Rod Dreher

Rod Dreher


Finding humanity amid pornography’s evil

posted by Rod Dreher

I believe pornography is evil, without qualification. The human degradation it exemplifies nauseates me, and I am firmly convinced that people who expose themselves to it harden their hearts, especially toward women, and steadily lose their own sense of human dignity. Because of that, I approached Susannah Breslin’s much-praised reportage on the culture of “Porn Valley” (the San Fernando Valley of southern California, where much professional porn is produced) with great trepidation. I thought I’d start the piece, and see how far I could get.
About halfway through, is the answer, before I gave up last night. Understand, this is not Breslin’s fault. I found her calm, almost clinical description of the things she saw to be brilliantly rendered, and the kind of journalism of which I am utterly incapable. She withheld judgment, and merely described. The details speak for themselves. The opening anecdote on the first of this 10-page report speaks for the whole. I read on this morning, till the end. The piece kind of dissipates, but I’m not sure how else she could have brought it to a conclusion. I defy anyone who sees pornography as something benign to hold that opinion after reading this essay. Please note: though there are no photographs of actual sex in that series, there are a couple of racy shots of, shall we say, pornographic devices, that may be unsafe for viewing at work. Anyway, I found this passage so incredibly heartbreaking:

In the dining room, I sit down with Hunter, who has put on a maroon velour tracksuit. After a two-year stint at the University of Nevada at Reno, where she studied secondary education with the intention of becoming a schoolteacher, and another stint working as a cocktail waitress in a casino, she came to Hollywood.
“I wanted to get out of Vegas, and I wanted to be an actress.” Things didn’t turn out quite the way she’d planned. At the time, she was using, “like, heroin, and Oxycontins, and cocaine–everything.” Instead of taking acting classes and going on auditions, “I jumped right into porn.” She did a few scenes–”I was totally high”–and then met her boyfriend, who helped her kick drugs, and left the business.
A month ago, though, they broke up. That’s when she realized he was her primary means of financial support. Now, she’s back.
In the Valley, porn is her reality. “People say, ‘You don’t really have to do that.’ Well, you really kind of do,” she explains, her voice plaintive, “if you don’t have an education, if you don’t have parents backing you, if you don’t have all those things.” She looks at her hands folded in her lap. “There isn’t another choice. There really isn’t a lot of other choices.”
Today is her second shoot since she returned to porn a week ago. “I don’t do [deleted], and that was really crappy for me. I was acting the whole time.” Jim, she offers, is “nice,” but she really needed the $500. She has student loans, credit card debt, and no car. This is what she’s doing to get by.
“It’s not the most respectable to do, but it’s a phone call, and I have $500,” she asserts. “It lets me know, ‘You’re going to be OK, even if you don’t make enough money at your job, you have this to fall back on.’ I can make my bills. I can get a car. I can do the things I need to do to move forward.” Although, if her friends and family find out, she says, “I would absolutely die.”
Being a porn star isn’t easy. “It’s really weird. Like, at nighttime, I get anxiety about it. Like, I did the other scene, and, last night, as soon it got dark, and I laid in bed, and I was just alone with my thoughts, I felt really guilty and nervous about it.”
She hesitates. “So, you know, it’s, like, I keep praying about it, and, you know, asking to kind of be forgiven, ’cause it is kind of wrong, I think, and it’s very degrading, I think, and it’s just–.”
She’s on the verge of tears. “I need the money that bad. I don’t have a car. I don’t have anything right now. I actually, like–I just need the money.”

Imagine that’s your sister, or your daughter. How do you feel about porn now?



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John E. - Agn Stoic

posted March 4, 2010 at 8:01 am


“People say, ‘You don’t really have to do that.’ Well, you really kind of do,” she explains, her voice plaintive, “if you don’t have an education, if you don’t have parents backing you, if you don’t have all those things.” She looks at her hands folded in her lap. “There isn’t another choice. There really isn’t a lot of other choices.”
Bull-puckey – there are thousands of other choices, they just involve more work than doing porn.



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 8:31 am


It sounds to me like a small personal tragedy. But obviously one (or dozens, or hundreds) anecdotal story is not enough to reasonably condemn a huge industry that employs thousands (tens of thousands? hundreds?).
Undoubtedly there are immoral porn producers who recruit the most vulnerable of women at their weakest points and exploit them. These users of the weak and vulnerable are scum, just like those who exploit cheap immigrant labor (the worst of the agricultural industry) and bypass safety and environmental standards for profit (the worst of the mining and oil industry).
But there also exist men and women who are perfectly happy having sex on screen for money. There are married couples who do it. There are people who derive sexual satisfaction from performing for others. I do not judge these people who truly have a choice.
I know there are abuses. Perhaps there should be stricter regulations for porn production- perhaps mandatory psychological evaluation or something of that nature. But I feel as much trepidation or guilt when looking at porn (strictly of the non-violent and legal type) as I do when buying tomatoes at the grocery store or filling up my gas tank.
I say this as a non-religious type, who ascribes no moral judgement to sex. I think sex can be wrong, when used to hurt someone (straying from a monogamous relationship, lying, etc.), but I don’t think non-marital sex is necessarily wrong, or even sex for money (assuming all parties are adults and truly consent).



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thomas tucker

posted March 4, 2010 at 8:40 am


I say this as a non-religious type, who ascribes no moral judgement to sex. I think sex can be wrong, when used to hurt someone (straying from a monogamous relationship, lying, etc.), but I don’t think non-marital sex is necessarily wrong,…
That is an interesting comment. If you are a “non-religious” type, then on what basis are you allowed to say that sex can be wrong when used to hurt someone. What if I say it isn’t and I think it is just fine to hurt someone else if that gives me pleasure? If there is no higher standardto judge, then who can say which of us is right or wong? In that case, they are both just a matter of opinion.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 8:53 am


thomas tucker, someone non-religious could answer your question from many different philosophical inclinations. A scientific materialist for example would claim morality exists because of its biological utility. It is an outgrowth of biological factors we can’t change and is instinctive. So its not really opinion as much as an adaptation.
For example when people feel outrage at a parent abusing a child. That emotion and our desire to do something about it would be instinct just like our ability to learn language.



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:00 am


Thomas,
In my opinion, a non-religious moral basis can be just as valid as a religious one. Religious people might say “God (or the bible) says this act is wrong, so it is wrong”. But why is that any more valid than saying “I believe this act is wrong, so it is wrong”?
This is a common argument, but if something is wrong purely because God says it’s wrong, than there is no morality- there is just what God says. God could say pedophilia is good, and it would be good. But on the other hand- if God says something is wrong because it is INTRINSICALLY wrong (that is, God is using some other guidelines), than we can know it’s wrong WITHOUT God.



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Cultural Conservative

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:16 am


MH:
What you’re describing isn’t morality as most people understand it, in the sense that it explains *why* we feel that certain things are wrong/undesirable/unhelpful, but doesn’t give us any compelling *reasons* to do or not do certain things.
Child abuse may be unhelpful from the evolutionary perspective, or there may be a strong taboo against rape for reasons of tribe survival etc. but those theories do not explain why I, as an individual in the 21st century, should abstain from rape and child abuse.
I do agree that we can have meaningful moral systems apart from God. But the evolutionary psychology angle is not a helpful one. It provides description but cannot provide prescription.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:26 am


AC, besides the Euthyphro dilemma which your pointing out. God as the source of morality raises ever more thorny issues.
There are many religions with their respective God’s and each God is free to dictate its own moral codes For example can I eat pork or not? Is killing ants to dig up and eat potatoes wrong? How am I forgiven for my sins and what must I do to achieve this? Can I drink this beer or not?
The answers to these questions would differ based upon the religion of the person answering the question. None of the people answering it would have any evidence their claim was more valid than any other. So their truth claims boil down to personal opinion and upbringing.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:42 am


Cultural Conservative, the reasons would be to avoid the negative
consequences that generally come with immoral behavior and realize that your emotions are a warning.
Certainly the best level of moral behavior is doing the right thing because it is right and not because of fear of punishment. I would have a hard time describing that one in materialist terms.
But another level of morality is avoiding wrong behavior because of the inevitable negative consequences. When you do wrong you are likely to get caught and be punished by your fellow man. Even if you get away with immorality the emotions of guilt, remorse, and regret can make your life heck afterwards.
Sociopaths who can lie, cheat, and steal and feel nothing. They can also be quite clever and obtain power and wealth. But a society of such people wouldn’t last because people are mutually dependent upon each other for survival. So you wouldn’t expect to see stable societies which thought that was a good idea.



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:52 am


Porn is fictional entertainment about sex. It is no more harmful to the consumer than any other form of fictional entertainment, from comic books to video games. Some people find them all inherently harmful–and I’m sure to some segment of the consumer base it actually is, like all the kids who fall down and get hurt trying to fly like Superman (or the women who delude themselves into undermining their own relationships because they think it’s supposed to work like romance pulp or Sex And The City). But most people can deal with it.
It’s terrible when vulnerable people who’ve made bad choices (like the woman in the excerpt here) find themselves trapped in a bad, exploitative job. But that, again, is neither exclusive nor inherent to porn production.



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sherri

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:52 am


I just want to say I live in a treterous community where being a christian is your best bet. I see al of these things that you talk about here and it sickens my stomach. I pray that my children continue to follow jesus for the rest of thier lives.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:09 am


I pray that my children continue to follow jesus for the rest of thier lives.
They could do worse. Christianity supplies a generally good moral code.



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Alicia

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:12 am


I find this anecdote very sad. I don’t think the porn industry is a good thing, but I do think we should try and be less judging of the individuals caught up in it. I recently read Ron Jeremy’s autobiography. He comes across as very likable and intelligent, but depressed and obese (at least in recent years). Jeremy also really wanted to be a mainstream actor, but he posed for Playgirl, and then got recruited to the porn industry.
Occasionally, he gets a role in a mainstream movie, but unless he is wearing disfiguring make-up, his role usually ends up on the cutting room floor. For instance, he had a small part in “Ronin” but it was cut because the director thought the sight of him would be too distracting.



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Cultural Conservative

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:14 am


“It is no more harmful to the consumer than any other form of fictional entertainment, from comic books to video games”.
You’re entitled to your own opinion, TTT, but not your own facts. Talk to any marriage counsellor or pastor about the number of couples who come to them for therapy because one of them (usually, but not exclusively the man) is addicted to porn, and then ask them how many come for counselling about comic book addiction.



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Tom

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:15 am


Porn destroys lives; plain and simple. Those who perform it are subject to physical abuse, drug addiction, and disease. It is incredibly destructive. Another resource to learn more about the destructive effects of porn is the Pink Cross Foundation (http://www.thepinkcross.org). This organization is run by a former porn star who was able to get out of that awful business. She now works to help other actors & actresses get out of porn. She describes how porn stars are truly treated and how it ruins their lives. Her own testimony is heart-breaking.
You don’t even have to think about knowing someone in this situation. Just learning about the terrible things that people you DON’T know experience leaves you with a sickening and sorrowful feeling…and yes, if it is happening to someone you know and love, it’s just terrible.
Those who view it can become addicted to it in the same way that people can become addicted to alcohol or drugs. People can sit for hours viewing this material and have no concept of how much time goes by. They can completely lose track of everything around them. It can destroy their lives as well as it destroys lives of the performers.
How can something like this NOT be evil and wrong?



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:23 am


Cultural Conservative: You’re entitled to your own opinion, TTT, but not your own facts. Talk to any marriage counsellor or pastor
I don’t wish to be entitled to their trivial anecdotes. By definition, marriage counsellors deal with people who are already having problems and not with those who are not–just like AlAnon sponsors and probation officers. I could point you to many E.R. doctors who have to deal with kids who cripple themselves by imitating pro wrestling. It doesn’t mean watching wrestling is inherently evil or destructive, it just means there’s always some section of the populace that cannot separate fantasy from reality.
If I felt like being really snarky, I could ask for a comparison of the number of people sexually assaulted by porn producers to those assaulted by priests and youth pastors.



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dangermom

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:33 am


I’m in agreement with you, Rod, about the awfulness of the porn trade. A small minority may happily choose the work, but that does not negate the vast majority who are exploited and oppressed, and viciously used in the most personal way possible. Here is an essay titled “A Whore’s Rage,” which is disturbing, powerful, and makes some painfully true points. There is language, just to warn you.



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:38 am


I believe someone’s views about pornography are inevitably tied to their views about sex. If you believe that sex is sacred and should only occur between loving, married partners (or just loving partners, perhaps), then you probably believe pornography is evil.
If you’re more like me and believe that sex is not necessarily immoral when performed by unmarried people, that sexual fantasy is a normal and healthy mental function, that masturbation is a normal, even healthy natural process, and that sex just for fun can be ok (not always, but sometimes), then you likely believe like me that having sex on camera and selling it is not intrinsically evil.



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Your Name

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:52 am


AC : if there is no God, and no objective moral standard, then there is no intrinsically anything. If you make yourself the moral arbiter instead of God, then you will find yourself changing your standard to please yourself, instead of trying to conform yourself to an objective standard. That is human nature.
MH: then what you are saying is that everything is relative, and based on personal opinion. The fact that there are multiple religions is of no consquence if you do understand that there is objective truth and it can be apprehended. If truth is relative, then God help you, so to speak.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:55 am


But another level of morality is avoiding wrong behavior because of the inevitable negative consequences. When you do wrong you are likely to get caught and be punished by your fellow man. Even if you get away with immorality the emotions of guilt, remorse, and regret can make your life heck afterwards.
But that’s not a moral argument, it’s a consequentialist one, and there will always be people who can, or think they can, get away with wrong actions. Absent a higher authority, why shouldn’t they be free to do so? If there is no higher moral authority, each man is his own moral authority, and is under no obligation to consider his fellow man.



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Mac S.

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:05 am


I am heartened that there are organizations that reach out to those in the pornography industry who want to get out of it and make a change in their lives. I also wish that woman in story knew that there ARE many other choices when it comes to making a living – but I fear it comes to down to the lure of fast money.
I wish porn wasn’t around or as popular as it is, but there sure is a market for it. Plus, the internet makes it instantly and easily accessible. Does this differ from the hidden stash of Playboys or, a few more decades back, the college boys heading out to Miss Kitty’s in the after dropping their dates off at the sorority house?
At the meta level, when hard core conservatives start talking about protecting women (and men from temptation) and what they should be and should not be doing for their own good and the good of society I hear faint echos of the fictional “Gilead regime.”
In the UK they are considering banning any/all images that objectify women. The potential ramifications of that kind of discuss concern me. We should be expected to separate fantasy from reality and not put all blame the alcohol, the drug, magazine, the video game, the internet site, the porn dvd or the the bodice-ripping novel. Why we cannot, when we cannot, is a different issue.



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Mac S.

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:08 am


typo: should read. The potential ramifications of that kind of discussion concern me.
Apologies.



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:23 am


I never said there was no objective moral standard. I actually believe there is one. But if it comes from God, than it is not objective. If morality is purely what God says is right and wrong, than God could say child abuse is right, and it would be right. While I’m agnostic as to the existence of God, whether he exists or not I believe morality is SEPARATE from God (that is, morality exists regardless of the existence or nature of God). No, I don’t know exactly how- I’m not sure myself.
This has gone far beyond the original question. I’d be happy to discuss morality somewhere else, or by email (anyone can ask for my email and I’ll give it to them). But we should probably stick to talking about porn in this thread.



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Judith

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:23 am


“Porn destroys lives; plain and simple”
That’s more likely true than not true. And so do a lot of other things we do every day, that we don’t seek therapy for, nor seek to change. It is a lot easier to think about the damage porn does, than the damage done by other sweet, seemingly innocuous, insidious habits.



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Charles Cosimano

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:33 am


I’m in a more seriously iconoclastic mood today and this is the same silliness that we have heard for 40 years.
The arguments may work in individual cases but in the aggregate they are utter nonsense. Porn does not destroy any life that would not be destroyed by something else. Rather it is the guilt that is attached to it that is the problem.
There will always be those who cannot handle something but that is no reason for anyone else to refrain from it.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:48 am


Your Name at March 4, 2010 10:52 AM,
Actually I’ve said before on this blog I think there is an objective standard of morality which is wired into the way the universe works. Sort of like math. We perceive it as an aspect of our biology, but our biology is determined by physical laws, so it’s deeper than that.
What I am saying in this thread is that saying God defines morality does not help us in the here and now. Religions conflict with each other and while God might be behind all this, none of us can prove that or which God it is. So that leaves humans to figure out what this objective moral code might be and come to some collective agreement.
Ken, I’m not sure I quite get what you mean. Humans are under an obligation to consider their fellow man because humans are mutually dependent upon each other. Essentially that’s the definition of a social organism. So if a person tried to define their own morality which didn’t consider their fellow man, they would quickly find their fellow man letting them know what the expectations are.
Yes people can cheat, but odds are they won’t get away with it. Even if they do their conscience is likely to haunt them.



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Richard

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:49 am


Gee, TTT, you are clever! Come, come nobody is saying that porn watchers, producers, actors etc. are assaulting people. We ARE saying – with lots and lots of hard data to back it up – that people become addicted to porn and it breaks up families. It ruins marriages, relationships, familial bonds, etc.
Porn is associated with the progressive degradation of everything it touches.



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Karl G

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:57 am


Abuse, victimization, exploitation- those are the evil things. And our current porn industry is absolutely rife with them because out economic baseline actively encourages such.
Porn itself isn’t immoral any more than matches are immoral because of phossy jaw or coal is immoral because of black lung, cave collapses, or the like.
The exploitation of basic needs to trap people into such professions like the woman above when they don’t want to be there is the heart of the problem.
She needs to put food on the table. She needs to keep up with her debts, she needs to be able to afford transportation that would open up other employment options to her. To get that she needs to earn money- not just anything that she can get paid, but enough to at least meet her obligations and needs that doesn’t cost her more than it brings in.
This is were the idea that “there are thousands of other options” fails. At the point where her life is now, there aren’t thousands of other options. There is one option where she has the experience to reliably get paid enough to survive, and as long as it only pays just that much, she can’t expand her other options.
It’s no different, really, than the company towns from the late 19th and early 20th century. Morality was irrelevant to the work itself but immorality was rife with the rigged game that turned people into slaves.
Without solid economic support sufficient to allow her to turn down such work and be confident that she’ll make it further she’s trapped in a negative cycle. It’s the same kind of negative cycle thats seen in low paying unskilled positions across all industries really- the only difference is that sex and pornography attract more moral outrage than the exploitation of laborers in more conventional jobs.
If you end that exploitation, then people will be free to support or walk away from industries based on their own values, even if they make the mistake of dabbling in them and later discover that they’re undesirable. The porn industry is just an obvious symptom of the real problem, and any attempt to attack it rather than the underlying issue will have little real effect.



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Karl G

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:16 pm


“Absent a higher authority, why shouldn’t they be free to do so? If there is no higher moral authority, each man is his own moral authority, and is under no obligation to consider his fellow man.”
In the purest sense, sure- but that ignores a shared context. We’re all members of a civilized society, and can generally agree that such is desirable. (And if we didn’t we’d depart from such and thus not be party to the specific context) from that simply assumption you can limit the range of moral possibilities from complete relativism to a a few sets of axioms based on the support and health of civilized societies. And while there is plenty of debate between the different sets- that single shared value is enough to serve as a fundamental moral guidepost to balance evaluations or pure personal utility.
And even aside from that, not being under obligation to consider your fellow person does not mean that the best personal utility is not gained from cooperative effort. That argument is only meaningful if you assume that people are making all their decisions based on short term gain vs long term success- the long term benefit of a communal commitment to a certain moral value represents a larger net profit than the short term gain achieved from the violation of that principle and the constant need to similarly guard against it from all takers. “If I am willing to do this to/for others, then they might be willing to do it to/for me” is a simple axiom that requires no higher power to hold true and stands as a fundamental cornerstone of civilized behavior.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:17 pm


This is were the idea that “there are thousands of other options” fails. At the point where her life is now, there aren’t thousands of other options.
Yes there are – in fact, she mentioned one in the article – finding a man to support her like she was doing earlier.
Other options include spending 60 to 70 hours a week working multiple jobs.
It might not be fun, but it is an option. She prefers the easy money of working in the porn industry.
Well, life is full of choices.



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karina_b

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:18 pm


Hunter’s argument that being a porn actress is the only way she can support herself is LAUGHABLE! The woman has two years of a college education, which is way more than many people who support themselves have, even in Los Angeles. If she really wanted to stop being in porn she could move to somewhere where the cost of living is cheaper and get a job (even waitresses at nice restaurants make more money than she is apparently being paid for porn) and finish her education. I have worked with many women who have started with just the same set of credentials she has ( some or no college, former drug addictions, event legal convictions not to mention a child or two) and they did not become porn stars to pay the bills– and they were able to better their material situations through hard work and the desire to do so.
But the vital part here is that Hunter “wants to be an actress.” She wants to be in the limelight and legit work isn’t coming her way (no pun intended). It’s easier for her to think that her dream of being a star will come true if she stays in Hollywood and stays in “show business.” She is chosing to be in porn, apparently. Is she really a victim of anything but her own ambition?
Also, if this was a MAN making the same excuses, would anyone buy them for even a second??



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:19 pm


We ARE saying – with lots and lots of hard data to back it up – that people become addicted to porn and it breaks up families.
People become addicted to lots of things, leading to breakup of families. It’s a basic human failing. Food. Alcohol. Gambling. Compulsive spending. Sports attendance / watching / memorabilia collecting. The Internet. My point remains: some people can separate fantasy from reality, and properly prioritize the various interests in their life, and some cannot.
Porn is associated with the progressive degradation of everything it touches
Nonsense. Literally millions of people look at the stuff to no ill effect whatsoever on themselves or their relationships. Basically, any good, virtuous man you know is proof that someone can look at porn while remaining good and virtuous.



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John E - Agn Stoic

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:25 pm


Also, if this was a MAN making the same excuses, would anyone buy them for even a second??
Good point, karina_b



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm


We ARE saying – with lots and lots of hard data to back it up – that people become addicted to porn and it breaks up families.
People become addicted to lots of things, leading to breakup of families. It’s a basic human failing. Food. Alcohol. Gambling. Compulsive spending. Sports attendance / watching / memorabilia collecting. The Internet. My point remains: some people can separate fantasy from reality, and properly prioritize the various interests in their life, and some cannot.
Porn is associated with the progressive degradation of everything it touches
Nonsense. Literally millions of people look at the stuff to no ill effect whatsoever on themselves or their relationships. Basically, any good, virtuous man you know is proof that someone can look at porn while remaining good and virtuous.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:39 pm


Karina: Also, if this was a MAN making the same excuses, would anyone buy them for even a second??
Oh, to be clear, I think that’s exactly what they are: pathetic excuses. The point I was trying to make is that she feels trapped in this degrading lifestyle, but can’t see that the door is locked from the inside.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:45 pm


not being under obligation to consider your fellow person does not mean that the best personal utility is not gained from cooperative effort.
Kark G (and MH), I have no argument with this in general. _Most_ of the time it’s true. But it’s a pragmatic, utilitarian calculation, not a moral one, and as such offers no rebuttal to the guy who calculates otherwise. You can tell him he’s foolish, but not that he’s immoral.



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Franklin Evans

posted March 4, 2010 at 12:51 pm


Now I see why the “Does moral action require rational thought?” thread is dying a quiet death. That’s a case where I’m very unhappy to be the person with the last word on a thread.
To AC and some others: Don’t get trapped in the “Because God said so” merry-go-round. Dogma has no room for rational argument. Dogma irrationally rejects the very notion of a rational process that results in morality.
As for those with the dogmatic assertions: Don’t expect respect for your arguments when you insist on holding both sides of the debate.



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MikeW

posted March 4, 2010 at 1:02 pm


Frontline did an excellent program on the porn industry and how some businesses that surprise you benefit from it. Check it out here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/porn/business/
And some interesting data here: http://www.buzzfeed.com/digg/size-does-matter-pornography-by-numbers-sfw-info



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forestwalker

posted March 4, 2010 at 1:08 pm


“Nonsense. Literally millions of people look at the stuff to no ill effect whatsoever on themselves or their relationships. Basically, any good, virtuous man you know is proof that someone can look at porn while remaining good and virtuous.”
Nonsense. Porn is poison. And now we’ve both begged the question…



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 1:23 pm


Ken, could you phrase a moral argument in a form that isn’t pragmatic and utilitarian? If you’re argument boils down to God says so then how do we determine which commandments from which religion are the correct ones?
On topic. Porn is boring and I can’t see how people could get addicted to it. Even more amazing I can’t believe they pay for it. How does this industry even stay in business?
I’m also in the camp that the woman saying she doesn’t have any choices is insulting all the people who work harder than her for less money.



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The Man From K Street

posted March 4, 2010 at 1:34 pm


Kind of ironic that this post, so absolutist and sweeping in its hatred of everything porn-related, comes less than 48 hours on the heels of an encomium to Roger Ebert of all people, who helped pay the bills in his youth by writing the screenplays to hardcore films.



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:02 pm


We ARE saying – with lots and lots of hard data to back it up – that people become addicted to porn and it breaks up families.
People become addicted to lots of things, leading to breakup of families. It’s a basic human failing. Food. Alcohol. Gambling. Compulsive spending. Sports attendance / watching / memorabilia collecting. The Internet. My point remains: some people can separate fantasy from reality, and properly prioritize the various interests in their life, and some cannot.
Porn is associated with the progressive degradation of everything it touches
Nonsense. Literally millions of people look at the stuff to no ill effect whatsoever on themselves or their relationships. Basically, any good, virtuous man you know is proof that someone can look at porn while remaining good and virtuous.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:09 pm


Ken, could you phrase a moral argument in a form that isn’t pragmatic and utilitarian? If you’re argument boils down to God says so then how do we determine which commandments from which religion are the correct ones?
I think you can make an argument for most moral actions in pragmatic and utilitarian terms, but those terms aren’t what makes them moral. I can think of a number of reasons why it’s in my interest to shovel my elderly female neighbor’s snow again — I like her, I want her to like me, I can use the exercise — but it’s that first impulse that tells me I ought to because she might need to get out which is the moral impulse, and that would be immoral for me to ignore even if I didn’t have the other reasons. To answer your second question would be to open a huge can of worms and go even further off topic of course, but what I’ve been arguing is only the principle. We may feel the need to justify and ground our moral standards, but that by itself doesn’t mean we can. But the concept of God does provide that grounding.
Dogma has no room for rational argument. Dogma irrationally rejects the very notion of a rational process that results in morality.
We hear this all the time of course, but it don’t think it’s itself a rational argument. Are people not able to use their reason to decide whether or not to accept the dogma in the first place? And does dogma tell us everything we need to know and do, or don’t we instead use it as a starting place from which to begin, with the help of other forms of knowledge, to make moral arguments? Dogma doesn’t close minds, it gives minds convictions to start from. And everyone starts with some convictions, for example the conviction that religious dogma should be rejected.
About porn: I agree with Rod that’s it’s revolting and destructive.



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Franklin Jennings

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:10 pm


Boy, Rod, seems you’ve got a rather large following of wankers.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:15 pm


People become addicted to lots of things, leading to breakup of families. It’s a basic human failing. Food. Alcohol. Gambling. Compulsive spending. Sports attendance / watching / memorabilia collecting. The Internet.
Is it your argument that if porn wasn’t available they’d all become to addicted to something else? Is there evidence for that? And how many married women feel visceral disgust at discovering their husbands yet again watching a ballgame, to cite just one activity in your list? How many women consider that a betrayal akin to adultery?



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:25 pm


Ken,
What about the married women who have no problem with their husbands looking at porn? What about the married women who look at it WITH their husbands? Some women consider talking to another woman betrayal. Some women consider LOOKING at another woman betrayal.
Some women feel visceral disgust when their husbands take their shirts off.
I don’t think that means much about the morality of removing one’s shirt.



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Shelley

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:26 pm


AC: I find your use of the word “intrinsically” curious. The only other place I hace seen that word used to describe immorality is in the Catholic Catechism. Are you a former Catholic?
You know, all these arguments back and forth about morality only reveal who has it and who doesn’t, who has decided that there is no objective truth and who has decided to adhere to some sort of objective truth.
From a social perspective, unless you live by yourself in a cabin in the words and never have contact with other human beings, society MUSST have standards. A society based on each individauls’ independent point of view, cannot be cohesive. It just can’t.



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:33 pm


Shelley,
Actually, no. I have never been religious, and my parents were not either (my father was a religious Baptist as a child, and my mother was raised nominally Jewish, but as adults they became and remain non-religious).



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MWorrell

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:35 pm


The erratic and dishonest reasoning of those who want to put pornography (or just sex) in the same category as golfing never ceases to amaze me.
We have a global AIDS pandemic that has killed more than 25 million people to date. It has been estimated that more than 1 million people are infected with an STD each day, 60 percent of whom are young people under 25. Those are not figures from Focus on the Family.
When such grave consequences are attached to a choice about how to conduct yourself, to attempt drain it of any moral significance is utter madness. Oh, well… knock yourselves out.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm


Some women feel visceral disgust when their husbands take their shirts off.
I don’t think that means much about the morality of removing one’s shirt.
That isn’t moral disgust, it’s physical disgust. As for women looking at porn, men aren’t the only ones who’s tastes can become perverted. And the fact remains that porn harms and breaks up a lot of marriages. There are many men who find they simply can’t stop looking at the stuff, despite the harm it does to their marriages and their wives and families.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:38 pm


Ken, I would say that your first impulse is rooted in the moral instincts that are part of your being because as a social organism. Ants come to each others aid and they aren’t even capable of reason.
The problem I have with the God argument is that it doesn’t seems to solve any problems until you know which religion is correct. We might agree on the source, but not the implementation. Knowing which religion is correct seems like the key to making the principal useful.



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Franklin Evans

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:39 pm


Ken, this is the general statement I’m getting here, not meaning to put words in your mouth at this point:
I hold to “X” morals.
Christian: That means you’re a moral person!
I’m not a Christian. In fact, I’m an atheist.
Christian: Well, that’s different. What is stopping you from committing A, B or C immoral acts?
Do you not see the inherent assumption here? If a person makes a rational judgment about morality for himself, but there is no God hovering above him to “enforce” it, he simply cannot claim to be moral.
That, in a nutshell, is the q.e.d. for the irrationality of dogma.



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AC

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:44 pm


Ken,
Alcohol and money probably break up far more marriages than porn. I don’t believe using or producing alcohol and money is morally wrong. Porn can be misused and it can be abused. But the simple fact that it can and does break up some marriages doesn’t say much about it.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:45 pm


Shelley, how can someone adhere to some sort of objective truth? If something is objectively true (like nothing can get colder than zero degrees kelvin), then it is true for everyone and people can agree on what it is.
The fact that we’re having the discussion means that it is not plainly obvious and people disagree.



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Franklin Jennings

posted March 4, 2010 at 2:47 pm


Franklin E,
I will credit you, that is an impresive straw man. But it still doesn’t accomplish what you wish.
Note bene, while I disagree with your claim that dogma is irrational, it most certainly is pre-rational. I don’t mean merely this or that dogma, but even the ones you and I share (I assume) like the principal of non-contradiction.
I mean logic, the very method you are using, is based on a collection of dogmas for which no real evidence can be produced. And yet we all resort to logic when it helps our case.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 3:09 pm


MH, if my moral instincts are just socialized, why should I not shrug them off if I feel like it? Is “that will hurt you in the long run” really the best answer your position can provide?
Franklin, I don’t as a Christian say that as an atheist your actions(assuming you’re speaking for yourself) can’t properly be labeled moral. If they conform to moral law they’re obviously as moral as anyone else’s. I just say you don’t have a rational foundation for them as moral acts rather than as pragmatic ones or whatever. You can say they’re good for society, but I can rightly ask, “well so what?” If there is no authority above human authority, then why doesn’t human autonomy and human freedom logically extend to the moral realm? It looks to me — pardon me if I’m being presumptuous — that rather than proceeding from logical foundations, you’re intuiting what’s moral and acting accordingly. I don’t say we can’t be good without God. I just say we have no compelling reason to be when it doesn’t suit us.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 3:30 pm


Ken, an instinct implies something hardwired, not socialized. Do you have a burning desire to shrug off your moral restraints and not play by the rules? I don’t and most people I know don’t. People want to fit in and be part of a group. Ultimately they must in order to survive.
What are some of the worst punishments we inflict on people? Social ostracism and in prison solitary confinement when jail isn’t enough.
While it might seem easy to shrug of your moral restraints and not play by the rules. I would argue in practice it’s much harder than you think. That’s why society works as well as it does. The rule breakers are the exception, not the norm.
Isn’t the religious argument against sin that it will hurt you in the long run?



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New_Ideas

posted March 4, 2010 at 3:34 pm


If you start of with a view of man as a combination of non-material mind (soul) and material body, you end up with a morality based on only one. Hedonists for example, value the body and reject the mind. Religionists on the other hand, value the soul and reject the body. Objectivism denies this false alternative. Instead, it holds that man is an undivided being created for and by this world. His achievement of both spiritual joy and material pleasure here result from the use of his rational mind and physical effort.



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 3:44 pm


MH, point taken about instincts, and I agree that they’re not easily shrugged off. But they’re pretty easily rationalized away, and if they’re rationalized away often enough, the conscience becomes dulled. If we’re talking about how a society can hold onto moral standards (which is not what I’ve been talking about), believing certain moral acts to be commanded by God certainly reinforces the moral instinct, which I think is God-given in the first place.
Isn’t the religious argument against sin that it will hurt you in the long run?
It’s one religious argument, but not the deepest one. The Christian ideal is to obey God out of love, not fear. 0Obviously that goal takes a lifetime’s work).



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BobSF

posted March 4, 2010 at 3:46 pm


She withheld judgment, and merely described. The details speak for themselves.
She also chose which story to pursue. A journalistic choice, no? Hardly a basis for claiming that no judgment was involved and that what was described is comprehensive.
I happen to know a former porn producer, a very successful one, once the owner of a rather famous label in its niche market. What the author describes certainly exists and, according to my friend, has come to dominate the heterosexual porn industry these days, largely for economic reasons. It’s cheaper to produce product when you exploit vulnerable people. It isn’t, however, intrinsic to the business and certainly wasn’t how she ran her shop.
And before anyone jumps to any conclusions, the niche market was not gay porn, it was straight S&M and B&D.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm


Ken, it is an interesting question how a society can reinforce the moral instinct. I would argue that people tend to look for role models as a guide for their behavior. So how the elites of a society act is what the rank and file assume they should emulate.
This also allows for the more insidious forms of rationalizing away moral restraint. If the elites don’t believe in the moral standards they espouse, the rank and file will quickly follow their lead. Also people have an instinctive desire to obey authority. If the elites use their power to get people to behave immorally they’ll undermine the whole system.
The rot from the top is how you get situations like Enron or dictatorships.
Also, when I take issue with the notion that morality is God-given. I’m not saying it isn’t God-given as I honestly don’t know. I’m saying you’ll never get a modern pluralistic society to agree on the details well enough for that to be useful.



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Erin Manning

posted March 4, 2010 at 4:13 pm


I find pornography wrong for the same reasons I find torture wrong: both objectify the human person, and human persons ought never to be looked at, viewed, or treated as objects. Though I draw this morality from Catholic teaching, the notion that it is wrong to treat a human person as an object is shared by other moral traditions as well.
A person viewing pornography does not think of the person or people he or she is viewing as human beings, but only as a collection of titillating body parts posed or engaged in acts of real or simulated sex. His or her purpose in viewing the images or videos is to become sexually aroused; the person who is in the images is a mere object, a means to an end. The reality of the person, his/her life, situation, or ultimate fate, means nothing at all to the porn consumer.
A person who is torturing a prisoner also does not think of the person he or she is torturing as a human being, but only as a collection of information vital (in the minds of the torturer) to national security or political gain. His or her purpose in inflicting the torture is to gain that information; the person being tortured is a mere object, a means to an end. The reality of the person, his/her life, situation, or ultimate fate, means nothing at all to the torturer.
Treating a human being as an object, a means to an end, is denying his or her intrinsic (yep, there’s that Catholic word) human worth. It is always and everywhere gravely morally wrong.



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Franklin Evans

posted March 4, 2010 at 4:15 pm


Franklin J., I can honestly see where my (briefly stated, thus perhaps oversimplified) argument could result in a straw man, but your follow up logic begs the question: What are the premises?
I respectfully ask you to consider the initial premise — morality is rational even when imposed and enforced by fiat — and reparse my argument.
Ken, I was speaking in the abstract, but there is a personal stake: I am a Pagan. If anything, my “plight” is worse than an atheist’s in that whatever divine “enforcement” I might hold to is primarily at odds with Christianity. It has given rise to Christians praising me (meant sincerely, and taken in that spirit) for being “more Christian” than some of their fellow believers. That is so counter-intuitive that I don’t know where to begin with it.
I just say you don’t have a rational foundation for them as moral acts rather than as pragmatic ones or whatever.
Respectfully, that’s backwards. Pragmatism is rational, religion is not. I hasten to add, perhaps belatedly, that while I am criticizing some religious arguments, I am not discounting the value of a religious basis for conveying morality from one generation to the next. If anything, the rational component that was there early on is missing (from some traditional settings).



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Ken

posted March 4, 2010 at 4:58 pm


MH, I agree with you that people often look to the elites as moral authorities, probably more often unconsciously than consciously. Which I guess is another way of saying that the elites by virtue of their position are more likely to question and dismiss traditional morality, which is of course what we see.
Also, it would be great if we all agreed on the existence and identity of God, but I don’t think we need that for belief in God to continue to function as, well, to quote Jesus in the parable, salt, a preserver of morality.
Franklin, I can’t pretend to understand just how you feel when Christians praise you for being “more Christian,” but I can empathize anyhow. Would it be easier if you thought of them as meaning not more Christian but more Christ-like — in other words, acknowledging your different motive but noting the similiarity?
And I agree that faith is not rational, I just think that faith and reason are complementary, that there are adequate reasons to take that leap of faith and reject the alternative. You said earlier that dogma is pre-rational, but don’t we all begin from pre-rational intuition and then apply reason?



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MMH

posted March 4, 2010 at 6:13 pm


As has happened before when the subject of pornography has come up on Rod’s blog, what appals me is not that it exists–evil always has and always will–but rather that it appears to be accepted by so many people who read the blog, religious or not, believers or not. It boggles my mind that anyone of any intellectual or moral soundness whatsoever, would not see that pornography is wholly inhuman. And pace New Ideas above, this view has nothing to do with denying the pleasures of the material world, the body included.



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Sotto Voce

posted March 4, 2010 at 7:25 pm


I’m also in the camp that the woman saying she doesn’t have any choices is insulting all the people who work harder than her for less money.
I don’t know, I think $500 for tearfully getting hammered in the pooper by a machine (for gosh sake!) is kind of being underpaid. That’s just me.



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MH

posted March 4, 2010 at 8:23 pm


BTW does anyone else get a broken link trying to follow Rod’s link above? I suspect my ISP’s DNS is messed up.



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the stupid Chris

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:03 pm


From another item on Ms. Breslin’s multiple pages:
What most people don’t understand is that the adult movie industry is a pretty fascinating world within our world. It’s like a Petri dish in which secrets grow like mold, a microcosm for our screwed up macrocosm, and if you look close enough, you might just bear witness to the dark side of the American dream. It’s not some punchline. It’s a testimony.
Porn isn’t the disease, it’s the symptom.



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BobSF

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:37 pm


“wholly inhuman”
Not to dehumanize or objectify anyone…



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:43 pm


We have a global AIDS pandemic that has killed more than 25 million people to date. It has been estimated that more than 1 million people are infected with an STD each day, 60 percent of whom are young people under 25
South Africa has one of the highest preponderances of HIV infection–how much porn do they look at there?
Utah has the highest per-capita consumption of porn in America. How many AIDS cases do they have there?
The two are not related. At all. Syphillis killed countless hundreds of thousands of people throughout many millennia before audiovisual technology had even been invented.



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TTT

posted March 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm


A person viewing pornography does not think of the person or people he or she is viewing as human beings, but only as a collection of titillating body parts posed or engaged in acts of real or simulated sex…. the person who is in the images is a mere object, a means to an end. The reality of the person, his/her life, situation, or ultimate fate, means nothing at all to the porn consumer.
Treating a human being as an object, a means to an end, is denying his or her intrinsic (yep, there’s that Catholic word) human worth.
How is that different from die-hard fans watching a football game? Or the acrobatic contortions of Cirque du Soleil? The audience isn’t there because of the totality of the human experience of the performers–they want to be gratified and excited by a good show.



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Karl G

posted March 4, 2010 at 10:26 pm


Erin, I think the most general counter to your position is to note, very simply that a picture is not a person. This goes right back the the line between fantasy and reality that was mentioned- the difference is similar to, if not even more pronounced than the difference between an actor and roles they play on the screen or on stage.



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Karl G

posted March 4, 2010 at 11:40 pm


“MH, point taken about instincts, and I agree that they’re not easily shrugged off. But they’re pretty easily rationalized away, and if they’re rationalized away often enough, the conscience becomes dulled. If we’re talking about how a society can hold onto moral standards (which is not what I’ve been talking about), believing certain moral acts to be commanded by God certainly reinforces the moral instinct, which I think is God-given in the first place.”
And yet, even just in the Christian context, we have evidence that there have been at least three major revisions to that God (Tribal Chief, Warlord, Parent) and many more to the moral code (changes made by covenants through Abraham, Noah, Moses, and Jesus to name a few) as well as chronicling just how badly those codes failed to produce an ideal society.
Dogma may be good for helping to share a single standard among many people, but it needs to be flexible enough to be changed as out insight in to society does so that it can better reflect an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Jesus tried to set the example and precedent for doing just that- defying old laws where they did more harm than good and allowed corruption to flourish and harm the people they should have been helping.
Could you put aside a pragmatic morality at any moment because it would better serve your personal interests to do so? Absolutely. But that’s what makes adhering to it despite that one of the most profoundly moral choices a person can make. Lacking that choice removes real morality from the question- all you have left is simple obedience to dogma and hiding behind a higher authority when that dogma does harm instead of good.

The absolute best illustration though comes from a Buddhist teaching:
A wise monk and his students came to a town and proceeded to beg for alms, but despite their wealth, all people in the town turned them away. In frustration the students asked him
“Teacher, these people are selfish despite their wealth and would let us starve. If we took just what we needed when they are not looking, they would not miss it and we would be fed.”
The monk replied, “If you think that is so, then go and do as you say. When no one is watching, take just what you need and return to me with it.” And they did.
After a while the students returned, all but one carried a varying amount of food. The monk turned to the one who returned empty handed and asked, “Everyone else has taken what they think they need, buy you have nothing. Why?”
The student replied, “Try as I might, I could not find a chance to be unobserved. Even when no one else was about, I found that I was always watching.”
The monk then admonished the other students for failing to see this truth and instructed them to return what they had taken.



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 7:41 am


Dogma may be good for helping to share a single standard among many people, but it needs to be flexible enough to be changed as out insight in to society does so that it can better reflect an understanding of what works and what doesn’t. Jesus tried to set the example and precedent for doing just that- defying old laws where they did more harm than good and allowed corruption to flourish and harm the people they should have been helping.
Jesus said he came to fulfill the law.
Could you put aside a pragmatic morality at any moment because it would better serve your personal interests to do so? Absolutely. But that’s what makes adhering to it despite that one of the most profoundly moral choices a person can make. Lacking that choice removes real morality from the question- all you have left is simple obedience to dogma and hiding behind a higher authority when that dogma does harm instead of good.
Hiding behind or not believing it does harm? And adhering to a moral code derived from dogma is just as much a choice as adhering to any other, and is in many cases probably a harder choice to follow through on.



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Karl G

posted March 5, 2010 at 9:36 am


“Jesus said he came to fulfill the law.”
And he did- he suffered the full weight of all punishments of the old law so that no one else would again have to and so that we could, per Paul, put aside that law and let it fade into obsolescence.
Of course, instead, people selectively discard the old law- ignoring the parts they find inconvenient while insisting that it’s of the utmost importance that people follow the ones they want to impose.
“Hiding behind or not believing it does harm?”
Hiding behind it or pretending that it does no harm when they are able to ignore the effects of their behavior.
“And adhering to a moral code derived from dogma is just as much a choice as adhering to any other, and is in many cases probably a harder choice to follow through on.”
It’s a choice- but when you face the question of “Is what I believe the right thing? Does it do more good than harm in the world?” You don’t need to take responsibility for the answer or finding a new way; you can simply point to the higher authority and absolve yourself of active engagement in such refinement. (And this goes for secular dogmas as much as any religious ones. Morality can devolve into self-righteousness no matter what philosophical source its draw from if it’s adhered to dogmatically and without regard for actual human impact.)



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Franklin Evans

posted March 5, 2010 at 9:38 am


Ken, our tangent is well served by the other posts that I believe can be summarized as follows:
Morality is a process, not a static entity. When it is based on pre-rational motivations (I like that better than non- or irrational), it stagnates as time and circumstances change around it.
We can see this underlying the dialogue about what it means to be a Christian. I did, indeed, take “more Christian” as “being Christ-like”. It was that perspective that compelled me to understand and accept the praise, because there is not one believer of any belief system that I’ve met who denies the wisdom and value of the teachings of Jesus (given the speculation about what He actually said versus what some writers reported He said).
I hasten to add that in my use of “believer”, I emphatically include atheists. Their beliefs, their faith, is grounded in a belief system that eschews the supernatural, but still engages in life and interactions with others.
Dogma — as you and I have qualified this term so far — makes decisions in advance of a situation. This has value when those decisions can be demonstrated as being accurate and constructive. OTOH, to borrow from the history of Buddhism, some dogmatic decisions are not only inaccurate, they are demonstrably destructive. Simply review the events surrounding the demise of a pacifist culture when confronted or invaded by a militaristic one. Which one survived the encounter in its original form?
I submit that this tangent informs the main topic. We make decisions about pornography that in many cases are accurate — exploitation of the actors (not just women), degredation of them personally as well as avatars of the audience. But that this is not a valid binary decision is readily demonstrated by the many movies and written stories where the sexual plot points are graphically depicted. Talk to the author or the actors, and you’ll find them responding about how this aspect supported the storytelling craft. They may (and will) talk about their personal tension and conflict in participating in those acts, but you will not hear them say they were forced to do it or threatened in any way.
There are those, worthy of our respectful attention, who sincerely insist that the binary is the right decision. Avoiding or preventing exploitation and degradation are worthy efforts. However, letting them lump art into pornography simply on the superficial similarties is not worthy.



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TTT

posted March 5, 2010 at 10:00 am


Erin, I think the most general counter to your position is to note, very simply that a picture is not a person…. like the difference between an actor and the role they play on stage
Precisely. Human civilization has always revolved around transactions that don’t take into account the full human experience of one or both participants. Football fans don’t care about the quarterback’s life, they just care about his arm and what it can make a ball do. Drive-through customers just want food. A Phoenician would have just wanted to buy a clay pot.



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 10:34 am


Karl G, Paul said that grace now supersedes law in God’s eyes, not that the old moral codes were superseded.
Hiding behind it or pretending that it does no harm when they are able to ignore the effects of their behavior.
In other words, being less than honest with themselves at times, just like everyone else, whatever their professed moral code.
It’s a choice- but when you face the question of “Is what I believe the right thing? Does it do more good than harm in the world?” You don’t need to take responsibility for the answer or finding a new way; you can simply point to the higher authority and absolve yourself of active engagement in such refinement.
This is a cherished notion and a nonsensical one, I’m afraid, belied by common sense — making one choice does not imply that others haven’t been considered, and continuing to hold to an overarching belief system doesn’t imply that challenges to it haven’t been considered all along — and the history of Christian thought. Any belief system can, as you went on to say, be adhered to without much thought. None need to be.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 5, 2010 at 10:38 am


The audience isn’t there because of the totality of the human experience of the performers–they want to be gratified and excited by a good show.
So said the Roman in defense of the crowd at the Colosseum, watching human beings killed for entertainment.
It is a constant temptation to us humans to cast aside our empathy for others and respect for human dignity — theirs and our own — for the sake of fulfilling our own pleasures, or desires. This is what pornography is about. This is what the torture debate re: the war on terror is about. This is mostly what abortion is about. This is what slavery is about. This is what most war is about.
I very much regret watching those video game-like clips of US laser-guided bombs dropping from the sky onto Iraqi targets, and saying, “Cool.” War requires one to dehumanize the enemy; that’s the only way a normal human being can bring himself to do what war requires. Sometimes, as in the case of the Nazi armies, the enemy has dehumanized himself, and brought inhumanity upon himself in just condemnation for his own barbarism. War is sometimes a necessary evil, but its necessity does not make it any less evil.
Porn is not a necessary evil. It’s just evil. Sometimes, as in war, our humanity is wrested from us, which is tragic. But when we throw it away, as we do when we participate in pornography, even as a mere viewer, the tragedy is in some ways even sadder, because we gave away what is most precious to us. We are made in the image of God, but we choose to look upon ourselves as beasts.
(By the way, this comment of mine was held by CAPTCHA — see, it happens to me too. A number of perfectly fine posts by various folks on this thread are being held by CAPTCHA, no doubt because of key words in the entries, like “porn.” If you get the “comment held” notification, by all means let me know by writing me at rdreher (at ) templeton.org; the system does not notify me when it holds comments, and unless you tell me, I’m not going to see that you’ve had anything held, on this or any other thread. — RD)



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 10:57 am


War requires one to dehumanize the enemy; that’s the only way a normal human being can bring himself to do what war requires.
I wonder about this, Rod. No doubt it often and maybe usually happens. But God as a just judge surely doesn’t lose sight of our dignity when he punishes us. So if wars can be just, can’t we as individuals created in God’s image fight wars in self-defense in sorrow and without forgetting that our enemies are God’s children as well.



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AC

posted March 5, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Rod,
You write as if this dehumanization is self evident. Is porn ok if it’s a married couple who makes no money and posts their video online because they find it exciting to share pictures and videos with others? Is it ok if that same couple starts to sell it? I could go on, obviously.
Everything you compared porn to (gladiatorial combat, torture, slavery, war) in the above posting is violent. I don’t believe sex is violent (except for, of course, sex that’s SUPPOSED to be violent, as well as rape and assault). When all parties TRULY have a choice, I don’t see how porn is dehumanizing. I just don’t get it. Please educate me.
If it’s from your religious beliefs- that’s fair enough, but obviously it won’t do for me.



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SteveM

posted March 5, 2010 at 1:05 pm


Re: Rod – “I very much regret watching those video game-like clips of US laser-guided bombs dropping from the sky onto Iraqi targets, and saying, “Cool.”
Funny you should note that. The weapon systems episodes on The Military Channel have been labeled “Weapons Porn” or “War Porn”. Guys like Victor Davis Hanson, Cliff May and Michael Ladeen wax rhapsodic over that stuff.
The program narrator always effuses over “awesome firepower”, but of course you are never shown the up close destruction and carnage associated with those systems. Everything is so neat and tidy and yeah, “cool” from far away.
I mean, viewing those programs, who wouldn’t love war?



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Karl G

posted March 5, 2010 at 2:52 pm


“So said the Roman in defense of the crowd at the Colosseum, watching human beings killed for entertainment.”
And how many of those people being killed were their of their own free volition? (And that includes freedom from economic pressures pushing them to desperate ends.) The same goes for all of the parallels you list- in every one of those cases, you have people being pushed by assorted internal factors into choosing to do something or being forced to be subjected to something that they would not have chose given full autonomy.



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 2:54 pm


When all parties TRULY have a choice, I don’t see how porn is dehumanizing.
Some porn actors are essentially slaves, but for the rest, lacking good choices for how to make money isn’t what’s dehumanizing about the activity. As for the viewers surfing online, how could they ever know which porn actors had a choice and which didn’t?



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BobSF

posted March 5, 2010 at 3:30 pm


As for the viewers surfing online, how could they ever know which porn actors had a choice and which didn’t?
Regulation of the industry, as opposed to suppression, could make a big difference. For example, online porn sites are now required to maintain proof of age of all performers. The penalties for falsifying or failing to maintain the records are severe. This has stopped a lot of the exploitation of under-age performers.



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 4:26 pm


This has stopped a lot of the exploitation of under-age performers.
Not to be snide, but that “a lot” says a lot doesn’t it? That’s like saying that if we could better clamp down on the narco gangs in South America, fewer innocent people would have to die so we could do cocaine. And leaving aside the under-age performers, how many women of good income and high self-esteem, not desperate to please men, go into porn, and of those who do, how many don’t regret it later? Porn is essentially an exploitative industry.



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BobSF

posted March 5, 2010 at 5:01 pm


You asked:
As for the viewers surfing online, how could they ever know which porn actors had a choice and which didn’t?
I pointed out one area where regulation has made a difference, i.e. the exploitation of underage performers. I didn’t say that solved all the problems, nor did it eliminate abuse, because some porn producers do not follow the law (mostly by existing outside the U.S.) and some users do care if age exploitation is involved, and indeed prefer if it is. Those users, presumably, wouldn’t fall into the group of viewers you asked about.
Arguments about porn are like arguments about prostitution. Some cannot accept it in any form whatsoever because they view it as intrinsically evil. That’s all well and good, but it doesn’t go away. If anything, the exploitation and the damage done to individuals is worse in societies which absolutely forbid sex-related employment. The degradation, exploitation, and abuse get compounded with social stigma, prosecution, punishment, and in some places death.



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Your Name

posted March 5, 2010 at 5:05 pm


Rod, where do you get these people who comment here?
It it wrong to do anything to someone’s image that it would be wrong to do with them in reality. It is wrong to do something that you wouldn’t want done to yourself or your wife, sister, or mother.
People, it is wrong to imagine anything it is wrong to do. And it is wrong to have sex with anyone except your wife or husband. It is wrong to use your sexual organs merely for your own gratification in any way!
Living up to this isn’t easy for human beings. But God expects us to try. He will help us if we try. He WILL judge us if we don’t. He will also judge the exploiters more harshly than the exploited.
The woman in this story is weak and scared. She shouldn’t do wrong because she is having money problems. At this point she isn’t commmitting a sin of lust, but she is letting the temple of her body be defiled. However ANY one of you who looks at pornography on the internet is more guilty, and a less worthy person, than she is, because no fear or need is propelling you, just a desire for self gratification.
Flee this sin! If you don’t know God, be a virtuous pagan. You have to know that no one truly morally upright uses other people, even remotely, for his own self gratification.
Rod, You know holiness. How can you provide a forum for people to say such things without rebuking them; it is like letting them walk straight to hell without even trying to yell, “No, stop, don’t go that way!”
Susan Peterson



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 5:27 pm


the exploitation and the damage done to individuals is worse in societies which absolutely forbid sex-related employment. The degradation, exploitation, and abuse get compounded with social stigma, prosecution, punishment, and in some places death.
But no one is talking about capital punishment here. I have to think that the more we clamp down on the stuff and the more we demonize it, the fewer lives will be ruined because the fewer lives will be touched.



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BobSF

posted March 5, 2010 at 6:53 pm


If the production of pornography were limited to cooperatives of performers, all over the age of 30, all having been psychologically assessed as competent and not under duress, freely participating in something they enjoyed, would you still object? I suspect so.
(I’m asking this question with the knowledge that it’s a very unlikely scenario, given this society’s characteristics, but it’s just as likely as “clamping down” enough to eliminate the problems.)



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MH

posted March 5, 2010 at 9:39 pm


In this thread I pretty much avoided the porn part of the discussion and stuck to discussing morality because one interests me and the other doesn’t.
But I’ll wade into the porn part and say that the use of the word evil strikes me as too strong a term and trivializes real evil.
Genocide, murder, robbery, kidnapping, and forced prostitution seem like the word evil fits them. Filming people having sex and then letting other people watch the film strikes me as weird*, but not evil in itself. It’s the activities around it that could be evil. I’m also skeptical about porn actresses being held against their will. If you commit a crime by holding someone, film it provides evidence for your eventual prosecution.
I say weird because in general people don’t want to watch films of rhino’s doing it. But when they do they’re generally on PBS on Sunday nights at 8 PM and considered educational.



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Ken

posted March 5, 2010 at 10:08 pm


Genocide, murder, robbery, kidnapping, and forced prostitution seem like the word evil fits them. Filming people having sex and then letting other people watch the film strikes me as weird*, but not evil in itself.
MH, are you aware that an unusually high number of porn actors were victims of sexual abuse as children? And wouldn’t you agree that prostitution is degrading and destructive of self-esteem? How is doing porn is any different? Isn’t anything that degrades human beings evil?



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MH

posted March 5, 2010 at 10:30 pm


Ken, I think it would be fairly hard to engage in prostitution and have a normal healthy life. I would also agree that often porn seems like a form of prostitution by proxy. But hypothetically speaking it might be possible to film people having sex which didn’t fit that description.
I think there’s two ways you lose me. First, there’s doing harm to others and doing harm to oneself. Second, there’s the relative level of harm involved.



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Rod Dreher

posted March 7, 2010 at 9:03 am


If the production of pornography were limited to cooperatives of performers, all over the age of 30, all having been psychologically assessed as competent and not under duress, freely participating in something they enjoyed, would you still object? I suspect so.
Of course. The idea that what makes a practice moral depends entirely on mutual consent is one I reject.



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MH

posted March 7, 2010 at 12:50 pm


Truly horrid proof of Rod’s point is the German cannibal case (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/3286721.stm) back in 2003. It’s not OK to kill and eat somebody just because they asked you.



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Karl G

posted March 9, 2010 at 7:39 am


“Of course. The idea that what makes a practice moral depends entirely on mutual consent is one I reject.”
I think “Would you object?” is the wrong question here. A better question is “Would it be the place of secular law to take away the freedom of people to make their own moral choice?”
I would say that forcing such choices by law handicaps people’s ability to act as moral agents. Morality is about doing what’s right because it’s the right thing to do, not about following the law out of fear of punishment.



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BobSF

posted March 14, 2010 at 7:14 pm


Of course. The idea that what makes a practice moral depends entirely on mutual consent is one I reject.
(Rod, I wasn’t asking you the particular question. I was directing that at Ken, whose arguments were not based on his religious beliefs.)
I feel the same way about chicken processing plants and the horrid conditions under which people labor in them. But I suspect you do not apply the same standards to industries which do not involve sexual morality as taught by your faith.



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DGinID

posted March 16, 2010 at 10:53 am


The folks who are trying to say the “God saying so” does not make immoral behavior wrong are the same types who thought Noah was crazy for building the ark.
I was a police officer for about a decade. I saw firsthand what porn did to individuals, and to families. It is a poison that is was designed by Satan to destroy, and nothing more.
It degrades what men think of women and what women think of themselves. It gives honest women complexes of what they think men want them to look and act like. I have seen men treat their wives like dogs because of what they were constantly being taught by the perveyors of pornography.
There are no two ways about it. Porn is evil, both from a religious and non-religious point of view. It is destructive to all involved, from the actors to the viewers and to the producers.



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drew

posted March 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm


BobSF brings up a good point. While the porn is one manifestation of degradation, sin, abuse, whatever, look in the food industry or the fur and leather industries, or in vivisection, and what conditions do you find? Do you oppose boiling alive and skinning alive and tearing apart fully conscious feeling beings? Look at the Agriprocessors case, which even claimed to be kosher. People go to work that requires removal of morality and they work in very bad conditions and commit utterly horrific acts of the most profound cruelty upon millions of other beings. Is that what humans should be? And you can find situations like this in many industries. There is more atrocity in the world now then ever before. Some people have that evil nature, and others get involved because they feel they have to compromise to survive, and there they spend their days involved in abhorrent things because they can’t figure out anything better and don’t have the will to prefer their own death over involvement in horrible things.



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PaulM

posted March 18, 2010 at 1:51 pm


Speaking of evil, do you realize some of the advertisers on beliefnet, such as the “teeth brighteners”, are essentially committing credit-card fraud?



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lobo

posted March 31, 2010 at 8:37 am


I don’t know if i should feel bad for this girl. She says she needs the money but is selling her soul for it. It’s not like she couldn’t go work at a starbucks or something. Or get two jobs if she was so desperate.



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Rashid-ul-Islam

posted June 30, 2010 at 2:34 am


I’m very pleased to see this website and the views against pornography. I can’t just understand how people on earth indulge themselves in producing porn. I’m a muslim and living in a muslim country. Sometime I feel so bad observing the spread of porn in our societies also though it is mostly produced in and distributed by the producers of western countries. Sometime I wonder why people in the west are not so vocal against this evil whereas most people in the west claim to be the follower of Jesus (peace be upon him). The stances of almost all the religions are quite the same in this regard. Then why people are not proptesting vehemently. Even the voices of religious leaders and institutions are not so loud. There is no particular campaign to stop this evil. Isn’t it a shame that porn is one of the biggest industries in the world? Where is our humanity? Where is our religiosity? And, anyway, where are the feminists? Have they done enough? What can I say more? I feel pity to myself.



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Sam

posted July 9, 2010 at 2:08 am


Porn is utterly and completely evil. I praise the most Holy God of all, our Father and his Son Jesus Christ for saving me from it many years ago. May God continue to cleanse my mind of lustful thoughts and images. May God call forth a movement from all nations and ethical religions (Islam included!) to end this dehumanizing menace to women, girls, boys, and men.
Amen!



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trevor

posted October 29, 2011 at 2:27 am


you have no excuse there is always a way. you would have power if you quit giving it away to strange men…smarten the fuck up…



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James Wong

posted December 13, 2011 at 1:01 pm


this is a dumb article written by a dumb person for dumb reasons. enough of this conservative bullshit



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Pablo

posted February 11, 2012 at 7:52 pm


I say this with a clear mind and no backing of religion or anything, simply logical, even though I am a christian. I do believe porn to be “evil”. The only way you can figure out if something is evil or not is within your own mind. If you feel it to be adding guilt, shame and negative emotions/thoughts to your mind and soul, it is evil. As I do and from experience, I have felt guilt from watching porn in the past but have learned. It is a challenge to not indulge in it, but you just have to remind yourself about the negative emotions that follow. And if you keep indulging in this evil it will make you less and less of a real person and you will feel terrible, to the point where you may completely lose your sanity and may even commit terrible acts yourself.
I do not want to say “praise you lord jesus… allah” or anything because everybody has their own minds and can judge things for themselves. God wants you to be YOU, not for you to rely on him always. Life was meant to be hard and sometimes you just have to rely on your own mind. Their is a fine line between piousness and mental illness. Whoever your god may be, whether allah, jesus christ’s father, (it all depends on where you were born?)… he wants you to live your life and have fun.
Ok, I may be going off on a tangent here.
About the article. She always had a choice, she could have went back to school and attained a degree and gotten a real job.
For porn viewers, there is always a choice. I believe porn to be inherently evil, but the act of masturbation to be neither evil, nor good, as a man has to relieve is sexual frustrations. Porn is OPTIONAL, yet masturbation is not. You do not have to look at porn to masturbate.
We ALL have free will and whatever you do within your life really defines what kind of person you are, your future, and who you will turn out to be. Possible even an afterlife.



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Jeremy

posted April 18, 2012 at 8:05 pm


Oh, dear. She is not forced to appear in porn: it is simply easier and much better paid than other unskilled and less glamorous jobs she could do. If she was unattractive she would still need to “get by” and would find another job outside the adult industry.

I feel no guilt about watching porn. I love watching it and I celebrate it as a healthy form of sexual expression in a free and enlightened society. If you feel guilt, it is probably because you have bought into the “morality” of ancient desert tribes that were obsessed with sex being immoral.



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