March 1, 2014

Alexis de Tocqueville, Marriage & Christian Egalitarianism

New Republic writer Damon Linker, who some years ago wrote an expose of IRD co-founder Richard Neuhaus’ First Things journal where he had worked, has a recent piece crediting Christianity’s intrinsic egalitarianism for the movement behind same sex marriage.

Specifically Linker cites Alexis de Tocqueville, whose Democracy in America confessed to “a sort of religious terror…by the sight of this irresistible [democratic] revolution that for so many centuries has marched over all obstacles, and that one sees still advancing today amid the ruins it has made.”

Linker says: “This is why Tocqueville counseled resignation and acceptance rather than a reactionary response — because, he concluded, trying to ‘stop democracy…[is] to struggle against God himself.'”

And Linker concludes:

None of this means anything as crude as “Christ wants gay marriage.” But it does mean that we live in a culture in which reformers who successfully claim the mantle of equality inevitably triumph — because those who oppose equality find it impossible to gain public traction for their own side of the argument.

Responding to Linker, “crunchy con” conservative Rod Dreher disputes that Christianity’s egalitarianism fuels gay marriage and instead cites the “decentralization of religious authority from a corporate body,” i.e. Protestantism, which elevates the autonomous individual as the ultimate authority.

There’s some truth to both Linker’s and Dreher’s arguments. But I think more accurately that Christianity generates a multitude of unintended consequences. There is no political, religious or cultural force in the world untouched by Christianity. Arguably Islam is a heresy of Christianity, and Communism is a parody of Christianity. Modernity flows from the Enlightenment, which Peter Berger calls the “laughing heir” of the Protestant Reformation. Modernity’s most poisonous toxins flow from the French Revolution’s rivers of blood, rooted in twisted misappropriation of Christian human equality.

Linker has a good quote:
The ultimate source of the democratic revolution — the motor behind its inexorable unfolding — is the figure of Jesus Christ, who taught the equal dignity of all persons, and declared in the Sermon on the Mount that the last shall be first and the first shall be last, and that the meek shall inherit the earth.

But Linker portrays the deconstruction of natural marriage as the welcomed fruit of Christian equality and consequent democracy. More accurately, Dreher has described the deconstruction of marriage, which he predicts will include polygamy, as the rejection of Christian anthropology. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose governing Christian Democratic Union, hardly a bastion of theological conservatism, has prevented same sex marriage (but not civil unions) in their fairly socially liberal nation, cites their political commitment to this Christian anthropology.

Deconstruction of marriage and gender, a la Facebook’s now 50 plus gender options, results from the disintegration of shared Christian anthropology and ethics into a new Gnostic reality of endless self-invention. Of course, Gnosticism is a heresy of Christianity, not the logical consequence of it.

Overturning natural marriage in favor of unlimited new possibilities, perhaps foreshadowed by the FDA’s latest examination of fertility options for parental threesomes (albeit for genetic modifications), is not the natural descendant of Christianity but a rebellion against it. It recalls another quote from Tocqueville warning against religion’s demise in democracy:

Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot. How is it possible that society should escape destruction if the moral tie is not strengthened in proportion as the political tie is relaxed? And what can be done with a people who are their own masters if they are not submissive to the Deity?

2 Responses to Alexis de Tocqueville, Marriage & Christian Egalitarianism

  1. Marco Bell says:

    Change is inevitable… roll with it, or devolve!

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