Time Magazine unveiled its “Person of the Year” today, and its choice is at once unconventional but not at all surprising.
In a tradition dating back to 1927, the publication has historically selected a person who makes significant news during the past year. As a result, past winners have run the gamut. Recipients have included Adolph Hitler (1938), the Ayatollah Khomeini (1979), the American Soldier (2003) and the Ebola Fighters (2014). President Donald Trump won last year, an acknowledgment of his surprising electoral victory.
This year, Time has named “The Silence Breakers” – women and men who have spoken out against sexual assault and harassment.
Like many of you, I’ve been following the news of the last few months with a mixture of shock and disgust. Each day has seemed to bring with it the downfall of another celebrity or high profile individual. The shock hasn’t been so much the fact that this is happening – but that it’s as widespread as it is, and includes so many household names.
Of the many difficult and glaring questions stemming from the burgeoning sexual harassment and assault scandals of 2017, one rises above the rest:
How can a culture horrified by sexual assault not also be horrified by its root cause?
The answer to that question lies at the heart of the current crisis.
To be sure, licentiousness and sexual perversion and abuse are not a new phenomenon. In other words, there is nothing new under the sun. For those of us of the Judeo-Christian persuasion, both the Old and New Testaments are replete with stark reminders of the dark consequences of rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment and other forms and degrees of personal violation. Man’s proclivity to exploit his position in exchange for his own sexual satisfaction has been a recurring and debilitating issue throughout all of world history.
Indeed, from the time of Moses to the Middle Ages to the era of “Mad Men” right up to modern day, a compromised sexual ethic has always harmed both women and men, broken up families, decimated childhoods, taken down leaders and left countless individuals in a dizzying state of despair.
Some have suggested that the current revelations of abuse represent a watershed moment, the end of a time when abusers are protected and victims easily silenced. “Enough is enough,” they say. “No more!”
If only it was true. Unfortunately, I’m not nearly as optimistic.
Because from the school house to the state house and especially the court houses of America, the powers that be have mocked, marginalized and sometimes even made it illegal to teach moral clarity to our children.
Instead, we’re told that morality is subjective – what’s right to me may well be wrong to you. Back off, buster! Who are you to judge me?
Interestingly, Harvey Weinstein was eleven-years-old in 1963 when the Supreme Court declared state-sponsored Bible reading in public schools unconstitutional. In fact, many of the individuals who have been cited recently for harassment and assault came of age in the midst of the ongoing Sexual Revolution. At a time when a hormone-raging adolescent most needs to hear straight lessons about limits, culture was preaching liberation.
“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me,” said a young Benjamin in The Graduate, the Academy Award nominated film of 1967. In response, Anne Bancroft, the actress who plays the older seductress, just laughs off Dustin Hoffman’s rebuff.
So did everybody else.
But in the throes of a revolution that haunts victims of harassment and abuse in 2017, nobody is laughing anymore.
Am I suggesting that Harvey Weinstein and Dustin Hoffman and every other alleged sexual predator in the news today wouldn’t have gone astray had they received daily school readings from the book of Proverbs?
Absolutely not. If only it were that easy.
But by mocking, marginalizing or even criminalizing good and honorable principles in schools, by removing the building blocks of moral education, is it any wonder that we’ve produced morally deficient people? In fact, what we’ve done is deprive young people of the very tools (moral clarity, a commitment to respect others) that even secular sociologists suggest are most likely to lead to a healthy and thriving adulthood.
In essence, our children are being neglected by omission.
Human sexuality is a beautiful and powerful thing, but it was designed to be practiced within the confines of a monogamous marital relationship. This belief is considered outdated in much of society today. Yet, in light of the cultural destruction and dysfunction we currently see, can a fair-minded person disagree that we are reaping the whirlwind sown by the Sexual Revolution and the abandonment of basic values.
It was the writer George Orwell who once famously declared that to restate the obvious is a sign of intelligence. I thought about that timeless observation recently when Vice President Mike Pence was mocked for saying that he won’t dine alone with a woman other than his wife, Karen. In doing so, he’s acknowledging the reality of his own human frailty. His practice attests to the obvious: boundaries not only preserve and protect – but they also liberate and empower.
If we want to live and work in a society of morally responsible adults who respect both women and men, we need to first equip the rising generation with morally clear principles. It is well beyond time to reconsider not only what we as a culture are teaching our young people about sexuality – but what we’re not teaching them, too. It is irresponsible to do any less.
Given all that has transpired these last few months regarding this issue, has anything surprised you?