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Waging a Smarter War on Porn

It’s a serious problem among evangelicals. But fixating on it might be missing the bigger picture.

Porn appears to be overrunning Christian cultures. Some have quietly capitulated. Evangelicalism, however, has not. But conservative Christians are no longer on the offensive against “obscenity,” as they were in the 1970s and ’80s. Today, they’re in survival mode. That’s one lesson we learn from Addicted to Lust: Pornography in the Lives of Conservative Protestants, a new book from University of Oklahoma sociologist Samuel Perry.

Evangelicals have a dilemma on their hands. For good reason, Perry surmises, “there can be no truce with pornography.” But the battlefield’s casualty list is fast mounting, even while the enemy’s weaponry is becoming more powerful and sophisticated. What to do? Surrender? Desert? And what of the walking wounded—leave them to the enemy? The language of war pervades evangelical discussions of pornography because resisting its siren call is hard.

Addicted to Lust is about as close to a page-turner as you’ll get with a scholarly book. Perry gets the players and the tensions right. He’s fair. He knows the science can be biased because it’s conducted by scientists—humans—who often have a stake in the answers to their questions. While he seeks to avoid rooting for one side—a noble effort to remain an impartial observer—he nevertheless acknowledges that porn has not made the world “a more humane and equitable place.”

Perry and I agree that we have overestimated addiction to pornography. Genuine addiction interrupts daily life. It’s hard to make the case that a habit hidden for years applies here. When dad’s an alcoholic, on the other hand, everyone in the family knows it. Elsewhere …

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