Thursday, April 08, 2010

We the New Pornographers, in which I attempt to answer a question about porn and "sex work"

A feminist acquaintance who understands how little I know about feminism, of any degree of radicalization and of any wave, asks:
Hey Matt, what is the take on Pornography and Sex work, from a religious perspective? I'm looking at these issues for my Feminist Methods class, so if you give me your perspective with your reasons for it, it would help. Thanks! Hope all is well.
Yes, I believe pornography is degrading and disrespectful to a person's humanity. It treats a person as instrumental to some goal of pleasure sought, no longer treating them as ends in themselves (that might sound philosophical in a classical way, and not religious qua religious, but maybe, its that too). Yes, sex work is then also degrading. Without wanting to simply jump into the middle or end of a conversation, yes, a religious position like mine might suggest that porn and sex work are deeply anti-feminist or anti-woman as such. So, yes, to the degree one truly values femininity and the rights of women, to that degree he will oppose pornography and sex work (and live that out, not just use the right rhetoric as do most religious people).

One conservative Catholic writer made the case that pornography is on the continuum towards adultery or cheating (noting the biblical view which, offering its own radicalism, says it is adultery from the heart). The main problem from a religious perspective is that, like all sin which we commit (whether as pornographers, which is most or many of us, or as people failing to fight human trafficking to the heroic degree required of us, which is most or many of us), it breaks relationship with God. God does not tolerate when the gifts he gave us for good living are placed on a pedestal above the worship of Him. Porn and sex work do that because its been revealed that goes against God's will for us.

God's intolerance here is not due to selfishness, but rather the opposite. Ethical and healthy sexuality, a religious person would say, are things which God has given to us, not precisely for mundane nuts-and-bolts insert-and-reinsert use, but for a more interesting, less pornographic use (many other adjectives besides "more interesting" apply here: private, cherish-able, personal, loving, monogamous, non-commodifiable, covenanted, within marriage, etc.). And this idea that sex is a good thing which can be easily sullied by inappropriate use is one to which most religious people hold.

These religious folk would, many of them at least, also admit to being or having been pornographers (mostly on the level of consumers) at some point in their sexual careers.

If for many the response then is not colossal shame at their own admitted failure to live out their own ethics so to speak, the reason to consider is that they believe they have been 'bought with the blood of Jesus', redeemed from and forgiven for all sin, past, present and future by the one God Who became flesh. So at some point, they have gave up trying to plead (before God, so maybe also before men and women) their own merit, but rather plead that Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that has saved many a pornographing wretch, and will always gladly welcome another. And if they don't want to commit pornea (the Greek stands for "sexual immorality" in a general sense) in the future, its not because they believe future sin will condemn them, but because they want to continue to abide in an intimate fellowship with the one God, a fellowship which is humanity's true and good end. So when such people mess up, they ask God to forgive them again.

Thus, meta-ethically, I see it not about following a set of merely rational (Kantian?) rules which include prohibitions against porn and sex work, but about the relational failure induced by (and inducing!) those acts. Putting it in a crude analogy to what I hope is ethics of care: God is deeply close to us in our own spheres of relational intimacy and dependence - closer even than any family or human lovers ever could be- and so on our behalf, he will fight being shut out by our rebellious behavior. Only for those unwilling is a loving victory not possible. If the goal of existing as humans is to relate to God so that we might represent divinity in the universe, then engaging in promiscuous and pornographic acts is wrong in that it leads us away from that goal even as and co-extensive with it leading us away from fellowship with one other. That's true of many things, but sexual promiscuity more so because of its deeply personal element (i.e. the body, those temporal-material realities which human persons are).

(of course, the idea opposed here would be the meme, which I don't mean to smear unfairly, that promiscuity is on some level a healthy part of "unrepressed" or "free" fellowship - but there you go)

One last bit is of course that not all sex work is voluntary. And perhaps all sides can agree on the wrongness of human trafficking and sex slavery and the rape in which this consists. However, I don't know if we can draw a hard and fast distinction between involuntary and voluntary sex work, since a) many who enter into it involuntarily remain long after it may argued that they have a "way out", and b) on an anecdotal level those who do get into certain aspects of sex work voluntarly may lose a great deal of voluntariness when confronted with more hard-core aspects. But that's a different set of debates. ;)

No comments: