AGAIN AND AGAIN I AM COMPELLED BY MY LOVE AND CONCERN FOR YOU TO WARN YOU ABOUT PORN

 

Rod Dreher

What Porn Did To Their Lives

Some amazing responses to my “Terrible Cost Of Porn” post from this morning. These came in the mail, and I post them with permission:

 

[Emphasis and {commentary} in red type by Abyssum]

 

First off, I want to offer you a profound and heartfelt thank you. This won’t make sense until I offer a little bit of a back story about myself. I am a man in my early-20’s who was raised in a fairly devout Protestant home, attending church every Sunday and Wednesday nights until I was around the age of 15. My family attended this church in the very liberal, atheist Pacific Northwest, and let me say that I learned just about every amoral behavior I could from people I met at church. I had my first encounter with Marijuana in a church parking lot. My friends from youth group turned me on to pornography at the age of 11 (perhaps one of the worst decisions I ever made, but more on that later). These same friends taught me how to swear, catcalled the girls in our youth group, and gave me a pretty good compilation of dirty jokes (I confess, I still enjoy the jokes).

My mom stopped attending the church around the time I turned 14 or 15. She had a falling out with the leaders of the church when she served on the board directing the youth ministry. She had seen what I was learning at youth group and at church and urged a change in course for our youth ministry from one focused on seeming “cool” to one focused on actually imparting the importance of orthodoxy AND orthopraxy. She was laughed off as a hyper-conservative freak (she was raised in the south and was always seen as something of an oddity in our corner of the world). She became so frustrated she left the church and urged me to stop attending youth group. But those were my friends, and I, too, thought she was overreacting. It was just a bit of fun wasn’t it?

My parents divorced when I was 16. I was going through confirmation at the time (a little late), and still saw myself as a committed Christian despite rarely displaying any behavior that would cause anyone else to describe me that way. I’m the oldest child in my family and have always had deeply conservative views on life (again, contradictory to my lifestyle). Around this time, I was volunteering on the Santorum campaign in Washington state. I was scared for my sisters, knowing being raised in single-parent households was bad for emotional development. I was angry and hurt, feeling that my parents had betrayed me by breaking their vow of “to death do us part.” I sought answers and healing for my anger at the church I was still attending. I found none

I yearned for some deep meaning, some sort of way of understanding everything that was going on in my incredibly fucked up brain at the time (pardon the language). The divorce, a fairly debilitating porn addiction (again, more on this later), and multiple failed attempts at relationships (strangely, because the girls were always fearful to commit) had left me feeling empty and unmoored. My parents moved between three different houses/apartments that year, and that didn’t help. But my youth group leaders practiced Moralistic Therapeutic Deism through and through and all they focused on was providing me with some sort of new age, semi-spiritually infused psychological claptrap counseling.

I became so disgusted I began to lose my faith. In fact, I quickly became very hostile to faith and organized religion. I remained deeply conservative but prided myself on being more intelligent than the other suckers. I was “smart enough” to figure out that religion was just to placate the fears of the “stupid people” (yes, I really was this pretentious). I continued to go through confirmation, because I had made a commitment and I don’t break those, but I did say I would not ask for membership in the church when I stood on the stage with my confirmation group. My youth group leader called my mom and asked her if maybe, just maybe, could I just “pretend” to ask for membership? My youth group leader said I was a leader among my peers and that if the others saw me renouncing the church, the others might follow suit. She wasn’t so concerned that I’d lost my faith. She was just concerned that I not LOOK like I lost my faith, because that would be an embarrassment. To the credit of my mother, whom I genuinely believe should be up for canonization shortly, my mom was furious with the youth group leader and told her so in no uncertain terms– despite the fact that I know my leaving the faith broke my mother’s heart deeply.

From about 16 through to November-December 2016 time frame, I lived a life of pretty pure hedonism. I struggled with romantic relationships (I’ve had one successful, long-term one, but even that was clouded by the girl’s inability to commit–I’m unfortunately still pretty madly in love with her). I consumed nearly every drug I could get my hands on, developing a deep dependency on cocaine and nicotine for a time. I continued to watch porn multiple times a day and engage in promiscuous sex–I even went so far as to engage in a threesome. All this while remaining on the face of it a very successful person for my age. I go to a small liberal-arts school in the South, have been awarded a full-ride scholarship for academic excellence, have been elected to campus wide leadership roles, have served as a leader in my fraternity, and am in the top 5% of my class. I say this not to brag, but rather to say that people looked at me as though I was someone to look up to.

I knew, however, that something big was missing. Or at least I began to know around May of 2016. Everything seemed to be going well, I was poised for success, I had great friends, and I had an absolute blast partying every weekend. But I felt empty. In the Spring of 2016, I went with a good friend of mine to his lake house to celebrate his grandfather’s 80th birthday. The grandfather’s best friend was a Catholic priest, whom I ended up drinking some wine with and having a conversation. He told me I wasn’t an atheist–I was just on a vacation from God. I’d be back he said. I laughed in the moment, said I liked the way he put that, and tried to ignore it. But I thought about that phrase often for the next six months.

Not long before the election last year, I stumbled upon to the American Conservative (I was working a little on the Trump campaign and was led to the site through that). I read one of your blog posts. And another. And another. And another. I won’t go too much into detail as I’m already annoyingly rambling, but God spoke to me through your work. Your blog posts made me realize that I needed to return to the faith. I tried some Methodist services, some Presbyterian services, and an Episcopalian service. It all still felt empty. I read one of your posts about orthodox services, and I decided to at least try a Catholic Mass (I was raised with a Southern mother and a British father, so my household had no shortage of anti-Catholic bias). One of my professors whom I have grown very close to is a Catholic, so I asked where he attended Mass. From the first service I attended at the local Cathedral, I knew I had found what I was missing. I will be going through confirmation in the fall. I have given up heavy drinking, stay away from drugs, and have sworn off casual sex.  I feel happier, more fulfilled, and calmer. I have some answers–or at least enough faith to know that if I don’t have the answers, God does. And I have you (and God and my professor) to thank for that. So, sincerely, deeply, thank you.

Notice that in the list of things I don’t do anymore, I did not say that I have given up watching Porn. That’s because I tried. In fact, I try multiple times a week. I pray about it. I have sought spiritual mentorship on it. I easily gave up cocaine, nicotine, binge drinking, and casual sex. But I cannot give up pornography. Well, I give it up multiple times a week actually. But it never sticks. I think it is evil, soulless, empty, and always leaves me feeling that way. But I still find it incredibly difficult to stay away. The Bible and spiritual guidance have helped me to lessen my dependence on it, certainly. But I cannot rid my life of it. It is a looming presence despite my deep knowledge that it could destroy my life and any hopes I have of a fulfilling, intimate relationship. I have told my mother to keep my young sisters (in early High School and Middle School) off technology as much as possible, and I know that if I am ever blessed enough to have children of my own, I will do my utmost to keep them far, far away from porn. I have even begun to tell my friends of how corrosive it is (even just physically–huge cause of young E.D.). I have been shocked how many of my friends, even the liberal atheists, have said they absolutely agree–that they, too, feel porn is empty and sad but that they just can’t stay away.I apologize for the length and rambling-nature of this email. But I had a lot to thank you for and I didn’t think the weight of it would come across unless I gave a little back story. I also wanted to give you yet another example of how disgustingly corrosive pornography is–and how even people who have no relationship with God can sense something is wrong with the stuff, but just can’t give it up.

{Porn is more addictive than any drug.  It becomes part of a person’s psyche.  Because it resides in the brain, one can never forget it; it becomes part of who you are.  Avoid it if you value your life here on earth and your life in the hereafter}

Thanks for your time and all you do. I remain a faithful reader. I think that same Professor who is helping me convert has probably grown annoyed with how frequently I have sent him one of your posts. But it is truly exciting when someone writes what I think and I learn that I’m not merely a lone crazy person worrying about societal disintegration.

Here’s another letter:

I am very grateful to God for your highlighting of the pornography epidemic (not too strong a word), and in light of your most recent article I wanted to share some of my own experiences in the hope that it would enrich your understanding and perhaps enlighten some of your readers.

To quote your piece:

“For Sue’s surgery isn’t in some inner-city borough where kids may have been brutalised or come from cultures where such practices are commonly used as contraception. Sue works in the leafy heart of Hampshire.”

And also this:

“You think that being “nice” people, and maybe putting your kids in Christian school, is going to protect them from this? You’re dreaming.”

I want to state, without intending to brag, I am not one of the so-called “fail-sons” and I am not one of the great mass of unemployed young, white men living in their parents basement and spending inordinate amounts of time playing video games and watching porn. Too often the porn epidemic has been associated with these men. It goes so much deeper than that, as this passage also made clear:

“At a conservative Christian college not long ago, a campus minister told me that every single young man he works with, helping them to prepare for seminary after graduation, is addicted to pornography (meaning that they use it compulsively, and find it impossible to stop, even though they want to). Sixteen young men — conservative, churchgoing men who want to serve God and others as pastors — caught in that trap. You think it can’t happen to your kids?”

I grew up in a stable, two-parent household, went to a great college and then to a prestigious law school. I am actually found paying work as an attorney and have been responsible even for some jury trials. I was raised to be successful, do the right things, check all of the right boxes…and I have struggled with porn greatly. It has hurt me personally and, I regret to say, has done awful harm to my wife, who I love dearly. This is not a “lower class” problem, not a problem for slackers or someone else’s kids; this is everyone’s problem. Being “nice” and “moral” in a vague sense was not enough. Porn attacked and wreaked its havoc on me regardless.

Like I said, I grew up in a stable, two-parent household, and my parents worked hard to raise me well, but I lacked any sort of Christian formation from them. I had to go to youth groups and later campus ministry groups to get that, and praise be to God that I did. But, when the temptation arose, porn was everywhere, and despite my resume and good intentions, I lacked the spiritual discipline to resist.

I was a ’90s kid, so I was not even part of this current, smartphone-inundated generation. Only Christian formation done early and often at the family level can guard young men today.

I am happy to say that, despite continued struggles, I am making progress and experiencing more freedom because I have recently been involved in tight, intentional Christian community. A brother at my local church who has experienced victory over this same demon has prayed with me and helped institute a habit of prayer and fasting for the most stressful and vulnerable days. The spiritual power of this has already made a world of difference.

Countercultural and tightly-knit community to inculcate these spiritual disciplines has been my saving grace in this struggle. In order words, I can tell you from personal experience that something that sounds suspiciously like the Benedict Option (hmmm…) is needed to beat this demon back.

Thank you again for your heart for this issue. I hope this letter was not too long, but your attention to this and your work on the Benedict Option has touched me deeply.

Thank you, brothers. I will update this post throughout the day, as people send me their own stories. If you are willing to let me post it here, please say so. Anonymity assured.

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2 Responses to What Porn Did To Their Lives

  1. Jen says:

    It’s interesting that this guy twice mentions women’s “inability to commit.” Dude, if relationship after relationship isn’t working out, then you have to look at the common factor: You.

  2. E.J. says:

    So…what would you suggest that adults do? I worry about one of my brothers, who is nearly 18. He’s never seen pornography on the internet to my knowledge–my mom isn’t a fan of the internet and never wanted to pay for in-home access, so his opportunities have been limited. But he is going to be taking some online dual credit courses this coming year, and I think that getting in-home internet access won’t be avoidable any longer. He’s been warned about porn from multiple sources, but I know it would be easy for him to pick up an addiction without much exposure. Is filtering an answer? It’s one thing for church leaders to warn about pornography, but a lot of them are hesitant to offer specific suggestions on how to guard against it, because they don’t want to be seen as “legalistic.”

About abyssum

I am a retired Roman Catholic Bishop, Bishop Emeritus of Corpus Christi, Texas
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