I am struck by how often I am assured by atheists that they are as ‘moral’ as Christians or that they generally accept the “good teachings in the world religions”, only to have them demur when it comes to the question of pornography. Indeed, a number of atheists are not only reluctant to condemn pornography, but openly embrace it as a societal good. This isn’t particularly surprising given the vast majority of atheists are young unmarried men who are the primary market for pornography. And to be fair, many defend it on libertarian grounds, namely that it is a ‘victimless crime’, and the participants are consenting adults. If participation is optional, and no harm is done (harm being defined as physical injury – at least of the permanent sort) then the argument contends there is no reason to restrict either the production of pornography or its consumption by adults.
Recent events however demonstrate that the impacts of pornography aren’t so easily constrained. Take for example the recent announcement by Michael O’Leary that his airline would soon be offering pornography on flights. As the New York Times notes, this is already becoming an common occurrence on flights:
The flaw in Mr. O’Leary’s logic notwithstanding (hotel rooms have doors; airplane seats are surrounded by eyeballs, some very young), his proposal isn’t so radical. As most any flight attendant will confirm, passengers are already indulging in racy content downloaded onto their phones, tablets or laptops from outside sources.
Beth Blair, a flight attendant and travel writer based in Minneapolis, said she once worked on a flight out of Burbank, Calif., during which an adult-film editor and his assistants began editing footage on their laptops. A child was sitting behind them. “I asked them to turn it off ASAP,” she wrote in an e-mail. “Instead of obliging, they built a private area/tent out of newspapers. Luckily, the volume was turned down.”
In another instance, radio personality Laura Ingraham talks about an incident on a train where her young daughter was exposed to pornography:
Last week radio talk-show host Laura Ingraham told a story of traveling by train from Washington, DC, to New York with her young daughter. Walking up the aisle to get a snack, the little girl pointed to the computer screen of a man sitting two rows ahead of them. “Why are those people swimming naked, Mommy,” she asked. It turns out that their fellow passenger was watching “full blown porn,” as Ingraham described it, in easy view of anyone who happened to be sitting nearby or walking past.
It would seem these sorts of incidencess are to be expected in a culture that increasingly sees humans (especially women) as consumable goods.
And it is not only the common exposure to pornography by unwilling participants that is becoming a problem; with the ever-growing appetite for fresh bodies required for pornography and other ‘adult’ entertainment venues, worldwide human trafficking is growing rapidly. This counters the old trope that legalization diminishes the involvement of criminals – the global criminality of human trafficking actually feeds off the increasingly open and growing appetite for commercialization of sex. Slavery, which was thought to have been eradicated in the US with the end of the Civil War is re-asserting itself in the sex trade industry.
As a Christian I have clear and consistent reasons for opposing pornography, starting of course with the notion that human aren’t objects but creatures that bear the image of God. I understand the centrality of sex to family life and procreation, and I understand the need to curb corrupt human desires and appetites. There are of course no such objections from atheists who form the core of the secular left; as I said, not only are they unable to articulate a position that will provide a bulwark against the pornification of our society, some promote such a society.
Atheists like Sam Harris often promote the idea of human flourishing as a measure of the moral health of society, which certainly has some merit – what is not clear is how a society can flourish where children’s minds are poisoned, women are turned into consumer goods, and men are enslaved to uncontrolled sexual appetites.