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January 30th 2010 print

Bill Muehlenberg

Tony Abbott and media hysteria

It is perfectly predictable: have a politician from the conservative side of politics make a quite sensible remark about family issues, and the secular left goes absolutely ballistic.

Tony Abbott and the usual frenzied reaction to common sense

It is perfectly predictable: have a politician from the conservative side of politics make a quite sensible remark about family issues, and the secular left goes absolutely ballistic. Tony Abbott’s rational comments about abstinence before marriage attracted all the usual suspects, and the mainstream media had a field day with all this.

The Opposition Leader, speaking in a woman’s magazine, was simply responding to questions put to him, and in this case was speaking more as a parent than a politician. He simply stated that in terms of advice he would give to his own three daughters, he would urge them not to easily give away their virginity, and try to have them adhere to the "rules" on sex before marriage. He said virginity was "the greatest gift" that could be given to someone and that women “shouldn’t give themselves away lightly".

Nothing very shocking there. Most parents would concur. And of course he would include men here as well, but he was speaking in the context of his own daughters. Thus foolish charges of hypocrisy or sexism simply do not apply here.

However the other side didn’t wait long to get involved. For example Labor deputy leader Julia Gillard instantly went on the attack, saying he should basically just shut up, because women “don’t want to be lectured by Mr Abbott". He of course was lecturing no one, but was responding to questions about himself and his family.

And it is a bit rich for someone who chooses to be childless to lecture someone about this topic who does have children. She is the one making a public and political stink out of this, while Mr Abbott was simply speaking about his personal family life – honestly and openly.

That most parents want their children not to be promiscuous and precocious, but to wait for Mr or Mrs Right is hardly an archaic or outdated notion. Indeed, the history of civilisation has been about the controlling of passions, especially sexual passion. As G.K. Chesterton once put it,

What had happened to the human imagination, as a whole, was that the whole world was coloured by dangerous and rapidly deteriorating passions; by natural passions becoming unnatural passions. Thus the effect of treating sex as only one innocent natural thing was that every other innocent natural thing became soaked and sodden with sex. For sex cannot be admitted to a mere equality among elementary emotions or experiences like eating and sleeping. The moment sex ceases to be a servant it becomes a tyrant. There is something dangerous and disproportionate in its place in human nature, for whatever reason; and it does really need a special purification and dedication. The modern talk about sex being free like any other sense, about the body being beautiful like any tree or flower, is either a description of the Garden of Eden or a piece of thoroughly bad psychology, of which the world grew weary two thousand years ago.

More recently social commentator Joseph Sobran put it this way: "The chief business of a sane society is simply the maintenance of the normal.  And one of the central items on this eternal agenda is teaching the young sexual restraint.  The state can’t do it.  It has to be done mostly by parental example and tribal pressure."

Yet how many times already have we heard critics complain about Abbott “puritanical” views? The truth is, even the Puritans may have had better insight on this issue than many moderns. Leland Ryken once wrote an interesting piece entitled, “Were the Puritans Right About Sex?” He said this:

The Puritans had strict taboos (and, when they were in power, civil laws) against sexual perversions . . . because they regard[ed] sex itself as good.  Every culture protects what it regards as sacred with safeguards and taboos.  A rule against stealing, for example, does not reflect a low view of property but a high view of it; the prohibition of murder shows that a society regards life as sacred rather than cheap."

And you don’t have to be religious to share such views (even though the issue of Mr Abbott’s Catholicism has been continually raised by his critics). For example secular author and lesbian Tammy Bruce writing in her 2003 volume, The Death of Right and Wrong, made this observation:  “‘Sexual liberation’ has simply become a code phrase for the abandonment of personal responsibility, respect, and integrity.”

Scholars and academics also have noted the value in sexual restraint, and not opening the doors wide open to sexual abandon. Will and Ariel Durant, writing in The Lessons of History, put it this way: "The sex drive in the young is a river of fire that must be banked and cooled by a hundred restraints if it is not to consume in chaos both the individual and the group."

Or as Harvard sociologist Pitirim Sorokin put it, "This sex revolution is as important as the most dramatic political or economic upheaval.  It is changing the lives of men and women more radically than any other revolution of our time. . . . Any considerable change in marriage behavior, any increase in sexual promiscuity and sexual relations, is pregnant with momentous consequences. A sex revolution drastically affects the lives of millions, deeply disturbs the community, and decisively influences the future of society

And J D Unwin of Cambridge University has also written about basic sexual goods, such as marriage and faithfulness: "The whole of human history does not contain a single instance of a group becoming civilised unless it has been completely monogamous, nor is there any example of a group retaining its culture after it has adopted less rigorous customs.  Marriage as a life-long association has been an attendant circumstance of all human achievement, and its adoption has preceded all manifestations of social energy. . . . Indissoluble monogamy must be regarded as the mainspring of all social activity, a necessary condition of human development."

So it is not just a handful of “religious nuts” as the MSM would have us believe, who share similar beliefs to Mr Abbott. There are plenty of people who readily resonate with the thoughts and values of the Opposition Leader. In fact, probably most.

And it seems we may have here a good rule of thumb: the more hysterical the reaction by the secular left and the MSM, the more likely the offending remarks are sane, sober and sensible. That is certainly the case here.