Surfing for Porn . . .er. . .I mean God: a book review

Cusick book cover Pornography is a real problem. Consider these statistics:

  • 25% of search engine requests are for pornography – 68 million per day.
  • 70% of the hits on Internet sex sites occur between 9-5 on business computers.
  • Over 50 percent of evangelical pastors report they viewed pornography last year.
  • Over 70% of Christian men report viewing pornography in the last year.

And I would say, that as a whole Christians have responded rather poorly to what amounts to a sin epidemic in our culture.  So I am happy to recommend a book which gets at the heart of some of the issues which are tangled up with pornography.  Michael John Cusick is an ordained minister, licensed professional counselor and spiritual director. He is also is a recovering sex addict (living in freedom) who had an addiction to pornography, strip clubs, masturbation and prostitution. He sees the bankruptcy of a life in bondage, but he also knows that men act out in sexual sins because they are broken and wounded.

But before I tell you about this book, let me briefly tell you where I think other Christian approaches get this wrong. One popular Christian book seems to say:

  • Objectifying other women is wrong, just objectify your wife. She is there primarily for your sexual pleasure(based on a reading of Job’s famous ‘covenant with his eyes in Job 31).
  • Women who are not your spouse are sources of temptation and should be avoided at all costs.
  • You should also avoid places like parks, the beach, roads that women jog on, supermarkets, hair salons and shopping malls.

The problem with this advice is that it basically gets guys to modify their behavior, but does not touch the wounding and longing that led them to a pornography addiction in the first place (although to be fair, this approach takes serious the idea of sexual sin and the need for accountability). It is also unrealistic. Only stay-at-home dads can avoid women, who are increasingly colleagues and men’s bosses in all walks of life.

Cusicks approach is much more holistic. He sees pornography and other sexual sins as symptomatic of the deep longing for connection and reality (and yes, ultimately God). By sharing the story of his own struggle (and victory), he  addresses the root issues of pornography, the empty promises and real idolatry, personal brokenness and the cycle of shame, but also the real freedom that is ours in Christ and transformation that is possible and the disciplines which care for your soul. He is also attentive to a very real, spiritual dimension to this struggle and the dynamics of temptation (and its relationship to idolatry). As a counselor he is aware of the ways in which pornography (and other online habits) affect the brain, but also draws hope from the brain’s plasticity. His advice for those lost in sexual temptation online is to unplug, pay attention to your desires and cravings to find out what is happening in your heart, and to practice solitude and centering prayer. Ultimately he wants people to journey from their self medicating numbness, to a relationship with God where desires are rightly ordered and they are attentive to their own soul care (in community, of course).

Nevertheless I think this book has two limitations which I think are significant:

  1. It treats sexual sin and pornography as a personal, individual sin. This needs to be addressed but he never addresses the other side of the equation. Men who go to prostitutes victimize women; men who view pornography, go to strip clubs and seek out adult entertainment,  have participated in an unjust system which truncates the humanity of women (and men) and causes tremendous psychological, physical and sociological damage. I applaud Cusick’s efforts to address the ways sin and acting out come from personal brokenness. I just want him also to address the significant justice issue that is wrapped up with this.
  2. This book is also limited in terms of audience. This is a book written by a man for men, and speaks most meaningfully to men who are married.  Single guys can read this profitably while making adjustments in a couple of places; however, I have friends who are women who also struggle with an addiction to pornography. While much of this advice is applicable to them (solitude and centering prayer, the need to pray through and address woundedness and idolatry), they will find themselves unaddressed by Cusick. When you consider the real shame that comes with sexual sin and that pornography is considered by many Christians a ‘man’s sin, the cycle of shame is compounded for women who are stuck in addiction to porn and sex. This book could have easily been inclusive of both genders in addressing a real struggle which affects both sexes.

But for the particular niche of  ‘men who struggle’ working through their own personal issues, I think this book is one of the best.  This is a book I would use pastorally and found a lot of it personally helpful. So it gets a solid recommendation from me.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing me a copy of this book in exchange for this review.