Pornography as Spiritual Death

Posted by on Jun 20th, 2010 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

By Yousef Drummond

“Our own soul, created wise and thoughtful in the image of God, having refused to know God, has become bestial, senseless and almost insane through delighting in material things”

–          Saint Gregory of Sinai[1]

“People sleep, and when they die they wake”[2]

–          Prophet Muhammad (salla-lahu-alaihi-wa-salam)


There are, to date, thousands of empirical studies in the moral sciences (psychology, sociology) that attempt to link pornography to human aggression, particularly in relation to violence against women. Such studies, however, stop short of explaining pornography’s deleterious effect on the human soul.

The various modern philosophical and consequently the methodological assumptions underpinning the modern social and moral sciences stop short of treating traditional metaphysical issues regarding Allah (SWT) and the human soul with seriousness chiefly because they cannot be empirically verifiable and as a result rests unworthy of attention, much less scientific inquiry.  We are here speaking of a metaphysics of morals.  Modern philosophers of science today ask what “conditions” guide our moral conduct but that such “conditions” must be “intelligible” to the human mind. 

 A central point of discussion for medieval (or, traditional) metaphysicians of the mind is whether our ideas or mental concepts describe adequately the nature of reality, or, to put it crudely, what is outside our skulls.  Some argued that the material world imposes its “material conditions” on the human mind.  Today, modern metaphysicians assert exactly the reverse, meaning that the human mind is not a blank slate, but instead imposes its own mental categories on the material world through the senses.  

Isaac Newton is credited as the one modern philosopher who revolutionized our thinking about the physical sciences.  His theoretical and mathematical explanations underpinning planetary motions, etc., became worthy of attention because his contributions has shown decisively that the human mind is at least capable of doing so.  The question now became whether a new thinking of a metaphysics (or, “beyond” physics) of morals is possible.  Isaac Newton’s revolutionary contributions to modern science influenced modern metaphysicians’ concerted attempt to unravel the “workings” of the human mind, because the human mind is “something”.  Isaac Newton understood what “intelligible conditions” account for planetary motion or “planetary conduct”; now modern metaphysicians of the mind ask what “intelligible conditions” of the human mind guide our “moral conduct”.  Is a “new” metaphysics of morals possible?  Modern philosophers of science now credit Immanuel Kant as the one philosopher who investigated this subject seriously.

Immanuel Kant agreed that the human mind imposes its “material conditions” on reality through mental “categories”. He agreed with a previous philosopher, David Hume, who asserted that our mental concepts or ideas are based on human experience such as our mental experience of “dog” or “cat” but that they are themselves unreliable because we cannot find confidence in them[3] .  Kant, however, went further.  He asserted there are some mental concepts or ideas that are not based on human experience such as “God”, “evil”, “sin” or “soul”.  Such mental concepts, however, are not empirically reliable either for a source of significant, universal truths[4] (what cannot be seen).  To these mental concepts or ideas such as “God” and “soul” Kant termed them a priori or “prior to experience”; to those mental concepts such as “dog” or “cat” he termed priori (“objects” of observation).   

Kant realized, however, that our a priori concepts of the human mind, those not grounded in human experience, may not convince other philosophers of science and scientists in general of its empirical reliability anyway.  Perhaps other non-religious philosophical colleagues and scientists may determine that a priori mental concepts and ideas are useless, especially for the physical sciences.  Perhaps they thought our priori mental concepts and ideas, those grounded in human experience, is a more reliable foundation for a budding new science than a priori mental concepts.  Whatever the case may be, however, Kant himself championed the rapid advancement of the science and understood that our priori mental concepts are significant foundations for scientific advancement.   Kant probably concluded that his colleagues may not agree with his thinking on a “new” metaphysics of morals. 

Kant’s relentless search for a “new” metaphysics of morals indicates, however, that he was concerned about traditional religion[5] (or Christianity).  Belatedly, Kant’s philosophical treatise on the “new” metaphysics of morals thus pointed to an obvious conclusion:  Christianity (as Religion) must be separate from science (or that Religion must be treated as a separate field of inquiry apart from science).Kant himself is report to have declared, “I here therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith.”[6]  Goethe, one of Europe’s best poet and German thinker who somewhat bemoaned the value of religion at the time, summed up the relationship of religion to science well, with even greater emphasis:

Wer Wissenschaft und Kunst besitzs, hat auch Religion; Wer jene beide nicht besitzs, der habe Religion [He who possesses science and art also has religion, but he who possesses neither of those two, let him have religion!”][7]  

We witness a man and a woman arguing at a restaurant.  We immediately make a moral judgment about their relationship.  It is a “testy” social relationship because we judge both parties’ behavioral postures as “confrontational”.  We note both parties are “angry” at each other due to their verbal out-busts; and now both parties are now using “foul” language.  We then say that both are “angry” at each other.  If by chance both parties decide to engage in “couples therapy”, the psychologist will attempt to ascertain why both individuals are “angry” at each other by utilizing psychoanalytic techniques in order to illuminate each party’s emotional conflicts (such as “role-playing”) and the ways in which they affect their social relationship. 

In general, the psychologist is not concerned with each person’s “spiritual soul” and her or his relationship to Allah (SWT) chiefly because his chosen philosophical method underlying his preferred method of psychotherapy is unable to address such spiritual issues.  This is because the psychologists are trained to understand the individual’s emotional passions such as anger emanating from her or his mind along with its relationship to the social relationship at issue – that social relationship between our hypothetical “man and woman”.  

In general, modern psychologists are trained to understand that the human soul contains the “passions” that must be controlled by human reason.  This view of theoretical thinking is not related to the traditional metaphysical view of the soul.  I will attempt to treat this subject later on.

What I mean to say is that the psychologist is trained to see each individual’s emotional state within a social context – that is a social relationship or environment.  However, we begin to unravel the “spiritual nature” of a human being somewhat when we view either party in isolation, apart from a social relationship. 

This view of theoretical thinking is in stark contrast to a traditional metaphysical view of the numerous vices or “sins” emanating from the human person’s “spiritual soul”.

But there is more.  When we witness a person’s moral conduct in isolation we tend to separate religious influences from her or his moral conduct – we see what we see, and that is it.  In addition, many psychologists center on an individual’s natural ability to form stable social relationship only; that is all psychologists are trained to understand.  A person’s emotional state in isolation does not inform the psychologist about the metaphysical nature of the whisperings of the Shaitan (or, the Bruised One) and its influence on her or his  human “spiritual soul”, which in turn stimulates “vices” such as lust, anger, gluttony, sloth, and the like. 

I will attempt to go in more detail about the human soul.  The psychologist is trained to understand the human soul in its “natural state”.   The human soul, it is theorized, is the “seat” of the passions, such as anger, pride, avarice, and so on.  The human soul is equated with the human mind, and it is thought that human reason must hold the various passions “in check”.  The Greek philosopher Plato advanced this view of the human soul.  Plato believed in monotheism, that there is one God, but he did not believe in a “spiritual monotheism”.   Instead, Plato believed this “God” to be Abstract Forms that are beyond the realm of human experience.

Religious psychologists, on the other hand, understand a “spiritual dimension” to the human soul. The human soul is a “spiritual” entity.  The Holy Qu’ran informs us that Allah (SWT) blew of His ruh into Adam (alihis-salam) thereby giving life to Adam’s body, and into Maryam for the conception of Isa (alihis-salam).  A corollary line of revelation is included in the Christian scriptures, where Muslim scholars say the ruh is equated with rih and means “the breath of life” (Genesis ii:7)[8].  

Muslims scholars say that every human being has this ruh, or “spirit of a person”.  However, this ruh, together with the human body, becomes what is called the nafs[9]The nafs consists of the ruh and its connection to the human body.  While ruh is the “breath of life” given to us by Allah (SWT), the Holy Qur’an points out that the term Ruh (with a capital “R”)  is applied to angels as well.  Angel Jibril (A) is named Ruh—ul-Qudus, or the Holy Spirit[10].

Isa (alihis-salam) is called a  ruh from Allah (SWT).   “Thou (Allah[SWT]) dost know what is in myself, says Isa (alihis-salam),but I do not know what is in Thyself (Allah [SWT])”.

The ultimate test give to us by Allah (SWT) is to control our nafs, or the human “spiritual soul”, or “self”.  To attain spiritual strength, our nafs must traverse three stages of spiritual development.  The first stage is Ammarah, or the animal stage.  It is in this stage where a person is unable to control his emotions.  He is prone to temptations.  He does evil.  In this stage, the person does not understand the spiritual significance of doing good deeds; to him, good deeds and bad deeds are one and the same, and bad deeds are much more enjoyable to him than good deeds. We are all prone to evil because the ruh is enveloped in our bodies (now called nafs).   The second stage is called Lawwamah, the self-critical stage.  This is the stage where the person reviews critically her or his actions and continues to improve by understanding more clearly the difference between good and bad deeds.  In this stage, a person’s actions are better than the animal stage. 

There is more room for spiritual improvement.  The final stage of spiritual development is Mutma’innah, or Heavenly stage.  A person in this stage has total control over her or himself, and does not struggle to do bad deeds[11]

May Allah (SWT) protect us all from the evil which is within ourselves.   

Nowhere in platonic philosophy is there any mention of these three stages of the “spiritual soul”.    

I remember learning about what is called the “Twelve Cardinal Sins” or “Seven Deadly Sins” while attending a Catholic high school in Jamaica, the West Indies m any years ago.   When carefully cultivated and mastered through a long-lasting relationship with God through contemplation, a person’ “spiritual soul” is elevated to great heights.  One of these “Seven Deadly Sins” is “Lust”.

One other “Deadly Sin”, for example, is “gluttony”.  We all must eat to nourish our bodies; however, at times we eat “too much” and thereby commit sins.  “Lust” is another one of these “Seven Deadly Sins”, usually defined as “an intense or unbridled sexual desire, lasciviousness, an intense longing or craving”[12]. Our “desires” such as “lust”, if not controlled by the rememberance of Allah (SWT) through prayer, fasting, etc., become “vices” through various circumstances (chiefly through the whisperings of the Shaitan).  The Muslim tradition often refers to the careful cultivation of “Eeman”, which is only possible by remembering Allah (SWT) much and by prayer, fasting, etc.  Similarly, we commit the sin of “lust” when it becomes solely “interested in…the gratification of its own craving [through] the appeasement of an appetite that we are unable to subdue”[13].   These “Deadly Sins” lead eventually to “spiritual death”. 

What is “spiritual death”?  Spiritual death is the eventual corrosion of the “spiritual soul”.  We all sin; however, sins such as “lust” become “deadly” when it begins to threaten the “spiritual health” of the human soul.   The vehicle through which “lust” leads to spiritual death these days is pornography, especially the addiction to pornography.

I go out on a limb here to suggest that one of many moral psychologists translate these “vices” emanating from the human “spiritual soul” as “emotions” or “sentiment”, as evidenced through social relationships .  One moral philosopher probably considers the proposition as silly to suggest that a person’s emotional state is not “inflamed” while that person is alone.  I center here on Rousseau’s theorizing on human emotions here.  Although a professed Calvinist, Rousseau lived his life as a Christian Deist.  Rousseau’s moral psychology totally ignores traditional metaphysical notions of “God”, “evil”, “sin” and “soul” because Deism teaches that Allah (SWT) is not intimately involved in His Creation (May Allah [SWT] protect us from this belief!). To Rousseau and other moral philosophers, then, a person’s frequent outburst, in isolation, is not a “sin”; but when viewed in a social context, they view “sin” as “anger”.  To moral philosophers and psychologists, them, what is not intelligible to the human mind (in matters moral) is not worthy of study. 

The French philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau proposed a much favored philosophical approach to “sentiment” or “emotions” and their dynamic role within human social relationships. Rousseau’s philosophical approach to the “individual self” is based chiefly on how individuals interpret what others think of us, i.e., within a social relationship, whether it is husband and wife, mother and daughter, or whenever.  Rousseau was very much concerned during his time with the nature of individuals who, with the rapid emergence of the natural sciences, industry and natural politics.  Rousseau firmly believed that the rapid acceleration of the natural sciences, commerce and politics handicapped individual morality, that is, a corresponding loss of that individual sentimental relationship to the “Other”.  Rousseau theorized that in isolation man is by nature “good”, but that with the accelerated rise in modern commerce and the natural sciences individuals enter into social relationships to ensure their physical survival and thus our sentiments become “inflamed”, thereby generating emotions such as anger, resentment, malice, envy, and so on.   For Rousseau, what was traditionally referred to as “vice” is now termed “sentiment” or “emotion”.  Rousseau’s moral psychology is clearly a secularized version of Christianity.

Nowhere in Rousseau’s philosophy is there a treatment of God’s or Allah’s (SWT) relationship to the human being [her or his “spiritual” soul].  Instead, his philosophy of human nature traces the “root” of the anger between our hypothetical man and woman in the restaurant to some “unequal” social relationship with each other or that their social relationship “triggers” this anger among individuals.   Rousseau’s philosophy of man is based on Plato’s philosophy of man, but with some slight variations so as to conform to modern moral philosophy, but some concepts remain the same: there is no treatment of God’s or Allah’s (SWT) direct relationship to human “spiritual” soul but exclusively with the human “natural soul” or “psyche”.  This “psyche” that contains the various human emotions, Plato theorized, remains in equilibrium with the help of the faculty of human “reason”.  Thus, Plato’s philosophical approach to man asserts that to achieve personal “justice” man must employ his faculty of “natural reason” to “straddle” her or his human emotions so that they remain in equilibrium.  

Traditional metaphysicians, among them the Muslim theologian Abu Hamid Muhammad Al-Ghazali (450/1058-505/1111), outlined various ethical methods through which a person attain the highest level of moral character[14].  It is essential to note here that a person’s moral character determines her or his moral conduct.  To Al-Ghazali, Allah’s (SWT) Guidance [the Holy Qu’ran and Prophet Muhammad’s (p.b.u.h.)], serves to “guide” a person’s “natural” reason to mould her or his moral character to gain Allah’s (SWT) Pleasure Alone, which in turn guides her or his moral conduct towards fellow human beings.   Thus Allah’s (SWT) Guidance steers man’s “natural reason” to control his nafs, or soul so that her or his “natural reason” is not the exclusive means of controlling her or his “spiritual appetites of the soul” or “vices” (such as “lust”), thereby leading the person to commit sins.  We then see a stark contrast of Al-Ghazali’s moral teaching, based on the Holy Qu’ran and Prophet Muhammad’s (p.b.u.h.) Sunna with Plato’s philosophy of the human soul:  as far as the Platonic philosophy of man is concerned, “spiritual monotheism “is not given serious discussion.  

As far as the Platonic philosophy of the human being is concerned, her or his capacity to use “natural reason” alone to control his undesirable appetites is not an ontological issue; in other words, she or he will be convinced that using “natural reason” to control her or his “undesirable spiritual appetites”, those stemming from her or his own soul, serves absolutely no spiritual purpose.   We are all in need of Divine Guidance to understand clearly what actions stemming from her or his “spiritual soul” are highly favored by Allah (SWT), and what actions are not.  How sufficient is man’s “natural reason”, or one without Divine Guidance, able to do so?  If this is the case then man himself is the arbiter or what acts are commendable and what acts are not according to his personal whims and desires.   He may determine that this-or-that action is commendable according to his own dictates, or “natural reason”.                

I personally think and I strongly feel that all these empirical questions of whether pornography initiates men to commit violence against women are not the issue, because some researchers will conclude with very different results.  Some empirical researchers point to a strong correlation between pornography and actual violence, other researchers will not report a strong correlation; and still other researchers will report no significant correlation.  Predominantly, researchers’ empirical conclusions are usually couched within larger political issues regarding the First Amendment right to freedom of expression, etc.  Political ideology often clouds researchers’ empirical conclusions, whether they admit to it or not.  Common sense tells us that pornography incites the human being towards the wrong path, that is, personal destruction, not whether pornography’s sexual images alone causes one to commit violence against another human being, particularly against women.  And this is the central point of discussion.

The question is not whether viewing pornography leads to the act of violence.  The issue treated here is pornography’s corrosive effect on the human “spiritual soul”.  This is a far more significant issue than all other issues combined.

The great Sufi poet Al-Busiri is reported to have said this:  “The carnal self is like a baby; if you neglect him, he will grow up clinging on to the breast-milk forever, but if you wean him off, he will be weaned off”[15].

A recent article in the Journal of the American Bar Association reported that an SEC Lawyer watched 8 hours of pornography a day while the recent financial crisis was underway.  The Security and Exchange Commission is charged with enforcing federal securities laws and regulating the nation’s stock and options exchanges and other electronic securities markets.   While others may find this particular finding cause for jokes around the water cooler, I find this man’s addiction to pornography rather troubling:

“A Washington, D.C., – based senior attorney admitted accessing Internet pornography and downloading pornographic images to his SEC computer during work hours so frequently that, on some days, he spent eight hours accessing Internet pornography.  In fact, this attorney downloaded so much pornography to his government computer that he exhausted the available space on the computer hard drive and downloaded pornography to CDs or DVDs that he accumulated in boxes in his office”[16].

This man is addicted to pornography.  His “spiritual soul” is eroding.

What is “pornography”?  Pornography is “a creative activity (writing or pictures or films, etc.) of no literary or artistic value other than to stimulate sexual desire[17].  Another definition of pornography is “designed to arouse lust[18].  Pornography is a powerful stimulant that leads to sexual addiction and thus inflates a lustful appetite within the human “spiritual soul”.  Thus, “lust” eventually becomes an uncontrollable force in an individual’s life. 

It is important to note here that we all have natural hormones in the brain related to desire.

More significantly (and frightening!) is the fact that pornography is a pernicious form of “sexual idolatry”, much like the “worship” of “sex”!   I include here a disturbing definition of sexual idolatry:

“Idolatry is the “worship of a physical object as a god” or an “immoderate attachment or devotion to something.”  Worship means to show “extravagant respect or admiration for or devotion to an object of esteem” (both from Webster’s Dictionary).  Many people may not realize that pornography has helped them develop an immoderate or extravagant devotion to sex.   Gazing at pornography for hours, masturbating to sexual images and repeatedly fantasizing about sex are basically forms of worshipping sex.   People who practice such activities find that sexual images seem to rise to the top and forefront of their thoughts.  Their minds become a type of “mental altar” for sex”[19].

May Allah (SWT) protect us all variations of idolatry, but from this pernicious form of idolatry in particular!

I add here that no person of any religious persuasion is immune to pornography addiction. 

Besides the vehicle for the eventual corrosion of the “spiritual soul”, pornography evinces in the mind a perverse view of sexuality (in all its deviant forms) and projects an unreasonable view of women.  Chiefly, those addicted to pornography view women as “sexual objects”.   A man who is addicted to pornography will perceive women as a “7-11” or a “revolving door” where he can go in and out as he pleases.  Repeated viewing of pornography generates a nascent “sexual perversion” within the human “spiritual soul”.  Consequently, a man with a carnal self will view all women as “revolving doors”!   Women are not “objects” to be handled indiscriminately, like trash!  

Repeated viewing of such “sexual images” stimulates lust, which in turn affects or corrodes the “spiritual soul”.  Numerous neuropsychological studies now show that such reinforcement of “sexually sordid” images alters the neuro-chemical dynamics of the human brain; in other words, the mind becomes “wired” for viewing more and more of these sordid sexual images.  More importantly, pornography presents to the mind the appearance of sex and offers the appearance of the sexual experience.  More to the point, pornography addiction presents a false conception of sexual activity.     

For the pornography addict such “forbidden images” are reinforced in the mind and gains strength as lust grows within her or his “spiritual soul”, especially when he is asleep.   If a person dies while she or he is asleep, then what a sordid “spiritual” condition is his own soul!

“People sleep, and when the die, they wake”.

May Allah (SWT) protect us from the evils within our own souls.

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:













[2] Ibid.

[3] Hicks, Stephen R.C. (2004).  Explaining Postmodernism: Skepticism and Socialism from Rousseau to Foucault.  Scholarly Publishing, pg. 31.

[4] Ibid, pg. 31.

[5] Ibid, pg. 29.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Freud, Sigmund (1961).  Civilization and Its Discontents. Translated and Edited by James Stratchey. With a  Biographical Introduction by Peter Gay. W.W. Norton & Company Ltd., New York, pg 23.


[9] Tafsir Ibn Kathir – Qu’ran Tasfir – The Ruh and the Nafs.


[11] Ibid.



[14] Haneef, Mohamed Aslam, Abdullah Yusof, Selamah, Amin, Ruzita Mohd., Noon, Hazizan Md.  Values and Their Relationship to Social Problems in Malaysia: An Islamic Framework.

[15] Addiction to Porn and Masturbation:  Islamic Remedy

[16] McDonough, Molly.  SEC Lawyer Watched 8 Hours of Porn a Day Amid Financial CrisisABA Journal: Law News Now.  Posted Apr 23, 2010.

[17] The Free Dictionary by Farlex.

[18] ibid.

[19] How Porn Works.


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