September 2007

The Sex Industrial Complex: America's Secret Combination; Pornographic Culture, Addiction and the Human Brain.  By John L. Harmer with James B. Smith. The Lighted Candle Society (109 E. South Temple, Ste. 6E, Salt Lake City UT 84111; phone: 801-532-4466). 253 pages. $24.95.

A simple line from the Old Testament, "there is no new thing under the sun," is so compelling that it has fallen into common parlance. Pornography may not be a new thing, but new delivery systems are spewing the old thing everywhere. The Sex Industrial Complex: America's Secret Combination -- Pornographic Culture, Addiction and the Human Brain, an exposé of new manifestations of old perversions, is loaded with expert analysis and chilling anecdotes. Authors John L. Harmer and James B. Smith of the Lighted Candle Society examine television programs, video games, the internet, movies and magazines that deliver degenerate horrors to folks in their own homes. Americans spend billions of dollars each year on the Sex Industrial Complex (SIC) –- a term marking a misbegotten federation of businesses that pump porn through virtually every media outlet, affecting schools, government and culture.

The forthright history of the SIC follows its ascent from humble, mid-20th-century beginnings as a cottage industry to its current empire status. Supported by Hollywood, the music industry, credit card companies, TV commentators, and a puffed-up ACLU spouting "free speech" salvos, the SIC's pipelines now include hotel chains, automakers, and communications behemoths. SIC advertising assists anti-family agencies pushing no-fault divorce, promiscuity, abortion, materialism, and government day care for children. The book's dismal discussion charts other afflictions, including the decline of public education, the wasteland of churches embracing revisionist history, the elevation of behavioral sciences over moral codes, and especially the scourge of Alfred Kinsey's bogus science. Harmer and Smith ask readers to consider more than 50 years of moral decay: the collapse of marriage, new venereal diseases, increasing drug addiction, abortion-on-demand, and widespread "sex education" that supports premarital sex and homosexuality with the assistance of Planned Parenthood, the National Education Association, and the American Library Association.

Vulgar television programs that soften up audiences for the hard-core stuff are a major focus. Primetime shows feature rape, prostitution, dead bodies, and adultery -- thoroughly salted with tasteless pharmaceutical advertising. Reality shows mock traditional values, and deviant sex is a popular theme raining down on unsupervised children. Many of these little ones, looking for a kind word, enter sordid Internet chat rooms. Video games featuring interactive "virtual reality" expose them to violent pornography, and insufferable rap "artists" make music videos featuring porn stars that associate brutality with sex, earning enormous profits for MTV and its ilk. Homosexuality has now become a huge part of pornography, with Hollywood swooning over homosexuals as if they were some sort of exalted species. Harmer and Smith assert that the Abu Ghraib prison-torture scandal was porn-inspired.

Profits require demand, and the SIC solicits customers with an easy-access product and promotes addiction with ever-increasing depravity. The case for pornography addiction is built through MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) images depicting chemical brain changes and corroborated by the criminal histories of habitual consumers. Law enforcement reports show that most pedophiles possess porn and often take pictures of their victims. Harmer and Smith argue that the First Amendment, limited by laws against libel and slander, should also limit depraved portrayals that incite violence and encourage copycat crimes. Mercifully, the authors' eloquence spares readers from the worst barbarism in their findings.

Dispiriting historical reports trace the anarchy that follows the loss of self-discipline and the disappearance of ethical virtues in societies. Until recent times, most cultures have supported ancestral customs of courtship and marriage that underpin civilization. Even early societies understood the necessity of guiding young males into marriage and the wisdom of enforcing sexual taboos that are rooted in practical experience. Daily life now exhibits intemperance of every kind in food, drink, housing, electronic gadgetry, automobiles, clothing, and cosmetic surgery. The spectacular rise of indecency in entertainment, even in some music (or what passes for music) attaches itself to these other excesses in belittling the bounties of traditional family life.

Harmer and Smith's narrative stumbles periodically as some sections become repetitive, and several passages tumble over each other with an urgency denoted by extravagant documentation. At times the bulk of citations appears overwhelming. Numerous typographical errors and formatting problems are a prominent, dismaying feature of this otherwise worthy publication. Better editing could also have corrected cosmetic flaws including a too-small font floating on generous line spacing.

Some well-intentioned souls feel that junk culture will eventually fade away, but such a sentiment gains no ground from these authors. The book wraps up with the feel of a manifesto as the pornography plague grows ever more robust and remunerative. Harmer, Smith, and the Lighted Candle Society refuse to languish in a defensive dark valley surrounded by swaths of perversion; they offer an offensive strategy outlined on the final pages. An encounter with this alarming book will awaken anyone who doubts the savagery of the sex industrial complex and the odious blight it inflicts on our people.

- Mary McWay Seaman



Everything Conceivable: How Assisted Reproduction Is Changing Men, Women, and the World.  By Liza Mundy. Knopf. 432 pages. $26.95.

In the battle over "reproductive rights," public attention has for decades zeroed in on abortion: "the choice to terminate a pregnancy." Recent controversies over stem-cell research and the question of what should be done with half a million human embryos languishing in cold storage at facilities around the U.S. have raised awareness in the public mind about the "other side" of the reproductive-rights equation: What code of ethics should govern the creation of life? Specifically, how involved should the government be in regulating the use of artificial-reproduction technologies (ART)? These are just some of questions that Liza Mundy explores in Everything Conceivable, a study of the social, legal, moral, and medical implications of ART.

Mundy explains that it was not her goal to pass judgment -- one way or another -- but rather "to help readers understand why certain changes in the family are taking place and what their likely consequences might be." Everything Conceivable gives a broad overview of the ways in which ART is altering the very fabric of society. Through a mixture of penetrating, evocatively written case studies and interviews with medical experts, researchers, psychologists, policy-makers, and political activists, Mundy renders the issues at hand with remarkable clarity. Although she strives for objectivity, it's possible to detect a leftward lean to some of her statements and a fundamental misunderstanding of the prolife stance.

Anyone who is interested in the science of assisted reproduction would do well to read Everything Conceivable. Those who support it would benefit from hearing firsthand about the health risks it creates for the mother, the psychological toll that it takes on children and parents alike, the lurking consumer impulses that drive the ART market in America, and the overarching social ramifications. Opponents of ART would benefit from examining the case studies and confronting the men and women who turn to science to find solutions to their childlessness. Finally, whether you support assisted reproduction or oppose it, Everything Conceivable is vital reading because, if nothing else, Mundy makes clear that if this practice continues, the family as we have come to know it will change entirely. ART has allowed not only parents to give birth to offspring with whom they share no genetic relation, but also homosexuals and single parents of both sexes to produce offspring outside of the norms of traditional, mother/father family structures. Of a lesbian couple who both conceived one twin through a surrogate, Mundy writes, "Consider, then, the uniquely twenty-first century pedigree of Sophia Rose and Elizabeth Ruby Okun Ethington…. The girls are twins, since they gestated together, but half siblings, since they have different genetic fathers. They each have a different social father. They have the same mother and yet no mother, unless you count Ann Nelson, who bore them, or the egg donor the men selected, whose full identity none of them knows." It's a convoluted web, one which finds the two children without a mother and with only tenuous genetic relations to their fathers.

In spite of the attempts on the part of ART supporters to discount the importance of genetic unity between parents and their offspring, it is abundantly clear that genetics remains a major cause for anxiety among the children of IVF procedures, their parents, and even the sperm and egg donors. If we continue to accept assisted reproduction as a social norm, then it won't be long before we see a complete redefinition of what constitutes a "family."

- Joe Hemmerling



Exorcism and Enlightenment: Johann Joseph Gassner and the Demons of Eighteenth-Century Germany.  By H.C. Erik Midel­fort. Yale University Press. 219 pages. $35.

One would hardly expect a volume in the Terry Lecture Series -- a series that includes Paul Tillich's The Courage to Be -- to be a sympathetic account of a Catholic exorcist who raised a furor among the leaders of the German Enlightenment in the 1770s. H.C. Erik Midelfort, a professor of history and religious studies at the University of Virginia, spent a decade doing the research for this fascinating book, which is based in part on the "bushel baskets of careful eyewitness testimony" about Fr. Johann Joseph Gassner (1727-1779) that survive in various parts of Germany.

In the 1770s, religion was supposed to be on the wane in Europe. Emperor Joseph II was closing down Catholic shrines and monasteries, taxing the clergy, and curbing pilgrimages and processions. But just as the "enlightened" theologians were dismissing the Gospel accounts of our Lord's exorcisms as grounded on "Jewish superstition," southern Germans experienced a religious revival. Fr. Gassner began performing thousands of exorcisms in the presence of bishops, nobles, university professors, and physicians. A huge and noisy debate erupted, with nearly 150 works about Gassner, pro and con, coming to light, mostly in 1775 and 1776. All of Germany, Protestant and Catholic, took part in the controversy that centered on what Scripture said about the Devil and the reliability of the eyewitnesses to Gassner's healings.

It was in the 1760s that Gassner first gained a local, then a regional, reputation. He did not treat all patients, and those he treated were not the classic cases of possession (marked by such traits as supernatural strength, or a knowledge of foreign languages never studied). Before exorcizing he would usually address the Devil, sometimes in Latin, and ask him to perform certain visible acts, by which he would convince the patient that the illness did come from the Devil. Then he would finish by invoking the "Holy Name of Jesus" in a solemn blessing. By 1775 his fame had spread throughout Germany and parts of France, and he was attracting even the attention of Protestants, for example Pastor Johann Lavater of Zurich, who "frankly hoped that demonic possession could be proved, for that would constitute for him proof of the unseen world" and "put the Enlightenment to flight." Midelfort notes that Gassner "fascinated certain Protestant theologians, and especially the Pietists" such as Lavater.

In November 1775, Emperor Joseph II ordered Gassner to leave Regensburg, partly because thousands were flocking to him there. But in February 1776, some bishops rose to Gassner's defense, among them the prince abbot of Kempten, who declared, "I therefore as bishop regard Gassner's system as most valuable because it confounds the blind wisdom of the world, puts free thought to shame, revives the dying faith of many, strengthens the reputation and power of the Church, and spreads the healing force of the most holy name of Jesus…." Some of the high nobility also supported Gassner, as did certain Protestants, who expressed "disappointment and outrage" that Catholic leaders would suppress his exorcisms. An especially strong supporter was the physician Dr. Berhard Schleis, who observed a number of cures.

But Gassner was vehemently opposed by spokesmen for the Catholic Enlightenment, such as Don Ferdinand Sterzinger, who claimed that the exorcist's pressure was what "communicated some secret but natural force." In response to Sterzinger's claim that Christ had chained all the devils in Hell, and so they could no longer roam the earth, Alois Merz, the (Catholic) Cathedral preacher of Augsburg, asserted that such a view of the Devil's impotence "undermined all Christian morality." Enlightenment-style Catholics lamented that "scoffers could be heard from as far away as London," that pharmacies were selling oils and powders blessed by Gassner, and that a lot of money was being wasted by invalids traveling to Regensburg in the hope of a cure that would not prove permanent.

In April 1776, ecclesiastical enemies secured a condemnation from Pope Pius VI, after which Gassner quietly took up parish duties once again. The Pope declared that Gassner's operations were too public, too sensational, not according to the Roman Ritual, and mistakenly based on the idea that most illnesses were caused or made worse by the Devil. Despite this setback, the bishops recalled Gassner briefly to Regensburg in October 1777, so that a number of the high nobility (including Carl Albrecht, Prince of Hohenlohe and Waldenburg) and other witnesses, including 10 Lutherans, might record his healings. This was a vain attempt to reinstate Gassner with a new Pope and Emperor Joseph.

Later, in the 19th century, Pietists would use the same type of exorcism Gassner did, and in our own day, due to the spread of charismatic healing among both Catholics and Protestants, this sort of exorcism is now "more widely and more openly practiced."

Exorcism and Enlightenment is a book to be highly commended for its tactful treatment of Catholicism. Midelfort presents with complete fairness, even while he does not share, the beliefs of Gassner and his followers.

- Anne Barbeau Gardiner





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