Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria University College, Wellington N.Z. Vol. 21, No. 6. May 28, 1958
[Letter from D. A. Patterson to Salient Vol. 21, No. 6. May 28, 1958]
Sir,—I must take exception to some points in John Hendrikse's article on prostitution. First he says of the "Temple prostitution" of the Ancient East that "The religion was used as an excuse to indulge in prostitution which was apparently not regarded as a moral evil". Please! I presume from a reading of his article that Mr. Hendrikse is a Christian and I suppose that he takes part in Communion or Mass. Does he realise that this is a symbolic cannibal feast? Does he regard cannibalism as a moral evil?
The ancients saw that sex is a fundamental motivator in human activities and so, lacking science, took the obvious attitude—they regarded sex as a sacred mystery. They held rites in honour of sexual Gods and Goddesses, rites which stood to modern prostitution in much the same relation as Mr. Hendrikse at Mass stands to me at dinner.
Second, Mr. Hendrikse claims that while Christian ethics regard sexual intercourse outside marriage as sinful, the early Christians were "tolerantly understanding" of the moral decadence of Rome, and in support of this he cites Augustine. Well, Augustine was unusual among early Christians in that he was neither a Hebrew or a member of the lower classes. He was a highly educated man and his outlook was untypical. The author of the Book of Revelation hardly gives the impression of tolerance. Tolerance was one of the Roman virtues which the Christian Church did not inherit; intolerance, if not peculiar to monotheistic religions (and I have not yet discovered it among others) is certainly typical of them.
And as for those Christian ethics, a very common attitude among early Christian groups was that any sexual intercourse was immoral; Mr. Hendrikse's view was only adopted by the early Christians as obvious measure against their own physical extinction!
Thirdly, he, quite rightly to my mind, blames economic conditions for a large proportion of prostitution. But he ten goes off to propose a fantastic remedy "moral education and character training ... at home ... at school." An obvious beginning would be to clear the slums and provide adequate and recent living quarters for all; then the "Parents, teachers, churches and psychologists" who Mr. Hendrikse mentions would have something less of an uphill fight. But what price "moral education" at school to curb youngsters in their pursuit of the simple pleasures of life when they have only to pick up a newspaper to see that in the world at large "moral" standards simply do not apply? Sinclair Lewis has shown in his American Tragedy the disastrous effect which can result when a boy emerges from a highly "moral" home into an immoral community.
Finally, I must reiterate that, like Mr. Hendrikse, I regard prostitution as an evil and, unlike St. Augustine, I do not regard it as a necessary evil. However, it is not for its "immorality" that I condemn it, but because it reduces what are the most human of human activities to a mere commercial transaction.
David A. Patterson.