Porn and the contemplative life

Porn and contemplative life

papaija2008, FreeDigitalPhotos

They don’t mix, if you’re looking for the answer up front. There are perhaps several reasons for this, but Alain de Botton offers one in The Wall Street Journal worth considering.

Certain kinds of suffering are beneficial, even necessary for human flourishing, he says, particularly struggling through periods of anxiety and boredom.

Porn diverts us from those struggles. “Our anxious moods are genuine but confused signals that something is amiss,” he says, “and so they need to be listened to and patiently interpreted–which is unlikely to happen when we have to hand one of the most powerful tools of distraction ever invented.”

To combat boredom with this overpowering distraction is equally harmful because “pornography weakens our tolerance for the kind of boredom which is vital to give our minds the space in which good ideas can emerge. . . .”

In both cases, we are unable to attend to the soul, to give it the necessary time and attention because our faculties are otherwise employed. An unoccupied mind is essential for serious contemplation. Times of quiet reflection allow the mind to gather up its loose strands of thought and put them in order and even at times offer them as prayer. Resorting to pornography deprives the mind this opportunity.

Interestingly, de Botton, who is an atheist, says only religion seems to fully understand this diversionary aspect of sex. In our liberated time, “Only religions still take sex very seriously,” he says, adding:

In so far as religions warn us against sex, it is out of an active awareness of the charms and power of desire. They wouldn’t think that sex was quite so bad, if they didn’t appreciate that it could be quite so wonderful–and if they weren’t brave enough to admit that this necessarily means that it will also get in the way of some rather important and precious things, like God or your life.

A mind consumed with pornographic images cannot pray. I think de Botton is very helpful in showing why. In some sense it’s a question of focus and capacity. But Christian spirituality can take us a bit further.

In the Christian understanding, spirituality cannot be considered alone. It is always juxtaposed with the flesh — the sinful nature. Paul does this in Romans 8: “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace” (vv 5-6).

There’s a relationship there, one with the other. If we pursue our spirituality while indulging our lusts, we’re working at cross purposes. Our efforts will be futile. To cultivate genuine spirituality, our lives must align with our prayers. Otherwise, we are fooling ourselves.

There’s a lot on the line here. De Botton points out that porn is not just a powerful distraction; it’s increasingly an easy one, and our lives are demonstrably worse off for indulging. We leave our souls unattended, our hearts uncultivated.

As it turns out, sexual restraint isn’t just for Victorians; it’s for anyone who would pursue the contemplative life.

About Joel J. Miller

I'm the author of Lifted by Angels, a look at angels through the eyes of the early church. Click here for more about me or subscribe to my RSS here.

  • rvs

    de Botton’s talk entitled Atheism 2.0– TED TV–is something I have shown to my classes of Christian college students. He explains the importance of religion better than many pastors, perhaps even most pastors. His desire to use concepts in religion to forward the cause of atheism is problematic, of course, but not crazy. My hope is that his intense study of religion will ironically lead him to an unexpected revelation.

    • Joel J. Miller

      You never know. God has used more curious means to draw us. Here’s hoping.

  • B Riggs

    That an essay arguing this point is necessary is an indicator that indeed, morality has flat-lined in our society, and I am increasingly glad that I am heading to old age and death, because I don’t want to be here when the results of current behavior work themselves to their logical conclusions.

    • Lee Ann

      such a good article. simple. it seems a bit incomplete without some kind of resource listed, i.e. my friend’s husband struggled for a long time without finding help in the Christian community. eventually he found some kind of help. God provided and they are missionaries now.
      “morality has flat-lined in our society.” can we please move on from N. American ethno-centrism? former Christians might come back to church. -this article was relevant 3000 years ago: “a wholesome lifestyle” is not the answer to “what is the oldest profession?” “our society” does not murder women who do not comply with human trafficker’s demands, i.e. India. see “Half the Sky”.

  • Budddy

    The same applies to television, alcohol, professional sports, eating for pleasure, etc…but porn’s an easy target because it’s icky.

    • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

      Definitely agree- I feel like my mind has been constantly full of distractions lately (not porn) and I don’t take time to actually face “boredom” and think about things that are important.

  • John Evans

    Is the problem pornography, though? As Mr. de Botton and Mr. Miller write, distracting oneself with sports or empty calories are also harmful. I would suggest a substantial portion of the problem is our culture tells us, overtly or not, that if we are not happy and having fun all the time, something is wrong. Moreover, the message we get on how to reach this mythical state of bliss is consume consume consume. Pornography, I would suggest, is just one more distraction on the menu.

  • Chris

    I came to this article through a “commentary” link at The Catholic Thing website. Great article, and the comments above are quite good as well. I’m one of those blessed souls who found recovery from an addiction to pornography and illicit sexual activity through a combination of secular and religious organizations. I feel compelled to reply to some of the comments above. First, 3000 years ago you needed HARD CURRENCY to engage in the “oldest profession” – today, all you need is an internet link. It doesn’t cost a dime – all you need is a web browser. It’s also as anonymous as anything can be these days. In days gone by your passage to and from the “red light district” was often noticed, and societal pressure could be brought to bear. That’s no longer the case, except when you happen to download illegal content. And regarding the suggestion that pornography “is just one more distraction on the menu”, this isn’t the case. Food, drink, sports – all can actually be quite good for people if they don’t over-indulge, but pornography is poison no matter how small the dose.

    The human sex drive is like no other drive. It’s connected to the DEEPEST HUNGER within the human person – the desire to love and be loved in return. I could go on and on, but out of respect for the patience of others I’ll bring this to a close. St Michael the Archangel – protect us in battle!

  • Budddy

    The above commentator commits a palpable fallacy in identifying porn as absolutely bad in contrast with food, drink, sport, as sometimes good/sometimes bad. Sex is sometimes good/sometimes bad, pornography being the harmful mode of it and loving wedlock being the sublime. Eating to survive is a good mode, eating for pleasure (as I explicitly stated) is evil. Playing sports as a child and staying healthy as an adult is good, professional sports (as I explicitly stated) is evil by the same standard porn is.

    The concupiscent nature of man is not strictly sexual. Our depravity exists and burns with in us and seeks an object (Porn, sports, food, etc…). Often when we abolish one object as being inappropriate for our desires (porn) we fall into the same troubles with different substitutes. Being preoccupied with sex is harmful, but being so uptight that you become judgmental and bitter is also harmful. Often I have seen people quit drug use for work, only to become alcoholics. Men who fail in their goal of picking a woman up at a bar often start fights. People who stop going to bars and become absorbed in television. The desire to dominate others, act out violently, and see people get hurt is a motive behind watching professional sports. To think otherwise is myopic. In all cases they are substituting temporal and empty objects (with wicked consequences) for the desire to know God.

  • Budddy

    That said, I commit all the above evils and continually strive to be free of them.

  • Pingback: Lifeissues Newsletter #627 | Deacon John's Space


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X