Saturday, October 28, 2006

On "Theocracy," 12: Rom 1 - 2 & 13, liberty and the public vs. private spheres

WARNING: Disturbing content

We sometimes refer to certain parts of our bodies as "private," and as a rule will refuse to put these parts of our bodies on public display, through a sense of shame, or a commitment to modesty, or in some cases a fear of possible legal consequences.

At the same time, the very existence of pornography, peeping toms, flashers, utterly immodest dress, indecent entertainment acts, date rape and prostitution tells us that there are those who take inappropriate pleasure or profit from the breaching of this barrier -- often trying to make the claim that they are championing "liberty" as they do so. (In fact, we need to distinguish between liberty on the one hand, and licence, libertinism and amorality [often disguised as "tolerance" and "diversity"] on the other. For, as Rom 13:8 - 10 reminds us, neighbour-love does no harm. )

Why, then, do we instinctively draw a line between the public and the private, and why is there a clash between shame and pleasure over its breach?

To properly address this contentious question requires, first, a detour through some of the dynamics of public debate:

1] For parties to a debate to logically agree on a conclusion, they have to accept certain premises in common, P, then follow them out to their logical conclusion, C:
P => C, P, so C.
2] But then, if one is sufficiently motivated to reject C, one can work the logical chain back-ways: Not-C so not-P. So, if there is no mutually agreed sufficiently broad and powerful set of premises, no consensus on conclusions can be achieved.

3] But in turn, the rejecting of premises and conclusions may be tellingly revealing of underlying agendas and logical and/or moral inconsistencies. For, if the rejection of P requires a selectively hyperskeptical [thus hypocritical -- often blindly so] rejection of truths or facts that would otherwise be plain and obvious, then the question is being begged in service to an agenda.

4] As is described in the just linked, such selective hyperskepticism, at its core, is the decision to dismiss facts or truths
inconsistently -- i.e. you have set the hurdle for these claims so high that no facts or truths of the general kind in question could surmount the barrier. But of course, for facts and truths not in contention, you are perfectly willing to accept a lower standard of test. No prizes for guessing why.

5] That in turn means that once selective hyperskepticism has been smoked out, onlookers are in a position to judge for themselves just why it is that such an inconsistent standard is being self-servingly brought into play by a party to a debate.

So now, we are forewarned and forearmed.

For instance, we can observe that while some people will wear provocatively immodest clothing that suggests, presents and hints at their private parts, passions and sexual availability -- and will champion publicly funded or displayed artwork that is far more prurient than that -- the same people would as a rule be utterly embarrassed to be caught helplessly naked in the middle of a major traffic intersection.

[In case the reader thinks this is a mere hypothetical, s/he might wish to consider the case of the publicly funded and controversial Redemption Song nude statue group at the corner of Oxford Road and Knutsford Boulevard in New Kingston, Jamaica;
which is so posed as to put the exaggerated male and female pubic regions at the eye-level of passersby. (Note how -- ever so tellingly! -- one of the dismissers of moral concern has to ask passersby to "elevate their eyes to the expression of spiritual yearning and hope," as noted here in a Florida newspaper report. That means that something that is usually regarded as intensely private, and in much larger than life size, has been put at eye-level and it obviously is not the upturned "spiritual" faces!) Moreover, it is not without relevance to note that: (1) this site was precisely the location of a public protest against the institution of Playboy porn channel Cable TV-sponsored mass nude weddings at Hedonism III in February 2001, and (2) in the Emancipation Park for which the statues were commissioned, at opening, not one historical monument to the history of emancipation, nor the Biblically rooted motivations of many of Jamaica's heroes or ideal was to be found. Indeed, (3) major national symbols such as the Pledge, Motto, Coat of Arms, and Anthem were conspicuously absent. Not even the incorrect date of emancipation -- 1838, much less the correct date -- 1834, was to be found.]

Or, getting back to the more sordid parts of our history raised by slavery, even the most immodest people would find themselves utterly humiliated to be put up, more or less naked, on an auction block and sexually inspected and commented on by interested buyers and bystanders as part of the "tomato-pinching" before being auctioned off to the highest bidder.

In short, there is an obvious and vast, intuitively recognised difference between what is suitable for the privacy of the God-blessed marital bedroom or the doctor's office, and what is appropriate for the public context -- however much some may wish to play around with the borderline. Selective hyperskepticism about this, therefore only reveals an intellectually and morally indefensible agenda at work.

The distinction between the public and the private spheres, clearly, also fulfills some very important protective -- and even liberating -- social functions:

First, our children need a safe public space in which they can be appropriately stimulated and educated without fear of exposure to images, ideas, agendas and situations that they are neither mature enough to handle well, nor capable of defending themselves from.

Second, through institutionalising modesty, in part through recognising, protecting (and sometimes subsidising) marriage and the family, society is able to promote the healthy rearing of the next generation, helping to preserve itself.

Third, in light of the classic observation that men in particular are prone to leave a trail of havoc across a community through abusing physical, social and sexual prowess -- witness the fact that rape is as a rule a crime committed by men -- societies require several key institutional walls of protection.

Fourth, since it is now common to encounter the notion that activist judges or legislatures can freely and safely decree at will that marriage needs not be reflective of the natural difference between men and women, it must be noted that not only is the heterosexual bond a basis for procreation and sound child nurture, but that the associated denigration of the limits of nature is not only physically unhealthy but also is fraught with implications for the fabric of protection of children in the community based on the public/private distinction.

Fifth, we must never forget that liberty always has proper limits: my right implies your duty, given the basic fact that we are equals in nature under God, and so we have mutual obligations under the principle that neighbour-love does no harm. Nor, are we justified to assume or assert without further proof that lawful restrictions imposed by legitimate authorities that do not suit our preferences on public morality are to be derided and dismissed as oppressive impositions of "censorship," without specific and good reason for such a conclusion.

All of this speaks to a common voice of conscience-guided reason that whispers within, echoing, in turn, some telling but sometimes unwelcome insights from the Apostle Paul's Epistle to the Romans, a now often unacknowledged foundational work for Western Culture as we know it:

1:20 . . . since the creation of the world God's invisible qualities--his eternal power and divine nature--have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse . . . .

RO 1:28 Furthermore, since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they are senseless, faithless, heartless, ruthless. 32 Although they know God's righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them . . . .

2:14 (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the [written OT] law, do by nature things required by the law . . . 15 . . . they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.)

In short, there is an intuitively recognised core of conscience-guided reason and awareness of the creation-based, morally conditioned nature of reality that leads us to God; if we would but listen. Sadly, we are instead tempted to suppress this as it is often inconvenient to our desired agendas, profits and pleasures. If we do so, we have no excuse and find ourselves victims of darkened understandings, benumbed consciences and out-of-control, sometimes perverted passions -- leading to massive social disruption and disintegration. In turn, when anarchy reaches a critical point, as Germany in the 1930s showed convincingly, the public will accept tyranny on the hope that it will restore order. In short, once we ignore the moral context of liberty, it becomes suicidally self-destructive.

So, in fact, the sort of inconsistency on the moral issue of modesty just highlighted is quite revealing on our core moral challenge: our willful, sinful alienation from our Creator. Such a rebellion easily leads us to proclaim that our bondages are our liberties and also to refuse to accept -- especially when it cuts across our profits or pleasures -- that it is a core criterion of sustainable liberty that we should we should do no harm to our neighbours. (Thus, in effect, we have now arrived at a core issue connected to our need to repent in light of the credibility of the Gospel; but that is a side-point relative to our current focus.)

So now, we are in an excellent position to evaluate and respond to the sort of comment that Mr Boyne recently made, in portraying those he insists on smearing as "fundamentalists" in the following light:

In Jamaica you encounter some mindless Christian fundamentalists who, if they had their way, would ban certain television programmes, certain movies and certain books and would even seek to impose dress-length standards on our women to fight the scourge of dancehall fashions. Don't think it's just the Taliban who has this kind of mentality. Talk to your fundamentalist, Bible-thumping neighbour and see how open-minded he or she really is.

First we observe the warning-sign of dismissive rhetoric and assertion of irresponsible [im]moral equivalency: mindless Bible-thumping fundamentalists more or less at the same moral level as the fanatical and oppressive Taliban of Afghanistan -- as if the differences between Jamaican evangelicals and the like and the Taliban are not obvious, material and even vast. But more on the point, in light of the issue of the importance of distinguishing the public/private spheres and the issue of appropriate behaviour in the public sphere, issues of modesty are not automatically to be equated to censorship and oppression.

Indeed, on the dance hall behaviour question, I once recall a case where videos of the audience at a public dancehall event were repeatedly shown for several days on my local access cable tv channel in Jamaica, at all hours of day and night.

My wife drew my attention to it, and late one evening I took time to watch; only, to see an informal lewdness contest by a circle of women, "won" by one who shocked her companions by exposing then pulling down her underwear and publicly sexually manipulating her now quite plainly visible private parts in front of the now tightly focussed, pruriently watching cameras -- and this, in front of not only adults but children present [some of whom had particpated in the lewd conduct]. When I complained to the management of the company, at first they were skeptical of my perceived attitude of "censorship," but when I then explained in a bit more details than I will here, they at once indicated that this was unauthorised, and that they would have to act to see to it that such lewd and illegal public displays would never happen again on their channel. [Note how, in attempting to "justify" the mass nude weddings at Hedonism III, another commentator corroborates these observations here. Cf my objection to the now annual nude weddings event at the time it was started, here. I have now added a copy of this post to that page.]

Plainly, given what is at stake at length, serious moral concern to defend public morality in the face of a subculture that evidently encourages public misbehaviour
and associated immodest patterns of dress -- is plainly warranted. [Recall here the case of Lady Saw and why she became controversial for lewd behaviour and indecent lyrics, especially what the Jamaica Observer calls "her signature crotch patting" which in the linked case led up to her "calling dancer Ice on stage who engaged a female patron in dry-humping."] So, while we indeed need to be careful of the line between liberty and censorship, it is plain that obscenity has long been recognised as objectionable and actionable under law, for excellent reason. Similarly, morally concerned people -- and this, classically, includes Bible-believing Christians -- are well within their rights to object to and boycott immodest public [or even on-private-property "entertainment"] behaviour, speech, broadcasts, dress and yes even television programming that fall far short of legally actionable obscenity.

In such a context, we are equally well within our rights to ask pointed questions on the underlying attitudes and motivation of very well informed public figures such as Mr Boyne, who -- without adequately reckoning with serious concerns and issues such as the above -- try to push those who raise such concerns into the same boat as Islamist terrorists and oppressors.

For, that sounds a lot like bigotry and stirring up of misunderstanding, leading to unjustified resentment and hostility to me. For shame! END

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