Porn addiction and exploitation is a public health crisis affecting millions of Americans, and the cultural and political consequences of unhindered lust affect everyone, not just Christians.
“Women are the primary beneficiaries of the elimination of old hypocritical notions about sex,” said pornographer Hugh Hefner. However, he added, “one of the unintended by-products of the women’s movement is the association of the erotic impulse with the desire to hurt someone.” To put it more precisely, an unintended, but quite predictable, consequence of Hefner’s sexual revolution was that it did more harm than it ostensibly helped. Even the ancients – both East and West – knew that the uncontrolled proliferation of lustful passions was a recipe for social and political catastrophe.
Apparently our current generation has to relearn this lesson. Pop singer Billie Eilish recently admitted that porn is a “shame” that “really wrecked” her brain. Eilish revealed that she started watching porn when she was 11 (which alarmingly is the average age American children are exposed to). She also described how violent and abusive pornography normalized such behaviors during her first sexual encounter. She isn’t the only one who finds porn more of a prison than a cure-all: Russell Brand, John Mayer, Charlie Sheen, Tiger Woods, and Chris Rock are just some of the many celebrities who have suffered from porn addiction.
The harmful effects of pornography are legion. Dawn Hawkins, CEO of the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, discusses in a December 28 News week piece together the vast body of research on the damage pornography does to brain development, how it normalizes sexual violence and exploitation, and how it benefits those who exploit vulnerable people. the Washington post in 2019, interviewed a woman who was persuaded to do a dozen porn shoots in 2014 for $ 12,000. Now, said the woman, “no amount of money would be worth it…. I don’t think this is an industry that should be respected. Porn is also responsible for a growing number of divorces.
Scientific evidence showing the correlation between pornography and addiction, abuse and divorce is widely publicized, and anecdotal evidence of exploitation continues to mount – many pornstars admit to having experienced sexual trauma in their youth. Yet too many Americans are fooled into thinking that opposition to porn is primarily the preserve of busy Puritans. They tend to view pornography as a matter of free speech and individual liberty. Don’t legislate what people do in the privacy of their home (or their iPhone)! How false and myopic. Porn addiction and exploitation is a public health crisis affecting millions of Americans, and concerns about what unhindered lust can do to a culture and body politic are far from limited to those who adhere to Christian morality.
Archytas the Tarentino, an ancient Greek philosopher and statesman and contemporary of Plato, warned that “the greatest curse, the greatest plague” afflicted by nature upon man was sexual pleasure, especially when “from strong inordinate desires are aroused and set in motion to achieve this. “When lust is unbridled, Archytas observed,” men have betrayed their country; for thus states and governments have been plunged into ruin; for there have been treacherous correspondences with public enemies, in other words, lust leads people to forget their duties to their neighbors and fellow citizens, instead of allowing themselves to be consumed by the desires of the flesh.
When subsumed by lustful desires, mankind’s capacity for virtue shrinks. Where lust prevails, says Archtyas, “temperance can have no place; nor under the domination of pleasure, virtue can subsist. This is why the ancients considered lust to be a vice – a behavior that is more and more accustomed in an individual and undermines that person’s ability to exercise good behaviors (virtues) like temperance, prudence, courage. and justice. Virtues (and vices) are a bit like muscles: the more they are exercised, the stronger they become. And lust, according to Archytas, was the most detestable of vices for its ability to extinguish “all the brightest faculties of the soul, and all the powers and light of understanding.”
The Roman orator and statesman Cicero cites the example of Lucius Flaminius as an embodiment of this blind behavior. When he acted as consul and commanded the army in Gaul, Lucius Flaminius agreed to execute a man simply to please his lover. Reflecting on this, Cicero quotes the Greek tragedian Sophocles, who referred to lust as “tyranny” which begotten addiction in its subject. “In short,” writes Cicero, “there is no such horrible misdeed, such execrable wickedness, as this [lust] will not incite to perpetrate.
And, of course, the ancient Hebrews also understood the power of lust to destroy society and government. Whether or not one believes in the historical truth of the Old Testament, the story of King David and Bathsheba is instructive on this point. Foreshadowing the voyeurism inherent in pornography, David spots the beautiful (and married) Bathsheba as she bathes. Not only does David coerce her into committing adultery, but he also colludes to have her devoted and loyal husband, Uriah the Hittite, murdered when he finds out that she is pregnant. Many of the family and political calamities that plague the remainder of David’s reign are directly attributable to these misdeeds.
Yet recognizing the consequences of sexual indulgence is not unique to the ancient West. The 6th-century Chinese philosopher Confucius issued similar condemnations against lust. “Let there be no depravity in your thoughts,” Confucius teaches in the Interviews, offering lust as an example of depravity that vitiates virtue. “Cheng is lustful, so how can he be adamant? Confucius asks. In other words, Confucius maintains that a man defined by lust is incapable of showing moral strength. When a gentleman is young, Confucius teaches, he has to guard against lust in a special way because of his ability to derail his life.
Over 2,000 years ago, sages from Greece to China had seen and heard enough to know that lust was one of the most destructive passions in the human condition. As Confucius observed, “I have never met anyone who admires virtue as much as they admire sexual attraction.” In other words, Confucius would not be surprised to learn that today millions of people each day choose to use the Internet not to improve themselves or promote human flourishing, but rather to watch others. do despicable and despicable things to themselves.
Prostitution is perhaps the oldest profession in the world, and porn is prostitution in another form. However, one should be wary of the customs and laws that make porn easier to consume than at any other time in history. After all, the smartphone is a real red light district in your pocket. The wisest men of the ancient world knew the power of lust to destroy not only individuals, but entire societies. As they might tell you, no reliance on religious doctrine is necessary to assimilate this lesson.
Chalk Casey written on matters of religion and culture for The American Conservative and is a contributing editor for the New Oxford Review. He is the author of The Persecuted: True Stories of Brave Christians Living Their Faith in Muslim Lands (Sophia Institute Press).