Saturday, March 22, 2014

Why might pastors preach about...this thing rather than something else?

I saw somebody griping on the Internet the other day. What's new?

But, especially since I've been neglecting this blog a bit recently, I decided to post something about it. The specific gripe was that pastors seem to preach more about p--- (I'm going to use this typography through this post so as not to attract bots, creeps, and spam) more than about adultery. I haven't run into this in my own experience, but I'll take it as read that this particular person has seen a trend in which pastors preach more against the former than the latter.

Why is this foolish, bad, or inexplicable?

Here, just off the top of my head, are reasons why a pastor might reasonably have that emphasis in his preaching:

1) The pastor might easily have more reason to believe that the members of his congregation are using p--- than are engaging in physical adulterous relationships. In fact, he might have reason to believe that a far larger number of his members are sinning in the former way than in the latter.

2) The pastor might have reason to believe that members of his congregation think that p--- isn't really so bad because it isn't "real sex." He might well think he needs to try to dispel this dangerous confusion.

3) The pastor might reasonably believe that physical adultery, being connected with a particular person, is less likely to lead to lifelong addiction. If a person involved in an adulterous affair repents and forsakes that sin with that person, he is less likely to have a lifelong, destructive habit thereafter that he cannot break than a person who repents but has developed a p--- addiction. Hence the greater need to warn against getting involved in p--- and the greater need to warn parents so that their children do not fall into this evil and greatly harm their entire lives. (Children are not going to be literally accidentally getting involved in even physical fornication, much less adultery with a married person, though of course they may be abused by an adult, which is a different matter. But children have literally accidentally viewed p--- on the Internet and then found themselves sucked in and damaged for life.)

4) Relatedly, it is often true that one can break off contact with the other member of an adulterous affair, whereas p--- is constantly available.

5) Since a person in an adulterous affair has to deal with the willingness or unwillingness of another specific person, he cannot readily move, in the course of that affair, into every possible form of abominable perversion conceived in the dark depths of the fallen human psyche, but there are no similar limits to what is available for consumption in the world of p---. Thus a person involved in (heterosexual) adultery is less likely to be adding all manner of vile perversion and unnaturalness to the sin against chastity itself, and in the process developing a taste for such darkness, thus confusing his own sexual nature possibly for life. (See #3.) (Readers, please notice my deliberately vague language at this point. Similarly vague language will be expected in comments, or they will not be published.)

6) At risk of being thought to be excusing adultery, which I emphatically am not, or of applying touchy-feely criteria, I'm willing to add that a relationship that involves a real other person is in one sense and just to that extent less spiritually and psychologically unhealthy than a non-relationship that involves the deliberate objectification of other persons. This is all the more true when the media form is deliberately and aggressively degrading of those other persons.

A counterweight to these considerations is the fact that, precisely because of the real personal bonding, a person engaged in an adulterous affair is more likely to break up his marriage as a result, because he believes that he is in love with the woman he is having an affair with. (Or, in the case of a woman, believes she is in love with the man.) That's no doubt true, and it is serious. But I think in terms of how much a pastor preaches, it is probably outweighed by considerations 1 and 2, above. Of course, we also have to ask what counts as "preaching about" something. If a pastor mentions adultery in a list, does that count? But if we are talking about preaching at some length, it seems perfectly understandable that a pastor would concentrate on those extremely serious sins which he has more reason to suspect his congregants are actually engaging in and, worse, excusing.

The sort of gripe that prompted this post is, I'm afraid, likely to come from those who feel that somehow men get a bad rap in today's Christian world. I fear that the idea is that the pastors are being "too hard" on men by preaching disproportionately about p---. To be honest, my greater concern about a pastor preaching about p--- is that I think children of all ages should be welcome in the church service, and I wouldn't want to have to explain to my little child what Pastor Smith was talking about this morning. But I'm entirely unsympathetic to the idea that pastors should preach less about p--- because that's "taking it out on" the men in the congregation. If either men or women are hurting and degrading themselves and their marriages (present marriages or future marriages) in this fashion, they need to be told not only that it is sin but that it is dark, dangerous, and harmful. There is no need for some sort of "affirmative action" in preaching topics so that no one group feels "preached at" more than any other. And if a pastor thinks his members are involved in this, he is showing right perspective if he recognizes the urgency of trying to stop it.


Beth Impson said...

I would just add that women apparently need to hear this message more than ever today because of the popularity of a certain book recently and others of its ilk. I would have said a few years ago that p--- was mainly a sin that affected women by the way addicted men treat them -- but apparently now there is a whole subset of it meant to tantalize women. And a lot of Christian women seem to have bought into it. Lord have mercy. I was grateful that our pastor mentioned the book with a very strong rebuke recently.

Lydia McGrew said...

I agree, and good for your pastor.

My strong impression is that numerically men are still far higher consumers of this type of product than women and especially on the Internet, where every imaginable and unimaginable evil along these lines is graphically available. Women are also getting pulled in, though, but I suspect it runs more against nature for them, so they have to have inhibitions broken down to a greater extent.

Lydia McGrew said...

One thing I didn't touch on in the main post is an unfortunate tendency I've recently noticed in the blogosphere to extend the use of the word to describe things that are merely dwelling on what is wrong or dwelling on something in an unhealthy way. I have even seen the term used for women who spend a lot of time looking at home decorating sites and thinking about what home interiors they would like! Or some will use the term for novels that encourage divorce. Of course, a novel that encourages divorce and portrays it as romantic is wrong and pernicious, but it isn't p--- on that account alone. Yet the phrase "divorce p---" gets used, not for novels that are in fact p----gr-phic and are also about divorce, but merely for novels that glorify divorce and might lead readers to romanticize divorce and dwell on it as a desirable option.

There is such a serious problem for men and, increasingly, for women with real p--- that such extended or metaphoric uses simply muddy the waters.

I'm throwing that in apropos of nothing, just because I didn't include it in the main post.

Beth Impson said...

Agreed on all points. I have always found the idea of magazines like Playboy for women very weird, and I do think such things reflect a culture broken in new (at least to my knowledge) ways.

I wonder if the over-use of the word as you explain in your last comment is suggestive of our need to reduce the disgusting-ness of p---. If everything can be p---, then the real thing maybe isn't all *that* bad.

I've also been disturbed by the recent slew of ads that sexualize food . . . both by the way people act as they eat something and by portraying foods as doing strip-tease acts. There are just not many places left to go in our hyper-sexualized culture, I guess.

Lydia McGrew said...

I probably can't even list all the things that play into the over-use of the word p___. Part of it, as you say, is the sexualization of ev-er-y-thing. Part of it is language inflation. We are expected to use stronger and stronger and more shocking words to describe things so as to get people's attention. As more and more speakers of the language acquiesce in this inflation, words lose their meaning. (Cf. "awesome.") The Internet increases the speed of such trends.

But even more I think there are agendas, and the other trends (hypersexualization of the culture and language inflation) give those with agendas a new way to advance them. So, for example, suppose that someone really wants to criticize sappy Christian romance fiction. How does he express his loathing for this genre with its low literary standards and its emotionalism and sentimentalism? Well, he can't just say that it has low literary standards and is awash in sentimentalism. That wouldn't get anyone's attention and it wouldn't advance the agenda of making people really despise the Christians who have poor enough taste (and I agree that they have poor literary taste) to get into this stuff. Hey, here's an idea! Tell people that really, sentimental Christian fiction is a form of p---! That'll make 'em sit up and take notice, and it will also advance the agenda of making poor Christian taste in fiction seem like a horrific moral evil.

Similarly, if someone is a part of the new movement of misogyny on the Internet, he wants to find a way to make it sound like women are using as much p--- as men, because remember, women always have to be at least as bad as men if not worse, in all areas. Comparing apples and oranges is the breath of life to that movement. Since it isn't yet statistically true that women consume as much p---, and especially not as much of the hardcore variety, as men, he has to advance his agenda by shock value. He has to gerrymander and try to manipulate the perceptions and evaluations of his audience, and one way of doing this is by calling stuff p--- that isn't really. Hence the phrase "divorce p---."

Lydia McGrew said...

Please excuse the poor writing of the previous comment. I should really edit before publishing.