Porn That Gets You Into Hell for Sure

by

11/05/2023

Neighborhood: Woodside

I am in my apartment in Woodside, Queens, reading C.S. Lewis. It is my first apartment that isn’t school housing, and I feel like a woman born again: reading, writing, thinking, manic with ideas and desires in a space all of my own. Though I am not Catholic- I’m technically Jewish but not in any personal way- I am fervent, nervous, giddy, passionate just for the sake of being. I chuckle. A Jewish woman of a Catholic disposition.

I am reading Lewis’ essay “The Problem of Pain.” It is his attempt at resolving the paradox that most Christians are loath to address: if God is good, why does he allow people to suffer? I am over three quarters of the way through, and Lewis has yet to convince me that human suffering is justified by God’s goodness. He has, however, convinced me of one thing— the Christian God is terrifying. 

My eyes flit back and forth over the Bible verses Lewis quotes from Matthew.

Fear Him who is able to destroy both body and soul in Hell.  Matthew 10:28

The saved go to a place prepared for them, while the damned go to a place never made for men at all.  Matthew 25:34, 41

What is cast into hell is not a man: it is ‘remains.’ Lewis on Matthew 25:34, 41

The words make me shiver. I think of the last scene in Clive Barker’s Hellraiser when the antagonist’s flesh is ripped apart, metal hooks tugging on his every orifice. The sardonic, taut smile he flashes only moments before his total annihilation. The eerie impression of his last spoken words, “Jesus wept.” 

But the visceral horror that Matthew’s words inspire isn’t the only thing that causes me to shiver. A creeping anxiety that I am not a good person, that God wouldn’t like me, that I have unwittingly become an antagonist in some larger battle of good versus evil, troubles me, and I find it hard to focus on anything else. I put the book down and stare at the white stucco wall in front of me. Its lack-luster appearance nauseates me and I am overcome with the desire to punch myself. I take a breath. Unclench a muscle.

Then, with a sudden sense of urgency, I open my desk drawer and pull out a ballpoint pen and an old yellow notepad. I rip off the front sheet, an old incomplete errand list, and toss it aside. I lay the pen and notepad in front of me, cross my legs purposefully on my desk chair, and begin to think up some of the worst things I’ve ever done. Hell-worthy things. Annihilation of both the physical and spiritual self kind of things. 

1) Look at people and judge them, often think of how ugly they are and try not to breathe around them

2) Wished my aunt would die and then she did (not sure this was my fault?)

3) Felt joy that a former friend became the kind of person we used to hate

4) Keep stealing things and justifying it

5) Told my mom she looked old when I knew she didn’t need to hear it— it was before she had a date

And then, after a second glance, and in consideration of Christian dogma, I jot down:

6) Masturbate

My nerves settle after I write this. It makes me laugh that this has made it onto the list. It just doesn’t seem to rival the other things I’ve done, the things that are intentional and ugly. Instead, masturbating seems categorically similar to scratching an itch or sneezing. Something natural. Maybe a little shameful, but also barely conscious and hardly intellectual. Masturbating is just so… mechanical? Uninspired and mundane? I sit and stare. White stucco. Yellow notepad. Ballpoint pen. 

Then I wonder, with a small smile forming on my face, as if I were a middle school kid once again, if the type of porn one watches changes anything in God’s eyes? Would I be damned twice over if it were lesbian porn? Thrice over if it were lesbian anal? Perhaps given a pass if it were straight missionary smut?

I rip off another page of my notepad and begin a new list: 

Porn That Gets You Into Hell For Sure

-Anything gay

-Anything gay that includes butt stuff and excessive moans

-Anything gay that includes butt stuff, excessive moans, and ridiculous props

-Anything with masks or tails-Anything gay with masks or tails

This sardonic humor comforts my anxious mind. The God I was only moments ago terrified of has now become a cartoonish abstraction. A jeering politician in a tiny suit and clown shoes. But I know this cartoonish God is not real. He’s just the God of people’s imaginations and projections. I too have my own God, he who abides by all of my own personal dogmas. He enjoys my errors and missteps. He is thrilled by my readiness to challenge Him. He would never view my errors and accidents with anything other than an air of parental understanding. I think of the gentleness I’d feel towards a child who wets the bed at night or a dog who keeps chewing up things in the house, and I am immediately proud of the God of my own creation. Are we not all his children, stupid and wrongly self-assured, deserving of everything all at once? 

But I shift in my seat again. It isn’t like masturbating is an accident. I shift once more. Then again, it doesn’t quite feel purposeful either? Hardly a thing up for moral consideration—unless done in egregious excess or performed in front of others without their consent, neither of which apply in my case.

I don’t know anymore. I sit in my barren one-bedroom apartment and stare straight ahead. Me and the stucco white wall. Me and the grainy paint. I am frustrated with myself and my inability to come to a decisive answer. I bounce my leg up and down, and humor descends once more into anxiety. In a last ditch effort to find an actionable solution to my worries, I seek an answer in the stucco wall in front of me, trying to divine something out of its textured abstractions. But I see nothing in the stucco. No discernible shapes. Nothing but infinite white texture and little granules that will ultimately flake away and then be painted all over again.

Then, I think of the girl from Argentina. I think of us kissing on the upstairs floor of a grimy club. She believes I am more suave than she is, but this is only my first time. It is all touching and smiles, laughter and innocence, hushed whispers and quick movements. Because we are drunk, we think no one can see us. Still, I look back and choose to believe no one did. Not even God. It was a sacred moment that belonged to us alone. 

I love the memory, but also fear it. I imagine hell’s hot fire gripping me, Lewis’ words pierce me: “defect creature.” I am man at his most pitiable, split down the middle, an unsatisfying mixture of shame and excitement bound up in one freakish girl desperately seeking resolve. 

I cross my legs and then uncross them. All I am sure of is that I am tired of this mounting discomfort, tired of calling it mine. Lewis calls the awareness we direct toward ourselves the ‘ball of selfhood.’ He says we are supposed to pass it by and that holding on to it for too long is a kind of death. Though dubbing it ‘the ball of selfhood’ makes it sound sterile and unserious, I believe he is right. 

I unclench my jaw. Force a relaxed shoulder. Purport a higher consciousness.

And, in some inhibited way, feel comfort in Lewis’ faith that whatever this is belongs to all of us. 

***

Tayler Lee is a recent NYU graduate who resides in Queens. She has currently been reading too much existentialist philosophy. She enjoys watching horror movies, playing the bass, and going on walks with her two pups. Follow her on Instagram @the.new.fleshh

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