Thursday 26 August 2021

OnlyFans - a frustrated exercise in ethical commerce and a dishonest use of language

 On the 20th August 2021, the subscription only website OnlyFans accounced that it would ban users from posting sexually explicit photographs and videos on its site from October. The BBC report is here: OnlyFans to ban sexually explicit content. On the same day, the BBC news website was reporting an investigation that criticised OnlyFans for its approach to moderating and closing accounts that show illegal content, and which also expressed some concerns about content being posted on the site. That report is here: OnlyFans - how it handles illegal sex videos - BBC investigation.

According to the BBC investigation:

On Thursday evening, Only Fans said it would ban sexually explicit content on the site from October. The announcement comes after BBC News approached the company for its response to the leaked documents, and concerns about its handling of accounts posting illegal content.

OnlyFans said it would still allow creators to post nude photos and videos if they were in line with its terms of service, which are to be updated.

The site has more than 120 million subscribers, who pay a monthly fee and tips to "creators" for videos, photos and the ability to send personal messages to them. OnlyFans takes 20% of all payments.

OnlyFans said that the change was being made after pressure from banking partners, again according to the BBC reporting. This in itself represents an interesting development - commercial partners being sufficiently interested to not allow their payment services to be used in the production and communication of sexually explicit material, for which OnlyFans provides a well known platform. In recent times, such threats of commercial pressure have been used by lobbyists wishing to discourage the provision of services to those who support causes that would generally be identified as "conservative" or at least less than "progressive". Its application to the field of sexually explicit content represents a new development.

However, yesterday (25th August) the BBC reported that OnlyFans has announced a supension of its change, in effect allowing the publication of sexually explicit content to continue after 1st October: OnlyFans suspends policy change after backlash.

OnlyFans wrote on twitter that it would "continue to provide a home for all creators".

"Thank you to everyone for making your voices heard," said the company.

"We have secured assurances necessary to support our diverse creator community and have suspended the planned 1 October policy change.

"OnlyFans stands for inclusion and we will continue to provide a home for all creators."

And in an email to its content creators, it said: "The proposed 1 October 2021 changes are no longer required, due to banking partners' assurances that OnlyFans can support all genres of creators. "OnlyFans is committed to providing a sage [sic - presumably intended to be "safe"] and dependable platform for all creators and their fans."

One OnlyFans creator, from London, welcomed the announcement but said those who had already found new homes for their content may still not return.

"So it is short-term good news for sex workers reliant on the platform - and I would like to see this as the start of increased support, celebration and championing of sex-worker rights by OnlyFans," he told BBC News. 

 At least in part, the "backlash" appears to have come from OnlyFans "creators" (essentially those who produce and post sexually explicit content on the site), one of whom I recall hearing interviewed on the BBC's Today programme a few days ago. If I recall correctly, this lady identified as a "sex worker" who had been using OnlyFans to publish subscription based content during the COVID-19 pandemic, and argued that, if she had to return to live working rather than being able to continue online working, she would feel significantly at risk because of the uncertainty inherent in meeting live clients.

OnlyFans capitulation in the face of publicity and what appears to be potential economic losses if makers of sexually explicit content move to other platforms is disappointing. It would also be interesting to know the extent to which OnlyFans "banking partners" also succumbed to pressure.

But the most stunning aspect of the debacle, for me, is the adoption towards makers of sexually explicit material of the language of "diversity" and "inclusion". 

In the first instance: should we be more honest in our use of language, and recognise that what is  now referred to in morally neutral language as "sexually explicit content" is in fact what would previously have been termed rather more honestly as "pornography"?

Should we not also be more hesitant in accepting the use of the term "sex worker", and recognise that the larger part of the work covered by that term could be more honestly termed "prostitution"? This is particularly the case as the aura of legitimacy implied in the term "sex worker" does not capture the significant risk of exploitation and harm that exists in such work.

But the most worrying misuse of language is the development according to which the categories of "diversity" and "inclusion" are applied by OnlyFans to their "creators", that is, to the makers of "sexually explicit" / "pornographic" content which is posted on their site. The implications if such  a use of these categories became widespread in society are mind boggling - think about work place, or even school and college, equalities policies which might be forced to include the accessing of such content as an equalities strand to be supported and promoted.

It is interesting to put the argument for "increased support, celebration and championing of sex-worker rights" alongside the text of Article 29 (2) of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and ask whether we really do want our society to abandon the idea that the law should be able to act in favour of "morality ... and the general welfare in a democratic society":

In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.

UPDATE: CARE have reacted to OnlyFans U-turn: 'Shameful OnlyFans u-turn is corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility'. CARE's comment focusses on the risk that "creators" may be being coerced into making content, and is very usefully read alongside my observations above.

“It’s clear what happened here. OnlyFans realised curbing sexually explicit content would affect its profits. Financial backers who initially raised concerns about content on the site and pressured the company towards a ban have either changed their minds or been replaced by others willing to turn a blind eye to concerns. This is a classic case of corporate greed trumping corporate responsibility. It is a shameful.”

Sunday 22 August 2021

Offerte vobis pacem - a further thought

 In my last post, I reflected on how the absence of the celebration of the sign of peace at Mass during the earlier stages of the COVID-19 pandemic prompted me to think more deeply about the meaning of the dialogue immediately preceding the invitation to the sign of peace: Offerte vobis pacem.

At that time, I also had a thought arising from Pope Francis' Amoris Laetitia. In an earlier discussion of this Apostolic Exhortation, I suggested that the pastoral programme of Chapter 8 is focussed on discerning how those in an "objective state of sin" with regard to their marital situation, but with a genuine wish to "seek God", can engage in the Church's mission of charity in order to work out their salvation. The post involved - Correcting the correction ... looks at his question quite carefully.

My further thought was that someone in this kind of situation could be encouraged in their participation in the sign of peace at Mass by recognising the deeper meaning suggested in my post Offerte vobis pacem. An enriched celebration of the sign of peace cannot replace being able to receive Holy Communion itself; but for a person whose objective situation means they cannot receive Communion, it might represent a pastoral proximation to receiving Communion. This discernment could be valuably undertaken alongside that of the way in which a person engages in the mission of charity, as suggested in Correcting the correction ...

Monday 16 August 2021

Offerte vobis pacem

The celebration of Mass during the months of the COVID-19 pandemic has seen the absence of Holy Communion received under the form of the Precious Blood by the faithful and the absence of the invitation for the sign of peace. The celebration of the sign of peace is beginning to occur as we gradually return to a more normal form of celebration, though in my parish it is occurring at a certain initiative of the faithful towards each other and without Father generally offering the invitation. Mass attendance is still reduced compared to pre-pandemic Sundays, and the faithful are still giving attention to social distancing and the wearing of face coverings, though both of these have been indicated as a matter of our own choice.

In the earlier days of the pandemic, it was interesting to find an enhanced sense of the significance of the sign of peace being expressed in the prayer and dialogue that immediately precede the invitation to the sign of peace itself:

Lord Jesus Christ, who said to your Apostles: Peace I leave you, my peace I give you, look not on our sins, but on the faith of your Church, and graciously grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. Who live and reign for ever and ever.


The peace of the Lord be with you always.

And with your spirit.

This prayer and dialogue express a peace that is offered by the priest, in his gesture from the altar, towards the faithful; and they capture the essence of the physical sign of peace to which the faithful are then subsequently invited. 

As the celebration of the sign of peace gradually returns to the liturgy, there is perhaps an opportunity for clergy to offer a catechesis on the sign of peace, so that we do not return to the situation where, because it is generally marked by such a-liturgical practices as hand shakes or (in the circumstances of retained social distancing) hand waves, it is celebrated with very little real appreciation of its significance.

There seem to me to be two key elements of such a catechesis. The first is captured by the word "offer" in the invitation to the sign of peace. The sign of peace is not something that is shared in a kind of horizontal, equal way between two people. This is one reason why the a-liturgical hand shake and wave are so poor as expressions of the sign of peace; they are unable to express a dynamic of a sign that is offered by one person and received by the other. In this dynamic of offering/receiving, the person who offers should be seen as representing the person of Christ; and the person who receives should be seen as representing the Church. This gives the same representative character to the sign celebrated between the faithful and that expressed in the dialogue between priest and faithful that precedes it. This understanding alters completely our sense of what we are doing as we celebrate the sign of peace.

The second element of this catechesis is more tricky. It is about encouraging the faithful to adopt a physical way of celebrating the sign of peace that is genuinely liturgical in its character. Perhaps, within families, the father (representing Christ) might be encouraged first to offer the sign of peace to his wife (representing the Church); and then, together, they might offer the sign of peace to their children. Perhaps a bow, such as that customary when the name of Jesus is mentioned in the liturgy, could be offered first to another person, who then, subsequently, returns the bow in receiving the sign. Or, in the spirit of mutual enrichment from the old rite, the embrace in which the person offering the sign offers their outstretched arms with the hands facing downwards to place them above the lower arms of the person receiving, who in their turn reaches out with their hands facing upwards to place them under the lower arms of the person offering. 

The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (n.154) says of the sign of peace:

According to what is decided by the Conference of Bishops, all express to one another peace, communion and charity. While the Sign of Peace is being given, it is permissible to say, The peace of the Lord be with you always, to which the reply is Amen.

The second sentence here certainly suggests a dynamic in which one person offers the sign of peace and the other person receives it. The first sentence is interesting in referring to "peace, communion and charity" rather than to an idea of reconciliation (which would be the meaning of the sign of peace in those rites where it takes place at the beginning of the offertory rite); but I suspect that this is mostly read in a more social and less theological sense than I am suggesting above.

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Soul Music - two episodes from BBC Radio 4

More by accident than intention, I listened to two episodes of the BBC Radio 4 programme "Soul Music" this week. Each programme in a series of "Soul Music" takes a piece of music and allows the contributors to give an account of the impact that that piece of music has had on their lives. It also usually offers some insight into the music itself. There have now been some 31 series

The first programme I listened to was devoted to John Denver's Take Me Home, Country Roads. You can listen to the programme here (I think it will be available for some time after my posting), and it can be downloaded from that page as an .mp3 file. It is particularly moving to listen to Alison Wells speaking about her sister Elizabeth, who lived with Downs Syndrome, and about how her mother cared for Elizabeth. This section occurs at 09:25 - 13.44 in the programme. Elizabeth died in January, after contracting COVID-19.

I caught the second programme on BBC Radio 4 Extra, which presents programmes from the (sometimes distant) past. This programme, dedicated to Beethoven's violin concerto, is from a series first broadcast in 2012. You can listen to it here; it appears to be permanently available, and there is an option to download it as an .mp3 file. I recommend to you the first section, up to 07:24, where Robert Gupta describes how the violin concerto played apart in a key moment of his friendship with Nathanial Ayers, who suffered from mental illness. You could also listen to the final section, starting at 17:44, in which Joe Quigley describes how a recording of the concerto came to be played in his monastery and explains the impact it had on him.

Sunday 8 August 2021

Who was Edith Stein?

In October 1998, St John Paul II  declared Blessed Teresa Benedicta of the Cross to be a saint.  Saint Teresa is better known as Edith Stein.  In 1999, he added her to the list of patron saints of the European continent. Her feast day is 9th August, and it is celebrated with the Liturgical rank of Feast in the dioceses of Europe. Who was St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross?  What is her importance for us today?

Edith was the youngest child in a large and talented Jewish family.  She was born on 12th October 1891.  Her family lived in the German town of Breslau, a town which is now known as Wroclaw and is part of Poland.  She rejected her Jewish faith, and describes how from the age of 15 she lived without religious faith.  Edith was amongst the first women to study at German universities.  At Gottingen she was able to study with some of the cleverest philosophers of her generation.  Her attempts to gain a permanent university post were blocked, at first because of the fact that she was a woman but later because of growing anti-Jewish feeling.

Through her studies Edith came to meet a number of people who had embraced Christian faith.  She was led first of all to an awareness of the life of religious faith amongst those around her, then to an awareness of the redemptive power of the cross in the life of a Lutheran friend who had suffered bereavement, and finally to faith in the Catholic Church.  Her conversion came about because of her absolute dedication to the truth wherever she found it.  This dedication was an aspect of her philosophical stance, but at the decisive moments in her conversion, the philosophy was incidental.  Instead, it was the series of personal encounters, culminating in her encounter with St Teresa of Avila in reading her Life, that determined her conversion.

As a lay Catholic, Edith lived out much that was later to be emphasised in the teaching of the Second Vatican Council.  She lived a life of intense personal prayer, often spending hours on her knees before the Blessed Sacrament.  She developed a tremendous love of the Liturgy, through her visits to the Benedictine Abbey of Beuron - she once described returning from Beuron to her active life as being “almost like dropping from heaven to earth”.  She used the Divine Office for her prayer - decades before it became common for lay people to do so.  For many years Edith taught at St Magdalena’s, the Dominican sisters school in Speyer.  One of her students remembered her like this: “She succeeded in setting the course not only for my studies but for all my future moral aspirations. With her you sensed you were in the presence of something pure, sublime, and noble, something that elevated you and brought you to its own level”.  In a personal apostolate of like to like, she also influenced the lives of many of the trainee teachers and Dominican novices at St Magdalena’s.  Through her collaboration with Fr Erich Pryzwara, she pursued an intellectual apostolate which gained her an international reputation as a lecturer.

Edith was eventually forced out of public life in Germany because of the rise of anti-Jewish persecution under the Nazis.  In 1933 she fulfilled her goal of entering the Carmelite order as an enclosed nun.  All Edith’s active apostolate is to be seen as directed towards this step - it was  undertaken under obedience in response to the suggestions of others, a form of obedience expressed in its fullness in Edith’s life as a religious. Her life can be summed up as one of preferring the religious life.  Edith was transferred from the convent at Cologne to that at Echt in Holland as anti-Jewish persecution in Germany increased.  That was not enough to keep her safe.  In 1942, the Catholic bishops joined other Christian leaders in Holland in a protest against the deportation of Jews by the German occupying authorities, a protest that was at first not made public.  Subsequently, a pastoral letter condemning the German actions was read in all Catholic parishes.  This led the Germans to retaliate by arresting all Catholics of Jewish descent, Edith and her sister Rosa amongst them.  Edith and Rosa were deported with others to the concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau where they both died immediately after arrival on 9th August 1942.

Edith’s personality combined a very warm love for others with an ability to be severely critical.  Her nephews and nieces adored her - the special aunt who appeared only rarely, no more than twice a year, with a cloud-soft voice and a gentle smile, cool and aloof.  Despite the pain caused by her conversion and entry into Carmel, her family retained a very rich love towards her which she reciprocated.  Edith could kneel for hours in prayer, without moving - and genuinely found it difficult to understand why others could not do the same.  The severe aspect of her character arose from the very high standards that Edith set for herself, rather than any antagonism towards others.  It was also expressed in her implacable opposition to the Nazis - she would have approved entirely of the action of the Dutch bishops which led to her own martyrdom.  At one of her interrogations with the German authorities, before her arrest, she replaced the expected Nazi salute with the words: “Praised be Jesus Christ!”.

Edith Stein is an example to us of the part that lay people have to play in the Church, both in her life of prayer and in her work with others in the world.  She is at the same time an example to us of the part which  religious (nuns, monks and priests) have to play in the Church.  The thread which links these together is her obedience to God’s grace, which led her from unbelief to the Catholic faith, and on to her life as a Carmelite nun.

[An appreciation of Edith Stein alongside John Henry Newman can be found here: St Teresa Benedicta of the Cross.]

Tuesday 3 August 2021

What is important?

Humblepiety has expressed the sadness of a parish priest where the families of first communion and confirmation children do not sustain any practice of their faith: The Diocesan Plan/Vision Reflecting upon the process as a Parish Priest.

What disheartens my priestly ministry at this point of time is the difficulty of bringing the gospel to two, perhaps even three generations of lapsed Catholics.

I also thought this was a sensible post, at iBenedictines, so I link to it: Is the Church Getting It Right — or Getting It Wrong? 

The question troubling me is, do the current public preoccupations of the Church really help to spread the gospel? Are they, in any meaningful sense, meeting the desire for God? Or does the Church have some other reason for being than leading all to salvation in Christ?

Reading Humblepiety's post, and the dialogue in the comments on this second post, prompts me to add two thoughts of my own. 

The workings of grace can be unseen, and such workings are often present at the ordinary, grass roots of Church life in way that all too easily goes unnoticed. In a final analysis, those workings do not admit of a quantifiable measure. I recall some years ago encountering a thought with regard to first communion for people with learning disabilities - and that thought suggested that, since such an individual was not able to consent to sin, a first reception of communion would suffice for fulfilled life of grace. The most vivid life of the Church is there, and it continues despite everything that appears to the contrary.

And there is a mirror to this first thought. Each of us is called to cultivate that part of the Lord's vineyard where we have been placed; and that does not ask us to take a stance on each and every issue that faces the wider Church, or, indeed, to solve every problem that might impinge on our own corner of the vineyard. We are called to persevere in our own task, and perhaps to disregard that which is not pertinent to it, whatever others might broadcast as being important.