questioning ourselves about the vigilance required for our moral and spiritual life.

How should I use this device in a way that keeps my intellect open to true reasoning and efforts for understanding?

How can I maintain perspective through natural means in order to retain my freedom of judgment?

What should I do to keep from sliding into intellectual laziness and the neglect of books and culture?

What rules should I give myself so as to keep to the realm of the strictly useful, and foster genuine, balanced relations with family and friends?

Are there changes I have to make, to keep away from certain occasions of sin?

Concerning a duty of state either omitted, or performed in a scattered way; huge amounts of time lost; too much time given to leisure

Concerning relationships that could be a danger for me;

Concerning the damage I could do (or accept to see done) to the reputation of others;

Concerning the life of the family, which may be weakened or compromised;

Concerning the virtue of purity;

Concerning the neglect of the spiritual life.

Only if we have this discipline of life can we then take advantage of the enormous progress in technology, whether for our job or to help wage the counter-revolution. That healthy use of technology is only possible if our soul is trained to the spiritual combat. If not, it is in danger of being swept away in the torrent of mindlessness and of disordered passions. Without a genuine deepening of the interior life, deviations will continue to invade our life. Let us impose silence on ourselves, moments of solitude, of reading, of reflection; let us return to reality! Let us give time to God.

1 For this question, the author is indebted to, and highly recommends, Fr. Jean-Pierre Boubée, SSPX, Half-Life: The Decay of Reality (Kansas City, MO: Angelus Press, 2018), available from Angelus Press.