Saturday, January 19, 2013

Bad Things can be Done by Good People

As much as CNA was to be criticized for publishing Matt McGuiness article advocating a confused and dangerous response to the temptations of pornography (which I've been posting about lately), they are to be commended for publishing an article by theologian Alice von Hildebrand which is a stinging rebuke to the same article that has caused such an uproar.

Von Hildebrand says (my emphasis)

The Gospel, when read on one’s knees as recommended by Kierkegaard, tells us a very different story. Far from claiming that there is one redeeming feature in sin, it claims that certain sins are such abominations (offense of God) that if “anyone scandalizes one of these little ones, it would be better for him to have a millstone put around his neck and be thrown to the bottom of the sea” (Matt. 18:6; Mark 9:42; Luke 17:2). 
These are fearful words. Clearly there was nothing “redeemable” in these acts. Pornography is clearly referred to by these words. 

By this von Hildebrand means that "pornography" must be included in the frequent lists of sins enumerated by St. Paul - sins that are vile offenses against God and which will keep people from heaven.  Paul writes to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:9 & 10)

9 Know you not that the unjust shall not possess the kingdom of God? Do not err: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, 10 Nor the effeminate, nor liers with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor railers, nor extortioners, shall possess the kingdom of God.

and to the Galatians (Gal. 5:19-21)

When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures,  idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

Paul goes on to condemn specifically sexual sins, such as in Ephesians 5:3

But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. 

and

Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. (1 Cor 6:18)

and

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Heb. 12:16) 

and on and on and on.

***

Von Hildebrand shows that sin has no ontological value - sin is not a being created by God; it is an act of man that is opposed to God, sometimes violently so.  In other words, while subjectively speaking we may be seeking a distorted good when we sin, objectively speaking the act itself may have no good in it, despite our intentions or the circumstances under which we act.

From this distinction, one can see that the reality of moral evil is a kind of idolatry, an elevation by man of something Unreal that he sets up in place of the Reality created by God.

***

But, you know, we all know this already.

We know by what is written in our hearts that pornography is wrong.  It is shameful and sickening.  We know that.  I knew that even when I was addicted to it.

And while Chrisopher West and Matt McGuiness  admit that pornography is an evil, they deliberately blur the distinction by confusing our subjective intentions in sinning (which may contain some good) with the objective act of sin (which for some sins is utterly evil).  Again, if (as Chesterton did not say), "A man knocking on the door of a whore house is looking for God," he is looking for God in all the wrong places.

And let's not fool ourselves - a man knocking on the door of a whore house, or clicking a mouse on a porn site, is not looking for God.  Not immediately, and not in any way that matters. Are we all looking for God remotely in everything we do?  Yes, but that fact means nothing; for the whole point of the Moral Law, indeed the whole point of sanctification, is that we cannot find Him if we persist in disobeying Him.  God shows us what sin is so that we can avoid our own false Unrealities which keep us from Him (and from the Kingdom).  He shows us the Way to Himself - the Way, the Truth and the Life.

And need it be said that watching movies of people fornicating is not that Way?

***

The problem, then, seems to stem from confusing our intentions with reality.

I once knew a very devout Catholic who participated in a sinful act over a long period of time.  When the nature of the sin became clear to her, she responded, "But this was never my intention!"  In other words, I may have been sinning but I wanted the best for everybody involved.  As if our intentions really matter - after all, we've all of us always got the best intentions, don't we?

Indeed, the same can be said for a man who uses pornography - he wants certain goods: relief of stress, entertainment, physical pleasure - but his desire for good, his intentions, do not redeem the thing he's doing.

Is that too difficult for us to grasp?  Are we members of the Church of Christ or of the Church of Oprah?  Is this really only about our feeelings, as a commenter on these posts is saying?

Are we such subjectivists and relativists that we can no longer see that Good and Bad are, like Truth, independent of what we try to make them?

To make an idol and worship it is one thing - vile as that is - but when the idol is a pornographic image, it's even worse.

Indeed, our choices are clear.  Follow to our own secret delight the blurry buzz words of Christopher West and Matt McGuiness - or read, perhaps to our dismay, the shocking truth expressed by St. Paul and the Holy Spirit.  One way will lead to a relaxed and confused accommodation of sin; the other will perhaps inspire us to turn from pig slop and prostitutes and go home to the Father.