Driscoll on pornography: Chapter 4

Previous posts in this series: Introduction, Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3.

Hey, it’s been a while, right? Maybe you thought I forgot about our old buddy Pastor Mark and his pamphlet, Porn Again Christian. (Maybe you were relieved…?) But I haven’t forgotten. I hate starting things and leaving them unfinished, and we’ve got 5 more chapters to go. (I’ll leave the appendices as an exercise for the reader, if you’ll forgive me that.)

Back in the third chapter, we talked about Driscoll’s “theology of pornographic lust,” but in this chapter we have his “practical theology of pornographic lust.” Perhaps, as I did when I first read these titles, you are now wondering what the difference is. It seems to be mostly that there is more frequent quoting from Proverbs. I would normally have thought that practical considerations weren’t something we could rightly label “theology,” but I suppose that when one couches all their completely secular cost analysis in phrases cherry-picked from the Bible, and doesn’t warrant the benefits by anything other than “the Bible says this is good,” we should let it slide.

Early on, Driscoll quotes Proverbs 5:18-19 to remind you that “[your wife’s] breasts [should] fill you at all times with delight” — meaning that no other women’s breasts need apply. But he has seemingly forgotten the first part of that quotation, which identifies “the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe.” I’m not saying that husbands ought to reject their wives when they become old and wrinkly, but … isn’t that kind of the implication here? Rejoice in the wife of your youth, because she has totally hot boobs. Aren’t there some people who enjoy looking at pornography because their spouse is less of a “graceful doe” than they once were?

Maybe Pastor Mark thinks that this is inconceivable; maybe he does think that whatever your wife’s breasts look like, that must be by definition what will fill you with delight. After all, in the introduction to this chapter he asserted,

In creation, we see the wise pattern that for every man his standard of beauty is not to be objectified, but rather it should simply be his wife. This means that if a man has a tall, skinny red-headed wife then that is sexy for him, and if his neighbor has a short, curvy brunette wife then that is sexy for him.

This seems to me to be putting the cart before the horse. It’s not as though people are just suddenly married without warning, and then they look at their spouse and think, “Oh! So that’s what sexy means.” No, they look around, they date people, they find someone who is attractive and fun to be around and develop a caring, loving relationship with them, and then they marry. So it happens that they marry someone they find to be sexy. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, and there isn’t really a deep moral teaching to be extracted from it.

Driscoll then cites Proverbs 27:20 as evidence that “never satisfied are the eyes of man.” Um, all right. Never satisfied is almost anyone; this is basically the foundation of modern economic theory. But never mind that — Driscoll’s using this as the basis for a slippery slope. Porn in magazines or videos, he argues, is like a gateway drug that will soon lure you into strip clubs. Next thing you know, you’ll be sleeping with prostitutes, then you’ll be attending orgies, and then you’ll become a pedophile (??). And then (I’m not making this up) you might even convince a lady to get an abortion! … I think this is ridiculous enough to refute itself.

It gets a bit tedious after that for a while. Proverbs 11 compares indiscreet women to pigs. (And what of the men in pornography, Pastor Mark?) Proverbs 31 says that fearing the Lord is better than charm or beauty, interesting because beauty was really key back in Proverbs 5, but whatever. Hebrews 13:4 cautions against fornication and adultery, but we still don’t have a good reason to think that pornography is either one. Oh wait, there was a good bit here:

Men who believe they can look at naked women without those images being imbedded (sic) in their minds and haunting them in the marriage bed are fools. The worst case I am aware of personally is a guy who had to have magazine pictures of other women on the pillow next to his wife’s head when they had sex because he had so conditioned his body to be aroused by porn that he was no longer aroused by his wife. You do not want to be that guy, and you do not want your wife to be that woman. Further, since the sins of the fathers are often visited on their children, if you are a daddy, the next time you are tempted, ask yourself if you want your sons to be that guy and your daughters to be that wife and you should experience an erection correction.

Does Mark Driscoll actually believe that particular temptations are passed on from parent to child like some kind of weird Lamarckian inheritance? I mean, sure, it’s a often good check of your behavior to imagine how you’d feel if your close friends and family knew you were doing it. But Driscoll seems to think bad behavior is actually hereditary, or perhaps contagious.

This is certainly a tragic anecdote he has here. I don’t want to downplay that. And Driscoll offers another tragic anecdote at the end (we’ll skip over the couple more pithy quotes from the Epistles that don’t really make any new points). It’s the story of a woman in his congregation who was sexually abused as a young girl and internalized that abuse, felt that it meant she was a promiscuous person. (Gee, wonder where she got that idea.) As she got older, she started sleeping around, then took a job as a stripper, later became a prostitute, and eventually began working as a porn star. He says that the work “was so sickening, degrading, and animalistic that she would get high and drunk before each movie shoot just to endure the violations.” Of course, then she found Jesus, and they all lived happily ever after.

Both these stories are sad. It’s sad when people become so consumed by the images in pornography that they are unable to interact with their sexual partners in healthy ways. It’s sad when people feel demeaned and taken advantage of by their jobs. These are undeniably bad things. But it is gravely fallacious to pretend that these tragedies are inherent flaws in pornography itself. Nothing should be taken to such excess that it interferes with one’s ability to function in society. But we don’t say, “Some people eat so much and so unhealthily that they become morbidly obese; therefore, all food is evil!” That would be ridiculous. We say: eat healthy food, eat reasonable portions, eat for the right reasons. Nearly the exact same cautions could be given for the consumption of pornography.

And no job should be “sickening” or “degrading” for those who hold it. But plenty of people find their jobs to match this description, both in and out of the porn industry — consider what it’s like to work as an elementary school janitor, or as a fast food cook. We allow adults to make their own decision about what they will do for what amount of pay. If they make a bad choice for themselves, that’s unfortunate, but it doesn’t imply that the entire industry is inherently evil. This woman in Driscoll’s story found being a porn star to be degrading. But some people really enjoy it. Some people are so eager to take part in pornography, they take photographs and videos of themselves and post them online for free. No degradation there (unless they’re into that sort of thing, I guess, in which case good for them).

In this chapter, Driscoll has shown us that there are some downsides to pornography in certain circumstances. On this much, I agree with him, and I have from the beginning of this series. But halfway through the book, he has not yet made a convincing case that pornography is inherently bad, and he has not even made a convincing case that the Christian God would consider any instance of looking at pornography to be sinful.

Next time: Chapter 5, “Masturbation.”

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  1. I am glad to see someone else taking on Driscoll. That man fills me with loathing, and he’s setting himself up to be the next fundamentalist media darling. I feel like a lot of us need to pay less attention to people like Pat Robertson, who may say a lot of ridiculous things, but is largely culturally irrelevant and has a shrinking sphere of influence, and we need to start keeping an eye on people like Mark Driscoll, who has a terrifying, regressive theology that is becoming increasingly popular with the young.

    I also think you make a lot of good points about porn. Greta Christina has gone into more detail on a lot of these on her blog, and I think the comparison to indulging in food is an apt one. We know that huge slab of cheesecake isn’t actually health food, but having it once in a while isn’t exactly going to kill us, and it certainly isn’t going to hurt anyone else (although, I have worked as an assistant pastry chef, and I can tell you first-hand that it can be an extremely demoralizing and degrading job. Particularly if you are a woman, and the head chef is an arrogant, insecure Frenchman). However, eating it 3 meals a day is probably going to give you a heart attack.

  2. Ugh, agreed. Making bad arguments while saying cheesy, faux-hip things like “experience an erection correction” is a good way to drive me up a wall. I try to keep up with a few of these up and coming evangelical megachurch pastors. Glad to know I am not alone. 🙂 Thanks for the feedback. (And sorry about that dreadful pastry chef job.)

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