The plague of pornography and the abuse of sexuality, compulsions that enslave so many souls, begin with a lie that must be unmasked and cast out if ever we are to regain our freedom as sons and daughters of God.
After years of hearing litanies of confessions on this subject, and upon reflection of my own experience of our common humanity, I am convinced that impurity has more to do with the mind than the body—specifically, with a lie about God that is first proposed and accepted before any impure bodily acts ensue. Evidently the body is the locus of impurity, the stage on which this drama is played out. And those habituated to impurity no longer notice the mental processes and neural pathways that connect the dots from external temptation to bodily actions, as if all sexual images immediately trigger impure acts, a la Pavlov’s dogs.
First we must understand that temptations to impurity rush in to occupy a void—a space within designed to be filled with love for God, oneself, and others. Remember Jesus’ parable of an evil spirit roaming around looking for a place of rest. It finds an empty house, swept clean, and returns with seven other spirits more evil than itself. Those who build their houses on sand, stuffing them only with the trinkets and gadgets of a materialistic lifestyle, may find it simplistic and naive to say that we were created by love and for love, that love is the meaning of our lives. But it is true. Impurity is an indication of our need for love, and until that need is met in healthy ways, it is practically impossible to avoid the misuse of the body and sexuality.
We must also appreciate how Revelation enlightens the human condition. Due to original sin, every human being has inherited the trauma of a ruptured relationship with God. I think of the heart-rending depiction of the expulsion from Paradise by Masaccio in the Church of Santa Maria del Carmine in Florence. Adam’s face is buried in his hands in inconsolable grief, while Eve’s face is disfigured by her wailing. In every human heart we find the fault-line of this broken relationship and cracked foundation traced back to our origins. Christ came to repair what was shattered, to reconcile us to the Father by first infusing us with the grace to come to ourselves and remember we are loved. Then, like the Prodigal Son in Rembrandt’s brilliant rendition, though we may be tattered and torn, we finally arrive home safe in the Father’s loving embrace.
The original lie began with the words, “Did God really say… ?” as the devil suggested that God our Father cannot be trusted because he does not really love us, and is more concerned with his power than our well-being. This lie can shape-shift into different forms. In his book, Abba’s Heart, Neal Lozano explains some of the most common lies about God the Father that form the substratum of many people’s consciousness of existence and sense of reality, to the point that they are unaware of being victims of a deception. “God is always angry with me,” is one, and another “God is to blame for all the evil in my life.”
If the devil can induce us to swallow these lies—hook, line and sinker—then most of the battle is won, and the door of our mind is wide open to a flood of impure images and suggestions impelling us toward impure actions. The emotional response to such lies is first a sense of betrayal and abandonment, then fear and anger, that the one Person who is supposed to love us the most—God who created us—is actually angry with us and is responsible for the evil in our lives.
Kierkegaard once wrote that “all sin begins with fear.” Regarding the first sin of humanity, the Catechism states, “man, tempted by the devil, let his trust in his Creator die in his heart.” The countenance once brightened with child-like trust is now overshadowed by fear. In the case of impurity, the spirit of fear usually carries in tow the spirit of anger: the clenched fist banging the table, the will insisting on its own way, justified in its rebellion because of the perceived injustice of God. Fear and anger together poison a natural attraction into lust, in an emotional whirlpool spinning into compulsive behavior, as we greedily grasp to possess the love we falsely believed has been withheld as a free gift.
Every crisis is an opportunity, and the same is true of the vices and perversions of our times. After the fading of the Middle Ages, Western secular culture began to whistle its way down the centuries, in the mythical belief that we could enjoy the hard-won victories of Christ without actually believing in him, in a society sustained by Christian values, but without Christian faith. Now as the monuments of civilization crumble about us and we stumble and fall with our faces in the mud, we look up bewildered, wondering what went wrong. It is an opportunity for ressourcement, a returning to the wellspring of our whole Western civilization. Christ Crucified must be proclaimed again and again in our times if we are ever to be free from the slavery of sin, so every individual can claim the freedom that Christ won for us as sons and daughters of God.
The Bible is filled with a rich history of smashing idols to liberate people from slavery. Gideon pulled down the altar of Baal—a pagan god associated with libidinous and lascivious practices—and cut down the sacred poles, as the necessary prelude to the war that liberated the Israelites from the oppression of the Midianites. In the history of the Old Testament, the reversion to idolatry was tantamount to a return to the slavery of Egypt. Mental idols still produce bodily slavery today, as lies lead to impurity and a host of other sins.
The Cross casts down all idols as Jesus reveals the Father. Every time we proclaim Christ Crucified, we lift up the Cross as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so people may gaze upon it and be healed. As we hear those words, “whoever has seen me has seen the Father,” let us contemplate the Cross, the fullest revelation of the Father’s love for us, the ultimate truth that utterly and eternally demolishes and buries the lies of the evil one. As St. John wrote, “the Son of God was revealed to destroy the works of the devil.” He heals us of all impurity so we are finally free to love and be loved, and discover, perhaps to our own belated surprise, that we are actually happy.