Space Escape Grunge Sign

Diving into the Internet wormhole of conservative Christian porn

Shares

You might not know it, but there’s a parallel Internet, and it’s run by conservative Christians. You know the old adage that if it exists on the Internet, there’s porn of it? This is kind of like the reverse: The Internet, sans porn. But is it a good idea for the Christian community to be separating itself so thoroughly from the mainstream in an isolated, miniaturized world?

This becomes especially relevant with the projected release of Old Fashioned, pitched as a Christian answer to 50 Shades of Grey. The film will open on Valentine’s Day 2015, going head to head with the adaptation of the international bestseller. The tagline? “Chivalry makes a comeback.”

You’d think an independent film would maybe choose not to go up against what will probably be a box office hit (in part because of the large numbers of us who want to see it out of sheer masochism), but in fact, that’s the whole point. Rik Swartzwelder, who wrote, directed, and starred in the film, says: “[We’re] hopeful that we are not alone in our belief that there are others out there who desire more from love—and the movies—than objectification or domination.”

He and others say the Christian audience is underserved with all these ungodly books and films promoting sluttiness, objectification, and female sexuality, but is this really the case? Given the huge Christian presence online and in pop culture, I’d argue that this population is far from underserved—it’s just that they aren’t in the mainstream, for the most part, and that’s by choice.

Christian publishing, for example, is a huge growth industry, and the Christian web community is rife with cooking sites, blogs, lectures on how to be a better wife (hint: submit), and more. Conservative Christian children are often sent to private schools where subjects like evolution aren’t taught, or they’re homeschooled to avoid the worldly influences of society. (“I missed a question on a test in high school because I refused to say that Jesus lived with the dinosaurs,” says a friend who was sent to a Christian private school.)

While Christian filmmaking hasn’t established itself as much, it’s far from a void. For those in search of media with keywords like “modest,” “Godly,” and “Christian,” it’s out there, from traditional romances to conversion stories where errant women are shown the error of their ways and brought into the Christian fold. All preach the sanctity of marriage and the romance of the long, slow courtship with limited physical contact and frequent church attendance.

American Christians, particularly those of a conservative bent, often say that they feel isolated from society and they’re disappointed by the values dominating mainstream society and pop culture. But is this really a fair accusation, when they’re doing much of the isolating on their own? Conservative Christianity has created its own little world in the United States, and it’s a world that doesn’t interact with the mainstream and shows little interest in finding common ground, either.

This raises interesting questions about relationships with both God and society for modern Christians. While moderate Christians and sects that have always been heavily involved in public service (like the Jesuits) are interacting with society, conservatives are pulling away, and inside their defensive bubble, they insist that they’re leading the true path. They’re critical not only of the external world, but also of fellow Christians, suggesting that self-imposed isolation is the only effective way to maintain a Godly life.

Films like this are a reflection of the idea that Christians in the United States are somehow an oppressed minority, living under the constant shadow of a sexualized, atheistic world where Christians are demonized, hated, and feared. Certain groups American Christians are fond of harping on their downtrodden status in the face of “San Francisco values” (like health care for all and humane treatment of all human beings, including undocumented immigrants) and “godless” government (approximately 90 percent of the 113th Congress identifies with some form of Christianity, and most of the remaining 10 percent belong to an organized religion).

We hardly live in a heathen world, no matter what Folsom Street (link NSFW) looks like in late September. While Christians surely deserve media that fits their tastes, it’s a bit much to insist that such media must be made as a “response” to some sort of sex-bathed media behemoth making it impossible to find media that meets with Christian values.

Let’s not forget that 50 Shades of Grey started out as Twilight fanfiction, and that Twilight was written by a devout Mormon, and includes many traditional Mormon values—including an insistence on waiting for marriage. (Hey, if you’ve waited over 100 years and you have eternity, a few more years probably won’t make a big difference.)

One of the most infamous scenes in the Twilight films is, of course, the bedroom scene, in which Edward and Bella destroy their bedroom in a shower of feathers and broken furniture, but the destruction all takes place offscreen, lest it offend delicate sensibilities. E. L. James’ adaptation of the original source text may have added some spice (and some appallingly inaccurate depictions of BDSM), but it wasn’t that remarkable, and there’s something deeply humorous about seeing Christians attempting to bring it back around to a “virtuous,” staid depiction of love and relationships.

Do Christians need to be making their own world, or do they need to be engaging with ours? As terrifying as the outside world may seem, it’s a space where actual dialogue between members of different faiths (or different sects) can take place, and where people have the capacity to treat each other with curiosity and respect (Richard Dawkins aside). Remaining isolated from the world won’t help conservative Christians change the media landscape, nor will it help them engage with society—surely a core aspect of Christian values, given how frequently Christ himself walked among the people. If Jesus could sit down to dinner with a sex worker, hang on the cross alongside two thieves, and embrace a traitor, why do conservative Christians need to construct their own little world?

Such isolating decisions can lead to a cult-like, terrifying setting, where people are all-too-quickly led down narrow paths of thinking and interacting with the world. The world exists whether or not conservative Christians want it to, and ignoring it doesn’t make it go away—but refusing to acknowledge and engage with it does make it harder for people to understand Christian concerns, and more difficult for Christians to interact with people in their day to day lives.

If conservative Christians feel attacked by society, maybe they should consider the fact that their self-isolating habits make it impossible for society to truly know who they are.

Photo via Free Grunge Textures/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)