By now everyone in America and likely far beyond knows the names Harvey Weinstein, Roy Moore, Kevin Spacey, Louis C. K., Al Franken, Charlie Rose, Matt Lauer, Garrison Keillor and many other men who have been accused recently of sexual harassment and/or assault. That list is admittedly somewhat arbitrary – I included the names of the ones I consider highest profile – and is growing literally by the day.
What is going on?
One morning recently I was listening to a sports talk radio program known for its insightful, humorous and irreverent treatment of people in sports, entertainment and beyond. To the best of my knowledge, none of the people on the show identify as Christians, or conservatives of any kind. They do, however, evince a fairly realistic, even jaded view of the world of sports and entertainment. They take great delight in exposing and lampooning the sacred cows in those fields, and occasionally in politics and the culture at large.
The host was asking the question: What is going on?
He seemed aghast, positively dumbfounded, at these revelations involving rich and powerful men behaving badly. Very badly. Perhaps even criminally.
I wanted to call in and say, “Why? Where does this newfound sense of shock on your part come from? Your show and countless others like it on the radio, TV and the Internet positively exult in the excesses of athletes and celebrities of all stripes, especially their sexual excesses. You make a very nice living talking about it and having these people on your show.
“We have spent the last 50-plus years as a nation rejecting and repudiating our Judeo-Christian heritage, values and principles – especially in the area of sexual morality. We have mercilessly mocked and marginalized people who hold to those values and beliefs (ever heard of Tim Tebow?), tried to silence them and punish them in the court of public opinion and actual courts of law ….
“And now you’re appalled at the Harvey Weinsteins, Kevin Spaceys, Roy Moores and Al Frankens of the world? Really?”
So – what is going on?
As I said, our culture has moved away from its Judeo-Christian values at breakneck speed since the early 1960’s. This is no accident. In his highly acclaimed 1983 essay The Humanist, John J. Dunphy wrote:
“I am convinced that the battle for humankind’s future must be waged and won in the public school classroom by teachers who correctly perceive their role as the proselytizers of a new faith: a religion of humanity that recognizes and respects the spark of what theologians call divinity in every human being. These teachers must embody the same selfless dedication as the most rabid fundamentalist preachers, for they will be ministers of another sort, utilizing a classroom instead of a pulpit to convey humanist values in whatever subject they teach, regardless of the educational level – preschool, daycare, or large state university. The classroom must and will become an arena of conflict between the old and the new – the rotting corpse of Christianity, together with all its adjacent evils and misery, and the new faith of humanism, resplendent with its promise of a world in which the never-realized Christian ideal of ‘love thy neighbor’ will finally be achieved.”
Again, this conflict manifests itself most dramatically with regard to sexual morality. It used to be understood that sex was reserved for a man and a woman united in marriage – holy matrimony, as it was called. Self-control and abstinence outside of marriage were considered virtues, back when the word “virtue” could be used without eliciting a cynical smirk. Not that everybody lived up to that standard, of course; rich and powerful men have always taken advantage of vulnerable women (and sometimes other men). But – that was the standard. You flaunted it at the risk of public opprobrium and even shunning and condemnation.
Try taking that stance today at any university or even high school. You will be laughed at (or worse) for your unenlightened, repressive, judgmental, culturally insensitive, intolerant beliefs.
While we’re yucking it up, consider the following. In America today:
- A sexual assault occurs every 98 seconds.
- STDs are on the rise. The CDC estimates there are nearly 20 million new infections every year. (Many cases go undiagnosed and unreported, and data on some STDs – such as human papillomavirus and herpes simplex virus, are not routinely reported to CDC.) The highest-ever number of cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis were recorded in 2016; approximately half of them among people ages 15-24.
- Since the early 1960’s, out-of-wedlock birth rates have soared. In 1960, five percent of infants born in the United States were born to single mothers; today that number is 40 percent.
- There are 1.2 million abortions every year; over 60 million since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal in 1973.
- Pornography is a $100 billion annual industry worldwide, and $10-12 billion of that comes from the US alone.
Let that last nugget sink in for a moment: $10-12 billion spent on an industry entirely dedicated to objectifying and dehumanizing women and children … and we’re shocked when men in positions of power and privilege dehumanize women, young men and children?
Are we still laughing?
Stephen Covey, in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, observed that during the first 150 years, American leadership literature focused on the character of the leader. At that point the emphasis changed to the leader’s technique – i.e. the way he or she gets things done, and how effectively.
Nowhere was this more in evidence than during the President Clinton-Monica Lewinski scandal. The President’s defenders said, in effect: “Who cares? It’s just sex … everybody does it. And besides, it doesn’t affect how he does his job,” etc.
And an overwhelming majority of Americans agreed: Mr. Clinton left office with a 65 percent approval rating. (His approval rating reached its peak, 73 percent, during his impeachment proceedings.) He is to this day greeted as the proverbial rock star wherever he goes in the U.S. and abroad. A very wealthy, supremely powerful man taking advantage of a much younger, vulnerable female subordinate … and 65 percent of us said, “Nothing to see here … besides, I like how he’s doing his job.”
So now we find ourselves virtually inundated with revelations of other wealthy and powerful men engaging in inappropriate, unethical, unseemly and even criminal conduct … and we’re just appalled.
C.S. Lewis, in his uncannily prescient 1943 book The Abolition of Man, put it this way: “We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.”
Not just Hollywood
I started to title this, “Dear Hollywood,” because that seemed to be the epicenter of these most recent scandals, the engine of this factory of sexual exploitation and perversion … but that’s a little too easy. “It’s Hollywood – what do you expect?”
The reason Hollywood is the epicenter, the High Holy Shrine of so much of what our culture worships – youth, beauty, money, style, humor – is that we, the common folk, have made it that way. We’re the ones who pay $12-15 to see their movies. We watch their sitcoms and prime time dramas, replete with rampant promiscuity. We laugh at their outrageous and irreverent “humor,” cheer as they blow away the bad guys.
Let’s not fool ourselves. Hollywood is us. We are Hollywood.
What are we to do?
If our culture is a playing field, we have erased the foul lines, flooded the field with fetid water, had a grand time playing and splashing in the muck, and now have the shortsighted temerity to wonder why so many men are wallowing in it and transgressing the bounds of what was once considered “common decency.”
So: what are we to do – pass more legislation? Enact new codes of behavior? Require (more) workplace sensitivity training?
Yeah. That always works.
Proverbs 14:34 tells us: Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people.
This is the world we said we wanted.
This is the world we’ve created.
How do we like it?
In 1972 Christian rock pioneer Larry Norman released the song The Great American Novel, lamenting even then the loss of our national moral compass. The song ends with these words:
Don’t ask me for the answer, I’ve only got one:
That a man leaves his darkness when he follows the Son.