23 June 2007

Pornography and Liberal Religion

Reason and Reverence and El Cáliz Azul (The Blue Chalice) and have both commented on the question of the responses that liberal religion should take towards pornography. You can read both blog posts here:
Both posts raise some concerns with pornography and ethics. Specifically, Reason and Reverence mentions the following concerns about pornography as a social ill:
I need look no farther than the UU principles as a start for why religious liberals may want to start thinking about why pornography is a social problem. The first two principles:
  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person
  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations
Pornography seems to seriously violate both of these cherished principles. It is a humongous, selfish, disgusting industry that belittles and trivializes human sexuality. It objectifies and commodifies men and women. It portrays sex in a brutal, selfish, unrealistic way.
I'll agree that there are segments of the pornography and sexually-related businesses that are selfish and inconsiderate.

Some sexually-related businesses do belittle and trivialize human sexuality. And some do economically exploit their workers.

However, the objectification and brutality mentioned above sounds like a description of the "Gonzo Porn" genre. These objections may not apply to all pornography. Like other types of media, there is a wide range of normal variation in pornography.

The explicit values in the Our Whole Lives (OWL) curriculum jointly developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association and the United Church of Christ may be useful for exploring pornography as a values issue. You can find the OWL values online here.

The OWL curriculum spends very little time discussing pornography. Most of the discussion of porn as a values issue happens in the adult curriculum where many views are presented and it's left as an open-ended question for the group to discuss.

Let's look at the list of issues that Reason and Reverence raised with pornography:
  • Humongous, selfish, disgusting industry
  • Belittles and trivializes human sexuality
  • Objectifies and commodifies men and women
  • Portrays sex in a brutal, selfish, unrealistic way
I wonder if we can peel back the layers of concern here to discover if pornography can exist in a manner consistent with the sexual values promoted by Unitarian Universalists.

Is pornography innately incompatible with our religious values? Or the problems that we've identified with pornography due to the corporate commercial culture that produces much of the pornography in North America?

For example, would amateur porn made by lesbians for lesbians be OK within our values?

This hypothetical example would eliminate the commercialization issues and the patriarchy oppression issues commonly associated with pornography. However, it would still involve people obtaining pleasure from viewing sexually explicit images.

Personally, I've enjoyed the sex-positive feminist perspective on porn issues. Here are some sex-positive feminist web resources that you can check out:
For an example of visually erotic but non-explotative pornography, you may want to check out Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image as an example of sex-positive feminism in action. Susie Bright has a sampling of photos from this book on her web site here.

1 comment:

Stephen Merino said...

Steve,

I think I remember reading this post a couple years ago after I wrote mine. Thanks for noticing mine and for starting a conversation about pornography and liberal religion. I've recently renewed my interest in the topic after reading a fantastic book by Robert Jensen called Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity. I appreciate your comments about pornography. I've heard similar sentiments from other liberal-minded folks. The problem with them, I think, is that they show a real denial of what pornography is, who it's made for, and who consumes it. I think liberals hesitate to reject porn for a number of reasons. First, they don't want to close off avenues of sexual freedom and exploration. They don't want to be associated with religious conservatives that condemn it. They don't want to condemn the women that participate in it willingly. There are many reasons. However, our belief in justice requires that we look unflinchingly at the realities of pornography, what it says about our society, and what it does to real people. After reading Jensen's book and learning more about radical feminist critiques of pornography, I'm only more convinced that the vast majority of pornography is misogynistic and brutal. As UUs, especially as UUs, we have a responsibility to shine a light on injustice and inequality, and porn should be no exception. I don't know whether there is such thing as "healthy" or egalitarian porn, but even if it does exist, it can't keep my from shining a light on an industry whose products are cruel to both men and women.