Mark Fairweather Tall
Fifty shades of grey or just black and white?
“If I had total dominion over myself, I would never look at pornography again… I’d kick it out of my life.” So said Russell Brand in a recent episode of his YouTube web series, ‘The Trews’, his take on the ‘truth’ of the ‘news’.
I haven’t watched ‘The Trews’ before but the title of a recent episode appeared on my social media stream and intrigued me enough to click on the link: “50 Shades – has porn ruined my chance of a happy marriage?” In this episode Brand spends a little under ten minutes warning his more than one million subscribers of the damage that porn can do as a response to the release of the film ’Fifty Shades of Grey’.
There is little doubt that over recent years there has been a blurring of the lines between mainstream culture and pornography. The popularity of the ‘Fifty Shades’ books as supposedly ‘female-friendly’ porn has seen new levels of acceptance in society. Whether it is the bookshops displaying copy upon copy of the trilogy or people happy to sit and read the book in public, it is no longer seen as something to be hidden away but is more culturally mainstream.
Statistics on porn usage are staggering. Here are some that I have come across: Porn sites receive more regular traffic than Netflix, Amazon and Twitter combined; 35% of all internet downloads are porn related; 70% of men watch porn and 30% of women. Some claim these statistics are without proper foundation, but what is clear is that there is a lot of porn about and many are using it.
And Russell Brand did a really good job of highlighting the problems: "Our attitudes towards sex have become warped and perverted, and it has deviated from its true function as an expression of love and a means for procreation." He quotes from the Journal of Adolescent Health that suggests the prolonged exposure to porn can result in: an exaggerated perception of sex in society; diminished trust between intimate couples; abandoned hope of sexual monogamy; belief that promiscuity is the natural state.
He also mentions work by psychologist Gary Brooks that talks about voyeurism, objectifying women and trophy-ism. Perhaps the problems are summed up as he quotes from an unnamed priest who said that the problem with porn is not that it reveals too much but that it reveals too little. In other words it concentrates simply on the physical act at the expense of the emotional and psychological aspects.
Sex is God-given but He places boundaries around the way we express this, precisely because there is a danger that we neglect the emotional and psychological impact it has on us. God is not seeking to spoil our fun but to provide the environment through which we can best enjoy His gift – in other words, the faithful, committed marriage relationship described in the Bible.
However, the problem of porn is seen not only outside of the church but it is prevalent within the church as well. Martin Saunders in an article published on the ‘Premier Christianity’ website conducted an anonymous survey amongst Christians with 500 responses. He found that 55% of Christian men said they viewed pornography on a monthly basis with a further 20% saying they occasionally gave in to temptation.
And it isn’t only a problem for men, but women as well. The failure to resist often leads to feelings of guilt and self-condemnation. There will be those who sympathise with Brand in saying: “If I had total dominion over myself, I would never look at pornography again… I’d kick it out of my life”
This, of course, refers to the issue that Paul wrote about: “I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15). There is something about the reality of being human that means there are times when we lack self-control. We fail to kick things out of our life, even though we want to.
In Lent we often reflect on the time Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the devil. These forty days and forty nights immediately followed his baptism when a voice from heaven affirmed him: “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:17). Perhaps over the following days, Jesus was praying and preparing himself for how his identity as the Son of God and his role of Messiah would work out in reality. His humanity meant that there were temptations to go away from his calling but he stood firm and resisted the devil’s schemes.
Whether our temptation is porn or something else entirely, we need to grow in our ability to resist. Jesus resisted the temptations he faced by being Spirit-led and immersed in Scripture.
Our Lenten journey can include the decision to seek to follow his example. Yes, we will be tempted but we can learn to stand firm. It is, after all, a promise of Scripture: “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13)
We also recognise the hope that there is at the foot of the cross and before the empty grave as we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday. We receive mercy and grace because of the sacrifice of our sinless-Saviour. We have hope because his resurrection reveals that death, the ultimate consequence of sin, has been defeated.