It is always interesting to me how our in our more conservative religious circles we yet see how the culture of the therapeutic has been so fully embraced while simultaneously criticized.
It is not long after asserting a discussion about something like pornography that one hears an almost constant barrage about “addiction,” framed in a lot of religio-speak. Men talk in whiny-pitched tones about their “problem” and pastors talk in a duped tenor and rehearsed empathy about all the “devastation that comes from pornography.” Men talk about what sort of bugs they have placarded their computers with, revealing that they have simply chosen to meet their juvenile behaviors by further treating themselves like little boys via baby sitter software. Awash in group versions of self-help, ministry-teams talk about “accountability partners” and we are all supposed to be impressed.
It is not as if I am of the bootstraps mentality that cavalierly dismisses the validity of both authentic behavioral problems and legitimate intermediacy and convalescence. To be sure, there are those who have real, genuine behavior problems that manifest themselves in illicit consumption of certain substances or phenomenon—and real people with real problems need real help. But it is my contention that the large majority of those who claim this thing called sexual addiction actually give these poor souls a black-eye by pirating their problems in order to excuse their plain and simple bad behaviors. They want the benefits of being considered—by others and themselves—amongst those for whom will power and personal responsibility are but more tangential dimensions for those with real ailments. And it’s further baptized in the “devil made me do it” spirituality which has human beings the unwitting pawn between the unseen forces of good and evil. But the problem with the husband who has turned to pornography is not so much a problem of addiction or devils and angels perching his shoulder as it his plain refusal to pull up his socks and behave like a man instead of a child. And if he really has a serious behavioral problem he needs to see a psychiatrist in real time, not a pastor doing Christian voodoo. Just because a red-blooded man has refused to control what his natural wiring seems to demand is no reason to steal the validity of those who have authentic behavioral problems.
But conservative religionists have always had a particular fixation on sexual ethics ever since they were persuaded that personal holiness and orthodoxy go hand-in-hand. Personal holiness is merely the individualistic, self-help version of what one finds in social transformationalism. It helps explain why they are so associated with and fixated on issues like abortion and homosexuality. I tend to agree with those who observe that social and political sanction against abortion or homosexuality on the part of conservative religionists is more a punishment for aberrant sexual behavior impeding personal growth (whatever that is) than it is a concern for social welfare.
And I would say that the tendency for most conservative religionists to cast our society as being one that “would Babylon blush” seems to reflect how they still have chosen to side with Mrs. Grundy when it comes to the meaning of modesty. The legalisms of yesteryear’s rigid, moralistic sexual ethics amongst conservative religionists have simply morphed to fit our kinder and gentler therapeutic age. This morphing seems a lot like what Horton talks about when he more generally observes the difference between “hard law” and “soft law,” the brutalizing of sinners or coddling them. It isn’t so much anymore that one wants to stay in the good moral graces of the Jones’ as he must bow the knee to the new trinity of being “happy, healthy and whole.” The new legalism is wholeness.
I fully realize it is politically incorrect to say so in a cult and culture wooed by comfort and ease, personal completeness and all things therapeutic, as well as anathema to a wider conservative religious landscape that relishes moralizing that which is therapeutic and therapeuting that which is moral. But the problem is not big, bad magazines roaming the earth seeking whom they may devour but people who refuse to throw the off switch.