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Viewing pornography is far more damaging than smoking a cigarette

Cigarette smoking doesn’t damage the soul but 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?

By on Monday, 27 May 2013

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

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.

  • PaulF

    Though I agree that smoking is not on the same level as pornography, it is not a work of the Holy Spirit either. I don’t regard smoking as a sin. It is rather an effect of submission to the powers of darkness. When you place your whole trust in Christ and get rid of all trace of respect for his spiritual enemies in high places, all trace of ‘interfaith’ thinking, smoking will turn into a non problem. You will not have to try hard to give up. You will simply lose the desire to smoke, having seen that it is proper to the enemy’s kingdom. That’s how it worked for me anyway.

  • Hermit Crab

    Isn’t the Catholic response to puritanism contained in the following famous dialogue:

    Young man: Father, may I smoke while I pray?

    Father: Certainly not. But you may pray while you smoke.

  • PaulF

    That used to be the Jesuit and the Dominican students. Guess which of them put the question in the second form and got permission to combine the two activities.

  • Ben Trovato

    Pornography is not just bad for children. It is bad for adults to watch as well.

    It seems to me that the real question is, how do we get society in general, and politicians in particular, to treat pornography – which is incitement to lust and ultimately sexual violence – with the same gravity with which we treat incitement to physical violence.

  • scary goat

    I did see something the other day on MSN news that “they” are bringing in some sort of law to prevent pop singers wearing outrageous provocative clothes. Didn’t actually read the article so I don’t know the details. Bring it on…..please. It’s a step in the right direction.

  • Caroline Farrow

    Accessibility has to play a part in social stigma. I’m not sure quite how one would go about this, (perhaps by adding a porn tax or people would need to buy specially adapted devices) but it seems to me that when huge restrictions were put upon smoking in public places, it went quite a long way to making smoking seem like less of a desirable or acceptable habit.

    Previous generations actually had to make some sort of physical effort if they wanted to view porn. They’d have to go to a specialist newsagent or mumble code about under the counter and going to a peep show was the last word in sordid seediness.

    Erotica has been about since the dawn of time, but it’s never been quite so pervasive as it is today. Society is experiencing something of a cultural dissonance, torn between the ideas of individual libertinism and knowing that porn has a deleterious effect, not least in terms of the exploitation it involves. Hence this half-baked and frankly disturbing concept of teaching about ‘good’ porn in schools.

  • scary goat

    “Accessibility has to play a part in social stigma. I’m not sure quite
    how one would go about this, (perhaps by adding a porn tax or people
    would need to buy specially adapted devices)”

    How about we just ban the whole lot. Why do we need to make allowances for people who want it?

  • $27740841

    Why does the Catholic Herald keep closing down blog comment sections? The Telegraph has been doing this a lot recently. Is it a Disqus thing?
    I, for one, won’t be reading any blogs which close their comments.

  • Kevin

    One problem here is that many people nowadays are having children later in life, perhaps after having voted in several general elections. Such people are perhaps less likely to have children’s upbringing foremost among their daily concerns. They will have a memory of their own childhood experiences and inputs and a consideration of the impact it had on their development.

    Taken in isolation, however, it is clear that pornography encourages self-centredness in the most personal of relationships. If children do not hear or see it condemned there is nothing left to discourage them from that lifestyle other than personal predilections or opportunity, still less when its purveyors are lauded by governments and opinion formers.

  • Hennergogs

    Pornography encourages us to view the opposite sex as being there for our own selfish pleasure and it prays on the weak and vulnerable whilst making a lot of money for some.

    It devalues us, undermines marriage and therefore the family and is utterly destructive.

  • vito

    Smoking IS damaging to the soul in the sense that you know that it IS bad for you and those around you and you still do it, you still consciously inflict harm to yourself and others (while also sticking up the place). The fact that your mother smokes and has lived till 90 does not prove anything. Thatis a rather common childish error of statistics of small numbers. Everyone knows that smoking is always bad for the human body and that it is an error to assume anything from a few statistical exceptions (which are not even that – a smoker who is apparently healthy might have been much healthier (or lived longer) still, had he not smoked). Porn viewing, on the other hand, may be damaging to the soul, but it hardly does anything to your body.

  • PaulF

    Damage to the soul does hardly anything to the body? I strongly dispute that. Body and soul do not operate independently of each other. If you open the door of the soul for demons they will pile in and will play havoc with your body as well. They plonk heavy, negative pressures on the mind and emotions which add to the burden on the immune system. It might go unnoticed for decades, but eventually immune systems get compromised and illness finds a way in. Most sickness has spiritual roots.

  • $20596475

    I think this is a really silly idea. No-one doubts that smoking is a stupid thing for anyone to do. It is both unnecessary and dangerous and, in my opinion, needs to be totally eliminated from our society.

    I don’t argue for pornography either, but I think that it is already becoming yesterdays news. Of course it is damaging to some young people but so too is a repressed and sheltered upbringing.

    Pornography was around when I was a kid, and that is a very long time ago. It was certainly less accessible, but that made it more exciting. Today’s youngsters can take it or leave it and I think the less fuss we make about it, the less important it becomes.

    It really cannot be compared to smoking at all.

  • acs

    The word ‘irreparable’ here is misplaced, as it undermines the Catholic Christian understanding of God’s mercy and forgiveness, sought through the sacrament of confession.
    Obviously there are degrees in all these things but there is no doubting the power and downward spiral exerted by pornography and the damage that this does to the soul and to the whole moral being.
    However, confession and conversion is the answer and provides hope for those overwhelmed by temptation or bad habits.

  • $24570317

    “with the same gravity with which we treat incitement to physical violence”

    The Church has always carried the concept of a “just war”.
    The recent “Mr Tony” wars have not be condemned by the Church. The cHurch itself has “gone to war”, with popes on (or rather near) the battlefields.

  • $24570317

    Erotica and pornography are not the same.

  • $24570317

    Catholic puritanism and moralising create pornography.
    The erotic is not necessarily pornographic. Respectable girls and young women of high social standing in pre-Christian Rome wore necklaces and amulets depicting the human penis. This was converted into pornography by moralising Christians.

    Youngsters today have ready access to each other – coeducational schools are the norm. They are more able than ever to recognise the opposite sex as human beings – people like themselves. Consequently pornography does them very little harm – certainly much less than in the fairly recent past.

    Some orthodox religious apologists seek to ignore evidence and propagate nothing more than scare-stories in an attempt to justify their moralising. Some probably do this from ignorance and others probably because it suits their orthodox agenda.
    They help spread a modern urban myth.

  • Percy_Fleur

    We wouldn’t want to mistake you for one of these Catholic moralisers you abhor. In future it might avoid confusion if you were to wear one of those amulets depicting a penis.

  • $20596475

    You are of course quite right but I doubt very much that too many others here are going to have any understanding of this point of view, let alone any sympathy with it.

    There seems to be a deeply unhealthy pre-occupation with sex, and sexual orientation, with a certain type of Catholic. This, to me anyway, is much more damaging than anything that erotic material can do to normally adjusted people. There is nothing inherently immoral about the erotic, and where the line is to be drawn between the erotic and the pornographic is a big question. I think myself that much more damage is being done by the portrayal of gratuitous violence than ever is done by pornography.

  • From Rabat

    WE have to keep in mind that by watching pornography people are watching and feel pleasure with what God denies. That is a sin.

  • $24570317

    This article calls for serious consideration and comment, not schoolboy humour.

  • $24570317

    Sex related moralising (nothing whatever to do with morality) is certainly the Catholic moralisers favourite topic.
    Other common topics for moralising include tobacco use and sugar – the latter being moralised about in detail by this article writer some months ago.

  • $24570317

    “Pornography encourages us to view the opposite sex as being there for our own selfish pleasure..”

    That can certainly happen. It is much more likely to happen if boys and girls are segregated. This unfortunately used to be the case in past years with the predominance of single sex schools and the once common adult fear of boys and girls being allowed to freely mix socially. These fears have not yet been totally overcome.

  • Nesbyth

    I haven’t read all the comments here so I might be repeating someone here but every Saturday I buy the Daily Mail for my disabled neighbour. This week he couldn’t answer the door for some time so I perused it. There was an article by Amanda Platell on just this topic of internet porn and its ready accessibility to all and sundry, no matter what their age.

    The article was candid and horrific. SOMETHING HAS TO BE DONE.

    As Francis Phillips says, the government worries about smoking and physical health etc, but this on-line pornography is truly evil, corrupting and highly disturbing. Especially as there are real children and women being abused.

  • Hennergogs

    “It is much more likely if boys and girls are segregated”.
    Complete nonsense and is contradicted by all the evidence. This kind of 60′s fiction was discredited decades ago.

  • Nesbyth

    If so, where would the line be drawn and who would draw it?

  • Nesbyth

    “It really cannot be compared to smoking at all.” says major calamity.
    No it can’t, it’s much, much worse.
    And today’s porn has moved on from the days when majorcalamity found it exciting. Back then it was on the top shelf and accessed by men-in -raincoats or adolescent school boys.
    Nowadays the images are moving and the people (who may have been trafficked and the children forced/bribed) are seen taking part in deeply depraved actions.
    And the word “depraved” has been used by the BBC today when talking about on-line porn viewed by the latest two high profile murderous paedophiles currently in the news.

  • $24570317

    Pornography is something in the eye of the beholder.
    As explained above, Christians turned hitherto harmless items of jewelry into pornographic objects.
    Naked gymnasts were deemed to be pornographic – and consequently Christians banned the Olympic games.

  • $20596475

    Then we disagree. Smoking cannot be defended. It is an unnecessary, unhealthy activity with no benefit to anyone other those who grow tobacco (who would be more useful growing food) and the manufacturers and their shareholders.

    Pornography at its worst is as you and others describe it and can have dangerous consequences. However the problems of trafficking and forcing children into situations is nothing new. We might well be more aware and therefore trying to do something about it now.

    Not everything which is described as pornography is like that though and I think there are other images every bit as offensive and dangerous to our youth. I am thinking primarily of the way gratuitous violence is used in so many main stream movies and TV programmes. The acceptance of this into our culture has had an extremely damaging impact which, in my opinion, is much more significant than anything that pornography has done. It is the Catholic obsession with sexual matters which causes them to push pornography to the top of the problem pile.