America Needs a Workable Sexual Ethic

Not Matt Lauer too. I liked Matt Lauer. He seemed like a down-to-earth guy, someone who enjoyed his work and was good at it. Unlike some of the people on television, I never felt like Matt Lauer thought he was better or more important than his viewers.

Let’s remember that the accusations of sexual harassment against Mr. Lauer are just that: accusations. They have not been proved and in our legal system a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty. That would have been an easier presumption to maintain if Lauer had not been the latest link on a long, fast-growing chain of powerful people who have been accused of immoral and even illegal sexual conduct.

In the past, the nation has been willing to overlook such accusations. The careers of Bill Clinton, Clarence Thomas, and Donald Trump were not destroyed by their accusers. But since the revelations concerning Harvey Weinstein opened the floodgates, that seems to be changing – at least for now. Powerful men are losing their jobs and watching their careers and legacy dissolve before their eyes.

When I say powerful men, I am aware that women have also been accused. But let’s face it: the vast majority of accusations have been levelled against men: Charlie Rose, Glenn Thrush, Jeffrey Tambor, Al Franken, Roy Moore, Louis C. K., Steven Seagal, Kevin Spacey, George H. W. Bush, John Conyers, and a host of others.

Several times during this flood of revelations, I have thought of the poem “Man in Space” by contemporary American poet Billy Collins. In it he explains why women in science fiction movies “are always standing in a semicircle, with their arms folded, their bare legs set apart, their breasts protected by hard metal disks.” The reason, of course, is men.

What can we learn from the deluge of allegations? That men are evil? That power corrupts? That there is a dangerous imbalance of power between the genders?

We may need to relearn these old lessons, but we must also come to grips with America’s need of a workable sexual ethic based on a healthy view of sexuality. Such a view is profoundly absent in the culture at large, where sexual pleasure has been elevated to an ultimate good. Hollywood and the advertising industry are culpable in propagating this lie, and the consequences are everywhere evident.

The Bible and, based on it, Christianity, provides a healthy view of sexuality, but we are so far down the rabbit hole that even Christians are largely unaware of it. The Christian view is not a return to Victorian era ethics but an advance to an ethic based on love and respect for God and people, a love and respect constructed on a foundation of genuine spirituality. As Dallas Willard put it: “The human body becomes the primary source of pleasure for the person who does not live honestly and interactively with God, and also the primary source of terror, torture, and death.” Our culture is painfully aware of the need to build a new sexual ethic, but it is largely unware of the need for a foundation to support it.

There is another lesson to learn from this, one that has implications for Christians. The idea that cultural necessity trumps God’s standards of morality – that we must, for example, elect a Roy Moore, even though he may have committed horrendous acts because we can’t afford to lose the Senate – is profoundly unchristian. Didn’t St. Paul demolish the idea that we must “do evil that good may result”? Didn’t he warn that evil can only be overcome by good, and not by doing further evil?

The idea that a political agenda is more important than right and wrong is, as David Brooks has pointed out, a form of idolatry. Whenever a person places trust in some form of power (the Democratic or Republican parties, for example) above trust in God; whenever a person is willing to sacrifice to that power, especially when it is his or her moral integrity that is being sacrificed; whenever a person acts on the idea that ultimate good can come from secondary means, he or she is committing idolatry.

The final words of St. John’s first letter remain disconcertingly apropos for our age: “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.”

First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 12/2/2017

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7 Responses to America Needs a Workable Sexual Ethic

  1. I’m afraid with Matt Lauer the evidence is overwhelming. The button he used to automatically shut and lock the door to his office and other physical evidence. My daughter works in Hollywood and all I can say is that it’s about time these creeps are weeded out of their positions of power.

    • salooper57 says:

      Thanks for your comment. May God protect your daughter (and everyone else’s). Weeding does have to happen. The problem, of course, is the weeds keep growing back. The solution will require the kind of sexual ethic based on a solid foundation, the kind one finds in Christianity and at which academia and the media have poked fun for years.
      Shayne

  2. You’re a brave man, Shayne! I wouldn’t have dared to touch this subject, but you did it (as always) in a sensible, and even affable, way. And you invited us to step back and think about what this situation implies on a larger cultural level. I especially like that you didn’t spell out the ethic that is needed; you just worked on making your readers curious and getting us thinking.

    Ron

  3. salooper57 says:

    Thanks, Ron. But it’s not bravery, just naivete.

  4. Rosemary Weaver says:

    Your commentary is right on; and I agree. It made me think of
    how women were often treated as possessions in Biblical times, e.g., King David.
    And, evidently continues into the 21st century. I don’t doubt the truth of the
    womens’ accusations in the news lately. But all women have a responsibility to be aware of the message they convey to men by the way they dress and behave in public. Women must learn at an early age to respect themselves throughout all areas of their lives to show those around them how they expect to be treated. Mothers (and fathers) need to begin to instill that knowledge of self-respect in their daughters at a very early age of development.

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