Spiritual pornography

Want to hear something funny?

I’ve mentioned before that I used to be part of the ICOC, which wasn’t particularly well-liked as churches go. The internet had (and still has, although much of it is out of date) loads of information from ex-members, cult experts, more traditional evangelicals, and everyday conspiracy theorists about its abuses and bad practices. A quick search for “ICOC” would quickly send up alarm bells for anyone who was willing to look.

Unsurprisingly, we were encouraged not to read such nonsense. There was even a semi-standard term for it – “spiritual pornography”.

At the time of writing, a Google search for “spiritual pornography” turns up, in its top ten entries, four pages related to the ICOC (one in the context of Islam, of all things), a rant about churches that lack substance, two about the Mormon church, one about The Da Vinci Code, and two about Harry Potter. Yeesh.

Speaking of Mormons (and on a related topic), I remember one time, maybe a couple of years after I joined the church, when I ran into a couple of Mormons on campus – or immediately outside the gate, as I think security kept them off the actual property. This was at a time when I was starting to educate myself about Christian history, other denominations and so on (always from ICOC-friendly sources, of course), and I saw this as a good opportunity to learn about someone else’s point of view first-hand. I met with them a couple of times, and they put me through what seemed to be a pretty standard spiel, which wasn’t very convincing, but was quite educational.

I mentioned this to a couple of people at church. They were shocked that I’d spend my time doing something so obviously harmful to my spiritual health.

The funny thing about this was that we did exactly the same sales pitch as the Mormons (although pushing a different product) all the time. We were constantly accusing people of not being open-minded if they couldn’t spare a few minutes to sit down with us and talk about the bible. Apparently this argument only worked in a seller’s market.

Plenty of people have suggested that religions protect themselves by making people scared of listening to differing opinions, convincing them that it’s really easy to be corrupted. Such people go on to say that the truth doesn’t need protection from criticism, and that the only reason to be afraid of hearing other opinions is if you’re worried they might be right. Any idea that needs to be insulated like that, and collapses as soon as people start to question it, is almost certainly wrong.

I can say wholeheartedly that I’ve seen this process first-hand. I was kept away from anti-Christian and anti-ICOC material for most of the time that I would have called myself a Christian. The first time I took the opposite view seriously, it turned me into an atheist within a few months.

The most convincing aspect of all this is that it doesn’t work the other way around. As an atheist, it doesn’t worry me at all to read Christian material. I have a bible sitting next to me on my desk. I’ve read books on Christian apologetics, and re-read stuff that I’d previously read as a Christian; it’s annoyed me sometimes, but it’s rarely made me doubt. I feel like I have a much more robust, defensible view of the world now, and I don’t need to insulate it.


2 Comments so far

  1. C. L. Hanson June 6th, 2007 3:13 pm

    The same idea exists in Mormonism. You shouldn’t read things that criticize the church because it’s just a bunch of lies written by evil people under the influence of Satan. It’s a forces of good vs. forces of evil sort of thing.

    They don’t use the term “spiritual pornography” though. They call it “Anti-Mormon literature” (or just “Anti-Mormon” if it’s not in book or pamphlet form). That’s probably why your google search turned up so much stuff about your (former) religion — each group uses its own terminology.

  2. Andrew October 4th, 2007 5:30 am

    I did a search on “spiritual pornography” hoping to find people having graphic x-rated union with god… Hmmm. No such luck!… ;-) … Even so your comments are interesting. However it seems to me that your insight points to a different conclusion than the one you draw: that having discarded world-view A for world-view B, and then discarded world-view B in favour of world-view C, and then having discarded world-view C in favour of world-view D, a pattern is emerging. The reasonable conclusion is not world-view D, but rather the discarding of world-views.

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