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Pornography: An attack on the dignity of the person


In the last few weeks, we have addressed the topics of migration and abortion among the subjects treated in this column. These are issues that profoundly affect the dignity of the human person. In this reflection, I would like to alert you to another attack on human dignity: pervasive, easily accessible pornography.

I’ve Gotta Be Me
In 1968, a song called “I’ve Gotta Be Me,” figured near the top of the musical charts. While it can be viewed as a harmless sentimental ditty, it can also be assigned the role of theme song for the age that was dawning. Selfishness is indeed part of our common lot as sons and daughters of Adam and Eve. In fact their very sin, which we call original, was founded upon selfishness. The serpent tempted them through their sense of sight and through their pride. He promised them: “ … your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods ….” (Gen 3:5). Their eyes were indeed opened, but what they were opened to did not offer its promised reward! It rather filled them with shame and brought them and their descendants, beginning with their own children, untold heartache.

Every age has its own difficulties and challenges. The Christian has been challenged from the earliest times to “ … be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine like lights in the world ….” (Phil 2:15). Our age, marked with a particular selfishness, leading to so many other failures, certainly possesses its own challenges. We, who have received the fullness of God’s revelation, calling us to live in communion with the Blessed Trinity, must ever be alert to those things that would deprive us of this intimacy both in this life, as a result of our sins, and in eternity if we die unrepentant. Adam and Eve were tempted through their senses and their pride. The serpent uses those same avenues in this latest form of grave temptation, which has become so easily accessible: pornography. Under the false premises of freedom of expression and the freedom of the person to do with his body as he wishes, a terrible form of slavery arises from what invariably ends up as an addiction to pornography.

Selfishness

As we have pointed out, selfishness is at the root of our wounded human nature but it seems to be a particular characteristic of our present age. Two of the victims of this selfishness are proper and lasting relationships and true intimacy. This is so because addiction to pornography leads further and further away from a turning outward toward other persons to a turning inward in selfishness and self-satisfaction. Just as in the Garden of Eden, the devil’s temptation, with all its promises, was followed by deep disillusionment, so with this vice: what the devil and society present to us as a harmless means of pleasure and self-fulfillment which “doesn’t hurt anyone” often fills us with shame and utter loneliness.

Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington, writes in his excellent Pastoral Letter on this subject: “Rather than provide some touch of human intimacy, the continued use of pornography limits the person’s possibility, and even the ability, to attain intimacy with another person. How is it possible to enter into a relationship of love and respect when the preparation for this human encounter is solely based on carnal ‘need’? How can the trust necessary for true intimacy be achieved if actions are determined by secret desires? The use of pornography damages the very human qualities that make intimacy possible: specifically respect, trust and the willingness to sacrifice for the other” (Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God).

Pornography: evil in its root and in its fruit
There are those things that in themselves, are either good or indifferent, which have their end or purpose determined by how we make use of them. One example would be food. Food (even if its taste may be indifferent!) is good. If we use it for sustenance and even legitimate pleasure, it remains beneficial. However, we can take this good and turn it into a source of sin if we become gluttons. Pornography, however, is never good or even indifferent. Its root is evil because of the manner in which it is obtained. This involves the debasing of the human person, most frequently the woman, and reducing her to the level of a money producing object rather than a person to be loved. Horribly, this is sometimes even extended to the exploitation of children for these purposes.

As well as being evil at its source, pornography is evil in what it does to the person who makes use of it. It can never be said that this is a harmless vice, which “doesn’t hurt anyone.” It hurts those who are abused by being its subjects and it hurts those who use it by causing them to debase their own human dignity. This is what makes this scourge also evil in its result, both in the short and the long term. We have already mentioned “turning inward” rather than outward to fruitful human relationships as one result. A result in the longer term is the warped vision of, or even blindness towards, true human love and its marvelous joys when lived out as it is meant to be, according to God’s plan. As I said in an interview two years ago, when the truth concerning the human body, revealed both in nature and in God’s loving law, is not observed, “ … then we go into the darkness of abandoning God’s plan” (Interview with LifeSiteNews.com, published Feb 17, 2005).

A challenge and a remedy
The challenge made to us in the face of this scourge is made by Jesus Himself, who tells us: “Blessed are the clean of heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5:8). This challenge of Jesus reminds us of the consequences in eternity for our actions here on earth. Saint Paul takes up this challenge by reminding us: “Avoid immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify the Lord in your body” (1 Cor 6:18-20). When we are discouraged, or tempted to think we are powerless, our friend Saint Paul comes to our aid again when he quotes our Lord’s own words to him. When he became discouraged and doubtful of his own strength, Jesus said to him, as he says to us: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:8).

If any of us were to go to a doctor, who diagnosed an illness but did not offer a remedy, we would become very disheartened, wouldn’t we? After having analyzed this scourge of pornography, unfortunately too briefly in the space and time we have here, I also want to put forth some brief remedies and words of encouragement. Steve Wood, head of a group called St Joseph’s Covenant Keepers, has put forth a set of very practical steps leading to freedom from pornography for those who may have become addicted to it. I will share just a few of those steps here with you:

• Destroy all your pornography … and do it now.

• Take radical steps to re-orient your life. As the Catechism of the Catholic Church says: “Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person” (2332).

• Find an accountability friend. Find at least one person you can call on 24 hours a day to help you in time of grave temptation.

• Pray and make use of the means of grace. The foremost means of grace are the Sacraments, especially Penance and Holy Communion. Ask for the intercession of our Blessed Mother, the “Virgin most chaste,” especially by praying her Rosary.

• Don’t give up after a setback. (12 Steps to Freedom From Pornography, Steve Wood, Family Life Center, Port Charlotte, Fla.)
It is important to remember that if we fail, as long as we have been sincerely trying, we are not hypocrites! We are merely sons and daughters of Adam and Eve in need of the mercy of Jesus. In times of temptation, the devil will try to convince you that something is not a sin. If you give in to him, he will then tempt you to think that your sin is unforgivable! As usual, he is wrong on both counts!

A ‘perfect storm’
The facts we have presented, along with alarming statistics concerning teenage sexual activity, paint a frightening picture not only for adults, but especially for our youth. A new means of technology, especially attractive to youth, is quickly becoming available. The Religious Alliance Against Pornography has pointed out that all the elements are in place to create what might be called a “perfect storm.” This storm is made possible by current advanced technology that makes digital video content available using wireless handheld devices (a cell phone, for instance). Reports suggest that the U.S. market will be flooded with high-tech video mobile phones, already available in Korea and Europe that have a capacity to transmit images that will deliver the warped vision of human sexuality to a younger and younger market. When parents choose to include access to the Internet when purchasing video mobile phones, PDAs and iPods for their children, they open the floodgates to the possibilities, with all their tragic results, that we have been speaking about here.

A special word to parents
There are several factors that need to be known by every responsible Christian parent:

1. The Internet is very helpful, but also very dangerous because there are hundreds of millions of pornographic sites and secondly because sexual predators use the Internet to seduce young people and to advance their agenda.

2. Presently, there are no adequate safety devices for either home computers or for these new mobile phones, PDAs etc. that can access the Internet.

3. If you purchase access to the Internet on these modern technology devices, your child/young person will be able to access all the pornography on the Internet and do so anonymously.

4. Even if your child may choose not to look at pornography, the pornographers have learned how to attach their material to good sites so that your child may seek good sites but may be automatically transferred to the contents of an ‘adult bookstore.’’Research shows that unwanted pornography often leads to wanted pornography.

5. Although the main five wireless companies do not presently plan to have any pornography on their platform, they are exploring possible partnerships with other providers who may include considerable pornography on their sites.

6. Minors who use mobile phones and PDAs that have still camera and video capture capabilities are able to produce and send sexually explicit images to others and to the Internet. They can as a result be arrested, tried and convicted as felons, and these penalties can be extended to the parent or guardian who knowingly or unknowingly signed the wireless contract for their child.

We have not been given the spirit of fear
Much of what we have reflected upon contains alarming and sobering information. However, we do not pursue virtue in a spirit of fear and powerlessness but out of love for the God who created us in His Image. We are creatures of a loving Father, redeemed by a merciful Savior and sanctified by an all-powerful Holy Spirit. This is why Saint Paul could write to Timothy: “For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice but rather of power and love and self-control” (2 Tim 1:7).

God has willed that we work out our salvation and proclaim our testimony of faith in the times in which He has placed us. Every age has had its particular challenges and the scourge of easily available pornography is one of ours. In fighting it, we are never powerless!
January 25, 2007