Roman Polanski, Child Rape, and the Shifting Sands of Cultural Morality

When I first started contributing to Big Hollywood, one of the rules I set for myself was to never discuss non-political figures, specifically folks in Hollywood. There is plenty to write about without insulting members of the industry you are trying to work in. So, in writing today about Roman Polanski, my purpose is not to malign the child-raping son-of-a-bitch himself, but to discuss the broader cultural ramifications of Hollywood's support for his vile, child-raping son-of-a-bitchery.

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The Founders of this nation understood full-well that a nation of liberty could not long survive without a strong moral foundation. If government exists to control people, then limited government naturally would control them very little. The potential upside was tremendous. If allowed to live free, a human being might pursue their own interests to the betterment of all of society. Freedom means a man might strive, risk, and fail, but it also meant that he might strive, risk, and succeed. As this process played out over time, it might well become the single greatest engine for innovation and wealth creation in all of human history.

But it came with great risk. To give man this freedom meant to largely leave him alone. Government could not overly interfere in his decision making, other than to ensure that he did not, in his pursuit of his own freedom, encroach unduly on the freedom of others. In fact, it might be said that our Founders saw government’s exclusive rightful job as providing just that much protection to its citizens -- protecting their freedom from those that would rob them of it. Of course, that meant that government’s first job was to restrain government, that great and historic robber of liberty.

The problem with so limiting government, however, was that a government that cannot force people to conform to ideas they do not hold, cannot rob man unduly of his freedom to act on his own will, and only has a limited means by which to prevent a man from robbing the freedom of his fellow man. In order for man to live free from outside law, he must first have a strong and predictable internal code. It is that code which would provide him the majority of his regulation. Government would only have to concern itself with behaviors that violated that personal norm.

Of course, the Founders did not arrive at this conclusion in a vacuum. Free from the constraints of governmental religion, the Founders had actually read the Bible. While many churches attempt to act as mini-governments and control men, the New Testament makes clear that, “It is for Freedom that Christ has made us Free.” The Apostle Paul proclaimed that the “Power of sin is the law.” That, “law came that sin would increase,” but that Christ had, “Set us free from the law of sin and death.” What does this mean? It means that there is a natural, inherent evil in man that causes him to rebel against any authority. Paul says he did not even know what it was to covet, but then the command came saying "thou shalt not covet," and sin in him, that inherent flaw, seized the opportunity afforded by the commandment and wrought in him every covetous desire.

In other words, rules (laws, external governance) do not make man better. On the contrary, they make him worse. But, taught the New Testament, Christ was the author of a New Covenant in which the written code no longer had power. Instead, God had freed man through the sacrifice of Christ and now offered man a New Life in which Christ lived in the man, writing his laws upon our hearts. It was only in this state, free from external governance which wars with our internal flaw -- but given a new, personal internal righteousness that is Christ, that man was truly living the life God desired.

Whatever your religious belief, you can see how revolutionary this line of reasoning is, and how directly it impacted the Framers of our Nation. If God made man free, then he should be free indeed. It is the inner goodness that would make him good, not external law. This was an idea so important to our Founders that they almost all spoke about it. Washington even dedicated a portion of his Farewell Address to the idea:
“Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who that is a sincere friend to it can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?”

Free men must be moral men. Immoral men must be slaves to external regulation.

Which brings us back to the events of the last several weeks, and an examination, not of Roman Polanski’s moral choices, but of our moral health as a society. There is good news and bad news. The overwhelming public sentiment in the wake of Polanski’s apprehension in Switzerland seems to be in favor of his arrest and extradition. The majority of people recognize internally that drugging and raping a child in your care while she cries, says no, and asks to be taken home, and then fleeing justice, still qualify in the hearts of most American’s as abhorrent behaviors.

Of course, one might think that this would go without saying. It is a common belief that in prisons, hardened criminals and even murders won’t tolerate child-rapists. Even people whose own moral codes are tolerant of extreme violence and crime know that raping children is especially evil. Here we find the bad news.

Apparently many prominent people in the arts and politics are blind to such wanton acts of depravity that even convicted murderers acknowledge. The danger here is readily apparent. The Hollywood community that believes Roman Polanski does not deserve to be punished for raping a child, or that having sex with anyone of any age who is crying, saying no, and asking you to stop is “rape-rape,” are the very people who pride themselves in setting the trend for the rest of us. And the politicians around the world who are coming to the aid of this predator are the same men and women who believe they have the authority to define the external laws that they would see regulate us. That means that while we may all commonly agree that raping children is evil, the trendsetters and external morality regulators out on the leading edge of society do not think it is evil, and they are working tirelessly to bend our morality to their own through art and law.

Now, it might seem a bit far-fetched to say that a few actors in Hollywood supporting a brilliant, tortured artist could possibly lead to a culture that is so morally bankrupt that they cannot identify raping children as evil, but consider how rapidly common morality can change when the trendsetters and politicians take a strong stand.

Whatever a person’s personal feelings about homosexuality, it is beyond dispute that, with some few and specific exceptions, for most of human history homosexuality has been considered immoral by most people. And yet, it is equally clear that our culture is moving quickly toward a position that not only sees this behavior as morally acceptable, but that sees the very belief that homosexuality might in fact be immoral as itself being immoral.

This fundamental shift in a common moral-view has happened very rapidly. It has only been eleven years since Ellen DeGeneres came out of the closet on primetime, an act widely associated with the death of her show. In 1997, America just "wasn’t ready." Contrast that with 2008 when the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation determined that 42% of HBO’s primetime hours were dedicated to depicting the lives of homosexual people (ABC was the highest rated non-cable network at 25%). And of course, Ellen herself is back, and one of the biggest stars on television.

It isn’t just in the media. There is a nationwide movement to legalize same-sex marriage and brand as hate-speech any opposition to homosexuality. Even Bill Clinton has changed his mind on the subject. According to a recent Gallup poll, only 48% of Americans currently see homosexuality as immoral. The exact number who see it as being moral. That number keeps moving, and only in one direction.

Now, again, the point is not to debate the morality of homosexuality itself, but to demonstrate just how rapidly a common moral position can shift, for better or for worse, when the media and politicians lead the way. In the case of homosexuality, thousands of years of moral structure are reversing themselves in a window of only forty or fifty years, but for most of recorded history, the age of sexual consent was much younger than our current law would allow. In fact, the common age of consent across numerous cultures throughout most of the last several thousand years has been the age of puberty, typically thought to occur between the ages of12 and 14 (Shakespeare’s Juliet was only 13 when she decides to marry Romeo).

If the trendsetters have been successful in altering the common moral position on homosexuality in so short a time, even with all of human history working against them, how much more quickly might they succeed in altering the common view of sex with thirteen-year-olds with almost all of human history behind them? And if they succeed here, what lines are left for them to cross?

To be sure, moral absolutes have always shifted with time. When our forebears took slaves, it was certainly not morally good, but the absolute moral disparity was perhaps not clear before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Before that great document, many forms of slavery and servitude existed in the world, and most everyone lived at some point on that sliding scale. The complete slavery of black men and women was only an extreme level of the general tyranny and oppression that marked all men.

Only after the signing, when the natural rights of man were declared loudly as being from God, and violations of those rights were declared unnatural acts and acts of war, was black slavery in this nation truly singled out as a special breed of crime, and not a degree of crime. In other words, it is only in the presence of good that evil is clearly seen. The question is, who should a society look to for guidance in judging common morality? God and philosophers; or government and movie stars?

As Jefferson pointed out, God has the power and right to force his beliefs on us and yet made us free, the government has not that right, and yet seeks to wield that power over every aspect of our lives. The media seems obliged to help. One thing is certain, if we ignore the former, then as Washington warned, we will be slaves of the latter. If so, we will all be sons-of-bitches for it.

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