According to a new report (PDF) by the nonprofit child advocacy group Common Sense Media, 73 percent of US teenagers seventeen years of age or younger have viewed online pornography. Fifty-four percent of those age thirteen or younger have seen online porn. On average, they first consumed pornography when they were twelve years old. Nearly one-third of all teens reported that they had been exposed to porn during the school day.
A majority who have viewed pornography also indicated that they had been exposed to aggressive and/or violent forms of pornography; 52 percent saw depictions of rape, choking, or someone in pain.
I have warned frequently about the “plague of pornography (PDF)” sweeping our nation and the damage it is doing to those who view it. Singer Billie Eilish is one example: she says porn “destroyed my brain” after she began watching graphic online movies while she was still in elementary school. She added that she still suffers from night terrors and sleep paralysis as a result of some of the porn she watched.
Brad Salzman, founder of the New York Sexual Addiction Center, responded to her story: “Parents aren’t paying attention and [porn exposure] can affect [their children] for the rest of their lives. It totally colors their perception of what normal sexuality is supposed to look like and it changes the way they think that they’re supposed to interact.
“They can begin seeing other people as sex objects as opposed to human beings.”
Therein lies my point today.
A factor I had not considered
It is a tragic fact that our secularized postmodern culture has desacralized life from conception to death. It was once conventional wisdom that children in their mother’s womb were gifts from God to be cherished; now they are seen as inconvenient impositions to be disposed of as easily as possible. The elderly and infirm were once valued equally with the rest of humanity; now they are being euthanized more widely and efficiently than ever.
Sexuality was once seen as part of God’s design for his image-bearers (Genesis 1:27); now LGBTQ advocates are doing all they can to normalize their ideology among children. From the federal government down, teachers, administrators, and school nurses are being urged to adopt LGBTQ curriculum and endorse transgender identity.
Seen in this light, the ever-spreading plague of pornography is unsurprising. When a culture abandons biblical morality and objective ethics, tolerance becomes the de facto rule of the day. As D. A. Carson has perceptively shown in his masterful book, The Intolerance of Tolerance, “tolerance” used to mean that we allowed people the right to be wrong. Now it means that there is no such thing as wrong, pornography included.
But there’s another dimension to the story, one I had not considered until I began writing this Daily Article.
Of all our moral failings, pornography especially dehumanizes humans. It turns people into pictures, humans into bodies to be used. And the more pervasive and powerful this becomes, the more easily those affected by pornography transfer this desacralizing of humans to all other aspects of human experience, from birth to death.
In a culture where people are a means to our ends, we should not be surprised when lying, property theft, and violent crime are on the rise. Nor should we be surprised when an “epidemic of loneliness” spreads across our land. Pornography is teaching millions of Americans, beginning as children, that people are commodities, nothing more.
The courage of Michael Gerson
The good news is that the good news of the gospel gives meaning to life that can be found nowhere else.
Michael Gerson is an example.
I was privileged to know Mr. Gerson, former Chief Speechwriter for President George W. Bush and well-known Washington Post columnist who died last November at the age of fifty-eight. He was the featured speaker at a Dallas Baptist University event in which I participated five years ago; we spent much of the evening together.
I found him a person of great humor, winsome charm, and personal warmth. At no point did he tell me that his physical health had been torturous for many years. According to his good friend Peter Wehner, Gerson struggled with depression since his twenties and suffered a heart attack in 2004 at the age of forty. He developed kidney cancer in 2013 and suffered from debilitating leg pain that probably resulted from surgical nerve damage. The kidney cancer spread to his lungs; he developed Parkinson’s disease and metastatic adrenal cancer, then metastatic bone cancer in multiple locations.
You would never have known the pain he suffered. As Wehner explains, Gerson was grateful “for the life he was able to lead and for the people who loved him and were able to travel his journey with him. He was in pain, but he was in peace.”
What was the source of such courage? Wehner explains: “Mike’s views reflected what he called a ‘Christian anthropology’—a belief in the inherent rights and dignity of every human life. It led him to solidarity with the weak and the suffering, the dispossessed, those living in the shadows of life. His faith was capacious and generous; it created in him a deep commitment to justice and the common good.”
Michael Gerson knew that his life, no matter its sufferings and challenges, possessed eternal and inestimable value. The same is true of every person on our planet. Including you.
“The core truth of our existence”
Henri Nouwen was right: “Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved.’ Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.”
Do you know that you are the Beloved of God?
Does this fact constitute the “core truth” of your existence today?
If not, why not?