JESUSLAND—Those who follow religio-conservative websites and writings are already familiar with Robert P. George, a graduate of both the Harvard Divinity School and Harvard Law School, who teaches at Princeton University as a McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence. Those same folks, however, are likely to be less familiar with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, a Muslim cleric who's co-founder of Zaytuna College, an Islamic-based "educational institute" (tax-exempt, natch!) in Berkeley, Calif., and a member of its faculty.
But no matter: The pair have co-authored an "open letter" to America's hotel industry executives to try to convince them that it's morally wrong for the execs' hotels to be offering pay-per-view porn to their guests.
Though the pair make no threats of boycotts (as, for instance, Citizens for Community Values and the American Family Association and others have done) or protest marches or anything of the sort, this "odd couple"—a Christian and a Muslim cleric getting together to author an anti-porn letter is so 20th century—writes, "[W]e appeal to you not on the basis of truths revealed in our scriptures but on the basis of a commitment that should be shared by all people of reason and goodwill: a commitment to human dignity and the common good."
In case you were wondering what the hell "human dignity" and "the common good" have to do with consenting adults making sexually explicit content for adults, the clergymen don't let you wonder for long.
"Pornography is degrading, dehumanizing, and corrupting," they write. "It undermines self-respect and respect for others. It reduces persons—creatures bearing profound, inherent, and equal dignity—to the status of objects. It robs a central aspect of our humanity—our sexuality—of its dignity and beauty. It ensnares some in addiction. It deprives others of their sense of self-worth. It teaches our young people to settle for the cheap satisfactions of lust, rather than to do the hard, yet ultimately liberating and fulfilling, work of love."
It's all horseshit, of course. The mere fact that men and women are shown having sex with each other—that most primal of human acts—is hardly degrading or dehumanizing—in fact, it may be the ultimate humanizing activity—and the only people that might be "corrupted" by watching those acts are those who've been so indoctrinated into their religion's insane sexual beliefs as to have crossed over the line between normalcy and fanaticism.
As for the claim that porn "reduces persons... to the status of objects," that's is belied by a recent article on the sociology-oriented website thesocietypages.org, where feminist writer Caroline Heldman detailed seven points to consider in analyzing whether a particular image objectifies the woman or women portrayed therein. As most closely relates to the issue here, Heldman asks, "Does the image show a sexualized person as interchangeable?"; "Does the image suggest that sexual availability is the defining characteristic of the person?" and "Does the image show a sexualized person as a commodity (something that can be bought and sold)?"
Years of studies have shown that most porn watchers have their favorite performers, militating against the description of adult performers as "interchangeable," and since the main purpose of porn is to depict adults in sexually explicit situations, all of the people therein—women and men—are "sexualized," which is exactly how they (and their producers) want it. Finally, while sexually explicit movies are bought and sold, those appearing in them aren't (unless they want to be—but that's a whole 'nother story).
It can only be the authors' complete ignorance of the adult entertainment community and its products that allows them to presume that adult performers have little or no "self-respect or respect for others," and while it's hard to believe that George and Yusuf actually admit that sexuality is a "central aspect of our humanity" since they're all too eager to deny performers' humanity, it must be their lack of experience with top-shelf porn that leads them to claim that the genre is lacking in "dignity" and "beauty." How can one watch, for instance, Philip Mond's Zazel or Radley Metzger's Naked Came the Stranger or Michael Ninn's Temptations (to name just a few) and not be awed by the beauty and, yes, dignity of both the performers and the scenarios?
As for the pair's other points, we've long ago dealt with so-called "porn addiction," which is really just another manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and they've got to be projecting their own self-consciousness in dealing with sex to assume that porn deprives anyone of "their sense of self-worth." They also have no problem running down "the cheap satisfactions of lust" in favor of the "hard, yet ultimately liberating and fufilling, work of love," even as they (or at least George) have been active in assuring that women have as few sexual rights as possible—including the right to use birth control, the right to abortion... and the right to appear in adult movies.
Having built their house of lies, George and Yusuf try to convince the hotel execs that porn is "morally wrong" because it seeks to "profit from the suffering, degradation, or corruption of others," though they provide not one whit of peer-reviewed scientific evidence to support their claims, and "plac[es] temptation in [guests'] path"—but temptation to do what? Masturbate? Most adults on the planet do that on a regular basis; it was even recommended by the Surgeon General of the United States. They also make the vague claim that allowing guests to watch porn somehow damages "those who make it" as well as "the larger community where degrading practices and materials flourish." Presumably, they don't mean the degrading practices of their fellow conservatives who make women second-class citizens by denying them equal pay and equal protection of the laws, and seeking to keep most of them at home, minding the kids.
"You are placing temptation in their path—temptation for the sake of profit," they write. "That is unjust." Yet oddly, one never sees either writer sounding off about the "unjustness" of ads for BMWs or other luxury cars, diamond necklaces, mansions in Beverly Hills or other "temptation[s] for the sake of profit." Just sex.
"We beg you to consider the young woman who is depicted as a sexual object in these movies," they continue, "as nothing but a bundle of raw animal appetites whose sex organs are displayed to the voyeurs of the world and whose body is used in loveless and utterly depersonalized sex acts." Statements like that are probably what comes from years of religious leaders alternately casting women as either chaste angels or tempting devils depending on how sexy they act or behave, and describing sex itself as something which should only happen between a married man and woman in their bed with the lights out and solely for the purpose of procreation—and any sex that takes place outside that scenario is deemed by them to be "loveless," "depersonalized" and "immoral." The simple truth is, sex is just sex; it's not a road to heaven or a highway to hell; it's just sex!
But perhaps the most laughable paragraph in the letter is, "Furthermore, we trust that you need no reminding of the fact that something's being legal does not make it right. For example, denying black men and women and their families access to hotel rooms—and tables in restaurants, as well as other amenities and opportunities—was, for countless shameful years, perfectly legal. In some circumstances, it even made financial sense for hotel owners and operators in racist cultures to engage in segregationist practices even when not compelled by law to do so. However, this was deeply morally wrong. Shame on those who denied their brothers and sisters of color the equal treatment to which they were morally entitled. Shame on you if you hide behind legality to peddle immorality in the pursuit of money."
Are they kidding? These are the people who spend a fair portion of each day railing against the possibility that the federal government may soon recognize that men who love men and women who love women should be allowed to marry, and that support the "right" of ordinary businesspeople to refuse to rent rooms to gays, of photographers-for-hire to refuse to take photos of same-sex wedding ceremonies and of bakers to refuse to decorate wedding cakes with tiny statuettes of two men or two women.
And speaking of "hid[ing] behind legality to peddle immorality in the pursuit of money," readers might want to catch this editorial in today's New York Times. After castigating Mitt Romney for failing to release more than one year's tax return, the Times questions the sources of the candidate's wealth, particularly his apparently continuing agreements with Bain Capital, the investment firm he founded. The Times notes that just last month, Romney received a $2 million payout from Bain "as part of unpaid earnings from his work there," and wonders what other payments may still be outstanding, especially from the 12 Bain funds, all parked in the Cayman Islands and worth an estimated $30 million. But what caught our eye was this paragraph from the editorial: "Firms like Bain park money in the Caymans because the islands have no taxes on capital gains, profits or income for foreigners. But just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do." [Emphasis added]
"Our purpose is not to condemn you and your company but to call you to your highest and best self," George and Yusuf claim. "We have no desire to hurt your business. On the contrary, we want you and your business to succeed financially—for your sake; for the sake of your stockholders, employees, and contract partners; and for the sake of the communities that your hotels serve... [but] [t]here are some things—inhuman things, unjust things, de-humanizing things—that should not be sold. There must be some things that, for the sake of human dignity and the common good, we must refuse to sell—even it if means forgoing profit."
Horseshit. These jackasses don't give a shit about the hotels' profits; their only concern is to control American citizens' sexuality in whatever form that may take, whether it's nudists bathing on a public beach (and fucking in the nearby woods) or keeping people from hearing "dirty words" on radio and TV or preventing women from easily accessing birth control so they don't have to stay "barefoot and pregnant" or big-box retail stores daring to create ads depicting same-sex couples living like "normal" people do or supporting "gay pride parades" or... the list is endless.
You want to know how bad these religious assholes think porn is? Try the speech recently delivered in Jerusalem by Billy Graham's kid, Anne Graham Lotz: "A nation has invaded our land, powerful and without number. The locust invasion that destroyed the land, was like an army, but was not a human army. So then I was asking myself, what non-human army is invading our world and destroying it? Just like that I could think of pornography. Invading our land and our nation—just subtle, seeping corruption, destroying the fabric of society, tearing apart healthy relationships and families, the very bedrock on which a nation is built. Pornography makes more money in a year, than Apple, Microsoft, Google, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo combined. That’s a disaster."
Yep, that's what they believe... and that's what every member and support of the adult entertainment community needs to fight every day.
Feel free to send your donations to the Free Speech Coalition—and the next time someone tries to tell you you're immoral for watching (or acting in) porn, give them an earful!