Pornography Is a Social Justice Issue

Millennial Catholic Megan McCabe, who has written on hookup culture and rape culture at Millennial, has a new article at America. She writes:

This process of desensitization and subsequent search for a new thrill is one way that male viewers find themselves aroused by acts of violence and degradation that they previously would have found horrifying.

Through “Create in Me a Clean Heart,” the U.S.C.C.B. attempts to address these social concerns. But the statement mentions them only briefly and without much explanation. Despite addressing issues of violence, the overall framing of the document remains focused on lust and chastity. To take pornography seriously as a structure of sin would require moving violence to the fore, allowing it to frame how we ought to understand the ethical challenges posed by pornography. Through further exploration of the negative social effects of pornography, it becomes clear that the primary concern ought not be lustfulness. Rather, use of pornography entails complicity in a social structure that makes violence against women seem normal, even erotic. It is a matter of social injustice.

Such an approach would lead us to see that the primary necessary response ought to be oriented toward justice and social transformation. It would require solidarity with those who are victimized by sexual violence. Avoiding such material is good not only because it promotes moral purity but also because it challenges the cultural underpinning of unjust, gendered power and sexual violence. The key moral issue is not one’s own “clean heart” but one’s participation in upholding and passing on cultural forms that promote violence against women.

You can read the full article here.

Around the Web (Part 2)

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Economic Inequality: Can Theology Say Something New? by Kate Ward: “In my view, a good deal of advocacy around inequality, including that of religious leaders, avoids one of the more important questions we should be asking: how does inequality affect our moral formation? For many of us, it’s easy to find common cause with those who are like us and more difficult to feel empathy for others who we may perceive as more distant. This adds urgency to the question of whether it matters if, for example, a CEO earns 100 times or 100,000 times what her lowest-paid employees do, even supposing the employees earn a living wage. Do we really think vastly different living standards have no impact on our ability to form solidarity with one another?”

In Lebanon, Syrian refu­gee children find safety from war but new dangers on the streets by Loveday Morris: “The United Nations announced that Lebanon registered its millionth Syrian refugee on Thursday, making the tiny country — which had a population of just over 4 million before the Syrian war — home to the highest concentration of refugees in the world. Among the most visible representatives of that influx and the impact of the Syrian war on Lebanon’s capital are children such as Mohammed, who fled the violence and ended up here, selling flowers, tissues, chewing gum or shoeshines on the streets of Beirut.”

Finding ‘Mercy’ in daily life by Gail Finke: “Yes, it’s funny (“In which I get locked out of the church while trying to help people into it”) and sad and thought-provoking and inspirational. If you take even one thing away from this book, you’ll be a better person and a better Catholic. But you’ll take away a lot more than one.”

On Coates v. Chait by Ross Douthat: “You don’t have to regard morality as at the seat of all our troubles to recognize that it’s intertwined with some of them; you don’t have to write off public policy to concede that there are ills that policy alone can’t solve; you don’t have to ignore structural disadvantages to recognize the importance of asserting individual agency — saying ”there are things under our control that we’ve got to attend to …,” as the president has put it — in the face of collective difficulty.”

Facts, Propaganda and Libertarianism by Michael Sean Winters: “Any thoughtful Catholic has sufficient difficulties with liberalism, all of which tend to wish it were less individualistic, less focused on human autonomy, less redolent of rights apart from correlative responsibilities. Libertarianism wants to pull liberalism in the opposite direction, removing even the few checks on unfettered license that liberalism supplies.”

Shifting the Focus: Objectification, Porn and the Longing for Belonging by Leah Perrault: “Objectification and depersonalization are natural consequences of porn, but I don’t think that the average porn user, at least at the beginning, is aiming for those consequences as a primary goal. The appeal of porn, and eventually the compulsion or addiction, isn’t about the (often female) body, person or sexual appeal. It’s about the longing, fear and/or compulsion in the viewer.”

Opinion: Forget Ukraine, Syria is now the world’s biggest threat by Simon Tisdal: “Al-Assad’s continued survival as Syria’s head of state is an egregious affront to the U.N. Security Council and its various related Syria resolutions, to the U.N. charter, to international law, and specifically to international war crimes legislation. Al-Assad stands accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, not least over the use by his forces of chemical weapons against civilian populations. But once again, nothing much is done, and the credibility of such institutions and laws suffers as a result. The moral example set by such dereliction is shocking.”

To prevent another Rwanda, all it takes is a few well-trained troops by David Blair: “Gen Dallaire’s searing memoir of those 100 blood-soaked days, Shake Hands with the Devil, contains a lesson of eternal relevance. This distinguished Canadian soldier offers his professional assessment that a mere 4,000 trained troops, entrusted with a mandate allowing the use of force to protect civilians, could have stopped the genocide in its tracks. For want of a handful of soldiers, 800,000 people died.”

Crisis and Need in the Central African Republic by Allen Ottaro: “Father Mombe shared an overview of the history of the conflict in his country, efforts by churches and faith communities to end the violence and initiate reconciliation, and his personal experience of the conflict in the capital city, Bangui, in December 2013.”

Around the Web

Check out these recent articles from around the web:

Bring on the Dogma by Michael Sean Winters: “The mercy of God, the love of God, the human dignity of all, these are the core doctrines that we must embrace and defend, but our defense must be characterized by utter humility in part because we all so easily and so often offend against them!”

Going Home Again by David Brooks: “Sting’s talk was a reminder to go forward with a backward glance, to go one layer down into self and then after self-confrontation, to leap forward out of self. History is filled with revivals, led by people who were reinvigorated for the future by a reckoning with the past.”

How Bashar al-Assad created the feared shabiha militia: an insider speaks by The Telegraph: “A former Assad regime insider has given the first direct account of how Syria’s ruling family created the feared shabiha militia that is blamed for some of the worst atrocities of the civil war, and gave it orders to kill or torture anti-regime protesters.”

Emerging Adulthood: A Luxury Good by Anna Sutherland: “As Kendig, Mattingly, and Bianchi conclude, their findings imply that young adults from lower-income families need more support as they pursue a college education or job training, and they could benefit from earlier training in financial literacy as they contribute to their families’ income at younger ages.”

The Central African Republic has become a nightmare for Muslims by Peter Bouckaert: “The Catholics’ humanity, courage and leadership stand out amid the slaughter. They are virtually alone in trying to protect the vulnerable. France and the African Union have deployed thousands of peacekeepers; the United States and other governments have provided support to the peacekeeping mission. But their efforts to protect civilians pale next to the bravery exhibited by these clergy.”

Europe’s bishops: Politics needs to focus its attention on the common good by Vatican Insider: “The bishops ended their statement with a direct appeal: ‘We, Catholic Bishops, would plead that the European project not be put at risk nor abandoned under current duress.’”

Abby Huntsman wants to lead her own generation into poverty by Michael Hiltzik: “Huntsman has stitched her spiel together out of scraps and tatters of misinformation, of a sort we’ve heard from the older generation for years. They’re no more accurate coming out the mouths of a “millennial.” But it’s tragic to see that what she’s learned from her elders is how to mislead her public.”

Christians, Muslims join anti-slavery campaign by AP: “Christians and Muslims have joined to try to help free millions of men, women and children held in modern-day slavery, forced to work as maids, prostitutes, child soldiers and manual laborers. The Global Freedom Network launched Monday at the Vatican aims to eradicate slavery by encouraging governments, businesses, educational and faith institutions to rid their supply chains of slave labor.”

Best practices for charity and justice by Jack Jezreel, US Catholic: “Those in our parishes who work on issues related to human trafficking, for example, should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those dedicated to issues related to mental illness. Those focused on environmental care should celebrate—not diminish—the work of those focused on reducing abortions. Those who work on domestic issues in partnership with Catholic Charities should celebrate—not diminish—those who work on international issues in partnership with Catholic Relief Services.”

Love vs. Pornography by Bishop Paul Loverde: “Very often, a key factor in one’s descent into pornography addiction is a lack of affirmation, acceptance, and trust in one’s relationships. An important part of the ascent, then, can also be the sharing of this struggle with others, allowing their love and concern to aid in the healing.”

A Genius for Friendship by John Padberg, SJ: “Peter began to help Ignatius in his studies; Ignatius slowly became a dear friend and counselor to whom Faber unburdened his troubled inner life. Ignatius could understand it well; he had experienced the same trials of scruples, temptations, uncertainties that had long bedeviled Peter. These burdens never completely left Faber, but he learned from Ignatius both how to deal with them and how to help others in the same circumstances.”

Pope Francis: Style, substance and a man for others by Stephen Kent: “His remarks — critical of the “throwaway culture” and his skepticism about “trickle-down economics” ever reaching the poor — have captured headlines, as has his demand for a direct encounter with the poor.”

Most Popular Guest Posts in 2013

One of the reasons we created Millennial was because we were concerned that millennial Catholics did not have adequate forums in which to express their ideas on religion, politics, and culture. In particular, we felt that those who were both pro-life and pro-social justice, shaped by the personalist and communitarian principles of Catholic teaching, were too often excluded by those seeking to maintain ideological purity or advance a partisan agenda. In creating Millennial, we hoped to provide a forum to fill that gap and hoped that this would be done not only by recruiting a great set of writers but also by having a very open submission policy that welcomed millennial Catholic authors from a wide range of backgrounds. We had a great set of guest submissions in 2013, which can be viewed here. We hope to add even more voices in 2014, so if you have something to say and are willing to say it in a thoughtful, nuanced way, we encourage you to submit a post or idea today. Without further ado, here are the five most popular guest posts of 2013:

5. Liberty, Idolatry, and the Culture of Violence by Christiana Z. Peppard: “The idolatry of liberty—of rights unfettered from social responsibilities—is cancerous. In our culture of violence, it is at least partly fed by hyper-permissive interpretations of the second amendment. And we are too strapped to guns and gurneys for any of this to be even bleakly funny. If the body politic is to survive, the cancer requires surgery. Rethinking the contemporary stipulations of the second amendment seems as good a place to start as any.”

4. All Catholic Bishops Must Act on Medicaid Expansion by Ryan Casey: “Join me also in my hope that our Catholic clergy lead their flocks by embodying the social gospel that lies at the very heart of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, who did not just talk about compassion, but showed it; did not just teach us about love, but was it; and did not just preach about taking care of the least among us, but did it.  Will we as Catholics follow in the footsteps of Christ our Lord through our actions?”

3. Waging War on Porn: Trial and Triumph at our Finger Tips by Matt Aujero: “Our generation has been given the opportunity to grow up and explore the Internet, a tool that gives us unprecedented access to knowledge, but it has also given us an equally unprecedented set of temptations if we leave ourselves to our own devices… This is not just a personal battle; this is our collective battle.”

2. Letter to a “Conservative” Catholic by Rebecca Sharbaugh: “I promise to balance the emphases of my faith with yours by truly listening to what you have to say.  I promise to never demean the beautiful ways you serve God just because they are different than the ways I choose to serve God. And most of all, I promise that I believe the Church is better with you in it than it would be without you.”

1. The Danger of Pope Francis by Jonathan Lewis: “The danger of Pope Francis is no different than the danger that comes with the rise in popularity of any other figure, though it is magnified when the person happens to be the most talked-about person in the world: when we agree with someone, we are rarely moved to grow or change. The life of a Christian disciple requires growth and change. A God that does not make us uncomfortable is no god at all.”

Pornography is about more than personal purity

As Millennial’s previous piece on the subject noted, pornography is pervasive in our society, particularly among teenage boys and young men.

In addressing this, the focus is often on convincing these young people to embrace the virtue of temperance.  Those trying to break away from pornography struggle to live a life of greater purity and resist lustful temptations that would hinder their progress.  The focus is on self-reform.

Of course, there is also a great deal of discussion about the impact of pornography on the viewer’s immediate relationships.  Often the costs of pornography—including its negative impact on intimacy and the sexual relationship of spouses—are framed in terms of the way it damages the relationship between husband and wife.

But the consumption of pornography is also a social justice issue.  It is tightly connected to the objectification of other persons, who are used instrumentally for a rush of endorphins.  Many feminists would note the negative impact that the widespread objectification of women has, creating an obstacle to the full flourishing of women.

The thing is, this is not just an issue of virtue theory or feminist theory.  It is an injustice that affects real people. It involves the objectification and dehumanization of actual people (typically women).  Often actions that seem personal in nature have a social impact.  The drug user who purchases narcotics, giving drug dealers cash that is used to fund terrorism in Afghanistan or violence in Mexico, is complicit in the destruction of actual lives.  So too is the consumer of pornography, whose actions fuel an industry that ruins lives.  This consumer is providing the market for suppliers who prey on the vulnerable and use nefarious practices to convince people to engage in activity that is dehumanizing and that many will one day regret.

Some would argue that if the porn star has freely chosen their profession, those who provide the market for pornography are off the hook.  But Catholics are not supposed to think in such an impersonal, contractual way; the bonds of community are tighter and interpersonal duties are more extensive.

And of course, we have to question what consent means in this context.  In “This Is What Happens When A Porn Star Finds God”, Brittni Ruiz, who has left the business, explains why those in pornography often enter the industry:

While in front of the camera or the fans, porn stars often say they got into the business because of how much they love sex, but that’s them playing their character, Ruiz says. Girls usually get into porn because they’re “searching for love,” or for the money.

“I’m being told I’m beautiful and getting attention.”

Insecurity is among the most destructive forces in the modern world.  And convincing young people to enter the pornography industry by exploiting their insecurities is an effective way to profit off of their vulnerability.  Sure they consented, but what does consent mean to someone desperate for approval, attention, affirmation, or love?

And the results of preying on people like Brittni Ruiz can be devastating:

“In the beginning, I felt beautiful. I felt like I found my self-worth. And after a while I felt destroyed,” she told The View Monday.

“It was torture for seven years. I was miserable, I was lonely.” She eventually turned to drugs and alcohol, and attempted suicide.

When we try to help people break away from the consumption and addiction of pornography, it is essential to get them thinking about more than themselves and even their current or future spouse.  Certainly the quest for personal virtue is laudatory, as is a focus on creating better marriages.

But being virtuous also means that our actions are just—that we act in a way that reflects our commitment to the dignity and value of other persons.  And perhaps if we add this to the equation—a concern for the lives of those in this industry—more people will understand the gravity and impact of their actions and choose to turn their backs on an unjust industry that devastates people’s lives and offers only a false path to happiness.

More than a Day

This Mother’s Day, Americans will spend an estimated $21 billion to show their appreciation and love to the women who gave us the gift of life.  That breaks down to almost $170 for each consumer to say “Thank You!” in cards, flowers, brunch, and other gifts.

Moms certainly deserve the recognition, thanks, and praise.  But we should be better about doing this all year long.  And we should more consistently stand up for all the women in our lives, including others’ moms or  moms-to-be.

Robert and Sarah’s posts this past week highlight the denigrating images, messages, and pressures put on women today.  Robert cites the “real beauty” campaign by Dove.  And while Dove’s attempts to subvert dominant paradigms of unrealistic standards of beauty are laudable, Dove’s parent company, Unilever, runs ads with almost the opposite message for a different subsidiary, Axe (Axe soaps and scents seem to strip women of any brainpower or agency by depicting them as magnetically – and lustfully – drawn to any man who dons their product).  Ads like these make it hard to reverse trends that indicate women have one negative thought about their body every waking hour – and that as many as 97% of women have at least one negative body thought a day.

Maybe there’s more we can do for Mom – and other moms and moms-to-be – than send a card or some flowers once a year?

Cultural pressures and expectations are one thing.  When these degrading images start to shape us, they can lead to even worse objectification and exploitation.  Patriarchy of all kinds engenders a “rape culture” that stands idly by while pornography, domestic abuse, sexual assault, and human trafficking (including that of women and children trafficked for sex) impact an increasing number of lives.

These are not subjects that are easy to discuss.  Yet if we are going to honor Mom, we should move beyond words and gestures of gratitude.  We need to confront the realities of sin, both personal and social, that degrade moms and all other women and girls across our country and all over the globe.

This means addressing the fact that 40 million Americans watch porn regularly, including 70% of 18-24 males.  It requires that we acknowledge porn is so pervasive that it accounts for 35% of all internet downloads, is exposed to children on average by age 11, and that Sunday is the most popular day of the week for watching porn.  If ever there was a day to abstain, let’s hope it would be Mother’s Day.  Not only out of respect for Mom, or sisters and daughters who may one day become moms, but to girlfriends and spouses, since such widespread viewing is being linked to growing trends in sexual dissatisfaction, infidelity, and divorce.

It means confronting the fact that even if we vow never to raise a hand to a woman in our house, 1 in 4 women will still experience domestic abuse in their lifetime.  The same ratio of college women are sexually assaulted, and the numbers are also disturbingly high among high school girls, reaching almost one in five.  It’s not enough to refuse to be a perpetrator; we must be committed to being allies and advocates who are actively and steadfastly working to end violence against women.  One way to honor Mom is to end the culture of indifference that persists in our enlightened age that professes a commitment to liberty and equality.

It means standing with women and girls for human dignity and human rights.   It also means being more informed and responsible consumers, who refuse to buy clothing stitched by female garment workers in sweatshop factories like the one that collapsed and killed more than one thousand in Bangladesh a few weeks ago.  And boycotting produce picked by farmworker mothers that makes slavery a part of our food chain.

If we fail to acknowledge and atone for these sins, Mother’s Day risks becoming a Hallmark Holiday that ultimately rings hollow.  Moms and moms-to-be deserve better than that, especially since their love for us is anything but just-for-show.