A reader of this column writes:
I would be interested in seeing an article on so called “soft” pornography, e.g., the occasional Playboy magazine, and what this could lead to later in life.
Allow me to say quite simply that any pornography, hard or soft, is unacceptable. There is a broad variety of pornographic magazines on the market running the gamut from soft to hard. I am not sure where Playboy is. I suspect it falls toward the soft end of the scale. However, whether the pornographic magazine is “hard” or “soft” makes little difference. It is only a matter of degree. What we must ask is whether pornography, of whatever degree or intensity, is ever acceptable. The question is: May we read or watch any pornography at all?
We must answer in the negative.
What is pornography? Pornography is the exploitive depiction of sex via any audio or visual media. You will not find chapter and verse in the Bible explicitly condemning pornography; however, the Bible does command us to strive for and to preserve purity of mind, heart and body.
The Lord Jesus condemned the lustful look as equivalent to adultery (Matthew 5:28). One could argue that a lustful look is “softer” than the softest pornographic magazine; yet, the Lord equates it with adultery, sin against the seventh commandment. Whether the object of a person's lust is a photograph of a person or a person in the flesh makes no difference.
The apostolic letters in the New Testament contain many warnings against lust. The apostle Paul said that no impurity or filthiness should be found among believers. He even warned that no person who persists in impurity has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God (Ephesians 5:3-5). Paul wrote that we are to abstain from unchastity. We are to have nothing to do with the passionate lust of those who do not know God. For God has not called us to be his people for uncleanness, but that we might be holy (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7).
Our Heidelberg Catechism understands well that pornography, soft or hard, is unacceptable. Lord's Day 41, Answer 109 says:
Since we, body and soul, are temples of the Holy Spirit, it is God's will that we keep ourselves pure and holy. Therefore He forbids all unchaste acts, gestures, words, thoughts, desires, and whatever may entice us to unchastity.
Pornography entices a person to unchastity. He begins to desire the body of a person whom God has not given him. Sexual images and the depiction of erotic behaviour stimulate the imagination to sinful thoughts. One sees the other sex as a tool for personal sexual indulgence. There is no love, tenderness or respect involved. The sex drive perverts into a self-absorbed desire to gratify one's own flesh.
The apostle Paul warned that those who set their mind on the flesh are hostile to God and that doing so spells death. Rather, we are to set our minds on the Holy Spirit which is life and peace (Romans 8:6, 7).
Not every thought or desire about sex is sinful. The point is that sex must be kept in its divinely appointed place which is within the context of marriage. I remember a minister explaining it this way in a sermon once when I was just a lad: He said that sex is like soil. In its proper context, the garden, soil is a beautiful thing. However, if you take it out of that context and throw it somewhere else, e.g., the living room carpet, then that beautiful soil become nothing but dirt.
The writer of the letter also asked what “soft” pornography, such as the occasional Playboy magazine, could lead to later in life, I would strongly suggest that it could later lead to “hard-core” pornography. Overstimulation brings diminishing pleasure which in turn creates the desire for more. You can see that with drug addiction. Someone addicted to drugs, e.g., cocaine or alcohol, will steadily increase his consumption. In order to achieve the desired “high,” he needs to take more and more. Pornography may even lead to rape.
This should not surprise us. James wrote that desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin (James 1:15). As you think in your heart, so will you do. The apostle Paul, quoting Menander, wrote, “Bad company ruins good morals” (1 Corinthians 15:33). Keeping company with pornography of whatever intensity will corrupt the good character of any person.
I strongly suspect that the writer of the above letter does not indulge in pornographic literature. Perhaps you are writing out of concern for friends or acquaintances who do pick up the occasional Playboy or watch the occasional blue movie on cable or satellite TV or rent the odd red hot video. Speak to them about it. Remind them of what the Lord requires – that we are to keep ourselves pure in body, mind and heart. The Holy Spirit longs to dwell in us, to make us His temples. But He will not share us with the filth of pornography.
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