It is amazing how easily men are able to develop a tolerance for evil. Given in small but increasing doses, actions and ideas that most assuredly come from Satan and were generally condemned in the past have become palatable for more and more people in today’s world.
Look at two illustrations of this principle. One is the almost universal acceptance of short, short skirts. Those who would suggest there may be a moral question in miniskirts are branded as prudes or told that evil is in the eye of the beholder. And this attitude is not entirely uncommon in the Church. There are women, girls, and men who know the Church’s position on modesty of dress and yet have developed such a tolerance for the evil that they seem to have no qualms about it.
The other illustration is probably more serious, but it falls into the same general area of concern. Using freedom of expression and the need for realism in art as a front, the makers of movies, the writers of books, and the producers of television have turned loose a torrent of filth that would have been obscene a decade ago but is now merely an indication of our “modern, progressive thinking.”
This problem of obscenity, which is a world issue, deserves careful consideration. First, there can be little debate that sexually oriented materials that exploit and pander are not consistent with the teachings of Christ. Latter-day Saints who deliberately involve themselves with this sort of thing are participating in an evil activity. This is bad enough in itself, but it also presents the possibility that the influence of the evil will produce other kinds of immoral acts.
Since the Lord has said that he cannot look upon sin with the least degree of allowance, it is fairly obvious that we are putting ourselves in danger if we have anything to do with dirty books, movies, or television. It is as plain as that. Now it may not be so simple to identify all things that are improper, but probably in 95 percent of the cases there really is no question.
For the Church member, the harder issue, it seems to us, is finding an appropriate position relative to government action against pornography and obscenity. Latter-day Saints live under a variety of governments with a wide range of attitudes toward obscenity. Most governments at least profess to guarantee freedom of expression, and some nations feel that there should be no restriction at all on the flow of sexually explicit material.
The United States, for instance, represents an example of shifting attitude. As recently as 1957 the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed the principle that obscenity is not protected expression under the First Amendment to the Constitution. Admittedly the court was not too sure what obscenity means, but they at least seemed to feel strongly against it.
One wonders today. There is a subtle but real trend in the United States to see nothing as being obscene or to make obscenity a protected form of expression. This is the growing tolerance for evil spoken of earlier. And it is gaining support in some legal decisions. In most instances that support is based outwardly on the idea that freedom of expression is of greater importance than anything else.
A comedian who dealt with social issues a few years ago may have put his finger on the whole business when he said that the “civil liberty types” defend smut on the basis of freedom of speech when in fact what they are really fighting for is freedom of pleasure, which is not guaranteed in any constitution. His parody added the thought, “Let’s face it, dirty books are fun.”
Freedom of expression certainly is a priceless right. Latter-day Saint theology on the free agency of man speaks clearly to all of us that there should be the widest possible discussion of ideas in the search for truth.
Let us not be misled, however, into thinking that any society can stand absolute, unbridled freedom. Freedom is meaningful only when there is responsibility. When one man exercises his freedom in such a way as to endanger others, it would be folly to allow him that freedom.
Peddlers of smut, and this includes many who are now operating in the commercially acceptable media, are a danger to society. Their wares, in most instances, are intended to reap a profit, not further discussion of significant ideas.
There is a very real difference between the advocacy of evil ideas, which can be allowed in a democratic society, and the gratification of lust in visual and printed form.