opinion

Tracing Porn's History

Vic D
Many people think of pornography as an abnormality in human culture, an ugly side effect of corrupt contemporary values and a prime example of alarming moral decay in society. Right wing constituents, particularly in American media, actively promote this conception - because it makes the elimination of pornography seem more desirable.

This concept of pornography is perfectly wrong and exactly the opposite of the truth. Pornography always has been a normal, socially important component of every healthy human culture throughout history.

Greece - the model archetype for all Western civilization - brings us the word "pornography" (pornographia), which translates as a written depiction (a "graph") of prostitution (pornai).

Modern implications of words like "prostitution" are completely misleading, because the social role of prostitution in the ancient world is significantly different from its role in today's society. To understand the ethical import of pornography, we also must understand the social status of prostitution throughout history: The ancient prostitute was to ancient pornography what the modern "porn star" is to modern pornography.

The prostitutes of ancient cultures like Greece were usually entertainers and artists whose talents included sexual expertise and liberty. In most cases, prostitutes were the only women allowed social equality with men in terms of education and independence. Ancient prostitutes also were mostly responsible citizens who often donated their hard-earned wealth to civic improvement and charity. The Romans honored sex workers in their annual festival of Floralia. The Egyptians constructed a pyramid to honor the harlot Rhodophis.

Today, religion seems to be at odds with pornography and sexual pleasure in general, but this was not so in ancient cultures.

Goddess Ishtar (diety of the oldest of all known Western civilizations, Sumeria) was considered a prostitute. The Babylonians also revered Ishtar and imported her into their own pantheon, calling her Har (from which we get the word harlot) and Hora (the root of the word whore).

In Babylon and Sumeria, Ishtar's sacred temples functioned as pornographic production houses. It was a Babylonian social expectation that every woman in society must go to a temple of Ishtar and perform the rite of prostitution with a stranger at least once in her life. Far from being shameful, the Babylonians considered this taste of being a "porn star" to be a sacred means of attaining divine union between humans and their goddess.

Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love, also was the patron goddess of prostitutes. Dozens of temples were raised in various cities to Aphrodite the Courtesan, Aphrodite of Brothels and Aphrodite of the Streetwalkers. The goddess of love also was the goddess of pornography because the Greeks considered all aspects of love - from the love of God to the love of sex - to be glorious and intertwined.

Ancient Civilization
Hinduism is an ancient, sophisticated culture that survives and thrives intact to this day. The culture of India and its offshoots - the various forms of Buddhism - have shaped the culture of China, Japan and the entire Orient.

Tantra is a type of Hinduism that treats sexuality as a path to spiritual enlightenment and utilizes pornographic aids.

Hindu deities exist in male-female pairs. Shiva-Parvati are among the most highly respected Hindu god-goddess pairs. Paintings of Shiva and Parvati in explicit sexual poses adorn temples and houses throughout the Hindu world. Hindus primarily worship Shiva-Parvati as "Shiva-Lingam" - a phallic symbol penetrating a symbol of the goddess' vagina. It is worshipped, erotically enough, by pouring milk over the phallus.

Far from fearing, denigrating or despising "hardcore" sexuality, Hinduism embraces it. Many Hindu temples throughout India are literally covered with pornography. Sculptures of sex acts that would intrigue and arouse even today's most experienced porn lover abundantly adorn the walls of these holy, spiritual places.

Hinduism also produced humanity's first (and probably best) guidebook to sexuality: the Kama Sutra. Hindu scripture depicts entire planets in heaven that are essentially cosmic strip clubs and brothels populated by indescribably beautiful prostitutes called "Apsaras" and led by the famous demi-goddess Urvashi.

Krishna is generally counted as the penultimate Hindu deity (the "Supreme God"). Scripture's copious depiction of Krishna's love life (sometimes quite erotic and intimate) would inspire any modern porn star or producer and quite probably revolutionize their spiritual lives as well.

Scripture documents Krishna's patronage of prostitutes ("porn stars"), who were valued as respectable and important members of ancient Hindu society.

Contemporary Life
But a shift eventually occurred in the Middle East, and attitudes toward pornography and sexual pleasure began to radically diverge from those of our ancestors.

About 2,000 years ago, a man named Paul (aka Saul) began the process of creating a religion that blended the prevalent apocalypse cults of the day with the more established but also apocalyptic religion of Judaism. His religion became known as Christianity.

The fundamental thing that sets Judeo-Christian-Islamic religions apart is their belief in the final end of the world: the apocalypse.

Most non-Christian religions believe that all destruction, from personal death to the destruction of the entire universe, is followed by a new creation in an unending cycle. Judeo-Christian religions, however, ardently and passionately believe that the world is coming to a final absolute end, and it is coming very soon.

Belief in an apocalypse directly and profoundly affected the Middle East's attitude toward pornography and sexuality. Since at any moment, the world was on the verge of being vaporized, Middle Easterners thought it morally wrong to pursue pleasure and decided that those who delight in the pleasures of this world will be vaporized along with it.

Thus, all "pleasures of the flesh" (including a regular bath) were originally forbidden to all Christians. The best pleasure - sex - was the worst sin. Even marriage was a Christian sin for the first 200 years of the religion, but it was reluctantly deemed acceptable only on the pretext that it would regulate the deeper evil: sex.

Christianity has softened and mutated over the centuries, but its foundation remains solid, which is why Christians still tend to despise pornography and sexual liberty - and why the Christian-influenced world we live in widely considers pornography immoral and irreligious.

However, it is important to remember that in the ancient world there was a radically different moral and spiritual opinion of sexual pleasure and its depiction in the form of pornography, and that our modern values regarding sexuality and pornography were created by the vestiges of religions that arose from the grafting of Judaic traditions with Middle Eastern apocalypse cults.

Conservatives wish to bring us back to a time when humanity was morally strong. But in truth, that time predates the rise of Christianity. We should not return to the Dark Era of apocalypse cult mentalities, which brought nothing but hatred and regression. True conservatism should strive to reflect upon and incorporate models of pre-Christian spirituality and morality, which caused humanity to flourish and thrive.

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