Wednesday, Sept 12, 2018

Wednesday, Sept 12, 2018

The Briefing

September 12, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Wednesday, September 12, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Is America becoming more or less concerned about the abuse and exploitation of women?

What exactly is going on in America? Are we becoming a nation that is more concerned about the abuse and exploitation of women, or a nation that is less concerned about the very same evils? When you look at some headlines, you would think that the United States has experienced some kind of immediate moral convulsion over the questions of the abuse, harassment, and misuse of women. Just consider the #MeToo movement. Consider the fact that just over the last few days a major corporate titan in American, yet another, Les Moonves, the chairman of the board of CBS has been ousted because of repeated accusations of sexual misconduct. On one side of the ledger, it looks like the United States is morally outraged at the objectification, the harassment, the misuse, the sexualization of women. But is that real? Or is there another side to the same reality?

Well, just consider this. The very same time that this is taking place, the New York Times is reporting that the Playboy Club is going to reopen in Manhattan, and similarly American is increasingly awash with pornography. How awash with pornography? Well, just this summer, the Dallas Morning News reported a headline, “Your Kids Face an Avalanche of Digital Smut.” Ashley Januszewski, reporting for the Dallas Morning News, tells us, “The corrosive nature of today’s explicit content, its insidiousness and ubiquity has infiltrated the vast majority of the digital landscape that millions of minors visit daily. Common Sense Media,” she says, “Reports that American tweens spend on average more than four-and-a-half hours on screens a day. Teenagers spend a stunning nine hours per day.” She then says, “It is no surprise that the average age of first exposure to internet porn is eleven.”

Januszewski goes on to report, “Popular apps used by youth are riddled with porn. Instagram has garnered the nickname, Instaporn. YouTube is a portal to explicit content galore. Snapchat, the social media giant,” she writes, “used by 47% of US teens, is notoriously used to send vanishing, nude photos.” Further in the article she writes, “Data from The Pew Internet, an American Life project, suggests that 70% of 15-17 year old internet users accidentally view porn very or somewhat often, and according to the National Center on Sexual Exploitation, 64% of young people aged 13-24 actively seek out porn weekly, or even more often.”

This is now the double mindedness and the culture that we witness. On the one hand, we are being told and this culture is congratulating itself over and over, and becoming less tolerant of the sexualization of women. On the other hand, it turns out that pornography and the sexualization of women is becoming more and more mainstream in the culture and in the economy. Which is it? Who are we? The answer is, well, in terms of virtue signaling, we are the first. In terms of reality, as a society we are increasingly the second. Many in this society want to say over and over again that we have entered a new era. Again, MeToo, #MeToo. But at the same time, you see headlines indicating that the reality is anything but was is being so virtuously claimed.

Just a few weeks ago, USA Today ran a major article reminding us on its front page of the history of how we have arrived at this pornographic moment, even this pornographic saturation in our culture. Once again, the key year, the pivot year is 1968. Once again, we are looking at the 50th anniversary of how the world changed in so many ways in that one symbolic and substantial year. The headline article in USA Today is entitled, The Making of a Hustler. The subhead, “As societal strictures loosened, Larry Flynt took smut all the way to the Supreme Court.”

Dan Horn writes the story, and as he begins, he tells the story this way, “As dreams go, Larry Flynt’s was a modest one. It went something like this: Buy a bar. Put some plywood over the pool table. Hire a young woman in a bikini to dance on it. Nothing fancy. No delusions of respectability. Just a safe bet that the world was full of men willing to pay cash to drink cheap beer, and look at pretty dancers. This is, we are told, Flynt’s business model when he opened the Hustler Cocktail Lounge in early 1968 in Dayton, Ohio.”

Flynt said, and I quote, “When I started out, I just wanted to make money and have a lot of fun. That was basically my vision.” But then, USA Today, looking at the massive changes that have taken place in our culture, looking back to this development in 1968, writes, “His timing could not have been better. The opening of his bar in the late 1960s made possible a career that would propel Flynt from dirt-poor Kentucky boy to one of 20th century America’s most successful and reviled pornographers.” The then go on, and I quote, “More opportunistic than pioneer, Flynt saw fractures developing in American Society, and quickly made a home in those widening gaps. His strategy was as simple as it was crude: Find a tried and true formula to make a buck, and take it as far as the changing culture would allow.”

That’s exactly what took place in the 1960s and the 1970s. There were those like Larry Flynt, who continued to press the borders. The word back then amongst the ultra liberals was, transgression. The idea was that you bring about a sexual revolution incrementally, step-by-step, by transgressing one border at a time. You would push up against this limitation. Then you would go past it. There would be a backlash, but you would push again. Then, the next time, you would push further. There would be a backlash, but then, you would push again. The next time, you push further. That is how the sexual revolution continued onward. That is how the pornografication of our culture happened, by no decision of the American people, but rather by a cultural process of desensitization, a culture process of renegotiating the morality right before our eyes.

The USA Today article also points to the historic role played by Larry Flynt, because indeed, his role as a pornographer, did go all the way to the United States Supreme Court. John Hughes, a former professor at the University of Cincinnati, and a journalist who has followed Flynt’s career, described him this way, “He certainly pushed the buttons on what could be tolerated. Flynt was the catalyst for thinking about what obscenity is and is not.” That’s really important, because that’s exactly what went on here. In a succession of decisions by the US Supreme Court, the nation’s highest court basically recognized the shift taking place in the culture. Just as Potter Stewart, for example, one of the more conservative jurists on the Supreme Court during the 1960s and ’70s infamously tried to define pornography, and gave up, saying that he could not define pornography, but, “I know it when I see it.”

The problem with that, of course, is that it’s left to an individual subjective evaluation, and that’s exactly the crack in the culture that the pornographers understood. Because we were a society no longer willing to define pornography, we could no longer prohibit pornography, and that’s exactly the kind of transgression that led to the transformation of our culture, such that the sexualization and objectification of women and the pornografication of almost every dimension of American life is now almost complete. On prime time television, and even in contemporary advertising, there are images that are sexualized and objectified that would have been criminalized and been found on the wrong side of established criminal codes back at the midpoint of the 20th century.

Putting all of this into context, Dan Horn writes, “Considering the media landscape Americans inhabit today, where images of sex and violence appear with the swipe of a cellphone, it’s hard to argue Larry Flynt alone changed the trajectory of American culture.” Horn continues, “More likely he was a product of that culture, a man whose greatest gift was recognizing he was in the right place at the right time.” Very importantly, and from a Christian worldview perspective, something we ought to note is what is stated in the very next sentence. Listen to this, “A decade earlier in the more conservative 1950s, Flynt’s career may not have happened. A decade later, in the more permissive 1970s, it may not have mattered.”

Now, you’ve often heard perhaps the expression that timing is everything, and as you’re looking at change in a culture, that’s really true. Timing can turn out to be everything. Larry Flynt saw the opportunity to push the boundaries, to transgress in the late 1960s, and especially into the 1970s and the 1980s. But what Larry Flynt was notorious for in moral transgression in 1968, would not reach the news, it wouldn’t even be a matter of cultural conversation in 2018. That is how much American society has changed in sheer moral terms in just a half century.

Speaking of that process of repeated transgression, Dan Horn writes, speaking of Larry Flynt, “If he was unsure where civil society drew a line, Flynt would keep going until he crossed it. Even then, he might keep going. Flynt argued,” says Horn, “His pornography met the standards of his time, no matter how offensive it might be.” Now, notice that. Gone is any notion of an objective morality. Gone is any notion of fixed standards of right and wrong, good and evil, sex and pornography. Instead, what you have here is an open admission by Larry Flynt that he would just keep pressing, and that his only concern was how far he could press, given the moral standards of any given moment in time.

Part II

Moral confusion in the MeToo era: As Playboy reopens Manhattan club, corporate titan Les Moonves is ousted for sexual abuse

But it’s one thing to look back at 1968. It’s another thing to consider where we are in 2018. As we saw in that first article from the Dallas Morning News, pornography is now virtually everywhere, and it’s available to almost anyone. Anyone who’s connected to the internet, or for that matter to a smartphone, has access just a swipe or two away from almost anything in the dreadful cornucopia of the sexual revolution. But again, going back to the question asking if we have any clue who we are as a society at this moment, consider this article that didn’t appear about 1968, but about 2018. It appeared in Sunday’s edition of the New York Times, and the headline is this, “The Bunnies are Back.” The subhead quote, “A defiant time capsule surfaces smack in the middle of #MeToo territory.”

Shawn McCreesh writes about the fact that in Manhattan, the Playboy Club is opening once again. Now, you’ll go back even more, slightly more than 50 years in history, and remember Playboy Magazine and Hugh Hefner, who was one of the iconic leaders and profits of the sexual revolution. Hefner, you might note, was different than Larry Flynt, precisely because Hugh Hefner wanted to redefine sexual morality by means of pornography in what would not be notorious. He did not want Playboy Magazine to be notorious. He wanted it to define the new cool when it came to what it meant to be a man in modern America. But you have to remember that from the very beginning, Playboy was explicitly pornographic. Even though it sold itself, built itself as a lifestyle magazine, in reality, it was about visual pornography and the sexualization of the entire culture.

That continued, of course, with the establishment of the Playboy Clubs, famous again because Hugh Hefner made them a part of contemporary Hollywood and American culture. This was a part of the sexual revolution Hugh Hefner wanted, and in this, much of America was complicit in celebrating this as a great symbol, that is the Playboy Club, of sexual liberation. But of course the very essence of the Playboy Club, just like Playboy Magazine, was the pornographic, sexual objectification of women, particularly those identified as Bunnies, who were the waitresses within the Playboy Club atmosphere.

The New York Times gets right to the irony in the subhead in that article, speaking of the Playboy Club reopening in Manhattan. Remember, progressive, liberal, right thinking, politically correct, right up-to-date Manhattan? Yes, in Manhattan, the Playboy Club is opening once again, and the irony is that this is not only in a #MeToo time, but smack in the middle of what’s supposed to be #MeToo territory.

There’s something else that’s really important in this article in the New York Times from Sunday. It’s not only about the reopening of the Playboy Club in Manhattan. It’s about the redefinition of Playboy as a corporation and its mission. As it turns out, the print magazine that was the iconic face of Playboy from the very beginning, is just about to cease operations, or at least it’s not going to be a major part of the future of Playboy. Why, because in the digital age, no one needs to subscribe to a print periodical, and for that matter, that’s not where the action is; certainly not where the financial action is. But where’s Playboy going? Here’s a question. How in the world can Playboy keep up to date in the sexual revolution, because by its very essence, it’s kind of a snapshot of the male chauvinism, and the sexual objectification of females that became mainstream in American culture in the 1950s, and then accelerated, as we have seen, in the 1960s?

But the mystery comes to an end in this very article, which sites Cooper Hefner. He’s the son of the late Hugh Hefner, who founded Playboy. The article says, “Cooper Hefner, who is described by current and former employees as having a progressive, pansexual vision for Playboy, that could assure it a future with his generation and beyond, cracked down on a 2015 hipster revamp, that removed nudity from the magazines pages.” Now, there’s a background here. Back in 2015, Playboy announced that it was going to be taking the dirty pictures out of the magazine. But then, the magazine started to collapse, so, Cooper Hefner saw to it that the magazine put the dirty pictures back in. But then it turns out, that’s not enough.

The keyword in this explanation in the New York Times, is the fact that Cooper Hefner’s envisioned future for Playboy Magazine is pansexual. Just take that word into consideration for a moment. Pan means everything. Now we’re told that the future of Playboy is pansexual. Just what does that pansexual future look like? Well, once again, the New York Times gives us the answer, where we read that recently the magazine featured a transgender playmate on its cover for the first time in its 64 year history. Cooper Hefner, who is the Creative Director for Playboy, we are told, explained to the Times then, “It’s the right thing to do. We’re at a moment where gender roles are evolving.” At least some who are champions of the sexual revolution aren’t buying the merely ironic nature of the Playboy Club. The Guardian, a liberal newspaper in London, described the opening of the Playboy Club as tone deaf in the #MeToo era.

Part III

Why only human sinfulness and the fall can explain the trend toward objectification and sexualization

But as we’re thinking about the deeply conflicted and divided mind of America on all these matters, just consider the fact that a few days ago, the Miss America Pageant was held, once again, in Atlantic City, New Jersey. On the front page of the Life section of USA Today, reporting on the pageant, Maria Puente writes, “We live in a divided America these days, so of course we’re divided over Miss America too, even as antiquated notions of “beauty,” beauty is put in quotation marks, “Lose their cultural significance, maybe because of that. So,” she writes, “Here we are again, back in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where 51 women from the 50 states, and the District of Columbia arrive to “compete,” that again, is put in quotation marks, “For the title of Miss America, even as the people running the show carry on their combat behind the scenes on social media and even in the streets.”

“On the surface,” USA Today says, “The conflict is about whether contestants should compete in skimpy swimsuits, long a part of pageant protocol. Below the surface, it’s about who controls the 97 year old Miss America brand, and deeper still, very importantly,” USA Today writes, “It’s about America’s latest wrestling match over the meaning of feminism and female empowerment in the 21st century.”

Well, if you were looking at a fiction writer trying to come up with a parable of our times, I don’t think any novelist could outdo reality in this case. The reality includes Gretchen Carlson, who is the new CEO of Miss America, herself a former Miss American, who announced that the swimsuit competition would be out, and that Miss America would no longer be known as a beauty pageant, but rather as a contest, a contest, she argued, more about female empowerment and ideas than about any kind of physical or sexual objectification.

The problem is, of course, that America has been tuning in to the Miss America Pageant, and has been paying attention to it for 97 years in one way or another, precisely because, going all the way back to 1897, it was about, and honestly about, the sexual objectification of women. The power play behind the Miss America has to do with the fact that Gretchen Carlson and the current board of the Miss America Pageant made the announcement about the elimination of the swimsuit competition, but that is not to say that the state competitions were either involved in the decision making, or are going along with it. Instead, a large number of the heads of the state pageants involved with Miss America, are suing to remove Gretchen Carlson and the entire current board of the national pageant.

Analyzing this through the lens of a Christian Biblical worldview, what becomes clear is that as a society, it is insane to claim at one and the same time that the society is growing more socially and morally aware of the wrongness of the sexual objectification of women, while at the same time having that sexual objectification of women become so mainstream in the culture that it drives much of the economy. Furthermore, it seems to be celebrated on the one hand by the very people who want to condemn it on the other hand. But of course the Christian Biblical worldview drives us to an even deeper realization of what’s at stake here, an even more fundamental issue. That is this. God made human beings in his image, and as a God who is Himself infinite beauty, infinity truth, and infinite goodness, He made human beings in His image.

It is human sinfulness, and it is the fall that explains why human beings confuse the issues, why we turn, not to understanding the inherent beauty in every single human being, but rather want to turn to what is rightly described as objectification and sexualization. That is why pornography is as old as human history. It is because it goes right back to Genesis 3. It is Christians, and perhaps Christians alone, who can spot, not only the irony and the hypocrisy of the larger culture claiming to move in two directions at once, but it is also Christians who understand that pornography is not merely the sexual objectification of women. It is the confusion and the corruption, both of the image of God in every single human being, and of God’s gift of sexuality.

Part IV

It’s no surprise that a society that will objectify beauty and corrupt sex will also confuse age

But while we’re thinking about the confusions of our time, I want to turn to a recent article that appeared just days ago in the Wall Street Journal. It’s in the Life and Arts section. The headline in this case is, “Forget Senior. Boomers Search for a Better Term.” The bottom line in this article is that baby boomers don’t want to be known as senior adults. It’s questionable, perhaps, whether any senior adults want to be known as senior adults, but the baby boomers, having been defined as babies, and booming babies, and having redefined the youth of the 1960s and beyond, this very youth conscious generation, of which I admit I am a part, does not want to admit that we could ever be rightly defined as aging or aged or senior adults.

In this Wall Street Journal article, Claire Ansberry tries out some other terms that are being used in advertising in a popular culture. This includes referring to older adults as vintage, or senior, or mature. One of the words, according to this article, becoming more popular among some baby boomers to refer to their inevitable aging is perennial, perennial adults. Now, the problem with that, of course, is that it flies in the face of reality. Whatever a human being is, no human being is perennial. This is basically a lie. Now, it might be the kind of fiction that makes a generation feel better about itself as it gets older, but the reality is, we are getting older. It’s happening hour by hour, day by day, for that matter, second by second. You can call it anything you want, but time is not moving backwards. It is moving forward.

I was recently at a large evangelical church, where I heard a new term. I heard older adults referred to as legacy adults, and of course that’s one of those nice words. Legacy sounds like something that is vintage, and important, and still full of class. I guess that’s the way both this church, and the older people in the church want to be thought of. But what’s the bottom line concern from a Christian worldview perspective? It comes down to this. When you look at the worldview revealed in scripture, age is an achievement, not an obstacle. It is not something to be prevented and avoided, or for that matter, denied. It is something to be celebrated, and it is something to be understood in a Biblical content as being the age of wisdom, being the age at which the seasoned responsibility of adulthood then leads to the seasons maturity of those who are the older adults among us. It is the recognition that society depends upon honoring those deserving of honor.

It also depends upon the energies and the intellect, the moral teaching and authority of older adults, in order to pass down to younger generations a wisdom that is simply indisputably precious, and also morally indispensable. It’s hard to imagine going up to those patriarchs and matriarchs, who are honored, think especially of the age of some of those who lived into such extended years in the book of Genesis, going up to them and calling them either senior adults, or for that matter legacy adults, or much less perennial adults, and having them respond with anything but a cynical laugh. In the Old Testament, the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 12 is very honest about the realities of age. There’s nothing artificial here. But at the same time, being older is honored, and the Biblical worldview is consistent in rendering that honor.

The moral confusion of our time comes down to the fact that even older adults, as they get older, don’t want to refer to themselves as older. I guess one recognition that we need to understand is that a society that will objectify beauty and will corrupt sex will also confuse age. The Christian responsibility is not merely to understand this confusion, when we see it in the culture, but to make sure this confusion does not occur in ourselves, in our own families, and in our own churches.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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