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Religious porn and me

People who come from my particular religious background sometimes have a terrible addiction. It's an addiction that grips us and holds us down in cycles of self-destructiveness and self-abuse. Yet, we often keep going back to it because it provides such a cheap thrill and arousal.

It's porn. And no, not the naked women kind of porn (at least, not in this case). Religious porn. Yes, I believe there really is a such thing as religious porn, and it took me a long time to realize just how hooked on it I was. That is, until I read Mike Cope, who is a well-known minister, actually describe it as "religious porn."

In this odd Christian denomination called the Church of Christ, there is an intense history of very strict legalism among many parts of it. For a long time, I was somewhat of an heir to this legalistic mindset. Personally, I was never on the extreme end of it, but I was certainly exposed to many people who were or were close. Therefore, I had many elements of that kind of thinking swirling around in my head for years. Part of this mindset includes the idea of "contending for the faith" or "defending the faith." In the legalistic mindset, purity of doctrine and practice is of the utmost importance. Therefore, anything that strays from the doctrinal/structural/theological positions of a rigid and pre-defined system is subject to intense attack. Part of this includes searching out, identifying, and publicly rejecting "false teachers." To people in this mindset, anyone else who claims to be a Christian must pass a long list of qualifications before being treated as such - the first of which is membership in a "doctrinally sound" "church of Christ." And believe it or not, whether that church uses a capital "C" or lower case "c" on "church" is part of that test of soundness. That's how extreme it gets.

Now, in this neverending quest for doctrinal/structural/theological purity, there have arisen a number of publications among this (C/c)hurch of Christ crowd whose sole purpose is to identify false doctrines and those who are teaching them. They literaly make lists, and provide very lengthy explanations as to why certain individuals or churches must be considered apostate. Some of these publications, which have now gone online, even send "undercover" people into certain churches to write weekly reports about the abberant practices and teachings that were practiced that week (such as the number of people who clapped or raised hands during a certain song). Please follow me here - I swear to you I am not making this up. One publication wrote a detailed piece on the preaching minister of my college church. This was just after the 2000 college football season, the year that OU won the football national championship. This piece declared this minister to be the "new champion of the NCAA - the National Church Apostate Association."

What's weird about all this stuff is that it is extremely fascinating to read... and read, and read. Why? Because of the emotional response it creates. It's at the same time both hilarious and infuriating. It's interesting and embarassing. It's ridiculous but has a tremendous following. It's atrocious but in some kind of odd way it represents, for better or worse, some part of my religious identity. It's like not being able to look away at a horrible car wreck because part of you knows that it very well could have been you inside there. But probably the biggest part is that it relentlessly attacks, with a special kind of venom and fire, people and positions that I have come to embrace through the years. It's hard not to want to see what your harshest critics are saying about you and respond in some kind of likewise fashion.

Even though I was slowly working myself away from this world of religious thinking before then, it was truly my college years that brought about an entirely new spiritual awakening in me. But awakenings rarely completely tear you away from who you have always been or the associations you have always had. A whole new world of spiritual experience left me somewhat embarrassed by this tiny, closed off world of (C/c)hurches of Christ, but yet I couldn't bring myself to break away from it, despite the times where I seriously considered the options. I ultimately felt a serious call by God to stay with this tribe of Christians, because despite their failures and limitations, He was still using them and wanted to use me as a part of them. But it left me conflicted. And there's this strange thing that people do sometimes when they feel conflicted - they feed the conflict. And thus, my addiction to the internal conflict and fire fanned by all this "religious porn" just kept me in a relentless circle of dissatisfaction and defensiveness. It's as if to justify my newfound exploration of new kinds of spiritual thinking and directions in my life, I had to be able to destroy, in my own mind, all of the enemies of that kind of change. And there were many.

But what I had to ultimately come to accept, even though I truly did already know it, is that the validity of my identity does not depend on winning over opponents. If anything, Jesus Christ himself proved that point. Feeding yourself on the divisiveness and hatred of others is the fastest ticket to a daily life of sarcasm and cynicism. Some of my biggest disappointments with those in Churches of Christ who have adopted a grace-oriented theology is their inability to let the scars of legalism heal. Let it go. It's as if some still need to be a victim of their own people to be validated in what they believe. Therefore we still propogate this oppressive "they" - whether or not "they" are even defined.

I write this tonight because I realized that my desire to keep up with all the religious porn has steadily decreased over time, to where it's hardly even an issue for me anymore. There were two vitriolic websites in particular that I used to keep up with regularly, and I discovered tonight that I haven't even thought about going to any of them, much less actually visiting, in quite some time. I consider this freedom. One of the religious porn rags used to come to our campus ministry student center at OU, and as an intern there I used to love getting them and sarcastically reading out loud to others about all the latest "important" issues. Today if those came, I would quietly dispose of them and asked to be removed from the mailing list. I consider this freedom. Freedom to truly live in the beautiful kingdom of love and grace that God has built all around me - free of any shackles that I used to wear or fights that I thought were mine to wage.


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Blogger Ruth - 6:59 AM

Well-said, Cary. And congrats on finding freedom from those toxic resources!    



Blogger Gabe - 11:00 PM

Dude, you are AWESOME!! How the heck did you explain that to my mind just now? My brain just said, "Hey, I understand this narrative as if I just invented it." I want to wad up this post and put it in my mouth so that the next time I come across a situation where I want to say what you just said all I have to do is open my mouth and out falls this wad of a post.    



Blogger Cheryl Russell - 7:30 AM

Great post. The "relentless circle of dissatisfaction and defensiveness" resonates. The emotional response to these diatribes is addicting, but I'm ready to move on to some solid food and get off of this spoiled milk.    



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