Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Book Review: Wired For Intimacy by William M. Struthers

I felt compelled to write my review for this book immediately after Anatomy of the Soul because both are dealing with the areas of neuroscience, Christian spirituality and moral transformation. William M. Struthers is also a neuroscientist and his theoretical research is in the area of neuroethics, the biological bases of spirituality and personhood, and the nature of integration of psychology.

According to the latest numbers I've seen, 53% of Christian men consume pornography and 37% of pastors say it's currently a struggle (stats from xxxchurch.com). Clearly, according to the numbers, it is a much bigger problem than is being talked about, and being a pastor of a church virtually guarantees that I (and many of our readers) will deal with someone in the cross-section sooner or later. Thus William Struthers has done the entire believing body a service in writing Wired For Intimacy: How pornography hijacks the male brain.

Perhaps the most interesting and helpful information Struthers provides is on the fact that pornography acts on the male brain much like drugs (such as cocaine and heroin) do. Both cause the body to release dopamine and, with repeated use, the body develops a tolerance and needs greater stimulation to get the same dopamine high (thus the law of diminishing returns is equally true of pornography). Just as a path in the forest becomes wider and more defined as more hikers use it, so do the neural pathways with repeated pornography use until, as Struthers puts it, one has created "a neurological superhighway where a man's mental life is over-sexualized and narrowed . . . they become the automatic pathway through which interactions with women are routed".

Struthers, however, resists the temptation to color pornography use in particular and sin in general as simply a problem of the mind. He writes a book that plays to his strengths, but balances his expertise with the proper biblical picture of sin and temptation. While this book is not for everyone (obviously the subject matter is explicit), given the stats cited earlier, I cannot recommend this book enough for every Christian male, especially those in ministry.

Recommended for: Christian men; especially pastors and counselors

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book was a free review copy provided by InterVarsity Press.

3 comments:

Bill Faris said...

A while back, I was asked (as a pastor) to fill out a survey asking whether I "struggled" with pornography. That's a problem since to "struggle" with porn could imply that it dominates me to the point where I "struggle" to get free of it or it could imply that I "struggle" with it to the point where I resist the temptation to indulge -- because I "struggled"!

See where that language breaks down?

Another problem is with the definition of "porn" which, in the computer age, can range from still images of undressed women to explicit hardcore movies all at the click of a button. Surely there is a difference in the effect of these various pornographic images on the brain and the soul.

So, all I'm saying is that this discussion would benefit from clarity that comes from a more thoroughgoing set of definitions.

What percentage of the 37% of pastors who "struggle" are locked in the addictive grip of hardcore pornographic images or movies? What percentage "struggle" to stay away from all porn but sometimes indulge on the lower end of the scale?

None of this is to excuse or justify pornography or to minimize its effects on the male of the species. It does, however, fail to truly define where the battle lies for most men and, until we can get a better sense of that, it will be difficult to address these issues in the thorough manner they require.

One thing is indisputable: it takes profound mental and spiritual discipline to keep one's heart clean and upright in these times. For that reason, all conversation on this topic of the kind Mr. Struthers initiates is GOOD conversation.

Jared said...

Bill,

Your point about language breaking down in surveys is well taken. However, my simple point in citing those numbers (exaggerated and unqualified though they may be) is that porn is a bigger issue in Christian circles than is talked about or dealt with. I would wager a guess that (as you suggested) fewer pastors are in the throes of pornographic addiction than the numbers suggest, but I would also wager that more pastors are in the throes above and beyond the number actively taking steps to deal with it.

Struthers certainly wrote with more precision and clarity on the topic than I did in my review. :) Perhaps I overstated my recommendation of this book for "every Christian male". I do think every Christian pastor and counselor would benefit from reading this book, however. If they haven't dealt with the issue yet in their body, they probably will.

Bill Faris said...

Jared:

Just to be clear - I don't think the numbers are necessarily too low. In fact, they may be skewed by the ability of survey participants to be brutally honest. I'm only saying that it would be great to have a clearer idea of what is REALLY going on beyond terms like "struggle". Such information may never be possible to accurately gain.

I think it would be interesting to read the book from the neuro perspective as I think there is a growing body of knowledge about how the brain is "wired" that is pretty fascinating and meaningful to us who believe.

Thanks for taking the time to introduce us to this book and to raise this very touchy but important topic.