It is a human tendency to imbue inanimate objects with a sort of personality, the better to integrate ‘em into our world. Ships become ladies (as do guns, sometimes, however counterintuitively); machines are given agency and cursed for their willful disobedience when malfunctioning. All of this is perfectly tolerable, and even good, when it is considered in the proper light and to the proper extent.
But there are extremes which should not even be contemplated, much less approached, much less actually embraced. The world has seen fit to belch forth two people who seem determined to stand for all that is most sordid and vile in the modern conception of human sexuality, and it is down such object-oriented paths that these individuals have chosen to tread.
Case 1: Mr. Edward Smith. He has sex with cars. Or, that is, he thinks he does. What he really does is masturbate in or around cars. And the helicopter from Airwolf (his “most intense sexual experience”). And any other vehicles that get his motor running, as it were.
Case 2: Mrs. Eija-Riitta Berliner-Mauer, as she would falsely have herself called. She thinks she’s “married” to the Berlin Wall. The happy couple tied the knot in 1979, though their relationship suffered something of a setback when the groom was murdered by a bloodthirsty mob a decade later.
What is to be done with such people? Both are defiant in their lewd obsessions, and entirely resistant to the suggestion that there is even the slightest thing wrong with them. The lady in the second case carries out her infamy under the protection of having been diagnosed with “Objectum-Sexuality,” the great paradox of our modernity being that a medical diagnosis of something being terribly wrong is the first line of defense against people suggesting there’s something wrong with you. The gentleman in the first case, by contrast, has not been diagnosed with anything, and defends his actions – many of which have been rapine, in effect, having been carried out in secret on cars owned by strangers – in the two most typical manners of the age.
First, we must note his constant appeals to harmlessness:
“I’m not sick and I don’t want to hurt anyone, cars are just my preference.”
“I didn’t fully understand it myself except that I know I’m not hurting anyone and I do not intend to.”
Now, St. Paul similarly lamented that he could not understand himself and why he did the things he did (Rom. 7:15 and onward), but from this he became more and more certain that his own inclinations were to be resisted. Not knowing why he did certain things, he could not also be certain of the full extent of their consequences. In the case of Mr. Smith, it is very much the case that somebody is being hurt: Mr. Smith himself. The self is still a person, even if not another person; suicide, for example, is murder. Chesterton took this even further, of course, declaring in Orthodoxy that suicide was nothing less than complete treason, in its betrayal of all beauty, hope and goodness, and complete murder, in its functional effort to blot out all of creation from the perspective of the man committing the deed.
As far as Mr. Smith goes, he may certainly think he’s enjoying himself, and he may not be harming any other human beings with his actions (though fans of Airwolf may be suffering from a sort of trauma just now), but in reality he is both gravely disordered and entirely deluded, and the damage he is doing to his body, soul and mind is severe. What is more, though, is that the Law of No Harm is damned nonsense. It is neither virtuous nor sufficient to begin discerning the moral licitness of an action by asking, “does it harm?” It should rather first be asked, “does it help?” That is, start not by hoping it is not bad, but rather by ensuring that it is good. There is a world of difference between the two outlooks that is improperly appreciated in this era.
The larger trouble with this comes in the second standard trope employed by eccentrics and perverts: the protection of a “community.” In Smith’s case we may blame that great connector of shut-ins:
Mr Smith is now part of a global community of more than 500 “car lovers” brought together by internet forums.
You’re on the same internet right now, people. We all are. The artificial crowd of witnesses created by an internet forum – by the internet in general – confers a sense of legitimacy and numerousness upon any ridiculous cause that would otherwise be unthinkable. Similarly, if one were to collect all of the mechaphiliacs in the world and assemble them in a sort of parade, no doubt it would be very impressive – for a parade down a city street. In a global sense, though, not so much.
I asked earlier what should be done with such people. The answer is not easy. Though “offer them love and generally leave them alone” does not seem morally satisfying, it would probably be prudentially best on a case-by-case basis. As the Catechism declares (355-57), and the Compendium to same summarizes:
All human beings, in as much as they are created in the image of God, have the dignity of a person. A person is not something but someone, capable of self-knowledge and of freely giving himself and entering into communion with God and with other persons.
This dignity and this freedom must be respected, even when the dignity is not apparent and even when the freedom is abused. But there is an important corollary to this. An object is not someone but something, incapable of self-knowledge or that freedom of giving and communion, and as such is a wholly unworthy recipient of that romantic love of which the sexual act is the highest physical expression.