Tuesday, 25 March 2008

so porn..

The general thesis of this meandering post is that porn is not *the* problem and porn is not the *problem*. I am sceptical of the both the motives and effectiveness of preaching on it so.. Antonio, rightly, has badgered me to get this online, as I've been sitting on it for a while, I have assumed through this post that porn is wrong, and so in fact I deal with none of the issues of that conversation, leaving them perhaps for another post..

I hope this post is non-judgemental, I don't post it as someone who has it all worked out, my questions around these issues are genuine. This could so easily be construed as the selfsame shameless controversialism I would accuse some preachers of.. Perhaps.. I do want to open up a conversation that draws out answers to questions on the nature of sin and how structurally and theologically etc it might be addressed, I have thought to go through this whole post and inflect every sentence to a question? but didn't think it would help. The whole post is born out of the conversation, (if indeed it is) why is porn such a problem, to which these are only ventured answers in a train of thought.

- -

Porn in preaching, from one pulpit or another in the smattering of podcasts I dip in to, seems weekly more and more the fashionable sin to reference. The curiosity of this move has come up a couple of times in 133 conversation.. Essentially I would want to question the apparent orthodox hierarchy of sins that are referenced and railed against from the pulpits, the sex and drink duo appear as the scratched record whipped out for the applicationing sermon conclusion to congregations in this slim demographic of Christian teens to 20somethings I find myself in. What motive is there for preaching those sins, rather than any others?

The other day JW gave us the 1 in 3 christian men porn addiction statistic, as I sit there pewed between Jon and Alex, thinking if not me, then statistically one of them.. This notion and my presumption of its falsity (?falsity vs fallacy anyone) distracted me for the rest of the service. Dwelling at first on the largely semantic notion of what is 'porn' and what constitutes 'addiction' and who were the polled 'christians'; as today most everything is porn, or pornographied; that and we are an addicted generation, defined by our consumerism and escapism (and religious nominalism? perhaps less so, although the statistic might well be American (via Rich Nathan?)) For example, towards these definitions, one might derive such a statistic if one asserted that my fascination with artfashiondesign mags is influenced, in part, by that significant element within them which is sexualised. And from this, addiction could be extrapolated based on the frequency, motivation in reading and also the degree to which my readership informs my identity.. And equally to 'Friends', that argument could be made tenuously..

But beyond these semantic questions, I was distracted by the motive for his mentioning this statistic in the first place, and as an example of a trend in sermons, it is less the spurious statistic itself but rather the frequency and manner in which these statistics and shallow treatments are raised in sermons. While the frequency with which porn or 'those websites' are referenced to summon 'the' sin of our age, reflects the scale of the 'problem' at least as those preaching perceive it, I would question if perhaps the way it is addressed reflects a misunderstanding of the nature of the problem.

The nature of the porn problem: a problem or a symptom?
I would say symptom although I don't feel qualified to comment on the psychology of addiction: porn or sex, but rather in so far as I have and as often as I have done the porn thing it has rarely been about the sex, in and of itself, rather it was the manifestation of the outworking of deeper issues, as with most all sins. For me, an ambiguous introduction to sexuality preceded my on off flirtations even addiction to all manner of porns between ages 11 and 18, and now as even the temptation has essentially waned, I believe the underlying and primary issues still remain. Essentially I would site the porn thing as a symptom an unsatisfied need for connection but further (and this is in no way to deny my own full responsibility for my own sin) I would site porn as the outworking of social context and theological understanding, issues which I believe the church has a crucial role in ?sanctifying:

1 A symptom of the problem of community - lack thereof.
I was fed a gospel steeped in individualism that essentially considers community as an optional extra. This is conveyed explicitly in the doctrine which concerns your salvation, your holiness, your prayer, your relationship with Jesus, and implicitly, by a christianity that for me was strung between summer camps, essentially left to my own devices in term time. Mine is one story among many who struggle to walk in holiness in the absence of church and in the inadequacy of the para-church to fill that gap. This is a situation, I would presume, applies to Sunday christians, lone-ranger christians, and mediated online christians everywhere.. Such 1 in 3 statistics in part reflect where we are reaping the cost of the adoption of our era's individualism by the church. This is the undoing of the three cord rope, and the neglect of the person-shaped hole.

I am not advocating 'accountability groups' or churchianity, nor idolising the saving power of some institution with a name, and certainly not 'religion' which bullies and coerces people into holiness, but within the models adopted, big churches, small groups etc, but if and where the sited statistics are true, what gap has left the church body so susceptible to moral collapse in the face of the pornographication of society? I would venture that where people's concept of church is based only on the paradigm of Sunday meeting church, a congregation misses the deep relational and pragmatic basis of a defence in the face of an assault from porn-on-tap internet.

Lauren Winner in 'Real Sex' writes about community, through the lens of sex as an example of an issue best dealt with in that context. There is the problem that we have atomised our christian lives, to a detached suburban Christianity, we have made community optional; but also where we have community, we don't do sex in community, my experience of christian fellowship and community until recently had all and more of the taboos surrounding sex. So in cases such as these the problem is church not being church, not being naked and unashamed, not being transparent.

2 A symptom of deficient theology.
Bad theology, an inadequate understanding of sin, its doctrine and implications. This sin thing was refreshed for me, as I did the Environment sermon survey, as and where the environment and sins related to stewardship lean on a system of causes and effects, it brought in to more clear focus, the immediate gravity of sin here and now, and then in eternity. Sin, and perhaps it needs to be The-Message-ified, into some more pointed contemporary translation to conveys that it really does mess everything up. And if I say we play it down, I mean not just the sense of not speaking it in our evangelism.. I don't speak it in my head, and grapple with it, its much more comfortable when its abstract and out there somewhere. Basically for me this and a host of issues changed when my concept of sin moved beyond a ticklist of naughtinesses:
- a. If sin is taught as naughty things that annoy a man in the sky, or as things which exclude you from some holy huddle, or things which make you feel bad.. such teaching will never be sufficient to keep one from the draw of porn.
- b. Rather, if we write sin as selfishness, your will and desires put ahead of God and those of others, as that which breaks down relationships here and now and in eternity and that which actively destroys.
- c. These things that are preached as sin are things that will mess you up, mind body and soul, Steve Nicholson describes long term porn addicts he had encountered, and actually weeps on the recording. http://www.evanstonvineyard.org/podcasts/sermons.cfm Listen to it now. ..and the whole series.
- d. And then - I never gave thought to there being another team on the pitch before these last charismatic couple of years – the notion of a spiritual battle, was painted as some way off, an abstract allegory to describe a struggle with temptation, along with Susie Sugar and the Plaque Police describing a metaphorical battle for clean teeth in your mouth. Childish. Rich Nathan is brilliant in his series on spiritual warfare from last summer starting: What is Temptation all About. Preach and equip for spiritual battle, if indeed this is one. 'Equip', yes with the bible and preaching, but equip, train, practice, discipline. When discussessing the emergent in terms of monasticism, (eg http://www.crcc.org/converse/1967.ram) monasticism as a lifestyle of training in a spiritual sense, as you might for a musical instrument. Are we afraid to practice our religion? As Daniel 1-2 practice our peculiarity? I'm in favour of a return to liturgy and ritual, as far as neither them become an ism.. Anyone?
http://jasonclark.ws/2008/01/03/recovery-of-liturgy-ritual-in-the-emerging-church-2

Is a deficient view of sin complicit in the trivialisation of porn culture, the objectification of women, the conflation of lust and love.. all/any of those?

The flip side of this is equally we have not (I keep saying 'we' as if somehow my own experience of church can so seamlessly be globally extrapolated.. I offer these generalisations conscious of the leap..) I had not had a view of holiness presented to me that was compelling. Christ calls an army of radicals, biblical wisdom is not merely a manual to do life well, it is a manifesto or call to arms for those who would love as Christ loved this broken world. So what is was missing for me us them, in this gap between 'salvation' and death, is a framework in which sin is not an add on and virtue is not an add on.

I find such a meta-narrative, or call it what you will, expanded brilliantly in John Eldredge's NPC 2007 on a gospel story in 7 stages. - http://www.zondervan.com/podcastI In this namedropathon also check out Donald Miller's 'Story' which helpfully continued the theme of God as the writer of stories. http://www.marshill.org/teaching/ ~Week 459 .. And then putting flesh and blood compellingly on living in that story in community, Shane Claiborne http://www.thesimpleway.org/shane/ and the new monastic bits and pieces.. even for all those in the blogosphere who disagree with his and the emergent's theology.. (This is a tangent, porn may be rife in the simple living camp, I don't know..) But suffice to say, my understanding has more clarity, immediacy and need for a saviour, if I consider it framed in these ~biblical and current stories of radicals in spiritual battle, where sin is real and virtue is real and a picture of eternity is painted into which ripples are cast.

But probably, above and beyond all of these, we struggle more than we ought with sin, because our God is too small. Another book I should really read before referencing. But I'll plough on.

A criticism of the emergent church et al is that they are much happier with a incarnational Jesus, buddy Jesus than the massive Father God of the universe God (?ref for this). I find this preached in John Piper, the bigness of God.. Who writes the following regarding preaching God's unapproachable holiness, would this notion of preaching God apply equally into the area of sexual brokenness under which porn falls..:

“About five years ago during our January prayer week, I decided to preach on the holiness of God from Isaiah 6. And I resolved on the first Sunday of the year to take the first four verses of that chapter and unfold the vision of God's holiness.

So I preached on the holiness of God and did my best to display the majesty and glory of such an unapproachably holy God. I gave not one word of application to the lives of our people. Little did I know that in the week prior to this message one of the young families of our church discovered that their child was being abused. It was incredibly devastating. There was police involvement - Social workers, Psychiatrists, Doctors. They were there that Sunday morning and sat under that message.

I wonder how many advisers to us pastors today would have said, Piper, can't you see your people are hurting? Can't you come down out of your ivory tower of theology and get practical? Don't you realize what kind of people sit in front of you on Sunday?

Several months later the sad details began to come out. And the husband came to me one Sunday after a service and took me aside, and said, "John, these have been the hardest months of our lives. You know what has gotten me through? The vision of the greatness of God's holiness that you gave me the first week of January has been the rock we could stand on."
http://www.lamplighterpublishing.com/blog/2008/02/edwards-and-holiness-of-god.html


3 A symptom of this, which is really about that.
I am presently blessed to be meaningfully and accountably engaged with others earnestly seeking God, and now, compared to, say, the point I left Oundle, I have a deeper and broader understanding of theology, the bible and church, and particularly with regards to sex within those areas of thought etc, however, there still remains thirdly the need to connect. The Evanston series starts with this, and Rob Bell's Sex God, brilliantly draws out links and overlap between sexuality and spirituality. I'd say brilliantly, I should get my noted copy back and flesh this point out a bit, in a later post perhaps..

Essentially I think we should place our understanding of sexuality within this framework of integrated spirituality. We are sexual beings, our sexuality is a language, a force, an understanding of how we connect, and it goes beyond being something that we do, it goes some way deeper and points to something else, something other, beyond the simple in-out of Clockwork Orange. (And in this sense, I may contracdictmyself later by arguing that sexual sin should not be beaten up on as 'the' sin.. but there is something powerful in sexuality.)

An understanding of the whole person thing and an integrated better allows us to understand Christianity not as a religion but as man brought fully alive to by fully human. What then is the angle that should be taken on sexual sin?

Ben Witherington III reviews, summarises, applauds and critiques Sex God on his excellent blog: http://benwitherington.blogspot.com/2007/03/rob-bells-sexgod-book-first-rate-read.html

'This being about that thing' then derives that the porn thing may not be about porn, which you may say is obvious. What then should be preached against, and how then should deal with the root?

Should we make porn 'the' problem, 'the' example, 'the' sin..
Where the previous paragraphs have considered, given the manner in which porn is referenced, whether porn is a problem - as opposed to a symptom. If we now ask whether it is 'the' problem/symptom, we are questioning its place in a hierarchy of sins, and the foundations for such a hierarchy. Possibly here I am broadening the conversation to consider a full gamut sex stuff, but even within that typically porn pips even pre-marital to the post.

The motives for choosing these sins might be:
-- they cause most damage, to character and relationships, lead most to further sins, and are the most deep rooted.
-- are most widespread, affecting the most people, most often.
-- are most appropriately dealt with in the context of Sunday speaking.
-- are those which people most forget about and so require most frequent reminding.
-- cynically they could be for an element of the risqué, to seize the attention of listeners, to appear culturally edgy,
-- or even to most effectively convict in a superficial way for the pleasure of those Christians who enjoy their self-pity.

Some discussions of porn in church come close to the line equating evangelical masculinity to struggling with porn. Pastors who assume that the male congregants are struggling with porn unless they have sought help.. Such defeatism begets or at least contributes to the problem. Just as the kid constantly accused of stealing money is as well to steal it anyways. Maybe I wish I was addicted to porn, for the way it is presented or just to be able to give my struggle a name.

“go and sin no more..” if we read this not as Jesus laying another burden on this well woman's shoulders, but that it is him speaking to her the freedom to no longer have to sin any more, does this have implications of our treatment of porn?

When we isolate sex into a course: The Pure Course for example, does this have the effect of detaching sex from our common life together in Christ? I don't think this post answers any of my questions.. Why a sex course, and not a money course? Rather as those churches that might decline to marry a co-habiting couple, yet not those who do not tithe etc..
http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=2211943235
http://phil-blogs.blogspot.com/2007/11/questions-for-stop-pure.html


What might we preach on instead, what other sins etc?
More helpful for me have been those which have questioned what else you do on the internet, besides pornography, those have challenged me, I spend too much time on facebook. How much is too much? Most any time spent on facebook is too much.. If you are going to preach on porn, preach equally on positive sexuality, make sex an open part of doing life together as it were. If not porn, lust and sex, I would venture so much more critical are greed, pride and apathy, these coming out of a unbelief, bad theology, and Christian individualism. Otherwise, preach on the Glory of God. Preach on the Cross. Preach on the imperative of community.

But anyways to conclude this, if the statistics are correct (52% xn men and 20% xn women) . this does not to me reflect a lack of beating up on porn, a lack of porn-Sundays.. etc.

I would venture that unless we know beyond knowing, unless we know deep in our being, who we are in Christ, who we already are, and unless proactive structures are in place of loving accepting and redeeming community we have missed the point and will lose the battle.

http://www.christianpost.com/article/20070605/27799_Porn_Addiction_Flooding_Culture,_Church.htm
http://xxxchurch.com/

Also check out: http://www.figleafforum.com/ :-)

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dear Philip,
It might be my lack of intellectual acuteness or maybe soft bitterness but that was a very (long^_^) postmodern post. I guess it is fair to say that industrial (or, rather, post-industril) individualism makes us detached from values and human nature but, if you're dealing with "machines" you need to talk in digital terms and I can only assume sex fits in well...more rambling...nevermind this...
I hope you are finding yourself well and perhaps(here comes the postmodernist) you will find inspiration in the presocratics XDDDD ....nothing written after 6th century BC is worth the paper...only change stays..nothing ever changes...who knows..in the meantime the alotments and the sun will do me fine (I say will...not yet, I don't know why...)
Love,
The devout reader
ps. sorry for keeping you SEX GOD so you can't quote it...or perhaps not so sorry XDDD

Ny said...

Hmm... v interesting Phil. Not much to add really. I guess quite a lot of other 'sins' like greed, envy, lying etc are not really portrayed as good things within wider society (well at least not frequently celebrated) where as sex is portrayed as normal, fun etc. So, perhaps it's harder to think of sex/porn etc as bad, and one is more likely to think they are missing out on something satisfying and good than if they don't lie or steal? Sorry... this isnt a patch on your thoughts. Yeh I think maybe we do have a squewed view of sin. x

Phil Tinker said...

Hey Phil,
This isn't going to be a comprehensive reply to your post, just to say I very much agree with what you are saying and your observations echo mine. I see you have read the article on 'Still Deeper', which very much agrees with what you are saying.
I particularly found the story from John Piper interesting. His ministry has really helped me in understanding sin. His 'treasuring Christ' is wonderful, rather, the Bible's 'Treasuring Christ' is wonderful. All sin, whether sexual or otherwise is the outworking of the root problem, we love everyhing but God. We look for intimacy, connection, satisfaction, relationship, in everything but God. We must understand- Some sin is pleasurable, it provides us with a degree of satisfaction of the desires (such as intimacy) that we rightly crave. I am seeing in myself more and more that I do not hate sin as I should. But hating sin alone is not enough. I may see the damage of porn or whatever, but I will keep going back to the satisfaction of sin until I realise I can have, inded I HAVE, NOW, something better- Jesus Christ. Oh how beautiful he is! What intimacy, what satisfaction, what adoration of beauty, what relationship I have in him! And, HIS church, as you so rightly point out. Once I grasp the utter disgusting and destructive corruption of my sinful heart, AND the wonder of a freedom in adoption by God, then I will flee sin like the beast that it is.
Our preaching must have more than 'don't look at porn'. It must say 'hate sin, for it is not worth treasuring, treasure Christ, for only he is worth loving.' If our hearts are right, obedience will follow.