Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Consent Based Morality: When What is Always Wrong is Sometimes Okay

Several recent flaps brought the issue of "consent based morality" to my attention. What I mean by "consent based morality" is that any given action can be deemed morally correct or morally wrong based on whether or not consent is given. For example, if both spouses agree to permit one or more extramarital affairs, then society has permitted this and has even given it a name, "open marriage". If one partner in the marriage has not consented to such an arrangement, the extramarital affair is not okay and is called "adultery" or "grounds for divorce".

Looking around, we see that Facebook has been selling data which, although people knowingly have put it out there for the world to see, has angered people who believe that they have not consented to sharing. In other words, it was okay for me to stupidly share pictures of my family, or to share my personality test results, or political views, but under consent based morality it was not okay for Facebook to do so.

My friend Tim Fountain posted a couple of thoughts which led me to point out that consent based morality is at play in how the media treats issues of human sexuality,
"Serious question. We are urged to work against human trafficking, a term which obviously connotes something negative. Yet I keep seeing news articles using what appear to be value neutral terms like pornstar, sex workers, stripper, etc.
It seems to me that the commentariat can't make up its mind. On the one hand, commercialized sex is seen (rightly, in my opinion) as systemic exploitation and degradation.
But every so often (maybe because the commentariat are part of the system?) terms are used that seem to support 'alternative narratives' familiar to those of us who grew up in the porn addled 70s: 'Victimless crime,' 'liberation,' and, most ironic IMO, 'female empowerment.'
Or maybe incoherence is just part of the fallen world in which we all live."
The media is unknowingly using consent based morality in the reporting of most cases of sexual immorality these days. The elevation of Stormy Daniels to major celebrity status for what the media would like to consider an alleged illicit affair with private citizen Trump who gets condemned because he did not have the consent of his spouse, while no condemnation of Ms. Daniels' day to day occupation, is to be seen anywhere. In addition, her paid occupation is considered consensual sex, but her payment to keep quiet is considered non-consensual because it was not "properly" signed.

Tim Fountain also posted a follow up further illustrating my point,
"While the NY Post offers this article, HBO's series 'The Deuce,' produced by and starring Maggie Gyllenhall, takes a nostalgic stroll through the mainstreaming of porn in 70s NYC. The Gyllenhall character really seems to be pushing a 'porn is female empowerment' riff - at least in the couple of episodes I watched. Likewise pimps are cool, soulful guys just hoping for a better life. Maybe the series goes on to show the emptiness of all this... maybe not. But it's weird how the media will one minute howl about human trafficking and porn, and the next minute use terms like pornstar and sex worker as value neutral or even worthy of social norming."
Crisis Magazine provided the next example,
"A few years ago, personal nude photos of the actress Jennifer Lawrence, intended for her boyfriend, were hacked and published publicly. Naturally, she was devastated and attempted to remove the photos. However, within a month, she posed nude for a series of magazine covers to 'educate people about the importance of consent.' The reason why it was wrong to have the first set of photos on the web was because she had never consented. The second set–although equally private in nature–were perfectly fine because she had consented.
Is posing in the nude for a magazine cover any more virtuous when it is done with knowledge and consent? The action is wrong because it does real harm: to oneself and to others. It objectifies the body, which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It hurts relationships with loved ones: no loving parent or partner is open-minded enough to support such behavior as “her choice” (though some may claim to be). And of course, it degrades the morals of society, setting a bad example for teen girls and an even worse temptation for teen boys."
The article from Crisis Magazine scores a couple of good points here,
"...Consent is a flimsy basis for a morality system. When the same action is right or wrong based simply upon the answer 'yes' or 'no,' people are able to rationalize bad behavior much more easily..."
"...a morality system based on right and wrong rather than consent results in a society where many a man, finding himself alone in a room or an elevator with a woman he is not married to, would not make sexual advances toward her, wanted or unwanted, because he knows the action itself to be wrong. In this sort of moral system, what a person should or should not do is much easier to understand because there can be an objective, logical explanation for why an action is good or bad, and thus in-the-moment rationalizations of bad behavior are harder to justify. A consent-based morality system removes all of the logic in favor of purely subjective individual preference, and social chaos ensues."
While much of consent based morality involves human sexual behavior, I can see this going on in other spheres as well. Take the recording and then the publishing of contents of private conversations for example. The leaking of political or classified documents is a similar sin/not sin depending on one's political point of view.

While people ridicule a morality system based on Christianity as old fashioned and not keeping up with the times, it is the system which God has deemed best for us.

If we hope to avoid the pitfalls of consent based morality, we just have to consent to follow Jesus. 


  1. Even when it is "Informed Consent", when a medical form is signed before a medical procedure, How many folks (including me) actually take the time to read the forms and be informed. In many cases consent is merely acquiescence.

  2. It used to be that a woman who does what Daniel does for money would not be considered a reliable witness for anything, in particular not allegations of sexual activity. This would not, of course, justify anything in the nature of a violent assault on her, sexual or otherwise, but no such assault is alleged.

    The "consent" standard is also used against people who have engaged in what they thought was consensual behavior, often after the fact -- sometimes long after the fact.

    Far, far better for both women and men to return to the traditional moral standards of right and wrong.

    Does Tim Fountain blog somewhere? I lost sight of many of those who used to post at SF and MCJ.

    1. Tim is on Facebook and Twitter.