Pornography is more than images on paper or film. Prior to the development of photography, some literature was intended by its creators to challenge Christian ethics and thus rightly be regarded by society as obscene. If we are to understand the issue of pornography we need to remember why this was the case, and we need to go a little further than the baser urges it stimulates in its consumer. After all, both men and women are fully capable of indulging in lust without any photographic aids. If we want to understand the nature of pornography, we have to go beyond its obvious effects on individuals, and see it as a sin against God. To do this, we need to see it as an aspect of man's attempt to "be as gods" (Gen. 3:5). Pornography is not just excused in our culture, it is defended as both natural and good.1
The Pornographic Worldview
Pornography is a necessary consequence of a specific worldview, a view of man and his relationship to the world, a perspective that guides and shapes his perceptions of his origin and place in the world. Those who peddle pornography for gain may defend their right to do so and perhaps protest that their product is harmless and/or victimless. However, those who believe in the pornographic worldview go much further than its mere defense-they justify it as essential to true freedom and consequently vilify Christian ethics as the actual true evil. The pornographic worldview is central to modern thought, and its philosophy extends beyond the confines of print or film.
Before the Babylonian Captivity, Isaiah invoked God's coming judgment on Judah and Jerusalem for their attempt to invert all moral order: "Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter" (Isa. 5:20). This is the moral revolution sought by man seeking to make good on Satan's phony promise. In his quest to play god, he redefines all reality. Evil is defined by man as the new good, darkness as the new light, and bitter as the new sweet. In doing so, they must also redefine the old goodness as the new evil, the old darkness as the new enlightenment, and the old bitterness of evil as the sweetness of new freedom. This is the pornographic philosophy of man, the world and life view that declares the coarse and vulgar to be good and even hailed as a "higher" way.
Pornography is more than images or words: it propagates a specific view of man, morality, and life. It is not, at root, about titillation, though that is obviously how its peddlers often market it to consumers. To approach pornography merely as the impropriety of certain pictures or descriptions is to miss completely the very real ideology behind it, which is no less than a philosophy of perversion, a worldview of man freed from God and His law, where evil is remade by man into good and Christianity's good, along with its God, is made the new evil. The real horror of pornography is this positive declaration of a new moral ethic. The modern pornographers claim the moral high ground and point an accusing finger at Christian ethics. In this, they are the heirs of the eighteenth century Enlightenment, a conscious revival of the man-centered (humanistic) thought of the ancient world as a rejection of the God-centered (theistic) thought of Christendom. In their particular industry, they follow the thinking of the Marquis de Sade (1740-1814).
Naturalism's Forerunner: the Marquis de Sade
When we think of the Marquis de Sade, we too quickly dismiss him as a sexual deviant, one whose name is forever linked to "sadism," deriving pleasure or sexual gratification from the infliction of pain on or the debasement of others. He was, certainly, a sadist, but why? He was not insane or mentally infirm. De Sade was a logical Enlightenment thinker who took his humanistic rejection of God to its logical conclusion. De Sade was a thoroughly reprobate man, who refused to consider his perverse ideas and actions as in any way inferior. Rather, he defended them, characterizing them as moral, and he redefined both God and Christian morality to be truly evil. It is necessary to understand de Sade's thinking in order to understand the primary emphasis of modern thought since the Enlightenment.
De Sade rejected God completely, but in doing so refused to consider himself the offender. Rather, he railed against the Christian religion and its morality and relished his self-appointed role as God's accuser. He rejected even the Enlightenment's neutered co-opting of Christianity's God (to provide a "first cause") as both unwelcome and unnecessary. De Sade's thinking was dismissive of any god as a limiting factor on man, thus freeing himself from all moral constraints. Having summarily dismissed God, de Sade could deny the Fall and deny sin. He saw the world in a more consistently man-centered perspective than others of his time and lived his life accordingly. He denied any need for limitations on man and therefore condemned any as illegitimate. He repudiated the idea of crime, regarding it as an illegitimate imposition on man's freedom. The "criminal" was, to de Sade, the truly free man.
In a purely naturalistic world, de Sade saw everything natural as normative. He was rigorous in calling evil good and good evil. What Christianity termed fallen and depraved, he proclaimed ideal. De Sade eliminated God and thus made man supreme, so man's every imagination or desire was natural and hence permissible. The exception, of course, was Christianity, which he felt should be outlawed. In this, also, de Sade was a forerunner of all those who seek total freedom for everything except Christianity, a policy now well-entrenched in government schools, courts, legislatures, city halls, and statehouses alike.
De Sade was not the source of modern thought: he was its forerunner. He spent much of his time in prison and did not directly influence many of his generation. His lasting impact stems from the clarity of his expression and his consistency. De Sade understood the implications of humanistic thought and dared to go beyond merely developing its implications theoretically: he acted upon them. Modern humanists are just now arriving at the more consistent worldview of de Sade and proactively imprinting it upon our culture. Increasingly, this is not an activity limited to brothels, sleazy magazines, "adult" websites, and movies. It is now even a part of our educational system, our laws, our courts, and the arts.2
Naturalism after de Sade
Pornography cannot be dealt with in isolation from its concomitant worldview, one that seeks not simply to excuse rebellion from God, but to defend it as true freedom. To reject theistic thought is to reject theistic ethics. The Enlightenment thinkers emphasized the supremacy of human reason and saw nature as the source of law, thus allowing themselves the luxury of subjectively picking and choosing what elements of the Christian tradition were reasonable and reflective of the laws of nature. They took the centuries of civilization created by Christianity and glibly assumed its capital could be transferred to the account of the Enlightenment's rationalism.
Charles Darwin, however, destroyed the possibility of nature as a source of law. The Enlightenment had allowed the idea of God as a necessary first cause. Darwin rejected the need for God as the source for time and matter (to which modern evolutionary thought has effectively transferred the attribute of "eternal"). He revived the ancient pagan idea of chaos as regenerative. In seeking a naturalistic mechanism for biological evolution, Darwin enthroned randomness as the operational basis of nature. A nature ruled by chance could not be a source of law.
As evolutionary thought soon found it necessary to stretch Darwin's thousands of years into millions, modern thought lost faith in reason. The new working assumption of evolutionary anthropology was that reason came as a latecomer on the human scene. Darwinism had cast down the two pillars with which modern man had sought to legitimatize his humanism. Both reason and natural law were increasingly regarded as artificial constructs borrowed from theistic thought. Others waited until after Charles Darwin to expel God from His universe, but de Sade had anticipated the drift of Western thought two generations previously. By the latter half of the nineteenth century, Western thought had boomeranged back to de Sade's presuppositions: man comes from chaos and so chaos is legitimate; all is permissible except Christianity. By the end of the twentieth century, such thinking became endemic, extending well beyond intellectual circles.
The theory of biological evolution was a necessary development of humanistic thought. This is why Darwin's The Origin of Species was an immediate success and why the theory remains entrenched, despite the amusing history of its best "proofs" being discredited. The "facts" were again and again proved wrong, but new ones were put in their place with little discussion of the theory's credibility. The theory remained and shall remain because men in rebellion against God, who claim a strictly naturalistic basis for reality, need Darwin's pseudo-scientific rationale for the elimination of God, even as a first cause. Naturalism is their new religion, and what is based on that religious premise is sacrosanct, including pornography and all sexual perversion as "natural." The word itself is used as a justification like the believer might use the word "Godly." Hugh Hefner's "Playboy Philosophy" of the 1960s was essentially a sanitized version of a philosophy that owed its modern revival to de Sade.
Naturalism as "Integration into the Void"
Contrary to its own view that man and culture move forward and upward, evolutionary thought drags man down in its continual attempt to view him and his society in terms of the primitive, even animalistic, urges of its mythological early man. Evolutionary thought, which controls most areas of human action, pulls man downward, or, as Cornelius Van Til described it, toward "integration into the void." Simply put, when men believe they are animals, their ethics and behavior will reflect that religious faith.
The backward and downward look of evolutionary thought has been apparent in various areas since the Enlightenment and Darwin. The myth of the "noble savage" continues to control anthropology. The Romantic Movement idealized the rebel as the true progressive. The ancient pagan idea of chaos as regenerative gave rise to a Western faith in the cathartic nature of revolutions. In our day, environmentalism sees untouched nature as inviolable, often to the point of pantheism. Additionally, modern art sees the chaotic as meaningful and the primitive as pure. Psychoanalysis looks to man's assumed primeval past for its framework. Darwin's purely naturalistic world was ruled by chaos; the natural law and reason of the Enlightenment gave way to the primitivism that evolutionary thought prescribed.
In the naturalistic worldview, man's exercise of freedom justifies the depersonalization and abuse of others. The compulsory disintegration of man's dignity as a creature of God is itself a form of hostility. This degradation of man and society is a road to barbarism, and many films portray such a future for the world. We cannot arrest this trend without acknowledging its root cause in both the Enlightenment view of man and Darwin's subsequent abuse of science as a means of promoting a philosophy of rigorous naturalism.
The pornographic worldview of de Sade justified man's total "freedom of expression." God was denied as the source of order. In the naturalistic worldview, in fact, the supernatural God of Scripture was an illegitimate imposition on man's "natural" freedom. Thus, de Sade took pleasure in corrupting the good, the godly, and the innocent. He reveled in evil precisely because Christianity called it evil.
Welcome to Our World
Pornography is a symptom, a particular manifestation of the humanistic, evolutionary worldview. It is one aspect of a worldview that sees power as coming from below. The pornographic worldview sees the vital aspect of sex as its self-serving exploitation to the point of violence. Violence is closely associated with sex in the modern mind because evolution's primitivism carries with it a sympathetic rationale for all man's baser urges. The joke of the caveman clubbing a woman on the head and pulling her back to the cave carries with it a very real perspective of evolution, that man gets his way because of his strength. Modern man's basic urges are sexual, and even this is justified with a presumed evolutionary "fact," his biological need to perpetuate the species. Sex ostensibly puts the experience of primal power within man's reach. While the Enlightenment criticized Christianity as the opiate of the masses, we're far more justified today in regarding sex as the opiate of modern man. Increasingly taxed and regulated, modern man sees sexual license as his essential freedom.
Based as it is on the naturalistic view of man, the worldview of de Sade and his followers goes beyond "consenting adults." People are used as objects, but exploitation and manipulation prove insufficiently satisfying. If primal urges are normal, then violence is justifiable. Violence is a purer exercise of raw power. Hence, pornography in the twentieth century degenerated from smiling pinups to images of the violent and the vulgar. Sadism itself is more than a sexual urge; it is a fulfillment of humanistic man's spiritual quest to "be as gods" (Gen. 3:5) over others. Even the arrogant justification of these urges is a means of feeling superior to others. Without God, there can be no crime and the pornographer laughs at the suggestion. As he sees it, the truly free man will not only commit crimes, he will defend them as true morality and destroy all order and law that seeks to preclude them. This, of course, includes Christianity.
The modern justification of pornography follows de Sade in its consistent humanism. Once God is denied, His law and ethic must also be denied. De Sade self-consciously knew what he believed and why he believed it. He was neither sick nor insane; he was evil. He saw nature not as a realm of law and reason, but of violence and the rule of raw power. Seeing nature in this way made him reject the supernaturalism of Christianity and its God as "unnatural" impositions. Thus, morality and law were rejected. De Sade's pornographic mind was less about lust than it was about living out his world and life view. The post-Christian West has, with great rapidity, been catching up with de Sade.
Western culture since the Enlightenment has been recreating itself with each generation's image of man. As that humanistic image is clarified, man becomes less and less the caretaker of culture and more its destroyer. Man's image of himself has created a desire for pleasure and gratification. Pornography is one expression of man's desire to live in terms of his every urge. De Sade was a forerunner of such thinking, but not its direct source.
Opposing the Pornographic Worldview
The modern mind resists all attempts to control evil, particularly evils that it piously characterizes as "self-expression." It is ready to oppose all "censorship" as a matter of principle and defend such opposition to standards as a moral stand in itself. This, however, was exactly the position of the Marquis de Sade, who believed that freedom must be total and that whatever the mind of man conceived was good. Pornography today is likewise defended as an exploration of the human consciousness, one which, we must remember, is supposedly rooted in a pre-human mind and experience. Any naturalistic argument against perversity ("It is unnatural") will self-implode, for what is unnatural in a supernatural, Christian, theistic worldview may well be entirely normative in the naturalistic evolutionary worldview of modern humanism. If it is not, the strictures of society can be blamed, and the prodding of our modern arts and entertainment industry, with the help of some liberal judges, may soon make it normal. Once something exists, naturalistic reasoning can defend it. The Christian worldview is based on a supernatural perspective and cannot be defended by naturalistic argument. Truth and ethics must be grounded on God's revealed Word, not on man's perception of what is normative.
Neither can we oppose evil by tradition or community standards, which are no better than what the Apostle Paul called "the commandments and doctrines of men" (Col. 2:22). The Victorian era could not stem the tide of immorality by erecting standards of behavior. It failed to rein in the emerging secular worldview by the subjective, personalized moral code of Pietism. The Victorian faith was not in God but in goodness. It did not seek to submit to the Word of God, but to "be good like Jesus."
We stop immorality not by manners or conventions but by godly morality, which must begin with the regenerate heart of a new creature in Christ. To be moral, man requires the grace of God, by means of which he learns to abandon progressively his sinful tendencies and live more and more unto righteousness. The humanistic worldview, when stripped of its borrowings from Christian ethics, leads downward "into the void" of the pornographic worldview. The former is the progenitor of the latter and can never be successfully used to oppose it. The only alternative is the Biblical worldview.
In contrast to de Sade and modern man's view of power from below, Biblical faith sees power and order from above and looks to God's grace for a part therein. The failure of the churches to present a Biblical morality ultimately allowed the humanistic worldview to thoroughly control social debate. The humanistic worldview of de Sade and Darwin cannot be challenged by a church that denies that Biblical law is the objective and authoritative Word of God, a church that enthrones man's subjective feelings and glibly labels the results as the leading of God's Spirit. The primary leading of God's Spirit is always in greater faithfulness to His revealed Word.
We cannot stop the pornographic worldview merely by opposing it. Neither can we stop pornography by removing it from the internet, newsstands, cable, or satellite networks. The worldview that justifies evil and demands the right to debase and pollute must be opposed by its sole antithesis, the Biblical worldview. The modern faith in man and the ultimacy of his urges must be countered with the claims of God as the Sovereign dispenser of law and grace. Man must approach God in faith and respond to Him in faithful obedience. The theistic worldview created Western civilization. The naturalistic worldview is consistently suicidal and pulls down men and women, marriages, social institutions, and, ultimately, the culture itself. The gospel of Jesus Christ opens up a supernatural worldview that offers meaning, hope, and purpose.3 The choice for both man and his culture is life or death, the Kingdom of God and His Christ or the kingdom of man.
1. This article was adapted by the author from his 2005 foreword to R. J. Rushdoony's Nobel Savages: Exposing the Worldview of Pornographers and Their War Against Christian Civilization (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books) to which the reader is directed for a fuller treatment of the subject.
2. For more on the relevance of de Sade to modern thought, see R. J. Rushdoony's To Be As God: A Study of Modern Thought Since the Marquis de Sade (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2003).
3. An interesting development in the fight against pornography is the Pink Cross Foundation (pinkcross.org) which is a ministry to help women out of sex trades. Not too surprisingly, those who feel trapped in a life of sin are sometimes open to the liberating grace of God.