Commentary / Discussion / Response

The Pastor and His Porn

Michael John Cusick (no relation to John Cusack) is a pastor and pornography-addiction counselor who told the story of his own struggles in today’s Huffington Post.

The overall theme of his article would be laughable were it not so sad and disturbing (obviously in a different manner than that which the author intended). He begins with the following premise:

In my line of work, barely a day goes by that I don’t hear a story about a man or woman who has lost something dear — their marriage, family relationships, job, ministry, reputation, self-respect — because of pornography. Of course, when we experience such loss, it also affects spouses, children, friends, congregations and communities. Everyone loses when it comes to porn.

But is this necessarily the case? Pardon me for making an argument from personal experience, but this just does not mesh with anything I’ve encountered. And unless you are presently living amid the same sort of church-culture, I would venture to guess it doesn’t resonate with you either.

There is nothing intrinsic to pornography which damages relationships. That is necessarily contingent upon the values espoused by oneself and of those they associate with. But Cusick argues:

It’s tempting to think that there’s nothing wrong with a porn habit — that no one gets hurt. We think we’re protecting our spouse by not telling them. We think we’re providing ourselves with a respite from a stressful day. No matter how we justify or rationalize it, in two decades of counseling, not one (person) has told me that pornography made them a better husband, wife, father, parent, employee or friend.

And herein lies the first mistake. When you treat such a thing as some sort of dirty little secret, and with shame, from the very start you are setting up your own scandal. Cusick’s entire position on pornography, as well as that of his “downward spiral”, exist due to a presupposition that porn is innately harmful. He cites repercussions to make his case, but all of the examples he provides come not from pornography but rather his disposition toward it. In fact, one could easily “mad-lib” his piece, replacing pornography with any alternative you can conjure up,  and it would read exactly the same.

Now, it isn’t my intention to portray that pornography addiction does not exist. It certainly does, as does addictions to many things which are not by their very nature bad for a person. People are capable of becoming obsessed with just about anything to an unhealthy degree. One example would be video game addiction. It’s by no means common, but there is a phenomenon of individuals who have become detrimentally addicted to gaming. We’ve probably all heard the stories of gamers who spend countless hours on their systems and at their computers to the point of soiling themselves and even occasionally dying of starvation. The point, however, is that this is not the norm. And all too often people are quick to blame the object of addiction as opposed to either the addict or the addiction itself.

Cusick describes his addiction:

My own addiction to porn and illicit sex began in high school, and held me firmly in its grip for decades. No matter how close I came to getting caught, I always managed to jump in the manure and come out smelling like a rose. While working in church ministry in my mid-20s, my addiction was nearly exposed in a newspaper story about a raid on an escort service. But even that didn’t lead to change. I might stop for a time, vow to mend my ways, tear up my porn magazines, but eventually the insatiable urge would return.

It’s entirely possible that this Pastor may have an honest obsession. But unfortunately his perspective makes it difficult to tell. When you view something as illicit or arbitrarily verboten you are inclined to discern it this way regardless. Sexual urges are a part of our natural instincts, and as such are not simple to dismiss or bury. But when you see them as sinful, or thoughts you should not be having, it’s no wonder some will attribute them to an obsession. And it’s hardly surprising that these addictions most commonly inflict those who believe there’s something morally wrong with it. Humans obsess over the forbidden, the unattainable, and the taboo.

Only a few months later, my wife caught me in a lie, and my double life was completely exposed. It was the worst day of my life. The truth of my actions unleashed a tsunami of pain and betrayal upon her. She was in shock, confused and angry. I slept on the floor that night — and many nights following — as she cried herself to sleep behind a locked bedroom door.

It’s clear the devastation of Pastor Cusick’s story is very real. But it should also be self-evident that his outlook caused him his own traumatic outcome. And his wife’s reaction, as well as any other harship to their relation which likely followed, alludes to a bigger problem of deeper trust issues than can be blamed on pornography.  Would these circumstances be the same in a marriage which had no such secretiveness? In a marriage where there was a healthier or even mutual disposition towards his penchant for porn? Would the situation end up in a self-fulfilling tragedy had there been honesty and no unnecessary shame attached to such desires? The answer to all these questions is, of course, “no”.

Evangelical anti-pornography crusading is the same as so many other religious ideas… it’s “solving” a problem of their own creation. It’s easy for porn to destroy your life if you first buy into the concept that it’s destructive.

Cusick’s wife was only devastated, and their marriage hurt, by his pornography “habit” because they both had a predisposed acceptance that it’s a bad thing. In a marriage where it’s no big deal, a shared interest, or at least is understood, no harm could later come from it.

Of course, I’m no expert on human sexuality. I speak from firstly experience (having been in a few of what I consider to be open, honest, and sexually healthy relationships), and secondly from common sense and empathetic understanding. However, Darrel Ray ED.D. is such an expert. And I highly recommend looking into his book Sex & God: How Religion Distorts Sexuality. I haven’t had a chance to read it myself, other than some long excerpts, but those, as well as talks he’s given on the topic, are quite provocative, and I suspect the same of the book itself.

“Why are all the major religions consumed with sex? What makes sex so important, whether Buddhism or Islam, Christianity or Mormonism? What is the impact of religion on human sexuality? This book explores this and more. It ventures into territory that has never been examined. You will be surprised at how much religion has influenced your sexuality, who you marry, the pleasure you get or don’t get from sex, and what you can do about it.”

2 thoughts on “The Pastor and His Porn

  1. Nice post. The good or bad of addiction happens in the mind. Some folk are addicted to breathing air. People often mistake their own confusion in their mind over something as an aspect of that ‘something’ rather than their own personal issue. Examples include:
    Pornography objectifies women. It takes more than a picture to do that.
    Pornography hurts your family. No, you do… whether you blame it on your addiction or the object of your addiction, you hurt them.
    Pornography is deviant. No, deviance requires someone to say what is normal. Good luck finding that. As far as I can tell, the only unnatural sexual position or orientation is celibacy.

    Just a thought

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