Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live faithfully...in the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, June 19, 2006

Porn and Plato - two sides of a coin


The scorn of porn, it seems to me, is exactly the opposite of Plato's problem. Plato was a dualist who believed in the supremacy of spirit over matter. Mutations of his teachings have led to a disdain for all things material and in Gnosticism, this disdain extended to the human body and sexuality, and later Victorian and Puritan obesessions to protect the citizenry from all things sexual. Thus did "Daniel the Trouserer" set about to paint clothes on the naked figures in Italian frescoes. Thus did the Victorians make certain that furniture legs were covered so as to prevent lustful thoughts. The sad results of this imbalanced teaching is that the church exalts sexual sin to some higher plane, making it worse than greed, or deceit, or anger, or pride.

But while the teachings of Plato have created an imbalance in the church, the pendelum has swung to other side in the culture at large. Being a culture largely defined by a purely material world view, the body and sexuality are reduced to merely physical matters. Throw in the internet, and the easy access to pornography is creating an epidemic of sorts among the male population (though women aren't excluded from this addiction).

So where does one go to find freedom from the addictions of porn, and yet the capacity to enjoy beauty, the glories of the human body and feel comfortable with one's sexuality? I would argue that there is only one place to go: Christ. He is the God who became Flesh - and His spirit, living within us, will enable us to live in the 'zone of life' between platonic dualism, and materialistic indulgence. In speaking with some authorities at a Christian University recently about the issue of pornography, I suggested the possibility that a vibrant prayer life, consistent Bible reading, and a thorough involvment in God's agenda for one's life seen to create an atmosphere that makes victory possible. Victory isn't defined as hatred of the body or sexuality, but that posture of body and heart that is willing to wrestle with the tension of self-control and enjoyment of all life has to offer, recognizing that God's bodily gifts (food, sex, sleep, beauty, coffee, exercise) can become destructive task masters if allowed unrestricted indulgence.

Bible reading - Prayer - and involvement in God's agenda for the day. Sometimes the best solutions are the simplest.

23 Comments:

At 20/6/06 14:03, Blogger Tom said...

While I wholeheartedly agree with your prescription (Christ), I think I have to push back a little on the notion of "simplicity." (I assume that you are not saying it is "simple" but I just want to expand on this for the sake of the countless addicted who have falsely believed it to be so.)

1. A Vibrant Prayer Life. As you wander the aisles of any bookstore, you find perhaps hundreds of titles claiming to help obtain a "vibrant prayer life." Wander over into the self-help area, and you will find many more books on developing deep relationships. As we well know, prayer is dialogue, conversation on the most intimate level. How incredibly difficult is it to develop deep and passionate relationships with friends, with family, with spouses, with children. I have invested 13 years into my marriage, and some days it is as if we do not know each other. How much more difficult it is to "pray without ceasing."

..... The Vibrant Prayer life may take a lifetime to become vibrant .....

2. Consistent Bible reading. We should break it down. Consistent reading. Consistently. Hourly. Daily. Weekly. Yearly. A lifetime. As God meets us in His Word, he WILL help us learn to live with that which we idolatrously desire more than Him. But it may take a year, a decade, and yes, a lifetime to learn to live with it.

..... Consistent Bible reading is often just that, a consistent reading of the Bible. While this does not guarantee success in overcoming your addiction, I would say, continue to read. See where you are in ... fifty years or so.....

3. Involvement in God's agenda. I really need clarity here. Because I cannot divorce "God's agenda" from every waking breath I take each morning. Where does "God's agenda" begin and something else end? Is God's agenda something I "do?" Or is God's agenda someone I am?

...... You are God's agenda. You are in His agenda in your struggle, in your loneliness, in your self-contempt, in your desperation. Never is there a moment when you are not His agenda.....

 
At 20/6/06 14:26, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

I'd agree w/ what you're saying, almost completely. I didn't say it was easy, but simple. In other words, there's no esoteric formula for acheiving spiritually. Instead one is invited to just keep showing up - keep listening for God's voice in His word and prayer - keep responding to what he reveals - keep listening to the conviction that He places in one's heart. This path seems to lead towards fruitfulness.

Of course, it's hard to do this, and at some level much more appealing to chart a more difficult course of action. And yet, I would contend that those who develop consistent and living practices of prayer, Bible reading, and obedience to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, are not usually the ones enslaved to addictions.

 
At 21/6/06 08:41, Blogger Tom said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Richard. Concerning this statement: "I would contend that those who develop consistent and living practices of prayer, Bible reading, and obedience to the convictions of the Holy Spirit, are not usually the ones enslaved to addictions."
Have you really, honestly met people not enslaved to an addiction? I ask this because both my parents are counselors in the Church. Isn't to be human is to be addicted? "I do what I do not want to do." Even Peter, years after Christ's ascension, was struggling with his personality and "addictions."

And I would say to those addicted to pornography: Don't pray to escape your addiction. Pray to know God. Don't read His Word to overcome pornography. Read it simply to hear Him. And please don't get busy in "God's agenda" in hopes that it will replace your addictions. Seminaries and the mission field are full of those desperate to overcome their enslavement to addictions.

While he was alive, I met regularly with Brent Curtis, author of The Sacred Romance. He believed that the only way to manage addictions (overcoming them is saved for the next lifetime) was find things Bigger than them. More beautiful. More joyous, more extravegant, with more depth.

To echo you, Richard - Christ.

 
At 21/6/06 10:57, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Sounds as if we're playing a little game of semantics here. Isn't 'managing' an addiction different than being enslaved by it? If it is, I'd argue that not everyone is enslaved - though everyone wrestles, and loses rounds.

Other than that distinction, I wholeheartedly agree with your admonition - we mustn't read the Bible, pray, or 'get busy' for any other reason than to be in relationship with the resurrected Christ. To use things as crutches, or a means to escape addictions results in all the worst that religion has to offer. We often confuse a by-product of being healthy with the actual goal. "Managing" my addictions (to use your term) can only be the by-product of seeking Christ - never - never the goal. Sin management has a pretty destructive track record down through the ages.

Thanks Tom, for your thoughtful exchange on this subject.

 
At 21/6/06 12:11, Blogger Tom said...

Thanks for your great responses, Richard. I look forward each week to reading your thoughts here online.

 
At 21/6/06 23:03, Anonymous Soren said...

It seems to me our Biblical models were all fairly active sexually. It seems like you are making something created to be natural a desire to be managed. Clearly nature management is decidedly missing the mark. (sin) It seems to me behavior management is a rabbit trail that leads us from ourselves.

One-ness is the mark we would desire to embrace.

 
At 23/6/06 08:32, Anonymous Phillip said...

Well said Soren.

 
At 23/6/06 10:39, Anonymous dt said...

soren, help me understand what you are saying. Do you mean God made us with desires that "make us who we are" so we should never try to squelch any of our desires? So "managing" our nature is something a human being shouldn't do? I think we are in a constant battle to manage our sinful desires. We are fallen, after all, and only the conscious (sin)nature management of people keeps this world sane at all.

 
At 23/6/06 11:34, Anonymous Soren said...

dt,

You are making assumptions of reality that fit your ego's paradigm, but don't fit with your soul. What is sin for you, is not for me. Paul says I have the mind of Christ, just as you. Jesus was insane. What is the definition of insanity?
Get back to me with your answer, then we can be on some common ground.

 
At 23/6/06 12:59, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

My soul is very uncomfortable with 'what is sin for me is not sin for you'. Such a value construct would preclude us ever speaking into the life of the other, when the other is living destructively under the guise of following their nature. This is an old road, tried by Rousseau with disastrous results. Nature doesn't lead naturally to paradise - not in the Bible - or the Koran - or even the teachings of the Buddha.

No, it would seem that unrestricted indulgence in appetites is the source of a large dose of the world's suffering. I'm happy to develop this further, thankful that your paradigm, Soren, which seems to claim that all world views 'have the mind of Christ' has room in it for my view too. But your problem is this: such a wide net surely legitimizes both Pat Roberston, Hitler, Osama, and Mother Theresa, since all have 'the mind of Christ.' Help me understand how you see these individual's truth claims as all equal?

 
At 23/6/06 15:19, Anonymous Soren said...

I am not sure what you meant by your reference to Rousseau, but I will take your back-handed compliment as an indication of your view of the territory I inhabit. I should be so wise. Further, I believe we need a revolution in our so called moral world. Alas, paradox and apparent contradictions are the means by which the problem of reconciling liberty and equality continues to overwhelm political philosophy.

Please consider this, Jesus never said you must be right.

And somebody else said this:

"there's no esoteric formula for acheiving spiritually. Instead one is invited to just keep showing up - keep listening for God's voice in His word and prayer - keep responding to what he reveals - keep listening to the conviction that He places in one's heart. This path seems to lead towards fruitfulness."

So, I'll head on down that old road, and should it end in disaster for me, then you may think you won your point.

 
At 23/6/06 16:15, Anonymous Phillip said...

Well said Soren. Viva!

 
At 23/6/06 19:01, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't find it necessary, in my moral compass, to pick up the doo doo my dog leaves behind. My behavior is not wrong...because my moral compass is aligned to me. Viva me!

 
At 23/6/06 21:05, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soren- Since you keep invoking Him, who IS God?

 
At 23/6/06 23:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yea, Soren.

You talk all big, but like that other guy said, who are you envolking?

Man, we are Christians here and don't want to think like you.

 
At 24/6/06 08:25, Anonymous dt said...

Yes, we are talking about Christianity here. Therefore, we must be pretty hemmed in by what Christianity/Christ is. You can be a Nihilist, existentialist, or a reletivist, but then you are squeezing out Christ, and sending Him to the back of the bus. He's supposed to be driving the bus!

 
At 24/6/06 09:45, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soren, I am a Christian too (you neocons need to calm down), and I'd like to thank you for expressing your views. And for what it is worth, I'd like to apologize to you for those here flaming you in Christ's name. I don't find that my faith requires blindness to thoughtful consideration. I appreciate your insights, and you have hit on something salient for me in that there is not a single act anyone can point to as "always" being sin. For you evangelicals now considering yourselves more Christian than me - here's a nice one liner from the Bible (sans context per your norm) - "there is a time for every thing under heaven." If, out of spite, you now choose to investigate the context - check out Ecclesiastes.

 
At 24/6/06 12:05, Anonymous dt said...

Everybody have a nice day in the sun!

 
At 25/6/06 06:37, Anonymous "Jack" said...

Is it possible, Richard, that your path toward victory in overcoming this addiction is too broad, and that it runs the risk of not being relevant, nor shed light on a desperate condition? Prayer, Bible reading, and walking in God's ways. Couldn't you "prescribe" this path to victory for all of humanity's ills? Corruption in Africa... Prayer, Bible, Walk. Materialism in America... Prayer, Bible, Walk. Bad health... Prayer, Bible, Walk. Marriage problems... Prayer, Bible, Walk.

By choosing to provide such a broad "atmosphere" toward victory (and an ANALYTICAL one instead of one that enters into the heartbreak of enslavement)is it possible that you may not truely understand the helplessness of the enslaved? To quote a tired, yet helpful, statement of Lewis' "Talk to me about the truth of religion and I'll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I'll listen submissively. But don't come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don't understand."

I hope that you will write more on this subject, and appreciate your willingness to address it in the first place...

Blessings, J.

 
At 25/6/06 07:45, Blogger Richard Dahlstrom said...

Thanks for the admonition Jack - yes, I agree that it's vital to enter into the brokenness and enslavement of the situation. I'm reminded of Jesus words to Israel about how the truth would set them free (John 8) and they said, "We've never been enslaved to anyone." Their failure to see reality meant that they missed the possibility of healing.

On the other hand, my larger point is that the ancient disciplines, which are a context enabling us to have increased intimacy with God, are often scoffed at as 'archaic', or 'empty form' when the reality is that they offer a context for deep transformation.

Thanks again for the call to be more specific in addressing the addiction issue. I hope we can do so without abandoning the ancient paths!

 
At 25/6/06 17:07, Anonymous Betty said...

I have to have a strick prayer life. My behavior is good, but generally I do have some vibrancy. I don't know Jack!

 
At 9/7/06 22:24, Anonymous Larry said...

This was a pretty good thread. Where did everybody go?

Anywho, my sense of you, DT, is for you to take a closer look at what Soren is saying and engage him (or her) in a dialog.

Because it appears Soren is indeed a conservative in the most basic sense of the meaning of conservative.

 
At 20/7/06 20:56, Anonymous Anonymous said...

so... i'm a month behind the times in this, but i just found the blog. my two cents reflect the concept of Ed Welch in his book "Addictions: Banquet in the Grave". All addictions are in fact a worship disorder.

it is an issue of misplaced affections... it's not about the behaviors so much as the longings heart that find themselves captive to false lovers and drained by false intimacies. the disorder (addiction) is evidenced by pursuing things other than the real Lover of our souls.
to quote another saint "Sin is what we do when we're not satisfied with God".

I appreciate what i've read.... thanks for a thoughtful interaction

 

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