This is a re-post. I’m not exactly sure why I am re-posting this, except that nothing has much changed since I posted it over a year ago. Imagine that.
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 speak heroically about what sort of baby-sitter software they have laced their computers with, revealing that they have simply chosen to meet their juvenile impulses by further treating themselves like little boys. Awash in group versions of self-help, ministry-teams talk about “accountability partners” and we are all supposed to be thoroughly 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 or human beings—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 behavior. 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. (Curiously, what those pietists who wish to plead psycho-sexual addiction tend to overlook is the fact that those with real problems often have other, different kinds of problems.) 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 justification 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 Wesleyan notions of “personal holiness” and orthodoxy go hand-in-hand. But the former is merely the individualistic, self-help version of what one finds in social transformationalism. I daresay it goes a fair ways to help explain why they are so associated with and fixated on issues like abortion and homosexuality. For better or ill, I tend to agree with those who observe that such fixation against abortion or homosexuality on the part of conservative religionists says at least as much about an ignoble social and political punishment for aberrant sexual behavior impeding personal growth (whatever that is) as it does a noble 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 moralist graces of the Jones’ as he must bow the knee to the new therapeutic trinity of being “happy, healthy and whole.” In other words, the new legalism is wholeness.
I fully realize it is politically incorrect to say all this 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. And the stuff about abortion and homosexuality, I’m sure, won’t help my cause here. But I’m still a huge fan of common sense: the problem is not big, bad e-zines roaming the earth seeking whom they may devour but people who refuse to throw the off switch.