“The world is poisoned by moral pollution” (Benedetto XVI)
According to Pope Benedict XVI, the moral pollution is far more dangerous for human beings than the poisons that are contaminating our planet. During his homily on May 31, 2009, on the occasion of the solemnity of Pentecost, the Holy Father said, inter alia :
“What air is for biological life, the Holy Spirit is for spiritual life; and just as an atmospheric pollution exists that poisons the environment and living beings, thus a pollution of heart and spirit exists that mortifies and poisons spiritual life. In the same way that one must not become inured to the poisons in the air and for this reason ecological commitment is a priority today, likewise one must not become inured to what corrupts the mind. On the other hand it seems that it is not difficult to become accustomed to the many products that contaminate both the mind and the heart and that circulate in our society. For example, images which boost pleasure, violence or contempt for men and women. This is also freedom, people say, without realizing that all this pollutes and intoxicates the mind, especially that of the new generations and moreover ends by conditioning their very freedom.”
When man’s heart is contaminated, the relationship between human beings is contaminated as well. In consequence, human relationships are destroyed, beginning with those between the members of the same family--the basic cell of the society. That is why:
“It seems that we are witnessing the incoming of a epochal crisis of the interpersonal relationship and a crushing of the familiars webs; nowadays man seems more and more unable to establish satisfactory, committed and long-lasting relationships with others human beings”
(Maria Rita Parsi, Tonino Cantelmi, Francesca Orlando, “L’immaginario prigioniero”, Ed. Mondadori, marzo 2009).
Eight hours a day spent on screens, study finds.
My intention in this speech is to give a little insight into this vast and complex issue in order to demonstrate how the images of sex and violence can contaminate the human heart. However, I want, in no way, to underestimate the value of the new media named by the same Pope Benedict XVI “a great gift of God to the humanity”.
I would like to start by recalling recent research conducted in the States by the Council for Research Excellence:
“In fact, adults are exposed to screens — TVs, cell phones, even G.P.S. devices — for about 8.5 hours on any given day, according to a study released by the Council for Research Excellence on Thursday, March 23, 2009. TV remains the dominant medium for media consumption and advertising, the study found. The data suggests that computer usage has supplanted radio as the second most common media activity.”
( See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/27/business/media/27adco.html )
According to other research, the phenomenon is still more intensified among teenagers. Taking into consideration that the USA is a sort of “laboratory” for western countries, I believe that what happens there will happen, sooner or later, in Italy also.
The contaminated power that can have images: Phornography
A new study of male behavior seems to confirm what the Holy Father has said: Sexy women in bikinis really do inspire some men to see them as objects.
When psychologist Susan Fiske and a team of researchers at Princeton University performed MRI brain scans on heterosexual men who viewed a series of images showing both scantily clad and fully clothed men and women, they found that the men had an unmistakable response to images of sexy women.
The Daily Princetonian explains (Published: Tuesday, February 17th, 2009
Fiske’s team used an MRI machine to scan the brains of the students while they viewed a series of photographs of men and women, some of whom were fully clothed and others of whom wore only swimsuits. The pictures of bikini-clad women activated brain regions associated with objects or “things you manipulate with your hands,” Fiske said.
…heterosexual men, in a surprise memory test, were significantly better at recognizing bikini-clad female bodies (with heads removed), than they were at recognizing any of the other three types of images or any kind of faces.”
"It was as if they immediately thought about how they might act on these bodies," Fiske explained during the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, which was held in Chicago, February 12-16. "They are reacting to these photographs as people react to objects," she said.
According to Fiske, the results of the study have important implications for women, especially in the workplace as it has previously been shown that viewing sexualized images of women can affect how men perceive women and interact with them afterwards.
A sexism study conducted by Lawrence University professor, Peter Glick, also found that professional women who wear provocative attire in the workplace are perceived by their co-workers as being less competent and less intelligent, especially when they are in positions of power. According to DiversityJobs.com, Glick's study suggests that "women in higher level and high power jobs may need to dress more modestly and conservatively to win the respect of their colleagues."
"You have to be aware of the effect of these images on people," Fiske said. "They're not neutral. They do have an effect on how people think about other women."
(The Daily Princetonian: http://www.dailyprincetonian.com/2009/02/17/22773/ )
If these are the effects that simple, provocative sexy women pictures have on men, imagine how devastating pornography can be.
Why are we surprised when young people don’t want to get married anymore? Of course, there are many reasons for this. However, who is the man that would agree to share his whole life married to an “object”? In the same way, who is the woman that would agree to share her whole life with a man who treats her as an object? According to recent statistics, by 2015 the number of free unions in Italy will exceed that of marriages—a trend that already exists in the larger northern cities. Young couples prefer casual, temporary relationships over permanent ones. This trend is increasing all over the world: In the USA, marriages have declined on the whole to about 49%; in Manhattan specifically, only 26% of couples marry, which is the lowest percentage of marriage in the whole Country. In the UK, the number of couples who live together exceeds the number who gets married. Given these facts, we should not be surprised by the recent British research that shows that family members generally spend only 45 minutes a day together. This very little part of the day (45 minutes) is spent eating together in the evening and… guess? Watching television—and only if the program interests everyone. Otherwise, the family separates and everyone finds his/her own personal screen.
The contaminated power that can have images: Violence
When it comes to violence, there is plenty of research that supports the words of the Holy Father.
In his essay titled, “Thief of Time, Unfaithful Servant: Television and the American child”, Cornell University educator Dr. John C. Condry – from Cincinnati Oh - stated that the influence of TV violence is without doubt.
Dr Condry states that children watch television nearly 40 hours a week and the contents of those viewing hours is impactful:
“Recent research has clearly shown that for every hour of special programs for children you can see 25 acts of violence versus five acts of violence in adults programs. Adventures comics for children are power stories. Lot of research has clearly shown that behavior of children is affected by the violence they see on TV. They come to believe that the strongest is always right and if you want something and you’re more powerful than others you can get it. Research tells us that children who watch television for long periods of time are more violent than those who don’t spend much time in front of television.”
I would like now to quote part of a commentary about a book “Stop Teaching our Children to Kill”, written by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman, author of On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. As a West Point psychology professor and professor of military science, Grossman trains medical and health professionals on how to deal with and prevent killing. He trained mental health professionals in the aftermath of the Jonesboro shootings, and has been an expert witness and consultant in several murder cases, including that of Timothy McVeigh and Michael Carneal.
“In Paducah, Kentucky, Michael Carneal, a fourteen-year-old boy who stole a gun from a neighbor's house, brought it to school and fired eight shots at a student prayer group as they were breaking up. Prior to stealing this weapon, he had never shot an actual handgun before. Of the eight shots he fired, he had eight hits on eight different kids. Five were head shots, the other three upper torso. The result was three dead, one paralyzed for life. The FBI says that the average, experienced, qualified law enforcement officer, in the average shoot-out, at an average range of seven yards, hits with less than one bullet in five. How does a child acquire such killing ability. What would lead him to go out and commit such a horrific act?
There is perhaps no bigger or more important issue in America at present than youth violence. Jonesboro, Arkansas; Paducah, Kentucky; Pearl, Mississippi; Stamps, Arkansas; Conyers, Georgia; and of course, Littleton, Colorado. We know them all too well, and for all the wrong reasons: kids, some as young as eleven years old, taking up arms and, with deadly, frightening accuracy, murdering anyone in their paths. What is going on? According to the authors of Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill, there is blame to be laid right at the feet of the makers of violent video games (called "murder trainers" by one expert), the TV networks, and the Hollywood movie studios--the people responsible for the fact that children often witness literally hundreds of violent images a day.” (See http://www.killology.com/book_stop_summary.htm)
As I said before, those who suffer more of this kind of moral contamination are the young people, children: the so-called digital native generation. That is why the Pope, in his Homily, insisted:
“This is also freedom, people say, without realizing that all this pollutes and intoxicates the mind, especially that of the new generations and moreover ends by conditioning their very freedom.”
If the ecological commitment for saving the planet is a priority - they even say that the future is green - how is it that people seems unable to see that moral contamination is destroying the society? How is possible, as the Pope said, that:
“On the other hand it seems that it is not difficult to become accustomed to the many products that contaminate both the mind and the heart and that circulate in our society. For example, images which boost pleasure, violence or contempt for men and women”.
The "scandal" of Purity
How do Christians deal with this moral contamination challenge? The answer, first of all, is not a speech nor a political program but it is the invitation to live an unheard of and incredible experience: “to see God!” For us, only God has the power to decontaminate people and society, as well, from evil. I would like to quote a speech I made in 2003 which is still topical. (See http://www.solidarity-mission.it/english/newsletter.htm#- January 03) It is addressed first of all to Christians. I believe that they have, in this post-modern era, a great mission to carry out.
Saint Paul in his letter to the Corinthians talks about a “scandal”…The scandal of the Cross : “For God in his wisdom made it impossible for people to know him by means of their own wisdom. Instead, by means of the so called ‘foolish’ message we preach, God decided to save those who believe. Jews want miracles for proof, and Greeks look for wisdom. As for us, we proclaim the crucified Christ, a message that is offensive to the Jews and nonsense to the Gentiles; but for those whom God has called, both Jews and Gentiles, this message is the wisdom of God. For what seems to be God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and what seems to be God’s weakness is stronger than human strength” (See 1Cor 1:21-22) . Nowadays this “Scandal of the Cross” seems to turn out to be the “Scandal of Purity”.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God!” (Mt. 5,8)
Purity is to be on God's side
In fact, in today’s world, it is a scandal that somebody still believes that being on God’s side imply that:
- “He rescued us from the power of darkness and brought us safe into the kingdom of his dear Son.” (See Col 1:13-14)
- “By our baptism, then, we were buried with him and shared his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from death by the glorious power of the Father, so also we might live a new life.” (Rom 6:4)
- To “Try to learn what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the worthless things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light. (It is really too shameful even to talk about the things they do in secret.)” (See Eph 5:10-12)
Because “... you, brothers, are not in the darkness, and the Day should not take you by surprise like a thief. All of you are people who belong to the light, who belong to the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness.” (See 1Thes. 5:4-5)
Put into consideration that “... the message that we have heard from his Son and announce is this: God is light, and there is no darkness at all in Him. If, then, we say that we have fellowship with him, yet at the same time live in the darkness, we are lying both in our words and in our actions. But if we live in the light – then we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from every sin.” (See 1Jn. 1:5-7)
Therefore “Do not lie one another, for you have put off the old self with its habits and have put on the new self. This is the new being which God, its creator, is constantly renewing in his own image, in order to bring you to a full knowledge of himself.” (See Col3:9-10)
Because “You know the saying, “A little bit of yeast makes the whole batch of dough rise.’ You must remove the old yeast of sin so that you will be entirely pure...For our Passover Festival is ready...Let us celebrate our Passover, then, not with bread having the old yeast of sin and wickedness, but with the bread that has no yeast, the bread of purity and truth.” (See 1Cor. 5:6-8)
The world needs Purity.
If in the world we are living nowadays, purity is something incomprehensible, is a sort of a scandal.
Well, those who want to be, with the help of God, real followers of Jesus must be ready to scandalize it!
The Christians people will be ready to take advantage of every opportunity to upset this old, frail, obsolete world because of sin, with the witness of a life lived in the light of the Risen Lord who gives us His Holy Spirit.
And if Christians are asked if they are still looking for a deeper experience of Jesus Christ the Son of God, they will answer that it is the same Spirit of God that is in their hearts shouting: Abba’ Father. And at same time, the Holy Spirit assures them that they are Children of God.
And if Christians are asked if they still feel to belong to the Church, they will answer that they are proud to be part of the Church that is the Body of Christ. (See 1Cor 6:15)
And if the world suggests that Christians should not believe any longer in Christ and should seek money, power, and the pleasures of this life, they will answer that not only they will continue to believe in Christ, but they will be ready, at all times, to answer anyone who asks them to give reason of the hope they have in Him (See 1Peter 3:15). They are on Jesus’ side at any cost. They are ready even to die for Christ because it is when we die for Christ that we have life.
Those who want to be real followers of Jesus and want to help him in the work of salvation of humankind must get rid of any compromises with the power of the darkness.
“So if your right eye causes you to sin, take it out and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose a part of your body than to have your whole body thrown into hell. If your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away! It is much better for you to lose one of your limbs than to have your whole body go off to hell.” (See Mt 5:29-30)
Purity makes you go into ecstasies
Christians will be at the same time humble and strong witnesses of the light, which comes from above, for this world that loves darkness. They will be witnesses of light for the people of the “night” who need pills to keep on living, who need pills to go into “ecstasies”.
Christian will tell them that if they have the courage to surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, they will no longer need pills because it will be God himself, who through the power of the Holy Spirit, will lift them to a kind of unimaginable high. Because as Scripture says, ‘What no one ever saw or heard, what no one ever thought could happen, is the very thing God prepared for those who love him.” (See 1Cor 2:9) If this world is to be saved, it needs the clear, transparent witness of the Christians who, with their lives, proclaim that Jesus is the Lord! He is the only Savior “yesterday, today, and forever”. (See Heb13:8)
Blessed are the eyes that see what you see.
To the world of the 21st Century, this world which has become a “Global Village”, the world of the Media, of the Internet, Jesus Christ would say:
There is a Wonderful Show. Not a virtual one which doesn't exist, but a real one you are called to join, not as spectators but as Actors: the Victory of Life over death! You cannot miss it! Yet, there is a price you have to pay for it: the purity of heart!
So we will hear the words of Jesus addressed to us:
“How fortunate you are to see the things you see! I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, but they could not, and to hear what you hear, but they did not.” (See Lk7:18-23; 10:17-24).
Fr. Oliviero bruno