1.Meeting the Attack on Virtue With A New Chivalry
By Bryce J. Christensen and William C. Duncan
The Deseret News and the Deseret Media Company have recently spotlighted a serious social problem – the widespread use of pornography as a way of, as the title of a recent editorial inTouchstone suggests, “Arousing Ourselves to Death.” 1
There is little doubt that the problem is widespread. Brigham Young University scholar Jason Carroll reports: “With regard to actual usage rates of pornography, 87% of emerging adult men reported using pornography at some level, with approximately one fifth reporting daily or every-other-day use (i.e., 3 to 5 times a week) and nearly half (48.4%) reporting a weekly or more frequent use pattern.” 2 His research indicates that use of the material is correlated with a higher number of lifetime sexual partners in men and with increased acceptance of premarital sexuality, casual sexual experiences, cohabitation and adultery. 3 Interestingly, pornography users shared with non-users “a mutually high regard for eventually getting married and becoming parents.” 4Thus, pornography use does not extinguish a desire for a normal family life, though it does seem to greatly diminish and sometimes destroy any likelihood of achievement of that desire.
Russell D. Moore observes: “With the advent of Internet technology, with its near universal reach and its promise of secrecy, pornography has been weaponized.”
There is little doubt that pornography can have deadly effects. Its use causes the death of marriages and families, and in the wake of these tragedies come a host of others, bringing suffering to the adults involved, and most poignantly, to innocent children. 5 Equally serious is the fact that pornography may kill an individual’s capacity for love. As philosopher Roger Scruton has observed: “This, it seems to me, is the real risk attached to pornography. Those who become addicted to this risk-free form of sex run a risk of another and greater kind. They risk the loss of love, in a world where only love brings happiness.” 6 Thus does a once furtive, and now increasingly blatant, vice fulfill an ancient prophecy: “And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.” 7
Although aided by abuses of the doctrine of free speech, the plague of pornography is not primarily the result of policy decisions. And, while public policies may be able to contain some of its effects, the primary response to the problem is not likely to be legal.
Instead, perhaps the best response would be a new manifestation of an old ideal – chivalry. This medieval concept was based on the recognition that “[a]n excellent person recognizes more things as morally binding than ordinary people might do, but a debased person, it appears, will acknowledge fewer.” 8 It stood for the proposition that while some things may be possible to do, they still ought not be done. It created an aspiration for conduct, which, though often honored in the breach, was still important in shaping a civilized society.
One manifestation of chivalry was the idealized position of women and the belief that honorable men were obligated to protect them and to defend their virtue. Indeed, Edmund Burke invoked this concept when he lamented at the failure of the French to defend their queen condemned to the guillotine: “I thought ten thousand swords must have leaped from their scabbards to avenge even a look that threatened her with insult. But the age of chivalry is gone.” Burke spoke of “that sensibility of principle, that chastity of honour, which felt a stain like a wound … which ennobled whatever it touched.” 9 The obligations of chivalry went beyond the lowest common denominator principle of consent that exhausts sexual ethics for many today. Sir Gawain, in the Middle English romance, is honorable because he exercises self-restraint even when tempted by a willing participant in marital betrayal.
It is not difficult to imagine how a similar commitment to moral excellence, based on a willingness to employ self-discipline in the protection of one’s own virtue and that of the women who are degraded by pornography, would provide a powerful defense to this plague. Indeed, a cadre of young men who accept the unforced obligation to defend virtue would provide a crucial example to those who may have been entangled in this vice but who could use direction and motivation to escape.
It is no accident that organizations that are working to diminish the power of pornography invoke images of light. Pornography is depraved and corrupting; it is a form of darkness. In response to the spreading darkness it brings, a new chivalry would do well to be guided by the words of St. Paul: “The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light.” 10
Co-author Bryce J. Christensen, Ph.D., is associate professor of English at Southern Utah University and adjunct fellow of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He is a contributing editor to The Family in America and author of Divided We Fall: Family Discord and the Fracturing of America (Transaction, 2005). He has also published articles on family issues inSociety, The Public Interest, Policy Review, Modern Age, and other journals.
Co-author William C. Duncan, J.D., is director of the Marriage Law Foundation and is the director of Sutherland Institute’s Center for Family and Society. He formerly served as acting director of the Marriage Law Project at the Catholic University of America’s Columbus School of Law and as executive director of the Marriage and Family Law Research Grant at J. Reuben Clark Law School, Brigham Young University, where he was also a visiting professor.
1. Russell D. Moore, “Arousing Ourselves to Death,” Touchstone, May/June 2011, 3.
2. Jason Carroll et al., “Generation XXX: Pornography Acceptance and Use Among Emerging Adults” 23 Journal of Adolescent Research 6, 16-17 (January 2008).
3. Ibid., 19-21, 27.
4. Ibid., 26.
5. See Bryce J. Christensen and William C. Duncan, “Make Porn the New Big Tobacco,” Sutherland Institute, August 12, 2010, athttp://sutherlandinstitute.org/uploads/Make_Big_Porn_the_New_Big_Tobacco.pdf.
6. “On the Abuse of Sex” Lecture at the Witherspoon Institute, Princeton, N.J., December 2008, at http://socialcostsofpornography.net/videos.php#.
7. Matthew 24:12 (KJV).
8. Scott FitzGibbon, The Formless City of Plato’s Republic, Issues in Legal Scholarship (2005) at http://bepress.com/ils/iss5/art5.
9. Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France (Liberty Fund 1999), pages 169-170.
10. Romans 13:12 (KJV).
2.Sutherland Policy Forum on Nuclear Energy: Water Requirements and Resources
Sutherland Institute will host the second of three nuclear energy policy forums on Tuesday, June 14, at 10:30 a.m. The purpose of the series is to help Utah citizens and policy makers learn more about the public policy dimensions associated with the prospect of nuclear energy in Utah’s future. The June session will address water requirements, resources and impacts of nuclear power generation.
Paul Mero, Sutherland president, will interview three topic specialists during the one-hour forum, which will be streamed live at www.ustream.tv/channel/sutherland-tv.
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