MANLINESS AND FREEDOM OR BEASTLY SLAVERY
What if I were to tell you that there is a deadly drug circulating, a nefarious poison that can be found everywhere - at work, at home, in your car, even when you are outdoors. If allowed to get a hold of you, it will twist your vision, warp your memory, and interfere with your ability to relate with others, especially those closest to you. It will dull your senses and darken your mind. With every fix, you will be sucked deeper into its trap, and squeezed tightly in its coils. You will not die physically. However, emotionally, and in every way that makes life meaningful, you will be ruined, a hollow shell of your former self. You will be unable to relate to other human beings, especially women. You will be unable to love, especially the opposite sex. You will be completely unmanned.
Wouldn’t you guard yourself against the influence of such a toxic substance? Wouldn’t you want to find out more, to figure out how to protect yourself, and your loved ones? Yet all around, such a morbid venom is not just tolerated, but celebrated. Its production and distribution are protected by our laws. Yes, the access of minors to its deadly influence is considered undesirable - for now.
Yet, it is available everywhere - everywhere there is access to the Internet. At any place, any location, through any electronic device, the deadly plague of pornography can enter our persons, with all the deleterious effects that follow. At best our libertine world considers pornography a mere peccadillo, a minor failing - sort of like an inordinate fondness for sweets (though we are quite capable of being scolds, and worse, when it comes to our modern dietary laws). The use of pom is considered something harmless, recreational, entertainment, even healthy. Recently, a university freshman wrote an article celebrating her career in the porn industry, and decrying, predictably, the patriarchal old fogeys who would deny her this pleasure.
The truth is that pornography is a scourge. It is evil. It is wicked. For Catholics, this is not just a matter of opinion. The Catechism is clear that pornography is a grave offense against human dignity, and reduces the beauty and mystery of the sexual act - which is oriented to the complete self-gift of the spouses - to a mere commodity (CCC 2354).
Clearly, few are listening. Pornography is a huge, multi-billion dollar industry. Most Internet traffic involves pornography or folks searching for sexual encounters. And the statistics on the use of pornography by minors, as well as the exploitation of minors in the porn industry, are truly alarming. Research shows that pornography operates physically in the same way as a chemical substance. Viewing pornographic material stimulates the reward centers of the brain, releasing endorphins that relieve stress and bring pleasure. This is a recipe for addiction. The brains of those addicted to pornography look like those who are addicted to drugs. Repeated use of pornography warps us, physically.
At its heart, however, the problem with pornography lies in the way it twists the gift of sexuality. Sexuality involves our capacity to love, to procreate, and more generally, our “aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others” (CCC 2332). It is oriented to our “coming out of ourselves,” to seeking the other precisely as a genuine person to be loved, and not just an object for our own selfish gratification. In his first encyclical, Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict XVI shared some beautiful reflections on the relationship between eros - sexual desire - and agape, charity, “God-like” love. The path of Christian maturity is a path of “ascent, renunciation, purification and healing” of eros (Dens Caritas Est, 5). This path is one that involves sacrifice. The virtue of self-mastery, which is included in the overall virtue of chastity, is integral to this path. The Catechism describes it thus:
“Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. ‘Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end'” (CCC 2339).
The whole realm of sexuality, of human affection, of love, is an arena in which one exercises freedom, that is the ability to freely choose the good, and thus grows in one’s humanity. To be truly human is to be truly free. Pornography dulls one’s freedom, and leads to imprisonment and slavery to one’s passions.
Specifically as men, pornography destroys one’s ability to relate to women. In a letter to a friend, the great Christian author and apologist, C.S. Lewis, put it this way:
“And this harem (of imaginary brides), once admitted, works against his ever getting out and really uniting with a real woman. For the harem is always accessible, always subservient, calls for no sacrifices or adjustments, and can be endowed with erotic and psychological attractions which no woman can rival. Among those shadowy brides he is always adored, always the perfect lover; no demand is made on his unselfishness, no mortification ever imposed on his vanity.
“In the end, they become merely the medium through which he increasingly adores himself. . . . After all, almost the main work of life is to come out of ourselves, out of the little dark prison we are all bom in” (Personal letter of Lewis to K. Masson, found in The Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis, Vol. 3).
Lewis was writing specifically about the grave sin of masturbation. It should be clear that what he says is applicable, a fortiori, to the scourge of pornography as well. Man determines himself through the free choices he makes. Man is bom “incomplete” and he participates in his “completion” (i.e. his perfection, to use more traditional language), by the choices he makes.
The repeated use of pornography, rather than form him into the man he is meant to be, will deform him. His growth and development will be stunted. He will not be formed so as to give himself away as a gift to a specific woman, in the bonds of matrimony, a love that reflects Christ’s indissoluble love for the Church, a love that leads to life. Rather, he will be caught, increasingly, in the vise grip of bonds that enslave him to his passions, and make this kind of self-gift next to impossible.
Pornography destroys marriages and ruins lives. It affects us at the very core of what it means to be a man. Pornography unmans.
Flee from it. If you are caught in its snares, seek help. Talk to your priest. Make recourse to the Sacrament of Confession. Share your struggle with close friends. Get an accountability partner. Explore whether you need counseling. There are numerous resources online to help you learn about ways to overcome this vice. I will mention but three:
Covenant Eyes - www.CovenantEyes.com
Chastity Project - www.ChastityProject.com
Victory is possible. Purity is achievable. You can be healed and forgiven and delivered! Indeed, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me! (Phil 4:13)
If you are a father, learn how to protect your children, and to educate them in the ways of Christian maturity. Every Catholic man should learn more about the prevalence of this scourge. He should educate himself and his friends and family, and in no circumstances should he treat pornography lightly.
Finally, pray regularly for those who are struggling with pornography, for those who are in the industry, those who are seeking to break free. Our prayers are always efficacious, and a mighty weapon! Fight against this filth - be not unmanned.
Fr. Gaurav Shroff is a priest of the Archdiocese of Atlanta
www. ThoseCatholicMen. com