Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Seeking a new bottom

John D. Inazu writes in Christianity Today about the distinction of sinner and sin, and the modern world’s confusion about it:

The comparison between Bob Jones in 1983 and Christian schools today will strike some as unwarranted. Indeed, there are historical reasons to reject it. The discriminatory practices in Bob Jones were linked to the slavery of African Americans and the Jim Crow South. The 1983 Court decision came within a generation of Brown v. Board of Education, and its legal principles extended to private secondary schools (including “segregationist academies”) that resisted racial integration.

There are also significant theological differences between Bob Jones’s race-based arguments and arguments that underlie today’s sexual conduct restrictions. Those differences are rooted in contested questions about identity, as well as longstanding Christian boundaries for sexual behavior. Gay and lesbian Christians committed to celibacy show that sexual identity and sexual conduct are not always one in the same. But these points are increasingly obscured outside of the church. We see this in the castigation of any opposition to same-sex liberties as bigoted. That kind of language has moved rapidly into mainstream culture. And it is difficult to envision how it would be undone or dialed back.

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Most Christian membership limitations today are based on conduct rather than orientation: they allow a gay or lesbian person to join a group, but prohibit that person from engaging in conduct that falls outside the church’s teachings on sexuality. These policies—like the one at Gordon College currently under fire—are not limited to gays or lesbians; all unmarried men and women are to refrain from sexual conduct. The distinction between status and conduct from which they derive is rooted in Christian tradition, and it is not limited to sexuality: one can be a sinner and abstain from a particular sin.

But many people reject the distinction between status and conduct. And in a 2010 decision, Christian Legal Society v. Martinez, the Supreme Court also rejected it, viewing distinctions based on homosexual conduct as equivalent to discrimination against gays and lesbians.

It was a spectacular failure of discernment befitting of Supreme Court associate justice Anthony Kennedy, author of such existential mumbo jumbo as:

  • “The State cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime.”

  • “At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”

Epitomizing “to each his own” in the extreme, ripping the heart of common law and shared culture out of the civil society. We are only beginning to realize the consequences.

Heather Wilhelm hones in on transgenderism as one of the manifestations of the idol self. She writes:

In 2003, the novelist Michael Crichton argued that, despite the hopes of atheists, religion will never really disappear. “I think that you cannot eliminate religion from the psyche of mankind,” Crichton said. “If you suppress it in one form, it merely reemerges in another form.”

Religion tends to reemerge in the unlikeliest places. Today, at least in America, the newest and brashest religions hover—rather obsessively, in fact—around various permutations of personal “identity.” For many, whether they realize it or not, “identity” is the new God. Tim Keller, the well-known author and pastor of New York City’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church, puts it this way: “Our need for worth is so powerful that whatever we base our identity and value on we essentially ‘deify.’ We will look to it with all the passion and intensity of worship and devotion, even if we think of ourselves as highly irreligious.”

Over the past few months, with impressive swiftness, our nation’s growing identity-based religious fervor has risen in one particular form: ardent, impassioned, unquestioning transgender boosterism.

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Some boys don princess dresses; some girls use their Barbie as a sledgehammer. Some boys will like the color pink and unicorns; some girls will refuse to wear a dress or brush their hair. Two years ago, a study from the Harvard School of Public Health noted that 85 percent of gender nonconforming kids grew up to be comfortable with their own gender—and straight. To insist that a young child “knows” they’re the wrong gender, despite compelling genetic and physical evidence, is a rather wild leap of faith.

“Parents,” CBS’s Rita Braver breathlessly reported, “are beginning to heed the wishes of their children at ever younger ages.” At first glance, many of the parents look like, well, pushovers: Their 2-year-olds throw a tantrum if they aren’t served on a pink plate, and it’s downhill from there. (This was the case with Colorado’s Coy Mathis, who “transitioned” from boy to girl at age 5. His parents ended up successfully suing for Coy’s right to use the girls’ first-grade bathroom at his school.)

But there’s something more interesting at work here. On one hand, the most enthusiastic transgender supporters argue that gender identity is amorphous, subjective, and fluid. On the other hand, the progressive, “open-minded” parents featured in “Born This Way” and “Ryland’s Story” might be the worst gender absolutists around.

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The Oxford English Dictionary describes religion as “the belief in or worship of a superhuman controlling power.” In the world of transgender activism, that controlling power is quite clear: It is an all-consuming, unquestionable—and, most importantly, self-defined—gender identity. It is a belief that, in all but a few legitimate intersex cases, defies the physical world. It is, in the end, a spiritual quest.

Those who get their entire sense of self and worth through an identity outside of God, pastor Tim Keller notes, will likely feel driven to “despise and demonize the opposition.” One would hope that, in a pluralistic country, we could all just get along. Unfortunately, at least in its early stages, the transgender faith does not appear to be a religion of peace. When it comes to public school bathrooms and beyond, it also appears to be the one religion the government feels comfortable establishing through the state.

So much for Klansman/Supreme Court associate justice Hugo Black’s “wall of separation.”

An unwritten “why” transcends all laws and the organization of society. Our fathers knew what it was, but moderns judged it to be false.

“Our government makes no sense unless it is founded on a deeply held religious belief—and I don’t care what it is.” –President Eisenhower

He should have. His country and his people are a sunken ship resettling, seeking a new bottom. Who knows how deep it goes?

Further reading: “Least common denominator.”

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