- lurid or sensational material; often used in combination.
- a description of or treatise on prostitutes or prostitution; hence, obscene writing
- licentious painting or literature; especially, the painting anciently employed to decorate the walls of rooms devoted to bacchanalian orgies.
- the depiction of acts in a sensational manner so as to arouse a quick intense emotional reaction
- sexually explicit writing, images, video, or other material whose primary purpose is to cause sexual arousal
I have been reluctant to address this issue because it is so distasteful, but given that it has now become the ‘coin of the realm’, so to speak (meaning that it is not just available, but part of the normative content of our culture), I think it has become imperative to speak in order that we might share a common definition, reject all that tears down rather than builds up, and pursue the ideal that God established.
Here’s a bit of the history that led me to this commentary. Of all things, my 72-year-old mother sent me an article by Dr. Michael Brown addressing a hit song/video by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion. Now I’m aware that Cardi B exists, but have ignored her as eminently distasteful. I’ve never heard of the other lady.
So I googled up the lyrics to see what all the fuss was about. I do not recommend this, and would caution anyone reading that these lyrics will provoke an emotional reaction similar to what Phinehas must have felt before he drove the spear through the couple cavorting in front of the Tabernacle (Numbers 25:1-9).
Incensed, depressed, and seeking to galvanize the faithful, I posted on my FB page:
“Let us be honest, forthright, and clear. There ought to be no fuzziness here. The hit song WAP by Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion is pornography.
The lyrics are pornographic; the video is pornographic. That this is not just tolerated in our society but trumpeted and celebrated, is simultaneously a terrible indictment of our culture’s present disease, and will be an inestimably destructive force on the mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being of our culture: men and women.”
And here’s where the real turn happens…
A dear friend of mine, a former roommate from Bible School, commented, “…It was definitely erotic with a lot of imagery. Can’t say it reaches the level of pornography….”
Yesterday I was depressed; now I am roused to battle.
So let’s talk pornography… what is it, how ought we to define it, and what is its opposite?
This song (WAP) is pornography by very definition. The first use of the word in English that we know of is traced to 1842, but it comes to us from the Ancient Greek, πορνογράφος (pornographos), where it referred to writings about prostitution. It’s a compound word comprised of πόρνη (pornē), “prostitute” and γράφω (graphō), “I write.”
This song begins, “There’s some whores in this house,” repeated four times. This is literally writing about prostitutes.
If we turn to the Scriptures we find that πορνεία (porneia) referred first to prostitution: sex for sale, but quickly came to refer to any illicit sexuality: that is, sex used for purposes or in a manner twisted from God’s intent, marital intimacy and procreation. So, sex used as an exchange, used to procure desired ends, used to covenant with anyone other than a spouse, or in the service of a deity, was all abhorrent: pornographic. The song describes exclusively pornographic exercise of sexuality for anti-biblical, ungodly purposes, and in lurid, sensational, exchange-oriented, control-focused manner. (pornography: lurid or sensational material, often used in combination. The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, 5th Edition.)
The next evolution of the word, was in the Roman period where it came to describe “licentious painting or literature; especially, the painting anciently employed to decorate the walls of room devoted to bacchanalian orgies.” (Collaborative International Dictionary of English). Think, the walls of Pompeii, which I cannot even use here in exemplary manner. Here we find the genesis of pornography being associated with images.
Each of the three women highlighted in this video (Cardi B, Megan Thee Stallion, and Kylie Jenner) are dressed like prostitutes, and engaged in lurid, sensational, enticing, and obscene (“abhorrent to morality or virtue; specifically, designed to incite to lust or depravity) behavior. The fact that the visual aspect of this song/video doesn’t rise to the extremes of what we now commonly call pornography reveals the depths to which our society has descended, not an inaccuracy of definition. And that is precisely part of what moves me so profoundly to something bordering on despair. As a father, I am filled with slow burning, deep running rage at the devastating harm this pornographic putrescence wreaks upon our children.
We ought now to speak of the “pornographic” nature of non-sexual things. Violence is the other porn of our culture. Here’s the thing: porn is the lurid display of natural but unrestrained passions. We’re all familiar with the term “blood-lust,” but have you considered that in the devolution of mores, culture, of humanity, the perversion of sex comes first and is followed by an even deeper twisting where violence becomes entertainment. Christians, myself included, we have been taken unawares: caught by a more profound perversion while protesting the one that was first waved in our faces.
Revenge-story? Not for Christians. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith the Lord.” John Wick-fan? That’s pornography. Here’s a thought: in ancient Israel, when coming back from war the men had to remain outside the village in order that they not bring the impurity of violence and bloodshed into the home environment. What do we do? We pay for it to be streamed into our living room. Christians ought to abhor the pornographic display of any passion used in a restraint-exceeding manner.
That sounds so tame, so antiseptic, so non-threatening, but our reaction ought to be like that of St. James, “And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell” (James 3:1-12).
And if the tongue, how much more so the hand raised in violent intent or the genitals lifted in ungodly pursuit of wicked design? If the tongue is a forest fire, the raging hand is a conflagration, and the rebellious genitalia an inferno.
2 thoughts on “Defining Pornography”
Wow. Eye opening to be sure. That last paragraph…written with the pen ablaze; or I suppose a smoking keyboard! Thank you for this post brother.
I’m thankful you appreciated it, Joshua.