As a Christian, is it a sin to download movies, songs or books from the internet through torrents or other such systems?
This is a very relevant question in today’s digital age; thanks for asking.
Our church runs a college ministry, and I remember eagerly looking forward to the first meeting of our weekly fellowship with a few boys from a nearby college. The portion for the study that day was Deuteronomy 5, where Moses reminds the Israelites about the 10 Commandments.
Our discussion soon veered towards verse 19, which said ‘You shall not steal’. The spontaneous reaction from most when asked if they thought this commandment applied to them was surprise. But as the meeting progressed and we analysed several everyday situations, the discussion ended with most of the boys admitting that they have, in fact, been guilty of breaking this commandment — and some repeatedly at that. Illegal music and movie downloads were the areas they admitted they were now convinced was tantamount to stealing. What was surprising was that many were ignorant of their culpability.
A Google search revealed the following statistics about some of the costs of piracy to the US economy:
70,000 jobs a year are lost in the United States due to music piracy
Digital pilferage is something many Christians are culpable of, albeit unknowingly. This is not an issue limited to youth alone. I knew of someone in ministry who once asked why one should pay for a product suite when we could get the same for free. He was referring to an illegal version that was widely available.
I am not sure if this behaviour always stems from ignorance or from an assumption that such a usage will not attract punitive action from anyone. I suspect in many cases, the latter can be assumed. That is the inconvenient truth that we in the church must address and raise awareness on. We need to teach and make the flock aware that God’s moral laws haven’t changed with the times. Any action of ours that deprives content creators of legitimate income is theft. This could be related to music, movies, books and other content — including Christian material.
It is noteworthy that, in the Old Testament, God calls out dishonesty as being part of stealing and prohibits tampering with the weights that were used for trading then. These ills would have been rampant in society then.
You shall not have in your bag two kinds of weights, a large and a small. You shall not have in your house two kinds of measures, a large and a small. A full and fair weight you shall have, a full and fair measure you shall have, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who act dishonestly, are an abomination to the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 25:13-16
God’s moral laws haven’t changed with the times. Any action of ours that deprives content creators of legitimate income is theft
If the Bible was written in today’s context, it can be assumed that piracy and unauthorised copying would have found a mention. This can sometimes include taking copies of copyrighted books, circulating PDF copies of books when the book is still under copyright, downloading movies from torrent sites, installing gaming applications obtained from unauthorised sources etc. As a Christian, we must always remember the unambiguous command ‘You shall not steal’.
God, in fact, is not just happy with us not stealing — but commends generosity, as seen in the example of Zacchaeus, who stands out as an example of someone who not only wanted to return his ill-gotten gains, but decided to make restitution by paying back those whom he had extorted from four-fold. He further declared he would give away half his possessions to the poor.
In the sermon on the mount (Luke 6:38), Jesus too exhorts generosity: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
To conclude, piracy is stealing and it emanates from covetousness, which is prohibited through another commandment. Coveting is the craving of the heart for something we believe will give us satisfaction. What is therefore the antidote to stealing or covetousness? Paul’s life gives us the answer.
As a Christian, we must always remember the unambiguous command ‘You shall not steal’
In Philippians 4:14, he says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This verse is often used by Christians as a slogan to achieve the seemingly impossible in various spheres of life; however, the context is about Paul describing his ability to be content whether in good times or bad. In Christ, he found such complete satisfaction and contentment that the discomfort of the world failed to bother him.
Let us, therefore, as Christians who treasure God’s sacred laws, respect copyrights and give the creator of the material their due. For movies or music, let us either buy them, rent them or stream them on apps like Apple Music, Spotify, Netflix, Amazon Prime etc.
Let us also not encourage the circulation of PDF downloads if they are prohibited. It is always a good habit to check the fine print or ask someone if in doubt. Above all, let us not just remain satisfied by merely keeping away from piracy, but pursue contentment in all things, as Paul exemplified for us through his life.
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