In a radio address on October 26, 1946, with the horrors of World War II still fresh (if such be the term) in the minds of all, Pius XII declared that perhaps the greatest sin in the world today is that men have begun to lose the sense of sin.
The Holy Father knew what he was about, for the gas chambers, the firestorms and nuclear infernos did not happen all at once. There is a long and gradual road to demonic and bestial evil, and, once one arrives at the depths, staring Satan in the eyes, the return journey nearly impossible.
I say ‘nearly’, for nothing is impossible for God.
The Pope words were prophetic, for he spoke them in the 1940’s, an era that evokes fresh-faced GI’s, homemakers, large families, a robust economy; it was a full two decades before the sexual revolution, the drugs, the Pill and the vast, subterranean evil of abortion. Yet the moral unhinging had already begun, and its effects, like an undead vampire, are now being exposed to the light of the sun.
Nowhere, of course, will one read the word ‘sin’ in Hollywood’s current allegations and humiliations, but the reality that the term conveys is all around us, even if most have lost its ‘sense’.
Each day now, it seems, the sordid accusations spread like a noxious fog through tinseltown, and beyond, into Washington, politics, universities, with even the most rich, famous and established now suddenly caught quite literally with their pants down, no wedding garment, so to speak, cast into the outer darkness, where acting and directing gigs are nowhere to be found, and one’s name, once proclaimed from the rooftops, now a laughingstock, whispered only in soft tones behind one’s back. As Kevin Spacey discovered, whose immoral characters now seem all too close to home, even coming out of the proverbial closet cannot save you; the once-teflon armor of homosexuality is too mainstream now to claim victim status. Ah, how the mighty have fallen. And this is only the tip of this iceberg, methinks.
If there is any silver lining, it’s that the pleasant Disney-esque mask that has hidden this evil is slipping off, exposing the rot and stench, and the vast emptiness, beneath. The glitz and glamour of Hollywood and its highly polished products are suffused with a lot of sulphurous fumes, all those, and that includes us, to some degree complicit in the whole hyper-sexualized enterprise.
The Weinsteins of the world had power because we, the audience, gave them power, and the money rolled in because we desired their product. Actors themselves, male and female, placed all their hopes on fame and fortune, and would sell more than a bowl of pottage to get it. Quite a bit has been said of the former, the male predators, but what of their alleged victims?
The examples are quite literally legion, but here are two: Jennifer Lawrence, casting herself as a naive waif, complaining that she was asked to undress as a teenager at a casting call. I did not read far enough to know whether she complied, but, one wonders, why would she? Just walk away, as any young woman would have done, say, in the 1940’s. Now Ms. Lawrence saunters around more or less similarly ‘disrobed’ in a certain endless superhero franchise as a character covered in little but blue latex. The only thing saving what remains of her modesty are a thick layer of the blue goo and subtle camera angles. Does Jennifer Lawrence think that she was hired primarily for her thespian abilities?
Then we have Rachel McAdams, shocked that an older male on set admitted that he had ‘masturbated’ with her in mind ‘many times’. Rather pathetic, one might think, and it now seems that many older celebrities engage in such exhibitionist self-pleasuring. Hmm.
It may be rather unsettling for Ms. Adams to hear him admit his private proclivities, such as they are, but is she so ignorant of the wayward and fragile male libido, and that he is simply admitting what likely countless other men have done and are doing?
Previous ‘romantic’ ‘films, replete with their obligatory sex scenes, which once would have scandalized audiences (again, the 40’s, where even showing a double-bed was not allowed) is now lite fare compared with the boundaries Netflix and HBO are pushing with each new show, into the realm of straight-out voyeurism and pornography. What do the stars and starlets of such shows think is the response of men to such eroticized scenes? Is Hollywood now admitting that there is something wrong with the sin of Onan, or only with admitting it, or only admitting it to your imaginary paramour, or only if she (or, I guess, he) does not want such information?
The number of such offenses, offenders and the offended grows by the very hour. We need some clarity here.
The thing about sex, as Saint Thomas rightly pointed out, is that it is that aspect of Man most given to corruption, from the very fact that the pleasure, even the beauty and joy, of the conjugal union is so great. It is, as Pope John Paul II would put it, an image, however imperfect and transient, of the Trinitarian unity of God, and that eternal unity we will one day have with the same God. That is why it sells so well.
Corruptio optimi pessima, the corruption of the best is the worst, which is also why when the sexual impulse goes awry, so does everything else. Nothing so corrupts the mind, so dis-integrates Man, as deviant sexual desire. Here is Saint Thomas on the effect of lust:
When the lower powers are strongly moved towards their objects, the result is that the higher powers are hindered and disordered in their acts. Now the effect of the vice of lust is that the lower appetite, namely the concupiscible, is most vehemently intent on its object, to wit, the object of pleasure, on account of the vehemence of the pleasure. Consequently the higher powers, namely the reason and the will, are most grievously disordered by lust. (ST, II-II, q.153, a.5)
Predators are not born overnight. Lust, described quite aptly in the Psalms as the ‘noon-day devil’, but which really can strike anytime, begins with immodest glances, ogling, unwanted caresses, and ends up reducing the ‘other’ to our own personal object, enslaving them, if you will, as C.S. Lewis put it, in our own private imaginary harem, or, now in our ubiquitous mobile devices, veritable virtual harems, whose use in pornography need not be elaborated upon. No wonder Miss Adams felt a creepy loathing.
As this passion waxes strong, and it always does unless checked right away, we lose sight of the ‘other’ as a person, made in the image of God. Once one’s reason is corrupted, so goes everything else. For the very power that can ‘set things right’, and lead to a sense of shame and contrition, is itself vitiated, justifying and even rejoicing in evil, boldly, its only limit opportunity. And rich, powerful people have had, at least until now, lots of opportunity.
Yet, in a paradoxical way, the libido of those under a certain age seems to be waning, with an ennui setting in, a sexual satiety, which is not helped by the vast entropic sea of androgyny all around us. Young, nubile people, who should be getting married and raising children, are instead flopped on their beds scrolling endlessly through Facebook and Instagram. Sexual drive and sperm counts are dropping precipitously the world over, impotency and infertility on the rise, the etiology of which is rather obscure. Estrogen in the water from all those birth control pills? Men with no purpose and drive in a world governed more by technology than muscle and mien? Some seek outlets in violent sports (vicarious, of course, for it takes some courage to actually fight), video games and, again, the ubiquitous pornography.
Many other men become feminized, in a curious Newtonian rebound to the masculinisation of women, the two (or however many now) ‘genders’ meeting in the middle like the pale, wan and listless eloi of H.G. Wells’ Time Machine, who may perhaps engage in meaningless sex, but which signifies little more than a trip to the bathroom, a relief of a transient biological urge.
We should recall that the attraction between the sexes, and the true joy of romance and sex, is a gift from God, a prelude to something mysterious (‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh!). If we stomp with our muddy lustful boots over that mystery, are we surprised that the gift can just as well be taken away?
Some, flailing against this dark night of boredom and satiety, seek to recapture the original thrill of the glory days by descending into ever-more deviant forms of malfeasance, which does not preclude, indeed even rejoices in, the corruption of the innocent, something that pleases Satan most exquisitely, insofar as his twisted mind can be pleased.
Pius XII’s warning rings more true now than they did back in post-war America, in an era that by comparison seems positively halcyonic. We need to recover that ‘sense of sin’, along with its accompanying healthy shame, if we are even going to begin to recover our virtue in society. The strident and wounded voices of women offended by actions real or imagined will do little. Marches on the street? The other evening, there were thousands of women, chanting ‘Yes means yes and no means no, violence and rape have got to go!’. Yet yes does not always means yes, as another women explained in a recent interview, for, after all, power dynamics and subtle coercion are always at play. But such dynamics have been at play since time immemorial, which is why the only proper place for sex is in a marriage where both parties declare, in a public and solemn way, after prayerful preparation and reflection, their ‘consent’, until death do them part.
And we should not trust in the power of the State, and external and coercive laws, to ‘fix’ this. Like the failed attempt at Prohibition, the desire waxes too strong, and how would one possibly enforce this most intimate of human actions? Short of universal male castration, of the surgical or chemical variety – and my Irish imagination does not put this past our totalitarian government, and still wonders about those low sperm counts – the deviancy and corruption will only go underground and fester in dark places into something even more monstrous.
As the second President of the young United States of America, John Adams, declared in 1798:
Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.
‘Moral’ and ‘religious’ are two adjectives one would not use to describe Hollywood, along with the countless souls in our society its films have helped form. Then again, I suppose in the broad sense one could describe them so, but only insofar as their morals are immoral, and their religion, well, one of atheism, hedonism and worship of self.
The only real solution to this miasmic mess into which we have sunk is to reinstate chivalry, a proper distinction between the sexes, their roles in society as male and female, the true masculine and feminine genius, with all of the customs that go along with that, from dancing to dueling, far stronger and more enduring than any ‘law’.
Most of all, however, we must rediscover that noble virtue of chastity, the successful integration of our sexual desires, which is not an easy thing, requiring a lifetime of effort and grace, but is so strong and so beautiful, and will make us once again the men and women we are meant to be, apt for a noble and fruitful marriage, singlehood or consecrated life, and ultimately for heaven itself.
There may be a lot of pain in the road ahead, as the rot and pus in our collective souls are exposed to the light of truth, and the cancerous poison squeezed out, but in the end it will be more than worth the journey.
Who knows? As a bonus, we may even once again get a few good films out of Hollywood.