Common Wisdom: Baal Redux

His eyes flashing fear and hostility, the little boy blurted an accusatory, “you are a stranger!” This, in response to my invitational query about a toy lobbed into a Macy’s aisle by his brother in a stroller. “I guess one of us has to pick it up?” Embarrassed by her son’s fury, his mother smiled uncomfortably in my direction and assured the boy I was no threat. This further provoked the child, who loudly whined, “It isn’t funny!”

It wasn’t funny, of course, it was tragic. But predictable. As a child I, too, was counseled about strangers, but danger then usually meant kidnapping for ransom. Predators of children today are infinitely more numerous and their object is sex, not money. The boy’s panic testified to the affliction even of children by a sexually saturated society, where the most benign encounter with a stranger triggers alarm.

Blame cannot be ascribed to a single source. But recollection suggests to me that a forerunner to our current obsession with sex was editorial bilge flowing from the pen of Hugh Hefner in Playboy. With affected academic gravity, Hefner sought to legitimize sex as sport, in all its permutations.

Hedonistic paeans to recreational sex in the late ’50s paved the way for the promoters of free love in the ’60s’ sexual revolution, when copulation was king.

Sex crimes today have much to do with our culture’s pathological emphasis on sex as the major guarantor of satisfaction in our pursuit of happiness. It is this pervasive and misleading mindset that encourages increasing numbers to seek that satisfaction wherever it leads, not excluding as objects these children who are least able to defend themselves.

The Creator’s divine intention—physical union expressing committed, unifying love between a man and woman—has disintegrated into a commodity, marketed by media that not only believe sex sells, but that relentlessly sell sex. The net result is a society kept in a constant state of arousal.

Everywhere we turn are examples of the focus on the primacy of sex. Hollywood abandoned any pretense of standards, swamping filmgoers with a proliferation of naked bodies tantalizingly displayed, often gyrating, and dependably intertwined before the credits roll. Radio and television deliver Dr. Ruth and clones, prattling on about topics previously reserved for the privacy of a physician’s office.

In print ads and on television slack-jawed models moist of mouth suggest available wares aside from the ostensibly marketed product. Women’s magazines, formerly the locus of how to improve appearance or fashion sense, now display covers with racy titles having to do with how to ensure, how to multiply, how to luxuriate in sexual activity.

Reader-submitted questions expose tortured preoccupation with achieving orgasm, answered by “sexperts” feigning sophisticated concern but coming off as partners in prurience, rationalizing the bizarre. Legatees of Hefnerism, women’s magazines convey the message that the ’90s woman is every bit as libidinous as man and, like him, semper paratus. Do we then wonder at the frequency of rape and sexual exploitation?

Aiding and abetting this mentality is contemporary fiction whose rudderless protagonists, regardless of their confusion, seek solace or solutions in various boudoirs. Mention of pop music and its incessant sexual message needs no elaboration here, lyrics implicit or explicit spelling out nothing less than George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex.” After serial liaisons, however, the emptiness is summarized in the philosophic if grammatically flawed anthem of Mick Jagger, who wailed he just couldn’t get no satisfaction.

Chastity as a word, worse as a viable concept, sparks snickers and rolled eyeballs. Society militates against restraint as evidence of inhibition and repression. It is difficult for anyone wanting to say no when the dominant theme is yes.

Bruised as I was to be mistaken in Macy’s for the Marquise de Sade, I was not surprised by the boy’s reaction. This, after all, is a child destined to find himself in a classroom affixing condoms to cucumbers, instructed in a morality that finds “sexually active” perfectly acceptable if only it is safe—meaning no babies and no diseases.

Cut loose from its divine intention, sex has become an object, an entertainment, something routine. In terms of expectation, it has defeated the kiss. It has nothing to do with self-giving, everything to do with self-serving.

Admonition against strange gods in the first commandment strikes modern ears as archaic and nonapplicable. The word of the Lord, however, was never limited to one generation. Golden calves are nowhere in evidence, but we have a contemporary analogue. We fashioned an idol whose primacy showed brilliantly in the eyes of a child in Macy’s, the inevitable victim of its perversion. Baal is not gone, merely replaced.

By

B. F. Smith is a freelance writer and former contributing editor to Crisis Magazine.

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