Monday, September 15, 2008

Seeing is Believing - Depersonalization by Sexualization

Dr. Ted Sri's masterful treatment of JPII's Love and Responsibility, "Men, Women and the Mystery of Love," is a must read for anyone who loves Theology of the Body and wants to venture deeper. An initial reading of Sri's book has a sort of decoding effect on John Paul II's philosophical worldview, providing a glimpse into the world of personalist phenomenology which forms the foundation of the late Holy Father's writings on human love and sexuality.

So I get to the end of this fabulous book, and I'm struck dumb by a certain phrase snuck in towards the end, this concept of "depersonalization by sexualization," and it is immediately evident to me that this brief three word manifesto quite literally sums up everything that is wrong with society as we know it.

Call me dramatic, but I think he was onto something. Depersonalization by sexualization... or the ability modern man has developed to divorce the person from the pair, so to speak, and to look at another human being either in print or in person, and to see only their sexual attributes rather than the individual to whom they are attributed. This is why when we flip on our televisions and see scantily clad models selling beer and cars and shaving cream and everything else under the sun, we don't immediately react in outrage to this.

We have developed a certain ability to see the sexual attributes of the person without seeing the person. Kind of like looking at the sky and seeing blue without acknowledging that you're looking at the sky.

What can this possibly mean for interpersonal relationships? If I have the ability to look at a person and to see only muscles or breasts or blue eyes, I have begun the process of reductionism, reducing him or her to the sum of her parts. Once begun, it's awfully hard to back up and reconstruct the 5 foot-something piece of flesh with whom I am conversing, and thus we behold the rising trend of treating persons as products. Indeed there are too many times when we regard our own person thusly in the mirror, categorizing and critiquing ourselves in a piecemeal fashion, reducing our reflection to that wrinkle or those few extra pounds...

When we fail to see the human person as a whole, operating instead from a "composite of many parts" mentality, we lose sight of the beauty which is actually profoundly evident in the completion of the person. Physical beauty exists not in spite of the presence of particular physical characteristics, but rather is evidenced through these outwardly demonstrable aspects of a totally unique and unrepeatable image of God.

That is crazy! I can't look at my thighs and wish them some other length or shape when I consider the fact that this particular aspect of my created person is a singularly unique reflection of the Divine. Neither can I look upon the body of the other seeking only self-gratifying pleasure from what I behold with my eyes; not when this person, this other, is an incarnate image of the Trinity whom I am privileged to behold.

Imagine how relationships - particularly those involving members of the opposite sex - might look were this the modus operandi of each party. This concept of refusing to reduce the other to a means to my end, whatever that end may be, is absolutely foundational to JPII's writings and is desperately relevant to a culture such as ours, mired in reductionism and the acceptance of mutual use. Maybe we are able to watch the television that we do because we've become accustomed to seeing the other reduced to a summation of his or her assets. And even though we might sense something about this is a little "off" our affects have surely become blunted through repeated exposure.

Try something for me, will you gentle reader? Try a self-imposed media fast, even for a day or two, but preferably for a week, and see how your eyes are retrained over a remarkably short period of time. It's incredible what the mind can become accustomed to over recurrent exposure; it's even more shocking to walk away for a time and return "to the scene of the crime" as it were, totally blown away by the depravity one was formerly ingesting.

There is a reason why constant exposure is necessary to maintain a pornographic culture such as ours. Natural modesty and shame can be blunted and even suppressed in this manner, and thus our reluctance, our inability even, to look upon the attractive form of another human being and truly see the person. I would argue that true beauty is most perfectly evident when - and only when - the person is beheld as the infinitely complex body and soul composite they truly are.

This is hot, this is what the media doesn't seem to get, and this is the foundation of the satanic popularity of pornography. To break down, to separate, to depersonalize at any cost... any means to keep persons from truly seeing one another.

Because in all reality, when you look upon the face of a reflection of God's own image and likeness... well, you're looking at Him. So what are you seeing?


  1. I think it is simpler than what you say.

    If people would stop using one another than it would clear up a lot of the mess.

  2. So true. Some of my friends, good Catholic ones who wouldn't use people, are amazed how much I dislike seeing the world. It's because the wrongness is just so disgusting to me, and I don't want it to become less disgusting through "getting used to it" because it *should* be disgusting. And I'm using "disgusting" in relation to all forms of the noun "disgust", not just "disgusting" as in "ew, gross". Sex isn't inherently gross, 'cause it's inherently beautiful; immodesty -- depersonalization by sexualization -- is a horrific crime against both person and sex and it's that that I'm disgusted by.


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