Sunday, January 22, 2006

More Facts, Better Decision

The case of the 'porn-peeper' teacher from Cedarburg has been discussed a few times, with varying opinions expressed on the matter. But most of the discussion has occurred without benefit of all the facts in the matter.

From the initial news reports, one was led to believe that the teacher in question had accessed adult porn sites for only a minute or so on a Sunday afternoon. Although he was using school computers to do so, this seemed like a minor case; thus, some folks were shocked and disturbed to hear that the Cedarburg School Board fired the guy.

But Nichols did his homework, and reports that:

The bizarre background to this case is that at some
point early in the 2004-'05 school year, somebody from the community approached
Cedarburg School Superintendent Daryl Herrick with concerns about Zellner's
interest in porn outside of school, Herrick said at the hearing

Zellner's computer had to be totally rebuilt in both
November of 2004 and September of 2005 because it was, I guess, oddly hospitable
to porn pop-up ads.

Zellner, who chaperoned student trips to Hawaii, had
pictures of about three dozen bikini-clad students on his computer.

Now we're getting to the "pattern of practice" crucible, which is far more important than a single isolated incident.

Many of the libertarian folks will recoil in horror at the thesis that porn (adult, child, or otherwise) is, by its very nature, bad for individuals and, thus, bad for communities. But porn IS bad. Viewing porn is "an occasion of sin" as the Catholic church teaches. Porn derogates women (or children, or boys, ...whomever) to "objects." It establishes other people as inferiors to the viewer--just objects.

In this regard, there is no difference between porn and the Nazi anti-Jewish propaganda, for de-humanizing a person, or a class of people--making them into an "object"--is a fundamental crime against nature as God created it. Similarly, "The Vagina Monologues" reduce the totality of female sexuality to, ah, well,...a vagina, and abortion advocates reduce the baby to "fetal matter." This sort of reductionism, in ANY of its manifestations, is simply a lie. And the crime against truth becomes a crime against natural and divine law, thus against humanity and God.

Thanks, Mike, for a job well done.


Grim said...

I'd like to examine this a little further. My first attempt at thinking through the issue leads me to a different conclusion from what you draw. I'd like to explain my thinking, and consider your response.

I will start by saying that I'm not persuaded that there is no difference between pornography and Nazi propaganda. One can be guilty of reductionism here too: by failing to see differences that really exist, as for example between a woman cheerfully posing for a camera in order to tempt men, and a propaganda piece designed to make it easier to kill men.

But I would rather leave that aside, granting for the sake of the argument that pornography is an evil of a similar type, and proceed on another front.

You say: "But porn IS bad. Viewing porn is 'an occasion of sin' as the Catholic church teaches."

I will grant the point that Catholic theology is opposed to pornography. However, it seems to me that there are two problems with the suggestion that we should proceed from that to outlawing it as "bad for communities."

The least important, because it will not persuade a Catholic, is the argument from separation of church and state. You are familiar with it, and so I won't go into it except to say that any such law will have to meet a Constitutional challenge on this score.

The more important is the argument from sin. The Bible as I understand it directs Christians to forgive sin and love one another in spite of it; furthermore, it holds that the punishment of sin is the sole business of the divine ("Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord"). Lastly, Christ directs his followers to "Render unto Caeser that which is Caesars, and onto the Lord that which is the Lord's."

That suggests to me that human law ought not to criminalize sin. One can argue -- I gather you do -- that sin creates damage to men's characters, and therefore to their communities, and therefore it is proper to have both a "crime" and a "sin." We can forgive the sin, but punish the crime.

However, in creating a crime out of something that is substantially the same thing as the sin (for example, out of something that is an occasion of sin), we risk committing the greater sin of arrogating to ourselves God's authority. That sin, Pride, is a more dangerous one than Lust in the Catholic teaching.

It would seem to me, then, that the community has more to lose from risking the sin of Pride than from forgiving the sin of Lust. For the Lustful in Purgatory, Dante tells us, are closest to heaven among sinful souls.

Anonymous said...

Dad29 – Jimmy Carter has a new book out. Please give us your take based on the review.

Yet the anti-life movement that calls itself pro-life protects ignorance by opposing family planning, sex education, and informed use of contraceptives, tactics that not only increase the likelihood of abortion but tragedies like AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. The rigid system of the "pro-life" movement makes poverty harsher as well, with low minimum wages, opposition to maternity leaves, and lack of health services and insurance. In combination, these policies make ideal conditions for promoting abortion, as one can see from the contrast with countries that do have sex education and medical insurance. Carter writes:

Dad29 said...

Grim, we are in general agreement on all the points. A few distinctions:

between a woman cheerfully posing for a camera in order to tempt men, and a propaganda piece designed to make it easier to kill men.

The attitude of the female is irrelevant to the discussion. The fact is that porn reduces women (or whomever) to 'objects' of self-satisfaction--'things' or 'toys,' whatever. John Paul II was very clear: there IS such a thing as illicit lust even within marriage (yeah, when I read that, I was profoundly affected.)

I grant you that killing Jews is far different from acting on lust. Worst-case on 'lust' is rape, but the victim is alive (more or less.)

However, the connection is not in the results, but rather in the method, which in both cases establishes the porn-viewer/non-Jew as "superior" to the female/Jew. This happens to be the first temptation: ' can be like unto God...' It's the same as using the "N" word to characterize an entire race, or the "S" word--we can go on.

The solution to the problem is, actually, what the Cedarburg school board did: they "shamed and exiled" the pornpeeper. For all I know, they could have forgiven his sin.

You remind us that justice must be in play. Correct. In this particular case, justice was served. One cannot judge the motivations of each Board member in Cedarburg to ascertain whether they were feeding their Pride or simply serving justice.

Please be reminded that human laws against theft, fraud, murder, battery, (etc., etc.) ARE 'criminalizations of [what is] substantially the same thing as the sin.' So what you warn against is already extant.

Finally, "church/state" has nothing to do with this. There are a lot of Orthodox Jews, non-Catholic Christians, and Muslims who would instantly criminalize porn.

Dad29 said...

Anony: James Earl Carter is now, and always has been, an idiot.

End of review.

The Badgerland Conservative said...

Jimmy Carter is the worst president since the Civil War AND an idiot.

End of my review as well.

P.S. I love people who have to cut and paste from websites. Completely devoid of any thoughts of their own.

Grim said...

I have no problem with the idea of firing a teacher who had been storing up bikini-clad photos of his students. The operating reason for doing so, however, is not that he was sinning by lusting after them; but rather, that he was abusing his position of power and trust in order to take advantage of them. The one thing is a sin (which, in theology, is an affront to God), but the other is -- if not a crime -- an abuse against a person.

That is really the point, I think. We don't criminalize the sin when we punish the crime of murder: the sin, whether wrath or lust, isn't the reason a crime has been committed. When we ban theft, we aren't criminalizing greed. We're only banning the taking of people's property.

In order to extend that model to pornography, you have to demonstrate that something other than the lust is being punished.

The argument shouldn't be circular, if one is serious about the principle of leaving sin to God -- "We're not punishing your sin of lust, but rather the affront of objectifying a human body, which is harmful to the woman and society because it is sinful and encourages sin and sinful habits of thought and action." I think, in order for the principle of Caesar's justice to be upheld, you have to show that the sin is immaterial to your civil, human authority.

In other words, I don't mind the specific case; sounds like the fellow got what he deserved. I don't think I agree with the general principle being advocated, however; the reason for firing him shouldn't be "pornography," but rather the fact that he abused his trust with the students.

That fact is troubling, from the point of view of protecting the student's physical bodies from the kind of harm that could come to them in this world. I think that's a proper application of the justice of this world.

Dad29 said...

Grim, the teacher was fired not because of the bikini-clad students, not because of 67 seconds on a Sunday afternoon, and not because of prior (apparent/alleged) utilization of school machines for porn viewing.

Rather, he was fired for ALL of the above: it's pattern/practice. He was NEVER accused of harassment, which is the case you are making (position of power...)

He was fired because the Board thought that he was regularly engaging in seriously inappropriate conduct. (At least, that's the only inference one can draw from all the news reports including Nichols' column.)

Now as to sin: Hardon's Pocket Catholic Dictionary defines "sin" as "a word, deed, or desire in opposition to God's eternal law" (St. Augustine) and "a deliberate transgression against a law of God...implying that there are physical laws which operate from necessity AND moral laws...God is offended..."

Note that Baker, following Augustine, distinguishes but does not necessarily separate "physical" laws from "moral" laws. In other words, (in agreement with you) sin, per se, cannot be "forgiven" by man, it (contrary to you) is not merely 'an affront to God.'

It is, in most cases, an affront to man, as well. This affront is what we identify as 'crime' and take action to prosecute and punish.

Ad arguendam, let's ignore the difference between an employment action and a criminal prosecution in the instant case.

You hold that the State cannot establish as 'crime' all which is 'sin.' I agree--the State should not make it a criminal offense to ignore the Third Commandment, e.g.

On the other hand, I think you establish a false dichotomy. The State does NOT punish "wrath"--it punishes the sin AND crime of murder.

We will agree that the State cannot punish "lust," but it can punish the sin AND crime of rape.

Unfortunately, I'm not familiar with the principle of Caesar's justice. I suspect you're getting around to "thought crimes," which are a ridiculous over-reach of law and prima facie irrational. We will agree there, too.

But my contention was merely that porn is malevolent. The stats are slowly making the case that porn IS a factor in the degradation of society. The advocates of "free expression" will attempt to confuse 'freedom' with 'license,' of course, and those most interested in "free expression" will do their best to ignore the stats.

Viewing porn may never be criminalized, for pragmatic reasons. And not all the results of porn-viewing (or addiction) will be criminal acts.

But the results are, nonetheless, consequential and derogatory to society.

Grim said...

This is an enlightening discussion. I should probably have mentioned before now, just to be clear, that I am not myself a Catholic. I have a great respect for the intellectual tradition of Catholicism, and frequently associate, and enjoy associating, with good Catholics.

I think I share many of the basic principles and understandings, and of course (being a Westerner) the Catholic tradition underlies the culture at a very deep and profound level. For that reason, I am always eager to engage thoughtful Catholics in discussions of this type, to see what light the Church has developed to shed on the question at hand. The tradition of two thousand years has often produced some remarkable insights.

I don't agree with every point of Catholic theology, and there are some points on which I dissent strongly; but that personal dissent does nothing to undermine my respect for a beautiful faith that has been a force for good in the world, or for the religious who devote their lives to it.

I wanted to be clear on the point, in case you weren't aware of it from reading my blog. We only rarely get into the specifics of religion there. That said, then:

You're correct, of course, that there needs to be a break between what is an employment action (free association being the appropriate right here, subject to contract -- thus, in cases like this one, the school is free to end their association with him unless there is a contractual reason they can't); and government action on the other hand.

As I said, I have no argument with the current case. I was concerned with the larger principle, to whit, that we need to take some sort of social action to reduce the incidence of pornography.

I think society is wholly justified (even as a matter of law) in limiting the areas in which pornography, etc., can be shown. I don't think it belongs, for example, on billboards; public libraries; for sale in places where young children will encounter it (e.g., one might sell it in a liquor store, but not in a convenience store); television; movies with the possible exception of a set-aside "adult" theater; etc.

In making such laws, which would be designed to serve the very purpose you advocate, I suppose the intent is not to "punish" pornography or lust but only to encourage a certain discretion. A non-Christian libertine might be free to live as he wished, if only he would respect society's wish to live as it prefers also. If we can confine such things to private spaces, I think we're satisfied.

And, too, I'm not sure I accept that the evidence demonstrates that these kinds of things are always bad for society. As an example: the Baltimore Consort, an excellent early music group, produced a collection called "The Art of the Bawdy Song." Some of the tunes on it would make a gangster rapper blush.

Yet they arose in the same taverns and streets as Shakespeare and Marlowe, and there is every reason to believe that both gentlemen partook of such tavern fare. We see it did not make it into Shakespeare's plays or poetry, but there's no evidence that it debased him to encounter it, or even that it debased the English public -- after all, they were the audience for Shakespeare, and the reason that he was able to make a career of playwriting.

It is possible that a successful society in this world has to make a place for the expression of sin. Sin is, after all, deeply rooted in all men -- even saints, such as Saint Patrick, who remained deeply troubled by his sins when he wrote his Confession.

By setting aside a place where sin can be contained -- a tavern, say -- we may be able to preserve the larger space of society for other things. We used to permit duels, though wrath is a sin. Now we do not, and young hotheads shoot up the neighborhood instead of the oak grove.

Preserving a private space in which sin may be practiced -- or even a limited social space, on occasion -- may be the best answer for governing in this world. Nor, like Shakespeare's taverns, ought it necessarily to debase the society. If I can propose a metaphor, it may be like natural fertilizer: the stuff itself is foul, and if there is too much of it in your field, your food will be poison.

Yet, if it is banned from the field entirely, that field will be barren. Although the stuff is corrupt (in the literal sense), that corruption is a part of the nature of this world. Eliminating it entirely prevents fertility (as eliminating lust entirely would eliminate children). Allowed in just the right amount, it can enrich the soil and allow for a bountiful harvest.

We have, of course, reached the point at which there is too much in the field. I don't think many would disagree with that understanding. I just think that our basic principles for organizing human society have to recognize these natural features. That it remains a sin in the eyes of God must be balanced by the fact that God has commanded men not to punish sin; and so we must make the laws of men for the realities of this world. It may be that our field needs mucking out; but I don't think we would be wise to try to ban muck once and for all.

Dad29 said...

By and large, the Catholic church has been a very significant force for the good. (ALL of its members are sinners, present party included.)

You raised my eyebrows a bit with your suggestion that 'sinning' should be constrained to certain places (inter alia,) and with your observation that 'sin' may be fertilizer.

Aquinas' formulation may be helpful: he viewed the results of Original Sin to be "defects," that is, subtractions from the originals (Adam & whats-her-name.) This includes our inclination to sin (of any sort.)

Viewed that way, what you propose is that "defects" be, in effect, allowed by legislation, albeit in a limited fashion. Why? Why would any public authority "allow" a place for indulging in defects?

Well, you state your reason: that such 'defects' may, in fact, be 'goods.'

I don't think so.

The well-ordered society cannot "allow" defects, although it may tolerate them for pragmatic purposes--e.g., where should police and judicial assets be directed/concentrated...

Do not forget that Shakespeare was a very ardent Catholic. His success at writing plays and literature was NOT due to taking in bawdy shows--rather, it was from his willingness to seek and obtain forgiveness and to amend his life, and from the strength of his initial intellectual gifts.

Same-o with Oscar Wilde, Chopin, Tschaikovsky, Beethoven...

Others simply succumbed to the Nietzschean "transvaluation of all values," --while maintaining the acclaim of Society (G.B. Shaw, Nietschze himself, Sanger, deFoucault)

There's a difference...

Grim said...

You ask why a public authority would allow for engaging in "defects," and assert that the "good" and the "defective" must be entirely separate.

On reflection, I disagree. That which is a defect can be a defect by nature, but also by degree. In the example of the manure, both the absence and the excess presence of manure is a defect in a field whose purpose is food production. But manure is a "good" when it is present in correct amounts.

I think it is important to remember that the Bible holds that God blessed creation, calling it "good" in Genesis. All things in the world thus can be good, if they are properly used. Many things can also be defects, if they are improperly used. Most of the time, the defect is in the man, not the thing. And, as I mentioned, the chief defect and thing to avoid is Pride.

To take an example from Aquinas, human sexuality is a good if it is used in the proper way -- and children, thereby produced, are held by the Catholic church to be a gift from God. In fact, Aquinas identified three separate "goods" produced by sexuality, as I recall: a connection between man and wife, the possibility of children, and mutual physical pleasure.

This is a different model from Augustine's, which was more suspicious of sexuality; but Augustine was reasoning badly, I think. Adam and "what's her name," before Original Sin, behaved without regard to shame -- not wearing clothes, for example. If non-deviation from their pre-sin state is the goal, you're talking about a society very differently structured than the one Augustine imagines.

Aquinas created a system for judging sexuality in which it was wholly good if and only if all three of the "goods" were present, with procreation being the most important by far. The consquences of that system are that masturbation becomes a more serious sexual sin than rape, as rape can at least lead to children.

I would propose, in the tradition of Aquinas, that he has the "goods" right; but that, if each of these things is a "good" pleasing to God, it is possible that there can be "good" rather than a defect from the act if only one of the three is present, provided only that the other two aren't despised. In judging whether the act is "good" or not, you should balance the good present with the question of whether the other goods are honored, merely neglected, or actively harmed.

It is possible, for example, that rape can be viewed as a serious sin because it actively harms the closeness of spirit "good," and the mutual pleasure "good," while preserving the procreation "good." Any child thus created may still be a good -- even a gift -- but the sin of rape attains what seems by rationality to be its proper, despicable status.

In the interest of avoiding the sin of Pride myself, I should like to hear a careful and reasoned critique of the idea, which is dangerous to me because it seems wise. If I'm wrong, as I well may be, I would benefit from knowing it.

Dad29 said...

Umnnhhh..."Things" are neutral in and of themselves. Thus, manure in and of itself (its esse) is good, but its mis-use is bad. You are correct in this regard.

But as a result of Original Sin, there is a 'defect' in the nature (the esse)of man, a detraction (to some degree) from the good. God 'saw that all was good' BEFORE the Fall. So one MUST distinguish between 'man' and 'things,' and the distinction we are immediately concerned with is this 'defect.'

Aquinas' definition of sex, rightly understood, then, conjoins all three elements--unity, open-to-procreation, and pleasure. Any use of the faculty without all of them is mis-use (a grave wrong.) Masturbation is a mis-use for the obvious reasons (there are two.)

(John Paul II taught that the unitive and procreative aspects of sex are inseparable; that one without the other is gravely sinful. This is a slight "refinement" in the teaching elucidated by Pius XII, but in no way a "change;"--at the same time, it should quiet all those who claim that sex without resulting pregnancy (in marriage) is "wrong," so long as there are no artificial barriers to such pregnancy.)

Rape is a use which adds violence, so rape is a different "class" of mis-use of the faculty, from its method (force.)

All of the mis-uses are a one-way ticket to Hell (unless repentance and atonement are present) by the way...we are dealing with grave sins.

Your proposal is partially not necessary, because "to sin" requires knowledge, consent, and completion of the (sinful) act--a trio not substantially different from the elements required for a criminal conviction. Further, I think that your proposal did not take into account the "and" in Aquinas' definition of proper use of the faculty. ALL three (marriage assumed) must be present.

But back to porn.

This stuff is an occasion of sin. It will (no question about it) cause lust to arise--and you remember the charge of Christ: ' dare not even lust after your own wife...'

An interesting, hard saying. Certainly a challenge. But one which a well-ordered society should not overlook, eh?

Grim said...

I'm not certain I understand the point about unitive and procreative functions being inseparable. I understand that he's saying you shouldn't have one without the other -- I'm just not certain how precisely that's intended to modify the traditional understanding, which always held that you needed to have the three things together.

But, as you say, to return to the porn:

The standard Christ sets there is very high, but probably not higher than the standard he sets re: lustful thoughts -- that lust in one's heart is exactly as bad as actual adultery.

What is coupled with that, though, is Christ's command to us to forgive such sins, and his example of refusing to punish the adulterous woman.

It seems to me that attempting to punish people by 'shame and shunning,' given the height of the standard, is an act of unjustified pride. If we are all guilty, then we ought to be less given to attempting to shame others, or presuming to shun them as less fit than ourselves.

On the other hand, we wish to minimize the occasion of sin, as you say. We do wish a well-ordered society.

A sensible way of doing that would seem to be setting aside a place in which a certain amount of sin will be entirely overlooked; but then requesting, in return, that sin be confined there. In that way, if you avoid the place (the tavern, or the private internet computer, or what have you) you are not tempted either by the porn or by the impulse to feel superior to the sinners.

Society at large, meanwhile, does not commit the flaw of shunning and feeling superior to this one class of sinner (those who give into lust or drunkeness) over the other class (those who lust in their hearts but do not follow through). Although this moral position is counterintuitive to men, it is the one Christ states is proper -- at least, as I understand it.

This, I suppose, brings us back around at the end of a long and winding discussion. As a matter of policy, I think it still leaves you arguing in favor of doing everything possible to eliminate pornography, including punishing pornographers and shaming porn consumers; and I think it still leaves me arguing for tolerating pornography, though restricting it to only certain private areas so as to clear the rest of society of it.

I'm sure that the position I advocate does create a greater risk of occasioning lust among society's members; but I think also that it reduces the risk of occasioning pride. If pride is indeed the more serious sin -- insofar as it's easy to judge, as theology holds the punishment for serious sins is Hell in all cases, as you say; and yet, drawing on a long tradition which does in fact hold this to be the case, including but not limited to Dante -- then that may be a reason to consider the alternative policy.

Dad29 said...

Yeah, I think we agree--

But for one little statement: "...we are all guilty," [therefore]the sin of pride could be operative.

We must be very careful here. Christ forgave the adulteress, bu He also said "Sin no more." This has specific meaning: Christ had the power to forgive sins AND (we infer her sorrow and repentance) she would not sin again.

However, this does not nullify the objective fact that she was a sinner. Christ was pretty clear about sinners; some (many?) will go to Hell. He also was clear about the legitimacy of social/governmental justice ("render unto Caesar...").

After all, if society is to "forgive and forget" all crimes, then the society will not function.

I think the distinction is made between criminals who are harmful to society and those which are not. Anger is not punished, but murder is. Lust is not punished, but rape is (etc., etc.)

However, this is a matter of prudential judgment; we are not able to "read" anger, nor lust--any more than "thought crimes."

We will have a disagreement on porn. I say stamp it out--it leads to trouble, just as failure to repair one's brakes will lead to trouble. Not a matter of if--just a matter of when.

You say 'tolerate but control.'

This difference we can live with.

Finally: my "Tour of the Summa" (TAN Books, Rockford, IL., by Msgr. Paul Glenn) is a short-course on TA's Summa Theologica.

In this book, TA describes the "blessings of marriage" as three: 1) Fidelity; 2)Children; 3) Sacrament.

"Fidelity" includes the relief of concupiscence; "sacrament" is the "holiness of the state and the mutual duties." Children is self-evident.

Thus, the Church's most common definition of marital intercourse says that it fulfills two purposes: procreation and unification. I had never heard of the third purpose to which you allude, but it seems to be covered under "sacrament," which is a benefit specific to marriage, not to intercourse.

Grim said...


I hadn't realized you to be a published author on the subject. Thank you for taking the time to clarify.

My own understanding owes to a course taught by a professor of philosophy rather than a priest, which may account for the difference. It's also been some years ago, and yet I believe I am correctly reporting his assertions. I remember being quite taken with the Summa, as a student of philosophy.

Of course, just as I told young Karrde at Grim's Hall this week, that's been quite a while ago -- the same length of time since I studied political science. The courses have held up well in many a debate, but I don't doubt your own grounding in the material to be stronger. Thank you for the clarification.

Dad29 said...

Grim, I was NOT clear. The book is authored by Msgr Paul Glenn.

I happen to own a copy.

Worth buying, by the way; it's a MUCH easier read than Summa and is well-indexed.