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Something strange is going on in America’s bedrooms. In a recent issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, researchers reported that on average, Americans have sex about nine fewer times a year than they did in the late 1990s. The trend is most pronounced among the young. Controlling for age and time period, people born in the 1930s had the most sex, whereas those born in the 1990s are reporting the least. Fifty years on from the advent of the sexual revolution, we are witnessing the demise of eros.

Despite all the talk of the “hookup culture,” the vast majority of sex happens within long-term, well-defined relationships. Yet Americans are having more trouble forming these relationships than ever before. Want to understand the decline of sex? Look to the decline in marriage. As recently as 2000, a majority—55 percent—of Americans between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four were married, compared with only 34 percent who had never been married (see Figure 1). Since then, the two groups have swapped places. By 2014, 52 percent of Americans in that age group had never been married, while only 41 percent were married. Young Americans are now more apt to experience and express passion for some activity, cause, or topic than for another person.

Figure 1.

A decline in commitment isn’t the only reason for the sexual recession. Today one in eight adult Americans is taking antidepressant medication, one of the common side effects of which is reduced libido. Social media use also seems to play a part. The ping of an incoming text message or new Facebook post delivers a bit of a dopamine hit—a smaller one than sex delivers, to be sure, but without all the difficulties of managing a relationship. In a study of married eighteen- to thirty-nine-year-old Americans, social media use predicted poorer marriage quality, lower marital happiness, and increased marital trouble—not exactly a recipe for an active love life.

If these were the only causes, the solution would be straightforward: a little more commitment, a little less screen time, a few more dates over dinner, more time with a therapist, and voilà. But if we follow the data, we will find that the problem goes much deeper, down to one of the foundational tenets of enlightened opinion: the idea that men and women must be equal in every domain. Social science cannot tell us if this is true, but it can tell us what happens if we act as though it is. Today, the results are in. Equality between the sexes is leading to the demise of sex.

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By Russell Moore

  |   September 28, 2017   |

Overnight, we learned of the death of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner is the iconic figure who not only made pornography socially respectable (and even more lucrative), but also spent a life constructing a “playboy philosophy” of sexual freedom that would supposedly undo the “Puritan sexual repression he saw in American life.”

The death of any person is a tragedy. Hugh Hefner is no exception to that. We can’t, though, with his obituaries, call his life “success” or “a dream.”

Hefner did not create, but marketed ingeniously the idea that a man’s life consists in the abundance of his possessions and of his orgasms. To women, he marketed frenetically the idea that a woman’s value consists in her sexual availability and attractiveness to men.

The “bunny” logo was well-chosen because, in the end, Mr. Hefner saw both men and women as essentially rabbits. This path was portrayed vividly by John Updike in his Rabbit Angstrom series. It is not a happy life.

And yet we are not actually rabbits. We can see our deaths coming, and we outlive those deaths to give an account of our lives. If you want to see “success,” look instead to the man faithful to the wife of his youth, caring for her through dementia.

In the short-run Hefner’s philosophy has won, on both the Right and the Left. The Playboy Mansion is every house now. Many church leaders implicitly or explicitly say, “This is fine.”

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One Man’s Dream Destroyed Millions

Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy Enterprises and its chief ideological incarnation, died on Thursday at age 91 at the Playboy Mansion, immersed in the fantasy he created. He will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe, Playboy’s inaugural centerfold.

In 1953, Hefner pulled pornography out of the seedy back cultural alleys, dressed it up in sophisticated costume and speech, gave it a stylish, debonair set, made it look liberating and libertine, and pushed it into the mainstream as Playboy Magazine. He was not so much a revolutionary as a man who understood his times. He knew the “right side of history” when he saw it. He saw the weakness in the flank, struck shrewdly (and lewdly), and won the cultural battle: the old sexual mores have been decisively thrown down and pornography is pervasive. But at what cost?

Seeing People as Roles, Not Souls

Playboy (and the flood of increasingly explicit material that has followed it through the break it made in the cultural dam) is not an enterprise that exists to celebrate the beauty of the human body or the wonder of human sexuality. It is an enterprise aimed at financially capitalizing on the fallen human bent toward objectifying others for our own selfish ends. It encourages both men and women in codependent ways to view embodied souls as embodied roles in the private virtual reality show we call fantasy.

Hefner and many others have become very rich by objectifying women and turning them into virtual prostitutes — mere bodily images to be used by millions of men who care nothing about them, who ravage them in their imaginations for selfish pleasure and then toss them in the trash. Hefner gave these women the fun name of “playmates,” a wicked mockery of both a person and play, adding a terrible insult to horrible injury.

We call this wicked, for it is. But in calling it wicked, we must confront our own wicked proneness to objectify others and resolve all the more to war against it. We humans have a horrible, sinful tendency to view others as roles — too often expendable “extras” — in the epic moving picture of our story, not souls in the real epic of God’s story.

The fallen human nature, unhinged from God’s reality, seeks to construct its own preferred reality. And it uses other people to do it. Let me use as an example what at first might appear as a harmless, fun song, but is anything but harmless.

The Fantasy Girl from Ipanem

In the mid-60s, as Playboy was building steam on its way to becoming a media powerhouse, the Brazilian jazz/bossa nova song “The Girl from Ipanema” was building steam as an international hit, on its way to being the second-most recorded pop song in history.

The song is about a man who daily watches a beautiful girl walk by him on the way to Ipanema Beach in south Rio de Janeiro. She is “tall and tan and young and lovely” and “swings so cool and sways so gently,” passing by like a song on legs. He is intoxicated with her and “would give his heart gladly” to her, but “she doesn’t see” him.

The song is light and breezy and almost sounds innocent. But it’s not. The song is actually a man’s fantasy. The girl he thinks he loves, he knows nothing about. If she turns out to have a lower IQ than he imagines or a serious medical condition, would he still love her? If she heads to the beach daily to escape the sexual molestation of a relative, or suffers from a subtle mental illness, would he still give his heart gladly to her? This girl is not a soul to him; she is a symbol of something he desires and he projects on her a role in a fantasy of his own creation.

This is precisely what we humans are so prone to do: to view others, and the world, as a projection of our own fantasies. Even we Christians can lose sight of the world as a battlefield of horrific cosmic warfare, with people caught in its crossfire needing to be rescued, and see it as the place where we want our dreams — self-centered, self-serving, self-exalting, self-indulgent dreams — to come true. The more we indulge such fantasies, the more inoculated and numb we become to reality and the less urgent we feel about the real needs of other real souls.

The Real Girl from Ipanema

The girl from Ipanema has a Hugh Hefner connection, for she was a real girl. The song’s (married) composers used to sit in a café near the beach, watch her walk by, and talk about the desires she inspired. She was a 17-year-old school girl, sometimes wearing her school uniform and sometimes wearing her bikini.

After the song exploded in popularity, the composers informed her that she was “the girl.” She became a minor Brazilian celebrity, a national symbol of sexual appeal. Eventually she became a Brazilian Playboy Playmate, posing for the magazine as a younger woman and later posing again with her adult daughter — two generations caught and exploited by Hefner’s fantasy. Now she’s 72, trying hard to stay looking as young and lovely as possible, for she is, after all, the girl from Ipanema.

And she’s an example that objectification of other people is not harmless. Her identity has been forged by two men’s lust for her adolescent body. The indulgence and propagation and proliferation of fantasies are not harmless. Real lives get caught in the gears; real souls are shaped and hardened and become resistant to what’s really real, to what’s really true. And they can be destroyed.

People Are Souls, Not Roles

It is tragically appropriate that Hugh Hefner will be buried next to Marilyn Monroe. Monroe was not merely the inaugural centerfold of Playboy Magazine; she became and remains the poster girl of 20th century American sexual objectification. Nearly sixty years after her suicidal death, she remains a sexual icon in most people’s minds, not a broken soul who knew the despairing loneliness of being a sensual image desired by millions, yet a person truly loved by very few. Hefner encouraged millions and millions of men and women to view people in the very way that destroyed Marilyn Monroe.

That’s why, men (and of course not just men), on the occasion of Hugh Hefner’s death, let us resolve all the more to abstain from fantasy passions of the flesh, which wage war against our souls — and not just ours but others’ souls as well (1 Peter 2:11). When we look at a woman, whether she’s Marilyn Monroe, the girl from Ipanema, a co-worker, classmate, fellow church member, another man’s wife, or our own wife, let us say to ourselves and, when needed, each other: “she is not your playmate!”

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Will we bring reconciliation? Or will

People are screaming at each other a lot these days. The most recent example is a viral video, seen by millions of people since last week, of a woman who went ballistic because a service dog was sitting near her in a Delaware restaurant.

The dog in question belonged to a veteran with post-traumatic stress disorder. But that didn’t stop the woman from unleashing a three-minute, profanity-laced tirade. I’m sure all the diners at Kathy’s Crab House lost their appetite that evening.

“It is disgusting to have an animal in a public restaurant … I think it’s gross!” the woman screams. (This is a family-friendly publication, so I can’t print much more of what she said.)

It seems everybody is furious today. We’ve created a culture of outrage. People are offended, and if you aren’t offended by what offends them, they are offended by your lack of offense.

We are addicts. We crave a daily fix of rage. We rant on Facebook and Twitter because we need a regular dose of vitriol to fuel our habit. Then we turn on a newscast to watch agitated political commentators throw more gasoline on the flames.

The rage burns on both sides of our political divide. White supremacists march with tiki torches to spread hate. Black Lives Matter activists loot stores and smash windows. Former NFL fans burn football jerseys on barbecue grills. Campus lectures require police protection because leftists have threatened right-wing speakers. Madonna drops expletives and threatens to blow up the White House because she’s so mad President Trump won the election.

Then last week, President Trump used an unprintable and demeaning phrase to describe athletes who are protesting police brutality. That was beneath the dignity of a president. I agree we should respect our flag and our national anthem, but you can’t demand that respect by using a misogynistic expletive.

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“Only Jesus Christ, who bids us follow him, knows where the path will lead. But we know that it will be a path full of mercy beyond measure. Discipleship is joy.”

“Music… will help dissolve your perplexities and purify your character and sensibilities, and in time of care and sorrow, will keep a fountain of joy alive in you.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

September 22, 2017 
Here we are again. News reports are abuzz with a “Christian numerologist” suggesting that Sept. 23, 2017, is the fixed date for the end of the world.It could be, of course. Any day could be Judgment Day.

But there are a couple of reasons we should pay no attention to this prediction. The first reason is summed up in the words “Christian numerologist.” The second, and more important, reason is that this sort of doomsday speculation has little to do with religion and everything to do with marketing.

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A sign above the entrance of the former Dachau concentration camp reads in German, “Work makes you free.” (Photo: Michael Dalder/Reuters/Newscom)

It’s November 1938, and the Nazis have confiscated a silk factory owned by the same Jewish family for over a decade, arresting the owner.

Fast forward to 2014, and a state official has compared a Colorado Christian baker to the same group that took away what belonged to the Jewish silk factory owner—the father of my grandmother’s cousin, Godofredo.

This in a country founded by people who fled religious persecution.

While America, the country that mostly turned away Jews fleeing Adolf Hitler, is thankfully not on a course to repeat the Holocaust’s atrocities, some of its citizens have taken to comparing matters of individual freedom—such as a baker refusing to make a same-sex wedding cake—to the actions that led to the deaths of 11 million people, including 6 million Jews and 1.5 million children.

Colorado Civil Rights Commissioner Diann Rice said, “Freedom of religion and religion has been used to justify all kinds of discrimination throughout history, whether it be slavery, whether it be the Holocaust.”

Especially as the grandson of Holocaust survivors, my message for Rice and for those who make religious liberty comparisons to the Shoah is simple: Stop it.

The late Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, who survived the Holocaust, warned against comparisons like this. He said:

Only Auschwitz was Auschwitz. I went to Yugoslavia when reporters said that there was a Holocaust starting there. There was genocide, but not an Auschwitz. When you make a comparison to the Holocaust it works both ways, and soon people will say what happened in Auschwitz was “only what happened in Bosnia.”

Apply that logic to the case of Colorado baker Jack Phillips: Only Auschwitz was Auschwitz.

I went to Colorado where a baker refused to bake a cake for a same-sex wedding. I personally think it’s a shame, but it’s a private business refusing to bake a cake for a purpose of which the owner doesn’t agree.

It was a denial, not an Auschwitz. When we make a comparison to the Holocaust, it works both ways, and soon people will say what happened in Auschwitz was “only what happened in a bakery.”

To cheapen the Holocaust by making such comparisons is to convolute and deny its atrocities.

The Holocaust, which only started with the discriminatory Nuremberg Laws only to end up in genocide, didn’t happen so much because of a hatred of a religion, but rather an explicit hatred for a people. This hatred extended to people who helped those the Nazis targeted, like the family who hid my only living grandmother when she was a child in France.

In fact, once Hitler took power, he sought to reduce Christianity’s influence on German society.

Rice’s comment was nothing but perverted and bigoted. I dare her to tell my living grandmother that what the Colorado baker did compares to the atrocities at Dachau, of which her late husband survived (his father perished there), and about which Phillips’ father wrote notes regarding the atrocities there and other places like Buchenwald, which he helped liberate.

Hypocritically, those on the left, like Rice, cite the plight of Jewish refugees during World War II as a reason for why the U.S. should take in refugees from war-torn places like Syria. Apparently they failed to learn about the Holocaust, which consisted of Jewish bakeries and other businesses being looted on Kristallnacht, or “Night of the Broken Glass,” let alone being sent to concentration camps.

(Important side note: Where is the outrage from the left over the atrocities in Rohingya, Darfur, Tibet, in Iraq against the Yazidis, and other persecuted groups in the Middle East? Those conflicts are severe compared to a bakery refusing to bake a same-sex wedding cake.)

Intolerance was part of the Holocaust. Blatant discrimination was part of the Holocaust. Concentration camps and gas chambers were part of the Holocaust. Death marches were part of the Holocaust. Indifference was part of the Holocaust.

Bakers refusing to bake same-sex wedding cakes were not part of the Holocaust.

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Living as Christians in a Deeply Divided Time

For many Americans, the most crucial factor in their Thanksgiving plans is who they’ll have to talk to across the table. More on being Christian in a divided nation. . . .

In the wake of last year’s election, many Americans decided to spend Thanksgiving with friends instead of family. This year, I suspect it will be even worse. After all, once Uncle Bill starts talking about President Trump, or Aunt Sally weighs in on transgenders in the military, or Cousin Phil announces why a Christian baker should or shouldn’t decorate a cake for a gay wedding . . . well, who knows what might happen.

I’m not that old—not nearly as old as Eric Metaxas, in fact—but I can’t remember a time when our country, our communities, and even our families have been so ideologically divided. Not only do we disagree but we tend to see others not only as wrong, but as our enemies. On news outlets, college campuses—certainly on Twitter—civility is out the window.

It’s one thing to say “I disagree with you.” It’s another thing to say “I can’t even share a meal or stand the sight of you.”

But it’s exactly here that Christians have something unique to offer.

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Matthew Levering—a Roman Catholic theologian who teaches at the University of Saint Mary on the Lake in Illinois—has a number of books to his credit. His newest book, Was the Reformation a Mistake? Why Catholic Doctrine Is Not Unbiblical, was written at the invitation of Zondervan. Levering offers an introduction then nine chapters on the following doctrines: Scripture, Mary, the Eucharist, the seven sacraments, monasticism, justification and merit, purgatory, saints, and the papacy. Each chapter consists of two parts, “Luther’s Concern” and “Biblical Reflection.” A lengthy response by Kevin Vanhoozer, titled “A Mere Protestant Response,” closes out the book.

On the first page of the introduction, Levering gives his answer to the book title’s question: “I do not call the Reformation a mistake,” (15, all page references to advanced reading copy). He adds that he’s grateful for many of the Reformation’s theological emphases. He contends, however, that “the [r]eformers made some doctrinal mistakes” (15).

In his rebuttal of the reformers, with Luther as the main focus, Levering seeks to show Roman Catholic doctrine is “not unbiblical.” It’s worth noting that isn’t the same as being biblical. It’s also worth noting Levering’s theological method or, as he puts it, his “mode of biblical reasoning.” He writes, “Rather than presenting his twelve disciples with a list of doctrinal truths, the Lord Jesus made clear that his disciples would need to learn the truth about him in a communal and liturgical way, by living with him over a period of time and by being intimately related to him” (21).

He further speaks of a “liturgically situated mode of reasoning about the realities described in the Bible” (25), adding that “the Holy Spirit may guide the church in Spirit-guided modes of biblical reasoning” (27).

Reasoning on Doctrine

This mode of reasoning is immediately pursued in chapter one on Scripture. Levering posits that “the church is the faithful interpreter of Scripture” (35), adding that if the church fails in being faithful, then “Scripture itself would fail in its truth” (35). Of course, for Levering the Bible can’t fail so, therefore, it must be true that the church can’t fail as interpreter. Levering does admit that church leaders err, but he maintains they are “preserved . . . from an error that would negate the church’s mediation of the true gospel to each generation.”

Now the reader can decide. Was Luther making a mistake at the Diet of Worms in 1521 when he claimed popes and councils may err and that his conscience was captive to the Word of God? Levering needs to reconcile his pronouncement of de facto gospel fidelity on behalf of Rome against the data of the 16th century (and other centuries for that matter).

Would Levering endorse the systemic abuse of indulgences as practiced in the church at the time of the Reformation? The fact that Levering doesn’t address this challenge to his thesis in a book on the Reformation is a serious gap, if not a death blow to his argument. At the very least, this chapter demonstrates clearly the distinction between sola scriptura and the Roman Catholic view.

Levering then turns to eight Catholic doctrines. He makes the point that Mary’s suffering was “uniquely united with her Son’s suffering,” and from there asks, “Did Mary receive a unique share in his exaltation?” (71). He then employs “typological reasoning” to see Mary in many exalted roles and places—including as the “Queen Mother” in Jeremiah 13:18.

On the saints, Levering acknowledges that Paul uses saints to refer to all Christians, but then notes how Rome identifies certain individuals as “saints in a particular sense” (157). Levering ends the chapter by declaring, “To love the saints and to ask regularly for their prayers is to love Christ and the Father who sent him” (171).

On the papacy, he offers no attempt to show the evidence of apostolic succession from Peter onward. He simply states, “The form that this Petrine ministry takes in the church develops over the centuries under the guidance of the Spirit” (186). That’s not an argument; it’s a supposition. Given the role of the papacy in the Roman curia, Levering is going to have to do better.

Shared Gospel?

As important as these doctrinal differences are, the central issue is the gospel. At various points Levering speaks of Catholic and Protestant communion around the gospel, but such communion doesn’t exist. Regarding purgatory, Levering says, “Christ has paid the penalty of sin and has perfectly forgiven us, but we nonetheless must go through the penitential experience of suffering and death so as to be fully configured to him in love” (154). The “but” there is damning. The gospel is Christ’s finished work plus nothing, yet Levering here holds to Christ’s finished work plus something: extra suffering after death if life’s sufferings didn’t fully purify you.

But Luther’s fear wasn’t purgatory; he feared the final judgment on the last day. Purgatory is actually a distraction from the real threat to humanity: eternity in hell under the just wrath of God. Either Christ removed the curse from us and we’re reconciled to a holy God and will be with him at the moment of our death, or the curse isn’t removed and we’ll be separated from God in this life and forever. Purgatory isn’t only unbiblical; it’s an affront to the gospel.

In chapter six on justification and merit, Levering rejects imputation. He asks if it’s possible that “we are made truly just and not merely imputed to be just?” (133). This is a crucial distinction. If we’re made just, then we work with the grace God gives us, and our justification is a result of both God’s grace and our works. There could be no more crucial place for a distinction than between justification and sanctifciation. The doctrine of imputation is key to that distinction. Justification is apart from works, apart from merit—and apart from penitential suffering in purgatory.

Necessary Reformation

Was the Reformation a mistake? No, it wasn’t, for there are clear and crucial differences between Rome and the reformers on Scripture and the gospel, not to mention the other seven doctrines in this book.

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