How Pornography Makes Us Less Human and Less Humane by Matthew Lee Anderson for The Gospel Coalition
“My father often told me that if not for pornography, he’d have become a serial killer,” Chris Offutt once wrote in The New York Times.
On Offutt’s telling, his father was both an avid consumer and creator of the dark medium, who made his living as one of America’s most prolific pornographic novelists in the 1970s. But he also secretly drew a series of pornographic comics, which Offutt rather dispassionately reports “eventually ran 120 separate books, totaling 4,000 pages, depicting the torture of women.” Offutt rejects the story his father tried to sell him: “The idea that porn prevented him from killing women,” he muses, “was a self-serving delusion that justified his impulse to write and draw portrayals of torture.” Instead, Offutt thinks his father told himself he needed porn to save him because he couldn’t come to grips with the simple fact that he liked it.
Theorists and sociologists have tussled for the past 30 years over whether pornography’s easy availability makes violence more or less likely. The more pressing question, however, is why anyone became interested in the link in the first place. There is no need to take a stand on whether Offutt’s father was right about the powers of pornography to save him from a murderous path. That he felt some deep connection between pornography and murder—between the depiction of women in graphic sexual poses and the violent destruction of their bodies—should be enough to disturb us. Illicit sex and actual violence may be more closely connected than we might like to think.
Pornography deceives. Its sexualized depiction of human persons promises the viewer what it cannot deliver. But how pornography lies is difficult to see, if only because our eyes have gone blind from our frequent exposure to the medium. Pervasive consumption of pornography dulls the mind: if we delightedly give ourselves over to falsehoods, we lose our ability to sort truth from fiction. Sin has a compounding effect. The twin wraiths of confusion and ignorance preserve the charm of its false pleasures. It is easier for those drowning in a whirlpool of deceits to embrace their situation as “normal” than it is to escape.
The inescapable availability of pornography, and the corrosive “pornification” of all other forms of media, means that the most pressing challenge for Christians is rediscovering what purity feels like. C. S. Lewis famously proposed that spiritual mediocrity is the equivalent of playing with mud pies instead of taking the seaside holiday God offers us. Our situation is more dire, though: we are in danger of forgetting what the sea even offers. The warmth of sunshine that lifts our eyes and our hearts to heaven has been hidden by the stale pollution of our passions. Pornography is the only atmosphere we know: it has clotted our lungs, and we cannot get enough of it.