Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve heard that the Supreme Court of the United States ruled this week that gay marriage is now legal in all 50 states. You would have had to have been living under said rock for a very, very long time to be unaware of what church leaders think about gay marriage (spoiler: they aren’t big fans). But just in case there are any 20-year rock under-dwellers, the church is having a very special sharing time this Sunday, to re-hash what we already all know.

underrockMy wife pointed out how shallow this re-emphasis feels when more black churches are burning every day, and yet our church leaders (self-styled stalwarts of religious freedom) are utterly and astonishingly silent. Rather than decry the most horrific bigotry imaginable, they are spending part of our Sabbath worship schedule asking people to stop calling them bigots for well, perpetuating a culture of bigotry.

 

Which brings me to the subject of porn. (I’ll get to the relevance of my abrupt sanguine in a bit.)

I guess I should start by explaining that I don’t actually know much about porn. The lessons I was taught in Sunday School, Seminary, and Young Men’s about the evils of pornography actually sunk in more or less. Other than one particularly awkward peer-pressure moment between several of my friends, I have not willingly engaged with pornography with any regularity. It was not until my mission that I realized just how many of my peers struggled with porn and masturbation. Of my 11 companions, 8 had what could only be characterized as significant challenges with pornography.

The church has adopted the premise of addiction in addressing pornography more frequently in recent years. This increased focus on pornography as an addiction coincides with a similar focus prevalent in American evangelical churches, and it emerged at the same time. overcomingWhile it might be helpful for a few people to engage a problematic relationship with pornography by thinking of it as an addiction; the science just isn’t there. Numerous studies have concluded that while these behaviors can interfere with a person’s life and health in real and alarming ways, it simply doesn’t manifest neurologically as an addiction. Addicts’ brains behave in a very consistent and predictable way. Habitual porn users aren’t neurochemical response addicts. They’re just habitual.

I have realized in adulthood, that what my missionary companions broke down in tears about wasn’t the consequences of their sinful acts. More often, the tears came with the pervading sense of guilt and frustration that comes with constant failure to live up. One of them once literally prostrated himself before our mission president, and asked him, if it was so hard for him to meet this one low standard of righteousness, how he could ever hope to enter the Celestial Kingdom? And while I know he was comforted with our president’s witness of Christ and His atonement, I don’t think he was told that what he tortured himself about failing to live up to, was actually a HIGH standard… incredibly, ridiculously high. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if you told me that 98% of 19 year olds in the world masturbate multiple times a day, and use pornography most of the times they masturbate.

Now, I’m not saying the church should oust the law of chastity, or ignore pornography use by its youth… quite the opposite. In fact, I think it’s time for the church to get serious about it. Pornography is in fact, a great evil in the world. But the evil is not in seeing naked bodies having sex. We even have a supposedly doctrinal statement that teaches that God, in fact, designed sex.

Like conventional forms of media, the pornography industry is lucrative because people look at it. Billions of people watch porn every day. In purely macro-economic terms, it’s not going away. Thanks to the Internet, it is easier to access and freer than ever. And even if all the porn on the Internet were free, making it would remain a lucrative venture, because advertisers will always pay to be placed in the vicinity of human eyes.

The real evil of porn is in the objectification and victimization of human beings, primarily women. Pornography is one of the principle drivers of human trafficking and slavery and pornographers are among the chief perpetrators of these crimes. Consuming porn in a completely responsible way is almost impossible. When you watch porn, it is easy to believe that the people involved are willing and eager participants. But you have virtually no way of knowing whether that assumption is true. Even among actors who have left the porn industry, reports of coercion and blackmail are common, as are experiences of threats and violence, and that is only considering people with the power to leave. There is certainly evil in porn, but it’s hiding beneath the surface.

That’s where porn “addiction” and the church’s reaction to the SCOTUS ruling are just too bizarre for me…

 

It’s all the outrage for all of the wrong reasons.

 

If I had known even half of those realities as a youth, I would’ve steered even clearer of pornographic material than I already did from just the usual dose of fear and guilt. And in the long run, I don’t think fear or guilt are very productive motivators at all. At least I don’t think they hold up as well as truth. I think our youth in the church are smart enough to see the real harms that pornography is doing in the world, and to understand why being part of the problem is what really cankers your soul.

Teary pleas from Elder Scott and the fiery rhetoric of President Packer aren’t working. What is really going to help our youth make the right kinds of choices? That’s a big question, but I think the truth is a really good place to start.

Jared Mooney is a video and audio systems engineer from Boston, MA. He has the world’s awesomest wife, daughter and puppy. Argue if you must.

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