I haven’t made a post since the summer. The culprit was a combination of ADD and a rather strong desire to not produce more white noise on top of the white noise already dominating everyone’s bandwidth. I have not been interested in my own opinions of recent events, so I believe that subjecting others to them would be uncharitable, at best. In the ensuing time, much has happened, and there is certainly no shortage of events upon which to comment. However, the recent business with Brian Warner—popularly known as Marilyn Manson—caught my attention above other things, more so than the death of Larry Flynt. As a teenager of the 1990’s and a lover of rock music, my ears tend to perk up at the mention of anyone whose tunes I heard on the radio. Yes, I know I’m dating myself. One of his former girlfriends, the actress Evan Rachel Wood, has accused him of sexual and psychological abuse during their relationship. Other women are also coming forward with similar stories. You can read about it elsewhere, as I have no desire to share the gory details.
The story itself is lamentably not unique. We have heard several similar such stories over the last few years. A wealthy man, living according to our new cultural sexual norms, abuses women with his power. The reactions to this story have been somewhat predictable. Evangelical Christians who dislike Manson’s anti-Christian persona and have heard about the allegations against him feel vindicated. “We were telling you he was a scumbag back in the 1990’s, but would you listen to us?! Oh, noooooo!” They feel a sense of gratification as this rock and roll boogeyman finally gets the odium they believe he so richly deserves. Those who support the #MeToo Movement are applauding Wood for speaking up about the abuse she claims she suffered and for encouraging other victims of sexual abuse to likewise raise their voices to spread awareness that women suffer such abuse far more than they ever report it (and this is positively true). Opponents of the #MeToo Movement decry Manson’s “cancellation” as potentially another casualty in what they consider an ongoing “witch hunt.” They believe that no man is safe in our current cultural climate. I, however, prefer to step back from the story and to evaluate it in its cultural and historical context.
It may seem hard to believe, but very soon, the American sexual revolution will turn 70 (an image of an elderly swinger manifests, causing me to lose my appetite). It has given America a whole new series of cultural norms. Sex has been divorced from marriage. Reproduction has been divorced from sex. Divorce has become the antidote to irreconcilable differences causing unhappiness, which is the bane of our modern existence. The rupture of these links, however, has had a series of devastating societal effects. Most catastrophically, over 62 million babies have been aborted since 1973. Children who are born are more likely to come from broken homes or unions outside of marriage. The concept of marriage has been fundamentally altered as such that marriage is something undertaken between two people, even if they are of the same sex, for the sake of their happiness. The concept of “sexual identity” (conspicuously absent until after the sexual revolution) has virtually hypostasized, since sexual fulfillment is perceived as a necessary aspect of personal happiness, which is the summum bonum. When the sexual revolution emerged in the 1950’s, the men who led it, participated in it, and capitalized upon it did so as part of their own personal pursuits of happiness. What they wanted was the removal of responsibility from sex imposed by the cultural remnant of Christian matrimony. This in itself was nothing new. Men have always desired consequence-free sex, and many have actively pursued it in brothels, with male lovers, and with catamites for millennia. The rampant consumerism in the aftermath of World War II, however, whetted the American appetite for more goods and services for lower and lower prices. Many American men considered the removal of marriage the snipping of a price tag. “Why buy the cow when you can get the milk for free?” men have often said. It is every bit as impersonal, degrading, and insulting as it sounds. When Gloria Steinem and the Second Wave Feminists co-opted the sexual revolution in the 1960’s and 1970’s for women, they did so to fix an engine to their movement. They wanted to remove the stigma of promiscuity from women—which was always far more severe than it ever was for men—in an effort to make them equal with men. Although Steinem despised Hugh Heffner, she dutifully copied his playbook and embraced his anthropology for her notions about femininity. If what it means to be a man is to give oneself to a career and to be led about by one’s sexual appetites, then women should want that for themselves, as well. In throwing off marriage, women were shedding the shackles of their oppressors. Men, only too eager to get women to have sex with them, would happily embrace the new terminology. They would keep ideas about cows and milk to themselves while talking openly about “liberation” and “equality.”
It is altogether worth mentioning that people who considered themselves Christian did little more than give vocal opposition to the sexual revolution as it unfolded in its first three decades. There was no picketing; there were no protests. In many cases, Christians were only too happy to reap the fruits of the revolution. Few complained at the greater availability of birth control. Many gave a quiet “hooray” as the no-fault divorce came to their state. When Roe vs. Wade received the force of law, initially only Roman Catholics objected while Protestants—Democrat and Republican alike—wondered why the Catholics were so bent out of shape. The Orthodox opposed it, but most people didn’t know we existed. And still don’t. Protestants were only made to care when Jerry Falwell raised awareness that abortion is, in fact, murder. Other Evangelicals like Anita Bryant would add their voices to Falwell’s, opposing various aspects of the sexual revolution, and eventually forming the Religious Right. Thus, the Evangelical and fundamentalist (the two are not synonymous) association with the Republican Party began. On the other side of the coin were Christians who openly and unashamedly embraced those aspects of the sexual revolution demonized by the Religious Right. They insisted that abortion, homosexual relationships, and even libertinism itself could somehow find a place within Christianity. It is interesting that the more “inclusive” such denominations and church communities became, the more their numbers began to dwindle.
The chaos and dissolution brought about by the sexual revolution which I have highlighted here are by no means a call to return to a nonexistent golden age in which Christian marriage reigned supreme, binding American society in holy bliss. There was always plenty of domestic violence and infidelity. There were plenty of pastors telling terrified wives with bruises to submit to their husbands and plenty of people pretending that the abuse of children was not a problem. I would, however, argue that the sexual revolution has only multiplied human suffering both in the ways I have already mentioned, but in others as well. The nominal observance of Christian marriage allowed bad men to abuse their wives, but the sexual revolution has freed bad men to abuse as many women as they please. The #MeToo Movement is meant as a corrective to this phenomenon. It is intensely Christian in its desire to protect women from the abuse and depersonalization of wicked men who do not value consent (the concept of which did not exist until the advent of Christianity, by the way). It is intensely Puritanical in its methodology, though, which allows for false accusations and mob justice.
The pursuit of happiness as a metaphysical goal, it must be reiterated, is the source of these evils. In our clambering and clawing for personal happiness as the greatest good, we are guaranteed that we will never attain it. It is a mirage—a vapor at which we grasp. The human collateral damage left in the wake of every individual who prizes his/her happiness above all else is a cause for great lamentation. The fact that there are people who consider themselves Christian but who desire happiness above all else is a testimony to the spiritual bankruptcy of an increasingly anemic American Christianity. One of the only differences between the messages of Marilyn Manson, Joel Osteen, or Fr. James Martin, SJ is the packaging. All advocate for living your best life now. The makeup is optional. But God did not make human beings simply to be happy. He gave our first parents a sacred charge: “Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth” (Gen 1:28). In other words, they were to take the blessed condition within Eden and actively spread it over the rest of the world. They were to participate in the work of God through the blessed ordering of his creation. He called them to personal holiness and to make creation holy. Despite the failure of Adam and Eve, God continues to give the same command to Noah, to Abraham, to the people of Israel in the time of Moses, to the people of Israel in the time of Joshua, and finally through Jesus Christ to the Apostles: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mat 28:19-20). The remedy to the sorry state around us, then, is repentance and pursuing holiness. It will serve as a bright light amidst so much darkness. We cannot force anyone to do it, but we must do it ourselves. What makes it a harder sell is that it is a path in which we are guaranteed difficulties and sorrows. But these difficulties and sorrows shape us and grow us increasingly into those people whom God would have us be. In so doing, we receive a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven. To those who think it too much to ask, I point out that the pursuit of happiness also produces difficulties and sorrows, as we have seen. But these sufferings, serve only to embitter and harden us. We grow resentful, because we believe that we should have received this, but instead we received that. We begin to see life as an exhaustless well of disappointment. In our self-pity and growing hatred of life, we receive a foretaste of hell. We must all choose. I pray we choose wisely.