Catholic law professor Robert P. George of Princeton University is discouraging pornography use in hotel rooms by calling on hotel CEOs to consider the harm that it causes.
“Pornography is part of a larger phenomenon that’s rooted in the fundamental misunderstanding of sexuality,” he told CNA in a July interview.
George recently teamed up with prominent Muslim intellectual Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in writing letters to the CEOs of the five largest hotel chains that offer pornography in their hotel rooms.
He explained that the move was an attempt “to re-stigmatize pornography,” which has been presented to the public as “at worst, a kind of harmless naughtiness” with no lasting personal or social effects.
However, studies show that pornography “does damage to everybody concerned,” including those involved in producing and viewing it, and the marriages and families into which it enters.
George said that rather than threatening a boycott or protest, the letter simply presents a moral appeal to the consciences of the businessmen, respectfully asking them to regard the women involved in pornography as their beloved daughters and wives.
It reminds “respectable business people” that there are some things – such as pornography – that are degrading and dehumanizing and therefore wrong even if they are legal and profitable, he explained.
“We are old-fashioned enough to believe that an appeal to conscience will sometimes do the job, that everything’s not money,” he said. “We think people are still reachable.”
As an example, he pointed to the 1998 decision by Omni Hotels to remove pornography from all of its hotel rooms because the CEO believed that it was wrong to sell it.
“People have a basic sense of human dignity,” he said, and even if it is deeply buried, it can be reached and begin to change society.
George explained that the widespread acceptance of pornography is rooted in “a very serious problem” present in contemporary culture.
Young people are falsely taught to think of sexuality as “mere recreation” rather than something “profound” that is “founded upon the reproductive unity of male and female,” he observed.
“To totally detach sexuality from its procreative dimension is at the same time to detach it from its marital significance,” he said, adding that this ultimately renders “unintelligible the basic norms of fidelity, sexual exclusivity and the pledge of permanence” that make marriage the profound human institution that it is.
In this way, he noted, pornography has the same fundamental cause as high levels of divorce, promiscuity, widespread contraception and a push for “gay marriage.”
All of these problems are rooted in a general misunderstanding of “the marital, conjugal significance of our sexuality,” he said.
This, in turn, is tied to a false conception of what it means to be human, George continued. He explained that pornography users come to view other people as objects to be used for satisfaction and themselves as mere bundles of appetites.
They objectify themselves and others, losing “the sense of true humanity,” he said.
The truth, however, is that we are “bearers of a much more profound dignity,” capable of self-control and not “slaves of our desires or lusts,” he explained.
“We undermine our own dignity as persons when we permit ourselves to become enslaved to our own passions,” he added.
The connection between basic human sexuality and dignity is not only a religious tenant but a “fundamental principle of reason,” he observed. Found as far back as Plato, this is “an insight that anyone of any faith and even people of no particular faith can grasp.”
George hopes that his collaboration with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf will show that “we can and we should be collaborating and working together in defending and promoting those values.”
While the two religions are sometimes depicted as being suspicious and hostile towards each other, there are “many, many values which are shared” by Muslims and Christians, he explained.
“Catholics should never hesitate to reach out across the theological divide and partner with people who share our basic values,” he said.