Carl, I think there’s more to the story on why people are attracted to pornography. The fear of death may be a factor, but there are worse things to fear than death, and I think pornography appeals more as an antidote to those even greater fears.
Two broken relationships lie at the heart of pornography’s appeal: our relationship with God and our family relationships. The broken relationship with God is a perennial influence in the life of fallen man, and manifests itself in almost infinite ways. The rise to prominence of this particular sin is therefore, I think, mostly a result of the breakdown of the family. A society with strong family relationships that was becoming more ungodly over time (such things have happened) would not necessarily see a rise in pornography; it would find some other monstrosity to chase after.
Across both these broken relationships (with God and with family) the appeal of pornography is the illusion of power. It is not primarily the physical senses that pornography stimulates, but the imagination. Pornography helps the user enter and remain within an illusion of his own creation. Within that illusory world, he is all-powerful. Everything bends to his will; even the most outrageously implausible scenarios become easy. C. S. Lewis once referred to the sexual desires of a pervert as “that ghastly world of impossible fantasies which have become, for him, ‘the real thing.’” That gets right to the heart of it. (One might ask why, if the point is to live within an infinitely flexible illusion, the external stimulus of pictures and videos is necessary; I think it helps the user suspend disbelief while he is within the illusion.)
We are living amidst multiple generations that have never known the unconditional love of a properly functioning family. Those who have not experienced this are (rightly) craving it, but they do not have any relational framework within which unconditional love is plausible. As Christians we know the ultimate source of that desire. But for those who don’t know this and have grown up in broken homes, it doesn’t make sense that one person would really love another person with no conditions at all. Such things don’t happen in the real world. So where do you go to find satisfaction for this (seemingly) impossible desire? To an illusion that is under your control. You know the fantasy girl will love you unconditionally because she’s a fantasy, because she is your creation and you have power over her. Next to that mental pleasure, the physical pleasure of the orgasm pales.
This first appeal of pornography is pathetic, in both the original and contemporary meanings of that term. The second appeal, grounded in the broken relationship with God, is much more sinister than sympathetic. The desire to be God is probably the most insidious human desire. (Augustine famously uncovered it in his teenage act of stealing a pear he didn’t want to eat.) The pornography user escapes from a universe in which he is not God into a universe in which he is—with unspeakable results. In this respect, pornography’s rise to power represents an eruption of evil in truly demonic proportions, as if hell itself were conducting a D-Day operation and had won a beachhead from which to stage a larger invasion.
Our powerful God has given us the perfect doomsday weapon to deploy against the rise of pornography. In the past I’ve suggested what I think would be an entrepreneurial approach to fighting porn by exploiting its emerging economic weak points. Whatever strategy we pursue, we cannot afford to be passive much longer.