Some Practical Applications - Reading
by Fr. Gerald Kelly
Before trying to apply our principles to reading, let us call attention to two points. First, reading is practically the same as thinking, and it is solved on the same principles. However, there is this important difference: reading offers new and novel food for thought, sometimes very attractively phrased; hence it is frequently more dangerous than mere thinking.
Secondly, there are certain kinds of reading that are forbidden by the Church and such things may not be read without permission. Forbidden reading in the matter of chastity includes: a) books or articles that attack the Catholic teaching on Chastity; b) books or articles that are professedly obscene. (Cf. p. 76 for explanation of obscenity.) These prohibitions include books and articles that defend artificial birth control, free love, divorce with remarriage, and so forth; also novels and stories that specialize in sexually exciting scenes portrayed in an alluring manner. They also include the pseudo-scientific trash printed today which is really nothing but a sugar-coated allurement to vice and perversion. In forbidding all such reading, the Church is simply exercising her solemn commission to safeguard the sacred moral teaching of Christ and to protect her children against grave moral danger. The reading of such books without permission is seriously sinful, even for an individual who feels that he would not be harmed by them. He must obtain permission from the Bishop. Such permissions are given only with the greatest caution; and of course, even one who has permission to read forbidden books is not exempt from the Divine Law as enunciated in oar principles.
Supposing that there is no prohibition by Church law, we can now apply our moral principles to reading. Here again we find certain clear cases of mortal sin: a) if one reads about sinful things and approves of them (cf. Thoughts); b) if one reads even good things (e.g. a physiology book) for the purpose of exciting venereal passion; c) if the reading involves the proximate danger of harboring seriously sinful thoughts or desires, of doing something seriously sinful, or of consenting to venereal pleasure.
Also, there are some clear cases in which no sin is involved. Those who have a serious reason for reading (e.g. doctors, nurses, spiritual directors, teachers, young people about to be married who need some instruction regarding the physical side of marriage) do not sin, even though they should be strongly excited, provided that they control their wills. Even mere entertainment justifies one in ignoring occasional slight motions of passion caused perhaps by a few suggestive pictures or passages in books or magazines that are otherwise decent.
But mere entertainment is not usually a complete justification for reading things that one finds strongly stimulating, even in an otherwise decent book or magazine. There is no reasonable proportion between mere amusement and strong temptation; hence negligence manifested by delaying over such passages would be venially sinful. In fact, if one indulges in this kind of "amusement" repeatedly, especially if he form the habit of curiously going back over stimulating scenes, he might have reason to suspect the sincerity of his motive. At the minimum, a habit of this kind is very dangerous.
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Copyright © Gerald Kelly. Reproduced with permission of Fusion International. All rights reserved.