Thursday, June 30, 2011

On the Ontological Argument for the Existence of God

The theistic Ontological Argument is at its core an attempt to define God into existence. An a priori theistic case reformulated from its medieval origins and newly popularized by Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, the Ontological Argument seeks to prove the reality of a supreme being axiomatically, that is, from the concept alone. The basic “reasoning” behind the argument invites us to imagine a being that is in all ways perfect and maximally great. Existence is a necessary quality that this being must possess, because if said being did not exist, then he/she/it would be less than perfect. God therefore exists, because by virtue of being defined as the greatest conceivable being possible, God cannot be conceived not to exist. It is a delightfully circular argument, in which the axiomatic first premise is equal to the conclusion [1].

Expressed as a syllogism, the classical Ontological Argument for the existence of God is as follows:

1. Let us define God as the greatest imaginable being, a being than which no greater can be conceived.

2. All else being equal, a being or entity that exists is greater than one that does not exist, or one that merely exists as an idea or concept.

3. Therefore, God exists in reality.

This argument was first formulated and expressed in the 11th century by the Benedictine monk St. Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury, in his book Proslogium:

[E]ven the fool is convinced that something exists in the understanding, at least, than which nothing greater can be conceived. For, when he hears of this, he understands it. And whatever is understood exists in the understanding. And assuredly that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, cannot exist in the understanding alone. For, suppose it exists in the understanding alone: then it can be conceived to exist in reality; which is greater.

Therefore, if that, than which nothing greater can be conceived, exists in the understanding alone, the very being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, is one, than which a greater can be conceived. But obviously this is impossible. Hence, there is no doubt that there exists a being, than which nothing greater can be conceived, and it exists both in the understanding and in reality [2].

Even Anselm’s contemporaries in the 11th century recognized the flaws in his arguments. Most notably, another monk by the name of Gaunilo of Marmoutiers is remembered for his short work In Behalf of the Fool, in which he used Anselm’s reasoning to “prove” via reductio ad absurdum that the “Lost Island,” a maximally perfect island paradise, exists somewhere in the ocean. When we substitute Gaunilo’s Lost Island for Anselm’s God, the syllogism runs as follows:

1. The Lost Island is the greatest imaginable island.

2. All else being equal, it is greater to exist in reality than merely as a mythical concept or idea.

3. Therefore, the Lost Island exists in reality.

Indeed, by using Anselm’s logic, one can “prove” the existence in reality of any number of things, such as unicorns, Shangri-La, Hercules, etc. This is because the argument ultimately reduces to a “proof from definition,” which is a very basic fallacy. Anselm’s argument attempts to demonstrate the reality of a synthetic statement as if it were an analytical statement:
Analytic statements are those which can be said to be true or false by reason alone. For example: "A triangle has four sides", is an analytical statement and it is false because it is against the definition of a triangle. Also analytic is "There is an infinite number of prime numbers". This is true, although it is a lot harder to prove. However, reason alone can do it. No additional sensory information is needed.

There cannot be any discussion about the truth-value of a analytic statement. Either it is true, it is false or one cannot prove either of those possibilities. One cannot differ in opinion when looking at a analytic statement.

Synthetic statements are those that are not analytic. Synthetic statements cannot be answered by reason alone, in addition one needs evidence given by the senses. "An apple always falls to the ground" is synthetic; I can try to prove this by empirical evidence, but I can find no mathematical proof of it. It is impossible to prove any synthetic statement with 100% evidence. Therefore, in the case of synthetic statements, we can do two things: believe them, disbelieve them or suspend judgement [3].

The difference between analytic statements and synthetic statements will become important later on.

Confusing these two types of statements is the inevitable consequence of attempting to prove the reality of anything without any reference to what is known about the physical universe. Thus, to convince one who is consistently impressed by such definition-driven ontological arguments of the existence of unicorns, for example, one need only present the following:

1. Let us define a unicorn as a magical equine being that has one horn, and that exists.

2. Such a being must necessarily exist, given the above definition.

3. Therefore, unicorns exist [4].

The Failure of the Second Premise

According to the Second Premise of the classical Ontological Argument, a being or entity that has the attribute of existence is greater than one that lacks this attribute. But, as many philosophers have argued, existence and non-existence are not attributes of an object; they cannot logically be considered to properties in and of themselves. Most notably, the Enlightenment philosopher Immanuel Kant noted that “existence” is not a state that can reasonably be associated or tied in with the definition of any object, the way things like “temperature” or “size” can be. Kant argued that the existence of any thing is presupposed by its possessing any properties in the first place. Therefore, “’Being’ is obviously not a real predicate; that is, it is not a concept of something which could be added to the concept of a thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations, as existing in themselves. Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgment” [5]. To consider existence as a property of anything is thus to indulge in a useless tautology, i.e. (in this case), “God exists because God exists.”

Furthermore, even if it made logical sense to view existence and non-existence as attributes (which we have seen does not), there is no logical justification for the claim that existence (and, by extension, necessity) is greater than non-existence. As Darrin Rasberry argues,
A brief statement about the classical version of this argument is necessary, particularly about the necessity of "necessary" being an inherently positive quality in and of itself, without regards to its referent in reality. This is not entirely clear; a fantastic counterexample would be certain events in the context of human history, which as an A-time theorist I hold to be necessary facts of existence. Suppose, for instance, that Adam and Eve existed and chose to Fall. Then, unless one is a high-Calvinist, the necessity (by asssumption [sic]) of the Fall would be a negative quality, as opposed to a positive one, as the action in the Fall brought death and damnation to Adam, Eve, and subsequently, to all of us. Therefore, it cannot be established that necessity qua necessity is an inherently positive quality of existence [6].

But perhaps the greatest illustration of the fact that the superiority of existence over non-existence is not at all established by logic is one that goes beyond the implications of necessary versus unnecessary reality and strikes at the quality of existence versus non-existence itself. This illustration is found in “Gasking’s Proof,” a piece of philosophical satire written by the late philosopher Douglas Gasking. Gasking’s Proof brilliantly parodies the Ontological Argument, using the argument’s own premises to turn the argument on its head and “prove” the superiority of non-existence over existence.

(1) The creation of the world is the most marvellous achievement imaginable.

(2) The merit of an achievement is the product of (a) its intrinsic quality, and (b) the ability of its creator.

(3) The greater the disability (or handicap) of the creator, the more impressive the achievement.

(4) The most formidable handicap for a creator would be non-existence.

(5) Therefore, if we suppose that the universe is the product of an existent creator, we can conceive a greater being – namely, one who created everything while not existing.

(6) An existing God, therefore, would not be a being than which a greate [sic] cannot be conceived, because an even more formidable and incredible creator would be a God which did not exist.

Ergo,

(7) God does not exist [7].

Ontological Disproof of the Third Premise

Because (as we have shown above) the conclusion of the circular Ontological Argument is exactly equal to its First Premise, a demonstration of the inadequacy and fallacy of that First Premise implies an equal fallacy in its conclusion, an implication that yields profound results for the strong-atheism position (“God cannot exist,” as opposed to the weaker position that “God does not exist”). This conclusion was drawn out by the late philosopher John L. Pollock in his 1966 essay “Proving the Non-Existence of God,” in which he succinctly and straightforwardly demonstrated that the only thing that can possibly imply the necessary existence of anything is the actual existence of the thing in question. If the actual existence of God is not demonstrated independent of mere synthetic conception, we can progress no further than the First Premise, and the Ontological Argument dies after that. Because the concept of God is synthetic rather than analytic in nature, the existence of God is unattainable from the definition alone. Conception in this case cannot instantiate existence, and therefore (contrary to Anselm’s insistence) the statements “God is the greatest imaginable being than which no greater can be conceived” and “The greatest thing that exists is not God” are not contradictory at all. As Victor Gijsbers points out, “The one is a matter of the imagination, the other is a matter of reality . . . If the greatest island that exists is Australia, that doesn’t mean I can’t conceive of Lost Island” [8].

But, as his title suggests, Pollock goes even further than this, presenting an ontological disproof of the existence of God:
The most common analysis of logical necessity is to say that a proposition is necessarily true if and only if it is true by virtue of the meaning of its constituent terms. This means that the proposition that God exists is necessarily true just in case the meaning of ‘God’ requires that He exist, that is, just in the case the definition of ‘God’ entails that He exists . . .

[R]ecall that our concept of God is such that if He exists, then He must exist necessarily . . . But then, simply by modus tollens . . . ~ Eg, that is, God does not exist. Furthermore, this is a conclusion we have proven by logical means, so it is not just true, but necessarily true, that is, [N]~Eg. Thus, it is necessarily true that God does not exist. The existence of God is a logical impossibility [9].

There are certain limitations to Pollock’s case, of course. In particular, Pollock’s use of the concept of perfection as a central part of his case limits the scope of his case, since perfection can only be defined relatively. Pollock’s case for the non-existence of God is therefore is first and foremost an incoherency argument, proving only a contradiction between the consequences of a theological understanding of perfection and the criteria by which logical necessity is established.

However, reviewers of Pollock’s case and of the Ontological Argument tradition have proposed ways in which Pollock’s argument can be applied to the god concept as a whole, without invoking the problematic concept of perfection. For example, Francois Tremblay points out that “Since any hypothetical god would be logically necessary, N(Eg -> NEg) would hold true for any god also . . . If we presuppose that the god-concept is coherent in total and in parts, then N(Eg -> NEg) must hold true. Therefore I see no reason not to apply the Ontological Argument to the god-concept” [10].

Given the blatant circularity of the theistic Ontological Argument and the very basic and elementary logical fallacies it commits, it is somewhat difficult to believe that there are a great many people who favor it in debates with atheists and agnostics. But there certainly are a great many theists who are impressed by it for one reason or another, mostly having to do with their a priori commitment to their god concept which blinds them to the weakness of the argument. This is not an argument that is likely to persuade anyone who is not already a strong theist.

Moreover, the selfsame ontological arguments will probably never persuade the theist who favors it that my skin is green with a spattering of purple polka dots. But herein lies their inconsistency; according to the skewed logic of the Ontological Argument, ideas translate into reality proportional to the greatness of the idea. And since I can imagine that the greatest human beings have green skin with purple polka dots, the statement of the content of that imagination means that my imagination has a counterpart in reality.

For the same reasons that lead me to reject the existence of any naturally green-skinned and purple polka-dotted people, I must also reject the theistic Ontological Argument, and with it the being whose existence the argument attempts to establish.

NOTES

1. Fatfist, “Pastor Alvin Plantinga’s Ontological Argument for God – REFUTED!” Hubpages.com 76, http://hubpages.com/hub/Pastor-Alvin-Plantingas-Ontological-Argument-for-God-REFUTED (accessed 30 June 2011).

2. Saint Anselm, Basic Writings 2nd ed., trans. S.N. Deane (La Salle, IL: Open Court Publishing Company, 1962), p. 8.

3. Victor Gijsbers, “Is Atheism Based on Faith?” PositiveAtheism.org, http://www.positiveatheism.org/faq/faith.htm (accessed 30 June 2011).

4. Thanks to Russell Wain Glasser for this example.

5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason trans. Norman Kemp Smith (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1961), p. 504.

6. Darrin Rasberry, “On Plantinga’s Ontological Argument,” Debunking Christianity 17 January 2009, http://debunkingchristianity.blogspot.com/2009/01/on-plantingas-ontological-argument.html (accessed 30 June 2011).

7. William Grey, “Gasking’s Proof,” Analysis 60.4 (October 2000): p. 369.

8. Victor Gijsbers, “Theistic Arguments: Anselm’s Ontological Argument” PositiveAtheism.org, http://www.positiveatheism.org/faq/anselm.htm (accessed 30 June 2011).

9. John L. Pollock, “Proving the Non-Existence of God,” Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy and the Social Sciences 2 (1966): p. 195.

10. Francois Tremblay, “Ontological Argument for the Non-Existence of God,” StrongAtheism.net 2 January 2005, http://www.strongatheism.net/library/atheology/ontological_argument_for_nonexistence/ (accessed 30 June 2011).

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Book Review: "Love Wins" by Rob Bell


I was first introduced to the book being reviewed here by a cover story in the April 14, 2011 issue of Time magazine, entitled “What if There’s No Hell?” Now, from my atheistic point of view, this is a stupid question to ask, akin to Time magazine featuring a cover story on the question “What if There’s No Santa Clause?” But the story still caught my interest; I do not much care for being threatened, and so the notion of hell is an issue to which I afford some weight. I am also interested in the way the question is framed. The question is not “Is There a Hell?” but is instead asking whether or not hell is dead. This is an important direction for the mainstream media to move in. A connection can be made to the April 8, 1966 issue of Time which featured the historic cover story “Is God Dead?” I am happy to see the magazine continue that kind of questioning 45 years later.

Evangelical pastor Rob Bell’s new book is entitled Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (NY: HarperOne, 2011). The book contains ideas that the larger evangelical community in this country is up in arms over, namely the argument that hell is a temporary place of punishment, not an eternal one. It is the kind of message that appeals only to those interested in “sophisticated” Christian theology. But the book is hardly oriented toward intellectuals (it is full of more psychobabble than I am used to seeing from Christian writers), which means that its popular-level approach is all the more aggravating to orthodox Christians who want a hell that is eternal for nonbelievers.

The title of the Time article on Rob Bell is actually rather misleading. In his book, Bell quite explicitly states that he does believe in a literal hell: “Do I believe in a literal hell? Of course.” (p. 71). But Bell’s puppies-and-flowers interpretations of salvation and redemption have nevertheless ruffled the feathers of the evangelical community for a simple reason: the basic, traditional notion for them is that avoiding eternal, conscious torture is contingent upon being a sincere Christian. When a popular author comes along and assures his readers that even those who are not Christians when they die will not be tortured forever, this has the potential to knock the legs out from under the whole scam. The evangelical community is in an uproar, because if all people will end up going to heaven regardless of what they believe in this life, why should anyone bother being a Christian? According to them, this book represents Rob Bell’s attempt to freely give away Christianity’s tantalizing carrot and while discarding the stick entirely. But according to Bell, this is not in fact what he is doing.

So what is Bell doing in Love Wins? Has he done away with the threat element of Christianity? Do his views lean toward a more positive and less judgmental direction, and might his views on the matter be on the rise? If so, I may finally be in a position to not take offense about what Christians have to say about hell. These are questions I wanted to have answered, and that is why I read Bell’s book.

I have to conclude that I am not impressed by Bell’s take on the issue at all.

As briefly intimated above, the central argument in Love Wins is that all people who have ever lived will ultimately receive salvation, including those who have rejected the claims of Christianity in this mortal life. Bell argues that all people will eventually be persuaded by God’s love postmortem, in the life to come. Following are a selection of relevant passages from the book speaking to this point:
The writers of the scriptures consistently affirm that we’re all part of the same family. What we have in common – regardless of our tribe, language, customs, beliefs, or religion – outweighs our differences. This is why God wants “all people to be saved.” History is about the kind of love a parent has for a child, the kind of love that pursues, searches, creates, connects, and bonds. The kind of love that moves toward, embraces, and always works to be reconciled with, regardless of the cost.

The writers of the Bible have a lot to say about this love: In Psalm 65 it’s written that “all people will come” to God. In Ezekiel 36 God says, “The nations will know that I am the LORD.”
The prophet Isaiah says, “All the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God” (chap. 52).
Zephaniah quotes God as saying, “Then I will purify the lips of the peoples, that all of them may call on the name of the LORD and serve him shoulder to shoulder” (chap. 3).
And Paul writes in Philippians 2, “Every knee should bow . . . and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is LORD, to the glory of God the Father.”

All people.
The nations.
Every person, every knee, every tongue. (pp. 99-100).

Once again, God has a purpose. A desire. A goal. And God never stops pursuing it. Jesus tells a series of parables in Luke 15 about a woman who loses a coin, a shepherd who loses a sheep, and a father who loses a son. The stories aren’t ultimately about things and people being lost; the stories are about things and people being found. The God that Jesus teaches us about doesn’t give up until everything that was lost is found. This God simply doesn’t give up. Ever. (p. 101).

At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God. (p. 109).

The nature of what Rob Bell is claiming runs along the same lines as rabbis circumcising infants who have died before the age of eight days in order to ensure their proper standing with God, or Mormons who try to pray dead people into heaven, or completely made-up stories of deathbed conversions on the part of an atheist, rationalist or scientist. In fact, Rob Bell is doing the very same fucking thing in this book. In a sense it’s worse than all that; he has conceived of something that is even lamer than a deathbed conversion. Now it’s a postmortem conversion. One can remain an atheist on her deathbed and beyond, and Bell does not care. All atheists according to him will eventually come around to his side sometime in the afterlife, unable to resist God’s wonderful love. How very convenient; Bell is claiming the rotting corpses of all nonbelievers, now and in the future, for Jesus. While it is true that he is not claiming specific individuals will convert postmortem, he is making a blanket statement about all people. And as a specific individual myself, I am affected by that blanket statement, as is everybody reading this review. Sorry, Rob Bell, you are not free to assert what I am going to believe or accept as good after I am dead. You are not free to speak with certainty about “the fate of every person who ever lived.”

Again, I despise the whole concept of hell, because I do not much care for threats, whether directed at me as an atheist and anti-theist, or anyone else. But I am just as opposed to Bell’s concepts, because I do not much care for being lied about. As far as I am concerned, Bell’s invisible friend can keep the doors of hell unlocked for me as long as he wishes. Unless everything that is said about the Christian God now is a lie, and the message at the heart of the faith is completely different from any message ever related, I am not joining up now or in the afterlife, assuming there even is an afterlife.

But this leads me to point out a major problem with Bell’s notions. If I die and somehow find myself still conscious and aware, and I am experiencing torture, it is safe to say I may find myself succumbing to alternatives, taking that second chance before too long merely as a matter of avoiding the torture. Thus, joining up for me and countless others would still be the result of coercion under extreme duress, not a result of any willful violation of integrity. Bell’s vision is one in which everybody gets their souls raped. Love does not win, even in Bell’s scenario.

In Love Wins, Bell displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the difference between belief and worship. I am fairly confident that any first-year seminary student would be able to destroy his arguments in a heartbeat. He cites verses like Philippians 2:10 in support of his claim that all people who have ever lived will be saved (“That at the Name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth”), but curiously seems to have underplayed verses such as Matthew 7:21-23:
“Not every one that saith unto me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: but he that doth the will of my father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?’ And then I will profess unto them, ‘I never knew you: Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.’”

The “every knee should bow” verse and others similar to it is speaking about all people attesting to the truth of Christianity’s claims. This is different from whether or not all people are going to worship the Christian God. Belief does not equal worship; I believe the Ebola virus exists, but I do not worship it. If in fact the Christian God exists and I encounter this being in the afterlife, I am obviously not going to continue being an atheist. But this does not mean I am necessarily going to worship this God.

There are a number of other passages in which Jesus is quoted as saying membership in the kingdom of heaven is not for everybody. For example, while Bell cites the words of Jesus in John 12:32 (“And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me”), he downplays the parallel stream of judgment found in John 3:36: “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life: but the wrath of God abideth on him.” Bell also selectively incorporates passages from the Old Testament, such as Psalm 145:9 (“The LORD is good to all: and his tender mercies are over all his works”), but if one reads further into this psalm, one finds in verse 20 that “The LORD preserveth all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.”

Rob Bell is hard pressed to find a way to get around these and many other passages, other than to conclude that certain parts of the Bible are wrong and others are right. But how does he then know that the parts he appeals to are correct? As a nonbeliever, I am in the more honest and consistent position of being able to say I see no reason to think any of the Bible’s theology and doctrine is true.

In addition to mistaking belief for worship, Bell also mistakes tribalism for universalism. Bell devotes an entire chapter in his book to asking the rhetorical question, “Does God Get What God Wants?” Arguing that God promises a comprehensive restoration of all things, Bell cites verse after verse from Lamentations, Hosea, Zephaniah, Isaiah, Joel, Amos, Zechariah, and Micah, all referring to eventual restoration. But what Bell is missing is that the entire focus for the Old Testament prophets is on God’s relationship, not with the world per se, with his covenantal people in particular. The love God has and acts upon is covenantal love for his chosen tribe, not universal love for the world. If God shows compassion, it is because he is acting in compassion to vindicate his covenant with Israel, as in Exodus 2:24: “And God heard their groaning, and God remembered his Covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” The God of the Old Testament is not an all-loving God. He is a God whose love is reserved for a chosen few. Everyone else is “other.”

It is important to point out that Bell’s ideas are not new in any way. During the first few centuries of Christianity, a number of doctrines on several issues emerged which came to be deemed heretical. Questions regarding what hell is and whether or not hell is eternal were intensely debated even then, and the effects of those early schisms is seen today in many different viewpoints surrounding the afterlife within the same religion. Thus, the Catholic Church affirms the existence of purgatory, while Protestants do not, and they did away with the centuries-old doctrine of limbo in 2007. Some Protestant Christians consider hell to be a separation from God, but not a literal place of torture. Others adopt annihilation theory, which states that the saved will continue on in heaven’s blissful afterlife, while the unsaved will simply cease to exist, a state that they say can be metaphorically considered to be hell. There are others who consider hell to be a temporary state in which sinners are punished for their wickedness until they have in essence paid for the totality of their sins in life, after which they are allowed either into the fullness of heaven or some diminished version of it. There are still others, like Rob Bell himself, who propose that hell is a temporary state where the unsaved are offered a second chance to accept God.

On the other hand, Rob Bell is trying to recreate Christianity in a whole new way, and he has admitted this. He is quoted in a Christianity Today article on the Emergent Church as saying “This is not just the same old message with new methods. We're rediscovering Christianity as an Eastern religion, as a way of life.” This “rediscovery” does not incline Bell to dispense with the doctrine of hell entirely, because there are certain forms of Buddhism, for example, that feature the rough equivalent of hell in their doctrine, called Naraka. This is a place where the deceased go for a finite period of time to work through their accumulated karma until it has achieved its optimal effect. Naraka can therefore be a very bad place to be; because everybody’s karma is different, there are “Cold Narakas,” “Hot Narakas,” and “Isolated Narakas.” Rob Bell probably knows about this aspect of Buddhism.

Rob Bell is a man who has rightly and understandably found the traditional message of Christianity rather distasteful, and accordingly read through the Bible with a presuppositional mindset and read into the Bible exactly what he wants to find. In a recent MSNBC interview with Martin Bashir, Bell stated, “I begin with the belief that God . . . when we shed a tear, God sheds a tear. I begin with a divine being who is profoundly empathetic, compassionate and stands in solidarity with us.” From this starting point, Bell has his own standard by which he chooses which Bible verses are accurate and which are inaccurate. His god is the one that agrees with him; he has defined God as “love” (as he understands love) and then has proceeded to make determinations about what a truly loving being would do based on his definition of love, and the end result is a book in which we learn that God is (surprise) exactly what Rob Bell has defined God to be. Bell is clearly an individual who places a great deal of importance and emphasis on love, and this is very commendable. But it also means that the God he writes about in Love Wins is nothing more than a projection of himself and his values. And in this specific sense he is no better than hardcore orthodox fundamentalists, who are guilty of the very same projection.

As a complement to his exercise in selective use of scripture, Bell has found ideas in other religions and in ancient views of Christianity that he finds particularly appealing, and used these other ideas as a way of marketing a bold and different vision of Christianity. But his blatant presuppositionalism constitutes the biggest blow to any credibility he might otherwise have as a champion of a more liberal Christianity. In a BeliefNet.com profile, Bell is quoted as saying "I affirm the truth anywhere in any religious system, in any worldview. If it's true, it belongs to God.” In other words, whatever is true is true, and since according to him God is truth, whatever is true is necessarily of God. Therefore, if any religion contains within any of its tenants something that is true, then it is necessarily of God. It is little wonder why the majority of evangelical Christians are outraged by Bell.

Atheists and agnostics have just as much reason (maybe more) to be annoyed at Bell. If all he was doing was blurring the edges of Christianity a bit and dragging in elements from other equally stupid religions, that would be no more or less stupid or offensive than anything else that happens within religion’s own walls (after all, Christianity itself started out as a mishmash hybrid of Judaism and Zoroastrianism). But with Love Wins, he is trying hard to make Christianity more palatable to nonbelievers and freethinkers, and in the process shows that he just does not get it. He displays very little to no understanding of our position and our motivations for rejecting religion. He does not seem to realize that trying to appeal to us by taking the softer side in a debate with orthodox fundamentalists about which of them have the right to own the souls of our decaying corpses is not working. More importantly, Bell is still speaking of matters about which he can have no knowledge, rendering his assertions in Love Wins just as absurd as those of anyone else, including dyed-in-the-wool fundamentalists who want us to be tortured forever. As his subtitle suggests, he is pontificating on “the fate of every person who ever lived.” Whether his take on hell and redemption is more palatable and morally desirable or not is irrelevant if his flat assertions about there being an afterlife to begin with are not supported with any evidence.

In fact, the more palatable and appealing direction Bell is trying to take Christianity is itself a sure indication that he is making things up. After all, there is a reason one hardly ever sees ministers and theologians making up doctrines that are more unappealing and absurd than the religion already is. Instead, what we see is ministers and theologians increasingly making things up that are more and more appealing, despite their absurdity. This includes Bell’s idea that eventually everything is going to work out for the best for everybody who has ever lived.

In a different sense, I am always encouraged to see these kinds of desperate and flailing attempts on the part of ministers to modify Christianity in the hopes of making it more palatable, because such attempts are an indication that they are losing the cultural discussion. The secular and freethinking community is wreaking a noticeable effect on the culture, and that is why we are seeing books like Love Wins and similar books by authors such as Brian McLaren and John Shelby Spong coming out. Mainstream Christians are realizing that their product is not going over very well, and such realizations have historically been the primary reason Christianity has become as domesticated as it has now. The wider culture is having a clear say on the lens through which the scriptures and Church tradition should be viewed, so it is no surprise that a more rational and moral Christianity is trying to meet the expectations of that scrutiny. Christianity is being dragged kicking and screaming into the twenty-first century, a time when society’s plausibility structures are far superior and vastly more developed than in the days of the first few centuries of Christianity. And at this point in the game, Christians are pulling their own teeth in an effort to be rational and moral and yet still cling to their religion.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Movie Review: The Ledge


Matthew Chapman’s 2011 film The Ledge tells the story of Gavin Nichols (Charlie Hunnam), an atheist who comes into conflict with a fundamentalist Christian named Joe Harris (Patrick Wilson). This conflict involves far more than just intellectual sparring when a love triangle develops between the two men and the fundamentalist’s wife Shana Harris (Liv Tyler). In the end, the fundamentalist presents the atheist with a test of faith (or rather, a test of nonfaith in this case), an ultimatum that tests Gavin’s willingness to sacrifice his life for someone else. At the center of the storyline is an “atheist in a foxhole” element, a philosophical battle of wills between the stakes involved for belief and nonbelief.

With The Ledge, writer and director Matthew Chapman, the great-great-grandson of Charles Darwin, has made a film that is clearly pro-atheist (some of the basic arguments in support of atheism are incorporated into the film), but which at the same time can be enjoyed as a gripping thriller and a love story.

This is no simple task; getting those two elements together in one story requires a delicate balance. While some people are sure to come away thinking the film had too many discussions about atheism versus fundamentalist religion, and some will doubtless think there is too little, Chapman has in my estimation pulled of that balance very well. Atheism too often tends to be spoken about in a dryly intellectual manner, while the highly emotional consequences of being an atheist, having a prejudice against atheists, and being in a relationship in which one is a fundamentalist and one is not are overlooked. We often forget about the emotional consequences of religion’s most oppressive aspects: the suffering, the pain, the misery, the crying, the executions, etc. These emotional consequences of oppressive fundamentalism are captured potently by Chapman in the film against the backdrop of an all-American story with thought-provoking dialogue.

The Ledge premiered for the first time at the American Atheist 2011 convention in Des Moines, Iowa last April. It is currently available to be downloaded and streamed over the Internet anywhere in America, from the Independent Film Channel’s website and from the film’s own website, LedgeMovie.com. It has enjoyed great success after only a few weeks, reaching approximately 200,000 people so far, 90 percent of whom are currently non-atheist. The film is scheduled to open theatrically in New York and Los Angeles on July 8, 2011. If the film does well in those two cities, then it will hit the little towns in the middle that really matter (New York and Los Angeles are really not the important cities, in terms of who needs to see this movie). The hope is that the film will receive strong support in New York and L.A. such that the distributors will see that the freethinking community supports its own products and its own views as portrayed in the products. If the film is a great success, it will open in theaters across the country. If this is accomplished, it will mark a huge achievement for openly atheist filmmaking. It may even open a door for atheist filmmaking in much the same way Mel Gibson’s 2004 film The Passion of the Christ opened the door for a wave of explicitly faith-based films, which only started coming out of the Hollywood woodwork once that film was supported by its community.

It is very difficult to make any movie in Hollywood that features long dialogue sequences and which tackles serious issues, much less one that is explicitly atheistic in its viewpoint. For one thing, very few people are likely to even believe that there is a community that will support such creative ventures. For another, Hollywood is not quite the liberal, secular and fun-loving community that most people think it is. Not only does almost everybody in Hollywood retire to bed early, but there is also a somewhat pronounced religious demographic there. Many in Hollywood who are not religious are into New Age beliefs of some kind or another.

The cast and crew of The Ledge is a noteworthy bunch. One of the producers is Michael Mailer, the son of famous novelist, playwright and poet Norman Mailer (one of the film’s scenes features Charlie Hunnam’s character reading Mailer’s 1955 novel The Deer Park). Michael Mailer introduced the script to producer Mark Damon (producer of Patty Jenkins’s 2003 drama Monster), who loved it and got on board. Charlie Hunnam, who plays the lead atheist character, is an up-and-coming British actor famous for his role in the television series Sons of Anarchy. Patrick Wilson plays the fundamentalist Christian character with chilling conviction and authenticity. Terrence Howard and Christopher Gorham deliver great supporting role performances.

The involvement of actress Liv Tyler is what really turned the film into a financeable project, and she became the catalyst for the film’s much-needed momentum. Liv Tyler’s performance as Shana, the doubting wife of the fundamentalist Christian, is by far the best one in the film. Tyler is immediately engaging at every step; even her facial expressions and nonverbal communications are potent and readable. While secular progressives may be turned off by her overly submissive character initially, this submissiveness is a key step in her character’s development. The portrayal of the oppressive relationship Shana is wrapped up in is highly believable, and the path she takes to her eventual rejection of the whole concept of submission is the most inspiring aspect of the story.

Many Christian viewers are likely to object strongly to the portrayal of the fundamentalist character in the film, insisting that Joe Harris is an extreme caricature which bears little likeness to the way fundamentalists really are in life. But this charge reflects a strong tendency in this country to discount the frankly enormous number of people in thousands of small towns that are not New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago. There are in fact many people very much like Joe Harris in these places, and in certain towns in particular the oppressive atmosphere is tremendous and pronounced. A striking example is Dover, Pennsylvania, where in 2005 a group of fundamentalists took over a school board and insisted that creationism be taught alongside evolution as an alternative science. In his 2008 book 40 Days and 40 Nights, director Matthew Chapman covered the Kitzmiller v. Dover trial that resulted, and documented the general atmosphere of deeply-rooted belligerence and unpleasantness in Dover that came from the local fundamentalists’ willingness to bully dissenters from their beliefs. One can also look to recent cases of high school students like Damon Fowler, who tried to stand up for First Amendment rights against violations of constitutional separation of church and state in his school, and was consequently bullied out of his state by his parents and fundamentalist students and faculty. There are a great many people who can relate stories of their personal encounters, many dangerous and life-threatening, with fundamentalists very similar to Patrick Wilson’s character, people who would not conclude that the character is too outrageous or extreme to have verisimilitude in reality.

It is in fact very difficult to poe hardcore fundamentalists. Everything the fundamentalist character says in the film is accurate and applicable to some group of Christianity. People like me who have lived much of their life surrounded by Christian influence have often taken note of a certain indescribable quality in the manner in which fundamentalist Christians are able to shift gears from being saccharine and friendly to being outright hostile, almost seamlessly. Consider for a moment the phenomenon of Christians who do very good work for society, visit children in hospitals, are genuinely kind and loving to their wives, etc., then express a very dark side of their personality when they look someone in the eye and tell him or her that they are going to burn for all eternity in hell if they do not believe as they do. This is an extremely dark and sinister statement to direct at anyone, but fundamentalists are able to say it with a smile on their face on a regular basis. Patrick Wilson did a superb job of portraying this mannerism. In my estimation, The Ledge presents an honest compilation of fundamentalist Christianity within a broad spectrum concentrated in one character, but not to the point where the character comes off feeling like a schizophrenically implausible mix of different denominational sects. In other words, the film is not creating a brand new straw-man version of Christian belief, which is sure to be a common accusation from believers who see the movie.

However, one need not defend Chapman’s portrayal of fundamentalism with examples of real-life counterparts, because there is nothing simple or black-and-white about the characters in The Ledge. They are anything but cookie-cutter representations of two sides of a clearly-divided fence. There is no “good guy” in the story (except, arguably, within a very specific context) and the characters are afforded an appreciable depth. Both the atheist and the fundamentalist characters have clear flaws, and both of them possess good and bad qualities, as all people do in real life. And if the bottom line is that some people will like the respective portrayals and some people will not, the only response necessary is to acknowledge that this is the way with all movies.

The only factor that really distinguishes the atheist and the fundamentalist in The Ledge is who enjoys the process of judgment of the other’s worldview and who does not. In spite of being very outspoken and rather aggressive in his atheism, Charlie Hunnam’s character, he acquires in the end a sense of sympathy (perhaps even kindness) for Joe Harris and is willing to do what is necessary to save someone’s life. At the same time, the fundamentalist character is thoughtfully developed such that the viewer can see exactly why and how he has become the deeply judgmental person he is, and that his love for his wife Shana is sincere. The sharp pain he feels when that love is threatened by another suitor who wants to free her from the constraints of religion is clearly and authentically expressed by actor Patrick Wilson, and one can easily relate to his emotions regardless of where one stands on religion.

Some may feel inclined to ask what the reason is for making a movie like this, in an environment in which there is a veritable flood of great atheist books on bestseller lists across the country. The answer is that The Ledge (and film media in general) offers certain benefits that are not gained from books. For example, The Ledge may do for atheist awareness what Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) did for increasing openness towards interracial relationships, or what Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain (2005) did for the gay community. Both of these films came at a time when the door was on the verge of being ready to open on wider public acceptance of interracial marriage and gay marriage respectively, and they demonstrated the power of popular culture to break such floodgates.

It is my contention that The Ledge has come at a time when wider public acceptance (or at least awareness) of atheism is beginning to show in the wider culture. There are many indications of this to be discerned in recent events; the fact that President Obama acknowledged the presence of nonbelievers in American society in his acceptance speech is especially significant. On the level of mainstream popular culture, we can look to the fact that The Book of Mormon, a new Broadway musical that satirizes and lampoons organized religion, has won nine Tony Awards and has become the highest-charting Broadway album in over four decades. The time is certainly right for a film like The Ledge, and if enough support helps it to become a reference in debates among the American people, it will also become a major door-opener for other films that are similarly persuasive, films that can tell stories revealing other forms of religious cruelty which will be embraced by the public to the point where we get a critical mass of people in this country who reject religion as too convoluted, absurd and cruel for its own good.

Another reason film media is needed in an environment where there are a lot of bestselling books speaking out against religion is that we need atheist outreach (for lack of a better word) for every possible media that we can get our hands on. Not everybody wants to sit down and read a book, which to some people may be too dry for their liking. This is one reason many atheist podcasts and radio programs, as well as public-access television shows like The Atheist Experience, produced by the Atheist Community of Austin in Texas, has seen great success; this is a show that interacts directly with live callers, creating impromptu and thus very real conversations that sometimes becomes heated and sometimes does not. To have that level of authentic conversation and dialogue prompted by a movie allows us to reach out to yet another significant portion of the population. I myself have been encouraged just by characters on popular television shows like House, M.D. and Bones (I consider the latter show to be the thinking, skeptical person’s answer to The X-Files) who are clearly, if not explicitly, atheistic. These shows themselves are a surprising and refreshing step in the right direction. Inroads are also being made in the realm of music, with up-and-coming artists such as Greydon Square and Bryan Steeksma producing music with explicitly atheistic lyrical themes.

However, it is important to point out that while The Ledge can be viewed as an atheist film (and I do) the film does not necessarily have to be viewed strictly as an atheist film. Again, there is no ideological engine driving the story, and two distinct points of view are represented. While there can and will be debate as to how fairly both views are represented, that very debate is what is important about this movie. This is why I would like to see marketing ventures aimed at churches that present The Ledge as the dialogue-promoting film that it is. Both sides of the fence need to be impacted by the film, which means looking beyond New York and L.A. as soon as possible by giving it as much support as possible. One idea I have personally pursued is to send an e-mail to the American Family Association and other prominent conservative Christian organizations to inform them of the release of what they would consider a very “dangerous” film called The Ledge. My hope is that this will result in tons of free advertising. The more controversy this film generates, the better.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Communicating Perversion: The Role and Function of Pornography in Society

Defining Pornography

Pornography has elicited at least as many heated words as it has orgasms. While the etymology of the word “pornography” is clear and uncontroversial, defining pornography in a clear and unambiguous way has proven notoriously difficult. The word derives from the Greek compound porne (“prostitute”) and graphos (“to write”) [1]. This compound word denoted “the depiction of whores [2]” and was originally used to describe the lifestyle and mannerisms associated with prostitutes and “later came to include any text that is specifically designed to elicit sexual desire [3].” Thus, even the word “pornography” is a loaded one that, from the get-go, paints anyone who argues that it serves a beneficial role in society in a negative light and renders to such arguments a high degree of ostensible non-intuitiveness. Ciclitira notes that “Researchers’ apparent bias regarding the negative effects of pornography has influenced (and is influenced by) the way pornography is defined [4].”

However, the word “pornography” has since come to refer to such a wide range of sexually explicit materials to the extent that generalized definitions are often inadequate and specific examples do not take into account its far-reaching applications. The result is that “different definitions and genres of pornography have been employed in research studies, thereby complicating a coherent synthesis of key findings” and that “the operationalization of terms, or the lack thereof, has been a common critique and limitation of many studies [5].”

The fact that any exercise in defining pornography depends upon cultural, historical and social factors, as well as upon the experiences and beliefs of individuals, readily explains the elusive nature of the term. Defining obscenity (which refers specifically to the legal aspect of pornography) is just as obscure and convoluted an issue to pin down, since the severity of societal reactions to perceived boundaries is determined by public taste and their designation of the particular style employed by those labeled “deviant” rather than by the content of any given law or set of laws. This was perhaps most clearly demonstrated by R. George Kirkpatrick in his study of two major anti-pornography crusades in the 1960s, in which he highlighted “the relationship between the size of the community, the division of labor, the degree of mechanical solidarity and the style of the deviant and his act in determining the degree of insult to the collective consciousness, and the degree of mass hysteria and the severity of the social movement which tries to reconstitute the disturbed collective entity [6].”

For the sake of clarity in this essay, Michael Rea’s definition will suffice:

[B]y far the most pervasive definitions in the literature on pornography are those that hold that the defining feature of pornography is that it is intended to produce sexual arousal or in fact has the effect of producing such arousal [7].
The importance of the inclusion of both intention and effect in approaching a coherent definition is brought to the forefront by, for example, the 1922 court case of Halsey v. New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, in which the judge stated that selections ranging “from Aristophanes or Chaucer or Boccaccio or even from the Bible” in all likelihood contain many passages “which taken by themselves are undoubtedly vulgar and indecent [8].” There is a reason why arguments about the “effects” of culture seem to be applied only to forms of culture that fall on what are perceived to be lower scales, such as comic books, video games, cartoons and, of course, pornography. As Laura Kipnis points out,
The violence of high culture seems not to have effects on its consumers, or rather, no one bothers to research this question, so we don’t hear much about how Taming of the Shrew expresses contempt for women, or watching Medea might compel a mother to go out and kill her children; when a South Carolina mother did recently drown her two kids, no one suggested banning Euripides. When Lorena Bobbitt severed husband John’s penis, no one wondered if she’d recently watched Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, the Japanese art film where a male character meets a similar bloody fate. Is that because the audiences of Euripides and Oshima have greater self-control than the audiences of pornography and other low culture, or is this a class prejudice that masquerades as the “redeeming social value” issue? [9]
Indeed, even the Number One bestseller of all history, the Holy Bible containing the Christian Old and New Testaments, is not exempt from a similar inquiry, as an unbiased and straightforward examination of its contents yields the conclusion that it is one of the most perverse and obscene pieces of literature ever produced [10].

This strange cognitive disconnect between attributing possible effects to low art while leaving possible effects of high art off the hook is why, for example, Gerard Damiano’s pornographic movie The Story of Joanna (1975) induces laughter on the part of its viewers whenever a supposedly high-class, aristocratic character speaks about sex in lower-class terms, i.e., “I want you to lick my pussy.” It is also why the extremely dirty and deliciously obscene “Aristocrats” joke known by many professional comedians works so well, as documented in Penn Jillette’s and Paul Provenza’s 2005 film The Aristocrats.

Establishing an adequate and accurate definition of pornography is crucial in light of the fact that mass media has become a major agent of socialization in the development of individuals. “If individuals do indeed depend on the mass media for their sexual socialization, the accuracy of these media portrayals of sexual behavior becomes critical. If these presentations are inaccurate, their effect may be damaging [11].” Depending on how pornography is defined, understood and interpreted, the argument made here that pornography plays a beneficial role and serves necessary functions in society and in the lives of individual people stands or falls. The “study and existence of pornography [may] elucidate our sexual desire and the function of pleasure and power, enhance sexual equality, diminish sexual inhibitions, nurture essential dreams and fantasies, and promote the freedom of speech to express sexual difference [12],” and this means that addressing the modifications made to the term “pornography” by anti-porn feminists, conservatives and status-quo conformists is also crucial. The belief that erotic material precipitates sexual violence and the degradation/objectification of women has manifested itself in attacks on pornography which potentially threatens freedom of expression in the arts. Such crusades have also threatened even the science of medicine [13].

Does Pornography Damage Intimate Relationships?

A growing number of studies on the relationship between pornography use and socioemotional intimacy between couples is beginning to break away from traditional assumptions that drive many researchers to posit negative correlations between the two. “Many women feel that the guy who looks at porn must harbor some hostility toward women. Yet research hasn't established a link between pornography consumption and misogyny. One 2004 study found that porn users actually had slightly more positive and egalitarian views of women than other men did, though porn users were also more likely to hold stereotypical beliefs—for example, that women are more moral [14].” Miodrag Popovic’s research found that many men’s “socioemotional closeness and pornography consumption were associated in a way that was not often brought to light. Compared to male pornography non-users, male pornography users reported higher total closeness numbers and scores [15].” The results of this study, obtained using a non-clinical sample of 164 males to distill the potential effects of two carefully-measured variables (socioemotional closeness and pornography use), confirmed that “pornography use was not just an escape from intimacy but also an expression of the search for it [16].”

Previous studies examining the relationship between intimacy/closeness with significant others and pornography use have tended to over-generalize gender power inequalities, focusing on pornographic web sites rather than the users themselves [17]. Another tendency in such studies has been to emphasize adverse effects of frequent and habitual pornography use, thereby misattributing resultant relationship problems to pornography rather than on overuse and overindulgence itself [18]. But overuse and overindulgence wreaks adverse effects on relationships regardless of what they are exercised upon and says nothing about the inherent goodness or badness of the object of overindulgence itself. As Christensen remarks, “It is a truism that anything can be carried to excess, [but] those who make the mental health charges are usually in a poor position to judge what is excessive or inadequate in regard to sex [19].” Thus, the charge that use of pornography is corrosive to intimate and lasting relationships between men and women is highly subjective. “How couples intensify their sexual relationship differs radically depending on the individuals and on the dynamic between them. But fantasy is certainly a part of a healthy sex life, and porn does contribute significantly to the archive of sexy scenarios in our heads. It can also inspire couples to experiment more [20].”

But even so, unbiased examination of the literature on sex addiction yields no evidence supporting the case that pornography is actually even addictive. “So-called sexual addiction may be nothing more than learned behavior that can be unlearned; labels such as ‘sex addict’ may tell us more about society’s prejudices and the therapist doing the labeling than the client; scientists who have undertaken scientifically rigorous studies of exposure to sex materials report that despite high levels of exposure to pornography in venues such as the Internet, few negative effects are observed [21].” The negative effects that are not observed include violence and aggression towards women. As per the “safety valve” or substitution hypothesis, pornography may defuse more strong urges than it instills in the consumer. Even violent and aggressive pornographic portrayals (perhaps especially these portrayals) provide a healthy catharsis by which sexual aggression is calmed through explicit depictions and vicarious fantasy roleplaying. In fact, in the absence of pornography, sexual tensions would be such that we would expect dramatic rises in sexual crime.

There also exists a body of research that indicates a positive correlation between adults’ socioemotional closeness with significant others and pornography. Kingsley Davis’s study of the sociology of prostitution, for example, demonstrated that prostitution ameliorates the conflict between sexual dispositions/urges and the expectations and requirements embedded in social contracts. Arguing that the goals of sexual behavior in humans are not inherently social, Davis shows that the institutions of marriage and family are society’s way of attaching a makeshift association of sexuality and social goals. Thus, prostitution and pornography, both of which, on an intuitive level, seem to stand adamantly opposed to marriage and family, actually support them. This explains why society has not completely repressed prostitution and pornography; they are retained as sexual alternatives because they serve necessary functions. The sociological evidence indicates strongly that increases in sexual freedom among women of all classes does not and cannot reduce the role played by prostitution. Therefore, “we find ourselves admitting that increased prostitution can reduce the sexual irregularities of respectable women . . . Such a view seems paradoxical, because in popular thought an evil such as prostitution cannot cause a good such as feminine virtue, or vice versa. Yet . . . there is a close connection between prostitution and the structure of the family [22].” Ned Polsky proposes that Davis’s theories concerning prostitution apply equally well to pornography: “[B]oth prostitutes and pornographers are stigmatized because they provide for the socially illegitimate expression of sex, yet their very existence helps to make tolerable the institutionalizing of legitimate sex in the family [23].”

The Economics of Pornography

Until very recently, investigation of the economics behind the pornography market has been largely ignored by researchers. Studies undertaking this focus, such as the recent one by D’Orlando [24], find that models of addiction that have traditionally been used in examining the demand for pornography do not fit nearly as well as models that posit healthy hedonic adaptation. “The hedonic adaptation framework is founded on the empirical finding that people adapt to life events . . . Hedonic adaptation is sometimes called ‘habituation’, and the existence of a baseline level of wellbeing towards which actual wellbeing tends to return is a crucial characteristic of this approach [25].” This hedonic adaptation approach is able to explain very well the desire for variety and novelty among pornography consumers, a common desire which significantly influences the demand for pornography. According to D’Orlando’s interpretation, people experience habituation when viewing pornography, a process which reduces the potential level of wellbeing they can gain from a given type of pornography. But this reduction is balanced out by the simultaneous skill accumulation they gain, which is gleaned from “harder” material. In searching for this “harder” material through the process of escalation, pornography users necessarily consume ever-growing amounts of pornography in order to find the harder content (this in part explains why, for example, web sites which provide large quantities of free material such as xHamster.com, TubeGalore.com and PornoTube.com has not come close to crowding out pay pornography). The creators of Comedy Central’s South Park show cleverly highlighted this concept in the episode “Over Logging” when they had one of their characters say, “I need the Internet to jack off. I got used to being able to see anything at the click of a button, you know? Once you jack off to Japanese girls puking in each other's mouths, you can't exactly go back to Playboy!” Throughout the remainder of the episode, this character explores such categories as “interracial gang bang,” “shemales” and “Brazilian fart fetish porn [26].”

According to D’Orlando’s research, “Having purchased this new material, people actually achieve an increase in their wellbeing, but habituation soon forces them back, once again, towards their baseline level of wellbeing. Only creativity, i.e. the capacity to go on finding ever-new types of pornography, can offset habituation [27].” Pornography, therefore, is highly conducive to the creative impulse, and as such is a natural engine of diversification.

Pornography and Technological Progress

The high demand for pornography is such that it is often the very first to test and use new and cutting-edge media technologies. “Pornography has always been inextricably tied to technology and innovations in technology [28],” and therefore pornography also facilitates technological advancement and progress in ways few people have considered. “Porn, like its subject matter, is always eager to experiment. It is also free from ideological and sociological baggage. Its design is, simply, to get to market as quickly and easily as possible. When new media offer new markets, porn spies them quickly and rushes to fill them, like an amoeba extruding a new pseudopod where its skin is thinnest [29].” Rather than constituting a new phenomenon suggestive of exponential development from initially slow beginnings, this technological immediacy has been noted by sociologists and media historians to have been present from pornography’s earliest manifestations. Lawrence O’Toole notes that “the folk history of nude photography suggests that the day after the guy invented the camera he had his girlfriend come round and persuaded her to get naked for the sake of record [30].”

This means that pornography evolves, and has, in addition to becoming much less of a patriarchal monolith, seen the emergence of new and novel forms that are liberating to the sexuality of women and minorities. The ubiquity of and demand for pornography is directly responsible for these trends, and it is inevitable that a female-centered pornography, in which man serves as the “sexual other,” will grow (and is already beginning to become) just as ubiquitous and commonplace as so-called “male-centered” porn. Developments in popular culture have come a long way since the 1980s in legitimizing the concept of women’s pornography [31].

Addressing Common Anti-Porn Arguments

Pornography is laden with a complexity that defies simple denouncements such as that it is somehow a product of patriarchal, male-centered heteronormativity and that it is categorically degrading to and objectifying of women. Laura Kipnis notes, [T]he presumption that only low culture causes ‘effects’ starts to look more and more like a stereotype about its imagined viewers . . . Pornography isn’t viewed as having complexity, because its audience isn’t viewed as having complexity, and this propensity for oversimplification gets reproduced in every discussion about pornography [32].

As an example of this oversimplification, one may consider the common charge that sexually explicit materials treat the persons portrayed as “sexual objects,” or that pornography “objectifies women as sexual objects.” There is a subtle contradiction in terms at play in such accusations. Objects do not possess any inherent sexuality, but people do, which is precisely why anti-porn rhetoric never charges pornography with treating people as sexual beings. Of course, we can and do imbue and project sexual meaning and significance to inanimate objects (dildos, strap-ons, butt-plugs, whips, chains, paddles, hairbrushes, even bananas and various elongated vegetables, etc.), but these things are not possessed of any inherent sexuality. “Having a body is just as much a part of being a person as is having intelligence or emotions . . . Since real objects have no sexuality, regarding a person as being without a sexual nature would come closer to treating him or her as a mere object [33].”

Another oft-voiced concern has to do with the “snuff” element of pornography, i.e. the notion that pornography is associated with layers of organized crime that specializes in the actual of oppression of its women subjects unbeknownst to average consumers who are under the impression that what they are seeing is consensual acting. This myth was promoted in the notorious 1976 cult film Snuff. A slasher film loosely based on the Sharon Tate murders, the film concludes with footage of its director hacking a female production assistant to pieces after making sexual advances on her. In addition to bordering on the level of a conspiracy theory, this notion is an exaggerated one intended by its claimants and promoters to frighten the public. Numerous erotic models and actresses have gone on record in response to this charge to say that genuine mistreatment is very rare. In fact, these models and actresses have testified to the effect that they are treated with a great deal of respect, and even that they enjoy a much higher salary than men do in the business, which is by far not the case for women in the workplace elsewhere [34]. This is a factor almost universally overlooked or denied by academics and scholars, including the famous linguist and social activist Noam Chomsky. In an interview for a 2008 documentary on pornography and relationships, Chomsky compared the consensual pornography business to sweatshops that mistreated “consenting” women employees, then proceeded to compare pornography to child abuse:

“Suppose [there is] a starving child in the slums, and you say, 'Well, I’ll give you food if you’ll let me abuse you.' . . . Well, after all, you know, the child’s starving otherwise, so you’re taking away his chance to get some food if you ban abuse. Is that an argument? The answer to that is: stop the conditions in which the child is starving. And the same is true here. Eliminate the conditions in which women can’t get decent jobs, not permit abusive and destructive behavior [35].”
This reasoning is grossly flawed because it overlooks the fact that the wages made by women who work in pornography (as well as in prostitution) are far above the wages of earned by women in ordinary, “legitimate” work. “No practicable rise in the rate of wages paid to women in ordinary industries can possibly compete with the wages which fairly attractive women of quite ordinary ability can earn by prostitution [36].” Murtagh and Harris report that “There are call-girls who earn between fifty and a hundred thousand dollars a year [37].”

This data demonstrates yet another way in which pornography serves a beneficial role in society; the metaphor of the “glass ceiling,” useful for illustrating occupational segregation and gender wage inequality in the workplace, refers to the socially constructed barrier that, while transparent and thus without any overt suggestion of being discriminatory, limits upward mobility for women. This barrier is built and maintained by, among other things, the system most companies develop and utilize to determine salaries. The reason society often undervalues, for example, paid care work in the home as well as care work in the workplace often has to do with the value our patriarchal and capitalistic society places on women in general. Not so in the pornography business, where there is no glass ceiling and where women enjoy a higher wage than men. While some may retort by pointing out that women who want to move beyond the porn industry and break out into a more mainstream and respectable career are often not granted that opportunity because of the stigmas attached to their current work, this is a failure of society to see through the stigma and take into account women’s individual merits, not something that pornography itself can be faulted with.

“Look,” writes pornographer Lisa Palac, founder of the cybersex magazine Future Sex, “if someone presented me with a genuine snuff film there’d be nothing to defend. I would be horrified and sickened. But no one ever has and no one ever will because snuff films, as some kind of readily-available, black-market commercial enterprise, don’t exist. They’re an urban myth [38].” Such urban myths and legends are the natural consequence of any frowned-upon industry coming into its own with a decent level of organization and hierarchy. An analogy that works in dispelling the “organized crime” perception of how pornography operates is organized religion; if religion were illegal (as it has historically been in some corners of the world), then according to this logic religion would constitute organized crime.

Pornography as an Indispensable Cultural Narrative

Technological advancement goes hand-in-hand with increased levels of sophisticated organization. The fact that pornography has served as a facilitator of technological improvement and progress also tells us about the centrality of sexuality to the human experience. “Pornography is the royal road to the cultural psyche . . . So the question is, if you put it on the couch and let it free-associate, what is it really saying? What are the inner tensions and unconscious conflicts that propel its narratives? [39]” It is useful to invoke the power of narrative along with the power of technology in this regard. In his classic essay “The Question Concerning Technology,” German philosopher Martin Heidegger argued that technology, far from being merely a mechanized means to an end, represents a particular “way of revealing [40].” For Heidegger, modern technology should be conceived of in the context of its original Greek meaning, a “bringing-forth” that is linked to the concept of knowledge. Technology in this sense means a simultaneous opening up and revealing.

Humans cannot function without an emulative narrative that corresponds to almost every aspect of life, and pornography provides just such a narrative counterpart to our life as sexual beings. More than that, pornography challenges sexual status quos, and this constitutes the primary reason it has been unfairly blamed for a wide array of social ills. In order to understand pornography better, one must progress beyond what German sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies called Gesellschaft, a definitional approach in which larger, contextual associations never take precedence over individual self-interest. “In the most general way, one could speak of a Gemeinschaft comprising the whole of mankind . . . But human Gesellschaft is conceived as mere coexistence of people independent of each other [41].” This progression beyond idiosyncratic and parochial classifications of pornography is achieved by placing cultural labeling itself under scrutiny, and not just conflicting definitions. This allows us to see pornography in the light of the larger context of other discourses and categories. “By stepping back from pornography in this way, its functions as a ‘melodrama’ or ‘allegory’ for a given culture are thrown into sharp relief [42].” This Heideggerian/Gemeinschaft approach reveals that it is “the particularly explicit way in which porn depicts sex and bodies, its flaunting of boundaries, its perversity and its irredeemable ‘lowness’ that are often used to justify its condemnation [43].”

However, such attempts to create a distinction between pornography and “high” art or literature only demonstrate the fact that pornography cannot be thus classified on the basis of content/viewer relations, since as was briefly noted above, “high” art and literature often contains the same relations (for instance, a male viewer looking at a naked female body). The decisive factor is the dirty, transgressive, limit-pushing and “carnivalesque” quality of pornography, qualities which confer upon it the challenge to sexual status quos. As art historian Lynda Nead points out, “Art and pornography are caught in a cycle of reciprocal definition, in which each depends on the other for its meaning, significance and status [44].” In the absence of pornography, art dies, and vice versa.

This symbiosis is put on a bold, in-your-face display in Virginie Despentes’s and Coralie Trinh Thi’s controversial 2000 film Baise-moi (“Fuck Me” in English). The controversy surrounding this film was due less to the fact that it featured an extremely graphic rape scene with a close-up of vaginal penetration and more to the fact that it blended art cinema with raw and gritty pornographic images and motifs. It was “the interstitial nature of the film and its resistance to classification as either art cinema or hardcore [45]” that compelled the censors to swift action. Baise-moi effectively blurred the lines between art cinema and porn and created a tension-filled dilemma for censors and film critics.

Based on Despentes’s 1999 novel of the same name, the film experiments with new territory in the porn genre, exploring the aesthetic side of hardcore sexual explicitness to the greatest degree possible as it tells the story of two women who embark on a road trip killing spree in the wake of one being brutally raped and the other committing an aggravated murder, two events that draw them together. At first vaguely repelled by their own heinous actions, Nadine (played by Karen Bach) and Manu (Raffaëla Anderson) soon form a tight bond in their mutual drive to strike back at a bourgeois society that marginalized them, and particularly at men. Along the way, the two women have sex with a number of men, some of whom are killed. The ones that survive do so by sexually satisfying the women to a sufficient degree, and by ceding control to the women.

In his review of the controversy the film immediately sparked, MacKenzie writes, “If a fiction film is deemed pornographic because it has no redeeming social function and only provides illicit titillation, then the precise nature of the images on the screen . . . should not play a role in the determination of pornographic content, because if there is content beyond prurient interest, the film is de facto not pornographic [46].” In other words, more important than the nature of the sexual acts which are depicted in any given film are the themes and intents that the story seeks to make understandable. On the other hand, if “the status of heterosexual, hardcore pornography is determined solely through the visual representation of penetration or through the presence of an erection, then the precise context of the act – be it consensual sex or violent rape – bears little weight in the determination of whether or not a film is pornographic in nature [47].”

But another case can be made that the raw realism that hardcore porn strives for, even when employing fantasy scenarios, is itself a redeeming feature of pornography, quite aside from any additional “redeeming” social commentary that may or may not be incorporated. The “debasement” element of pornography that is so often cited by its condemners is in this sense a desirable and positive one, rendering its detractors’ condemnations a reaction against unrestrained visibility that threatens outwardly-projected personal preferences. As Lynda Nead writes,

[P]ornography is imbued with an ideology of realism; it is regarded as a transparent medium, offering more or less direct access to its image. Within Platonic terms, the visual image is less removed from corrupt reality (and therefore is more debased) than the written word which is regarded as the medium of imagination and self-expression [48].
The genre of pornography to which this idea can be most readily seen in action is sadomasochism, or Bondage & Discipline porn. This genre, more than any other, has gone a long way toward shifting pornography closer to the center dividing line where fantasy and reality meet and stare at each other across the proverbial fence. Greta Christina, in her interesting analysis of this blurred line, makes the case that crying is to spanking porn what cum shots are to “regular” porn:
Crying is like cum shots because it's proof that what's happening is real. It's proof, not only that the actors are physically engaging in the sexual acts they're portraying, but that they're feeling them [49].
This analysis of a fetish practiced by consenting adults who feel real pain, but for whom pain is pleasure (and thus not an instance of snuff urban myth), effectively dismantles the charge that pornography is a social ill because it is inherently a superficial fantasy that instills unattainable expectations in the minds of its viewers. It is more accurate to posit that when anti-porn activists condemn pornography as unattainable fantasy with no parallel in real life, they are actually reacting to something they do not want to be real.

Consistency would oblige those who condemn pornography on this basis to condemn exhibitions in animal zoos; zoos are after all pornographic by nature, and while they by necessity overly-simplify factors such as natural habitat, few would argue that zoos misrepresent the creatures on display. Environmental philosopher Ralph Acampora tries to persuade us that the “broad analogy between zoos and pornography is useful because, if it holds true in the relevant respects, the comparison casts a new and decidedly critical light on the debate over keeping and breeding animals in the wild in captivity [50].” But he is one of the very few academics who actually manage to remain consistent by arguing this, which only serves to highlight the difficulty of his position.

Campaigns against Pornography: A Historical Perspective

As we have just begun to see, conservative and feminist arguments against pornography, responsible for creating controversies and resultant censorship campaigns against important films such as Baise-moi and others like it, represent the most significant objections to the claim that pornography serves a beneficial role and necessary function in society, yet they derive from questionable foundations and assumptions. A substantial body of research that overviews the history of pornography and obscenity in America bears this out most strongly, demonstrating clearly that campaigns against pornography have always been more about politics than about sex.

In 1834, the New York Female Moral Reform Society was formed by Lydia A. Finney, the wife of the revivalist Charles Grandison Finney. Dedicated to the moral reform of the city, this organization made prostitution central to their agenda; their goal became to purge the city of them, and the means they employed toward that goal was hardly sensitive to prostitutes. Rather than create an infrastructure that would help young women avoid prostitution, the NYFMRS relied on sanctimonious lectures that placed the blame for prostitutes having gone astray on the troubled women themselves. Several historians (predominantly male), have traditionally portrayed this organization as a rigid and puritanical one that appealed to the sexually repressed and reactionary in society. However, a generation’s worth of feminist historians in the last thirty years have offered a reinterpretation of the nature of the activism at work here, suggesting that a fair amount of conservative gender politics tells a somewhat different story. Of particular note is the work of Nicola Beisel, who argues that the politics surrounding the legislation of lifestyles is more often than not a manifestation of class politics. Beisel’s research showcases the “necessity of understanding how ideological appeals made by movement leaders reflect problems facing the social class or class segment supporting the movement at that historical moment [51]” and shows that “much of the literature on twentieth-century moral reform movements does not explain the rise of anti-vice societies because it neglects or denies the origins of moral reform movements in class conflict [52].”

Beisel’s arguments for class conflict constituting a significant part of the basis for anti-porn activism is also supported by a look at the literature targeted at lower-class males in the early 19th century. The rise of a young, urban and single demographic in America’s burgeoning cities occasioned the rallying-around of a sexualized culture by young ‘men of the sporting culture,” which led to a flurry of overtly tawdry dime-store novels which were very lurid and explicit for the time period in which they appeared. George Lippard’s infamous underground novel The Quaker City, which appeared in 1845, became the highest-selling American novel before it was superseded by Uncle Tom’s Cabin upon its release seven years later. Published serially over the course of the decade, the novel describes the lurid sex underworld of Philadelphia, complete with deflowered maidens, abortionists, interracial sex, pederasty and every subject that could possibly violate the taboos of 1840s society.

Works such as this were written with a distinct nod to class consciousness, and they were tailored toward the culture of working-class single males in their overt resentment of the elite, who are depicted in this genre as a debauched bunch. Virtually all pornographic material in this period featured this theme as a common trope, one that dates back even to pornography written during the French Revolution in the 1790s, which witnessed a groundswell of porn about Marie Antoinette and the Catholic clergy. Thus, the moral indignation instigated by books like Lippard’s and those of his contemporary George Thompson (author of over a hundred “sexual” romance novels, most of which are not preserved) was only a thin veneer masking the larger issue, namely the offense felt by the middle and upper classes at the sentiment expressed by the lower class. The pornographic nature of this cheap literature merely provided reformers ostensibly concerned with morality an excuse to lash back. This ulterior motive of crusaders against pornography still exists (though in subtler shades) to this day, as shown by the research of Anne Sabo, who examined the prevailing stigmas attached to forms of pornography that are crudely-made and male-centered, as opposed to more widespread tolerance for “highbrow” forms of pornography. “Although popular pornography has received significant scholarly attention in recent years . . . such elitism haunts popular pornography. Hence, though there are some scholars who now speak up in the name of pornography, most viewers of X-rated videos prefer to remain private about it [53].”

This class-consciousness perspective, relevant today as well as to the period under consideration, suggests that most of the women who involved themselves with moral reform movements in the early 19th century, the period of the so-called “separate spheres” doctrine, already operated within tightly-constrained gender roles. The women’s place was perceived to be the home, while the public sphere was allotted to men. Thus, staking claim to crusades of moral purity represented one of the very few avenues by which women could engage in political activism and the public sphere. This is why a large body of feminist historical research has reclaimed much nineteenth-century activism of this kind as something of a “proto-feminist” project, in the sense that women were claiming political power in the public sphere with the only kind of social space allotted to them, that being the realm of female moral purity. While this complex dynamic succeeded in establishing an infrastructure for moral reform, it was an infrastructure that was ultimately co-opted by men, and has been to this day.

This history suggests that today’s radical feminist opposition to pornography is a lingering relic of these women’s moral reform movements in the early to mid-19th century, when women’s involvement in such movements represented “proto-feminism,” or a pragmatic good in the sense that women were engaging the public sphere in those places allotted to them. The point that reasonably follows from this is that given the liberal progress made in modern times in terms of women’s rights, the “pragmatic scaffolding” of feminist objections to pornography that once indirectly served the cause of women’s rights can be removed. This would also decouple the patriarchal, androcentric element of the anti-pornography cause, which only ostensibly bears the flag of feminism (and an outdated feminism at that), and whose actual agenda is the repression of sexual freedom.

Again, conservative anti-pornography movements have virtually always been more political in nature (especially with regard to class and gender politics) than they have been a legitimate discourse on the benefits and liabilities of sexualized culture. The case of Frederick Hollick, the 19th century sex educator and reformer, is an illustrative one in this regard. Hollick toured the country in the 1840s with lecture material on sex education, which were collected into a very popular and bestselling book, The Origin of Life, in 1846. He talked about the physiology and anatomy of sex in a radical way that very few people dared to do in the public sphere, and his reputation as a bestselling and popular author allows him to get away with the routine for some time. He finally found himself in legal trouble in Philadelphia in 1846, where he made use of very realistic and lifelike naked mannequins to demonstrate various aspects of how sex works. Hollick himself described the mannequins as “so true [to] nature, that many have even fainted away at a first view, from the impression that they were viewing a real body! [54]” To be sure, many people viewed this as pornographic, but the bigger taboo at play was that women were allowed into these lectures. Bringing the “pure and sanctified” women into these presentations was viewed as a social problem, while male attendance was slightly more acceptable. Hollick was prosecuted for obscenity in Philadelphia that year, mostly on the basis of his lifelike teaching aids but also for his popular pamphlets. The case against him did not ultimately have a significant result; Hollick jumped bail and left the city, and no legal resolution was made [55]. The key point here is that it was primarily due to the fact that Hollick allowed women into his lectures that he was prosecuted, not due to his content and methods. The decisive issue at play was the mixed-gender audience and the idea of exposing women to sexual knowledge, which was a shocking and impermissible idea at this time.

Summary and Conclusion

In summary, the case made here that pornography serves both a necessary function and a beneficial role in society is supported by a multitude of factors. (1) It helps society concretely define its limits in unambiguous terms, a level of control wielded flexibly by the consensus of public taste that has democratized sexuality and exercised influence over laws, not vice versa. (2) The fact that mainstream society, despite its deep-running misgivings of pornography, has not completely repressed and eradicated it testifies to its narrative power, something humans are not wired to function without, and indeed, something which may even be dangerous to live without. (3) Pornography, in addition to indirectly supporting the institution of marriage, facilitates technological advancement and progress. One reason for this is because the high, ubiquitous and perpetual demand for pornography is such that it is almost always the first to test and use new and cutting-media technologies. Because interpersonal communication represents and operates as a microcosm of society as a whole, the same benefits apply on this microcosmic scale as well. (4) Not only is the alleged connection between pornography consumption and gender power inequalities more assumed than critically examined, but pornography use among women is becoming much more prevalent in today’s society. Meanwhile, the precise relation of pornography to contemporary expressions of hegemonic masculinity grow ever more obscure, as socioemotional closeness of men to significant adults in their lives climbs higher among porn users than among non-users. The evidence thus indicates that pornography facilitates a craving for intimacy, a craving that is too often mistaken by porn’s detractors as a dangerous craving for objectified women. Finally, (5) the most significant anti-pornography arguments derive from questionable foundations and assumptions. Not only do feminist objections to pornography too often rely on caricatures of males without taking into account the motives of female consumers, but they also often work against feminism’s own interests, serving only to reinforce the sentiments characteristic of hegemonic masculinities that perpetuate disparate gender relations. Conservative and religious objections to pornography are often rooted in anti-progressive desires to control and suppress women’s sexuality, rather than in a desire to protect their dignity.

As a matter of finding a practical application for these considerations, popular opposition to censorship of all kinds must be rediscovered and brought back to the mainstream status it enjoyed over half a century ago. But this time we must not make arbitrary exceptions for the class of material popularly viewed as “obscene,” as liberals made the mistake of doing in in the 1950s. Whitney Strub writes, “Though the fundamental intellectual incoherence of the liberal position remained successfully obscured for several years, new rhetorical strategies allowing conservatives to frame repressive policies as secular and reasonable put liberals in an untenable position regarding pornography by the 1960s. Unwillingly, they ceded social authority on the matter to the nascent Right [56].”

Not only must we stop looking away from explicit sex, we must also start looking at sex in a more balanced manner. As Murray S. Davis explains, social scientists too often look at sex either presbyopically or myopically – both of which are exaggerated distances from which to coherently view the subject. “Sociologists like Kinsey looked at sex from so far away (as though with the wrong end of a telescope) that they observed only an exterior behavior without human meaning. Psychologists like Freud looked at sex so closely (as though with X-ray eyes) that they saw through it to observe only an inhuman and meaningless interior instinct [57].”

Being as we are in a position to see the mistakes made by activists for freedom of expression and to bring shared human experience and interpretations of sexual behavior into a more balanced and sharper focus, we are in a position to end the monopoly on what counts as free expression enjoyed by the Right. In doing so we restate the question of pornography’s place in society in secular and reasonable terms, and come to understand that part of us that is perhaps what makes us most human.

NOTES

1. Brenda Love, The Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices (London: Greenwich Editions, 1999), p. 215.

2. Karen Ciclitira, “Researching Pornography and Sexual Bodies,” The Psychologist 15.1 (2002): 191-194.

3. Love, Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices (see note 1), p. 215.

4. Ciclitira, “Researching Pornography and Sexual Bodies” (see note 2).

5. Jill C. Manning, “The Impact of Internet Pornography on Marriage and the Family: A Review of the Research,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 13 (2006): 131-165.

6. R. George Kirkpatrick, “Collective Consciousness and Mass Hysteria: Collective Behavior and Anti-pornography Crusades in Durkheimian Perspective,” Human Relations 28.1 (1975): 67.

7. Michael Rea, “What is Pornography?” Noûs 35.1 (2001): 132.

8. Alfred C. Kinsey, Wardell B. Pomeroy, Clyde E. Martin and Paul H. Gebhard, Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (Philadelphia and London: W.B. Saunders Company, 1953), p. 671.

9. Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged: Pornography and the Politics of Fantasy in America (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1999), p. 176.

10. “Bible Drawn into Sex Publication Controversy,” Reuters 16 May 2007, http://www.reuters.com/article/2007/05/16/us-hongkong-bible-indecent-idUSHKG26218320070516 (accessed 7 June 2011); Ben Leach, “Biblical Sex Row over Explicit Illustrated Book of Genesis,” The Telegraph 17 October 2009, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/booknews/6358134/Biblical-sex-row-over-explicit-illustrated-Book-of-Genesis.html (accessed 7 June 2011); Nathan Dickey, “The Unholy Bible: A Case Study in Perverse and Obscene Literature,” The Journeyman Heretic (blog) 25 March 2011, http://journeymanheretic.blogspot.com/2011/03/unholy-bible-case-study-in-obscene-and.html (accessed 7 June 2011).

11. Stanley J. Baran, “How TV and Film Portrayals Affect Sexual Satisfaction in College Students,” Journalism Quarterly 53.3 (1976): 468.

12. Anne G. Sabo, “Highbrow and Lowbrow Pornography: Prejudice Prevails Against Popular Culture. A Case Study,” Journal of Popular Culture 42.1 (2009): 147.

13. April Haynes, “The Trials of Frederick Hollick: Obscenity, Sex Education, and Medical Democracy in the Antebellum United States,” Journal of the History of Sexuality 12.4 (2003): 543-574.

14. Liza Featherstone, “You, Me and PORN Make Three,” Psychology Today 38.5 (2005): 84.

15. Miodrag Popovic, “Pornography Use and Closeness with Others in Men,” Archives of Sexual Behavior 40.2 (2011): 455.

16. Ibid.

17. For example, see Ian Cook, “Western Heterosexual Masculinity, Anxiety and Web Porn,” Journal of Men’s Studies 14 (2006): 47-63.

18. For example, see Jennifer P. Schneider, “A Qualitative Study of Cybersex Participants: Gender Differences, Recovery Issues, and Implications for Therapists,” Sexual Addiction & Compulsivity 7.4 (2000): 249-278.

19. F.M. Christensen, Pornography: The Other Side (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1990), p. 103.

20. Featherstone, “You, Me and PORN Make Three” (see note 14), 85.

21. Daniel Linz, “Online Pornography Is Not Addictive,” in Emma Carlson Berne, ed., Online Pornography: Opposing Viewpoints (Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2007), p. 66.

22. Kingsley Davis, “Sexual Behavior,” in Robert K. Merton and Robert Nisbet, eds., Contemporary Social Problems 3rd ed. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971), p. 350.

23. Ned Polsky, Hustlers, Beats, and Others (Chicago: Aldine Publishing Company, 1967), p. 188.

24. Fabio D’Orlando, “The Demand for Pornography,” Journal of Happiness Studies 12.1 (2011): 51-75.

25. Ibid., 65.

26. “Over Logging,” South Park: The Complete Twelfth Season, written by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, directed by Trey Parker (Comedy Central, 2009).

27. D’Orlando, “The Demand for Pornography” (see note 24), 72.

28. Jack M. Beckham II, “From ‘Seedy Roms’ to DVDs: Virtual Sex and the Search for Control,” Quarterly Review of Film and Video 24 (2007): 226.

29. Peter Johnson, “Pornography Drives Technology: Why Not Censor the Internet?” Federal Communications Law Journal 49.1 (1996): 221.

30. Laurence O’Toole, Pornocopia: Porn, Sex, Technology and Desire (London: Serpent’s Tail, 1998), p. 61.

31. Clarissa Smith, “Pornography for Women, or What They Don’t Show You in Cosmo!” Journalism Studies 8.4 (2007): 529-538.

32. Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged (see note 9), p. 177.

33. Christensen, Pornography: The Other Side (see note 19), p. 28.

34. Sheldon Ranz, “Interview: Nina Hartley,” Shmate: A Magazine of Progressive Jewish Thought 22 (1989): 15-29.

35. Challenging Media, “The Price of Pleasure – Noam Chomsky on Pornography (Extra Feature) – Available on DVD” (video, 3:35), YouTube 23 July 2008, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SNlRoaFTHuE (accessed 6 June 2011).

36. Havelock Ellis, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, Vol. 6. – Sex in Relation to Society (Philadelphia: Davis, 1913), p. 263.

37. John M. Murtagh and Sara Harris, Cast the First Stone (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1957), p. 2.

38. Lisa Palac, The Edge of the Bed: How Dirty Pictures Changed My Life (Canada: Little, Brown & Company, 1998), p. 147.

39. Laura Kipnis, Bound and Gagged (see note 9), p. 162.

40. Martin Heidegger, The Question Concerning Technology and Other Essays, trans. William Lovitt (New York: Harper & Row, 1977), p. 12.

41. Ferdinand Tönnies, Community and Society, trans. Charles P. Loomis (East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 1957), p. 34.

42. Feona Attwood, “Reading Porn: The Paradigm Shift in Pornography Research,” Sexualities 5.1 (2002): 95-96.

43. Ibid., 96.

44. Lynda Nead, The Female Nude: Art, Obscenity and Sexuality (London and New York: Routledge, 1992), p. 91.

45. Scott MacKenzie, “Baise-moi, Feminist Cinemas and the Censorship Controversy,” Screen: The Journal of the Society for Education in Film and Television 43.3 (2002): 318.

46. Ibid., 323.

47. Ibid.

48. Nead, The Female Nude (see note 44), p. 97.

49. Greta Christina, “Tears,” Greta Christina’s Blog 19 March 2010, http://gretachristina.typepad.com/greta_christinas_weblog/2010/03/tears.html (accessed 7 June 2011).

50. Ralph Acampora, “Zoos and Eyes: Contesting Captivity and Seeking Successor Practices,” Society & Animals 13.1 (2005): 72.

51. Nicola Beisel, “Class, Culture, and Campaigns Against Vice in Three American Cities, 1872-1892,” American Sociological Review 55.1 (1990): 58-59.

52. Ibid., 58.

53. Sabo, “Highbrow and Lowbrow Pornography” (see note 12), 148.

54. Frederick Hollick, The Origin of Life: A Popular Treatise on the Philosophy and Physiology of Reproduction, in Plants and Animals including the Details of Human Generation, with a Full Description of the Male and Female Organs (New York: Nafis & Cornish, 1845), p. xix.

55. Haynes, “The Trials of Frederick Hollick” (see note 13), 573.

56. Whitney Strub, Perversion for Profit: The Politics of Pornography and the Rise of the New Right (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), pp. 1-2.

57. Murray S. Davis, Smut: Erotic Reality / Obscene Ideology (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1983), p. xxvi.