[[The "Hell is Real" billboard along I-65 in Kentucky is near one of the umpteen zillion "Adult super-stores" making a swamp of despair in America and beyond. This is a good reminder for those prostituting their souls to pornography. Thanks to whoever put that up.]]
There have been quite a number of calls for me to write an article on pornography. I mentioned I might do just that in a post on this blog during, I think it was, Holy Week of 2012.
Not everything needs to be experienced in order to write about it! One can “know” about such things because of knowing the contrast, the Standard of Goodness, our Lord Jesus. It is a rather stark contrast, pornography of any kind on the one hand and holy purity on the other. They know this, those who live chastity in whatever state of life one is in, whether single, married, or given over in marriage to the Church as consecrated religious or priests.
Archbishop Fulton Sheen was fond of saying that only the sinless know sin (for they alone see the contrast with Jesus) while those lost to sin simply do not see beyond themselves, not seeing, therefore, any contrast with anything, and therefore thinking that there is no such thing as sin. But, of course, with our Lord being good and kind, all such things can catch up with a person, and that’s when wonderful things may begin to happen.
In this post, I’ll offer quite a few preliminary thoughts, and then hand the post over to one of our lay readers, who offers a jaw-dropping testimonial of the power of our Lord’s grace, and then offer an analysis of the experience I’ve had with pornography. I think both perspectives can be enormously helpful.
This is a longish post. Bookmark it and come back to it if you don’t have time to read it now. Do read it, however. Don’t put it off! If you can, link to it. Pornography is a grievous problem in the United States and everywhere else.
As a disclaimer, know that I am not a clinical psychologist. Nor would I ever claim to be a “counselor”. I do not pretend in this post even to begin to solve the problems of the world of pornography. I don’t even give an overview of how things go from bad to worse, from the teenager who happens to see an image he doesn’t want to see to films in which the prostituted victims are kille. But I do think that the spiritual advice that will be given is well worth having a look it in regard to any sin whatsoever. I know that what will be said here has already helped very many people to live chastely. And that should be of interest to everyone.
So, let’s begin by saying the obvious, that pornography, seen objectively, is entirely horrific, a totally cowardly abuse of one’s “power” to exploit another individual, whether they want to be exploited or not. Greed is another aspect. If the greed is more important than the lust for power, and the lust for… lust… then it is easier to deal with. As an example, a parishioner in one of my parishes owned and operated a gargantuan newsstand with pretty much every publication in the English speaking world being sold there, including many pornographic titles. I complained to him about this, saying that it was a public scandal for a pillar of the town and of the parish community to be selling such things and that there may be ecclesiastical remedies for the situation which may have to come into play. He, of course, rebelled, claiming coercion by the magazine companies. However, he soon found a way around this and stopped selling such rubbish, “not even to the Hell’s Angels types” who would sometime frequent his store. He had previously told me that he considered their souls as not being worthy of salvation. He was one of those “nice” Catholics. But he did convert, and thanked me for taking a stand as a real Father would. It can be done.
But let’s look at this with even a bit more reality. Almost without exception, those who prostitute themselves into the porn industry are rather roughly pimped into it, or they have even desired to get pimped into it in total despair, this having been the only thing they knew since they were children. That already makes all this trafficking of human bodies very ugly from the very start, right? Those who are lost to pornography simply do not at all worry about such things, for pornography is not about respecting others, is it? Really not. More on this below.
I should mention that one of the hoped for effects of this article will be that people will get disgusted with some popular but terribly misguided presentations of Blessed John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body”, presentations contradictory to what the Roman Pontiff himself taught, presentations which, horrifically, promote the viewing of pornography as a virtue. This is exactly the opposite of what John Paul wanted. And yet, even the most “conservative” Catholics will defend the virtue of viewing pornography because it is popular to defend the popular misrepresentation of John Paul’s Theology of the Body. These “conservative” Catholics need to get a good slap. They need to wake up and die right. They are leading people straight to hell. Viewing pornography is not a virtue.
One of the sickest things I’ve ever heard of in my life — some twenty years ago — had to do with a clinic for sex abuse on the Mid-Atlantic Seaboard. When I was in Rome, one of the priest-students of one of the priest-professors of that clinic admitted to me — with embarassment — that such horrible things went on. As it is, there were always a handful of priest-psych-students with whom I lived in the various priest-student residences in which I lived in my two decades in Rome. Beside reading some of their longest, erudite, published studies, I had long made it a practice to pick their brains during innumberable, fairly intense table conversations, sometimes quietly pointing out glaring contradictions and horrific perversions in methodology. One priest-student threw a hissy-fit for two full weeks, at which time he admitted that I was right. At any rate, over the decades, I think I got a good grasp of the state of “Catholic” psychology throughout the world, especially in seminaries and “clinics”. But that was quite a few years ago. However…
That some of the worst aspects of such “therapy” are still going on until now was confirmed for me only last week (Spring, 2012) by someone who would know. It seems that pornography is used as a therapy to get people “to manage their lives.” In other words, it is a policy to make sure to send those already having difficulties straight to hell, but sending them manageably, you know, nicely. It was said that all this would be horrible for someone who was not addicted to pornography, but, you know, hey, there are theologians who say it is O.K. for those who have already entered that sleazy world by their own choice. Sigh. No. It’s never O.K. It’s always damaging. It’s always but always disrespectful of others and self and, if by policy, a blatant rejection of God. Hell is forever. Those who would send others to hell risk going there themselves, do they not? Hell is real, as the billboard say. Porn by sanctioned policy is the straightest way to despair there could possibly be.
At any rate, I recommend the great Dawn Eden’s Master’s Thesis, defended at the Dominican House of Studies in Washington, D.C. (Here’s the *.PDF). It’s a quick read, enjoyable, demonstrating the hermeneutic of continuity which JPII provided in his teachings of Theology of the Body, contrasting those teachings of the Pontiff to the ramblings of those who simply do not understand. I laughed out loud many times at the way Dawn phrased things. She’s quite the journalist and accomplished author, and is gearing up to do her doctoral thesis. My efforts to get her to speak at the Pontifical College Josephinum paid off, though I was already a hermit by the time she spoke there. The great seminarians loved everything she had to say. At any rate, the publisher of her latest book on healing for true victims of sexual abuse is sending me a review copy. I hope to write a review of that on this blog and elsewhere. Oh, and did I say this: (Here’s the *.PDF of her wonderful Thesis)?
Now when, please God, I write my popular version to my own doctoral thesis on Genesis 2,4–3,24, a thesis ever so quietly taking Rome and the world by storm, I’ll have quite a lot to say about the fallen state of humanity, which is basically denied in the ugly, mistaken presentations of JPII’s Theology of the Body mentioned above (however much that fallen nature is acknowleged here or there in passing by those mistaken presentations).
Some of the difficulties people have with pornography are, it should be obvious, lusty thoughts and whatever goes along with that for any particular individual. Upon request of a layman (not the one who will offer a testimonial below), I wrote a rather lengthy post about how to deal with lusty thoughts, well worth the read if I do say so myself! I categorized it in the series of this blog entitled priestly celibacy, since such can be a difficulty for a few priests as well. The particular post in question is this: 11 Priestly Celibacy — Notes from Holy Souls Hermitage — “I am having a real struggle with impure and lustful thoughts.”
Monitum: What I say in this post may not make much sense to those who, so blind to anything but their own self-congratulations, think that there is no such thing as sin, abuse of another, exploitation of another, using another for oneself, that that just can’t happen, since — such people think — we are all of us always and in every moment of our lives necessarily totally nice people, unable to do anything bad, never anything evil. But I mean, just look around… No evil? No exploitation? Really? That attitude is a license to kill, literally.
I certainly don’t pretend to know all there is to know about shutting down the porn industy, nor about how to solve absolutely everything for everyone having difficulties with pornography. I don’t know what it means to have an addiction to pornography. I can’t offer an instant cure to temptation. None of that. However, what I do offer here is, I think, enormously helpful to those who suffer from such things. At least that’s what I’m told. The viewing can stop immediately and forever with our Lord’s grace. Having the proper attitude toward that grace is extremely important. It’s just that attitude which I wish to describe in this article.
Before getting into this, however, just to break up the heaviness of this article, let me provide you with a video I created as one of the presentations on a “critique some villainous points of popular culture night” at the Pontifical College Josephinum just before Christmas 2010, just some weeks before my becoming a hermit here on Holy Soul Mountain. I’ll preface that video with another, namely, the song/video which I chose to critique.
The song being critiqued is a take on Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah, which is nearly the all-time all-time most popular song ever.. This version is sung by Kurt Nilsen, Espen Lind, Askil Holm and Alejandro Fuentes (with @48 million hits just for this youtube version alone. There are very many. Another version was also used in Shrek. It’s been an ultra favorite of the popular talent shows such as American Idol, and dozens of television and stage and endless, forever repeated radio productions, etc., etc., etc. Views / listens are surely getting into the billions.
Here are the highly poetic words, extremely condensed statments which were continuously rewritten, Leonard Cohen says of himself, in great anxiety and agony. You really have to stare at each word for quite a while:
1. I heard there was a secret cord that David played and it pleased the Lord. But you don’t care for music do ya? Well, it goes like this, the fourth, the fifth, the minor fall and the major lift. The baffled king composing, “Hallelujah!” Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
2. Your faith was strong but you needed proof. You saw her bathing on the roof. Her beauty and the moonlight overthrew ya. Well, she tied you to a kitchen chair. She broke your throne and she cut your hair. And from your lips she drew the “Hallelujah!” Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
3. Well, maybe there’s a God above. But all I’ve ever learned from love is how to shoot somebody who outdrew ya. It’s not a cry that you hear at night. It’s not somebody whose seen the light. It’s a cold and it’s a broken “Hallelujah!” Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah! Hallelujah!
[[By the way, an incisive critique about David's betrayal of the troops has been written by a great two star Admiral, a good friend of mine. He was the head of the chaplaincy for the Department of Defence, all branches, until very recently. You can find that here: “Betrayal of Trust. David and Bathsheba Revisited,” New Theology Review (May 2008) 38-46.]]
Anyway, here’s the video critique of these verses of Leonard Cohen’s song that I created myself. If any of you have tried to make an animatronic video like this, you’ll know that I had to spend quite a little time on it. You might have to watch it a couple times to get all the nuances. Remember, this was produced for viewing by some seminarians who I knew would be ready to critique it if they could, it being that they were also my students in class! The “text” voices of the characters aren’t always as clear as I would have liked them to be.
Now then, having trashed King David’s gawking at Bathsheeba as analogous to the idiocy of viewing pornography, let’s move on to the testimonial of one of our faithful readers, who was lost to pornography altogether, but who has now given himself to the Lord Jesus. Here’s what he wrote for this article on the blog. I’ve slightly edited this to make it more anonymous, to add paragraph breaks, etc.:
I was an only child in a neighborhood with few other children, so I was always solitary and given to daydreaming. I read quite a bit as a youngster and, as I got older, watched too much TV. On a January day when I was a sophomore in high school, I convinced a senior to buy a couple of girlie magazines for me. For 31 1/2 years thereafter, not a day went by that I didn’t use or at least think of using, pornography, sometimes multiple times in a day. Most nights when I closed my eyes to sleep, images of porn flashed before my eyes as the last thing before sleep. It was exciting to have a secret and the content of the secret added to the excitement.
The level of explicitness went up and the media went through many changes, but the biggest changes were in its effect on me. At first the cycle was simple: desire, abandonment to the desire and euphoria. My upbringing let me know this was wrong, but I thought I could be forgiven simply for nothing more than the asking. In college I read Bonhoeffer’s critique of cheap grace and found myself convicted. The cycle now went from desire to abandonment to euphoria to a feeling of degradation.
After a few years, I drifted away from any religious observance to avoid the feelings of degradation. In the late 90s I started going to church again and realized that porn was my biggest problem. It then became much more insidious. At first I tried to give up porn for short periods of time in gratitude for one thing or another, but before long that switched into using any disappointment as an excuse to use porn. The cycle of desire, abandonment, ecstasy and degradation intensified.
Shortly after the year 2000 I struck me that I had never once been to confession. I dreaded my first confession, but went to a Lenten reconciliation service at my parish. The priest I went to kept interrupting me, so I didn’t even get to most of the sensitive material. I felt like I had dodged a bullet.
A few days after Easter, though, I found myself back to my old habits. For the first few years after my first confession, I went to confession frequently and confessed new episodes. I was active in the parish and people thought well of me – they still do. I was once caught with pornography and once told a friend a bit about it, but other than that it was still a secret and compartmentalized from the rest of my life, even as it took up larger and larger swaths of time and attention.
After a while I started to convince myself that the Catechism’s note about habits reducing fault for sin covered this situation. One Lent was especially productive and I made it nearly two months without using porn, even though I thought about it every day. As the weeks rolled on I became more and more stressed out and my inability to console others after an unrelated catastrophe in the family convinced me that I had to “blow off steam” by using porn again. The cycle now was desire, abandonment, ecstasy, degradation and numbness, with numbness being the most prevalent. It became more difficult to what I wanted with pornography. Eventually it became difficult to feel anything but numbness or degradation.
For a few years I quit going to confession because I was embarrassed to keep saying the same things. I fell into presumption and made sacrilegious Communions. Eventually presumption became despair. I remember praying that, if I were bound for hell anyway, that God take me soon so I wouldn’t drag anyone else down with me.
In Lent of 2011 I came back to confession after a three-year absence. I knew that I had to keep at confession and prayer, which I did to the best of my ability. I made a point of praying the Angelus every morning and evening. I got rid of all the porn I had stashed about the house and in online storage. The bright spots of life without porn were gradually becoming bigger and closer together.
On July 1 when I was praying in front of the tabernacle after confession, I had an intense connection with the phrase “Thy Kingdom come”. Every part of my life had to be subject to the King and His Kingdom all the time. I asked God to take away my remaining enjoyment of porn. I’d asked to lose the desire before, but never to lose enjoyment of it.
About two weeks later I felt the desire again and went to a porno shop. When I arrived there, I immediately felt revulsion. I left and went on my way. About two weeks after that I went to an online porn site and felt desire mixed with revulsion. I didn’t want the desire to return ever again.
In a city not too far distant from my house there are confessions available throughout the week. On July 29 I drove there with the purpose of confessing everything from 1980 onward. The drive felt much longer than an hour and the wait for a few others to confess felt longer yet. I made my regular confession and then explained how I wanted to finish my first confession. It got less difficult as I went along, but I did feel pretty self conscious about the big numbers.
Since that day I’ve only had very fleeting temptations to relapse, to which I promptly respond with prayers that have always been answered. I still have plenty of other things to confess like gluttony, sloth, anger and pride, and I’ve been going to confession (closer to home) monthly as well as doing some penance every Friday. In September I started praying a daily Rosary again and a few others things as well, including daily thanking God for delivering me from this addiction.
Wow. We thank our reader for bringing us this testimonial of the Lord’s goodness and kindness for him. Very inspiring. Remember, no matter how great our sin may be, our Lord’s forgiveness is always more powerful, if we but put ourselves on our knees before Him, also by His grace. But we must cooperate with that grace. Thank you, dearest reader! I’m sure this puts us all in humble thanksgiving before the Lord.
O.K. I realize that his article is rather long, so let’s move on to what lessons can be drawn from my own experience with pornography and then bring this to a close…
When I was studying in Rome, I would find myself trying to avoid getting run over by buses. Sometimes the buses would sport advertisements on their sides, which, from time to time, using special technologies, would also cover the windows (transparent from the inside), so that the entire bus would be a moving billboard. From time to time, some rather suggestive, even outright pornographic advertisements would be portrayed. This is very typical in Italy. Such images were impossible to avoid.
I remember a friend joking that the saints in Rome, like the great Aloysius Gonzaga, S.J., didn’t have custody of the eyes, never looking up, because they wanted to avoid seeing untoward images, but because they didn’t want to step in dog poop which those walking their dogs in Rome to this day leave right on the sidewalk. Maybe. At any rate, in today’s Rome, one has to watch out for the buses!
Anyway, the bus thing was my experience with pornography. I suppose those who have seen such things will laugh at me for my thinking that such is offensive to the general public, but let’s analyze what I myself went through in seeing a very provocative image of a thirty-something woman for a nanosecond.
My first reaction in the first nanosecond of seeing this was attraction, perhaps, it struck me, something along the lines of the newly created Adam seeing the newly-built-up-from-his-rib woman: “This one! This time! is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one will be called woman for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 3,23, from memory, if it serves me rightly).
My second reaction in the following nanosecond — almost simultaneous — of seeing this imagery, was revulsion, not to the image or to the woman who prostituted herself for that image to be taken, but because such objectification of women for the utilitarian pleasure of men was disgusting to me.
My third reaction was actually not so much a reaction as a calm reflection about the mechanism of pornography works, how this mechanism, if you will, must have been studied and exploited quite literally to death by the porn industry. Although everyone goes through life and meets up with such things with an entire history of unrepeatable circumstances which are influential perhaps only to that person, there is, I think, nevertheless, much commonality in our fallen human condition.
What I came up with is this: We already have a fallen human nature, ever so weak, ever so ready to congratulate itself that all is well,no matter what. We all find complementarity in the opposite sex. Complementarity, by its nature, goes to the essence of who we are. Since we are weak in a way that militates against any need for complementarity, that is, temptations to self-sufficiency, egoism, individualism, correctly implemented complimentarity is not so easy to come by. There can be temptations to prove this self-sufficiency by way of that which seals one in non-complementarity, that is, that which objectifies, de-personalizes the other, that is, pornography. It is the fact of depersonalization, really, a kind of murder of the other, which brings delight to the egotistic eyes, which lust after what is effectively a self-embrace, a kind of Cartesian ”Cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore, I am) seen through sex: ”I depersonalize the other, therefore, I am.” If sex isn’t for life, it tends to death. It only gets worse, as the testimonial of our reader above has laid out for us so well. It’s a matter of cowardly power: kill the other, and then do it again, and again, always getting locked into a more violent downward vortex.
Reflecting more on this, I knew that, wow, I had really better stay away from porn. I mean, I knew that already! But this unavoidable nanosecond experience reinforced my resolution never to compromise. None of us are better than anyone else, ever. Circumstances play an important part in what we do in life, but we can always choose to be stupid and sin. It’s when we reject that, congratulating ourselves that we are somehow above the human fray, that we are setting ourselves up for a fall.
What to do? Make a careful read of this article if you haven’t already: 11 Priestly Celibacy — Notes from Holy Souls Hermitage — “I am having a real struggle with impure and lustful thoughts.” Then:
(1) Make a good confession of all mortal sin. Don’t let the priest distract you, as related in the testimonial above. Talk over the priest if you have to. Don’t worry. He’ll give up his stupidity and listen. (That’s kind of stupidity is rare, by the way).
(2) Know that you will sin again, no matter how many confessions you do, how many Masses you attend, how many rosaries and chaplets you say, blah, blah, blah, IF… IF you have the attitude that you are the one in charge of getting yourself away from the draw of porn. Instead of being so very intense, and then frustrated, and then lost to depression and despair, and then more sin, just give up trusting in yourself and instead trust in the Lord, simply, like a child. Run to Him like a little child. He knows we are weak. He has the marks of the crucifixion to prove it. He knows. Don’t be more intense, just more simple, looking to Him.
(3) Don’t think you’re so unworthy to be loved by God that you are in fact not loved by Him. Just because we are weak and even tempted does not mean we are evil. It just means that we’ve recognized that we have a cross to carry. That cross does not weigh us down in the spiritual life. It has us give up on trusting in ourselves so that we turn to the Lord, following Him. He didn’t just say “Pick up your cross of weakness”… He said this, and then immediately added, “Come, follow me!” We look to Him, not to the cross. We know the weakness is there, but we look to Him.
(4) No repression of weakness! Don’t throw the cross down. Embrace it. Don’t sin, don’t dwell on sin. Just know that we can sin at any time, but be looking to the Lord in humble thanksgiving in all this. On the one hand, never condemn yourself, cutting yourself off from the mercy of Jesus. Just look to Him with humble thanksgiving. On the other hand, don’t forgive yourself either. I mean, sorry for the language, but what the hell is that? Forgiving yourself? Just look at what the Son of God went through on the Cross to have the right in justice to say to His Heavenly Father for us: “Father, forgive them!” We look to Him for forgiveness. Do it! His forgiveness is complete.
(5) Know that after Confession there is still weakness. Don’t think you’re not forgiven. That’s just the cross. Pick it up. Shoulder it. Don’t look at it. Follow Jesus. Don’t sin again. We must sin again on our own, but we are not on our own. Jesus is with us. We can stay away from sin thanks to His grace. From one confession to the next, be in a state of humble thanksgiving, continuously. That’s a sign of good friendship. That’s what our Lord wants. That’s what He gives us. That friendship is stronger than temptation, stronger than death. Death before sin! exclaimed little Dominic Savio. He could say that not because he was strong, but because he knew how strong the Lord was, though he, Dominic, remained weak. We all stay weak, but have our strength in Jesus.
(6) It’s a matter of love and respect for God, for others, for self. Pray for those lost to porn. Pray for those who have prostituted themselves or been pimped into the porn industry. Joy will increase. The rejoicing will be great.
Now, I suppose there will be nay-sayers who say that everything I’ve said here is age-inappropriate. To them I address the following anecdote of my preaching against porn so many years ago:
Long before perverted, false presentations of John Paul’s Theology of the Body were starting to be popularized (quite a while back), I had given a rather incisive Sunday homily against pornography, how degrading this is to women, how this turns men into what they otherwise would never want to be. After Mass, outside the Church, on the sidewalk, while people were pouring out of Church. Some thanked me for the homily or offered a “Happy Sunday, Father”, but were quickly on their way. People were pretty muted, actually. I thought I had made quite a few enemies with that homily, however calm and reasoned I was in the presentation. Meanwhile… meanwhile!… a young girl, I’m guessing eight years old, literally launched her tiny self toward me from the Church steps, wrapping her arms around my neck. This was long before 2002, in the mid-1980s, but I had enough sense to put my arms straight out so that she would drop to the sidewalk on her own. She did. On her feet. The whole crowd was staring at this scene. It was well and truly an ”Out of the mouths of babes” event. I wish it had been filmed. I would put up the video so that you could see this prophetic child in action. She couldn’t stop effusively thanking me for the great, wonderful, fabulous, much needed sermon I had given, since no one speaks about the evils of pornography and I had done the right thing in speaking up because so many people suffer because of pornography and it has to stop and I really spoke well and people should listen to what I have to say and… and… All rather breathless, but rather prophetic from what I could gather from the faces of those who stood listening, speechless at her animated, strong speech, acurately repeating my homily point by point for all to hear, again. What a woman she’ll turn out to be, I thought, and she already is. Wow. She must be in her mid-twenties as I write this, a real force for the good both in the Church and in society.
And speaking of children and porn, and specifically about showing porn to children,which I think, on it’s own, makes someone a pedophile, I would like to call your attention to an article I wrote about “VIRTUS”, a child-protection program, which has it that showing porn to children doesn’t necessarily mean that one is a pedophile. It’s for reasons like that, that I don’t support VIRTUS as a child-protection program. To see that article, such as the Catholic Diocese of Westminster is doing today, click HERE.
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