Category Archives: Theology of the Body

gods of yoga (2 of 5)

Silhouette of a woman doing yoga on the beach at sunset

FrEzra1

-by Rev Ezra Sullivan, OP

“In the previous post on yoga, we explored studies that showed a couple of important facts:

· Consistent practice of yoga is correlated with a diminishment of Christian belief.

· Practitioners typically begin yoga for physical reasons but stick with it for spiritual reasons.

We concluded with a basic definition of yoga: yoga is both a comprehensive system of human culture–physical, moral, and psychological–and it acts as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper, that is, the spirituality of yoga rooted in hinduism.

In this post we will take a look at the hindu foundations of yoga in light of the gods found therein. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but test them to see if they are from God (cf 1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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Part II – The gods of yoga

I’m not much of an exercise person. The practice of pumping iron or toning my body with a machine has never excited me: it seemed meaningless at best and slightly narcissistic at worst. This is one of the reasons why yoga appealed to me. It seemed to be exercise with a real meaning. What I didn’t expect was what that meaning actually is.

The word “yoga” comes from the Sanskrit yuj, which indicates “to yoke together,” “union,” “to join, to bind.”[1] Someone who practices yoga as a way of life is called a yogin or a yogi. Because yoga indicates binding, we must ask: what does yoga bind us to?

My jaw almost hit the floor when I found the answer.

To learn about yoga, at first I avoided classes and went to a local bookstore. I wasn’t ready to squeeze into yoga pants. The first paperback I purchased, chosen almost at random, was full of helpful photos of postures along with explanations and commentary. It explained what yoga “yokes” or “binds” us to: Hindu divinity or divinities. “Awaken the goddess within,” it suggested. Frightening for me as a Christian and as a male. It also invited me to consider ganesh, the “loveable” elephant-headed god, along with his friends who populate India’s pantheon. That sounds pagan, I thought. So I set the book aside and looked elsewhere. To my dismay, I discovered in a local Yoga studio something that confirmed the book’s approach: a little bronze statue of a Hindu god, presiding over the people within. It was too much even for this California boy.

GaneshCAM01396
-ganesh

Was my experience typical?

Clearly not every book on yoga promotes hindu gods, and not every yoga class has pagan statuary. But many do. The classical yoga tradition argues that all Yoga should associate with the gods of India. In order to understand why this is the case, we must uncover the hindu roots of yoga.

For Westerners who like everything, including religion, neat and tidy, boxed up and labeled, sitting on a shelf ready for inspection from a discerning customer, hinduism poses difficulties. “What we think of as one religion,” one writer notes, “is a multifarious collection of sects, traditions, beliefs, and practices that evolved from the Vedas, the world’s oldest sacred texts, and took shape across the vast Indian subcontinent over the course of many centuries.”[2] There is real difficulty in pinning down a precise doctrine of universal hindu belief because “hinduism has no central authority, no founding figure, no historical starting point, no single creed or canonical doctrine, and many holy books rather than one.” Because of this, hinduism has been called “the world’s largest disorganized religion.”[3] Nevertheless, hindus have generally recognized six principle schools that represent authentic developments of the Vedic scriptures. yoga is one of them.[4]

yoga, along with the religious beliefs and practices sheltered under the large umbrella called “hindu,” honors many gods. “hinduism is a perfect polytheism,” says a highly-respected scholar. In a real sense, this can also apply to yoga.[5] The gods are the ultimate gurus of yoga.

if
-shiva

shiva has prominence among the gods of yoga. He is the “patron” of all yoga practitioners: “He is the deity of yogins par excellence and is often depicted as a yogin.”[6] Around his neck is a serpent, symbolizing his power over death; on his forehead is a third eye, through which he gains mystical vision and knowledge. His drumbeat is said to create the OM which reverberates in the heart and throughout the universe. In some depictions shiva assumes the lotus posture in deep meditation. In other cases shiva juggles fire while he dances with one foot in the air, indicating release from “earthly bondage.”

Some traditions include shiva in a hindu triad or trinity of gods, with brahman as the “creator”, vishnu as the “sustainer” or “preserver.” shiva is said to be “the destroyer,” the one who annihilates the illusions of the ego and therefore gains liberation into ultimate reality:

While of course many hindu deities are associated with different paths of yoga and meditation, in shiva the art of meditation takes its most absolute form. In meditation, not only mind is stopped, everything is dropped.[7]

vishnu
-vishnu

vishnu is another important god for yoga; he is said to preserve and maintain the cosmic order dharma. Like shiva, he is depicted with blue skin and four arms and is accompanied by serpents. It is said that vishnu was incarnate nine times, the last two being the most significant: as krishna and buddha. Here I will focus on krishna.

Sri_Mariamman_Temple_Singapore_2_amk
-krishna

The bhagavad-gita, part of an ancient hindu religious epic, portrays krishna as the perfect yoga guru to his disciple, the human hero arjuna. Chapter 6 of the gita contains material that would be familiar to many modern yoga practitioners. krishna defines yoga negatively as “renunciation” of illusion and positively as “yoking oneself to the supreme consciousness” (6:2). For him, a yogin is one “established in self-realization” (6:8). Through elevating himself through his own mind (6:5), a yoga practitioner attains the abode of krishna, perfect happiness, “by cessation of material existence” (6:15). The means to acquire this is by practicing control of the body, mind, and activity with specific postures and meditation techniques (6:11-18).

shakti
-shakti

The yoga goddesses should not be neglected in our account. Here we can turn to the chief goddess, shakti or durga, known under different aspects. shakti is seen as the divine force that destroys evil and restores balance: she “represents the cosmic energy of destruction of the ego, which stands in the way of spiritual growth and ultimate liberation.”[8] In some instances, shakti assumes the role of parvati, the energy and consort of shiva; in other instances, the role of lakshmi, the energy and consort of vishnu. The most fearsome role shakti plays is as kali, the “dark mother” goddess, who, standing naked, wears a garland of skulls around her neck and a belt of heads around her waist, wielding a bloody sword and clutching a severed head. It is not uncommon for yoga teachers to recommend tapping into this feminine-divine source of empowerment. Here is one account:

“Ellen is a medical student, and thinks of herself as a rational person who doesn’t go in for mystical experiences. But one day as she closed her eyes and relaxed in savasana, Ellen felt a powerful maternal energy around her and “saw” the hindu goddess durga, whose picture graced the yoga studio’s back wall. For a moment, the many-armed goddess’s face lingered in front of her, looking alive and full of compassionate love. Then the image disappeared–though the sweet, strong energy stayed with Ellen for hours.[9]

Later Ellen asked Sally what the experience might mean. Sally replied: “Just sit in meditation and ask the durga energy to be with you. Then notice how you feel.” This is what Sally calls “deity yoga,” which she claims “isn’t specific to the Hindu tradition.” She says it could be practiced by anyone interested in yoga, even Christians.”

Is Sally right?

What are we to make of the pantheon of yoga gods?

It seems to me that there are four basic positions:

1. The gods and goddesses do not actually exist. They are only metaphors, imaginative fables meant to inspire the yoga practitioner. Some people may believe this, but I think it is insufficient and reductive; it does not adequately explain the cultural and experiential data available.

2. They do exist and are benevolent: they may be invoked in order to obtain energy, power, good fortune, etc. This is the position of a number of simple hindu believers.

3. They do exist but are evil, and should not be invoked. This is the position of traditional Christianity (and perhaps Islam and Judaism). “I am the Lord your God, you shall have no other gods before Me. You shall not make for yourself a graven image; you shall not bow down to them or serve them” (Exodus 20:2-5).

4. They do exist, but not in the way one might imagine. They are all manifestations of the one supreme being, the all-encompassing reality, which one could call “God.” This is the position of the more developed understanding of hinduism, an understanding that has been adopted by yoga.

In our next post we will explore the last position: that the gods exist, not in themselves, but as manifestations, personifications, or realizations of the divinity.”

Love,
Matthew

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[1] Mircea Eliade, Yoga: Immortality and Freedom, trans. Willard R. Trask (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1969), 4.

[2] Philip Goldberg, American Veda (New York: Three Rivers Press, 2010), 3.

[3] Ibid.

[4] See Georg Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice, 3rd Ed. (Chino Valley, AZ: Hohm Press, 2008), 72-78.

[5] Jean Varenne, Yoga and the Hindu Tradition, trans. Derek Coltman (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 26.

[6] Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, 84.

[7] http://www.sanatansociety.org/hindu_gods_and_goddesses/shiva.htm#.UvpGMLQkgf8 For a retelling of the Shiva legend, see Sadhguru, “Yoga Originated from Shiva,” The Times of India 19 March, 2009. http://articles.timesofindia.indiatimes.com/2009-03-19/vintage-wisdom/28031005_1_shiva-yoga-intimacy

[8] Feuerstein, The Yoga Tradition, 87.

[9] Sally Kempton, “Oh My Goddess,” Yoga Journal Online. http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/1980 See also “Goddess, Where Art Thou?” http://www.yogajournal.com/wisdom/2617

Catholic view of yoga (1 of 5)

Patti-Maguire-Armstrong-Yoga-480x242

FrEzra1

-by Rev Ezra Sullivan, OP

“Yoga is hands-down — toes-up — one of the most popular forms of exercise in the world, including the United States. It is also controversial, eliciting strong reactions from enthusiasts and denouncers alike. Among Christians, perhaps the most commonly-heard question is, “Can I practice yoga?” or, said with a different emphasis, “I can practice yoga, right?” With a nod to modern practicality, in order to do justice to the question as well as to the questioner, we ought to consider a number of different issues.

This series is meant to address these issues head on, beginning with the nature of yoga and ending with a discussion of how Christians can exercise their souls and pray with their bodies. St. John tells us that we should not believe every spirit, but to test them to see if they are from God (1 John 4:1). It’s going to be an enlightening experience, so set your intention and come join us as we explore yoga from a Catholic perspective.

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I – What is Yoga?

There is something funny about yoga. It is one of those things that can prompt double-speak, as I have found over and over again. Here is a typical conversation:

“So, Father, what do you think about yoga?” Someone will ask.

“Well, I have some misgivings about it,” I’ll say.

“But what’s wrong with yoga,” they will press. “It’s just exercise.”

“Then why not try Pilates?” I reply.

“I wanted something more holistic, something that focuses on body and soul. I like yoga because it’s spiritual too.”

“Then it’s more than physical exercise.”

To get beyond this impasse in the Tibetan peaks and valleys of conversation, let’s begin by analyzing a portrait of the typical yoga practitioner.[1] A 2012 Yoga in America study shows that 20.4 million Americans practice yoga. This was an increase of 29% since 2008. In addition, 44.4 percent of Americans could identify as “aspirational yogis”–folks interested in trying yoga. Among these millions, the most common yoga enthusiast is a youngish, upper-middle class woman.[2] Yoga is a thriving industry: practitioners spend ten to twenty billion dollars a year on yoga classes and products, including equipment, clothing, vacations, and media.

In and around the popularity of yoga stretches and twists, a vocal portion of the population nevertheless regards yoga as a way to become spiritually bent out of shape. Questions and misgivings arise, and people begin to wonder: what is this thing that some of my friends practice and so many celebrities preach – what is this thing called yoga?

At first glance, yoga is simply a great form of exercise. The top five reasons for starting yoga are: to improve flexibility, to aid general conditioning, to further stress relief, to improve overall health, and to promote physical fitness.[3] Doctors and practitioners both agree that, when practiced moderately, yoga can strengthen a person, help her lose weight, and give her more energy. It is also often associated with positive emotional well-being: because yoga calms the body, it often soothes the feelings. Adding on to the individual benefits, there are often attractive cultural aspects of yoga: it helps people meet beautiful people, so that they can become more beautiful themselves; it is often convenient; at a base level, it doesn’t hurt the wallet.

Yoga, however, is more than a physical exercise with social benefits.

One indication of yoga’s spiritual nature is the way it affects practitioners over time. The International Journal of Yoga published the results of a national survey in Australia.[4] Physical postures (asana) comprised about 60% of the yoga they practiced; 40% was relaxation (savasana), breathing techniques (pranayama), meditation, and instruction. The survey showed very significant results: although most respondents commonly began yoga for reasons of physical health, they usually continued it for reasons of spirituality. In addition, the more people practiced yoga, the more likely they were to decrease their adherence to Christianity and the more likely they were to adhere to non-religious spirituality and Buddhism.

In other words, whatever their intentions may have been, many people experience yoga as a gateway to a spirituality disconnected from Christ.

Doing justice to the complete nature of yoga, therefore, requires a more well-rounded definition: “A comprehensive system of human culture, physical, moral, and [psychological], and acting as a doorway on to the gently sloping paths that gradually lead up to yoga proper,” that is, the spirituality of yoga founded in Hinduism.

Its aim is to control the body and the various forms of vital energy, with a view of overcoming physical impediments standing in the way of other, spiritual, forms of Yoga. Its object is to ensure a perfect balance between the organic functions. Its ultimate goal and true end is to prepare man for the acquisition of that repose of spirit necessary for the realization of the “Supreme”, or for “experiencing the Divine.”[5]

Yoga’s religious and spiritual end is often forgotten or denied in a Western context; most people see it simply as a physical form of exercise. Such a simplification is unwarranted and dangerous. As we will see, reducing yoga to a mere beautifying technique frequently creates ugly effects.”

Love,
Matthew

[1] For the following statistics, see http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/new-study-find-more-than-20-million-yogis-in-u-s.html. And http://www.statisticbrain.com/yoga-statistics/

[2] The majority of today’s yoga practitioners (62.8 percent) fall within the age range of 18-44. Women compose 82.2 % of the cohort. 68% of all yoga practitioners make more than $75,000 a year.

[3] http://blogs.yogajournal.com/yogabuzz/2012/12/new-study-find-more-than-20-million-yogis-in-u-s.html.

[4] Penman, Cohen, Stivens, and Jackson, “Yoga in Australia: Results of a National Survey.” Int J Yoga. 2012 Jul-Dec; 5(2): 92—101. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3410203/ The typical Australian yoga practitioner of yoga is comparable to the American parallel: typically a 41 years old, tertiary educated, employed, health-conscious female (85% female).

[5] J.-M. Déchanet, Christian Yoga (New York: Harper, 1960), 31.

What Is the teaching of the Catholic Church on tattoos and body piercing?

clothed with strength and dignity

-www.cuf.org, Catholics United for Faith

Tattoos and acts of body piercing are not intrinsically evil. The Church offers principles by which Catholics can discern whether it is sinful to be tattooed or have one’s body pierced in particular situations.

WHAT SACRED SCRIPTURE HAS TO SAY

Some Protestant authors have argued that the Bible forbids tattoos and body piercing. They typically cite the following verse: “You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord” (Lev. 19:28).

References to this verse are not present in important magisterial documents and in the principal writings of the Fathers of the Church. It is the consensus of Catholic biblical commentators that this prohibition is not part of the unchanging moral law, but part of the ritual law specific to the Old Testament. Many commentators believe that this prohibition was intended to separate Israel from its Canaanite neighbors; some believe that the cuttings in the flesh and tattoo marks to which the verse refers were part of idolatrous Canaanite worship. The context of the verse favors this interpretation. The preceding verse reads, “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard” (Lev. 19:27)—this prohibition is certainly not applied to members of the Church.

The Church does not teach that Sacred Scripture forbids tattooing and body piercing, but the Church does offer principles by which to discern whether, in particular situations, it is sinful to be tattooed or have one’s body pierced.

RESPECT FOR HEALTH & BODILY INTEGRITY

The Fifth Commandment—”You shall not kill”—does not simply require respect for human life; it also compels Christians to respect the dignity of persons and to safeguard peace (see The Catechism of the Catholic Church, nos. 2258-2330). Respect for the dignity of persons includes, among other things, respect for the souls of others, for their health, and for their bodily integrity.

“Life and physical health,” the Church teaches, “are precious gifts entrusted to us by God. We must take reasonable care of them, taking into account the needs of others and the common good” (Catechism, no. 2288). Prudence dictates that persons considering tattoos or body piercing research any health risks that may be involved. If a particular act of tattooing or body piercing entails a likely risk to health, it would be more or less sinful depending upon the gravity of the risk. If a particular act involves mutilation—if the act renders a bodily organ unable to perform its function—the act is immoral (Catechism, no. 2297).

CHARITY AND RESPECT FOR THE SOULS OF OTHERS

Catholics must also consider the common good when they decide whether to be tattooed or have their bodies pierced. In certain instances—for example, in indigenous cultures in which tattooing is a rite of passage to adulthood—the common good practically demands that a person be tattooed.1

In the United States and other Western countries, however, considerations of the common good generally lead one away from being tattooed or having one’s body parts2 pierced (as they are commonly regarded as socially unacceptable.)

The question of whether an act of tattooing or body piercing hinders a Catholic’s evangelizing mission leads to the broader question of whether such an act harms the souls of others. Tattoos whose words and images celebrate the demonic, are unchaste, or otherwise offend against charity are immoral.

Even if a tattoo’s words and images are not uncharitable in themselves, the act of obtaining a tattoo can be rendered immoral if done so with an evil intention—for example, in order to spite one’s parents or society (cf. Catechism, no. 1752).

Persons considering body piercing should also be aware of the implicit messages that the particular act of piercing conveys in a particular time and place. Some acts of body piercing can imply approval for the immoral homosexual lifestyle. Other acts of body piercing can imply active participation in, or a desire to participate in, other unchaste acts. In such cases, the acts of body piercing are immoral because they appear to manifest an approval of sin and thus scandalize others (cf. Catechism, no. 1868, 2284).

QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER

Persons considering getting tattoos or having their bodies pierced may want to reflect on the following questions:

    • Does this particular act of tattooing or body piercing involve a risk to my health?
    • Would this act mutilate me—that is, would it inhibit the proper functioning of my skin or another organ of my body?
    • Is the explicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor?
    • Is the implicit message of my tattoo compatible with love of God and neighbor? Does it convey an implicitly unchaste message?
    • Why do I want to get a tattoo or have my body pierced?
    • If I am under the authority of my parents, would this act be an act of disobedience that would violate the Fourth Commandment?
    • Would this particular act needlessly offend my family, friends, neighbors, and colleagues, and thus hinder my ability to lead others to Christ and His Church?
    • Can the expense involved be justified in light of the needs of my family, the Church, and the poor?

In most cultural contexts in the United States, a woman’s decision to have her ears pierced is compatible with respect for health and bodily integrity, charity, and respect for the souls of others. Other acts of piercing and tattooing are more open to question.

The criteria above can help one come to a prayerful and prudent decision in one’s particular circumstances.

Love,
Matthew

1 In People on the Move (December 2003, pp. 281-88),a publication of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People, Fr. Mathias Bhuriya has written about the role of tattooing in the Adi-Vasi Bhalai nomadic Indian culture.

2 i.e., Obviously, not referring here to women’s pierced ears.

Body Graffitti/Vandalism vs Christian Modesty

modesty

For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery (of sin) (Gal 5:1)

On Mother’s Day, honoring those women who gave us our bodies, the vehicles of our lives and our respective resurrections unto eternity, it seems appropriate to reflect on the miraculous gift of the body. Modesty makes beauty. Modest is hottest. Otherwise, what is there to look forward to, where is wonder, where is mystery, if all is thrust in your face, pushed up your nose immediately, or in a repulsive way?  Meaning to shock others can never be understood as an intentional polite first impression, nor for subsequent encounters. Dissing others, I thought, was to be avoided?  In the Christian mind, it is never about ourselves, whatever the matter.  It is always about others.  Immodesty is a form of rudeness, provocation.  It cannot be understood otherwise.  Immodesty is neither flattering to men nor to women, nor to God, nor if honestly answered, such rudeness is truly never desired by any of them.

from http://patrickmadrid.com/wpcontent/uploads/2011/10/bodyart.pdf

– by the Rev. Mr. Robert S. Lukosh, Deacon, Archdiocese of Portland, Oregon.

“Every day across the United States — indeed, throughout the world — men and women, boys and girls, get themselves tattooed and pierced. And not just their ears. They are participating in the modern fad of “body art,” which has its origins in antiquity, but which in recent decades as developed into some extreme forms1 that are often quite disturbing.

The intentional marking or mutilation of the human body under the guise of “body art” goes beyond simple tattoos or ear-piercing as adornment for women. For many, it is a personal expression of solidarity with a social cause, a trend that attracts predominately young people, driving them to ever wilder and more shocking expressions of what some term “personal mutilation” that includes: total-body tattoos, pierced eyelids, lips, noses, tongues, foreheads, and even disfigurement of the genitalia, in a never-ending quest for the most “outrageous” form of self-expression through what is commonly known as “body art.”

These forms of personal exhibition have spread rapidly throughout contemporary Western society, resulting in a secondary wave of participants… are disfiguring their own bodies irrevocably, claiming as their justification “personal freedom” and a right to unlimited self-expression.

In earlier generations, garish tattoos and unusual piercings were found almost exclusively only among members of social groups and subcultures that lurked at the fringes of mainstream society.  Look around today and you will see a massive number of people — especially young people — who have become enamored of extreme tattoos and unusual piercings. This modern fad of body art permeates American society, affecting virtually every industry, age group, race, sex, and religion. Since many of these people occupy leadership and mentoring roles in the lives of children and young adults, such overt displays have an additional rebound effect by providing tacit justification sufficient to overcome the doubts of those who are unsure if they want to dabble in the body art fad themselves, resulting in yet a third generation of pierced and tattooed bodies.

Although this increasing tendency to radically disfigure oneself seems, from a personal and subjective perspective, to be a willful distortion of what John Paul II calls in Veritatis Splendor2 the “truth about man as a creature and the image of God,” it is insufficient and unwise to let popular opinion alone determine the moral value of the modern phenomenon of “body art.”

To properly understand the moral character of extreme “body art” and recognize the implications it holds for Catholic family life and for society as a whole, it’s first necessary to explore the nature of the act in the eyes of its supporters. Then one can better evaluate it, based on Scripture and Tradition and the teachings of the Catholic Church.3

Assisted by Divine Revelation, the guidance of the Church established by Christ, and our own gift of reason, we are called by God to be public witnesses to the supreme truth about man and his vocation to holiness, which is rooted in the dignity of the human person. This witness, through the power of the Holy Spirit, has the ability to enlighten others so that they may formulate “judgments according to reason, in conformity with the true good willed by the Creator” (CCC 1783), regarding complicated moral issues, such as body art. By consciously choosing, and encouraging others to choose, to exercise this genuine freedom as “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man,”4 men and women will find their true identity in Christ, “so that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28).

Jump off a bridge?

“But, people have always done it.” Among the first justifications cited by supporters of the body art movement is the appeal to historical evidence. The “people-have-always-done-it” argument does, of course, contain an element of truth. One need not search far amid the records of ancient civilizations to find ample evidence of a nearly universal acceptance of body adornment by paint, jewelry, and body modifications including piercing, stretching of the lips, neck, and ears, and, of course, tattoos.

These body art practices in ancient cultures often provides archaeologists and anthropologists with important clues distinguishing various social strata within a society. This is applicable today in the study of primitive societies still extant today in remote regions of the globe. In Art in Primitive Societies,5 Richard L. Anderson explains that, from cave dwellers to ancient Egyptians, the early Han people of China to Native Americans, a wide body of evidence exists showing that primitive humans consistently adorned themselves as part of their life in community.

“Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body & spirit, and make holiness perfect in the fear of God.”-2 Cor. 7:1

Anderson writes that although scholars disagree as to the particular range of motives and meanings surrounding such primal body art (differing in their specifics from culture to culture), certain commonalities and trends can be discerned in the body art customs of primitive cultures.  Self-mutilation in antiquity was usually, though not always, practiced as an act of devotion to or repudiation of a god or elemental power (e.g., the sun). Another striking pattern revealed by anthropological research is that body art usually tends to be observed in primitive, not advanced, societies (whether in antiquity or today).

Anderson points out that even in modern times, those cultures actively participating on a wide scale in radical body art (e.g., self-mutilation) tend to be developmentally stagnant and isolated from the industrialized world.6 Anderson says that those peoples who have intentionally bridged the gap between ancient and modern customs and rituals often experience a certain “acculturation” on the economic, social, cultural, and artistic levels, largely emptying body art of its former religious, educational and aesthetic content.7

Thus, in appealing to the historical evidence, modern supporters of radical body art (e.g., piercing and tattoos) must either admit the religious and antiquated nature of their practice, or they must confirm it as an essentially arbitrary appropriation of external expression that is largely foreign to modern society.

“The Church Has No Business Telling Me What I Can Do With My Own Body!”

A second common argument employed by proponents of the body art movement is that the Church should mind its own business and stop telling people what they can do with their own bodies and in the privacy of their own bedrooms, etc. This attitude, in addition to exhibiting a profound ignorance of the role of the Church in our life, is a kind of self-righteous, defiant demand for an “autonomy,” which is misunderstood to be mere freedom from coercion, rather than authentic freedom to choose objective truth and do what is good.8  see Freedom for Excellence.

Particularly in America, this argument, at least at first glance, seems justifiable given the intense popular aversion to authority and the general hostility that reigns toward the notion of there being an “absolute, objective truth” by which everyone is obligated to live. Ironically, it’s precisely because of this insistence on supremacy of personal authority and moral relativism that the Church must tirelessly remind all people to realize the efficacy of CHRIST as “the voice of the truth about good and evil,” as He is “the only one who can answer in the fullness of truth, in all situations, in the most varied of circumstances.”9  In the words of the Second Vatican Council, the Church “cannot cease from reproving . . . those harmful teachings and ways of acting which are in conflict with reason and with common human experience, and which cast man down from the noble state to which he is born (in Christ).”10

When the Council Fathers recoil against all forms of mutilation per se, whether self-afflicted or imposed on others, it’s because such acts “violate the integrity of the human person” and “poison human society” through intentional violation of the moral law as given by the Creator and accessible through reason and Revelation.11 This supreme respect for bodily integrity must, in the case of personal adornment, be balanced against the honor given various forms of art as “distinctively human form of expression” which, “when inspired by truth and love of beings . . . bears a certain likeness to God’s activity in what he has created.” 12 One of the direct by-products of many — if not most — forms of modern body art is vanity: an inordinate self-love related to the sin of pride. This is one reason why the Church warns us against the incipient moral danger associated with extreme forms of body art.

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” -1 Corinthians 6:9-20

And there is another issue to consider. While a good intention cannot make an evil act good, bad intention can render a good or neutral act evil. When confronted with this self-evident principle, some people attempt to justify personal mutilation with various relativistic theories that distort morality, such as “proportionalism,” “physicalism,” and the so-called “fundamental option” theory.

According to the first theory, overall good and bad effects of mutilation on the individual and society must be weighed or proportioned to determine if the act is itself good or evil, regardless of the intrinsic evil the act represents. This denies the possibility of objective evil and, as Pope John Paul II wrote in Veritatis Splendor, it supports an “end justifies the means” mentality contrary to reason and Revelation. The second theory denies the very nature of the human person by suggesting that bodily mutilation isn’t integrally determinative of personal morality, in a manner reminiscent of ancient gnosticism (i.e. basic dualism, “matter is evil”, not the creation God called “good”, makes God a liar) This approach regards the body as a mere object, devoid of any intrinsic meaning of its own (cannot be overstatedthe body, in Catholic theology, and all created matter is good, because God created it, and called it “good”, it therefore is intrinsically good, full of intrinsic meaning, the Catholic Church wants you to have AWESOME sex!) and dissociates “the moral act from the bodily dimensions of its exercise” contrary to the fundamental unity of the human person.13 (The heresy here is that there is no moral implication to the use, misuse, or abuse to the body = heresy.  How the intrinsically good body is used through free will ALWAYS has tremendous moral implications!  And, ALWAYS will!!)

The final distortion, the “fundamental option” theory, holds that so long as a person’s “inner core” is oriented toward the good and true, specific and particular acts, such as body art involving personal mutilation, would be incapable of materially changing that “fundamental option.” In other words, if you’re basically a “good person” who usually chooses to do what is right, if you happen to do something sinful, it’s not in itself an enough to cause you to be seriously estranged from God. Why? Because you’re “basically a good person.”

The error here, as Pope John Paul II clearly explains in Veritatis Splendor, is in thinking that no particular immoral act can affect your core being, i.e., your “substantial integrity [and] personal unity,” as the Pope described it. Thus, while the Magisterium of the Catholic Church has continually and consistently taught that all people are bound through genuine freedom to follow the judgment of conscience in determining their actions,14 this directive must be viewed in light of accurate understanding of both freedom and conscience. The freedom referred to here is the authentic freedom of an individual exercising personal free will and political autonomy that is oriented toward the good of all, as “an outstanding manifestation of the divine image in man.”15

Body art as a form of adornment that is ordered to the ultimate good of the person and to humanity, if it observes modesty and avoids vanity, and if it respects the fundamental integrity of the human person — including the integrity of the body — that kind of body art can be morally permissible. But this is quite distinct from personal mutilation that many of today’s extreme tattoos and piercings entail.

For Christians, the guideline we should follow is aptly expressed in Sacred Scripture: “Your adornment should not be an external one . . . but rather the hidden character of the heart . . . which is precious in the sight of God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). To apply this principle is to build up the Body of Christ, so that all people may “grow up in every way into Him who is the head, Christ” (Eph. 4:15). And in applying it, we can discern between harmful (and even sinful) forms of body art versus acceptable and morally neutral forms. Never forget what St. Paul had to say about the sacredness of your body: “Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body”-1 Corinthians 6:9-20.

“May the God of peace Himself sanctify you wholly; and may your spirit & soul & body be kept sound & blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
-I Thess: 5:23

Love,
Matthew

1 As opposed to what has long been considered to be socially acceptable, non-extreme, forms of adornment such as women’s pierced ears, military tattoos, etc.
2 Available electronically in English and other languages at the Vatican
Web site: www.vatican.va/holy_father/john_paul_ii/encyclicals/documents/hf_jp-ii_enc_06081993_veritatis-splendor_en.html.
3 I.e., the authoritative guidelines for the morality of human actions,
intended for reflection, instruction, correction and “training in righteousness”
(c.f. 2 Timothy 3:16).
4 Veritatis Splendor, 34.
5 Art in Primitive Societies(Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall,
1979). 36-37.
6 Ibid., 165.
7 C.f., ibid., 180.
8 C.f., Pope John Paul II, Veritatis Splendor, 32.
9 Ibid., 117.
10 Austin Flannery, ed., Vatican Council II: The Conciliar and Post
Conciliar Documents; (Collegeville, IN: The Liturgical Press, 1992),
volume 1; Gaudiumet Spes, 21.
11 Ibid., 27.
12 CCC 250.
13 Veritatis Splendor, 49.
14 C.f. Patrick Madrid, “Follow Your Conscience,” Does the Bible Really
say That? Discovering Catholic Teaching in Scripture (Cincinnati :
Servant Books, 2006), pages 82-85.
15 Veritatis Splendor, 34.

What is Catholic teaching on transgenderism?

gender-hero

To the Catholic mind, the disorder of transgenderism is really a crisis of faith, doubting the wisdom and purpose of the Creator.  The Church views gender dysphoria as a mental illness. Intentional mutilation is always immoral.  Recent medical evidence suggests that in a majority of cases the procedure (gender reassignment surgery) increases the likelihood of depression and psychic disturbance.

A transgender individual is a person who experiences sustained Gender Identity Disorder (a.k.a. GID, Gender Dysphoria, BID, etc.). Their genetic gender is different from their perceived gender. Some describe themselves as a woman trapped in a man’s body, or vice versa. Others view themselves as having a male brain in a female body, or vice versa.

“Man, though made of body and soul, is a unity. Through his bodily composition he gathers to himself the elements of the material world; thus they reach their crown through him, and through him raise their voice in free praise of the Creator… For this reason man is not allowed to despise his bodily life, rather he is obliged to regard his body as good and honorable since God has created it and will raise it up on the last day. Nevertheless, wounded by sin, man experiences rebellious stirrings in his body. But the very dignity of man postulates that man glorify God in his body and forbid it to serve the evil inclinations of his heart.” -Gaudium et Spes, 14.1

CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH
PART ONE
THE PROFESSION OF FAITH

SECTION TWO
THE PROFESSION OF THE CHRISTIAN FAITH

CHAPTER ONE
I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER

ARTICLE I
“I BELIEVE IN GOD THE FATHER ALMIGHTY, CREATOR OF HEAVEN AND EARTH”

Paragraph 6. Man

355 “God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them.”-Gen 1:27.  Man occupies a unique place in creation: (I) he is “in the image of God”; (II) in his own nature he unites the spiritual and material worlds; (III) he is created “male and female”; (IV) God established him in his friendship.

* III. “MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM”

Equality and difference willed by God

369 Man and woman have been created, which is to say, willed by God: on the one hand, in perfect equality as human persons; on the other, in their respective beings as man and woman. “Being man” or “being woman” is a reality which is good and willed by God: man and woman possess an inalienable dignity which comes to them immediately from God their Creator…. Man and woman are both with one and the same dignity “in the image of God”. In their “being-man” and “being-woman”, they reflect the Creator’s wisdom and goodness.

PART THREE
LIFE IN CHRIST

SECTION TWO
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

CHAPTER TWO
“YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF”

ARTICLE 6
THE SIXTH COMMANDMENT

* I. “MALE AND FEMALE HE CREATED THEM . . .”

2331 “God is love and in Himself He lives a mystery of personal loving communion. Creating the human race in His own image . . .. God inscribed in the humanity of man and woman the vocation, and thus the capacity and responsibility, of love and communion.”…

2332 Sexuality affects all aspects of the human person in the unity of his body and soul. It especially concerns affectivity, the capacity to love and to procreate, and in a more general way the aptitude for forming bonds of communion with others.

2333 Everyone, man and woman, should acknowledge and accept his sexual identity. Physical, moral, and spiritual difference and complementarity are oriented toward the goods of marriage and the flourishing of family life…

“…individuals suffering from gender dysphoria syndrome must be treated with compassion. They need spiritual counseling which will help them realize the great love of God Who loves them as individuals who have been created in His image and likeness. They need proper psychotherapy which will help them to face realistically their human situation and the world, and the consequences of their actions on themselves and their relationships with family and friends. Such counseling will also direct them to spiritual, intellectual and social pursuits to realize their self-worth and divert their preoccupation with sexual identity.” – Rev. William P. Saunders, CatholicHerald.com, Arlington, VA, 2001.

http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/report-pope-francis-meets-hugs-transgender-man

http://www.cnn.com/2015/01/30/living/pope-transgender-man/

http://ncronline.org/news/vatican-says-sex-change-operation-does-not-change-persons-gender

Love,
Matthew

Why is Catholic Marriage different?

WeddingKneelingBeforeEucharist

In my experience trying to understand Catholic teaching on marriage, the language is more like love poetry than a practical, utilitarian dissembling of rights and functions.  See Song of Songs.  WIFM = What’s In It For Me? is definitely NOT the Catholic understanding of the sacrament of marriage, quite the contrary, quite, even though, culturally, we may use the same word to describe a dramatically different understood reality.  If our current crisis causes this definition and clarity to come more fully into focus, grace doth abound.  Rom 5:20.

In this season of marriage ceremony, let us pray for those who take on this most solemn vocation.  I have recently begun attending a secular support group to offer support to divorced men and fathers as they bear the cross of divorce and separation from their children and the torture of the family court system, biased against men.  Please pray for all who suffer this most desperate of crosses, regardless of their sins.


-by A. David Anders, PhD

Catholic teaching on marriage elicits more practical opposition and misunderstanding than perhaps any other Catholic doctrine. When I ask people what is keeping them from full communion with the Catholic church, Catholic teaching and the canon law on marriage rank high on the list.

The reason for the opposition is easily understood.  Christ calls married couples to lifelong fidelity, no matter what. A valid sacramental marriage cannot be dissolved for any reason by any power on earth. “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” (Matthew 19:6) This teaching seems so difficult that the apostles themselves could hardly believe it. “If this is the situation between a husband and wife,” they said, “it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:10)  Christ himself admitted that the teaching was impossible without grace: “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.” (Matthew 19:11)

Some Protestant denominations wish to make an exception to this law in cases of adultery or abandonment. They base this exception in the so-called “exception clause” of Matthew 19:9. But St. Paul explains Christ’s teaching very clearly in 1 Corinthians 7:10: “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.”  For this reason, the Church allows for the “separation of bed and board” in cases of abuse and neglect, but in no way countenances the remarriage of those separated while the true spouse is still living.

Why? Why does Christ call Christian couples to such a high standard of fidelity, even to the point of embracing the cross of suffering? The reason is that Christian marriage is no mere human contract. It is a mystical participation in the sacrificial, self-giving love of Christ for his Church. (Ephesians 5) It is a special vocation to holiness, an ecclesial state in the same way that priesthood or religious life is an ecclesial state. Christian marriage participates in the sacramental mission of the Church to bring Christ to the world. St. John Paul II wrote that “Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witnesses to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers.” (Familiaris Consortio)

The really glorious news is that God never calls us to a task without giving us the means to accomplish it. For this reason, the sacrament of marriage is accompanied by astonishing graces that are unique to the married state. The Second Vatican Council (Gaudium et Spes) put the matter quite beautifully:

“Authentic married love is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church, so that this love may lead the spouses to God with powerful effect and may aid and strengthen them in sublime office of being a father or a mother. For this reason Christian spouses have a special sacrament by which they are fortified and receive a kind of consecration in the duties and dignity of their state. By virtue of this sacrament, as spouses fulfil their conjugal and family obligation, they are penetrated with the spirit of Christ, which suffuses their whole lives with faith, hope and charity. Thus they increasingly advance the perfection of their own personalities, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God.”

To be sure, not all married couples experience or enjoy the full benefit of these graces. The increase of sanctifying grace in the sacraments calls forth our willing cooperation. Pope Pius XI explains: “[since] men do not reap the full fruit of the Sacraments . . . unless they cooperate with grace, the grace of matrimony will remain for the most part an unused talent hidden in the field.” (Casti Connubii)

In order to reap the full benefits of sacramental marriage, one must live a sincere, faithful and generous Catholic life. St. John Paul II explains:  “There is no doubt that these conditions must include persistence and patience, humility and strength of mind, filial trust in God and in His grace, and frequent recourse to prayer and to the sacraments of the Eucharist and of Reconciliation. Thus strengthened, Christian husbands and wives will be able to keep alive their awareness of the unique influence that the grace of the sacrament of marriage has on every aspect of married life.” (Familiaris Consortio).

Christian marriage is an awesome calling. Like all the sacraments, it is “a mystery,” but a mystery of astonishing fruitfulness. The law on Christian marriage is arduous because the end of Christian marriage is so sublime. Through it we are “caught up into divine love.”  The Council teaches: “Parents should regard as their proper mission the task of transmitting human life and educating those to whom it has been transmitted. They should realize that they are thereby cooperators with the love of God the Creator, and are, so to speak, the interpreters of that love.” (Gaudium et Spes)”

“…Thy Kingdom come!  Thy will be done!  On earth, as it is in heaven.”

Love,
Matthew

Why does the Catholic Church teach homosexual acts are intrinsically evil?

keep-faith-in-jesus-christ

“Basing itself on Sacred Scripture, which presents homosexual acts as acts of grave depravity, tradition has always declared that “homosexual acts are intrinsically disordered.” They are contrary to the natural law. They close the sexual act to the gift of life. They do not proceed from a genuine affective and sexual complementarity. Under no circumstances can they be approved.” -CCC 2357

2012-09_LT-CatholicsLoveGays1

THE CATHOLIC CHURCH WANTS YOU TO HAVE AWESOME SEX!!!!  It’s true.  It does.  But, let’s define some terms.  You could say the Catholic Church holds sexual union as sacred.  So sacred it places it within and confines it to a sacrament.  In Catholic theology, sacraments are “efficacious signs of grace, instituted by Christ and entrusted to the Church, by which divine life is dispensed to us.”

This is easier if you have had some philosophy, literally the “love of wisdom”.  Philosophy is the study of general and fundamental problems, such as those connected with reality, existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language.

Philosophy is distinguished from other ways of addressing such problems by its critical, generally systematic approach and its reliance on rational argument. In more casual speech, by extension, “philosophy” can refer to “the most basic beliefs, concepts, and attitudes of an individual or group”.

The Church, from the beginning, has understood the world has an implied rational order due to the nature of creation itself.  The Church “holds these truths to be self-evident”, so to speak, when reflected upon.  Truth cannot contradict truth.

But, humans being sinful beings, can and do and have always and will always pervert the rational truth distilled from philosophy and revelation to fit their own agendas, to fit their own definitions of their “truths”.

The Church does not believe there are many “truths”.  Rather, it holds there is only One Truth, Jesus Christ, and it strives, under the guidance and protection of the Holy Spirit, to come to an ever more full understanding of that Truth.

In Catholicism, a “mystery” is not something unknowable, it is something infinitely knowable.  We are only limited by our own humanity as to why God had pre-ordained such things, and things as such.

We may NOT make ourselves gods, and make our own “truths”.  We do, therefore, have free will, as God’s gift, and, frankly, also the inherent challenge and responsibility to use or to abuse the created world as we do, even contrary to the Creator’s will.  We have the freedom to cure terrible diseases, to feed the starving, to free slaves, but also to commit genocide, to enslave, to exploit, to oppress, to make war, to annihilate.  We also have the freedom to use our sexual gifts, our ability to participate in the creation of beautiful life, and the freedom to abuse them towards selfish and unproductive ends.

There is no genuine love of the Creator nor anything else without free will.  The realization of the gift of free will means, as with any freedom or authority we may possess, that there is also the intrinsic freedom to abuse our free will, to choose wrongly, to act against the intentions and the will of the Creator.  This is a heavy responsibility.  We must choose wisely.  Our choices have consequences here, in this life, and in eternity.

The Natural Law

Very simply put, the natural law is that moral behavior which can be determined through reason by its architecture, form, function, and effects.  The end NEVER justifies the means.  The Catholic Church understands human beings to consist of body and mind, the physical and the non-physical (soul), and that the two are inextricably linked. Humans are capable, but only proper moral formation inclines them to judge rightly, of discerning the difference between good and evil because they have a conscience, and the divinely mandated obligation to do so.

The Divine Law

Gen. 19:8-9,13, Jude 7, Ezek. 16:49-50, Lev. 18:22, 20:13, 1 Cor 6:9-10, Romans 1:27, provoking the wrath of the Almighty.  Prov 1:7.

Love must be fruitful

The Catholic definition of “love” is very specific.  It MUST, NO exceptions, comport to the the natural moral law.  It MUST, same deal, comport to the Divine law.  It MUST be open to life.  It MUST be open to fecundity, and fruitfulness.  It MUST occur within the Sacrament of Marital Union.

  1. Because homosexual acts violate the natural law as implied by the sexual “complementarity”, or sexual differences, between male and female, both in biology, and in the total complementarity of a person’s personal identity in  their masculinity or femininity,
  2. Because they violate the Divine law,
  3. Because, by definition, they cannot be naturally fecund, ever, and are inherently closed to natural procreation,
  4. Because of the above, homosexual acts cannot, ever, be blessed in the Sacrament of Marriage,
  5. Because of all these, homosexual acts can never be approved.

This position is objectively determined as a consequence of faith in Jesus Christ.  It has nothing to do with “liking” or “disliking” anyone.   It has nothing to do with subjective preferences, conditions, opinions, or agendas.  Nothing.  It has been the Church’s consistent teaching.  Those who object are just waking up to the Church’s teaching in greater clarity, which cannot be a bad thing.  “Truth is not determined by a majority.” – BXVI

All are called to chastity in their particular state of life.  Homosexual persons must be accepted with respect, compassion, dignity, and sensitivity. Every sign of unjust discrimination in their regard should be avoided. These persons are called to fulfill God’s will in their lives.

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

teen sexting & custodia occulorum, “custody of the eyes”

Teens_lovers

“Christian, remember your dignity, and the price which was paid to purchase your salvation!” -cf Pope St Leo the GreatSermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

“Christian, recognize your dignity and, now that you share in God’s own nature, do not return to your former base condition by sinning. Remember Who is your head and of Whose body you are a member. Never forget that you have been rescued from the power of darkness and brought into the light of the Kingdom of God.” -CCC 1691, St. Leo the Great, Sermo 22 in nat. Dom., 3:PL 54,192C.

catholic_gentleman
sam_guzman_wife
-by Sam Guzman, “The Catholic Gentleman”, from http://www.catholicgentleman.net/2014/06/custody-of-the-eyes-what-it-is-and-how-to-practice-it/

“Oh! how many are lost by indulging their sight!  St. Alphonsus de Liguori

Mk 9:47-48, Lk 11:34-36

WHAT IS IT

At its most basic level, custody of the eyes simply means controlling what you allow yourself to see. It means guarding your sense of sight carefully, realizing that what you view will leave an indelible mark on your soul.

Many of the saints, in their zeal for purity, would never look anyone in the face. “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.

Now, staring at the floor at all times is a bit extreme for most of us, but it does demonstrate the seriousness with which the saints viewed the importance of purity. They teach us that is simply impossible to allow hundreds of immodest images into our minds, however innocently, and remain pure.

Of course, to the modern mind, this guarding of the eyes is rather quaint and even ridiculous. How prudish, many would think, to think that we should exercise any control over what we see. And yet, if we care about our souls, we have no other option.

HOW TO PRACTICE IT

The best place to begin practicing custody of the eyes is in the things which we can control, such as movies, magazines, or television shows. If your favorite TV show has a sex scene every 5 minutes, you need to cut it out of your life. It’s not worth the temptation. In short, don’t consume things that are occasions of sin. Carelessly putting yourself in spiritual danger in this way is a grave sin itself, so take it seriously.

It’s actually rather easy to edit what you consume. But what about the things we can’t control, such as the immodestly dressed person walking past you? This takes far more prayer-fueled discipline and practice. That said, here are some suggestions.

First, if you’re struggling with the way someone else is dressed, immediately look elsewhere, perhaps their face. I don’t care how beautiful anyone is, it is essentially impossible to lust after someone’s face. The face is the icon of each person’s humanity, and it is far easier to respect a person’s dignity when you’re looking at their face and not her body.

Second, it may just be appropriate to stare at the floor sometimes, especially if there’s no other way to avoid temptation. This doesn’t have to be the norm, but if the situation warrants it, it is foolish not to do so. (Ed. better to appear foolish, or daft, in the eyes of man, than guilty before the eyes of Jesus at our particular judgment.)

Third, avoid places you know are especially problematic for you. For most, the beach can be a problem. Dozens of people in tiny bikinis is just too much. If that’s the case for you, avoid the beach.

Finally, fast and pray. This should go without saying, and yet I am always amazed that people think they can control themselves without God’s help.  (Ed. Grace.  It’s ALL ABOUT GRACE!!!!  Jn 15:5)  It simply isn’t possible. (Ed.  PRAY!!!!  And it will be given to you!  I promise! Mt 7:7-8) We always need grace in the battle against concupiscence, and if we trust in ourselves and our own willpower, we will do nothing but fail.  (Ed.  We are powerless.  He is ALL-POWERFUL!!!)

CONCLUSION

Yes, temptation is everywhere, but we are not helpless victims. (Ed.  We have THE GREATEST ALLY in our battle with sin!!!  We do!!!  We do!!!  Praise Him, Church!!!  Praise Him!!!)  We must take the need for purity seriously, and that means guarding carefully what we allow ourselves to see. Through prayer, fasting, and practice, we can learn to take control of our eyes and avoid temptation. This isn’t quaint and archaic—it’s basic to spiritual survival.

Let us call upon our most pure Lady and her chaste husband St. Joseph, begging their intercession for our purity.”

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Male saints holding lilies symbolize their purity of life, St Joseph, Most Chaste Spouse, pray for us!!!!

“It is a common doctrine of the Saints that one of the principal means of leading a good and exemplary life is modesty and custody of the eyes. For, as there is nothing so adapted to preserve devotion in a soul, and to cause compunction and edification in others, as this modesty, so there is nothing which so much exposes a person to relaxation and scandals as its opposite.”—-St. Alphonsus Rodriguez

Love,
Matthew