Staying unPornified

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it awayMatthew 5:29

What was Jesus saying here? Did he mean that you literally should remove your right eye? I don’t think he did; rather, he was using hyperbole to emphasize the breathtaking contrast between man’s corrupt tendencies and God’s holiness. Looking at the flow of this section of his sermon, we see how severe the contrast is: if anyone is angry, or doesn’t love their enemies, that shows how far they are from God. And that applies to just about all of us. The point, in other words, is not that we perform eye surgery on ourselves without a license, but that we know how important it is to be careful of what we look at.

Pornified, which I understand was not written from a particularly Christian perspective, provides some disturbing numbers on the extent of pornography in the U.S. An article from First Things (January 2008) quoted figures extensively from it, and April’s letters department contained this observation:

Pornography is everywhere….
How many times can one man turn away from the billboard, shut off the TV, or throw away the magazine before succumbing to temptation? …. Before anyone will fight a war on pornography, they will have to acknowledge that there is a war to fight.

First Things, April 2008, pp. 8-9

And so the October Atlantic arrived with an article titled “Is Pornography Adultery?” by Ross Douthat. Now the Atlantic is hardly a proponent of a return to Victorian values or of conservative religious dogma (Hitchens is a frequent contributor), but here is a senior editor quoting Matthew 5:28 and arguing that “the Internet era has ratcheted the experience of pornography much closer to adultery than I suspect most porn users would like to admit.”

The ubiquity of porn doesn’t affect only males; women have felt some pressure to accept this stuff as a “normal” part of their men’s lives. This is not a “reality” that I want my nieces or daughters (or nephews for that matter) to have to accommodate themselves to.

Douthat’s article covers various viewpoints on pornography, but he argues compellingly that the category of “cheating on your spouse” includes a whole lot more than extramarital coitus. It includes some of Bill Clinton’s activities in the White House for example. Would it include “phone sex”? Probably. Staring at, meditating upon, delighting in the image of the “Playmate of the Month”? Ask your wife.

I mean really, if the husband’s pledge includes “forsaking all others, to cleave to her only” — then a whole lot of possible behaviors would violate that pledge. And it can’t be mentally healthy to rehearse such violations, whether you’re trying to follow Jesus or not; even if you don’t actually carry them out.

Douthat closes his article with this zinger:

Smut isn’t going to bring down Western Civilization any more than Nero’s orgies actually led to the fall of Rome, and a society that expects near-universal online infidelity may run just as smoothly as a society that doesn’t.

Which is precisely why it’s so easy to say that the spread of pornography means that we’re just taking a turn, where sex and fidelity are concerned, toward realism, toward adulthood, toward sophistication. All we have to give up to get there is our sense of decency.

“Is Pornography Adultery?” The Atlantic October 2008, p. 86

It was great seeing that in my favorite monthly magazine.

Now let me back up a bit…

…to the rhetorical question in the First Things letter: How many times can one man shut off the TV?

The answer came for me while we were still living in Japan (about a decade ago). My answer was: not enough times. There are things on TV, especially hotel TV, that I should not see, but I saw them and didn’t always turn away.

From that day onward, I made a little rule for myself: Never turn on the TV when alone in a hotel room.

Does this mean I’m a chicken or that I’m prudent? Well, yes it does. Paul tells us to flee sexual immorality (not just “avoid actual physical adultery”). Therefore “no hotel room TV” is part of my plan.

And if you happen to see me while I’m traveling on business, or shortly afterward, would you ask me this please?

Seen anything interesting on TV lately?

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One Comment on “Staying unPornified”


  1. I still have the Kingdom of Heaven as organism on my mind, so I can’t help noticing how the verse you lead with — Matt. 5:29, wherein Jesus says it’s better to pluck out your right eye or cutoff your right hand than to sin — takes an interesting meaning if we read “hand” and “eye” as people who parts of a “body” of people who we interact with.


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