The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s is a favorite punching bag of conservative social critics. I must admit, I’ve taken plenty of verbal jabs at Hollywood style love — a media brainchild of the revolution’s making.
For anyone with the least bit of cynicism, Valentine’s Day is the perfect day to let the punches fly. But this year, I’m going to hold back. If we are going to pass judgment on popular culture in relation to romance and commitment, we should also be willing to confront why, even as a predominantly Christian country, we have been so susceptible to obvious misconceptions of the meaning of love and sexuality.
People speaking out of turn in the name of the Christian God may be partly responsible for today’s warped understanding of love, and even the pervasiveness of pornography, as I will explain. In various times throughout the 2,000 years of Christianity, a handful of influential theologians and religious spokesmen have opposed the body and looked down on carnal passion as contrary to the freedom and sanctification of the soul.
That’s all hogwash, of course. Sexuality is too much a part of who we are as men and women for it to have been a divine afterthought, an unfortunate necessity to keep the little creatures going. In fact, as I see it, the human being is a unity of soul and matter (including sexuality). Each helps the other achieve a new nobility it would not achieve on its own. If we reject one as bad or dirty, we handicap the other.
In this light, the sexual revolution rightly rejected the idea that sex is bad. But, unfortunately, the revolutionaries themselves never understood why it is good. In their eagerness to free themselves from the shackles of traditional sexual morality, they dehumanized sexual love by stripping it of its unique dignity as the ultimate expression of interpersonal union. They turned it into a search for mere sensual pleasure. Given this premise, their conclusion was logical: the more pleasure, the more love.
The many imposters of love we see today, particularly erotic pornography, flow from this bad philosophy.
What is the history of pornography, why do I think it’s bad, and how does it affect our ability to love and be loved.
The Origin of Pornography
Pornography as such did not exist until the Victorian era. When, in 1839, Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre developed the first practical photography method, the French Academy of Sciences authorized its use by artists seeking to master the nude form. By mandate, however, each image had to be registered with and approved by the French government, or it could not be sold. Though intended for artistic purposes, Daguerre’s method soon opened the door for the exchange of erotic images.
The invention of halftone printing in the 1880s paved the way for the 1940s pinup and the 1950s Playboy magazine, while the development of film in the Twentieth Century opened the door for pornographic movies. The invention of the CD-ROM allowed for an unprecedented interactive element, and the Internet tidal wave opened channels for information exchange, offering both privacy in viewing and the chance to interact with others in an impersonal way. Today, due to an influx of user-friendly digital technology, modern pornography is mainly produced by amateurs.
Moral Guidelines and Natural Happiness
Most would agree pornography is bad, both for the viewer and his object of pleasure, but why? Is it just a religious thing?
Some moral restrictions are based on religious dictates. Others, however, are founded on what philosophers for many centuries have called “the natural law” — guidelines written into human nature and discoverable by human reason alone.
Morality derived from natural law is paradoxical: while at times it may seem oppressive because it tells us “this is good” and “that is bad”, in reality, it is an arrow pointing to natural happiness. It tells us how things work naturally and work best. It is an owner’s manual, of sorts, which explains how we are wired. We discover the natural law through listening to the voice of a well-formed conscience. Following it may be difficult, but doing so allows us to reach our full potential.
While governments may see moral living as a way to create functioning societies and religious belief may teach moral behavior as a response to God’s Word, for all of us, the natural law outlines a sure path to natural fulfillment and freedom, and, in my opinion, is the best preparation for supernatural beatitude (the kind we discover in union with God).
In this light, a natural understanding of sexuality shows us that it can be very good. In a bond of true love, the entire beings of two persons—mental, emotional, spiritual and physical—come together to form a unity that transcends both individuals.
Why I Think Pornography Goes Against the Natural Law.
Does pornography attempt to provide the kind of selfless and interpersonal experience I just described above? Quite to the contrary! Viewing pornography is a self-centered stab at satisfying sexual desire. It is a love-letter written to oneself.
Out of context, sexuality becomes disoriented and separates us from a true understanding of who we and others are. Pornography reflects a mechanistic view of the human anatomy and its functions. It focuses on a single aspect of the person — sexuality — and neglects the others. Viewing even a single person through such a narrow lens, changes our understanding of all people — including ourselves.
It is no wonder pornography addicts, and their spouses, struggle to develop fulfilling, intimate relationships.
As long as commercial interests continue to idealize Hollywood-style love and promote pornography, conservative critics can swing away at the excesses of the sexual revolution.
But in doing so, let’s not forget why Baby Boomers were so eager to throw out traditional morality in the first place: they were never taught why sex is not bad — in its proper place — and what it has to do with love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
God bless, Father Jonathan
P.S. On Friday I look forward to posting some of your comments and questions about this article.
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