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Every culture is challenged by its own seductions, but our culture is confronted with the present undeniable fact that we have transformed seduction into an art form. In essence, the cultures of the West are now examples of what the late sociologist Pitirim Sorokin called a “late, degenerate sensate culture.” Our twisted desires have become the celebrated engines of culture and the economy.
The rise of America’s pornographic culture may be the clearest evidence of this seduction. Once peddled in the back alleys, porn has now become big business — the seventh-largest industry in America, by some estimates. Pornography is no longer limited to seedy peep shows and garish magazines. The sex industry now features well-lit “superstores” and receives mainstream acceptance.
According to a recent 60 Minutes broadcast, Americans now spend more than ten billion dollars a year on “adult entertainment” products. Major American corporations, including some of the most recognizable brand names, are deeply involved and invested in the porn industry. Beyond this, the Internet has spawned the largest multiplication of pornographic options in human history — with the most perverted, twisted, and corrupted visions of sexuality now just clicks away from any computer. As Marshall McLuhan would remind us from the grave, the medium has become the message.
Pornography now reaches into every American home — in its effects, if not in exposure. We are becoming a pornographic society that can no longer distinguish between sexuality and its perversions. Innocence is becoming a quaint concept, with children exposed to pornography and its seductions.
In one sense, Internet pornography is the crack cocaine of the sex trade. Men and boys, enticed by pornographic images and stimulation, are drawn deeper and deeper into patterns of lust and sexual seduction. Women, young and old, are increasingly drawn into Internet chat rooms, where simulated sensuality is combined with simulated intimacy.
East of Eden, humanity has always grappled with the corruption of sexuality. Pornography is hardly a new development. What makes our situation new is the radical transformation of pornography into an accepted component of the economy — even celebrated as a healthy and essential part of our popular culture.
One major indication of moral seduction is the inability to draw distinctions. This is clearly the case with our culture’s increasing blindness to any distinction between entertainment and debauchery, art and perversion. Who is to say? Our culture is now virtually without moral monitors. The legal system has been unable (or unwilling) to stem the tide, the mavens of the art world are afraid to confront the avant- garde, and the politicians claim to be stymied by the courts. Incredibly, many parents have proven unwilling to take this challenge seriously. Just ask your local youth minister. Millions of teenagers have virtually unrestricted access to the Internet. Are we surprised when they are seduced by the enticements of a sensate culture?
Beyond this, pornography has even become a major challenge for some Christian leaders and ministers. This largely unspoken dimension of the problem indicates the depth of the seduction. Where are the prophets?
This society shows no indication of any desire for recovery. Indeed, every day seems to bring a newly celebrated opportunity for further seduction. The narcotizing effects of pornography will not be surrendered without a fight, but there is no fight evident on this culture’s horizon. For Christians, separation from the pornographic culture is not going to be easy. Sexually explicit images and styles drive the American advertising, fashion, entertainment, and sports industries. A drive down the average commercial boulevard (or a few minutes’ exposure to television) should be enough to convince all but the most brazen souls that pornography is not exceptional — it is fast becoming normalized.
Resistance to this seduction will require more than moral revulsion, though that is a natural place to start. True Christian resistance will mean a bold confrontation with the spirit of the age and the totality of our societal life. A true Christian resistance will push back against the purveyors of porn—even when this hits close to home.
Christians must confront a sensate culture with the biblical vision of human sexuality. The Bible offers more than a fallen world can ever imagine, placing sexual pleasure within the holy covenant of marriage, combining restraint with passion, pleasure with protection, sense with sensibility. As a matter of fact, sex makes sense only within the Christian worldview. Christians, alone on the earth, understand by the grace of revelation that God has a purpose for sexuality that eclipses any human aspiration. At the same time, we understand that sex isn’t everything, and everything isn’t sex.
That’s the tragic problem at the core of America’s pornographic seduction. Pornography simply cannot deliver on its perverted promises. It’s that simple.