Friday, January 21, 2005


Richard John Neuhaus writes in the current on-line edition of FIRST THINGS about an exchange on pornography between Jeffrey Rosen and David Hart in the New Atlantis. Hart, a wonderfully gifted and insightful theologian, puts into words the exact sense of shock I felt last semester in my Con Law class as we studied the Supreme Court's child porn cases:

“It is difficult for me to grasp why the Court works upon the premise that whatever means are employed to protect children from Internet pornography should involve the barest minimum imposition possible upon the free expression of pornographers.”

Hart also observes:

“The damage that pornography can do—to minds or cultures—is not by any means negligible. Especially in our modern age of passive entertainment, saturated as we are by an unending storm of noises and images and barren prattle, portrayals of violence or of sexual degradation possess a remarkable power to permeate, shape, and deprave the imagination; and the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character. Anyone who would claim that constant or even regular exposure to pornography does not affect a person at the profoundest level of consciousness is either singularly stupid or singularly degenerate.”

Hart's point has little to do with prudery. As Aristotle, Aquinas, or Alasdair Macintyre might put it, it's about what it means to flourish as human beings. Of course, pornography is sometimes said to encourage just that by providing an erotic adventure without all the messiness that comes with human attachment. But as someone who has had some experience with pornography, I can't help but think that porn is, in the truest sense of the word, a vice -- something that ultimately hinders us in our quest for that good life we are all seeking.

Indeed, I often whether the notoriously promiscuous sexual habits of gay men would be far different had the sexual awakenings of so many of us not been tainted by pornography and its false vision of human sexuality. But don't expect the HRC, or even the MCC, to say anything about these issues. After all, it wouldn't have anything to do with "politics."

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