4 He took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioning it with a tool. Then they said, “These are your gods, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.”
Exodus 32:4 (NIV)
The objectification of others is appealing because it seeks to simplify our relationships and remove the messy complexity associated with relational dependence. It puts us squarely in control of our world. Like the Israelites, in the passage above, creating a real or virtual representation of a desired outcome is one plausible but unhealthy response to the presence of distress in our lives.
Objectification is the process through which I force-fit a multidimensional real object into a single dimensional fantasy. This fantasy is created as an escape or coping mechanism sometimes because of a traumatic psychological rupture. Fantasy creates the illusion of control.
Based on a Barna study done in 2015 2 out of 5 Christian practicing males between the ages of 13 and 24 seek out pornography at least once per month. The rate drops to 1 out of 4 for Christian practicing males above 25. For non-Christian males, the rates are 3 out of 4 and 1 out of 2 respectively. In general, the rates for females across all categories for Christian practicing individuals are about 25% of the male rates. For the person whose use of pornography is compulsive and beyond their control (to stop), it (pornography) is a fantasy that seems real and creates an illusion (of control). Objectification translates the real world into the fantasy of pornography. In combination with acting out, pornography and objectification form a self-affirming cycle. Compulsive use of pornography results in a well-developed ability to create this fantasy world and invites virtual participation from “objects”.
In overcoming this addiction through recovery, the compulsion and the acting out are the focus of prevention. Coping through objectification and the ascribing of singular physical value to men/women may continue. Relief only comes when the individual intentionally and forcefully chooses to not escape anymore. Instead, the person gives over to Christ a desire that they think impossible to accomplish – the restoration of a God-centered view of men and women. This can be a place of lifelong struggle, but if there is a commitment to turning over every instance of potential objectification, then victory can be experienced during that moment. The next moment is for God to handle and not for individual worry.
The pleasure derived from the fantasy validation of objectification is a poor substitute for the real validation that comes from our Creator. Of course, if we replace God with a substitute, we become idolaters. The space that this substitute takes up in our souls was designed to be occupied by the LORD Christ Himself. Objectification becomes an act of worship at the false altar of worldly validation.
So how do we break free from objectification and its enabler of pornography? Personification is the antithesis (opposite) of objectification. We have to learn to view people in all of their dimensions – physical, emotional and spiritual. When I am counseling clients, I love to reference my B.L.A.C.K acronym – Broken, Lonely, Afraid in need of Christ the King. We are all B.L.A.C.K. Each person that we encounter (and objectify) has at least one human struggle with which we can associate. He/she is as much in need of a Savior as we are. He/she is as much in need of encouragement, fellowship and prayer as the rest of us.
If objectification (and the associated enabler of pornography) is a continuing struggle, become curious about the internal dialog that occurs during these periods. Challenge yourself by choosing to personify the “object” of your attention. If necessary, mentally (or verbally) remind yourself that this “object” is a person. They are a husband/wife, mother/father, son/daughter, brother/sister – you can add as many descriptors as necessary – who needs Christ’s love and validation, just like you. Lift them up (silently) in prayer. Do this as many times as necessary. Share struggles and victories openly with people whom you trust. If necessary, seek out counseling. Objectification and pornography do not have to be your end.