Sunday, January 27, 2008

Spiritual Pornography

The following article is by Darin Hufford, and I received it in an email from a sister in Christ. Although she didn't specify where it was from, I'm pretty sure it is an excerpt from his book The God's Honest Truth. I have added my own points of emphasis - the bolded portions - and I have written a few personal notes throughout as well.

"I have a very deep and sincere concern for this generation of Christians. We are truly a unique group with a unique set of problems. Though we're not the first generation to experience the hype and control of institutional Christianity, we are the first to even consider divorcing ourselves from it. This decision alone creates a whole new set of problems that our parents and grandparents never dreamed of facing. They tolerated the religious abuses because they didn't think they had a choice in the matter. Our generation is the first to tap into the possibility that the Christian life could "return to the wild" after being bred and born in captivity. Deciding to leave is the easy part; learning to live in the wild and survive without institutionalized religion is quite another story.

I suppose what concerns me the most is the fact that most of us have been duped into believing things about the Christan walk that are simply not true. And many of the things that ARE true have been greatly exaggerated and embellished to enhance their theatrical presentation. Because of the fact that the majority of our Christian lives were spent watching the Christian play at church, we have grown accustomed to sitting through the show and demanding to be entertained. Every spiritual facet of the "personal relationship with God" has been caked with makeup, airbrushed, pumped with steriods, injected with botox, sprayed with perfume and stuffed with implants. In the end, we're left with a "Glam Shot" perception of "relationship" that is about as real as a fifty dollar blow-up doll. It's perfect for the theater, but when it comes to a real, one-on-one relationship, it's just impossible.

Leaving the Christian Church today and setting out to find your own relationship with God is about as likely as a man addicted to pornography believing he can get married and find similar fulfillment. I have a friend in my life who I honestly believe is a "Christian porn addict." I'm not saying he is addicted to pornography in the sense you might think, but he is addicted to what I call, "Christian Pornography." This type of "pornography" is a version of Christianity that blows up and exaggerates everything in an effort to spiritually arouse the onlooker. People become addicted to these outrageous representations of spirituality because the very idea of them brings excitement and gratification.

The addiction to these spiritually accentuated concepts is almost identical to an addiction to pornography - some people can't get aroused without it.

Every part of the Christian walk has been romanticized and glamorized to the point where we have no concept of what God really wants to offer us.

I know that it would sound lovely and cliché if I told you that sex in the context of marriage is much more fulfilling than watching pornography, but the fact is that it doesn't even compare. If you were to use a "pleasure meter" to identify which act is more physically satisfying, pornography would win hands down. Pornography is like a super sonic dose of pure gratification to the body, while sex in the context of marriage is sustainable and eternal. The same is true with substances like Methamphetamines and Heroin. We would all like to think that a family day at the park would outweigh the high that Meth and Herion offer, but let me assure you that nothing could be further from the truth. These drugs provide a high that completely blows away anything this life has to offer under normal circumstances. Being a person who came from a life of drug addiction, I can tell you first hand that one of the biggest challenges I faced after walking away from drugs was my ability to find fulfillment in the "every day" things of life. In order to do that, one has to change their thinking altogether. The drug addict seeks total fulfillment in the "here and now," and the non-drug addict looks for overall fulfillment in "the long run" of life. The decision to switch from an extreme lifestyle like that of a addict to a life of normalcy is quite difficult and almost never attained.

It is almost impossible for a Christian who has been raised on a steady diet of spiritual pornography to settle down and be content with the everyday life of REAL spirituality. Every aspect of "relationship with God" has been laced with religious PCP, and the real authentic truth doesn't even compare to the spiked version they grew up with.

It seems that at every angle of spirituality we have been fed an unrealistic and glamorized perception of "how it's supposed to be;" this worries me. These ideas - when put into action - are ultimately impossible to sustain for more than a week or two. It's just not realistic to think anyone could have a "burning passion" for God twenty-four hours a day for the rest of their life! Personal and simple things like prayer are turned into super spiritual and emotional experiences that shake the heavens and the earth. Before you know it, the very avenue through which we communicate with God has been hijacked and turned into a "passionate heart pounding cry to the heavens." Ultimately, when you can't sustain this emotional position, you begin to feel condemned regarding your Christian walk. This extremism has been applied to every single facet of the Christian life. We have an entire generation of people who honestly think a relationship with God is like a Hollywood, "action packed romance thriller." It has been so accentuated and romanticized, that when it's finally compared to the real thing, the lie seems a thousand times better!

The problem is that everything we have been taught about a personal relationship with God is an exaggerated lie and absolutely impossible to obtain. It simply does not exist! It was all smoke and mirrors for the purpose of entertaining and inspiring a congregation. When all is said and done, most people have NO idea what to really expect when it comes to a REAL personal relationship with Him. When the real thing shows itself, it is unappleaing and people are usually uninterested.

It also seems that after stepping away from the hype of the institution in an attempt to experience "the real thing," we usually get bored and run back to our church for a spiritual "porn fix." At the very least, we start feeling like we're dying inside because nothing looks the way they told us it would look. Nothing happens like it's supposed to happen. Worshipping alone in your bedroom doesn't even compare to the ten member band with lights and sound that your church offered. For some reason, you don't break down and cry your eyes out during the experience now. Without all the music and singing to drown out your voice, you're left with nothing but your own out of key tone. What's worse is that now your friends don't sit around and talk about Jesus all the time or sit and do Bible studies with you. There isn't a planned time or praise reports and prayer requests. You become a normal person who works and lives, just like everyone else.

It's kind of like the movie all your friends ranted and raved about. They begged you to go see it because they thought it was the best movie ever made. For weeks on end, all you heard them do was recite their favorite quotes and talk about how great it was. Finally you go watch the movie, and it ends up being a big let down because they'd built it up so much in front of you. The truth is, you probably would have loved the movie too, but after being contaminated by their exaggerated enthusiasm, the movie never stood a chance. It was bound to be a let down.

If I were going to give any advice to this generation of Christians, I think first and foremost I would say to let go of everything. Walk into this relationship with no pre-determined expectations. Forget everything you've heard about the way it's supposed to be. Forget all the embellished testimonies and stories people recited from the stage of your church. Start out as though are are the first person in the world to have a relationship with God. Be open to absolutely anything.

I have found that "true spiritual porn addicts" almost always reject the message I preach. It's simplicity angers and annoys them. It's so unattractive and dull that they can't imagine trading their present erotic spirituality for it. This is precisely why the Pharisees wanted to execute Jesus. He was a disappointment. They were looking for a reigning king and instead they got a dirty homeless carpenter. We're no different in today's institutional religious world than the Pharisees were in Jesus' day. Ironically, we still insist on preaching the "reigning king relationship" to everyone - even though Jesus hasn't returned as a reigning king yet. We STILL can't accept the carpenter. Getting someone to trade in the reigning king perception for the carpenter is nearly impossible.

Just like marriage in the physical realm, true relationship with God cannot be expected to deliever a constant state of passionate spiritual arousal. There are times when this happens, but if you hang your entire relationship on it, you're in for a world of disappointment. In many ways, some churches remind me of the married couple who based their relationship on their "hot sex life". When things inevitably cool off, they have to participate in even more bizarre and wild behavior to just keep it "hot and alive." It certainly explains why so many Christian groups get caught up in crazy spiritual fads. Their spiritual perceptions of relationship demands that things be kept at a spiritiually sensual boiling point at all times. It's like they are open to anything that will rekindle the fire of their spirituality for just another day.

I would honestly encourage everyone to take an honest look at their relationship with God and ask some important and deep questions. When you praise Him, what words do you use? Do you use the same phrases and terms you've heard a thousand other people recite at your church? Do you lift your hands and hop up and down like the people on the worship team? Do you teeter totter back and forth from right to left with your face tilted upwards, your elbows down and your arms extended out, your palms facing up, with a look of painful desperation on your face?"

I believe these same questions can be applied to those who have grown up with more conservative church experiences. Do you frown upon those who do raise their hands and hop up and down like a worship team? Do you do your best to stay away from churches that have worship teams? Do you sing with no facial expression whatsoever, because you don't want to come across as "charismatic"? Do you use the same phrases and terms you've heard a thousand other times at your church?

"My question is this: How would you express yourself if you hadn't watched everyone else show you how? What words would you use, if you hadn't memorized the one's they gave you? What would you say if you didn't already have a script? Would you really "cry out to the Lord" or would you be more inclined to just talk to Him about your life? Would you really lie on your face and wail at the alter, or would just sit quietly and think about Him?"

Would you feel free to express the emotions inside you at all in the presence of other Christians at church? Or would you be content to just take notes, acting like you don't feel anything?

"How would it all play out if you had never observed another Christian in your entire life?

What if God promised you right now that no matter how much money you gave in the offering, He would never give you one red cent for the rest of your life unless you earned it? What if He guaranteed you that you would never receive a healing from Him regardless of the sickness or injury? What if you never saw a miracle again until the day you died? What if no one ever gave you a "word from the LORD" from this day forward? What would become of your relationship with God if these things were to happen?"

What if you were never able to perfectly memorize a passage of Scripture again? What if God took your voice and you could never vocally witness to another person? What if you were thrown into prison and never again able to fellowship with other believers? What would become of your relationship with God if these things were to happen?

"I believe that we need to assess our lives and take a close and honest look at what we have. I fear that many people who have come from an institutional mindset really don't have much. What they do have is a handful of stuff that is absolutely useless in the real world. They have a pocket full of spiritual fairy dust that only works when they're inside the walls of their church, and when they try to sprinkle it out in the real world, nothing happens.

Survival in the real world of "relationship with God" comes in finding enjoyment in the little things, and in "the long run" of life. It comes when you commit to being normal and give up your spiritual aspirations of becoming a super spiritual prophet, a preacher, or a miracle worker. The moment you're ok with being just like everyone else and you no longer feel the need to validate your spirituality in the eyes of anyone, you will be well on your way to knowing the real Him. When the words "God told me" don't need to pass through your lips in order to impress the person you're talking to, and when you're willing to admit that you don't know what the heck He's telling you, you are closer than you could imagine. When you're more touched by a warm dinner with neighbors than you are by an emotional church service, you will have swallowed His very heart."

When you are more fulfilled by the love shared between yourself and others, rather than the amount of Biblical knowledge you have stored in your brain, then you are living in the reality of your Father's love.

"When the focus of your life goes from getting answers to your prayers to becoming answers to the prayers of others, you'll know Him like never before."

Darin Hufford


Uncle Ben said...

Very interesting. I know that this is the experience of some people, but it doesn't fit my experience at all. I think different kinds of churches have different kinds of problems.

The Lutheran Church, in which I'm training to become a pastor, doesn't really face this set of problems. In fact, it's almost the opposite. Instead of being dangerously extroverted, we tend to be dangerously introverted. Instead of expecting too much from God, we expect too little.

Having become a member of a non-denomination (charismatic) church for over a year now, I'm being blessed by a balancing of these extremes. It strikes me that an interesting possibility for people would be to attend a church that is vastly different than their experience. The stark change might be eye-opening. It can be tough as you wrestle to fit the two contexts together and discern God. But he is there! And he is willing to guide and show himself and his truth in "new" ways.

IndweltDaughter said...

Hey Ben,

Thanks for the insights. And I know exactly what you mean, as the church I grew up in is also very introverted as well. I think the author of the article was writing it more in reference to "Emergent Church" types, which is why I added a few notes within the article as well, as the main point I think he was trying to get at wasn't the extroversion, but the fact that everyone is just doing what they see everyone else doing. The same can be true at an extremely introverted church, like the one I attended.

I know what you mean about there needing to be a balance. Like you said, discernment can be tough when trying balance two different contexts, but He is still there! For me I've just been enjoying getting to know my heavenly Father without worrying about doing it within the context of a system or institution. Not that being in a system or institution is wrong, but that's just not where He has me right now. I like how you said that God is always willing to reveal Himself to us, and I think we need to be ready for that to be in ways we'd never imagine. Who are we to put God in a box and say He only operates in a certain way or with certain people?


MBerg said...


Great piece. There's a post in here - I'm just not sure how to write it!

To me, churches seem to be like corners of the Trinity. "The Father" churches are about God's authority - not entirely, but in their major focus. I think the Catholic church fits there.

"The Holy Spirit" churches? They focus on the spirit - the whole charisma/possession by the holy spirit thing. I've been to some of them (in almost exactly the sense Ben was talking about, looking for a vastly different experience); interesting, but I've found them spiritually unsatisfying, oddly enough. In fact, I guess that's the thing that grabbed me about your post, Amanda - while I didn't doubt the sincerity of the worshippers, there was a desperation (so it seemed to me) and a frantic air about the experience that struck me as...well, like spiritual pr0n.

"The Son"? Well, they focus on Christ, his words and teachings and the forgiveness he brings.

My own church - Presbyterian - tends toward "the son", but is pretty well-balanced (says me!).

Not sure what to write about this, because - and this is odd - as articulate as I am about most things, writing about faith is a lot harder! (Hence, I envy you and Ben just a little...)

IndweltDaughter said...

Hey there mberg,

Thanks for stopping by, and I'm glad you liked the piece. It was one of those things where once I read it I knew I had to share it.

And you did a fine job writing articulately if you ask me. Very interesting way to present the different "types" of churches out there, and how it can affect the way they portray the relationship with God. The church I went to was also a "Son" church, like the one you go to, but I'm glad that you perceive it as being balanced. Any imbalance will not convey an accurate picture of who God is, as God is all three of them together, and without one, God wouldn't be the God we know Him to be. It's so hard to wrap our minds around sometimes, because they are a plurality, in that there are three distinct individuals, and yet together they create one God. We might not be able to understand it, but it just emphasizes how we cannot focus on one more than the other two. They all have a different role in our lives, and they are relational with each other. That's one thing that was really impressed upon me through reading The Shack, and I'd highly recommend you reading it, if you haven't already.

Thank you very much for stopping by, your comments were very encouraging as well as helpful. I love it when people make me think! And about writing about faith being harder for you, it is just as hard for me, honestly. I took me a good solid year of writing almost every day before I got the point where I felt ready to starting writing about my faith. I mean, in my journal I wrote a lot about it, but I never really shared that with anyone. It is a great gift God has given me, to be able to at least minimally express what it is He is teaching me through writing. Every time I sit down to write or type I surprise myself. Just keep writing, He'll bring you the words when you need them.

Hadassah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Hadassah said...

Let me try this again, with fewer words! :-)

The author of this article is largely correct.

If you expect to have a miraculous and magical closeness to God that is unaccompanied by a deep study of God's Word, constant prayer, and faithfulness to God's commandments, you will be disappointed.

However, the fullness of joy and pleasures forevermore described in Psalms can be a reality in this life. Even in times of hardship, pain or confusion, God can provide transcendent joy and ultimate satisfaction.

All that is required is a complete letting go of self, and a total surrender to God. Easy, huh? Well, no, really its impossible without God's help, which often arrives in packages that we don't like the looks of!

Night Writer said...

Very interesting post, Amanda. As someone who grew up in a mainline denominations where no one sat in the first 8 rows of pews, and someone who has experienced something very different the last 20 years I'm familiar with the benefits and criticisms of both. Both have their "doctrines" because that is human nature trying to establish a comfortable and "safe" place in a dynamic relationship. Ultimately we risk turning a move of God into a Movement, and then a Monument, and ultimately a Mausoleum. A personal relationship with God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit is incredibly liberating and I think those that seek shall find.

The concern I have with some of what you write, or cite from others, is the potential for some to pull away completely and seek to go it on their own, bemoaning the human failings of the institution. I may have misinterpreted, as I know I can't hope to define the entirety of your experience from a few posts any more than you can completely understand my perspective from a few cramped comments, but I think there are good reasons why God commands us to not forsake the fellowship of the brethren, and some of that produces iron sharpening iron. Personal prayer time and worship is vital to one's relationship with the Trinity, but the ministry of Jesus is also relationship and reconciliation with others and you can't do that by yourself. Becoming a doctrine unto ourselves is one of the dangers of the Independence described in The Shack.

The Bible speaks of joining and knitting, (though sometimes you first have to get past the kicking and screaming). Churches will always be imperfect because man is imperfect, but they are the perfect place to practice and to truly let others know we are his disciples by the love we show one another.