YouTube mania and the church disconnect

Dr David Pennington says there is a growing and concerning number of senior church members who are watching YouTube religiously.

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I must admit it—I’m a big user of the internet. I use it extensively for research in my fields of interest—medicine, history, theology, biology (especially evolution vs creation), rocket science (those who know me know I’m not kidding!) and even for entertainment at times, as well as many other topics.

I also use the internet to deal with about 30-50 emails a day, to make purchases online and for financial management. I read Adventist Record online and regularly help with my local church issues online. When I have a computer problem, there’s usually a solution to be found online. You’ll also find advice on everything from plumbing repairs to learning calligraphy. This kind of practical learning often comes via the rapidly expanding world of YouTube.

Now, I’m aware of the many pitfalls of the internet, including porn, scamming, hacking, online fraud and so on. Like many, I have looked upon the bad aspects of the internet as affecting mainly those much younger than me—Gen X, Gen Y, Gen Z (What comes after Gen Z? Is the world trying to tell us something?) But it is the young greenhorns who’ll be sucked into this web of corruption, surely not us senior citizens.

As one of those “oldies”, I’m told I’m more susceptible to internet bank fraud than, say, my children. But surely we of the older, wiser, warier, more considered and more careful generation would be unlikely to be taken in by nefarious material on the net? Weren’t we told as youngsters by our parents, “You can’t believe everything you read in the newspapers” . . . and that was, for many of us, before television!

But there is a growing issue amongst us senior church members that is causing me angst. While viewing good and helpful material (Hope Channel, 3ABN etc) can help build our faith, there is now “out there” a plethora of material that is subtly and not-so-subtly taking us away from our fundamental beliefs as Seventh-day Adventists.

One of the main avenues for this is YouTube. YouTube is particularly attractive to the older generation because it requires minimal computer skills and is as “passive” as the proverbial gogglebox. Not only that, but the increasingly sophisticated algorithms introduced into these programs will “choose” for you similar material in the sidebar to what you have been watching recently. One “click” and you’re on! You can easily enter an endless world of watching videos that may subtly lead on to subjects you never intended to view.

I have friends who spend many hours watching YouTube videos on everything from prophecy (mainly non-Adventist), conspiracy material (everything from the Kennedy assassination to aberrant theories about 9/11 and involvement of the CIA in everything bad that ever happened), anti-Trinitarian material and a host of other “hot” religio-political topics.

These videos are often presented by glib, fast-talking and superficially credible talkers, and they usually have ads that earn them money. Some appear to have legitimate credentials— degrees from universities, scientific or military experience—and may present “evidence” that appears convincing.

While there are definitely some legitimate videos that raise issues of concern to Adventists (such as the trend towards government interference with religious freedom), the almost hypnotic power of YouTube is, I believe, creating a generation of passive absorbers of poorly-documented “fake news”. Ironically, a simple online search reveals facts that soundly discount the claims of some of these charlatans.

Now here are a few of my concerns:

That Bible study becomes secondary to what I call “passive absorption”. The Bereans closely compared the words of Paul with Scripture to establish truth (Acts 17:11). Do we use that measure to assess what we watch?

Ellen White wrote: “. . . we need to be exceedingly careful, and walk humbly before God, that we may have spiritual eyesalve that we may distinguish the working of the Holy Spirit of God from the working of that spirit that would bring in wild license and fanaticism” (Selected Messages, Vol 1, p 142).

. . . the almost hypnotic power of YouTube is, I believe, creating a generation of passive absorbers of poorly-documented "fake news".

It is increasingly tempting to settle into our comfortable couches on Sabbath, turn on our computer or “smart” TV and browse YouTube (or elsewhere) for material that appears to tell us what our preconceptions may desire or is sensational enough to excite our “sanctified” interest. Sometimes even at the expense of “forsaking the assembling of ourselves together” (Hebrews 10:25, KJV). I am aware of a few church members who do just that—either regularly or intermittently.

This sort of scenario takes away the lively and sometimes redemptive dialogue between church members, which may involve ministry, Sabbath School, church elders, deacons etc. The internet, in this case, becomes an isolating power and may encourage a dangerous self-dependency in matters of faith.

This reliance on the internet sometimes becomes such an addiction that it can interfere with marital harmony.

Finally, although the internet can be used to share the truth, it can equally be used, even innocently, to share subtle errors that lead people away from biblical truth. This is especially true of those internet “ministries” that deny Adventist beliefs such as the Sabbath and our understanding of the state of the dead. These are two critical tests: if they fail those, shun them. Do we want to be responsible for souls lost, rather than won by the power of a “loving and lovable Christian”?

Many Adventists have a tendency to suspicion about the news, sometimes bordering on paranoia. That’s not entirely without reason, as we know that Satan’s deceptions will envelop the corridors of power and corrupt religious, political and social institutions, and that this will worsen as we approach the end of time. Most of the book of Revelation reveals that. But we must be exceedingly careful that what we uncritically watch does not separate us from the fundamental hope we have in the ultimate redemptive power of faith in Christ, His work in the heavenly temple to minister His sacrifice, His final work of judgement and His second coming.

Let’s ditch the couch, get out more and share what the Bible tells us, not YouTube!


Dr David Pennington is a retired plastic surgeon living in Lindfield, NSW.