CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Our Topsy-Turvy World, Instalment 359: On Kangaroo Culls and Child Porn

May 23, 2008

We live in a world that has turned common sense on its head, and has inverted long-held moral values. What we used to regard as evil is now lauded as virtuous. And what was once considered to be good we now call evil. In an age of moral relativism and the rejection of any final authority, one would expect such convoluted morality. But in times of moral anarchy, a sure word is all the more needed. When madness reigns, a voice of reason is clearly necessary.

As Os Guinness comments about the modern world without God, “What was once unimaginable becomes thinkable and then fashionable. What used to be abnormal is now normal. Where we were shocked, we are now indifferent. What started as soft-core ends as hard-core.”

Let me focus on two quite recent cases of convoluted ethics and dizzy reasoning. The first involves the cull of kangaroos in the ACT. A military base near Canberra is culling the kangaroos to protect lowland native grasslands and threatened species.

But the animal rights crowd sprung into action, declaring they would become “human shields” for the kangaroos. The media of course got into the thick of things, and we saw teary-eyed protestors doing all they could to save the roos.

Now there is nothing wrong with being an animal lover, and it is always sad when a cull is needed. But the question that keeps nagging me is this: do these same “humanitarians” also show similar concerns for the 100,000 human babies being culled each year in our abortion mills?

Do they also throw themselves in front of the abortionists as human shields to avert this horrendous and violent slaughter of the innocents? I guess I would just like to see some sort of consistency here. Concerned about non-humans? Fine. But show me some concern about humans and I might take your cause a bit more seriously.

If we really are more concerned about the death of kangaroos than we are about human beings, then we have lost our way as a culture. Our values have been turned upside down, and we are in need of a new moral rudder. By all means seek to protect animals if needed, but do not forget an even more important victim, the unborn child.

The second example involves yet another “art” exhibition, this time featuring nude photographs of boys and girls. Because of what some are regarding as the pornographic nature of the exhibit, and the involvement of children, the police have closed down the showing. Once again, our libertarian ”art” lovers are crying “censorship”, and are up in arms about their “right” to view such material.

Now in an age in which we have increasing problems with pedophilia, child sexual abuse, the sexualisation of children, and the pornification of culture, one would have thought that the police action in closing this exhibition down was the right move.

But in a world of upside-down values, all that our trendy intellectualoids can complain about is censorship and violation of free speech, and other sorts of nonsense. Once again we see the selfish whims of adults seeking to trump the well-being of children.

We do not need to have our children photographed in the nude for all the world to see. Their innocence should be preserved, not exploited for crass commercial gain and public notoriety. Both the photographer and the Sydney art gallery deserve our stern moral censure here. So too the parents who allowed their children – some as young as 12 – to be photographed by this guy.

But such is the age that we live in that some people would rather stand up for those who would exploit children, than stand up for the children themselves. Indeed, children are increasingly becoming the victims of this new moral permissiveness and juggling of values.

It is, as I say, a topsy-turvy world, and is getting more so with each passing day. But the good news is, not everyone is involved in this moral meltdown. Not everyone approves of the new moral relativism. Not everyone is delighted with what they are seeing.

As long as people still have a moral compass, some will be willing to speak out on the erosion of moral values, and the perversion of notions of right and wrong. Indeed, we have a duty to do so. Let the libertarians and moral anarchists scream all they like. But some things are too important to let go of without a fight.

Indeed, we need to reject the modern silly notions about tolerance and acceptance, and start getting a bit hard-headed about right and wrong. As Chesterton once remarked, “Tolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.” Or as Dante reminds us in his Inferno, the hottest level in hell is reserved for those who remain neutral in a time of moral crisis.

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24 Responses to Our Topsy-Turvy World, Instalment 359: On Kangaroo Culls and Child Porn

  • When is society going to wake up from their ‘moral’ coma and realise that art has officially gone to far! At least Australia’s legal system still has an ounce of morality and common sense left to stop such sickening exhibits.
    WAKE UP AUSTRALIA!
    Mel Davies

  • The question I would ask anyone who considers the images to be ‘art’ is what they actually get out of it. What would be missing from your life if the children depicted were fully clothed? The stupidity of some who wish to hide behind their ‘art’ and couch justifications with pseudo-intellectual babble is profound. They can talk until they’re blue in the face, it’s still what it is – pictures of naked children for the entertainment of adults – and that is always going to be sick. The photographer should be prosecuted and the parents hauled up for some serious talking to as well.
    Mark Rabich, Melbourne

  • Well said Bill. Vote 1 for moral objectivism!

    I wonder if these “artists” have anything in common with those who thought it was good art to depict Jesus on a crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist’s urine.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piss_Christ

    Moral relativists of our society are not consistent. They might talk like relativists until you do something that offends their personal moral code. All of sudden words like “should” and “ought” appear.

    If morality is subjective, then there’s no difference really between protecting Kangaroos or slaughtering them. Likewise there is no difference between caring for a baby or aborting it. But we know better don’t we?

    Duane Proud

  • Hi Bill, There is an online voteline on this question at the moment. When I joined the vote, 79% agreed with you. Let’s all work to keep our children safe from such predators.
    Dawn McGregor

  • Duane Proud wrote: “Moral relativists of our society are not consistent. They might talk like relativists until you do something that offends their personal moral code. All of sudden words like ‘should’ and ‘ought’ appear. If morality is subjective, then there’s no difference really between protecting Kangaroos or slaughtering them. Likewise there is no difference between caring for a baby or aborting it.”

    Duane, I don’t see that this is correct. Seems to me that the issue about “moral relativists” is not that they don’t have morals, but rather that they are not grounded in anything solid and can therefore shift according to whatever way the winds of society might be blowing. Hence the “relativism”.

    They are entitled to express their moral views, therefore I don’t think its right to castigate them for using words like “ought” or “should”, which correctly flow from an appeal to a moral code, subjective or otherwise.

    Where the rubber truly hits the road is to try to get them to think about the consequences of their non-transcendent morality. Because its subjective/relativistic, they can still have morals, but they’re not well grounded, may shift unexpectedly, and I think that they lose much of their ability to get others to also follow those same morals. i.e. if I have a relative morality, what grounds do I have for expecting that everyone else should have the same morality as me, and what could/should I do when I get into a conflict with someone sho disagrees with me about what moral standard ought to be applied. Given two moral relativists with competing subjective standards, how does one discriminate between the two to achieve an agreed-upon morality?

    Stephen Frost, Melbourne, Australia

  • Thanks Stephen

    Although in a world of moral relativism, with no objective morality, all one is left with is moral description (what is) instead of moral prescription (what ought to be). One cannot deduce an ‘ought’ from an ‘is’ if we simply live in a world of material forces with no transcendent moral order.

    But both you and Duane make quite valid points. Duane is correct to argue that the moral relativists have no right to take offense, since, according to their own worldview, all they are left with is moral description, not prescription. And Stephen you are right to ask, how do we adjudicate between conflicting moral claims in a world of ethical relativism?

    It is in the world of such moral confusion that we see the things described in the above article happening with increasing frequency.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Sunrise interviewed people this morning who were going to the show. Interesting to see these ‘sickoes” in the flesh. What a load of rubbish calling this ‘art’. Excuses, excuses for people who have to satisfy sick minds. Shame on them.
    Teresa Binder

  • Those who deny that there are universal moral laws but pride themselves in having their own moral code are invariably selective and dishonest with regard to which “oughts” and “shoulds” they subscribe to. For instance homosexuals say that Christians should not think that they can hide behind their religion when attacking homosexual behaviour. But apparently paedophilia is fine when it is done in the name of art, music and a bit of fun.

    Elton John who has said that religion has no place in society put on a performance at the Royal Albert Hall in which teenage dancers, dressed as scouts and cubs, performed a lewd dance routine.
    http://www.scouter.com/archives/Scouts-L/199912/0315.asp

    A spokesman for Elton told The Sun tabloid: “The whole performance was a bit of high camp in the great British tradition of comedy like Benny Hill. It was meant to be a bit of fun for an appropriate audience.” (note the words “high”, “great” and “appropriate.”)

    Benjamin Britten’s love of boys would be a classic profile of someone having paedophile tendencies. But of course one is not allowed to say anything against homosexual musicians because they are such marvellous and sensitive people. http://blogs.telegraph.co.uk/arts/igortoronyilalic/june07/conductorjailed.htm

    How long before Sir Ian McKellan, the founder of the British branch of Stonewall, exhibits his bits before parties of school children at Stratford?
    http://www.metro.co.uk/fame/article.html?in_article_id=42653&in_page_id=7&in_a_source

    It is not insignificant that that so many homosexuals hold influential positions in the world of entertainment and the arts.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Heard someone on the radio making what I thought was a ridiculous comment that “art” is one thing and “pornography” is something else altogether … as if merely asserting that a photograph is in the category of “art” was sufficient to disqualify it as “pornography”.

    Wow. Next time I lodge my tax return I will add a few creative elements into the numbers (its not fraud, its art!) and next time I get a parking ticket I will take a photo of the car with ticket attached (its art, remember!) and beg off having to pay the fine. The possibilities are endless.

    Stephen Frost

  • Thanks Stephen

    Yes quite right. A multitude of sins can be hidden under the word ‘art’.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Thirty years ago police would have shut down and pressed charges for gay / lesbian street marches. Now they celebrate it. Today they rightly condemn the child pornographic ‘art’. One truly hopes that in thirty years they are not celebrating it.

    Unfortunately, as we are slippery slope of moral relativism, I can’t see this slide stopping. That is unless there is a mighty change in our society as there was in the Western world the days of Charles Wesley and George Whitfield.

    David Clay, Melbourne

  • Art for the sake of art leaves nothing new under the sun. It has always been up to others to confront those who step over the line. But it seems there are still people with the authority to object and act against abuse of this kind. Our next trial might be if and when this kind of thing is taken to court by the artists to justify their “art”. We can only be thankful Bill that you are one who is in a position to take on these abusive ‘artists’.
    Peter Rice

  • It is clear that the theory of relativism has swept our good thinking people like opium numbing them to the key factor for good living and wise government – Ethics. I have 8 children, 3 independant, but the thought of them being used to fulfill the unbridled lust of some perverse gross fool drives me to abject anger. This has to stop now; this is the act of madmen and will invoke judgement. Let us now work to destroy this sick enemy of families.
    Paul Glover

  • Hi Bill,

    The beauty of the human body is a gift from God and is frequently the subject of respected works of art. Pornography is usually somewhat different in character, and is generally obvious, but these works appear to be closer to the realm of the artist than the porn merchant.

    How can an objective definition of art be determined? Is it not in the eye of the beholder? Do you think the situation be different if these works were paintings instead of photographs?

    Juliana Simbroski, Darwin

  • Thanks Juliana

    Art appreciation may be subjective – a matter of taste – but the wellbeing and protection of children is not. We have a moral obligation, a duty of care, as a civilised society, to ensure that children are protected. We have an objective moral duty to protect children from exploitation and abuse. Children should be allowed to be children, and not dragged into the adult world prematurely.

    And since you mention God, let me finish the picture. The human body as originally created by God was indeed good, as he pronounced. But we now live in a fallen world. So every good thing that God has created is now liable to be abused and misused. Now the human body is often associated with lust, exploitation and greed.

    While you may more or less harmlessly enjoy looking at a naked child, there are far too many others who become sexually aroused, and some will seek to carry out their feelings on children. Only someone living in a fairytale land will deny the very real existence of paedophiles and child sexual abuse.

    But our libertarians and “art lovers” are more concerned about feeding the desires and whims of adults, than they are about protecting the interests of the child. That is the real issue here, not some argument about what is art, and/or demands for “freedom of expression” as many are arguing. If we lived in a perfect world, we could perhaps freely enjoy nudity in our works of art. But we don’t, so concerns for the general good, and for our children, should trump the rights of “artists” to laugh all the way to the bank with their insensitive and irresponsible “art”.

    I am not saying there is no place for nudity in art, but in an uber-sexualised age such as ours, our children should be our top priority; and a little self-restraint from our “artists” would be in order here.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • The newspaper has now printed some of the photographs behind the controversy. When I saw them I was reminded of a pun I once heard that I thought was merely amusing, but now I think it’s true:

    Question: What is the difference between art and pornography?

    Answer: The lighting.

    Frank Norros

  • Hi Bill,

    Thanks for your response. I don’t deny the existence of paedophiles, but I think society has gone way overboard with its paranoia about protecting children from them. There have been cases in America where parents have been prosecuted for photographing their own children in the bath, a commonplace scenario in more innocent times.

    Similarly there have been concerns raised in the media about naked babies in nappy ads, and even about print advertisements for children’s clothes. Anyone with a camera in a public place where there are children is now a paedophile suspect. I’ve even felt a bit concerned myself photographing my kids (and others) at kindy and school events.

    I don’t know what goes on in the mind of a paedophile, but have we got to the situation where we all need to think like one?

    I recently was privileged to visit the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel. There are naked people everywhere, in statues and frescoes, including children and cherubs, a bit of a worry given the Catholic Church’s problems with many of its priests. I wonder what Michaelangelo would make of the current furore?

    Juliana Simbroski, Darwin

  • Thanks Juliana

    As I said, there is certainly a place for the nude form in genuine art. However, I am not sure I am as keen as you are to imply that somehow we can lump Michelangelo and Bill Henson together. It seems to me there are some pretty major differences going on there!

    As to parents worried about photographing their own children, yes, there are concerns. We do live in fearful times. And sometimes we can go too far. But it is one thing for a parent to photograph their own children, and presumably have those photos stay in the family photo albums. It is another thing to exploit young children for financial gain and public notoriety, don’t you think?

    A snap of a playful two-year-old in the bath tub is a far cry from a provocatively and deliberately choreographed pose of a child by some stranger. The later seems like exploitation to me, while the former does not.

    In an age of child sexual abuse, and paedophilia, I would always rather err on the side of caution, both as a parent and as a citizen. I should think that you should too.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • Bill, question for Ahrt Luvvers.

    Would you consider it to be ethical for a secondary school art teacher to take photos of naked 12 and 13 year old students as part of art classes and then to display them publicly?

    Mike Evans

  • There will always be the theoretical discussion of where the line is drawn between porn and art. All sorts of terms are brought into play… suggestiveness, lighting, intention, demographic etc.

    But simply put, when it comes to our children our first and only question is if it is exploitative or whether the innocence of the child is being comprominsed by the activity in any way shape or form. We must err on the side of caution.

    Personally, I cannot fathom how the parents of the children have not been raked over the coals for this. It is reprehensible.

    Garth Penglase

  • Tying the two subjects in your original essay together, Bill, I can’t help but wonder where those art lovers concern about censorship would go if Bill Henson decided to start taking photos of substantially younger naked children who just happen to have been killed by ‘choice’ before they get to draw their first breath. After all, “Truth is naked” as one commentator put it…

    I just love the consistency in this society we live in, don’t you?

    Mark Rabich, Melbourne

  • Good one Mark. After all, the arts community are always telling us how they think it is their job to be challenging and confronting.

    Ewan McDonald.

  • On the question of paedophiles, we as a society have redefined this word, perhaps as a reaction to our loosening of morals in general.

    The age of consent used to be about when a person could get married, not about sex per se. Now it is used to decide if one is a paedophile !

    Meanwhile laws against adultery and pre-marital sex are no longer enforced.

    Add to this mix, the increasing sexualisation of our society, including among young girls who are maturing at an earlier age and it’s no wonder we have men (it’s mostly men) who have been given the signal that sex outside of marriage is ‘normal’, tempted by these younger girls who are provoking them and then acting on it !

    In Jewish culture, the basis of our Christian culture, a boy was considered a man at age 12 and in many cultures it has been quite normal to have very young brides. Are these paedophiles ? The difference is that these are the start of life long commitments and in a context where sex outside marriage is not tolerated, regardless of age.

    It is therefore, not that these people, today, are paedophiles, a term which has been broadened to include many who would not be so classified in the past, but that they are having sex outside marriage.

    I do not condone paedophiles, especially ‘true’ paedophiles (involving someone who is prepubescent) , nor those who take advantage of someone younger than themselves. I also have little doubt that there are more ‘true’ paedophiles than there were in the past.

    I believe that we as Christians may be being caught up in a new, non-Biblical, morality, where almost anything is ok after a certain age, instead of the Biblical view of sex being only between a married couple (male female only).

    Tim Pearce, WA

  • I couldn’t agree more, the recent woman in the UK who patted a cat then put it in the bin I first saw when sent a link of someone making light of all the fuss. The story of the cat, Lola, who made headlines around the world. The woman who dumped her ending up with police protection after being tracked down, due to threats against her life.
    http://www.metro.co.uk/news/838862-hunt-for-woman-who-dumped-kitten-in-bin
    What sadly didn’t surprise me up until this point if I saw the woman who put the cat in the bin I would recognise her due to public outcry and media attention.
    Yet day in day out crimes are committed against children around the world, in our neighbourhoods. The woman who dumped her baby at Dandenong hospital. This makes local news not international news, nor can I remember the baby’s name.
    The world has turned upside down, yet the world cannot see it. They are embracing the worship of the creation and the demise of morals. As I am sure while all this is going the father of lies Satan is rejoicing as souls make way for hell.
    Christians need to stand up for righteousness. Pray, pray and pray. Speak up for those who have no voice (isnt that what the word says). And stop finding a reason why not every time the suggestion is brought to the table, and labelling the Christians that do. Time is short, repent, do right, be loud for Jesus.
    Kathy Ewers

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