Ariel Castro and the Gospel of Jesus Christ


James D. Conley, the Roman Catholic bishop of Lincoln, Nebraska, pivots in a recent piece for First Things from the criminal drama of Ariel Castro to a condemnation of pornography. He writes:

Ariel Castro belongs in prison. Last week, he was sentenced to serve more than one thousand years. But despite the depths of his depravity, when Castro stood shackled in a Cleveland courtroom, he confessed a common American problem. “I believe I am addicted to porn,” he said, “to the point where I am impulsive, and I just don’t realize that what I am doing is wrong.”

Pastors everywhere have heard those words before. Probably many times. Pornographic addiction is powerful, destructive, and all too typical. Ariel Castro’s addiction is no excuse for his actions, but it points to a deep and sobering reality: Free, anonymous, and ubiquitous access to pornography is quietly transforming American men and American culture.

Conley goes on to cite sociological data and build a case indicting pornography as a pervasive, degenerating influence.

The Raw Story’s Amanda Marcotte objects to his line of reasoning. She spins Conley’s effort into an indictment of Christianity. Her title says it all: “Christian website falls for Ariel Castro’s pathetic excuses.” She concludes:

Yes, men like [Castro] look at porn and probably drive the market for some of the uglier, more misogynist stuff out there, but men who don’t beat and rape women also look at porn without creating those problems. That’s because the link between wanting to rub one out and wanting to feel the power over a woman as she pleads for her safety aren’t the same desire.

This isn’t that hard to understand, so why does this Christian blogger refuse to see it and instead tries to make it about lust and pornography? Well, because to talk about the real causes of violence against women is to implicate social systems that teach that women are a servant class put here for men’s use….and the church is one of the biggest promoters of that belief. So yeah, I can see why they want to talk about anything else, preferably in terms of making people feel guilty about harmless behavior like sexual fantasy and masturbation.

From the discourse, we discover what it takes to get a feminist averse to misogyny to stand in defense of pornography. Any chance to take a stab at Christianity makes strange bedfellows.

God commanded a dismissive Abraham to listen to his wife.

God commanded a dismissive Abraham to listen to his wife.

Conley makes it easy for Marcotte by focusing on lust as if it were a unique problem while omitting the essential context of the Gospel. He condones speech-restricting anti-pornography policies implemented by British Prime Minister David Cameron, as if the state could have prevented Castro’s crimes by policing his internet connection.

This leads readers like Marcotte to further associate Christianity with theocracy. She correctly points out that few consumers of pornography kidnap and rape women, which makes Conley’s fixation upon lust as the driver of Castro’s crimes appear silly.

That’s what happens when you offer a half-Christian perspective without actually presenting the Gospel. Conley speaks of grace in his piece without any reference to what it means.

We each suffer from the same disorder which informed Castro’s criminal behavior. The Gospel reveals a holy God who cannot endure deviation from his perfect standard. Within our hearts, we harbor knowledge of this holiness and crave justice. Marcotte references it in a roundabout way, crediting Conley with “making people feel guilty about harmless behavior like sexual fantasy and masturbation.” In truth, people’s conscience makes them feel guilty. Being accused of something which is not wrong does not produce guilt. The justice we crave is found in hell. We cannot escape judgment, but can receive the free gift of salvation offered by Jesus when he endured wrath on our behalf.

We consider that offer as individuals, and choose to accept or reject it. No type or amount of government regulation will save anyone’s soul. Banning pornography, even if it were practically possible, would not address the sin in people’s lives.

While some belief systems calling themselves Christian have certainly fostered misogyny, an unbiased reading of scripture reveals the precious value women hold in God’s eyes.