Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Pornography = Occultism?

Many fundamentalist Christians are utterly convinced that the world is full of occultists and magical practitioners. This belief appears to be held without evidence of any sort; any occult author, myself included, will tell you that we wish the world was full of as many occultists as these Christians claim.

Real data from book sales, though, tells a completely different story. Occultism is in fact an incredibly niche interest. A magical title that sells a few thousand copies is effectively a bestseller in the occult market. Compared to the population of even the United States, let alone the world, that's a minuscule percentage.

But this article sheds some light on where the idea that occultists are everywhere comes from. According to Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, pornography and occultism are the same thing. And since most adults have looked at pornography at least a couple of times in their life, most adults are occultists. See what he did there?

"In order to understand the power of pornography, we must ask why Jesus warned us that lust is wrong. This is not because God is embarrassed about sex (see "Solomon, Song of"). God designed human sexuality not to isolate but to connect. Sexuality is intended to bond a wife and a husband and, where conditions are met, to result in newness of life, thus connecting generations," Moore said.

"Pornography disrupts this connection, turning what is meant for intimacy and incarnational love into masturbatory aloneness. Pornography offers the psychic thrill and biological release meant for communion in the context of freedom from connection with another. It cannot keep that promise," he continued.

Because sex is basically for procreation. Got it. No wonder I didn't last as a fundamentalist Christian. I swear, nobody is better at wringing all the joy out of life than fundamentalists - and I mean that in the general sense. Fundamentalists are largely the same everywhere, regardless of what religious tradition they follow. The one thing they can't stand is that somebody, somewhere, might be having a good time.

Moore, citing biblical evidence, further explained why pornography is more than just immorality but occultism.

"In the ancient city of Corinth, the warning was given about prostitutes in the pagan temples of the city. The prostitutes were paid for sexual activity, disconnected from covenant. They were part of a cultic system that ascribed almost mystical powers to the orgasm. How is that any different from the pornography industry of today?" he asked.

To digress from mocking this silliness for a moment, in The Myth of Sacred Prostitution in Antiquity, scholar Stephanie Lynn Budin puts forth a strong argument that there is little evidence for anything resembling the practice described here anywhere in the ancient world. The "argument from silence" is a hard one to make, but it does seem that if this practice was really going on there would be documentation of it somewhere besides second-hand accounts generally put forth to target political enemies.

And just as a point, I read through both of Paul's letters to the Corinthians and there's nothing in them about such a thing. He does preach against sexual immorality and prostitution, but makes no mention of "pagan rituals" associated with either. Don't you think he would have, if such things were really going on in Corinth? That situation would have been tailor-made for one of his scathing rebukes.

A lot of evidence suggests that sacred sexuality in general is more a product of nineteenth century Europe than the ancient world. The pioneering work of practitioners like Pascal Beverly Randolph was merged with poor translations of Eastern sources, which eventually led to systems like "Neo-Tantra" - which has little to do with actual Tantra as historically practiced in Buddhism and Hinduism.

"The Apostle Paul warned that the implications of immorality with these prostitutes weren't just a matter of bad relational consequences or a bad witness for Christ to the outside world (although these were no doubt true too). The one who joined himself to a prostitute participated in an intangible spiritual reality, by joining Christ to the prostitute, by becoming one with her (1 Cor. 615-19). Since the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, sexual immorality is not just 'naughtiness.' It is an act of temple desecration, of bringing unholy worship into a holy place of sanctuary (1 Cor. 6:19)," he explained. "Pornography is not just immorality; it's occultism."

"That's why pornography has such a strong pull. It's not just a matter of biology (although that's important). If there are, as the Bible teaches, unseen criminal spirits alive in the cosmos, then temptation is about more than just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The professing Christian, no matter how insignificant he or she may feel, is a target of interest. Sexual immorality seems to present itself randomly when, in fact ... it is part of a carefully orchestrated hunting expedition (Prov. 7:32-33)," Moore added.

The concept of "criminal spirits" is just funny. What are we supposed to do with them, put them on trial and send them to Ghost Jail? Seriously, though, the idea that anything Christians consider immoral attracts "evil spirits" is just plain superstitious. Much like the modern fundamentalist concept of hell, the whole idea seems to exist merely to scare people into behaving properly.

But too many of these fundamentalists don't seem to understand that good behavior is not really "morality" if it simply comes from fear. Christians who claim that they would be out murdering anyone they wanted if they weren't afraid of Hell frankly terrify me. What they're saying is that if they ever lose their faith, they would become mass murderers. How is that "morality?"

My other bug problem with the article is the whole "porn addiction" angle, which is based on the idea that porn works just like opiates and alcohol (and, by the way, other drugs not so much - opiate and alcohol addiction share a number of characteristics that the abuse of many other drugs does not). Except that it just doesn't.

Mental illnesses like OCD can fixate on porn or sex like anything else, but that doesn't make them "addictions" or mean that compulsive behavior is caused by exposure to porn or sexual activity. I also think that people who just like sex often play the "sex addict" card to try and argue that they are not responsible for extramarital affairs - especially when they're rich and a divorce would cost them a lot of money.

And hey, if you're a fundamentalist, you can argue that not only addiction is at fault, but evil spirits are too! Anything but you, right? Getting back to Paul's letters to the Corinthians, I think he's pretty clear that sexual immorality of whatever sort is the fault of the individual engaging in it. Otherwise, what would be the point of him basically writing "knock it the fuck off?"

Personally I don't subscribe to Paul's recommendations, but it seems to me that if you are a literalist Christian you should take your scripture seriously. What it seems to say is that you and only you are responsible for your actions, and you can't go around blaming "addictions" or "evil spirits."

As for compulsive mental illnesses, which do cause real problems for people, they need to be treated like compulsive mental illnesses, rather than being shoehorned into some sort of 12-step model. That model doesn't even work that well for alcohol addiction, let alone "behavioral addictions" which aren't really even addictions in the same sense according to actual science.

The deal is that fundamentalists are unwilling to leave the culture alone, and unwilling to accommodate people with different beliefs than theirs. They already have their own sad knock-off culture of music, films, and so forth, and they're welcome to it. It only becomes a problem when they insist that their cultural products are the only ones the rest of us should be allowed to consume.

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Morgan Eckstein said...

My erotica sales, which got crashed by Christians screaming, "Will someone please think of the children!", still outpace my occult e-article and ebook earnings.

Scott Stenwick said...

I know, right? Statistically speaking, there are barely any occultists out there and a whole lot of porn/erotica enthusiasts.

It annoys me to no end that on book sales I get beat by dinosaur porn every damn month. That's just embarrassing!