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The Tragedy of Shamelessness

New York Times editorial surfaced recently concerning the death of a famous “pioneer” in gay pornography. One might have expected some skepticism about this man’s accomplishments despite the cinematic quality of his work. Producers of porn movies used to operate in society’s shadows, on the edge of the law and public decency. But the Times obituary cheerily lavished praise on both the man and his erotic art. He was hailed as a hero for changing society’s prudish attitudes about pornography. There was no hint that this individual should feel any shame or remorse for making these salacious films that are so addictive for many viewers.

One of the major casualties of the rampaging sexual revolution is a proper sense of shame. Sexual relations are the exclusive privilege of heterosexual marital love. But many people engage in errant sexual activities purely for pleasure without the slightest hint of shame or regret. Others shamelessly indulge in pornography despite the evidence verifying the damage it does to present or future relationships. The sexual revolution is quite disdainful of shame because it represses the liberated sexual libido. Repression must be vanquished so people can be free to engage in a wide range of sexual fantasies or activities that have nothing to do with marriage.

But why is shame so important and what can be done to escape from this plague of shamelessness? In his magisterial work on sexual ethics, Love and Responsibility, Karol Wojtyla (later Pope St. John Paul II) explained that shame is an essential component of chastity, and chastity is a necessary condition of love. The sublime virtue of chastity has been stigmatized in our hedonistic society and desperately needs a revival. But chastity cannot be reduced to temperance or continence. This virtue goes beyond the restraint of concupiscible impulses that can lead to sinful behavior. Chastity liberates us from a “utilitarian attitude” that regards another’s body as merely an object for sexual gratification. The underlying moral principle of Love and Responsibility is the personalistic norm: every person is to be loved and affirmed for his or her own sake and never to be used merely as an object.

Wojtyla defines chastity as the “transparency of interiority.” What he means by this dense phrase is that chastity empowers us to clear away internal impediments, like lust, sensual egoism, and inordinate affection, so that we can clearly see the other as a person who is to be loved and never instrumentalized as a source of pleasure and enjoyment. In Theology of the Body, John Paul II described the rupture that occurred after the Fall between “man’s original spiritual and somatic unity.” The result is an “almost constitutive difficulty” in identifying a person with his or her body. Instead, there is a tendency to see only a sexually attractive body and overlook the spiritual reality of the person who expresses herself through that body. The other is desired as an object of sexual gratification rather than respected as a person to be loved. Chastity can quell those “interior centers” from which the attitude to use emerges, as it allows us to behave in a way that fully integrates the person and his or her sexuality. Chastity, explains Wojtyla, is all about “keeping up with the value of the person in every situation and in ‘pulling up to this value’ every reaction to the value of the ‘body and sex.’”

Read more at Homiletic and Pastoral Review 

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