Though Americans remain a morally serious people, at least in our quickness to condemn each other as “Hitlers” for various misdeeds, we are clearly not concerned with moral consistency. We demand churches close to stop the spread of COVID, but not Wal-marts, bars, or casinos. We protest police violence with acts of violence. We celebrate Hugh Hefner as some great liberator of women, and, weeks after his death, condemn Harvey Weinstein. We say “character counts” when it’s their guy in office, but not when it’s our guy.
Then, last week, after three-plus years of the #MeToo movement protesting the objectification and abuse of women, the most objectifying song in history, one that reduces women to nothing more their private parts, hit #1 on the charts. I couldn’t possibly share the lyrics of this song … any of them. Please, do not look them up. The two women rappers who perform this song repeatedly call themselves prostitutes, although not using that word, and beg men to treat them as such.
By any definition, legal or otherwise, America’s most popular song and its accompanying video are best called pornography, and is available everywhere to anyone of any age.
Also last week, Netflix announced a new film to be carried on its platform called “Cuties,” a French film about an 11-year-old Muslim girl who liberates herself from the oppressive morality of her family and her religion by joining an all-girl dance crew. The image Netflix used to advertise the film on social media featured a group of pre-teen girls in sexually suggestive poses. The trailer featured the dance crew of young girls twerking, among other sexually suggestive dance moves.
In 1964, Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said that though he could not give a precise definition of pornography, “I know it when I see it.” Thankfully, the public outcry to the movie poster was loud, consistent, and incredulous. What the public saw was child pornography. In response, Netflix apologized and pulled the ad but, so far, not the movie itself.
As one Facebook meme put it, if conspiracy theorists needed ammo that government and media elites are behind international pedophile rings, Netflix just gave it to them.
As morally monstrous as both of these cultural artifacts are, they reveal a great deal about the society that produced them, one that considers self-determination, self-actualization, and absolute freedom from any restraint as the highest human goods. This sort of view emerges only by rejecting the idea that the universe is created and ordered for some determined purposes. In turn, such a society embraces a profoundly tragic misunderstanding not only about what’s right and wrong, but also of what it means to be human, and of what freedom truly is.
To teach this important foundational truth, I’ve long used an analogy with students. Imagine I’m an airplane pilot and, feeling quite free one day, I decide I don’t want to fly my plane, I want to drive it. So, I get to the end of the runway and turn left. Who’s going to stop me? I’m in a 747!
I’m cruising down the road, and then I decide I want to see Pike’s Peak. So, I start up the curvy, windy drive and get stuck. My expression of freedom actually limited my freedom. If I want to see Pikes Peak in a plane, I should fly it. A plane is most free not when I drive it, but when I fly it. That’s what is designed for.
The same is true of human sexuality. We are not most free when we do whatever we want, but only when we are what God created us to be. A view of freedom that denies accountability or consequences will only, always, enslave us to our own passions. As St. Paul wrote in Romans 6, “Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?”
From the very beginning, the Sexual Revolution promised the wrong kind of freedom. What it delivered instead, reimagining not only sexual morality but who we fundamentally are as human beings, was slavery. Women and children are disproportionately victims of these bad ideas. Our two most recent cultural artifacts retell these lies. It’s no accident that one is aimed at women, and the other is aimed at children.
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