Thinking Out Loud

August 13, 2013

Keep the Story, Lose the Illustration

This is a rebroadcast of a piece from September 2011…

Having become previously acquainted with the addictive properties of the internet’s dark side, I can identify with the AA mantra that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.” I have experienced moments where one online image essentially gives you permission to then delve deeper into more of the same, a task easily undertaken when you have the road map memorized.

Of late, this has not been an issue. Facing job uncertainty, the loss of a friendship, or a medical challenge has a way of keeping you focused on things that matter, and making a renewed commitment to purity of thoughts and actions. For me, anyway. I know there are others for whom the same stresses are what drives them to find a way of escape. But lately I have been relatively detoxified and in fact, there are parts of the above-mentioned roadmap that start to fade over time.

But it can only take one idea, one article, or one photograph; and the process can start to unravel. I know this because, about a week ago it happened to me

On a Christian website.

The woman in question, who I believe has written some Christian books, had posted to her site/blog an article about a particularly disturbing trend taking place. I won’t name it, because I don’t want to drive anyone to find it. She posted a number of pictures including one that I don’t feel was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, in the limited internet exploration which did follow, I discovered she had posted a picture that many secular bloggers and media sites had shied away from.

And then, there was the temptation to go back and see how some hold friends are faring, if you get my drift. Heck, I had already started down the road, and I might as well see how the old neighborhood was doing.

But instead, I just sat at the computer, not once, not twice, but several times with my hands hovering over the keyboard, but unable to complete any actual keystrokes. Some would say there was a battle raging. If so, the battle probably stretched out over about three days. In the end, while I somewhat danced around the outskirts of what is for me, the internet’s forbidden zone, I did not actually revisit the old haunts.

But none of this — absolutely none of it — would have happened if a certain Christian internet writer had been content just to report on a problem without feeling the need to add pictures. It was just completely unnecessary. And it was, to at least one person, a huge potential stumbling block.

We all want more readers. We all want to think our particular blog or website is a relevant source of breaking trends and opinion on current issues. The stats provide that affirmation.

But not at any price.

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October 18, 2012

Should You Marry a Porn User?

Writers like Kevin Leman are known for being somewhat explicit about marriage, and Mark Driscoll doesn’t mince words when he’s preaching or writing about sex. Rachel Held Evans came up against our collective appetite for earthier language in her A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but for the most part it’s the men who dominate the roundtable.

On Tuesday, the name Sheila Wray Gregoire came up in a conversation. Her newest book, The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex was somewhat foreshadowed by Honey, I Don’t Have a Headache Tonight, so she’s not a neophyte on this topic. But on her blog — which takes its name from yet another book, To Love, Honor and Vacuum — she asked the question this week, “Should you marry someone who uses porn?”

Stand on a principle on this one, and some say you could be eliminating up to 90% of your prospects. Sheila’s number might be 67%, or two-thirds. Either way, pornography is ubiquitous, even among Christian males (and females). The tobacco addict has yellow fingers; you can smell the liquor on the breath of an alcoholic; and when the gambling addict pulls out his MasterCard to pay for lunch, it’s stuffed full of lottery tickets. But the person addicted to online pornography — in all its many, various forms — often goes undetected.

So here, for those currently dating, those engaged, those in the early stages of a marriage, and anyone else touched by this topic, is a link to Sheila’s Should You Marry Someone Who Uses Porn? …Be sure to also look around the rest of her blog for resources on a host of related issues.


Since it’s been awhile, this is also a good time to mention my own attempt to speak to this issue is still hiding out in a remote corner of the internet where you can read it for free. The Pornography Effect: Understanding for the Wives, Daughters, Mothers, Sisters and Girlfriends, was written in 2007 as a crisis book — in other words it’s not lengthy — and can takes up two full screens in a modified blog page. (The chapters were posted in reverse order so the finished product would read normally; click Ctrl and the plus sign simultaneously if you find the type size hard to read.) Click this link to check it out. If you don’t have 45-50 minutes to read the book, a summary of each chapter’s key points is posted here.

May 27, 2012

Arousal Addiction: Video Games, Porn and Men

A Stanford University professor has a guest article at CNN this weekend which is worth a look: The Demise of Guys: How video games and porn are ruining a generation, which is also the title of a general market book on the same subject. The two addictions are compared and contrasted, but the one thing they have in common is arousal:

Video game and porn addictions are different. They are “arousal addictions,” where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.

The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

The article affirms what others are saying about brain chemistry:

Young men — who play video games and use porn the most — are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Read the entire piece.

Also check out the author’s 2011 TEDTalk on “The Demise of Guys.”

As I’ve mentioned before here, this situation has major implications for the church: Men just aren’t stepping up when things need doing; they aren’t volunteering. Either gripped by the sinfulness of their online addictions, or unable to find free time for the same reason, the mission of the church is slowly being ceded to women, a demographic which is also seeing a rise in online addictions of a different type. 

We need to have a conversation in each of our churches about this. This needs to be discussed. It needs to be confronted.

September 16, 2011

Think Before You Post

Having become previously acquainted with the addictive properties of the internet’s dark side, I can identify with the AA mantra that “one drink is too many and a thousand drinks are not enough.”  I have experienced moments where one online image essentially gives you permission to then delve deeper into more of the same, a task easily undertaken when you have the road map memorized.

Of late, this has not been an issue. Facing job uncertainty, the loss of a friendship, or a medical challenge has a way of keeping you focused on things that matter, and making a renewed commitment to purity of thoughts and actions. For me, anyway. I know there are others for whom the same stresses are what drives them to find a way of escape. But lately I have been relatively detoxified and in fact, there are parts of the above-mentioned roadmap that start to fade over time.

But it can only take one idea, one article, or one photograph; and the process can start to unravel.  I know this because, about a week ago it happened to me

On a Christian website.

The woman in question, who I believe has written some Christian books, had posted to her site/blog an article about a particularly disturbing trend taking place. I won’t name it, because I don’t want to drive anyone to find it. She posted a number of pictures including one that I don’t feel was absolutely necessary. Furthermore, in the limited internet exploration which did follow, I discovered she had posted a picture that many secular bloggers and media sites had shied away from.

And then, there was the temptation to go back and see how some hold friends are faring, if you get my drift. Heck, I had already started down the road, and I might as well see how the old neighborhood was doing.

But instead, I just sat at the computer, not once, not twice, but several times with my hands hovering over the keyboard, but unable to complete any actual keystrokes. Some would say there was a battle raging. If so, the battle probably stretched out over about three days. In the end, while I somewhat danced around the outskirts of what is for me, the internet’s forbidden zone, I did not actually revisit the old haunts.

But none of this — absolutely none of it — would have happened if a certain Christian internet writer had been content just to report on a problem without feeling the need to add pictures. It was just completely unnecessary. And it was, to at least one person, a huge potential stumbling block.

We all want more readers. We all want to think our particular blog or website is a relevant source of breaking trends and opinion on current issues. The stats provide that affirmation.

But not at any price.

July 12, 2010

Rock Music and Pornography: Parallels

The 1960s was a time of accelerated social change in Western Europe and North America.   No chronology of those times is complete without some reference to the role that popular music played in both reflecting and shaping those times.

As folk singers protested Vietnam and The Beatles sported longer hairstyles, the church began to establish its somewhat defensive posture; and by the end of the ’60s, the psychedelic branch of rock music combined with the message of free love to confirm all their worst fears.     Any band with guitars and drums was immediately caught in the line of fire.

The actual music form itself was no different than the modern worship that was played in the church service I attended yesterday.   The drums, bass guitar, electronic keyboards, lead guitars and rhythm guitars would later be regarded as morally neutral.

By the 1980s we began to hear a redefined meaning to the term “rock music;” it wasn’t the music itself, but the performers and their lifestyles and ideals; it was the attitude and the surrounding culture.   The music itself — the notes, the harmonies, the rests — were simply the wave which carried youth culture along; in fact it was the youth culture itself that the church had really been afraid of all along.

The eventual emergence of Christian rock wasn’t so oxymoronic.   It showed the spiritual neutrality of the musical forms, and showed that those forms could be used to carry a positive and even Biblical message.

Over two years ago, I posted a rough manuscript online of a short book titled The Pornography Effect:  Understanding for the Wives, Mothers, Daughters, Sisters and Girlfriends. Part of the reason that I’m still looking for a publisher for the print version is that some people disagree with the book’s basic assumption.

I believe that the visual images that one thinks of when they hear the term “pornography” are not the ultimate core issue.    I do believe that they are addictive, that they are exploitative and that they can be devastating to men (and women) and especially teens and pre-teens.

But like the music issue of the ’60s, I think we may be focused on the wrong target.   (The parallel ends there however; I don’t foresee those images appearing in our worship services 25 years from now the way that contemporary music styles are part of modern worship.)

Just as rock music is about lifestyles and ideals and attitudes, pornography changes the worldview of those who partake.   Again, I think that the point in my manuscript that some people can’t get past is the idea that text pornography — chats, forums, stories, blogs, etc. without pictures — is every bit as serious a threat as sites with various types of pictorial images. If not more so.

click image to orderThe Church’s response is to think in terms of pictures and videos (a concern not to be minimized) and think in terms of addiction (an issue to be taken seriously) but to neglect what exposure to porn does in terms of how men look at their wives and girlfriends, and even their sisters, daughters and mothers.   (The promotion of incest is a major agenda on many websites.)  Perhaps we’re more concerned with the physiological sexual response than the brain ‘wiring’ or brain conditioning that is at work here.   Perhaps it is easier to choose a target we can see than consider the more serious concern which is invisible.

Pornography has even changed the expectations men have as to what constitutes normal sexuality within marriage.   (And, as we’re seeing, increasingly changing the expectations of women also.)   The result is an increase in unusual requests and even demands in the bedroom.   But it also causes men to think nothing of considering an office affair; it causes boys to make advances toward their sisters; it causes heretofore straight individuals to nurture same-sex attraction.

It’s the 1960s all over again.   The “Summer of Love” of 1969 is back with its message of free sex without consequences, but aided by a new technology tailor-made to get that message to the widest audience.

It’s the escapism drug-of-choice; with each dosage customized to meet individual desires.   In online pornography nobody ever gets pregnant, no STDs are spread, no one is arrested for rape or indecent exposure, no small children are ever left without a daddy.

Hedonism is the reigning philosophy.

Jesus said He came so that we might experience life to the fullest; however the “abundant life” is also the “narrow way.”  Countering the ‘message’ of pornography isn’t about saying “don’t look” anymore than putting up a wet paint sign on a freshly whitewashed fence is going to accomplish “don’t touch.”    Pornographers, advertisers and fashion designers will continue to keep pushing the envelope.   Men’s thoughts will continue to stray.

So while we do need to tell the world that,

  • pornography is an addictive behavior;
  • as an addiction it is subject to the laws of diminishing returns; the addict is never satisfied;
  • with God’s help you can be set free;

we also need to be proclaiming,

  • the version(s) of sex depicted online does not generally represent God’s intention for sex;
  • many of the subjects in online images are being exploited or being forced to participate; it’s not true that “nobody is being hurt”;
  • the movies and stories are unbalanced; they don’t show disease, unwanted pregnancy, loss of self-respect, or ruined lives;
  • if you keep watching, the images are changing you; as you give more time to worship at the altar of porn, the pornography effect is a sacramental effect; as you receive it, you’re allowing it to shape you and define you;
  • those so exposed need to recognize, confess and confront how pornography has so changed their worldview; both in subtle and greater degrees;
  • the consequences of long term exposure to the larger society is that it places that society in a downhill spiral (what pilots call a ‘graveyard spiral’) from which there is no recovery apart from dramatic repentance followed by dramatic intervention from God (or what might be called “a turning” or “revival”)
  • because it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness; more energy needs to spent promoting models of modesty, purity and chastity; and less energy on appearing spiritual by simply “denouncing” porn;
  • in the end, pornography is not the problem; the human heart is deceitfully wicked; the core of the problem is human rebellion against God;
  • finally, we need to proclaim the omnipresence of God; men and women need to be reminded that God is constantly sitting next to us as we click the mouse, turn the scroll wheel and stare at the monitor; His Lordship has to extend to be Lord over the URLs we visit daily.

Allowing myself to be a spokesperson on this topic has had to involve some awareness of its magnitude, and I think the people who say there are 200,000 pornographic websites online are terribly low in their estimating.   I believe the person who suggests 1,000,000 might be more accurate.

This means that realistically, we’re not going to see an end to pornography any time soon.  (Although, I applaud those who faithfully file objections to blog hosts, internet service providers, and search engines; each day sites all over the world are shut down because of their counter-measures; and even some of the most liberal pornographers recognize a need for someone to be applying the brakes, though often for different reasons.)

What we can do is build resistance (not immunity) to it.   We can recognize that just as the music debate really wasn’t about the musical forms itself, the sexual ethics debate is not about this picture or that video.

It’s a battle for the mind.

It’s a battle for the heart.

Want to study more on this?  Here’s an article also posted today on the complications of leaving internet choices to filtering devices.


December 10, 2009

Christians, Alcohol, and James MacDonald

Recently, the radio program Walk In The Word repeated a couple of programs featuring a message James MacDonald gave at Harvest Bible Chapel on the subject of Christians and alcoholic drinks.   MacDonald believes in total abstinence.   In other words, zero consumption of alcohol.   If there was a way to even further that position by inserting a negative number, that would be his position.   Don’t touch that bottle.   Don’t even look.

James MacDonald, pastor of Harvest Bible Chapel in Northwest Chicago and host of the Walk In The Word radio program

James MacDonald is the kind of person you would probably listen to and decide you’d like to meet.   His radio show has a cool theme song.   He takes himself seriously but not 100% seriously.   There is a fair amount of honesty and transparency.  There is a request for money at the end of each broadcast but it’s tempered with some empathy for the pitch-weary listener.

But it would probably be a short meeting in which he would dominate the conversation.    James is a strong personality.   He understands brokenness, but projects having it all together.    Frankly, if there were 30 kids in a classroom, I think James would be the bully; and I’ve said that to a few people lately who agreed the analogy fits.

So if James says stay away from alcohol, you know you’d better do what he says because if you don’t it’s SIN.   That’s capital-letters SIN.

Of course, James believes Christian women should be homemakers, and it is a requirement of his male staff that their spouses not work, something he shares in common with Mark Driscoll.   I’m not sure if this means to do otherwise would be capital-letters SIN, but disobeying him certainly would.   I’m also not sure how he accounts for the various female staff members who work at Walk in the World and Harvest Bible Chapel.  But it shows that he has strong opinions on many issues that are non-issues elsewhere.

Sometimes, James MacDonald appears to get it wrong.   Occasionally everything from scientific statistics to Bible texts seem to get misquoted or misapplied.   Sometimes, this is due to the fact he’s broadcasting older sermons; one trusts that with today’s wisdom he might say some things differently.

He has six points for abstinence:

1. Because drunkenness is a sin and not a disease.
2. Because alcohol impairs wisdom.
3. Because alcohol is an unnecessary drug.
4. Because alcohol is destructive.
5. Because alcohol is addictive.
6. Because wisdom calls me to set it aside.

Some of them are given to subjective interpretation.   Let me explain.

I love Christian rock music.   For many years, I earned an income selling contemporary Christian music.   But every so often, I ran into people who were on that part of their journey that involved leaving the secular rock music scene.   And for them, Christian rock was not acceptable.    For most of my friends and customers however, Christian rock — the music, the concerts, the means of learning scripture and doctrine — was totally acceptable.

So I think that yes, alcohol is wrong for some people, especially if there is a family history of alcoholism or any addictive behavior for that matter.

But some people, like Zach Nielsen, don’t think you can make blanket statements on this subject.

Zach Nielsen writes the popular Christian blog, Take Your Vitamin Z, and is Pastor of Music & Teaching at the Vine Church, a church plant in Madison, WI -- just a few hours from James MacDonald -- starting in 2010

At his blog, Take Your Vitamin Z — a blog where eight different posts in one day is not unusual — Zach devotes six posts to engaging MacDonald’s six points.  You can read those posts here:

Ultimately, Neilsen concludes:

…Churches should not be divided on these types of issues. When it comes to this message, I fear that Pastor MacDonald has contributed to an ethos at his church that is unhelpful and unbiblical. We should be communicating freedom on extra-biblical matters and not give such a strong word on one side or another. Most Christians are spring loaded towards legalism and we should not add fuel to that fire.

I’ve deliberately avoided engaging the actual issue here. (Personally, as I indicated in the footnotes of a blog post a few days ago, I generally don’t drink, but I also don’t “not drink;” if you get the distinction.)   I think you should save opinions on the actual issue for Zach’s blog, if comments are still open.

As I commented there, I “find myself returning to Walk in the Word, as I think there is a need for people to confront their sin, as James so often reminds us.   But then I find myself getting frustrated with his style, and needing to take a week or two off.” and like Zach, find myself  “living in the tension of a similar ambivalence” when it comes to Walk In The Word.

On one level, great admiration for the man and what he has accomplished, and on another level a recognition that as Christians, we simply can’t depict everything in black and white.

A viewpoint and personal stand that James MacDonald has constructed on this issue is fine for sharing over coffee with someone who asks, but it should never have been presented dogmatically as either a Sunday sermon, or a prescription for all Christ-followers in all places, all situations, at all times.

HT: Though I have Take Your Vitamin Z bookmarked, I was alerted to this series there by Darryl Dash.

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