These occurred on my Facebook page with Catholic Deacon Steven D. Greydanus (words in green), and atheist Jon (words in blue).
My thinking about this issue is built upon two planks:
1. The sexual revolution has had incalculably disastrous effects.
2. Simply “going back” is neither possible nor desirable. There is a reason the 1950s led to the 1960s. You can draw a straight line from Kinsey in the 1940s back to cultural pathologies around sex in the 1890s. I am not sorry to be raising my daughters in the 2000s as opposed to the 1800s.
My impression is that you, Dave, are not a Narrative of Decline / Golden-Age nostalgist, so I expect we have not entirely dissimilar thinking here.
You’re right. The 1950s led to the 1960s in sexual matters, just as it did in heterodoxy with regard to theology. My mentor, Fr. John Hardon, used to say that “the [theological] revolution began around 1940.” The 60s didn’t come from nowhere (though I view them largely as a collective adolescent rebellion: the baby boomers coming of age). I’d be inclined to place the cultural precursors to the sexual revolution in the 1920s rather than 1890s, but close enough!
Elvis, James Dean, Marilyn Monroe, Sam Cooke [while singing Gospel music] (and probably Brando) all slept around. Nothing’s changed among the rich and powerful (and attractive). But they act or sing well or look great, so we wink at all their transgressions (while Elvis’s wife did not at all).
I think when we talk about Christian ideals, we can point to times when they were relatively more observed, but there is always a long way to go (what else is new?), so it’s best to not idealize supposed “golden ages.” On the other hand, our culture in the 1950s was superior in many ways to our own time (with notable, tragic exceptions like racism).
Today we should teach Catholic sexuality with the developed tools of theology of the body and NFP, and the counter-evidence of the disastrous results of the sexual revolution. We can do so. The opportunity is there. Young people aren’t stupid. They see the wreckage all around them. We can offer them a better and successful way.
I mentioned the 1890s because that’s when Kinsey was born. The roots of the revolution lie in what the rebel rebels against.
This is important to understand in many other contexts. It’s easy talk about the Cristero War and the anti-clericalism of the Calles regime without attempting to understand the roots of that anti-clericalism in, well, the behavior of the clerics.
Another obvious example: The Protestant Reformation.
Well, good ol’ Victorianism (or at least exaggerated stereotypes of same) is always one of the things that the sexual liberal is rebelling against. I chose the 20s because the fundamentalist-modernist debates in theology took place then and because of rapid urbanization and the spread of moral decadence (think of Babe Ruth and his carryings-on, as the prototype).
Morals are generally worse in the cities (for many reasons), as traditionalist social observers have long noted.
The 30s and 40s led to a higher moral seriousness because of the enormity of the Depression and World War II. Then we had the “happy” 50s (except for the Korean War!), leading to another rebellion in the 60s and the collapse of any semblance of the predominance of Christianity in our culture (completed with legal abortion in 1973 and now so-called “gay marriage”).
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Dave, I think what you’re talking about is prostitution. Do I have you correct? Definitely the women that resisted or fled [Weinstein] are blameless. Or maybe a woman frozen in fear or shock. I assume you would agree she is blameless. What of the woman that sort of went along in order to gain success as an actress? Really it’s sex in exchange for something of value (fame, money, etc).
Personally I couldn’t blame them. Imagine a woman that dedicates herself to acting. She’s been working for years, struggling to get by. She’s not starving, but living small. She runs into this guy and she knows if she doesn’t go along he can ruin her career. She could say no, but this is still coercive. Her whole life dream could be shattered by this guy. If she goes along I can’t blame her, not even a little. What do you think? Do you think she’s partly to blame?
Christians believe that you do what is right, no matter the consequences. To not do so is blameworthy, though there are differing levels of culpability.
If the choice is commit fornication in order to have an acting or singing (or business) career, the strong woman and consistent, Spirit- and conscience-led Christian woman says no.
I understand the agony and “pull” of such situations, but Christian (or any kind of moral) life is full of such hard choices. They are what it’s all about.
Hollywood has lots of examples of people who took a hit for principle: whether for conservatism, pro-life, and/or Christian beliefs. They are willing to do it, and often set up their own companies. But they’re making far less money than they could have if they had morally compromised. I think if you ask them, it’s a sacrifice they were glad to make, so they can look themselves in the mirror.
If one engages in sex specifically to get ahead, whether it is a coercive situation or not, it’s “unpaid prostitution” for the sake of career gain. And it’s morally indefensible.
Definitely defensible in my book. Take a woman with a child. She wants to get ahead and create a better life for her child. She goes along with Weinstein. The man is gross, so this is certainly self sacrifice. Degrading for her, but she does it because she wants better for her child. No way I’m blaming her. It’s easy I think to criticize her from our perspective. We’re not faced with the same hard choice. But if you’re in her shoes, you look at your kids, you move forward so you can make things better for them, that’s to me not just defensible, it’s admirable to me.
Of course a major difference between us is the sin aspect. There are different ways of degrading yourself. For instance Weinstein could just demand that people lick his boots. If a man does so because he’s prepared to degrade himself to create a better life for his kids I imagine you’d agree it’s not something you even consider blaming him for, like he did something wrong. When a woman degrades herself with sex in this case to me it’s like boot licking. It ticks me off that Weinstein has this kind of power, whether boot licking or sex. That’s where 100% of the blame goes in both cases. To me these are the same.
That’s situation ethics. Christians don’t believe that an intrinsically wrong thing becomes right and okay because it occurred in a difficult or tempting circumstance.
But we Catholics do recognize many degrees of culpability. If there is enough duress or coercion, etc. present, the culpability goes down: from a mortal sin to a venial one. The Church and God are merciful. One confesses the sin, receives absolution, and moves on.
But what we will never do is define down sin to not being sin at all. We have compassion on the sinner and consider the circumstances, but we don’t relativize sin or adopt situation ethics. What’s wrong is wrong. Fornication and adultery (in the Catholic view) are mortal sins, that can cause one to be damned to hell if not repented of.
Photo credit: Photo of the late Hugh Hefner, director Brigitte Berman, and playboy bunnies at the premiere of Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist and Rebel, at the Toronto International Film Festival (9-12-09); taken by Josh Jensen [Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0 license]