Spiritual Pornography?

I know I have a blog referring to Mel Gibson’s movie The Passion as spiritual pornography (3-13-08), and I’m sure I have referred to Guideposts magazine that way in Bible Classes. I note that no pastor worth his salt would not confront a Playboy magazine lying on a member’s coffee table, but many, myself included, have let Guideposts so slumber. I did so under the rubric of how to treat sleeping dogs and the fact that Guideposts was usually found in the homes of the elderly who have long known that dog as a pet. Then I read it.

I read The Best of Guideposts Christmas, a 300-plus page book covering 60 years’ worth of stories. Reading I found what I expected from a Norman Vincent Peale creation. I found three of the four horsemen of a theological apocalypse on full romp.

The stories reeked of the theology of glory. God is seen when everything works out peachy. The stories had the odor of Pentecostalism. God spoke to people directly and, unlike the 70s song, just when they needed it most. The stories were rich in tangabliness. God was seen, felt, touched, smelled everywhere but nowhere near Bread and Wine.

In 300 pages, I found several jewels of thought or expression but only two gems worth writing down. I share them here:

A brat of a girl refuses to be in the children’s Christmas program. At practice, she stomps up to the manger to proclaim, “It’s just a doll!” During the program, she sits beside her teacher in a pout. At the close of it, she stomps right up to the manger. Unbeknownst to her for the live performance a newborn was used. “[T]his time she stiffened, awestruck, then turned, eyes wide with wonder, and came hurrying back” to her teacher and said, “He’s alive!” “Like ripples in a pond, the words passed from pew to pew all the way to the back of the sanctuary. ‘He’s alive…alive…alive.’” (23-26). What a difference a living Jesus makes.

Here’s the second: We who glory in the incarnation don’t say we ‘spend’ Christmas or ‘pass’ Christmas, we ‘keep’ Christmas (69). If I quoted the rest, your confessional Lutheran stomach would roll. Furthermore, better than saying we keep Christmas, as was said of the reformed Scrooge, Christmas keeps us.

As long as I’m confessing my ‘sins’ of reading, let me refer to Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost. Harlot is a malevolent, manipulative CIA higher up. The book is not salacious, but Mailer is audacious in his politics and morals. Mailer has a character say, “I felt as if it was really Christmas, even in Uruguay. I had the epiphany I always wait for as December descends into its climatic week, that feeling so hard to live without through most of the year – the conviction (I whisper it) that He may really be near” (446). I disagree. For most people the thought that He may be near is a “feeling so hard to live with through most of the year.” Hence, the pogrom to get Christ out of His namesake holiday.

So, can something good, edifying (?) can come out of Guideposts? Yes, and some of the articles that now really are the only feature Playboy is renowned for do have useful information and worth. But Playboy is still pornography and you really don’t use it. It uses you. So I think with Guideposts as opposed to Mailer’s work, Mailer didn’t have me wishing I were a spy, but Guideposts had me longing for another God who is more glorious, Pentecostal, and tangible. That’s a mark of the pornographic, physical or spiritual. It has you longing for another rather than the one that is yours.


About Paul Harris

Pastor Harris retired from congregational ministry after 40 years in office on 31 December 2023. He is now devoting himself to being a husband, father, and grandfather. He still thinks cenobitic monasticism is overrated and cave dwelling under.
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