Pornography is evil. I’ll never deny that. But, for the religious, it has become a convenient scapegoat, hiding an even more insidious evil we don’t like to talk about. The ego/the natural man (whatever you want to call it) … it will always find a person, group or thing—something or someone “out there”—on which to project its problems. This great evil, this plague, this thing “out there” attacking us and assaulting us diverts our attention and focus away from where the real trouble lies. In reality, we create most of the monsters that we hate and fear.
Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?”
There’s a name for what we do when we rail on pornography, bullying or other monsters. It’s called the “scapegoat mechanism.” This scapegoat mechanism largely operates at the unconscious level. People don’t even know when they are scapegoating. It’s a convenient diversion that works quite well. Having a monster to slay keeps us distracted and busy so we don’t think about all that motes and beams stuff (Matthew 7:3, 5) or ask the difficult questions such as, “Lord, is it I?” (Matthew 26:21-22.)
And when we can rally as a group and rail against the monster, the diversion away from the real problem is even more successful since hatred and fear hold a group together more readily than the self-examination and introspection mandated by the gospel of Jesus Christ. So we rail on the monster as if it was more evil than the unredeemed culture of guilt and shame our self-righteous defense of purity and piousness perpetuates. Blaise Pascal so insightfully wrote, “People never do evil so completely and so cheerfully as when they do it with a religious conviction.”
So what is the real problem? Who created this monster of pornography? You did and I did.
You see, we are learning, more and more each day, that people turn to pornography for escape and not necessarily sexual pleasure. As Robert Weiss wrote recently in Psychology Today, “these individuals use not to feel pleasure but to escape emotional discomfort. It is a desire for emotional escape rather than a desire to ‘get high’ that is the crux of all addictions and compulsive behavior.”
The gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination
Yet how many of us ask ourselves, “Do I contribute to the environment of pain and emotional trauma ‘out there’ that would lead someone to seek escape through pornography, drug addiction or some other outlet?” “Lord, is it I?” Of course not. We never see a connection between ourselves and the “out there” monsters. So the evils in society repeat themselves, over and over and over again.
Even when we can catch a glimpse of our own culpability the cycle inevitably repeats itself. For example, the recent school shooting in Spokane, Washington, is typical of the pattern. Kid gets bullied by all the “nice” kids at school. Kid has access to a gun. Kid goes berserk, takes his gun to school and starts shooting. We all feel bad for the innocent victim, who is eulogized in the media nigh to sainthood (rightfully so). We hold a candlelight vigil, talk about the evil monster called “bullying,” and then get back to our self-centered, unempathetic, uncaring ways until the next school shooting.
But when Jesus taught that the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21) perhaps it was an indication that the gospel invites us into a path of introspection and self-examination—fighting the evils within rather than those without. If you want to build the Kingdom of God, become a better person.
Pornography is evil. Make no doubt about it. However, what is more evil, pornography or the culture of emotional pain that we create and that leads people to seek refuge and comfort in the grasp of this false god? The stories of Jesus give us some clue as to the answer.
The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground
What was Jesus more worried about—the sexual sin of a woman caught in the very act of cheating on her husband or the pious men who lacked love and had so much judgment in their hearts that they wanted to kill her by stoning her to death? (John 8:3-8.) What troubled Jesus more—a sinful woman of the “city” (who by every indication was the village harlot) inappropriately touching and kissing his feet, or the judgmental thoughts of the pious Simon and Simon’s overall lack of empathy, which manifested itself in failing to extend even common courtesies to a dinner guest? (Luke 7:36-50.)
Wasn’t Jesus saying that the sins of judgment, condemnation, piousness, lack of empathy, lack of understanding, lack of compassion and lack of courtesy—in a word, pride—were bigger issues for him than sexual sin? Make no doubt about it, he never approved of sexual sin. But he prioritized and juxtaposed“sin.” And who were the heroes and who were the villains in these stories?
Yes, pornography is evil. But the way we talk about it, the way we are fixated upon it, the way we preach about it … none of that will do any good unless we, ourselves, look inwardly and see our own complicity in this (and every other) modern-day plague or monster. Until our dialogue regarding pornography, bullying or any other monster or plague “out there” includes a discussion of what we’ve done (and are doing) “in here” to contribute to it, we will never understand the true nature of evil and sin. As Franciscan scholar Richard Rohr wrote recently, “You will keep projecting, fearing, and attacking it over there, instead of ‘gazing’ on it within and ‘weeping’ over it within yourself and all of us. The longer you gaze, the more you will see your own complicity in and profitability from the sin of others, even if it is the satisfaction of feeling you are on higher moral ground.”
We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed.
We create most of the monsters we fear. Why? So we can hide from our shadow selves and bask in the false light that our spiritual lynch mob torches and candlelight vigils cast us. Attacking monsters feeds the ego. If even at the subconscious level, it feeds our pride, which is the ironic self-deception that we are better than someone else experienced only when we are insecure enough to value superiority. But isn’t our pride the more sinister monster and the more devious addiction?
We can decry the evils of pornography upon every housetop. We can preach a thousand sermons about how wicked and corrupt it is. But no amount of condemning, shaming or guilting will ever do any good unless we are willing to set aside our pride, look deeper, see ourselves as part of the problem, and then learn how to become the embodiment of compassion and love—in a word, repent—which is what God has really called us to do. (See Matthew 5:48; 1 John 4:8.) We cannot transform suffering and evil in the world unless and until we, ourselves, are transformed. Until then we won’t transform suffering and evil, we’ll transmit it!
Would pornography exist in a world that was built to love? If our emotional culture was loving and nurturing (instead of so proud and competitive) would people need to turn to pornography for escape from emotional pain and trauma? If our emotional culture was compassionate and empathetic (instead of so proud and perfectionist) would we want to desecrate the sacredness of sex? If we were good at building and maintaining strong and healthy relationships would pornography really be a temptation?
You want to fix the plague of pornography? Learn how to love. You want to solve the drug addiction and opioid crisis? Learn how to love. You want to stop school shootings? Learn how to love. Teach your children to do likewise. As we try to navigate a world that is more confusing than ever, that is filled with changing values and social upheaval, that is filled with random acts of terror, and where, as Jesus said, men’s hearts will fail them (Matthew 24:12), I am convinced that the only hope for the world is learning how to love. Yes, let’s fight pornography. But let us not be distracted by the “otherness” of it.
I have seen the monster. It is you and it is me.