I’m (Not?) a Puritan

Courtesy of my favorite sci-fi news site:

One of the many, many things we love about Game of Thrones is its ability to hold nothing back in the mature content department. We can’t imagine what the show would be like without all the blood, blades and breasts that HBO allows for. But some foreign broadcasters aren’t so impressed, and one was so concerned with the show’s nudity that it pulled the plug in the middle of a new episode.

Game of Thrones has no shortage of nudity and sex.  It is, after all, on HBO.  It makes sense that a television station in a place like the United Arab Emirates would be naturally worried about such content.  What it makes me wonder, though, is how “bad” such material is in the first place.

As anyone who has read a National Geographic knows, not all nudity is pornographic.  In certain cultures today and various groups throughout history, nudity and sex have been less taboo than they are for us.  Especially in the United States, and certainly amongst many conservative Christians, most if not all depictions of these things are considered unhealthy, inappropriate, and sinful.  They are said to uniformly lead to lust and further down the road to destruction.  Others say no.  They say that by failing to accept sexuality and the human body as a natural part of life, we separate ourselves from our humanities.  We are simply too uptight.

At the risk of perpetuating an unfair myth about our New England forefathers, I am forced to ask myself and my fellow co-religionists the question: are we too puritanical?  Further, have we made nudity or sex such a taboo that our sometimes secret violation of it becomes a larger matter for us than others who do not so sharply divide things?  Is it wrong for us to watch something like Game of Thrones, or is it wise for us not to?

Understand that I have no equivocation on the issue of pornography.  It is destructive to the men and women involved in the industry, devastating to those caught up in it, and deeply damaging to the families that are affected by it.  It debases the image of God within each of us and represents some of the darkest parts of humanity.  I condemn it 100%.  Pornography seeks to serve only our basest needs and is a kind of sexual gluttony at its worst.

However, Game of Thrones–as a story where the violence, sex, and nudity are part of a larger narrative and, at times,  means to a greater end–might not be pornography because its main goal is not the same.  Even so, I do question why so much sex–and such graphic depictions–have to be such a constituent part of many HBO shows.  It blurs the line between legitimate expression of the drama and needless titillation.

A Supreme Court justice once wisely said the following:

I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

I think I would agree, but that it is even more complicated than that.  It is not just a matter of all of us together recognizing what is or isn’t obscene, but each individual acknowledging on a personal level the effect of such material.  If a thing is pornographic for us–regardless of what someone else thinks–we need to stop and seriously consider what is going on.

I do believe that some can watch Game of Thrones in sinless perfection, enjoying the epic saga as a deeply textured tale of flawed humanity.  Others?  Well, for them it would be a lot of steps in the wrong direction and lead to a debasement of themselves and a dehumanizing of others.

Being free to show and view what we want does not always lead to freedom.

I welcome your comments, critiques, and accusations of Puritanism.


2 comments on “I’m (Not?) a Puritan

  1. Andy Wong says:

    I hesitate to label anything as purely bad or purely good (though I’m not sure how the complete objectification of a human being could ever be a good thing) so I’m not entirely sure where I fall on this. I do know for me what is an isn’t healthy at this point in my life (and have spent a whole lot of time, money, and heartache figuring it out).

    To further muddle the waters, what do we do with images without any bare breasts or “nudity.” I mean, what makes Victoria’s Secret or Sports Illustrated Swimsuit edition or half the ads in women’s magazines different from Playboy? Let alone all kinds of borderline things like trashy romance novels, audio clips, etc. We could have a whole ‘nother conversation about actual sex acts (oral sex, masturbation, etc.)

    I do agree that our unwillingness to talk about sexuality makes things worse, not better. There are 2 things that are advertised *far* more on billboards in Fort Worth than in Princeton, NJ. Churches and strip clubs.

  2. Thanks for this, Andy. I completely agree with what you’re thinking in your second paragraph. I’ve often wondered about this.

    I also really think that I need to be careful in this conversation not to focus simply on MY spirituality or “holiness” when the effects (and causes) societally and theologically speaking, are much larger than that.

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