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There’s One More Atheist in Heaven

Gary Wilson provided research clarity to the ill effects of pornography on the brain, for this he was harassed and hounded in life. His death gives us an opportunity to praise his work.
A tribute to my friend, colleague, and a hero to many, Gary Wilson.

Back in high school, I was in the musical Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat, joining the other shifty sons of Jacob in singing the ballad “There’s One More Angel in Heavenwhich essentially tried to cover up our shady attempt to get rid of a troublesome voice in our lives.   

We lied. And we pretended. And we did everything we could to make this uncomfortable brother of ours go away.

But it didn’t work.  Because God’s hand was on this beleaguered man. And he had a mission to perform.

Most people are at least somewhat familiar of the story about how God used an obscure prisoner in Egypt named Joseph to save the family of Jacob (despite their attempts to kill him) and usher in the future Israelite people. Christians and Jews around the world honor this man and his legacy.

Now, it’s time to honor another man’s legacy, with more people learning how a relatively obscure individual named Gary Wilson, who identified as an atheist, became a tool to do an inspiring work  – arguably accomplishing more himself to free men and women from the ravages of pornography addiction than arguably any religious believer has the world over.

Gary died two days ago (Thursday, May 20 2021 – press release here), after years of battling intense physical pain associated with various treatments for Lyme’s disease, and also after years of relentless, vicious attacks from online trolls who decided to make Gary the lightning-rod target and public example of what people who stood up to pornography so publicly, and so effectively, deserved.

Those who raise their voices to advocate uncomfortable truth have, of course, always been attacked and persecuted.  It was Albert Einstein who once said, “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

Throughout human history, these people standing up on the wall and scorned have usually been called “prophets.”  Jeremiah, Micah, Amos, Ezekial, and Isaiah all suffered intense hatred and public derision throughout their lives, as they raised their voices to share a message of hope, healing, and deliverance. And like many of the apostles in the New Testament, each of these individuals eventually suffered violent deaths; according to the Bible, Micah was pushed off a cliff and Isaiah was sawn in two.

No, Gary wasn’t sawn in two or crucified upside down by his enemies.  But after watching close-up the corrosive, gradual impact of years of cruel bullying, and personally witnessing how it gradually ravaged his emotional and physical health, I go on record today to publicly register my strong conviction that this campaign of enduring aggression was directly responsible for his eventual collapse.

If only these people understood the true goodness of this man—and what acute, aching pain their words often created for him (and for those who loved him).  Much can and should be said (and done) about thiswith some preliminary thoughts of my own in a forthcoming piece of my own, entitled “Looking for a Cause? Join the Movement Fighting-those-Fighting the Porn Industry!”

But the focus today should be squarely on this man and his life’s work. One thing is for sure:  Friends and allies of Gary will not allow the work he led out on to stopnor will we permit his enemies to have the final say.

Me and Gary. I met Gary when working at the non-profit Fight the New Drug, during a time when we were under assault by the same derisive voices—pretending that our efforts to educate teens on the harms of pornography were somehow “misrepresenting” the science.  Gary was pivotal in helping us formulate a public response, centered around what should have been widely obvious to many, and which I believe will be one of Gary’s most lasting influences.  Namely, the extent to which the existing scientific research is stunningly consistent in its conclusions about the impact of pornography.

That may be news to you.  You may be one of many who have heard that the research on pornography is “confusing” or “not clear.” If so, then please take this moment to check out Gary’s website, Your Brain on Porn, or read his best-selling book by the same name (free audio version here, narrated by his friend Noah Church) or watch his 2012 TedTalk here, “The Great Porn Experiment”viewed by 14 million people around the world.

But pay special attention to his research page, which many consider the most comprehensive summary of research on pornography addiction anywhere in the world. On that page, Gary laid out links to careful and comprehensive compilations of research, including (excerpting from his site):

This is the research evidence that many popular voices continue to insist is “debated” or “misrepresented” by those raising concern with the harms of pornography. And this is the reason his ideological opponents couldn’t stand his work…it left so little wiggle room to pretend to any other reality!

And thanks to that precious clarity, many millions of teens and adults all around the world have been able to find themselves today either free from pornography (check out some of the stories) or on a pathway to lasting freedom … disabused from the many fairytales being popularized by people with other agendas, “oh, this porn’s really that harmfulcertainly not addictive … oh, it actually improves relationships and gender attitudes … oh, didn’t you know porn use decreases rape rates? … what we should really be talking about is shame, NOT porn! … oh, don’t you know porn users really just have high sexual desire?”

Nonsense. All of it.

How can we say that with such clarity? Because of Gary Wilson. That’s why.  His website became over the years the go-to place for debunking every one of these kinds of myths with crystalline, and plain-spoken clarityall while giving fresh hope to so many millions that it’s possible to live free from these pornographic illusions. (To get a small sense of what this has meant for real lives, read a handful of some of the nearly 1400 overwhelmingly effusive reviews on the amazon page for his book or over 5,000 first hand accounts of people making progress in their own recovery).

Let this day be the time we collectively dispense of imaginary and reckless counter-notions because, as you can see, the research is abundantly clear. Some may continue to wail and gnash their teeth in opposition to this truth – picking at it, and deriding it.  But thanks to the hard-fought work of this unheralded man, the truth should be clear to anyone open to seeing it.

I had the privilege of presenting alongside Gary in 2018 at the Coalition to End Sexual Exploitation, hosted by the National Center on Sexual Exploitation. Our side-by-side talks focused on the “Facts and Fiction of Porn Research” and a new way to help people recognize “Porn-Science-Propaganda” when they see it.  Doing this with Gary was one of the highlights of my career.  We’ve stayed in contact ever since, with many phone calls and emails I’ve greatly enjoyed.

Speaking to him just days before his passing, Gary’s primary concern to begin our call was to find out about our daughter Emma, who has been struggling with her health.  He told me how much he had been thinking about and concerned for her (and separately told Alexander Rhodes how worried he was about us, in in a separate call).

That’s the kind of man Gary was—and is (more on that below).  I loved (and love) this man’s gentle spirit, and his voracious desire for the truth—documenting it, and sharing it with the world.

All this is why I believe, as a convicted follower of Jesus Christ myself, that Gary is experiencing great joy this week, surely greeted by some sort of a heavenly parade, thanking him for his remarkable work in the world.

And, of course, giving him his first lessons on the reality of the God he unwittingly served on earth below.  (:

Of course, many Christians would argue the opposite—believing as they do that if you haven’t explicitly “confessed the name of Jesus” in this life, well, good luck for you in the next. 

What a despairing and harsh view is that! No, that’s not what I believe – nor millions of Latter-day Saints around the world.  Because as the martyred prophet Joseph Smith beautifully taught, all will be given the opportunity to accept the fullness of truth one day – including, and especially, those good souls who never had a legitimate chance of receiving it.

In the very moment, some are saying, “Lord, Lord, did we not preach in your name…and do many mighty works?” and then hear back, ” I never knew you”—ironically, many others who hardly spoke the name of Jesus—but who accomplished great good for the well-being of God’s sons and daughters on earth—will, I believe, get a surprising embrace from Someone they ended up knowing all too well.

That same being who Isaiah calls “a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” and who was “despised and rejected” by many in his life.  

But not everyone.

Gary also had dear friends who brought sweetness to his life, especially Marnia Robinson.  But also including Noah Church, Gabe Deem, Darryl Mead, Alexander Rhodes, Mary Sharpe, Arion Sprague, Staci Sprout, Don Hilton, Gale Dines, and Liz Walker, who have each made their own important and invaluable contributions to this work.

But Gary also tasted a sizeable amount of that bitter grief himself, in the service of a cause higher than himself … which is what I find most remarkable.

Whereas many only pursue something outside of themselves out of conviction in a higher will or greater cause or divine plan they are beholden to, Gary did all this without any of that conviction. 

Imagine that—and what kind of inner courage, strength and love that would take? 

No wonder his loss is so painful to all who knew and loved him—especially if we believed we would never see him again.  

The Prophet Joseph also taught:More painful to me are the thoughts of annihilation than death. If I have no expectation of seeing my father, mother, brothers, sisters and friends again, my heart would burst in a moment, and I should go down to my grave.”

Mine would too.  If that’s what I believed.

But I don’t. Joseph went on to teach what I know for myself in my bones: death does not extinguish a living soul, and there is a way for for relationships and love in this life to endure forever as well: “And that same sociality which exists among us here will exist among us there, only it will be coupled with eternal glory.”

The God that makes all this possible is the source of my peace today, and my prayer for all of Gary’s friends and family.

So, rather than reassuring ourselves by saying something like, “you will live on in our memories and the work you left behind,” let’s say something much better than that—channeling the parting words in Gladiator by the friend of Maximus following his death: “I will see you again, but not yet…not yet.”

Today, I issue this tribute to a Giant of a man—who will be spoken of in future history books as one of the lone “voices in the wilderness” sharing a hopeful message that millions were desperate to hear, and a handful were desperate to silence.  

Thank you, Gary.  Enjoy that parade.

You deserve it.  I’m going to live differently because of you, as so many millions others can likewise say. 

I love you and your sweetheart Marniaas do so many here you left behind.  

We’ll take good care of herand keep up the good fight.   

Can’t wait to see you again.



“Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? …We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.Thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Corinthians 15:54–57)

“Behold, it has been made known unto me by an angel, that the spirits of all men, as soon as they are departed from this mortal body, yea, the spirits of all men, whether they be good or evil, are taken home to that God who gave them life. And then shall it come to pass, that the spirits of those who are righteous are received into a state of happiness, which is called paradise, a state of rest, a state of peace, where they shall rest from all their troubles and from all care, and sorrow.” (Alma 4: 11-12)


About the author

Jacob Z. Hess

Jacob Hess is a contributing editor at Deseret News and publishes longer-form pieces at He co-authored "You're Not as Crazy as I Thought, But You're Still Wrong" and “The Power of Stillness: Mindful Living for Latter-day Saints.” He has a Ph.D. in clinical-community psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.
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