A society that no longer blushes

The “naughtiness” of modern culture is nothing cute

November 9th, 2017 / By: Gary Ledbetter | Editor / comments

read with fascination the many columns assessing the significance of Hugh Hefner, after his death in late September. He had bipartisan admirers and detractors. Some writers noted the hypocrisy of those liberals who champion feminism and body positivity, but also praised Hefner for “giving women jobs.” Other liberals ripped into him for objectifying women. One conservative writer praised him for providing a “wholesome” place for young teenaged boys to find out what nude women looked like. And of course other conservatives considered his legacy to be uniformly sordid. Why are we so confused by something that seemed obvious 30 years ago? 

For decades we saw Mr. Hefner shuffling around in his captain’s hat and bathrobe, always in the company of women decades younger than himself—the very image of a modern dirty old man. As a culture we tended to shake our heads but join in a collective leer, maybe envious of him as we were envious of very few old men. 

Others have noted his impact on our mores relative to sexual license, birth control, LGBT advocacy, polyamory and pornography. Hugh Hefner does not get the blame for all these things; no one person has had that impact on our society. But his lack of shame about things we formerly considered ignoble did begin to speak for a nation rapidly losing its ability to blush. I have seen in my lifetime the move from “naughty” to “nice” of an amazing variety of behaviors and attitudes. Men who wear dresses have gone from “troubled” to members of a celebrated minority. Prostitutes and strippers are no longer tragic victims of sin but empowered “sex industry workers” who’ve found a good way to support their kids. Single motherhood is now ubiquitous, no longer the result of a girl who “got in trouble” or a “broken home.” 

I’m reminded so often of Romans 1:32, following Paul’s extensive description of sin’s terrible slide, in which a special warning is reserved for those who “… not only do [blasphemous evil] but give approval to those who practice them.” That verse jumps out at me every time I read the passage. How many of us who do not worship the creature rather than the Creator, and would not think of ourselves as slanderers or haters of God, nod or wink in tolerance of these behaviors. We laugh at the jokes we’d never dare tell. 

Naughtiness, as it’s called in the King James Bible (James 1:21), is not cute. In James it is contrasted with the righteousness of God and paired with filthiness. Let your mind wander just a bit into how “filthiness” displays itself in our culture, or even your own family. The results of our nation’s “superfluity of naughtiness” are offensive to a holy God and harsh to our eyes, but we too often dread being the grouchy people who actually say that. 

Cultures teach right and wrong the same way families do. Your kids or grandkids watch for the response of adults when they try out a new word or behavior. If we laugh or join in, they know that’s a keeper. If we correct them or stop them, they know that something they don’t yet understand makes it a bad idea. They don’t feel judged, usually, even when they resist authority. Folks, telling or otherwise showing someone that a behavior is a bad idea is not, by definition, self-righteous judgment. It can be life-saving guidance. Skim through Proverbs and notice how many times a child is told to pay attention to his mother or father, that their counsel will extend his life and success. Can it not be that way for a community? 

Thinking biblically about naughty things means that we’ll see a connection between pornography, or other sexual sin, and fatherless children, impoverished single mothers, we families and moral chaos.  Such thinking should reveal the tainted pseudo-sophistication of the Playboy philosophy as an enemy of our families and public institutions. It is unthinkable that we’d find such a deadly enemy entertaining. 

Our most hopeful strategy is to let the good drive out the bad. Humility, love, modesty and kindness are antithetical to the Playboy lifestyle. We must not only model it from the top down of every institution but we should praise it when we see it. It follows that we should withhold praise from, even discourage behaviors we know from experience or revelation to be destructive and unholy. Sometimes we’ll be judgey scolds in doing so. Sometimes we’ll be accused of that when it’s not true. But in either case, we’ll be people trying to be the God-taught grownups in a society that seems to have too few.  In doing so we will lead the immature among us, child or adult, to see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven.