“Pornography is an acid to this kind of holy ambition. The problem is not only that the person addicted to porn spends so much time with it, though that is a problem. A much larger issue is that pornography invites its user to enter into a private world of fantasy, pleasure and power, and it teaches the user to tune his desires and expectations to this fictional universe.”
It’s a familiar pattern.
An outgoing, enthusiastic guy begins slowly but surely to change. At first it’s almost imperceptible — a shift in mood or a vacancy in the eyes only those closest to him can see. It’s not drastic or alarming, but it’s real. Maybe his friends start to notice when he doesn’t talk about those hobbies he used to love. Perhaps his coworkers make more and more passing remarks like, “Is everything okay?”
There’s a thin but undeniable air of apathy in all he says and does. Friendships get put on hold, and events are skipped for no particular reason. It’s nothing earth-shattering; he just seems not really there.
In my own life, and in the lives of friends I’ve known, this is one of the most reliable signs someone — male or female — is losing the battle against pornography.
The dangers of pornography are well-documented. For many years, Christian pastors, teachers and writers have warned that porn is a serious spiritual and emotional threat to individuals and families. The effects of porn addiction have become so commonly seen in our culture that non-Christian observers are beginning to talk about it. Time magazine, for example, recently devoted an entire cover story to the testimonies of several young men who felt their pornography usage greatly wounded them later in life.
When we list the dangers of pornography, we often address the typical things: We talk about how porn degrades and objectifies men and women. We argue that porn puts spiritual and physical walls between husbands and wives and how it can “re-wire” our brains to cripple our capacity for real intimacy and enjoyment. All of these warnings are absolutely true and need to be repeated.
But there’s another consequence of porn, one that might seem insignificant but may actually be one of the deadliest effects of all. Porn doesn’t just dirty the imagination or wound the spirit — it also kills ambition.
Perhaps you see the word “ambition” and think that killing it may not be such a bad idea for a Christian. After all, isn’t ambition just another word for “greed”? Doesn’t ambition signify an insatiable thirst for more — more money, more status, more success?
Certainly, ambition can be directed toward sinful things. There are many examples in Scripture of people whose unrestrained ambition and inflated ego brought them to ruin, and it even led to the splitting of a nation (1 Kings 12). But ambition can also be holy, a Christ-shaped desire to live as meaningfully and faithfully as one can. A young man who desires a good job so he can marry and provide for a wife is experiencing this kind of holy ambition. A student who wants to do well in school so she can graduate and reach others with her skills and talents is likewise “ambitious.” Human beings are not created to live apathetically in a self-consumed cocoon; rather, we are created to image God, through work, love, service and faithfulness.
Pornography is an acid to this kind of holy ambition. The problem is not only that the person addicted to porn spends so much time with it, though that is a problem. A much larger issue is that pornography invites its user to enter into a private world of fantasy, pleasure and power, and it teaches the user to tune his desires and expectations to this fictional universe. As his mind sinks deeper and deeper into sordid imaginings, the real world — with its humanity and people who have their own desires and expectations — starts to seem less interesting.
Pornography trains the mind to be pleasured with self-oriented consumption, and it trains people to feel less and less attachment to the “other” (or to the world and people who exist outside the glowing smartphone screen). Meeting new people becomes an exercise in finding subtle ways to mentally undress them. Work, with its filtered computers and public spaces, becomes a frustrating, dull obstacle to further fantasy. Ministry is weighed down with shame and the fear of being discovered. Even hobbies don’t seem interesting anymore since they fail to provide the chemical jolt that hours of porn use have embedded onto the brain.
This may sound extreme, but it’s a consistent product of a struggle with porn addiction. When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I lived a secret double life. I was a pastor’s kid and enrolled in a Bible college. To many eyes I was an exemplary “PK,” always at church, playing music on Sunday mornings and studying theology and apologetics. But my second life was lived out alone on my laptop where porn consistently drew me in day after day, for years.