The Moral Maze on Saturday evening reflected an acute current debate: what should we think about pornography on the web? This quest is a source of great unease for some, particularly in relation to children, and merely mild disquiet for others. Whenever I have mentioned this subject in a blog – in response to some item in the news – the posts in response have reflected the division in society at large, between those who find it abhorrent and those who assert there is “no proof” that it causes people to act out violent sexual fantasies in real life.
The Moral Maze team was the same: Giles Fraser, a C of E vicar in a London parish, was quite clear that hardcore pornography was a form of abuse, the strong exploiting the weak. Melanie Phillips of the Daily Mail was equally forceful: it degrades adults as well as children and the only moral response is to recoil in disgust at some of the images presented. Against them were Clare Fox and Matthew Taylor, as representatives of the tolerant, liberal viewpoint: there is no proven link between pornography and actual behaviour and any censorship would curtail the rightful freedom of adults to enjoy their “adult” activities as they so choose.
As I listened, I longed for a straightforward Christian response to the whole question: that men and women have an inherent dignity as children of God; thus their sexual relations have an intrinsically sacred quality quite different from the mating of other species; so it follows that any kind of pornography which treats people merely as objects of gratification rather than as persons with hearts and souls, will degrade their dignity as human beings.
Indeed, I wish an articulate Catholic apologist could join the Moral Maze team from time to time; not to “preach” at the assembled company and their listeners but to explain why it’s hard to argue about the morality or otherwise of certain questions without bringing in a theological dimension. Arguing from reason alone, in a pluralist society where everything is seen from a subjective and relativist viewpoint, is not enough. “That’s your opinion; this is my opinion.” How often have we heard that tired old conversation-stopper?
At the same time as the Moral Maze was being broadcast, St Patrick’s in Soho Square – an area renowned for all the 57 varieties of human behaviour on display within its boundaries– was having its Saturday “Night Fever” event: this means that the church is lit with candles, gentle liturgical music is played in the background, the Blessed Sacrament is exposed, Confession is available and young volunteers go out into the surrounding streets and invite strangers to come and light their own candles in the church. The idea comes from the Gospel invitation: “Come and see.”
A surprising number accept the invitation to come into the presence of Christ. It might be that a few of these waifs and strays respond to the grace of the encounter and thus discover the true way out of their own personal moral maze through which they have been stumbling. And to return to the subject of pornography: who seriously wants to be lost in a thicket of violent and depraved images that is so easily accessible on the web?