Recently I’ve heard from a lot from people up in arms about ending the “stigma” of various things.
The latest “stigma” that activist millennials and oddly presumptuous older “intellectuals” want to end seems to be the “stigma of pornography.” The particular article I read is so bad I considered not providing the link as I respect my readers enough to not want to waste their time and worried half of them would read it ironically and mistakenly think the author was joking. Unfortunately, however, his opinions are fairly common and I’ve heard many of them before so I wanted to address it.
There are essentially 2 parts to the argument:
- The Church views sex in an unhealthy/repressive way.
- It is healthy and natural for men to want to have sex, and viewing pornographic material is a natural offshoot of that natural desire.
We are going to address the second part of the argument first because I am so exhausted of hearing this fallacy.
Spiders may or may not have the capacity to eat a steak, but regardless they never do and they never will because they are truly slaves to their natures. They spend their lives spinning webs, eating insects, and in some cases frightening humans, but they do not dream like a human does. They never stop and think that there is a whole host of options beyond insects to consume. They never dream about having a family or what career is the best fit for their personality. They are never tempted to give up spinning webs. They exist on a natural level of instinct and nature, never deviating from either. To claim that we are slaves to our desires like an animal is a false comparison because animals have no desire. Desire stems from will and animals do not have the capacity to choose or will for themselves anything beyond what their nature demands for survival. Therefore they are not able to be tempted because all temptation involves choice. In other words, not only will the spider never eat the steak, he will not even be tempted to eat the steak in the first place so there is no virtue in him never eating it at all.
What separates man from animals, and why it is not a sin to kill an animal like it is to kill a man, is twofold. First, that man is created in the image and likeness of God. Second, that man has free will. This means that man has a choice in what to eat, how to act, where to live, and in what to dream.
As usual, G.K. Chesterton says it best:
“Man is an exception, whatever else he is. If he is not the image of God, then he is a disease of the dust. If it is not true that a divine being fell, then we can only say that one of the animals went entirely off its head.”
The freedom of choice is a term that is thrown around all the time and to promote the power of choice when supporting abortion while denying the existence of choice when one chooses to view pornography is a grave hypocrisy at best. It is weak to say that one simply has no choice in choosing to view pornography because his nature points him in the direction of wanting to have sex. This is hinged on the idea that only way a man will appease that temptation is if he gives into it in some capacity. That argument for sin is like the argument of the blackmailer who claims that the way to get beyond the problem is to pay once and get it over with. However, time and time again nature proves this line of thinking to be the opposite of what is true, when the payment to get it over with becomes prolonged and the blackmailed or the sinner gets drawn in deeper.
The reason people often don’t understand the Church’s teaching on temptation, sexual purity and a call to avoid pornography is because they often prefer to view nature as a singularly positive, organic, and “natural” thing. It adopts an overly simplistic view of nature, equating the complex human experience to a mere animal subsistence in order to diminish the significance of free will and choice. This is a problematic view to hold because reducing everything in our world to something explainable as part of a purely mechanical material reality ignores the spark of divine present in every human being. If man is a mere animal who is a slave to nature and lives in a purely natural world then how do we explain the most definitive characteristic of man, his thirst for the infinite?
Moreover, this limitation makes anything associated with nature (the “good”) seem inevitable while ignoring or refusing to explain the problem of evil, the choice and temptation to do things that are bad and that have the potential to harm oneself, others or one’s relationship with God. (In my mind to deny the existence of evil is like denying the existence of water, a bold and futile endeavor when the evidence of both can be found everywhere on earth.) In spite of what modern psychology would have you believe evil is inextricably linked to choice and free will as evidenced by the fact that evil remains a problem only among humans and not at all among animals who, as we established above, have no freedom of choice and can do nothing good or evil.
Consequently, I reject the conclusion that porn is an inevitable desire that stems from a natural desire for sex because I do not view pornography as the result of a natural sexual desire. Instead, I view it as the result of a desire for pleasure, which would explain its prevalence in a society like ours dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure and the primacy of the self. Sex can be healthy and natural when it serves the purpose it was intended to serve, but that purpose is not mere pleasure (as many would have you believe). Pleasure strikes me as the root of pornography because the justifications that rise in defense of pornography are a rationalization of a behavior which I believe would not be necessary if there was no guilt associated with the act. For example, I can give you a lot of compelling reasons as to why I eat peanut butter m&ms but I have never once justified my choice to eat a zucchini because regardless of what I say I know in my soul which one is better for me and which one is truly natural.
If you’ve managed to agree with me thus far you might find yourself thinking okay so pornography might be rooted in pleasure which isn’t part of the natural order per say but which is part of the universal human experience and shouldn’t we have the right to seek pleasure at our pleasure? Does it really do any harm to eat peanut butter m&ms and/or view pornography? Are you really so Catholic that you regard eating peanut butter m&ms as a sin on par with pornography, as in one that could send you to HELL? Wouldn’t you really be better off “freeing” yourself from your oppressive religion which seeks to do nothing but ruin your pleasure and leave you wracked with guilt?
All of the above are excellent questions and kudos to you for your inquiring mind because asking good questions sets you on the path to wisdom.
However, since this blog post is already quite lengthy I am going to address all of those questions in my post next week.