Monday, 31 October 2011

Knee-jerk idiocy from the Church of England

Today I had a rather horrible experience. On my commute to work, I popped into a newsagents to buy a muffin (I forgot to have breakfast). But in there, I had the misfortune to glance at the headline of the Daily Mail:

What this story is about is the apparent intent by the Church of England to threaten Internet Service Providers to withdraw its multi million pound investment in the industry unless they clamp down on internet pornography. Now, aside from the fact that it seems odd for an organisation to be planning to end multi million pound (out of over £4 billion od assests) investments while at the same time moaning because of protesters outside St Paul's costing it £20,00 a day from it's gift shop, this is a very dangerous story.

It is dangerous for a multitude of reasons. First of all, the Church of England has now business attempting to force its own version of morality on the population. We have a secular state and the Church has no right to try and force 60 million people, most of whom aren't Anglicans, to conform to the narrow views of morality held by a few old bishops.

That alone would be enough to make me outraged at this.

But beyond that, what's also outrageous is what's said in the third paragraph of the article:

"Concern over the easy availability of vile images which demean women and corrupt the young has intensified following the disclosure that Jo Yeates’s killer Vincent Tabak was obsessed with websites showing sexual violence, bondage and strangulation."
Well let me just tell you a few things about "sexual violence, bondage and strangulation" porn. Pornography of this sort is mainly related to the Bondage Domination and Sado-Masochism (BDSM) community.

And, far from "demeaning women and corrupting the young", BDSM porn is probably about as sexually healthy as is possible to get.

You see, some people enjoy receiving sexual violence, or bondage, or mild strangulation, or some or all of them. And some people enjoy dispensing the same. In short, it's something that happens between consenting adults.

And, because BDSM often involves one person having control over the other, the BDSM community focuses incredibly strongly on what is referred to as "safe, sane and consensual". That means that before people engage in BDSM activities there is an inordinate amount of time spent on making sure that the activites do not cause any harm beyond what all parties are comfortable with and that they will not put anyone's life at risk, on making sure that what's happening is "sane", meaning that nothing will occur which has the potential to go too far, and that everyone involved consents fully. As part of this, a safe word is often used, meaning that the recipient can end the scene at any time that they become uncomfortable.

There's also a big focus on "after-care" to make sure that those receiving the sexual violence are okay afterwards.

This same approach extends to BDSM porn. I'm not going to ask you to go and watch it, but if you did you would find that BDSM porn usually involves the "actors" talking to each other before hand to establish boundaries and invariably has a section after the sexual activities after the actors have got cleaned up where they discuss what has happened and make sure that the recipient was happy with it.

Now, compare this to what BDSM people refer to as "vanilla" (e.g. non-BDSM sexual activity). A lot of vanilla porn will show women (or men) being tricked or blackmailed into sex. This might be an act but there's nothing to let the audience know that it's staged. Or compare it to two random strangers meeting in a club, getting plastered on alcohol and then going somewhere to have drink-fuelled sex when neither of them are really in a position to consent properly and where both might regret it in the morning.

In my opinion, it's the latter activities that are more likely to cause harm and lead to the demeaning of  women. BDSM is about activities enjoyed by all parties involved and which all parties involved have fully consented to. That's far more healthy and responsible than the kind of vanilla activities and regular porn that the Daily Mail presumably has no problem with.

But, aside from that, there are two other things to bear in mind. First of all, lots of people watch porn as part of a healthy sex life and don't go out and rape or murder people. Video games don't make people violent, listening to Marilyn Manson doesn't turn people into murderers and porn doesn't make people like Tabak commit murder. Nutter kill people, porn doesn't.

The other thing is that gay people spent decades fighting not to be descriminated against because of their sexuality. The fight is mostly won now (though problems still abound) but what does it say about our society of we allow one of our national institutions and a major newspaper to call for discrimination against other people because of their sexuality?

It's fucking simple. What happens between consenting adults is their own business. If you want to interfere simply because you disapprove then you belong back in the medieval era with the Spanish Inquisition. That the Church of England is taking this attitude just proves that it's still a medieval organisation with medieval values and has no relevance to modern Britain. I now sincerely hope it hurries up and dies out so that people can finally be free from it's meddling. Priests may have the right to tell people how they should live their lives but they will NEVER have the right to force people to do as they want.

If they procede with this idiotic idea then they are effectively declaring war on the liberal, tolerant society we have become. This is the 21st century. Mary Whitehouse clones have no place here. And, if they insist on proceding with this, then they will have a fight on their hands. Too many people suffered to stop the Church controlling our lives and I at least refuse to let their struggle be in vain.


  1. If we're only talking a few million here, then the ISP's should tell the church to take their bloody money and... use it for something that a church *should* spend money on, like helping the needy. Let's see them having courage in their faith: liquidate their investments, spend the proceeds in a way that "Jesus" would have approved of and assume that their god will provide for them.

    This isn't even taking into account that, technically, what they're asking is mostly impossible. Web sites don't come with a sticker that says "here be porn".

  2. Does the church have a right to invest its own money where it sees fit and question those companies it invests in?

    I don't think it is being unreasonable. I wish it would ask questions of the armaments manufacturers it does or did have investments in.

    It costs a lot of money to run the church - even if you hate it. It is not unreasonable for the church to have some investments and want to invest in line with it's principals.

    If you don't agree with it's principals then invest differently yourself. The choice is yours. Their choice is there's. That's what I call liberalism.

  3. Imogen,

    I understand where you're coming from but I think there are some important issues here:

    Firstly, it seems a bit churlish for the CofE to moan about losing £20,000 a day from St Paul's (ignoring the whole issue about money lenders in the temple of course) whilst holding an investment portfolio worth over £4 billion.

    Secondly, if it was investing in a company which manufactured pornography then I'd agree with you. But ISPs exist to provide people with access to the internet (and make a profit). Aside from the fact that it's not actually technologically possible for them to censor porn, the Church's moves amount to calling for censorship on moral grounds and it intends to try and enforce this censorship through it's financial clout.

    Now, as a liberal, censorship is something I absolutely disagree with. A company does not have the right to use its money to try and censor and restrict the access of 60 million people to the internet. It is utterly wrong for them to do so as it is depriving people of their right to make a choice about the type of content they view purely because of the moral views of a very, very small segment of society (e.g. the Synod).

    In any event, your last point is something of a non sequitur. I'm not trying to stop the Church investing its money the way it likes, I'm simply expressing my opinion it is wrong to do so. There's nothing illiberal in the slightest about my voicing my opinion on a medium which I control. If you are suggesting otherwise then I think it might be you who is being illiberal.

  4. I feel in a way that this could have been 2 different blogs. The Church has really become big business,& owns vast amounts of properties & investments, this saddens me at present, with many people suffering hardship. Perhaps you could do a blog on this subject.
    Re the porn, I wear 2 hats, I believe that consulting adults should be allowed to engage if both agree,However, the part I am not so agreeing with are that there are statictics showing that hard core can lead to sex offending. Sadly it is also found in child abuse cases, & increasingly women being involved.I would have like that to have been more balanced. It would also have been good to have some feed back re pros/cons from people who work in.the sex industry. You mentioned that you didnt wish to view porn, I feel rightly or wrongly it is difficult if you havent seen film or photage. I do research in this area, but not re adults. I have seen some horrific things.Now let me sum up, I was giving an opinion. I do agree & we are on the same side re most of your blog. i feel it has been made into a mountain, when it was no such thing. If you invite people to comment, then you should accept that people can comment without being vindictive, which I am certainly not, However your friend is a different matter. It was nothing to do with him. It was between myself & you. George I sincerely hope I have clarified my comment, I hope we can both move on. I have absolutely no problem with you personally, you are always polite & I have agreed on many of your posts.

  5. Sue Waller wrote: "there are statictics [sic] showing that hard core can lead to sex offending."

    What statistics? Where? Citation please.

  6. (For those who aren't aware, the two comments immediately above follow on from a debate in a facebook group)


    The bit about the C of E's wealth was really just an aside.

    Could you maybe provide a link to these statistics as I haven't come across them before? I think the only statistics I've seen about this are that pornography might actually reduce the number of rapes, etc.

    I know full well that extreme pornography is often found in child abuse cases but there is a massive difference between extreme pornography and hardcore pornography. The latter is legal and takes place between consenting adults. The former is illegal and often involves situations where there was no consent.

    I'm just a blogger so I don't really have the resources to interview people from the porn industry for their opinions but there are plenty of interviews out there and I don't think they significantly alter the argument one way or another. The only thing I would say is that they tend to indicate a degree of maturity and openness about sex that society could, in my opinion, do with more of.

    With regards to watching porn itself, I'm a 21 year old male who grew up with access to the internet - of course I've watched some of this pornography. I just don't really see the point in going out of my way to watch it just in the name of research for a blogpost when instead I can work from memory.

    I'm glad we agree on most things about this and hopefully, if there ever was any argument, it's now over.


I'm indebted to Birkdale Focus for the following choice of words:

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