From divisive political rhetoric to human rights violations to sexual abuse, a great many of humanity’s evils can be traced back to a failure to recognize the imago dei, or the image of God, and by extension, the God-given worth of every person. But do we recognize those failures in our own lives as well?
Just as a failure to recognize and respect the imago dei is responsible for a great deal of human evil when we think about the Holocaust, terrorism, or mass shootings, so it is with cultural values. There are several examples of this, such as social media flaming, pro-life issues, and verbal abuse, for example. For this post, I want to consider the relationship between the imago dei and pornography.
A Heart Problem
The problems with pornography – without even touching on the neuroscience behind pornography addiction – are rather obvious. The creation of pornography exploits something that ought to be a sacred union – sex – and makes nothing more than urge and reflex. I’m saying nothing new here, and yet I hear few say this sin begins before one ever seeks out pornography, and likely before the urge to seek it out arises in the first place.
Let me explain what I mean. In Matthew 15, Jesus gets into an argument with the Pharisees over eating with unwashed hands. In conclusion, he tells his disciples, “Do you not see that whatever goes into the mouth passes into the stomach and is expelled? But what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this defiles a person. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (vs. 17-19).
Every visible sin originates as a heart problem. That’s why Jesus gives such higher standards in the sermon on the mount, one of them being that unexpressed lust amounts to cheating on your spouse. Joshua Harris addressed this directly when talking about masturbation in his book Not Even a Hint (later retitled Sex Isn’t the Problem, Lust Is): “The reason this very private act matters to God is not because it involves our genitals, but because it involves our hearts … Masturbation isn’t a filthy habit that makes people dirty. It only reveals the dirt that’s already in our hearts.”
Subjects, Not Objects
So what is the heart problem when it comes to pornography? We view other people as objects of our desire, not subjects in their own right. Pornography is at its core worshipping our own pleasure. It is in complete contradiction to God’s vision for a healthy sex life – one that is full of commitment and giving. That basis is important, because one can have the exact same heart problem as the pornography addict without ever visiting a single x-rated website. A man who pressures his wife for sex while neglecting her emotionally is guilty of the same self-serving heart.
C.S. Lewis reached the heart of the problem when he spoke of lust as an imaginary harem of brides that “is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival,” and yet again on the underlying attitude when he said, “How much he cares about the woman as such may be gauged by his attitude to her five minutes after fruition (one does not keep the carton after one has smoked the cigarettes).”
So how do we turn this knowledge into a more tangible battle plan for sin? And equally important, how do we communicate this effectively? The first thing is a change in approach: we have to stop treating the symptoms and start treating the disease. This brings us back to the words of Jesus: our actions reveal the filth on our hearts. So the first thing is a practical one: Pray to God to change not just our outside, but our inside as well.
But secondly, we need to communicate respect for the imago dei in those around us. That means those we are romantically involved with, but it also means literally every single person. That is an absolute core of the message of Jesus, and one we need to take seriously. It won’t matter how much we pay for accountability software or attend promise keeper meetings if we don’t own up to our sinful hearts, the cancer in them will continue to spread.
Logan Judy is a Christian blogger and science fiction author with a Batman complex. At A Clear Lens, he focuses on worldview analysis and pop culture, as well as co-hosting the A Clear Lens Podcast. In addition to his work on the ACL website and podcast, he is also the founder of Cross Culture, the host of the Cross Culture Podcast, and the author of three novels. He tweets @loganrjudy about writing, apologetics, entertainment, parenting, and Batman.