LETTERS TO THE EDITOR:
ON IMMORALITY, SEXUALITY AND “RIGHTS”
1.] The following was submitted to the Gleaner regarding immorality and rights, and appeared Dec 17 as Letter of the Day:
7 North Street
Dear Madam Editor
Dams restrain the natural flow of water. Ideally, they prevent destructive floods or debilitating droughts. But, if a dam breaks, a rampaging wall of water can sweep away all that lies before it.
Just so, sound civilisation is based on restraint of our natural appetites: your right requires my duty, whether to life, liberty, reputation, property or whatever. That is, moral restraint is central to our having a community worth living in.
But such restraints can break down, releasing a devastating flood of self-indulgent immorality. In the words of the Apostle Paul: "[h]aving lost all sensitivity, [some] have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more." [Eph 4:19, NIV.] For instance, our shocking murder rate is clearly linked to unrestrained anger, hate, greed, corruption and violence. Likewise, it is no surprise that, thirty years after the sexual revolution, we see a worldwide epidemic of dozens of sexually transmitted diseases, ranging from drug-resistant forms of the traditional Gonorrhea and Syphilis to Herpes, Hepatitis B and AIDS.
I therefore find both the content and tone of the recent twin Gleaner articles by Mr Mills and Ms Clarke, under the heading "That Virginity Thing," completely out of order. [Monday Dec. 6, 1999, p. C1.]
Mr Mills' lead is ample proof: "Let me start out first by saying that I have nothing against virgins . . . More often than not, virgins are really sweet misguided girls who are under the misconception that their first time ought to be 'special'." I must protest: women are not sexual toys, to be used then thrown away like banana peels. I quote: "Teach us true respect for all . . ."
Ms Clarke is correct that there has often been a double standard on matters of sexual conduct. But, is it not far more responsible to teach that "true love waits" — and help those who stumble — than it is to encourage the casting off of the last remnants of restraint?
Have the authors carefully evaluated the failure rate of so-called "safer sex"? Have they reviewed the mounting evidence that abstinence-based sex education is working, precisely by helping teens to reject the kind of pressure their articles exemplify?
Most of all, have they considered that "civilisation is based on . . . restraint," in light of the all-too-evident consequences to individuals and our whole nation that stem from the sexual indiscipline they so clearly advocate?
2] This one was never published, but a revised/adapted version was published by the Caribbean Challenge Magazine:
The Observer Newspaper
It has long been the consensus of the great sages, religions and civilisations that a preponderance of stable families based on committed marriages is critical to the stability of a community. Sadly, Jamaica’s ongoing experiment with promiscuity, visiting relationships and general sexual irresponsibility is proving to be no exception.
Thus, we should be concerned about the cynical tone and prurient content of the recent Mark Wignall series of articles on Older/Younger Women: “I am not condemning marriage. It’s a great institution for those who like to take impossible vows that they will never be able to live up to. And even some middle-aged men who would condemn this article are really cowards because most of them are either dying inside for a younger woman or, they are disappearing on business ‘trips’ with delectable delights.” [Observer, June 1, 2000, p. 7.]
I must protest: aside from the logical infeasibility of proving a universal negative, across the centuries millions have in fact kept their allegedly “impossible” vows. That is, civilisation is based on moral restraint, and widespread immorality (sexual and otherwise) “is a disgrace to any people.” [Prov. 14:34.] Wignalls’ remarks about those who use business trips as an occasion to indulge in sin simply underscore this point — David’s infamous tryst with Bathsheba led to public disgrace, family strife, murder and civil war.
Mr Brown’s follow-up series of articles, Minor Chords on a Major Theme, is equally flawed. First, the thesis that Stone Age societies were matriarchal and shifted to patriarchy and as “Sun Gods displace[d] the Earthmothers” [Observer, June 11 2000, p. 9] is based on a controversial feminist archeology interpretation of the scanty evidence in hand. As . . . . notes . . .
Indeed, this reflects the wider point that Scientific knowledge-claims are inherently provisional: based on interpretations of evidence in hand “so far,” which are always subject to correction in light of further evidence and argument. And, as Thomas Kuhn so eloquently argues, at any given time Scientists are shaped by paradigms that are as much ways of not seeing as they are ways of seeing.
Thus, while we should respect the integrity of peer-reviewed scientific work, we should be aware of its inherent limitations and so should never blindly follow agendas put forward in the name of the authority of “Science.” Let us never forget the horrors that have flowed from “Scientific Socialism,” i.e. Marxism-Leninism, Social Darwinism, and the racist Eugenics movement (especially in Nazi Germany).
In short, a little common sense, basic logic and morality go a long way. For, while emotions may persuade, they cannot prove a case, and no authority is better than his facts and logic. Only true facts that are representative of the truth and valid reasoning from those facts yield sound conclusions. And, Pilate’s “What is truth?” can be very hard to answer indeed.
I therefore challenge our Nation to carefully consider the soundness of Solomon’s claim: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people.” Can we afford to risk the chance that he is right, given our ongoing attempt to prove him wrong?
G. E. Mullings
3] This was published by the Observer after the event, the first public mass nude wedding held on Feb 14 2000, and bradcast on Playboy Porno Cable TV channel, in the Observer:
The Observer (and the Gleaner)
Sound civilisation is based on restraint of our natural appetites: your right requires my duty, whether to life, liberty, reputation, property or whatever. Thus, the practice of moral restraint is central to our having a community worth living in.
However, as the recent media debates over mass nude weddings and the alleged perils of so-called Fundamentalism show, Jamaica has now entered the post-modern age of cynical relativism — Yale Law Professor Arthur Leff’s age of “the grand ‘Sez who?’” For, many people now think there is nothing more to truth and morality than “this seems true or right to me.” Therefore, they mistakenly challenge any asserted truth or moral claim that does not suit their fancy: “Who are you to impose your standards and views on me?”
They thus fall into a glaring inconsistency: how can you at one and the same time say that truth and right are relative to individuals and cultures, then expect others to accept as binding the moral obligation that they should not “impose their views on others”?
Clearly, then, relativists accept that at least one moral principle, respect for the views of others, is binding. Why, then do they often try to deny the binding nature of other time-tested moral principles, such as respect for marriage and the family, for life, for property, for truth, and for the reputation and achievements of others? [See Exodus 20:3 – 17.]
I have a third, even more important, concern. For, “every man does what is right in his own eyes” is the classic recipe for social chaos and anarchy. Such chaos opens the gate for tyrants to gain power by promising to restore or maintain order and prosperity. However, once they gain power, the “cure” imposed by such tyrants typically turns out to be worse than the disease. [See Judges 21:25 and 1 Samuel 8:1 – 22.]
Thus, we come to Jamaica’s stark choice: repentance, mutual reconciliation and reformation; or, ever-increasing chaos and violence leading to bloody revolution and/or tyranny. For, as hard experience has repeatedly shown, godliness is the only proven way for a nation to enjoy both liberty and order.
Which path will we take as a nation?
4] This was published in the Gleaner in 2003, and documents my observcations at the time on the Emancipation Park:
Looking for Emancipation in the park
published: Saturday August 16, 2003
The controversial Laura Facey Cooper nude statue, 'Redemption Song', is at the site of a major international protest rally held on Feb. 13, 2000 against the first Hedonism III/Playboy Cable TV Porn Channel mass nude wedding.
That insensitivity to community feelings is in itself a measure of the depth of the rift in our society.
However, there is a deeper problem with the park as a whole: where is the EMANCIPATION in it? For, as I confirmed by a visit last week, as of August 7th:
1] Nowhere in the park do we see a display of the history of plantation slavery, the liberation struggle that was energised when the evangelical missionaries began preaching to the slaves in the late 18th century, or of how it culminated in Emancipation and the enduring challenge to live in a free and well-ordered community.
2] I did not see key national symbols displayed, such as: Our Motto, Our Coat-of-Arms, Our National Pledge, Our National Anthem - all of them high points in Jamaica's heritage.
3] As Mr. Michael Morris protested in a letter to the editor published in The Gleaner on Aug. 19, 2002, the very date of Emancipation is missing.
4] There is no Visitors' Centre/Museum that would help educate our children and visitors to our nation on our heritage, heroes, history and core national values.
Given the resonance of emancipation in our as yet unhealed history, such a cluster of omissions is utterly astonishing.
But, if emancipation, education and the challenge of building a free, orderly and productive society have been left out of the park as a whole, it is then no surprise to see the emerging consensus that the commissioned statues are irrelevant and offensive to a broad but often derided, censored and ignored cross section of the community.
Perhaps the best way forward is to view the park as a work in progress, and in that light I wish to suggest the following:
(1) That the present storage house be converted into a visitors' centre with artefacts and a multimedia presentation. Print and multimedia educational materials should be available for sale at a modest cost.
(2) That the jogging path be converted into a history and heroes' walk, by developing a list of "heritage stations." (The utility as a jogging/walking path should not be destroyed by this addition.)
(3) That these stations present the history of slavery and emancipation accurately, fairly and tastefully, highlighting the often unsung people, initiatives and institutions that helped us find liberation and empowerment-not to mention, the ongoing challenges of freedom, order and productivity in a largely Christian community. (Cf. Ephesians 4:17 - 24, Galatians 5:13 - 15. By the way, why is it that George Liele, founder of the indigenous Baptist church that has played such a foundational role in the liberation of Jamaica, is not a recognised National Hero?)
(4) That at the entry of the centre, the key national symbols be prominently displayed, as a shrine to the values and visions that will help build our future.
(5) That the controversial statues be removed to the National Gallery, and replaced by one similar to the well-received liberation struggle monuments in Barbados, Guyana and Haiti.
(6) Similarly, that the all too similar statue group at the Harbour View Roundabout be reviewed as to its suitability for that site, as the FIRST monument seen by visitors to our city, and again one sited at a major intersection.
5] The following was published in my online web log, in response to allegations that opposition to public immorality are reflective of taliban-like mindless fundamantlaism, by Mr Ian Boyne:
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.)
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