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Why We Condemn ‘Game Of Thrones’ Porn and Think You Should Too

All men must die to self and reject even “soft” porn and “artful” rape culture wherever it hides. #GameofPorns
| Jun 20, 2014 | 61 comments |

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Somehow it surprised me when the SpecFaith article But ‘Game of Thrones’ Still Has Porn In It went as viral as a SpecFaith article can go. ‘Tis a strange thing — that if you simply write about sex and naked people, great is your reward in internet heaven.

Now a bigger spiritual “gun” calls out the TV series for being a “Game of Porns” (my term, not his). Desiring God author and former pastor John Piper challenges the series in today’s DesiringGod.org post 12 Questions to Ask Before You Watch ‘Game of Thrones.’

And I say: better late than never, even after the blockbuster HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire novels has finished four seasons.

Why does Piper care? Because he and similar Christian teachers frequently promotes the Biblical ideal of joy — that Christians should neither assume “duty” is the chief end of man, or that happiness on its own is our chief end, but that man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever, even to glorify Him by enjoying Him forever. However, Piper frequently stops short of applying what he terms “Christian Hedonism” to popular culture, beyond the occasional foray into (rightly) condemning idolatrous use of media.1

But here Piper addresses the issue and he is (mostly) dead on.2 Unlike other Christian critics who lump all “objectionable content” together, Piper especially shows discernment about nudity versus other sins in visual stories that are merely acted-out:

Nudity is not like murder and violence on the screen. Violence on a screen is make-believe; nobody really gets killed. But nudity is not make-believe. These actresses are really naked in front of the camera, doing exactly what the director says to do with their legs and their hands and their breasts. And they are naked in front of millions of people to see.

And Piper also anticipates the response from the “but it’s Art” folks. Notice he does not say “Art doesn’t matter,” or “there are more spiritual things to think about” — instead he rightly puts the assumption itself on ice.

There is no great film or television series that needs nudity to add to its greatness. No. There isn’t. There are creative ways to be true to reality without turning sex into a spectator’s sport and without putting actors and actresses in morally compromised situations on the set.

It is not artistic integrity that is driving nudity on the screen. Underneath all of this is male sexual appetite driving this business, and following from that is peer pressure in the industry and the desire for ratings that sell. It is not art that puts nudity in film, it’s the appeal of prurience. It sells.

Cap Stewart was already onto this — the real reason powerful men often exploit women for the screen, often while merely winking at the “but it’s Art” justification that higher-minded defenders employ:

The movers and shakers in Hollywood have acquired what seems to be an almost limitless amount of power to enforce the sexualization of actors. To cite another example: director Neil Marshall once commented on how he was pressured by an HBO executive to put more sex and nudity in an episode of Game of Thrones:

It was pretty surreal. I’d not done anything like that in my films before. But the weirdest part was when you have one of the exec producers leaning over your shoulder, going, “You can go full frontal, you know. This is television, you can do whatever you want! And do it! I urge you to do it.” So I was like, “Okay, well, if you—you’re the boss.”

A little later, he added:

This particular exec took me to one side and said, “Look, I represent the pervert side of the audience, okay? Everybody else is the serious drama side—I represent the perv side of the audience, and I’m saying I want full frontal nudity in this scene. So you go ahead and do it.”

Notice the implicit acknowledgement that the nudity had nothing to do with art—that it was designed solely for the satisfaction of a perverted audience base. The producer pushed his weight around, and the director (and everyone else) acquiesced. All of this to appeal to the lowest common denominator.3

Why should we care about #GameofPorns?

With all the legalism out there, with all the fundamentalist or evangelical fears of “big evil Hollywood” by Christians — fears that have hurt many of our readers personally — why am I again addressing Game of Thrones and its naked people?

This could take a whole other article. But in case that is your reasonable response, I will offer these challenges.

  1. Do you care about misogyny or the sex trade? Do you condemn the flagrant sexual abuse of women by men — enough perhaps to fault Piper himself for some of his statements about sex roles and differences? Then you will at least be willing to consider that perverted and powerful men in the film and television industry are also victimizing women.Quite frankly, if you claim you hate misogyny and the sex trade and rape culture, and then reflexively decry such efforts to apply this consistently to the “legitimate sex trade” of visual media like Game of Thrones, that puts such claims in doubt.
  2. Do you abhor the justification by abusive and careless men that “the woman was asking for it”? Then you will at least be open to seeing through the lie that the women (and men!) who strip naked and act out sex scenes for money only want to do it. You will be open to consider that, as noted above, some TV and film producers are perverted people (often men) who set up bounded choices in which even strong women are deceived to believe they must show themselves naked for the sake of Art.
  3. Are you a Christian who hates the culture of abuse and shame in the Church? Then you will be open to the possibility that many men (and women) are justifying their sin-temptations by saying it’s only Art. Even well-meaning people who react to opposite and legalistic views of storytelling can wrongly conclude that it is more Christian to applaud the objectification of human beings, and assuming that if we don’t then we are somehow commiting a Gnostic “fear of the body” sin.
  4. Are you a Christian who loves great fantasy storytelling and can’t stand it when other Christians don’t get it? Then you will be the first to take the side of critics who say that some of this popular-culture stuff is made simply to endorse sinful lusts. In fact you will be getting out in front of such claims by being the first to decry pervy fantasy as pervy.Trust me, it makes at least the fair-minded Christian critics of popular-culture engagement sit up in surprise. They may say, “Wait a minute, that person has just violated my stereotype of them as a compromiser who’s in love with the world. Maybe this person is actually serious about discerning and enjoying fantasy and popular culture — gritty bits and all — for the glory of God.”Even better, if you fight such sins privately and publicly, you will be pleasing not man, but the Creator of all fantastic worlds.

Conclusion: Yes, this is a discussion that Christian fantasy fans must have — not first by asking “is it Art?” or “do the actors (mostly women) actually get hurt?” or “do most Christians sin with this,” but first by asking these two questions

1. Could I personally watch this visual fantasy series that has porn in it?4

2. And if I do, can I genuinely, truthfully say that I in Christ take measures to ensure I’m not sinning but only doing this from faith (Rom. 14:23)?

  1. Piper has also made some unwise statements in his attempt to defend Biblical sex differences. If you’ve arrived here at this post solely determined to pick on him for those, you’re gonna have a bad time.
  2. One could argue that Piper doesn’t deal with exceptions when he says that seeing nudity in videos and photos is always a sin. Some Christians indeed do not struggle with this, and that is actually a higher threshhold of holiness. Yet as I point out in But ‘Game of Thrones’ Still Has Porn In It, from what I can tell these are unfortunately rarer circumstances — like the Biblical “gift of celibacy,” or even Ripley’s Believe It or Not-style human beings who can rotate their necks 180 degrees.
  3. Hollywood’s Secret Rape Culture, CapStewart.com, May 20, 2014.
  4. This is a point beyond contention: naked people who act out sexual scenarios in public media in order to get money is porn. So the argument is not truly about whether it is porn; the only real argument is how we respond to it.
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Steve Rzasa
Editor

“It is not artistic integrity that is driving nudity on the screen. Underneath all of this is male sexual appetite driving this business, and following from that is peer pressure in the industry and the desire for ratings that sell. It is not art that puts nudity in film, it’s the appeal of prurience. It sells.”

Best quote right there. I’m not a “Game of Thrones” watcher — for that reason among others — but I’ve often wondered if the show would enjoy the same wild popularity if everyone remained fully clothed. Would the drama and violence be enough to satisfy audiences?

Before this gets put into even more of a “Christians vs. the World” frame, keep in mind that even the so-called secular watchers make fun of the excessive nudity. The Honest Trailers YouTube channel calls it “the most perfect mix of history, D&D, and porn ever made!!”

(This video is probably offensive to some people, but I found the whole part about how everyone who dies is connected with actor Sean Bean to be hysterical. Be forewarned–there’s partially obscured nudity in the video… wait, does that make me a hypocrite?)

Hannah Williams
Member

Um…yeah…having the video with the nude (albeit obscured) young lady on the front is probably not the best idea, Mr. Razsa. There are some younger readers of this site that would rather not see that, and also I think that picture could surprise and bother some young men…

Perhaps you should just post a link, instead of the video there for all to see? Though I’m not sure making fun of the sin is really the best idea….

D. M. Dutcher
Member

The problem I think is that youtube links get transformed into imbeds in this comment system, similar to facebook and wordpress. It’s kind of good, kind of sucks.

LD Taylor
Guest

Try using a Bit.ly or other shortened link. Should confuse it. I agree: my husband and sons would be pretty unhappy to stumble on an image like that on a Christian site.

Bethany A. Jennings
Member

Spot on.   And I appreciate footnote #2, as well – that was my only quibble with what Piper said.  Here’s what I said to a friend who posted his article:

I am not sure I wholeheartedly agree with him on everything, though… I’d like him to clarify where he believes the difference is between simply seeing nudity and “watching nudity”. If simply seeing nudity was wrong, every doctor would be in sin, every parent of a baby/toddler would be in sin, and so would everyone in an art museum or anyone who noticed the ministry of Isaiah, who God actually commanded to walk around naked for three whole years! I believe that looking at nudity becomes sin as soon as you begin to lust, or when the nudity is designed to provoke lust. “Where is the line, so I can stand on the edge,” is foolish thinking! But I would like to see what Piper believes is the difference. Because honestly I have seen TV with non-sexual (and non-frontal) nudity, and though I have looked away from the screen uncomfortably or found other things to look at in the frame, I do not in any way feel that I sinned by simply seeing it. It might be *very* different for a visual male, and that’s part of it too – we have to take into account our own specific temptations and temperaments. Personally I can’t watch a TV couple do a long kiss! It’s too much for me. I know many or most people can handle that just fine, but I know my own boundaries.

Rebekah Loper
Member

Thank you. Thank you, thank you, THANK YOU.

One of the major reasons I could never get past the first few episodes of Game of Thrones was the gratuitous nudity and sex.

I’ve had numerous friends tell me both “They’re just doing it the same way it is in the books.” and “They added soooo much in that wasn’t in the books.” So obviously someone is lying.

But you hooked the major thing that bothers me about it, I think.

The violence/death may not be real, but the nudity IS. Many of the sexual acts ARE, because some of that can’t be added in with special effects, and why on earth would they do it that way, when it’s cheaper (and faster) to just have the actors actually doing it?

I haven’t read the books, so I can’t say what the comparison between the two is like. I do know friends who have stopped reading the books because they just couldn’t read any more descriptions of naked people.

But nudity and sex in written fiction – the actions of fictional characters that don’t actually exist – are a completely different matter than sexual activites performed by real people for an audience, whether it be on camera or stage. While the same temptations may be there for people who struggle with sexual addiction, at least it’s not exploiting numerous other people to gratify a perverted audience.

I’m also going to give this article to my husband to read, because he does watch Game of Thrones, and I don’t know that he understands the implications of what is going on behind the scenes for much of it.

Paul Lee
Member

Christian Hedonism has been accepted without enough scrutiny. Piper’s statement that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him rings true to the human need for God. However, I don’t agree that seeking happiness is always the right thing to do, or that it is always improper to do something unpleasant out of a sense of duty.

Hypothetically, I could watch Game of Thrones out of a sense of cold duty — still without doing it for “wrongfully pragmatic purposes.” This is hypothetical. I don’t want to watch Game of Thrones, and I’m pretty sure it would screw me up if I did. However, if I were a serious film/television critic and I always reviewed HBO-style dramas, I would at least try to watch the series in order to fulfil my duty. If I found that it was spiritually damaging, it would then be my duty to stop watching it and to report the reason why I jumped ship.

Discernment means that we should correctly identify the way that grace and redemption relate to everything that we do or encounter. Therefore, a discerning reason to watch Game of Thrones is simply that the series exists, and you happen to encounter it. Hence, my film critic example. It would be sinful for me to go out of my way to watch Game of Thrones in order to see all the naked people.

I was in a position to read A Song of Ice and Fire series with legitimate discerning cause. The guy I was reading The Wheel of Time with back in highschool had read A Game of Thrones. We just thought of A Song of Ice and Fire as the default “other” epic fantasy series, and I always assumed I’d get around to reading it some day.

If I had read it as a teen, I’m sure that I would not have been offended by the explicit parts. I would have just thought that they were stupid, and continued on. However, now that I’ve heard all the warnings — now that the explicit scenes in the book have been raised to a status of a Thing — it may be impossible for me not to stumble over them if I do ever choose to read the book.

Anything worth doing involves risk — even spiritual risk — so I don’t think we should build fences. Even reading the Bible can be spiritual dangerous; it almost shipwrecked me!

However, I can’t deny the need to call things out for what they are. We can’t “side” with the world; we should only side with truth. Sin is sin, and while “porn” may be difficult to define, objectification and abuse are not. I agree that the effect HBO series is culturally and spiritually harmful.

What should we do about it, other than get upset? Why is it right to get upset about Game of Thrones but not about Disney movies or misguided fundamentalist stories? Isn’t getting upset a non-Hedonistic attitude?

Paul Lee
Member

Another point.

Before the HBO series existed, I read a Christian critique of Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series that lamented the gratuitous sex in that series and tentatively offered A Song of Ice and Fire as a safer alternative.

See, the current criticism of A Song of Ice and Fire is partly a fad. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s untrue, but it is true that before the HBO series created awareness of the racy content in the book series, the book series was not widely condemned even by Christian readers.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

The Sword of Truth was painful in the first book. That prolonged scene with Denna using the agiel on Richard is literally repulsive, and I never bothered with other books in the series after that. I think people don’t really get how transgressive a lot of SF and Fantasy really is. Seems like every bizarre sexual kink finds its home in one of those genres.

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

Hence the term “adult fantasy.”

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Adult doesn’t mean that. Goodkind has a bad habit of using his fiction to promote his own likes, and the whole Denna scene was little more than S&M author appeal. He does this with objectivism, too.  He’s not really alone; way too many authors do this. Heinlein with polyamory and spanking/corporal punishment, for example. Plenty of authors are capable of writing adult spec fic without wallowing in kink or violence. Gordon Dickson comes to mind.

Cap Stewart
Guest

Excellent questions at the end of the article. Would that more evangelicals answered them thoughtfully and honestly.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Props for bringing up rape culture, but it’s a little more nuanced than nudity, sex = rape culture. I mean, yes, Game of Thrones is a lot rapey, but it isn’t because there are naked people and sex in it, it’s because there is non-consensual sex (rape) in it. It is also rape culturey because of other things like the waaaay uneven female-to-male nudity ratio (see also: male gaze) and the vast majority of Sansa’s story arc and and that uncomfortably skeevy romance between Danaerys and Drogo because he raped her daily until she Stockholmed. NOPE.

 

This is what I mean when I say (or have said at some point) that Christian culture drops the ball when discussing sex because there is more to the discussion than general sex negativity.

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

I disagree with you that Game of Thrones *promotes* rape culture (depicts, certainly, but my perception of it is more of a “look how awful things can get during war / in extremely patriarchal societies”–but that’s my perception, lots of people agree with your perception as well).  But I just wanted to give you kudos for actually talking sense in this comment thread.  The post is dark and full of dogma.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

Not keen on trying to tie this into rape culture, but overall its a good point to be careful what you watch and champion.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Wow, I am sooo tempted to argue you into admitting that GoT does actually tie into rape culture in a positive feedback loop of patriarchal creep-creepity. But I shall resist.

But that’s something to think about, liking problematic things. That’s my problem with George MacDonald. He’s kinda Mr. Fred Rogers-ish in tone, but he’s also a sexist, classist Victorian.

D. M. Dutcher
Member

I’m not a fan of the idea of rape culture. I don’t think it fits into what Stephen is trying to say, and could have been left out of the post. He’s removing the agency of women who willingly consent to being nude on camera, and ascribing it to big evil men deceiving strong women. This isn’t the case, and is one of the ways men pedestalize women. They can’t really want to be nude for the money or be in porn; they are too pure for that. The evil mens must be pressuring and manipulating them.

We could talk more about how rape is a trope for lazy writers to add cheap heat to a villain or cheap pathos to a female character’s backstory. We could talk about how depicting rape in visual media backfires in the same way violence can; the visual presentation can have a stronger impact than the actual intellectual one. We probably should talk too about the sheer pathology of a lot of creative types; sometimes I think some of the reason why fantasy doesn’t get adapted on the screen is that there is so much rape, sex, and violence that actually showing it would disgust people.

I don’t really think the idea of rape culture helps, though. I don’t think Stephen gets how contentious the idea is, and how it gets expanded beyond any reasonable definition. I don’t want to argue why in depth here, but I say this so you can be a little clear on why I don’t really like it.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

But that doesn’t really prove to me how rape culture is irrelevant to this discussion, just how much Burnett is bungling it. But let’s focus on our commonalities, like how much Burnett disappoints us. 😛

D. M. Dutcher
Member

heh, it’s not so much he disappoints as it was rather shocking to see a conservative Christian use the idea of rape culture to make a point. It worries me a little that the language of progressive politics seems so common that even believers increasingly are using it. Stephen’s a pretty sharp guy with a strong grip on Biblical behavior.

Made me feel even more like a dinosaur than I do now.

Paul Lee
Member

Ideas are not copyrighted by ideologies. All ideas should be fair game to make legitimate points.

And even if you do have to view everything as a bi-partisan war, the best champion for one ideology would be the one who can incorporate the enemy’s talking points and spin them into a better framework that beats the enemy at its own game.

Burnett’s one of my favorite people on the Internet precisely because he seems to try hard to resist the bi-partisan thinking that we’re all ingrained with. He won’t reject the fundamentalists; he at least tries to be fair to progressives.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Speaking as the resident progressive, YMMV.

LD Taylor
Guest

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

Beautifully argued. Incredibly well put. I loved it.

I take on the ‘art vs porn’ debate in a scene of the YA novel I have coming out in November… but admit I was heavily inspired (as far as that passage goes) by Surfing for God, by Michael John Cusick.

Cusick brings it down to three questions (we should be asking ourselves) if we are having difficulty determining if it’s art or porn:

1. Are people portrayed as humans or objects?

2. Is intimacy in human relationships esteemed or disregarded.

3 What is the motive of the producer of this ‘art’?

Thank you for answering the third question… which normally is something we can only guess at.

Thank you for the post… now can you get the breasts off of the comments please… because… it ain’t art.

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

Emilia Clark’s breasts are 100% art.

Leah Burchfiel
Member

Hey, you’re back! I don’t know if I could congratulate you or offer a flack jacket.

But yeah, even though I don’t lean that way, I have to say that Emilia Clark is fiiiine. And I’m sure she has a lovely personality, but I don’t know much about her beyond that she is in GoT.

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

Thanks.  I always tell myself I should stay out of it, but I get so irked.

I think I feel especially defensive about Emilia Clark because she seems like a natural beauty proponent   The first few seasons at least she had the curvy/fit look going on rather than the super-skinny look, she’s said she doesn’t pluck her eyebrows, and she did that no-makeup Facebook pic awhile back.  I love that.

Shannon McNear
Member

Finally–FINALLY!–someone else makes the point about the nudity and sexual content in films being “real,” while the violence is pretend. I’ve been saying this for years–I’m not even 100% comfortable with kissing scenes because, hey, if my husband were an actor, I sure wouldn’t be fine with him smooching other women. But anyway–for years I keep hearing Christians applauding movies like Braveheart, where Mel Gibson–professed believer, husband and father of 7–did a nude scene with a young woman who was not his wife. (In the commentary, he admits he was “half in love” with her. How is that right?)

The problems with GoT, IMO, probably go beyond promotion of a rape culture … how healthy it can be to follow a story where everyone abuses each other, where every sympathetic character dies (or most–I haven’t read/watched it but I keep hearing about it, LOL)?

Anyway … thank you. I think it’s about time a line was drawn. 🙂

C. J. Darlington
Member

Thank you for sharing this poignant post. I truly appreciate Christians speaking out against perversity. All I had to do was read the Parent’s Guide of GOT season 1, and I was horrified. I have no idea how any Christian  would watch a show like this for entertainment. http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0944947/parentalguide?ref_=tt_stry_pg

Bethany
Guest
Bethany

Wow, you are so off base it makes my stomach hurt just thinking about the mental gymnastics it takes to be you.

But it’s good to know that being a Game of Thrones fan means that I support rape.  Here I was thinking that I was a “yes means yes” feminist enjoying a show with more badass female characters than any other I can think of, so it’s a good thing you pointed out that a show where women have sex without any clothes on is inherently keeping women down.  Because I was all confused and thought that a religion that teaches that women were made from and for men was keeping women down.

It’s also nice that you made up your own definition of porn.  Naked = porn.  That’s a nice, simple, easy to comprehend definition.  So just to be clear, is this also porn?
comment image

Thanks for the clarification.

Paul Lee
Member

No one’s going to come steal your TV or cut off your HBO subscription. I’m not your legalistic pastor. I’m not even your mom.

Right. Sorry.

Tiribulus
Guest

Stephen I may have been too quick and severe with you. I do however think you are missing one point here. The sinfulness of the production of a show like GoT. Or any media where sin was required in it’s production.

Tiribulus
Guest

<strong>Stephen says: “Greg, let us be friends.”</strong>
Ok. 🙂 (handshake offered)

You are still missing my point though and the one piper is making (which, same article I linked on my FB page btw, ). That is, the violence in moving picture media is entirely fake. Whether even that is sin can be discussed. I believe it is in far more cases than you probably do.

If however, somebody were actually shot to death for instance in the production of a film or television show, even if voluntarily in the name of “artistic realism”, it would be sin in every instance and sin to support it with God’s treasure and time. Any individual viewer’s particular tolerance for blood is entirely irrelevant. The act itself is sin, even if nobody ever saw it.

Reginald O'Donoghue
Guest

It is not wrong for a show to contain violence. Gratuitous violence maybe, but not violence in itself, by that logic the Bible would be wrong.

Tiribulus
Guest

We are still talking past each other to a large degree Stepehn, but that’s ok. We’ll get there. Can’t do it now though.

Tiribulus
Guest

It’s 3 in the morning and we have no power in our neighborhood (huge storm) I’m at my church.

Real quick. My point was that if REAL murder were included in a film, it would be sin to produce it 100% of the time. While there may not be actual intercourse happening, there is plenty of actual nudity and actual sexual contact in today’s visual media entertainment that is sinful in it’s own right having nothing to do with the audience’s reaction. It is that that has been my focus for the year now that I’ve been regularly dealing with this. I don’t even address whether it induces lust in the consumer or not. Because people lie and most effectively to themselves.

No. If there is content in a production that I could not watch my wife, daughter or sons “perform” or that I could not myself perform before them or God then it is the rankest hypocrisy to pay unbelievers to do it for me. I am financing their damnation which is the diametric opposite of loving them as myself. That goes for ANY content. Blasphemous language too. The Lord did not say He would not hold them guiltless who take his name in vain UNLESS it was for a movie or TV show (or book for that matter) where it would be considered “art”.

Yes, there are far more ways to take God’s name in vain than simply speaking it in a vulgar fashion. That however IS included. As Pastor Wilson says (Cap Stewart’s guy) whom I also know a bit, this discussion couldn’t even have happened before a couple decades ago. The church always got this until recently. Motion picture media is beyond dispute the most powerful tool of manipulation and indoctrination in the history of the world. Hitler had his masters of movie propaganda. We should be VERY wary of it in the hands of exceptionally capable and endlessly financed people who are the eternally mortal enemies of our God and His Christ.

Tiribulus
Guest

Oops. No, it is not sin to inadvertently witness real life violence. I would never say such thing. I live in Detroit, but the real standard is that the bible does not say that seeing violence by accident is a sin.  Or nudity for that matter. If forced into an emergency situation by God’s providence, He would also give grace for delivering a baby or protecting a naked woman running from a house to escape an assailant for instance. (these really happen. At least here) Life saving medicine is also unrelated to entirely unnecessary art and entertainment. I’ve heard that one 100 times too.

Reginald O'Donoghue
Guest

I happen to enjoy Game of Thrones/ASOIAF gritty realism and political intrigue, I don’t even mind the violence, since that is a plenty in the Bible. But I am finding it especially hard to justify liking it with regard to the pornographic aspect you mentioned. What alternatives might there be which contain the aforementioned themes?