Our American culture, now well-secularized and well-sexualized, is also rife with pornography. This grave evil worries good parents, educators, and some public servants. Mindful of its effects, the Church is ever protective of the sacred character and dignity of the whole person.
What Is Pornography?
The root of the word pornography (porne or pernea), is associated with a prostitute, or with prostitution. Pornography removes sexual intimacy from the sacred domain and casts it into the gutter. Pornography perverts the beautiful meaning of the sexual act. Within the marital union, it was forever blessed by God as a sacred blessing, trust, and responsibility.
Pornography depicts sexual acts in such an explicit way as to arouse immediate, intense, and titillating pleasure for its own sake. It is exploitative and corrupting to all involved in this activity. Pornography treats the human person as a toy in order to amuse and give pleasure to the abuser. Through audiovisual techniques, pornography violates the right to privacy of the human body. Such a violation reduces the human person and the human body to an object of misuse for the purposes of gratifying lust. It differs from erotica in that the latter’s intent is to use the arts to arouse sexual desire through feelings and emotions.
Why Do People Engage in Pornography?
Like other addictions, pornography is a symptom of a deeper problem. Addicts of any type are rarely content with the quality of their lives. Perhaps they themselves have been scarred by abuse, by unhappy marriage or by divorce. They may be bored with themselves, with others, or with life in general. Unemployment too can trigger a loss of self-worth, and the longer the unemployment the worse the loss. Then, instead of seeking creative ways of dealing with unemployment, men and women may seek out pornography to fill a deep void and emotional hunger.
As with most addictions, the lure to pornography begins gradually. Then the magnetic pull becomes so strong that soon the abuser is trapped in a swamp of quick sand, unable to extricate the self from the unyielding pull of the momentary pleasure. Like other addictions, only a motivation that is more powerful than the pull toward it can sever the addictive cord and restore the person to moral health.
Pornography/Explicit Obscenity Everywhere
Pornography is so ubiquitous that, we no longer notice it as evil or even notice it as pornography. Today, social attitudes have become more tolerant and permissive of both soft-and hard-core pornography because of the virtual absolute right to free expression and the right to privacy. With one click on the computer, adults, youth, and even children can have easy access to provocative entertainment, also found on talk shows and prime-time dramas.
Then there is late-night entertainment, euphemistically touted as adult entertainment for mature audiences. Much of it panders to profanity or language that is intended to stimulate sexual appetite, however taboo, indecent, abhorrent, or disgusting. According to the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary, “obscenity is repulsive or disgusting to the senses.” Those who regularly view these shows however, are not only not offended but also intentionally seek out this form of titillating pleasure. Others who stumble on these programs find them offensive and disturbing. The material spewed forth by some late-night hosts, fixated as they are on sexual and scatological topics, is not just harmless banter, it is smut.
The Special Case of Pablo Picasso
In an article entitled “All the Picassos in the Cupboard,” Holland Cotter, art critic and Pulitzer Prize winner, revealed a shocking fact. He writes that Pablo Picasso, perhaps the most forceful and dominant artist of the contemporary scene, painted pornography on commission, with particular emphasis on the carving of female figures (NY Times April 30th, 2010, Weekend Edition, C 25). Such a fact should offend our moral and aesthetic sensibilities. It should enrage feminists. Unthinking, pseudo-art collectors are duped into acquiring meretricious so-called art for millions of dollars. If there is no God, the dictum says, everything is permitted.
Our Children and Pornography
Often those who include pornography in their world view do not or cannot stop at the viewing, but must act out what they see and absorb. Most often, the victims are children. In a particular way, children exposed to pornography instinctively see it for what it is, and they recoil from it, feeling embarrassed, ashamed, and unclean. Though pornography can be a private activity, its toxic effect is so deadly that it poisons individuals as well as the family, which is accorded the title, “the Domestic Church.” Pornography creates marital discord and destroys family life.
Pros and Cons Regarding Pornography
Not everyone agrees that pornography is a grave moral concern to the public. If pornography is private behavior, whose business is it anyway? So goes this logic. According to Robert George, professor of law at Princeton University and co-founder of the Manhattan Institute, “many today would remove pornography from any moral category altogether and simply regard this as a First Amendment issue.” In fact, thirty-eight percent of American adults consider pornography morally acceptable. This voice is generally expressed both through the popular culture of the entertainment and advertising media. The second voice is the strong tradition of religious and moral values, which finds expression in the private life of a large majority of ordinary adult citizens trying to hand on virtuous living to their children. These two cultural forces are locked in a struggle for dominating the soul of our families and culture.
Who are the persons and agencies with obligations to defend the private sector? They are professional communicators with moral consciences and ethical codes, parents, educators, youth, the public outcry, public authorities, the Church and religious groups who must put pressure on the public sector and legislators to enact laws for the public health and safety.
The Body, Sacred and Beautiful
The Judeo-Christian faith tradition teaches that the whole person has been endowed with an exalted vocation. We are made not only “in the image and likeness of God,” (Gen 1:26) “made a little lower than God,” (Ps 8:5) we are also “God’s works of art created in Christ Jesus to live the good life as he meant us to live it from the beginning.” (Eph 2:10) We are called to become works of art, works of beauty.
St. Paul illuminates the sacred character of every person with a metaphor. Each of us is a temple of God, and the Spirit of God lives within us: “If anybody should destroy the temple of God, God will destroy him, because the temple of God is sacred, and you are that temple.” (1 Cor 3:16-17) We go to God in, with, and through our bodies which are entrusted to our care but belong to God.
* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.