Changing the Equation

    A recent headline in The New York Times wins the prize for stating the obvious: "No Quick Fix to Fighting Pornography on the Internet." The Times was reporting on the findings of a National Research Council study about protecting children from online pornography. The authors, led by Richard Thornburgh, the former U.S. Attorney General, looked at various approaches to the problems of protecting children from exposure to pornographic materials. Proposals for dealing with this problem have included technological fixes, like software that filters out pornographic sites and other methods of blocking Internet access. They have also included legislation, like the Children's Internet Protection Act, which requires the use of filters in public schools and libraries. After examining the options, the report concluded that "no single approach -- technical, legal, economic, or educational -- will be sufficient" to protect kids from being exposed to pornography. Achieving that will require a combination of these elements working together toward that goal. This seems obvious, so much so that the Times called the conclusion "bland." People on both sides of the issue said that they were satisfied by, if nothing else, the way Thornburg and company presented the issues. It's hard to disagree with the need for a multi- faceted approach, and these are all good ideas. But there was something terribly important that the drafters left out of the mix, something that could really deal with the problem. That is changing our culture. The past twenty-five years have seen pornography grow from a $10 million-a-year industry to more than a $14 billion-a-year business -- a number that far exceeds what Americans spend at the movies or buying pre- recorded music. In other words, Americans have developed a taste for pornography -- so much so, that pornography has become, especially among younger Americans, just another form of entertainment. It is this cultural acceptance of smut that, more than technology or law, puts our kids at risk. Until we reverse this cultural trend, the most we can hope for are "bland" conclusions and proposals. How do we reverse it? By re-stigmatizing pornography. Shame and embarrassment must once again be associated with using pornography, as it always was. It was these things, more than law, that deterred its use in the past. How do we re-stigmatize pornography? By loudly asking questions that our neighbors would rather avoid: Is a culture where pornography is just another form of entertainment capable of self-governance? After all, self-governance requires self-control and the capacity for sacrifice. If we love porn more than protecting our kids, what kind of people are we? And we need to be clear about what pornography is and what it is used for. Of course, some people are going to call us "prudes" and even worse -- so be it. This is a time to take our stand. There is precedent for this cultural approach. There are now more ex-smokers than smokers in America. Why? Because smoking became so stigmatized that the "right" to light up no longer mattered. This is what we're after: The kind of change that comes not from quick fixes, but from changing the cultural equation -- the only approach sufficient to solve a problem of this magnitude. For further information: John Schwartz, "No Easy Fixes Are Seen to Curb Sex- Site Access," The New York Times, 3 May 2002. "Internet Pornography: Are Children at Risk?", National Academy of Sciences -- Richard Thornburgh and Herbert S. Lin, eds., "Youth, Pornography, and the Internet," National Research Council, 2002. Frank York and Jan LaRue, Protecting Your Child in an X-Rated World (Tyndale House, 2002). Ted Roberts, Pure Desire: Helping People Break Free From Sexual Struggles (Regal, 1999). David Lowenthal, No Liberty for License (Spence, 1997). Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, The Christian in Today's Culture (Tyndale House, 1999).


Chuck Colson


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