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Press: FT finds who has power to rein in porn industry

01 July 2022

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THE Financial Times had a lovely story about where power really lies in the porn industry. It is best read in conjunction with a wrenching New Yorker account of a 15-year-old British girl who was blackmailed into performing for the webcam in her bedroom, and then found the resulting videos circulating on Pornhub, then the biggest site of its kind in the world, and even sent to her family members. Nothing she nor the British police could stop this: only when a Christian activist put her in touch with an American lawyer were the videos removed.

The FT story takes off from Bill Ackman, a hedge-fund billionaire, reading a 2020 New York Times attack on Pornhub, and texting a friend who happened to run Mastercard. Within months, both Mastercard and Visa companies had cut off Pornhub, and the company nearly collapsed. Only after removing more than two-thirds of its content was the ability to process payments restored. Who would have imagined that when you can no longer make money by exploiting vulnerable teenagers, it suddenly becomes technically possible to stop exploiting them?

The justification for censoring Pornhub was not that payment companies were endorsing exploitation and cruelty, but that it would damage their brands if it was believed that they were doing so. Sometimes, hypocrisy really does work for the best.


OF COURSE, most of the religious coverage in the press this week was concerned with the Supreme Court’s repeal of Roe v. Wade. Many of the left-wing papers took this as a cue to run long explainers on the rise of the organised Christian Right in the United States. This is an interesting story if you go back far enough: as Katherine Stewart pointed out in The Guardian, “The Southern Baptist Convention passed resolutions in 1971 and 1974 expressing support for the liberalization of abortion law, and an editorial in their wire service hailed the passage of Roe v Wade, declaring that ‘religious liberty, human equality and justice are advanced by the Supreme Court abortion decision.’ As governor of California, Ronald Reagan passed the most liberal abortion law in the country in 1967. Conservative icon Barry Goldwater supported abortion law liberalisation too, at least early in his career, and his wife, Peggy, was a co-founder of Planned Parenthood in Arizona.

“Yet abortion turned out to be the critical unifying issue for two fundamentally political reasons. First, it brought together conservative Catholics who supplied much of the intellectual leadership of the movement with conservative Protestants and evangelicals. Second, by tying abortion to the perceived social ills of the age — the sexual revolution, the civil rights movement, and women’s liberation — the issue became a focal point for the anxieties about social change welling up from the base.”

Indeed: one of the attacks on George McGovern, the Democratic candidate in the 1972 Presidential election who was trounced by Richard Nixon, was that his platform was “the three As” — “Acid, Amnesty, and Abortion.”

Stewart’s piece also illustrates, unintentionally I think, the way in which the default liberal position now appeals to people of a conservative temperament — not just because it saves them the trouble of thinking — when she writes: “At the core of the Dobbs decision lies the conviction that the power of government can and should be used to impose a certain moral and religious vision,” as if this were not a central belief of both Left and Right in the US. Whether the vision is one of theocracy or the total separation of Church and State, neither side doubts that the government has a moral, indeed a world-historical, duty to impose it on the other.


IN THIS country, the struggle over politicised religion is more parochial. The Guardian had a story about the diocese of Oxford’s putting one of the five marks of mission into the baptism service: “Christians being confirmed or baptised in the Oxford diocese will henceforth be asked to commit to protecting the environment as part of the church’s formal liturgy.” What? Even the babies? I wonder.

So, The Daily Telegraph wheeled out the Revd Marcus Walker to attack the plan. This was difficult, because he agreed with the pledge himself, and thought it “pretty consonant with long-standing mainstream Christian and Anglican theology”. Still, the matter had apparently “caused long-standing conservatives to reconsider their loyalty to the Crown in anger at the way some members of the Royal Family proselytise about the environment” — and, in the light of this tragically under-reported constitutional crisis, Fr Walker did his best.

He asked us to imagine a candidate for baptism shying at the font because he or she could not in all conscience promise to safeguard the integrity of creation. Well, I’ve tried, and I just can’t do it. What is it about that promise which makes it more likely to be taken seriously than all the other things that godparents promise?

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