I got Brian Doyle's book Grace Notes from the library recently, and all too soon it must be returned. Brian Doyle is a Portland area writer, a Catholic who writes much about the intersection of faith and life. Below is his short essay, "A Note on Pornography," which is thought-provoking to say the least (and actually doesn't have a great deal to do with anything XXX rated).
A Note On Pornography
You know what nobody ever talks about enough when we talk about pornography? How sad it is. How sad everything about it is. How weary and dreary. How draining and unfruitful. How, simply, embarrassing. How deflating and abasing. How melancholy and grim. How sad the users and the purchasers are, and how ashamed of themselves for using and purchasing and hiding what they have used and purchased; how sad the purveyors are, and how ashamed of themselves for manufacturing a product that has no substance, and how weary they are, deep in their hearts, of the tinny shrill language they use to defend their actions, for they know full well that their actions have nothing to do with free speech, with courage against the tyranny of censorship, with salty rebellion against those who would imprison speech as a crucial step to the murder of dissent. They k now that they prey on sadness for money, prey on the sad women and men who perform the empty rituals, the sad men and women who run the cameras and produce and package and market the brittle shells of acts that are, when not sad, funny and powerful and glorious and without which there would be no human beings at all, acts that are holy, acts that are finally a form of dance, of speech, of prayer.
And another thing we don’t talk about when we talk about pornography is that there are lots of kinds of pornography, if you consider pornography to be the shell masquerading as the substance. A politician shouting endlessly about family values and yet doing everything in his power to battle help for single mothers, and suspend education for poor children, and dispute free food for those who are starving, and oppose medical care for those who have none—isn’t he a pornographer? Or the woman who battles the execution of infants (for that is what abortion is) but advocates executing older infants (for that is what capital punishment is)—isn’t she a pornographer too? Or the men who spend thousands of hours working for the right to marry each other, and no hours working for the children who are murdered on their street, their city, their state, their country—aren’t they pornographers? Isn’t it obscene to say that love is the prime force, and then argue about semantics and definitions so that children may be slurped from wombs and quietly disposed of in biohazard containers?
And even the church, my church, that ancient and wonderful boat, the church I love and respect and admire, the church that has thrilled me with its courage and stunned me with its twisted crimes—does it not dabble in pornography daily? Does it not say one thing and do another? Does it not say that life is the most precious and holy of gifts from the Unimaginable One, and then send armies of theologians to defend the unutterably obscene idea of a just war? For there is no such thing as a just war, as you know and I know deep in our hearts. Wars are merely organized murders, during which lanky children die and everyone else rationalizes the reasons. So if we know a thing to be true—that life is holy, for example, and life cannot be taken for any reason whatsoever, and the taking of a life, new or old, is a sin—and then we create tissues and curtains of excuses and lies to cover our knowledge, are we much different from the polite dapper businessman who runs a company selling images of people making love, though there is no love anywhere to be found in the product he sells?
We have tried to restrict and imprison pornography for centuries, and now it is more popular than ever before; it has burst out everywhere, on billboards and films, on a million web sites, in every city on the face of the earth. But I wonder if the way to defeat pornography is to see that it is a symptom, not the disease. Lust is sweet and holy and wild, lust is who we are, lust is a gift. The perversion of lust, however—that is the spawn of a cultural and religious lie of breathtaking proportions. It is a lie so huge that we can hardly see it. But for a moment, today, this morning, let us stop and see it clearly. As a culture, as a religion, we say one thing and do another, and we have become so used to living this way that substance and appearance are in danger for becoming the same thing.
That would be a very good definition of hell, don’t you think?
(Quoted from Grace Notes by Brian Doyle, copyright 2011)