Viewing pornography is far more damaging than smoking a cigarette

Smoking in public places is now banned in the UK Photo: PA

Ann Farmer, about whom I have blogged before, has written an excellent letter to the Telegraph for Saturday May 25, on the subject of “Children viewing porn.” She writes: “So far, our society’s response to the widespread corruption of children by easily accessible internet pornography does indeed appear to be to “throw up our hands and insist that nothing can be done.” (Leading article, May 24).

“Ever since the sex gurus of the Sixties accused us of being narrow-minded, urging us to be more “open” about sex so that our children would be able to lead more happy and fulfilled lives, we have been too terrified of being accused of prudery to address the disastrous failure of this malign social experiment. At the same time, we have developed an over-protective attitude to child welfare on eating, drinking and just about everything else.

“If we can develop a system sophisticated enough to prevent children from seeing a cigarette advertisement, surely it is not beyond our capabilities to shield them from something that is equally damaging to their well-being, both physically and psychologically; since many are now enacting the evil that they see and we refuse to see.”

My only quibble with this Letter – though it’s probable that Ann Farmer is choosing her words carefully so as not to be guilty of the ubiquitous crime of “bigotry” – is that I don’t think that viewing pornography is on the same level as viewing cigarette advertisements; it is far worse. Cigarettes or indeed smoking are not intrinsically evil. Although I don’t recommend it, it is the case that some people manage to smoke, seemingly without ill effects. My mother, nearly 90, smokes 20 a day and doesn’t even have a smoker’s cough. Pornography is on an entirely different level of moral gravity. Cigarette smoking doesn’t damage the soul; pornography does irreparable harm to it; if this is the case with adults, how much more so, on the impressionable souls and minds of children?

In two recent, hugely publicised abductions and murders of young girls, the two men involved were found to have child pornography on their computers. Primary school teachers are reporting sexual attacks by children on other children. This level of depravity is relatively new and comes with the technological territory. It can be accessed all too easily; children are only a click of a button away from looking at graphic images that they should never see. Even the most liberal of parents, who proclaim themselves tolerant in every other area, become distinctly uneasy in this area. Is it because, deep down, they know it is not just a matter of wanting children to remain in Christopher Robin land for longer but that pornography is bad for you?

Ann Farmer uses the strong word “corruption.” It has a quaint old-fashioned ring to it, a whiff of the “decadent” (another old-fashioned word) world of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Along with the words “malign” and “evil” she is bringing the question of child pornography into the realm of serious theological debate, which is where it should be. Tolerant people like the lady I talked to during coffee after Mass yesterday, don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on marriage; yet even they know that letting children view pornography must be wrong. But they don’t yet know that you can’t pick and choose, having some teachings you might agree with and others that you don’t. There is a beautiful coherence and consistency to Church teaching, both for children and adults; we ignore it at our peril.