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Friday, August 23, 2013

Does The Left Have More To Say Against Pornography Than The Right

The Bible is replete with stories of people who are more than willing to become sociopaths for the sake of power or prosperity. In Genesis 19:1-10 and Judges 19:12-29, wicked men surround the house where visitors were staying and demand that the owner give up the visitors so the evil townsmen could have sex with them. As Carl Trueman points out about the Judges 19 passage, the real issue was power rather than sex (click here for the talk). For the men of the town wanted to show the visitors and their host who was boss. 

In Acts 16:16-19, Paul casts a spirit out of a slave girl. This caused an uproar because the girl's owners made money off of her misery as the spirit that possessed her also enabled her to tell the future. When her owners discovered that they could no longer profit from her predictions, they dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities to be imprisoned and punished. Here, power didn't turn the hearts of the girl's owners into stone, it was the love of money and prosperity that did.

The purpose of this post is to compare the arguments against pornography made by a couple of people on the Left with those made by a couple of people on the Right. Because of old stereotypes, some conservatives are surprised that there are Leftists who oppose what conservatives consider to be sexual sins. On the other hand, it is unfortunate that too many liberals and leftists consider conservative opposition to pornography to be prudish and the result of too much inhibition. We will find that those from both the Left and the Right can provide useful information and reasons for abstaining from consuming pornography. And we need this information because those who direct and produce these films and those who crave watching them are beginning to become like the heartless people described in the Scriptures cited above. For as Robert Jensen, one of the people being reviewed here, wrote that pornography illustrates what the end of the world looks like because it leads people to abandon having a caring identification with others and a world without that kind of care has no hope. 

The people we are comparing are Chris Hedges, Robert Jensen, William Shishko, and Carl Trueman. And though I don't have enough material from any of these writers to guarantee that neither mistakes will be avoided nor people underrepresented, we can all benefit from the information provided.

The main source in understanding Hedge's view of pornography can be found in Chapter 2 his book, Empire Of Illusion: The End Of Literacy And The Triumph Of Spectacle. He calls this chapter "Illusion Of Love." A helpful source in understanding Robert Jensen's view of pornography can be found in his book, Getting Off: Pornography And The End Of Masculinity. Since I did not have access to his book, I used various YouTube videos as well as internet articles. Because of the explicit references made in some articles and videos, there are only a couple of links that I feel I can share on this blog. But I would highly encourage anyone who can tolerate numerable explicit sexual references to look up  what Hedges and Jensen have written and said about pornography. The references that I can share here include this interview with Robert Jensen and this interview with Chris Hedges. Btw, there is a link to the same interviews in the Audio-Visual Library page of this blog

My sources for Trueman and Shishko will only consist of the few internet articles I could find. Thus, I will try to be careful regarding any conclusions I make about their views but note that my caution will not prevent mistakes. And please realize that any conclusions I do make are from the materials available to me.  The internet articles written by Trueman consist of: The Problem With Porn Is The Problem With Culture, Playboy Is In Trouble -- But It's Not Good News, and Pornography: The New Normal. The internet article written by William Shishko is called, Pastor To Pastor: The Perils Of Pornography.

One of the basic differences in the views of the people we are comparing here can be seen in the methodologies used to study the subject. For the most part, Hedges and Jensen, approached pornography as investigative journalists. Thus, they gain most of their information from interviews, critical observations of porn, and attending adult film conventions. Their first focus is on the performers who help produce pornography. Here, they zero in on the women filmed while performing sexual acts, but Hedges will also tells us a little about the male performers. However, Jensen, in particular, will also talk extensively about the consumers of porn. He includes himself as a former consumer. 

In contrast to them, Trueman and Shishko approach the subject as ministers and theologians. Trueman also approaches the subject as a cultural critic. As ministers, Trueman and Shishko admonish all in the audience to abstain from all pornography for the sake of one's own soul. Thus, their concern will focus on a subset of actual or potential consumers of pornography. In addition, Trueman tries to identify some of the cultural factors that contribute to the making and demand for pornography.

There are two kinds of motivation we can use to resist the temptation to enjoy pornography. These different motivations coincide with what was written in the recent post, Are You An Innie Or Outie Christian. That is we have external reasons for abstaining from watching pornography and internal reasons. 

An  external reason would be to refuse to look at porn because of how some, who produce it, suffer as a result. The women performers involved suffer multiple personal and physical traumas in the making of the films. Personal traumas include verbal and emotional abuse as well as the emotional impact of having so many partners. Many of these women suffer from PTSD, as Hedges testifies, and the traumas and overwhelming stress provoke the need for the women performers to take drugs and alcohol to numb and manage the full impact of their sexual activities. Because of the severity of the PTSD and the coping through drug use suffered by the women performers, Hedges more than appropriately calls pornography "necrophilia."  The physical traumas suffered by these women include tears in intimate areas which require surgical repair, bruises from being hit, the physical trauma from the number of partners involved, and the contraction of diseases some of which have no cure. 

Thus, an external reason for not consuming porn is to refrain from contributing to the humiliation, degradation, and abuse of the women performers. And this remains an external reason for as long as we refuse to look at pornography simply because of the concern we have for these women. For those progressives who are tempted to look at porn, Chris Hedges has this challenge. He asks, how can it be so wrong to abuse women in foreign sweatshops but it can be ok when that abuse comes from the sex exploitation industry in America?

Hedges compares the pictures from Abu Graib with what can be seen in pornography. And lest we think that only the women performers in porn are affected, the verbal, physical, and sexual abuse these performers must suffer while being filmed along with the pervasive theme of male dominance and female humiliation and degradation are, according to Jensen, designed to be associated with eroticism by the producers of porn. Thus, the present and future female partners of porn consumers can also suffer from the messages preached by pornographic films. 

In terms of providing external reasons for not watching porn, Hedges and Jensen prove to be invaluable sources. With regard to the welfare of the performers, neither Trueman nor Shishko help us understand the suffering and injustices that are endured in making such films. One of the reasons for this is that the amount and kind of information coming from Hedges and Jensen is the kind that comes from practicing journalism rather than theology. From this, we must not conclude that neither Trueman nor Shishko are naive regarding the exploitation involved in making these films. Trueman says that women are exploited in pornography. But in his and Shishko's writings used for this post, this is not seem to be an important issue.

However, there is an external reason for men not watch pornography from the Conservative Christian side. That external reason is located in the wives of the would be consumers. But in briefly mentioning this, it is evident that for Trueman and Shishko, the vast majority of reasons for not viewing pornography are internal reasons according to the material reviewed. That is the key question asked by a person considering watching pornography is, how does it affect me? How does it affect my innocence before others and before God? How does it affect my relationships with the spouse and the family? This last question is a different question than asking how would the spouse and family be hurt if I watch pornography. 

Both Jensen and Shishko provide more than adequate internal reasons for why we should not sneak a peak at pornography. For Jensen, the internal reasons revolve around whether pornography fed expectations can prevent one from finding sexual satisfaction as well as will such expectations cause one to fall into the "masculinity trap." According to Jensen, the "masculinity trap" is a never ending and never succeeding real life game of trying to prove that one is man enough. 

For Shishko, it is our eternal standing before God that is the issue. We must remain pure and unstained if we are to join God forever. For the Scriptures are clear in asserting that the sexually immoral will not enter the Kingdom of God. And here Shishko gives a stern warning because he knows, just as Jensen does, that viewing pornography can be enslaving and it can be that way to anyone. Here, both Shishko and Jensen share their past and present struggles with pornography.  And this honesty by both of these men is helpful because none of us are invulnerable to the allurement that pornography calls with.  

Neither Trueman nor Shishko are naive about how tempting pornography can be to ministers. In the video referenced at the beginning of this post, Trueman stresses the fact that the crowd that asked the host to bring out his visitor so they could rape him were Israelites, were the people of God. That, according to Trueman, this section of Judges gives an illustration of how low God's people can go. In addition, Trueman calls pornography viewed on the internet as today's top pastoral problem. 

Shishko provides tips for battling the urge to look at pornography. They can be summed up by saying don't be arrogant, use whatever tools you can to keep yourself pure so you can have an enjoyable temporal and eternal future.

We should note that there is common ground between the secular approaches of Hedges and Jensen and the Christian approaches of Trueman and Shishko. This is especially apparent when we compare Trueman with Jensen. Both are disturbed by today's market for porn and what that says about us. Both see in porn a constant, unfortunate changing in what is private and what is public. Both see the never ending search for change and for something new in porn.

However, there is a factor that both makes them different and similar at the same time. For Jensen, the Feminist critique of porn that says it is about male domination rather than sex carries much weight. Hence, Jensen identifies the existence of our patriarchal society as contributing to the making and use of porn. Trueman embraces a Biblical patriarchal approach only emphasizing that male headship should use its strength and position to sacrifice for and protect women rather than to dominate them. Though Jensen would heartily agree with Trueman about how men should use their strength to show compassion, Jensen argues that compassionate strength is a human quality rather than just a male one. And Jensen would challenge male headship because of the patriarchy that comes with it. Here Trueman must be careful in defining male headship so that it not only sacrifices for and protects women, but so that it it doesn't use paternalism to limit the contributions that women can make.

So, does the Left have more to say against pornography than the Right? In reality, such is a silly question. It is like asking do you want to be able sleep or be able to eat? Why not choose both? From a Christian perspective, there is nothing said by any of the men reviewed here that merits criticism. Nothing! They all have significant contributions to make to those who fight to resist consuming pornography. 

Certainly Christians, like myself, would love to see Hedges and Jensen see the spiritual ramifications of using porn which we see. However, because Christians, like myself, tend to use internal reasons only to motivate ourselves to refrain from sin, we can eventually make ourselves hyper-vigilant about our own internal state and thoughts. Such vigilance can be counterproductive in any fight against temptation as it causes us to obsess about it.  To be motivated to act or refrain from acting for the welfare of others regardless of what benefit it bring us is a foreign motivation to many Conservative Christians. But it is one that could serve us well in our own personal lives as well as in our witness to the world. 




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