A review and response to the book "He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" by Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD (Neurosurgeon).
This response addresses chapter one "Out of the Mouth of the Lion" pgs. 3–6.
Obstacle - Collective Identity
Chapter one is only three pages. In those three pages, Hilton leverages a "collective identity" or "collective behavior" to signal safe passage to his readers. This safe passage is critical to the LDS community. Within our culture, we are leary of "outside" sources in general, but especially those regarding sexuality or issues involving sexuality. The sanctimoniousness in which we address sexuality is both beautiful and hindering. Our view of sexuality is beautiful because of our connecting it to eternal progression. It’s hindering because we perceive external (those outside the faith) experts as a threat to that sacred sexuality.
Therefore, because Hilton is generally unknown among the faithful members of the church — he is neither a General Authority or an "official" resource for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint — he signals to the reader that he is a safe source by using language, analogies, scriptures and conclusions the collective identity already agrees with.
In social psychology there is a concept referred to as collective behavior:
"Collective behaviour, the kinds of activities engaged in by sizable but loosely organized groups of people. Episodes of collective behaviour tend to be quite spontaneous, resulting from an experience shared by the members of the group that engenders a sense of common interest and identity. The informality of the group’s structure is the main source of the frequent unpredictability of collective behaviour....
The U.S. sociologist Robert E. Park, who coined the term collective behaviour, defined it as “the behavior of individuals under the influence of an impulse that is common and collective, an impulse, in other words, that is the result of social interaction.” He emphasized that participants in crowds, fads, or other forms of collective behaviour share an attitude or behave alike, not because of an established rule or the force of authority, and not because as individuals they have the same attitudes, but because of a distinctive group process." Britannica
Hilton's appeal to the collective identity isn't inherently bad. Knowing your audience and connecting with the culture of your audience is good communication. However, when that appeal is used to perpetuate unfounded claims and assumptions, it’s contributing to a systemic problem. Whether he intended it or not, his leveraging a collective identity and backing it up with his credentials creates unchallenged buy-in within the community.
Hilton leverage the collective identity with a simple recipe:
Identify a concept the particular community already agrees with: "Porn is evil."
Quote a from a scripture or prophet/apostle that vaguely supports identified concept.
Share a miraculous/captivating story/analogy that emphasizes concept.
Provide vague non-solution that is often in the form of the "atonement".
Hilton isn't sharing anything new to the intended community; however, he is feeding into the fear and panic of the "porn epidemic." He capitalizes on the readers’ fears by conveying the idea that no one is safe, and if we all are not vigilant, the dangers of porn will, like a lion "[grab] them by the spiritual throat and [strangle] the life out of happiness, joy, companionship, learning, love (both romantic and platonic), spirituality, reason, and life itself." He later references pop-psychology jargon, that if exposed to porn "even the sexual self being ruined and consumed as the chemically altered brain is left to crave what can never be fully satisfied." These statements are deeply problematic, untrue, divisive and communicate a confusing message of despair and hopelessness.
Hilton's use of 1 Peter 5:8 is ironic. Hiltons's use of scripture here is referred to as proof-texting.
"Many Christian ministers and Christian teachers have used some version of the following humorous anecdote to demonstrate the dangers of prooftexting: "A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, 'Then Judas went away and hanged himself' (Matthew 27:5b). Finding these words unhelpful, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, 'Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."' (Luke 10:37b). In desperation, he tried one more time. The text he found was: 'What you are about to do, do quickly.'" (John 13:27) Wikipedia
Also refer to "Proof-Texting is a Bad Habit that we Need to Break".
Throughout his book, Hilton assigns his own meaning to the particular passages he quotes. As for 1 Peter 5:8, he fails to emphasize the "sober" concept that Peter was conveying in "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."
Isolating verse 8 from the context of Peter's message would lead any reader to believe we SHOULD be fearful of the "roaring lion." However, Peter’s message was quite the opposite. "Be sober" is a message of hope, love and grace. Peter is teaching about God's grace through the Atonement. We are safe, inspite of the "roaring lion," to be vigilant and observant how the fear of the lion will rob us of our joy. Let’s read this verse in context:
"6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. 11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 5: 6-11
How should believers live, believing in a real devil — a spiritual enemy with an agenda to bring harm to Christians? Peter's answer to that question begins this verse: Be sober-minded. Be alert. It's the third time in this letter Peter has urged his readers to be clear minded (1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7). It matters that we are paying attention, with serious minds, to what's going on in our lives and in the world around us.
"Peter writes that there is danger beyond the physical persecution some of his readers were facing. There is a deep agenda, far beyond that of the powerful men who might inflict that persecution. The devil, not the men or women who might harm us, is the real enemy of a Christian believer.
Our enemy the devil desires to devour us, to cause real and lasting harm. The Greek word here is katapiein, literally meaning to "swallow," or to "drown." Peter has made it clear that our place in eternity with our Father is secure. The devil cannot take that from us, but he does seek to damage our faith. He wants fear to shake our submission to the Father, and lies to distort our understanding of God's goodness. Since He cannot touch the believer's soul, Satan seeks to leave us as weak and ineffective servants of our King.
In the next verse, Peter will describe how to fight that enemy. Notice, also, what he doesn't tell Christians to do. He doesn't say to live in fear. Nor does he say to live as if the reality of the devil is unimportant. We are not instructed to ignore the devil, nor to cower in the shadows." BibleRef
Ironically, Hilton's focus is on the fear, the devil, the hopelessness, the loss, the damage. Unfortunately, he continues to misuse Peter's lion analogy, convincing the reader they are not safe, to hyperventilate before shadows. This does not create a clear and sober mind, let alone an informed mind. It creates panic and fear, and turns power over to the devil — exactly what Peter was warning us not to do.
Additionally, Hilton reinforces his faulty interpretation of the scripture by quoting non-experts on the subject. Although President Hinckley has perceived a potential danger that seems to be associated with pornography, both Hilton and Hinckley's comments oversimplify the complexity of the problems and fail to address the root issues involved in "damaging hearts and souls."
In Hilton's reference to a professional in chapter one, he not only quotes the therapist incorrectly, he again takes it out of context and misrepresents the intent of the therapist. In quoting Mark Haney, Hilton claims "pornography addiction" is what leads a teenager to experience "isolated agony."
First, "isolated agony" is nowhere in John Mark Haney's article "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction.”
Hilton, although vague in his misquoting Haney, the misquote leads the reader to believe pornography is what creates the isolation. This is false and NOT what Haney stated.
"Normalize the Issue: Many teenagers who are developing compulsive pornography problems do so in agonized isolation, often believing that they are perverts and alone in their actions. It can be helpful for the professional to educate them on the prevalence of the issue while still clearly communicating the dangers so they don’t trade their isolation for an ‘oh well, since everyone is doing it …’ idea, for that is common too."
Hilton's careless and self-serving misquoting and changing of context is reckless. Haney's only use of "isolation" is in a section educating the reader to "normalize the issue" with teens, recognizing that teens "often [believe] that they are perverts and alone." It is NOT because of the pornography, but because of the lack of education and clarity (sober thought) on the subject. This is a HUGE misrepresentation and is foreshadowing of Hilton's carelessness throughout the book.
Second, it seems like Hilton didn't even read the "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction" article.
"Some critical cultural, religious, and socioeconomic factors with pornography and youth warrant mention. Some cultures have much broader parameters surrounding what is considered appropriate with sexuality, while cultural norms within other groups make the topic almost unmentionable. Therefore, practitioners must attempt to educate themselves about cultural mores. ... Similarly, approaches to spirituality and religion can have a profound impact on a teenager’s sexual development, and not always in the way that a parent intends. For example, some youth who come from rigid and legalistic religious backgrounds that wrap sexuality in shame and guilt, try to forcefully repress their desires, which causes them to unconsciously bond with the same profane elements they are trying to ignore. When they act on these repressed desires, the resulting shame and self-loathing just perpetuates the cycle."
After a confusing message of hopelessness and fear, Hilton's solution is the atonement, but he doesn't actually talk about the atonement. In just two paragraphs, he demonstrates his lack in doctrinal understanding and his mockery of those who have embraced the atonement without reprieve. He confuses agency, sin, transgression and biological limitations.
Somehow he is under the impression that women experiencing pornography is limited to chat rooms. This is complete ignorance, and potentially another misreading of the "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction" article.
Hilton suggests homosexuality is a similar issue as pornography and an addiction. Is Hilton suggesting reparative, conversion or aversion therapy?
Hilton's leveraging a collective identity is irresponsible and mitigates readers from identifying and questioning his inconsistencies and double checking his references.