Children who watch adult television are a third more likely to become sexually active in their early teens, according to a recent study reported on in the Telegraph. This confirms what I was reading last week in Doug Wilson's book Future Men. Wilson writes that
There is no way, that young men can watch, and be entertained by, movies which include displays of nudity, steamy sex scenes, and so forth, without being aroused by them. A boy who tells his mother that he can "handle it" is using what astute theologians in former ages used to call "a lie." Scripture tells us that bad companions corrupt good morals, and the movies a young man watches have to be reckoned among his companions. If he watches vile movies, he is being discipled by raunchiness. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he. Though she may be on the screen, and not in "real life," the harlot of Proverbs is still leading him to death. Exposure to all this makes a young man think he is sophisticated simply because he has grown accustomed to his environment, but this does not mean that he is able to discern the true nature of his environment. Just because a man recognizes the wallpaper in the brothel does not make him discerning."
This relates to some reflections I have had about Proverbs 5, where I believe the warnings against the seductive woman should be understood in the broadest possible terms. When we are told to “remove your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house,” (5:8), this is more than simply an injunction not to frequent the town’s red light district or not to fornicate. Of course, we can draw these obvious applications and I don’t want to minimize the importance of that. But we also need to be aware that these principles can be applied in a far broader way. Our society has numerous sexual temptations that never existed in the Ancient Near East when the Proverbs were written. In those days, the vehicle for sexual temptation would have been specific women acting in a seductive manner. We still have that, to be sure, but we now have the added situation where seductive images and stimuli reach us, against our will, through hundreds of additional means: advertising, entertainment, billboards, shop windows, magazine racks, the internet, etc.
When viewing this wider plethora of temptations, the danger is for Christians to miss the most relevant point. It is easy to think that seductive images are harmful because they might lead to a liking or addiction for such things, or that the libido might be charged up, or that one’s sexual appetite might be stimulated, or something like that. These are all areas of possible danger and should not be treated lightly. But there is another real hazard such things pose which is more subtle and, therefore, hardly ever recognized.
The danger to which I refer is that after constant exposure to seductive images, we cease to find such things seductive as they come to appear increasingly 'normal.' That is where the danger of sexy movies comes in. With the class of temptations I mentioned in the previous paragraph, the more seductive something is, the more of a danger it presents. But with this temptation I am now talking about—the tendency for seduction to seem benign through constant exposure—it is usually the mildly seductive images that are the most hazardous. That is because it is the borderline cases we will be most willing to consider harmless, which means that a new set of borders will have to be drawn until the same process repeats itself. But this is exactly what we should expect, seeing that seductive images, especially in television and advertizing, give the message about dress and behavior that advertising gives about a product: this is good, this is okay, this is normal.
Television is the primary conduit of the worldliness that has made it seem normal for women to be seductive and strange for them to be modest. The principle here is that which applies to any kind of sin. David Wells has pointed out that “worldliness . . . is that set of practices in a society, its values and ways of looking at life, that make sin look normal and righteousness look strange.”
The protection from the seductive woman of Proverbs 5, and from the corresponding temptations of our own day, is Proverbs 1. Here we are warned not to be simple, but to love knowledge. A young man who is simple, in the sense of being naïve, will be unaware of the undercurrents that saturate the contemporary world. In his naiveté, he will act as if he alone among all his peers is insulated from the evaluative overtones that permeate the advertising, media and entertainment industries of today—overtones which tell us, in thousands of subtle ways, “This is the good life, this is what is normal.” Such a person will only sit up and take heed of the most direct assaults on his value system, not realizing that all the while his values are constantly eroding at the edges through subliminal messages.
This is because one’s worldview is like a giant onion. The outside layers of the onion are the periphery of the worldview. So in the Christian worldview, these peripheries might be standards which are entailed by our religious commitments but which are in themselves comparatively unimportant. As you penetrate deeper into the onion, each successive layer represents more foundational doctrines of the worldview. By the time you reach the center of the onion, these are the doctrines that are the most basic and foundational to your worldview, such as belief in Christ’s divinity or Christian sexual purity.
The way one’s worldview normally changes is not through an initial assault on the core, but through successive assaults on the outside layers. Remember that the outside layers represent the peripheries that are, in themselves, comparatively unimportant—these are the things we let go without a fight. But once this outside layer is dismantled, the next layer then becomes the periphery even though it wasn’t previously. This means that the new outside layer now becomes what is unimportant; it is now the layer we will let go without a fight. Of course, it’s not hard to see where this process eventually leads. If unchecked, the core beliefs inevitably become the outside layer that we will then let go without a fight.
A similar point can be made by comparing our worldview to a block of ice. Ice always melts from the outside not the inside. When our worldview begins to melt, it will be the seemingly trivial matters on the edges that melt first.
These are only metaphors, but it does suggest that we have a responsibility to guard the outside of our worldview just as tenaciously as we defend the center, because in guarding the former we are protecting the latter.
How do the edges of our worldview give way in the first place? When they concern standards—the things we say no to—the pattern is usually the same: our standards are surrendered to the degree that we become desensitized to the things we once objected to. When one is saturated in worldly culture, this happens by default unless we actively strive against it. Desensitization occurs when a person is inundated with a flood of offensive material presented in the least offensive fashion possible, so that it seems almost laughable to make a problem out of it.
This is the exact strategy that the gay lobby has used to try to orient Western consciousness in favor of homosexuality. Kirk and Madsen (themselves influential exponents of the gay-rights movement) used the following tactics (as summarized by Rondeau):
Desensitization is described as inundating the public in a “continuous flood of gay-related advertising, presented in the least offensive fashion possible. If straights can’t shut off the shower, they may at least eventually get used to being wet.” But, the activists did not mean advertising in the usual marketing context but, rather, quite a different approach: “The main thing is to talk about gayness until the issue becomes thoroughly tiresome.” They add, “[S]eek desensitization and nothing more. . . . If you can get [straights] to think [homosexuality] is just another thing—meriting no more than a shrug of the shoulders—then your battle for legal and social rights is virtually won.” This planned hegemony is a variant of the type that Michael Warren describes in “Seeing Through the Media” where it “is not raw overt coercion; it is one group’s covert orchestration of compliance by another group through structuring the consciousness of the second group.”
This same principle applies to sexual temptations, not least the kinds of temptations that inevitably occur as a result of watching sex scenes in movies. If someone can truthfully say that sex scenes do not affect them, that is the surest proof that it has already had a very marked effect upon them: it shows that inundation has resulted in desensetization. It shows that such a person has been affected to the point of becoming able to view such content non-sexually. However, when we reach the point where nothing fazes us, whether it is enjoying a beach party with virtually unclad men and women or watching sex scenes in movies, and not experience sexual feelings as a result, then it is we who are the losers. What have we lost? We have lost the ability to be sexual as God originally designed. Those things which ought to be signifiers of sexuality, and therefore kept private, have been emptied of their meaning.
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