taking the words of Jesus seriously

Pornography goes back thousands of years with early examples being found on Egyptian tombs dating back 3000 years ago. Today it is so all pervasive that we can speak about the pornification of culture. Instant gratification is only a few clicks away on a computer, tablet or smartphone, exposing children as  to explicit material.

Christian critiques of pornography usually focus on the individual user. This is not without good reason. Jesus equates lustful looks with adultery in Matthew 5. The righteous Job made a covenant with his eyes  (hence the accountability software, Covenant Eyes). The Greek word from which we get pornograpy,  porneia, means fornication, as opposed to adultery, but often is used to describe sexual immorality more broadly.

With , I’m gathering stories of Christian men and their struggles with and successes against internet porn. It is a conversation amongst men. All too often, men are too scared to admit their problem, or have no one to talk to. An anonymous survey will be their confessional; the first step hopefully in a journey of repentance and delivery. The book that follows will be a collection of stories of hope.

When I told a friend I was writing two books, one on porn and the other on creation care, she asked me how the two are related. It seems to me that there are two related ideas, ideas I’ve tried to tease out in my last two posts on bearing the image of God and . The first is the issue of consumerism, the second, a denial of the enfleshed nature of humans as God’s image bearers.

Related: Marriage Damaged by Porn…A Pastor’s Reflections

A book that is helpful in considering these issues, yet inadequate as a critique, is Peter Nowak’s . Nowak explores the “shameful trinity” of war, sex and food. Fast food developed from the need to preserve food to feed troops, while radar gave rise to the microwave. In a society where people are often too busy to prepare food, obesity at epidemic levels is the result. Likewise, the porn industry has been parasitic on various technologies, from 8 mm film cameras and army trained operators, to promoting VHS when large film studies considered it a threat, to the internet, originally designed for military communications.

Post WWII was the beginning of the age of consumerism, be it fast food, microwave ovens, or Playboy. Pornography in its modern form is not simply a lust problem, but also a symptom of consumerism and the desire to have more and more. Pornography turns human beings, made in the image of God, into consumables.

Pornography is a form of prostitution, where there is financial exchange for sexual pleasure. Actors, mostly women, are turned into objects of lust rather than subjects of love and affection.  Pornography also suffer from another aspect of consumer culture; expectation creep and the need for ever increasing variety. Consumption of one, relatively tame type of pornography leads to consumption of ever more bizarre and sometimes violent practices. Peter spoke well of adulterous eyes that never cease from sinning.

In economics, externalities are consequences of a commercial activity which affects others, without these costs being reflected the prices we pay. For many goods, the cost of temperature raising greenhouse gas emissions are usually not factored in. Many of our cheap food comes at the cost of environmental degradation and pain and suffering for animals (e.g. ). Likewise, our cheap clothing often comes at the cost of poor work conditions and the denial of worker’s rights to unionise (see No Logo). It should be no surprise then that women in the porn industry often suffer greatly from , poor treatment,  substance abuse and . It’s important for porn consumers to consider the damage being done on both sides of the screen.

An attitude of compassion towards porn stars contrasts strongly to that of an apparently neo-Nazi website I recently stumbled upon which referred to pornstars as “pornstains” and claimed that sin and not a virus causes AIDS. When Jesus confronted the woman caught in adultery in John 8, he displayed both love and compassion for the woman, and an intolerance for sexual sin. Such an attitude is modelled by  in their dealings with the porn industry.

With webcams, phones and a variety of apps like snapchat, consumers can also become the product. As Nowak notes, once people were freed from photographic developers by Polaroids, sharing of illicit photos increased. The internet makes this commonplace, with the attendant issues surrounding “sexting” and pressure on teens, particularly girls. Oscar Wilde was correct when he said “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing.” Sadly, internet pornography means that this includes human beings.

We live in a vicarious world. TV allows us to peer into the lives of people experiencing their 15 minutes of fame through “reality TV”. More than vicarious, this trend is voyeuristic. Porn is vicarious sex. Like fast food, porn is a pale imitation of the real thing. It is a performance, promoting unrealistic expectations with staged sexual experiences and surgically altered beauty. It is little wonder that we end up dissatisfied with our own live and experiences, but this is precisely how consumer culture sells things – with built in obsolescence and advertising which makes us dissatisfied. It’s little wonder many marriages don’t last.

The virtual consumption of unreal sex is an excarnating experience that defleshes sex. Removed from real contact, our sexuality ceases to be a communal sharing of the . It also ceases to be about imaging God in our bodies, instead our sexuality is left floating in the ether. Some tout the future of sex as being technologically motivated (see the movie Demolition Man) or even with sexbots. This removal of sex from all human contact removes human dignity and detaches our humanity from our physicality as much as any dualistic biblical anthropologies or eschatologies.

How might the church respond? We need to affirm sexual purity consistent with our calling as a , i.e. corporately encouraging each other and holding each other accountable, while all the time being positive about sexuality as part of our bearing God’s image. This is where Every Guy’s Secret comes in. We also need to follow Jesus’ example of not treating those on both sides of the screen as less than human. Those inside the church need discipline and love. Those outside of the church need to know that they are loved, and that this love is transforming.

Two further things follow. The first is that we need to understand that we need to stop thinking just as consumers. We are not homo economicus but imago Dei. In , Raj Patel points out that viewing humans as Homo Economicus reduces every area of life to markets. Economist Gary Becker sees even marriage as a market, with polygamy as a good market solution. It is little wonder porn companies are on the stock market. Our need to consume, be it other people or consumer goods needs to be subsumed under our desire to be satisfied with God’s provision. This includes our desire for other wants and needs, as well as our desire for sexual pleasure.

Also by Mick: A Theology of Farts and Orgasms

The second thing is to see that the cross is not just God’s way of paying for our individual sins, as expressed in much popular thinking about the atonement. Another vision of the atonement highlights how evil can be systemic, society wide, as well as individual. Behind the oppressive regime of Rome, the colluding Herodians and the religiously obstructionist legalists lay the Satan. On the cross, the , and all Lords are placed on notice, be they tyrants, immoral industries or economic ideologies.

This broader perspective allows to see that evil needs to be combated on a systemic as well as individual level. Only a vision of the cross of bringing down evil and establishing the rule of God, validated by the resurrection, can rescue human sexuality from being an excarnated product of modern consumerism and restoring it as a way of bearing God’s image.


About The Author

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Dr Mick Pope is a lecturer in meteorology, with a PhD from Monash University. He also has degrees in maths, physics and theology. Mick is an ecotheologian with Ethos: EA Centre for Christianity and Society and has written a number of book chapters and papers on ecotheology, ecomission and the intersection of science and the Christian faith. He recently wrote A Climate of Hope: Church and Mission in a Warming World with Claire Dawson.

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