Dirty Theology

“There’s a lot of dirty theology out there, the counterpart to dirty politics and dirty business… call it spiritual pornography… It’s found in many of the same places as physical pornography (the internet and cable TV) and it promises similiar things: instant intimacy, fantasy and make-believe, private voyeurism and vicarious experience, communion with out commitment.” -Brian Mclaren

The quote above, taken from the book “Naked Spirituality” just about took my breath away.  I think he’s caught a really profound and surprsing truth, one that we want to reject for all sorts of reasons that we shouldn’t be very proud of.

One of the things it forces us ‘spiritual/religious’ folk to do is draw a circle on the ground.  Then it forces us to invite consumers of pornography inside this circle with us.  This little pairing is not particularly comfortable for anyone involved.  Perhaps that’s why we’re so unlikely to talk about it.

I think folks involved in any side of the sex trade are probabaly just as bound and determined to assert the lie as folks within the church.   It’s so much safer for all of us if we just agree that we’re all different: You watch your cable T.V. shows.  I’ll watch mine.  You go to your web sites.  I’ll go to mine.  You do your thing.  I’ll do mine.

Of course, we each believe the other to be wrong.  I’m contemplating the fact that both groups savors a special glee when it converts someone from the other side.  Is there anyone we evangelicals love more than a recovering pornography addict?  Is there anyone more cerished in the pornography circles than someone who used to be a Christian, or better yet, a pastor? 

I think there’s a really important thing to notice, though.  Our evangelical glee is not about wanting to welcome someone into our midst who has not converted.  I would submit this is equally true for both sides.  Ponography shops don’t want someone wandering their aisles who isn’t one of them.   We might welcome a person into our Sunday service if we new that they desired leaving behind their old life.  If we met them right after the offering, and shook their hands, and they proudly said, “I think I’ll go home and watch a sex tape.” We would probably welcome them a lot less.

Perhaps I digress, a little.  The Mclaren quote is so interesting to me not only because of the wierd paralells, but also because it implies that a person seeks out God and porn. for the same reason, they are both attempts to fufill the same drive.

This point isn’t brand new.  But it’s much more nuanced than I’ve ever heard it before.  The idea of dirty theology suggests that we’re not all well and good merely because we settle on chasing after God instead of chasing after sex.  It’s not sufficient just to aim ourselves in the right direction; things can still go badly even if we don’t take more lustful approach to satisfying this desire.


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The stories that speak to our soul begin at a home where things are good. Cinderella is happy with her father. The three little pigs have grown up and are ready to move on. Bilbo Baggins knows his shire. Adam and Eve walk with God in the garden. My story isn’t much different. There was a time and a place where it was so good. There was a community for me. And there was joy. We were filled with a sincere desire to do what God wanted us to do. We possessed explanations and understandings that went a certain distance. We offered security and tradition and laughter. For a lot of years, that was enough. I have this sense that it was also necessary. I have this surety, now, that it certainly wasn’t everything. There were some things that became increasingly problematic as time went by. There was a desire to package things up so very neatly. Sunday morning services were efficient and strategic. Responses to differences of opinion were premeditated. Formula began to feel more important than being real. A real desire for everybody to be one of us, but also a real sense that there is an us, and there is a them. They carried a regret that it has to be this way, but deeper than this regret was a surety that this is how it is. I began to recognize that there was a cost of admission to that group. There were people who sat at the door, collecting it. Those people wished they didn’t have to. But I guess they felt like they did have to. They let some people in, and they left others out. There was a provisional membership. My friends did possess a desire to accommodate people that are different… But it would be best for everyone concerned if they were only a little bit different. I did make many steps forward in this place. Before I went there, there were lies that I believed. Some of the things that I learned there, I still hold on to. But that place is not my home anymore. Those people are not my community anymore. There were times it was hard. I am engaged in a different community now. And I am working hard at finding a place in many different places now, embracing many different kind of families. I don’t always get it right. I am trying and I am learning and I am moving foreward. I have this sense that I am not alone in these experiences. I believe that we are tribe and we are growing. We are pilgrims, looking for a new holy land. Perhaps we won’t settle on the same spot of land. But if you’ve read this far, I am thinking that we are probably headed in the same general direction. I have begun this blog to talk about where my journey is taking me. In every space, we find people who help us along. And maybe we can get to know each other, here. We embrace ideas that provide a structure for the things we believe, and perhaps we can share these too. Maybe we can form a group, a tribe, a community, if we can figure out a way to work through the shadow of these kinds of groups, if we can bigger than the us-and-them ideas that have caused so much trouble in the past. As important as they are, I think the very nature of online interactions will lend itself to something equally powerful. I am stumbling onto these practices that my grandfathers and great grandfathers in the faith engaged in. I am learning about these attitudes and intuitions are so different than the kinds of things we call doctrine today. I don’t know about you, but I am running out of patience, and even interest, in conversations about doctrine. I hope that maybe you’ll share a little something about where your journey is taking you, and maybe our common joys and challenges might help each other along, and we might lift each other up. Thanks for doing this journey with me.

2 thoughts on “Dirty Theology”

  1. Forgive me for not fully understanding your point – or for that matter, McLaren’s. i get some of the corrolation in the context of being “fulfilled”. i don’t however, get the implied sameness. Just as in other areas like race or same-gender marriage, we often confuse terminology and definitions lose their impact to the point where communication breaks down altogether. i see that there’s a growing blurr in the divide between the meaning of “same” and “equal”.
    This drive of which you speak is equal in its passion, but once it’s applied to an object it ceases its sameness. Take them both to their ontological outcomes and the results are starkly different.
    i do think i’m getting the point about judging though.


  2. I think what I’m trying to suggest is that we are broken. We make these attempts to fix our brokeness. Sometimes they are healthy, helpful attempts. Other times they are not.
    So the first thing I am suggesting is that a church goer and a pornography viewer are really trying to get some of the same needs met. I don’t think it’s merely equal in passion. I think the similarities run deeper than that. I think that we feel alone in the universe and as a result of this aloneness we seek out God, or we seek out sex. Yes, taking these two different paths leads to radically different outcomes. But I do not think that this implies that that we are not fufilling the same need.
    Further, I am suggesting that there is a path between these two. (Actually, probably there are numerous paths. But for the moment, I’m just concerned with these three: seeking out God appropriately, seeking out pornograpy, and the middle ground: spiritual pornography or seeking out God inappropriately.)
    The middle ground– spiritual pornography, combines both dangers and ‘advantages’ of the other two paths. The paralells McLaren mentions, around communion without commitment, etc., are ones I find fascinating.


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