Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Where religion meets porn


According to the number one Christian porn site on the internet XXXChurch, pornography is something that 48% of Christian families admit to struggling with. That shouldn’t surprise anyone – after all, pornography and religion are a whole lot alike. They may seem like opposite ends of the spectrum, but in essence, both are about containment and control.

It actually makes sense that there would be a correlation between porn and religion. As Rob Bell pointed out in his book Sex God (try asking for that from the nice girl at the Christian bookstore with a straight face!) there are endless connections between sexuality and spirituality. Because of these connections I believe that religion is to God what porn is to sex. Both take something that is frightening to us and reduces it to something less frightening, something we can use the way it suits us.

I’m not judging here, it is after all a very human thing to do. We find ways to deal with things that scare the crap out of us, that’s just in our nature. That’s why we make tasteless jokes everytime a terrible tragedy occurs I think, it’s a coping mechanism. So when we are confronted with something as powerful and as scary as sex or God, our nature makes us try to find ways to shrink it down to something we can manage and control.

A great example of this would be Jesus – just look at what we did to Him. The Jesus of the Bible was a force of nature that refused to conform to anyone’s expectations of Him. In a 3 year ministry He managed to get on pretty much everyone’s nerves at some point. He was great at offending people and when He said something that upset everyone He didn’t follow it up with an explanation (the way we tend to do for Him these days) in order to make everyone like Him again. He just couldn’t be bothered by public opinion for or against Him and regularly did wild and crazy things like having dinner parties with unpatriotic traitors and prostitutes. Hell that one time He even took a whip to church and turned the whole place upside down! I think CS Lewis captured Him very accurately in the form of Aslan – Jesus was NOT a tame lion. Of course a Jesus like that is kind of scary. I mean what would your life look like if you had to follow someone like that? A life like that would certainly be unpredictable, why it may even be uncomfortable at times! So therefore we reshaped Him into the new, milder suburban Jesus we choose to follow these days. Now He’s nice and quiet and doesn’t really ask you to do things you don't want to and He certainly doesn’t offend anyone – although He is (apparently) really offended by everything we find offensive, like rap music and earrings on men. Basically we took someone who was not safe, but good and turned Him into someone who is safe, but not really good for anything.

I don’t know why we do this, why we find ways to tame and trivialize the things we should be treating with wonder and awe. Yet we do. In the case of both sex and God we are confronted with something that is somehow bigger than us, something that could tear us to pieces or give us healing, something that can overwhelm us, change us, break us, build us, comfort us, distress us, empower us or strip us of all our power. When faced with things as unpredictable and dangerous and downright frightening as these we tend to respond predictably. For some reason we don’t like the idea that some things can so utterly overpower us. Yet we cannot seem to bring ourselves to actually get rid of these things, our desire for them is just too deep. So we look for a way to have the things we want, just in a way that gives us a sense of control.

In the case of God we chose religion. Religion allows us to have God, but a smaller God, a God that is contained. It gives us a God that does what we want Him to, who doesn't really ask much from us in return. Its a God we can partake of when we need Him without the risk of Him partaking in our lives. The God of religion isn't very powerful because He can only do what we allow Him which is to make us feel better when we need it. The God of religion won't make your life any better but at least He is low risk. And safe. And contained.

In the same way, in the case of sex we chose porn. Porn allows us to have a form of sex, but a safer, commitment free, one-sided form. It's sex you can be involved in without actually being involved, an intimacy we can have without actually risking intimacy. It gives us a way of experiencing the sexual in a way where we can get anything we want, when we want without the fear of having to give anything in return. Instead of risking heartache, rejection and hurt, porn gives us something we can use to make us feel better when we need it. It may not be much fun but it seems to be low risk, low hurt and safe.

But the problem is that both religion and porn make promises they cannot fulfill. They may claim to offer you something without asking for anything back and yet they both can end up making you feel hollowed out and empty. We may like to think that these things are reasonable facsimiles of the real thing but they aren't even close. Just because we can live with fake sugar, fake dairy products and fake meat doesn't mean we can be sustained by fake God and fake intimacy. We may be able to fool ourselves for a while but in the end we will have to face what we already know deep down - these are not smaller, safer doses of the real thing, they are nothingness pretending to be something.

Honestly, the amount of religious men and women involved in the consumption of porn do not surprise me in the least. Religion and porn do mix and they can mix with ease because they really are simply different manifestations of the same need to control the things that frighten us. This need will be our undoing. Trying to control the uncontrollable will do nothing but deprive us of what we truly long for. When we replace the scary things we deeply long for with small, safe, controllable versions thereof we are in fact filling ourselves with a void. Nietzsche once said that if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you. I always liked that quote and I think it is especially applicable here. To think that you can control all things is a wretched illusion. Some things are bigger than you, some things are overwhelming in their power. They are supposed to be. They are supposed to influence you and change you and knock the roof off of your universe. Most of all they are supposed to scare the crap out of you because that is the only way you can reliably know when you are in the presence of the real and not the fake. Some things are wild and terrifyingly powerful and utterly beyond your control. They are not safe but they are good.

At least they can be if we only let them.

12 comments:

TPluckyT said...

Dude, I love it . . . I feel like a Eugene groupie lately because I keep wanting to link and refer to your posts . . . Nice work!

Personally, I had never made the connection between Porn and Religion, but I think you're right on!

Eugene said...

Thanks Tim! I do wish my groupies weren't middle aged men but oh well, guess the rock stars own the 20 year old girl market so I'll take what I can get!

GumbyTheCat said...

... And what the hell is wrong with middle aged men? We ROCK!

BTW, did someone say "PORN"???

Eugene said...

I apologize, middle aged men are awesome. In fact I aspire to be one myself one day!

Tania said...

I think this is a really good comparison... well said, as usual!

digapigmy said...

this is amazing. i wandered here by way of another blog and i didn't realize it was eugene's (not that i actually know eugene in the literal non-internet sense). i figured it was some nationally know pastor/author and figured there would be the standard 300 comments on this post. again - this is great because it is incredibly accurate. i'm putting this on my bookmarks.

p.s. i'm not considered middle aged yet.

RandomSue said...

as you know, I read this the second you posted it. I just didn't have anything intellegent to add to the conversation. I will sound like Tania now, well said as usual and I mean that. btw, I am NOT a middle aged man (I am married to one though) and I am a Eugene groupie. so there!

I gotta talk to ya about this diga character :-)

Eugene said...

Wow guys, I'm really touched by the feedback on this one! I'll be honest I was a little worried about writing about sex seeing as how I've been celibate for all of my 31 years. Guess it didn't show as much as I thought it would!

RandomSue said...

Excuse me? "Wow GUYS", what about me and Tania? We are NOT guys! You are so lucky to have two hot chicks like us reading your stuff. Don't be dissen on us. Got it Mister Smit?

Eugene said...

A thousand pardons! Here I foolishly thought that "guys" could be used gender neutral - as in "Thanks guys, you shouldn't have!"

Guess I was wrong.

I will henceforth be using the good Christian standby "Brothers and Sisters" until I can think of something better. Suggestions welcome.

Would you object to being called "dude"? Thats neutral right?

RandomSue said...

Eugene!! Lighten up dude! Just a little humour, nothing personal.

Eugene said...

Do I need to start adding :-) and "lol" to show when I'm kidding? I thought "A thousand pardons" gave it away! Did it in my best Persian accent and everything!

Damn you text! Why must you restrict me so?!