The Atlanta shootings and why pornography may be a good thing

Robert Aaron Long went on a shooting spree in Atlanta last Tuesday. When he was done an hour later, the twenty-one year old man left eight people dead, six of them Asian women who worked at three different area health spas.

Long was caught by police fleeing to Florida after having earlier been kicked out of his house by his parents. Of course, living in the Deep South, Long had no problem buying a gun shortly before committing these murders. But he seemed to have retained enough his wits after his arrest to claim he was a victim.

He was a sex addict, you see, and he was driven in part by the dichotomy between his high sex drive and what he learned at Crabapple First Baptist Church. An evangelical church, Crabapple Baptist taught Long to avoid sexual temptation and pornography. Long reportedly told police he was trying to stamp out sin. Kill these temptresses, he was probably thinking, and you can stamp out these sins of the flesh.

Of course, it was quickly noticed that he targeted mostly Asian Americans, and mostly women of Korean ancestry. It was hard not to infer that his crimes were motivated by ethnic hate and probably misogyny as well. At his church he learned that women were not supposed to draw men into temptation by, you know, dressing provocatively and such. Apparently in the Atlanta area if you need to press a little female flesh as a business transaction, you do so at “spas” where women of predominantly Asian ancestry may provide the services high-hormone young men like Long naturally felt he needed.

Focus on the Family leader James Dobson said that Long’s addiction to pornography fueled his crime. It’s unclear how much pornography Long actually consumed, but it’s clear that any he consumed left him feeling guilty and sinful.

I wish that Long had viewed a whole lot more pornography. I am sure that for some men pornography makes their sexual feelings worse, not more, manageable, particularly as a lot of pornography these days seems to be catering to men into violent power fantasies. That may be the case with Long.

For most men though pornography provides a literal release for their natural sexual urges that would have a hard time being released otherwise. Viewing pornography, typically accompanied by masturbation to orgasm, provides that release. Your hormones subside, at least for a time and that allows you to think more clearly. If you don’t release those hormones in some reasonably safe way, well, maybe you end up buying a gun and killing eight people in a regional rampage instead. It’s likely a lot easier to do something so awful if your religion teaches you that sinful behavior must not be tolerated.

I remember being twenty one too, and I can state confidently that I was at my hormone peak. So I have an inkling what Long was feeling and I can attest it can feel overwhelming. Unlike Long though I had broken free from my own faith of origin (Catholicism) and its teachings on women, pornography and masturbation. By that age I had figured out that pornography was probably helpful for me. Like most men, I was not the big man on campus. Mostly women ignored me and mostly I was too shy to express my interest in those I came across. For me, breaking away from Catholicism, much of it which I saw as hurtful, was a necessary and healing part in growing up.

I’m guessing though that my fairly deep Catholicism wasn’t quite as far down the religious rabbit hole as Long experienced at Crabapple First Baptist Church. I don’t remember the priests and lay ministers dwelling on sins of the flesh in particular, but it seems to have been a feature at Crabapple First Baptist Church. From my reading, it’s something of a feature at evangelical churches and perhaps Southern Baptist congregations in particular.

Most denominations require their pastors to be credentialed at seminaries. Becoming a minister at a Southern Baptist church does not necessarily require credentialing. You just have to convince a congregation that you have a calling from God. After all, John the Baptist never went to a rabbinical school. Given my druthers, I’d much rather have a minister with some credentials. Much of the basis of a particular faith may be bunk (which was true for my opinion about Catholic teachings, for the most part) but at least it should be consistent. Stray too much from its teachings and you are defrocked.

It does seem true that Baptist and evangelical churches in particular seem to dwell excessively on sins of the flesh, hyping these sins where perhaps more latitude would be helpful. If you believe yourself to be born again, it should be possible through the power of Christ to surmount your feelings of the flesh.

It should be, but it’s clear that, much like gay conversion therapy, it’s very unlikely to happen. If you believe in God, then you have to believe that God gave us hormones for a reason. Maybe it was to test our character, or maybe it was for a more pragmatic reason, like to ensure the survival of the species. In the past, most human lives were short and brutal. Procreating sooner rather than later was probably necessary. It’s only today with modern medicine, education and human rights where it gets hard. These days, to live a good life it helps to get educated and vested in a well-paying career first. Pornography may facilitate that.

Asian women, particularly those working in spas and massage parlors though are easy targets. You can decide that their culture allows them to be “looser” and therefore more sinful, when of course that’s not true. It’s probably the opposite, in most cases.

But it is harder for Asian Americans to fit in, particularly in much of the Deep South with its history of racial prejudice. This leads to diminished job opportunities. It’s not too surprising then that massage parlors are filled with predominantly Asian women. It’s likely that a lot of these women work very long hours for measly pay, or it’s one of two or three jobs they juggle trying to get by.

I obviously hope no jury buys into Long’s excuses. But I do suspect that if Long had gotten a lot less religion and spent a lot more time online watching pornography, eight people in the Atlanta area would still be alive.