Sin #4: Rationalization

The fifth quote in the ‘Sins of the Mind’ Introduction features a man saying that as long as he doesn’t pay for porn, he doesn’t have a problem with it.

This is a classic case of a fourth sin of the mind that plagues many addicts of all varieties.  We find a way to rationalize our conduct.  We explain it away, reword it, repackage it, justify it, and minimize the significance.  Many rationalizations are just half-truths.

For instance, this man’s reasoning implies that paying for porn puts a person in a different category of addiction.  It implies that paying for it is more serious.  This is partially true, because paying for pornography is equivalent, inside the human heart, to paying a prostitute.

As a society, we need to accept this equivalence, and then we can get on to the harder work of acknowledging the severity of the sin and stop making excuses.  Rationalizations thrive in the absence of truth, and as long as we minimize the severity of this sin, we will never overcome it. But the religious left, and as a result much of our society, recoils at the notion that paying online is different than in person. They have rationalized their sin by categorizing it.  Therefore, it enslaves them.

Their own half-truth says prostitution exploits and takes advantage of women.  It degrades and abuses them when we pay them for sex.  All true.  But, they say, pornography is a legitimate job.  One is legal (most of it); the other is illegal (for now, in most places).  Prostitutes are forced into the life by pimps and drugs.  They are abused, and they don’t get to keep the money they earn.  But in porn (again including even Playboy and Maxim models), the women aren’t forced to do it, and they keep all their wages.  Freedom verses slavery, says the religious left.

The full truth is, it’s just two different kinds of slavery.  One is obvious; the other a slow killer.  Both condemn the woman to a lifetime of being evaluated, sized up, and compensated solely for her ability to sexually gratify and please the man.  Not true, you say?  Then why, even after death (Marilyn Monroe) or old age (Bettie Page) finally take their toll, do we still talk about these women purely for how they aroused the attention of millions of men?  Even in her old age (and after depression, mental instability, and divorce), Page still got paid to autograph photos of herself from decades ago.  This is all she will ever be to us–the nostalgia of sexual arousal.  “I remember when I saw this picture as a kid,” her fans think.  Men like Bill Maher have legitimized this nostalgia by incorporating it into their public images.

Page herself said in an interview that she “had lost my ambition and desire to succeed and better myself; I was adrift” (Obit, Dec 14, 2008–Seattle Times).  And it was during this time that she started posing nude.  Now, fifty years later, it’s her only source of income and the only reason people still want to meet her.  Interestingly, she eventually turned to Christ, and even started working for the Billy Graham crusade as a counselor for a time.

Now, reconsidering the man’s rationalization that we opened with, and after hearing all this truth about porn being equivalent to prostitution, none of this lets him avoid the severity of his actions.  Though paying for it is a major problem, not paying for it but continuing to view it for hours and hours will also lead to destruction.  It still poisons the heart and soul, still dehumanizes the woman in his mind, still applies his selfish desires, and still leads to hopeless discouragement.

Common Rationalizations
The rationalization that porn isn’t as bad as prostitution is probably the most pervasive one (rationalization is really just a synonym for delusion, in our context).  There are several other common rationalizations people use as well. Let’s look at a few:

“I can’t help it; it’s biological, and part of being a man.  It’s impossible to fight the urge.”  This isn’t only a rationalization, but a lie from the enemy which we’ll get to later.

“At least it’s not as bad as _______ .” I’ve hit this one pretty hard already–the ‘not as bad’ defense.  We’ll see some more examples in a bit.

“It’s only a cartoon, so it’s not real.”

Funny thing, some people say the same thing about live action films.  Since they’re acting, it’s not real, so by extension, there’s no harm done.  This is a defense of horror films, no matter how sadistically gruesome, and it’s also a defense of most “soft-core” and even “hard-core” porn.  The ‘cartoon’ idea helps one entire nation rationalize its adult content.  It’s called anime.  Or, in the adult lexicon, “pornime.”  The anime stuff depicts events so horrific and disturbing that if they used real actresses to perform them, they would probably be banned and made illegal.  But, since it’s all cartoons, it’s okay.  But, is it? What does prolonged exposure do to the mind and heart?

Check this out:
On May 19, 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that even “virtual child porn” was illegal to sell, possess, or distribute, just like “real” child porn.  Even more incredible, according to the L.A. Times, the court ruled “that people who send messages over a computer offering or seeking sexual images of children can be sent to prison, even when no such pornography exists.”

This is utterly shocking to me.  You can be jailed for asking for child porn, even if you never even receive it.  Justice Scalia said, “Child pornography harms and debases the most defenseless of our citizens; we hold that offers to provide or requests to obtain child pornography are categorically excluded from the First Amendment.”  The court ruled 7-2 in agreement with him.

In other words, 78% of us rightly recognize that even though no one is victimized if a person views cartoon drawings of children in sexual situations, this kind of material is highly likely to lead to a child being victimized later on.  The effects it has on the user will very possibly lead the user to someday hurt a child irreparably.  How in the world can this be true if, at the same time, adult porn is declared to have no connection whatsoever to adult sexual crimes?  This denial is the height of absurdity, and is at the pinnacle of our culture’s rationalization of this sin.

The article continues by talking about common free speech delusions and counter-arguments, such as a grandfather who innocently sends a text that says “good pics of kids in bed”?  This could be his grandchildren just laying around having fun before bedtime.  The Supreme Court’s conclusion:

“Fanciful hypotheticals.”

Yet, the ‘grandfather’ argument sounds a whole lot like the ‘slippery slope’ nonsense the ACLU and other porn-industry defenders always trot out whenever even the slightest bit of regulation or restriction is proposed for adult porn.  If you make lap dances illegal, what’s next? they ask in falsified panic. Yet, they are silent when far more extreme restrictions are put in place regarding children.

So, explain to me how asking for something that doesn’t even exist, or drawing an animated version of children in a sexual situation, can be declared categorically excluded from free speech protection, and no one has a problem with this, but we get up in arms at the mere suggestion to require porn websites to receive proof of age before people can access them?  Why are the porn sites so afraid of children being forbidden to view their preview pages?  It seems they want no children photographed, but they want children to be able to see the naked adults.  I can’t imagine why.

Tax Deductible?
Here’s another increasingly common rationalization: “It’s for a good cause.”

In July, 2008, a website promotion wanted to help provide clothing to homeless children.  Here’s what they did, according to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: “They asked young people to post videos of themselves stripping to music. In exchange, clothing companies would provide donations of new clothes based on the number of times the videos were viewed.”

Young people.  Stripping to music.  And the more hits, the more donations.  It was called “strip2clothe,” and it didn’t last long because of the protests that erupted soon after.  I personally can’t imagine why people would oppose this.  It’s for a good cause, right?  They’re robbing charitable donations from all those homeless people!  All for their puritanical prudish outdated morality they keep forcing on us!

You see how they do it?  They propose a totally asinine idea that breaks all boundaries of decency, and then they equate it with “freedom.”  That way, they can assail the opposition for being close-minded and puritanical (my favorite insult) when we speak up about it.  As if this, this, is the only way to raise money to clothe the homeless.

Rationalization allows for some messed up ideas to become accepted by the mainstream.

These days, we regularly see adult models and even porn stars holding charity events for various causes, using their star power to “do some good.”  Jesus said, “Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?”  It doesn’t matter what outwardly good things we do.  How a person lives reflects what’s in their heart, and all the charity functions in the world won’t purify the heart.  As the following verse says, we may try with all our might to build something good with our lives, but apart from God, our best deeds are broken vessels.

Jeremiah 2:13
For my people have committed two evils: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, to hew for themselves cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water. (NAS)

Even more poignant, listen to what God says to a people who think they can do whatever they want, and then show up in His presence and make it all go away:

Jeremiah 7:9,10
Will you steal, murder, and commit adultery and swear falsely, and offer sacrifices to Baal and walk after other gods that you have not known, then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name and say, ‘We are delivered!’–that you may do all these abominations? (NAS)

So rationalize away.  Give to your pornified charity events and feel better about yourself.  God is not moved, so long as your heart does not change.  And only He can do that, but rationalization opposes a broken spirit.  The one who rationalizes their sin has not come to terms with how offensive it is to God, and will be unable to repent.  Rationalization is denial.

Law and Disorder
Another classic: “It’s legal, so it’s okay.”

The Seattle Times reported in August 2007 about a man charged with sexually abusing his foster daughter.  When they searched his home, they found explicit photos of her that he had taken in the course of his abuse.  His defense: “Fabregas admitted taking photos but said [the girl] was 18 at the time, which would have meant it wasn’t a crime.”

So he sexually abuses a girl put in his care, who has already had a challenging life (what foster child hasn’t), and the man who pretends to care and becomes her guardian ends up treating her worse than her previous environment.  And he defends his lurid behavior with the technicality that at least she was over 18.

Does God care about the age of 18?  Does the Bible say anything special about this year?  Abuse is abuse, is it not?

Examples go on and on.  This doesn’t just happen in Japan, or with child-porn sickos.  The movie Beowulf, released in 2008, was rated PG-13 by the religious left.  So whatever is in this movie is declared “acceptable” for anyone older than 13. Well, let’s see what’s in this mainstream movie suitable for most ages.  It’s got full frontal nudity, male and female.  And not glancing shots in the shadows.  We’re talking full five and ten second slow turns and pauses around nude figures.  And they aren’t getting medical exams, or being treated for wounds.  They’re sexually seducing one another.  Full frontal.  Sexual undertones.  Blatant.  (By the way, if you own it, get rid of it).

How can it be PG-13, you wonder.  Surely, he must be exaggerating.  I’m not (and don’t call me Shirley).  You want to know how they get away with it?  It’s animated.  That’s it.  It uses the same technology as The Polar Express and similar films that base their animations on the motions and forms of real actors.  Angelina Jolie plays the seductive demon.  But it’s animated, so it’s okay.  It’s not as bad.  The teens see much worse than this on the internet.

See how the reasoning is circular?  First, someone speaks up about restricting porn content on the internet, and the religious left responds with talk about the slippery slope of the horrors of “censorship” that will descend upon us.  Then, when we talk about gateway sins like Beowulf, they tell us it’s not as bad as what’s on the internet, so why bother.  Oh, and we’re prudes, so get with the times.  Insulting labels always make your argument sound better.  So here’s mine: I call these people “moraliphobes.”  They’re afraid of morality, of the concept of right and wrong being decided by someone other than them.  Moraliphobes are professional rationalizers.

Church Rationalizing
Our world has built entire systems of corruption, lust, and perversion upon layers and layers of these rationalizations.  So far, I’ve primarily taken examples from this world, from people who most likely don’t know God or the mercy and power of Jesus Christ.  But what about us in the church who say we do?  How does this sin distort our own thinking?  Hopefully, the examples I’ve already shown made you think of similar ones you have used in your own mind.  The five rationalization statements given previously apply to numerous contexts.

For example, take the classic idea that soft-core stuff isn’t as bad as hard-core.  Now, I’m not saying that visiting a prostitute is exactly the same as viewing a swimsuit issue.  These are not the same thing, and they do not have the same effect on your soul or spirit.  But, I would argue they affect your flesh in exactly the same manner.  They make it feel good for a moment, and they make it want more.  It’s just a difference of degree.  Both of them push a person farther down the road to eventual ruin.  One person’s just farther down it than the other.

A rationalization I’ve used before goes something like this: “I’ll only look at this once today, and then I won’t look again.”  As if looking once is less of a sin than doing it more than that.  It only took one look for David, and that was enough.  We delude ourselves that we are stronger than we really are.  We rely on the willpower and inner strength we think we have, but actually don’t.  Our willpower is subject to our desires.  If that’s the only battle going on, desire will always defeat willpower.  Willpower needs to refuel, but desire builds continuously.

Another common one is comparing ourselves to other people.  I’ve touched on it already with regard to the child-porn addicts, but it applies to other categories as well.  I may look at porn all day, but at least I don’t pay for it.  Implied here is that I’m not as bad as someone who does pay.  Those guys treat the girls like prostitutes.  I just treat them like beautiful women.  Yeah, and that’s how they make their money.  Or, I may subscribe to ten websites, but at least I don’t go to strip clubs.  I personally have never gone to a strip club (by the grace of God…and I don’t say this lightly).  But am I better than people who have gone?  Better in what way?

Before God, we are all wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked sinners (Revelation 3:17) that only He can save. We are beyond saving, if left to our own devices.  My sin is more than enough to justify me being punished for all eternity.  So I never went to a club.  Maybe my eternal punishment would be ten years shorter than those ‘perverts.’  For those of you who understand the concept of infinity, you know that ten years less than infinity is still…..yeah, you got it.

Stop deluding yourself that what you do, or what you’ve done, is somehow not as bad as what other people have done.  It may be less evil by some standards.  But our standard is the Bible, and our Judge is the Lord, before whom we are all guilty.  And, thankfully, we all can receive God’s mercy and grace to free us from sin and make us alive.  But we’ll never get it if we think we’re better than those other guys, and rationalize our way into doing certain things.

God Looks at Motives
I thought about Bible verses for rationalization, and settled on the story of Ananias and Sapphira, who sold some of their property to donate the money to the church.  But when they came to donate, they kept some back for themselves.  The issue before God was not that they were expected to give all the money away, but that they presented themselves as if they had.  God hates the false appearance of holiness and righteousness.  Peter says to Ananias this truth:

Acts 5:4
After it was sold, was it not under your control?  Why is it that you have conceived this deed in your heart?  You have not lied to men but to God. (NAS)

They lied to God by pretending to give more than they actually gave.  You can picture their thinking: “We want to give money, but we don’t want to give as much as this property is worth.  We’ll keep some for ourselves, because at least we’re giving something.  Giving something is better than giving nothing, so it’s okay if we exaggerate the amount.”

Unrighteousness gets justified in our minds; but God loves a cheerful giver.  And God doesn’t think much of their rationale for secretly keeping some of their donation.  What would He say to yours, about why it’s okay to keep a small stash of magazines or DVDs in your closet, or the poster and calendar on the wall, as long as you stop going to clubs and cancel your porn site subscriptions?  Is God pleased with partial obedience?  Is there such a thing?  What if Jesus had only partially obeyed?

That wouldn’t be too good for those of us eternally grateful for His sacrifice for our sins.
Partial obedience is non-obedience.  And rationalizing sin–any sin!–is rebellion against God, and will render any attempts at restoration with Him to be impotent.  Now of course, no one’s perfect, and God knows you won’t purify forever in a week if you’ve been deep in slavery to a sin for years.  But God also knows your heart.  And if deep down, you want to hold onto a portion–a tamer, perhaps semi-clothed portion–of what your heart desires, then He will not come to your aid nor will He supply the grace your spirit craves to break free from your sin.

Jesus said we have to pick up our cross to follow Him.  You can’t pick up half a cross.  You either carry it and go with Him, or you stay there chained to it, and watch Him walk farther and farther away, waiting for you to catch up.