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Why did the news that the Osama bin Laden’s residence contained a sizable amount of pornography grab our attention? After all, our culture is saturated with pornography; it’s everywhere; it’s even an accepted part of life for much of society.
So why are we surprised? Bin Laden - mass murderer that he was - nonetheless exuded an image of religiosity. Professor Akbar Ahmed, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies at the American University in Washington D.C., observed in an interview on ABC news that “it is surprising that pornography was found because he (bin Laden) was known to be a rather austere man, a rather religious man, a man who... gave up the world.”
Even if he turned his back on the world, pornography followed bin Laden - at least into his compound. ABC news correspondent Martha Raddatz reported that although we can’t know for certain that bin Laden actually viewed the pornography, it was found right there in his bedroom, and according to Reuters news, it was a fairly extensive amount of pornography at that.
It is the suspicion of hypocrisy that attracts our attention. Bin Laden was unequivocal in his denunciation of what he believed was the U.S. exploitation of women. In a 2002 letter to the American people, he railed, ‘’Your nation exploits women like consumer products or advertising tools, calling upon customers to purchase them,’’ he wrote. ‘’You plaster your naked daughters across billboards in order to sell a product without any shame. You have brainwashed your daughters into believing they are liberated by wearing revealing clothes, yet in reality all they have liberated is your sexual desire.’’
That’s a fairly accurate description of a pornographic industry that is worldwide today, an industry that may have seduced an otherwise religious and austere Osama bin Laden.
That’s why pornography is usually a private affair: secrecy conceals shame and shuns embarrassment. But hidden habits lend themselves to hypocrisy. And we flinch at hypocrisy, especially when we sense it in a person who wears a religious image.
It’s difficult to keep something as potentially powerful as pornography under the bed forever. Like a drug, pornography can be addictive. Scientists surmise that dopamine and oxytocin are released in the male brain during intimacy. According to behavior therapist, Andrea Kuszewski, it’s a “biochemical love potion.” But, these same neurotransmitters fire when watching porn. “You’re bonding with it,” says Kuszewski, “and those chemicals make you want to keep coming back to have that feeling.” Men, in effect, can develop a neurological attachment to porn.
Of course, the negative downside of that sensual high is that pornography replaces real relationships. In her article, “The Porn Myth,” feminist Naomi Wolf argues that the Internet has “pornographized” our culture. The effect is that instead of amplifying men’s sexual activity with their actual partners, it renders men less sexually responsive to real women. That’s because erotic images replace real people.
The result: some men prefer porn over real life partners. The recently released movie, No Strings Attached, has Alvin (Kevin Kline) complaining to his roommate, Adam (Ashton Kutcher), “I can’t focus on my porn with all this real sex going on.”
With porn on the brain, meaningful intimacy is a challenge. As a 43-year-old composer put it an interview with New York Magazine: “I’ve got to resort to playing scenes in my head that I’ve seen while viewing porn. Something is lost there. I’m no longer with my wife; I’m inside my own head.”
No doubt, porn messes with the mind. But it’s a matter of the heart as well, as Proverbs 4:23 would remind us: “Above all else guard your heart for it determines the direction of your life.” And Jesus of Nazareth took dead aim at those who pretend that as long as it’s a secret, it’s not really a sin: “Anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28).
Maybe bin Laden would have agreed with Jesus, since his own holy book, the Qur’an states, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and protect their private parts. That is purer for them. Verily, Allah is all-aware of what they do...” (24.30-31)
But apparently it was difficult for bin Laden to unplug the drug of pornography, especially since it was in the privacy of his bedroom, where certainly no one would ever intrude without an invitation.
Editor’s note: David B. Whitlock, Ph.D. is pastor of Lebanon Baptist Church in Lebanon. He is also an adjunct instructor in the School of Theology at Campbellsville University in Campbellsville. You can email Whitlock at email@example.com or visit his website www.davidbwhitlock.com.