The Magazine

DIVINITY AND PORNOGRAPHY

Jun 14, 1999, Vol. 4, No. 37 • By DENNIS PRAGER
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LAST FALL, AFTER SERVING THIRTEEN YEARS as the dean of the Harvard University Divinity School, Ronald F. Thiemann resigned. The reason has just been made public.


Harvard president Neil L. Rudenstine asked for the resignation. According to Joe Wrinn, a university spokesman, the Harvard president was told that Dean Thiemann had pornographic images on his computer. The dean had apparently asked computer technicians to supply him with a bigger computer hard drive, and the technicians, transferring files, found the images.


All parties to the issue note that none of the images were of minors. There is not the slightest suggestion that the dean ever acted improperly toward a female, whether student or employee. Indeed there is not the slightest suggestion that he ever did anything improper at all. This Harvard University dean was told to give up his position because of what he looked at, not what he did.


We have entered an era that is beyond what George Orwell imagined in Nineteen Eighty-Four: a time wherein the fantasy life of citizens is monitored by authorities.


Those who defend Harvard's position argue as follows:


(1) Thiemann was the dean of the divinity school, from whom different behavior is expected than from the dean of any other school. Had he been the dean of, let us say, the business school, he would not have been asked to resign.


(2) Any man who consumes pornography is a misogynist or, at the very least, regards women as less than human (as sexual objects) and is unworthy of a position of moral or other authority.


(3) The computer with the pornographic images was owned by Harvard University and therefore should not have been used for private purposes.


There are a number of problems with the first argument. One is that it misrepresents the task of the contemporary school of divinity. Unlike seminaries, which seek to inculcate a religion in their students, divinity schools teach their students about religion, just as schools of business teach about business and schools of education teach about education. Indeed, there are students and faculty at schools of divinity who believe in no religion or are even atheists.


It is true that Dean Thiemann is an ordained Lutheran minister, but that is only of concern to the Lutheran church. If it wishes to defrock a minister who has viewed pornography, that is its business and its prerogative. Religions are free to make any rules they want for their clergy. However, to the best of the public's knowledge, the Lutheran church has taken no steps toward punishing Pastor Thiemann, let alone removing him.


Harvard University clearly deems the private viewing of pornography more worthy of punishment than does the Lutheran church. I have long argued that contemporary liberalism serves for many of its adherents as a secular fundamentalist religion, and here is an example of that.


If Thiemann had been dean of another of its schools, would Harvard have ignored his pictures? Not likely. The Harvard feminists who protested against Dean Thiemann after they learned about the pornography -- and who intimidate most universities' administrators -- would have protested just as strongly against any other dean. The protesters' argument was not that Thiemann was the dean of a religious institution (which he was not), but that he engaged in a form of misogyny by consuming pornography. No politically correct college -- which unfortunately means almost no college -- has a president who will say the truth: that it is none of our business what legal pictures a man looks at in private, and that there is no correlation between viewing pornography and woman-hating. A university president who admitted that would be out of office before he could say "Catharine MacKinnon."


This brings us to the second and most important argument -- that men who use pornography demean women, or regard them as second-class beings, or simply harbor some conscious or unconscious hatred of them.


Those who make this argument either know very little about men's sexuality or are afraid of male heterosexuality (which is understandable -- it can be frightening) and therefore demonize it. The plain fact of life is that normal and honorable heterosexual men enjoy looking at partially clad and naked women. I feel a bit silly having to write in a publication read by college graduates what my unschooled grandmother knew. But the denial of unpleasant realities is one of the features of the highly educated at the end of the twentieth century.


Enjoying looking at pictures of naked women no more means a heterosexual man loathes women or wants them demeaned than looking at pictures of naked men means a homosexual man loathes men or wants them demeaned. In fact, it means absolutely nothing.