The Depressing and Weirdly Encouraging Data on Ashley Madison Users

ashley-madisonI just read a depressing–and oddly encouraging–piece about the recent Ashley Madison hack that exposed users of the site, which purports to facilitate affairs. Here’s what Annalee Newitz of Gizmodo found in analyzing the data from users:

Overall, the picture is grim indeed. Out of 5.5 million female accounts, roughly zero percent had ever shown any kind of activity at all, after the day they were created. The men’s accounts tell a story of lively engagement with the site, with over 20 million men hopefully looking at their inboxes, and over 10 million of them initiating chats. The women’s accounts show so little activity that they might as well not be there. … we’re left with data that suggests Ashley Madison is a site where tens of millions of men write mail, chat, and spend money for women who aren’t there.

You can read the more thorough breakdown at Gizmodo if you like, but Newitz’s takeaway, if true, is nothing less than stunning. Her major finding about Ashley Madison users is this: tens of millions of men pursued an affair to some degree through the site, while almost no actual women registered for the site, let alone participated in it.

This part of the data reflects what we already know about our sex-saturated culture: it is failing miserably on its promises. To encounter media like television shows and movies is to come away thinking that practically every adult who can walk and chew gum is having an unending string of sexual encounters. This is simply untrue.

I do believe that the Judeo-Christian worldview is receding from American life, and I am deeply troubled by numerous developments in our cultural moment. But this data reinforces a growing conviction for me: that the fantasy world of TV is, to some considerable extent, just that. It’s a fantasy, as I’ve said in my most recent book. Listen, the real world is hard. You have to pay bills. You have to work a lot. You have kids to care for and cars to fix and meals to make. Maybe well-heeled college students and well-paid urban professionals can live some version of a sexual fantasy, but most people simply can’t pull it off. They might want to do so, but logistics alone pose serious challenges to living the Endless Sexual Party that our modern programs indoctrinate us to crave.

Ashley Madison sold men the fiction that there were just scads of women out there who had nothing better to do than pine for affairs with married men. In reality, it seems that the millions of men who managed to win the lottery and actually chat with a real person on the website were doing so with a paid employee of Ashley Madison, someone responsible for doing nothing other than leading the aforementioned affair-wanter to think that he was well on his way to the scorching romance he’d seen on his favorite smutty shows.

This is where the grotesque becomes the oddly encouraging. The fact that women were not participating in this website, by and large, gives me hope. It confirms, apparently, that women are not leaping to enter into affairs. Maybe some are, but Ashley Madison struggled mightily despite advertising and marketing to lure them to its clutches. There are likely numerous reasons for this failure, but one of them has to be this: women don’t want affairs. At least, many of them don’t. Many of them want normal lives, stable lives, and happy homes.

So, the stereotype of the modern liberated woman who has just one salacious thing on her mind seems to be, at least in this instance, as fictional as Minnie Mouse. Maybe a sad number of women do read 50 Shades of Grey, and maybe many of them have been trained in abysmal gender theory in college. But when it comes down to it, it seems that many of them are not as sex-crazed as NBC and HBO and whatever else would like us to think.

If true, even to some degree, that’s encouraging.

But now we return, in closing, to the American man. He does depress me. He is on the hunt for a fantasy woman. He does believe the cultural lie that the gospel of sex and unliberated appetites will save and fulfill him. He has fallen prey to the snare of sexual temptation. It’s pitiable, this picture that Newitz’s analysis paints. Many, many men are enthusiastically engaging with women online, ignoring their own God-given wife to cultivate and woo one who is not their own. All the energy that should go to their spouse, all that desire, all that interest, is in truth going to a bored Ashley Madison staffer who’s contracting carpal tunnel from the constant deluge of emails and chats she’s drawing from men.

Here is what is needed in our time. Pastors of God’s church must call men who live in a sex-obsessed society to see that it is offering them a lie. They are chasing a woman who ends up being a hologram. They are hotly pursuing the partner-of-their-dreams. She is in truth a bot.

If these men were not destroying their marriages, ruining their families, and placing themselves on the fast-track to damnation, you would almost feel sorry for them. Really, this Gizmodo analysis, if correct, makes them look like full-scale fools. They rub their hands with glee to pursue their fantasy woman, but she doesn’t exist. She’s not there. She’s a mirage.

Pastors: be like the wise father in Proverbs. Call your men to spot the lie. Call them to run from lust. Rebuke them for sin. Practice church discipline when they fall in grievous ways. Do not simply tell them that God loves them. Do not offer them a soft, no-corners gospel. Offer them the full-throated, 600-horsepower gospel in the name of Jesus Christ, a gospel that saves, transforms, restores, breaks down, and makes whole. You are standing between the judgment and these men, pastors. If you go soft on them, if you let them take burning coals to their chest, if you turn the other way while they run toward the prostitute’s door (Proverbs 2), you set them up for destruction.

We are heartened that women, actual flesh-and-blood women, are largely absent from Ashley Madison. That’s the weirdly encouraging part of this strange story. But we are disheartened by the millions of men on the site who are seeking to eat stolen bread. Pastors are appointed by God to rescue the perishing and to call the wayward, the straying, the wicked, to repentance. All of us need this call; most every man can imagine himself falling into the airbrushed, hologram-like trap of this despicable website.

But here’s the thing: we poor sinners are not left to our own devices. The church today must offer something better than the false gospel of sexual liberation. It must proclaim the true one, and welcome those chasing a terrible, soul-killing fiction to life, true life, in Jesus Christ.


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