Tuesday, December 05, 2006

"Bought With a Price"

THE INTELLECT STANDS GUARD at the door of the soul when we read or hear prose argument; we can judge, evaluate, accept or reject this kind of information. However, the imagination is an open door into our soul. What we see immediately influences us.

See this new pastoral letter, Bought With a Price: Pornography and the Attack on the Living Temple of God, by Bishop Paul S. Loverde of the Diocese of Arlington.
This plague stalks the souls of men, women and children, ravages the bonds of marriage and victimizes the most innocent among us. It obscures and destroys people's ability to see one another as unique and beautiful expressions of God's creation, instead darkening their vision, causing them to view others as objects to be used and manipulated. It has been excused as an outlet for free expression, supported as a business venture, and condoned as just another form of entertainment. It is not widely recognized as a threat to life and happiness. It is not often treated as a destructive addiction. It changes the way men and women treat one another in sometimes dramatic but often subtle ways. And it is not going away.
The images of pornography (which comes from the Greek, meaning 'writing about prostitutes') bypass the intellectual guard at the door of the soul, and thereby is a powerful, direct influence on thought and behavior.

A friend who counsels battered women tells me that pornography addiction is a major influence on the behavior of their abusive male partners, and also that it puts enormous strain on marriages. Endless scholarly journal articles as well as anecdotal observation confirms that very little good comes out of pornography, but still, we are increasingly flooded with it: it is freedom of speech, they say.

Changes in philosophy started this current trend of greater acceptance of pornography. The question of "what is the greatest good, or final end, of man?" has been answered many different ways since ancient antiquity, but one old answer has been revived in recent centuries.

Pleasure, of course, is an end in itself. A person can say "If only I were rich, then I'd be happy," but never is happiness thought of as a means to another end for ourselves, and neither is pleasure. Also, pleasure can be a part of happiness, but there are other factors as well. Philosophically, if we consider pleasure as the Greatest Good of Man, then this is called hedonism. "If it feels good, do it," was a popular hedonistic slogan. Pleasure, of course, is a good thing, not bad, but perhaps we should avoid those pleasures that have bad consequences, or perhaps give up a lesser pleasure in favor of a greater pleasure. But if you couple the pursuit of pleasure with both a feeling of hopelessness of the future, as well as unconcern for others, then you get the kind of lifestyle which seeks only short-term pleasure. This is the popular idea of hedonism, and is widely prevalent in our society.

Our society's conditioners, the judiciary, media, and teachers, have created a feeling of hopelessness in the future by various means. For a while, it was fear of nuclear war, and now it is the fear of environmental catastrophe, which gives people the feeling that there will be no future. Also, the loss of religion as well as the deprecation of the idea of the immortality of the soul, has given many people the attitude that there is no need to plan for the future. High rates of homicide in some areas also leads to this thought of hopelessness in the future.

Our current legal system is based on the abstract concepts of rights and freedom, which is in contrast to the older natural law system which took into account the nature of the human person. The new notion of the law transformed the old freedom of speech into a new freedom of art, and in some of the earliest court cases, this art specifically was pornography. Historically, the freedom of speech with censorship of art was commended at least as far back as Plato's Republic, and was practiced in the Medieval universities, where you could formally debate, but not preach, heresy. The new law inverts this: art may not be censored, especially pornography, while speech can be regulated, especially if it is "hate" speech.

Again, consider the attributes of imagination. Imaginative art can directly influence us, bypassing our intellect, while speech is processed first by the intellect.

Furthermore, the idea that rights and freedoms should prevail, leads people to believe in absolute freedom of action: I can do whatever I want. Coupled with the idea of hedonism, and with hopelessness for the future, gives us our present situation of short-term pleasure-seeking. This is quite common in our culture, from fatty fast foods, dating, drugs, and pornography. All of these can be seen as being bad for the human person, but any attempt at regulating these is seen as an affront on our freedom and rights, and sadly, attempts at regulation usually have a hidden agenda.

The idea of sexual hedonism is specifically promoted nowadays due to the widespread influence of Margaret Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa, dating from 1928. In this book, and throughout her later life, she argued that this kind of hedonism, free love, leads to a peaceful, anxiety-free adolescence and better marriages. This idea is a cornerstone of our modern world, even though it now appears that Mead's primary data were false. This idea directly led to the push for legalized pornography, no-fault divorce, sex education of minors, abortion, and all sorts of changes we've seen in society in the past number of decades. Pleasure, they say, is the greatest good.

We all tend to want unlimited beauty. Saint Thomas Aquinas defined beauty as "that which seen, pleases", and as noted in Plato's Symposium, the most obvious beauty is a beautiful body. But true beauty is conditioned on goodness; we may be fooled by apparent, but wicked beauty, or true goodness may be clothed in ugliness, but as Plato wrote, we need to look deeper into beauty to seek goodness. Beauty is good and necessary, but it only appeals to the lowest part of our soul. We need to look past the beautiful body to see beauty of soul instead, and attempt to find the deeper reality behind mere appearances. Even apparent goodness is worthless if it isn't based on the truth, and truth corresponds to what actually is.

The traditional Christian view of matter is that it was made very good, even though it is fallen. Spirit is better than matter, but even the Fall of Man is due to failings of the spirit, and not matter itself. Modernism, however, sometimes falls into the trap of Gnosticism: seeing matter as evil, while the spirit is all good. This attitude is why we have laws that promote unlimited freedom of the spirit, while also seeing matter, especially the body, as either inconsequential or worthless, being merely a tool of the spirit. We then have the feeling that persons can do whatever they want with their own bodies; and sometimes they feel the same about other bodies, too. Traditionally though, our bodies are not our property, but belong to God (and having been purchased at a very high price).

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