Culture At Large

Why we shouldn’t be surprised illegal porn was downloaded at the Vatican

Josh Larsen

Those who take particular glee in the failings of believers had some juicy material last month. According to a report from TorrentFreak, a publication that monitors online file sharing, illegal downloads of copyrighted material have been taking place at – gasp! – the Vatican. And the titles aren’t exactly church material.

Though feel-good fare like the movie Billy Elliot was among the files downloaded at the Holy See, the report also mentions more explicit material, such as Flexy Teens Naked Gymnast and Lesbian Hair Salon. And then there are choices that are merely puzzling. Who knew the German heavy-metal band Scorpions had a Vatican following?

In an interview with Religion News Service, TorrentFreak founder Ernesto Van der Sar said it’s hard to draw too many conclusions from the Vatican’s appearance on the report. “Keep in mind that with numbers this small, what we are seeing could be the work of as few as three or four individuals,” Van der Sar said.

Here’s a conclusion that will be drawn, however: this further proves that Christians are hypocrites. That we preach good behavior and demand it from others, yet when no one (aside from TorrentFreak) is looking, we reveal our true selves.

This propensity to sin doesn’t go away once you’ve embraced the Christian faith.

Certainly there are some Christians like that, but in my experience most of us are acutely aware of our sinful inclinations. Often, recognizing that truth is where our belief starts. As for putting on a good face, well, the hope is that living a life of gratitude to Christ for taking on the burden of our failings will mean a life a little less fraught with treachery. But a clean and perfect one? Not on this side of His return. Christ, not Christianity, is our cure.

In Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense, Francis Spufford describes this universal inclination toward treachery in language that’s a bit more colorful. Trying to capture what Christians mean by the Biblical concept of original sin, Spufford says it's “the human propensity to f#@! things up.” (The characters are mine; Spufford prefers the actual letters.)

Spufford continues, a bit more eloquently:

What we’re talking about here is not just our tendency to lurch and stumble and screw up by accident, our passive role as agents of entropy. It’s our active inclination to break stuff, ‘stuff’ here including moods, promises, relationships we care about, and our own well-being and other people’s, as well as material objects whose high gloss positively seems to invite a big fat scratch.

The reality is that this propensity doesn’t go away once you’ve embraced the Christian faith. One hopes it’s lessened a tad – again, in accordance with trying to life of life of gratitude – but we’re not magically immune to messing things up. This, for Spufford, is how Christianity differs from Judaism and Islam, whose “laws of behavior may be demanding to keep at times, but they can be kept.” He writes:

Christianity isn’t supposed to be about gathering up the good people (shiny! happy! squeaky clean!) and excluding the bad people (frightening! alien! repulsive!) for the very simple reason that there aren’t any good people. …The religion certainly can slip into being a club or cozy affinity group or a wall against the world. But it isn’t supposed to be. What it’s supposed to be is a league of the guilty.

And that league of the guilty even includes those who live in the Vatican. This TorrentFreak “scandal” is nothing more than a titillating reminder of that.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Theology, News & Politics, World