Though I’ve given up both major parties as hopeless cases (David M. Hodges, “Constitution or Libertarian Party: Which for the Pious? Pious Eye site, 18 May 2016), I’m saddened by some things about the defeat of Republican Roy Moore (Senate candidate, Alabama special election, 12 December 2017), the accusations that made it happen, and the discussion surrounding those accusations. Aspects of related recent news (#metoo) also make me sad.
Though construing Moore’s defeat as evidence that voters (at least in Alabama) now see personal morals as relevant (in a way they did not in the it’s-just-sex-so-leave-Clinton-alone era) might make one see this turn of events as a positive development, one finds on closer inspection that the morality at work is not the God-authorized morality of Scripture but the legal-adulthood-and-consent-are-all-that-matter quasi-morality of contemporary secular America. Note, for instance, the emphasis of Caitlin Byrd’s “Tim Scott and Nikki Haley take on sexual misconduct charges surrounding both Roy Moore and Donald Trump” (The Post and Courier, 10 December 2017, accessed 15 December 2017). Only if someone is “mistreated,” “violated,” or “harassed”—in other words, only when people are subjected to experiences to which they do not consent (or to which they cannot legally consent because minors)—is there cause for objection.
As Betsy Woodruff noted in her “Christians Cringe at Donald Trump’s Sexy Past” (Daily Beast, 27 January 2016, accessed 15 December 2017), one of many articles seemingly ignored by Republican primary voters (and some noteworthy evangelical leaders1), “In The Art of the Comeback [buy a copy], Trump boasted about bedding other men’s wives.” Yet the thinking of our culture seems to be that sexual immorality, so long as it’s consensual, is fine, even when it is bragged about. (Since no one seems to question that Trump is indeed a “serial philanderer,” I’ll assume this bragging was honest and factual. Surely it is more likely to be factual than alleged immorality that is not bragged about but denied.) Anything non-consensual, on the other hand, merits strong condemnation, even when all that one has are denied allegations yet to be supported by solid evidence or more than one witness to any alleged incident. Hence, the “Donald Trump” aspect of Byrd’s article points to harassment allegations and some “locker-room talk”2 where Trump bragged about what many would call harassment or assault. (Concerning these illicitly recorded remarks, I should note that the point of Trump’s bragging in this case seems to have been that women consent to his behaving badly because of his celebrity. This would make him no more deserving of condemnation than rock stars who sleep with their fans. Though, as a Christian, I’m happy to condemn both Trump and promiscuous rock stars, it must be admitted that contemporary American culture tends more to praise and desire the rock star lifestyle than to condemn it.)
No doubt it is scripturally sound to condemn mistreatment and violation, provided any alleged incident of such is substantiated by more than one person’s allegation (Deuteronomy 19:15), but the idea that one can base a workable morality on an anything-consensual-is-okay value system is deluded. The only-lack-of-consent-makes-it-wrong viewpoint, joined to considerable vagueness about how the presence or absence of consent is to be determined, seems almost to make it advisable for schools and businesses to simply separate the sexes altogether and forbid their interacting at all except in accord with formal contractual arrangements set up in advance. (Of course, the current push to “celebrate sexual-orientation diversity” makes even segregation of the sexes an incomplete solution.)
I recall how, as the #metoo phenomenon took off, one of the people accused was Richard Dreyfuss, who responded by describing his perception of the interactions in question as having been “playful,” just part of “a consensual seduction ritual” (that is, as having been the sort of “harmless” play, full of innuendo, that is modeled for every regular viewer of today’s television and movie “entertainment”3). Had the person he was interacting with (Jessica Teich, who collaborated with him in the 1980s) also thought these interactions “playful” and “consensual,” Dreyfuss’s behavior would have been, from the only-lack-of-consent-makes-it-wrong perspective, perfectly acceptable because consensual. Since she did not (or did but has since decided otherwise), Dreyfuss, the current logic goes, is guilty of harassment, though apparently she just played along and did not object over an extended period of such interactions. Of course, Teich does accuse Dreyfuss of doing things beyond what he admits, but she does so without any supporting evidence or witnesses (so far as I know4), so that I, if I want to be fair, cannot legitimately give her recollections any greater weight than Dreyfuss’s. Even in the case of the added allegations (which I’d prefer never to have heard), the underlying assumption that those behaviors would not have been objectionable had Teich welcomed them (unlikely as that must seem to people whose values are not Hollywood’s) remains intact, implicitly present in all public discussion. (For some details, which you may regret reading about, see “Richard Dreyfuss responds to sexual harassment allegations: ‘I am not an assaulter,’” Entertainment Weekly, 10 November 2017, accessed 17 December 2017.)
Absent an exponential increase in the percentage of telepaths in the male population, I don’t see how this approach can work. Men act in accord with their values, and the values of much of America today, and particularly of Hollywood, are that anything goes if everyone involved consents—and the only way non-telepathic men have to gauge consent is to act in ways that show what they’re after. As Dr. Grazie Christie said on a television news show earlier this month (EWTN News Nightly, 07 December 2017, YouTube video accessed 15 December 2017), “We are creating a culture of complete sexual license, and then we’re surprised when people go to work and bring that culture to work. How can we be surprised?”
Particularly troubling in all this is the effect it seems to have had on the media. The #metoo phenomenon seems to have made news media in general decide that they need not verify witness claims based on corroboration and evidence before publishing salacious accusations against public figures and celebrities, at least male ones. (Is this a “war on men” to answer the alleged “war on women”?) Though the content of his movies wouldn’t lead me to expect the best behavior from Steven Seagal, for instance, I really would prefer that news media not waste my time telling me about what women allege happened in private meetings with Seagal when neither any third persons nor any evidence has yet (as far as I know) verified the allegations (Sara M. Moniuszko, “Jenny McCarthy alleges sexual harassment by Steven Seagal,” USA Today, 10 November 2017, accessed 17 December 2017; more unsavory reading). Contrary to what the general public seems to assume, separate allegations by separate individuals of separate incidents do not add up to a persuasive case of anything. (You can’t establish a “pattern of behavior” by piling up alleged incidents that, so far as the evidence indicates, might never have happened.) Some or many of the allegations might be true, but so long as they are just allegations we, if we would be fair minded, have no reason to believe them, and the media, if they would be fair to the accused as well as the accusers, have no reason to publish them. Such allegations are a good reason to investigate, but they are not a good reason to publish.
Anyway, back to the unworkability of laws grounded in the only-lack-of-consent-makes-it-wrong perspective. Adding a legal age of consent to this perspective does not strengthen it. This legal age of consent is conventional and so subjective, hence it varies from place to place (Jessica Best, “What is the age of consent around the world? From Angola at 12 to Bahrain at 21,” The Mirror, 17 November 2013, accessed 17 December 2017). It may be contrasted with such objective maturity-level designations as postpubertal (sexually mature), pubertal (entering sexual maturity or newly sexually mature), and prepubertal (sexually immature). Only the last of these, by the way, applies to the targets of persons properly accused of “pedophilia,” at least according to Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, & Allied Health Dictionary 6 ed. [buy a copy] [St. Louis: Mosby, 2002], s.v. “pedophilia”). People who would use words with precision should not identify those who prey upon pubertal and postpubertal youths under the age of consent as “pedophiles” or “child” molesters; when the victims are not prepubertal, only such aspersions as “sexual predator” and “filthy pervert” (and the like) should be used. Though I’ve heard talking heads deemed worthy to appear on television news shows refer to Roy Moore as an accused “pedophile” and “child molester,” I’ve not heard accusations of his having done anything inappropriate with anyone prepubertal. I’ve also not (yet) seen any solid evidence presented supporting any specific allegation, nor have I heard how any incident alleged by any specific accuser has been confirmed by a second witness to the same incident. Fairness, thus, requires that I remain agnostic as to Moore’s guilt or innocence. It seems a pity that today’s media doesn’t see fairness as important. It also seems a pity that Alabama voters let unproved allegations bring about the election of a radical pro-abortionist whose Senate votes will not represent the values most of them hold dear. I hate to think what future elections are going to be like now that the effectiveness of unproved allegations has been so definitively demonstrated.
But I was discussing how adding a legal age of consent does not strengthen the only-lack-of-consent-makes-it-wrong perspective, wasn’t I? Given the conventional nature of the legal age of consent, I’m surprised that the setting of that age at eighteen persists in most states of our increasingly licentious nation (Brandon Barnett, “What is the Age of Consent in the United States?” Barnett Howard & Williams PLLC site, 13 August 2016, accessed 17 December 2017). The anything-goes-as-long-as-it’s-consensual values of twenty-first century America do not well support condemnation of sex between consenting persons who, though both sexually mature, happen to be on different sides of an age-of-consent line set by law rather than nature. This isn’t to say the age bears no relationship at all to natural sexual maturity. That it is set in all places at or after, and in most places a few or several years after, the typical onset of puberty, “often construed legally as 14 in boys and 12 in girls” (Merriam-Webster Dictionary online, s.v. “puberty,” accessed 17 December 2017), no doubt indicates an intention in most places to ensure that only persons whose minds have caught up with their bodies are allowed legally to consent. (I’ve commented on this before: David M. Hodges, “Rape and Rationality,” Pious Eye site, 09 September 2013.) All the same, the years added cannot help but seem arbitrary to sexually mature individuals who think themselves capable of making their own decisions. After all, they must wonder, what right do lawmakers and the popular majority have to tell them when they’re ready to make their own sexual choices? Christians can condemn someone for breaking a law simply because it is a law (Romans 13:1-6, Titus 3:1), provided it is not a law requiring actions that are sins or forbidding actions that are duties (Daniel 6:4-10, Acts 5:26-9), but I can see no basis upon which unbelievers can (justifiably) do so.
The situation is such that, a couple days ago, the liner for birdcages in my area printed a half-page article showing how modern secular America can’t even make good sense of the concept of “consent” fundamental to current law (Jocelyn Noveck, “In Society and Law, a Struggle to Define Meaning of Consent,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, 17 December 2017, A13). Scripture, specifically Deuteronomy 22:24-29, seems at odds with contemporary inclinations. No expectation of male telepathy is evident in these verses: women who offer no objection at the time of an incident are subject to the same condemnation as the men. These verses don’t deal with the complexities of employer-employee and other unequal-power relationships (a major focus of the Union-Tribune’s wholly secular article), of course, but they do seem to make questionable the legitimacy of condemning men alone for behaviors to which recipients did not see fit to object until years after their (alleged) occurrence. In today’s environment, where not even a woman’s contract killing of her own unborn child can be called worthy of punishment (David M. Hodges, “My Sad Farewell to the Pro-Life Movement,” Pious Eye site, 03 April 2016),5 the idea that women who fail to object are culpable along with men for sexual misconduct that the men initiate isn’t going to gain much traction. While preferential hiring policies and recruitment practices try to ensure that more women work as firefighters and in other traditionally male occupations (with seemingly poor results in the firefighters case: Christine Pelisek, “Women Firefighters: The Gender Boondoggle,” L. A. Weekly, 23 January 2008, accessed 17 December 2017), laws related to sexual conduct seem determined to counterbalance this egalitarian effort.
These attempts to retain but regulate sexual licentiousness based on consent, through such measures as permitting only repeatedly stated consent to count as permission (David M. Hodges, “Consent: Only Repeated Yeses Will Do, Say State Lawmakers,” Pious Eye site, 29 August 2014), seem sure to fail. So long as secular America insists on basing laws on social consensus, contemporary cultural values, and the majority’s subjective sense (for now) that some things are just too “icky” to be legal, our laws will lack the legitimacy needed to ensure general compliance. When the only thing motivating obedience to the law is fear of being caught and punished, compliance is never high: people with impulses they want to indulge can always convince themselves they won’t get caught. Only grounding of law in the will of One to whom nothing is hidden (Proverbs 15:3, Luke 8:17) and by whom all will be judged (Matthew 12:36, Revelation 20:12) has any hope of lasting success, and then only because it may drive people to seek out the Savior who alone makes consistent obedience (and self-regulation) possible.
Though demonstrations of the futility of secular efforts to control sexual conduct while rejecting God’s authority abound, secular America continues down its chosen path (to perdition). So, for example, a Stanford law professor writes an op-ed calling for state laws around the nation to abandon their foundation in the Christian principles of Scripture and repeal all laws criminalizing adultery (I’m pleased to learn such laws still exist somewhere), ending her article with a joke at the Divine Lawgiver’s expense: “A time-honored joke recounts how Moses came down from his mountain meeting with God and announced, ‘I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that I bargained him down to only 10 commandments. The bad news is that adultery stays in.’ For centuries, law sought to shore up that commandment with criminal and civil penalties. It is now an anachronistic, intrusive and misdirected effort” (Deborah L. Rhode, “Why is adultery still a crime?” Los Angeles Times, 02 May 2016, accessed 15 May 2017).
This monger of ungodly laws also points to the persistence of adultery as a reason to abolish still-existing laws against it: “the steady recurrence of infidelity,” she writes, “suggests the ineffectiveness of trying to use legal sanctions and workplace penalties to prevent infidelity” (Ibid.). By this reasoning, surely an age of consent based on an arbitrary year count rather than actual physical maturity must be jettisoned. By this reasoning, in fact, laws against rape and numerous other crimes, including murder, should be scrapped, since all these crimes have steadily recurred throughout human history. Though attorneys and professors are typically smart people, one wouldn’t think so from Rhode’s “steady recurrence” argument. Her secular attempt at legal “wisdom” is patently “foolish” (1 Corinthians 1:20).
Such foolishness seems ubiquitous nowadays. Some seeking to formulate moral rules and craft laws have decided that not just adultery but prostitution should be universally decriminalized. While Scripture holds that tolerance of prostitution corrupts a nation (Leviticus 19:29), and though God’s strong condemnation of prostitution is clear in his directives to his people (Deuteronomy 23:17-18), the contrary “wisdom” of “this world” grows in popularity, though the majority may not yet favor it. A portion of an article on this subject in my local paper ([I failed to note the author], “Prostitution placed on scale of justice,” The San Diego Union-Tribune, 29 October 2017, B2) prompted one of my (so far as I know) unpublished letters, which, restored to a form nearer its original over-the-limit word count, reads as follows:
Attorney H. Louis Sirkin holds that “people have the right to [choose] to engage in prostitution” and that, as he said in court, “The only reason to prohibit it is…morality” (“Prostitution placed on scale of justice,” 10/29/2017, B2). Clearly, he assumes that there is something fundamentally wrong with morality-based laws. From the article, it does not appear that Deputy Attorney General Sharon O’Grady directly challenged this assumption, instead focusing on such issues as Sirkin’s “right” claim.
No doubt O’Grady chose the arguments she thought best for today’s legal system, but I hate to see Sirkin’s assumption go unchallenged. Evidently, Sirkin takes for granted that “rights should be respected and legally protected,” but this is itself a moral assertion. Were there indeed something wrong with morality-based laws, then all laws based on the idea that individual rights “should” be protected would have to be thrown out along with those forbidding prostitution.
Laws always have and always will be based on morality. The question isn’t “Should laws be based on morality?” but “On whose morality should laws be based?”
Today, even most Christians argue about law in secular terms, or else in neutral and only broadly theistic terms. This saddens me, since I doubt (perhaps I should say “deny”) that any morality but God’s own, as God has revealed it in Scripture, is sufficient. Some Thomistically inclined Protestants have suggested alternative sources of moral grounding for law than Scripture, but I did not find such arguments persuasive when last I read a book espousing them (Norman Geisler and Frank Turek, Legislating Morality: Is It Wise? Is It Legal? Is It Possible? [buy a copy] [Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1998]). I may review and reassess that book at some point, however, since I do recall it saying many worthwhile things.
But enough lamentation! Let us see this cup as one-tenth full rather than nine-tenths empty. Though frank admission by lawmakers and legal professionals that working law requires a moral foundation with higher-than-human sanction seems unlikely in the near future, current events do make more obvious the fact that humans’ autonomous muddling will never produce functional, legitimate, and lasting laws. As well, the creation of an environment where men will be increasingly unable to determine when (and how) they may and when (and how) they may not approach women without fear of legal penalties could lead to less sexual immorality overall. When men know that the only truly safe way to acquire sex is to establish a marriage contract through a third party, our culture as a whole may be much better off, perhaps even on its way to complete renewal.
We live in hope.
1 The facts that Trump’s judicial appointments alone may have saved the Republic (for a time) and that Trump has behaved in office much as he promised he would (and perhaps as he agreed to when securing these leaders’ support out of public view) do not alter the reality that neither evangelical leaders nor Christians in general may rightly disregard a candidate’s character (as shown in behavior over an extended period) based on calculations of political expediency. Obedience to God, not “winning,” must always be Christians’ first priority. (I’m thinking about the primary here, since no evidence available during the election would have allowed me to judge the characters of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as sufficiently far apart to permit choice of one or the other on the basis of character alone.)
2 Minus the locker room, and minus the adolescent boys expected to engage in such talk.
3 Not to mention highly popular cable shows that fill viewers’ minds with much more than innuendo (Harry Hawkins, “Brit porn star boasts ‘I do get naked on Game of Thrones,’” The Sun, 13 May 2014, updated 06 April 2016, accessed 19 December 2017; the boasting porn star adds that she loves the show because “They swear, they have sex and it’s very violent”), books and films that do the same (Ben Beaumont-Thomas, “Fifty Shades of Grey protests escalate,” The Guardian, 10 February 2015, accessed 19 December 2017), and a pornography industry (inexplicably legal in places where prostitution is not) whose products are apparently consumed by a large portion of the population (Jonathan Liew, “All men watch porn, scientists find,” The Telegraph, 02 December 2009; no byline, “Women Are Way More Into Porn Than Many Think, Suggests Survey,” Huffington Post, 18 November 2013; both accessed 19 December 2017). Be warned that the articles cited include the sort of content, images, and advertising one expects from today’s secular news sites.
4 I’ve been hesitant to comment on the Moore and various #metoo accusations because evidence of or second witnesses to alleged incidents might arise at any time. The severity and sick-and-twisted nature of various accusations has also made me cautious, though it really shouldn’t. So long as accusations are unsupported by anything but individual allegations of individual instances, the severity of the accusations is irrelevant. Rumors that the early Christians practiced cannibalism and other perversities did not become more credible for their severity and strangeness.
5 I realize the abortion industry, irresponsible men, and other abortion advocates mislead and manipulate many women, and I grant that these factors make numerous women who abort less culpable for the murders they abet than they would be otherwise. But the idea that all or most women who abort their children are entirely in the dark about what they’re doing, and are therefore guiltless, is incredible. As for life circumstances, such as financial challenges and threatened educational and career goals, mitigating guilt: murderers of full-grown humans often have such circumstances as motives, yet no one seems to want to give murderers of adults a pass because they just couldn’t afford to let their victims live or because they would have to drop out of school if they didn’t dispense with their victims.