Pornification of Our Culture, Sexual Grooming, and the Truth about Freedom

[T]he law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.   

 ─ Romans 8:2

Parents, pay attention to what your children are listening to. That is the first lesson from the stratospheric success of the so-called “song,” WAP, recently released by a so-called “artist” named Cardi-B.

A second is that the inversion of moral truth in our culture seems to be nearly complete: we now consider the grotesque as beautiful, the base as noble, the cowardly as brave, and enslavement as freedom.

There is almost nothing about the song that I can describe in this column. The title itself is an acronym for a grotesque sexual phrase. Each word of the lyrics describes in the most obscene and pornographic detail some sexual act. Nothing is left to the imagination. Every word is designed for maximum shock value.

The time I gave to glancing over the lyrics of the song (and I do not recommend doing so) is much more than it deserves. And yet, though I would prefer simply to ignore it, I can’t.

The song has dominated, and continues to dominate, the music charts. In the first week after its release, it amassed a record-breaking 93 million U.S. streams – beating the previous record of 85 million. As of this writing, the music video (which, I am told, is as pornographic as its makers can legally get away with) has been viewed 175 million times. The song hit #1 on the charts in over a dozen countries, including the U.S., and remains at #2 in the U.S., three weeks after its release.

The Wages of Sin

This week I came across the following passage from St. Augustine’s work, On the Trinity. To me, it perfectly encapsulates the perverse – indeed, diabolical – logic at work in WAP’s message and its success, and points us to a profound truth about the current state of our culture. Augustine writes:

[T]he true honor of man is to be the image and the likeness of God, which likeness is preserved only by relation to Him from whom it is imprinted. Hence he clings to God so much the more, the less he loves what is his own. But through the desire of proving his own power, man by his own will falls down into himself, as into a sort of center. Since he, therefore, wishes to be like God, subordinate to no one, then as a punishment he is also driven from the center, which he himself is, into the depths, that is, into those things in which the beasts delight; and thus, since the likeness to God is his honor, the likeness to the beasts is his disgrace. “Man placed in honor did not understand; he is compared to senseless beasts, and is become like to them.” (Psalm 49:12)

This is the tragic irony of all sin: that in the very effort of striving to assert our own power, in seeking to place ourselves above God by charting our own course apart from His law, we inevitably debase ourselves. If this process goes unchecked, in the end we become indistinguishable from the brutes. Who, looking at the rapid and ubiquitous pornification of our culture, can deny that Augustine’s prophesy is being realized right before our eyes?

Many critics have welcomed Cardi-B’s new song as a sign of the success of women’s “empowerment.” As one critic wrote, the song “promotes women articulating sexual agency, prowess, desires, demands and autonomy.” Another critic, writing at Teen (Teen!!) Vogue wrote, “women everywhere rejoiced in the glory — and overt sexuality — of the song.” The same critic dismissed the controversy that has greeted the song as evidence of “pearl-clutching” by people who are shocked at “a clear example of women talking about sex like men do.”

Talk about missing the point! What’s most shocking about the song is not that women are talking about sex the way men do (and any man who talks about sex this way should hang his head in shame), but the way it celebrates the objectification and enslavement of women as a form of liberation! There are no women described in the lyrics of the song – no human persons interested in, or deserving of being treated as persons. Instead, there are members of a mammalian species, endowed with certain body parts necessary to engage in a certain mammalian act for the physical gratification of their sexual partners, in exchange for physical things the women want. That’s it.

Nowhere is there any mention of love, or romance, or commitment – anything that raises human sexuality above that of orangutangs. Naturally, children don’t even remotely enter the picture, and so the sexuality described is even stripped of the creative fecundity of animal sexuality. True, one of the women does mention a “ring.” But this is not presented as a sign of her partner’s loving commitment to her, but rather as a kind of payment for the privilege of ongoing sexual favors. As the women themselves suggest in the song’s final line (which I won’t quote here), this is nothing more than a form of prostitution.

Another critic gushed about how Cardi-B is “spearheading a new wave of female empowerment.” Yet, fool that I am, I thought that female empowerment was all about ensuring that women were treated equally as persons. Instead, it seems, this newest form of feminism has achieved equality by equally debasing men and women to the same brutish level.

True Freedom

It breaks my heart to think of the millions of young children – especially the young girls – who are listening to this filth. In saner days, adults who exposed children to pornography would have been arrested and charged with child sex abuse. The dissemination of this song on public airwaves, streaming services, and YouTube, where many children have access to it, is sexual grooming, plain and simple. Adding insult to injury, one of our presidential candidates, Joe Biden, recently allowed himself to be interviewed by Cardi-B.

Over at The Public Discourse, Leonard Sax, responding to the popularity of WAP, not only urged parents to closely monitor what their children are listening to, but also “to find a healthier, brighter, truer culture to share with your daughter or your son.”

This calls to mind the words of St. Paul: “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things.”

In a recent article, pro-life writer Jonathon van Maren contrasted the beauty of the love he sees embodied in his elderly grandparents, with the emptiness of what the Sexual Revolution has delivered. “My grandparents are both in their nineties, and I remember watching them holding hands and smiling at each other and thinking: It takes decades to create a love that strong,” he wrote. Most young people now, however, “think that love stories like that are fairy tales, and porn, hookup culture, and the bitter fruits of the Sexual Revolution have done much to confirm their suspicions.”

The truth is, he adds, “Only by committing to one person can true liberation be experienced.” Because it is only by committing to one person that anybody can truly discover “what sex is for.” The answer to the fake “liberation” of the Sexual Revolution, says Van Maren, “is to see one another again. To seek liberation in the confines of a lifelong commitment to one person, with whom you might make more little persons, half you and half her. To stop consuming people, because they are people and cannibalism—even of the sexual sort—will make you sick. There is a better way. We all used to know what it was, before the Sexual Revolution promised us we could be free—even from the burden of loving one another. As it turns out, love and happiness are intertwined–but happiness and pleasure are not.”

This is precisely what St. Augustine was saying in the passage I quoted above. In seeking liberation on our own terms, by rebelling against God and making ourselves our own masters, we have only enslaved ourselves to our own narrow vision of freedom. At its worst, the result is that our very likeness to God is obscured, and our nature is reduced to what we share in common with the animals.

In the modern world, we tend to think of freedom simply as the ability to do whatever we like. However, in Evangelium Vitae Pope St. John Paul II observed that key to the proper formation of conscience is, “the recovery of the necessary link between freedom and truth.” True freedom is not the ability to do whatever we like, but the capacity to do what is right, from the standpoint of the truth of God’s law. “[W]hen freedom is detached from objective truth,” wrote John Paul, “it becomes impossible to establish personal rights on a firm rational basis; and the ground is laid for society to be at the mercy of the unrestrained will of individuals or the oppressive totalitarianism of public authority.” (EV 96)

In a passage a little later in On the Trinity, Augustine describes the path to true freedom. “The man who is happy,” he writes, “desires to rejoice in the good of which human nature is capable, but not in the committing or acquiring of anything evil, and who pursues good things, such as they can be in this miserable life, with a prudent, temperate, brave, and just mind, and obtains them, insofar as this is given, so that he is good even among the wicked…”

Let us pray for the grace of being such men and women as this – salt and light and leaven, who elevate and ennoble those around us, drawing them to fulfill their potential as children of God, made in His image and likeness.

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