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Dennis Prager is wrong about pornography

The Tenth Commandment clearly condemns lust

Dennis Prager speaks at an event titled “Health, Wealth & Happiness” at Arizona State University in Tempe, Ariz., on February 8. Wikimedia Commons

Dennis Prager is wrong about pornography

A clip from conservative talk show host Dennis Prager has been making the rounds over the last week or so, and deservedly so. It was bound to create controversy. In a panel discussion hosted by Jordan Peterson, Prager claims that Judaism has no prohibitions on lust and that pornography can be a good thing.

Prager argues that Judaism is very different from Christianity and does not prohibit lust like Jesus does in Matthew 5:27-28, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; but I say to you, that everyone who looks on a woman to lust for her has committed adultery with her already in his heart.” Prager not only denies that what Jesus said is true (which is no surprise since he is Jewish), but he also makes the claim that Judaism has no such teaching.

And yet, the Torah speaks directly to the issue of lust in the Ten Commandments. The Seventh Commandment prohibits doing adultery (Exodus 20:14), and the Tenth Commandment prohibits desiring adultery (Exodus 20:17, “you shall not desire your neighbor’s wife”). In other words, the Law of Moses prohibits not merely adulterous behavior but also adulterous lust.

Those with eyes to see and ears to hear can discern that this is actually Jesus’ point in Matthew 5:27-28. Jesus is not being innovative. As the master teacher, he’s simply explaining what the Mosaic Law has taught all along but what many people seem to miss. It’s not merely the doing of evil that is damnable; it is also the desiring of it.

In the panel discussion, Prager claims that his view is rooted in a “behaviorist, law-based religion” (Judaism) and not focused on the interior life of a person. As far as he is concerned, sexual morality is more about concrete deeds than invisible desires. For that reason, lust is no big deal.

In response, Jordan Peterson asks Prager how he would evaluate pornography. Prager answers that pornography use is good when it’s “in addition” to one’s spouse but not “in lieu” of one’s spouse. As long as pornography doesn’t negatively affect one’s behavior towards one’s spouse, then it’s a good way for men to satisfy their desire for sexual “variety.”

Even if we were to accept Prager’s destructive premise focusing on behavior rather than on lust, he would still be quite mistaken. Is he under the impression that there are no behaviors involved with pornography? If he is, then he is extremely naïve about what people do when looking at pornography.

It’s not merely that so many young men are unprepared for marriage. They aren’t even prepared for dinner and a movie.

What about all the behaviors that go into the production and distribution of pornography? Making pornography requires men and women—actual people, not digital avatars in a video game—to engage in sexually immoral behaviors. They degrade themselves with all manner of sexual perversions. Real people are abused in the making of pornography.

Can Prager not see that before any consumer ever sees any given piece of pornography, countless sinful degradations have already occurred? Is there any concern at all for the women who spend their waking hours either in front of a camera enduring abuse from an endless array of lecherous men or off camera coping with their misery through self-destructive addictions?

I could cite a thousand more ways in which pornography degrades those who produce and make this material. Even if Prager’s “behaviorist” reductionism were correct (and it isn’t), Prager should acknowledge that the only way to produce pornography is for people to be engaged in immoral, self-destructive behavior.

As I have argued elsewhere, pornography has given us a generation of men who think of women as objects to be used and abused for selfish sexual pleasure. Porn has not given us men who know what virtue and honor are. It doesn’t teach men to pursue their joy in self-sacrificially loving and being sexually faithful to one woman for life. It teaches young men to use women for sex and then to discard them when they become unwilling or uninteresting. This means that it has given us a generation of young men completely unprepared for marriage and for fatherhood.

It’s not merely that so many young men are unprepared for marriage. They aren’t even prepared for dinner and a movie. We have sown to the wind. We are reaping the whirlwind—especially our daughters, who are less likely than ever to find a man who hasn’t been corrupted by this.

As a Christian and as a pastor, I feel the weight of this crisis. Porn use is the pastoral challenge that defines our generation. This brokenness is all around us and among us. It is the burden of far too many of the men sitting in our pews. I don’t know of any other problem that has done more to subvert manhood and marriage than porn use. It is killing us.

That is why Prager’s blasé attitude toward pornography is such a scandal. That kind of indifference is not going to halt this civilizational calamity but will only extend it. And that is why we must reject Prager’s counsel. In spite of his confident assertions, he is wrong about pornography, and he is wrong about lust. Dead wrong.

Denny Burk

Denny Burk serves as a professor of Biblical Studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and as the president of the Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood. He also serves as one of the teaching pastors at Kenwood Baptist Church. He is the author of numerous books including What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Crossway, 2013), Transforming Homosexuality (P&R, 2015), and a commentary on the pastoral epistles for the ESV Expository Commentary (Crossway, 2017).


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