One moment during the lowest point of their journey, when all seems lost in the black ashes of Mordor, Samwise Gamgee asks Frodo whether he can remember the taste of good food and the feeling of warmth. Frodo’s reply has haunted me often:
"'No, I am afraid not, Sam,” said Frodo. "At least, I know that such things happened, but I cannot see them. No taste of food, no feel of water, no sound of wind, no memory of tree or grass or flower, no image of moon or star are left to me. I am naked in the dark, Sam, and there is no veil between me and the wheel of fire.”
I don’t think I have ever read anything that more poetically expresses what it’s like to be addicted to pornography than that passage.
Of course, that’s not what J.R.R. Tolkien was going for. In fact, Tolkien never quite fully fleshes out what kind of psychological affect the One Ring has on Frodo or Gollum or any other bearer. In a way, the lack of specific detail enhances the horror of both Gollum and Frodo’s transformations; we don’t know what exactly is going on inside them, but we can hear their cries.
The corrosive effect of porn on the soul is likewise shrouded in that kind of agonizing mystery. As someone who was rescued from severe bondage to porn, I can feel the contrast in my life now versus my life then much more keenly than I can describe it. I feel emotional lightness, I suppose, and I no longer live in that withering dread of exposure that colored every human encounter. But there’s something deeper, something in the inner chambers that seems to be pointed in another direction, almost as if I’d spent my entire life in a basement and have just recently seen through a window.
What does Frodo mean by “naked in the dark”? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that the metaphor rings true when applied to porn. Porn requires nakedness, and that is part of its appeal, but the nakedness it demands is in the darkness, so that the porn addict can neither see himself clearly or the object of his desire clearly (and those are often the same thing). To be naked in the dark is to be blind and vulnerable, unable to cover oneself because of the darkness, and unwilling to walk into light until clothed.
Interestingly, the One Ring frequently tricks its wearer into thinking that he is the rightful owner of the Ring’s power and is thus entitled to it (this is Samwise’s temptation earlier in The Return of the King). The Ring initially bestows a false sense of glory, but then what happens, according to Frodo? “Naked in the dark.” The Ring promises to make kings but only creates slaves.
Pornography may seem to be a mainly erotic temptation, but its deepest appeal is spiritual. Viewers come for the titillation but they stay for the autonomy, the power to make an alternate reality in which mythological figures (actors and models) submit unhesitatingly. But like the One Ring, this is an illusion, one that conceals porn’s slavish designs. This is one reason pornography is not merely an aberrant kind of sex, but something different from sex altogether. Sex, even prostitution, requires reality and knowledge; porn depends on fantasy and ignorance. Like the Ring, pornography promises kingship but delivers only serfdom.
Freedom comes for Frodo after the Ring was destroyed. Tolkien describes the moment right the Ring falls, with Gollum, into the volcanic Crack of Doom:
"Well, this is the end, Sam Gamgee," said a voice by his side. And there was Frodo, pale and worn, and yet himself again; and in his eyes there was peace now, neither strain of will, nor madness, nor any fear. His burden was taken away.
When the Ring was destroyed, Frodo’s enslaved state of mind was destroyed too. So it seems that the nefarious power of the Ring included the eventual melding of its wearer’s mind with the Ring’s own mind. The Ring joined its evil nature to the nature of the One who desired it, so that the fate of the one was connected to the other.
This is true in a meaningful way of sin. Theologian G.K. Beale has written about a motif in biblical literature whereby those who worship idols eventually become like the idols they worship. The Old Testament prophets believed that to worship a false god is to, in a sense, take on the nature of that god, so that those who worship a god that cannot hear, speak, or move, likewise become deaf, mute, and impotent.
What about those who worship porn? Porn is illusory, and indeed, those addicted to it are often deeply disconnected from reality. Porn is cruel; those hooked on it are frequently manipulative and exploitive of others. And porn is dark, and very many people in its hold live under thick layers of secrecy and isolation.
Pornography is torture. Even in the midst of its most pleasurable delusions, it tortures the mind and spirit. Like Frodo under the spell of the Ring, people trapped in the compulsions of pornography often cannot imagine the tastes and smells and sights of life in the light and the open air, the warmth of existence not shrouded in shame. The Ring could only be destroyed in the place it was made. The same is true of pornography; its shackles can only be undone in the spiritual realm, the realm where the shackles were forged.
Like Frodo, Christ entered the heart of darkness’s domain. He did so for Ring-bearers who couldn’t even take the journey towards their freedom. In Christ the power of sin was destroyed forever so that those united with him can be rid of their hellish burden. “Peace I leave with you,” Jesus said. “My peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”