The Americans’ Problem of Pornography

By Mike Willis

Within recent years, the amount of pornography which has been printed in the United States has increased more than ten-fold. Practically any minute market in America has pornographic books of many titles available t0 the general public around its counter. The newspapers carry advertisements from theaters which specialize in girly movies and more sadistic portrayals of human immorality. Recently, some have even been talking of “snuff movies,” i.e. movies which record on camera the actual murder of another human being. Surely I am not the only person in America who has noted the increase in the number of movies with reference to which the television networks must append a statement to the effect that the movie might not be recommended for children or immature persons. (I have serious doubts that acceptance of pornography or violence is a mark of maturity.) No one would deny that there has been a violent increase in pornography in our society.

I suppose the thing which is most disconcerting to me is that this increase in pornography is definitely a mark of the general deterioration of the moral fiber of the American people. If no one was buying pornography, the publishers would quit printing it. The fact that more and more pornography is becoming available evidences the fact that more and more American are buying more and more of it. If there were no market, there would be n0 pornography. But, there is a market and what a market it is! In Searching the Scriptures (July, 1976), in an article entitled, “Mind Pollution-Pornography,” Weldon Warnock reported, “James K. Barret, a former Mafia operative and FBI undercover man, wrote in Reader’s Digest, Nov., 1973, that smut was a billion-ayear operation for the Mafia.” Just how accurate these statements are might be hard to determine, but we can rest assured that the publication of pornography is a lucrative business.

Pornography and the Courts

The purveyors of this moral filth have been in a running battle with the courts of this land t0 determine whether or not they have the right to publish their product. I might add, that they have been victorious more often than not. The problem for the courts of America has been two-fold: (1) to write a law which prohibits pornography without, at the same time, relinquishing the right t0 freedom of the press and (2) to define pornography in such a way that it has meaning (most of the definitions given to the word have been so subjective and filled with loopholes that they are virtually useless).

Here is the federal law against obscenity which was passed by Congress:

Title 18 Crimes and Criminal Procedure Chapter 71. Obscenity Section 1461

“Every obscene, lewd, lascivious, or filthy book, pamphlet picture, paper, letter, writing, print, or other publication of an indecent character; and

“Every article or thing designed, adapted, or intended for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral use; and

“Every article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing which is advertised or described in a manner calculated to lead another to use or apply it for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral purpose, and

“Every written or printed card, letter, circular, book, pamphlet, advertisement, or notice of any kind of information, directly or Indirectly, where, or how, or from whom, or by what means any of such mentioned matters, articles, or things may be obtained or made, or where or by whom any act or operation of any kind for the procuring or producing of abortion will be done or performed, or how or by what means conception may, be prevented or abortion produced, whether sealed or unsealed; and

“Every paper, writing, advertisement, or representation that any article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing may, or can, be used or applied for preventing conception or producing abortion, or for any indecent or immoral purpose; and

“Every description calculated to induce or incite a person to so use or apply any such article, instrument, substance, drug, medicine, or thing

“Is declared to be nonmailable matter and shall not be conveyed in the mails or delivered from any postofftce or by any letter carrier.

“Whoever knowingly uses the mails for mailing, carriage in the mails, or delivery of anything declared by this section to be nonmailable, or knowlingly causes to be delivered by mail according to the direction thereon, or at the place at which it is directed to be delivered by the person to whom it is addressed, or knowlingly takes any such thing from the mails for the purpose of circulating or disposing thereof, shall be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned not more than five years, or both, for the first such offense, and shall be fined not more that $10,000 or imprisoned not more than ten years, or both, for each such offense thereafter.”

The change in the moral code for America since the writing of that law is apparent to everyone. It is no longer criminal to get an abortion; as a matter of fact, our tax dollars can be used to pay for one! Hence, this has not been the last word of the courts regarding obscenity.

To further determine what is obscene, the U.S. Supreme Court devised a series of tests to determine what is obscene in the Roth v. U.S. case. Those tests are as follows: (1) The Social Value Test. Any material which has any redeeming social value has the full protection of the first amendment to the constitution. (2) Prurient Interest Test. Any material appealing as a whole to lewdness is obscene. The law stated, “A thing is obscene if, considered as a whole, its predominant appeal is to prurient interest, i.e. a shameful or morbid interest in nudity, sex, or excretion, and if it goes substantially beyond customary limits of such matters.” (3) The Patently Offensive Test. Magazines which “cannot be deemed so offensive as to affront current community standards of decency” are not obscene. (4) The Hard Core Pornography Test. If something is classified as “hard core pornography; ” it is considered obscene.

Our readers can certainly see the loopholes in these tests. Who is going to be allowed to determine whether or not a specific object has redeeming social value, appeals to prurient interests, is patently offensive or is, hard-core pornography? Anytime that a local, lower court brought action against a smut peddler, the matter was appealea all the way to the Supreme Court. The justices of the court soon found themselves having to spend long hours perusing obscene literature to decide whether or not it was in violation of the law. Soon, Justice Black issued a statement saying that “federal censorship is not the answer to these problems.” In essence, the Supreme Court has thrown the matter back into the hands of the lower courts and is allowing communities to set their own level for determining what is obscene.

At the present, there is nothing but confusion present in the courts of our land regarding what is obscene. It is ironic, to say the least, that “Christian” America is having more problems with obscenity than atheistic Russia is having. Soviet Russia, in its early revolutionary days was extremely liberal in matters of sexual conduct and laws governing sexual conduct were mild or nonexistent. “But the Russians discovered that the moral decline setting in because of this liberality in the legal code threatened the new society they had envisioned. There were revisions, and today the USSR tolerates no pornography or sexual writings” (Censorship, Obscenity and Sex, Alfred P. Klausler, p. 56).

No Help From the Law

It is obvious that the law is very little, if any at all, help in dealing with the matter of obscenity. Some Christians are persuaded that this is not all that bad. Once society permits the law to legislate any moral standard, trouble lies ahead. During the discussion surrounding the prohibition laws, David Lipscomb wrote, “Not finding that the scriptures ever teach Christians to use the civil power to enforce morality, righteousness, or religion, we have come to the conclusion that a man of God ought not to use it for such ends” (as quoted by David Edwin Harrell, Jr, in “From Consent to Dissent: The Emergence of the Churches of Christ in America,” Restoration Quarterly, XIX:2, Second Quarter, 1976, pp. 105-106). “Elisha G. Sewell, coeditor of the Gospel Advocate, argued that consistency demanded that prohibitionists support the passage of other laws: `To make their work a complete success, they ought to next have stringent laws enacted to force men to reform from profane swearing, and others to force men to obey the gospel of Christ and become Christians. If they have a right to force men to obey God in the matter of temperance, why not in every other respect?” (Ibid., p. 106).

Certainly these statements call attention to a tension which must be faced by proponents of censorship. However, the other side of this same coin is “no censorship.” Our legal codes already enforce a morality which prohibits murder, theft, rape, etc. A moral standard is already being enforced on people. Frankly, I am unable to suggest any legal way of solving this problem without sacrificing to some degree the right to freedom of the press. Hence, I am more and more coming to believe that morality cannot be legislated; it comes through conversion to God.

Obscenity and the Christian

Whereas obscenity is a sticky legal problem it poses no such dilemma to the Christian. The Christian is a man who is totally committed to following the legislation of Jesus Christ. He is committed to following what the New Testament teaches regarding such matters. Whereas moral relativitists might be without foundation in determining what is obscene, the one who clings to the Bible as the revealed word of God has something by which he can measure what is and what is not obscene. Here are some passages which help the Chrsitian determine that he must stay away from obscenity:

1. Mt. 5:28. Jesus said, “. . . I say to you, that every one who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Any book, magazine, or picture which sexually arouses a person causes that person to violate this command of Jesus. Such a person has committed adultery in his heart when he lusts after the person depicted. Christians will shun any kind of material which produces this kind of lust.

2. Gal. 5:19. Uncleanness and lasciviousness are here condemned by God. Uncleanness (akatharsia) means “the impurity of lustful, luxurous, profligate living.” Lasciviousness (aselgeia) means “unbridled lust, excess, licentiousness, lasciviousness, wantonness, outrageousness, shamelessness, insolence …. wanton acts or manners, as filthy words, indecent bodily movements, unchaste handling of males and females.” Col. 3:5=6 uses some of these same words and instructs the Christian to mortify these deeds in his body.

3. Phil. 4:8. “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your mind dwell on these things.” The Christian is to think about things which are productive of good. He knows that all evil things proceed from an evil heart (Mt. 15:18-20). Hence, he has a responsibility to keep his heart pure (Prov. 4:23).


Hence, while the world is wrestling with the problem of pornography, the Chrsitian knows which is the safe course in which he should walk. God has revealed to him what kind of life he should live. Just as the World is in a turmoil over whether or not administer discipline to children, it is also in a turmoil regarding the problem of pornography. If one listens to the psychologists, not only will he receive conflicting opinions, he will lose his children and soul in the process. The Christian knows which law he must follow when discussing the subject of discipline. Similarly, today the world is in a turmoil regarding pornography with psychologists and lawyers revealing divergent opinions on the subject. But while the world wrestles over which course it is going to take, the Christian knows in which path he should walk. God has revealed that to him. He knows no uncertainity for he knows that God condemns the publisher, marketer, and reader of pornography.

Truth Magazine XXI: 17, pp. 259-261
April 28, 1977