Miley Cyrus and the Moral Gag Reflex

De-Pornifying Culture

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Have we finally triggered a gag reflex in Western culture? I think we may have. Stay tuned for BreakPoint!

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John Stonestreet

Looking at culture, it’s tempting to give up in despair. As the dad of little girls, for example, when I see the relentless objectification of women by celebrities such as Miley Cyrus, I’m tempted to think that any attempt in what William Wilberforce called a “reformation of manners” is futile. It seems that instead, in the words of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, we have to “define deviance down.”

But lately, there have been encouraging signs. It’s too soon to call it a “reformation of manners” but a backlash to what one recent author called our cultural vulgarity is already asserting itself—not via the boycotts of angry culture warriors but by some of the unlikeliest cultural allies in politics, the media, and the music industry. For example, several celebrities have spoken out who’ve been repulsed by the shameless pornification of “entertainers” such as Miley Cyrus.

Singer Sinead O’Connor warned her in a direct letter, “Nothing but harm will come in the long run from allowing yourself to be exploited…. It is absolutely NOT … an empowerment of yourself or any other young women, for you to send across the message that you are to be valued … more for your sexual appeal than your obvious talent.”

And Joan Rivers said, “We get it: You’re no longer Hannah Montana ... but could you do it with a little more grace?”

Media critics are also experiencing something of a moral gag reflex. Critic Lee Siegel of The Wall Daily_Commentary_01_07_14Street Journal, no prude himself, wonders how we became so coarse, in the process draining the mystery and pleasure right out of sex.

Feminist writer Naomi Wolf says that pornography is actually killing our desire for sex. Indeed, one study shows that couples may be having 20 percent less sex than they did ten years ago. With all the celebration of sex, I wonder why?

Jonah Goldberg writes, “Today, there’s nothing suggestive about Miley Cyrus. Nobody watching her twerk thinks, ‘I wonder what she’s getting at?’”

And writing for Glamour, a decidedly liberal magazine, television star Rashida Jones calls for a new conversation about the exploitation of Miley Cyrus: “This isn’t showing female sexuality; this is showing what it looks like when women sell sex,” Jones says. “Also, let’s be real. Every woman’s sexuality is different. Can all of us really be into stripper moves?”

And even some politicians are aggressively trying to draw some boundaries, at least overseas. A parliamentarian in Iceland, described as “ultra-liberal” by The Economist, is attempting to outlaw online pornography, believing it contributes to prostitution. British Prime Minister David Cameron hopes to change the default setting on online porn to blocked, unless a household specifically chooses to opt in. Porn in homes is, he says, “corroding childhood.” They’re seeing the consequences of bad ideas about sex in the real world.

Now, many of these new allies have little on which to base their revulsion of the new vulgarity other than their feelings. They know it’s destructive and hurtful to women, children, and families, but they don’t know why. And that’s where Christians can step in with a little gentle teaching about worldview. We might even be surprised at their response.

The culture’s growing acknowledgement of the hurtfulness of porn reveals, in the words of our friend J. Budziszewski, “The task of debate about morality is not so much teaching peoNewsletter_Gen_180x180_Bple what they have no clue about, but bringing to the surface the latent moral knowledge or suppressed moral knowledge that they have already.”

We can explain that our opposition to the pornification of culture is not because we’re afraid of sex, but because we abhor the consequences of its misuse for those created in the image of God. We can confidently tell them that the good gift of sex in marriage brings children, and intimacy, and allows us to learn something of the love of God for his people. The pornification of culture cheapens and obscures this valuable gift.

And that can help explain where all of this gagging has been coming from.

Further Reading and Information

BP-Takeaction_010714Miley Cyrus and the Moral Gag Reflex: De-Pornifying Culture - Next Steps

Step into this conversation on this subject intelligently. John's series, "Sexual Brokenness" is a great resource for instruction on combating the pornification of our culture. And check out the links for the background articles John referred to in his commentary.

Use our recently updated search feature to explore the many resources on this issue. Just type in your search term at the top right of the BreakPoint website. You can then narrow your search on the results page.


Sexual Brokenness, flashdrive
John Stonestreet, T. M. Moore | BreakPoint.org

Triumph of the vulgarians

Jonah Goldberg | L. A. Times | December 10, 2013

America the Vulgar
Lee Siegel | Wall Street Journal | December 6, 2013

Why Is Everyone Getting Naked?
Rashida Jones | Glamour

The Natural Law Is What We Naturally Know
J. Budziszewski | Acton Institute, Religion & Liberty

Celebrities Who Have Weighed In On Miley Cyrus
Erin Clements | Huffington Post | October 18, 2013

Naked ambition
The Economist | April 20, 2013

'Unavoidable choice’: Cameron readying UK internet porn block
Luke McGregor | Reuters | July 22, 2013

Playing Dumb: The Natural Consequences of Violating the Natural Law
J. Budziszewski | The Veritas Forum | March 15, 2006

How porn is destroying modern sex lives
Naomi Wolf | Daily Mail | December 13, 2013



You're correct that growing numbers of liberals are starting to denounce our pornographic culture. Another great example of this occurred during last year's Hip Hop Awards when rapper MC Lyte received a legacy award. She used her acceptance speech to then criticize the rampant misogyny in the industry

"Men, we are depending on you. We need you to protect us when no one else will. So stop cursing us out all the time, okay? Find some love for us somewhere, God bless. And ladies, I say if you want to be treated like a queen, act like one.


The audience was stunned since they're not used to one of their own rebuking them. (To be fair, MC Lyte has intended her music to be an alternative to the sexism in the rap industry.)

The "moral gag reflex" isn't limited to the music industry. Blogger Gina McCauley wrote a brilliant rebuke to those feminists who argue that popular singer Beyonce's sleazy music makes her a positive role model for Black girls:


John Stonestreet is correct that this cultural gag reflex gives the church the opportunity to explain and demonstrate why following Christian standards for sexuality is a positive for everyone.
Redeeming Liberalism
This article hits the nail on the head and scratches the surface for an avenue to substantive conversation with our worldly neighbors to the left. We shouldn't forget that modern liberalism has its roots in social welfare organizations started by Christians, but I have found it more helpful to start with an obvious example of broken culture such as a child star objectifying herself.

Even the horrible cartoon 'South Park' recognized the problem with women in pop culture who are destined to be pimped out almost as if we are making human sacrifices in our new pagan culture in their episode 'Britney's New Look.' There is a treasure trove of God's marred image priming people for the truth if only we Christians would go out and boldly face our culture instead of sulking in our safety net of 'Christendom.'

In reference to Pastor Mark Driscoll, we need to "reject, receive, or redeem" different things from our culture. John Stonestreet is right to redeem our culture's gag reflex.