Neil Postman warned us, in his final chapter of Amusing Ourselves to Death: “There are two ways by which the spirit of a culture may be shriveled. In the first—the Orwellian—culture becomes a prison. In the second—the Huxleyan—culture becomes a burlesque.”
Our digital age seduces us into the burlesque. The red-light district beckons us from our blue-light screens. Notifications, pop-up ads, and the endless possibilities of life online welcome you in.
We can shop for whatever we want. We can study any subject we desire. We can gaze at any object accessible through a search bar. And yet U2’s song still rings true: we still haven’t found what we’re looking for.
Bunyan’s Vanity Fair in Our Phones
Consider the digital circus in the palm of your hand. From this jumping-off point, you can go anywhere. You’re a few clicks away from respected academic journals, grotesque pornography, the tweets of world leaders, or calling a loved one. Which way will you go?
In The Pilgrim’s Progress, John Bunyan describes the ancient Vanity Fair:
Therefore at this fair are all such merchandise sold: as houses, lands, trades, places, honours, preferments, titles, countries, kingdoms; lusts, pleasures, and delights of all sorts—as whores, bawds, wives, husbands, children, masters, servants, lives, blood, bodies, souls, silver, gold, pearls, precious stones, and what not.
And moreover, at this fair there is at all times to be deceivers, cheats, games, plays, fools, apes, knaves, and rogues and that of every kind.
Here are to be seen, too—and that for nothing—thefts, murders, adulteries, false-swearers, and that of a blood red colour.
Vanity Fair sounds a lot like our internet. Merchandise is sold. All types of people are found.
Where Bunyan’s Christian walked through the streets and alleys of Vanity Fair, we scroll through them with the flick of our thumbs. And what is the effect on our souls?
Beware the Folly of Scrolling
Your scrolling is not neutral. You are becoming something. Your search history tells a story about your soul.
Careless scrolling often exposes our folly. And it breeds discontentment. The parade of spectacles never ends. We can fast-forward, skip ahead, or go back and examine specifics. You can rewatch in hi-def what you were never meant to see in the first place.
Your search history tells a story about your soul.
The restless scrolling soul constantly asks, Am I entertained? Am I liked? Am I amused? The heaven-bound soul asks, Am I holy? Am I loved by God? Am I satisfied in him?
Scrolling discourages deep delight. Scrolling, by nature, keeps us on the surface, always consuming tasty treats but rarely nourished by anything satisfying. The scrolling soul spends countless hours searching what the sort of satisfaction that can only be found in Christ.
Stop Scrolling. Start Beholding.
The scrolling soul will only find satisfaction in Christ. Bunyan writes of the pilgrims who avoid Vanity Fair’s appeal: “They would put their fingers in their ears, and cry, ‘Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity’; and look upwards, signifying that their trade and traffic was in heaven.”
Scrolling discourages deep delight. Scrolling, by nature, keeps us on the surface, always consuming tasty treats but rarely nourished by anything satisfying.
Christian, turn your eyes to the glory of Christ. See him as more beautiful than the endless spectacles on your phone. “Look to me and be saved” (Isa. 45:22). Jesus alone will satisfy your soul (John 6:35). Are you looking to Christ? Are you delighting in him? And are you turning your ears to Scripture more than the voices crying out, “Click on me”? The voice of God in Scripture cries out with more urgency and authority than any pop-up ad. Will you listen?
John Owen warns those who would rather behold the spectacles on screens than the glory of Christ: “He that has no sight of Christ’s glory here shall never see it hereafter.”
Stop scrolling through the digital vanity fair and feast on Christ.
Henry Scrougal pierces our scrolling souls: “The worth and excellency of a soul is to be measured by the object of its love.”
Scrolling shrivels your soul as it pulls it in a thousand different directions. It distracts you from the greatest object your soul could ever love, and the most glorious truths your eyes and ears could ever behold. Don’t let your soul get sucked into the vanity of an aimless scrolling wasteland—where paths lead everywhere but never to a place of rest and joy. Instead, lead your soul along the “path of life” that leads to ultimate satisfaction: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Ps. 16:11).