Book Review

He Restoreth My Soul Chapter One

A review and response to the book "He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" by Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD (Neurosurgeon).

This response addresses chapter one "Out of the Mouth of the Lion" pgs. 3–6.

Obstacle - Collective Identity

Chapter one is only three pages. In those three pages, Hilton leverages a "collective identity" or "collective behavior" to signal safe passage to his readers. This safe passage is critical to the LDS community. Within our culture, we are leary of "outside" sources in general, but especially those regarding sexuality or issues involving sexuality. The sanctimoniousness in which we address sexuality is both beautiful and hindering. Our view of sexuality is beautiful because of our connecting it to eternal progression. It’s hindering because we perceive external (those outside the faith) experts as a threat to that sacred sexuality.

Therefore, because Hilton is generally unknown among the faithful members of the church — he is neither a General Authority or an "official" resource for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint — he signals to the reader that he is a safe source by using language, analogies, scriptures and conclusions the collective identity already agrees with.

In social psychology there is a concept referred to as collective behavior:

"Collective behaviour, the kinds of activities engaged in by sizable but loosely organized groups of people. Episodes of collective behaviour tend to be quite spontaneous, resulting from an experience shared by the members of the group that engenders a sense of common interest and identity. The informality of the group’s structure is the main source of the frequent unpredictability of collective behaviour....

The U.S. sociologist Robert E. Park, who coined the term collective behaviour, defined it as “the behavior of individuals under the influence of an impulse that is common and collective, an impulse, in other words, that is the result of social interaction.” He emphasized that participants in crowds, fads, or other forms of collective behaviour share an attitude or behave alike, not because of an established rule or the force of authority, and not because as individuals they have the same attitudes, but because of a distinctive group process." Britannica

Hilton's appeal to the collective identity isn't inherently bad. Knowing your audience and connecting with the culture of your audience is good communication. However, when that appeal is used to perpetuate unfounded claims and assumptions, it’s contributing to a systemic problem. Whether he intended it or not, his leveraging a collective identity and backing it up with his credentials creates unchallenged buy-in within the community. 

Wresting

Hilton leverage the collective identity with a simple recipe:

  1. Identify a concept the particular community already agrees with: "Porn is evil."

  2. Quote a from a scripture or prophet/apostle that vaguely supports identified concept.

  3. Share a miraculous/captivating story/analogy that emphasizes concept.

  4. Provide vague non-solution that is often in the form of the "atonement".

1.

Hilton isn't sharing anything new to the intended community; however, he is feeding into the fear and panic of the "porn epidemic." He capitalizes on the readers’ fears by conveying the idea that no one is safe, and if we all are not vigilant, the dangers of porn will, like a lion "[grab] them by the spiritual throat and [strangle] the life out of happiness, joy, companionship, learning, love (both romantic and platonic), spirituality, reason, and life itself." He later references pop-psychology jargon, that if exposed to porn "even the sexual self being ruined and consumed as the chemically altered brain is left to crave what can never be fully satisfied." These statements are deeply problematic, untrue, divisive and communicate a confusing message of despair and hopelessness.

2.

Hilton's use of 1 Peter 5:8 is ironic. Hiltons's use of scripture here is referred to as proof-texting.

"Many Christian ministers and Christian teachers have used some version of the following humorous anecdote to demonstrate the dangers of prooftexting: "A man dissatisfied with his life decided to consult the Bible for guidance. Closing his eyes, he flipped the book open and pointed to a spot on the page. Opening his eyes, he read the verse under his finger. It read, 'Then Judas went away and hanged himself' (Matthew 27:5b). Finding these words unhelpful, the man randomly selected another verse. This one read, 'Jesus told him, "Go and do likewise."' (Luke 10:37b). In desperation, he tried one more time. The text he found was: 'What you are about to do, do quickly.'" (John 13:27) Wikipedia

Also refer to "Proof-Texting is a Bad Habit that we Need to Break".

Throughout his book, Hilton assigns his own meaning to the particular passages he quotes. As for 1 Peter 5:8, he fails to emphasize the "sober" concept that Peter was conveying in "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour."

Isolating verse 8 from the context of Peter's message would lead any reader to believe we SHOULD be fearful of the "roaring lion." However, Peter’s message was quite the opposite. "Be sober" is a message of hope, love and grace. Peter is teaching about God's grace through the Atonement. We are safe, inspite of the "roaring lion," to be vigilant and observant how the fear of the lion will rob us of our joy. Let’s read this verse in context:

"6 Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: 7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. 8 Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour: 9 Whom resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. 10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you perfect, stablish, strengthen, settle you. 11 To him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen." 1 Peter 5: 6-11

How should believers live, believing in a real devil — a spiritual enemy with an agenda to bring harm to Christians? Peter's answer to that question begins this verse: Be sober-minded. Be alert. It's the third time in this letter Peter has urged his readers to be clear minded (1 Peter 1:13; 1 Peter 4:7). It matters that we are paying attention, with serious minds, to what's going on in our lives and in the world around us.

"Peter writes that there is danger beyond the physical persecution some of his readers were facing. There is a deep agenda, far beyond that of the powerful men who might inflict that persecution. The devil, not the men or women who might harm us, is the real enemy of a Christian believer.

Our enemy the devil desires to devour us, to cause real and lasting harm. The Greek word here is katapiein, literally meaning to "swallow," or to "drown." Peter has made it clear that our place in eternity with our Father is secure. The devil cannot take that from us, but he does seek to damage our faith. He wants fear to shake our submission to the Father, and lies to distort our understanding of God's goodness. Since He cannot touch the believer's soul, Satan seeks to leave us as weak and ineffective servants of our King.

In the next verse, Peter will describe how to fight that enemy. Notice, also, what he doesn't tell Christians to do. He doesn't say to live in fear. Nor does he say to live as if the reality of the devil is unimportant. We are not instructed to ignore the devil, nor to cower in the shadows." BibleRef

3.

Ironically, Hilton's focus is on the fear, the devil, the hopelessness, the loss, the damage. Unfortunately, he continues to misuse Peter's lion analogy, convincing the reader they are not safe, to hyperventilate before shadows. This does not create a clear and sober mind, let alone an informed mind. It creates panic and fear, and turns power over to the devil — exactly what Peter was warning us not to do.

Additionally, Hilton reinforces his faulty interpretation of the scripture by quoting non-experts on the subject. Although President Hinckley has perceived a potential danger that seems to be associated with pornography, both Hilton and Hinckley's comments oversimplify the complexity of the problems and fail to address the root issues involved in "damaging hearts and souls."

In Hilton's reference to a professional in chapter one, he not only quotes the therapist incorrectly, he again takes it out of context and misrepresents the intent of the therapist. In quoting Mark Haney, Hilton claims "pornography addiction" is what leads a teenager to experience "isolated agony."

First, "isolated agony" is nowhere in John Mark Haney's article "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction.”

Hilton, although vague in his misquoting Haney, the misquote leads the reader to believe pornography is what creates the isolation. This is false and NOT what Haney stated.

"Normalize the Issue: Many teenagers who are developing compulsive pornography problems do so in agonized isolation, often believing that they are perverts and alone in their actions. It can be helpful for the professional to educate them on the prevalence of the issue while still clearly communicating the dangers so they don’t trade their isolation for an ‘oh well, since everyone is doing it …’ idea, for that is common too."

Hilton's careless and self-serving misquoting and changing of context is reckless. Haney's only use of "isolation" is in a section educating the reader to "normalize the issue" with teens, recognizing that teens "often [believe] that they are perverts and alone." It is NOT because of the pornography, but because of the lack of education and clarity (sober thought) on the subject. This is a HUGE misrepresentation and is foreshadowing of Hilton's carelessness throughout the book.

Second, it seems like Hilton didn't even read the "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction" article.

"Some critical cultural, religious, and socioeconomic factors with pornography and youth warrant mention. Some cultures have much broader parameters surrounding what is considered appropriate with sexuality, while cultural norms within other groups make the topic almost unmentionable. Therefore, practitioners must attempt to educate themselves about cultural mores. ... Similarly, approaches to spirituality and religion can have a profound impact on a teenager’s sexual development, and not always in the way that a parent intends. For example, some youth who come from rigid and legalistic religious backgrounds that wrap sexuality in shame and guilt, try to forcefully repress their desires, which causes them to unconsciously bond with the same profane elements they are trying to ignore. When they act on these repressed desires, the resulting shame and self-loathing just perpetuates the cycle."

4.

After a confusing message of hopelessness and fear, Hilton's solution is the atonement, but he doesn't actually talk about the atonement. In just two paragraphs, he demonstrates his lack in doctrinal understanding and his mockery of those who have embraced the atonement without reprieve. He confuses agency, sin, transgression and biological limitations.

Somehow he is under the impression that women experiencing pornography is limited to chat rooms. This is complete ignorance, and potentially another misreading of the "Teenagers and Pornography Addiction" article.

Hilton suggests homosexuality is a similar issue as pornography and an addiction. Is Hilton suggesting reparative, conversion or aversion therapy?

Hilton's leveraging a collective identity is irresponsible and mitigates readers from identifying and questioning his inconsistencies and double checking his references.

See also: 

He Restoreth My Soul Introduction

He Restoreth My Soul Introduction

A review and response to the book "He Restoreth My Soul: Understanding and Breaking the Chemical and Spiritual Chains of Pornography Addiction Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ" by Donald L. Hilton Jr., MD (Neurosurgeon).

This response addresses the Introduction to "He Restoreth My Soul", pgs. ix–xv.

General Thoughts and Impressions

While reading Hilton's book, the voice of Lemony Snicket would frequently enter my mind,

“Assumptions are dangerous things to make, and like all dangerous things to make — bombs, for instance, or strawberry shortcake — if you make even the tiniest mistake you can find yourself in terrible trouble. Making assumptions simply means believing things are a certain way with little or no evidence that shows you are correct, and you can see at once how this can lead to terrible trouble.”

As a clinician, father and husband with a profound desire to solve the "porn problem," I have spent my career and free time consuming every case study, research article, book, program and literature addressing porn and sex addiction both in the church and academia. Each study Hilton refers to in this book I have dissected and reread numerous times prior to reading his book. Not only am I well versed in the research, I routinely work with clients within the faith who struggle with out-of-control sexual behavior and pornography. Although this is a complicated emotional and spiritual issue and each individual is different, I am familiar what works and what doesn't work. Furthermore, I am aware of paradigms and treatment interventions that appear to work in the short term but have damaging long-term consequences.

Therefore, it is perplexing to me how Hilton, a medical doctor, has published a book full of assumptions and confirmations biases, especially considering such an important topic. I have no desire to question his integrity. In fact, I assume the best in that he has the desire to solve the "porn problem" too. However, his assumptions, conclusions and frequent use (and interpretation) of research are often off the mark, unsupported and sometimes hysteria that I can't help but wonder what he was thinking and how he thought this would be helpful. For someone not trained in medical science, regardless of the field of study, I could easily give a pass for authoring a book like "He restoreth My Soul." But Hilton is a medical doctor and uses his credentials on the book and throughout as a means to authoritatively back his statements.

Using his credentials adds weight to both his statements and a necessary backing to those statements. Using one's credentials, whether intending to act in that role or not, carries with it an important responsibility to accurately represent that profession and professional responsibility. Although each of are not excused from due diligence, the misuse of credentials can have lasting and harmful consequences. For example, when working with clients who dismiss sound therapeutic guidance and interventions, referencing the "science" from the neurosurgeon’s book "He Restoreth My Soul."

Furthermore, although I don't recall Hilton specifically stating that his book is a manual for leaders in the church, he has interwoven the LDS 12-step Addiction Recovery Program (ARP) throughout the book and frequently appeals to scriptural authority making it that "He Restoreth My Soul" has become a go-to book for bishops supporting their ward members. Again, this results in leadership dismissing sound therapeutic counsel for the "science" from a neurosurgeon’s book. Whether he intended it or not, Hilton has interfered with the health of a client.

If he simply published as a concerned member in the faith, providing his opinion, without any reference to his credentials, that might be one thing. But he's asserting authority and making scientifically false statements that ARE wrong and potentially damaging.

Due to the significant number of claims, statements and assumptions and popularity of this book, this review will address each chapter in its respective blog posts. The purpose of this review(s) has at least three goals: 1) provide hope, clarity and healing to those struggling with porn and out-of-control or undesired sexual behavior, 2) correct misinformation that prevents healing, 3) provide readers of "He Restoreth My Soul" a meaningful response to Hiltons assumptions.

Introduction

Within his introduction, Hilton states his purpose for writing "He Restoreth My Soul" as a "response to what I regard as the primary threat to our peace as individuals, families, Church members, and as a society, culture, nation, and world." (pg. ix)

It's important for me to point out and give Hilton credit for stating this as his opinion, "what I regard" and emphasizing in the following sentence that these thoughts are his alone and not of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, even with that "disclaimer," he establishes the premise of his book, which draws heavily on literature, research and scripture. His opinion is given as an absolute, not a thesis or hypothesis.

Ironically, Hilton emphasizes later in his introduction, "knowledge is power," though he seems to neglect essential facts. The very premise of his book is based entirely on opinion and not fact or knowledge. His opinion that pornography is the "primary threat to our peace as individuals, families, Church members, and as a society, culture, nation, and world." His belief that it's the primary threat is not only unsupported but oversimplifies the problem and prevents meaningful solutions.

His "regard as the primary threat" functions as the filter and lens through which he interprets every study, literature and personal experience. In science, this is referred to as confirmation bias.

"Confirmation bias, the tendency to process information by looking for, or interpreting, information that is consistent with one’s existing beliefs. This biased approach to decision making is largely unintentional and often results in ignoring inconsistent information. Existing beliefs can include one’s expectations in a given situation and predictions about a particular outcome. People are especially likely to process information to support their own beliefs when the issue is highly important or self-relevant." Britannica

Hilton acknowledges his confirmation bias by stating, "I began writing some thoughts after searching the current medical literature on the chemical aspects of sexual addictions and then focused on pornography addiction." He then further acknowledges his very limited and isolated experience with "addiction" was during a mandatory psychiatry rotation in a substance abuse clinic while a medical student.

Hilton is clearly stating here that 1) his confirmation bias led him to only read "chemical aspects of sexual addictions," and 2) those findings led him to adapt those findings or focus on porn addiction. Further, his limited experience wasn't as a trained therapist in psychiatry, but as a medical student in a substance abuse clinic addressing severe substance abuse. Despite his limited and filtered knowledge and experience with addiction, he concludes that "rat models of Parkinson's disease, which is a defect in one component of the dopaminergic system of the brain, just as addiction is an imbalance in another dopaminergic system."

He jumps to conclusions and absolutes are not only evidence of Hilton’s confirmation bias but are also misleading, incomplete, and wrong. Also notice how he draws on his limited experience studying rats with Parkinson's disease to alert the reader, "which is ONE component of the dopaminergic system."  He compares and oversimplifies Parkinson to ONE component. Then he states absolutely, "just as addiction is an imbalance is an imbalance" of a DIFFERENT dopaminergic system. He not only concludes that dopamine deficiency is cause of addiction, but uses something scary like Parkinson's to heighten the reader's attention. (I'll address the fallacies of the dopamine claims in my review of chapter 2 "What is Addiction?")

The introduction is riddled with misinformation, scientifically and therapeutically erroneous statements. He also perpetuates unhealthy dynamics in relationships by warning for women in the church to be aware of these dangers so they can "be discerning in dating and eventually choosing a marriage partner." I can't tell you how many men have said women have left a dating relationship because the men have said they have looked at porn. Good men have resulted to hiding, lying or justifying their behavior because they are afraid the girl they are dating or their wife will leave them and view them as an addict.

Hilton in the "What Can We Do?" portion of the introduction reinforces these assumptions and absolutes, unhealthy and potentially dangerous suggestions. I will address each of these at length in the following reviews. But a few of the most troubling and uninformed suggestions I will mention here:

"Treat pornography and sexual addiction as a full addiction, and not from a behavioral/spiritual perspective alone." 

This suggestion is an example of Hilton’s profound lack (or isolated) experience and knowledge on the topic of addiction and sexual behavior. As I will point out in forthcoming reviews, his definition of addiction is nonsensical first of all. But treating pornography as a "full addiction" could be compared to requiring brain surgery every time someone has a headache.

"Disclosure of each incident of viewing or sexually acting out is essential to obtain both repentance and recovery." 

If one can't share with their spouse what they have viewed or sexual acting out, I assure you, the problem isn't pornography. As for confessing to a bishop of "each incident," this is not only ridiculous, but there is no support for this in church policy or doctrine. It also perpetuates the problem. Clients have routinely reported, "Oh well, I backslid. Since I have to tell the bishop I might as well make the most of this." This comment also sets the bishop up as something he is NOT. He is not a therapist; he is not an intervention specialist. Disclosing each incident is also not repentance; it's not measuring success or failure. Furthermore, how is an "incident" defined? By the bishop, by the individual, by the individual's spouse?

"Recognizing that many married men are secretly addicted, and have support groups ready to help them emerge from addiction." 

Yes. Hilton is absolutely correct. At least with the "secretly." But not because of the lack of resources or support groups. Rather, because they are sick and tired of being told they are addicts. "Of course, that's what an addict would say." Right? Wrong. Most individuals who have a "porn addiction" are aware of it. They don't deny it. But they hide it because of how their support community reacts to them.

As I mentioned, there are many errors in the introduction. I never discourage someone from reading, but I would strongly caution the reader of "He Restoreth My Soul" to be wise and question these bold assumptions. I encourage the reader to question my review also, just as I encourage you to challenge Hilton. Challenge me. Look of the research in its full context and expand your experience and resources.

Chapter 1: "Out of the Mouth of the Lion"