Christian Pornography Addiction: A Study In Personhood
I have been thinking about this for quite some time now; and I feel as though it needs to be written. I’m not exactly sure how this will go because I’m not exactly sure how to explain it. But the truth shines through even the dirtiest windows. So please forgive the inadequacy of my words and know that I am writing not as one exempted from such temptation but as one who has struggled, and struggles, with this issue. Wherever you find yourself, this problem is one that affects even you. For I believe that pornography addiction among Christian men is only one of the most obvious areas affected by a deeper lie that we have been buying for quite some time. Recent research has shown the devastating effects of Pornography on the human brain; porn actually rewires the brain to create new neuropathways. But there have been several adequate articles that have spoken to this aspect of pornography and I see no need to rehash what has already been said. It is my purpose to talk about what Pornography—and more broadly, sin in general—does to our personhood. This being the case, the journey on which we are about to embark will be more philosophical and abstract in nature. So bear with me as I attempt to use language to incarnate the truth about personhood. May God lead us.
Nature Of The Problem
First a word on the nature of the problem: I am not necessarily convinced that the prevalence of pornography addiction within the Church is a result of its accessibility. Accessibility is a problem but it’s not the problem. Society is certainly overrun with sexually provocative images and porn has literally been placed at our fingertips but this fact should lead us to ask a more substantive question: why has it breached the walls of the Church? Notice that we are not asking why pornography is prevalent in our society but rather, why it has gained traction within the lives of Christian men. Only 3% of young men have never viewed pornography.1 Churched or unchurched, Christian or not, 97% of men around the world have seen pornography in some form. But . . . why? Are not Christians supposed to be light even in the darkest places? Why aren’t Christian men standing firm in the battle against sexual temptation? I believe the answer is that Christian men are becoming indistinguishable from unchristian men. That is to say, Christian men live and act the same as unchristian men except they do so, “in the name of Christ”. But when we, as professing Christians, conduct ourselves in a manner not befitting our faith, we are blaspheming the Holy Name of Him whom we claim to serve.
Uncovering A Paradigm Shift
Over time, the Christian worldview has gradually shifted—and it’s changed so much that, upon random public observance, most people cannot tell the difference between a person who professes to believe in Christ and one who does not. The fact is that modern Christian culture is a product of societal trends. The church has adopted secular culture and as a result has slowly been eaten away by its reductionist philosophies. Pornography addiction was allowed to put its ugly foot in the door and, by slowly familiarizing itself with the local crowd through the portal in their living room, found its place within the church. But it didn’t stop there. It kept pulling people further and further into itself with a technique called numbing, slowly cultivating a desire for more . . . and more . . . and more . . . And we have allowed all of this because we have forsaken the path given to us by those who traveled before us in lieu of a more entertaining option. When the Church sacrifices its traditional worship to meet the industry standard, it surrenders a foundation on the Rock in order to pitch its tent on the sandy shores of the social status quo. This is a travesty because as Christians we are to be set apart. We cannot live a Christian life if we reject our Christian inheritance: which is a set way of worshipping and living that was passed down from the Apostles. What it comes down to is this: society is influencing the Church more than the Church is influencing society. And it’s not just pornography. It’s Violence . . . Language . . . Hatred . . . Gossip . . . Bitterness . . . Pride . . . little by little we have been desensitized to these things and have come to accept them . . . and each one of these things has a proper name that belongs to a specific demon. What has resulted from this is a virtually nondescript Christian culture where we, just like, if not more so than the world, live in hatred, lies, and lust; and yet, in spite of this, we have the audacity to think that we are “saved” because of the “grace of God”. Just one word on this and then we’ll move on: I most assuredly believe that it is by God’s grace that we are saved; but if you’re living in sin and passively accepting your sins because “God’s grace is sufficient” . . . Let me just say God’s grace is sufficient, but if you’re living this way, brothers and sisters please, repent and call out to God. For there can be no darkness where there is light [1 John] and a man cannot have two masters [Luke 16:13; Matt 6:24].
How has society influenced our understanding of sin?
The answer, I believe, is that sin has been trivialized. The Church no longer has a deep understanding of what sin does to the Person (πρόσωπον) but rather tends to view sin as a mere transgression of a commandment. It appears to me that the modern Church defines sin, God’s reaction to sin, and what happens to a person after sinning, in this manner: “a person sins when he participates in something forbidden by God—what results is God’s anger and sadness at the person’s sin. When a person sins God withdraws from that person and that person may experience a deep anguish. If he continues sinning he will grieve the Spirit of God into silence. If he repents, God forgives and draws near again.” I believe that this view completely misses the severity of sin spoken of in the Bible—and when an understanding of the severity of sin is lost, a person is lead to sin thinking, “I’ll repent and it’ll be okay” or something of the sort. My heart burns at this. I believe the undergirding reason driving society’s acceptance of pornography as normative is the idea that it is harmless. Our adoption of secular culture has allowed this idea to influence the church’s understanding of sin. Though we may affirm that “sin” is “wrong” and is very “harmful”, the worldview we have adopted would say otherwise. Sure, as Christians we know we’re not suppose to do such and such and yet we still do. In some cases, we’ve even given up fighting against sin. But this is not to be so! Even still, within the walls of today’s church—though it knows pornography is “wrong”—we are still faced with pastors and lay people alike who are addicted to Internet porn. Evidently, “knowing such and such is wrong” is not enough—neither will know the truth about the severity of sin be enough. But because the mind is that which first conceives and gives birth to action, we will first explain the austere truth about the severity of sin and then talk about what we can do to reverse the trend. “Knowing” is a springboard to action—but if such knowledge does not cause us to act then we are like the demons—who believe but act not on it. If we are only hearers and not doers, our Christianity is only a false framework akin to dry bones without flesh and life. For “knowing” is not enough—we must be. [James 2]
Being In Christ [A Biblical Understanding Of The Person]
First, we must understand that personhood is measured by whether or not we are in Christ [John 15]. We were created for communion with God—and when we break this communion by habitual sin we place ourselves outside of Christ. The Bible teaches that God created everything and God is the giver of life. Anything outside of God is death. So while we, like Adam and Eve, may not physically die the instant we take a bite from the apple, we do die, in a sense, spiritually. For sin is not something that is arbitrarily forbidden by God but rather forbidden for the very reason that it is inconsistent and incompatible with Life—that is to say, it is incompatible with the very nature of God. God is life and when we sin we are willfully choosing death over life. As humans we can fail to actualize our personhood. But what does this mean? Personhood is not a static fact given to us to receive but rather a dynamic reality that we must achieve. This being said, I want to back up for a minute. Every single human being is objectively valuable. The end-goal of life on earth is abiding in Christ—the true person. And in this sense, we are only truly, and completely human—true persons—when we give ourselves wholly to the triune God in whose image and likeness we were made. Eating the fruit affected an ontological change in Adam and Eve’s nature—they failed to achieve their nature; which was to completely abandon their lives to God. But instead of finding their identity in God they placed their identity in their Lust. The truth is, humans are not self-sufficient. We cannot contain our “Selves”. “He who finds himself will lose and He who loses it will find it.” This Paradox completely describes what it means to “find” or “lose” your Self. If you grasp your “self” then you will ultimately find that you are insufficient in yourself to contain your being, your personhood. But if you give up your Self—give up your Self to God, you will “find” your Self; You will achieve, and surpass, your human nature through participation in the divine nature. But the opposite is also true. As one writer put it, “Everything is changing; nothing remains static. We perfect ourselves either in good or in evil”2. C.S. Lewis’ also notes this by saying,
[E]very time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.
To be real is to abide in Christ. Now, if you do choose to find your identity in something other than God, it does not mean that you will disappear. You will still appear visible and as your “self” to those around you. But you have lost your personhood. That is, you have lost your being. For God is the “I am”. Everyone that does not submit to God, then, is in rebellion against their very being for their being relies totally on He who is; He who created out of Himself. We are naught apart from Him and we are not apart from Him.
What does this mean?
The best possible example that can be given to illustrate all of this is Tolkien’s picture of Smeagol and Gollum. Smeagol was a hobbit who found a terribly powerful ring. The more he wore the ring the less hobbit-like he became. Consumed by his desire to possess the ring, Smeagol lost his “self”. All of these choices made by Smeagol turned his “self” into something quite different, quite hellish—and eventually lead him to find himself in hell. The choices we make on earth affect our personhood—and we are given the choice to participate in the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Satan. Smeagol, who focused on his lust for the ring, was transformed by his lust into Gollum—the obvious counterpart to this is Frodo who, though burdened by the ring, made choices to persevere.
So what do we do about it?
Sin [in general] and porn [as an illustration of a specific sin] affects us in deeper ways than we will ever know. Recognizing this fact is where we start. If you have a desire to stop looking at porn or stop gossiping or stop having hateful thoughts then you’re on the right track. Heartfelt repentance—meaning resolve to try, by God’s grace to stop sinning in some area—is the next step. Though life-long habits are hard to break, with God’s grace, it’s possible. Here are a few ways that will help you in war against the sinful passions.
Guard Your Thoughts
One particular area that I feel is often overlooked is our thought-life. Be careful to guard your thoughts. The first part of the battle is often fought in, and through, our thoughts. One writer explained that often our thoughts aren’t even our own—they are traps set by the demons. For as soon as you attack a lustful—or hateful, or judging or any sinful thought—by thinking, “I shouldn’t think about such and such” you have already fallen prey to their evil ploy. Instead of attacking such thoughts we should divert our attention to Christ through prayer. The early Christians did this with a short prayer said repetitively. The reason for this is to have a specific prayer in your arsenal that you can immediately go to and begin praying. For in such cases when we pray without knowing what to pray our minds will often wander back to the forbidden thought. The short, repetitive prayer will allow you to focus on the words and refocus on Christ, in whom and through whom is our victory. One example of this is, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. When we practice this enough, whenever a thought trips a red flag, the natural movement of our minds will be to pray. But the battle, as St. Seraphim of Sarov said, is one where the enemy never sleeps nor tires. So be ever-vigilant.
Christianity cannot be lived in a vacuum. Community is a necessary part of our life and personhood. My dad always told me that the power of sin is held in its secrecy. So find someone you can confide in, pray with, and be accountable to. The best model for this, I believe, is one of discipleship. In the early church, converts to Christianity would be assigned a spiritual father or mother. The role of a spiritual father is one that is absolutely vital to Christian growth. A spiritual father should not be someone who is new to the Christian journey but someone who has traversed and persevered The Way of Christ—if you are of a young age, he should be older than you. An interesting fact about the early church is that members would stand in front of the entire congregation and confess their sins to one another. As the Church grew, it became a little impractical to have everyone do this and so the priest, representing the people, began hearing their confessions in private. This is still practiced in some traditions today—and can be a powerful experience of healing. (The secular world and anti-sacramental Christian sects recognize this in practices such as counseling and psychotherapy).
Rule Of Prayer
The early Christians would say morning and evening prayers in addition to prayers throughout the day. Ever wonder why we don’t pray at set times throughout the day like adherers to Islam? Well why not start? Setting a time to pray specific prayers is called having a “rule of prayer” and can be a powerful practice. In fact, we learn to pray by praying the prayers of Holy men. For if we are only able to pray when we feel like it, what are we to pray when we don’t feel like praying? A good place to start would be to begin praying in the morning and in the evening—you can find any number of prayers, or prayer books, online to help you in this practice. Either way, a standard morning and even prayer should follow a pattern of gratefulness, worship, adoration, and lastly, supplication.
A great cloud of witnesses surrounds us. Reading about Holy men who went before us can help shape our worldview for the better. C.S. Lewis recommended reading 3 old books for every 1 new book. The reason is because different generations fail in different areas. If we read the lives of the saints who lived in a different era, we can learn a lot about our Christian faith and how we are to conduct ourselves. Whether you accept the canonization of saints or not, reading the lives of Godly men is a good place to find encouragement and inspiration.
All in all, the goal of our Christian journey is to abide in Christ. By abiding in Christ we defeat the sinful passions. “Remain in me and I will remain in you”. How we do this, is probably the hardest thing Christians struggle with. The aforementioned suggestions are just a few of the ways that have helped me on my journey. There is much, much more but I’ll let you explore them on your own. As for me, I believe the Path set up to help us ‘abide in Christ’ is encompassed fully inside the Orthodox Church. The Church is a wealth of wisdom just waiting to be discovered. And if you seek, you will find. How do we abide in Christ? That’s the question. I hope I have whet your appetite enough to get you searching. May God be glorified in all and by all. Amen.
This article was originally published here.View Sources
2. Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. N.p.: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2009. Print.
On The Jesus Prayer – Podcast by Frederica Mathewes-Green
Identity – Podcast by Peter Kreeft