As a child of the 1980s & 90s I grew up in a culture that saw Christian values and morals as hopelessly out of touch and old-fashioned. The issue of my day was the ridiculous notion of no-sex-before-marriage. Then came the increasingly affirming attitudes towards same-sex relationships and now we have gender-fluidity. Activists for all of the above would argue that whatever legal gains have been made it has not been made equal, nor global nor arguably cultural. From their point of view, the battle is still on.
At the same time as all this was going on technology unleashed the beast of pornography that had hitherto been confined to top shelves and dubious shops with darkened windows. The internet released an absolute deluge of porn on an unsuspecting and unprepared generation who without too much presence of mind consumed it in vast quantities and ever more extreme versions.
Yet this present moment is not one of unrestrained freedom to enjoy whatever you want with whoever you want however you want (as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone) because people are increasingly aware that this usually results in someone being hurt.
So we live in a strange time and it will be worth watching to see what happens. For what it’s worth I think we will see both greater freedom and greater restrictions. Let me explain.
First what do I mean by greater freedom? Well, despite Bermuda repealing its same-sex marriage law we’re unlikely to see any major roll-back of these laws in countries where it has already been approved. Those countries are instead likely to continue to give greater freedom to the LGBTQ community. And despite the inherent contradictions between secularism and transgenderism I expect many of these liberalized nations to give individuals greater freedom to shape their gender identity. Alongside this there will be a push towards a greater acceptance of differing forms of relationships. So David Robertson writes that the next big social change will be an acceptance of polyamory and polygamy. I think he’s half right.
I think there will be a push for greater cultural acceptance for all sorts of poly but I remain cautious about an inevitable acceptance of polygamy because any push for polygamy will run headlong into feminism which generally stands opposed to polygamy as being a bad deal for women (and they’re right to think so). But western nations will continue to accept and promote the individuals right to generally be whatever they want and will come down hard on people who criticize them for it.
At the same time, we may also see a greater conservatism (only without any religious underpinning). Trevin Wax wonders Will Sexual Propriety Make a Comeback?
Is it possible we will see the development of new standards for sexual behavior that go beyond “consent”? Will we see the emergence of a modified secular version of prudishness? Is it possible that, in terms of behavior, the next generation may be more conservative than the last? How will people respond to the heightened sensitivities that show up in a culture that once prided itself on destroying boundaries?
The starting point will be pornography. This NY Times article What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn about attempts to teach porn literacy (ie real life isn’t like porn and thinking it is will be bad for you) is instructive (*note the article has some pretty descriptive stuff of what teens are consuming).
My fear is that the American internet would evolve rather rapidly toward Chinese-style institutions of control (though they would not used right now), without stopping porn very much, but leading to increasing calls to censor many other things too.
It’s not at all beyond the realm of possibility that in some places we would see Christians supporting the status quo not because they don’t want porn blocked but because they’d fear that they would be censored by cultural elites who are generally hostile towards orthodox religion.
There will be increasing technological attempts to solve the problem of consent, to attempts to restrict access to porn, but technology cannot solve the problem of sin.
As Trevin Wax says,
As Christians, we know that our culture cannot have it both ways. We cannot maintain that sex is something casual and merely physical and at the same time claim it is so fraught with significance that any infraction is met with disdain and immediate censure. Modesty is not the opposite of sexuality; it’s the framework that allows sexuality to flourish in a physical union built upon a spiritual covenant.
Photo by Poster Boy NYC