Theological Pornography

Posted on January 9, 2012


I was perusing the shelves of my local library the other day, when I came across the cookbooks, specifically, the bread baking books. For the last year I have been baking my own bread and have gotten fairly competent. I have a great book on bread that I would heartily recommend to anyone: The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. However, I have only scratched the surface of the many methods, techniques, and recipes in this wonderfully instructional book.

And there I was standing in front of a dozen different books on bread baking. I’m sure most of them were well-written and would have been enlightening to read. Yet, I could not shake my sense of bewilderment at…myself.

What was I doing? I enjoy learning about bread, but what I really enjoy is making bread. Admittedly, some amount of education is important, but I had surpassed the minimum required knowledge a long time ago. I was able to make a decent loaf without a recipe or book in front of me, and here I was looking through these shelves for…what?

I put the books down and stepped away. I realized quickly that I was doing a substitution. I was trading something that was risky, uncontrolled, and work (making a nice loaf of bread) for something that was safe, controlled, and easy (studying about making a nice loaf of bread).

It didn’t take long before I began to see this substitution in other areas of my life too.

Reading articles about running instead of running.

Re-read Walking on Water rather than writing.

Not eating healthy foods, but thinking about eating healthy food. Or wasting time feeling guilty for eat junk.

Talking with Caryn about how a parenting blog we both read recommended asking yourself, “Why did you get angry at your kids?” rather than actually asking myself the question!

All these things share the same quality as pornography: a substitution of the actual experience for something less.

When I read books on bread baking I feel like I am adding to my bread baking persona. I think to myself “I keep up on the latest flours and dough hydration percentages.” While at the same time, not actually baking any different style bread than I did last week or the month before.

When I do this I am stalling. I soon saw many areas of life when I was stalling through substitution by either…

1) telling myself that I needed more information before I could do something because I was afraid, tired, or feeling guilty for not doing it, or

2) losing sight of what was actually and what was an aid to experiencing the actual.

This really shook me when I began to think of parallels in my seeking after God.

I enjoy reading and I am currently working through Everything Must Change, by Brian D. McClaren. But do I convince myself that reading books like this somehow draws me closer to God? Or what about attending church? Or prayer? Or writing this blog? Or being alone in nature?

Not to say these things can’t be moments of connection, but they are recipes, they are not the beautiful, golden-crusted loaves of divine-contact that was the reason I got into this game.

Theological pornography: the substitution of a risky, uncontrolled, and difficult relationship with God for a safe, controlled, and easy life of reading, study, and church attendance.

This is the fundamental question behind this blog (and my life): What is actual (God) and what is an aid to experiencing the actual.

I want to learn and study enough to aid my search for God (or bake a good loaf), but cast the books aside when they becomes the primary focus of my time and attention, when the become idols.

I’m sure you have things in your life that fall into this same category. (Pinterest anyone?) And investigating these interests aren’t wrong, but don’t forget that the reason for the investigation is not the investigation itself. Get up, get active, put down the book and get your hands into some sticky dough.

Photo: net_efekt

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