From pornography to theology
Valentine’s Day | How desires can become dogma
by Marvin Olasky
Posted on Tuesday, February 14, 2017, at 11:20 am
“Will you be my Valentine?” is passé. “Want to fornicate?” is a trendier question, although it’s usually stated more succinctly than that. Better to marry than to burn (with passion), Paul wrote—but back then pornography was largely on Grecian urns and mosaic tiles. Now, since it’s so easy online to view with fantasy, some young women compete by being friends with benefits. Many young men delay marriage because they’re addicted to what passes for love.
Sigmund Freud wrote that man invents God out of a desire for an omniscient father figure. Maybe that desire rules 10-year-olds, but wish fulfillment cuts both ways: Do many in their 20s and 30s deny God because they don’t want anyone watching them?
That’s how it was for Aldous Huxley, who wrote Brave New World 86 years ago and said, “For myself as, no doubt, for most of my contemporaries, the philosophy of meaninglessness was essentially an instrument of liberation … from a certain system of morality. We objected to the morality because it interfered with our sexual freedom.”
The life of Henry Ward Beecher, the East Coast’s most popular preacher in the late 19th century, exemplifies that tendency. The son of an orthodox minister, Beecher first proclaimed the gospel, then fell into adultery, and then announced his faith both in Charles Darwin and in a god who “made laws to be broken. … The truths of the Bible are not to be swallowed whole but to be sifted.” By the time Beecher turned 70 in 1883, he was attacking “this whole theory of sin and its origin that lies at the base of the great evangelical systems of Christianity. I say it is hideous. … I’m not afraid of seeing Christianity swept away.” But Beecher was swept away first, by a stroke in 1887.
One of Beecher’s successors on the lecture circuit was Woodrow Wilson, a preacher’s kid who married Ellen Axson, also a PK, at age 29 but sometimes wished he hadn’t, given “the riotous elements in my own blood.” He decided to become “unorthodox in my reading of the standards of the faith,” particularly the idea that God had created the world in the way the Bible said He had, and then became unorthodox in his conduct. Wilson dismayed his wife when he went on lecture tours and wrote her about the “roving, Bohemian impulses” that led him to walk up and down the streets looking into each pretty face that passed. His wife encouraged him to meet women who were more frivolous and “gamesome” than she was, and he eventually had an affair.
Until the affair he stated that personal morality should be based on God’s commands, which were good for all times and all places. Afterward, he declared that ethical situations are “complicated by a thousand circumstances.” After cheating on his wife, he made it to the White House and cheated on the country, but that’s another story. Here, I merely want to ask the question: Which comes first, the idea that there is no God or the desire that there be no God who does not approve our fallen desires? How often does what starts with a wish end with new atheistic dogma?
Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD and dean of World Journalism Institute. He joined WORLD in 1992 and has also been a university professor and provost. He has written more than 20 books, including Reforming Journalism. Marvin resides with his wife, Susan, in Austin, Texas. Follow him on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.