Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi

IN EXILE

February 16, 1998

Some years ago, CBC TV aired a drama that ran something like this:

Three middle-aged couples from Ontario decided to take a summer camping holiday together. The holiday was meant to be a middle-aged fling of sorts, a reunion of old college friends who had spent the last 25 years raising children and paying mortgages and doing the kinds of civic and church things that come with the turf.

Now after years of being tied down with commitments, their children more or less grown, they finally had some time again to spend with each other, travelling the country and renewing old friendships.

So they each rented some kind of motorhome, packed it with food and drinks, left their respective houses to the precarious care of their young adult children, and set out for a month to enjoy the vacation they had never had.

It started well. For the first two days and nights there were high spirits, lots of laughter and banter, and the table conversations sounded something like this: "Isn't this great! Isn't it great to be together like this again! Isn't it great to have the freedom, the money, and the time to just enjoy ourselves and see our country in this way." Even the weather was great.

Things changed on the third night. Parked in a campground near a resort, late in the evening as they sat around their campfire, they saw the campground fill with young people. A wild party ensued, loud rock music, booze and drugs of all kinds, and various couples having sex rather openly among the trees.

Initially, huddled around their own fire, the three couples said the type of things any middle-aged couple might say in a similar situation: "What's the world coming to? Who raised these kids?

What they did not realize is what seeing such primitive rawness was doing inside of them.

From that moment on, basically until the end of their month-long trip, each of them went into a depression. The real enjoyment of the trip, the sense of freedom and delight, was gone and the bantering and humor of the first days gave way to silence and feelings about their own marriages, bodies, sexual histories, kids and lives in general that often had them bickering and unhappy.

What had happened here? They had had a first-hand experience of the negativity of pornography. What is wrong with pornography is not that there is something wrong in seeing the sexual act. Sex is not dirty or sinful.

What is wrong with pornography is that it overstimulates our archetypal erotic energies, leaving us no choice but to act out those energies or to go into a depression, namely, to turn on the cooling mechanisms inside of us to restrain those energies and then to sizzle in inchoate frustration as those energies slowly cool.

This is important to know because, today, in a culture that rightly fears unhealthy censorship, there is a lot of naivete about pornography and its effects. Conservatives tend to give the impression that if a book or movie has any sex in it, it should on that basis alone be banned, irrespective of any wider moral context and constant.

Liberals, on the other hand, tend to be so paranoid about anything that would limit free expression that they can no longer acknowledge the obvious: There is nothing wrong with Aphrodite and Eros having sex under a tree, but this is not an event meant to be watched. It is too raw. Love is meant to be made behind closed doors.

Every society has had taboos about sex - about having it and about exhibiting it. The wisdom in the taboo against exhibition is not, first and foremost, about morality and sin. It is about protecting people's souls from the kind of unhappiness that our three Ontario couples experienced after they saw Aphrodite and Eros under a tree. Not everything is meant to be watched.

The truth of this concerns not just pornography in terms of sexual exhibition, but pertains to anything that is so raw as to overstimulate our erotic energies. Karl Jung, in a warning that few of us ever heed, once cautioned us by saying that energy is not friendly and it is dangerously naive to think it is.

Energy is imperialistic. It can beat you up like the playground bully in the local schoolyard. If you don't believe this, think about Jung's comment the next time you can't sleep at night.

Our culture is naive about pornography, even though it is right in saying that its net effect is not producing a society of sex-crazed people. Pornography's real effect is infinitely more subtle and pernicious, and often shows no specific sexual face whatsoever. Pornography kills joy.

By overstimulating us, it quickly depresses us, robbing us of the joy and delight we once had as children . . . and that we would normally feel as we rent motorhomes and set off with our middle-aged friends to finally have that joy-filled vacation we've dreamt about for 20 years.

(Website: www.ronrolheiser.com)