Read "The pornification of society, part 1" here.
What drives a person to use pornography, and what is the remedy? Last month I discussed how porn is deceptive and destructive to society, but this month I want to address the individual struggle with it.
If I were to take a poll of readers to ask what they think is the driver behind pornography, my guess is that the most common answer would be just one word: lust. That’s helpful as far as it goes, but we need to explore the meaning behind it. A good place to start is by studying the words of James in his epistle:
From whence come wars and fighting among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust and have not. Ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain. Ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not. Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts (James 4:1-3, KJV).
I bolded those phrases because it seems to me that they are key to understanding lust and all sorts of other sins that James alludes to. Lust is at root a desire to have something that we don’t have and isn’t rightfully ours. We pursue it zealously but ultimately fail to find satisfaction. It is a vicious cycle in which the failure to obtain satisfaction drives us to seek it again in ever more misguided ways. Porn or drugs are often referred to as a “gateway.” Users go on to seek harder and harder stuff in order to attempt to meet increasingly warped desires. Of course, true satisfaction never comes.
Like all other vices, pornography is driven by twisting good desires in a direction that they were never meant to go. Pardon the pun, but there are no original sins. “Original sin” is of course an important doctrine, but there are no “original” sins in the sense of actions that are entirely thought up by the devil or by man with no reference to God. Rather, all sins are perversions and mockeries of something good that God has given to man.
Imagine a father who buys his son a toy drum, only to later find him using the drumstick to hit his little sister. When the boy hits his sister, some of the actions involved are nearly identical to what the stick was meant to be used for. But his thoughts and actions have become twisted to entirely different purposes and ends.
This is how pornography works. God created us with the good desire to be sexually satisfied. It is a consummating, intimate part of the marriage relationship, which the writer to the Hebrews tells us is honorable (Hebrews 13:4). Without it, humanity would die.
Pornography takes this God-given desire and distorts it to the point it is no longer recognizable. We end up directing our desire at people and fantasies that were never intended for us.
The irony is that, by using the gifts that God has given us for entirely different and incompatible purposes than the ones intended, we find that fulfilment eludes us. If the sexual drive was created to lead us toward a closer and better relationship with our spouse, how can pornography, which is entirely non-relational and involves people who we have never even met, fulfill? The answer, which James implies, is that it can’t. To the extent that it appears to provide some fulfillment, it is like scratching an itch. Only temporary relief, but with the catch that when the itch returns, it will be even harder to appease than before.
Herein lies the pornography trap. We are designed to find fulfillment in a real relationship, but it is partly the fact that pornography is non-relational that makes it so appealing. Relationships are hard. Life is often a monotonous routine. Living with another sinner is often far from easy. But as for the people in the pictures or the video, you don’t need to worry about their sins. You don’t need to live with them and deal with their issues day after day.
And so the thrill and excitement of being taken out of normal life into some fantasy world where satisfaction apparently resides can become intoxicating. No faithfulness is required to obtain satisfaction there. No commitment is required to achieve satisfaction there. No dealing with another person in an ongoing relationship is required to get satisfaction there. And yet the irony is that true, lasting satisfaction is the one thing it can never bring.
What then is the remedy? Here are five suggestions.
1. Come to see how much it dehumanizes both yourself and others.
As I noted last month, pornography is by its very nature dehumanizing. It objectifies and commoditizes people. Once we are desensitized to people, we lose our ability to discern what is appropriate behavior and can justify almost any kind of sin against one another.
2. Understand that it cannot bring you the satisfaction you desire.
Any counselor of those with a porn habit will tell you it has never yet brought anyone true joy or lasting happiness. In fact, it’s just the opposite, having ruined countless lives. If you are having to look for satisfaction in something which demonstrably cannot bring you what you are looking for, it’s probably a good time to question whether you are seeking satisfaction in the right places.
3. Recognize how ridiculous it is.
C.S. Lewis famously used this illustration to point out the absurdity of a strip club, but it applies to porn as well:
Imagine an alien world where scores of men have assembled to watch a striptease. A small, covered platter is brought out—and with all eyes wide, someone slowly removes the lid, revealing a steaming hamburger. Cheering and howling begins, and others snicker, elbowing their friends. Some just sit quivering in their seats.
If such a world did exist, we would not think it merely odd. We would think something inside the audience was broken. A healthy appetite for food is good, but when appetites turn into manic behavior, something is in a state of disrepair.
There’s something to be said for trying to step outside of yourself for a moment to ponder. Porn involves fantasizing about having a sexual encounter with a person you’ve never met, never will meet, and if you did meet the person it would be completely wrong to pursue. Isn’t it completely absurd?
4. Stop referring to your habit as an addiction.
The word addiction has become one of the most abused words of our day, and is often used as an excuse for avoiding responsibility. We’d be better off using Biblical terminology such as Christ’s teaching in John 8. “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin ... if the Son sets you free you will be free indeed.”
I have no doubt that pornography produces certain chemicals in the brain that can take a powerful hold on us and some people will face extreme difficulty in breaking the habit. If using the word addiction helps us recognize how serious of a problem we’ve gotten ourselves into, that’s fine. But the idea that we are passive victims is not borne out either Biblically or practically.
Pornography falls into the category of sexual immorality, and Scripture is plain that this is a sin that we should avoid, can avoid, and must avoid, chemicals and habits notwithstanding.
5. God tells us that those who don’t break with it will be excluded from the Kingdom of God.
This is a sobering truth that should cause appropriate fear. The Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the Kingdom of God.” Despite the elaborate attempts of many modern Christians to ignore, twist, deny, confuse, or dispute the very clear teaching of this passage, there it is. Make of it what you will.
Much more could be said about these and other helpful ideas for fighting this sin, but there is a bottom line Biblical remedy. “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). That’s it. All the reasoning in the world will not help the user of porn to break his or her porn habit unless they are prepared to do the one thing necessary: Run away from it. Have nothing to do with it.
Rob Slane lives with his wife and six home-educated children in Salisbury, England. He is the author of The God Reality: A Critique of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, contributes to the Canadian magazine Reformed Perspective, and blogs on cultural issues from a Biblical perspective at www.theblogmire.com. You can follow him on Twitter at @theblogmire or send email to him at firstname.lastname@example.org