“Only Fighter Jets Can Fix This Porn Addiction.” Jared Holt introduces us to this 12-DVD box set that features lots of Top Gun-style military visuals in aerial support of its message, which is that Jesus wants you not to masturbate. Yep, twelve DVDs’ worth of “Never Masturbate.”
Holt avoids directly making most of the many easy entendres the subject invites, but he still reminds us that they’re there. It’s nicely done. He notes, for example, that the American Family Association says it’s series “is designed for men’s small groups, but is also ideal for self-study” … but then has the restraint to recognize that none of the four jokes occurring to us all as we read that needs to be added to elegant awkwardness of the statement as it is. (Wait … five jokes. Six!)
Here is the “trailer” advertising this 12-DVD box set series, featuring a weirdly middle-aged cast of fighter pilots:
I’m open to the possibility that “porn addiction” may be an actual thing for some people, but the term as it is popularly used in evangelical church world is just wrong. People who look at porn when they masturbate are not “addicted” to either behavior. And I suspect that many of the people who spend more than a wank’s worth of time searching for or collecting the stuff are dealing with something else, such as narcotizing an undiagnosed depression or unresolved trauma. I don’t think the language of “porn addiction” is accurate or helpful for most of the church groups tossing it around.
The sheer volume and size of this series is also disturbingly disproportionate. Consider what it means to commit to twelve weeks of Sunday school or small-group Bible study on this subject. It’s the same stunted, adolescent concept of “discipleship” that keeps evangelical youth-group culture perpetually motionless — the idea that God’s Plan for Your Life involves, above all else, threescore and ten years of Not Masturbating. It’s as though evangelicalism had decided to translate Micah 6:8 as “What does the Lord require of you? To never masturbate; to never masturbate; and to walk humbly with thy God never masturbating.”
Is this the “fasting” that God chooses? To bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes and saltpeter?
As an answer to the beloved evangelical question “WWJD?” the response “Not masturbate” isn’t quite wrong, but it sure as heck isn’t right either. Jesus had something to say about the “weightier matters” and this ain’t one of them.
If there’s any kind of addictive behavior on display here, it’s that of a church that’s so addicted to obsessing over masturbation that it ignores the world beyond its own crotch. Ignoring a world of injustice and suffering in order to pursue your Higher Calling of not jerking off is bound to turn you into, well, a bunch of jerk-offs.Taking masturbation, of all things, and elevating it to 12-DVD-box-set status as the be-all and end-all of discipleship is also doomed to fail. It would be dismal enough if this produced a church of self-absorbed “pure”-minded abstainers who did nothing else, but it won’t even do that because people so focused on their own crotches and “purity” won’t succeed in their pursuit of total abstinence — they’ll just become self-absorbed and guilt-ridden over the fact that they’re still doing that thing that almost all of us humans do more or less just as much as everybody else.
These folks won’t be able to masturbate any less unless they find something better to occupy their time and something better to think of as their higher calling. And the usual list of also-ran activities the purity-culture Never Masturbate model of discipleship supplies — prayer! Bible study! evangelism! — won’t cut it because all of those worthy things get reshaped in service of the misplaced priority of Never Masturbate. Prayer becomes prayer about never masturbating. Bible study becomes searching the scriptures for guidance on never masturbating. Evangelism becomes the process of recruiting others to join us in trying-and-failing to never masturbate.
I struggling to express how deeply, deeply weird it is to emphasize something so venial. It’s almost always, at worst, a matter of akrasia — not of malice or cruelty or evil or injustice. The “sin” we’re talking about here is barely ever a sin at all. Yes, “lust” is a big deal — one of the Seven Deadlies. But the sin here, when there is any, usually involves selfishness and sloth as much as or more than lust.
Sloth, mind you, is also one of the Deadly Sins, because there’s so much that desperately needs to be done that sitting around not doing anything is just wrong. Even if that sitting around not doing anything includes bowing down the head like a bulrush, lying in sackcloth, etc., and fervently not masturbating.
As I tried to get at in “Heaven as Secret Sins Film Festival,” the point here is not that “anything goes,” but that obsessing over our own purity has more to do with narcissism than with the pursuit of holiness. And on the specific subjects of masturbation and/or porn, we surely do not need to spend 12 weeks of Bible study watching every DVD in a box set on the subject.
We don’t need anything more than what Terry Pratchett’s Granny Weatherwax had to say: “Sin, young man, is when you treat people like things, including yourself. That’s what sin is.”
Don’t treat people like things. Not even yourself. And don’t let others treat people like things either.
So if you’re a Christian man tempted by this 12-DVD box set because you’re “struggling with masturbation,” please stop struggling. Just finish up, wash your hands, and rehydrate. And then get out there and love your neighbor, do justice, love mercy, loose the bonds of injustice, let the oppressed go free, break every yoke, offer your food to the hungry, and satisfy the needs of the afflicted.