Are Some Theologies Creating Violently Sexual Men?

Posted on June 28, 2012


During my daily scan of biblical and Christian blogs yesterday, I came across a post on John Piper’s website briefly reviewing a new book out by two psychologists about young men and porn and gaming addictions. With its strong language, the first paragraph of Russell Moore’s blog post grabbed my attention:

You know the guy I’m talking about. He spends hours into the night playing video games and surfing for pornography. He fears he’s a loser. And he has no idea just how much of a loser he is. For some time now, studies have shown us that porn and gaming can become compulsive and addicting.

Frankly, Mr. Moore, I don’t know the guy you’re talking about. Actually, I don’t think you do either. Indeed, the above statement is a sweeping generalization of people who both play video games and watch pornography. And while I have no desire to make a  judgment on either activity (the debate surrounding porn is massive and diverse enough), I do find this particular article ridiculous in its construction of men as either legitimate Christian men or “losers” based on their private lives. Furthermore, Moore’s post takes up the issues of pornography and video games in order to address what he calls “fake love” and “fake war,” essentially legitimizing only a masculinity in which violence reigns through guilt, shame, and hatred for the other. The end result is a man who is constantly at war, or threatening war, with himself and all those around him.

First, I want to note Moore’s fascinating claim in the realm of addiction: “If you’re addicted to sugar or tequila or heroin you want more and more of that substance. But porn and video games both are built on novelty, on the quest for newer and different experiences.” In a very subtle way it appears that he is creating a hierarchy of addiction immorality. Sure, I’m sure Moore would also admit that heroin addiction is not good, but he makes an additional statement, writing that “both [porn and video games] are meant to simulate something, something for which men long.” Moreover, these things for which men long are “spiritual to the core.” In other words, he has made sexual desire and violence central to male identity. That is, addiction may be a bad thing, but when that addiction warps one of these two principles that are absolutely foundational to male identity.

Second, these “foundations” to the masculine identity can be used in apparently appropriate ways, argues Moore. In the case of sexuality, “God intends a man to feel the wildness of sexuality in the self-giving union with his wife.” Thus, porn is not “real” enough for him. Additionally, his use of the term “wildness” seems to imply a sort of “naturalness” of sex in the marriage bed between a heterosexual couple. Indeed, his repeated allusion to “drives” also underscores this piece of his argument, constructing sexuality as a divinely-given undercurrent of the man’s existence.

The “drive” to “violence,” according to Moore, also has two appropriate manifestations. First, a man should be inspired to “valor” and “fight for his family, his people, for the weak and vulnerable who are being oppressed.” This sounds honorable enough, and certainly people who stand up for loved ones and the “other” in our world are critically important. Yet, this sort of “real war” has another manifestation:

Moreover, these addictions foster the seemingly opposite vices of passivity and hyper-aggression. The porn addict becomes a lecherous loser, with one-flesh union supplanted by masturbatory isolation. The video game addict becomes a pugilistic coward, with other-protecting courage supplanted by aggression with no chance of losing one’s life. In both cases, one seeks the sensation of being a real lover or a real fighter, but venting one’s reproductive or adrenal glands over pixilated images, not flesh and blood for which one is responsible.

Yes, men should also be ready to declare war on their own life! If they fail to live up to a “real” sort of [sex] life, then violence is to be initiated. And, as Moore claimed initially, failure to do so results in being a “loser.”

Hey guys, if you do this wrong…

So, what are some consequences for such a theology of masculinity? Well, for one, men like Moore are incredibly interested in adhering to “ideal” gender constructions. That is, theologies like this create an impossible norm to which people should try to adhere, regardless of their inability to attain it. Resulting from such a theology is a sort of gendered rat race, which creates discouraged and hopeless men, who can clearly see an ideal to which they must adhere, while knowing full well they can never attain it.

…you better watch out for this side of you!

However, a more insidious theological notion is at play here in Moore’s claim to the “real” and “fake” expressions of love and violence. Whatever one feels about pornography, the notion that any person can construct a undeniably “real” and inherent sexuality necessarily leaves out all other “fake” sexualities. This itself is a violent denial of others’ identities. Yet, the problem goes further, as Moore also makes violence part of the man’s masculine identity and justifies its usage. Certainly, he makes a connection between war and the need to fight injustice, but he also delegitimizes certain expressions of sexuality and legitimizes violence against those expressions.

Furthermore, the assertion that this expression of violence against others is a natural “drive” only serves to further ingrain said violence into the Christian man. Indeed, men like Russell Moore are only serving to reinforce the violence against minorities and “others” already playing out in our society.