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 (Manna 34: Facing Life's Challenges)
Shedding Light on the Darkness of Cyberporn
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ARShedding Light on the Darkness of CyberpornWhile the Internet offers a wealth of information resources, the virtual world can also be a dangerous place, luring people to porn and into addiction. It's important to recognize the dangers and know how to escape the trap.The Internet is a rapidly expanding "online" encyclopedia with seemingly infinite information on news, science, art, education, sports, and entertainment. However, the virtual world is also a dangerous place, and as Christians we should be aware of the dangers that lurk there. Satan uses pornography on the Internet to allure and addict us, causing us to quickly become slaves to the sin of cyberporn, and luring us to spiritual death.

Kevin was hunched over his computer late one night. A deacon at his church and the father of three, Kevin wondered how his wife and his church friends would react if they could see him now—because Kevin was searching for sex on the Internet.

The above story was taken from the pages of an online Christian addiction recovery resource.1 Alarmingly, it shows how easy the Internet is making it to bring sexual temptation right into our homes.

The Internet is a rapidly expanding "online" encyclopedia—with seemingly infinite information on news, science, art, education, sports, and entertainment. The categories are innumerable, and both e-commerce and religious information are destined to thrive on the Internet in the coming years. Millions of people use the Internet every day, and even governments encourage their citizens to join the cyber-revolution.

However, the virtual world is also a dangerous place, and as Christians we should be aware of the dangers that lurk there. The "net" is getting larger and more influential by the minute, which is exactly why we must "give the more earnest heed" to this phenomenal trend, "lest we drift away" (Heb 2:1).

This article will explore how Satan uses pornography on the Internet to addict people, the power of addiction, and the adverse effects of pornography. Finally, we'll examine how we can escape from the trap of pornography.

The Powerful Allure of Cyberporn

Sadly, the introduction of pornography to the information superhighway has made home computers the primary and fastest-growing mode of distribution of illegal pornography. Conservative estimates for the number of X-rated sites on the net range from twenty thousand to seven million. Every day, up to thirty million people log on to pornographic websites.2

Easy access, anonymity, and affordability have all made Internet porn more attractive and seemingly less dangerous than before. In 1995, Time magazine broke one of the first big stories on "cyberporn." In that piece, Philip Elmer-Dewitt described the new allure of online porn:

...pornography is different on the computer networks. You can obtain it in the privacy of your home—without having to walk into a seedy bookstore or movie house... You can explore different aspects of your sexuality without exposing yourself to communicable diseases or public ridicule.3

But don't think that Christians are immune to this threat. Zogby International conducted a survey recently for Focus on the Family, a Christian radio broadcast program, to find out how widespread the problem is. The results were shocking. It appears that one out of five adults in the United States may have visited a sexually oriented website—nearly forty million people.

Of interest to Focus on the Family was the fact that 17.8 percent of those who claim to be "born again" Christians and 18 percent of those who are married have also viewed sex sites. Calls from ministers to Focus on the Family's pastoral counseling lines reveal that even pastors are not immune from the "siren song" of pornography.4

So why do people go online to view porn in the first place? Greg Gutfield says that most people may not have a problem with porn, but may stumble upon it out of curiosity and quickly become addicted.5 Internet pornography has rightly earned a reputation for being the "crack cocaine" of sexual addiction. "It works so quickly and it's so instantly intense," says Dr. Robert Weiss of the Sexual Recovery Institute in Los Angeles. The experience of physical arousal can be adrenalized and intense when viewing pornography, and like any drug-induced "high," your body will crave another hit.6

Once we understand the nature of addiction, we shouldn't be surprised to learn that so many people are enslaved to pornography. Dr. Victor Cline of the University of Utah has studied the pattern of addiction, escalation, desensitization, and acting out.7

* Addiction: You keep coming back to porn. It becomes a regular part of your life. You're hooked and can't quit.

* Escalation: You start to look for more graphic pornography. You start using porn that disgusted you earlier but is now enticing to you.

* Desensitization: You begin feeling numb toward the images you see. Even the most graphic porn is no longer arousing. You become desperate to feel the same thrill again, but you can't find it.

* Acting out sexually: This is the point where you make a critical jump and start acting out the images you have seen and rehearsed in your mind.

James 1:14-15 states, "But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. And desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full grown brings forth death." Once lured by our lusts we quickly become slaves to the sin of cyberporn, and in time we bear the fruit of spiritual death.

The Effects of Pornography

The evidence of porn's effects on an individual's spiritual, emotional, and physical life is well-documented by national family and child protection groups, psychologists, social scientists, and Christian addiction-recovery organizations. Pornography's harms include the extreme situations where addiction may lead to rape or sexual abuse. Most broadly, pornography has been demonstrated to shape attitudes, and its harms can range from damaged marriage and family relationships to the increasingly common incidences of date rape.8

Distorting Healthy Views of Relationships and Sexuality

Today, pornography continues to teach an entire generation of young men and women distorted values about their sexuality and healthy relationships with the opposite sex. This is sobering and tragic since the Bible teaches us that sex is a beautiful gift from God, designed within the context of a committed and loving marital relationship.

Viewing pornography online may seem harmless, especially for those who just see it as entertainment. Quickly, however, these activities can lead to compulsive behavior, addiction, and damaged relationships. Dr. Gary Brooks details in his book The Centerfold Syndrome9 how pornography subtly affects the way that men view women. Essentially, for some men, women lose their relational value and are viewed only as sexual objects. These effects are especially obvious in marital relationships. "When a man, after weeks of [Internet pornography] actually sleeps with his wife, he's in for a letdown," says Greg Gutfield.

The New York Times recently told the story of a thirty-four-year-old woman who discovered that her husband—a minister—had an online porn habit. "How can I compete with hundreds of anonymous others who are now in our bed, in his head? Our bed is crowded with countless faceless strangers, where once we were intimate."10

Relationships are threatened not only by competing online images; many also become threatened by real-life affairs inspired by online experimentation. It's easy to become attracted to a would-be Internet lover. The person on the screen seems to have only good qualities. The Internet provides a disguise much like those used at a masquerade ball, inflaming curiosity and fantasies that often push men and women to leave their "real world" relationships behind and commit adultery.

"Acting out"—A Real Life Tragedy

Not only can pornography affect a man's ability to relate intimately with women, but in some cases, obscene images can also create in males a desire to "act out" in dangerous ways. Many convicted rapists and child molesters have testified that they were exposed to hard-core pornography at formative times in their lives.

Ted Bundy testified that he was exposed to soft-core porn when he was thirteen years old, which instantly captivated him. In time, Bundy became more and more addicted to violent images of females in magazines and videos. When he tired of this, there was only one place his addiction could go—from fantasy to reality. By the time he was apprehended, Bundy had killed at least twenty-eight young women and girls in acts too horrible to contemplate. He was finally convicted and sentenced to death for killing a twelve-year-old girl and dumping her body in a pigsty.

Before his execution, Ted Bundy was anxious to warn people of the dangers of hard-core pornography and to explain how it had led him to murder so many innocent women and girls. His craze to kill was always inflamed by violent pornography. Quoted below is a short transcript of an interview with Bundy taken from Dr. James Dobson's book, Life on the Edge:

Basically, I was a normal person. I wasn't some guy hanging out at bars, or a bum... I had good friends. I lived a normal life, except for this one small, but very potent, very destructive segment of it that I kept very secret... I think people need to recognize that those of us who have been so much influenced by violence in the media—in particular pornographic violence—are not some kind of inherent monsters. We are your sons, and we are your husbands. And we grew up in regular families. And pornography can reach out and snatch a kid out of any house today. It snatched me out of my home twenty, thirty years ago, as diligent as my parents were, and they were diligent in protecting their children. And as good a Christian home as we had... there is no protection against the kinds of influences that there are loose in a society that tolerates.11

The effects of pornography are truly frightening. Even the godliest of men can become "monsters" when caught in its deadly grasp. Just consider King David, who, after seeing Bathsheba bathing, committed adultery with her and murdered her husband.

This is why we must be ever vigilant and watchful in our lifestyles. The temptation to click on an X-rated website when we go online is ever-present. If we understand the insidious and devastating effects of pornography, we will think twice about clicking on that X-rated site or watching sexually explicit television shows and movies, which can place seeds of sin in our hearts that will one day bear fruit.

Escaping the Trap of Pornography

For those of us who have been tempted and have succumbed to the temptation of pornography, how can we escape its snare? The Bible offers guidance and hope to those who are enslaved by any kind of addiction:

No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it. (1 Cor 10:13)

This verse tells us that desires and temptations happen to everyone. If you feel isolated by your struggle with porn, know that you're not alone, no matter how "special" your situation is. The verse follows up with a bold ray of hope: there's a way to escape every temptation.

The Greek word for "bear" is hupophero, meaning to bear patiently and endure (Thayer's Greek Lexicon). Bearing up can seem impossible when seized by a powerful temptation like net porn. Yet the Bible promises us hope in such circumstances. The ability to stand strong depends not on brute force or our moral strength, but on God's provision of "a way out." So we must take our eyes off our inadequate strength and focus instead on God's ability to deliver us from temptation. God is the only "way out" of temptation. We need to look to Him for deliverance and for true hope.

Repent and Confess to God

If we have been caught in the trap of pornography and wish to restore our broken relationship with God, we must emulate King David. David wrote, "When I kept silent, my bones grew old through my groaning all the day long... I acknowledged my sin to You, And my iniquity I have not hidden. I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,' And You forgave the iniquity of my sin" (Ps 32:3-5).

David knew that God doesn't listen to the prayers of those who "cherish iniquity in their heart." However, he also realized that God is forgiving and merciful, and will not despise the prayer of the contrite and broken-hearted (Ps 51:17).

After David repented, God forgave and restored him. In the same way, God can make us clean once again and take away our feelings of guilt and shame. It takes courage to admit our sins to ourselves and to the Lord. But "if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness" (1 Jn 1:9-10).

After we have repented and confessed our sin before God, we need to make a determination to be pure. True repentance should be accompanied by a change in our lifestyle. Job kept himself pure and blameless by making a covenant with his eyes not to look upon a young woman (Job 31:1). His determination stemmed from the understanding that the Lord sees all things (Job 31:4). We, too, should constantly remind ourselves that the Lord sees all things and will bring all things to light when He comes again (1 Cor 4:5).

Seek Spiritual Support

After confronting our online addiction problem, we need to seek help from trustworthy, spiritual brothers or sisters, counselors, or ministers who can maintain our confidentiality, pray for us, and hold us accountable for our determination. "Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects" (Jas 5:16). Without a spiritual support group, we will quickly relapse into our addictions.

Stephen Arterburn, in his book Addicted to Love, says that probably the most important factor in long-term recovery is accountability.12 It is the lack of accountability that allows the problem to develop, and it is the lack of accountability that will lead the addict back into the problem. Not only should the recovering sex addict be accountable to the group, but he should also find one person in particular, a sponsor, who will hold him individually accountable. This means that on a regular basis the addict will be asked about where he has been going and how he has been spending his time.

In addition to accountability, the addict must have a plan that keeps him away from the lure of online images. The plan must address all areas of the person, including physical, mental, social, and spiritual needs. A protection plan includes helpful reading material and audio or videotapes, Bible study and prayer, and even when and how a person will have fun. The lure of lust is powerful and, to avoid its snare, the addict must be wise in protecting every possible area of temptation.

God's word encourages us to remove anything that might cause us to sin:

And if your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Mt 5:29)

We need to remove anything from our lives that could potentially cause us to relapse into sin. For those with an addiction to online pornography, this could mean obtaining filters for their Internet service or even eliminating it completely until they feel that they've established control over the problem.

Establish Intimacy with God

Dr. David Greenfield, a psychologist who has treated Internet porn addiction, discovered in a survey of over eighteen thousand people that a major reason individuals go online is to find intimacy. Yet while the Internet offers plenty of sex, it fails to offer the depth and long-term satisfaction of face-to-face intimacy with a real person in a committed relationship.

In their book The Sacred Romance, Brent Curtis and John Eldredge also point out that humans are designed for intimacy with God.13 Sometimes we allow the world to drown out God's voice, but our need for communion with Him never goes away. Instead of seeking fulfillment in Christ, the sex addict tries to fill the emptiness with other things: pornography, an affair, or a fantasy life.

There is an inherent desire within each of us for eternal and intimate communion with God. Nothing less than this kind of unfallen communion will ever satisfy our desire or allow us to live freely without becoming imprisoned by the temptations of the world. Once taken captive, trying to free ourselves through willpower is futile. Only God's Spirit can free us or bring us to our senses.

The Lord Jesus has given us living water, and He said, "Whoever drinks of this water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up to everlasting life" (Jn 4:14). The "living water" that will quench our thirst is the Holy Spirit (Jn 7:37-39).

Spending time in communion with God through prayer in the Spirit will satisfy our souls, and so we will not need to find other ways to fill the void in our lives. Paul tells us that if we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh (Gal 5:16). If we spend our time and energy walking in the Spirit and trying to produce its fruit (Gal 5:22-23), we will not be susceptible to sinful desires.

Another integral part of maintaining our walk with God is doing good and serving Him. As believers who have been sanctified by the blood of the Lord Jesus, we are called to do good works. Paul wrote, "we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them" (Eph 2:10).

If we focus on maintaining a close communion with the Lord and put our efforts in serving Him, we will not be tempted to fill our lives with empty pursuits or vain gratification.

The Battle for Our Minds and Souls

In today's sex-saturated culture, Christians face a battle for their minds like never before. Cyberporn is just one of Satan's deadly weapons to corrupt and enslave our minds, to poison our relationship with God and our loved ones.

Cyberporn is a sham. It promises fulfillment and intimacy, but it can't deliver. Only a meaningful and committed relationship with God can give us the intimacy we desire and truly satisfy the hunger in our souls. Anything else will only leave us feeling unsatisfied and disappointed.

Don't let cyberporn or the indulgence of any other wrong desires sever you or someone else from God's grace and salvation. The shame and emotional guilt, together with an almost certain spiritual death, are surely not worth the fleeting moments of self-gratification. Therefore, we must do our utmost to guard our minds against all forms of unrighteousness, especially against pornography. Let us be watchful all the time, lest we are ensnared by our own desires. Our minds are the seedbeds of our actions. If our minds are filled with lustful thoughts, it will be only a little while before our lives produce the fruit of our flesh.

Let us rely upon the Spirit to transform our minds into the mind of Christ and to help us make our every stray thought captive to Him. We may feel powerless to stand up against our lusts, but Christ will give us the strength to stand firm against temptation. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can break the chains of addiction and restore our own integrity and our relationship with God.

Satan will use any temptation, thought, event, or circumstance to cause us to fall away from Christ. The only way we can be victorious in this battle for our hearts and souls is to fight this battle on our knees. Let us daily put on our spiritual armor, especially the shield of faith, with which we can "quench all the flaming darts of the evil one" (Eph 6:16).

Let us pray that the Lord will continually deliver us from temptations (Mt 6:13) and help us "to live for the rest of the time in the flesh, no longer by human passions but by the will of God" (1 Pet 4:2). 

NOTES

1. Charles Colson, "Spiritual Crack Cocaine: The Rise of Cybersex Addiction," http://www.breakpoint.org (31 March 2000).

2. "Sex on the Web," http://www.cnet.com (28 April 1999).

3. Philip Elmer-Dewitt, "On A Screen Near You," Time, 3 July 1995, p. 38.

4. Charles Colson, "Spiritual Crack Cocaine: The Rise of Cybersex Addiction," http://www.breakpoint.org (31 March 2000).

5. Greg Gutfeld, "The Sex Drive," Men's Health, October 1999, p. 121.

6. Jim Dyar, "Cyberporn Held Responsible for Increase in Sex Addiction," Washington Times, 26 January 2000.

7. Victor B. Cline, "Healing Sexual and Pornography Addictions, Morality in Media," http://www.moralityinmedia.org (20 December 2000).

8. The National Coalition for the Protection of Families and Children, "Pornography's Subtle Effects," http://www.nationalcoalition.org (6 October 2000).

9. Gary R. Brooks, The Centerfold Syndrome: How Men Can Overcome Objectification and Achieve Intimacy with Women (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers, 1995).

10. Jane Brody, "Cybersex Gives Birth to a Psychological Disorder," New York Times, 16 May 2000, p. 1.

11. James Dobson, Life on the Edge: A Young Adult's Guide to a Meaningful Future (Dallas, TX: Word Publishing, 1995), pp. 192-196.

12. Stephen Arterburn, Addicted to "Love": Understanding Dependencies of the Heart: Romances, Relationships, and Sex (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Vine Books, 1996).

13. Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance: Drawing Closer to the Heart of God (Nashville, Tenn.: T. Nelson, 1997).

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