It appears that pornography is rapidly ascending to the top of the list of problems within the Church. I fully expect them to add it to the list of questions for obtaining a temple recommend, followed by countless hours in Sunday School and on the blogs discussing what exactly “pornography” really is.
Not one to back out of an unpetitioned discussion, the following are my thoughts on the topic.
First of all, it’s impossible to have this discussion without Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not commit adultery. But I say unto you, That whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” Lust is the key ingredient here. Let’s be clear, lust is not an action, it’s a feeling. Yes, it leads to action, but Christ is specifying the feeling as the sin (and presumably the action if it follows). That’s a pretty good litmus test I’d say. If you feel lust inside of you, it’s a sin. If you don’t, it’s not.
I offer three distinctions: Pornography: nudity with the intent to arouse (Playboy, porn sites, porn movies, etc.). Nudity: lack-of-clothing with the intent to display beauty, non-beauty, or nature (Manet, Rodin, fine art photography, etc.). Lack-of-clothing: no clothing with no intent except utilitarian purposes (breast feeding, showering, sex, etc.). My belief is that the first is never beneficial. The second sometimes can be beneficial, other times detrimental and many times neither. The last is almost always beneficial and rarely detrimental, but usually not for reasons of lust. (I know these are generalities and that there are many gray areas such as porn with clothing, or nakedness for sex is to arouse, etc., but stick with me.)
There are justifications and condemnations of all three by members of the Church. I am in both camps.
I’m an artist by birth, a designer by trade. Nudity is as much a part of art and it’s history as being offended is to a Mormon. You CAN’T study art/design without encountering it in one/any of it’s forms. Figure drawing in basic art classes (not at BYU of course, but EVERYWHERE else in the world). There isn’t a chapter in art history without images of nudity. I am constantly reviewing photographer’s portfolios that contain nudes. Almost every design annual contains at least a few images of nudity. Being in a creative field (fine art, design, photography, theater, film, even literature) one will always have contact with these things.
I am reminded of a certain controversy at BYU a few years ago in which the school had originally scheduled to have an exhibit of Rodin sculptures. It turned out to be quite a heated debate of art vs. porn. Naturally, I fell on the side of art. Sadly, BYU caved to the lustful students (that didn’t have to go see the exhibition if they didn’t want).
One justification for viewing nudity is that, “I’m married, it’s nothing I haven’t seen before.” I initially giggle at the silliness of that statement because it’s exactly something I haven’t seen before, being not my wife. I wonder if that is why so many married men in the Church are addicted to seeing these things they haven’t seen before.
In Europe, the attitude toward nudity is a little more lax than it is here. Topless beaches are the norm and ads with breasts are not uncommon. In my first sacrament meeting in Guatemala (on my mission) I saw more boobs than I ever had before (open breastfeeding), and it continued for two years. I think an interesting way to see it: The United States = Pornography, Europe = Nudity, Guatemala = Lack-of-clothing.
Lust is almost always the result of porn. Lust is often the result of nudity. Lust is rarely the result of lack-of-clothes. Viewer’s lust may transcend all three categories. Nothing beneficial can be gained from porn. Much inspiration and joy can be gained from nudity (think Michaelangelo, Rodin). Naturally almost everything that results from lack-of-clothes is beneficial.
We need to be honest with ourselves regarding nudity. What is the intent of the creator? When do our feeling truly cross the line from admiration to lust? From utilitarian to lust? Am I justified in condemning one person for watching a movie with nakedness in it because I personally have issues with that? Can we truly condemn Europeans as sinners because they have breasts on commercials that would arouse us? Should I ask the photographers to remove their pictures of naked women before they send me their portfolios?
The problem is what we do when we begin to lust. So if you feel lust inside of you when you see a Rodin sculpture, by all means, don’t view it. But please don’t assume everyone has the same feelings.