Moore to the Point
Hello, fellow wayfarers. Coming to you live from my omicron sickbed … Why a culture of porn fuels a culture of boredom, and vice-versa … Plus, a singer-songwriter plays Desert Island Playlist. … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.
Russell Moore
Hello, fellow wayfarers. Coming to you live from my omicron sickbed … Why a culture of porn fuels a culture of boredom, and vice-versa … Plus, a singer-songwriter plays Desert Island Playlist. … This is this week’s Moore to the Point.

Sex Without Intimacy in a World Without a Story

The young man looked down as he talked to me about his ongoing struggles with a compulsion toward pornography. After this many years in ministry, I’ve had that conversation so many times I can almost script it in advance. But this Christian was able to summarize his situation better than most: “I guess I would say that my problem started with lust,” he said. “And then it was guilt and shame. It’s still all that, but it’s something else too. It’s boredom.”

The same afternoon, I talked to a middle-aged Christian, successful in his career, who said, “I’ve achieved everything I set out to do, and now it just all feels so empty and without meaning. It’s like I’m bored.” I’ve had that conversation countless times too.

But that day, I started wondering if, in some way, these conversations were actually about the same problem.

I was prompted to ponder this question after reading a jeremiad against “today’s turn towards the pornographic”—not from a likeminded conservative evangelical viewpoint but from a decidedly secular anticapitalist philosopher. In his book Capitalism and the Death Drive, Byung-Chul Han clarifies that this pornographic turn shows up not just in explicit sexual depictions on the internet but also in an even deeper aspect of spiritual malaise.

Han argues that pornography attempts to sever signs from meaning, sensations from communion, the bodily organs from the person. This produces a kind of hypervisibility and hyperavailability that result in fragmentation. Pornography makes use of sexuality, but ultimately it fragments and undermines the tension necessary for the erotic. For Han, the point is that pornography has no plot line.

By this, he doesn’t mean that pornography can’t be embedded in a story. He means that genuine feeling can’t be manufactured, bought, and sold.

The genuinely erotic, Han contends, requires patient unfolding and long-lasting connectedness. A pornographic mindset confuses this because people think of love as a random arrangement of consumable feelings—not as part of an ongoing drama. This distortion then leads them to the compulsion to constantly change partners (whether in real life or in their minds) as a way to maintain those fresh and novel sensations.

I doubt that Han would ever frame this as sin or immorality, but he definitely sees it as self-defeating and self-destructive. And the result is a society that seems burned out—on attention, on meaning, and on love.

Unlike pornography, Han argues, love has a plot. That’s because love isn’t a random set of sensations but something that must be set in a larger context. And fidelity, Han contends, is not just an emotion but also an act.

As a matter of fact, fidelity is not only an act but a series of acts. And that requires a story line.

Han gives the example of André Gorz’s love letter to his dying wife, in which he said, “You’re 82 years old. You’ve shrunk six centimeters, you only weigh 45 kilos yet you’re still beautiful, gracious and desirable.” That kind of love requires both a vow and a life.

As I read this, I thought about the typical advice that parents receive when it comes to pornography. Those without concepts of sin and grace and God seem increasingly to encourage parents not to think of porn as “immoral.” But they almost immediately follow this up by advising parents to teach their children that porn is not a good source of sex education. Someone who learns only from porn, they explain, won’t understand that real people’s bodies don’t respond so formulaically. And, they add, porn skews expectations not only about what sex as whole should be like but also what consent and mutuality should look like. They seem to imply that the problem could be addressed with a “more realistic” pornography, the kind that might help prepare young people for genuine intimacy.

But if intimacy is with a person, not just with a set of genitalia, then it can be approached only within the mystery that makes up a person. It cannot be “consumed.”

Indeed, that’s how the Bible depicts both human beings and sexual intimacy. The story of Ruth and Boaz resonates with us because, like every true love story, it doesn’t take us immediately to a sensation and then leave. It unfolds with tension and keeps unfolding. What seems to be the unlikely and accidental introduction of these two people—with a background of deep tragedy—in time results in a house of David. And we know how that story takes us to back to Bethlehem and beyond.

Keep in mind that the apostle Paul explained the mystery at the heart of the one-flesh union (Eph. 5:21–33) to a congregation gathered in a city known for the temple of Artemis, in a culture where temple prostitution—the use of sexual orgasm for the alleged purpose of connecting to the divine—was a cultural norm. When Paul wrote that the joining of man to woman points to the communion of Christ and his church, he did so not just by using abstract principles but by showing us how all this fits in a cosmic and redemptive story.

Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. He washes her with water. This cannot be mimicked by a momentary firing of nerve endings. It can be modeled and embodied by nothing less than the giving of an entire life. And that requires a commitment to share the same story—in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

Beyond that, it requires a people who, as fellow members of the body of Christ, can learn what it means to be in communion—both with one another and with the One in whom every good story holds together.

My Omicron Haze

Thank you to those who were praying for me this week as I fell prey to a breakthrough case of the COVID-19 omicron strand. Maria did not get it, nor did any of the kids. I am starting to get back up and around but am still terribly fatigued and in a brain fog like I’ve never had before. Grateful for God’s common grace in the gift of vaccines and boosters to keep such situations out of the hospital.

Desert Island Playlist

This week’s submission comes from reader (and amazing singer-songwriter) Andrew Osenga, who writes:

First of all, I have to thank you for these weekly newsletters. They are a real gift to me, sitting here working alone in my basement day after day. I’m thankful for your thoughtfulness and your humor in the writing. It’s a weird human connection for me in a world of notifications and winter blahs.

“These are the songs I can’t stop listening to the past couple months that I think you might like, and maybe some of your readers.”

  • “Didn’t Fix Me,” by Dawes. This is the best song about our need for Jesus that I’ve ever heard outside of the church. And musically it is simple, beautiful, and cuts to the bone.
  • “Sapling,” by Foy Vance. Irish singer-songwriter with the voice of an ocean singing about starting life over in recovery in his late 40s. “I went looking inside myself for a home / Found only a sapling in search of an oak / But it’s a start, my love.” Sheesh.
  • “Nothing,” by Sara Groves. This song has like 12 lines, and they are a devastating and perfect look at the disconnection that can happen with the people we love the most. The fact that Sara produced this record herself is just an added sucker punch.
  • “Phoenix (feat. Fleet Foxes & Anaïs Mitchell),” by Big Red Machine. A perfect laid-back groove and the catchiest melodies I’ve heard in a long time. It’s like a folk song beamed back from the future.
  • “The End of a World,” by Andy Gullahorn. It’s no secret among my community of Nashville singer-songwriters that Andy Gullahorn is the best there is. This song, written for friends who lost their young daughter, is a prime example of his stunning ability to bring actual hope to our deepest intimate traumas.
  • “Wasted,” by The War on Drugs. This song makes me want to run a half marathon in 1986.
  • “Rut,” by The Killers. This song destroys me. It’s essentially a love song to his wife but written from her perspective, stuck in a deep depression. It is fierce in its kindness, generosity, and devotion. The best songs call us to live better lives and serve those around us. This is one of those songs.
  • “Take It With Me,” by Tom Waits. Simply the best recording of the best song ever. I don’t know what it all means, but I know how it makes me feel. If I could listen to only one song the rest of my life, it would probably be this one.
  • “What Is Life” by George Harrison. This is embarrassing for as big a Beatles fan as I am, but I had never listened to any solo George music until I watched the documentary Martin Scorsese made about him last year. There was a live clip of him playing this song and I got obsessed with it. So much energy and such weird chords. I just love it.
  • “House Full of Empty Rooms,” by Kathleen Edwards. Hard to pick a song off this record, as they are one giant tapestry of beauty, but this song about the ending of a marriage is just heartbreaking and stunning. I can listen to the record if I’m really happy or really sad or anywhere in between. Desert island.
  • “I Guess I Just Feel Like,” by John Mayer. John Mayer is an incredible musician whose songs never fail to have the worst life advice imaginable. This song, however, is just so real. Feels like it was written because it needed to be, not as a product. And the guitar solo makes me want to call in sick and just think about my life for a while.
  • “If Christopher Calls,” by Foy Vance. One last Foy song. I don’t know the story behind this one, but one of my most faithful friends is named Christopher, and this is how I feel about him. This moves me deeply. What an unbelievable vocal performance on this song too.

Andrew included a Spotify playlist of these songs that you can listen to here. While you’re at it, check out his songs there too—including my favorite “The Year of the Locust.”

What do you think?

If you were stranded on a desert island and could have only one playlist or one bookshelf with you for the rest of your life, what songs or books would you choose?

  • For a Desert Island Playlist, send me a list of up to 12 songs, excluding hymns and worship songs. (We’ll cover those later.)

  • For a Desert Island Bookshelf, send me a list of up to 12 books. If possible, include one photo of all the books together.

Send your list to, and include as much or as little explanation of your choices as you would like.

Quote of the moment

You can’t always get what you want but sometimes you get what you need—truer words than that have been spoken, but not much truer, and for sure not in my lifetime.”

—Charles Baxter, The Feast of Love (New York: Vintage, 2000).

Currently Reading

Glenn Packiam, The Resilient Pastor: Leading Your Church in a Rapidly Changing World (Baker)

James Tynion IV, The Department of Truth series (Image)

Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Idiot, trans. Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Vintage)

Ted Ownby, Subduing Satan: Religion, Recreation, and Manhood in the Rural South, 1865–1920 (University of North Carolina Press)

Joseph Locke, Making the Bible Belt: Texas Prohibitionists and the Politicization of Southern Religion (Oxford University Press)

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Russell Moore

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