(Disclaimer: You may draw the following analogy out to other real-life moral challenges. Okay, I warned you.)
It’s only a matter of time and money until child porn is perfectly and realistically computer-generated. There will be some who will hail it as a win for free speech since no child is harmed in its production…and others will mourn it as a sign of a moral collapse.
In the end I think it all depends on who your god is.
Culturally it’s still fairly easy to say that child pornography is immoral. Most find it repugnant. But in the coming years American society will struggle with it for several reasons:
First, we have a love affair with our constitution, particularly freedom of speech. I mean, who really wants the government to define who can say what? I don’t. You don’t. The dilemma is it’s becoming easier to defend constitutional rights and more difficult to define morality. Whose morality? The majority? God’s?—or at least your interpretation of God’s moral laws? In a pluralistic society this gets more complicated. And though some will cry, “You can’t legislate morality”, you’re kidding, right? Don’t we do that everyday with laws that punish anyone who steals or drives thirty-five in a school zone? We believe laws deter bad behavior...or at the very least punishes it.
Second, we have some strong cultural assumptions. For example: what a person does privately—as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else—is nobody’s business, and certainly for those who feel government is infringing more and more in our “personal affairs”. Conservatives and libertarians have a conundrum when they want less government, more constitutionally-driven power, and yet have specific moral imperatives legislated. The constitution is pretty amoral…and if you think power should be decentralized (a la states rights), it’s still an argument of degree: for instance, California is a big state. Someone will still have the power. And if all politics is local, gee, L.A. is pretty humongous…and even Anaheim is no small potatoes. You can get off the grid and make your own tofu, but if there’s more that a few of you on that ponderosa in Montana, some governance structure will develop. It wasn’t pretty in Lord of the Flies.
Third, here comes the issue: what if child porn is created via someone’s graphic card? Years ago the Supreme Court determined, in effect, that child pornography wasn’t criminalized if it was virtual, that is, if no actual children were involved. Apparently, zeroes-and-ones are okay. It should be no surprise that the only moral imperative we seem to have is: “as-long-as-it-doesn’t-hurt-anybody”. Somehow we keep forgetting Somebody in that “anybody”. Uh, like God.
Two years ago, the Court upheld a federal statute criminalizing soliciting or pandering child pornography. But since it had already ruled that virtual child pornography was protected by the constitution, what became illegal two years ago was if the panderer was fraudulently passing off the virtual pornography as real. So underage Sims getting it on is illegal to post if you’re trying to pass it off as real human children. Gee, you think that’ll be a problem as CGI gets more realistic?
Two of the justices dissented. David Souter and Ruth Bader Ginsburg felt their concerns were still not addressed. They didn’t object to making it a crime to mislead others by offering material that actually didn’t exist; that’s merely fraud. We all know that is wrong. But Souter reminded the Court that possession of pornographic images that do not depict real children is constitutionally protected, and offering them should not be a crime. He said, “If the act can effectively eliminate the real-child requirement when a proposal relates to extant material, a class of protected speech will disappear.”
Sheesh. I’ll leave that to the lawyers to parse.
But I know where I have to wrestle with this stuff. In some ways, it’s not just a moral issue for me; it’s a matter of obedience. My God sent His Son to die for me. That’s the bottom line. I was a moral mess, a lonely self-absorbed screwed-up young guy who God found facedown in a “no-one’s-going-to-tell-me-how-to-live” gutter. A myopic mix of bravado and fears. A hot mess of nurture and nature-gone-wild. As the blind man in John 9 remarked while interrogated and harassed by religious leaders, “One thing I do know: I was blind but now I see!” Or at least in the words of Forrest, “I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.”
My love for God has to be greater than my love for my personal view of life. And oddly, it has to be greater than my love for man. We have to be cautious of turning love into god. God is love…and not the other way around. Anthropomorphizing God into an old man with a long beard is just as silly as nebulously viewing Him as some amorphous force floating around.
But mysteriously, the more I love God, the more deeply I love people. It’s funny: when I think conversely of Jesus’s statement in Luke 7:47, it would read, “He who has been forgiven much, loves much.” The more in touch I am with the extent of my Father’s love for me and the expanse of His forgiveness of me, the more I can legitimately love others. Take away His grace, and I’m left adrift to define love in silly ways.
And so regardless of where the laws waft, I know the God I serve. And I don’t argue anymore with what He describes in His book as to what offends Him, what breaks His heart. If it breaks His, I want it to break mine…regardless if it doesn’t seem to hurt others.
There are numbers of different things that our culture says shouldn’t bother me as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else and done in the privacy of a bedroom. Of course that’s true from a culture-current legal perspective; I wouldn’t want someone telling me what I should or shouldn’t do if I believed it was morally permissible for me. But now I know I have to internalize it and weigh it all with what wounds the heart of God. As I’ve said before, imagine defacing a gorgeous, centuries-old work of art because you didn’t like the way the artist painted the picture, repainting with your own flourishes, how you think it should look, and ignoring the artist’s original design. Try to imagine how the artist would feel.
Before we champion particular behaviors, it might be wise to consider what the Master Artist has to say about those who were painted in His image. I believe we need to think a little more deeply than pub theology.
And much of this will be determined by whose god is your god.