Tuesday, 20 May 2008

I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto.

Well it’s Tuesday morning here in Sydney and the guy from Wichita has just dropped by after usual his search. Google Analytics shows he stayed for just over 2 minutes before cruising on to wherever it is that guys in Wichita go when surfing the web for “hot boat porn Christian” sites.

The other search expression that brought a few people here overnight was “covenant eyes crack”. I’m assuming they were looking for ways to get around the software that seems to be gaining a cult following here, and not just looking for some kind of fetish which involving things can’t even begin to imagine. In which case I’m sorry, but two more disappointed visitors just left us: even if I did know a way around the program (and I don’t) it wouldn’t be here. Playing those kind of self-deceptive games with oneself and others about what you’ve been viewing (even if you just don’t want any Moore College faculty to know you lurk at Caliban’s Dream) never helps anyone.

What I can offer is the suggestion that we do something hypothetical here when talking about porn. Let’s all pretend it’s completely unconnected in any way with a person’s morality, ethical standing, relationship with God, or anything else which effects the way people view a person. When we’re here let’s imagine a person’s fascination with pornography is something purely psychological, like for example, an interest in model aircraft, or collecting beer coasters.

Now please – I’m not saying it is in the same category. Got that? At the risk of sounding rude I’ll repeat it shouting:I AM NOT SAYING PORNOGRAPHY AND MORALITY ARE UNCONNECTED! What I am saying is that when discussing it around here let’s try and think about it as if they are. Just as a kind of experiment, ok?

I realise that’s going to seem awfully challenging for some, and if you can’t handle the idea then don’t feel compelled to stick around; there’s no shortage of places on the web taking a more traditional approach. But if they really did have all the answers I’ll bet we wouldn’t be having this conversation, would we? Sure, I know the idea of perving at the old whacko material cuts across just about every rule concerning personal purity you’ve ever heard preached by the Father Christians of this world (and, to be fair, plenty of people a whole lot nicer than he is), but let’s just try and put that to one side when discussing the subject here. For the purpose of this place we’re just going to pretend it’s only an interest some people have, there’s nothing sinful about it, nothing immoral about it whatsoever. Then let’s see where this idea might take us…

PS. Since there’s a fair bit more going on in the world besides porno (nearly all of which I happen to consider vastly more important) I can’t promise a post on the topic every day: in fact for everyone’s sake
(and especially my own ;-) I’d really like to vary the topic occasionally. If there’s anything you’d really like me to grab and run with now please just leave a comment in on any topic, or send an email to the link at the top-right corner on the page. Otherwise just keep dropping by: I promise we'll get back to this topic sooner rather than later.


Luke Gilkerson said...

Hello. Your friend from Wichita is back.

Before I launch into your experiment, I would like to ask you what you find so cultish about me. Just a personal question.

I assume you are classifying Covenant Eyes as a “traditional” approach to the subject of purity. Correct me if I'm wrong, and let me know what you mean by that.

Ok, the experiment: a purely psychological fascination with porn.

I remember being in college and rooming with a couple art majors. They were always in classes drawing and sculpting images of the nude female figure. When I asked them if they ever deemed it a sexual or lustful struggle, they both told me it wasn't. They enjoyed the process and skill it took to replicate the female form. It was, for them, a non-sexual fascination with nudity and the artistic depiction of it. (For the record, as far as I could tell, these guys were telling the truth about how they viewed their art. Whether they were or not, I use them now purely for this experiment.)

I am completely willing to grant that there can be a difference between, for instance, erotica and pornography. Erotica can have its artistic purposes.

Now, let's say, in our experiment, that a student at Moore has this purely artistic/psychological/sociological fascination with pornographic images. But alas, he's had Covenant Eyes installed on his computer. The watchful dragons are lurking to catch him nursing his obsession, which of course they take to be a sexual problem. What's a guy to do?

In this experiment there are a couple solutions to this conundrum:
1. He could see it is as a great difference of opinion, leave Moore, and go set up shop away from the nay-sayers and spend his days pouring over online porn.
2. He could try to work through this misunderstanding. Covenant Eyes is, of course, only a piece of software. It scores sites for content, it reports them. The product is, in effect, useless without the relationships fostered among those who share reports. In the best case scenario, he would need to have an understanding accountability partner who trusts him.

Let's say that he doesn't have a lustful problem with pornography, but he has an acute gambling addiction online. He spends away his savings and goes into debt because of is frequent visits to online casinos. So the Covenant Eyes program now becomes a basis for open, honest communication with his partner about that addiction. His partner now overlooks the porn on the report and focuses on the gambling websites. They foster a relationship that helps this young man through his gambling addiction, as together they work to dig out the roots of that particular sin.

I enjoy this discussion for the sake of experiment, but I must say that the whole idea is really a fantasy: to suppose it to be possible means that our hypothetical Moore student is really struggling with another sexual dysfunction: asexuality.


Luke Gilkerson said...

I did forget to add one thought:

I recently spoke at a nearby college about pornography addiction and porn industry. The group was largely not Christian or from any real religious background. We had a discussion about the ethics behind pornography viewing. The one topic that interested them the most was the life of the girls in the industry.

I've spoken with several women who've come out of the porn industry and it is a very interesting area of study for me personally. I've also corresponded with a number of feminist groups about the industry. The realization that the women behind the pixels are real people with real hurts begins to change people's perceptions of what they are viewing.

Even in our experiment, I do think there is another moral question we need to ask when we are logging on to view pornography (whether it be the free samples or the stuff we pay for). This moral question has nothing to do with one's personal lust over the women in the photos or videos. It has to do with our endorsement (by intentionally clicking on the links) of the industry's continued use of these women.

Yes, these women have made a choice. But the majority of women who do a porn film do only one because of how traumatizing it is. Most of these women are coming from homes where sexual abuse was common. The industry is a demoralizing place, so so many high rates of substance abuse, (typically alcohol and cocaine), depression, borderline personality disorder. Many performers confess to needing to be drunk, high or dissociated in order to go to work.

So, our hypothetical student who desires to nurse his fascination with porn may also have another ethical question to ask himself. Is my study of this industry going to inadvertently be viewed by Google Analytics as an endorsement of the industry, going to pad the pockets of the corporations who contribute to the evil done to these women?

We may say, "He's only one man who's pointing and clicking. What will it matter?" But when we carry this experiment further, we need to assume there could be many that have a non-lustful obsession with porn. What if many people are unwittingly logging on, not for lustful reasons, and the industry benefits because of it?


Alcibiades said...

"cultish"? Not sure I understand what you're getting at. Ok, so I've constructed several effigies of what I imagine you to look like, and my family does routinely leave small offerings of fruit and nuts before those effigies, but cultish? You've got me there too, Luke.

The art majors you refer to are a good example of where I'm interested in going. Why was their sexuality (at least in this context) able to approach the subject of nudity and nude modelling so differently to how others respond to the topic?

I'm really going to try and leave Moore out of this discussion, partly for the same reason I'm not going to refer to Bob Jones University either. Suffice it to say I'd be pretty wary of the counselling and support someone scoring a bad report in either institution would receive.

I fail to see why you see the alternative to obsessive and habitual (or even occasional) usage of pornography as asexuality. Some of us would like to consider ourselves as having quite an active sexuality without it incorporating or being defined by pornography. Still others would like find that place for themselves, and still believe it's existence possible.

That your audience was interested in the woman involved the production of pornography is hardly surprising: the mix of voyeurism and schadenfreude (look it up if you need to) is an enticing cocktail for most audiences. As I’ve written in the comments on another post here, I’ve known a few people who’ve had varying degrees of involvement in the sex industry extremely well (and still more not so closely), and nobody here is questioning the harm that many sustained.

Yet telling their stories does not, I strongly believe, lead to any noticable reduction in people's consumption of the industry’s dubious products – at least not on a long-term basis. It’s certainly not something I’m going to do here – firstly because I don’t believe those stories are another person’s to tell, and secondly because I’m interested in finding avenues for change and helping others explore them, not salaciously retelling what most already know.

Luke Gilkerson said...

This real world example of artists depicting nudity might help us move away from your psychological-yet-non-lustful thought experiment. Personally I've never met an artist who watches porn to re-create what they see in an artistic way. (I'm not saying you think such people exist either.) Artists typically use other mediums to find their inspiration.

There are several major difference between the nudity my roommates were exposed to in their art classes and the nudity found in commercialized pornography. Intention of the viewers. Intention of the models. Intention of the art itself. As artists they had trained their minds to see certain expressions of nudity the way someone might see a sunset or a field of flowers.

Nonetheless the same artists would find the expressions of nudity in pornography to be a perversion of the beauty they encountered in their classes.

We find the same phenomenon across cultures. Some cultures highlight certain parts of the female body as particularly attractive and sexually stimulating, while other cultures do not. Their environment conditions their sexuality to a certain degree.

I wasn't trying to say the alternative to habitual or occasional use of pornography is asexuality (sorry for any miscommunication). I was saying that someone who "uses" a form of media that is expressly produced to sexually arouse (as commercialized porn is) and doesn't become sexually aroused may want to consider whether they have lost the ability to become aroused at all. (I am one who also tries to consider myself sexual without being defined by pornography.)

I'm sorry to hear you wouldn't trust the counseling that a student would receive at Moore. I can't comment on this subject other than to say that the philosophy behind the use of our software is the need to have quality accountability/discipleship relationships in the Body of Christ. To hear a whole institution was misusing the software in order to further harm a person's self-identity or bring about chronic guilt would deeply trouble me.

If I thought I was ever "salaciously retelling what most already know" about women in the porn industry I wouldn't bring it up in discussion. Most of the time whenever I tell those stories (1) I use text, audio or video clips of the women telling their own stories, and (2) I find most don't "already know" what's going on behind the scenes. Its the women themselves who have come forward to tell their own stories because they believe there is a widespread ignorance about the industry.

I agree that merely telling stories about those who are or were involved in the sex industry does not lead to noticable reduction in people's consumption of the industry’s products. Yet the story can become a part of anynone's journey to recovery from sex addiction. What many sexual addicts deal with on a deeper level is really mistaken ideas of intimacy and an unhealthy focus and idolatry of self. Stories about the real-life hurts of those in the industry can become a catalyst for some to see this idolatry within themselves.

Aside from this, I wasn't bringing up the injustice of those trapped in the sex industry to coerce people out of their porn habits. I was merely bringing up the idea that there are more moral issues going on in watching porn that one's own piety.

You didn't answer my first question: I assume you are classifying Covenant Eyes as a “traditional” approach to the subject of purity. Correct me if I'm wrong, and let me know what you mean by that.

Lindy said...

I don't know why anyone would even be concerned about "purity." What century am I living in? For me, as a Christian, it's not about how pure I am but how well I love. Porn is not loving, in a lot of ways, that's why I'm opposed to it.

I've got to get going, and busy all week, but I'm following the conversation. I may not reply but I'm here.