Tag Archives: addictions

23 March, Thursday – You become what you pay attention to

23 Mar – Memorial for St. Turibius de Mogrovejo, bishop

St. Turibius (1538-1606) was born a noble and became a lawyer, and then a professor of law at Salamanca. He was ordained in 1578, and was a judge of the Court of the Inquisition at Granada. He was later appointed Archbishop of Lima, Peru on May 15, 1579. He founded the first seminary in the Western hemisphere, and fought for the rights of the natives against the Spanish masters. He also organized councils and synods in the New World.

Prayer to St. Turibius

Lord, through the apostolic work of St. Turibius and his unwavering love of truth, you helped your Church to grow. May your chosen people continue to grow in faith and holiness. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Jeremiah 7:23-28

These were my orders: Listen to my voice, then I will be your God and you shall be my people. Follow right to the end the way that I mark out for you, and you will prosper. But they did not listen, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me, and turned their backs on me. From the day your ancestors came out of the land of Egypt until today, day after day I have persistently sent you all my servants the prophets.
But they have not listened to me, have not paid attention; they have grown stubborn and behaved worse than their ancestors. You may say all these words to them: they will not listen to you; you may call them: they will not answer. So tell them this, “Here is the nation that will not listen to the voice of the Lord its God nor take correction. Sincerity is no more, it has vanished from their mouths.”
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Luke 11:14-23
Jesus was casting out a devil and it was dumb; but when the devil had gone out the dumb man spoke, and the people were amazed. But some of them said, ‘It is through Beelzebul, the prince of devils, that he casts out devils.’ Others asked him, as a test, for a sign from heaven; but, knowing what they were thinking, he said to them, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself is heading for ruin, and a household divided against itself collapses. So too with Satan: if he is divided against himself, how can his kingdom stand? – since you assert that it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils. Now if it is through Beelzebul that I cast out devils, through whom do your own experts cast them out? Let them be your judges then. But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you.
So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.
‘He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.’
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He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.

Some of us have played a childhood game called ‘Broken Telephone’ whereby a chain of players are supposed to listen carefully, to pass on a message to the next player, and the winning team is the one who has managed to preserve the integrity of the original message from the start to the end of the chain. This game is hilarious when we realize the amplification of distortion that words can undergo. Often, the intermediate messages no longer make sense, yet, by the rules of the game, we cannot verify the original message with the first player and are compelled to pass whatever message we heard, on.

‘Follow right to the end the way that I mark out for you, and you will prosper’ (Jer 7:23). This is the command given by God to us, his people, through Jeremiah. Yet this is not an easy instruction to follow. In the world today, there are so many distractions and distortions to reality that can insidiously veer us off-track. Social media and the sheer variety of apps and platforms available to us, afford an illusion of a virtual community that is very real and, perhaps, even meaningful. Maybe they are. Maybe these virtual connections do enhance our personal lives and interactions with people when we do meet face-to-face. But out of the many hours we spend frittering away on these communication platforms, how often do we come away feeling genuinely and sincerely enriched, invigorated, and enlightened? Or do we register an irksome feeling that we’ve scrolled on just a bit too much on Instagram, Facebook, etc, when we glance up at the clock to suddenly realize an unknowing hour has passed?

I recently attended a talk by Tristan Harris (who was a Design Ethicist at Google) and came away with a greater awareness of how the entire set-up of social media platforms (Facebook, Google, Instagram, SnapChat, etc) are designed to influence consumers’ behaviours and induce addiction to these ‘windows’ onto the virtual world. These apps are cleverly designed to milk users’ ‘attention economy’ for profit. While he called for an ‘ethics of technology’ to guide the design of social media tools, he admitted that the forces that be in engineering boardrooms of the top Tech companies measured success by the numbers of users who get hooked on, and keep using these mediums. In his words, “Never before in history have the decisions of a handful of designers (mostly men, white, living in SF, aged 25–35) working at 3 companies”—Google, Apple, and Facebook—“had so much impact on how millions of people around the world spend their attention…”

However, the majority of the audiences at the talk were surprisingly unable to think outside the box of their fundamental reliance on their personal mobile devices and numerous virtual handles. Instead, their pressing questions went along the lines of: What new Apps can we design to help us manage our over-reliance on social media? How can we create innovative products that encourage a healthy use of our phones and personal devices?

Many of us are strikingly unable to hear the truth even if the truth were plain to see. Is the solution to addiction to replace it with another addiction? We may even shudder to consider our benign technological reliance as an addiction – we’d easily point to extremes of gambling, alcoholism, drugs and pornography as real addictions. We’d rather ours be mere incidental inconveniences, an inevitable symptom of our technological times, something we need not challenge at fundamental levels, but seek to address with minor palatable tweaks in our behaviours.

But they did not listen, they did not pay attention; they followed the dictates of their own evil hearts, refused to face me, and turned their backs on me… they have grown stubborn and behaved worse than their ancestors. You may say all these words to them: they will not listen to you; you may call them: they will not answer. (Jer 7:23-28)

I don’t have easy solutions for this ‘new normal’ we live in. Indeed, many of us will still use social media and be logged onto these virtual communities for a large portion of our jobs and our social lives. However, as Christians who desire to lead a balanced and ordered life, we will need to cultivate a keener sense of self-examination of our deeper intentions, motivations, and preoccupations.

We need to pray for wisdom and prudence, to listen closely to the Holy Spirit, seeking God’s grace to shed light on areas of our lives, which are in tenuous imbalance. Rather than unconsciously and unquestioningly surrendering our attention economy over to the new ‘opiate of the masses’ that is social media, let’s ask ourselves — how much more valuable to turn the attention of our hearts, mind, spirit over to prayer and communion with the Lord? Let us not dull our entire being to God’s gift of life by filling up on the fleeting euphoria of being ‘Liked’ on Facebook. More than this season of Lent, will you consciously turn your back to the world, to pay heed to Christ’s voice and follow Him? Harden not your hearts!

(Today’s OXYGEN by Debbie Loo)

Prayer: Lord help us open our eyes and wake up to this dullness of our hearts and minds. Help me not to surrender the gift of life and unique purposefulness of my existence over to mindless addictions. Help me to use my will wisely.

Thanksgiving: We give thanks for Christ who calls out everlastingly against the grain of the world. We give thanks for those who labour to challenge unjust structures and systems. We give thanks for the opportunity to make conscious and meaningful decisions to better our lives and help others fulfill their purpose.