By Douglas Wilson
minister, Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho
Inconsistency is part of the price we pay for living in a screwed-up world, and so we naturally want to distinguish the person who fails to fully live up to his own standards, which would be pretty much everybody, and the out-and-out hypocrite, that unctuous televangelist right out of central casting. And so we do make the distinction, but at the end of the day, we should still recognize that this is just distinguishing little hypocrisies from foundational hypocrisies. None of it is what we would call virtuous.
Once we have made this obvious distinction, one of the things we need to do is realize that we often mistake foundational hypocrisies for more garden variety hypocrisies. It is flattering to the self to do this, and so the results we usually get are not that surprising. It was not for nothing that the old cynic Ambrose Bierce defined a Christian as one who believed the New Testament to be a divinely inspired book, admirably suited for the spiritual needs of his neighbor. And nowhere is this issue of inconsistencies more glaring than with the issue of politics and pornography.
More is going on here than simple inconsistency on a personal level. Preaching against porn while consuming it avidly is certainly inconsistent, and is what theologians in another old-timey era used to call “a sin”–a theological category that perhaps needs to be rehabilitated. But I want to consider this issue at another level–we need to start thinking about the politics of porn.
Chesterton once said that “free love” was the first and most obvious bribe that could be offered to a slave. Huxley, in his Brave New World, saw the potent mix of sex and soma. And when the prophet Balaam was unable to curse the people of Israel, he was nevertheless able to offer some tawdry counsel to the king of Moab on the side–with the result that the Moabite women took a stroll through the Israelite camp in their halter tops and tight jeans (Num. 25:1). The end result was not just a large number of Israelite men being personally inconsistent in their very own private lives. The end result was a cultural and political disaster for Israel–the debacle at Baal-Peor (Num. 25:9). In short, there were political repercussions as a result of this very political tactic. The account in Numbers is oblique on the point, but the New Testament clearly credits Balaam with giving the King of Moab a political consultation service, a crash course in sexual tactics (2 Pet. 2:15; Jude 11; Rev. 2:14).
Fast forward to the present. A number of evangelicals are up in arms about President Obama himself, and Obamacare, and Obama-other-things, and Obama-anything-else, and are warning us in dire tones about the impending slavery that is involved in all this “socialism.” And–full disclosure here–I am economically pretty conservative myself, just slightly to the left of King Arthur, so I am not pointing out this part of it to differ with any of it. But what I am noticing in this discussion is a striking public tolerance for right-wing skankyness. When I am cruising around for my Internet news, I am far more likely to run into Moabite women at Fox News than anywhere else.
I was recently was scrolling down a related “conservative” web site (Fox Nation), and near the bottom came upon a photo that plainly notified us all that Pamela Anderson is a member of a race, the human race, that is indeed mammalian. One of my initial thoughts was that it must be really nice to be able to go through life with absolutely no fear of drowning. The Fox News site is not quite as bad as that, but is pretty clearly keeping Balaam on retainer as well. While writing this, I conducted a brief, unscientific survey, and the Fox News site was busy displaying six large breasts with one naked Kardashian thrown in, MSNBC, that noted liberal outlet, had nothing objectionable at all, CNN, bane of the republic, also had none. Surely it should be possible to access fair and balanced news without running into women who think they are supposed to be a sale at Macy’s–with 40 percent off.
What then? On the assumption that what we are willing to associate with in public is just a fraction of what we are willing to associate with in private, one of my basic concerns about evangelical involvement in politics in the age of Obama (measured in this discussion by their general friendliness to Foxy News) is that they are not nearly as hostile to “slavery” as some of the rhetoric might seem to indicate. I know that politics is supposed to make strange bedfellows, but “strange bedfellows” was always supposed to be a metaphor, wasn’t it?
A man cannot sell himself into slavery in his private life, and then turn around and successfully take a stand as a free man in the public square. At least, that is how the thinking used to go among conservatives. If sexual indulgence is one of the more obvious bribes that can be offered to a slave, how does it change anything if a person takes the bribe in private? And if that bribe is taken in private, over time, indications of that reality will start to show up in public, in the sorts of ways I have been discussing.
Which means that if a man is on the take in this way, he can go to a Tea Party and hoick up a hand-made “live free or die” placard all he wants to. He is also attending other demonstrations late at night–and at those other demonstrations, he is saying with every click of the mouse that what he really wishes for is that his grandchildren could be slaves. And the way things are going, he may just get his wish.
Douglas Wilson is the minister of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho, and a senior fellow of theology at New St. Andrews College. He has written numerous books, including “Five Cities That Ruled the World, Heaven Misplaced, and Reforming Marriage.”