Earlier articles this month considering the topic of the title have focused on the consequences of making personal offense to be an injustice in itself. They showed that this makes it impossible for people to relate to one another individually on the basis of objective reality (instead counselors must deal with clients as clients define themselves at the moment). And religious organizations cannot have standards which someone in the organization does not agree with at the moment (even if they agreed to the standards when entering the organization).
Commentators on the social liberalism decreed by the Supreme Court and lower courts have commented on their use of emotivism as a legal standard. Its essential idea is that moral judgments are statements of preferences, and inducements to persuade others. But they are not statements about reality itself. While emotivism has a history spanning several centuries in the modern world, it would seem that only since the mid-twentieth century has it become important in law and the wider society. Traditional societies, and certainly traditional Christianity, believe that ethical statements and moral claims are either true or false. The need for salvation from the wrath of a holy God depends crucially on a morality rooted in God, and moral theology assumes that God is good and violation of his law is sinful (evil). In making moral judgments we naturally assume that what we say is not only a statement about the reality that we would like, but the reality that ought to be. Even if one did not like it, and no one else in the world did, the judgment would still be true (or false, as the case may be).
Emotivism seems to be a natural part of our modern, scientific civilization, and the affluence that it has made possible. Certainly we could not live as we do today with nineteenth century technology. While emotivism existed before the twentieth century, it was then unpersuasive. The prudence and hard work needed for many people simply to survive, the tugs at the heart of traditional religion and society (so powerfully reinforced for many by the love and joy found in the traditional family structure), and the coercive power that traditional authorities of family, church, state, employers, and the general society then possessed were sufficient to persuade people of the wisdom of traditional religion and morality.
The first half of the twentieth century saw tremendous threats to the moral order, freedom, and prosperity that people believed were the destiny of American society. As just stated, science and technology are a threat in itself to this order. It helped power the “Progressive Era” of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. But political threats appeared in the form of fascism and communism. The energy of Western society was directed to defeating them, with the threat that all would be lost in a new dark age, and with the promise of a culmination of history in freedom and prosperity if these threats were surmounted.
The threats were successfully surmounted. The question, then, is what happens when you settle down to paradise. The 1950s are often taken as the standard against which the cultural revolution which followed is judged. Communism was yet to be defeated, but was far off from the America heartland. The pace of the cultural revolution picked up substantially when it was.
What happened in paradise is that discontents came to the fore, stoked by activists who didn’t like the status quo, with the aid of the mass media. But this writer believes that discontents in life need not have exploded into the cultural conflict that it did. It was really powered by the loss of faith in Biblical Christianity that had occurred among the educated classes in the previous century. And in addition, there was the genuine unresolved problem of racial inequality, which was incompatible with either a Biblical understanding of the unity of mankind, or with the commitment of the American project of freedom from tyranny.
But the “tyranny” from which the cultural revolution of the 1960s proposes to free people is the tyranny of having any discontents in life. Sex is the cutting edge issue of the revolution, the issue used to attack traditional belief and practice. Unlike race, which is a superficial difference between human beings, sex is profound, and deeply embedded in who we are physically and psychologically. It runs throughout the human species, and indeed, throughout nature. It is a very reasonable basis from making distinctions in much of life, and thus a very reasonable basis for choices (discrimination). By attacking its reality, today’s social radicals have found a powerful weapon to attack the traditional religion and society in which they disbelieve.
Because God’s revelation in the moral law of the Bible is well suited to human nature, it is necessary for its enemies to go out of their way to attack it, requiring others to be complicit in sin. People have ready access to goods and services that violate Biblical doctrines of the right to life and sexual purity without requiring believers to participate. But this is not good enough. As Rousseau said at the beginning of the revolutionary era, people must be “forced to be free.” And in the case of sexual ethics, that has meant the enlightened imposing the will to self determination on the general public to change the “general will,” which is supposed to be the ultimate authority.
One of the most ghastly examples of this was the case of Storman’s Pharmacy in the state of Washington. Although people in the community had ready access to abortion inducing drugs from other pharmacies in the area, the pharmacy was targeted first by pro-abortion activists, and then by the state for its refusal to stock the drugs. While the initial claim was that people were being deprived of access to legal drugs, it was ultimately admitted that it was religious objection to abortion that the state was targeting. Failure to stock other legal drugs was not being pursued, nor was nonreligious objection to a particular drug objectionable. What was objectionable was the religious claim that abortion is sinful, and the fornication that often occasions it. Despite the obvious denial of free exercise of religious belief even by standard of the infamous Smith decision (1990), the Supreme Court declined to take this case. The obvious objective is to create a world in which everything agrees with the belief that people are entitled to the sexual gratification that they want, and to have this belief be a normal part of life.
Reasons can be given for sexual purity, but beyond the clear divine command they involve claims of philosophy and scientific research that can easily be set aside in ordinary life, or debunked by a skilled critic. But in the case of abortion, it is clear that a human life is being taken to protect the way of life someone else wants. Perhaps the demand for universal agreement against common sense is even more striking with transgenderism. Here one’s immediate desires, even if a sexually developing child, are made absolute. Thus two distraught fathers, one in Texas, the other in British Columbia, have been silenced (forbidden to speak to the media), and the Canadian father required to engage in forced speech (use of a gender pronoun which is not correct for the child’s biological sex). All this to accommodate the immediate wishes of their still sexually developing and psychologically maturing children.
This is made to seem plausible to judges by activists and professionals in medical and psychological professions who have been deceived and/or coerced by an ideology that says that, as a matter of justice, people are entitled to the reality they want. As this writer noted in the spring, the enemies of Christian morality have converted sins into rights, and made wild irrationality into scientific discoveries, charging believers with irrational animosity to boot.
How can Christians, especially ordinary Christians who must focus on other things for most of their lives, respond to this juggernaut of lies and evil, which has now captured the mainstream of American and Western culture? There is no easy way. God has prescribed the narrow gate as part of Christian life, and we must pursue it. Modern thought and life have made faith hard for many people (although there have always been people who found faith difficult, as the Bible clearly indicates). And Christian morality has also always been hard, but the Bible indicates that is because of original sin. Today that sin is aided by modern and post-modern attacks, so that the easy route is to accept the demands of the cultural revolution, even though self-determination is finally unworkable, and in the case of transgenderism in particular, will surely come to grief.
Everyone cannot have the reality that they want. That is the lesson that the post-World War II, post-Cold War world must learn. We deny it at our peril. In reality, it is the aspects of Judeo-Christian morality that secularists find offensive that are singled out for attack; true self determination is impossible (one cannot be President of the United States or a millionaire by saying so).
To defend against the irrational and emotional demands of the cultural left, the first line of defense is an appeal to conscience and noncompliance with legal and social requirements. It should be obvious to everyone that it is wrong to take an action believed to be evil (as opposed to merely unwise or profoundly bad policy). Nor is the personal pain of others at one’s belief at all comparable, evil is evil, sin is sin.
But it will be much easier to find accommodation, and more people will be willing to listen to the gospel, if people understand its claims to be reasonable. This is the province of apologetics, which has experienced a renaissance in recent decades. The “warm audience” that the American church had in the past, with much of the public familiar with at least the basics of Christian doctrine and practice, and assuming it to be a good thing, is increasingly not there. Now we face a cold audience, unfamiliar and perhaps misinformed about Christian teaching. And people in our own churches and those still part of the dwindling “warm audience” must be aware of how to defend the Christian faith against attack.
In the end, however, we must rely on God and his gift of faith to those who have received him as lord and savior. This is all believers have in North Korea or Saudi Arabia, and the only thing we are guaranteed over time. Our first duty is to love God, which means obedience to him. In taking care not to offend others (which is Biblical), we must first take care not to offend God.