Here we go on to the next phase of the “redemption of desire” pop-spirituality ride. Matt McGuiness urges us to take “a second look at porn,” so that we can get in touch with the fact that illicit sexual desire is really a misguided attempt at finding happiness. Did I miss something? Isn’t that what Catholics have always believed? Isn’t all sin the choice of an apparent but false good over what is truly good in an attempt to be happy?
Of course, what separates the search for real happiness from that of its counterfeit is a lie. In his opening, McGuiness treats the lie of sodomy rather glibly with a raunchy pop-reference. Unfortunately, those things that St. Paul says must not even be named among you (Eph 5:3) are now part of the cultural fabric, so they have to be dealt with. But if it is true that a lie told over and over again gains plausibility just by the retelling, then our casual familiarity with depravity gives the perverse and diabolical an air of normality. The devil must be given his due: now we give porn a second look because it teaches us how happy we want to be. The problem with pornography according to McGuiness: it does not go far enough. I think McGuiness has taken the bait.
Let me say this much in sympathy with those in company with Matt McGuiness and Christopher West in the world of Catholic apologetics. In terms of arguments aimed at helping men addicted to porn, the “scared straight” or “reefer madness” approach is the least effective, and the least likely to unleash the healing power of Christ’s redemption. But I think both McGuiness and West use dichotomy and exaggeration as a literary or oratorical devise. They place a moralist’s approach to the problem of pornography in radical opposition to that of a positive educator. Such approaches are not opposed, but neither are they adequate even when taken together.
Remarkably, McGuiness states that virtue is not “something that can be gotten directly.” As proof of this he uses the examples of the Jews and Greeks, the first, who though they had knowledge of the law could not observe it, the second, who though they understood the meaning of virtue were guilty of all kinds of depravity. McGuiness suggests that what we really need to do is get in touch with our desires and understand them. However, McGuiness fails to acknowledge that this is just another natural process, like knowing good from evil, or understanding the difference between virtue and vice.
Actually, Christian virtue is something “gotten directly,” by freely encountering the person of Christ through the means He Himself instituted in the Church. Virtue is something that Christ works in us without us. However, because it can only involve our freedom, as persons created in God’s image, it involves everything: knowledge, choice, love, affection, discipline, mortification, fear, desire—all of it. This is the mystery of grace and free will that has kept theologians and mystics busy for centuries.
Virtue is a habit that can only be formed by continuous pressure against the bad habit. That pressure is not simply negative energy. But neither is it mostly positive thinking. This being said, even the supernatural virtue of chastity is not of itself sufficient. That is why there are the Gifts of the Holy Spirit, whose effects are simply beyond anything that can be achieved by education, positive, nor negative, or by discipline.
McGuiness even minimizes the importance of the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation, saying “virtue is a consequence of something else.” Really? It is a consequence of something other than an encounter with Christ? As a priest, I know how people struggle with habitual sin, particularly in matters of sexuality. But I also know that while deliverance comes in different ways, and is facilitated by many different natural elements and actual graces, it is always a function of a personal encounter with Christ.
The moralist’s approach can actually be the personalist’s approach. The act of contrition, for example, is an expression of both sound moral principles and the spirit of conversion to Christ. It expresses motivation (fear and love), the right moral choice and the practical means to effectively make it (resolution and avoidance of the occasion of sin) all in the context of a personal encounter with Christ who forgives and heals. But this whole discussion is about how we can best dispose ourselves and respond to the grace of Christ. Real deliverance from sin, and from pornography in particular, is a miraculous healing that can only be worked by God directly.
Perhaps McGuiness is being purely rhetorical when he suggests that amateur pornographers should move up to the practice of professional pornography. He does call it a “thought-experiment.” But for him it is the difference between half-heartedness and wretchedness, so that the real problem is not sex, but misdirected desire. Christopher West calls it the problem of “junk food.”
But pornography is not junk food, just as sodomy is not simply “non-procreative” sex. The problem with pornography is not that it fails to go far enough. Contrary to what McGuiness says, pornography reveals a great deal about desire, about how depraved and depersonalizing it can become. Our pornofied culture is the same cesspool that has produced the atrocities against women and children that we read about in headlines everyday. If what McGuiness and West say is true, then child rape is only misguided desire.
The purveyors of our porn culture, whether the conscienceless reptiles in Eastern Europe who exploit poor women, or arrogant sleaze bags like Larry Flint, or pop-scoundrels like Hugh Hefner, are not to be cut some slack by blaming Victorian moralists or the failure of modern Christian culture to educate desire. These men have loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil (cf. Jn 3:19). Pornography is unredeemable evil. McGuiness is wrong. The “why” and the “how” of pornography are only secondary questions to the “what.” Pornography is satanic, and for that reason its cure is in the first place a matter of deliverance.
H/T Dawn Eden
Dear Fr. Geiger–seriously? All this from the first part of a three-part piece? Seems to me you’ve not taken yourself seriously enough when you identify the term “thought experiment” in the piece. That’s *exactly* what a “thought experiment” is, isn’t it? The “experimenter” does not have to be accused of condoning the thing experimented with….right?
God bless you,
Right on the money. This turns the entire history of the time-tested approaches to sin and lust of all the great spiritual writers, saints, and doctors on its head, as though now in 2013 we have finally found the real way to deal with such issues. His idea is also deeply flawed if even because it fails to take into account porn’s addictive effects on the biological and neurological levels. You don’t suggest someone may have to delve into something which has such effects, then hope they can climb out of it later, or learn their lesson…
And I see, with the deacon’s comments above, we have the same claim as usual- people are simply misunderstanding or misrepresenting such pieces. Please. That has been the constant reply of those who want to defend such ideas; probably because they realize they can’t defend them and if they admit to what is actually being said, this exposes the ideas of those they cherish so much , e.g., West, and would put them in the position of having to defend the indefensible. Apparently Catholic News Service is being inundated with complaints about McGinness’s piece…
Dear Fr. Geiger–I would like to point out that one of my comments has gone missing. In any case, I suppose I can contribute something to the conversation here *and* on my blog.
Dear Chris–Hi! Fire away–precisely what do you think I will not be able to defend regarding what is “actually being said”? The author McGuinness (CNA btw, not CNS), is laying out an approach that included a “thought experiment” that some appear to be taking in exactly the wrong way. Happy to discuss that with you. God bless you, Deacon JR
You have again just done what was predicated- maintain that people have taken McGuiness’s comments in the wrong way. Either McGuinness states, or not, that pornography is really a “back-handed compliment to the truth about human sexuality” and is simply “misguided desire,” desire that can be redeemed; and this versus that it is an intrinsic evil that should not be tangled with but shunned completely, and what Fr. Geiger labels as irredeemable evil. Either McGuiness states, or not, that traditional ways of dealing with lust and porn- including the use of the sacraments- should be questioned and perhaps abandoned, and replaced with alternatives such as engaging in sin for the purpose of experiencing the emptiness it leads to (e.g. “consider taking it up “professionally” as it were and see how that makes you happy (or fails to)?”). Either he states,or not, that virtue is supposedly not directly acquired, although this is very poorly framed, but certainly problematic at first site. As he does state these things, Fr. Geiger was pointing out their rather problematic nature.
If McG. is simply being misinterpreted then he perhaps did a poor job writing his piece. CNA should perhaps have censors reviewing these pieces, if you have the capability of people easily misreading comments on a matter that could have very damaging practical consequences. His ideas lack good theological foundation (e.g. on virtue, on intrinsic evils), and one might say pastoral experience, and insight from other disciplines (e.g. my earlier comments about not considering porn’s addictive effects on the biochemical and neurological levels and how this would corrupt someone viewing this to experience the emptiness of it; and for that matter, the fact that people often retain such images for decades and the person will thus have filled his memory with them, which could continually rear their ugly head.)
But this is again a constant mea culpa that just doesn’t cut it at a certain point- the claim that people are simply misunderstanding such ideas. If someone asserts that they are always being taken out of context, misunderstood, etc.- and perhaps West is the figure here- but they continually write/speak in the same way, then it’s a good bet they are not being misunderstood after all.
Hi, Chris—you wrote:
****You have again just done what was predicated- maintain that people have taken McGuiness’s comments in the wrong way. Either McGuinness states, or not, that pornography is really a “back-handed compliment to the truth about human sexuality” and is simply “misguided desire,” desire that can be redeemed; and this versus that it is an intrinsic evil that should not be tangled with but shunned completely, and what Fr. Geiger labels as irredeemable evil.****
Chris, you are correct. And it’s okay to maintain that people take someone’s comments in the wrong way, when in fact they have done so. Yes, the author says porn is a “backhanded compliment to the truth”—and it is. This is not a statement of support for porn. Misguided desire? You bet it is—the very definition of concupiscent lust, in fact. Desire that can be redeemed? I certainly hope so, since the remedy for concupiscent lust is grace, and grace “redeems” misguided desire. Does this somehow contradict the intrinsic disorder of lust and the intrinisci evil of porn? Of course not. Does the author say we should “tangle” with porn and not “shun” it? Never. But under the segment labelled a “thought experiment” the author considers lust for porn taken to its “professional” conclusion, in order illustrate his point and *not* to suggest people should indulge in porn. It borders on the absurd to think and suggest such a proposal would find a home at CNA. You do understand the definition of “thought experiment,” correct? As to the label of “irredeemable evil,” this is an example of the mixing and matching of “meaning”—the author never suggests that the evil of porn is in itself redeemable. Never. Rather, as I say above, it is *desire* that is redeemable through grace.
*** Either McGuiness states, or not, that traditional ways of dealing with lust and porn- including the use of the sacraments- should be questioned and perhaps abandoned, and replaced with alternatives such as engaging in sin for the purpose of experiencing the emptiness it leads to (e.g. “consider taking it up “professionally” as it were and see how that makes you happy (or fails to)?”). ****
Well, he *doesn’t* state that “traditional ways” including the sacraments should be questioned or abandoned. If he *does* say that, please cite the text. I don’t see it. As to the “alternative” of engaging in sin? He doesn’t state that—again, look up the definition of “thought experiment.”
****Either he states,or not, that virtue is supposedly not directly acquired, although this is very poorly framed, but certainly problematic at first site. As he does state these things, Fr. Geiger was pointing out their rather problematic nature. ****
One has to be very careful regarding how to assess a statement about the acquisition of virtue. What does it mean to “directly acquire” it? Does it mean acquire it “immediately”? or on demand? I think in context the author has in mind the very necessity everyone should agree upon—the necessity of *development* of virtue (which can be quite “indirect” in terms of experiencing the fruit of virtuous habit) in the supernatural and graced “Christian” sense (as opposed to the “natural” virtue that is often talked about in contrast to virtue resulting from grace, say, by D. Von Hildebrand). Virtue is not automatic. You drop a coin in a slot and become virtuous—it’s a process.
****If McG. is simply being misinterpreted then he perhaps did a poor job writing his piece. CNA should perhaps have censors reviewing these pieces, if you have the capability of people easily misreading comments on a matter that could have very damaging practical consequences.****
Actually, if he’s “simply being misinterpreted” it *might* be related to clarity of writing style, but not necessarily. But you have to remember another one of the “disorders” of the wound of concupiscence (one in which I’ve become all to acutely aware as of late): the darkening of the intellect. Every one of us possesses a “darkened intellect” that compromises our use of reason, and often does so in the very areas in which we find ourselves struggling because of the pull of concupiscence. This is why personal humility is sooo important when considering and discussing issues such as these—especially when they seem so clear to us despite not being anchored in clear evidence.
***His ideas lack good theological foundation (e.g. on virtue, on intrinsic evils), and one might say pastoral experience, and insight from other disciplines (e.g. my earlier comments about not considering porn’s addictive effects on the biochemical and neurological levels and how this would corrupt someone viewing this to experience the emptiness of it; and for that matter, the fact that people often retain such images for decades and the person will thus have filled his memory with them, which could continually rear their ugly head.) ****
No, actually, he’s on good theological ground, but what has happened is that you have misinterpreted his intention by more or less overlooking the meaning of “thought experiment.” He nowhere suggests that people should literally get immersed more deeply in porn. I mean, let’s be realistic—this is part one of a three-part series of columns on a Catholic web site, all about *eradicating* the scourge of pornography.
****But this is again a constant mea culpa that just doesn’t cut it at a certain point- the claim that people are simply misunderstanding such ideas. If someone asserts that they are always being taken out of context, misunderstood, etc.- and perhaps West is the figure here- but they continually write/speak in the same way, then it’s a good bet they are not being misunderstood after all.****
That is a verrry weak argument you’re making. Particularly when it is only a precious *few* people who end up taking you out of context while the vast majority totally “get” what you’re saying, which is precisely the case with Christopher West, whose theological presentation enjoys not only the full support of the episcopacy but also the full support of almost everyone who has read and understood JPII’s TOB corpus. As to those who do not “get” either West or now McGuinness’ column, I continue to suggest they, in all humility and charity, follow the evidence with great care and fully *document* the evidence before making serious critical claims about one’s brothers in Christ.
God bless you,
Whoops–btw, above–you *don’t* drop a coin in a slot and become virtuous….typo alert…JR
You have had your say. I will leave your comments up. Either you “get” what I am trying to say or you don’t. You “don’t. That’s fine. Now move along.
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Although you will no doubt try to respond, as Fr. Angelo has bid you adieu, I will simply say that in continuing to defend McGuiness you are only demonstrating that you are so attached to West and his ilk and their ideas, that your chief aim is to defend them at any and all costs rather than search for the truth. To not allow even the possibility that McGuiness may be wrong- even if it is a thought experiment, which is no excuse- and really meant what he said is very revealing. Your attempt to bend over backwards to defend this therefore only discredits you.
Can’t shake the devil’s hand and say you’re only kidding.
O for a sip of clean water rather than the heady brew being served by the rock star apologist du jour.
Until then, black coffee for me, chief. Bitter as it might taste, at least I’m sober.
Thanks for your guidance on this new one, Father.
I definitely support anyone who seriously beleives in the “spiritual works of mercy” but, in my experience, sometimes our zealousness to do so can bring us close to what’s discussed in paragraph #s 2477 and #2478. Unless you have proof that Deacon JR is attached to “West and his ilk” and that his “chief aim is to defend them at any and all costs rather than search for the truth” those remarks seem to be a bit of a stretch. I encourage you to continue to attack the erroneous ideas but I advise you to use caution when attacking a person.
Dear Fr. Geiger—
I know that you want me to move along, as I have had my “say,” but I wonder whether you will give Karol Wojtyla an opportunity to have *his* say, as he helps explain what McGuiness means when he says pornography’s problem is that it does not “go far enough”:
Pornography is a marked tendency to accentuate the sexual element when reproducing the human body or human love in a work of art, with the object of inducing the reader or viewer to believe that sexual values are the only real values of the person, and that love is nothing more than the experience, individual or shared, of those values alone. This tendency is harmful, for it destroys the integral image of that important fragment of human reality which is love between man and woman. For the truth about human love consists always in reproducing the interpersonal relationship, however large sexual values may loom in that relationship. Just as the truth about man is that he is a person, however conspicuous sexual values are in his or her physical appearance. (Karol Wojtyla, Love and Responsibility p. 192).
Porn doesn’t “go far enough” because it exposes *only* the sexual value of the human person (which is, truly, something rightly called a “value” by Wojtyla) and does *not* depict the *whole* human person. So, not only does porn not “go far enough,” but this quote *also* makes clear that there is something of “value” needing “redeeming” in porn—the sexual value of the human person which cannot stand in isolation from the rest of the values of the human person.
I ask that you let this comment be published so you and others might contemplate how Wojtyla’s words relate to the meaning of the original column.
God bless you,
The interpretation given to JPII’s words is really a re-writing of the passage into what the interpreter wants it to be. The quote even seems to contradict the point- the tendency in porn is always harmful. Therefore, it would not be good or excusable to ever indulge in it, act upon it, or foster it, as McGuinesses suggests someone might do; while it also means there is nothing redeemable in it, for how can you redeem an intrinsically harmful element? One also has to ask, partly in jest, but also seriously: What does porn that goes far enough, or has value, look like? If someone makes porn that does go far enough then is that porn okay to look at and has it now been “redeemed”? For the line of thinking that there is something redeemable and of value in porn logically leads to the conclusion that there might porn that could be of value.
Do these folks actually realize what they are doing? That as Catholics, they are now at the point of defending pornography? And one of the posters here doing so is even a cleric! God help us!
FYI- Alice Von Hildebrand has a piece on Catholic News Agency today. I don’t know if it is directly in reply to the McGuiness article, but it addresses some of the more basic errors under the idea that there is moral evil that is redeemable or has value: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/column.php?n=2433
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Mea culpa – I just went to Deacon JR’s website and yes, he is a TOB guy. Sorry I didn’t do my own research earlier and I now see why you made the claim you made.
Thought experiment? Should I conclude (as a garden variety layman trying to absorb all this lofty talk) that if I merely chuck all this novelty into bin labeled “thought experiment” I may be able to plum porn’s depths and possibly harvest something good- hypothetically- from its merk? I’m not so certain that such a secure diving bell exists, except in the sterile corridors of imagination, where everything is two-dimensional, and we can congratulate ourselves a little too easily for a catchy turn of phrase or clever notion that wouldn’t fly in 3D.
Sans supernatural protection, I fear we have no defense for what (or who) truly lives at the bottom of the Sea of Pornography, or all the fathoms that decend to there. As with the deepest canyons of the real oceans, nothing seems to live there that isn’t built for darkness. There we find strange, hideous creatures commonly characterized by their abject blindness, and that appear to be made up of little more than fins, teeth and–aptly–an aching desire to eat.
Pornography is more than “misplaced desire”. This sounds more like the calculated, “thoughtful” language so loved by the secular world. That kind of terminology blunts the truth, and takes away most of the urgency that should come with the uttering and hearing of words laced with evil, like “pornography”.
PS-Thanks to Chris for the link to Alice Von Hildebrands excellent article on CNS. It does nip at the edges of this debate discussing sin, moral goods and evils. And, as always it seems, she is “spot on”.
I know that I couldn’t allow myself to have a thought experiment about pornography. Anyone is capable of anything at anytime. If you don’t want to buy something on impulse, don’t enter the store. One cannot ever trust oneself in the area of pornography. Ever.
Kudos to Alice. I always find it amusing when she quotes her husband, like she needs to for credibility.
Fr. Deacon JR’s comments were spot on.
The original article did not defend pornography in any way, nor suggest that people should do it (any more than Walker Percy actually wanted people to commit suicide). For crying out loud, read an article before attacking it, and don’t take everything literalistically especially when the author blatantly stated that it was not to be taken as such. It was a “thought experiment”, not something we would actually want to do. The point to take away from it is that sexuality must be taken more seriously than it is, that pornography is a more serious problem than those who use it casually are seeing it as.
What the article in question did was try to explain on a more pragmatic level WHY pornography is concupiscent. Blessed John Paul II did an excellent job with abstract personalistic principles, and Catholic casuistry has been saying “don’t don’t don’t” for centuries without giving us clearly visible reasons as to why we not only shouldn’t do it but shouldn’t want to. It’s easier to remain virtuous knowing WHY something is a sin, and strengthening not only our will but our desire.
I’ve seen very little charity in the discussions regarding this article, and a lot of paranoia and blatantly false misrepresentations.
For the record, I’m not a fan of Christopher West, for various reasons. I am a fan of the actual Theology of the Body.
Please. I will perhaps just refer you to someone who just wrote to address this claim that McGuiness is being taken out of context, that it was “only” a thought experiment, etc: http://thwordinc.blogspot.com. This type of reply is often repeated when it comes to this type of thing, revealing that it is more of a standard defense rather than a substantive response. We are constantly told that people are misrepresenting the material, are being uncharitable, anything but address the criticisms in substance; while it also serves to try and silence any critics by inferring that they are the ones with the problem. In other words, they try to back-peddle and make excuses when they are called on things. You would also seem to guilty of some of the same things, as you give a blanket categorization of critics as being paranoid and giving false representations, etc. That doesn’t sound very charitable…
As someone who left a comment to the piece above notes, isn’t it interesting that C. West( and followers) is about the only popular Catholic figure who is supposedly always being taken out of context, misunderstood, etc.
“Catholic casuistry has been saying “don’t don’t don’t” for centuries without giving us clearly visible reasons as to why we not only shouldn’t do it but shouldn’t want to.”
Father Loya, is that you?
Isn’t it interesting that no one knew this until Christopher West came along? We had to wait for West to come along to tell us just how corrupt our history has been. Not only were we in darkness for 1,990 years, we were in darkness about our own darkness! Heavens!
Is there some kind of decoder ring that frees Christopher West and yourself to know the ugly truth about Catholic teaching, in this area? Because when I read actual Catholic writing on this, I can’t seem to find what you suggest. Perhaps you can give us examples of the Manichean errors that you and West believe the Church has possessed, rather than just asserting it as fact? Maybe I just need to eat more Cracker Jack to get that special decoder ring which will allow me to see things as you see them.
This is partly a consequence of our academic illiteracy, made worse by our addiction (see Father’s fresh post) to technological trivialities. (It’s easy for the average hipster Catholic to spend all day on Facebook talking about the West event he just attended, rather than read John Paul II’s actual writings.) Read Dr. Dietrich von Hildebrand’s “In Defense of Purity,” published in 1931. The first major segment is an extended discussion of the problem of puritanism.
Catholics have been denouncing puritanism for ages, not just since Christopher West came along and opened us up to how much evil the Church has tolerated lo these many years.
To suggest otherwise is really to suggest that the Church isn’t the Church. We either have had the truth, always, since the time of public revelation, or we’re just a bunch of schmucks making it up as we go along, the same as every other sad sack group in history.
I am also a Ruthenian Greek Catholic, but I am not Fr. Loya. I am a layman, betrothed. I am also not, incidentally, a fan of Christopher West for a whole slew of reasons. Not exactly sure how “slew” is supposed to be spelled.
My statement on Catholic casuistry was based on old “manualistic” theological texts, and it is a critique that has been made of the West by the East for centuries not just since Christopher West, arguing that it replaces the awareness of Christ healing us through metanoia and theosis with a purely legal(istic) or forensic process. This critique sometimes goes too far, sometimes resulting in silly statements like “the Pope was the first Protestant”. But it certainly has a deep root of truth to it, and has its origins in the Byzantine rejection of the late medieval Latin nominalism which culminated in Luther’s imputed justification and Baroque manualism. St. Gregory Palamas, not Christopher West, is where we’re getting this from.
Chris – go read the original article. Kevin O’Brien’s misrepresentation is downright libellous, and all you need to do is actually read the original article to see.
If you believe the Church can teach error, you don’t believe in the supremacy of the Church. Pretty simple.
I suggest you put up or shut up. Make the case that the Church has erred until your fearless leader came along, or move on.
Why do we not get to the real issue! How can one get out of the habit of viewing pornography? St. Alponsus gives us the core answer, which was also stated by St. Teresa of Avila: “But it is impossible for him who perseveres in mental prayer to continue in sin; he will either give up meditation or renounce sin.” He also goes on to write that one must avoid proximate and remote occasions of sin, frequent the sacraments, do spiritual reading, and pray to Jesus and Mary when tempted and as long as the temptation lasts.
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