Saturday, September 4, 2004

Our Sexualized Culture

One can scarcely open the newspapers in this enlightened age without reading about some celebrity being charged with sexual misconduct of one form or another. Kobe Bryant, Mike McGreevy, William Kennedy Smith, Charles Barkley, Mike Tyson, Bill Clinton and perhaps tens of thousands of lesser known figures all share in common that they have been charged with sexual crimes. Perhaps things were always thus, but I doubt it.

Until relatively recently there was a wall, porous perhaps, but a wall nonetheless between men and women. The wall consisted of a complex of psychological, social, and moral inhibitions that served to protect young women from being treated by young men as though they were little more than receptacles for male passion. Today the wall is scarcely more than a speed bump.

Our highly sexualized culture has persuaded many young men that women are just as lascivious and willing as they are. Women have been complicit in this by not insisting that men refrain from sexual expression in their presence, by behaving and dressing provocatively, and by eagerly participating in the sexually relaxed atmosphere of the last three decades and the consequent general coarsening of the culture. Whereas women in previous generations strove to give the impression that they were sexually inaccessible absent an enduring matrimonial commitment, whereas they strove to give the impression, however misleading, that sex was not even something they thought about, today's woman tacitly sends the message in dozens of ways that she is indeed sexually available to the any man who knows how to go about claiming the prize. Celebrities young and old, brimming with the swagger of self-confidence, have no doubt in their minds that such women really want to be won by them, and there's no reason they can think of why they shouldn't possess that which one is convinced wants to be possessed.

Modern society has taken the cookie jar down from an inaccessible shelf, placed it directly under the child's nose, and admonished him with a wink not to take any cookies. If the child finds the temptation irresistible the fault is not entirely his.

In a culture saturated with messages about how eager women are to jump into the sack on the first date, a young man who encounters a woman who is not sufficiently compliant draws the reasonable conclusion that his only problem is that he must be insufficiently forceful. She wants to be taken, he assumes, she wants to be given no choice, it's part of the game.

After all, he knows, if only subliminally, that there are few young men who would not succumb to the seductions of a woman who was insistent, persistent, and forceful. This is especially true of young single men, most of whom would fall like ripe fruit into the hands of any reasonably attractive woman intent on bedding him, so why shouldn't he draw the conclusion that women share the same human vulnerability and yearning? He's heard from feminists and social commentators ever since he was young that in terms of their sexual needs men and women are pretty much the same. Isn't that the message of Sex in the City and countless movies, novels, music videos, and songs?

He's genuinely surprised when the charges are filed to realize that she didn't welcome his advances after all. He'd been totally unprepared by the environment in which he grew up for the possibility that one or two of the cookies in the jar might really be forbidden.

Sexual assault will not soon abate in a culture which treats sex as little more than a form of recreation or as just another appetite to be satisfied no matter how draconian the laws against it might become. Nor will it abate in a relativistic culture which can offer no moral sanction against it. Nor will it subside in a politically correct culture which insists upon throwing young men and women in the midst of hormonal frenzy into close contact with each other in school, in the military, or on the job as if sex were the furthest thing from their minds when in fact it's almost all they're thinking about. Sexual offenses will only diminish when sex is returned to the status of a sacred prerogative of the marriage union and when society rebuilds the wall by teaching young men from childhood on that sex has a moral dimension no matter what confusing and contradictory messages our culture might convey.

Sex needs to be seen as an enjoyment reserved for the culmination of a long period of courtship and commitment. Apart from that commitment it is a distortion and violation of the will of God. Apart from that commitment women will be increasingly victimized by young men who have never been given any serious reason to restrain and discipline their libido.

Imagine If

Let us imagine for a moment that two female Christians blew up a couple of airliners and killed everyone on board. Imagine further that another Christian woman blew herself up in a subway station and killed nine people, that Christians were systematically murdering thousands of black Africans, and that they kidnap a thousand people and slaughter several hundred terrified children. What would the world be saying about Christians? If Christians themselves remained silent, or even if they didn't, would there not be demands from every quarter of the globe to rid ourselves of a religion which motivates and countenances such atrocities? How, people would ask, can anyone accept a faith that justifies such horrors? Christianity and Christians would be justly treated with the contempt and disgust they would so richly deserve.

So why do Muslims get a pass? Why do we think that somehow all this terror, all this killing is aberrational? Why is Islam not held to account for the crimes being committed in its name? If it were Christians who were guilty of such savagery we would be deafened by outraged voices accusing the Faith of being systemically rotten, and those voices would be correct. It was Jesus, after all, who instructed us that the quality of any belief system, like the quality of a life, can be told by the fruit that it bears.

Hundreds of children are put through the darkest hell for three days by incredibly cruel Muslims acting on the conviction that they are doing Allah's will, and what do we hear from the Islamic community? Where is the anger and outrage? Where are the cries from Muslims for repentance, for introspection, for prayer and fasting in the Muslim communities? Where are the anguished pleas from Muslims for forgiveness for a religion which is apparently so deeply sick in its soul? Don't they feel that as co-religionists they share in the guilt of the crimes committed by their brothers and sisters? Christians would, and they would be expected to. Christians are still disparaged for the Inquisition, the Crusades, and the internecine strife in Ireland, and still even now periodically ask forgiveness for offenses committed by our fathers and our brothers. Maybe the anger, outrage, and cries of repentance and pleas for forgiveness are out there, but, if so, they haven't come to our attention.

Meanwhile, while we're waiting, let's have no more post-modern twaddle about the equal moral and spiritual legitimacy of all religions. Let's have no more nonsense about Muslim tolerance, mercy, and peace. Let's not hide from unpleasant realities. Any religion that would permit the atrocities that have occured in Russia to take place in its name without sending mosques all over the world into paroxysms of remorse, self-doubt, and a resolve to eliminate the evil scourge from their midst, is a barbaric, savage creed that has no place in a civilized world. Any religion which accepts the mass murders of terrified children with equanimity, satisfied, evidently, that the will of God is being done is truly Satanic.

Let's Get it Right

One expects distortions and tendentiousness from the secular left because the secular left holds to a pragmatic view of morality. For them whatever works is right and if one has to lie about one's opponent, distort his words, or smear his reputation such acts are justified by the end result of bringing about his defeat. From the Christian left, however, we expect a principled comittment to truth and fairness. Thus we're a little disappointed in the response by evangelical writer Jim Wallis of Sojourners magazine to President Bush's convention speech. Wallis makes a number of claims in his essay which are either unfair, completely mistaken, or simply ludicrous. He opens, for example with this:

After the scurrilous (one could say vicious) attacks on John Kerry by Republican convert Zell Miller at Wednesday night's Republican convention...,

This statement is, in my opinion, completely unsupportable which is why, evidently, Wallis doesn't support it. I challenge Wallis to cite anything in Miller's speech which was scurrilous, let alone vicious. The only way he could honestly see Miller's speech as either of these is if his definition of these words is synonomous with "angry". Miller was indeed angry, but what's wrong with that? Wallis' description implies that MIller was untruthful and slanderous. If Miller was indeed untruthful then Wallis should tell us exactly how he was instead of just letting the charge hang in mid-air. As it is Wallis' statement gratuitously tarnishes a good man and that's inexcusable coming from a representative of the body of Christ.

He goes on:

But what the president failed to deal with was how his central domestic priority, "making permanent" his tax cuts that most benefit the wealthy, will simply not allow such positive government initiatives - because of a lack of resources. Nor did the president acknowledge or take any responsibility for the largest net job loss in any presidential administration since Herbert Hoover; the country's record deficits; the rise in the number of Americans living in poverty in each of the last three years (now one in eight of us); or the one million Americans who have lost their health care insurance each year he has been in office.

Wallis criticizes the president for not issuing a mea culpa in a convention acceptance speech. This is a little silly. And it's more than a little unfair since not only did he not take Kerry to task for not even discussing his senate record in his own nominating speech, he didn't even write a response to Kerry's speech like he did for Bush. In other words, Bush is faulted for not saying everything, and Kerry is given a pass for not saying anything. Even so, Wallis should know that the recession which caused the job losses he mentions began under Clinton and was exacerbated by 9/11, so it's misleading to cite this as though Bush had caused the problem through presidential mis-management.

He goes on to say:

But the visioning of new domestic possibilities was followed by yet another personal attack on John Kerry (as opposed to clear distinctions to his record), attacks that stained this whole convention.

This claim is absolutely baseless. There were no personal attacks on Kerry in the entire convention, at least not in prime time. Not one. Wallis acknowledges that criticism of one's opponent's record is legitimate, so I urge him to provide a single instance of any speaker attacking anything about Kerry other than his record.

Honest comparisons between the candidate's policy proposals and records are, of course, valid in a political campaign, but the Republican Convention went over the top again and again (as Al Sharpton did at the Democratic Convention). The president's most offensive line in that regard was, "If you say the heart and soul of America is found in Hollywood, I'm afraid you are not the candidate of conservative values." Come on. I don't know anybody in America who believes that about Hollywood. (Emphasis ours)

Keep in mind that according to Wallis the Republicans went "over the top again and again". In support of this claim he offers a single example. He cites the most offensive thing the President said about Kerry, and Wallis finds it beyond the pale because he doesn't know anyone who "believes that about Hollywood". The implication here is that the President is just making stuff up about Kerry which would indeed be inexcusable if that's what he were doing. Apparently, though, Wallis hasn't been paying much attention to events in the campaign. Last July, Kerry attended a Hollywood fund raiser at which there were a number of celebrities in attendance and at which Whoopi Goldberg did an obscene "comedy" routine that was degrading to the President. One celebrity after another then rose to add their disparaging remarks to those of Goldberg. Finally Kerry concluded the show by thanking the crowd and making the claim himself that it is among such people that the soul of America resides. Here's the relevant description from CNN's account:

Other entertainers also made disparaging remarks about Bush at the event, but what has Republicans particularly critical of Kerry were his closing remarks in which he thanked them and said they "conveyed the heart and soul of our country."(Emphasis ours)

Wallis' best example of the offensiveness of the Republicans turns out to be an act of quoting Kerry himself. He needs to do his homework before he takes it upon himself to derogate others and he needs to offer a public apology to the President for his slander. I wonder whether Wallis wrote about the offensiveness of Fahrenheit 9/11 or the repugnant rhetoric of Al Gore who has called Bush a liar, a traitor, and a coward. I wonder if he's written about how maliciously over-the-top Ted Kennedy is in accusing Bush of concocting a war just to enrich his corporate buddies.

Maybe he has, and if so, his criticism of Bush for quoting Kerry is merely dumb and uninformed. But if he hasn't, his criticism of Bush is both foolish and hypocritical.

Polls and Debates

This news from Time magazine online reinforces what Viewpoint suggested Thursday night about the creeping sense of fatalism among Kerry supporters:

For the first time since the Presidential race became a two person contest last spring, there is a clear leader, the latest TIME poll shows. If the 2004 election for President were held today, 52% of likely voters surveyed would vote for President George W. Bush, 41% would vote for Democratic nominee John Kerry, and 3% would vote for Ralph Nader, according to a new TIME poll conducted from Aug. 31 to Sept. 2.

Other polls have the race much closer but a double-digit lead has to be giving the Kerry team heartburn. What do they do to reverse it at this point? They have two hopes. They can hope that something bad happens in the war or to the economy, hopes so ignoble that they would never dream of admitting to them, or they can hope that Kerry will devastate Bush in the debates.

This latter hope is realistic, but it shouldn't be. In Viewpoint's opinion presidential debates serve no useful purpose. They are a waste of time and resources in almost any election season but especially in this one. No one who has been paying attention is going to be swayed by what they hear and anyone who hasn't been paying attention to this campaign by now shouldn't vote in November anyway.

Both of this year's candidates have extensive records which are far more reliable predictors of what they would do as president than anything they say in a debate. Moreover, a good debate performance is no indicator at all as to what kind of president a man would be. We don't elect a debater-in-chief, we elect a commander-in-chief. A man may be an excellent debater but a terrible leader.

Presidential debates do not promote the national interest, they only cater to the media's appetite for attention. They give the narcissists in the elite media an opportunity to enhance their own sense of self-importance, but beyond that they accomplish almost nothing other than to provide an opportunity for one candidate or the other to get off a zinger at the expense of his opponent. Certainly they are not sincere attempts to learn the truth about the candidates. They are all about image and style, and scarcely at all about real substance. To get at the substance of a candidate we need only consult his record and the media can display that without the irrelevant trappings of a mano a mano gladiatorial contest.

Almost none of what is memorable from past debates tells us anything of importance about the candidates involved. Richard Nixon had five o'clock shadow. Gerald Ford "liberated" Poland. Reagan admonished Carter, "There you go again". Lloyd Bentson scorched Dan Quayle with, "You're no John Kennedy". George H.W. Bush glanced wearily at his watch. These are the things that the media found infinitely fascinating and worth going to the trouble and expense of having a national debate in order to witness and talk about, but none of them had any relevance at all to the question of whether the candidate deserved our vote.

The only image from any debate that revealed anything of importance to voters was when Al Gore stomped across the stage to hover menacingly above George W. Bush while Bush responded to a question. That bit of buffoonery announced to the world that Gore was a nitwit. Other than that debates have never revealed anything useful.

Even so, the media will insist that we undergo the ordeal so that the 5% of undecided citizens who have been living in a cave somewhere for the last three years can have one last chance to closely scrutinize the candidates. All this flummery for people who don't care, who probably won't vote anyway, and if they do, will doubtless base their vote on which candidate is cutest, is pretty hard to justify.