“A second look at porn” is a three part series. This is the final installment treating the theme of everlasting communion. Previous columns looked at the education of freedom and the need for the Infinite, respectively.
“Why ain't cha breast-feedin' (your baby)?” asks Gale. His goofy brother, Evelle adds matter-of-factly, “Ya don't breast feed him, he'll hate you for it later. That's why we wound up in prison.” (“Raising Arizona,” directed by Joel Coen).
Rev. William Virtue puts the matter a bit more academically and positively: “The infant's experience of desire and satisfaction while nursing under mother's loving gaze is a precursor of the moral life as moved by desire for union with God” (Doctoral dissertation, 1995).
In other words, all of our needs are meant to be infinitely fulfilled, and if they aren't, we're headed for big trouble. Fulfillment begins in this life but is brought to completion in eternity.
We are all like the diaper-clad and bottle-fed Nathan Junior in Raising Arizona: we have these clamoring needs that beg for fulfillment. All of them must be attended to, but some require more interpretation and evaluation than others. If I'm thirsty, I should probably get a drink of water; if hungry, eat. But even these simple biological urges cannot be followed willy-nilly. And if I want sex?Well, that desire is even more portentous than simply an itch that needs to be scratched. If we don't deal with it intelligently, we can find ourselves in a prison of our own design.
All of our needs tell us something. Mindlessly trying to satisfy a need is the source of manifold problems. But when I examine my needs and the deepest longings I have (discovered in the heart, the place of my “I”), there is an opportunity to converse with these needs: What is it you seek? Sexual desire must be understood in light of my other needs and desires: the need for truth, for beauty, for goodness, for total satisfaction.
Walker Percy points out that pornography “is symptomatic of a radical disorder in the relation of the self to other selves” (quoted from “Lost in the Cosmos”). Thus in seeking a resolution of the porn problem I must begin with myself. One can bemoan the ubiquity of porn and claim to be helpless because it's everywhere or one can look inward If there is no conversation with myself about my deepest needs, there is no conversion, no change. Thoughtlessness leads to the triumph of instinctivity and the exaltation of the bestial.
Sure, you can live that way, but do you really want to?
The way of verification
“God saves man through man.” The Fathers of the Church were not shy about exalting humanity because God Himself was not shy in sending His Son in the flesh to save us. When it comes to porn there is no magic formula, but simply this: if I'm interested in escaping porn, my interests must be far larger than the logic of pornography permits. As a subculture, pornography is very parochial (in the pejorative sense of the word): it is interested only in people and situations that are ludicrously sexualized. This is what makes it essentially barbaric: its disinterest in fully human experiences. To reject the logic of porn means to reject its silly and childish narrative, and to embrace one's own humanity.
To embrace my own humanity, I must take my desire for happiness seriously – to the point of ruthlessness. Whatever declares war on my happiness must be tracked down to its source and interrogated. “Lust, what is it you're really after?” This is, in fact, a highly ascetical work. It does not mean entering into the world of hairshirts and obscure penances, but it involves a work of asking and listening and sharing; it means entering into the communion of saints. It is the path that Christ followed, the way of friendship. Jesus didn't call the Twelve because He needed a board of directors for “Jesus, Inc.” but because He needed friends. (It goes without saying that we need Him infinitely more than He needs us!)
The importance of friendship was brought home to me by a friend who has struggled with pornography and was involved in a twelve step program. He said that the weekly catechesis he participates in through Communion and Liberation has been decisive in helping him overcome his addictive tendencies. This amazed me because I don't think we've discussed pornography per se even once in the last seven years. By being educated in what he truly wants, the allure of porn receded.
This is totally biblical, as an evangelical might say. Here's an example:
“They came to (Jesus) bringing one sick of the palsy, who was carried by four... And when they could not offer him unto him for the multitude, they uncovered the roof where he was; and opening it, they let down the bed wherein the man sick of the palsy lay. And when Jesus had seen their faith, he saith to the sick of the palsy: Son, thy sins are forgiven thee... I say to thee: Arise, take up thy bed, and go into thy house. And immediately he arose; and taking up his bed, went his way in the sight of all; so that all wondered and glorified God, saying: We never saw the like.” (Mark 2:3-5, 11-12).
The paralytic and his buddies went looking for one thing but got infinitely more than they expected. They would have been satisfied with a healing, but Christ goes deeper: it is reconciliation with God that is the greatest good; being able to walk is just icing on the cake.
When we read the gospels we don't merely find morally uplifting tales or a history of Jesus. No, we see how Christ acted and continues to act. Thus it is not just incidental that it is the paralytic's friends who bring him to Jesus. Christ acts in the here and now through real people (from the lovable to the deplorable), through the sacraments, in prayer. So has it been, so shall it be. This is a consequence of the Incarnation.
Our fulfillment in Christ begins now but has its full flowering in Heaven. The life of grace that began in Baptism is experienced here and now. Years ago I used to try to imagine Heaven and I conjured up Fantasia-like images full of color and excess of every sort. I didn't see Heaven as directly related to my day-to-day experiences. That was until my friend Tommy talked to me about chocolate cake.
We were talking about those moments in life that are really great. It might be a conversation with a friend, the birth of a child or a U2 concert. For Tommy it was a piece of chocolate cake. The cake-ness we experience now is great – there's no denying it – but it has limitations: finite cake, finite appetite, what have you. Cake is God's life in us and every other good thing. But in Heaven it's infinite cake. As Tommy put it, “Heaven is the whole cake, so the hunger for cake can always be instantly satisfied. We'll want the cake in Heaven as much as we want it now but it will be always in front of us.” It's the same cake.
Heaven will be recognizable when we get there. Some surprises for sure (like who gets in!), but perhaps there will be more continuity than we expect. The best stuff in this life will be There. Infinitely and eternally.
As mentioned above, another friend of mine (not Tommy) went looking for happiness. He got some and realized later that the allure of pornography had been mitigated. In the communio of the Church, he discovered what the Fathers of the Church had previously discovered: “God saves man through man.” Good Christian friendships make it possible for us to embrace the truth of our humanity and that of others. This is God's grace at work. Our relationship with Christ implies and makes possible the communion of saints (on earth and in Heaven). As the Dominican Augustine DiNoia once observed, “You can't be a Christian by yourself.”
The evil of pornography does not reside in the beauty of women, but in that it hijacks our need for intimacy, for communion, for beatitude and it diverts us from our destiny in Christ. The “thought world” of porn would have us believe that we must choose between the flesh and lust (hedonism) on the one hand, and dis-incarnate purity and beauty (angelism) on the other. This is the lie of Manicheanism: that the flesh has nothing to do with purity and goodness.
Christ's Incarnation means that purity, goodness and beauty have come in the flesh. This is the meaning of the Incarnation for us: Christ lives in His Church. If we are open to this reality in all of its richness, everything changes.