(Don't) imagine that

My wife and I like movies a great deal, but our tastes are not always in sync. If a movie involves a horse, my wife is there. If it involves guns and explosions, she is probably not. 

However, she is a dedicated mother, so when one son returned from college, she surrendered to the testosterone and joined us to watch a recent release called “Salt.” 

Like most action flicks these days, it had a preposterous plot. It is part of a new sub-genre I call “killer chick flicks,” starring beautiful women who aren’t lacking testosterone either, smoothly gunning down hundreds of bad guys without so much as a blush. 

At the end of the movie, my son and I, who found it somewhat ho-hum, got up to leave. My wife sat with a stunned look on her face, and confessed that she felt numb from all the violence. I hate those kinds of movies, she said, because they put the images in my mind and I can’t get them out. 

I have been thinking about that statement ever since. 

Art, at its best, helps us to imagine other people and other worlds, and it is a fantastic medium for provoking empathy and insight. But a lot of popular entertainment provides neither. It is sold as escapism, but what it does is implant expectations and images that can subtly, or not, exert an influence on us. 

Our imagination is one of God’s greatest gifts. Yet it can become destructive when desires and images are implanted that erode our humanity and turn others into objects. An extreme example of this kind of desensitizing is the recent story of a boy who killed his brother after watching a cable TV drama series that takes a sympathetic look at a serial killer. But in less dramatic ways, violent images desensitize one to violence and reports of violence, and watching a real killing on CNN starts seeming less real or upsetting too. 

Pornography, which is absolutely epidemic (ask any priest who hears confessions on a regular basis), causes a similar corrosion. It implants images and desires that can’t be erased. And because human beings easily become bored with what once excited them, the images lead one down a path that is extremely dark. Some interviews with men arrested for possession of child porn suggest that they did not start there. Child porn was at the end of a long road that began with much “tamer” images. 

Pornography warps marriages and can lead to a host of unhealthy behaviors, yet it is still sold as a personal choice that should not be judged. 

All of which is a way of understanding the horror I felt when I read that Switzerland is now considering a law to decriminalize incest. The Swiss are willing to consider that sexual acts between parents and adult children, or between siblings, can be consensual, and if consensual, then they should be allowed. 

Society’s first reaction may be “yuck,” but then advocates “explain” that the taboo against incest is only to prevent inbreeding, and of course birth control and abortion can take care of that problem. 

If Oedipus had been Swiss, apparently, he could have saved his eyesight. 

Society has lost its ability to articulate a moral perspective on almost any perversion or predilection beyond the bland caveat that “no one gets hurt.” But as more and more images, behaviors and hungers are tolerated, they in turn become imaginable for more and more people.  

It seems impossible to have an honest conversation about any of this anymore, but ask any man or woman addicted to pornography what damage such addiction has caused, and you will soon learn that all the vices society now winks at exact a price higher than most of us can imagine.  

Greg Erlandson is OSV president and publisher.