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“Even the pagans who find pornography pleasant and necessary seem to recognize that it is kind of pitiful.” – Russell Moore

In 2011 Anthony Josef Norris, an artist working directly with children and schools was arrested for possession of child pornography. Lots of it.

This happened in San Francisco, quel shock, perhaps the nation’s original heart of darkness. There citizens of the golden city coexist in a radiant and glorious show of tolerance of all things. Beneficence of the doubt led to the birth of NAMBLA (National Association of Man-Boy Love Association) and now grotesque S & M porn film sets fill the entire San Francisco armory.

Predictably, a polite uproar ensued after Norris’ arrest with limited hand wringing and fears for the safety of the children he had worked with. His murals made by enlisting the help of squadrons of children’s art classes stretched across the region. By the time authorities took a peek, they found about 100 images that may not convey “perversion” to an average, non-child-raping person, but in context were just creepy. “Inappropriate” was the verdict of Police Chief Greg Suhr; tiny, nude children frolicking here and there amongst the shrubbery. It’s like the signature a killer leaves to mock police, making no sense until they discover the entire story.

Just as predictably, much of the art community and the left in general distanced themselves from all blame. Some rationalized and pled ignorance of the prevailing winds of culture, as if they hadn’t contributed in any way to “Spanky’s” debacle, no es culpa mia. But they absolutely have, and perhaps the church hasn’t taken it very seriously either.

Men like Norris are merely mutant and random aberrations in an ethical sea without boundaries – if we are to listen to our trendy, philosophers du jour. They skate just past the edge of the last revised version of morality, thus qualifying them for criminal status. But if the law should change, well then, there would be no problem.

Artists and the cultural community generally nip about the edges of the big enchilada “what to do about pornography?” in a variety of ways. First, those who even care may argue where the line of demarcation falls between pornography and art, which I won’t try to debate here.

Feminist artists complain pornography injures and degrades women (true), but they haven’t ebbed the torrents of blatant porn in galleries. Other feminists see art porn as a “pro-sex” and “anti-patriarchal” activity that is gloriously freeing for women.

All this eclipses the bigger picture, at least for Christians; what does pornography do to us? As sneak peekers, habitués or just tolerators of the uncomfortably accepted vice, is it truly so unspeakably awful?

Instinctively hating pornography as a secular young woman, I couldn’t have told you exactly why. Passing by the Pink Pussy Cat as it paraded “Girls! Girls! Girls!” like a special on hamburgers, heat rose in my chest followed by fleeting thoughts blowing the place up (just a passing fancy – I don’t advise anyone to actually do that).

Yes, porn degrades women and creates dangerous and violent fantasies that result in real rape, divorce, isolation, perversion – even death. Pornography may even stir a monstrous desire to sexualize children and should be of concern for any parent.

But the spiritual significance of pornography is even deeper and more deadly than these fruits, if that could be possible. Rector Robert Hart of St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church helped me to see this.

Hart’s “Lower than the Idols” (2006) is a brief but staggeringly powerful indictment of porn addiction based on his own observations. It isn’t easy to hear. Poetically précis yet soberly realistic, it cuts to the heart of the spiritual sickness of those who have given themselves completely over to pornography.

Pastoral visitations led Hart to the type of men who played with sexually mutilated dolls and haunted other people’s children. These debased and tormented souls had only one thing in common, which he believed was the clear cause – an extreme addiction to pornography.

"Mutilated Dolls" by Cindy Sherman

Hart describes his initial nausea at their “distorting and ugly” porn collections, similar to the mutilated Barbie dolls littering their flats. “It did not reflect the awe men have for female beauty” he mused, but a disturbingly rejection of love, life and God.

Reflecting on St. Paul in Romans, Hart reminds us of his solemn warnings over this particular form of idolatry. Worship of the “creature” leads “to every kind of sexual disorder” and is lower than other types of idolatry because they worship mere things within their grasp and understanding. That (once human) “thing” is then forced to become purely an object of lust. And if “worship” means the consuming goals of our life, our first and best love, the recipient of our time, attention and income – then porn addicts are most loyal to their gods.

Hart unfavorably compares pornography addicts to honest pagans, who in fear and trembling offered even their children to Baal or Molech. At least they showed true reverence and awe of something higher and greater, something to aspire beyond their physical needs and desires, and by this they still worshipped.

But porn addicts and voyeurs become “lower than the pagans” and far more base, Hart adds. They fall from worship of a transcendent being to that of mere created things and sink yet lower into disordered passions, violence and degradation. Hart extends this so far as to claim porn enthusiasts will eventually lose even the “power to bow down to any god “ because they are destroying their own inner being, a place hosting honor, respect and awe.

While America frets over mock Zombie invasions, we are barely perceptible of the soulless, half-dead masses of men among us, lost in their digital lust. Spiritually and emotionally they are becoming lepers and are in danger of losing the power to love, to admire, to exalt, to honor and to be faithful to anything or anyone.

Pornography makes love and sex mechanical, dull, lifeless, regimented and one-dimensional. It is the dead opposite of the creative impulse in life, being chained to a man’s diseased and shriveled imagination and bound to an impersonal carcass. As Russell Moore cautions, those who engage in this “isolated, masturbatory compulsion” won’t be writing poems or romantic songs over it. It is entirely self-referential, and so it is utterly meaningless to the greater world.

Artists as pornographers are perhaps are the most blighted of all people. They pursue one elusive prey using a type of demented stamp with few variations. But they lose curiosity and the ability to dream, something all but the most routine and dull art requires. Pornographic artists also forfeit an ability that was classically considered essential to all substantial art. Philosophers called it the “sublime” or “radiant” or “whole” or “true art” or “genius.”

Perhaps it’s what the Bible means by a “clean heart,” a blank canvas, an innocent (or a forgiven) and fertile mind. Such a place is still filled with all the potential of Eden’s grace and fecundity for love or art. It is the anti-pornography.

Thanks to: “Lower Than The Idols” by Robert Hart, contributing editor of Touchstone and “Arousing Ourselves to Death” by Russel Moore

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