How Neuroscience Explains Sex Abuse and Vindicates … Prayer and Fasting
It’s been a very busy summer, hasn’t it? Newspapers reported that Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity was once again verified by another utterly incomprehensible intergalactic test or other. I think everyone would agree that the very definition of insanity would be for a scientist to respond to this news by saying, “Well that does it. I’m not going to listen to Einstein anymore.”
Yet that is exactly how people are acting. But not about Einstein. I’m talking about the Catholic Church. You see, the Church had one of its own theories put to the test, and those results also came back this summer. And like Einstein, the Church passed with flying colors. But with this, huge difference. Unlike Einstein, the Church never gets any credit. People continue to behave as if the Church knows nothing about sex and human nature. But the priest scandal proves that it does.
St. Peter tells us to “abstain from the passions of the flesh that wage war against the soul” (1 Pt. 2:11). But will anybody listen? No. Somehow, too many inside and outside the Church think that cocaine-fueled orgies are a good way to form young men and priests. But the apostles knew better.
In the Epistle to Galatians, St. Paul teaches that asceticism is an essential dimension of the spiritual life, and thus also essential to the cultivation of the spiritual qualities of the human soul. In almost clinical fashion, St. Paul enumerates these spiritual qualities, or “fruits,” as the apostle calls them. One of these is self-control, which means that Paul is telling us that we need to practice self-denial to control our desires and passions.
The Apostolic Brain
Scientists confirmed this Biblical teaching when they discovered the dopamine reward system of the brain. It turns out that the indulgence of our desires stimulates the release of dopamine, a neurochemical associated with increased motivation and desire. Take eating for example. The more we eat, the more dopamine the brain releases, the stronger our desires for eating become. And obviously, as our desires increase in strength, they become more difficult to control:
This same process applies to a host of human behaviors including shopping and gambling. And sex.
Slavery to Sin
Now ask yourself this question. What could possibly explain why a man highly respected in society with everything to lose would engage in the most despicable and grotesque of crimes? If found out he will forever be hated and rejected by everyone. He will go to jail for a very long time where the inmates are known to mete out justice to perpetrators of child abuse. The personal risk is so high that anyone would be crazy to take such a risk. In researching my book, I discovered that sexual abusers are truly out of their minds. Their desires are completely out of control, and this is what drives them to their evil and irrational crimes.
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The American bishops were made aware of the compulsive nature of sexual abuse back in 1985 when the Rev. Thomas Doyle sent them his well researched report which describes the irrational and compulsive dimension of sexual abuse (emphasis added):
We are dealing with compulsive habits which the priest may temporarily suspend in the face of legal or canonical pressure, but not in all instances. There are many examples wherein sexual abuse took place very soon after the confrontation between the priest and his Ordinary [bishop] had taken place. The priest must clearly be seen as one suffering from a psychiatric disorder that is beyond his ability to control. (Garry Wills from Papal Sin, p. 182)
Research on the dopamine reward system tells us to look for signs of overindulgence to account for the loss of rational self-control in sexual abusers. And a common denominator in practically every case of sexual predation is the consumption of pornography. This is true of the abuse committed inside the Church as well as outside. It is a universal law of sexual abuse as dependable as the law of gravity: catch a predator and you also catch a giant cache of porn.
This sordid story out of Chicago is a timely case in point.
Thus the real story of the sexual abuse epidemic in the Church is that it’s got nothing to do with celibacy. Which any logical person should have understood since the overwhelming majority of perpetrators are not celibate priests. As I explain here, less than a tenth of a percent of all abuse cases in the United States came from priests, according to the numbers in the John Jay Report.
If you want to identify a common cause of sexual abuse inside and outside the Church, look no further than the sexual revolution.
In fact, the discipline of celibacy explains why the incidence of abuse by priests is significantly lower than what is found in the general male population: celibacy actually works to cool down the dopamine centers of the brain, and this is instrumental to fostering rational control of the passions. Thus celibacy and self-denial are not the problem here; on the contrary, the practice of asceticism is the time-honored, Biblical solution to sexual abuse and all other sins of excess. This apostolic wisdom is now being confirmed by neuroscience.
A Gospel of Male Spiritual Health
And what that Christian wisdom teaches is that the sexual revolution was catastrophic for male sexual and psychological health. Yes, it is true that most of the abuse cases inside the Church were homosexual in nature. But outside the Church is a far different story, with most of the victims being female.
If you want to identify a common cause of sexual abuse inside and outside the Church, look no further than this. Inside the Church, 100% of the perpetrators were male. And outside the Church, it is close to 100%. Yes, some are gay. Some are straight. Some tall, some short… But the one thing nearly all sexual predators have in common is that they are male.
Men are visual creatures. They like sex too much. And they are aggressive. The permissiveness of the sexual revolution was gasoline on the fire that is male sexuality. This is what the Bible teaches. It is what Humanae Vitae teaches. It is what John Paul II’s Theology of the Body teaches. And it is what neuroscientific research on the dopamine reward system now confirms.
But because the mainstream media has not caught up to current scientific research, they continue to view all things sexual from a now discredited Freudian perspective.
These evangelists for the sexual revolution mistakenly blame Christian sexual ethics for the scandal and praise the gospel of sexual license as the solution to sexual abuse. But neuroscience shows us that that makes as much sense as recommending smoking to cure lung cancer.
God is Not Mocked
As gobsmackingly ignorant as the world is about the priest scandal, about human sexuality, and about human nature, these prophets of pleasure have nonetheless succeeded in converting multitudes to their gospel of self-indulgence. So successful, in fact, that they have even convinced the ruling party of the Catholic Church to abandon the word of God.
But John Paul predicted that science would one day vindicate sacred scripture. As I showed in my book, that day has already arrived. How foolish of Church hierarchs and activists like Fr. James Martin and company to cross swords with St. Paul. Paul warned us that “God is not mocked,” that a life of self-absorption will “reap a harvest of corruption” (Gal. 6:7–8).
It’s time to remove these lotus eaters from the Church hierarchy. They have made of it a den of thieves — of pederasts and pornographers, orgiasts and cokeheads. If we have any concern at all for the welfare of children we will do this.
If we have any concern for the welfare of our children, this unpopular fact must squarely be faced: The world was a safer place for our kids when it was more Christian.
What I have sketched here is a rough blueprint for a new evangelization. Its central message is this: The Gospel teaches truths that no one can afford to ignore. The consequences to our children and to our future are just too grave.
John Gravino is author of The Immoral Landscape of the New Atheism.