Zac Alstin

The bald truth about p*rn

Zac Alstin
By Zac Alstin

July 4, 2012 ( - You’re going to think me very immature, but when I first saw the headline: “Alain de Botton to make highbrow porn” I cursed the editor responsible for such an intentionally ambiguous phrase. The part of my brain that makes sense out of words leapt to the conclusion that Alain de Botton was embarking on a career in pornography devoted to the niche audience of people who have, or are attracted to, high brows. Meanwhile the part of my brain that turns ideas into visual imagination quietly and decisively shut itself down.

De Botton, a best-selling Swiss-British essayist and pop philosopher, does have a very high brow. The prominence of the brow, with its implications of prefrontal cortical brilliance, enjoys a healthy philosophical provenance, as illustrated in this famous portrait of Immanuel Kant. The brow is high, for ‘tis where the extra brains are kept. Kant’s eyes are narrowed, no doubt in grim determination as he bears the great burden of being so much smarter than everyone else.

I’m no phrenologist, but it’s pretty clear from the shape of his head that de Botton is not aiming to lord his intellect over anyone less fortunate. It is even more clear from his work that de Botton enjoys taking neglected, unexamined, unexpected and diverse realms of life, and melding them together for the benefit of all. From his Consolations of Philosophy – making philosophy relevant to the lives of ordinary people—to his ambitious plans for a temple of atheism – making religious practice accessible to the irreligious—Alain de Botton wants his ideas to enrich your life.

So it should come as no real surprise that de Botton sees in the global saturation of pornography an opportunity to once again enrich human life.

“Ideally, porn would excite our lust in contexts which also presented other, elevated sides of human nature – in which people were being witty, for instance, or showing kindness, or working hard or being clever – so that our sexual excitement could bleed into, and enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life.”

De Botton desires:

“a pornography in which sexual desire would be invited to support, rather than permitted to undermine, our higher values.”

Any idiot will tell you that sex sells, but it takes a philosopher to suggest that sex might somehow sophisticate. Yet it’s the idiot who proves the point. Sex in advertising is a “lowest common denominator” strategy. It appeals to the masses, “gets them by the short and curlies”, so to speak. Pornography is the acme of the “sex sells” principle: it’s sex selling the selling power of sex. Can “sex selling itself” truly have a sideline in the “higher values” de Botton describes?

In “God is dead: can I have his stuff” I suggested that de Botton’s penchant for atypical ideas might stem from his being an atypical person – the kind of man who sees no contradiction in a convicted atheist eager to plunder the world’s religions in search of useful, interesting, and uplifting practices. I argued that de Botton’s religious atheism was feasible, but would prove unpopular beyond the narrow market of atheist philosophers with an interest in religion.

His plan to make “Better Porn” suggests a similar disconnect between de Botton’s intellect and the reality of human nature. It may seem obvious to him that sexual desire in the context of pornography could be made to “enhance our respect for these other elements of a good life”, and indeed there is something laudable in his hope that “No longer would sexuality have to be lumped together with stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploitation”.

Yet anyone with a grasp of traditional philosophy will have seen the problem already. It is the kind of problem that tends to elude modern philosophers, those who suffer in bondage to the demands of original thought, while scorning the solutions of the past. The problem is that de Botton does not appear to distinguish between sexual desire or sexuality in general, and the phenomenon of inordinate sexual desire, commonly referred to as “lust”.

The world’s religions and traditional philosophies have typically been very wary of sexual desire, in the same way that people everywhere are very wary of fire. Fire is good, fire is essential; but fire is also extremely dangerous if allowed to grow out of control. In this realm the wealth of our collective human experience is more valuable than the thoughts of an atypical philosopher, however interesting they may be. From the perspective of our collective wisdom, de Botton’s plan to use pornography in support of higher values is like wanting to teach alcoholics the refined enjoyment of cooking with brandy, or to send them on wine appreciation courses. We have learned from past generations that the inordinate consumption of alcohol ruins people physically, morally, socially, and financially. And though the present age prefers to live in ignorance, past generations have similar insights into the nature of inordinate sexual desire.

Lust tends downward. It is an indulgence and cultivation of the sexual appetite that goes beyond what is healthy for the human being in physical and moral terms, where “healthy” is defined as whole or sound, and can be understood by reference to the logic of human nature. Human beings have an appetite for food which is logically ordered toward our objective need for sustenance. Eat or die. Eating is (all things being equal) an achievement accompanied by pleasure. Eating, when it brings nourishment, draws us nearer to wholeness or health; pleasure, when associated with this greater wholeness, is an appropriate, ordered response.

What could be more ordered than to feel pleasure at the things that are good for you?

But for various reasons, human beings are liable to distort their good and ordered desires beyond the limits of reason, where pleasure becomes an end in itself. Instead of eating to become whole, and finding pleasure in wholeness, gluttony – the inordinate desire for food – has us eating for the sake of pleasure, and harming our wholeness, our health, in the process.

Lust is to sex as gluttony is to food. Our ordered sexual desire is quite literally our desire for the other sex. “Sex” being a derivation from the Latin word “secare” meaning to “divide or cut”, in reference to the division of humanity into male and female. Human beings desire the union of the sexes, and, as a further step toward wholeness, find that this union is pleasurable. But lust turns the desire for sexual union in upon itself and makes pleasure the object instead. In this context, pornography becomes a tool for pursuing sexual pleasure (the pleasure properly associated with sexual union) outside of its ordered role.

In the case of gluttony it is easy to see that we were never meant to make an idol of the pleasure found in eating. The effects of lust are not as physically obvious, but the psychology is parallel: to act for the sake of pleasure itself is to forsake the ordered relationship between desire and wholeness. Such is the experience of the addict, who finds that pleasure, when sought for its own sake, becomes increasingly difficult to obtain. Worse still, the nature of our desire is shaped and altered by the pursuit of pleasure: when eating we no longer desire nourishment or food, but the more elusive quality of the pleasure that attends eating. Likewise, lust is no longer the true desire for sexual union, but the desire for the pleasure that ought to attend sexual union.

Pleasure, though attractive, is not actually good for us. Pleasure alone cannot bring us increased health or wholeness, because pleasure comes from within us – it is our reaction to external stimuli. A person who seeks pleasure through gluttony, lust, greed, or other disordered desire, is in fact seeking self-stimulation – hence the claim that pornography is solipsist, in that it isolates the viewer in an illusion of sexual intimacy. 

Most of us choose to eat food that is pleasant. We allow our appetite to guide us in our eating habits, bearing in mind that “hunger is the best sauce”. Yet we are also aware that the purpose of eating is nourishment or sustenance, and so we make an effort to ensure that the range of food, its preparation, quantity, salt, sugar and fat content are compatible with our physical health. But when we begin to alter our food purely for the sake of pleasure, we necessarily deviate from the healthy ideal, instead putting pleasure ahead of health. I may add more salt than is good for me, because it enhances the flavour just so. I may add oil and butter, when the dish doesn’t really need it. I might have two helpings of dessert, when one is ample. Food becomes a means of self-stimulation rather than a source of nourishment.

The consumption of pornography in its many and varied forms likewise serves self-stimulation over the genuine good of sexual union. Pornography is an artifice created and consumed for the sake of the pleasure it enables.

It is admittedly hard for us as moderns to recognise the distinction between ordered sexual desire and lust. Our culture does not encourage such a distinction. By contrast, despite the Western world’s growing obesity problem, our culture does contain very strict and precise notions of the line between ordered and inordinate appetites for food.

De Botton makes the same modern mistake: he fails to distinguish between ordered and inordinate sexual desire. He therefore views the entire pornography phenomenon as a very straightforward dynamic of people acting on their sexual desires, his only lament being that pornography is insufficiently supportive of “higher values”. A Guardian columnist noted that:

“It takes a man in possession of a particularly elastic brain to make the leap from thinking ‘the world is awash with porn’ to suggesting that the solution is to create ‘better porn’ or, to put it less qualitatively, more porn.”

But it is not yet apparent that de Botton sees any problem in the consumption of pornography other than its seemingly accidental tendency to gravitate toward expressions of “stupidity, brutishness, earnestness and exploitation.”

If our traditional wisdom is correct, then the correlation between lust and the vices de Botton laments is no accident. The self-stimulating pursuit of pleasure does, after all, carry certain implications for our broader tastes and conduct. The desire for pleasure creates its own narrow world of stimulus-response from which everything else – the “higher values” included – is gradually excluded. Despite de Botton’s best efforts, I predict his attempt to create a witty, hard working, clever, kind, form of pornography is doomed to failure. Whether it ends up being “highly contrived” “smug and self-congratulatory”, “a turn off” as one columnist suggested, or something “that parents would feel comfortable with their sons or daughters accessing at a certain age without particular shame”; or if it merely amounts to “movies featuring semi-clothed nymphs being kind to Swiss philosophers” as the Guardian predicts, no amount of higher value can transmute the flawed economy of the insatiable, self-stimulating pursuit of pleasure. 

Zac Alstin works at the Southern Cross Bioethics Institute in Adelaide, South Australia. This article reprinted under a Creative Commons license from

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Cardinal George Pell Patrick Craine / LifeSiteNews
Andrew Guernsey

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Cardinal Pell bets against the odds: insists Pope Francis will strongly reaffirm Catholic tradition

Andrew Guernsey
By Andrew Guernsey


ROME, November 25, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) -- Contradicting the statements of some of the pope’s closest advisors, the Vatican’s financial chief Cardinal George Pell has declared that Pope Francis will re-assert and “clarify” longstanding Church teaching and discipline that prohibits Communion for the divorced and civilly remarried in public adultery without sacramental confession and amendment of life.

In a homily on Monday, Pell stressed the importance of fidelity to the pope, especially today as “we continue to look also to the successor of St. Peter as that guarantee of unity in doctrine and practice.”

Pell was offering Mass at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome on the feast of Pope St. Clement I, notable in history for being one of the first popes to exert Roman papal primacy to correct the errors in the doctrine and abuses in discipline which other bishops were allowing.

Turning to address the issues at the Synod on the Family, Pell rebuked those who “wanted to say of the recent Synod, that the Church is confused and confusing in her teaching on the question of marriage,” and he insisted that the Church will always remain faithful to “Jesus’ own teaching about adultery and divorce” and “St. Paul’s teaching on the proper dispositions to receive communion.” Pell argues that the possibility of Communion for those in adultery is “not even mentioned in the Synod document.”

Pell asserted that Pope Francis is preparing “to clarify for the faithful what it means to follow the Lord…in His Church in our World.” He said, “We now await the Holy Father’s apostolic exhortation, which will express again the Church’s essential tradition and emphasize that the appeal to discernment and the internal forum can only be used to understand better God’s will as taught in the scriptures and by the magisterium and can never be used to disregard, distort or refute established Church teaching.”

STORY: Vatican Chief of Sacraments: No pope can change divine law on Communion

The final document of the synod talks about the “internal forum” in paragraphs 84-86, refers to private discussions between a parish priest and a member of the faithful, to educate and form their consciences and to determine the “possibility of fuller participation in the life of the Church,” based on their individual circumstances and Church teaching. The selective quoting of John Paul II’s Familiaris Consortio that omitted his statement ruling out the possibility of Communion for those in public adultery has given liberals hope that this “fuller participation” could include reception of Communion.

Pell’s prediction that the pope will side with the orthodox side of this controversy lends two explanations. On one reading, Pell is uncertain what the pope will do in his post-synodal exhortation, but he is using such firm language as a way of warning the pope that he must clearly uphold Church teaching and practice, or else he would risk falling into heresy at worst or grave negligence at best in upholding the unity of the Church.

On another reading, Pell may have inside information, even perhaps from the pope himself, that he will uphold Church teaching and practice on Communion for those in public adultery, that the pope’s regular confidants apparently do not have.

This hypothesis, however, is problematic in that just last week, Pope Francis suggested that Lutherans may “go forward” to receive Holy Communion, contrary to canon law, if they come to a decision on their own, which suggests agreement with the reformers’ line of argument about “conscience.” And earlier last month, the pope granted an interview to his friend Eugenio Scalfari, who quoted the pope as promising to allow those in adultery back to Communion without amendment of life, even though the Vatican refused to confirm the authenticity of the quote since Scalfari does not use notes.

If Pell actually knew for certain what the pope would do, it would also seem to put Pell’s knowledge above that of Cardinal Robert Sarah, who in what could be a warning to Pope Francis, declared last week in no uncertain terms that “Not even a pope can dispense from such a divine law” as the prohibition of public adulterers from Holy Communion.

STORY: Papal confidant signals Pope Francis will allow Communion for the ‘remarried’

Several members of the pope’s inner circle have said publicly that the controversial paragraphs 84-86 of the Synod final document have opened the door for the Holy Father to allow Communion in these cases if he so decides. Fr. Antonio Spadaro, SJ, a close friend of Pope Francis and the editor of La Civita Catholica, a prominent Jesuit journal in Rome reviewed by the Vatican Secretariat of State, wrote this week that the internal forum solution for the divorced in adultery is a viable one:

The Ordinary Synod has thus laid the bases for access to the sacraments [for the divorced and civilly remarried], opening a door that had remained closed in the preceding Synod. It was not even possible, one year ago, to find a clear majority with reference to the debate on this topic, but that is what happened in 2015. We are therefore entitled to speak of a new step.

Spadaro’s predictions and interpretation of the Synod are consistent with the public statements of liberal prelates, some of whom are close confidantes to Pope Francis, including Cardinal Schönborn, Cardinal Wuerl, Cardinal Kasper, Cardinal Nichols, and the head of the Jesuit order, Fr. Nicolás. Fr. Nicolás, in particular, first confirmed that there would be an apostolic exhortation of the pope, and said of Communion for those in public adultery:

The Pope’s recommendation is not to make theories, such as not lumping the divorced and remarried together, because priests have to make a judgment on a case by case and see the situation, the circumstances, what happens, and depending on this decision one thing or the other. There are no general theories which translate into an iron discipline required at all. The fruit of discernment means that you study each case and try to find merciful ways out.

Although in the best analysis, Pell’s prediction about what Pope Francis may do in his post-synodal apostolic exhortation remains just that-- a prediction—he is drawing a line in the sand that if the pope chooses to cross, would bring the barque of Peter into uncharted waters, where the danger of shipwreck is a very real threat.


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Cheryl Sullenger

Columbia Planned Parenthood halts abortions: poised to lose abortion license

Cheryl Sullenger
By Cheryl Sullenger

Columbia, MO, November 25, 2015 (OperationRescue) — It’s the kind of news the Abortion Cartel cringes over. The Planned Parenthood abortion facility in Columbia, Missouri, has once again halted abortions and will lose their license to do them because their abortionist, Colleen McNicholas, cannot qualify for legitimate hospital privileges, as required by law.

McNicholas started prescribing abortion pills in Columbia after a shady deal was struck with Missouri University to provide her with bogus “refer and follow” privileges that were then used by Planned Parenthood to surreptitiously convince the Health Department to issue the facility a license to do abortions.

Once the scheme was uncovered by a state interim legislative committee, with the help of local activists, the University revoked McNicholas’ agreement that only allowed her to suggest that women seek treatment at University Hospital. The agreement also allowed her to receive information about the medical condition of women she referred there.

The last day for abortions at the Planned Parenthood in Columbia was Monday, November 23. McNicholas’ dubious “privileges” expire on December 1.

“We give all the honor and glory and victory to God,” said Kathy Forck, who heads up 40 Days for Life campaigns in Columbia. “This is God’s victory.”

This leaves Columbia once again abortion free, and the state of Missouri with one remaining abortion facility, a high-volume Planned Parenthood mill in St. Louis – where McNicholas also works as an abortionist — that has caused perhaps the highest known number of medical emergencies resulting in hospitalization of any abortion facility in the U.S.

However, Missouri is accustomed to having just one abortion clinic. The Columbia Planned Parenthood has had chronic difficulty keeping an abortionist on staff. It was forced to end abortions in September, 2011, after its abortionist left town. It later resumed abortions only to stop them once again after another abortionist quit.

Next year, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of a Texas abortion law that contains similar hospital privilege requirements. That case, Whole Women’s Health v. Cole, is a critically important one, according to Troy Newman, President of Operation Rescue, whose work exposing abortion abuses in Texas and across the nation led to the passage of hospital privilege requirements in over a dozen states.

“We have seen too many suffering women dumped by abortionists on hospitals, whose staff then must take the time to piece together what happened to women as their lives ebb away. In fact, some have died, and that is why the local hospital privilege requirement is so critical,” said Newman. “The U.S. Supreme Court will now decide whether the profits of abortionist who are unqualified for hospital privileges will trump the lives and health of women. There is a lot riding on this case, not just for Columbia, but for communities across America.”

But despite the difficulties in finding anyone that can legitimately qualify for hospital privileges, Planned Parenthood isn’t giving up easily.

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Since campus unrest forced the resignation of top leadership at Missouri University, Planned Parenthood sees an opportunity to reverse their fortunes. Laura McQuade, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, which operates the Columbia center, has vowed to pressure interim Chancellor Hank Foley to restore privileges to McNicholas.

In fact, the Planned Parenthood organization that McQuade now leads is the same one that faced 107 criminal charges in Kansas for illegal late-term abortions and manufacturing evidence to cover up for their crimes. That case was dropped after an unknown corrupt official in the Kansas Attorney General’s office illegally shredded the evidence against them during the administration of former Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, who later served the Obama Administration as Secretary of Health and Human Services.

“I wouldn’t trust this double-dealing Planned Parenthood for anything. They’re on a first-name basis with the bottom of the deck,” said Newman.

So in the tank for Planned Parenthood is Sebelius that she is scheduled as keynote speaker at a conference Planned Parenthood is holding in Kansas City, Missouri on December 14, 2015. (Details here.)

“This isn’t over. There is no doubt that Planned Parenthood and their cronies will bring powerful political coercion to bear on Missouri University to once again partner with them in the abortion business,” said Newman. “We cannot allow the University to once again participate in the shedding of innocent blood by capitulating to Planned Parenthood’s back-room bullying.”

Take Action:

Operation Rescue encourages the public to continue to contact Interim Chancellor Hank Foley and ask him to stand strong on keeping Missouri University out of the abortion business.

E-Mail: [email protected]

Reprinted with permission from Operation Rescue

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Paul Stark

A pro-life conversation guide for the holidays

Paul Stark
By Paul Stark

November 25, 2015 (NationalRighttoLifeNews) -- The holiday dinner table offers a natural forum for congenial (hopefully!) conversation about current events and issues. Defenders of unborn human life should be prepared to take advantage of opportunities when they arise. Here are some suggestions to help you effectively discuss abortion with family members and friends who may not share the pro-life view.

(1) Know how to clarify the issue

When faced with an argument or reason for abortion, ask yourself whether it works to justify killing obvious examples of rights-bearing human beings, such as newborn babies, toddlers, teenagers and adults. If not, it assumes that the being killed by abortion, the unborn (i.e., the human embryo or “fetus”), is not an intrinsically valuable human being, like toddlers and teenagers—that is, it simply assumes the very conclusion it must defend.

For example, a woman should not have a “right to choose” to drown her toddler in the bathtub. The question at hand is whether the unborn, like a toddler, deserves full moral respect and ought not be killed for the convenience or benefit of others. If so, killing the unborn by abortion, like killing a toddler for the same reasons, is a serious moral wrong.

(2) Know how to articulate the pro-life argument

The pro-life position is that elective abortion unjustly takes the life of an innocent human being. This position is supported by modern science (showing that what abortion kills is a human being, a member of our species) together with a foundational moral principle (the equal fundamental dignity and right to life of every member of the human family).

The science of embryology tells us that the unborn from conception is a distinct, living and whole human organism—a member of the species Homo sapiens, the same kind of being as each of us, only at a much earlier stage of development. This fact is uniformly affirmed by embryology textbooks and leading experts.

Morally, no relevant difference exists between human beings before and after birth. Unborn humans differ from older humans, such as newborns, in their size, level of development, environment and degree of dependency—remember the helpful acronym SLED—but none of those differences are significant in a way that would justify killing the former. For example, a five-year-old child lacks the physical and mental abilities of a 10-year-old, but she is no less valuable and deserving of respect and protection.

Each of us has a right to life by virtue of what (i.e., the kind of being) we are, rather than because of acquired characteristics or abilities that only some human beings have and others do not. So all human beings, including the unborn, are equal in having basic dignity and a right not to be killed without just cause.

(3) Know how to respond to common objections

Claims by abortion advocates about the number of women who died from illegal abortions are wildly overstated, as NARAL co-founder Dr. Bernard Nathanson frankly admitted. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 39 women died from illegal abortion in 1972, the year before Roe v. Wade, while 24 died from legal abortion (abortion had been legalized in some circumstances in some states). Maternal mortality improved in the decades preceding Roe as a result of advances in modern medicine having nothing to do with legal abortion.

If you cannot answer a challenge, don’t let it fluster you. Be honest and say you will get back to the challenger after thinking and reading more about the issue.

(4) Know facts about fetal development

In addition to knowing that the life of a human organism, a human being, begins at conception (see above), it is useful to know some details about the development of human beings in the womb. These facts bring home for many people the humanity of the unborn child. For example, the heart begins to beat about three weeks after conception, before many women even know they are pregnant. At about six weeks, brain waves can be detected. By 20 weeks, a wealth of evidence indicates that unborn children can experience excruciating pain.

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The stunning complexity of prenatal human development is “beyond any comprehension of any existing mathematics today,” says renowned medical imaging expert and mathematician Alexander Tsiaras.

(5) Know how abortion can hurt women

The health risks of abortion, both physical and psychological, are very well documented. Familiarize yourself with a few facts.

For example, many studies suggest that abortion can increase a woman’s risk of breast cancer. Moreover, while no one ultimately regrets not having an abortion, many, many (though of course not all) women now deeply regret their decision in favor of abortion. A 2011 meta-analysis published in the prestigious British Journal of Psychiatry—"the largest quantitative estimate of mental health risks associated with abortion available in the world literature”—found an 81 percent increased risk of mental health problems among women who have had abortions.

(6) Know about alternatives to abortion and compassionate support for women

Both motherhood and adoption are ethical, life-affirming options. Some 3,000 pro-life pregnancy care centers across the United States stand ready to help pregnant women in need. Many programs are available to help women and others deal with the aftermath of abortion.

(7) Be winsome

Pro-lifers must be kind, respectful, fair-minded and willing to listen and respond thoughtfully to those who disagree. Don’t call someone “pro-abortion” in conversation, since it is usually inconsistent with how he sees his position and can turn him off to productive dialogue. Show compassion toward pregnant women facing difficult circumstances and women who have undergone abortions.

(8) Ask questions

Instead of relying just on blunt assertions—and putting the burden of proof on yourself—ask strategic questions to poke holes in someone’s position and get him thinking. Make him defend his claims. For example, if he says a baby becomes a person after birth, ask how a mere trip through the birth canal, a shift in location, can change who/what someone is or whether or not she has a right to life. If a pro-choice advocate says he is personally opposed to abortion but thinks it should remain legal, ask why he is opposed; note that the reason for personal opposition (abortion kills a human being) is precisely the reason abortion should not be permitted under law. (I recommend the “tactical approach” developed by Greg Koukl and used in Ch. 9 of Scott Klusendorf’s The Case for Life.)

You probably won’t change someone’s mind on the spot. But you can have a friendly conversation and give him or her something to think about. That should be your goal.

Reprinted with permission from National Right to Life News

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