Why Religious People Are Ashamed of Porn

Marc over at Bad Catholic has a great post discussing the claim that religious people’s shame destroys their experience of sexuality. Discussing the relationship between the fact that religious people feel more shame about pornography yet supposedly have greater enjoyment of marital sex, he suggests:

It is for the same reason the religious feel shame over things like pornography that they are more likely to end up having wonderful sex lives. Shame enables great sex, and our inability to grasp this fact is because we have equivocated the word “shame” with “a negative, guilty feeling attached to doing some perceived evil,” when shame is actually a fascinating, positive power of the human person.

Shame receives a lot of bad press, much of it on account of the poisonous forms of shame to which some people have been exposed. Nevertheless, it can be deeply healthy. He continues:

Shame directs our consciousness to ourselves, making us aware that we are what is at issue, not some image of ourselves, some limited or lesser version. This is why shame is so often misappropriated as a bad thing — the reminder of our own unique person can be uncomfortable, as when we make a mistake during a public address and turn inwards in shame, full of the painful awareness that we are not a “public speaker,” but ourselves — screw-ups, all. Scheler sums up shame as “a protective feeling of the individual and his or her value against the whole sphere of what is public and general.” In this view shame is a positive good, and the “bad feelings” associated with it are really the feelings evoked by those conditions which necessitate our blushing rush to protect our individuality — the objectifying gaze, the dirty insinuation, or the public insult.

Shame returns us to a whole view of ourselves, and this is most felt when we are wrenched from a limited view of ourselves. Shame is “a counter-reaction grown into a feeling; it is the “anxiety” of the individual over falling prey to general notoriety, and over the individual’s higher value being pulled down by lower values.” This, I would argue, is the basis for an original, natural feeling of shame in regards to pornography and masturbation, a shame shared by atheist and Christian alike.

Masturbation and pornography are activities in which we are reduced in our humanity to ‘an organism pleasurably aroused by visual stimuli.’ Shame alerts us to this fact, and to the fuller horizon of our sexual personhood against which we see that these acts debase us. This shame is natural and healthy:

Religion is not the cause of the feeling of shame over the use of pornography. One need only reflect on the first, childish experience of pornography or masturbation to see the rather obvious fact that shame exists prior to education, prior to an articulation of a particular religious doctrine concerning pornography or masturbation, prior even, to any understanding of sex — we were naturally ashamed “quite independent of an experienced reproach” in regard to libidinous indulgences. No, religion does not cause shame. It provides a framework for its growth. Our current culture, on the other hand, is about the business of repressing shame. The ideologues of modern sexuality work hard to rid us of our silly shame, thereby working against our natural drive towards the higher and the better. Religion provides a haven from modern ideology, allowing shame to be realized as a positive power within the human person.

Shame confronts us with the reality that we are so much more. By attending to shame in a proper manner, we can be guided towards a much richer form of sexual life in faithful marital relations, one in which we express our sexual personhood in a manner that affirms our humanity in its fullness.

He concludes:

No, shame is a wonderful power of the person, and true religion, in preserving shame, makes it possible for us to attain a total enjoyment of sexual life, even in a world waylaid by the easy, the instant, and ultimately dissatisfying. It does this by turning us inwards to regard the whole of our person, quite apart from the reductions by which we so easily view as ourselves as a sexual organ to be gratified. Shame waits for the better, and I kind of like the fact.

Read the whole piece here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Ethics, Sex and Sexuality, The Blogosphere. Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Why Religious People Are Ashamed of Porn

  1. Matthew N. Petersen says:

    In this view shame is a positive good, and the “bad feelings” associated with it are really the feelings evoked by those conditions which necessitate our blushing rush to protect our individuality — the objectifying gaze…

    Off topic: Are you familiar with Discipline & Punish? Do you have thoughts regarding the objectifying gaze that Foucault claims is ubiquitous in our culture, and whether, and how, we should fight the urge to “watch” in our own lives? (Particularly, with respect to social science research built off the model of natural science, which watches nature; and even, perhaps, with respect to natural sciences that objectifying nature, rather than, as in Tolkien, treating nature as Other, and thus part of the ethical community.)

    • Yes, I have read it, although not recently. I think that the forms that this can take in our society are constantly developing. For instance, Facebook is a great example of the way in which our identities can become mediated by idols of ourselves that we put up for the sake of our neighbours’ gaze (one of the reasons why I left the site).

      There is definitely a need to challenge the logic of the objectifying gaze and the ways that we are complicit within it. I recently posted something that touched upon this, but would want to say a great deal more from many different angles.

  2. thurifer says:

    What a shame to feel ashame!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s