Recently, celebrity Ashton Kutcher appeared before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to speak about child sex trafficking. First, among all the political and social nonsense spewing from every direction these days, it’s good to see someone putting his fame and wealth towards something worth fighting for. Give it a watch/listen; it’s worth the time, though not something easy to listen to due to the subject matter.
As I listened to Mr. Kutcher, I couldn’t help having a thought I’ve had before: Despite what popular culture tells us, sex is not morally neutral.
GROUNDING YOUR MORALITY
Before we talk about sex, let’s talk about morality in general.
As a Christian, I find myself often addressing two claims of secular people:
(1) Morality is relative.
(2) People can be moral without God.
It is often not hard to refute #1, as all I have to do is bring up something like child sex slavery and people will agree that such a thing is objectively immoral – meaning that the wrongness of this is not a matter of opinion; child sex slavery is always morally wrong. Thus, morality is not relative, but objective.
I have no idea if Mr. Kutcher ever considered himself a moral relativist, but judging from his emotional statement about the things he has witnessed since becoming involved in the fight against human sex trafficking, I’m sure he believes there is objective good and objective evil in this world.
As far as #2 (People can be moral without God), I don’t have to refute it. I totally agree that people can be moral without believing in God. But they cannot justify their morals. In other words, morality is objective, but what can explain objective morality? Where does it come from? Yes, everyone has morals, but according to their view of the world, can they justify having those morals?
So, an atheist may say, “Child sex trafficking is wrong,” and I say, “I agree, but why is it wrong? According to what?” “According to human decency,” he says. “By what standard do you judge human decency?” I ask. “Everyone has the right to live his own life.” “And where did you get that idea? If we’re here, according to your view of the world, just by random chance; if we’re just a happy accident of a purposeless universe and there’s really no difference between us and star dust or star fish, where on earth do you get this idea of human rights?”
Often the response is some sort of pragmatism: it’s moral because it works. So, the atheist may say something like, “Whatever leads to the maximum amount of human happiness and flourishing is what’s morally good.”
But without an objective moral standard of good, this fails for two big reasons:
(1) Why do you assume human happiness and flourishing is the greatest moral good? That, within itself, is a moral claim. Why isn’t the flourishing of mosquitoes or oak trees the greatest moral good?
(2) If usefulness is all that defines morality, then what if something like, say, child sex slavery leads to the most people being happy and flourishing? Does that mean it’s morally good? In fact, I’m sure there’s been plenty of cultures where common slavery was absolutely great for the majority of the people in the culture. Does that mean slavery was morally good?
Without an objective standard, it’s all just personal preference and opinion.
The immaterial, timeless God of the Bible is the objective standard of good, and the only explanation for the immaterial, timeless moral law. Yes, we often suppress the moral consciousness God put in us, his image-bearers, because we want to be independent of our Creator, but once one has abandoned God, they have abandoned any grounds to make any moral claims.
It’s interesting: in order for a moral claim not to be simply a personal preference, everyone – whether Christian or not – has to appeal to a greater authority outside themselves. Kutcher, appearing before the U.S. senate, appealed to the Declaration of Independence when he speaks of the right of all people to pursue happiness. Yet, the Declaration of Independence appeals to an authority higher than itself: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
(I’ve written about this moral argument before. Read more here.)
SO WHAT’S THIS HAVE TO DO WITH SEX?
The sexual revolution started about 50 years ago with my parents’ generation in the 1960’s, and sex has been progressively losing value in American culture ever since. Even in the 20-odd years since I’ve been in high school, attitudes about the value and importance of sex have continued to plummet. Millennials are 48% more likely to have sex before a first date than any other generation before them. To many millennials, a date is considered more intimate than sex. People often write off the Christian view of sex as old-fashioned and outdated, but once on that slippery slope, things move quickly.
When we step back and look, even Americans who claim morals are relative believe that certain things, like racism and slavery, are objectively wrong. But sex, they say, is surely subjective. No one has any grounds for making any sort of moral judgment on anyone else’s sexual practices or preferences. I do my thing; you do yours. It’s not much different than liking different ice cream flavors or styles of music. It’s just taste and preference. Sex is a morally neutral act.
But like other claims of moral relativism, this view can’t stand either. I’ll give you four reasons: rape, sexual abuse of children, sexual harassment, and sex trafficking.
Someone getting attacked and beaten OR someone getting attacked and raped?
A child being abused OR a child being abused sexually?
Someone harassing you OR someone sexually harassing you?
Being sold as a slave OR being sold as a sex slave?
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that all violent crimes are universally seen as more horrendous when some sort of sexual violation is involved. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and beaten so severely that she is put into the hospital, people will gasp and people will be angry. If a woman is attacked while jogging in a park and raped and beaten so severely that she’s put in the hospital, people are enraged and they’re also calling for the castration of the attacker. If sex is a meaningless act, then rape is no different than being attacked and beaten; the addition of sex into the situation should not matter. But people are rightfully enraged by any act of rape because sex is not meaningless.
Even hardened criminals know this. I’ve heard from a number of sources that people in prison for sexually abusing children are considered the worst of the worst. Even among the most violent criminals in prison, child molesters are seen as deplorable and are the targets of violence from other inmates.
As Mr. Kutcher spoke to the senate, he spoke of a girl being “sold into sex.” Again, if sex were a morally neutral act, why emphasize the sex aspect of the crime? Why not just say, she was sold into slavery?
My point? Even those who criticize Christians for taking moral stances on sex (and related issues) know that sex is not a morally neutral, meaningless act.
The hardest part to hear of Mr. Kutcher’s talk was about a video of an extremely young child being sold for sex in Cambodia to an American tourist. Mr. Kutcher spoke of the girl being so conditioned that she thought she was “engaging in play.” I pause to use such a horrifying evil to make a point, but if morality is relative, as well as if sex is morally neutral, then what is there to condemn here? Can we honestly say our revulsion and disgust is simply personal preference? If sex is a morally meaningless act, and the girl does not even seem aware of what she’s doing, do we have any grounds to say this is wrong? Yet we know this is evil.
In fact, even the common refrain that all sex is morally neutral – or even morally good – as long as it is consensual fails here. If this exploited girl thinks of what she is doing as play, is it not consensual? Someone may counter, “Sex must be consensual between adults.” But within a worldview with no grounding for morality and where sex is morally neutral, why include this arbitrary stipulation that sex is only for adults with other adults? If sex is a meaningless act, what’s the harm of sex between an adult and child? In fact,pedophilia has been brought to its logical conclusion due to sexual relatively and some have started arguing that it’s just another morally neutral sexual orientation. (Don’t believe me? See: Here…Here…Here)
Where the biblical view of sex is often mocked, it’s clear sex is not a morally neutral act.
And just as we need the God of the Bible to make any moral claim, the same God created sex and defines the moral perimeter surrounding sex. Scripture tells us sex is intimate, valuable, and powerful. If fact, it’s so powerful, homicide detectives say there are three main motivations for murder: power, money, and sex. Therefore, God gave clear guidelines concerning sex to protect intimacy, to protect its value, and, yes, to protect us.
When I taught high school in a “rough” area of New Jersey, I once had a student in in-school suspension who had a reputation of being “sexually liberated.” She was the type that was always talking loudly and never listening. Another student had purposely pushed her buttons to get her ranting, and she was going on and on about how what she does with her body is her business and why should God care who she “loves.”
The bell was about to ring, so I had to move on to my next class, but in the final second I had in the classroom – when she finally took a breath – I said, “I can tell you this, if more people listened to God about sex, there would be a lot less problems in the world.” And the craziest thing happened: the girl was quiet. She had nothing to say.
You don’t have to explain to a kid from the inner city what problems uninhibited sex causes.