By Father John Flynn, LC
ROME, FEB. 24, 2008 (Zenit.org).- In Lent we should think of fasting not only in relation to food and drink, but also from images, recommended Benedict XVI. The Pope’s advice came during a question-and-answer session with Rome’s clergy, held Feb. 7.
The question dealt with how best to evangelize people as to what is true beauty in the context of contemporary culture. Part of the Pontiff’s reply dealt with the use of images and also the problems created by mistaken ideals of beauty. During Lent:, “we need a space that is free from the permanent bombardment of images,” Benedict XVI commented.
One application of the Pope’s counsel would be to fast, not only during Lent, but permanently, from the ever-increasing presence of pornography. A Feb. 12 article posted on the ABC News Web site cited data from a trade publication that put at $14 billion the sales generated in the United States related to pornography in one form or another. The article also reported that one estimate puts at 4.2 million the number of pornographic sites online, with 40 million visitors daily.
Federal government attempts to control the flourishing industry have not had much success. Obscenity investigations into adult pornography by the FBI have diminished due to other issues such as terrorism, reported Reuters on Sept. 19. The FBI has, however, taken action in fighting child pornography.
As well, attempts to regulate the Internet pornography industry have run into repeated legal defeats. Last year a federal judge upheld previous rulings invalidating the Child Online Protection Act, on the grounds it denied free-speech rights, reported the Washington Post on March 23.
The law made it a crime for those running Internet sites to let anyone under 17 have access to sexual material. The law, approved in 1998, never entered into force as it was blocked by a series of legal actions.
The increasing use of pornography is creating not a few problems. Late last year a judge in Melbourne, Australia, sentenced a man to 11 years in jail on a rape charge, reported the Age newspaper on Jan. 3.
Judge Damian Murphy, said that the Andrew Bowen had acted out a fantasy seen in material downloaded from the Internet.
The article’s authors, Maree Crabbe and David Corlett, commented that one consequence of Internet-based pornography is a shift to more extreme and violent sexual imagery. Scenes that are so degrading and humiliating that they would be banned from film and television are now freely available to anyone with a Web connection.
Crabbe and Corlett said that research shows a link between consumption of pornography and male sexual aggression. Even when the pornography is not violent, exposure to it tends to increase in the viewer tolerance of sexual violence.
Earlier last year a report published in Australia revealed record numbers of visitors to porn Web sites. According to a May 26 article in the Sydney Morning Herald, a survey found that 35% of Internet users had visited an “adult” site at least once in the preceding three months.
According to the article, psychologists and counselors say Internet pornography is a growing cause of marital problems due to increasing numbers of men who become compulsive users.
A lengthy feature article on this issue was published in the Age newspaper May 26. “The impact of internet pornography on sexual attitudes, practice and relationships may prove to be as profound as the introduction of the contraceptive pill in 1961," the article affirmed.
Terming it as the “new marriage-wrecker,” the article commented that not only do large numbers of men become habitual users, but also that it causes unhappiness and self-doubt for many women.
After the Internet, it is now mobile phones that are becoming an avenue for pornography. Already widespread in Europe, the use of cell phones for this purpose is set to take off in the United States, according to a Jan. 30 Reuters article.
According to Reuters, pornography sales via cell phones in Europe reaped $775 million in 2007, compared to just $26 million in the United States. One study cited in the article estimated that worldwide, the porn industry could generate $3.5 billion in revenue by 2010.
Phone companies in the United States are planning to loosen controls on their networks, allowing more gadgets and services. As well, newer phone models have higher quality images and an improved ability to browse the Web. Video-sharing sites are also expanding to offer services to those with more advanced cell phones.
The spreading use of pornography via cell phones sparked off a confrontation last year in the Church of England, when an ecclesiastical tribunal ruled against the use of phone antennas in church spires and towers, reported the Times on March 17.
Churches can make more than 10,000 pounds ($19,621) a year in rent from mobile phone companies, the article noted. This was put in danger when a church judge in Chelmsford, Essex, ruled against an application to install a mast in the tower of St. Peter and St. Paul in Chingford. Judge George Pulman concluded that some of the material transmitted “is not consistent with the Christian use of a church.”
His ruling, however, was overturned shortly afterward by the Court of Arches, the highest ecclesiastical body in the Church of England, reported the Telegraph newspaper on July 25. The court said that it must be remembered that human beings are "imperfect" and to refuse the mast on that ground would be an "unbalanced approach.”
Fortunately a saner view is prevailing in other circles. The Feb. 10-16 edition of the National Catholic Register reported on action being taken by some Catholic colleges in the United States to block pornography and gambling Web sites.
Starting in 2006, St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, put filters in place to block access to such sites from all public and residence hall computers. “As a parent of five children, I assumed that at a Catholic college you couldn’t stream porn into your dorm room,” commented college president, Jim Towey, who introduced the policy shortly after taking office.
Other Catholic institutions that filter access include Franciscan University of Steubenville and Wyoming Catholic. Nevertheless, the Register article noted that many other Catholic colleges do not put any filters in place.
Concern over pornography was expressed in a publication approved by the November 2007 meeting of the U.S. episcopal conference: “Catechetical Formation in Chaste Living: Guidelines for Curriculum Design and Publication."
Chastity, the document explained, “is not a matter of repression of sexual feelings and temptations but the successful integration of the gift of sexuality within the whole person.”
One of the pitfalls identified by the text is the misuse of the Internet that enables easy access to virtual pornography. Sexually explicit content in blogs, instant messages, and posting photos on social networking Web sites are also other avenues that violate chastity.
“Pornography defames the intimacy of the marital act and injures the dignity of viewers and participants,” the guidelines observed. “Christians are to shun all participation in pornography as producers, actors, consumers or vendors."
More catechetical instruction and education is needed in order to help us appreciate the value of chastity, the document commented. It might also help to remember what Benedict XVI mentioned in his Feb. 7 remarks on images and beauty.
God can liberate us from “the inflation of images,” the Pope said. In fact, he continued, through Christ’s incarnation God has shown us his image. Convincing the world of the beauty of the truth revealed in Christ may well be the key to overcoming the allurement of impoverished images that only degrade our humanity.