The War Against Pornography
What is the great plague of the 21st century? Bird flu? Terrorism? Global warming? No, none of these. The pandemic of our century is pornography. This scourge was already severe in the twentieth century with the development of color photography, moving pictures, and cable television. But with the advent of the Internet age, pornography is freely and effortlessly available in nearly every home.
Fighting to Keep it Out
In the previous generation, kids and even adults generally had to expend considerable time, effort, expense and subterfuge to find pornography and smuggle it into the home. Now, computers attached to the Internet take care of that automatically. In any given household, concerned individuals have a major battle on their hands just to keep pornography out. All of that time, effort, expense and subterfuge must now be employed on the side of purity.
Even last year's advice for controlling computer access is now outdated and ineffective. Today, all you need is a personal digital assistant (PDA) or a cell phone to connect to a network where the number one commodity is porn. Wireless access is rapidly growing universal and devices that can be used to access pornography are now so much a part of both our domestic and our commercial lives that they are difficult to do without.
Moreover, our concentration on the Internet's hard-core pornography should not blind us to the general lowering of the bar. Mainstream entertainment venues routinely incorporate soft porn without so much as a wink of the eye. Even the fashions of dress among everyday people continue to degenerate in this universal trend. Something as simple as walking through a shopping mall is impossible without being exposed in one way or another to the problem of porn.
It is no wonder that increasing numbers of marriages are being destroyed by pornography and increasing numbers of young people, mostly boys, are developing true pornography addictions, addictions which require not only personal commitment but professional therapy to overcome. Parents, if they are willing to make significant sacrifices, can still do much to protect their children, but our culture has reached the point where anything approaching complete shielding from pornography is now impossible.
A New Strategy
Let me repeat that last statement: Anything approaching complete shielding from pornography is now impossible. I do not mean to imply that we should give up the effort to protect our children, our spouses and our friends. Nor should we abandon political, social and legal efforts to control pornography. But these efforts are complicated enormously by the internationalism of the Internet. Even if a community could be found that shares sound values, effective protection is likely to be impossible for a long time to come.
This is why we need to take the battle against pornography to the spiritual level. Insofar as we have concentrated in the past on mere physical protections (i.e., shielding), we need to recognize once and for all that physical protection is only one front of the war, and probably not the most important front. An effective battle certainly includes as much shielding as is reasonably possible, but true spiritual combat also includes four other vital components:
- Disapproval. Silence in the face of pornography is deadly. It needs to be clear to children that their parents do not approve of immodesty or impurity in any form, that they oppose the pornographic exploitation of others, and that they are willing to correct deficiencies in this area. These attitudes need to be reflected in speech, dress and behavior at every level. This advice is not limited to parents. The same applies to spouses in relationship to each other, and for those living in community. At-risk behavior patterns should be noticed. Appropriate corrective action must be taken.
- Vision. Everyone needs to understand why pornography is seriously wrong in the context of the Christian vision. Each person is a unity of body and soul destined for true human friendship and eternal life with God. We must explain clearly how pornography divides persons against themselves, alienates them from others, and cheapens relationships; how it substitutes fantasy for reality and leads to physical and commercial exploitation of others; how it destroys love and true intimacy; and how it impedes maturity, personal integration, and spiritual development.
- Formation. Children need good practical advice on caring for their bodies, minds, souls and friendships in a way which limits occasions for sin, encourages healthy activities, and fosters positive relationships. Both children and adults should stay in touch with pastors and friends (and, if necessary, counselors and therapists) who genuinely care about their personal development and spiritual growth. Everyone needs to work at an ever-deepening spiritual life centered around the public worship of the Church and the sacrament of the Eucharist. Sound spirituality includes avoidance of despair through a profound trust in God’s mercy and a willingness to turn back to God after a fall, especially in the sacrament of Penance.
- Prayer. With specific reference to spiritual growth and purity of heart, parents must pray throughout their lives for their children. Wives must pray for their husbands just as fervently, and husbands for their wives. Friends must also pray for each other. Moreover, lay people must pray for their priests, who have made the sacrifice of celibacy for a life of service. Priests must likewise pray for their brothers in sacred ministry. And those in community life must certainly pray for the other members of their community. In addition, we must all pray for our own purity, our own single-hearted commitment to the will of God. These prayers must not be merely occasional. They must be a key portion of our daily habit of prayer.
Winning the War
In our culture, each person will have to fight his own war with pornography. Each person, or at least each male, will also very likely experience a certain measure of failure in this war. Complete shielding is not possible and, quite frankly, some battles are going to be lost. But the entire nature of the war can be transformed from a campaign of shielding and isolation to one of spiritual growth and self-mastery. Once prosecuted in this way, the war against pornography can be won.
The war may be long and hard, but every moment of genuine struggle is a dart of burning love sent from the soul to God. Our Lord counts the occasional fall as nothing compared with the love we offer when we struggle in this way. In response to His grace, our efforts will forge bonds of unity so strong that, in the end, Christ Himself will become our champion. It is Christ who will fight for us. It is Christ who will fight in us. Thus may we all go joyfully to war, where none may doubt the victory.
One of the best places to start your personal war on pornography is to read the remarkable pastoral letter by the Bishop of Arlington, Paul S. Loverde, issued on the eve of the Immaculate Conception, December 7, 2006: Bought with a Price: Pornography and the Living Temple of God.
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