One of my favorite Christian blogs to follow is Desiring God.
Not because I agree with their arguments (I rarely do), but because their blog serves as a perfect microcosm for the present worldview of most conservative Christians. Additionally, they do not shy away from covering sexual topics and other thorny issues so it’s always an interesting read.
And, in a case of perfect timing… or, to use the proper Calvinist rhetoric, an event that was pre-ordained by a Sovereign and Almighty God before the foundations of the earth were laid… Desiring God published an article over the weekend titled “How Not to Fight Pornography” just in time to fit into my series on the topic.
I’m going to do an analysis of the article here. Specifically, I’m going examine the assumptions behind the argument.
Testing assumptions is one of the most important parts of learning and spiritual growth. And since it’s easier (and more fun) to find flaws in the thinking of other people, I find article analysis to be a great way to indirectly examine my own assumptions.
So buckle up… here we go…
(The following are selected excerpts. I have bolded the untested assumptions. [Emphasis mine.])
…you first need to realize that your “struggle” [with porn] is no struggle at all. You need to admit that you are participating in blatant infidelity. You’re married, but you take off your ring for a moment and indulge yourself. You’ve been united to Christ, but you unite yourself to prostitutes.
The author is assuming that viewing pornography is equivalent to infidelity and having sex with prostitutes but provides no argument or evidence to establish this claim.
In 1 Thessalonians 4:1, Paul makes known to the church how she “ought to walk” or how it is necessary to live. This general statement becomes a specific command in 1 Thessalonians 4:3–4: “Abstain from sexual immorality,” knowing “how to control [your] own body in holiness and honor.” Apparently, some in the community were struggling to master their body or “vessel” (which may be a euphemism for genitalia). They acted out in lustful passion like the pagan Gentiles “who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:5).
In many modern translations, ktaomai, is rendered as “to control.” But the older, more literal translations are consistent with the Greek. The word means to “acquire”, “win”, “purchase,” etc. Furthermore, the word eidó (know) conveys a deep understanding rather than just a superficial knowledge. It means to “see”, or, metaphorically, to “perceive” or “grasp reality.” If we go forward with the assumption that the “vessel” refers to one’s own body (or more pointedly, one’s own penis), then Paul is essentially saying, “Men, I want you to grasp reality and acquire a penis of your own.” Or, “I want you to perceive how to possess your own penis.” This sounds like some weird new age masturbation advice. But if you assume “vessel” is a metaphor for a wife, the command makes much more sense.
To “know God” is covenantal language. Acting as those who “do not know God” is to live as if you’re not in a covenant relationship with God. It is to live a life of infidelity, without the slightest concern for how your spouse will respond; in this case, the God who “called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9).
Here’s a little Friedan slip the author let out. Where does the Bible include not being concerned with how your spouse will respond with breaking a covenant relationship with God?
Pornography not only hurts you. It severely hurts others. It dehumanizes real people into images for one’s own sexual gratification, and it completely “destroys life-sustaining relationships” (Gabriele Kuby, The Global Sexual Revolution, 127).
Both of these assumptions are impossible to prove. “Dehumanize” is a rhetorical word with no precise meaning. “Destroys life-sustaining relationships” is also rhetoric. Depending on what one is looking for, there are cases of broken relationships where porn use was a factor and there are happy relationships where porn is used. It’s all about how you frame the issue and which studies you trust. Furthermore, the author is assuming that pornography, in and of itself, is the cause of the problem. He does not take into account the human factor. Ironically, this is arguably a “dehumanizing” way to make a claim.
You lose interest in your spouse. You emotionally distance yourself from your family. You lose your ability to love. You cause your spouse to leave you. You entertain a false view of sex no one can meet. You develop a degrading image of the opposite sex. You become a recluse who can’t wait to see pornography one more time.
All of these things could be true in some cases. But it is a HUGE leap in logic to assume that porn viewing is the cause of all these problems. Most likely, porn use is typically correlated with all the above problems and perhaps exacerbates the problems. Imagine a man who doesn’t work and lazes about and binge watches movies all day. We then discover that he is emotionally distant from his family, he’s reclusive, his wife leaves him, he’s developed a skewed view of reality, and he has no motivation. Would we say movies are the problem? No. He‘s the problem. Movie watching is just his chosen outlet for the expression of a poor character.
Is it surprising to hear that God is an avenger who will punish those in the church who persist in sexual immorality? It probably stunned the Thessalonians. Earlier, Paul mentioned that Jesus delivers the church “from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10) and he later speaks about God’s people not being “destined for wrath” (1 Thessalonians 5:9). But to demonstrate the seriousness of sin, the holiness of God, and the ultimate outcome of sexual sin, he declares that the Lord Jesus will punish those who unrepentantly “struggle” with pornography in the church.
This not only an untested assumption, this is a blatant lie about what the Scripture says. Paul never “declares” that the Lord Jesus will punish those who look at pornography. The assumption here is that continuously looking at pornography is equivalent to sexual immorality (porneia). This would be a difficult argument to make as porneia simply means “selling off one’s body” (as in prostitution.) It’s pretty obvious that most men consuming the porn are not having any sex with women (paid or not.) However, it is worth examining the cases of men paying women for “virtual entertainment” and how much responsibility a man has by viewing the photos and videos of an industry that openly engages in porneia. Would this be a “meats in the marketplace” type situation, or something else?
Sexual sin is such a grave threat to the church today, and it will not go down without a long, drawn-out fight, as if eternity were at stake — because it is.
Let’s just call a spade a spade. The author is claiming that men who look at pornography will burn for eternity in hell. Unless one is a Calvinist who is absolutely confident that he is one of the lucky few who are part of the elect, that’s a heavy burden for a sex-starved man to bear.
I also fail to see why sexual sin will not go down without a “long, drawn-out fight.” To me God’s instructions for avoiding sexual sin are clear: have sex with your wife and don’t have sex with anyone who is not your wife. Also, don’t have sex with animals. It’s not that complicated or difficult… well, provided that you don’t force yourself into years of involuntary celibacy by following Churchian marriage advice.