As the day draws near for the US Supreme Court to insist on nationwide approval for gay marriage, a watershed in modern thought has been reached. For although the Supreme Court is not the arbiter of morality, its decisions generally signal a deep level of cultural acceptance. Of course, in American practice, the court represents the apex of legal/forensic imagination. Its decision will signal the bankruptcy of the forensic model for continuing Christian thought. When questions of sexual behavior are placed before the legal model, Christians are simply unable to make a persuasive case for much of anything. It is at least true, that the culture has become completely deaf to the sounds of Christian thought spoken in legal grammar.
Of course, the consequences of this will likely be long-lasting. For it is Christianity, in a certain form, that taught the culture to think with a legal imagination. Therefore, it’s not likely that the culture will listen to gainsaying Christians on the topic, regardless of how they frame the conversation. And the consequences reach far beyond sexual matters.
The same legal imagination seems increasingly mute in the face of other pressing questions: euthanasia, abortion, gender management, genetic manipulation and conception, etc. We are quickly reaching a place where the will to act becomes the right to act.
For the Church, the most immediate question is not how to regain a culture that it has now lost, but how to speak to the Church whose members have been nurtured in a failed legal/forensic imagination. For what seems obvious to the Supreme Court will likely seem obvious to teenage Christians as well (and many others). Christians are hardly counter-cultural revolutionaries (despite all of our protests to the contrary). The culture in which we live is, whether we want to admit it or not, of our own making.
Sexual morality and other related social issues have been addressed in a moral framework that is essentially forensic, grounded either within a legal reading of Scripture or in natural law. Scripture no longer holds a place of central authority within Western culture and natural law arguments have been lost in a constant battle of science and counter-science. Everything seems to have been swallowed by a popular acceptance of radical Nominalism: anything can be whatever we want it to be. The wanting is the thing.
In other words, we are f--, er, excuse me it's Lent.
In other words, the Church is done influencing the larger culture and the goal at this point is to protect (attempt to protect) our teenagers from Establishment propaganda. It is useless to lecture the World on the error of its ways when there is sufficient surplus wealth for things like gender re-assignment surgery, in vitro fertilization and a large, well-armed State to enforce positive rights. There are ample resources and a healthy market to support whatever "family" arrangements modern humans can conceive, including as dreamed up by Sally Kohn:
I live in the liberal bubble of Park Slope, Brooklyn, where no yuppie would ever admit to wanting their kid to be anything in particular, other than happy. But more often than not, we define happiness as some variation on our own lives, or at least the lives of our expectations. If we went to college, we want our kids to go to college. If we like sports, we want our kids to like sports. If we vote Democrat, of course we want our kids to vote Democrat.
I’m gay. And I want my kid to be gay, too.
Kohn is primed to tell her daughter (which ovum did they use? whose sperm?) that even though she may inherently feel attracted to the opposite sex, she can still do this thing that would really, really please mommy:
The idea that no one would choose to be gay is widely held — even in the gay rights movement. In the early ’90s, partly as a response to the destructive notion that gay people could be changed, activists pressed the idea of sexuality as a fixed, innate state. Scientists even tried to prove that there’s a “gay gene.” These concepts about sexual orientation helped justify the case for legal protections. The idea that folks are “born gay” became not only the theme of a Lady Gaga song, but the implicit rationale for gay rights...While we're at it, can anybody explain to me why at Ground Zero of any atomic bomb deployed against traditional culture, you can always find a Jew dialing in the coordinates? I know they get plenty of help from other quarters, but if there's a socially destructive movement out there, they are bound to be in the vanguard.
If my daughter is gay, I don’t worry about her having a hard life. But I do worry about people expecting her to have a hard life — helping to perpetuate discrimination that might otherwise fade more quickly. I want my daughter to know that being gay is equally desirable to being straight. The problem is not the idea that homosexuality could be a choice but the idea that heterosexuality should be compulsory. In my house it’s plainly, evidently not. We’ve bought every picture book featuring gay families, even the not-very-good ones, and we have most of the nontraditional-gender-role books as well — about the princess who likes to fight dragons and the boy who likes to wear dresses.
It can't last, of course, as the fertility rates of r-selected and traditionalist societies outpace Gnostic societies and the money for Heaven-on-Earth disappears. And along those lines, here's some handy reference charts to print out for your grandchildren when you're reminiscing with them about all those wonderful things that used to be the unremarkable standard for civilization.
Back to the OP, there is a lengthy comment thread with more insights from Fr. Stephen.
Tradition as the "ison" of the Faith
That the commandments are what they are because they describe reality (and thus warn us) is a very clear way to describe their ontological character rather than their legal character.
There is an old story about a ship in a fog. It sounds its horn, and hears one in reply. The ship tells the other to turn to the starboard, and is told, “No, you’ll have to turn.” And on the conversation goes. The ship’s captain explains that he’s an admiral and he’s on a Carrier and the other will have to give way. The reply comes, “Well, I’m just a seaman, but I’m in a lighthouse…”
The commandments describe reality (that’s what ontology is about) not a legal fiction.
The story (creation, etc.) is not a controlling moral story. It is an explaining story. It describes something quite real (hence ontological – really truly existing). But in the new accounts of human “union,” we want to make the body of no real consequence or importance.Political philosophy, which I'll post here in full:
We are not disembodied. We are not minds who happen to inhabit a body. We are a body. The hands and feet analogy is, in fact, quite apt (it’s the first time I’ve heard it, surprisingly). One of the tragedies of homosexuality is the dysphoria that exists between mind and body and the social relationship that is appropriate to the body. It is indeed tragic.
But under the new view, we are not even allowed to ask, “What’s wrong?” We are told that nothing is wrong. With this comes a relativizing of the body – it’s simply something I use however I want – it has no “nature.” There is nothing obvious about the body. All that is natural and obvious is what I, in the recesses of my mind, decide is natural and obvious.
The absurdities of this can easily be pressed with analogy upon analogy – but they cannot be pressed because they are not allowed. And they are not allowed because they are considered “immoral,” i.e. a form of hate speech, etc.
There need be no hate nor ill will involved in any of this. I am not the enemy of anyone, regardless of how they experience their sexuality. None of this is about what offends man or God. It’s not a moralistic issue. But it is an issue of speaking the truth and in speaking the truth to move towards truth as it is in Christ – and through Him – union with God.
Things become tedious and complicated when the political landscape is brought into the Church’s life and discussion. The language of “rights” is not native to Orthodoxy, though they can certainly be encompassed in our thought. But as “essential” matters that are absolutely due as a matter of course, they become problematic.
Orthodoxy would always affirm the importance of freedom – it is necessary to Persons, as Persons. But the State always limits freedoms for a variety of reasons. A good State, wisely limits freedoms only as required by the common good, and this is never a matter of absolutes (which is why wisdom is required).
But we cannot read these things back into the teaching of the Church. I think, for example, that people should generally be free to hate other people – though hatred is a very wicked sin. But to eliminate hate by law yields a greater evil of oppression. Thus, I think “hate crimes” are a bit “over the top,” and perhaps too intrusive. “Did you hate him when you killed him?” Almost beside the point.
I think, for example, that the State should make provision for inheritance and property rights, visitation rights, etc., for certain persons without describing such as a “marriage.” I don’t even think such arrangements should be called “civil unions.” They are contract arrangements.
There are requirements, I think, of traditional marriage that should be upheld and protected, even encouraged (responsibility for biological offspring, etc.), and that the State should wisely remain very committed to this and be careful not to endanger it.
But I say all of that under the heading of “wisdom,” and what would be involved in “governing wisely.” But I’m not a governor, just a citizen who’s been around for a while. Radical social changes are always alarming to me – under the rubric of the “law of unintended consequences.” And so I would characterize myself as a Burkean conservative (following the gradualism of Edmund Burke). We are seeing the overturning of laws of very long-standing, in the name of a very novel ideology. We have no idea what the long-term consequences will be. That seems foolish.
But that conversation is more or less beside the point of the article, though I did comment on what will likely be a sudden change introduced by the Court this summer.
On the whole, a culture does indeed have to have a live-and-let-live attitude in many things, particularly because of modern pluralism. Though, this will only go so far.
It is fascinating to me that Europe, completely enamored of the Modernist ideology, invented an unnecessary pluralism in little more than a single generation, pretty much on the grounds that multi-culturalism was the preferred mode of living. There are many ways in which Europe has never – never (!) renounced its colonialist hubris. When they were planting colonies everywhere and taking on “the white man’s burden,” they knew better than everybody else what everybody needed. And today, they still do, although “multiculturalism” is the new Colonialism. They have colonized their own countries and are going to fix everyone there. And they will do this in the name of rejecting their Colonialist history.
Once an arrogant Colonialist…always an arrogant ….
Another gem here.
And, things are going to get difficult:
What I see is that Christian thought expressed in the grammar of the legal/forensic model has ceased to have any effectiveness (or very limited) in our culture. The sexuality/anthropology discussions have collapsed it. This will effect the evangelical Churches the hardest (its been a strong grammar for many of them). Many mainline Protestant Churches continue to speak in this grammar but have long been adjusting their “legal” ideas to accommodate cultural change. That will continue, I think.
Rome is struggling. It has spoken in the forensic grammar for a long while and it’s not working very well. But I’m not very privy to how things work in Rome – so I’ll watch them with great interest.
Europe is in a very serious post-Christian era already. If American Christianity were to have a serious cultural set-back, we could be in for a very difficult time indeed.
In other news, U.S. Appoints First-Ever Envoy to Defend Global LGBT Rights
“Defending and promoting the human rights of LGBT persons is at the core of our commitment to advancing human rights globally – the heart and conscience of our diplomacy,” Kerry said in a statement. In his new role—officially the Special Envoy for the Human Rights of LGBT Persons—Berry “is charged with advancing government initiatives to reduce violence and discrimination against LGBT people around the world, including in the more than 75 countries where consensual same-sex relationships are criminalized,” Reuters reports. “[Berry] also will be able to utilize the State Department’s Global Equality Fund, created in 2011 to provide critical emergency, short-term, and long-term assistance to protect and advance the human rights of LGBT communities in over 50 countries.”
As we slouch toward Gomorrah friends, take heart. There are good and holy men among us with sound heads on their shoulders.