Driscoll on pornography: It ends!

Good grief, you guys! How did you let me go so long without ending this series?! It’s been a while, so I think a quick recap is in order.

  • Chapter 1: Driscoll uses his trademark “frank words” to point out the porniest parts of the Bible. (How does this help his case? I’m not sure.)
  • Chapter 2: A confusing and misguided attempt to use the Bible to (he openly admits) scare you into buying this book’s poor argumentation.
  • Chapter 3: Even if you do believe the Bible, you don’t have to buy Pastor Mark’s sloppy and self-serving attempt at theology. The Bible isn’t as clear as he pretends it is in this chapter.
  • Chapter 4: There are practical problems with pornography in some specific contexts, therefore … something?
  • Chapter 5: “What a married couple does together with a clear conscience is for their pleasure and freedom” — except for all the stuff Driscoll doesn’t think you should have a clear conscience about. How dare you be considerate of each other’s needs and wants?!
  • Chapter 6: You can’t be a “manly man” and “rise above your lusts” unless God decides you’re going to. There’s nothing you can do about it.
  • Chapter 7: Driscoll answers some “common” questions with more confusing and bad advice.

We’ve now come to the last chapter. How is Mark Driscoll going to wrap this up? He hasn’t made any good arguments, and he’s made quite a few terrifying ones. Is this the chapter in which Pastor Mark finally makes some sense? Or perhaps where he makes some profound, inspiring remarks to send us off on our porn-free journeys? No. He’s going to warn us that, if we ever look at pornography, we could end up as bloodthirsty serial killers sentenced to death. That’s how desperate he is to save his message at this point. The chapter is called, “Pornography and the Slippery Slope of Ted Bundy.”

You’d think that when he names the fallacy he’s engaging in right there in the title, he’d quit it — but no. From the introduction:

If you are guy who at this point somehow still considers himself the exception to every rule who’s able to manage his sexual sin, this next section should get your attention. Former Seattleite and graduate of the University of Washington, Ted Bundy became one of the nation’s most notorious and feared serial killers for beating, raping, and then murdering at least thirty girls and women between the ages of twelve and twenty-six. … Quoted below is an edited transcript of the conversation that occurred just seventeen hours before Ted was led to the electric chair. I trust that it will be a sobering reminder to my Christian brothers that the sin of lust is an insatiable parasite that you must not feed, lest it grow and lead to death.

This is an interview that Ted Bundy gave to James Dobson of Focus on the Family fame. Bundy explains that he was raised in “a fine, solid Christian home” and attempts to explain how he spiraled downward into a life of depravity that we know no real Christians would ever take part in. [/sarcasm] He says:

As a young boy of 12 or 13, I encountered, outside the home, in the local grocery and drug stores, softcore pornography. Young boys explore the sideways and byways of their neighborhoods, and in our neighborhood, people would dump the garbage. From time to time, we would come across books of a harder nature – more graphic. This also included detective magazines, etc., and I want to emphasize this. The most damaging kind of pornography – and I’m talking from hard, real, personal experience – is that that involves violence and sexual violence. The wedding of those two forces – as I know only too well – brings about behavior that is too terrible to describe.

Just from that, it sounds like Bundy is testifying that pornography made him a serial killer. (Maybe he’s qualifying that and only blaming violent pornography. We could quibble over what counts as that, but I’m going to be charitable to Driscoll’s message and just go with pornography in general.) The thing is, he immediately interrupts Dobson to clarify that that is not what he meant. I guess Driscoll didn’t read this interview very carefully before including it here.

Before we go any further, it is important to me that people believe what I’m saying. I’m not blaming pornography. I’m not saying it caused me to go out and do certain things. I take full responsibility for all the things that I’ve done. That’s not the question here. The issue is how this kind of literature contributed and helped mold and shape the kinds of violent behavior.

Bundy is explaining that he was a crazy, violent person all on his own. Then, the sorts of images he saw suggested to him what sort of form that crazy violence might take. He might otherwise have come up with it himself, or he might have settled on some other form of ultraviolence. And even if pornography suggests the possibility of certain behaviors, ultimately the responsibility for actually doing them lies on the criminal themselves. Bundy openly admits as much.

So if you’re not a psychopath to begin with, pornography won’t make you suddenly become one. If you don’t believe Ted Bundy — and why should you? — consider the episodes of television crime dramas that you’ve watched, and then count the number of violent crimes you’ve committed. Seeing a picture or a video of violence doesn’t hypnotize you into becoming violent. Why should any picture or video of naked people have that effect? (And besides, if we all avoided everything that some psychopath found inspiration in, I doubt we’d ever be able to leave our empty rubber rooms.)

Nevertheless, Dobson manages to lead the conversation back towards something that sounds like porn watching leads you straight to a life of crime.

Ted: I’m no social scientist, and I don’t pretend to believe what John Q. Citizen thinks about this, but I’ve lived in prison for a long time now, and I’ve met a lot of men who were motivated to commit violence. Without exception, every one of them was deeply involved in pornography – deeply consumed by the addiction. The F.B.I.’s own study on serial homicide shows that the most common interest among serial killers is pornography. It’s true.

JCD: What would your life have been like without that influence?

Ted: I know it would have been far better, not just for me, but for a lot of other people – victims and families. There’s no question that it would have been a better life. I’m absolutely certain it would not have involved this kind of violence.

Certainly Ted Bundy’s not a social scientist, and neither is James Dobson — and I suspect that neither of them, nor Mark Driscoll, has taken a statistics class. If they had, they would have noticed that “many violent criminals are addicted to pornography” is far from the same thing as “pornography turns people into violent criminals.” Most likely, both trends are at least somewhat brought on by a third: high testosterone levels. I can imagine other factors, too. How about whether a person has functional, caring relationships with other people? How about the individual’s level of control in their daily life versus their desire for escape?

There’s a lot more going on here than Dobson and Driscoll (and probably also Bundy) want to acknowledge.  If pornography is like this magic spell that turns otherwise good people into monsters, then criminals aren’t really to blame for their crimes, and there’s a quick fix that society should implement immediately. Come to think of it, there’s a very familiar ring to this. Look at Christianity in general; it teaches that Satan and/or man’s supposedly evil nature are the causes of all bad things, and that God/Jesus is/are the quick fix. Believe in God, pray in Jesus’ name, and you’ll be absolved of your guilt and everything will be splendid! There’s no complexity, no nuance. Nothing that might make your brain hurt from thinking too hard. (Because if you did think about it for a moment, you’d notice how ludicrous it is and stop believing.)

Here in the real world, though, there are moral ambiguities. Situational details and context are important. It’s true that pornography of certain types, or in certain situations, can be harmful to the people involved. However, there’s nothing inherently evil about pornography, and there are lots of situations — including several described in this very book! — where it’s actually a force for good. (See, e.g., chapter 5.)

Mark Driscoll, along with the sort of Christianity that he represents, wants to be able to praise God for having created us in his image and giving us our natures and personalities, but he also wants to condemn our natural feelings and desires. It’s this twisted attitude that teaches many Christian children to hate and fear their bodies, feel anxious about sex, and remain ignorant about the very information that would keep them safe and healthy as sexually active adults. Now, I’m certainly not advocating exploitation of people for pornography’s sake (we should work to stamp ths out) nor am I endorsing pornography obsession and addiction (please, get help for this). But I can’t help but think society would be better off if Driscoll and his colleagues remembered that in their own Bible, God was happily looking down on Adam and Eve gallivanting about the Garden of Eden in the nude — and he was pretty ticked off when they decided they had to hide their bodies from him.

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  1. If they had, they would have noticed that “many violent criminals are addicted to pornography” is far from the same thing as “pornography turns people into violent criminals.”

    You know, I’m no credentialed expert on the causes of human psychopathy and antisocial behavior like Ted Bundy, but I just have to ask: Did it ever occur to Dobson and Driscoll to check into how many pornography users don’t become violent murderers? Seems to me that the answer to that question might be of some importance.

  2. I looked thru this post twice so it may be in the other posts, but WTF is pornography?
    Every time I get into discussions about it that is my 1st question and the answers are so diverse that all I can say is that it is anything the speaker objects to. So according to someone the stuff on my computer is pornography, and the thought of causing physical harm to some one is revolting. But also knowing how sexually repressed the religious are I can very well believe them eventually going off the deep end of the immorality pool.

  3. @Ebonmuse: I’m not sure tallying up pornography users is a can of worms they’re really interested in opening. Do you remember that study of porn consumption by state? It found that “those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption.” I wouldn’t be surprised if Dobson and Driscoll themselves would end up on that list. It’s one of these things most people lie about. Coming to grips with that is too high a price for them to pay for intellectual integrity….

    Plus, isn’t Christianity like, all about making appeals to the particular experiences of a small number of individuals? I’m supposed to be convinced that their god exists because this guy talking to me says he knows a guy who knows a guy who once thought he heard the voice of God. QED!

    @L.Long: I’m pretty sure that Driscoll is using the word pornography to mean something like “pictures of naked people, alone or with others, engaged in sexual activities or posed in sexually inviting ways.” That strikes me as a sensible definition. Of course, we can still argue about what counts as a sexual activity, etc., but I think that there is a pretty broad consensus that covers most of it.

  4. author, good article. but you understand too little about the bible and it’s teaching on marriage/sex. the bible teaches that sex is perfectly fine and is even heavily encouraged in the context of marriage. but porn involves lusting over someone that’s not one’s spouse. i agree that “christians” are probably the biggest hyppocrites in the world. i use to call myself one. but i’ll also admit that pornography has been the biggest struggle of my life. i’ve been trying to stop watching it for over half my life. your statement that pornography isn’t inherently evil is basically saying “cigarettes aren’t inherently evil”. every dumbass in the world knows that cigarettes kills people.

  5. sorry, i didn’t mean to be so vulgar/offensive in my previous post.

  6. Hi Jhu – no worries, in a post series about porn I think it’s pretty hard to be too “vulgar” in the comments. 😉

    I think what exactly the Bible teaches about anything is pretty darn unclear. This is probably why (we agree) Christians are so often hypocritical, though usually unintentionally. You can find something in the Bible to support just about any stance. Many Christians interpret their scripture to say that sex for pleasure rather than procreation only is immoral, and I think that’s where Driscoll and folks like him get this anti-porn angle. Porn makes sex be about pleasure. Watching porn doesn’t make babies.

    I’m sorry to hear about your struggle with porn addiction, and I wish you all the best with that. At the same time, I think that the comparison to cigarettes isn’t quite accurate. This came up in earlier posts in this series, or comments on them, I believe … but I think it’s more like an addiction to food. You can eat some food and get sustenance from it. You can even be a “foodie” and enjoy food for its pleasurable taste and appearance rather than just for its nutrition. But some people overeat to the point of becoming unhealthy and/or dangerously obese. That’s obviously bad. But it’s not an inherent problem with food, I think you’d agree.

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