Today the paper begins a four-part series on child sexual abuse. Unfortunately, the story is darkly explicit. Sadly, it could have been even more explicit. We feel it is necessary to run the story as it is in order to illuminate the nature and scope of this awful depravity that has injured — and continues to injure — so many innocents among us.

The only thing more repugnant than publishing this story is the fact that such tragic and depraved activities occur in our community.

The sickness of child sexual abuse has been with us for centuries. In recent years it would seem the problem of sex crimes has grown. Is it possible that perpetrators are encouraged in their ugly crimes by feeling a sense of permission from our sex-saturated culture?

We have had a number of reminders this week of the increasing degeneracy of our culture. New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer ended his political career after allegedly scheming to unlawfully hide many years of infidelity. A report this week tells us that as many as one in four teenage girls in the U.S. are infected with some type of sexually transmitted disease.

In our own community, teenagers are being prosecuted for sending each other pornographic images of themselves. And, of course, there is the ever increasing deluge of pornography that is being consumed by many.

These are just the things that shock us.

We have become inured to too many aspects of our sex-drenched culture. Implicit in virtually every movie, TV drama or sitcom is the notion that sexual relations, without regard to marriage, are just fine — maybe even necessary to a normal relationship — as long as they are mutually agreeable. The language and images are becoming increasingly explicit on network television. Of course, there are seemingly no bounds on cable and in most movies.

It is not just movies, bad music, pornographic books and magazines; look at the many TV and magazine ads that rely on sex to sell virtually any product. And that doesn't count the hundreds of millions of dollars drug companies spend to sell sexual enhancement pills to old men who can't get over their dreams of youthful energy.

The old immorality has become the new orthodoxy.

We even have high priests of this new orthodoxy. In response to the Spitzer fall, evolutionary biologist David Barash tells us in the pages of the Los Angeles Times, "I told you so." Barash knows this because "one of the most important insights of modern evolutionary biology has been our enhanced understanding of male-female differences. Startling discoveries of the last 15 years" alert us that in their natural state "pretty much the default among mammals," including that male mammal man, is that male animals are "inclined to engage in sex with multiple partners when they can."

And why not? These are mostly "victimless crimes." No matter the millions of abortions, millions of broken marriages, millions of broken hearts.

Tragically, we are less and less shamed by this cultural descent to our animal natures. The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah speaks to us today when he thunders, "Were they ashamed when they had committed abominations? Nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush." (Jeremiah 6:15) How did we get here? Is there a way to recover virtue?

Alexander Pope (1688-1744) famously wrote about the struggle between our natural inclinations and the call of providence to rise above our passions. Nearly three centuries ago Pope warned:

Vice is a monster of so frightful mien,

As to be hated needs but to be seen;

Yet seen to oft, familiar with her face,

We first endure, then pity, and then embrace.

No government program — only changed hearts — can restore virtue. What distinguishes us from animals is that we can choose to rise above our more base natures.

Jeremiah taught,"Stand ye in the ways (of right conduct), and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way (is), and walk therein and ye shall find rest for your souls" (Jeremiah 6:16).

The oldest way goes back to the beginning. God, who created this earth, gave as his first commandment to mankind the requirement to "be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth" and that to accomplish this, "therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife" (Genesis 1:28, 2:24).

Joe Cannon is editor of the Deseret Morning News.