A man in church...in the Matrix

Pornography is to sex as Zoom is to worship

As porn does with the marriage bed, digital fellowship does with the church: cultivates an unreal and unrealistic view of what God made it to be, and to do.

Online church and other forms of internet Christianity create a kind of “church porn.” If this sounds sacrilegious or outrageous to you, remember that God draws a close analogy between whoredom and idolatry, to the point that it is the major theme of an entire book of Scripture. So this is not a comparison we make lightly or frivolously; if you detect inappropriate levity, it is not coming from our side.

Consider:

Pornography provides the user with access to sexual stimulation that costs him nothing.

There was no need for him to become a master of his environment—and, by so doing, to lay the foundations for a home suitable for a wife.

There was no need for him to wisely build the trust and tension between himself and his wife.

There was no flirting, no playful banter, no strong shoulder of comfort.

There was no learning her fears or her strengths, no awkward meals, no conversations with potential in-laws or close friends.

There weren’t any difficult arguments or differences, whereby he had to wisely lead her to a right conclusion.

There wasn’t any engagement, any wedding planning, or any honeymoon; no shared bills, no responsibilities, no children.

There is nothing.

There is no effort, no relationship.

He just grabbed his laptop or smartphone, and looked for a video of a naked women that gave him a thrill at that particular time.

It was immediate. It was cheap. It was fake.

Pornography provides us with a distorted view of women, and especially of what sex will be like in the marriage bed.

The women he lusted after weren’t “real.” They are actresses of a sort. Their responses to advances were exaggerated and unnatural. Their appearances were carefully selected and prepared. The “film-makers” know what gets clicks and what doesn’t, so they present their viewers with women who are unreal and unrealistic. Consequently, pornography creates unreal, unrealistic sexual expectations for a man.

He expects that sex will cost him little. He expects a spouse who is always ready to go—and in her physical prime.

He is not prepared for the reality of the marriage bed.

Life is hard. Consequently, no one is always ready to go. There is much work to be done, and only a finite amount of energy. Moreover, entropy and gravity will affect everyone’s body in time.

Soon such a man is unsatisfied with real sex with a real woman. It takes too much effort for too little payoff. He is used to getting a variety of “women” at the tips of his fingers, instead of getting variety with his one woman. And he grows bored.

Moreover, he is grossed out by the marks of a maturing body. He desires the perpetual beauty of time-frozen internet videos. In his delusion, he prefers what he imagines some other man has out there.

But it doesn’t exist. It isn’t real. He has been taught to love a lie and despise reality.

What does this have to do with “internet Christianity” and the local church?

Many Christians go to conferences, listen to podcasts, and download mp3s. They listen to speakers who seem superior to their local pastors—speakers who are tracking with all the hot theological trends and issues.

These men are more charismatic, funnier, and “incredible communicators.”

Many Christians are deeply involved in Facebook groups and other online forums where they “fellowship” with other Christians. They get encouragement, and work through life’s challenges in these online communities.

These groups can be curated and pruned, so they include only those who see eye-to-eye; people excited by the same theological issues, and hip to the same references.

This can and often does distort Christians’ expectations of what a local church should be like. They come to believe that every church should have a dynamic and godly pastor who is an incredible communicator. And they think that every church community should come easy, and be filled with like-minded people.

Never mind that many local pastors have small staffs and multiple sermons and lessons they must prepare in a given week—besides all the other demands of the ministry.

Never mind that the godliness of the conference speaker is exaggerated in the mind of his listeners, because they don’t see him during his bad days and weak moments. This allows them to assume that his stage persona is how he is all the time. The local pastor is not afforded this luxury. People see his kids misbehave, and have even seen him argue with his wife on a few occasions. This encourages them to idolize those who they don’t know, and despise those who they do know.

They long for a pastor who isn’t real.

The same is true for the community in the local church. They can’t simply unfriend or block annoying people. They rarely are surrounded with people that are just like them in every way, sharing all the same interests.

It takes effort to develop flesh and blood relationships with people in the local church. You have to make time to get together. You can’t just log in. Nothing is immediate, and everything takes time.

Unfortunately, local churches themselves have fallen into the porn consumer mentality of modern Christians. They no longer view the gathering of the saints in person as essential. Everything is done over Zoom. Everything is digital.

Worship itself is simply another digital product to view from the comfort of your home.

This reinforces the unrealistic religious expectations of Christians. It feeds their tacit assumption that what matters in religion is the unreal things. The things that make Christianity easy and enjoyable. The things that titillate and excite. The things that are fun but fleeting.

They are taught to love a lie and to despise reality.

Is it any wonder, then, that so many churches that closed for lockdowns have now closed permanently? If worship can be digital, why settle for the best that your own church can put on? Why not find a truly world-class church and “worship” with them instead? Livestreams cost nothing. You can be there even in another state or country. You don’t even have to dress beforehand, or talk to anyone afterward.

By contrast, the local church as God designed it is costly and awkward. It takes energy and effort. It requires us to discipline our minds and bodies; to hear and understand things that don’t immediately grab our interest; to build relationships with people who we don’t immediately feel drawn to.

But unlike porn, the local church is also real and productive.

Men, be more than consumers.

Find a real “in-person” local church. Join it. Get involved.