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.
The Harvard affair is an example of heterophobia, the fear and loathing of male heterosexuality -- a far more accepted condition among modern elites than homophobia. After all, if the dean had been a homosexual man who had pictures of naked men on his computer, the chances that Harvard would have asked him to resign his position are next to nothing. And if it had asked him to resign, charges of homophobia would have engulfed the university.
As it happens, the minister of Harvard University -- the person who embodies whatever commitment Harvard has to religion -- is a gay man. Presumably, Harvard has neither asked nor cares if the minister is chaste. Presumably, it is of no concern to Harvard University whether the minister it has chosen to embody its concept of the holy has sexual relations with another man, other men, or men and women. But Harvard cannot tolerate a dean who is married, who is the father of two children, who, to the best of Harvard's knowledge, is faithful to his wife, yet who, in private, looks at pictures of naked women! Such lunacy can only be explained by ideological fervor. And the ideology in question is heterophobia.
As for the third argument, that the computer was owned by Harvard -- one wonders if those who offer this argument actually believe it or merely use it because they somehow know that having a dean resign because workmen found pictures of naked women on his computer is neither moral nor American. Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, who should be commended for his lonely defense of Dean Thiemann, has effectively refuted this argument. What if, Dershowitz asked, the dean had been a philatelist who had downloaded images of postage stamps -- would anyone ask for his resignation because he kept these images on a Harvard-owned computer? Of course not. So, let's drop the pretense. At Harvard and in much of contemporary America, male heterosexuality is on notice not to rear its ugly head. (As for Prof. Dershowitz, I wonder when he will acknowledge that the greatest threats to liberty in America come from the left side of the political spectrum and from academia.)
Even if the three arguments had any merit, they would still pale in comparison to the deprivation of privacy in this case.
Why is abortion private and the viewing of pornography not?
Right to privacy -- do these words ring a bell? The U.S. Supreme Court invoked this right in order to allow every woman the right to destroy a human fetus for any reason. I suspect that the president of Harvard and certainly all the feminists who protested Dean Thiemann's looking at pornography are pro-choice on abortion, on the grounds that society must protect a woman's right to privacy.
But do we not have a major contradiction here? On the one hand, these people declare the destroying of another being, a human fetus, an entirely private act that society has no right to judge, let alone restrict by legislation. On the other hand, they deny that what a man does in his most private world of sexual fantasy, by himself, to no one other than himself, is not private and that Harvard has every right to judge it and punish it.
How can we explain such a contradiction? Only by heterophobia -- a hostility to heterosexual male sexuality.
And what is the reaction to this unprecedented violation of an entirely private area of a man's life? According to the Los Angeles Times, Thiemann's "colleagues at the school, known for its liberal philosophy, maintained a silence over the affair."
Why are Harvard's faculty members so quiet? Because at American universities today there is no contest between feminist political correctness and a man's right to privacy. For a Harvard professor to come out in defense of Dean Thiemann's right to keep his fantasy life private would mean offending the feminist heterophobia that rules academia.
There is another fascinating contradiction here. I suspect that some of those who vociferously criticized Dean Thiemann were also among the most vocal defenders of President Clinton. They argued that society should allow the president of the United States to do whatever he wants sexually so long as it does not implicate his public duties. But how then can they criticize a college dean for his fantasy life? If looking at pictures of naked females alone in one's office fatally compromises a man's ability to be a university dean, why doesn't acting out sexual fantasies in the Oval Office with a real female compromise a man's ability to be president of the United States?
Too bad the dean resigned. I wouldn't have. I would have insisted on a public hearing. The only party in this matter deserving of humiliation is the party that did the humiliating -- Harvard.
Fear and loathing of heterosexual male nature is a major problem in American life. That is why first-grade boys are kicked out of school for giving girls kisses on the cheek. The war on boys' natures also explains the desire to drug so many boys to calm them down. America is the first society ever to attempt to remake men's nature in the image of women's. Both men and women will suffer for it.
Dennis Prager is a theologian, author, and syndicated radio talk show host. His latest book is Happiness Is a Serious Problem.