11 February 2005

Virtual pornography?

"I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes..." (Psalm 101.3).

My daughter attends a Christian university. This semester she is required to read, Love in the Time of Cholera, which, she informs me, contains some explicit sexual narrative.

She objected to reading this novel, because, as a Christian young woman, she wants to keep her thoughts as pure as possible. She and another student tried to gather other students in the class to object, as a class, to being required to read what they could only describe as a pornographic novel. Alas, no one wanted to join their protest. One of the students even accused them of trying to engage in censorship. I suppose that, for this student, obviously a staggering intellect, your right to publish includes the right of having people forced to read you! (I'll try to keep an eye on this brilliant example of the Christian mind at work: he'll be a Supreme Court justice some day. Liberal, of course.) But I digress.

When my daughter and her classmate brought the matter to the professor, the professor's reaction was that the novel was award winning. I cannot recall which award it was, Nobel, Pulitzer, something like that. But it was award-winning; and no matter what the contents, it was going to be read. This professor provides another fine example of the Christian mind at work: award-winning novels trump spiritual discernment and the attempt of right-headed young ladies to keep their thoughts pure.

People who don't know me would probably not guess this, but I am no prude. I drink a little more than my wife would like. I still enjoy a good smoke from time to time, either in the form of cigarettes or a pipe. I also have sex; I am married, after all. I have told my daughter that, after she is married, she too can have sex.

I'm no prude about sex because I find no prudishness in Scripture: "He went into her" is a fairly frank description of the sex act.

However, there is a difference between being frank, and Bibilical, about sex, and being pornographic. The Song of Solomon is a very sensual--and sexual--book. And yet we would be hard pressed to write a script--if one could call it that--for a pornographic film based on the Song of Solomon. So, although I am no prude, there is still something to be said for keeping one's thoughts pure. Still more to be said about it when one is trying to keep one's thoughts pure at a Christian university and finds one's professor and one's classmates working against oneself! (I know it's a Christian university: it says so right in the name.)

But why such a big deal about a novel? It's not as if she were being asked to view pornography, after all. But isn't it? In fact, I think it is a bit worse. It's tantamount to being asked virtually to create pornography.

Think about the difference between reading, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy and watching the movie. In reading it, we use more of our brains than in watching it. That is because, in watching, we are entirely passive: there is no text to decode, nothing to imagine. But when we read, we re-create in our imaginations the world encoded in the text. As an acquaintance of mine has said, "When you read fiction, you are the cinematographer."

Being asked to read the sexually explicit, is being asked to re-create in our minds the action encoded in the text. It is to ask that we make ourselves the cinematographers of a porno flick.

Is that what a Christian university ought to be doing?

In the end, my daughter and her classmate, who continued to press the matter with their professor, succeeded in persuading the professor to allow them to substitute another book for Love in the Time of Cholera. Good for them.

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James Frank SolĂ­s
Former soldier (USA). Graduate-level educated. Married 26 years. Texas ex-patriate. Ruling elder in the Presbyterian Church in America.
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