I generally don't talk about repressive legislation or sexuality witchhunts in other countries, where adulterers can be stoned to death, gays can be executed, consumers of porn can lose their jobs or kids, and artists creating "blasphemous" art can be jailed.
But when our cousins across the pond threaten the fundamental rights of their citizens to own sexy pictures, we should care. Especially when their proposed laws sound very, very close to ours.
The British Parliament is set to approve a law that would criminalize the mere possession of images which the government deems "too extreme." These would include images depicting acts which "threaten or appear to threaten a person's life" and which "result in or appear to result in serious injury to a person's anus, breasts or genitals."
You could go to jail for owning a picture of people play-acting a scene of rape.
The new law gained traction after the murder of a British woman whose killer frequented websites depicting violent sex. Members of Parliament seem uninterested in the much, much larger number of people who go to those websites without murdering anyone.
The new law will forbid couples from sharing images of themselves engaged in consensual sex if a court decides it's too rough. As one Lord Wallace said during the bill's debate, "If no sexual offense is being committed, it seems very odd indeed that there should be an offense for having an image of something which was not an offense." Translation into American: this bill creates a crime out of nothing.
The prospect of a thousand-year-old democracy forbidding people from owning pictures of legal activity is extremely disturbing. What's even more disturbing is that similar laws already exist in the U.S. (e.g., 17-year-olds having legal sex can't own photos of their lovemaking because it's considered child pornography)--and every year, our Justice Department attempts to criminalize larger and larger categories of pornography.
The U.S. and U.K.--two countries divided by a common language? It's looking more like two countries united by a common fear: the fear that pictures of sex have some magical power to destroy people's minds. London Bridge is indeed falling down--not from porn, but from the fear of porn.
Pharoah Lives--In The Hearts of Orthodox Jews
I was in Budapest, Hungary, last week, lecturing for a few days. By coincidence it was also Passover, which gave special meaning to my visit to the old Jewish Quarter here.
I toured the famous Dohany Synagogue, the second largest in the world (after New York's), along with several smaller ones. Done in various 19th century styles, one feature common to all is the physical separation of the genders--typically men downstairs, women upstairs.
This separation continues today in modern Orthodox Judaism in America, Israel, and around the world. Some Orthodox Jewish men won't shake hands with a woman from outside their family. Many won't dance with any woman, not even their own wife.
In Israel, in fact, the Orthodox Jews who control key government ministries control the 2,500-year-old Wailing Wall, preventing men and women from visiting or praying together at Judaism's holiest shrine.
Which brings us to Passover, the festive holiday that celebrates the Israelite exodus from Egyptian slavery thousands of years ago. Tradition teaches that when Pharoah became frightened about the quickly-multiplying Israelite immigrants, he enslaved them, and, to limit their fertility, moved them to segregated dormitories--forcibly separating husband and wife.
How ironic, then, that Orthodox Judiasm repeats this destructive dynamic with its enforced separation of men and women. Indeed, fundamentalist Islam does the same, while Catholicism and evangelical Christianity do it symbolically.
How can religious people believe that marriage is holy, and then deliberately limit its intimacy and shared experiences? How can any Jew believe in a God that prevents marriage partners from praying together, from sharing a spiritual moment, from feeling connected to the tradition that helps keep them together?
A God who creates men and women who desire each other's companionship, and then forbids them from sharing it fully, is not worthy of worship. Only a human mind could imagine such cruelty.
Dear Pope: Support Life, Support Masturbation
On his recent rock-star tour of the U.S., the Pope talked about the pain inflicted by priests who sexually exploited young parishioners, calling it "a wound on the body of Christ."
"No words of mine could describe the pain and harm inflicted by such abuse," Benedict said today in Boston, vowing to eliminate such behavior from the priesthood.
This, of course, is an important step. But with all due respect to the thousands of lives damaged by molesting priests, what about the tens of millions of lives damaged by the OTHER Catholic Church sex scandal--the profound condemnation of masturbation?
This is the first sexual activity of most humans, and the primary sexual activity of most Western adults--far more than intercourse or even passionate kissing.
Despite the lack of clear Scriptural reference (masturbation appears NOWHERE in the Old Testament, and there's one ambiguous, POSSIBLE reference in Matthew), the Church has reaffirmed and again reaffirmed the sinfulness of this sexual activity. How can that be? Masturbation does not destroy life, exploits no one, involves no adultery, expresses no "perversion."
The Church has a lot to answer for in its handling of priests who sexualized children. But it has way, way more to answer for in its meticulous creation of guilt, shame, anxiety, and fear of Divine punishment--for the most simple, genuine, life-affirming sexual activity of all.
If the kids molested by priests are worth so many papal tears, how about the brothers, sisters, cousins, and neighbors of those kids--who, not molested by priests, are nevertheless ravaged by the Church's inhumane condemnation of their sexuality. Every adult who started as a Catholic child faces life with this handicap.
When will the Pope--any Pope--step up and end this ongoing catastrophe?
Outraged that I would mention molestation and guilt about masturbation in the same breath? Consider the TYPICAL results of this guilt:
* sexual dysfunction (lack of desire, erection, or orgasm)
* inability to have a meaningful relationship
* feeling so dirty that you invite sexual misuse as an adult
* depression because God hates you
* bulimia and anorexia
* disgust about others' sexuality and sexual choices
* teaching your own kids to be ashamed of their sexuality
* using violence to prove to yourself you're a real man
Such damage is NOT trivial next to being molested--in fact, the effects are quite similar. Learning to feel guilty and disgusted over your masturbation as a child is just a different way of having your sense of self eroded, your ability to relate damaged, your access to your divine sexuality stolen.
Masturbation is life-affirming, and the Church claims it wants to affirm life. Ending priest-child sex is one step. Stopping the inhumane assault on masturbation is another.
Protecting Our Sexuality, One Bad Law At A Time
With anxiety and anger about sexuality reaching a noisy crescendo, Congressmembers and state legislators are responding with laws that quiet the mob--laws that have little chance of taking effect, or of surviving judicial review if they do.
For years, Congress has passed law after law attempting to rid the internet of pornography. Texas recently passed a law requiring strip clubs to pay a special tax of $5 per head (no jokes, please).
And last week, Indiana passed a law requiring sellers of "sexually explicit" materials to register with the state and pay a $250 fee.
Every federal law censoring the internet has been halted by a court. The Texas law was overturned by a court several weeks ago. The Indiana law, you can be sure, will be overturned before Labor Day.
All because of "activist judges." You know what an "activist judge" is--someone who decides that a law you like happens to be illegal.
Most people understand that Congress can't pass a law reinstituting slavery--and that if it did, a court would overturn it. Similarly, a state legislature can't authorize murder, or require all its residents to eat beef to qualify for a driver's license.
Americans may not understand the legal technicalities preventing the passage of certain laws (even if highly popular), but they understand the general idea. We live by a set of rules--the Constitution and its Bill of Rights--that elected officials simply cannot waive.
This is all fine--until a group of people thinks they should be allowed to trample the Constitutional rules because they're upset about sex. Sexual danger. Sexual fear. Legislators pass laws in response to SexPanics that break the larger, Constitutional rules.
When these laws are successfully challenged, counties and states face huge legal bills, and everyone's time has been wasted. But legislators win.
"Don't blame me," they say, "I voted for a law you demanded that would protect our children, but those snooty judges decided you citizens couldn't have the laws you asked us to pass. You might as well live in Russia."
This is legislative cowardice. Most lawmakers are lawyers. They can generally guess what new laws won't stand up. They vote for the laws anyway, watch them (predictably) get ruled unconstitutional, then blame the courts, the ACLU, and "liberal" plaintiffs (bookstores, strip clubs, a student who just wanted some birth control).
Hey Americans, democracy does NOT mean the majority can create ANY laws they want--it means they can pass any laws they want within the Constitution's wonderful, far-sighted limits.
Americans who are too immature to understand that their fear and anxiety about sex do not suspend the rules of the game will get the lawmakers they deserve. These charlatans will pander to their fear, pretend to do something efficacious, and when it predictably fails Constitutional scrutiny, argue "hey, I tried to do what you wanted, but due to a flaw in the system, we both end up victims."
No, judges overturning bad laws isn't a flaw in the system; it's the system working like it's supposed to. The adult fruits of democracy are only for those adult enough to comfort themselves when their emotions want something their political system can't--and shouldn't--provide.