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Rediscovering the sacred in human sexuality.

Pornography is a form of violence, which may be why "violence and pornography" are so often uttered in the same breath, usually by troglodytic crusaders with sensibilities more violent than any hardworking pornographer's.

Liberal cant to the contrary, there is no doubt that pornography can be harmful, that it victimizes those who create it and those who use it, mutilates human dignity and diminishes us in other ways that more wholesome pursuits do not. When it victimizes children, or others less than free to choose, it should be crushed.

But pornography has been around a long time. It was scratched on the walls of caves, backed in the baths of Pompeii. Probably it will never be eradicated, certainly not without mangling freedoms many Americans still regard as essential.

A healthier approach, surely, would be to reassess the way we have come in defining human sexuality. Much of the pornography this country produces is merely (if that is the right word) a distorted image of how we have come to see ourselves as sexual beings. It is sex with no sense of the sacred.

Think of it. Most of us no longer "fall in love," we "have a relationship." We don't "make love," we "have sex." Courtship and marriage are no longer romantic advantures; they are more like sparring matches over contracts and "commitment," territory and power. Isolated and afraid, we eye each other like junkyard dogs, staking out our space, our claims, whatever gives us an edge.

Sex means so little to us that we fight to go on talk shows and blab like idiots about the most intimate details of our lives. Anything goes because nothing matters. It is a pornographer's dream.

How did we end up in this meat market? Where is the language that will, like Ariadne's thread, lead us out of the labyrinth of our sexual souk?

A recent New York Times Magazine article called "The Death of Eros" brought all of this to mind. It was adapted from the late Allan Bloom's new book, Love and Friendship.

Bloom, a conservative academic at the University of Chicago, was no religious thinker. But he excoriates, in the name of the sacred, this society's clinical, mechanistic, amoral, all-too-easy sense of sex.

"What has disappeared," Bloom writes, "is the risk and hope of human connectedness embedded in eros. Ours is a language that reduces the longing for another to the need for individual, private satisfaction and safety."

The result, says Bloom, is a society where the contract -- social, business, marriage -- becomes the only basis of connectedness, a "union of selfish individuals" in which "legalism takes the place of sentiment."

"It is now asserted," Bloom continues, "that the relation between men and women can properly result only from a haggle which conciliates their separate wills to power."

Some would say, perhaps many would, that marriage has always been a union of selfish individuals. Saying it is anything else would be romanticizing the reality or, at best, articulating an ideal. But that may be precisely our problem. We have even abandoned the ideal.

Ideals are good. They can lift our heads, and our hearts, maybe lead us back to romance.

If God is love, when you kill Eros, you kill God.

Only consider the much maligned 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae. It has a lot more to say about human sexuality than the rights and wrongs of birth control.

Conjugal love is total, Paul VI wrote, "a very special form of personal friendship, in which husband and wife generously share everything, without undue reservations or selfish calculations."

Women, especially, will be wary of such language. Too often, in the sharing of everything, they have come off the losers. But it does not have to be that way. Paul was expressing an ideal and he could as well have been responding directly to some of Bloom's concerns. There could be worse places to look for ways to re-create the language of Eros.

Still, a marriage intended "to grow by means of the joys and sorrows of daily life, in such a way that husband and wife become one only heart and one only soul," as Paul would have it, becomes a hard saying in an age and place of fierce individualism, when even intimate partners patrol their personal turf for fear of losing power, when knowing who you are (sometimes to obsession) precludes reaching for what you might become in union with another.

If not the language of the church, then -- what? Because it is clear that we need another language of human sexuality.

"Just as there is a disastrous decline in political rhetoric -- rhetoric necessary to explain the cause of justice and form a community around it," Bloom writes, "so there is an even more disastrous decline in the rhetoric of love. Yet to make love humanly, the partners have to talk to each other."

Even if that language emerges, pornography will still be around, much as it has always been. But maybe, once we stop being junkyard dogs, pornography's bark will again be worse than its bite. Restore in our hearts the sacredness of human sexuality, the sacramental nature of love, and it will be pornography, not sex, that does not matter.
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Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jul 2, 1993
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