O Be Careful Little Eyes

It occurred to me today that while I’ve tangentially mentioned the topic of pornography, I’ve never focused on it for more than a few sentences at a time. I think that’s partly because it’s a rather taboo topic in most circles, and it’s partly because it’s quite easy for me to assume an “everyone knows this is wrong” attitude about it. But the fact of the matter is, porn exists, people consume it, and it destroys them.

I do mean “destroy,” too. A plethora of studies have come out detailing the horrifying damage pornography does to its consumers. Brains are rewired in a pathology identical to drug addiction. Men experience porn-induced erectile dysfunction (PIED), unable to engage in intercourse with a flesh-and-blood woman because their erection is dependent upon the stimuli offered by images. Partners view each other as objects instead of equals, mirroring the degraded humanity on display on the screen. Worse, people begin to see themselves that way, as things to be consumed upon lusts instead of people to be loved. Real sex has been replaced by fake sex along every step of the way.

Professionally-produced porn also gives rise to amateur pornographers. People record their exploits in the bedroom. Teenagers exchange naked pictures of themselves to an alarming degree. Indeed, “Trade nudes?” is now a fixed feature of the dating scene. (Whence modesty? Sigh.) But the proliferation and consumption of pornography has shown what we now consider acceptable — and not only acceptable, but also required. Think of how many suffer varying degrees of body dysmorphia, whether obsessing over how they don’t look like the porn stars or who have full-blown body dysmorphic disorder (BDD). People fail to realize no one can maintain a perfect look; with the advent of image editing software, it’s further safe to say that even the performers who look like that don’t really look like that. Yes, on every level, pornography is a lie, but it’s an attractive falsehood for so very many.

This being a theology blog, we need to crack open the heart of porn and see what it truly does on the spiritual level. First, etymology time (because, hey, I’m a linguist) .We all know the “-graphy” part, so let’s look at “porno-.” This comes from the family of Greek words conveying sexual immorality in its various guises: porneiaPorneia is sometimes taken to denote specific sins such as adultery or fornication, but it’s really more of an umbrella term. Biblically speaking, anything violating the sexual ethic of the Leviticus Holiness Code (chs. 17-26) is dubbed porneia: incest, adultery, bestiality, intercourse during a woman’s period, sex with someone and their close relative, same-sex intercourse, prostitution, and fornication (with these being explicit in the text and others being included by implication). Any of these acts is porneia, is immoral and prohibited. Recording any of these (and others) creates pornography. So why would it be acceptable to watch others sin for your own pleasure?

To willfully steep your soul in the sins of others is bad enough. But no one watches porn for the excellent writing and superior cinematography. Porn is a channel, a conduit for lust and myriad other sins. Combine that with its addictive nature, and you have a recipe for programming yourself to sin. Christ frees us from bondage; don’t run back to your dark chains.

Porn forges more chains than addiction and lust, however. Sin becomes habitual — and then it becomes a craving. You desire sin, deliberately want to violate the will of God. It alters your worldview, changing people into sex objects instead of beloved children of God. But studies show habitual porn consumption leads to harder, darker porn. The cycle of objectification intensifies both on-screen and off until a real person somewhere screams in agony, being treated as a subhuman tool for perverted pleasure. And people buy such filth.

I think that’s the one thing that bothers me most about porn: there’s a market for it.

As time progresses and consumption increases, the soul shrinks inside of you in horror at what it’s done. It has to. Souls were made for eternal life and goodness, not for absorbing sin and twisting it into a perceived good.

So what can we do?

First, let’s admit pornography is sinful, morally wrong. Remember: it is a package of lies designed to incite sin by selling the sins of others. In this way, the only difference between prostitution and pornography is the camera: someone is getting paid to have sex either way.

Next, recognize the importance of a Christian anthropology. Those people in the video? The ones walking down the sidewalk? The one in the mirror? All are made in the image of God. Each bears the stamp of the divine. You cannot treat the divine image as an object for your consumption. Think of Christ dying for them. Think of God’s deep and abiding love for them. Recognize their equality with you and afford them love and respect.

Third, bear in mind the effects of prolonged exposure to porn: PIED, emotional/mental/spiritual trauma, addiction pathology, etc. It is damaging on every level, and that damage doesn’t disappear just because you enjoy what hurts you.

Lastly, if you’re caught in a porn addiction, seek help. Install filters like Covenant Eyes or K9 on your computer to block sites. Seek counseling or therapy. Join a support group. Get an accountability partner to keep you on track. Get involved at your church. Pray.

And seek Jesus above all else.

Additional information on the dangers of pornography can be found at Fight the New Drug.


F.A.Q.: A Consistent Ethic of Sexuality

“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes — and ships — and sealing-wax —
Of divorce and cohabitation,
And fornication and . . . “

That’s not how that poem goes. That’s not how that poem goes at all. With apologies to Mr. Carroll, however, that’s how it will go for the purpose of this blog. The time has finally come to address the walrus — er, carpenter — er, elephant — in the room. One question I’m asked pretty regularly is why Christians spend so much time talking about homosexuality to the exclusion of other, seemingly more pervasive sexual sins. So here goes.

Short answer: the pot likes calling the kettle black. The other staple sexual sins — pre-marital sex, pornography, cohabitation, most forms of divorce, and adultery — are so common among churchgoers that pastors are afraid to say anything about them for fear of losing their flocks (and their pulpits). The LGBTQ community, however, is a much safer target, and so energies are diverted to speak out against homosexuality, transgenderism, etc. Such behaviors (NOTE: behaviors, not people) are fairly universally condemned from the pews as well as the pulpit, and so more lay Christians are likely to speak out about them. Instead of uncomfortably discussing our own sins, we say, “Let’s pick on someone who sins differently than we do!”

Again, that’s the short answer. The long answer is, well, longer.

Let’s begin by defining our terms. Under the biblical schema, many things are classified as sexual sin. The catch-all word for sexual immorality is porneia; I’m sure you recognize the root as the same for “pornography.” Porneia is a bit of a legal term in the sense it carries the full weight of the Torah behind it. Anything and everything the law of Moses classified as sexual sin is counted as porneia in the New Testament. Most of those laws are scattered throughout Leviticus, but they’ve largely carried over even in popular conception: incest, fornication (pre-marital sex), adultery, homosexuality, and transvestism (included here in its traditional place). Many people claim Jesus never talked about homosexuality, and he didn’t explicitly, but he did make reference to — and sharply condemn — the categorical porneia, so he really did talk about it.

Back on topic, though, porneia very soundly condemns the “church-approved” sexual sins. The only acceptable sexual behavior in either testament is heterosexual intercourse in the context of the marriage covenant. That pretty much excludes both adultery and fornication straightaway. A common argument in favor of the latter nowadays is “Oh, but we love each other, and we’ve promised to only be with each other.” Great! Put a ring on it. The full level of commitment prerequisite to sex shouldn’t be at all daunting if you’ve already made it as far as all that. Secure God’s blessing on your relationship through holy matrimony and enjoy your marriage bed. But until you do, you’re not married, the two have not become one flesh, and sexual intercourse is still out of bounds for you. (I would say I’m sorry, but I have a rule: never apologize for what the word of God says, even — especially — the hard parts.) So again: any sort of sexual behavior outside of a heterosexual marriage is sin. And some of the violent and demeaning sexual behaviors inside of those parameters are sin, too. But that takes care of two things, then, pre-marital and extra-marital sex.

On to another. Divorce is perhaps the most taboo, most difficult subject to teach on. Jesus actually made my job much harder on this score than both Moses and the rabbis in the time of Christ. I mean, one rabbi actually authorized divorce if your wife ruined your meal while cooking it.

“Darling, I burned the toast . . . “
“Well then I’ll see you in divorce court. Start packing.”

Divorced women at the time had no rights and no property. So when Jesus tightened the regulations governing divorce in Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-12, he did a great deal to help women. He greatly reduced the valid reasons for obtaining a divorce — as in the number changed from “infinite” to “one,” namely infidelity. Paul nuances this a bit in 1 Timothy 5:8 (as most take it), saying infidelity also includes a failure to provide (up to and including abandonment by most interpretations). And most interpreters take that provision to include safety, so abuse likewise becomes a valid reason for divorce. That’s it, really: infidelity, abandonment, and abuse. The only three reasons the New Testament gives us for divorce. Anyone divorcing for any other reason and remarries both commits adultery and causes the other ex-spouse to do so as well.

This is a hard saying.

Now add the fact lust is equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:27-30) and you have even bigger problems.

Let’s kick it up another notch (BAM!), a notch brought to you by 20th-Century technology and 21st-Century demand: pornography. There is nothing redemptive about porn; there’s nothing anyone can say to make it less evil. As the saying goes, the only difference between pornography and prostitution is the camera. Both are paying people for sex, yet we only really consider one of them to be evil; why? How? Add to that fundamental thought the aforementioned sinful status of lust. Now consider the rise in demand for violent pornography. Now think about its connection to sex trafficking. And don’t forget the way it warps views of sex, women’s bodies, men’s bodies, women’s personhood, men’s personhood, and everything else it falsely portrays. After all, porn is a lie. Now let’s mention the addiction, the porn-induced sexual dysfunction, the shame and guilt and . . . Finally getting the picture? One last thing, then: if fornication is wrong, and porn requires fornication, then at its most basic, it’s simply a recording of sin. If your spouse asks to watch it together, remember: it will only hurt in the bedroom, never help. I’ll say it again because it bears repeating: there is nothing redemptive about porn.

There. A consistent sexual ethic to cover sexual immorality in all its various guises, inside the church and out. I realize some of you are pondering the topics of polygamy and levirate marriage in Scripture, thinking they’re permissible by the biblical “meta-ethic.” Short answer: no. Longer answer: apples and oranges. Longest answer: that’s another blog for another day.

Let’s be good to each other, folks. Speak these truths in love. The sin is not the person; the sin is a mistake the person made. Love that person with all you are — just as the Lord loves you.