The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, February 11, 2021

It’s Thursday, February 11, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Milestone in American Morality: Pornographer Larry Flynt, Head of Hustler ‘Empire’ Dies at 78

A major cultural milestone was marked yesterday with the news of the death of Larry Flynt. Larry Flynt was probably the most infamous pornographer of the 20th century, and that’s really saying something. The founder and publisher of the magazine and the movement known as Hustler. Larry Flynt died yesterday at age 78. The cause was heart failure according to his brother, Jimmy Flint. As the New York Times began its obituary, the headline is this, “Larry Flynt, Who Built a Porn Empire With Hustler, Dies at 78.” It’s really interesting that this was big news nationwide and on both coasts and in-between. The major media immediately responded to and reported about the death of Larry Flynt. And the first thing they said about him is that he was a pornographer, that he built a porn empire.

Just consider that as the moral judgment upon a life. But you also notice that the New York Times article begins by getting right to the point. It’s not clear whether the New York Times is commemorating him, celebrating him, or condemning him. Well, probably none of those things altogether. But the article begins, “Larry Flynt, a ninth grade dropout who built a $400 million empire of raunchy publications, strip clubs, and adult shops around his sexually explicit magazine Hustler and spent decades battling obscenity in libel charges. As a self-promoting champion of freedom of the press, died on Wednesday at his home in Los Angeles. He was 78.”

Again, just notice this. In the first paragraph, the lead paragraph of a news story about the death of an individual American. In this case, Larry Flynt. It mentions a $400 million empire of raunchy publications. Now just in terms of the English language, it’s kind of interesting the word raunchy ends up as the modifier in that opening sentence. And of course the simple use of the term in all of its grotesqueness evokes the fact that Larry Flynt was not only a pornographer. He was a pornographer of the most unembarrassed, explicit, crude, women abusing, sex distorting, and morality define pornography imaginable.

As a matter of fact, strictly speaking much of it was obscenity, but not actually pornography. Or at least we can hope not because pornography is supposed to be about something that is explicitly sexual, arousing or eliciting a sexual response. We can hope that that was actually not the case in much of his pornography, because we are really looking at a very warped mind publishing a very warped magazine. And of course it was devoted to very worked and distorted in biblical terms, absolutely grotesque sexual impulses. You’ll also notice that in the third paragraph of this New York Times article we read, “To a nation in the throes of a sexual revolution in the 1970s. Mr. Flynt, defiant, outrageous, relentless was at the nexus of a cultural and legal war in America. An unpopular hero to civil libertarians, the devil incarnate to an unlikely alliance of feminists and morality preachers, a conundrum to judges and juries, and a purveyor of guilty secrets to legions of men slinking off from porn shops or the mailbox with brown paper parcels.

Now, as you look at the history of Larry Flynt, you have to understand that he began the magazine known as Hustler in 1974. He already was running a chain of so-called sex clubs, but he started out a very, very pornographic newsletter that eventually became Hustler magazine. Now, one of the things to note is that Larry Flynt was always pushing the edges. In one sense, he was a very crude, early proponent of what the LGBTQ movement and others, including some feminists would adopt as, the mandate of transgression to overthrow biblical morality, the existing moral consensus about pornography or any form of sexual deviance. By not only normalizing it, but going on to transgress, to continue to press the envelope, to press the boundaries. The boundaries of decency, the boundaries of actually what was legal. That’s why Larry Flynt found himself spending so much time in courtrooms.

In 1978 he was actually involved in a trial in Lawrenceville, Georgia. And an intended assassin shot him causing a spinal injury that led to the fact that Larry Flynt was in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. A wheelchair, by the way, that he famously had gold plated. In 1983, he won a rather famous court victory against evangelical preacher, Jerry Falwell. Falwell, had been identified as an American fundamentalist pastor of the Thomas Road Baptist Church in Lynchburg, Virginia. And founder of what is now Liberty University. He was also the founder of what was known as the Moral Majority. And one of the moral causes that brought together the Moral Majority was opposition to pornography. Hustlers magazine ran an absolutely obscene and outlandish satirical approach to Jerry Falwell. The pastor sued, he lost when it came to the constitutional merits, he was awarded some damages, but a later appeal actually even reversed the damages. The reality was it was a big win for pornography, it was a big loss for decency.

Now, even just looking at Larry Flynt and at this obituary, there are several huge worldview issues. Some of them just have to do with Larry Flynt and with the moral revolution that was taking place in the United States, at least in part driven by him and his pornographic empire. Consider the fact that for example, you have the fact that it was feminists and fundamentalists, that’s what the New York Times uses as labels here. Who were in a very odd coalition to oppose Larry Flynt. Now who were the feminists? Well, they included perhaps the most famous feminist of the 20th century, Gloria Steinem, the founder and publisher of Ms. magazine.

Gloria Steinem was no friend to traditional biblical sexual morality, but she saw that pornography was the objectification and abuse of women. And when it came to Larry Flynt, a particularly violent and degrading form of the degradation of women. And at the same time you had Christian pastors and Christian laypersons all over the country who were instantly made aware of the fact that pornography, which had been relegated to non-legal formats and distribution. Had been in the dark corners of the society, was moving into the mainstream. Now that’s not to say that Hustler as a magazine or Larry Flynt as a figure ever really moved into the American mainstream. The point of moral analysis for Christians is to understand that he moved the boundary. He moved it considerably. So that all of a sudden you had Americans talking about respectful pornography as contrasted with disrespectful pornography.

But of course, Christians understand that there is no pornography, theologically or biblically defined, that is respectful. There is just degrading pornography and even more, evermore degrading pornography. Of course, all of this was before the internet age, and pornography was still a matter largely a print and film or video. In reality, Larry Flynt was involved in all of them and he did have a vast pornographic empire. But as you look at the feminists and the conservative Christians who were together, they differed in one sense on the cause or the architecture of their argument against pornography, but they were joined in a common effort. And to some degree they still are now. But it is a limited degree because to be honest, the feminist worldview denies fixed structures and moral judgments on so many issues.

It can hardly be effective in claiming some kind of effective moral argument against pornography. And for one thing, feminists in the name of female liberation actually argued for the overthrow of most biblical standards of sexuality. And so their arguments against pornography come down to asking the question or trying to answer the question as to which pornography is degrading or more degrading to women. Now, by the time you remove any kind of absolute standard, the reality is you don’t have much of an argument.

Part II

The Distortion and Degradation of Desire: The Curse of Pornography, Biblically Defined

Conservative Christians come from a very different argument. Conservative Christians come from the argument that there is no such thing. There is no such reality as respectable pornography. Now, what do we need to talk about here? Well, let’s just talk about the word pornography. Where does that come from? Well, the Greek word behind it is porneia. And that word is used in the New Testament 25 times in 24 verses. Beginning in the Gospel of Matthew, beginning with words spoken by Jesus himself. Porneia refers to adultery fornication, to elicit sexual acts. That means to sexual acts outside of marriage. It’s expanded also to refer to any form of wrongful or unbiblical sexual act or sexual impulse.

In one sense, rightly understood. Porneia refers to any kind of sinful, unbiblical, distortion of sexuality. Distortion of its vision, distortion of its context in marriage, distortion of its natural union of a man and a woman who come together in monogamous marriage before God and before the community. Distorted in terms of its means, distorted in view of its ends. Now, that’s where Christians have to think about the fact that we are now living in a biblical sense in a pornographic society. Legally, pornography has a definition, but it’s a very poor and loose definition. You might say, it’s actually an arbitrary definition.

The courts in the United States, which are after all, trying to balance what they see is freedom of speech rights and opposition to something like pornography. They generally come out in favor of what they will define as freedom of speech. But it’s really interesting to note that it is very difficult if you abandon a biblical definition, to come up with virtually any stable definition of pornography. Justice Potter Stewart, the late justice of the United States Supreme Court. When it came to one famous pornography case simply said, “I can’t define it, but I know it when I see it.” Let’s just state bluntly, that’s not an adequate legal definition, Mr. Justice. The Bible speaks explicitly about the fact that Christians are to flee and immorality. And again, porneia, we are to flee any kind of wrongful sexual interest, any kind of wrongful sexual direction, any kind of illicit unbiblical sexual act or any kind of distortion of a biblical sexuality that covers an incredible landscape.

But that’s the point, there is one and only one legitimate sexual outlet and context, according to scripture. And that is monogamous heterosexual marriage, which is actually the Bible’s very clear and enduring singular standard for marital union. For the definition of marriage and the purpose of sexuality. But as I said, we live in what can only be described as a pornographic culture. It’s not just that there are forms of pornography, it’s that pornography is now very much a part of the culture. Now, when we say that, we mean, there are really from a Christian understanding two different dimensions of pornography we need to keep in mind. Some of it is overt pornography, what would be morally or legally defined as pornography by just about everyone. And by the way, even most supposed proponents of pornography or those who think themselves to be proponents of pornography, will accept the fact that there should be some, there must be some limitations upon pornography. But the one dimension is explicit pornography, pornographic websites, magazines, videos, movies, all the rest.

But the other dimension of pornography that biblically defined, we as Christians have to be aware of. Is what I define as ambient pornography. It’s the everyday pornography of American advertising, American entertainment. Or for that matter, American standards of dress. Pornography is not just what’s printed or made into a film. Frankly, pornography can be committed by individuals just in terms of modesty or an absolute lack of modesty. An attempt to try to incite and elicit sexual response, or even elicit sexual interest from the opposite sex. But these days you can’t even count on the fact that the intention is merely about the opposite sex.

Pornography is all around you, it’s used in advertising. Frankly, you can’t drive down most interstate highways or at least many highways without seeing advertising that basically is pornographic. And when it comes to Hollywood, much of what Hollywood presents as mainstream entertainment, not considered pornographic by Hollywood at all. Actually by biblical standards, is. It glorifies, it magnifies, it makes attractive a distortion of human sexuality. According to scripture.

I’ll end this discussion about the news of the death of Larry Flynt, with a comment that I had a personal encounter with him. It was unexpected and yet all of a sudden I realized that in a restaurant, in a cafe in which I was eating with a friend in Beverly Hills, California. We ended up sitting next to Larry Flynt. I did not recognize him first by sight, I heard grotesque language coming from the next table in which Larry Flynt was sitting with a young woman. The language was beyond anything I had ever heard in a public place. My friend and I looked around and sitting at the table adjacent to us, was a man in a gold-plated wheelchair with this young woman. I recognized immediately that there in Beverly Hills, I was looking at Larry Flynt.

It’s hard to describe that experience in moral or worldview terms, but it’s also hard to explain that experience just in understanding, all of a sudden, my proximity to this man who had produced so much sexual confusion and sexual corruption, just in one lifetime. And was continuing. My friend and I got ready to leave and out in front of the restaurant, we saw Larry Flynt get into a car. His wheelchair, put into the trunk of a Rolls-Royce with the vanity tag that simply said, “Hustler 1.” On earth he was driven around in a Rolls-Royce in Beverly Hills. And he had what most media referred to as something like a $400 million personal fortune. Almost all of it from pornography.

It does remind me of the most famous sermon that was very famously preached by R. G. Lee. R. G. Lee was the longtime pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis, Tennessee. The name of his most famous sermon was “Payday Someday.” That’s a cogent reminder for all of us. According to the biblical worldview without Christ, then what we face is payday someday. We learned yesterday that that day had come for pornographer, Larry Flynt.

Part III

The Age of Decriminalization? Oregon Decriminalizes Use of Drugs, Even ‘Hard’ Drugs. What Will That Mean for Society?

But next, as we’re thinking about moral revolutions and we’re thinking about how this reflected in law, as well as society. Between what had been criminalized and has now been say decriminalized, or sometimes even normalized. A very interesting story comes from Oregon, where that state has become a pioneer in decriminalizing the use of drugs. Which drugs? Well, basically all drugs. As the Los Angeles Times reported this story, “Police in Oregon can no longer arrest someone for possession of small amounts of heroin, methamphetamine, LSD, oxycodone, and other drugs as a ballot measure that decriminalized them took effect on February the 1st.” We’re told, “Instead those found in possession would face a $100 fine or a health assessment that could lead to addiction counseling. Backers of the ballot measure, which Oregon voters passed by a wide margin last November, hailed it as a revolutionary move for the United States.”

Well, it is at least that, it’s a revolutionary move. Now a part of this as a pushback against the criminalization of drugs across the United States, but that’s not really new. Especially looking at the 20th century. There was a tremendous amount of effort at the federal state and local level, to limit the use of drugs. And of course, as you’re looking at the law and the function of law in society. If you want to limit something that is harmful and should be illicit, then you make it illegal. And that’s exactly what the law did. And furthermore, towards the end of the 20th century, in the name of further trying to protect the public from the abuse of drugs, the criminal penalties were increased. And you had the advent of such things as three strike laws, especially when it came to felonies.

But as you’re looking at this news story, it’s interesting that indeed those who backed this proposal in Oregon, “Hailed it as a revolutionary move for the United States.” And that just points to the fact that what we’re looking at in morality, it’s not just a little shift. It’s not just a modification, it actually is a revolution. Rarely do you have that acknowledged as is the case in this article. The head of the Drug Policy Alliance, which we’re told spearheaded the ballot initiative, Kassandra Frederique. She said, “Today,” meaning February the 1st. “The first domino of our cruel and inhumane war on drugs has fallen, setting off what we expect to be a cascade of other efforts centering on health over criminalization.”

Now, before we even look at what might happen with the company utilization or decriminalization of drugs, including hard drugs across the United States. Let’s look at the argument she makes, she’s making the case that there is a revolution. And the revolution is towards looking at the abuse of drugs, of illicit drugs as being a matter of health, not as a matter of criminal consequence. Now that’s an interesting argument, but behind it, there’s an even bigger movement and we need to recognize this. In the course of the 20th century, many moral issues became redefined as issues of mental health or psychology or psychiatry or psychoanalysis. This is what we refer to as the triumph or the rise of the therapeutic in American culture. And of course, the one individual more responsible than any other for this was Sigmund Freud, the Viennese psychiatrist. Who basically invented psychoanalysis and also himself brought about a revolution in morality.

Sigmund Freud was an agnostic, and he did not believe in any kind of objective theistic morality. Instead, he saw most sexual issues as rooted in therapeutic questions, not basically moral questions. And of course, beyond Freud, you had an entire industry. An entire universe of therapists and allied professionals who saw it as a great revolution to redefine so many moral issues as health issues, as therapeutic issues. And so people who in previous ages would have been described as evil were now described as sick. Or not just sick, but in need of therapy. And of course, the therapeutic revolution so very keenly defined by figures, such as Phillip Rieff. It came to the point that by the mid-point of the second half of the 20th century, it was such a mandate that if you were not in therapy, then you were–well, according to the lingo of the day–in denial.

Now I’m not dismissing psychiatry and psychology. I’m not dismissing any insights that can come from any of those fields, that’s not the point. The point is that the biblical worldview does not allow for a redefinition of moral issues into therapeutic issues. As a matter of fact, in Romans, chapter one. We read that the most basic human conspiracy is to suppress the truth in unrighteousness. And of course this therapeutic revolution came with the promise of liberation. And the central promise of liberation was, you guessed it, sexual liberation. In other words, you can’t have Larry Flynt without having decades before someone like Sigmund Freud.

But this just isn’t limited to sex. The use of drugs here is also a matter of decriminalization in Oregon. Now, by the way, there are legitimate arguments to be made that the use of drugs and the possession of drugs was overly criminalized to two effects. Number one, you had police giving a great deal of their attention, and prisons involved in all kinds of horribly expensive prison confinement costs. When it came to what some would describe as relatively minor drug offenses. You also had what conservatives and liberals concede is a racial imbalance, and much of the policing that led to a racial imbalance and convictions in prison terms and lives effected in that way.

But of course, at the same time, Christians had to look back at this and say, well, it’s not just a matter of looking at the effects upon the one who is arrested. There’s also the need to look at the effect upon the larger society, and whether or not we are going to be a society that is going to normalize the use of drugs. And in this case, we’re looking at some of the most addictive substances on earth. Now, this gets back to some fascinating argument. Does criminalizing something actually limit it? Well, actually there’s good evidence that it does. Just take the evidence from the experience of prohibition in the early decades of the 20th century. It’s true that Americans later reversed the judgment because prohibition was something that Americans didn’t want to live with. But the fact is that the alcohol beverage industry didn’t recover from the era of prohibition, going back to the same levels until the 1970s. So we’re talking about from the 1920s to the 1970s. In other words, there was an effect.

Christians are committed to human flourishing. We want people to be protected, we want their lives to flourish. We want communities to flourish. We understand that that can’t happen without having mutual respect and mutual respect for rules. And one of those rules has to pertain to the use of illicit drugs and narcotics. Heavily addictive and deadly substances, such as some of those on this list. But then the question comes, how do you do that? How do you accomplish that? I think most Christians would concede there are legitimate arguments on many of the details of many of the policies about how best this has to be done. There are legitimate discussions about what to do with persons who are trapped in patterns of addiction. Those are legitimate conversation. But decriminalizing, even the hardest of drugs, some of the most dangerous of substances, what kind of signal does that send?

But there’s also another fascinating issue here. The state of Oregon, along with many other American States has now legalized what’s called medical and recreational marijuana. And furthermore, those States also are taxing the sale of marijuana and regulating the industry. Now, here’s what’s interesting. Are they going to do that for hard drugs and narcotics? Well, another article in the LA Times tells us, “Oregon is a pioneer in liberalizing drug laws. It was the first state in 1973 to decriminalize marijuana possession. In 2014, Oregon voters passed a ballot measure, legalizing recreational use of marijuana.” But Sutton, one of the authorities cited in the article said, “There are no plans to pursue legalization and a regulated market of hard drugs in Oregon.” No plans to pursue legalization in a regulated market of hard drugs, that would include methamphetamine and also other drugs such as LSD and oxycodone.

There are no plans to pursue legalization in a regulated market. But when you say that, you have to realize this sentence actually should include two other words, two of the words, which are mandatory, given the revolution taking place in Oregon. If we’re going to be honest, we’ll have to end that sentence with saying, for now. There are no plans to pursue legalization and a regulated market of hard drugs in Oregon, for now. Now doesn’t last.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Fort worth, Texas. And I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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