Saturday, October 04, 2008

Staying un-Pornified

I haven't actually read the book, but it was featured in a First Things article from January 2008. April's letters department contained this observation:
Pornography is everywhere....
    How many times can one man turn away from the billboard, shut off the TV, or throw away the magazine before succumbing to temptation? .... Before anyone will fight a war on pornography, they will have to acknowledge that there is a war to fight.
First Things, April 2008, pp. 8-9
And so the current issue of The Atlantic arrives with an article titled "Is Pornography Adultery?" by Ross Douthat. Now the Atlantic is hardly a proponent of a return to Victorian values or of conservative religious dogma (Hitchens is a frequent contributor), but here is a senior editor quoting Matthew 5:28 and arguing that "the Internet era has ratcheted the experience of pornography much closer to adultery than I suspect most porn users would like to admit."

Douthat covers various viewpoints on pornography, but he argues compellingly that the category of "cheating on your spouse" includes a whole lot more than extramarital coitus. It includes some of Bill Clinton's activities in the White House for example. Would it include "phone sex"? Probably. Staring at, meditating upon, delighting in the image of the "Playmate of the Month"? Ask your wife.

I mean really, if the husband's pledge includes "forsaking all others, to cleave to her only" -- then there's a whole lot of possible behaviors that would violate that pledge.

Douthat closes with this zinger:
Smut isn't going to bring down Western Civilization any more than Nero's orgies actually led to the fall of Rome, and a society that expects near-universal online infidelity may run just as smoothly as a society that doesn’t.

Which is precisely why it's so easy to say that the spread of pornography means that we're just taking a turn, where sex and fidelity are concerned, toward realism, toward adulthood, toward sophistication. All we have to give up to get there is our sense of decency.
"Is Pornography Adultery?" The Atlantic October 2008, p. 86
It was great seeing that in my favorite monthly magazine.

Now let me back up a bit... the rhetorical question in the First Things letter: How many times can one man shut off the TV?

The answer came for me while we were still living in Japan (about a decade ago). My answer was: not enough times. There are things on TV, especially hotel TV, that I should not see, but I saw them and didn't always turn away.

From that day onward, I made a little rule for myself: Never turn on the TV when alone in a hotel room.

Does this mean I'm a chicken or that I'm prudent? Well, yes it does. Paul tells us to flee sexual immorality (not just "avoid actual physical adultery"). Therefore "no hotel room TV" is part of my plan.

And if you happen to see me while I'm traveling on business, or shortly afterward, would you ask me this please:
Seen anything interesting on TV lately?

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