For anyone struggling to grow in holiness, ours is a landscape fraught with troubles. Avatar is the least of them, but the enthusiasm surrounding the new footage points up the issue.
Being serious about purity and holiness requires training the eyes, especially for men. Whether it’s pornography, risqué scenes in a movie (extraterrestrial or otherwise), suggestive newspaper ads, a billboard, a coworker on whom it’s easy to fixate, the lady taking your lunch order, or just a runner going by, there are plenty of visual stimuli to tempt, to tug, to seduce. Steve Arterburn starts off his book Every Man’s Battle by mentioning the time he crashed his car while ogling an attractive jogger; the rest of the book makes it clear that without getting control of “heat-seeking eyes” men risk destroying much more than their automobiles.
The problem of course isn’t what’s seen. It’s what we do with it once we capture the image. “But granted the eye has fallen upon another,” says St. Ambrose in Concerning Repentance, Book 1, “at least let not that inward affection follow…. And if the flesh has seen the flame, let us not cherish that flame in our bosoms….” Someone attractive walks by? No problem. Going back for a second look? Problem.
The importance of holiness in this area of life has intensified for me in the last few years. I have past failures upon which to reflect and a future to protect. I am married to a wonderful and godly woman. To betray her trust, to forfeit our relationship would wreck me and my family. I’ve seen it happen to people around me, people who gave too much leeway to their eyes, people who cherished the flame and have consequently ruined, or are in the process of ruining, their lives.
When someone falls I usually hear people say in surprise, “You can lose it all in an instant.” I’m not so sure. Falls don’t really happen in an instant. They happen because of innumerable concessions and compromises with sin and the devil. Little glances, little indulgences. A man is ready to fall because he’s accustomed to tripping. It’s a case of preparedness and opportunity. Conceding to small temptations (taking the second glance, turning over images in the mind, watching forbidden things) is readying the heart and mind for sin. When an opportunity arises, the preparation for a faceplant has already been made. It may shock people on the outside, but for the fallen it’s no surprise, not really.
All sins are in their own way insidious, but lust seems particularly so. Guarding the eyes and dousing the flames are the first lines of defense.