The sad case of Tiger Woods offers the familiar spectacle of media and the public setting a celebrity on a pedestal, then taking gleeful satisfaction in knocking him off. If this episode has redeeming value, it’s the reminder that even in this sex-obsessed culture, sexual delinquency still matters.
Strictly by accident, the Woods episode coincides with publication of a major new study, The Effects of Pornography on Individuals, Marriage, Family, and Community, showing why it should. It is the work of Patrick F. Fagan, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council and director of its Center for Marriage and Family Research.
“Powerful and deep” is how Fagan sums up pornography’s capacity to “undermine individual and social functioning.”
The merit of this heavily documented review of social science literature lies in backing up conclusions with serious scientific sources. No one who takes the time to read it can buy the liberal cliché that pornography does no harm (a companion piece, incidentally, to the conservative cliché that guns don’t kill people, people do).
As a matter of fact, pornography, like the abuse of handguns, does great harm: to its users-especially, those who become addicted-as well as to marriages, to family life, and to society as a whole. Internet pornography is a serious threat to the nation’s children, including both those who become users and those victimized by sexual predators.
In brief, says Fagan, “habitual consumption of pornography can break down the relational substrates of human interaction-family, friends and society.” (People who want to read this important document can find it at www.frc.org/pornography-effects.)
Those are psychological and sociological dimensions of the problem. Beyond them lies the dimension of the ascetical struggle. Let me explain.
Lately I’ve been writing a book about a book. The book I’ve been writing about is a small volume of meditations composed by the founder of Opus Dei, St. Josemaria Escriva, and called The Way. More about that another time.
Here I note what might seem an oddity of the book. The chapter on chastity comes way up front-fourth of 46 chapters-and the topic itself receives a generous 28 “points.” Considering that other virtues are treated much later in The Way, why such prominent billing for chastity?
The reason is simple. The model of the interior life used by St. Josemaria is the inclined plane-start at the bottom and work your way up toward union with God. With regard to chastity, he takes the tough, realistic view that spiritual progress can’t even begin in the case of somebody who habitually and, as it were, complacently sins this way. Someone who falls occasionally, repents, resumes the struggle, yes. Someone for whom unchastity is a way of life, no.
Looking for an explanation for many seemingly unrelated problems in the religious world today? You’ll find them here — in self-deception and rationalization concerning unchastity as an obstacle to interior life.
But the idea of chastity isn’t an easy sell now, not even in religious circles. I think of a man who told me cheerfully he’d been assured by his brother, a religious order priest, that it’s impossible to sin seriously against chastity by looks. Really? The New Testament quotes Jesus like this: “I say to you that every one who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Mt 5.28).
My guess is that many people have either forgotten that or don’t care much. Anyway, keep Tiger Woods and his family in your prayers.