So What is Pornography?

Justice Potter Stewart

The Supreme Court of the United States has often been assailed with this very challenging question. Justice Potter Stewart famously wrote in an obscenity case in 1964,

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

Needless to say, the “I know it when I see it” standard has been difficult for lower courts to apply in a constitutionally meaningful way. The current ruling that applies today says that obscenity (which hard-core pornography is a type of) is defined as an image or film that:

  1. The average person, applying local community standards, looking at the work in its entirety, appeals to the prurient interest.
  2. The work must describe or depict, in an obviously offensive way, sexual conduct, or excretory functions.
  3. The work as a whole must lack “serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific values”.

Well, they sure cleared that up.

As society grapples with this question and it’s implications on the First Amendment, I have run into cases in the recovery community that asks this question as well. By some definitions, what is seen at the checkout counter is pornography. Should guys in recovery avoid the grocery store?

In my opinion, this simply asks the wrong question. Who cares what I or the Supreme Court think pornography is? We serve a more powerful judge. Jesus never defined pornography, but he did define what the sin in pornography is:

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:27-30

The real question we should ask is, what is lust (a question that I will address in a later Porn and the Christian Guy)? What should matter to you is more personal. Does the checkout counter tempt you to lust? What practical things do you need to do to avoid temptation? Is that billboard tempting you?

In today’s sex obsessed society, sexual images are nearly impossible to avoid. It is not enough to avoid them, we must become so in love with our God and our wives that they will lose their power over us. We need to use the greater joy of loving better pleasures than pornography can offer.

So what is pornography? Who cares? Christian, you be faithful to your God and to your wife. We’ll leave the tough questions to the courts.