Atheism Ethics & Pornography: The Humanist Interview with Nina Hartley

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MARIE HARTMAN graduated with honors from San Francisco State University and is the author or coauthor of several books published by major publishing houses under her stage name, Nina Hartley. She is also the star of more than 600 adult films spanning three decades. In addition, Hartley is a humanist, a proud atheist, and a vocal feminist. In many ways she is in complete contrast to the other celebrities in her profession; one of the most famous adult film actresses and reality television celebrities in recent years is Mary Carey, a college drop-out who ran in the 2003 California gubernatorial recall election and has attended high-profile conservative events. Carey grew up attending church on a regular basis and remains a Christian who prays daily. I wanted to explore the opposite side of the political and religious spectrum by studying celebrity nontheists. In my research I came across Hartley, who enthusiastically accepted my invitation to discuss her life and her philosophical and social views.

Hartley's father was a Lutheran and her mother was Jewish, but she was raised in a home without religion where ethics and education were always emphasized. During her three decades in the adult film industry Hartley has been a free speech activist, critic of drug use, campaigner for women's rights, a vocal opponent of racism, and a guest speaker at several universities. Justice and equality are an important aspect of her life, but so is her criticism of religion as a superstitious belief.

The Humanist: Describe your family and childhood.

Nina Hartley: I was born and raised in Berkeley, California, during the 1960s and '70s. I have two older brothers and one older sister. They were gone by the time I was twelve. My father had been blacklisted in 1957, two years before I was born, so the family was in a bit of turmoil when I arrived. I was lonely as a child, but I have a lot of good memories of listening to music and of family gatherings with my aunts, uncles and cousins. We had very nice holidays, in spite of being non-religious and my mother being Jewish. We did a little Hannukah, a little Christmas, a little Easter, a little Passover.

Religion wasn't much discussed and we never went to church or temple. We had a dog and cat and I babysat as a teenager. I was active in theater in high school, in the costume department. I love theater and dance to this day.

My parents have been married since 1947, though the ten years after my father's blacklisting were tough on them. They came close to divorce before finding Zen Buddhism. They've been practicing it since 1969, when I was ten and they were middle-aged.

The Humanist: I'm curious about your hobbies and education growing up. You mentioned that your grandfather had a PhD in Physics. Were science and medicine an important part of your life?

NH: Both of my parents are science folks. My mother was a chemist and statistician for the State Department of Public Health and my dad has a good layman's understanding of science and biology. I loved all natural science as a child and wanted to be Jane Goodall when I grew up. I especially liked human biology and anatomy. I'm an RN with a BS in nursing and I love science to this day. I keep up with the latest advances in science and enjoy physics, biology, psychology, brain science, and more.

The Humanist: You weren't raised in a religious home, but one full of values. For the religious, values and religion are synonymous. Could you explain the difference?

NH: We were taught social justice at home. My maternal grandparents were early supporters of civil rights in Alabama, where my mother is from. As secular Jews (my grandfather refused Bar Mitzvah) they were already a minority, but when my grandfather turned to socialism for its sense of social justice it put the family in jeopardy and they were subject to harassment by the Ku Klux Klan. …