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Systematic Desensitization to Sin

Systematic Desensitization to Sin

Wile E. Coyote & Penelope Cruz

            I do not think that watching Wile E. Coyote get tricked into a face full of ACME explosives by the Roadrunner dooms anyone to a life of cruelty and crime.  I do not think that occasionally hearing Clarke Gable tell Vivian Leigh, "Frankly, my dear, I just don't care as much as you would like for me to" permanently contaminates character.  I don't even think that thoughtfully observing a jacked Hugh Jackman in Australia (female version) or Penelope Cruz in All The Pretty Horses (male version) leads to inevitable corruption of heart or mind.

            But that's not what we are talking about, are we?

  • 60 percent  of television programs now contain violence.  Not Roadrunner violence.  More than half of the violent incidents feature physical aggression that would be lethal or incapacitating if it were to occur in real life.
  • In the 2013 movie Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DeCaprio, the "F" word was used 506 times, an average use of 2.81 times per minute.  Limits on language are gone with the wind.
  • "Strong sexual content" is included in 70% of all television programs and 85% of movies.  Not content to show Hugh Jackman in a tuxedo, advertisers are now turning to sexual violence as a way to sell soap.      


            Systematic Desensitization is an approach of behavior therapy that is employed to help people overcome irrational fears.  An example is paralyzing dread of spiders.  Gradually, first by looking at pictures of spiders, then by looking at real spiders, then by touching a fake spiders, then by holding a spider in a box, and eventually by holding a real spider in your hand, fear of spiders is diminished. 

            Systematic Desensitization illustrates how human psychology can be manipulated in a positive way, slowly adapting to what was once feared until the anxiety vanishes or becomes manageable.  The system is gradual exposure to more and more of something.  The desensitization is slowly losing aversion.

            Systematic Desensitization reveals a reality of human nature.  Our resistance can slowly diminish to the point that we accept what we once rejected.  Our internal limits are not set in stone.  Instead, they are set in the mushy, malleable substance of our thoughts and emotions - and the mush can be slowly rearranged. 

            Systematic Desensitization also illustrates how human psychology can be manipulated in a negative way.  If we can lose our fear of spiders, of heights, or of riding in airplanes by gradual exposure to what we fear, then we can also lose our moral aversions, eventually accepting what we once rejected.  Solomon is the classic example, slowly losing his religious aversion to paganism due to the systematic desensitization of his many wives' influence.  

            Test yourself: what do you now accept that you once rejected?  You see, Systematic Desensitization works.


            Mushy, malleable human thoughts and emotions explain why Paul said, "Come out from them and be separate, says the Lord. Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you" (II Cor. 6:17).  We would like to think of ourselves as tough guys, able to withstand whatever the world throws at us.  We are, in fact, moral weaklings whose restraint can be easily compromised. 

As God’s promise...for the Israelites, obliged them to separate themselves from their heathen neighbors, that they might not be ensnared with their paganism; much more are Christians separate themselves from the society of the ungodly, and from all their sinful practices, customs, and habits (Benson).

            Generally, then, this means that you and I have to very closely monitor the input we receive.  Just like monitoring salt intake, we have to remain aware of how much of the world is coming in through our eyes and ears.  Just like saying no to salty French fries, we have to say no to certain kinds of images and messages.  There are no comfy half-measures that allow us to remain cozy with the world. 


  • What television shows and movies do you watch?
  • What is your favored music?
  • What publications do you read?
  • What is going on inside those electronic games your kids are playing?
  • What kind of systematic desensitization are your friends and close acquaintances exerting on you?


Don Prather