20180918

Psalms 7:17 I will thank Yahveh for his righteousness; I will sing about the name of Yahveh Most High.

The psalmist concludes his prayer with an anticipation of future praise. His expectations are not based on what he has accomplished, or even the fact that he has prayed. His hope is built on nothing less than who God is.

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Talking (and talking, and talking) about mental health

“Let’s get people talking about mental health.” It sounds good in principle, but like many turns of phrase that sound virtuous, in the wrong hands and in the wrong context it is advice that can be anything but helpful.

[I wrote most of this article shortly after the death of actor Robin Williams. It has sat in draft for a few years for no particular reason, and I have brushed it up and published it now.]

Another man has killed himself, this time another entertainer. Although more women than men harm themselves, more men than women kill themselves. News stories that carry the story are, as always, including contact details for youth mental health services, and the story is being associated with the fact that we need to talk about depression and suicide. That message is loud and clear: We need to talk about it. It’s great that we’re getting people talking. We need to talk more. We need to get the issue out there more and get people talking. Talk!

That’s good and bad. Not all exposure to the issues of mental health and of suicide is healthy. Not all conversations about mental health and suicide should be had, and some people, given their own personal circumstances, are not helped by being shown a story about a well-liked celebrity who has ended his life, they are certainly not helped by the conversations and culture into which they are drawn as a result, and they need less talk about it, because the people who are talking about it around them really don’t know how to talk about it. Some of that is unpopular stuff to say, I know. I don’t want to take away from the genuine grief of people who are saddened by the loss of someone. I’ve been publicly devastated by the loss of entertainers in the past (I think of Gary Moore and Ronnie James Dio, for example) and there’s nothing wrong with that. But let me try to explain what I mean.

First, I know I could be wrong, because the question of how people actually respond to any event tragic or otherwise is an empirical one, established by data. We don’t know what the data is, and it would be pretty hard to obtain because we all mislead ourselves about ourselves. People who respond by wallowing in an unhealthy way aren’t going to describe their response that way, and people who contribute to a particular subculture that needs to “talk more about depression and suicide” with an unintended consequence of getting people to consider the possibility of suicide when they otherwise wouldn’t have aren’t aware that this is what they are doing. So this is the perspective of just one person.

But I’m a person who knows what mental unwellness is like, who has known people who ended their lives, who has family members with mental health struggles, self-harm habits and suicide attempts. I like to think I’m also pretty smart and also pretty loving. I’m concerned about my fellow human and my opinion is worth something.

I don’t worry *that* we want awareness of mental health struggles. I worry about how we’re doing it.

I don’t worry *that* we want awareness of mental health struggles (being made aware, for example, that men are more likely to suffer depression for longer and for it to not be identified has been very good for men). I worry about how we’re doing it. I worry about the immediate association of depression with suicide, for example, so that the conversation we encourage is one of “depression and suicide.” Most people who suffer from depression are not suicidal and have no desire to end their lives. In fact even severe cases of depression, depression alone is unlikely to make a person commit suicide. We have to be careful about simply passing on these news stories along with the unfiltered, unqualified statement that we need to get people talking about depression and suicide, sure that we are positively contributing to the great cause of the day. The conversations that we have create a culture. There are people who struggle with poor mental health who have not seriously considered suicide but who will consider suicide because of this conversation that is being encouraged. That’s a fact, and it’s one you might not be considering when you click “share.” These are people who would, of course, benefit from talking to competent, careful people about their mental health, but that’s not what is happening when these stories are shared along with the chorus of “let’s talk about it” and their labels of “distressing content” (which function somewhat like the “Parental advisory: Explicit content” stickers on CDs to make you buy them).

I’m aware of circles of teenage friends consisting of people who are generally pretty mentally healthy but who are attracted to a depressed culture – emo music (with which I have no problem), memes about how unhappy I am, and attention-seeking conversations – in which people have proposed “depression support groups,” a label that sounds wonderful in principle, except everyone involved is someone who is certain they’re mentally unwell (whether they are or not), knows more or less nothing about actually assisting people who genuinely suffer poor mental health, who really have no constructive, well-defined goal in mind, and who would actually be doing nothing more than creating pity parties of otherwise healthy young people who are now going to spend time mutually wallowing in how depressed they say they are, with nobody who could actually offer any assistance or cut through the crap. They need to talk a lot less, and talk a lot better. Far be it from me to say that people in these circles can or should be *sheltered* from news about famous people who have killed themselves. But we need to be careful in our focus.

Don’t just *talk* about it as thought talking about it is the goal.

Sure, let’s talk about it. Carefully. Wisely. Responsibly. With the right people and in the right context. Don’t just *talk* about it as thought talking about it is the goal. It’s not. Getting help if you need it and getting better (or at least learning to manage) is the goal – and for you, that goal may be found without saying very much to many people at all. Some talking is good, but some is not because it doesn’t get you any closer to that goal. When these stories appear in the news here in New Zealand, they are usually accompanied by contact details for organisations that are able to offer assistance with mental health issues. Talk about it with them. Or talk about it first with someone who will not encourage and enable you to just talk, and talk, and talk, and talk without any constructive action. Your parent, if they are someone who might have an idea of what to do next. Your pastor or priest. Your counsellor if you have one. Your doctor. But don’t just encourage “the conversation” so that we’re all talking about it, as though that’s a worthy end in itself.

Take it for what it’s worth

Glenn Peoples

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Revising The Official Story

Things Are Not As We Have Been Led to Believe

We didn’t win the war! Like us all, Peter Hitchens grew up on stories of Britain’s heroic victory over Hitler… but now, without questioning the bravery of our troops, he’s written a book challenging all we think about WW2

By Peter Hitchens
Daily Mail

In a chilly, high-ceilinged room in a Sussex preparatory school in the winter of 1959, I work intently on my model of the destroyer HMS Cossack. Such models come in lurid cardboard boxes illustrated with pictures of aircraft, tanks and warships, amid scenes of fiery melodrama, guns emitting orange streaks of flame, and the smoke of battle. With these and our imaginations, we seek to recreate the thrill of the war we have just missed, in which our fathers fought and our mothers endured privations.

This is a war just over the horizon of time in which we wish we had taken part, and which dominates our boyish minds above all things. Courage in pursuit of goodness, in the face of a terrible enemy, was what we most believed in.  Even the Crucifixion grew pale and faint in the lurid light of air raids and great columns of burning oil at Dunkirk.

But the Second World War, like all events that have become myths, has become a dangerous subject. As a nation, we are enthralled by the belief that it was an unequivocally ‘Good War’, a belief that has grown with extraordinary speed. Yet I did not have to look far to see a rather different picture. My parents were brought together by the tempest of that war and were marked by it for the rest of their lives.

My father, Commander Eric Hitchens, who served in the Royal Navy for 30 years, was never wholly sure who had won. He neither felt he was living in a victorious country nor felt it had rewarded him justly. I remember well how, sometimes, late in the evening, he would look thoughtfully into the middle distance and say: ‘Ah, well, we won the war… or did we?’

My mother, too, who had served in the Women’s Royal Naval Service and endured the Blitz, experienced the peacetime of victory as a disappointment, into which the ghosts of a more inspiring past sometimes intruded quite a lot.

Enough time has surely passed for us to admit that the military and political conduct of the war by our leaders was not always as good as it should have been, that the ‘Good War’ was often incompetently fought, with outdated equipment, by a country in decline. Events of the war, often minimised or avoided in popular or school histories, reveal a country seeking to be more important, rich and powerful than it was, and failing in all cases.

The myth that it was all glorious, and that it saved the world, is a comforting old muffler keeping out the clammy draughts of economic failure and political weakness.

Even today, the self-flattering fantasy that we won it, and the nonsensical but common belief that we did so more or less alone, still leads to foolish economic and diplomatic policies based on a huge overestimate of our real significance as a country. One day, this dangerous fable of the glorious anti-fascist war against evil may destroy us simply because we have a government too vain and inexperienced to restrain itself. That is why it is so important to dispel it.

The myths go right back to the start of the war. The uncomfortable truth is that from the very beginning, it was Britain which sought a conflict with Germany, not Germany with Britain. Hitler’s real targets lay elsewhere, in Ukraine and Russia, and he was much less interested in us than we like to think.

Nor did we go to war, as many like to believe, to save or even help the endangered Jews of Europe. The veteran Labour MP Frank Field’s claim in his recent resignation letter that ‘Britain fought the Second World War to banish these [anti-Semitic] views from our politics’ is the most recent example of this common but mistaken belief.

Britain simply did not declare war in 1939 to save Europe’s Jews – indeed, our government was indifferent to their plight and blocked one of their main escape routes, to what was then British-ruled Palestine. We also did nothing to help Poland, for whose sake we supposedly declared war.

Forget, too, the ‘special relationship’ with the US: America was a jealous and resentful rival to whom we ceded our global status and naval supremacy. And Washington’s grudging backing came at a huge price – we were made to hand over the life savings of the Empire to stave off bankruptcy and surrender.

Even the threat of a German invasion was never a reality, more a convenient idea which suited the propaganda purposes of Hitler and Churchill. What began as a phoney war led in the end to a phoney victory, in which the real winners were Washington and Moscow, not us – and an unsatisfactory, uncomfortable and unhappy peace.

It led to a permanent decline in our status, and a much accelerated, violent and badly managed collapse of our Empire.

I recently obtained, long after his death, the medal my father should have received for his service on the Russian convoys while he was still alive. It came in a cheap plastic case, like a tourist trinket, emphasising our decline in the long years since. Beyond doubt there were many acts of noble courage by our people, civilians and servicemen and women during that war. It is absolutely not my purpose to diminish these acts, or to show disrespect to those who fought and endured.

But the sad truth is that this country deliberately sought a war in the vain hope of preserving a Great Power status our rulers knew in their hearts it had already lost. The resulting war turned us into a second-rate power.

MYTH 1: WE WERE FORCED INTO WAR BY THE GERMANS

Britain actively sought a war with Germany from the moment Hitler invaded Prague in March 1939. Even before then, there were powerful voices in the Foreign Office urging the need to assert ourselves as a Great Power.

Poland was a pretext for that war, not a reason – as was demonstrated by the fact that we did nothing to help Poland when Hitler invaded. It was an excuse for an essentially irrational, idealistic, nostalgic impulse, built largely on a need to assert Britain’s standing as a Great Power.

This goes against everything we’ve been taught to believe. But the behaviour of the Foreign Office between March 1939 – when Britain pledged to guarantee Polish independence in the Anglo-Polish alliance – and the declaration of war in September 1939 strongly backs this up. Lord Halifax’s Foreign Office, contrary to the myth that it was a nest of appeasement, had for some time been keen on a showdown with Germany, despite our grave military weakness. During this period, British officialdom descended into childish frenzies over baseless frights about non-existent German invasions of several countries in Europe.  One such scare may have actually given Hitler the idea for threatening Czechoslovakia, until then not one of his major objectives. He then began, for the first time, to consider such a policy seriously.

As for Poland, Warsaw’s military government had, since 1934, had surprisingly good relations with Hitler. And many in Britain feared there was a real possibility Poland might make a deal with Germany, leaving Britain with no immediate reason to go to war in Europe.

At the end of March 1939, Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was reported to be ‘uneasy’ that our Ambassador in Warsaw could obtain no information as to the progress of negotiations during this time between Germany and Poland. Simon Newman, in his book March 1939: The British Guarantee To Poland, records Chamberlain telling the Cabinet on March 30, 1939, of his fears Polish negotiators were giving way to Germany. The British government, so often portrayed as anxious for a way out of war, was worried it would be cheated out of a confrontation it wanted to have.

The British people, who had mostly supported the Munich climbdown in September 1938, and turned out in their thousands to cheer it, were now persuaded war was at least a tolerable policy. This was achieved by the dubious claim we must stand firm over Poland or lose all honour.

How strange, in retrospect, that the USA managed to remain aloof from all this and came out of the war stronger and richer rather than (as we did) weaker and poorer, and seldom, if ever, has it had its honour impugned for waiting till it was ready to fight. Might we, too, have done better to wait?

The Polish guarantee transformed Britain from a nervous spectator of central European diplomatic manoeuvres into an active participant, reluctantly but resolutely accepting the need for war.

MYTH 2: POLAND WAS A BASTION OF DEMOCRACY

From the outbreak of war to the surrender of Warsaw in 1939 and the disappearance soon afterwards of the entire Polish nation, we did nothing to help the Poles. Cabinet minutes ahead of the declaration of war reveal a refusal to discuss the fact that British forces were quite incapable of coming to Poland’s aid if it were attacked. Why? Because, although we wanted war, we never intended to fight.

Poland mattered hardly at all to the government. Britain had no major interests in Poland, which was not a particularly democratic or free country. Since a violent military putsch in May 1926, Poland had been an authoritarian state without true free elections.  In 1939, it was not the martyred hero nation, champion of freedom, justice and democracy, of propaganda myth. It was deeply anti-Semitic in practice. Far from being ‘Plucky Little Poland’, Warsaw’s military junta selfishly joined in with the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia after Munich.

The truth is our over-confident and poorly informed government believed blockade and the economic and numerical superiority of France and Britain would teach Germany a lesson about the limits of power and force Hitler to negotiate. Yet our supposedly moral position involved knowingly giving a false promise to a country we did not much like or trust.

MYTH 3: WE FOUGHT TO PROTECT THE JEWS

The industrial mass murder of European Jews did not begin until after the war had started. It may even have been made easier by the night and fog of secrecy which war makes possible.

For years before the war, the persecution of Jews in German territory was obvious to the world and nobody doubted that the Nazi state was directly responsible. Yet we did not go to war or even break off diplomatic relations.

Even the complete unmasking of the Nazis’ murderous intentions towards Europe’s Jews during the Kristallnacht pogroms of November 9-10, 1938, does not feature anywhere in explanations of British, French or American changes of foreign policy towards Germany.  Britain and other free countries took in very few fleeing Jews, even in the much celebrated Kindertransport programme. It had, in fact, severely restricted Jewish migration to Palestine following Arab and Muslim pressure, just when they most needed such a refuge.

Nobody could have known this would end in the extermination camps. Yet, when confronted with undoubted evidence of the Holocaust, later in the war, Britain and the US took no direct action to prevent it. The official view remained throughout that the best response to this horror would be to win the war, which was what the various governments involved were already seeking to do anyway.

MYTH 4: CHAMBERLAIN WAS NOTHING BUT AN APPEASER

The Left still like to think that it was their outrage at Hitler which finally drove the appeasers, including Chamberlain, into action.

But it was Chamberlain’s Tories who rearmed the country and manoeuvred Britain into its first People’s War. Despite the Munich Agreement of 1938, when Chamberlain returned to London to rapturous crowds following a negotiated peace with Hitler, he had already begun an ambitious programme of rearmament, including the development of radar capabilities.

By the summer of 1939, he was quietly certain of war because, heavily influenced by the other supposed pacific appeaser, Lord Halifax, he had decided to bring it about. To reassert Britain’s status as a Great Power, there must be war, or at least a declaration. No doubt he hoped and expected that it would be either brief, or static, confined to the high seas. Crucially, the rearming was not intended for a continental land war but for imperial and national defence. But without it, we would have been sunk.

Expenditure on the Navy increased from £56,626,000 in 1934-5 to £149,339,000 in 1939-40. The naval building programme from 1936 to 1939 included six capital ships, six aircraft carriers, 25 cruisers, 49 destroyers and 22 submarines.

Army spending rose from £39,604,000 in 1934-5 to £227,261,000 in 1939-40. RAF spending went up from £17,617,000 to £248,561,000 in the same period. All these figures are equivalent to many billions now. Labour opposed almost all this rearmament at the time, only later claiming the moral high ground.

MYTH 5: WE STOOD ALONE AGAINST THE NAZI MENACE

The whole edifice of modern British patriotism and pride is based upon the belief that Britain stood alone against the Nazi menace after the fall of France. But it is a romantic myth. Not only did French and Belgian troops (often wholly selflessly) help British troops to escape through Dunkirk, but Britain also had a large and loyal Empire behind it throughout the war. And the part we played after 1940 is far less than we would have liked. Just nine months after it had begun, Britain had lost the war it declared. It had been driven from continental Europe, penniless and stripped of most of its military hardware.

British troops would not be in contact with the main body of the principal enemy again for four whole years – in a six-year war. Our role on land, between 1940 and 1944 in colonial or sideshow wars on the fringes of the conflict and even after D-Day, was as an increasingly junior partner to the USA and the USSR.

The prospect of peace with Germany on humiliating terms would linger like a nasty smell until the Battle of Stalingrad and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor made eventual German defeat certain. In the end we were rescued by others, and remain rescued – perhaps more rescued than many of us would like.

MYTH 6: THE LOOMING SHADOW OF INVASION

The threat of German invasion was never a reality, but served as propaganda which suited both Hitler and Churchill at the time.

For Hitler it was a way of persuading a battered, unhappy British populace to press their leaders to give in. For Churchill, more successfully, it was a way to raise morale, production and military effectiveness by creating an atmosphere of tension and danger.

Despite their might on land, the Germans in 1940 did not possess a single landing craft, as we understand the term. Their small navy had been devastated by the Norwegian campaign, losing ten destroyers in two battles at Narvik. There had never been sufficient concentrations of German troops in France for such a huge operation. Hitler’s famous directive of July 16, 1940, sounds menacing because of its use of the deeply shocking phrase ‘to occupy [England] completely’. But it is subtly cautious, plainly intended to persuade Britain to ‘come to terms’.

Hitler was cool towards an invasion, and serious plans for a cross-Channel attack were sketchy. Major forces were never assembled or trained for such an enormous and risky operation.  But appearances had to be maintained. In the post-Dunkirk months, Germany attacked coastal convoys, military industries and eventually centres of population.

British pilots, and allies of many nations, fought with extreme bravery in the air in 1940. But the belief it was an all-or-nothing struggle in which every sinew was strained is undermined by the fact that in September 1940, 30 Hurricanes, with their pilots, were ordered to Khartoum in the Sudan.

Tellingly, too, Churchill’s private secretary, Jock Colville, heard the premier refer to ‘the great invasion scare’ in conversation with Generals Paget and Auchinleck in July 1940, and imply that it was serving a useful purpose.

Later actions we took, especially the bombing of German civilians from 1942 to 1945, are often justified by the plea that our very existence was in peril, when by then it was not. Hitler’s real aim, especially after 1941, was the conquest of Ukraine and Russia.

MYTH 7: WE CAN THANK THE ‘SPECIAL RELATIONSHIP’

Hitler had well-founded suspicions that the USA, far from being a friend to this country, was hostile to and jealous of the British Empire. Indeed, the Anglo-American alliance refused to solidify as long as Britain still appeared to Americans as a selfish, mean and bullying Great Power quite capable of looking after itself. Attitudes began to change only when Britain, admitting it was running out of money, came to America’s doorstep as a penniless supplicant, offering America the chance to save the world.

The extraordinary (and all but unknown) transfer of Britain’s gold to the USA throughout 1939 and 1940 was the lasting proof that a deliberate, harsh British humiliation had to precede any real alliance. The stripping of Britain’s life savings was an enormous event.

Secret convoys of warships were hurrying across the Atlantic loaded down with Britain’s gold reserves and packed with stacks of negotiable paper securities, first to Canada and then to Fort Knox in Kentucky, where much of it still remains. It was not for safekeeping, but to pay for the war. Before Britain could become the USA’s pensioner, we had to prove we had nothing left to sell.

The ‘Lend-Lease’ system, which provided limited American material aid to Britain, was far from the act of selfless generosity Churchill proclaimed it to be. Even the Americans’ Bill had a gloating, anti-British tinge, given the number H.R. 1776 in reference to the year of the US Declaration of Independence.

The Destroyers for Bases Agreement, too, was quite grudging. It led to 50 decrepit American First World War destroyers being handed over in return for the USA obtaining bases in several British territories on the Western side of the Atlantic.

This shocking surrender of sovereignty indicates Britain was, piece by piece, handing naval and imperial supremacy to its former colony. It symbolises the true relationship between the USA and Britain in the post-Dunkirk months, as opposed to the sentimental fable still believed.

MYTH 8: BRITISH BOMBING OF GERMANY WAS JUSTIFIED

Many believe British bombing in the Second World War killed German civilians only by accident, in what would now be called ‘collateral damage’. But documents and recorded remarks reveal this was not so.

The policy of bombing German civilians, mostly working-class opponents of Hitler in dense, poor housing, was adopted after a confidential report showed the RAF simply could not bomb accurately by night. Bombing was not confined to such moments as the Hamburg and Dresden firestorms, but sustained and directed at almost every major German city.

None of the justifications for this policy stands up. It did surprisingly little damage to German war production. It was incredibly wasteful of the brave young aircrews, who had no choice in the matter, who died in appalling numbers night after night.

It did not save us from invasion. Systematic large-scale bombing did not really begin until March 1943, by which time Hitler was in retreat in the East and in no position to invade Britain.

While it did draw guns and planes from the Eastern Front, the same effect would have been achieved by attacks on military and industrial sites, which were highly effective when tried, and would have ended the war much more quickly.

It also removed vital aircraft from the Battle of the Atlantic, in which the Royal Navy grappled with German U-boats and came dangerously close to defeat. This is not hindsight. Powerful voices were raised against it at the time, some on moral grounds, some pointing out that it was militarily unjustified. But they were over-ruled and mocked.

MYTH 9: HEROIC BRITAIN WON THE WAR

Britain played a surprisingly small part in the overthrow of Hitler. It was not British troops who stormed Hitler’s bunker or planted their flag on the ruins of the Reichstag.

Chamberlain and Daladier, the French Prime Minister, started a war which Stalin and Roosevelt would later take over and finish. It destroyed the Third Reich and created a new order in Europe in which Britain and France would be second-rate powers.

It may be the only case in history of a second-hand war being taken over by other belligerents and used for their own purposes. Certainly Britain and France did not achieve their aim in declaring war. Both sought to stay in the club of Great Powers and found themselves being asked to leave.

The devastating cultural revolution of the past 50 years would not have happened in a country where the victorious governing classes were confident and assured. And our absorption into the EU – which is the continuation of Germany by other means – is not the fate of a dominant victor nation.

MYTH 10: WE WERE GLORIOUS IN VICTORY

The general impression is that the end of hostilities brought a new sunlit era of optimism in a ravaged continent. Yet victory led swiftly to an appeasement of Stalin at least as bad as our appeasement of Hitler in 1938, with nations handed over bound and gagged to the Kremlin’s secret police regime. And the following months and years brought death on a colossal scale, of which we nowadays know almost nothing.

Under the Potsdam Agreement, between 12 and 14 million ethnic Germans were driven from Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Yugoslavia. We shall never know how many died – estimates vary from 500,000 to 1.5 million. Most were women and children, defenceless civilians. In one incident, 265 Germans, including 120 women and 74 children, were killed by Czech troops. They were removed from a train, shot in the back of the neck and buried in a mass grave they had been forced to dig.

These disgusting slaughters were not the result of enraged citizens taking their revenge on former oppressors, but state-sponsored and centrally controlled. There are many more examples, but most of them, recorded in Professor R. M. Douglas’s harrowing and distressing book Orderly And Humane (the phrase comes from the Potsdam Agreement itself) are known, in this country at least, only to professional historians.

A whole page of horror in European history, from which we have much to learn, has been erased. And, as so often in these matters, those who raise these matters can expect to be falsely accused of minimising the crimes of the Nazis, as some in Germany have sought to do. But this is a stupid lie.

As Prof Douglas says: ‘Whatever occurred after the war cannot possibly be equated to the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans during it, and suggestions to the contrary are deeply offensive and historically illiterate.’ But the fact that a respectable academic has to make this point illustrates how very difficult it still is, nearly 80 years later, to look objectively at the Second World War.

Later still, as our diminished power and influence became clear in so many ways, the ghost of our 1940 defeat – and the necessary but reluctant compromises we had to make in order to survive it – still haunts our lives.

The most popular film in British cinemas of summer 2017 was Dunkirk. But it made no attempt to explain to a new generation why the entire British Army was standing up to its armpits in salt water, being strafed by the German air force, having wrecked, burned or dumped arms and equipment worth billions in today’s money.

Nobody wants to know. Perhaps it is time they did.

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What Is Wrong With Watching Pornography?

Has pornography really become morally and socially acceptable? If a piece of gossipy fluff reposted on the Herald website is any indication, the answer is: Yes, it has, and for your information, it is now opposition to pornography that is morally and socially abnormal.

The article in question informs us that an American woman by the name of Claire Dolton was recently pilloried online for jilting her fiance for an especially stupid reason. “And the reason?” asks lifestyle reporter Vanessa Brown. She then answers her own question: “Well, the guy liked to watch porn—gasp!”

Consider that sarcastic, editorialising gasp. It leaves the reader in no doubt of Venessa’s opinion. Claire Dolton is an absurd pearl-clutching prude and her decision to break up with her fiancé over pornography is over-the-top. If pornography is to be approached with any moral reservation at all (and it is not clear from Vanessa’s article that it should) then, presumably, it is on a level with double-parking and the late return of library books: A naughty foible unworthy of serious concern.

If it is absurd to be solemnly opposed to masturbation and pornography then the Christian Church has been absurd for twenty centuries. The Catechism of the Catholic Church declares that, “pornography does grave injury to the dignity of participants,” and lists masturbation as a mortal sin—where “mortal” means serious enough to destroy one’s relationship with God. Luther and Calvin believed likewise as is clear from their voluminous writings. And there is no possible reading of Matthew 5:27-28 (in which men are forbidden to, “gaze at a woman to lust after her,”) that does not proscribe pornography for any man who wishes to obey the teachings of Jesus. [1]

In the digital age, meanwhile, pornography has never been more abundant, more accessible and more accepted. [2] Clearly, then, there is a chasm between what the Church teaches and what society practices. In what follows it will be my concern to show that Christian teaching on this issue is morally coherent. My argument will be that the Church upholds and promotes an ideal of human sexuality that is productive of virtue and happiness while all forms of human sexuality that deviate from this ideal, such as pornography and masturbation, are productive of vice and therefore morally wrong.

It Is Disordered

Let me begin with a modest claim about masturbation and pornography: It is highly doubtful that a good counterargument can be mounted against the view that it is disordered—where “disordered” is understood to mean, “contrary to the normal and healthy functioning or purpose of something”—in this case, human sexuality.

Clearly enough, a boy who discovers that he enjoys rubbing his genitals has not discovered the unitive and procreative ends towards which the motivating urge is directed. Who can deny that he still has an important further fact to learn about sex? Or, if the masturbator is an adult man, who can deny that what is missing from the room when he masturbates is as critical to the completion and fulfilment of human sexuality as is an opponent to a solitary man on a tennis court who wishes to play a game of tennis?

The theologian Peter Damian has even suggested that masturbation is a form of low-grade homosexuality—a point which entails masturbation is disordered ipso facto for heterosexual men whose sexual desires are directed at the female sex. [3] I will admit that I initially laughed at Damian’s suggestion—but it is nevertheless reasonable on reflection. For consider what is happening when a man masturbates: In a room in which a woman is nowhere to be found, a male hand is bringing a male penis to orgasm—so be it that the hand and penis belong to the same man. In The Porn Trap, Wendy and Larry Maltz make the further point that, for this very reason, heterosexual boys have always tried to use pornography to “heterosexualize” masturbation,

Rather than focus on the fact that they are stimulating male genitals, they can focus on the reassuring presence of a female.

The obvious qualification that no female is actually present gives the lie to the attempted deception: For in the final analysis masturbating to heterosexual pornography is no more a form of “heterosexual sex” than a shoe is “food” if while eating it I look at pictures of bread.

Here an objector may simply allow that pornography and masturbation are disordered and ask: Is what is disordered necessarily wrong? Thomists think the answer to this question is Yes and their position, called Natural Law Morality, is not as easy to refute as you might think. But showing that pornography is wrong does not depend on a defence of Natural Law Morality. There are far less scholastic and more obvious objections at hand.

It Is Paradigmatically Selfish

That the act of sexually pleasuring yourself is paradigmatically selfish is, I hope, fairly obvious. John Paul II, in his Theology of the Body, argues that, “pornography and masturbation represent the destruction of the symbolic and nuptial meaning of the human body.” For, as he says, “God gives all men and women erotic energy,” that, “forms part of that attraction between men and women.” That, of itself, is a profound good. But it follows that,

Sexual energy needs to find its outlet in love, not lust: In masturbation that erotic energy is turned in on oneself. Masturbation, therefore, is a symbol not of love but of loneliness.

Here an atheist reader will object that I have smuggled God into my argument. But the point is scarcely affected by the substitution of “Nature” for God as the origin human erotic energy. It is an obvious general truth that when the pleasure of sex is shared it opens one up to erotic and romantic affection and, ultimately, family love. Thomas Nagel, himself an atheist, sees this reciprocity as being what is essential to human sexuality.

Nagel proposes that sexual interactions in which each person responds with sexual arousal to noticing the sexual arousal of the other person exhibit the psychology that is natural to human sexuality. In such an encounter, each person becomes aware of himself or herself and the other person as both the subject and the object of their joint sexual experiences. Perverted sexual encounters or events would be those in which this mutual recognition of arousal is absent. [4]

On Nagel’s criterion both masturbating and viewing pornography would qualify as, “perverted sexual events” since there is not and cannot be a mutual recognition of arousal between two conscious selves.

It Therefore Impedes Virtue

Consider, by contrast, a man in a loving and monogamous marriage who refrains from pornography and masturbation. Such a man constrains his sexual activity to one woman with whom he is in love. He thereby enjoys the imposition of what is probably one of the few constraints upon the male libido that is stronger than the male libido—love itself. In other words, a loving husband who enjoys sexual release with the woman he loves and in no other way quickly discovers that in the interests of cherishing and respecting her he will frequently need to overcome and set aside his carnal urges—to give up on the idea of fulfilling some erotic fantasy that his wife finds embarrassing, for example; or to give up on the idea of having sex altogether in order to nurse his wife because she feels unwell. In this way, over time, and by force of habit, his love and respect for the other must operate against and surpass his strongest instinct for pleasure. And as Plato said, “A man becomes brave by acting bravely.” He means that we shape our moral character over time by our moral choices. The implications of this should be obvious

You might object here that a loving husband who does not so constrain himself does all these things too only he also masturbates to pornography in private from time to time—perhaps the better to control his carnal urges. But this objection entirely misses the point. For the man who has an orgasm whenever he wants and with whatever fantasy or pornographic aid he wants does not enjoy any inter-personal constraint upon his sexual release. C. S. Lewis understood this well when he wrote,

The real evil of masturbation would be that it takes an appetite which, in lawful use, leads the individual out of himself to complete and correct his own personality in that of another and turns it back; sends the man back into the prison of himself, there to keep a harem of imaginary brides … For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.

And It Promotes Vice

Much of what I have said so far could be applied to masturbation alone. But masturbation is almost always coupled with pornography abuse—and this is much graver. Lewis himself wrote well before the spread of online pornography. But his warning has only become more relevant and more urgent.

It is logical: You cannot love, respect and will the good of another human being and simultaneously find pleasure in watching them do something harmful or have something harmful done to them. The question arises: Is choosing to become a pornographic actress a good thing for a woman to do?

The question can be brought home by imagining that your mother, sister, daughter or wife is the woman in question. Sexual intercourse has the potential to be the most wonderful experience of human life—from its romantic and unitive force in a loving relationship to its production of children and so of family love. Contrast this with the life of a pornographic actress for whom sex and love are alienated so that her body can be objectified for profit.

If you cannot with perfect equanimity entertain the prospect of one of your female loved ones becoming a pornographic actress then you are morally compromising yourself every time you watch and masturbate to pornography. For to enjoy pornography and masturbation one has to follow the opposite moral path of the man who constrains his sexual activity to one woman with whom he is in love; namely, he has to allow his sexual desires to eclipse his love and respect for the other; he has to view woman and girls with limited financial and emotional agency as objects worthy to be used and misused for the sake of his own sexual enjoyment. And to do so—and to make a habit of doing so—is, Plato reminds us, simply to become a perverse, selfish, callous and unloving person.

This argument holds with respect to any form of pornography whatever; but it holds a fortiori with respect to the sort of pornography that has become almost normative online in recent times. There are various studies that can now be found on the prevalence and frequency of verbal and physical aggression towards woman in pornographic videos today. A fairly typical example reviews 304 popular videos and reports that,

88% of scenes contained physical aggressive behavior, such as choking or hitting, and 49% contained verbal aggression, mostly name calling. Almost all (94%) of aggressive behavior was directed towards women and elicited a positive or neutral response.

The Herald itself should know better. A month before it posted the above article, it ran a story on an online discussion among pornographic actresses in which it was revealed that, “rape, abuse and exploitation are shockingly common.” And when it is remembered that viewing pornography online produces ad revenue for those that promulgate it, it is not an exaggeration to say that men who view pornography are helping to fund the rape, abuse and exploitation of vulnerable women and girls. In this light, Claire’s mortification at her fiancé’s enjoyment of pornography does not seem quite so absurd.

The coherence of Christian teaching on this subject is, I believe, a small item of further evidence for the truth of the Christian Faith.

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[1] In this article I address myself to the problem of heterosexual men viewing heterosexual porn with a focus on the exploitation of women. This is because it is primarily men that view porn and it is primarily woman who are exploited. However, the same arguments could be applied with very little need of emendation to account for viewers and actors of any gender and orientation.

[2] For the coherence of Christian teaching on homosexuality see Revelation: From Metaphor to Analogy by Richard Swinburne, p.303-306.

[3] The Broadcasting Standards Authority would likely agree with Venessa Brown—having decided that a show in which headless human beings are selected worthy or unworthy of romance by an examination of their genitals was fit for prime time New Zealand television. You can read about their decision here.

[4] Quoted from this article on the Philosophy of Sexuality.

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20180917

Psalms 7:14-16 Notice, the wicked one is pregnant with evil, conceives hardship, and gives birth to a lie. 15 He dug a pit and hollowed it out but fell into the hole he had made. 16 The hardship he plans for others comes back on his own head; his own violence comes down on top of his head.

The psalmist is adding a corrective nuance to the image of God as a warrior ready to punish evil. While it is true that God is ready to punish evildoers, he gives his victims opportunity to repent and convert. If anyone is punished for their sins— whether in this life or on judgment day— it will be because of their deliberate actions.

Evildoers are described as pregnant women, as builders of traps. What they conceived and constructed to harm others will fall on them. God is just.

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20180916

Psalms 7:12-13

12 If anyone will not repent, he will sharpen his sword; he has strung his bow and made it ready. 13 He has readied his deadly weapons; he tips his arrows with fire.

The psalmist feels like his enemies have assumed that God is all talk and no action. But he sees God as a warrior ready for battle— a sniper in position for a kill shot.

Lord, restore to us an awareness of your readiness to punish wrongdoing.

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Labour is Snookered

Winston Peters is NZ’s Actual Prime Minister
Below is veteran columnist, John Armstrong’s take on New Zealand’s unfolding constitutional revolution.  We suspect that he has failed to grasp fully the political pressures, on the one hand, and the de facto changes to NZ’s constitution, on the other. 

 Labour Has Been Outsmarted and Outmanoeuvred

John Armstrong
One News

Don’t listen to those who dismiss the current muscle-flexing by Winston Peters as nothing more than the standard fare of MMP politics.  It is anything but.

Were there a handbook covering the mechanics of forming and running a coalition government, the New Zealand First leader would currently be writing a new chapter—one which would be without a happy ending for Jacinda Ardern, her coalition managers and the rest of the Labour Party.  The latter should be worried — very worried.

It is the ongoing conundrum of multi-party governments that minor parties which behave themselves and keep their heads down have almost without exception have had their heads lopped off come election-time.  Peters seems to be experimenting with the notion that minor parties which are far less polite get noticed by voters rather than being suffocated.

If that is not enough to give Labour grief, Peters appears to be engaged in trying to pull off what would amount to a massive shift in power within the coalition.  Forget cracks about cracks appearing in the coalition’s facade.  Peters, for one, will not be going anywhere. . . .

Peters now has the dream job of foreign minister. Yet, he also remains an absolutely pivotal figure in domestic politics.  With regard to the latter, it is obvious there been a major shift in New Zealand First strategy.

What began as an isolated case of New Zealand First thwarting Labour’s desire to eradicate a hardline law and order statute — namely the three-strikes law — has become what looks suspiciously like a carefully orchestrated campaign which has the junior partner in the coalition making ever more frequent raids deep into territory where Labour would insist it has the right to call the shots.

Labour can tolerate having to keep living with the three-strikes law. It can tolerate not being able to raise the annual refugee quota.  After all, prior to a National government-instigated rise in the quota which took effect this year, the quota had been held at 750 for the previous 30 years, believe it or not.  What Labour cannot accept is its coalition partner blocking its long-promised legislation rolling back some of National’s so-called “reforms” in the industrial relations arena.

If Labour is not seething over that, it should be. The dominant partner has to bite its tongue, however.  To react too strongly to New Zealand First’s intention to put up amendments to the Employment Relations Amendment Bill would be to pour petrol on a bonfire called “Coalition Tensions”.  Few things excite the media than the words “splits” and “divisions”.  Peters hardly needs to be told that.

Labour has been outsmarted and outmanoeuvred by him, however.  He has decreed that anything which is not included in the two parties’ coalition agreement, the Speech from the Throne, which sets out a government’s legislative programme, the Budget or Labour’s 100-day Action Plan is not Government policy.  It is —to use Peters’ term — a “work in progress’’.

New Zealand First is using these criteria, either as a means of blocking or amending Labour initiatives or as a bargaining chip at the Cabinet table.  The moot question is how long Labour can afford to put up with a partner causing such high levels of aggravation.

What Armstrong fails to grasp, it seems, is that Jacinda Ardern is now little more than a titular figurehead.  She cannot win back control of the government.  She knows now that if she fails to accept Winston Peters as the Ringmaster–the actual Prime Minister–her government will fall.  She is in the grip of a relentless vice.  There is nowhere else to go.

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20180915

Psalms 7:11 God is a righteous judge and a God who demonstrates his wrath every day.

The psalmist is speaking to those who bank on a God who only interferes in human lives and events on some cosmic chronological scale. No, he says. God is constantly both judging and punishing those who disregard his laws. He didn’t just set things in motion in his universe and sit back with popcorn in hand and watch. He’s watching all right. But he is also acting.

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20180914

Psalms 7:10 My shield is from God, who saves those who are upright in heart.

Having called on God to treat both himself and his enemies with the same justice, the psalmist now boasts of a protective shield from God. The Lord will act to right the wrongs inflicted on his servant. The Lord will save and vindicate those who are upright in heart.

Loyalty to Christ in an age like this one will require praying like this. We will have many enemies who claim we are being unjust, who will claim to be genuine, and accuse us of being hypocritical. We must trust in the shield of God. We must pray through those terrible accusations.

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Chinese Government Shows Its Weakness and Insecurity

Persecution of Christians In China

Chinese Gov’t Burning Bibles, Shutting Churches, Ordering Christians to Renounce Faith

Atheistic Chinese Communist Government Scared

Dave Urbanski
The Blaze

China’s government is burning Bibles, destroying crosses, shutting churches, and ordering Christians to sign papers renouncing their faith, the Associated Press reported, citing pastors and a group that monitors religion in China.  The crackdown is related to an effort to “Sinicize” — or refashion as Chinese — religion by enforcing loyalty to the atheist Communist Party and getting rid of challenges to its authority over people’s lives, the outlet said.

Bob Fu of the U.S.-based group China Aid, said the recent shuttering of churches in central Henan province and a well-known house church in Beijing equates to a “significant escalation” of the crackdown, the AP reported.  “The international community should be alarmed and outraged for this blatant violation of freedom of religion and belief,” Fu wrote in an email to the outlet.

More from the AP:
 

Under President Xi Jinping, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, religious believers are seeing their freedoms shrink dramatically even as the country undergoes a religious revival. Experts and activists say that as he consolidates his power, Xi is waging the most severe systematic suppression of Christianity in the country since religious freedom was written into the Chinese constitution in 1982.

Fu also provided video footage of what appeared to be piles of burning Bibles and forms stating that the signatories had renounced their Christian faith. He said that marked the first time since Mao’s radical 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution that Christians had been compelled to make such declarations, under pain of expulsion from school and the loss of welfare benefits.

A Christian pastor in the Henan city of Nanyang said crosses, Bibles, and furniture were burned during a Sept. 5 raid on his church, the outlet reported. The pastor — who didn’t want to be identified over safety concerns — said several people entered the church when its doors opened at 5 a.m. and began removing items.

The pastor told the AP that local authorities demanded the church “reform” itself, but no agreement had been reached or official documents released. Chinese law dictates that believers can worship only in congregations registered with authorities, the outlet said, but millions nevertheless belong to underground or house churches that resist the government.

What did a Chinese official have to say?

A Nanyang city government official disputed the account and said authorities respected religious freedom, the AP reported.  Zion Church in Beijing — known as the largest house church in the capital, with six branches — was shut Sunday by about 60 government workers, the church’s pastor, Ezra Jin Mingri, told the outlet Monday.

Officials declared gatherings illegal and sealed off church properties, Jin told the AP, adding that his personal assets were frozen in an apparent attempt to force him to comply with government demands.

A Sunday notice posted on the website of the Chaoyang district government in Beijing said Zion Church was closed because it failed to register with the government, the outlet reported.

“Churches will continue to develop,” Jin told the AP. “Blocking the sites will only intensify conflicts.”

All of China’s officially recognized religions appear to have been affected by the crackdown. In the most extreme example, an estimated 1 million Uighurs and other members of Muslim minority groups in the country’s northwest have been arbitrarily detained in indoctrination camps where they are forced to denounce Islam and profess loyalty to the Communist Party.

The government says it is taking necessary measures to eliminate extremism, but denies setting up the camps.  China has an estimated 38 million Protestants, and experts have predicted that the country will have the world’s largest Christian population in a few decades.

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