Personal character is the bedrock of a free society. Unless individuals govern themselves, their own conduct, speech, and motives, they cannot mutually govern one another in a representative democracy. Why? Because if their own lives are not grounded in essential virtue, their desires, perspectives, and complacency toward evil will be reflected in the broader culture.
A case in point: "Revenge pornography," in which a former sexual partner publishes lewd photographs of the man or woman with whom there had been intimacy. This problem has become sufficiently widespread that Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has signed a measure offered by Republican State Sen. Anthony Cannella to prosecute those who distribute such photos.
"Senate Bill 255, which takes effect immediately, makes it a misdemeanor to post identifiable nude pictures of someone else online without permission with the intent to cause emotional distress or humiliation. The penalty is up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine," reports the Associated Press.
According to Sen. Cannella's office, "Revenge porn often begins when relationships end. But what were once private photos taken with consent can later be shared with others, and then posted online at multiple sites without the subject's knowledge or consent. Some websites even specialize in posting such materials, and charge the subjects unreasonable fees to take down the illicit photos."
In a statement, the senator noted that "Until now, there was no tool for law enforcement to protect victims. Too many have had their lives upended because of an action of another that they trusted."
Cannella's bill is an important step toward safeguarding the privacy and reputation of persons who could be seriously harmed by publication of illicit photographs, and he deserves credit for introducing and advancing it (as does Gov. Brown for signing it into law, despite the predictable protestations of the ACLU).
However, there are two aspects of this issue that should not be lost in the more immediate discussion: Why are people allowing themselves to be photographed without clothing or during the sexual act, and what does it say about the moral decay of our culture that such photography is apparently so commonplace that it requires a law to prevent its distribution?
Sexual intimacy within marriage is a beautiful but wholly private thing, one in which respect by the husband and wife for one another is foundational to the act itself. People who love each other don't objectify one another; that shouldn't be a startling argument but a pretty basic assumption.
Moreover, the trust implicit in private intimacy is shattered when such intimacy becomes public. Without that trust, human sexuality becomes a matter of merely fulfilling an urge rather than expressing enduring, committed love.
The sexual profligacy of our society is well-documented; according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there are 19 million new cases of sexually transmitted disease annually. These stand as a sufficient witness to our nationwide immorality. The explosion of pornography in almost every medium speaks to the way in which we dehumanize one another, and ourselves, with great abandon and, often, defiant callousness.
The lack of moral self-control demonstrated by these things characterizes many other aspects of our lives. The divorce rate indicates a measure of self-indulgence even advocates of the "no fault" system should find troubling. Substance abuse increases the more and more substances there are to abuse. We substitute therapy for accountability and group consensus for immovable conviction. Women are abused, men de-souled, children placed at risk and worse. The cracks are becoming crevasses, and soon the breaches will be irreparable.
If there is a God who has communicated His will for our hearts and minds, our conduct and our speech, in an understandable way, it might behoove us to listen to Him. The good news is that there is, and as we listen and obey, He will bless. Is leading a decent life and building a strong family a replacement for personal regeneration? No. But it is a pathway to the lifting-up of His countenance upon our country, and therein lies hope for a nation lurching from permissiveness to debauchery.
Rob Schwarzwalder is senior vice president of the Family Research Council.