The following piece by Kevin Tierney is reprinted with permission from his blog Common Sense Catholicism:
With far less fanfare than before, Matt McGuiness concludes his “Second Look at Porn” series over at Catholic News Agency. I can only say that if he had simply jettisoned the first two columns and instead just published this, he would have less to work with, but it would have been far more effective. I still think the pop culture references are a bit dated and silly, but that is minor compared to his thinking Fight Club is a Summa for Catholic sexuality, or cracking jokes about sodomy.
Perhaps he learned his lesson to speak far more carefully, or perhaps not. In the end people can read it for themselves. Yet I would like to make a suggestion for Mr. McGuiness: He believes the internal logic of pornography is based between hedonism and “angelism.” In this he is correct. If one listens to the world, one must either indulge in everything without question to morality, or one is a prude. That is the lesson pornography teaches. This is obviously false. There must be some way to still enjoy the pleasures of this life God has given us, without engaging in sin.
In three articles, he never gets there. He takes time to bash the sacrament of confession, look down on a bunch of “pious devotions” which are clearly distractions from doing the real work: considering the purpose of human desire and its end. I submit he didn’t get to that point because he is still acting according to the playbook of the world.
Never once in the works of Mr. McGuiness is self-denial mentioned in any sort. Self-denial isn’t sexy, and it can make the reader feel very uncomfortable. Yet for the one struggling with pornography, lack of self-denial is the root of the problem. Yes, he points out that there is more to penance than the hair shirt. Why is it everyone brings up the hair shirt? Do any of these authors actually know someone who would wear the hair shirt on a regular basis? When was the last time even a distinct minority of Catholics used the hair shirt? If Mr. West didn’t tell you about it in one of his rock concert/lectures, would you know it even exists? Why aren’t we spending our time talking about things which are actually relevant? Even the simplest act of self-denial can powerfully transform someone. The entire season of Lent is made to teach us that very lesson.
Another problem is that to Mr. McGuiness, all of this is one gigantic thought experiment. Thinking is a great thing. Thinking critically is even better. Yet one can have a deep understanding of something, yet still do the opposite. This reality is central to the Gospel and salvation. To the likes of Mr. McGuiness (and also Christopher West, Janet Smith, Fr. Thomas Loya, Christina King, etc), all you need to do is intellectualize the truth of sexuality, and everything changes. St Paul makes it crystal clear: That which he wills to do he does not, and that which he does not will he does. How does one translate the proper thinking into proper practice? Traditionally, Catholics have encouraged prayer, the sacraments, popular devotions, all those “pious practices” Mr. McGuiness downplays. The hope is that these practices, combined with prayer and hopefully a sound confessor will lead you to learning the root of your problems, overcoming them, and most importantly, replacing the sin with virtue.
That I suppose is my final worry about the entire series. Never once is the Catholic given an alternative lifestyle to the pornified culture. We are told one exists, but never what it entails. Many Catholics know that porn is wrong. Instinctively, many secular people know this as well. Even a secular man feels (at least!) uncomfortable with his teenage son doing nothing but retreating to his room looking up Internet porn all day. Those who follow the thought of Christopher West (and Mr. McGuiness is certainly one of them) really don’t think there’s an alternative in the lifestyle. Sure, we might not look at Playboy anymore, but we need to engage in “theography” with the naked body, not “pornography.” We don’t stop reading sex into everything, we just read sex in a different fashion. There has to be more to life than this, and that is what I (and many others) want to see from West and his ilk.