Monday, October 11, 2010

Christian Porn

So, I recently posted a video of a "goofy" charismatic couple "praying". Basically to be honest, I posted it because it invited derision, smirking, ridicule and well, yeah, comments.

But I confess that, when I created the post, I hesitated for a split second before I hit "publish".  And then I violated my personal rule of thumb for the internet:  "If I hesitate to hit SEND, there MIGHT be a reason to sit on it."  I ignored my hesitation this time, I published the post.  But the unease did not go away. But then again, laughter goes a long way to cover up dis-ease.

Then, last of all, Fr. Sean commented:
"So I finally broke down and decided to get to a computer that actually deals with videos, and I watched the silly thing.

First thought: I can not and will not judge their mode of expressing praise for God. If I do so, I will be accountable to the God whom they are praising, and whom I praise with much less fervor and (apparent) sincerity. I strikes me as odd that any Christian could look askance on this as an example of private praise. Surely I do things which would seem even sillier to another person. Thank God that he is my only audience (I hope!).

My serious objection to the video was simply that I was watching it. It felt almost like watching a video of a loving married couple expressing their love for each other in bed. I might criticize their technique ("that's not how I would like to do it"), but the main point is that I would have no business watching it and they, no business exposing it to public view. Yes, that is exactly what I thought. "This should have been a private thing between them and God, not in front of an audience, and certainly not on YouTube."

I find some fault with the culture of parts of the Christian world which makes this sort of thing a matter of public spectacle. I find fault with myself for having watched what should have been a private moment with God (whether the participants felt that way or not). And I am disturbed by the judgmentalism in my soul which can watch this and pretend that I am virtuous because I do not give way to preposterous silliness as I seek to express the unspeakable and wild praise and joy that God naturally calls forth from me. I also feel a little bit dirty for having watched it."

I read his comment and nearly wept.

You see, I despise the Jerry Springers, the Montels, the Dr. Phils who parade human weakness before the world and hold it up for derision in the name of entertainment. Oh to be sure, there is a vanity and pathological narcissism to those who would expose their most private weaknesses to public view.  But fallen humanity is symbiotic: there are those who expose themselves and those who watch.  The world has gone from "doing your good deeds to be seen of men" to "youtubing your most intimate and sometimes stupid moments for the world to see".  Porn sites are the quintessential evidence of the depth of the fallen symbiosis of voyeur and exhibitionist. Non-sexual exhibitionism and voyeurism may not offend the moral sensibilities, but they have the same roots and that is what makes it the more subtle and damning temptation. The internet exponentially feeds the ego, is a snare for the narcissist and gives the smug and judgmental an entire universe to ridicule, even if he doesn't realize it is a universe of his peers. But I am not far behind. I parade my facade onto the web hoping for voyeurs to discover me.  I am viral. I have trackbacks. I can be googled, therefore I am.  My human worth is determined by the number of  FB friends I've never met, hits and comments.  The street corner is no longer a few square feet of pavement and a few bystanders who happen by in real time, it is trillions of 1's and 0's on billions of square feet of computer screens all over the world, and until the internet dies, I can potentially be seen everywhere, at all times.  I am the exhibitionist who puts my weaknesses up for all to see.

So, thank you, Fr. Sean.  I realize now what my hesitation was about: I am also the voyeur. And as the voyeur I am even less holy than the human train wreck I can't take my eyes off of, who publishes his demolished humanity for the world to see, whether it is hard core porn or something Jesus said it is best to do in your closet and not before men.

And I also realize that not only am I the hooting and laughing audience, I am also Jerry Springer.  I paraded human weakness before you for hits and ratings. Basically, I hosted an internet Christian porn site. I gave you the link to watch two fallen people do something that should not be seen by human eyes.

I confess that when I saw it, even in my dis-ease, rather than hear the Spirit and weep, I judged and I laughed. And quenching the Spirit, I then put the stumbling block in your path.  Forgive me.

May God have mercy on me a sinner.

17 comments:

Fr. Sean Lotz said...

Oh, I needed to read that. It was difficult, and I had to break away half way through. Thank you for saying so well what I could not.

Please, will you pray for me? I offer you my prayer, poor though it is. God! We all need mercy!

Apophatically Speaking said...

Ridicule is not good, but a sober assessment and critical discrimination is not bad per se. It depends on one's motivation of course. What's wrong with TBN?

intellectualoid said...

A besetting sin of bloggers (myself included) is pumping stats, building hits.

James the Thickheaded said...

Fr. Sean: Thank you. The blindness of my controlling (inner) pharisee is soundly corrected. And thank you SP for the set-up making it real.

Especially appreciate the distinction between public and private though the more I reflect, the more I wonder whether that's there really no line in the sand at all. If washing Jesus's feet with tears and wiping them with one's hair is worthy of praise from the most high... then it seems distinction between public and private tends to easily erode into to error.

The Good News is that if there was hope for Peter - and it seemed to have been well placed, then there was hope for all the Pharisees in the stories, too, even ones like me (though with far less certainty). Lord have mercy! Pray for me.

Kim said...

First of all, hello! I'm a lurker and enjoy your sense of humor very much, especially you adventures with Moo the Turtle. :) Secondly, an excellent word from both you and Father Sean. We all need reminding of this. It's so easy to slip into that voyeuristic mindset. Thirdly, this was likely a public worship experience. It looks like an old cable tv show like many I've seen in my old charismatic Protestant days. So I don't think you were quite as voyeuristic as you think. The prop-like table in front of them and the different camera angles tell me this was intended to be watched on tv. God bless you both, though, for the excellent reminder!

Anonymous said...

I felt hesitation the first time i signed up for a blog.

s-p said...

I suppose I may have to think more on this topic. Kim's observation and JtTH's "blurry line between public and private" is a reality, because corporate worship has an element of "public display" to it that tempts us to exhibitionism (and voyeruism). (Lord knows that Curmudgeophan has dealt with that topic enough times) http://pithlessthoughts.blogspot.com/2010/04/how-low-can-you-go.html

I'll just say here that the things that stick in my head are the immediacy and "present moment" of corporate worship we are actually participating in, the ego that says what I do and how I do it should be seen by all men as a "ministry", can worship be "watched" in a virtual environment? and if it is being watched, what is the nature of our participation in it then? Maybe if I can work all that out I can nail down why TBN bugs me... or why I'm wrong for being bugged.

Kim said...

It was through the 700 Club that I came to Christ. Were it not for the tv I'm not sure when or where I would've heard about God's grace. It was through shows like that one and the one you linked to that I innocently worshiped God with all my heart, soul, mind (okay, not sure about that one) and strength as a new believer. They have their place. While some of it was hokey, I believe their hearts were in the right place. They wanted to bring others into God's Presence, even though it was through the tv. Many people can't get out to worship God corporately because of illness or the like, so I see this as a useful tool in helping them spiritually (at least in the Protestant sense). Although, we could argue over how sound the teachings were/are, i.e. TBN. But EWTN isn't much better. It's pretty kitschy sometimes, too. I wonder what an Orthodox tv network would look like? Is there one?

Anonymous said...

...i have mixed feelings about the video...i was "in" the early charismatic movement of the 70's and i had some very unexplainable experiences..were they real?..i dont know what to make of them now and i choose not to dwell on it long..but i do know that at the time..that is where i needed to be and those experiences got me to where i am today....im not charismatic anymore in practice...since those days i have "fallen away" from God and come back several times over but all along the way my theology has evolved and God has remained faithful to complete that which He has started.

Joseph Barabbas Theophorus said...

The distinction between public and private is very artificial. (Maybe one could consider a person's energies as the public dimension, but even this runs into problems. Is the person him or herself then private? No, not really, even though he or she is only revealed by energies.) The way we use the concepts today is not the same as at other times in history nor is it even the same from one person to another. To take the more literal meaning of your words "Christian porn," what of Adam and Eve before the Fall, Christ when he was stripped and beaten, and the Desert Father and later bishop St. Nonnus, to name a few? How can our ideas of public and private (and most of our other fallen ideas we confuse with Orthodoxy) fit into these cases? These things just are: saints see them in a holy way and those who do not know God can't understand at all.

Likewise, the ideas of exhibitionism and display can be problematic. Exhibitionism is not defined by the act, but by the heart. Two people can do the very same [very public] thing, one unto salvation and one unto perdition. To keep the same theme, consider modesty. Were Adam and Eve immodest and voyeuristic when they were naked? Are people who wear a lot of clothes and hold to outward ideas of "modesty" not voyeuristic or magically freed from lust? (And that's not mentioning that trying to appear "modest" is itself voyeuristic.) Clearly, the problem is not with anything external, but with the heart.

Next, everything we do should be ministry. I do not mean having the appearance of ministry, for our own ego, or in order to have some power over our brothers and sisters, but in the since of ministering to everyone, seeing Christ in them and being Christ to them, in all His humility and lowliness. I think this was discussed fairly well in the context of evangelism a few weeks ago.

Can worship be watched in a virtual environment? Of course. God has given us our senses. But can it be participated in virtually? Yes, again. Remember, worship begins with personal communion and is expressed in the energies. Whether those energies involve physical presence or only a virtual connection, worship can take place. What will this look like and what is its nature? It depends on the person and the situation. But in any case, true worship will involve true communion on some level. The key is the heart, not the medium. I recall a story of two monks, one who attended liturgy and one who had to work in the stables. After the service, the elder asked where the bother who physically attended liturgy was that morning. The brother said he was at liturgy, but the elder told the brother he never saw him. The bother then confessed his thoughts were elsewhere; he was not really present at liturgy. The second brother later came to the same elder, saddened and ashamed he missed liturgy. But the elder said he saw him at liturgy, because that's where his heart was. Even though the brother was away at the stables, the elder was able to discern his presence during communion. (I think this is from the Desert Fathers; perhaps someone else knows the exact reference.)

So, then, what about these two people in the video or people on TBN? I don't know them; even if I did, I could only make some very limited comments. The people in the video did what they did for reasons I do not know. They are humans, so I assume sin was involved. How much and to what degree? I do not know that, either. But, I can judge them for it or take what good from it I'm able. The same is true with people on TBN (which is also an idea more than a concrete thing) or any person, really: I can take any person's energies and either judge them, or love them. In truth, no one can "bug" us. The choice is always up to us: do we allow ourselves to judge them and feel "bugged" (and other passions) uncontrollably, or love them and see Christ in them? This self control and love is the difference between the one who knows Christ and the one who doesn't.

VSO said...

Don't be a Trekkie Monster!

Noël Joy Plourde said...

Hmmm. Thinking deeply about this one. What is it that has made so many of us have this burning need to be publicly validated and/or voyeurs? Why are our egos so fragile that we've come to depend on cheap, easy eye candy, pop psychology, reality TV? I do think you're on to something here, SP, when you talk about your sense of dis-ease with "corporate worship". I think maybe your/our dis-ease is a good thing - if it leads us to prayer, and can help us find a pathway through the virtual muck we trudge through as Christians living in this time. I guess the question I ask myself is, "Where does God's Spirit lie?" If we pray that the HS is present in all places and fills all things, then we must seek out that which is God even in this crazy (and I might add, pretty darned ugly) place. How? I haven't a clue. I just need to hang out with God as much as I can. My work and life are filled with such insanity. That's all I know to do.

oruaseht said...

As contrasted to the beautifully humble Orthodox who frequent this site, I will point out that this blog isn't called "Pithless Thoughts" for nothing! hehehehheehe....... I thought the video was hilarious, epically showing how absolutely ridiculous and obscure protestantism can be! Thanks for the great laugh Steve, your sins are forgiven, go in peace. :)

s-p said...

oruaseht, behold a commenter in whom there is no guile. :)

BTW, I'm not really a humble Orthodox, I just play one on the internet. Thanks for the absolution, can I run some more stuff by you? :)

oruaseht said...

For a nominal fee, I will be your Spiritual Father... ;)

Adam Sheehan said...

S-P,
I want to express my thanks for your openness on this matter. It has been instructive for me. This gives me pause to consider the mockery and ridicule that I often deliver – even in private company. Equally, it causes me to think more deeply about the types of things I find “funny” and “entertaining”. Though I have thought about it before, it is good for me to revisit this.

Anonymous said...

I confess I haven't watched the video - I lived it for way too long to be curious about it. However, I also confess adhere the Fr. Seraphim (Rose) opinion of the "charismatic" movement in general (an opinion I was well on my way to developing before entering Orthodoxy). While only God may judge, I am firmly convinced most of the Charismatic "experience" does not derive from a sacred source.