Note: This is part four of a five part series on pornography

Part I: My porn addiction
Part II: Porn, devil or an angel?
Part III: Three ways to kick porn out of your life
Part IV: The fight for sexual sanity in a world awash in porn
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art V: The pointlessness of pornography

December 10, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - My roommate during my first year at college was a recovering drug addict and alcoholic. As part of his recovery he regularly attended Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and out of both curiosity and a desire to support his efforts, I often tagged along.

So it was that under the glare of florescent lights, in dingy boardrooms in the basements of schools and churches, with the acidic smell of cheap coffee wafting under my nose, I received a better education in human nature than I ever received in any of my anthropology classes – witnessing first-hand its endless varieties, its perverse penchant for self-destruction, its endurance for suffering, and its astonishing capacity to rise from the lowest, most despicable gutters of the world to a place of true greatness—and vice versa.

In the process I also learned many practical truths that applied to my fight against many of my own faults, including my fight for sexual sanity in a world awash in porn.

The first of these truths is that once you have fought to the death with the devil, you never forget the foundational lesson every fighter must learn, often the hard way: never to let your guard down.

Attendees at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings typically introduce themselves in this way: “Hello, my name is [blank], and I’m an alcoholic.” It doesn’t matter how long it has been since they took their last drink. It may have been decades, but they still say, “I’m an alcoholic.” At first this struck me as odd and unnecessarily self-deprecating, but after listening to dozens of testimonies I realized that there is a very good reason for the practice: namely that the moment an alcoholic relaxes his vigilance, that he convinces himself that he has “beaten” the devil once and for all, that (thank God!) he can finally just “relax” and enjoy life, is often the same moment he takes the drink that ruins him.

At first glance it might seem a neurotic way to live. However, one need only listen once to the testimony of someone who “beat” their addiction years ago, and, after painstakingly piecing their life back together, promptly lost everything the moment they decided they were home free, to realize just how practical this attitude really is.

The fact is, every one of us has bad habits that could ruin us, if we didn’t constantly work to overcome them and replace them with something better.  It may seem a neurotic way to live from the outside, but in reality it’s just life. What we call “addiction” is, after all, simply a more extreme version of the common experience of all human beings: that against our better judgment we regularly choose to do things that we know will likely harm us and our loved ones. In this sense we are all addicts.

I mention this in the second-to-last installment of this essay for a good reason: that even if you agree with everything that was in the preceding installments, and even if you once had a problem with porn and have put it behind you, is no reason to relax. For my part, I would never say that I have “beat” pornography once and for all: too many failures over too many years have taught me my profound weakness in this area. To simply “relax” is out of the question, especially now, when sexual sanity is made so much more difficult by the ubiquity and the vehemence of the temptations around us, and when the stakes are so much higher, when I am tasked with protecting my marriage, and providing a good example for my children.

The world wants us to “relax” about sex. It finds all this fuss and bother about “chastity” distracting and rather uncouth. Why get your panties all up in a bundle when you can simply give in and enjoy this gleaming new era of sexual freedom? Why stress yourself out?

And yet, somehow, those who make this argument fail to note the irony when their marriages fail, when depression strikes, when they start collecting STDs, when they experience an unplanned pregnancy, or when their own children discover porn and fade into their own rooms, sadly lacking parents with the moral authority to lovingly help them.

Once again we find a false dichotomy: it is not a choice between a frigid chastity, and a hip, relaxed, happy “free love.” We have seen the fruits of “free love,” and it is neither love nor freedom, but rather the rise of the gonorrhea superbug and the spread of violent hardcore pornography.

Deciding to shoulder the task of taming our sexual passions before they tame us does not mean we will be neurotic or unhappy. On the contrary. One of life’s paradoxes is that choosing what appears to be difficult in the short term often leads to a far more pleasant and peaceful life in the long term. Life may be a treacherous balancing act, but an experienced tightrope walker does not spend his time pondering the abyss, and how terrible it would be if he fell. He knows the abyss is there, but its existence does not torment him; in fact, it may even provide him with a certain thrill, the thrill of mastering something difficult and dangerous.

It is true, of course, that the process of learning to walk the tightrope may be a perilous one. Anyone who has attempted to quit pornography will have learned this the hard way. After falling so many times they may even have been tempted to give in to despair, as I so often was.

Those tempted to despair must keep in mind two key truths: first, that with every step forward, the going gets easier. Habits are built through practice, and the more the habit is practiced, the easier it becomes. Sexual sanity will never be effortless, but there will come a time where the effort will be more or less successful, and that success will be accompanied by a joy that you never even knew was possible. That joy will in turn make the effort easier, because you will see that all the effort really is worth it.

And the second truth is this: that the “abyss” is something of an illusion, for there exists the Great Safety Net – an all-merciful God who will not allow us to perish. Here again the 12-step program has it right. The overt religiosity of AA has led to some accusations that it is a cult, or at least unfriendly to atheists. I don’t know enough to say whether it is a cult, but I do know through experience that belief in a Higher Power, particularly one that is loving and merciful, is as practical as potatoes for someone trying to beat a bad habit. In fact, I would be suspicious of a recovery program that didn’t give a prominent place to God.

Of course, one doesn’t like to treat God as a mere “tool,” and conjuring a non-existent Deity simply to have a crutch to lean on would be intellectually dishonest. However, it does make sense that if God is real, and if human beings were made for union with Him, that believing in Him, and invoking Him, would have positive effects in one’s life. This, it turns out, is the experience of the overwhelming majority of humans throughout history.

For the person fighting porn, the practical benefits of theism are myriad. Porn, of course, is a subject that is mired in shame and guilt. This is not a bad thing, if our shame motivates us to self-improvement. But very often the shame is excessive and overwhelms us, paralyzing our efforts. To know that we have an Ally in our corner who is Love and Mercy itself, and who will stand with us no matter how many times we fall, even if our failures drive every other person in our life away, is comforting beyond words. And then, to know that we don’t even have to pick ourselves up, but that He will pick us up, and that we don’t even need to walk using our own strength, but can lean on Him and allow Him to carry us – well, this may seem too good to be true. However I, for one, believe it is true. And for me, this belief has made all the difference.