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Are Internet Filters Simply Moralism?

Last Updated: April 9, 2015

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by Douglas Wilson

Morality is strong; moralism is brittle. Morality can laugh; moralism points a bony finger at others.

As we are teaching our young men the blessing of sexual integrity, which of course includes learning how to navigate away from porn, we have to be careful to do it the right way. This is because there is a vast difference between morality and moralism.

Moral education involves far more than a collection of do nots. A “list of rules” is not sufficient. What is genuine moral education? Education is as much about formation as it is about information. The formation should be in a accord with God’s written standard, and we should be able to compare what we see forming in us with what God’s Spirit wrote down, but looking at the rules only is an exercise in arid futility.

Moralism and Morality

Let us begin with a working definition. As I am using the term here, morality really is moral, and morality is something that arises from within a man. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).

Moralism adopts this as an external standard, but the heart is elsewhere. Often moralism can be quite fierce in its denunciations of immorality, but this is a function of panic and fear. The sin, which is very appealing to the denouncer, is being fought off with those denunciations. The sinner is denounced, not out of pity, but from envy. If I don’t get to do that, why should he?

Morality is glad, not fussy; moralism is fussy, not glad. Morality defends; moralism accuses. Morality is like Jesus; moralism is like the devil. Morality is fruit; moralism is a handful of gravel. Morality is alive; moralism is dead. Morality approves, and therefore disapproves; moralism disapproves, and is content to keep it there. Morality loves; moralism envies.

Filtering and Accountability

This applies to some of the techniques we use to fight against porn. Blocking (commonly called “filtering”), by itself, is simply a fence. But building a fence does not prevent someone from wanting to be on the other side of it. In fact, building a fence often has the effect of increasing someone’s desire to be on the other side of it (Romans 3:20; 5:20). It is the sweetness of forbidden fruit.

Accountability (which has to be understood as more than just posting guards along the fence) helps to establish a moral understanding. Accountability instills; filtering restricts. Accountability teaches young men how to say yes, and when to say yes. Filtering (by itself) simply says no, and does not know how to deal with the tempest of lust that this can provoke.

Filtering alone can have the effect of creating moralism, where the people who are not doing x or, in this case, not doing xxx, are bound up with restrictions that don’t really get to the heart of the matter. They don’t do it, but wish they could, and if they can’t, nobody else can. This eventually will result in continued public denunciations, and private indulgence, and when this comes out, which it usually does, we see the hypocrisy.

Accountability teaches and builds. Accountability comes alongside and helps in the crucial task of moral formation. Learning the difference between morality and moralism is a crucial task in the battle against porn.

. . . .

Douglas Wilson is the pastor of Christ’s Church in Moscow, Idaho, and Senior Fellow of Theology at New Saint Andrews College. He is the founder and editor of the Christian cultural and theological journal Credenda/Agenda. He sits on the governing boards of the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. He is the author of many books including Reforming Marriage, Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, To a Thousand Generations, Federal Husband, Future Men, and A Serrated Edge: A Brief Defense of Biblical Satire and Trinitarian Skylarking. Doug is also featured in the documentary film Collision.

  • Comments on: Are Internet Filters Simply Moralism?
      • @tim – Thanks for the response. You should check out NetSafetyResources.com some time. The whole site is dedicated to this sort of approach to Internet safety and purity.

    1. Randall

      Morality can sometimes use help from fences, though. On the highway, none of us want to be in the gutter, but we also have guardrails to help us achieve our intended objective. While ultimately having a heart that desires to do right is our goal, we remain burdened wih the effects of our fallen nature, and in an area so strong in the “hooks” it can use to ensnare us, I would submit that “both/and” is a good approach. Why go walking into temptation needlessly? Why not build some fences to help us when we stumble?

      • @Randall – I agree. I think that’s why Doug said, “Filtering (by itself) simply says no.” I agree there are many times when blocking should go hand in hand with accountability.

    2. Ken Patrick

      But Doug, as men we’re instructed to literally flee from immorality – forget the fence, get out of the neighborhood. And what about modesty? Isn’t modesty simply a young woman constructing a fence between herself and the men around her – as much for them as for her?

    3. Jamie

      Accountability is good but I have found after many years of struggling with porn and now many years completely free that the greatest strength was not a brother hold me accountable, which can get weird, but it was in truly understanding who I am in Christ! I have also learned that the battle is NOT in trying NOT to sin but the battle has to be focused on the “want to” before the sin manifests. when you are farming thoughts of porn, you WILL eventually fullfill that desire once it has been fed whether in thought or what you look at. Filters are excellent to protect your home and you family. If a man wants to see porn, he will see it despite accountability, filters or anything else. The PC MUST be an open community in a home- NOTHING hidden. I have no filter at work and my identity as a child of the King and the destiny laid before me and all followers of Christ has steered me completely away from porn and towards a longing for the supernatural, powerful, wonderful love and character of Jesus! I also have the PC positioned in a way that holds me accountable.
      Men! You CAN walk free! Use every tool at your disposal until all the chains fall to the ground! In Christ sin is Dead! So go and be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Find life in Christ and leave the island of dead religion that stifles the life in you and sends you falling on anything that fulfills, even if temporary and as ugly as porn. Remember, if you fall or fail you don’t become that failure – your identity is Still a child of God! With all those benefits and all the authority HE gave you! Its Your! Forgive yourself and live for HIM! Be in a church that is full of the love, life and character of Christ. Its hard to walk free in a dead church- that’s just the truth. Go somewhere people are passionate about Him and get plugged in!

      • @Jamie – I totally agree that understanding who we are in Christ is the sort of motivation someone needs long-term to overcome temptations. But I also think that understanding is the heart of the accountability relationship. When we limit our concept of accountability to merely confessing and re-confessing sins (which is important), we limit the purpose and scope of all the “one anothers” in the Bible. Real accountability embraces all the one anothers, the community life of the church. Accountability partners that are maturing together will move their discussion from mere behavioral concerns to deeper matters, such as finding our identities in Christ.

        Jonathan Dodsons’s book, Fight Clubs, gives an excellent model for this kind of accountability. In addition, I highly our interview with Larry Crabb about this subject.

        Thanks for stopping by, Jamie. And thanks for sharing your passion to see men set free!

      • For those of you who enjoyed Doug’s post, check out his plenary session from the 2010 conference for the Association of Classical and Christian Schools. It’s called “Moral Education v. Moralism.”

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