Imago Dei in a Pornographic World


Sexual Revolution and the Advent of Pornography

In 1953, the American culture took a turn it was not ready for: the first 52,000 copies of the pornographic magazine Playboy were sold.[1] The publishers and purchasers of this magazine, themselves made in the Image of God, were adherents of the new prevailing attitude among Americans that would give us the birth control pill in 7 years, and in 20 years legalize abortions.[2] This attitude is the heart of the sexual revolution that argued for a more accepting moral stance on sexuality, including pornography. The revolution was radically successful in changing the mindset of our culture, further marring the Image in each of us that God gave us when we were fashioned.

So successful was this revolution, in fact, that some new technologies introduced to this culture rose or fell almost exclusively on the criteria of porn. Beta lost the so-called “format wars” to VHS, and the Internet made it into every home in America because of the power of lust in pornography.[3] In 1998, it was estimated that 70,000 websites were dedicated to pornography[4] and as of 2010, it was up to 12% of all content on the internet.[5]

The smartphone is at the center of this cultural trend, since access to the internet has never been so easy. Although the smartphone was introduced to the world in 1992,[6] it wasn’t until 1999 that the first smartphone had internet connectivity.[7] Even then, it wasn’t until 2007 with the multi-touch smartphone boom that smartphones became popular and internet joined the average American in his bed.[8] With this device, porn can and has spread much further with much more secrecy than before. Porn can now be accessed anywhere at anytime right from the palm of the hand. Before the popular advent of the smartphone, in 2003 it was said that internet pornography generated about 2 billion dollars annually.[9] Three years ago it generated around $13 billion in the US alone.[10]

As might have been guessed by these numbers, men are not the only ones accessing this content. In 2004, 42% of all visitors to adult sites, in one study, was shown to be all female visitors, with women between the ages of 18 and 34 to be the most common.[11] This doesn’t mean that only young adults are the ones coming across these sites. 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before they reach the age of 18, with the average age of exposure being 11.[12] Adults, adolescence, and even children are all falling in the wake of this great beast.

This culture, ignorant of the doctrine of Imago Dei, has produced addicts who cannot quit when they try, who lose their jobs for not controlling their urge to view porn at work, and who have reported increased secrecy in their relationships, less intimacy, and more depression.[13]


Imago Dei in Scripture and Tradition

In Genesis 1:26, God takes counsel with Himself to make mankind in His image and after His likeness. In the following verse, Moses records “So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him,” and later in 2:7, “and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature.” In these words, we’re told that God the Father made man in His own image, in the image of God (Christ), by breathing the breath of life (the Holy Spirit) into him, so that the first man is created in the Image of the Triune God. This is what the Scriptures teach us, but what does it mean? Though some have emphasized one more than another, the truth of the matter seems to be a synthesis of the most popular views and more: Dominion, Virtue, Intellect, and Freedom. This is in harmony with the teaching of Saint Gregory of Nyssa that the word “image” is used to encapsulate every good thing given to us by God, even the kingdom of God which is within us (Luke 17:21).[14]

Dominion. In verse 26, when God is taking counsel for the creation of mankind, He declares that they should have dominion over the universe that He has just created. Saint Gregory the Theologian writes that it shouldn’t be surprising that mankind was created last, “since for him, as for a king, the royal dwelling had to be prepared and only then was the king to be led in, accompanied by all creatures.”[15] This dominion, along with submission, was only partially given at first. He was made lower than the angels (Psalm 8:5) but taken by the Lord to name the animals under his authority (Genesis 2:19-20). In time, through the fulfillment of God-given commandments and from the education given him by the angelic servants, mankind would have been given authority even over the angels and archangels, authority that was given to Jesus Christ after He was raised from the dead (Hebrews 2:5-9; Matthew 28:19).[16] This right for mankind to rule all things is God given and included in the phrase “Image of God.”[17]

Virtue. In Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament, John Walton notes that it isn’t only the office and function of the “image” alone that makes a king “the perfect likeness” of his deity, but also a sharing in the qualities and attributes.[18] This harmonizes well with the Patristic witness which teaches that the image and likeness are two parts of a whole. “Image” is that part of man that can never be revoked or removed that allows for union with God, while “Likeness” refers to the perfected virtues that draw us nearer to God that can be lost through practicing the vices.[19] The former is the capacity for Christ-likeness, while the latter is Christ-likeness. Man, then, was made to be like his Maker in both office and qualities as a virtuous king.

Intellect. In order to properly exercise his office of king and to maintain his virtue, God also made mankind reasonable (the Intellectual Faculty) with the capacity to desire (the Desiderative Faculty) and to harness and use aggression (the Irascible Faculty).[20] The ability to desire and to use anger is natural to mankind, and is seen used properly by Jesus Himself in that He desired the doing of His Father’s will more than to eat food (John 4:31-34) and in the cleansing of the Temple in His zeal (John 2:13-16). In using his reason properly, mankind was meant to desire nothing other than God, while aggressively removing any obstacle to his union with the Lord.[21]

Freedom. This use of reason for the maintaining of his office and virtue assumes, of course, a freedom of will.[22] Saint John of Damascus teaches that reason and free will are partners with one another and that one cannot have one without the other.[23] It is by this power of freedom that mankind is deiform, that is, can become like God.[24] Further, man could not be considered virtuous if the virtues which he possessed were imposed on him.[25] This virtuous freedom is, according to Saint Paul, the “glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21) and the commands given the free man are called the “law of liberty” by Saint James (James 2:12).

As mentioned earlier, through man’s obedience to this law of liberty, he would have perfected the virtues within him and achieved the perfection of the likeness of the Image of God given him at his creation, and then been given the right to rule over all creation, including the angelic powers, under the righteous rule of God. Unfortunately, our experience of reality has shown us that this goal of man’s creation was not met at the start. This misuse of the powers and gifts given man has led him into a plethora of Image marring sins, including pornography.


The Loss of Likeness to the Plague of Pornography

In what way, though, does pornography mar the Image of God in man? Through our engaging with lust, we submit our Intellect to desire and aggression, thus becoming slaves to vice rather than exemplars of virtue, giving over our right to rule to the passionate and evil spirits that tempt us to vice. In this way, mankind becomes unrecognizable from the original state of his first parents or of the goal of deification for which he was to strive. Pornography, harnessing the power of lust over man, accomplishes this in a way never seen before in the history of mankind.

Desire and Aggression over Reason. As noted above, the correct use of the faculties of man’s reason was to properly orient his desire towards God and aggression towards anything opposed to this desire. However, once mankind had given themselves over to the pursuit of sensible pleasures rather than to union with God, they became enamored with a multiplicity of passions and desires (Romans 1:26, Ephesians 2:3, Titus 2:11) and their Intellects darkened and misused. As for the Irascible Faculty, it began to busy “itself with achieving and safeguarding carnal, sensual pleasure.”[26] Instead of desiring God and using aggression to find Him, they now use their aggression against Him in order to keep their desire for sensual pleasures. This is the epitome of irrational behavior.[27]

The multiplicity of man’s desires begin to bore him in time, causing him to search for greater desires to occupy him, and the use of his Irascible Faculty has, in our times especially, become married to his desire for lust in a way that abuses his sexual partners.[28] In fact, studies have shown that prolonged exposure to pornography leads users to greater levels of porn usage and more extreme and dangerous acts that used to disgust them before.[29] These acts are then transferred to the bedroom where they will abuse their partners with violent acts of pleasure that sometimes lead to death.[30] This, certainly, is a misuse of the faculties given to us by God and leads to the Intellect’s slavery to the Desiderative and Irascible faculties, and the Image’s slavery to the passions.

The Image in Bondage & The Slave Trade. In the sin of our forefather, he lost for himself and his descendants the true freedom that he was given at his creation, called the “liberty of God.”[31] Now, “through the perverted use of his freedom, man becomes the slave of sin, captive to the desires and sensual pleasures to which he has turned, subject to the false divinities,”[32] “enslaved to elemental principles of the world,” (Galatians 4:3) forced into “following the prince of the power of the air” (Ephesians 2:2). This is seen most clearly in the slavery which some pornography addicts have reported.[33] When compared to most other vices of our time, pornography seems to be the most addictive habit.[34] These words from Fight The New Drug summarize well the new slavery in which the passionate man finds himself:

As porn users become desensitized from repeated overloads of dopamine, they often find they can’t feel normal without a dopamine high. Even other things that used to make them happy, like going out with friends or playing a favorite game, stop providing enjoyment because of the dulling effects of CREB. They experience strong cravings and often find themselves giving more of their time and attention to porn, sometimes to the detriment of relationships, school, or work. Some report feeling anxious or down until they can get back to their porn. As they delve deeper into the habit, their porn of choice often turns increasingly hard-core. And many who try to break their porn habits report finding it “really hard” to stop. [35]

Unfortunately, slavery isn’t just the business of demons. They’ve taught mankind to play along in the abduction of other human beings, using the Irascible Faculty wrongly, for the fulfillment of the desires of other slaves of demons.[36] The victims of these crimes can be anyone, but are often children, handicapped, and beautiful women deceived into trafficking.[37] Their crime doesn’t stop at abduction. They’ve been known to drug, rape, beat, cane, whip, suffocate, electrocute, drown, mutilate, and choke their victims.[38]

These evils secretly fuel the growth of pornographic content available, in both digital and magazine content.[39] This flies in the face of the most common argument against anti-porn voices: “It isn’t hurting anyone, so why should I stop?” Pornography not only hurts the viewer, but it is built on a foundation of abuse and slavery of other human beings. What Jean-Claude Larchet says about the passion of lust in general has become true of pornography in particular: “…the impassioned person is unaware of the other’s freedom insofar as his only goal is the satisfaction of his own desire…”[40]

God never created us to be slaves to the demonic spirits or to one another. We were meant to have dominion over the entire created order together, in partnership and love with one another, under the dominion of God. Having given ourselves over to the passions, the demons, and enslaved even our own brothers and sisters, we have not only become like the animals, we have become worse than them.

Deiform Man in the Likeness of Beasts. Since “man no longer sees the centre of his being in the image of God, which he bears, but rather in his sexual functions,”[41] he falls into a subhuman state. True humanity, as we have seen above, consists in realizing the goal of his being which is to attain to the perfection of the likeness of God in virtue as well as in office.[42] This virtue was not maintained in the beginning, and is ignored and even mocked in our pornographic culture. This new virtueless state of mankind is seen by the Fathers as a mirror image of the savage beasts, which is fundamentally opposed to the fulfillment of the Image of God.[43] In the words of Saint Maximus the Confessor, man is “compared to the senseless cattle, seeking, desiring, and acting in everything like they, and even surpassing them in insanity…”[44] We now live in “clear and obvious likeness to unreasoning animals.”[45]

What else would you call this culture than an animal culture? We prefer feeding our sexual appetites over the reasonable use of our faculties. We are being herded around like animals by demonic spirits from one expression of lust to another, from one form of sexual deviancy in porn to another. We rape, beat, and even kill each other for sexual pleasure just like animals. And like the animals, we are not free to use our reason to overcome this slavery to lust and pornography.

What’s worse is that the animals, not having an Intellectual Faculty, can’t commit the evils that we can. We enslave each other; electrocute, drown, mutilate, and choke each other; and then we film and photograph these evils to share with and corrupt others to become enslaved to this evil of pornography. As we’ve seen before, these men after being corrupted at a very young age cannot seem to shake their slavery to this passion, losing relationships, jobs, and peace of mind. In other words, the pornographic man loses those good things that separate him from the animal kingdom, sharing a new likeness with them and even the demonic forces that have enslaved them.



It is a matter of fact that lust is an obstacle for restoring the Image and achieving the Likeness of Christ.[46] This cannot be debated. Lust is antithetical to love, which is perfectly expressed in the Trinitarian community and is to be fully realized in the mirror of this community, the Church composed of people who have restored the Likeness of the Image of God in them.[47] Lust is self-loving and self-serving, to the great detriment of everyone in society: men who are most often plagued with pornography, women who have suffered both as viewers and victims, children and the handicapped who should be protected rather than exploited.[48]

This doesn’t have to be so. Just as in the first book of Moses, God even now takes counsel with Himself to remake mankind in the Likeness of His Image. Christ our High Priest has ascended into the heavens and continually prays for us (Hebrews 7:25). The Spirit of God in us groans for us with utterances that are too wonderful for words (Romans 8:26). The Father, in counsel with the Son and the Spirit, grants us every good thing for our salvation, spiritual health, and eternal life. In this counsel, the Son was incarnate, was crucified and risen from the dead for us, and released us from bondage to sin, the devil, and death.

In order to truly restore the Image of God, we should join the Triune God in this conversation through ascetic labor by first making a covenant with our eyes so as to never submit to lust (Job 31:1), shunning pornographic content in every form we find it. We ought to spend the rest of our days grasping after the Likeness of God, for the kingdom of God is taken by force (Matthew 11:12) and the sexually immoral will not inherit it (Galatians 5:19-21).[49]

[1] Daniels, Robert, The War Within (Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2005), 16.

[2] Ibid., 16-17.

[3] Ibid., 18-19. It is of no surprise that Playboy sales dropped as soon as secretly downloading pornographic content in the privacy of one’s home became available with the home computer.

[4] Ibid., 20.




[8] About 72% of Americans report having a smartphone as of February 2016, according to Pew Global.

[9] Daniels, The War Within, 23.


[11] Daniels, The War Within, 24.



[14] Seraphim Rose, Genesis, Creation, and Early Man: The Orthodox Christian Vision 2nd ed. (Platina, CA: St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2011), 199.

[15] Ibid., 141.

[16] Irenaeus of Lyons, On the Apostolic Preaching (Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1997), 46-47, 49.

[17] For kings ruling as the image of their deity in the Ancient Near East, see John Walton, Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006), 89.

[18] Ibid., 212.

[19] Jean-Claude Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses: An Introduction to the Ascetic Tradition of the Orthodox Church Volume I, trans. Fr. Kilian Sprecher (Montréal: Alexander Press, 2012), 17-18.

[20] On man made in the likeness of the Logos, see Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 15, 23 & 47.

[21] On the Intellect’s superior role over the Desiderative Faculty, see Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 63-82. On the Intellect’ superior role over the Irascible power see Ibid., 83-88.

[22] This teaching is expressed by Saints Gregory of Nyssa, Basil the Great, Maximus the Confessor, Thalassius, and Macarius the Great, Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 89.

[23] An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith by Saint John of Damascus, II.XXVII accessed online at

[24] Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 8, 90.

[25] Ibid., 91.

[26] Ibid., 86

[27] “Henceforth man no longer sees the centre of his being in the image of God, which he bears, but rather in his sexual functions.” Ibid., 163. See also Ibid., 40, 161.

[28] Ibid., 77

[29] and

[30] and

[31] Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 94.

[32] Ibid., 94.





[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 166.

[41] Ibid., 163.

[42] Ibid., 41.

[43] Ibid., 41-42.

[44] Ibid., 42.

[45] Rose, Genesis, Creation, and Early Man, 475.

[46] Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 162.

[47] Ibid., 161-2

[48] Ibid., 166

[49] Larchet, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses, 17, 85.

One Comments

  • Olof

    May 15, 2017

    Thank you. Today these horrible and most powerful temptations are just seconds away through our smartphones and it is most important to talk about this so we can build a defense, through Christ, against this old but refined trickery made to make us turn away from God. Thank you for a great article.


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