Category Archives: Custodia Occulorum

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. 🙁

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-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

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“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.

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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