Tuesday, July 03, 2012

A Pastoral Grey Area

So, there's this bestselling book around, which over 1m people in the UK have bought, which means several hundred people in my neighbourhood, and possibly a few connected to my church as well.

As someone who likes to be vaguely aware of what's going on, I'd normally dig around a bit to find out more about the book, or even borrow a copy. After all, that's what I did with the Hunger Games trilogy a few months ago. If anyone wants my copy of Mockingjay.... (See Mark Meynell for some comment on this. That's a whole different dilemma: by buying the book, I was consuming entertainment based on young people killing each other, which itself was trying to make the point that entertainment based on young people killing each other was a bad thing. Confused yet?)

Anyway, I got as far as Wikipedia, and immediately hit a few snags. To find out anything about 50 Shades of Grey means getting into accounts of sexual activity which would make Caligula blush, and which as a husband and as a Christian, I would want to steer well clear of. There are some things I don't want in my head, and graphic descriptions of abusive sex are one of them. But not to find out anything about 50SOG would mean being unable to say very much about it.

Trouble is, the more mainstream pornography gets, the more urgent the need to work out how to respond to it as a Christian. At the overt end are books like this and the 'adult' channels dumped into your TV set by Freeview, at the covert end is sexualised fashion, pop culture, media, and 9 year old girls singing 'sexy and I know it' in the school playground.

There are a few Christian thinkers and writers addressing this, but not many. Ed Stetzer has highlighted a study on pornography, which finds:
■Pornography is addictive, and neuroscientists are beginning to map the biological substrate of this addiction.
■Users tend to become desensitized to the type of pornorgraphy they use, become bored with it, and then seek more perverse forms of pornography.
■Married men who are involved in pornography feel less satisfied with their conjugal relations and less emotionally attached to their wives. Wives notice and are upset by the difference.
■Pornography use is a pathway to infidelity and divorce, and is frequently a major factor in these family disasters.
■Among couples affected by one spouse's addiction, two-thirds experience a loss of interest in sexual intercourse.

So I'm struggling with how, as a church leader, to engage with this stuff in a way that will help my congregation, but without having to actually read/look at any of it. Any helpful thoughts?


  1. Hi David,

    First up I'm an atheist - convinced, rather than militant - but I am also long-term friends with several notable committed Christians (notably @ramtopsrac if you have read Rachel's stuff) and have made studies of theology in the past... so I don't believe that the churched are correct, but I do respect that faith exists, albeit my wistful disposition might be otherwise.

    Also I have a lot of friends who are into the S&M and fetish scenes - I personally am not, it doesn't work for me, I'd be happy to admit if it did, but just as some prefer high-church and others low-church, S&M/fetish works for some people and not for others. I understand it cerebrally, but it does not work for me.

    Finally, I also help out with organisations which fight against internet censorship and control in oppressive regimes, and see some of the same technologies being deployed here in the name of saving people from "filth".

    The reason for this long disclaimer is that it informs my context: I have nothing against porn made or performed by consenting individuals, but I am deeply against exploitation and non-consensuality - a theme which if you read up about it, or read something like 50SOG (which I have not bothered) runs throughout the genre.

    Consent is a "big thing" in that community because it's the whole underlying point to the games that are played - exchanges of power, exchanges of responsibility; I know people who by day are corporate executive types, hiring and firing like Alan Sugar, and in their downtime they "get off" on being told what to do whilst being prettified-up into an object of near veneration. It takes away responsibility and takes them out of themselves.

    Conversely some of the "doms" (dominants) that I know are people without very much control in their day-to-day lives, somewhat blown by the wind, and who cherish the opportunity for once to have control over a situation.

    If you're going to go read 50SOG to get a grasp of this, it will be like trying to learn theology from a comic-book version of the old testament; far better for understanding that you attack a handbook like "The Loving Dominant" which will put you inside the psyche of the believers.

    And if you want a primer on how that genre of erotica ought to be written - by someone whose books didn't start as vampire fan-fiction - my friend Janine Ashbless lives in Yorkshire with a husband and two rescue greyhounds and writes it for a living; her blog frequently includes extracts: http://janineashbless.blogspot.co.uk/

    Best wishes.

    Alec Muffett / @alecmuffett

  2. ps: bunch of couples I know are deeply in love and rather than go to church, bond together by going to clubs and coming back, one, other or both with spanked bottoms. Mr Stetzer is being selective when he paints it as a road to perdition.

  3. Stetzer quotes Fagan.

    Fagan isn't some sort of unbiased scientific review, but what we would call cherry picking. Surely the scientific literature wouldn't allow this, well it is returned by Google scholar but is published by Wisconsin Family Council of all places. So I'm guessing not peer reviewed.

    Fagan's worst effects of pornography are quoted from Mary Layden. But no not her published science but her "Testimony to Congress", which, alas, is held to a lower standard than even scientific literature.

    I think to form a view of the effects of pornography without reading it, you could go back to the scientific literature, but not through the lens of people who share your cultural biases, look for sources more interested in the truth than supporting their own (and your) biases. Check who funded research.

    Always go to the original sources where you can, and read them, not the title. I did this recently and discovered that exposure to pornography in adolescent boys increases their respect for women in one study. Maybe it isn't all black and white but shades of grey might exist.

  4. Thanks for the comments - plenty to think about. As you've worked out this isn't an area I know a great deal about, and part of my discussion with myself is whether investing time and energy in clueing up is high enough up the priority list. It's either that or just keep quiet....

  5. I urge you not to keep quiet, and I recommend you explore - "The Loving Dominant" is probably the best start, it deals in "why" (and a fair amount of "how", which I found rather boring) and that's what you need, rather than schlock erotica .

    Amongst my friends who run Church groups - and the one who's a recent ordinand - there tends to be a reaction against finding out anything on the basis that you put in the blogpost, that perhaps you shouldn't be playing in that particular sandpit. My perspective is that if you're going to have faith then faith needs to be deployed in those places where evidence will not do - and that to me is the core of belief; but conversely to deny evidence where so much of it exists, in such great measure, is tantamount to wilful ignorance.

    You shepherd your flock. Amongst them - or nearby - will be people for whom this is important, and I applaud you for at least considering the question. It's your call.

    Best wishes,


  6. I'd like to suggest you try the works of Victoria Blisse. She writes erotica and is also a committed and vocal Christian - C of E variety. So such a thing does exist!