This article was previously published in Sword & Spade magazine.
Conor Ghallager, father of 15 and president of TAN books,
put a deep problem on the chopping block.
The Father of Lies tempted our first mother with the beguiling notion of progress. He told her that if she ate of the fruit, her eyes would be opened and that she would be as gods (Gen. 3:5). Eve was tempted by progress. She believed that there was something more to be had than God had already given her — for apparently “dominion over the fishes of the sea, and the fowls of the air, and the beasts, and the whole earth, and every creeping creature that moveth upon the earth” (Gen. 1:16) was not enough. No, she wanted to have more, to perceive more, to be more than God intended for her.
Yes, the Father of Lies tempted our first parents with the notion of progress, and he continues to do so with us today. As a father of 15 kids (and as master of bees, goats, chickens, dogs, cats, and crops), I am deeply aware of this pernicious but subtle battle against the family. Today, the fruits we desire are automation, speed, ease, and excessive access to everything. The Evil One promises us a life of luxury if we would but taste this fruit. Satan’s mastery of technology has slowly taken our own dominion over the earth and given technology dominion over us. We have become hamsters on the wheel of progress, cogs in the wheel of automation, and worse, victims of spiritual genocide. Frankly, I just want to be left the hell alone. With every passing year, I say NO more and more to such technological progress because I much prefer spiritual progress for myself and my family. In fact, whenever I go out among men — those who are secularly minded — I return home less of one. I am with withdrawing from the world.
But my kids . . .
I must teach my children how to be in the world, but never of it. And thus, I must teach them the dangers of our digital era; I must show them the wicked strategy of Satan in his use of technology.
Automation is putting our humanity at stake, for the very things that make us human cannot be automated. Discussion between friends is being replaced by posts between “followers.” “Smart” phones are remembering for us all those things worth remembering, such as phone numbers of friends and birthdates of family. The Internet has slaughtered the rich experience of taking little children to the library. TV and Netflix have made the notion of reading as a family a nerdy activity.
We are losing our humanity by the digital minute.
Throughout the centuries, the Evil One has had his weapons of choice. He does not wield any old tool for the job of destroying souls. Like a master craftsman, he picks his instrument carefully and uses it with precision. And at first glance, it may appear that his weapon for the modern age is lust. But I think not. I think it is sloth, and that the mentally disturbed versions of lust today are byproducts of sloth.
Progress, you see, keeps the modern man so busy, so focused on improvement, so obsessed with cramming more meaningless stuff into a 24-hour day…so intent on raising his children to be honor roll students, athletes, musicians, and of course community organizers, that the love of God has no place to fit.
Indeed, the Devil’s stratagem harkens the mind back to the Trojan Horse that was wheeled into the City of Troy as a magnificent gift. Under the cover of night, the bloodthirsty Greek warriors descended from the belly of the horse and slaughtered the Trojans in wicked and ruthless and even sacrilegious fashion.
Lucifer’s Trojan Horse for the modern world is progress. As a master strategist, he puts into motion the famous words of Sun Tzu, “All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when we are able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must appear inactive.”
The average man or woman in the pew today (or watching Mass on TV in our post-covid world) envisions a slothful man as a couch potato, stuffing his face with Cheetos. But the Devil is more deceptive than that. The slothful man is rather one who wears himself out with work, fitness, social activities, consumption of news and the downloading of the newest productivity app. The strung-out mother is a victim of sloth when she feels she must respond to this text and that post; she must register the kids for this activity and that one…and that one…and that one; she feels she must work out to keep her figure and must get her hair and nails done just to keep her sanity; she feels that another baby would ruin everything…And the sweet little voice at knee level, trying to tug on the yoga pants while saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy” is no longer a sweet sound to the mother’s ear, but an annoyance — an interruption to her work on the smartphone…whatever the urgent matter may be at that particular moment.
As I look around at so many well-intentioned people (particularly parents), I see everyone is exhausted with needless activity. How is it that we live in a world of nearly magical automation and yet we are more exhausted than previous generations who labored manually? We are exhausted because nature and grace are the nourishment for our humanity. And we are malnourished. We are filling our spiritual bellies with the addictive and artificial sweetness of productivity and efficiency, but lacking the life-giving nutrients of silence, stillness, prayer, friendship, beauty, and leisure.
The Angelic Doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas, defines sloth as “sorrow for spiritual goods” and “sluggishness of the mind which neglects to begin good” (Summa II-II, Q. 35, Art. 1). It is our obsession with becoming more and more, just as Eve desired in the Garden, that drains us of the spiritual energy to desire God — or even to desire humanity for ourselves.
The proper use of technology must be to accomplish our own end. Just as an ax has the “end” of cutting wood, our “end” is to know, love, and serve God in this life so as to be happy with Him in the next. This is what it means to be a good human. Our perfection is not in becoming a component in the matrix of the digital world. Our happiness lies only in perfecting our human nature. If I treat a goat like a dog, the goat will only be frustrated along with me. If I treat an ax like a butter knife, I will only make a mess. And if I treat my own human nature as something other than that which is made to know, love, and serve God, it will only lead me to anger, sorrow, and eventual damnation. I am not made to be a cybernetic creature, plugged into a digital network exercising dominion over me. No! I am called to have dominion over my garden, to exercise my own free will in pursuit of my family’s salvation, which leads me to the following story.
A while back, my sixteen-year-old had become too attached to his smart phone. Thanks be to God, he was not using it for impure means. But the device was becoming a source of conflict. I was having to micromanage how many milliseconds he was using it. More and more frustration arose…you know the story.
When I broached the subject of him going to a flip phone (as I had done), that nasty teenage, arrogant attitude appeared. And so, I walked with him out to the barn…told him to lay the smart phone on the ground…handed him an ax…and instructed him to shatter the cursed device with all his might. And he did so.
“If your eye causes you to sin, son,” I said, “pluck it out. If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. And if this *&%$&*^%*& device is causing a rift between us, then take an ax to it. I will destroy anything — ANYTHING — that comes between us. And so should you. I love you unconditionally. Now, clean up the chards of glass before your siblings cut up their little feet.”
And thus, as a father, I have a moral duty to see every new form of technology with skepticism — as a fruit that may bring life, but may also bring death. I must ask two questions about every digital intruder into the garden in which my family takes abode: how can this aid in my family’s pursuit of salvation? And how can the Evil One use this for my family’s damnation? Only then can I properly, productively, and effectively utilize the God-given ability of innovation. Only then can I exercise true dominion over my garden and walk with God in paradise.
I don’t know if having my son destroy his smart phone was the best parenting strategy, but I do know that the devil is trying to use digital devices, automation, busyness, and all modern notions of progress as a Trojan Horse in my family. I better fight back now, for I only have one chance to lead my children to eternity.