Pornography, Pets, Girlfriends:
A Different Catholic Perspective on What's Killing Marriage
June 1, 2016
When I was 13 or so, my family's vacation itinerary took us to Chattanooga, Tennessee. The motel we stayed at backed up onto a drive-in theater that was showing an X-rated movie. One could easily see this opus from the bathroom window of our room. I watched for about 30 seconds and realized that it was one of the X-rated movies we always heard about in the '70s. I also realized that it was one of the "bad pictures" that a Catholic children's book on The Ten Commandments warned that I should not look at. I made the connection even though for all that the book described what a "bad picture" was, a "bad picture" could have been anything by Picasso.
That experience in Tennessee inspired in me no hunger to look at any more porn movies. My parents thought enough about my moral formation to buy me that book on the Ten Commandments. They made clear their strong moral opinions on pornography as they did everything else that came within the ambit of right and wrong. Example fortified the words. Neither my mother nor my father had dark little corners in their lives where they went and wallowed in garbage, certain that no one would see, or not caring if anyone did. My father thought that the warning "For Mature Audiences" was a laugh. People who watched that stuff were anything but mature.
Moreover the attitude in the Conway house was that movies in general had gotten too sleazy. Between my tenth and twenty-first year, I did not enter a movie theater. At home we watched classic movies from the past. When The Long Gray Line or The Quiet Man or Going My Way was shown on one of the five broadcast channels, it was an event, a reason to hurry home. My life was filled with Truth, Beauty, Goodness and Constructivity.
However I did watch I Claudius when it was broadcast on PBS in the late 1970s. A few seconds of toplessness was not uncommon on Brit shows in those days. I didn't think of those programs as being pornographic then. However today, because of the childish nudity and other reasons, I find them unwatchable just as I find Beatles music unlistenable.
My teen years also saw the start of my journey away from television. I now only watch a couple hours a week and that's mostly British detective shows (which, believe it or not, no longer have nudity), Hogan's Heroes and that family of cops who still have Sunday dinner.
Oh, I have every episode of Naked City on DVD, but that cop show from the early 1960s was grossly misnamed.
Next, for the sake of not leaving anything out, I'm listing Walker Percy's book, Lancelot. When Lancelot came out in 1977, a Social Studies teacher at Georgetown Prep assigned it to us juniors in his class. Some parents complained, I understand, but there was no ruckus.
Does reading a Walker Percy book amount to consuming pornography? In a world of artists who are atheistic, hedonistic and relativistic, Walker Percy was a believing practicing, pro-life Catholic who lived in a flyover city, drove a Caprice (I suspect) and wrote a pro-life novel, The Thanatos Syndrome. He brilliantly foresaw, a few years ahead of time, the sexualization of pre-teen children. In Lancelot, Percy's first-person narrator, Lancelot Lamar, describes the sexual activities of his unfaithful wife and her moronic moviemaking friends, including an episode of what is known as yin-yanging. For those who can't visualize the text, a diagram is inserted.
Over 20 years I've developed a habit of daily prayer. I consume wholesome and edifying media and culture. I contribute to that wholesome culture. I do constructive things. I've been a lector. I've sung in the choir. I am, for the time being, a eucharistic minister. My fellow Catholics don't give a damn about any of that.
Percy's work raises the question: What about pornography employed by a Catholic author to make fun of pornography, of the tawdriness of the sexual revolution? For that is what Percy did. He elaborated on pornography the way my father would have elaborated on it had my father imagination and writing talent.
Does a little bit of pornography ruin a whole work? There are a few moments of gratuitous nudity and orgiastic sex that mar the movie Cold Mountain (2003). However while I would not include Cold Mountain on my list of movies for Catholic family viewing, I think it is the greatest movie made so far in the 21st century. The genuine goodness and heroism of the main character, Inman, and of the people who help him on his tortuous journey back to his true love -- albeit contrasted with extreme cruelty -- are of another movie age. Despite the nod to shallower moviewatchers' need for prurience, Cold Mountain is about enduring love, fidelity and marriage. And at the orgy, Inman doesn't take what is put in front of him.
Moving on. Well into adulthood, I watched Louis Malle's Black Moon, figuring that it was artsy, but discovering that it was pornographic. The whole production built up to the moment when Rex Harrison's 16-year-old granddaughter, Cathryn, unbraziered herself. Along the way there were little nods to pedophilia. I felt icky watching it. I wondered how Doctor Dolittle and his son could let their lovely (grand)daughter do that. But if you look at their lives...
So there you have it. One man's history of watching porn. Other than the above, I've seen the pornography that we are all exposed to. Perhaps I am less exposed because my habits keep me away from the crap that other people devour. There's a theater neighboring my workplace which decorates a good quarter-mile of underground passageways connecting the buildings with posters of its past productions, many of them Shakespeare's dramas. If this theater put on You're A Good Man, Charlie Brown, the actors would all be costumed in studded leather. Scrolling down Ebay listings I sometimes glimpse naked-woman model railroad figures. There's not much detail in 1:43 scale. Like the X-rated movie in Chattanooga, they do not make me want more.
Has this all-pervasive porn affected me? What is meant by affected? Does being affected account for my lack of desire to run around Annapolis on lobby night begging Maryland Democrats, including those from Baltimore and Prince George's County, to do something about porn? I think that abortion, Religious Freedom and my freedom to write and publish these thoughts are much more pressing.
While I know that pornography is expression that harms its participants, most people just see it as expression and I think it's hard to make the case for First Amendment freedoms when you're talking about Religious Freedom (murmuring is more like it) out of one corner of your mouth and about banning pornography out of the other.
Vignette vs. mural
The reason that I posted my rather scanty resumé of porn consumption is that my church, the Catholic Church, seems to think that I, as a man, am a porn fiend who can't get enough, that I spend hours looking at semi or wholly naked women online and on my iPhone and have my drawers (desk) stuffed with Hustler (Is that still around?) and Playboy.
I use the iPhone to see when buses and thunderstorms are coming. I actually spend most of my online time visiting Catholic web sites. What I see ad nauseam on Catholic web sites is men and porn, men and porn, Porn Alters Brains, Porn Dumbs Down Men, My Boyfriend Looks At Porn, Porn Wrecks Marriages, Porn Eliminates Desire To Marry, Bishop So'n'so's pastoral letter on porn, the exhortation to "Give up porn for Lent."
I find all the above tiresome and insulting. I find it so because, first of all, it doesn't apply to me and I don't like my fellow Catholics being told by my church that it does. Over 20 years I've developed a habit of daily prayer. I consume wholesome and edifying media and culture. I contribute to that wholesome culture. I do constructive things. I've been a lector. I've sung in the choir. I am, for the time being, a eucharistic minister. My fellow Catholics don't give a damn about any of that. The Cool Catholic Kids don't invite me to their parties.
Secondly, I know that pornography is not a mural in itself, but actually one vignette in the corner of a mural.
Porn, as I see it, is part of the larger problem of being average. By "being average" in this context I mean leading a lifestyle that is not likely to lead to a developing and deepening of faith, of putting on "the full armor of God" against Satan. Satan loves porn as he loves all sins. Arming oneself against the devil requires developing a daily-prayer habit, including prayers to Saint Michael (See sidebar) and Mary, regular reading of Holy Scripture and receipt of the Holy Eucharist and Confession, and a relationship with Jesus Christ. Being average here means consuming cultural crap, living certain other habits and at best, thinking of Mary and Jesus as imaginary friends.
Porn addicts are not butterflies shackled in their chrysalides by smut alone. Not watching porn wouldn't mean they look up in wonder when Venus, Jupiter and Mars align or shiver when they read Tennyson or Longfellow or listen to Vaughn Williams' Fantasy on a Theme by Thomas Tallis. Not watching porn wouldn't stop them from drizzling their urine on toilet seats out of carelessness or perverse glee. Not watching porn wouldn't send them out to build model rockets or birdhouses with their sons or go on father/daughter hikes. Not watching porn wouldn't inspire them to say The Morning Offering when they arise of the Magnificat before they go to bed, nor would they automatically accompany their wives to the church to learn more about the faith or work at a Knights of Columbus fundraiser.
As I say, pornography is not the mural; it's a vignette.
In another corner of the mural is another vignette, accurately drawn as "Mommy porn." Example, Fifty Shades of Gray. In a crisismagazine.com article (1), Lea Z. Singh writes that statistics on porn consumption don't accurately count women because surveys focus on the visual porn that men consume. Women prefer reading trashy romances to looking at pictures. Printed porn can be just as addictive. Singh writes:
Like other addictions, "pornmance" novels mess with women's brains and wreak havoc in their lives. According to therapists, these books can cause women to become dissatisfied with their marriages, to become "dangerously unbalanced," and according to a pornography addiction counselor, to have affairs.
Is it mere coincidence that nearly 70 percent of divorces in the United States are initiated by women?
So, Father, porn is a problem among women, too, albeit among a lesser number than among men. Despite the fact that trashy romances are written and read mostly by women, I'm confident that you and His Excellency and His Current Holiness will find a way to blame men for it.
Which brings me to the age-old problem in Christian churches of clergy and women allying against the male faithful. The obsession with porn is also, I think, another bond in this alliance. However my discussion of that lengthy, interesting and explosive topic must occur in another essay about the feminization of the Catholic Church.
Yes, I'm sure pornography alters the brain and prevents men from desiring to make the commitment and sacrifice to marry. I'm equally sure that pornography puts a strain on existing marriages.
However other things also cause marital strain or distract people from marrying in the first place. Running up debt with mindless spending (not generally a male problem) is one cause of post-nuptial distress.
Being too attached to one's family, particularly the parents, is a real disincentive to marry. The stereotype is the grown man who is still attached to his mother. However I've noticed that it's a problem with some women, too. It's less noticeable because the women are usually attached to the whole family, both parents, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews. Women can further mask the attachment by living hundreds or thousands of miles away from Mom and Dad et al. They have their breathing space, but they're in constant communication with the family and they run home every vacation.
In the age of helicopter parenting, inordinate attachment to parents and siblings is only going to get worse.
So are men the only ones who are not interested in marriage? From where I stand as a single, middle-aged Catholic male, it's women who have no interest in marriage. My Catholic female counterparts want nothing to do with Catholic men. I have tried at various times in my life -- as a young adult, as a middle-aged adult, to start friendship groups of Catholic singles. Some women are interested in the groups and participate, but others are not interested and never join. It's very noticeable that the ones who don't touch such groups with ten-foot poles fit a certain profile.