Lecturer considers theological implications of pornography
Mercedes de la Rosa | Sunday, February 8, 2015
On Friday, 2014 alumnus Michael Bradley, current managing editor for Ethika Politika and editor of The Whole Story, discussed the effects of pornography on relationships in a lecture titled “Passionless Love, Erotic Healing” as part of the 10th Annual Edith Stein Project conference.
Bradley first defined pornographic consumption and production, stating that discovering the intention behind an action is the most important part of actually understanding it. He gave the example of murder versus self-defense to illustrate his point.
“Self-defense and murder, as we know, can look identical physically, and yet are radically unlike morally,” said Bradley.
With this in mind, Bradley defined pornographic production as separate from the consumption of sexually explicit material.
“I want to say that pornographic production is simply the production of material intended for pornographic consumption; that is, production is a function of the intentional structure of that consumption,” Bradley explained. “Every directorial decision, if you want to call them that, that goes into making pornographic material aims at providing a sexual stimulus for the viewer.”
Bradley said pornographic consumption is strictly pornography used with the intent to sexually arouse. As he explained, a law enforcement official who must watch hours of child pornography in order to identify victims is not consuming porn, regardless of whether or not he or she is sexually aroused.
“The actual arousal of the viewer is neither necessary nor sufficient to a proper understanding of the definition of pornographic consumption.” Bradley said. “[The law enforcement agent] may be aroused by what he views, but it’s not pornographic consumption precisely because he doesn’t mean to be aroused by what he views.”
After offering his definitions of pornographic consumption and production, Bradley turned to St. Augustine’s teachings on sexual pleasure, which he said are noteworthy despite their apparent harshness.
“In Augustine’s view, sexual pleasure and the drive for it are irrevocably enmeshed and warped by what Cavadini calls ideologies of power and domination,” Bradley said, referencing Notre Dame professor of theology John Cavadini.
“For Augustine, pride is the sin of illusory elevation of self, over God. It’s that tendency or inclination to replace God with oneself, the irrational privileging of oneself over everyone else including God,” Bradley said. “… The heart that is configured by [pride] will take great pleasure in its own use of power.”
“The essence of pornography is domination, is control,” he said. “The viewer controls the subject, who responds to his wishes and can be appropriated without concern for his or her personhood.”
Bradley said lust and pornographic consumption are closely linked.
“This appetite for lust is deeply embedded in our culture.” Bradley explained. “It finds expression not just in images, but in written words, ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ and in popular narratives about relationships and expectations as well. Pornography is, sadly, for us at least, a cultural project. Lust imbues pornographic consumption with a horrible and deep boredom.”
Bradley discussed what a person who seeks to engage in sexual activity must do in order to heal himself or herself of the tainted perspective that results from being in a culture that is surrounded by pornographic images. He pointed to prayer and the Eucharist and encouraged the audience to seek the humility of Christ instead of pride.
Bradley said the way to overcome the boredom that porn eventually causes is to fully appreciate the humanity of the person with whom one is in a relationship. In doing so, a person is thereby doing exactly what porn does not, which is appreciating humanity. He concluded with a final reference to the hope that lies in the Eucharist.
“We may not have supposed it, but the most humane response to the problem of pornography may ultimately rest in the joyful hope and humility afforded by a sound ecclesiology and in the consumption of a body after all, be it one of a very different nature,” Bradley said.