Porn for the Proles

Doing what I do every week, I’ve heard for years that “print is dead.” Book publishers have joined newspaper and magazine publishers in desperate efforts to stay in business. I think that’s one reason we hear a loud drumbeat every time a book or series of books becomes a cultural phenomenon. It’s not clear how much is grassroots enthusiasm and how much of it has been whipped into a fake lather by newsy reports of books flying off the shelves. “The Da Vinci Code” was such a fake phenomenon. This was especially exaggerated after a nearly unwatchable movie hit the theaters. One report suggested that Christians may have to “rethink their faith” after reading Dan Brown’s fiction. It didn’t turn out that way but the hype did sell some books to the gullible. Mission accomplished.

Our current phenomenon is what some have called “mommy porn” beginning with a book series called “Shades of Grey.” The books are currently bestsellers. I’ve been surprised to see people reading them in public. Imagine a man sitting in a waiting room reading Playboy. And you really can’t turn around without a “news” feature on the naughty books. A second-wave story suggested that imitator books, similar porn aimed at women, could be the salvation of the publishing industry. Books of this sort have been around for years but the “Grey” tie-in allows them to re-release, even re-cover, formerly less successful books for women who have recently discovered socially respectable pornography.

Two quick comments come to mind. First, such books are not the salvation of anybody. They may temporarily enrich the providers, but they will ease no one’s loneliness, fulfill no person’s sexual needs, enrich no marriage, and teach nothing useful about the human experience. The story truly reminds me of a section of George Orwell’s “1984.” Orwell wrote in the early 20th century and foresaw a “workers’ paradise” where the privileged treated the “Proles” (proletariats) as near slaves. They debased them by providing violent sporting events, astrology, sexy movies, sentimental songs, and pornography. The uneducated Proles were perfectly free so long as they did not break out of their intellectual or spiritual prison—as long as they did the dirty work. The upper classes were not allowed these vices, by the way. The health of the society was too important. As an aside, when was the last time you saw a seedy bar or strip club in the same neighborhood with a city council member who voted to allow zoning for such a business?

Second, the presence of mainstream porn is no shock but the shameless admission that the same industry that wraps itself in Mark Twain and Charles Dickens during “Banned Books Month” every year will gladly sell more shelf space (and their souls) to the basest of purposes is a bit hypocritical. It’s like a struggling drug store company thinking they can save the business by selling meth out of a brightly lit kiosk. If it were legal some would do it.

Clucking our tongues or even boycotts are not sufficient responses to the ubiquitous nature of porn in our society. We must do courageous things. I’m suggesting we actually disapprove of what pop culture is doing to our families and churches. We must disapprove in the sense of acknowledging the swath this stuff is cutting through our churches. Our pastors, our church staff members, our deacons, our Sunday School teachers, all are buffeted by real temptations to live as Proles. Some fall.
In your church and mine, some fall. Until this fact affects the trajectory of our preaching and the conduct of our ministries, we’ll be befuddled and ineffective, surprised to find poison we decry in our communities running through the veins of our churches. No boycott could ever address that problem.

Correspondent
Gary Ledbetter
Southern Baptist Texan
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