We take this opportunity to address those who are engaged in education and all those whose right and duty it is to provide for the common good of human society. We would call their attention to the need to create an atmosphere favorable to the growth of chastity so that true liberty may prevail over license and the norms of the moral law may be fully safeguarded.
Everything therefore in the modern means of social communication which arouses men's baser passions and encourages low moral standards, as well as every obscenity in the written word and every form of indecency on the stage and screen, should be condemned publicly and unanimously by all those who have at heart the advance of civilization and the safeguarding of the outstanding values of the human spirit. It is quite absurd to defend this kind of depravity in the name of art or culture or by pleading the liberty which may be allowed in this field by the public authorities.
Pope Paul VI, Humanae Vitae 22
Reflection – Back to HV for a few days, resuming the ‘weekends with Humanae Vitae’ series so beloved of my readers, if my traffic stats are any indication. Sex sells, I guess.
Which of course is the issue at stake here in p. 22. Art and culture and what it promotes and does not promote, the desires and passions it stirs up and the aspirations to virtue it holds up for ridicule—this is the subject of this short section.
Now I am not going to tear into some rant here about the wickedness of modern culture, TV and movies and music and all, or the prevalence, indeed mainstreaming of at least soft-core pornography and epidemic use of hard-core. I’m not going to give scandalous example upon scandalous example of rap lyrics, HBO scenes, and so forth. I’m not going to wring my hands in horror at the wickedness of it all.
We are all adults reading this blog, and we all know pretty well what is out there and what it looks and sounds like. Sadly, the days are gone when any of it is particularly shocking, even. So be it.
Nor am I calling for censorship (which of course is impossible in the present scene), and even the Pope here is not calling for things to be censored, but rather for immoral entertainments (defined as entertainments that excite base passions and encourage immoral behavior—not entertainment that depicts immoral behavior, which would exclude Shakespeare, Greek tragedy, and (heck!) Tolkien) to be denounced, discouraged.
You know, criticized. Which is what I am going to do now. I always am a bit darkly amused at the people who insist, like that frequent commenter on my blog from before I closed comments, that chastity is basically impossible, that people and especially young people are going to have sex no matter what, that it is ludicrous to suggest to people that they abstain from sex for any length of time once they hit puberty, that the Church’s whole doctrine here runs aground on the rock of the physical impossibility and absurdity of suggesting to people that they might not have sex whenever they feel like it.
I find this darkly amusing, since this claim of the impossibility of chastity is made, with I suppose a straight face, by people living in a world where practically from birth we are exposed to naked and semi-naked people in provocative poses, sexual innuendo and open display in everything from magazine covers in supermarkets to towering billboards to… well, we all know. It’s just about everywhere, and so from the age of reason we are surrounded by cultural artifacts that ‘arouse base passions and encourage immoral behaviour’.
And then have the nerve to say that ‘Well, everyone knows that chastity is impossible and the Church is being way unreasonable!’ Yeah, well duh. It’s not impossible, but it is incredibly difficult to be chaste in a world that is bent on continually violating us from earliest childhood with sexual provocation. It is indeed hard to be pure of heart when you are brought up in a whorehouse, when sex is bought and sold all around you. And that is what we have decided, we wise moderns—to make the whole world a whorehouse, and then raise our children there. Brilliant, guys, just brilliant!
OK, I’m just a little ranty. I guess I get a bit mad at the rampant and shameless despoiling of innocence and those who then turn around and argue with sweet reason that it’s all just so impossible, and the right answer is to simply abandon anything resembling sexual morality. I argue that the right answer is to denounce the evil of our pornographic culture, reject it in toto, and rebuild a culture of chastity and respect for human beings and human sexuality. But hey, I guess that’s completely unreasonable.
I do realize that these matters are far from easy, especially for parents who have all my sympathy and compassion. It is not easy to figure out how to raise your children these days—what to let in, what to keep out, how to avoid raising them in some kind of weird Catholic bubble that will ill-equip them for life in the world as it is, how to avoid throwing them to the wolves of pop culture and its depravities.
Not easy—but there’s no way around these questions. The wolves are out there, not just at the door but on the computer and the TV. And those of us who are not children or not raising children have to be vigilant as well – sex is a powerful force in every one of us, and near occasions of sin abound today, to say the least. Sex sells… but are we buying it? If so, we are part of the problem, and bear a moral responsibility for the debauching of our society and for the debauching of the children of our society in particular. Sobering to think of it, but there’s no way around it. End of rant, Saturday, June 14, 2014.