Like visual pornography
, theological pornography (TP) brings pleasure
in the short term because of its pleasing appearance, but it is
ultimately unfulfilling and might just be immoral
. The Internet
TP generally appears in the form of mass-mailed e-mails from strangers.
It's intent appears to be encouragement to embrace a particular religion,
most commonly (in the USA) Christianity. TP is nearly always written
by non-scholar members of the layity.
TP oversimplifies the religion in question. In the case of Christian TP,
characters in the stories are either a doing something that appears
stupid "because God told them so" (akin to Noah's building an ark in
the desert, only usually more inane, such as spending a lifetime pushing
on an immobile rock) or b surviving a desperate situation where there
is the danger of "giving in to temptation and the Devil". Miracles in
these stories are commonplace coincidences that validate the stupidity
and encourage blind faith in God.
While attempting to forward ostensibly good traits of obedience to God
and faith in A Higher Power, these stories generally lambast thinking,
questioning, success and effort. In my opinion, they generally confuse
good faith with blind faith and confuse searching with disbelief.
They also seem to deny human responsibility for anything that happens,
encouraging a lax attitude toward helping other people... after all,
God obviously wanted that to happen or it wouldn't have happened, so
if it is bad and painful, the person probably deserved it or it serves
some "higher cause" and I have no business butting in. These stories
are particularly disturbing for that aspect.
Here is a sample of TP. Thousands of examples exist online, perhaps even
in your inbox! Analysis follows after the story
>Subject: Is Your Hut on Fire?
> The only survivor of a shipwreck was washed up on a small,
> uninhabited island. He prayed feverishly for God to rescue
> him, and every day he scanned the horizon for help, but
> none seemed forth coming. Exhausted, he eventually managed
> to build a little hut out of driftwood to protect himself
> from the elements, and to store his few possessions. But
> then one day, after scavenging for food, he arrived home to
> find his little hut in flames, the smoke rolling up to the
> sky. The worst had happened --- everything was lost. He was
> stunned with grief and anger. "God, how could you do this
> to me?" he cried.
> Early the next day, however, he was awakened by the sound
> of a ship that was approaching the island. It had come to
> rescue him. "How did you know I was here?" asked the
> weary man of his rescuers. "We saw your smoke signal,"
> they replied.
> It is easy to get discouraged when things are going bad.
> But we shouldn't lose heart, because God is at work in our
> lives, even in the midst of pain and suffering. Remember,
> next time your little hut is burning to the ground, it
> just may be a smoke signal that summons the grace of God.
> For all the negative things we have to say to ourselves,
> God has a positive answer for it.
Many people, at the end of this story, have an, "Oh, isn't
type of reaction. And it is comforting to think
that God is watching out for all of us. I do not dispute
anyone's belief that God exists or that He is kind and loving,
but let's look at what this text honestly is saying.
First of all, while an explanation is given for the hut
burning to the ground, it gives no explanation for the
boat capsizing in the first place. True, we could always
go with the aphorism that we do not always know all the
impacts of our actions, but if God is in control of all
things, then He deliberately imprisioned the man on the
island. Is the man better for his captivity? We do not
know. But certainly the tone of the story is that you
should just accept things, no matter how bad they get, as
God's will. To my mind, this encourages laziness and sloth,
not to mention a lack of care for other people. Either human
agency matters, or it does not. TP stories cast human agency
as worthless and irrelevant.
TP is dangerous not because it preaches bad things but because
it oversimplifies the good things it preaches. And as the
error term between the simplification and Truth increases,
dangerous themes are introduced.