Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Caretakers - Genesis 1:26 & 28

Today we fight pornography by learning how it damages our ability to fulfill the first purpose that God gave people: to be caretakers of the earth. This is another chapter in our Origins Bible study series, learning about our basic human needs, drives and purposes and how pornography harms them all. 

Then God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground." ... God blessed them and said to them, "Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground." Genesis 1:26, 28

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ וְיִרְדּוּ֩ בִדְגַ֨ת הַיָּ֜ם וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֗יִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה֙ וּבְכָל־הָאָ֔רֶץ וּבְכָל־הָרֶ֖מֶשׂ הָֽרֹמֵ֥שׂ עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃  ... וַיְבָ֣רֶךְ אֹתָם֮ אֱלֹהִים֒ וַיֹּ֨אמֶר לָהֶ֜ם אֱלֹהִ֗ים פְּר֥וּ וּרְב֛וּ וּמִלְא֥וּ אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁ֑הָ וּרְד֞וּ בִּדְגַ֤ת הַיָּם֙ וּבְע֣וֹף הַשָּׁמַ֔יִם וּבְכָל־חַיָּ֖ה הָֽרֹמֶ֥שֶׂת עַל־הָאָֽרֶץ׃

The first purpose that God gave to people was to rule over the earth and subdue it. God created an orderly world out of chaos and nothingness – but He created it wild. Then he gave people the task of creating order out of this wildness. 

This task was given to the first man and the first woman together. This is obvious from verse 26, in which the plural verb “let them rule” includes the man and the woman. Together they were meant to rule over all the living creatures of the earth. As bearers of the image of God, men and women are elevated above the other living things, and given the responsibility to “rule” over them.

This mandate to rule was passed down from Adam and Eve to each one of us today. But what does it mean to “rule?” Does this mean selfishly bending all of nature to serve my needs? If we look at those in power in the governments of the world today, we often see all kinds of abuses and corruption – people using their authority for selfish purposes. For their own enrichment and pleasure, they disregard the good of those under their influence.

If we look at the environment today, we see that the same attitude has often prevailed in the way we treat nature. For example, our irresponsible use of plastic has filled our ocean water with plastic, filled our fish full of plastic, and even pumped our own bodies full of plastic. Our careless selfishness and prioritization of our own convenience has ended up poisoning us! This is not the kind of “ruling” that God had in mind.

Jesus both modeled and explained God’s vision for leadership. When His disciples began arguing about who was the greatest, He called them together and said:
“You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave — just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Matthew 20:25-28
In His kingdom, God’s definition of "ruling" is unselfish service. This is completely upside-down from the system we see so often in the world. God’s desire is not for leaders to enrich themselves, to demand honor from others, and to put their own needs before those of others. Instead, Jesus taught that those who rule must selflessly sacrifice themselves for the good of others.

In regards to the environment, I want to be clear – human life must be valued and protected above all other life, because as bearers of God’s image we carry an immutable intrinsic value. However, in nearly all cases, I believe that humankind could find a way to better care for the world we live in that minimizes violence to other living creatures, and cares for their needs as well as our own. Rather than allowing financial gain and convenience to drive our decisions, an ethical concern for the other inhabitants of our world, as well as for the well-being of the people who will come after us, must influence our decisions and actions. Can we serve and care for the world around us, even if it demands self-sacrifice on our behalf?

But, how does pornography fit into this picture? Like the plastic in the oceans, I believe that pornography has become an epidemic, a toxic contagion that has poisoned human interaction worldwide. Does pornography portray and teach a self-sacrificial attitude toward others? Of course not! Even the simple act of viewing pornography is a selfish act, that subjugates those on the screen to my self-interest. Watching pornography trains our minds to treat others as a means to meet our own selfish needs. And most definitely, porn does not instill in us a heart to sacrificially serve and care for the needs of others!!

As a whole, the necessity for caring and self-sacrificial love on earth has become greater and greater. Human population levels have reached new heights – and this requires more love and care for others than ever before. In addition, it requires us to be even more careful about how human actions affect the world around us. And because of the speed of communication, we actually can know what is happening all over the world.

However, global society has become more calloused and less caring. Instead of fostering an attitude of service, care, and love, our interconnectedness has worn us out. We scroll through social media and see pictures of babies right next to pictures of war atrocities and we are unfeeling toward both. In fact, Jesus said this would happen:
"Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. Matthew 24:12"
Pornography plays a silent but powerful part in the global “increase of wickedness” that is causing our love and care for each other and for our planet to “grow cold.”

One additional way pornography is reminiscent of plastic is in its convenience. Sexual satisfaction is meant to come within the context of a committed, loving, and self-sacrificial relationship – within marriage. Pornography bypasses all the difficulties of building relationships, and offers a cheap and convenient way to selfishly satisfy myself, without considering the needs of any other person.

This too produces a cold and selfish spirit in me, and makes it harder to actually develop meaningful intimate relationships because I’m not used to the difficulty and inconvenience that is inherent in any meaningful and valuable human relationship. As one young man put it: Porn has “ruined the whole sense of love. It hurts me because I find now it's so hard for me to actually find a connection to a girl.”

In short, porn trains us to “rule” by being ruled by our selfish desires, and demanding everyone and everything to bow to our own needs, wants, and convenience. This diminishes our love and care for those around us, and also for the God’s creation that He placed in our hands, not only in a personal way, but also in a global way that degrades all of human society.

But what about me? Will I allow porn to steadily harden my heart and erode my ability to care for others? Or will I be one of the few that “rules” by self-sacrifice, as Jesus taught us?

Our Creator made us the caretakers of His creation, but pornography harms our ability to fulfill our God-given purpose.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Gender - Genesis 1:27

This week we fight pornography by discussing the influence of pornography on gender, as we continue our Origins Bible study series in the book of Genesis.

So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Genesis 1:27

 וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

Immediately after describing the image of God in humankind, the Biblical text notes that God created people according to two genders: male and female. As such, gender is God's first gift to people, after their creation in His likeness.

Gender is also the first thing that is noticed when a child is born: "It's a girl!" or "It's a boy!" From that moment forward, it would be rude to call the baby "it" instead of "he" or "she."

Gender Value
According to this Scripture, both men and women are created in the image of God. Although Adam was created before Eve (both in this verse and in Genesis 2:18-24), and Eve was created out of Adam's "side", Eve does not represent less of God's image than Adam. While perhaps it could be said that man and woman represent God's image better together than separately, this Scripture gives no basis for devaluing women - because she also is a bearer of God's image.

In many cases, pornography involves the subordination of one gender over the other. The basic act of viewing pornography involves my subordination of those on the screen to my desires, and this is often according to a specific gender. In addition, pornography often mixes aggression and violence with sexual acts. This further degrades and devalues those portrayed, and as an extension devalues and degrades a certain gender's value in the mind of the viewer.

This devaluation can happen in any direction. Women can be degraded in the eyes of men, women can be degraded in the eyes of women, men can be degraded in the eyes of men, and men can be degraded in the eyes of women. For example, if a women views porn that is degrading to women, her own value as a woman can be degraded in her own eyes.

Some may claim that watching porn has no effect on their internal values and their external actions. However, brain scans of porn users show that:
"the brain is "neuroplastic", and not only can it change, but that it works by changing its structure in response to repeated mental experience."
Not only that, studies show that "pornography has an impact on the behavior and social cognition of its consumers" including a decrease in grey matter volume in the brain.

Pornography, even in non-addictive quantities, has the high probability of negatively impacting our minds and attitudes about gender, whether our own or other peoples.

Sexual Attraction
Another way that porn can affect us is by actually changing our sexual desires:
"Porn scenes, filled with novel sexual "partners", fire the reward centre. The images get reinforced, altering the user's sexual tastes."
For example, James Shupe wrote about the effect of pornography on his mind:
"After having watched pornography for years while in the Army and being married to a woman who resisted my demands to become the ideal female, I became that female instead. At least in my head."
After his painful journey through transgenderism and nonbinarism, he came to the conclusion that "All of my sexual confusion was in my head," and "my sex change to nonbinary was a medical and scientific fraud." Early on in his journey, pornography reinforced and encouraged his gender confusion.

Pornography use leads us down a path of addiction in which we need more and more extreme material in order to be satisfied. Although it might begin with viewing one person, pornography inevitably leads to scenes with multiple partners, both men and women. This can lead to gender confusion.

"adolescents and adults with a not exclusively heterosexual orientation watch SEIM [sexually explicit internet material] more frequently than exclusively heterosexual individuals do. ... the more liberal sexual attitudes of lesbian girls, gay boys, and bisexual adolescents increase the likelihood that they experience SEIM as congruent with their identity."
Why is this? Could it be possible that the knife actually cuts the other way? Could it be that pornography use affects and influences peoples' sexual orientation and sexual attitudes? All the evidence suggests that this is the case.

If we return to our earlier example of a woman who views porn that degrades women, this can have several different negative effects, some of which may be:
  • embracing male domination and seeing herself as lesser in value
  • rejecting male domination and embracing female domination in lesbianism
  • embracing male domination and desiring it for herself through transgenderism
All of these result from a deep degradation of the God-given value of both genders.

Indisputably, porn usage results in a desire "to actualize what was seen in real life." In one study of frequent porn users, 69.8% said that porn "Makes me want to try what I saw", and 52% said "I have tried sexual activities I was inspired to try through pornography."

The influence of porn includes scenes of multiple partners of different genders. As such, pornography use inevitably leads to confusion about sexual attraction, and can actually form sexual desires in people that were not previously present.

God's Gift of Gender
At the moment of conception, God endows each of us with our gender, and that gift shapes us for the rest of our lives.

In Genesis 2:18 and 20, God looks for an עזר כנגדו for the man. This Hebrew phrase describes a suitable, equal, matching companion that "helps" the man - to do for him what he cannot do for himself. The man and the woman "match" each other - not only physically, but as a totality of spirit, mind, and body.

This idea of mutual companionship and respect based on the intrinsic value present in both genders is completely lacking in pornography. Pornography distorts and degrades our thoughts about gender, and influences us to act in ways that God did not intend, and were not part of our innate natural sexual desires to begin with.

Will I allow porn to negatively influence and degrade my thoughts about gender? Or will I value both genders as a priceless gift from the Creator?
Pornography distorts and degrades one of our most precious gifts from God, our gender.

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Intrinsic Value - Genesis 1:26-27

Today, we fight pornography by understanding the image of God in every human person. This is the seventh segment of our Origins Bible study in Genesis.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, in our likeness…” So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.. Gen 1:26a, 27

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים נַֽעֲשֶׂ֥ה אָדָ֛ם בְּצַלְמֵ֖נוּ כִּדְמוּתֵ֑נוּ ... וַיִּבְרָ֨א אֱלֹהִ֤ים ׀ אֶת־הָֽאָדָם֙ בְּצַלְמ֔וֹ בְּצֶ֥לֶם אֱלֹהִ֖ים בָּרָ֣א אֹת֑וֹ זָכָ֥ר וּנְקֵבָ֖ה בָּרָ֥א אֹתָֽם׃

On the sixth day of creation, after creating the animals, God came to the pinnacle of His creative work: humankind. But humans were not made the same as the other living creatures: we were created in God’s image, in His likeness.

David Guzik notes three central aspects to the idea that we are made in the image of God:
  • Humans possess spirituality: man is made for spiritual communion with God.
  • Humans possess personality: knowledge, feelings, and a will.
  • Humans possess morality: we are able to make moral judgments and have a conscience.
Pornography use distorts and degrades these elemental characteristics of our humanity. How?

I. Spirituality
People have a God-breathed spirit (Gen 2:7) that will eternally live forever. Pornography teaches us to value only the physical aspect of other people, completely ignoring both their and our eternal spirit. All that matters is how they look, and what they can do or have done to them.

The right internal alignment God intended for us is that our body should be submitted to our mind, and our mind submitted to our spirit. However, porn teaches us to prioritize our physical drives above our mind and our spirit. Our mind can logically see that pornography is unhealthy, that it is a complete farcical illusion, and that we are being manipulated by pornographers. Our spirit cries out against our own debasement and the debasement of those on the screen. But we learn to push down and silence these inner voices, and let our base physical drives take over.

In addition, sexual activity is meant to be an act of spiritual worship to God, within the context of marriage. God gave us the gift of sexuality, and when a husband and wife enjoy each other, they are fulfilling God’s command, and God is pleased. In pornography, however, we expect others to “worship” and serve us, in complete opposition to the boundaries God has placed on our sexual lives.

II. Personality
In this context, the concept of personality has two relevant aspects. We will use definitions from Merriam Webster.

First, it is “the quality or state of being a person.” A “person” has intrinsic value, and deserves our care, consideration, and protection. Secular philosophers have a very difficult time defining who is a person deserving of our consideration, because they ignore the one true source of our personhood: the image of God in us. Above all else, the Imago Dei (image of God) lifts humans above other species and gives us intrinsic value.

All types of pornography train us to view people as objects, as less than worthy of our care, consideration, and protection. Violent porn goes much further, teaching us to enjoy the complete degradation of a person’s intrinsic value. This vile enjoyment of the abuse of another person becomes part of our mindset, and leaking into our society and slowly breaking it down.

The second aspect of personality is “the totality of an individual's behavioral and emotional characteristics,” in other words the unique bundle of spirit, mind, body, emotions, preferences, memories, opinions, skills, relationships, etc., that make me who I am.

Needless to say, pornography’s inherent objectification nullifies our appreciation for a person’s unique personality. All the porn user cares about is the submission of the person on the screen to their selfish desires.

III. Morality
God’s image in us gives us an inherent sense of morality, an internal conception of right behavior. The easiest way to see this is when people feel wronged by something done to them: they may not be so concerned when that same offense is done to another person, but when it is done to them they are offended and angry.

Pornography degrades our morality in several ways. Here are three:
First, our internal moral compass knows that sexuality should be enjoyed in the context of intimate personal relationship. Pornography degrades that moral value, and teaches that we should be able to sexually enjoy others who have no personal connection to us.
Second, our internal moral compass knows that it is wrong for a person to display themselves publicly for the sexual gratification of others. We would certainly be upset if our own wives and children were treated in this way. Porn degrades that moral value, teaching us to silence our inner voice and even to glorify that behavior.
Third, our internal moral compass knows that it is wrong to abuse and take advantage of another person, especially sexually. Pornography is an integral part of the human trafficking and enslavement of approximately 4.5 million people in forced sex slavery. Pornography use degrades that moral value, teaching us that it is acceptable to be complicit in the sexual abuse of another person.
As our internal moral capacities our distorted and degraded by pornography it leads us into more immoral behaviors. We treat those around us with less care and consideration than they deserve, both sexually and in other ways. Porn is essentially a “rehearsal for prostitution,” and is a primary driver in today’s world for the prostitution industry. Numerous serial killers have confessed to using porn.

IV. Conclusion
In summary, pornography usage will undeniably have an effect on the way we view others, on the way we treat others, and also on the way we view and treat ourselves. It destroys our ability to understand and appreciate the image of God in us and in other people, until eventually we find it acceptable to become complicit in behaviors that degrade others in vile ways that are not found in any other species on planet earth. God made us higher than the animals – porn drags us beneath them.

Do I understand and appreciate the incredible God-given intrinsic value of each human individual on this planet? Will I allow pornography to degrade my own spirituality, personality, and morality? Will I allow myself to be complicit in the degradation of others?

As humans, we were created in the image of God. Pornography degrades our understanding and appreciation of our God-given intrinsic value.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Curiosity - Genesis 1:20-25

In today’s Bible study, we fight porn by surrendering our curiosity to God’s original design, in the sixth installment of our series Origins. 

Photo: c. bowley
And God said, "Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky." So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living and moving thing with which the water teems, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them and said, "Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth." And there was evening, and there was morning--the fifth day.
And God said, "Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: livestock, creatures that move along the ground, and wild animals, each according to its kind." And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. Genesis 1:20-25

וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֔ים יִשְׁרְצ֣וּ הַמַּ֔יִם שֶׁ֖רֶץ נֶ֣פֶשׁ חַיָּ֑ה וְעוֹף֙ יְעוֹפֵ֣ף עַל־הָאָ֔רֶץ עַל־פְּנֵ֖י רְקִ֥יעַ הַשָּׁמָֽיִם׃ וַיִּבְרָ֣א אֱלֹהִ֔ים אֶת־הַתַּנִּינִ֖ם הַגְּדֹלִ֑ים וְאֵ֣ת כָּל־נֶ֣פֶשׁ הַֽחַיָּ֣ה ׀ הָֽרֹמֶ֡שֶׂת אֲשֶׁר֩ שָׁרְצ֨וּ הַמַּ֜יִם לְמִֽינֵהֶ֗ם וְאֵ֨ת כָּל־ע֤וֹף כָּנָף֙ לְמִינֵ֔הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב׃ וַיְבָ֧רֶךְ אֹתָ֛ם אֱלֹהִ֖ים לֵאמֹ֑ר פְּר֣וּ וּרְב֗וּ וּמִלְא֤וּ אֶת־הַמַּ֨יִם֙ בַּיַּמִּ֔ים וְהָע֖וֹף יִ֥רֶב בָּאָֽרֶץ׃ וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם חֲמִישִֽׁי׃ פ
וַיֹּ֣אמֶר אֱלֹהִ֗ים תּוֹצֵ֨א הָאָ֜רֶץ נֶ֤פֶשׁ חַיָּה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ בְּהֵמָ֥ה וָרֶ֛מֶשׂ וְחַֽיְתוֹ־אֶ֖רֶץ לְמִינָ֑הּ וַֽיְהִי־כֵֽן׃ וַיַּ֣עַשׂ אֱלֹהִים֩ אֶת־חַיַּ֨ת הָאָ֜רֶץ לְמִינָ֗הּ וְאֶת־הַבְּהֵמָה֙ לְמִינָ֔הּ וְאֵ֛ת כָּל־רֶ֥מֶשׂ הָֽאֲדָמָ֖ה לְמִינֵ֑הוּ וַיַּ֥רְא אֱלֹהִ֖ים כִּי־טֽוֹב׃

So many different living creatures inhabit this planet! Who is not amazed by the different animals found in nature? Why can zoos exist? Because of one reason: our never-ending curiosity.

God designed people with a boundless sense of curiosity. “What is that? How does it work? Where is it from? How does it taste?” One of the ways God chose to keep us entertained is with the incredible amount of variety in His creation. Technology has made it possible for that curiosity to go even further as we explore the deep seas and tiny microbes. Who doesn’t want to watch a cheetah running in slow motion??

Curiosity is a healthy and even essential element of human existence. It has led to all kinds of discoveries and inventions for our human betterment. We are proud of learning and discovering new things, and compare ourselves to others based on these things. For example, a university’s prestige is measured by how much new research it has contributed to a given field.

Our God-given curious minds were meant to be used for human betterment and for God’s glory.

However, for me, curiosity became a drive for my porn addiction. What God meant for good and for enjoyment, the enemy of my soul used for my detriment and my enslavement.

Pornography opens the door to curiosity about different body types, skin colors, sizes, positions, etc. and etc. Anything you can imagine can be found in the dark world of porn, where nothing restrains the hidden darkness of human hearts. But at what cost?

Children are curious about many things that might hurt them. They want to see, touch, feel, taste. A child must be taught not to reach out his hands toward fire, so that he won't be badly scarred for the rest of his life.

We have an inner compass, given by God, that knows intuitively that self-sacrifice is more honorable than selfishness. In addition, we learn in society that self-restraint is necessary for respectful and positive human interaction.

Slowly but surely, porn teaches us to unleash the selfishness in our minds, as if the entire world were meant to serve me. Our God-given curiosity turns into a selfish, me-focused loveless lust. Slowly, pornography breaks down our healthy internal restraints, until we begin to wonder "what would it be like to do it?"

Dr. Victor Cline describes a four step process in which a person:
  1. becomes addicted to the images
  2. gains an increased appetite for those images
  3. is desensitized
  4. acts out the images
Little by little, our curiosity will no longer be satisfied by only seeing. This leads to abuse of others around us, involvement in prostitution, or much worse.

Curiosity is a gift from God, but it can be twisted, exploited, hijacked by the porn industry, by the devil, and by my own evil desires.

But, God has set healthy ways to satisfy curiosity. Within the context of marriage, anything that is mutually enjoyable and mutually agreed upon can be an expression of love. Within those boundaries, with healthy communication, our curiosity can truly be explored and satisfied.

However, any sexual curiosity outside of marriage will inevitably lead to our own desensitization and degradation, and bring harm to the enjoyment available inside of marriage. So, will I surrender my sexual curiosity to God, and confine it to the boundaries He set for me in the Bible? Will I commit myself to a life of healthy sexual curiosity, accompanied by the the lifetime commitment of marriage?

When God gave us the gift of curiosity, He also gave us healthy ways to satisfy it. Pornography is not one of those ways.