In early October 2017, someone lit a fire in Hollywood. That fire has spread from Hollywood across the United States, and it has even touched off a flame in the UK. It was in early October that the allegations of sexual harassment and assault against film producer Harvey Weinstein were published, republished, repeated, and retweeted for the entire world to see. As Weinstein fell, others began to fall with him. The largest trees to fall to similar accusations to Weinstein have been the high-low-brow comedian, Louis C. K., the multi-award winning actor, Kevin Spacey, and anchor of Today, Matt Lauer.
It would seem the veil has been pulled back for just a moment to reveal the enormous burial vault of skeletons that serves as the entertainment industry’s closet. This was, of course, mind-blowing that an industry that has commodified sex on a global scale was even nastier in real life than on screen. Who knew?
What may be gleaned from the above is this: culturally, we agree that there is something as moral and ethical wrong, and that this is universal. It would be stated this way: sexual assault is wrong in all times at all places. No one agrees to the proposition that at one point it was morally permissible to pressure anyone into sex. Make no mistake, there are no actual and thoroughgoing relativists in this world. No one is making the argument that Harvey Weinstein was playing by a different set of legitimate rules.
As the furor has calmed down over the past month, Los Angeles Times published this op-ed: “Behind the Harassment Scandals, Another Dirty Little Secret: Pornography.” The main idea conveyed in the article is right at the top: pornography consumption is a public health crisis. The piece merits your time.
The author, Zac Crippen, cites multiple studies and papers originating at places like the Yale School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Arkansas among others. This isn’t something compiled by LifeWay or Focus on the Family or Family Research Council. This research is secular and the op-ed makes no mention of Jesus or Christianity. What we do not have is a theological argument against the consumption of pornography, but what is present is one that is socially pragmatic. Therefore, we want to be careful with how we use this particular editorial from Los Angeles Times.
First, we want to celebrate that someone is willing to tell the truth when it comes to the destructive force that is pornography. It’s very worthy of celebration and commendation that the newspaper with the fourth largest circulation in the United States would publish such a piece. Crippen shares that one particular porn site has a higher daily traffic than both Google and Netflix. Plenty of habitual porn consumers were faced with cause to square their own practice with reality. This is a good thing.
Second, we want to recognize that a pragmatic argument is not necessarily a bad thing. Proverbs 7 warns the reader against straying near the aggressive adulterous. Her amorous advances are treated consequentially. The simple man who follows her rather than Lady Wisdom goes to his death (v. 23). Why not go into this woman? Because if her husband doesn’t kill you, you’re condemned by the Law when you’re found out (Leviticus 20:10). The speaker of the Proverb is saying, in effect, “Son, don’t go there. You’ll get yourself killed.”
That being said, consequential arguments like this often do not work. Many a man and woman has known what could or would happen if a wrong choice was made and made said choice anyway. The American effort against drugs in public schools has been one of pragmatism: don’t do drugs because there are too many negative consequences. We see how this has largely failed to prevent experimentation with incredibly harmful illicit substances. Furthermore, we want to be careful not to create some sort of purely temporal consequential reasoning among our children. Don’t do X because Y will happen, and Y is bad. Anyone can follow that ethic; it is devoid of submission to God. That sort of reasoning can be overcome if, say your child is an IT expert and can get around any sort of detection, or if he knows people who habitually consume pornography and fail to develop into sexual predators. Swinging around a mallet emblazoned with the words “YOU’LL RUIN YOUR LIFE!” often generates new conflict and encourages an unteachable spirit.
Given all of the above, what we want to take from the op-ed is the following:
As stated at the start, Crippen’s writing reveals that our culture does indeed agree there’s such a thing as a moral absolute. What the article also reveals is that our culture is not nearly as hot to trot about pursuing that moral absolute as it thinks it is. The research is there in the piece. Consumption of pornography entreats sexually aggressive behavior. There we will see the breakdown. Consider this response when Crippen tweeted his article.
I would discourage you from looking up Mr. Singh’s Twitter account as he is apparently an editor for Playboy; unless you’ve been living in a cave since the 1950s, you know where that can go. Notice the lack of actual rebuttal or any content whatsoever. This is representative of the response to any kind of ethic that would affect a person’s own private practice of porn consumption. Those in the secular world make a banner against sexual assault, as they rightly should. Then when the proposition is set forth that says abstention from pornography is part of the solution, the secular world says, “Well, that can’t be right.”
As Christians, we are to tell the world that it looks at itself in a broken mirror. Its thinking is fragmented, yielding a complete lack of clarity and consistency. “Do you see,” we say, “The problem is internal. It is a part of us!” We cry with Paul the apostle, “Who will save us from this body of sin?” We are the problem, the culture that has commercialized and commodified sex has so confused itself that it cannot see that it is consuming its own human dignity to serve its insatiable appetite.
When we say that there absolutely is a context for sex that is loving, encouraging, and fostering of an inimitable relationship between two people, we’re not being draconian. To call such a thing draconian is to say the same of people who don’t want toddlers waving pistols around. Instead, Christians are recognized the fact that the God who created men and women in his own image (Genesis 1:26-27) knows more about sex than we do. The Christian is not on the defensive in this conversation. The Christian is the one who never has to reinterpret what good or bad sex and sexuality are. It exists in the context of marriage between one man and one woman, and it serves the purposes of expressing love toward one another and hopefully yielding children, thus bringing God glory. It’s not fornication (sex between unmarried individuals), and it’s not adultery (sex between individuals, at least one of whom is married, but not to the other). That’s easy enough; however, given the biblical context for sex, it’s also not sex for the entertainment of others as we have in pornography. Entertainment is something that, especially in this day and age, is on-demand. Is it a wonder that when a culture can have anything it wants, when it wants it, that the virtual leads to the actual? Two or three clicks on a hand-held device can bring to view any number of expressions of sexuality. The strangest proclivity or curiosity can be satisfied in less than a minute. Our screens give us what we want now. In a world where what is sold is also stolen or taken by force, is it a stretch to say that where sex is sold it will also be taken at will by those who can and have the desire?
With the fall of Today anchor Matt Lauer and even famed public radio host Garrison Keillor yesterday, the question is raised: who’s next? We cannot know who will be, but we can say who won’t. Those who have practiced the ethic of understanding that God made sex, and he made it to be good in the context of marriage. May those who have stayed and even fought for faithfulness rest well tonight while the world around them nervously quakes.
“He who walks in integrity walks securely,
But he who perverts his way will be found out.”
Proverbs 10:9 (NASB)