The sin of Lust, like the sin of Gluttony, is an inordinate desire for bodily pleasure. In the case of Lust, that bodily pleasure is sexual. Thanks to the so-called Sexual Revolution of the 1960s (which was a devolution above all else), I’m tempted to say that Lust is the predominant sin of the age.
With the sexualization of art and advertising, and the removal of obscenity laws that triggered the rise of pornography and an ever-growing acceptance of degenerate and immoral behavior, we have a generation of men who don’t know what their primary weakness is.
Instead of being taught to rail and struggle against their basest nature for The Good, they were taught to indulge their self-destructive tendencies because they are "free" and they "deserve" it and no one could judge them because it was "natural".
As the Venerable Fulton Sheen said:
"Sex has become one of the most discussed subjects of modern times. The Victorians pretended it did not exist; the Moderns pretend that nothing else exists."
So we find ourselves in a society which has embraced relativism and hedonism, but the only real freedom is having the right to do what you ought to do. Not the right to do anything at all according to your sordid passions. But the right to do what you should.
The main issue with Lust these days is pornography. It is widespread, it is free, it is in every household with an internet connection, and it is hidden. When we talk about Lust in our particular moment and place, it’s pornography that must be addressed first. It is a dehumanizing, unquestionable evil.
Pornography makes weak and pathetic men. Period. Weak and pathetic men think of pornography as an essential good or a positive experience. But the sin of Lust elicited by pornography cultivates absolute losers, emasculated man-children who never transcend their extended adolescence.
Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote in the Summa:
"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…is most vehemently intent on…the object of pleasure… Consequently, the higher powers, namely the Reason and the Will, are most grievously disordered by Lust."
Becoming entrenched in the sin of Lust damages a man’s Reason and his Will. He becomes both stupid and weak. Instead of fighting the good fight, he comforts himself with a brief reprieve that amplifies his cowardice, his laziness, and his poverty of character. It makes him undeniably worse. Again quoting Fulton Sheen, succumbing to Lust or actively participating in it is for a man to "forget his emptiness in the intensity of a momentary experience."
It cannot be emphasized enough that the willful surrender to Lust and pornography–combined with the abdication of spiritual warfare and constant physical struggle–is the transformative property that has raised a generation of unambitious, disinterested, effeminate, nihilistic men. (Think Pajama Boy).
Growth into manhood and strong traditional masculinity means struggle and suffering. The sins of the body like Gluttony and Lust exist only to ram a wrench in the gears of that process. Instead of earning comfort, you take it, but it is not yours to take. Thus for your momentary pleasure you can create a ghost of a man, aim for nothing, think nothing valuable or worthy, and descend into a hell that you create and rightly deserve.
How to Acquire Chastity
The antidote to Lust is the virtue of Chastity, which is, in general, a faithfulness to the order of all things, but for Lust in particular is a faithfulness to the rightful place of sexuality as it has been divinely instituted. That is, between husband and wife in the context of life-long marriage. And even then Lust can occur since it is a disposition of the heart and not necessarily outwardly obvious.
So, how can we defend ourselves against Lust so that we remain undistracted in the work of building virtue?
Watch and Pray
As I mentioned in Defeating Assaultive Thoughts, we must be ever aware of what thoughts enter our mind and we must know how to dialogue with them and even if we should dialogue with them. So above all we must be watchful and we must pray. That’s Matthew 26:41:
"Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation; the spirit is indeed willing but the flesh is weak."
This is what we pray in the "Our Father". Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. And that’s what we must always pray.
Put Up Guardrails
This was a great point made by Nelson Klaiber in the first episode of the Hammer & Nels podcast (Listen to it.) Part of growing into your manhood is recognizing your weaknesses as weaknesses. You’ve lived long enough and you’ve experienced enough to know when you’re likely to fail. And there are many weaknesses we have that we can safely assume we will not overcome and maybe cannot overcome in this life.
But it is still our duty to not sin. Once you identify your weaknesses then you must put up guardrails that keep you from getting into the scenarios that cause your weaknesses to be tempted or abused.
Regarding a weakness for pornography in general, one possible guardrail is the accountability and filtering software Covenant Eyes.
Find The Greater Purpose
This is also touched on in the Hammer & Nels podcast when they talk about finding your "Why". The thing that drives you. The mission in life you have been given. Your place in the cosmos. A well-defined sense of purpose is a beautiful monolith against which you break your basest self. Over and over. You have to find that.
I’m reminded of Odysseus in the Odyssey. Though Odysseus recognizes the danger of the Sirens’ song, he is still tempted by the pleasure of hearing it. He has his men block their ears with beeswax and tie him to the ship as they pass the Sirens. He commands them not to let him loose. As they pass, Odysseus hears the song and burns with his Lust and orders his men to let him go that he might drown himself, though they bound him tighter. And they eventually pass and he returns to normal, having gotten the pleasure of their song without succumbing to the sin, so to speak.
Recognizing the danger is step one. Setting up guardrails is step two. That’s what Odysseus did by having his men tie him to the mast. However, what you see is Odysseus having this attachment to the pleasure, a deep love for it. Even knowing the danger he wants to hear the song. And although he doesn’t succumb to the "sin" outright, his passion for it is so strong that he plays with it. And that in itself is dangerous. Again going back to Defeating Assaultive Thoughts, the weakest men cannot even dialogue with temptation without sinning instantly. We don’t have a crew to bind us to the ship. So, it’s not a dialogue as much as defeat.
The third step is finding that greater purpose, which is illustrated better by how Jason dealt with the Sirens in the Argonautica. On Jason’s journey, he brought Orpheus and Orpheus brought his lyre. And as they approached the Sirens’ song, Orpheus began to play. And his music was so loud, so beautiful that it mesmerized Jason and completely drowned out the Sirens. Jason traded the Sirens’ song for something much more beautiful. Orpheus can be considered a Christ-figure, but also our purpose or destiny. He represents the divine order, the beauty of the mission we’ve been given. We must find a cause and a mission so great that it not only keeps us guarded from temptation, but absolutely eradicates our attachment to the sin. The goal is to find a more beautiful song so that we forget the old.
This is especially important with Lust, I think. To fall in love with the battle you are in is to not want to leave it. Lust and Gluttony are sins of withdrawal, being overcome with the enormity of the war and trying to back out for some temporary comfort.
We must always fight the good fight.
More from "The Seven Deadly Sins" series:
- Fighting Sloth: How to Acquire Diligence
- Fighting Greed: How to Acquire Liberality
- Fighting Envy: How to Acquire Contentedness
- Fighting Wrath: How to Acquire Patience
- Fighting Gluttony: How to Acquire Temperance
- Fighting Pride: How to Acquire Humility
- An Introduction to the Seven Heavenly Virtues
- Demarcating the Battlefield: An Introduction to the Seven Deadly Sins