Porn, video games, the Internet, anxiety, boredom, and the death of valor

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When the Dean of the School of Theology at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and a secular philosopher hit the same theme in the same week, it's worth paying attention:

First, Dean Russell Moore, writing for Desiring God Blog -- Fake Love, Fake War: Why So Many Men Are Addicted to Internet Porn and Video Games:

You know the guy I'm talking about. He spends hours into the night playing video games and surfing for pornography. He fears he's a loser. And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is. For some time now, studies have shown us that porn and gaming can become compulsive and addicting. What we too often don't recognize, though, is why.

In a new book, The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It, psychologists Philip Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan say we may lose an entire generation of men to pornography and video gaming addictions. Their concern isn't about morality, but instead about the nature of these addictions in reshaping the patten of desires necessary for community....

But the compulsive form of gaming shares a key element with porn: both are meant to simulate something, something for which men long.

Pornography promises orgasm without intimacy. Video warfare promises adrenaline without danger. The arousal that makes these so attractive is ultimately spiritual to the core.

Satan isn't a creator but a plagiarist. His power is parasitic, latching on to good impulses and directing them toward his own purpose. God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife. And a man is meant to, when necessary, fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.

The drive to the ecstasy of just love and to the valor of just war are gospel matters. The sexual union pictures the cosmic mystery of the union of Christ and his church. The call to fight is grounded in a God who protects his people, a Shepherd Christ who grabs his sheep from the jaws of the wolves....

Moreover, these addictions foster the seemingly opposite vices of passivity and hyper-aggression. The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser, with one-flesh union supplanted by masturbatory isolation. The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one's life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one's reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.

Zimbardo and Duncan are right, this is a generation mired in fake love and fake war, and that is dangerous. A man who learns to be a lover through porn will simultaneously love everyone and no one. A man obsessed with violent gaming can learn to fight everyone and no one.

The answer to both addictions is to fight arousal with arousal. Set forth the gospel vision of a Christ who loves his bride and who fights to save her. And then let's train our young men to follow Christ by learning to love a real woman, sometimes by fighting his own desires and the spirit beings who would eat him up. Let's teach our men to make love, and to make war . . . for real.

About all that I'd add is that the drive to fight doesn't necessarily mean war, although we may have occasion to take up arms to defend our loved ones, our country, and our civilization against those who would destroy them. There are countless opportunities to stand up for truth and justice. There are billions of people who have never heard the gospel, and many of them live in lands where proclaiming the gospel could cost you your liberty or even your life. You may have a revolutionary idea that would make lives better or even save lives, but to pursue it requires you to leave a comfortable and safe job. The world cries out for true servant-leaders, good shepherds who will, in imitation of Christ the Good Shepherd, put their own reputations, comforts, and lives on the line for the sake of others.

Indulging in porn and video combat dissipates our innate drive to woo, to excel, to achieve, to compete, to win, to innovate. When our restlessness should push us forward to take risks, these impostors pacify us into complacency and invite us to settle for mediocrity.

This brings to mind the old hymn, "Rise Up O Men of God":

Rise up, O men of God!
Have done with lesser things.
Give heart and mind and soul and strength
To serve the King of kings.

Rise up, O men of God!
The kingdom tarries long.
Bring in the day of brotherhood
And end the night of wrong.

Rise up, O men of God!
The church for you doth wait,
Her strength unequal to her task;
Rise up and make her great!

Lift high the cross of Christ!
Tread where His feet have trod.
As brothers of the Son of Man,
Rise up, O men of God!

(I've always loved Phil Keaggy's setting of these words.)

Next, here's perpetually interesting philosopher Alain de Botton responding to questions about his new book on sex in a chat with Grauniad readers. (Emphasis added.)

It is perhaps only people who haven't felt the full power of sex over their logical selves who can remain uncensorious and liberally 'modern' on the subject. Philosophies of sexual liberation appeal mostly to people who don't have anything too destructive or weird that that they wish to do once they have been liberated.

However, anyone who has experienced the power of sex in general and internet pornography in particular to reroute our priorities is unlikely to be so sanguine about liberty. Pornography, like alcohol and drugs, weakens our ability to endure the kinds of suffering that are necessary for us to direct our lives properly. In particular, it reduces our capacity to tolerate those two ambiguous goods, anxiety and boredom. Our anxious moods are genuine but confused signals that something is amiss, and so they need to be listened to and patiently interpreted - which is unlikely to happen when we have to hand one of the most powerful tools of distraction ever invented. The entire internet is in a sense pornographic, it is a deliverer of constant excitement which we have no innate capacity to resist, a system which leads us down paths many of which have nothing to do with our real needs. Furthermore, pornography weakens our tolerance for the kind of boredom which is vital to give our minds the space in which good ideas can emerge, the sort of creative boredom we experience in a bath or on a long train journey. It is at moments when we feel an irresistible desire to escape from ourselves that we can be sure that there is something important we need to bring to consciousness - and yet it is precisely at such pregnant moments that internet pornography has a habit of exerting its maddening pull, thereby helping us to destroy our future.

de Botton is right to broaden his view of the problem beyond internet porn to the internet itself. Even as I've been putting this post together, every time I get stuck on a word or unsure about the next sentence, I've had to fight the urge to open another tab and see what's new on Twitter or Facebook or Homestar Runner or Ace or email.

Internet porn and first-person shooters aren't the first distractions in history capable of sapping a man's will to fight and strive and achieve. TV does a pretty good job of it, although eventually you run out of channels. (You never run out of Internet.) Porn has been around for a long time, too, doing its deadening work in the form of paper and celluloid and magnetic tape, but never before has it been as readily and anonymously accessible. It's always been possible to dampen down restlessness, boredom, and anxiety with the help of alcohol or narcotics. Many a man has dissipated his initiative in sports fanaticism, obsessive collecting, and compulsive hobbies. Some (but not all) of these things can be enjoyed in moderation as a needed respite from the battle; all have the potential to become a substitute for the battles we are called to fight but prefer to avoid.

When I feel the nagging sense that I could be doing more with the opportunities and abilities God has given me, when the cavernous gap between my potential and my accomplishments screams at me, I need to resist the temptation to reach for the nearest distraction, and instead thank God that I can still feel restlessness and ask Him for the wisdom to know where best to channel it, for His Kingdom's sake.

MORE: CNN article by the authors of The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It:

Young men -- who play video games and use porn the most -- are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are also totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until "the time is right."

And here is Zimbardo's talk at TED on The Demise of Guys.

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1 Comments

Sam Williams said:

Thanks Mike! I linked this article on Facebook.

And since you don't have a "share one FB" button, I laboriously copied the permalink, pasted it as my status, selected "No Thumbnail", and added a quick one liner, then came here to appreciate/gripe. :-D

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