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 Street 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 lesssex 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 people 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.
This post first appeared on breakpoint.org. Copyright 2014 Breakpoint and John Stonestreet. Used with permission.