Smoking and Porn

March 16, 2010 § 18 Comments

It occurs to me, in the context of the previous post, that we can pray for the intercession of St. George Preca on behalf of Catholics who treat smoking as if it were a grave moral wrong, and porn as if it weren’t:

As a seminarian, he used to go to the Grand Harbour, board the foreign ships there, and introduce himself to Greek, English and French sailors by offering them a cigarette. His lively intelligence and exquisite humour entertained the men who had been so long away from land and soon the young cleric would lead his audience to spiritual matters. Many a sailor must have been impressed by this gentle man who sought so willingly the good of his neighbour.

The cigarette ruse was to be used again and again.

Most Catholics are probably not aware that a recently canonized saint used cigarettes to bring men to Christ. Try that with porn and you will wait a long, long time for sainthood.

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§ 18 Responses to Smoking and Porn

  • Kyle R. Cupp says:

    prefer certain liquids for initiating spiritual discussions, but, hey, I can respect the sharing of a smoke.

  • zippy says:

    Not a smoker myself: I'd be more likely to offer a single-malt or a pint. But it struck me as an interesting addition to the discussion to point out that a Catholic Saint was recently canonized in part for handing out cigarettes to bring men to Christ. At the very least that ought to be a somewhate uncomfortable fact for Catholic tobacco hard-liners who are soft on porn.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I don't think all the overwhelming empirical info. now available on the health dangers of smoking was available even at the time of his death in 1962. Obviously, the issue of smoking falls under prudence rather than under “intrinsically immoral,” and looking at pornography (in the way and for the purpose that most people look at it) falls under “intrinsically immoral.” So a big difference. But as you, Zippy, often say, the fact that something isn't intrinsically immoral doesn't mean that it isn't immoral under many normal circumstances that presently obtain. Obviously, getting a lot more info. about the harm that something does to your body, especially via a mechanism like addiction (so that it isn't usually just one cigarette here or there) is pertinent to whether the thing is wrong to do and to encourage others to do.

  • zippy says:

    Sure, or fast food, or alcohol, or any number of other things with known detrimental health effects.

    I don't mind the Christian Brothers Investment Service drawing a hard line on not investing its clients money in any company which produces tobacco and related products. What I have a problem with, assuming the veracity of the reporting, is them drawing that particular hard line while at one and the same time investing in businesses with porn as a significant part of their product portfolio.

  • I've never been impressed with the We Now Know argument versus smoking. Even though tobacco was thought of as a miracle cure, it was only a few years after its discovery when people realized that too much was bad for you. Johnny Cash in his autobiography remarked that everyone knew smoking could be bad for you and that new scientific studies were not telling them anything they didn't already know using simple apprehension. Obviously scientific studies can give more precise information, but like global warming, the guys in the white lab coast have become the fatwa-issuing imams of our lives.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I certainly agree with you there, Zippy.

    Scott, I'm doing my best to give the benefit of the doubt. I know that there certainly were people (wasn't there some English king from hundreds of years ago, even?) who knew how bad smoking could be for you, but they were often regarded as cranks. Sociologically, it simply seems to be true that people did not widely “internalize” (to use a bit of jargon) how bad smoking is for you until more recently. To illustrate which: I was just re-reading Sayers' mystery novel _Murder Must Advertise_. She has a scene where the advertising guys are saying, “We've gotta get more women smoking. Let's have them get coupons for things they can get for their children.” Sayers doesn't like advertising much, and the novel makes that clear. But IMO, she doesn't mean this scene to be _quite_ as awful as it would be had they realized all the cases of lung cancer, removed voice boxes, esophageal cancer, etc., they were propagating by the campaign. After all, Lord Peter is eagerly helping with ideas about selling the cigarettes more effectively. So for whatever reason, the knowledge just wasn't widespread. You've probably heard the story about Ayn Rand who said she didn't believe that statistics applied to individuals (duh!) and smoked until she herself came down with lung cancer, then finally admitted that she should stop smoking. Or so I've heard the story.

  • I'm sure there was plenty of denial as there always is about such things, especially from people who were hooked. And it is reasonable to assume that many anti-tobbaco folk were regarded as cranks, but I think this is less from stating the obvious, (As James I did when he referenced the autopsies of smokers where black lungs were observed), than in turning tobacco into the equivalent of “demon rum”. Denial on one end, hysteria on the other. My problem is less with the wisdom to avoid smoking in the first place, but the world-view that has changed from a view to an afterlife with God that gave us creation that imposes on us a duty to take reasonable care of our health and the environment, to a view that this life is all there is and therefore there is an absolute duty to preserve them at all costs.

    Here is King James' Counterblaste to Tobbaco. I like this excerpt, not that it really has anything to do with the topic, I just like the Political Incorrectness :):

    shall we, I say, without blushing, abase our selves so farre, as to imitate these beastly Indians, slaves to the Spaniards, refuse to the world, and as yet aliens from the holy Covenant of God ? Why doe we not as well imitate them in walking naked as they doe? in preferring glasses, feathers, and such toyes, to golde and precious stones, as they do? yea why do we not denie God and adore the Devill, as they doe ?

  • JohnMcG says:

    It seems to me that there's a difference between offering a cigarette to one who is a smoker, and offering one to a non-smoker who could become addicted.

    In other words, if a smoker asks me for a light, and I happen to be carrying matches and offer him one, am I cooperating with evil? It seems that would be less so than if I (knowingly) let someone use my computer to indulge a porn habit. Or pushed cigarettes on someone who otherwise wouldn't smoke.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    John McG has a point, but I do think that more people are likely to become addicted to nicotine insofar as they are surrounded by people smoking and insofar as it is considered and treated as normal. That's especially true of young people.

    The addictive point seems very important to my mind, and an important distinction. I'm pretty sure that studies would back me up on this one: cigarette smoking appears to be more addictive than, say, drinking wine. Notice that no one ever has to talk about a “genetic predisposition to cigarette addiction” but that there do seem to be noticeable differences among genetic groups as far as their predisposition to alcoholism. And something similar is true of eating “junk food” (not to mention the inherent fuzziness in the definition of “junk food”).

    I'm afraid I'm more on the “hysterical” end of this one. I've been very, very lucky to have been raised by hysterical fundamentalists who took a “demon rum” attitude towards smoking. I've loosened up on the teetotalism to the point of having a glass of wine occasionally, but I've never been at risk for alcoholism, never been remotely interested in keg parties, and am very glad not to have gotten into smoking.

    What all this has to do with sainthood, I'm not sure. You guys would know better. But I imagine that someone could be canonized who was obese from overeating and insufficient exercise as well without this being an endorsement of overeating or not getting any exercise.

  • What all this has to do with sainthood, I'm not sure.

    Not much I suppose, but I do recall a pope was up for canonization and the devil's advocate brought up his smoking. It was deemed insignificant to the cause. My understaning is that Benedict XVI enjoys the occasional Marlboro red, but I have not been able to confirm that.

  • zippy says:

    But I imagine that someone could be canonized who was obese from overeating and insufficient exercise as well without this being an endorsement of overeating or not getting any exercise.

    In order to be parallel it would have to be the case that he used his overeating and lack of exercise as a means to the end of converting men to Christ. Perhaps by offering big macs to fat men, or something.

    Mind you, I'm not embarking on some apologetic for smoking, or unhealthy eating or avoiding exercise for that matter. Though I do think part of the “addictive” nature of many of these things is related to their cheap availability as commodities, and the context of the modern condition, as much as to their intrinsic properties. If cigarettes were very hard to come by and one could only have one a few times a year they would be pretty much harmless.

    Porn isn't the same kind of thing at all: it isn't a matter of intemperance in something which would be OK in moderation.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    “Porn isn't the same kind of thing at all: it isn't a matter of intemperance in something which would be OK in moderation.”

    Right. Total agreement.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Not to beat a drum or anything, though, but I really do think the objectively (very) addictive properties of nicotine are well-documented and that people who try to stop smoking have trouble for purely physiological reasons. One can say of any substance that does severe harm only progressively that if people literally could use it only once a year it would not harm them, but it doesn’t follow that the substance isn’t objectively and physically addictive. And smokers do pay increasingly and even punitively high prices for cigarettes–unlike Big Macs.

    (Internet connection has gone suddenly strange, so I may flicker and disappear until Charter comes and probably replaces the modem tomorrow.)

  • Zippy says:

    … the objectively (very) addictive properties of nicotine are well-documented and that people who try to stop smoking have trouble for purely physiological reasons.

    That is true, though I know for certain that there are people who can smoke occasionally – a few times a year, or once every few years – without getting addicted. And I think you may be underestimating the addictive power of fast food, alcohol, and other discretionary products. Giving up any of those things can be a physically unpleasant in addition to psychologically difficult experience. Or not, depending on the persona and the circumstances.

    Still, I'm happy to concede that tobacco is the worst in that list, if you like: that for the average person, temperance with respect to smoking is harder than temperance with respect to (say) fast food. Either one can kill you though.

    I know we've agreed about this already, but my main point here is that priorities are upside down when smoking is treated as a unique evil such that Christian Brothers Investment Service refuses to invest in any company associated with it; while investing in porn profits is treated as no big deal. And the fact that the gift of a smoke is sometimes a good means to a good end – which is entirely untrue of pornography – drives that home.

    (Captcha: rudededg)

  • Paul Cella says:

    What about the heroic priest in Haiti who has to smoke in order to avoid vomiting at the stench of the dead? It would seem that for him smoking has some qualities that are objectively good.

    http://weeklystandard.com/articles/love-among-ruins

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Paul, I doubt that you are really suggesting that that's the only reason he smokes and that he never smoked before that. In fact, the article makes it pretty clear that he _is_ a smoker and uses that for that purpose because it's something he already does. If he were a non-smoker, presumably he'd find something else to carry around with him that would have the relevant effect. I really find it pretty implausible that all non-smokers are continually and uncontrollably vomiting in those situations but smokers have it all under control.

    No doubt one could scrounge around and find useful qualities for not only marijuana but also cocaine. It doesn't follow that a regular use of them as a habitual matter is remotely justified.

  • zippy says:

    That priest is something, eh?

  • The iron-willed meter maid at the Continental desk informs me that Acts of Nature or God aside, my bag is 50 pounds overweight, and I’m going to have to dump provisions I’m carrying to Haiti.

    Wishing to make my flight, I comply, muttering profanities as I hurriedly unload Clif bars, bottled water, and whiskey into a rickety box

    No! Not the whiskey!

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