Pornography and Our Anthropological Crisis

I recently had a piece published over at The Gospel Coalition Canada called Pornogaphy Poisons Everything.

I like the image of the bright green snake picked out by the editor, but the title I proposed fell a bit flat. I’m no expert in marketing or anything, but it seems there should be a little twist of intrigue in the title of a piece that piques the interest of the prospective reader. In my case, I just bluntly stated the thesis of my piece in three words and left it at that. No mystery. Upon further reflection, even adding a single word would have helped: How Pornography Poisons Everything. Ah, that’s better. Well, lesson learned.

Despite the title I’ve been very pleased with the engagement the piece has received, as it was linked to by the main TGC website and Twitter account as well as Tim Challies – major boosters of traffic! Such was their reach that I’ve now got a little radio interview scheduled to discuss the topic further with the fine folks at Moody Radio Florida. I expect this will consist of me trying hard not to say anything spectacularly stupid and my wife trying to keep the kids quiet while I talk into my computer.

I have been reflecting on the themes in the article for a number of years, so I am grateful that people seem to find it helpful, or at least confirming of some intuitions they held. What I tried to make clear is some of the subtle ways pornography influences individuals, families, churches, communities, and societies. I found it helpful to use a combination of Scripture and Natural Law reasoning (also known as common sense) to make this case.

I noted in the piece a shifting tide of opinion in some quarters on the question of pornography. The libertarian laissez-faire approach of “do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt me” has proven disastrously inadequate for helping our society, and especially impressionable youth, deal with the wave of pornography that has multiplied proportionally with the spread of Wi-Fi and high-speed data-enabled cellphones with HD screens. And this all the more given the fact that foolish parents anxious to be liked by their teens are pushovers and give them these devices with absolutely no guardrails. Disaster.

So thoughtful people are waking up to the fact that this is noxious and dangerous stuff which is harming a whole generation recently come of age, and that wise leaders will no more allow this to go unrestricted and unregulated as they would let drug dealers open up booths in our community high schools and at local parks. Why? Because young people do not have the moral or even biological resources to muster up a strong defense against the open availability of such powerful stimulants. It’s been interesting to see secular people coming around to this realization and starting to make moral cases against not only open access to pornography for minors but the industry itself.

Another fascinating angle is the growing activism and legal challenge to the frankly criminal behavior of PornHub, the world’s biggest porn site. The lawsuits are huge, and well, money talks. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is a large amount of content on that site which not only depicts heinous crimes but is criminal itself; freely available images and videos that may someday soon be entered as incriminating evidence in a trial. Outrage over that fact should be widespread and non-political, and I have hope that awareness is growing. While we’re on the subject, perhaps you want to sign the online petition over at Traffickinghub.com.

I hope to write more about this in the future, but in the meantime I need to write the promised Part 2 where I try to offer some help for those still ensnared and enslaved to porn. Stay tuned for that in coming weeks.

This brings me to a related topic: anthropology. I know, I know – another big word which we’ve all heard before but aren’t really sure what it means.

“What is man? What is anthropology?”
Photo by Max Duzij on Unsplash

And for my most faithful readers, this will feel like a re-run of a previous post, but I’m firmly convinced that it is a necessary word to understand the nature of the rapid transformations taking place in our time. One of the most helpful thinkers in this regard is Carl Trueman, who has made the transition from church historian to cultural critic with great success. And boy can he write. Consider for example this article just published today over at First Things, where he responds to the same controversy I alluded to in my piece, namely the statement made by Dennis Prager that pornography use and lust are not necessarily morally wrong.

Prager’s statement reveals that he lacks a real grasp of what is causing the social and political problems that he claims to abhor: We live in a time of anthropological chaos, where the very notion of what it means to be human is no longer a matter of broad social and political consensus. 

Pornography is a great example of this. Behind the problems that should have been obvious to Prager—the objectification of other people, the human trafficking, the transformation of sex into something that is self- rather than other-directed, the reduction of the participants to instruments of pleasure for the spectators—lies a basic philosophy of life that sees me, my desires, and my fulfillment at the core of what it means to be human. Pornography is thus part of an anthropological shift that manifests itself most obviously in sexual mores but is far more comprehensive in its significance. 

Later, he adds:

Now, sex and pornography are the most dramatic examples of where this plays out, but they do not exist in isolation from broader considerations of what it means to be a human person. Therefore those, like Prager, who see pornography as having a legitimate function are complicit in this shift. And this change underlies no-fault divorce, gay marriage, and (in its subordination of the body and its functions to the individual’s sense of well-being) even transgenderism. It is foundational to the progressive cause. To concede here is to concede everywhere. 

I do encourage you to read the whole thing. This analysis goes much deeper than the moral outrage of an offended conscience and gets at the roots of what is driving a multitude of bewildering cultural phenomena. We do not need the momentary heat of Twitter-depth indignation which tempts us to feel morally self-righteous. That is cheap. But we do need the light of historically-informed thinking that sees through the chaos and confusion of the day and makes clear the deep tectonic shifts happening in our culture. That is “men of Issachar” type stuff.

I hope, in some small way, to continue making contributions to that good work. As always, thanks for reading.

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