Category Archives: Custodia Occulorum

Oct 25 – Sts Chrysanthus & Daria of Rome, (d. 283 AD), Husband & Wife, Martyrs – reading your way into the Church

I have heard in my “travels” of the evangelistic kind, of adults converting to Catholicism by “reading their way into the Church”. Hence, this blog. All is grace.

-by Father Francis Xavier Weninger, 1876

“Saint Chrysanthus is one of the many who have experienced how useful and beneficial is the reading of devout books, especially the Gospel. He was born of heathen parents. Polemius his father, stood so high with the emperor, that he was raised to the dignity of a Senator. Chrysanthus’ greatest pleasure was reading; and one day, by special Providence, the Gospel fell into his hands. He read it through most attentively; but not being able to comprehend it, he secretly requested a Christian to explain it to him. This Christian procured him an opportunity to speak to Carpophorus, a holy and very learned priest, who explained to him all he desired to know, and, with the divine assistance, succeeded so well, that Chrysanthus recognized the falsity of the heathen gods, as well as the truth of the Christian religion, and having been properly instructed, he received holy baptism. After this, he appeared no more at the heathen theatres and sacrifices, but associated with Christians, which awakened in his father the suspicion that his son either desired to adopt the faith of Christ, or perhaps was already enrolled among the number of the faithful.


-statue of Saint Chysanthus, Catholic Parish of Saints Chysanthus and Daria, Welcherath, Germany

He called him to account, and as Chrysanthus fearlessly confessed the truth, the angry father cast him into a damp and dark prison, determined to let him die there of hunger. As, however, after a few days, he found him as strong as ever, and as firm in confessing Christ as he had been before, he resorted to other and more horrible means to compel him to forsake Christ. He confined him in a room most luxuriously fitted up, and sent several wicked young women to tempt him, believing that this would be the easiest manner of bringing him back to idolatry. When the first of these women entered, and the chaste Chrysanthus became aware of her intention, he cried loudly to God for assistance, most solemnly declaring that he would much rather die than offend Him. He endeavored to flee, but the room was locked. Hence he did all that was possible under the circumstances. He turned his face away, shut his eyes and closed his ears with both hands, while he continued to pray to the mighty God for assistance. His prayers went to heaven; for the woman was suddenly seized with so invincible a drowsiness, that she sank to the floor, and was carried out of the room. The same happened to the second and the third; and the Saint, recognizing the hand of the Almighty in it, gave due thanks to heaven.

Polemius, however, ascribed it all to witchcraft, and sought in another manner to compass his design. He persuaded Daria, a virgin consecrated to the service of Minerva, to marry his son, in order to draw him gradually away from the Christian faith and bring him back to the gods. Daria consented, and Polemius bringing her to Chrysanthus, introduced her as his future spouse. Chrysanthus, conversing for some time alone with her, told her that he was a Christian, and making her acquainted with the reasons which had induced him to become converted, he succeeded, by the grace of God, in making her promise to embrace the true faith. Not satisfied with this, he explained to her how priceless a treasure chastity is, adding that he was determined to preserve it unspotted. He also said to her that he was willing to marry her, to give her the opportunity of becoming a Christian, but only if she was willing that they should live in perpetual continence. Daria consented cheerfully, after which Chrysanthus announced to his father that he was ready to make Daria his wife.


-statue of Saint Daria of Rome, Catholic Parish of Saints Chysanthus and Daria, Welcherath, Germany

Polemius, greatly rejoiced, ordered a splendid wedding, after which the newly-married couple lived as they had agreed upon, in virginal chastity. Soon after, Daria was secretly baptized, and endeavored to lead an edifying life with her spouse. Both assisted, to the best of their ability, the oppressed Christians, and also used every opportunity to bring the infidels to the knowledge of the true God. For a time they were not molested; but when, at length, Celerinus, the Governor, was informed of their conduct; he gave Claudius, the Praetor, orders to investigate the matter. Hence, Chrysanthus was brought into the Temple of Jupiter to sacrifice to the idols, after the manner of the pagans. As he refused to do this, he was scourged so dreadfully, that he doubtless would have died, had not God preserved him by a miracle. After this, he was dragged, laden with heavy chains, into a dark hole, into which all the sewers of the prison emptied. Being locked up in this foul place, the holy man called on the Almighty, and suddenly the darkness around him gave away to a heavenly light; a delicious odor filled the air, and he was freed from his heavy chains. Claudius, in consequence of this and other miracles, desired to be baptized, with his wife, Hilaria, his two sons, Maurus and Jason, and seventy soldiers who were under his command. The emperor was greatly enraged when this news was reported to him, and ordered Claudius drowned, Hilaria hanged, and Maurus and Jason beheaded.

Meanwhile, Daria also was imprisoned on account of her belief in the Christian faith. She evinced, however, no less fortitude than her holy spouse. She was taken into a house of ill-repute to be a prey to wicked men. Daria, in this danger, called on the great protector of the innocent, and God caused a lion to break from his place of confinement and come running to her, as if to guard her from all harm. When the first man entered the room where the chaste virgin was, the lion seized him, threw him to the ground, and then looked up to Daria, as if to ask her whether he should kill him or not. The tender martyr helped the trembling youth to rise, and reproaching him for his wickedness, she exhorted him to do penance, and succeeded in persuading him to become a Christian. The same happened to two others, who, like the first, left her converted. The tyrant raged when he heard of it, and commanded fire to be set to the room in which Daria was, that she might be burnt with the lion. When the fire was kindled, Daria made the sign of the holy cross over her protector, the lion, and sent him away through the flames uninjured. She herself also remained unharmed, though the room was burnt to ashes. Many other miracles were wrought by her and by Saint Chrysanthus, in consequence of which a great many heathens were converted. At last, both were sentenced to be thrown into a deep sand pit outside the city, near the Via Salaria Nova where, covered with stones and sand, they were buried alive, in the year 283 AD.


-The Martyrdom of Saints Chrysanthus and Daria of Rome; Menologion of Basil II, Menologion of Basileiou; 11th century illuminated Byzantine manuscript with 430 miniatures; Vatican Library; Italy

Considerations

Saint Chrysanthus shut his eyes and closed his ears with both hands, that he might not see nor hear those who had been sent to tempt him. Oh! how wisely he acted! Numberless persons have fallen into vice and have been precipitated into hell, because they did not guard their eyes from gazing on dangerous persons and objects; or because they listened to flatteries or to impure words and songs. Death came upon them through eyes and ears, like a thief through the window. If they had turned their eyes away and closed their ears, if they had left those who spoke immodestly and sang lascivious songs, they would not have become guilty of sin, and would not have been cast into the depth of hell. The pious king David would not have fallen, if he had not been careless in the use of his eyes. And where would he be, if he had not done penance? The beginning of the misfortunes which assailed the strong Samson, and which ended in his death, was his gazing upon Delilah. Sichem, a noble prince, was tempted to sin, as we are told in Holy Writ, by looking upon the imprudent Dina, and being soon after murdered, was cast into hell. We omit innumerable others whose ruin began in the same manner. Each of these shall cry out, during all eternity: “My eye,” (my ear) “has wasted my soul” (Lament iii.). Imprudent looking about and listening robbed them of their innocence, their piety, the grace and friendship of God, and at last, of salvation. If you do not wish to experience the same, keep your eyes, your ears, and in fact all your senses under control. “Hedge in thy ears with thorns,” admonishes the Wise Man, “hear not a wicked tongue.” (Eccl., xxviii.) “Those who listen voluntarily to sinful speeches, give death permission to enter through the window,” writes Saint Theodore. “The eyes are the leaders of sin,” says Saint Jerome. “To preserve purity of heart, it is necessary to keep a guard over our exterior senses,” says Saint Gregory.

Saint Chrysanthus and Saint Daria were thrown into the greatest danger to sin. They were tempted, but without their fault. They resisted, called on God, and did all in their power not to yield, and God protected them from consenting to do wrong. As these Saints were subjected to exterior temptations, so are many souls tempted interiorly; some through their own fault, others without the reproach of the slightest guilt. To the former belong those who spend their time in idleness; who are intemperate in eating and drinking; who neglect prayer and other good works; who, without reason, seek dangerous company, assist at indecent plays, read unchaste or sensational books; who look at persons immodestly dressed or at unclean pictures; who like to listen to, or indulge in improper jests, or songs; who play indecent games; delight in wanton dances and amusements; make friends and acquaintances of persons of little or no virtue; in short, those who in their manners and actions, dispense with Christian modesty. All these can blame only themselves when they suffer from unclean temptations; they themselves give occasion to them. But there are many who, though they avoid all this, are still violently tempted, as was the case with many Saints in this world. These are not to be blamed for their temptations, as they have not, by their conduct, occasioned them.

The former have every reason to fear that they will commit great sins in consequence of the temptations which they themselves have caused; for it is written: “He that loveth the danger, shall perish in it.” (Eccl., iii.) No one will believe such people when they say that they are sorry to be troubled by such temptations. If this is the truth, why then do they give occasion to them? To imagine that these temptations can easily be overcome, without the divine assistance, is presumption; for, God has nowhere promised His aid to those who throw themselves into danger. They are not worthy of it. What else then, can they expect but that they will frequently fall into sin, and finally into hell? Quite differently must those be judged who are tempted without their own fault. If they do all they can, and pray to God for help, they will not be overcome, but may be assured that the Almighty will assist them, as they manifest their love and fidelity to Him by avoiding everything that may lead them into temptation. And who can believe that God will forsake His faithful servants in their fight?

For the two Saints, whose festival we celebrate today, and for many others, He worked miracles to protect them in their danger. Hence, never give occasion to temptations; and if they nevertheless assail you, trust in God; call on Him, and resist bravely. The whole of hell will be unable to conquer you; for, the Almighty will be your protector. “He is a protector of all who trust in Him.” (Psalm xvii.) “He is a protector in the time of trouble, and the Lord will help and deliver them.” (Psalm xxxvi.)”

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In 2008 the Reggio Emilia Cathedral in Modena in Northern Italy faced renovations. The workers discovered more than 300 bones belonging to two skeletons in one of the sealed crypts. The skulls were packed inside a pair of silver-and-gold busts deep in a cathedral vault. The relics of Daria & Chrysanthus were venerated and displayed. Carbon dating showed they belonged to a young man and a young woman in their late teens with a radiocarbon date between AD 80 and AD 340.


-the skull of Daria


-Daria


-before the altar

Love,
Matthew

Custodiam sense: “Nihil est in intellectu quod non prius in sensu” – Aristotle

“Nothing is in the intellect that was not first in the senses.” Peripatetic axiom, St Thomas Aquinas, OP, De veritate, q. 2 a. 3 arg. 19.

In Roman Catholic teaching, “occasions of sin” are “external circumstances–whether of things or persons–which either because of their special nature or because of the frailty common to humanity or peculiar to some individual, incite or entice one to sin.”

In confession, a refusal on the part of a penitent to avoid a voluntary occasion of sin would make it imperative for the confessor to deny absolution. It is not always necessary for the confessor to await the actual performance of this duty before giving absolution; he may be content with a sincere promise, which is the minimum to be required.

“O Lord, guard my senses, so that I may never be separated from You. With Your help, I will keep a vigilant watch over the doors of my soul, and apply myself more fervently to a perfect observance of the rules of modesty which apply to my state in life. I will make the spirit of mortification the guardian of my senses, exercising myself in not wishing to see, hear, or discuss anything but what is required for the fulfillment of my duties. “But if You, O Lord, do not keep my house, I shall watch it in vain” (cf. Ps 127); therefore, with my whole heart I beg You to restrain and moderate my tongue, guard my eyes so that they will not be fed by vanity. “Lord God, King of heaven and earth, deign to direct and sanctify, rule and govern my heart, my body, my thoughts, words, and deeds in Your law and in the works of Your commandments, so that now and forever, by Your help, I may attain salvation and freedom from all evil” (old Roman Breviary).

“Do not permit my senses to go astray, but do You Yourself deign to call them back to You, like the good shepherd who, with his flute, calls his sheep dispersed in the valley. You, more than any other shepherd, have a call so sweet and so powerful that the senses, as soon as they hear it, cannot resist, and quickly come back into the sanctuary of the soul where You await them and to which You call them. O loving Shepherd of my soul, do not refuse to show me this mercy, so necessary for my weakness” (cf. Teresa of Jesus, Interior Castle [also known as The Mansions] IV, 3).

“Turn away my eyes from beholding vanity—quicken me in Your way” (Psalm 119:37).

Unless we turn away our eyes from vanity, we shall soon contract a deadness of heart. When our affections are alive to worldly things, they are dead to God. Therefore the less we let loose our hearts to these things—the more lively and cheerful the work of obedience. On the other side, the more the vigor of grace is renewed, and the habits of it quickened into actual exercise, the more is sin mortified and subdued.

It therefore concerns those that would walk with God to have their eyes turned away from worldly things. He who would be quickened, carried out with life and vigor in the ways of God, must first be mortified, die unto sin. Speaking of the fruits of Christ’s death, the Apostle mentioned death unto sin—before life unto righteousness (1 Peter 2:25). If any would live with Christ—first they must learn to die unto sin. It is impossible for sin and grace to thrive in the same subject.

One great means of mortification is guarding the senses, eyes and ears, taste and touch, that they may not betray the heart into sin. I put it so general, because the man of God who is so solicitous about his eyes would not be careless of his ears and other senses. We must watch on all sides. When an assault is made on a city, if one gate is open, it is as good as if all were. The inlet and outlet of sin is by the senses, and much of our danger lies there. There are many objects that agree with our dispositions, and by them insinuate themselves into the soul, and therefore things long since seemingly dead will soon revive again and recover life and strength. There are no means to keep the heart, unless we keep the eye. In every creature Satan has laid a snare for us, to steal away our hearts and affections from God. The senses are so ready to receive these objects from without to wound the heart, for they are as the heart is. If the heart is poisoned with sin, and became a servant to it, so are the senses of our bodies “weapons of unrighteousness” (Romans 6:13). Earthly objects have an impression upon them answerable to the temper and affections of the soul—and what the soul desires—the senses pitch upon; and therefore if we let the senses wander, the heart will take fire.

Above all senses, the eye must be guarded. First, because it is the noblest sense, given us for high uses. There is not only a natural eye to inform us of things profitable and hurtful for the natural man—but a spiritual use to set before us those objects which may stir us and raise our minds to heavenly meditations. By beholding the perfection of the creature, we may admire the more eminent perfection of Him that made them: “the heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made” (Romans 1:20). The perfections of the creature are to draw us to God—and its defects to drive us from themselves. The eye, as it is used, will either be a help or a snare: either it will let in the sparks of temptation, or enkindle the fire of true devotion. These are the windows which God has placed in the top of the building, that man from there may contemplate God’s works and take a prospect of Heaven.

Second, because the eyes have a great influence upon the heart either to good or evil—but chiefly to evil. In this corrupt state of man, by looking, we come to liking, and are brought inordinately to love what we behold. “Seek not after your own heart and your own eyes, after which you used to go a whoring” (Num. 15:39). “If my step has turned out of the way, and my heart walk after my eyes” (Job 31:7). These are the spies of the heart, agents to bring it and the temptation together; the eye sees, and then by gazing, the heart lusts, and the body acts the transgression. It is more dangerous to see evil, than to hear it.” (-Thomas Manton, 1660)

Prayer to Spend the Day Well
-Bl James Alberione

Dear and sweet mother Mary,
keep your holy hand upon me;
guard my mind,
my heart and my senses,
that I may never commit sin.
Sanctify my thoughts,
affections,
words and actions,
so that I may please you and your Jesus, my God,
and reach heaven with you.
Jesus and Mary,
give me your holy blessing;
In the name of the Father,
and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Love,
Matthew

Pornography, Custodia Occulorum, & Custody of the Eyes

Not going for TMI, and I can only speak for myself, but I SUCK at this virtue. 🙁 I do. But, I’m trying. 2016 & camera phones ARE NOT helping!!!

I hope I make at least somebody in Heaven prolly half-smirk in disdain at my disgusting efforts? Lk 15:7.

Lord, give me your grace to overcome this temptation!! And, I shall be set free!!! I shall. Lord, increase my faith!! Thy will be done!!

For this virtue, St Alphonsus Liguori, mentioned below, is your man. Tell him I said hi! We know each other, professionally, TOO WELL. 🙁

image
-by Rebecca Bratten Weiss

“If we start with the first revelation of the Other as a look, we must recognize that we experience our inapprehensible being-for-others in the form of a possession. I am possessed by the Other; the Other’s look fashions my body in its nakedness, causes it to be born, sculptures it, produces it…He makes me be and thereby he possesses me, and this possession is nothing other than the consciousness of possessing me…”

This quotation from Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness delineates a structural relation of opposing or warring selves, in which the very look, or gaze, of the Other inevitably reduces the self to an object. Within this relation, one’s selfhood can only be reclaimed by entry into a sort of combat with the Other, reclaiming oneself as Self by taking a stance of opposition: “thus the project of recovering myself is fundamentally a project of absorbing the Other.”

The terrible thing here is that only through the objectifying gaze of the Other does one come to be aware of oneself as a being.

This is all very depressing, and I don’t deny that it happens, but what nihilistic despair, to assume that this, inevitably, is our only possible relation. Hints of such a nihilistic despair creep into that far better existentialist work, Simone de Beauvois’ The Second Sex – and, this is not surprising, because nowhere does this inevitability seem more fixed than in the culturally constructed relations between men and women.

It seems that too many Christian discourses on purity reinforce this idea. To look upon the Other – particularly the sexual Other – is, inevitably, to make an object of her. This is the common refrain in so many injunctions to chastity, as young men and even boys are taught to look away, as in this piece, whenever a woman whom some adults might construe as immodestly dressed looms upon the horizon. This trend in some traditional Christian groups equates male purity with not looking at women, or at least only looking at their faces (but not their mouths!) – and looking very briefly.

At least Sartre’s dismal view of the human gaze emphasizes the objectification of the Other as the core danger. This is a legitimate moral concern, and I think Christian moralists would do well to keep the focus on this when discussing the sin of lust. I disagree with Sartre that all looks are inevitably objectifying, but looks that are objectifying are, indeed, morally wrong – whether the look reduces the Other to a sex-toy to be enjoyed, an enemy to be killed, or a worker to be exploited.

The creepy thing is that the Christian tradition of custodia occulorem, or custody of the eyes, often placed the danger not only in the disposition of the objectifying subject, but in some malevolent power radiating from the objectified one. Custody of the eyes originally entailed a responsibility to avoid gazing on anything that might be potentially dangerous to the soul (idols, for instance, which were sometimes regarded with an almost superstitious dread). But over time it came to mean only avoiding gazing lustfully at someone of the opposite sex. The injunction was usually directed towards men, not because prior cultures shared our bias that “men are more visual,” but because custody of the eyes was connected with a fear of the actual agency of dangerous objects, and female bodies were considered to have just such agency, through the wiles of the devil. Tertullian (who also advised men to avoid looking at depictions of demons) declared: “woman, you are the gate to hell.”

Sermons against unchastity often utilized hyperbolic rhetoric to highlight the deceptive nature of female beauty, and the female body was seen as itself the terrain of dangers. While to explore the uncharted territories of this terrain might appeal to erotic poets, the message of the moralists was more along the lines of “here be dragons.”

“To avoid the sight of dangerous objects, the saints were accustomed to keep their eyes almost continually fixed on the earth, and to abstain even from looking at innocent objects,” says St. Alphonsus de Liguori.

I have difficulty with this idea, on a general theological level. We see constantly in the Gospels that Jesus looks upon the faces of those to whom he ministers. Why would he not want his followers to do the same? Certainly, there are times when it is fitting to avert one’s gaze, but to be staring constantly at the earth seems to indicate fear, not trust, as though creation truly were corrupt all-through, as though the divine were not made present analogously in all beings.

I have special difficulty with this idea from a female standpoint. Is it really so impossible for a male to look at me without stumbling headlong into a pit of iniquity? I am reminded of the comical scene in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, when a hapless sailor accidentally beholds the protagonist’s female ankle and nearly plummets from the rigging to his death. This sort of protection of the male from the dangerous female body (or protection of the female from the dangerous male gaze? funny how we’re never entirely certain which) is not healthy.
A man who is brought up to believe that looking on a woman will provoke lust is likely to look on a woman and experience lust, because he has transgressed into the realm of the forbidden, where everything is tinged with fantasy, and faces hide behind masks. How would it be possible for a man raised this way to work effectively as a doctor, or a nurse, or a first responder? If a man feels incapable of looking at women in bikinis without lustfully objectifying them, how would he react if he went to do mission work in cultures where woman casually reveal parts of the body traditionally covered in western societies? A man who marries may find this approach to women to be especially frustrating on his wedding night, since it is likely to provoke either over-excitement or guilt – or, probably, both. And if priests are trained not to look at women, or to glance at us only sparingly, how will they be able to minister to women as spiritual directors or confessors, without everything being very awkward?

While I am glad that recent philosophies of the person have led us away from the superstitious terror of the female body that was once mistaken for virtue, many Christians are in danger or embedding chastity within a morass of Sartrean nihilistic despair, in which the mere phenomenon of one person looking at another becomes an act of violence. I do not deny that there is always a danger of violation in relationships, especially between men and women, as sexuality is so often entwined with power, but to view this as inevitable is hopeless indeed. Perhaps there may be phases of development in which avoiding looking at people is somehow necessary, but it is not a mature condition, and certainly not a goal to strive for. There are also times when it is correct and moral to look away, to respect the individual’s intention to be veiled or private. This applies especially in cases when a person is helpless. If a person is lying wounded, naked, and unconscious, the decent thing is to look away, or better yet to find a way safely and respectfully to cover that person. But a person who meets you face to face, greeting you as a person, deserves to be greeted as a person in response.

Training in sexual responsibility should not draw lines around most of humanity and signal with an arrow that “this alone is safe to see.” It should involve training in seeing the other not as an object, but as a subject herself. When we see the person as subject we see that the person possesses herself, that the person is a whole in himself and cannot be reduced to fragmentary desirable parts. We learn to see the person not simply as a token “woman” or “man” but as someone unique and irreplaceable. There may be an array of fitting and morally acceptable erotic approaches to the person as person, as we look with fascination on the infinite mystery of the other, and ask that he reveal himself to us as a friend.

A mature custody of the eyes should entail, not looking away, but seeing rightly.”

Love,
Matthew

Pornography

pornography-300x300

“Whom/what shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or the sword?
As it is written:
“For Your sake we are killed all day long;
We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.”
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him Who loved us.  For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:35-39

Jn 15:5

Pornography is a BIG problem in modern society. Actually, no. Pornography is a HUGE problem in modern society. Did you know that 10-15% of all search engine requests and 20% of smart phone searches are for pornography? Studies show that 90% of boys and 60% of girls are exposed to pornography before they are 18 years old. In addition, 70% of young men and 20% of young women view pornography every week and pornographic sites have more monthly visitors than Twitter and Amazon combined.

We should first, as the Jesuits say, define our terms. The word “pornography” comes from the Greek words, “porne,”meaning a harlot, prostitute, or whore, and “graphos,” meaning a writing or depiction. If we put both words together we arrive at “A depiction or description of the activities of whores.”

With the theatre debut of “Fifty Shades of Grey” imminent, does the media we consume affect us?  Positively?  Negatively?  Violent video games?  Music?  Violence in fim?  Print?  The news?  Literature?  Do we have an adult responsibility to intentionally choose the media we expose ourselves towards?  Guided by a moral path?   Based in and on our values?  Imho, I believe the answer is “yes” to all of the above.  It is His grace ALONE which can save us, in the here and now.  I say that with conviction as a sinner, who has prayed for His grace and received, and I continue to struggle but also feel, in a very real way, His healing presence.  I do.  Mt 7:7.  Pray for me, please.

Jonathon_van_Maren.jpg_300_300_55gray_s_c1

from https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/not-convinced-that-porn-is-evil-then-quit-because-its-making-you-miserable

-by Jonathan Van Maren

PORNOGRAPHY Tue Feb 3, 2015 – 10:12 am EST

Not convinced that porn is wrong? Then quit because it’s making you miserable.

Pornography

I was very pleased to see that GQ Magazine has joined the growing number of secular publications that are beginning the painful process of examining our out-of-control cultural obsession with pornography, recently publishing an article entitled 10 Reasons You Should Quit Watching Porn.

While a number of prominent feminists (including Naomi Wolf) have openly condemned pornography, men have been slow to engage in the discussion, for obvious reasons. Recently, I decided I wanted to get a male perspective on the porn plague for my radio show—so I called up one of the foremost male scholars in the field, Dr. Robert Jensen, author of both “Getting Off: Pornography and the End of Masculinity” and “Pornography: The Production and Consumption of Inequality,” co-authored with Dr. Gail Dines.

Dr. Jensen, a self-described radical feminist, approaches the pornography discussion with a pragmatism that eschews much of the sound and fury that makes up the debate elsewhere. Men, he believes, often just really haven’t thought through what they’re doing when they consume porn.

“For me,” he told me, “the challenge to men—originally it was just the challenge to myself, and then I became part of the [anti-porn] movement—a broader challenge was, ‘Is that who we want to be? Is that consistent with our own moral principles and political principles?’ And even at a more basic level, does that kind of arrangement really make us happy? Do we feel fulfilled?

And that’s one of the ways we need to speak about this. Not just to talk about the sexual exploitation industries, in the way that they injure women—and they do injure women in all sorts of ways—but also the way they leave us men in very constrained, confined, and in the end incredible roles…The effect of these sexual exploitation industries and then violence more generally on women is pretty clear. But I think men also have to think about what it does to us as human beings.

A lot of this boils down to how pornography inevitably shapes the relationships men have with the women in their lives. Dr. Jensen is not convinced by male bravado in regards to porn use. When they obsess over pornography, men often watch the rest of their lives disintegrate.

I’ve spoken to a lot of men and women over the years, both in formal interview situations and just informally after talks or presentations. And what’s clear is that the repeated habitual use of pornography, especially the most cruel and degrading forms of pornography that present women as these degraded objects, that the habitual use of that kind of pornography by men has a direct effect on relationships.

So, I’ve heard from many men and women about how the male partner’s use of pornography will distort what had perhaps prior to that been a healthy, intimate and sexual relationship. These stories are piling up everywhere. I always say – it’s partly joke but it’s actually very accurate – that if you want to know about the effects of repeated pornography use on heterosexual relationships in this culture, there are two kinds of people you can ask. One is marriage therapists and the other is divorce lawyers, because these things are actually coming up as relationships disintegrate.

Dr. Robert Jensen sees pornography as a great threat to women’s rights, because the systematic dehumanization of women through pornography is leaking into the culture in dangerous ways.

“Society has become less sexist,” he told me. “Women have more access to higher education, they can make more inroads into politics and government…but we’ve also lost ground. And I think this question of rape, pornography, and the trivializing of sexual violence is one of those reasons where we’ve lost ground, and I think in fact that’s part of the reason people have so much trouble talking about pornography. Now, I’ve always said that, and people say, ‘Well, the reason we don’t talk about porn is we have trouble talking about sex!’ And I always say, ‘Look around at this culture. People are talking about sex all the time!’”

The cultural discussion around pornography, Dr. Jensen points out, is actually a very good opportunity for feminists and religious conservatives to find common ground. Both groups, after all, oppose the dehumanization of women.

I think this is actually one of the issues where conversation between conservatives – you know, often people rooted in a particular religious perspective – there’s a real possibility for dialogue with a least one part of the feminist movement. Now, as you pointed out, other segments of the feminist movement are celebrating pornography and calling it liberation, and the dialogue there is more difficult. But I’m always eager to engage on all of these issues, and as someone who considers himself on the Left, and a radical feminist, but also goes to church, I find church space is very important for this because even when there are significant differences in theology between people within a Christian community in my case, there’s still the common ground for dialogue and that’s more important than ever.

Men, Dr. Jensen says, hate being talked down to—which is one of the reasons that men can speak out about pornography to other men in a powerful way.

When I talk to men about this, I don’t pretend that, you know, I’m somehow on high and mighty throne telling people how to behave. I grew up as a man in, post-WWII America, what I would call the Playboy World, and I struggled with this and to some degree still struggle, which is why I stay away from pornography of all kinds because I feel like it takes me into a place where I don’t like the person I am. Now that’s often a hard conversation for men who are trained to be tough and stoic and not reveal emotion, but those are the kind of conversations I think we have to have and I think we can have them. At least in my own life, I know I’ve been able to have them.

And these conversations, Dr. Jensen believes, are essential to moving the discussion forward. There is no one magic bullet, no one strategy to fighting the influence of pornography in our culture. But opening up dialogue with male consumers is one indispensable part of that strategy.

“One thing I’ve learned is that if you’re man, and you’re trying to disconnect from the pornographic world by yourself, if you want to go it alone, I can guarantee you you’ll fail,” he told me. “Because these are difficult questions and they’re very hard to negotiate on our own.”

So we have to find these kinds of spaces where men can talk to each other and the notion of porn as addiction is, I think, actually very complex. I’m not comfortable calling the use of pornography or the use of any media an addiction in terms that we typically use that for drugs and alcohol. But certainly there are patterns of habitual repeated use that people engaged in the activity can recognize is counterproductive, that it’s hurting themselves – yet they’re compelled to do it. Whether we call that compulsion addiction, or whatever we want to call it, men are more and more aware of this.

When I first started doing work on this, 25 years ago, I could be guaranteed that most men would be hostile. For what I’ve noticed and what Gail [Dines] and I talked about over the years is that because more and more men are troubled by exactly what you’re describing, the sense that what they’re doing is not only wrong in some political or moral sense, but it’s affecting the way they are able to be with their female partner, that these men are compelled now to think about this almost out of self-interest, because they can feel what it’s doing to them. I think that’s part of the solution to this problem, to make spaces more attractive to men to talk about this.

One of my friends in the anti-porn movement often notes that men are generally the problem when it comes to porn—but they also are, and must be, the solution. When men start fully realizing what pornography is doing to them—destroying their healthy relationships with female partners, friends, and family members, rewiring their brains in dangerous ways, twisting their view of sexuality, and physical fallout including erectile dysfunction – they recognize that using pornography just isn’t worth it. Pornography is fantasy, not real life – but it has the power to destroy so much real happiness.”

Brain on Porn:  JAMA Psychiatry
Brain on Porn2

Love,
Matthew