I am grateful to Greg for his thoughtful supplement to my post on porn because this is certainly the single biggest pastoral problem in the church. I say ‘supplement’ because I do not see his observations as at all antithetical to my own. Indeed, the Pascalian notion of distraction and the Augustinian notion of self-love are surely two sides of the same coin: they both represent denials of the same basic truth, that human beings are not God but creatures, not immortal but mortal, not free-floating and self-creating but created with fixed natures, needs, and limits.
Distraction and self-love are also remarkable for the way they are peculiarly appropriate for understanding the governing philosophies of this age of self-invention. As sex and sexuality have become the dominant means of defining the self in any way the individual chooses, so the imaginary world of pornography has powerful philosophical significance. “You can be whoever you want to be” surely finds its most extreme and uncompromising expression in the fantasy world where exhibitionist meets voyeur.
Yet there is more. One fascinating aspect of porn addiction is the fact that one is never talking about a dozen pictures, or a handful of video clips. The habit typically involves thousands or tens of thousands, and sometimes even more, of these things. That speaks not only of the insatiability of the appetites which porn fosters but also of the speed at which it is consumed. Ten thousand pornographic pictures or videos would take quite some time to accumulate, let alone watch. It is hard to imagine that internet porn is thus an activity indulged with an air of leisure or insouciance. We can safely assume that it typically involves the frenetic activity of rapid-fire mouse clicks and endlessly rushing from one image to the next.
This apparent need for such vast, swift, and continuous transgression speaks directly to what Greg and I both see as a major part of the problem: the constant need to create a false reality, whether to distract from our mortality or from our accountability to other human beings, to our essential nature, or to God himself. Of course, the irony is that we can only ever fool ourselves that we are completely autonomous, or immortal, or self-inventing for the most fleeting of moments. When that brief deception ends, there is need for a new, quick fix.
Thus, there is a deep, ironic contradiction in porn addiction. It witnesses in its content to the human desire to be immortal but in its quantity it witnesses to the fact that we are not so. The need for so much porn, so many pictures, so many sexual mythologies, indicates that we cannot ultimately escape the human nature we are given and which does impose limits upon us, however much we may wish so to do.