Editor’s note: This is a speech given by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland at the Fourth Annual Guardian of the Light Award Dinner of the Lighted Candle Society.
What may be the most disturbing fact of all for us in a world as repulsive as the world of pornography is the reach of pornography into the lives of those least prepared to resist it – our children. As you know, reliable statistics accessing the online use of pornography are hard to come by, but a few years ago a Kaiser Family Foundation/NPR survey found that 31 percent of children aged 10 to 17 with computers at home had seen a pornographic Web site.
In another study by the Kaiser Foundation, 70 percent of teens aged 15 to 17 said they had accidentally come across pornography on the Web. A survey revealed that, nationally, 5 percent of children between the ages of 10 and 17 using the Internet had received a solicitation for sex in the past year (see The National Academy of Sciences, Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, 2002, 132-33).
Since these studies, now dated only by a few years, the problem has become worse. The number of homes with Internet access has increased dramatically, and cell phones and other technology popular with youth can now connect with the Web. Blogs, chat rooms, and community Web sites like Myspace.com have proliferated, along with the potential for contact with online sexual predators.
But of course we must always be vigilant to note that the problem is so much larger than this. As much as there is at least something of a national consensus on the evils of child pornography, there is, sadly, none whatever – yet – on pornography for and featuring adults. The scope and significance of the problem in the adult world is more pervasive than ever.
The simple fact of the matter is pornography victimizes everyone – those who are addicted to it, those who live with them, a society that fosters it, a society that is trying to oppose it, even those who create it. It contaminates everyone.
Not long ago a Protestant periodical gave an account of a woman, now a believing, practicing Christian, who at one time acted in the kind of films a generation ago were found only in back alley movie theaters and are now openly sold in stores and shown on cable TV. She writes:
[Pornography is] one of the greatest deceptions of all time. Trust me, I know. I did it all the time, and I did it for the lust of power and the love of money. I never liked [men or] sex. In fact I was more apt to spend time with Jack Daniels than [any other man of my choosing. Who wouldn’t] hate being touched by strangers who care nothing about [you. Who wouldn’t] hate being degraded. Some women hate it so much you can hear them vomiting in the bathroom between scenes… One of my friends went home after a long night of numbing her pain and put a pistol to her head and pulled the trigger. That was her way out.
The truth is there is no fantasy in porn. It’s all a lie. A closer look into the scenes of a porn star’s life will show you a movie [that] industry doesn’t want you to see. The real truth is [if] actresses want to end the shame and trauma of our lives [in that world] we can’t do it alone. We need you… to fight for our freedom and give us back our honor.
We [need] you to throw out our movies and help [us] piece together the shattered fragments of our lives. We need you to pray for us… so God will hear and repair our ruined lives (Shelley Lubben, www.blazingrace.org/thetruth.htm).
Did you catch her references to money and power? The industry we’re fighting is not about men or women or love or intimacy – it’s about money, and the power money supposedly brings. The tragedy here is that the human soul is not a commodity of exchange, not a thing to be consumed and discarded, a thing one can buy for $19.99 plus tax and then, when tired or ashamed of it, throw in the trash bin.
And deep-down everyone knows that, even those who are mired into the depths of this. One of our national associates in this fight wrote, “When I ask men who are sex addicts if they would want their wife or daughter to be in porn, 100 percent say, ‘No,'” she said. “All of them say, ‘No.’ They want it to be somebody else’s wife or daughter. They know this material is damaging [and the practice degrading.]”
Years ago one of my personal LDS heroes made this observation:
We have witnessed the reduction of persons to things in a code number, a subscriber, a punched card. Each reduction indicates that the person is expendable, replaceable. This renders men [and women as] functionaries and destroys their being and loses for them their self… This is hauntingly true as people are “used” to gratify physical passions in illegitimacy.
We really do not “love” things. We use things like doormats, automobiles, clothing, machines; but we love people by serving them and contributing to their permanent good (Spencer W. Kimball, Faith Precedes the Miracle, 155-56; emphasis added).
I really don’t intend to document the problem ad nauseam for this audience because you are documenting it far more skillfully than I ever could. I also don’t want to be guilty of simply “wringing my hands and shaking my head,” a rather useless response decried in your founding documents. So let me light a candle or two.
Of all the characteristics ascribed to Jesus Christ – whom the scriptures call the Light of the World – love is His most fundamental and most enduring virtue. We must remember that not only those who view pornography but also those who perform it are children of God, and furthermore are someone’s son, someone’s daughter here on earth as well. For all their sin we need to love them, serve them, save them if we can, and contribute to their permanent good. We can do that, in the spirit of your society, by following the pattern set by God at the outset of our earthly experience.
The book held sacred by Jews and Christians worldwide begins with these words:
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth…
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness” (Genesis 1:1, 3-4).
Our work is to divide the light from the darkness by lighting more and more candles. I can think of a few ways we could begin to do that.
First, let us be clear about the holder of the candles. I find it interesting that the first thing light reveals when a candle is lighted is the hand holding it. The Lord made this fascinating observation about personal light.
The light of the body is the eye: therefore when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when thine eye is evil, thy body also is full of darkness.
Take heed therefore that the light which is in thee be not darkness.
If thy whole body therefore be full of light, having no part dark, the whole shall be full of light, as when the bright shining of a candle doth give thee light” (Luke 11:33-36).
The candles we hold up for others to see ought to be extensions of the light within ourselves. What we are shines more brightly than anything we say or do. If we are to fill the world with light, we must first face any tattered remnant of darkness that remains in our own souls. I invite each of you to join me in regularly turning inward to confront there anything we wouldn’t want others to see. It may not be pornography. I am assuming it wouldn’t be pornography for us, but it may be arrogance or unkindness, impatience or vanity, or any number of other flaws we need to remedy. Whatever it is let us trim our lamps, add oil, and make those changes necessary that allow us to hold up a brighter candle, a purer light. Christ focused some of His most pointed opprobrium for the hypocrite. We must never be guilty of that in this battle. We must be the best person we can be in every way we can.
Second, let us educate ourselves. Light is not the absence of darkness; rather, darkness is the absence of light. Light and truth exist independently. This being the case, the more light we have, the more independent we are. The freer we are to choose. With truth lighting the way, we are able to see and make choices we otherwise couldn’t make.
Since we are agents with the ability to choose, the responsibility for our education rests first with us. Others may help – teachers, parents, leaders, friends, even those who are not friends but whose negative examples and misguided perspectives serve to instruct what not to do or what not to believe. Ultimately, however, the responsibility for getting the facts straight is ours. The work is ours. The choices are ours.
Keep in mind that any knowledge we gather can be both negative and positive. Yes, we will gather statistics and horror stories about the impact of the darkness on our society. But more important, we must also fill our hearts and minds with truth and light, with love and the Spirit of God. Too often we allow ourselves to be forced into a defensive, remedial position when we could be more effective by taking positive, constructive action. And nothing is more constructive than a good, powerful, pure personal life.
Third, as we educate ourselves, we need to educate others. The promoters of darkness often seem to have direct access to the media microphone. We may not be able to take that away from them, but we can at least raise our own voices. We can teach correct principles often and in as many ways as possible.
Since darkness is the absence of light, surely the most powerful way to counter darkness is to fill the world with light. One of my associates observed recently:
Light and darkness cannot occupy the same space at the same time.
Light dispels darkness. When light is present, darkness is vanquished and must depart. More importantly, darkness cannot conquer light unless the light is diminished or departs (Robert D. Hales, in Conference Report, Apr. 2002, 80-81; or Ensign, May 2002, 70).
Is it not part of our work as sons and daughters of God to encourage creative efforts that dispel darkness and replace it with light? Indeed, one objective of the Lighted Candle Society is to promote “positive and uplifting… education and entertainment.” How powerful a force for good would be a renaissance in literature, art, technology, and science that adds light rather than takes it away! Such a renaissance is possible. There are among us artists and artisans who need only to receive a little more support and encouragement from men and women of conscience to produce works that could rival those that half a millennium ago marked the end of Europe’s Dark Age and the rise of a wonderful new cultural and spiritual Renaissance.
As we fill the earth with art (and media) that is good and uplifting – as we fill the earth with light and knowledge – our children will see the darkness for what it is. They will see that it is counterfeit, that it brings only sorrow, pain, and emptiness. They will come to prefer light and be attracted to that which is good and true.
Fourth, we can be vigilant. Some of the most effective work we can do, as was said about the Watergate scandal, is “follow the money.” We can keep money out of the pockets of the merchants of immorality. Owners perspire when profits fail. We can work against the profitability of those who merchandise in human suffering and degradation. We can alert media moguls that we will ignore their services and the products they advertise as long as they remain in league with those who abuse the individual, undermine the structure of the family, and attack the moral fiber of society.
But again, if that is all we do, we have not filled the void with light. We must also support, encourage, and finance that which is positive and life-affirming, art and beauty – in short, truth – that encourages people to come out of the darkness into the light.
Lastly, as parents we must control use of the Internet in our own homes. We need to set and enforce family rules that protect us and our children from those who would sneak into our homes and there replace light with darkness. As citizens, we can seek controls on Internet use in public places. We can understand and teach others how to use the Internet safely. This wonderful tool is too valuable to all of us to let greedy individuals use it for their own selfish ends.
You are well aware of the Harry Potter books and movies by J. K. Rowling. One of the reasons the books are so popular, I think, is that they show children victorious in battle against dark forces. They give readers hope that, even in total darkness, there is that spark of light. Despite the powerful evil arrayed against them, they know they can defeat the darkness.
But fundamental to the message of the Harry Potter books is the idea that children don’t – indeed, can’t – fight their battles alone. In fact, the one gift that saves Harry over and over again is the love of his mother, who died protecting him from evil. Without any question one of those best “defenses against the dark arts” – to use a phrase from the Harry Potter books – is close family ties. Parental love, family activity, gentle teaching, and respectful conversation – sweet time together – can help keep the generations close and build bonds that will never be broken.
A strong home and the love of parents is not infallible; we all know of children and teachers who give in to the darkness despite the best efforts of their loved ones.
But both research and experience show that parental love and a happy home is the strongest defense our children have against anything the lords of darkness can throw at them.
In this regard, recent findings bring good news: “The use of filters in families with teens has grown 65% in four years, from around 7 million users at the end of 2000, to close to 12 million today. Of all families in the United States connected to the Internet, 54% use Internet filters” (Amanda Lenhart, “Protecting Teens Online,” Pew Internet and American Life Project, March 17, 2005, i).
These and similar statistics are encouraging. More parents are recognizing the need to protect their families. Most teens (73%) report that “their household computer is located in a public place inside the house,” and most parents (64%) reported that they set rules about what their children do on the Internet. Unfortunately, 65% of all parents and 64% of all teens say that teens do things online that they wouldn’t want their parents to know about” (“Protecting Teens Online,” ii).
We still have work to do.
In my attempt this evening to add to the lighted candles you share so generously, I hope something of what I have said finds a place in your hearts. The second greatest poet in the English language once wrote:
He that has light within his own clear breast
May sit i’ the centre, and enjoy bright day:
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts
Himself his own dungeon. (Milton)
Lighting candles can be a great adventure. Whatever else is revealed by the light, nothing becomes as clear as what we find in our own souls.
May our journey into light be inspirational. And may the light you share show others the way to pure light, Eternal Light, God’s light. Thank you and God bless you.