Friday, December 15, 2006

Is Pornography Good?

Nothing I write here should be taken as in any way condoning lust. Lust (by which I mean something along the lines of "dwelling on the idea of having sexual intimacy with someone you're not married to") is wrong, but I don't expect non-Christians to agree with me on that at all, and discussing why lust is wrong is probably the subject for another time.

There's a common line among some people (and I used to be one of them) that men lusting is partly the fault of women for showing so much flesh. Sheikh Taj el-Din al-Hilali went much much much too far down that road, and Scott Adams lampooned him brilliantly for it. Yeah, I know it's a bit old news. I've been wanting to write this for over a month.

Al-Hilali was obviously wrong. Women wearing revealing clothing might not be the most loving thing to do if there are men around who have problems with lust (and most men do), but it doesn't force them to lust and it doesn't make them rape you. That's their fault. But if he was wrong, if it's actually mens choice whether they lust or not, if women wearing revealing clothing isn't intrinsically wrong, why is pornography wrong?

Here's another angle, which sheds some useful light on the situation. Paul wrote:

everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving
1 Timothy 4:4, NIV

God created naked women (Genesis 2:22,25). So if everything God created is good, surely that means that the naked female form is good and is not to be rejected. So why is pornography wrong?

The answer, and one solution to lust, is in the verse. Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

I used to struggle a lot with lust. I still do, but a lot less than I used to. One of the ways I used to try and deal with lust was avoiding pictures of women wearing revealing clothes or no clothes at all. That's a fairly common approach among Christian men. There were loads of problems with that. I've got a very good memory and (at times) an overactive imagination. I can avoid actual images in my own space, but I can't avoid them in public space, and I can't avoid women wearing revealing clothes without cutting myself off from the world. So just trying to cut off the supply of images actually had very little effect.

So what about thanking God for them? After all, God made naked women. I find that if I see an attractive woman wearing suggestive clothing, and I thank God for making attractive women, it gets my whole attitude much more right, and I am much less likely to want to treat the women in ways that the God who made them would disapprove of. It also makes my attitude to women much healthier.

Here's another slant on it. In Romans 1, Paul has all kinds of sin stemming from just two - ingratitude and failing to worship God.

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened....

Romans 1:18-21, NIV

Paul then goes on to list loads of consequences and ways that the sin works itself out in people's lives. But if the essence of sin is ingratitude and failing to thank God, then isn't the essence of lust failing to thank God for attractive people and so want to experience them in the way that God designed? So how better to combat that than by thanking God for people instead of lusting after them?

So, my view is that pornography isn't wrong in itself. But if someone wants to look at pornography (of the sex they're attracted to), there's at least a 99% probability that their motivations are lustful and therefore wrong.

Oh yes, and a quick random plug for - #1 Christian Porn Site, if only because of the name.


Daniel Hill said...

A very thought-provoking post, Custard. You make many excellent points, but I'm not quite sure that you have got to the heart of the matter. Let's think about the verse 1 Timothy 4:4 -- `nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving'. Does that mean that sexual intercourse, which God also invented, is not to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving? Well, it doesn't mean that any sexual intercourse is to be received with thanksgiving. Extra-marital sex isn't. The same goes for pornography: it may be OK for a husband to look at a picture of his wife naked (and for a wife to look at a picture of her husband naked), but extra-marital porn isn't one of those things to be received with thanksgiving. Basically, adult nakedness is reserved for spouses and doctors. (I know that the rugby team all get nude in the showers together, but they aren't supposed to look.) After all, Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 12:23 about treating our `unpresentable' parts with `special modesty', which surely rules out publishing pictures of them in a magazine, whether they are received with thanksgiving or not.

Incidentally, I said that it `may be OK for a husband to look at a picture of his wife naked', because I think it is possible for a spouse to lust after his or her own spouse. Somebody once defined `lust' as `a desire for a thing (sex) rather than a person (one's partner)', and I think that a spouse that is just interested in getting sex from his or her spouse, but not interested in loving him or her, is being lustful in a culpable way.

John said...

I agree that lust is possible (and wrong) inside marriage as well as outside - I was using a simplistic definition because I was in a bit of a hurry and just wanted to exclude one common US understanding of the word which is simply to mean "sexual desire".

For my part, I'm not sure it's possible for me both to be thankful to God for someone's beauty and to lust after them simultaneously. I don't think I've ever managed it. But I guess the heart is deceitful above all things...

So I think that if one is genuinely grateful to God for his gift of sex, one will also be acknowledging that sex was given for use inside marriage and hence one will not want to use that gift outside the context given for it by the giver.

I'm somewhat hesitant about this though, because I'm aware that I probably don't yet know the full depths of my own depravity, nor do I understand other people even as well as I understand myself.

Daniel Hill said...

Another thought-provoking comment, Custard:
`if one is genuinely grateful to God for his gift of sex, one will also be acknowledging that sex was given for use inside marriage and hence one will not want to use that gift outside the context given for it by the giver'.

So, thanksgiving needs to be informed by knowledge of God's will: it is possible for the genuinely ignorant to receive with thanksgiving something that they shouldn't be receiving -- many active homosexuals say that they are very thankful to God for their sexual relationships with each other, some of them because they are genuinely ignorant of God's will. But then what's doing the work here is the knowledge of God's will, not the thankfulness.

So it still seems to me that the key to a Christian response to pornography is not so much thanksgiving but rather understanding God's will, viz. that nudity and sexual intercourse are to be reserved for spouses. Of course, we should have an attitude of thanksgiving for sex and bodies anyway, but then, as you point out, that goes for everything that God has created.

John said...

Do you think that a desire for the knowledge of God's will would spring out of gratitude to him?

And there's a difference between general "gratitude" and "giving thanks to God".

Daniel Hill said...

Thanks for this, Custard. Yes, I agree that a desire for the knowledge of God's will would spring out of gratitude to him. What I denied was that knowledge itself would necessarily spring out of gratitude to him. (After all, my deep gratitude to God for saving me doesn't make me omniscient or even moderately knowledgeable.)

So, I still think that it's not so much gratitude or giving thanks to God that is the key component in a Christian attitude to porn as knowing God's will on how we should use our bodies.

John said...

I've also been pointed to this page, which gives the useful advice that it's a topic that needs discussing with kids, realistically before age 10.

John said...

On the gratitude / knowledge issue, I'm tempted to be pedantic and say that if they are being grateful, but not to the God and Father of Our Lord Jesus Christ, then they aren't being grateful to God.

There's a strong link certainly between the need to know God to be grateful to him, and the need to be grateful to him to know him.