Just as it is difficult to gain a true perspective of the size of a mountain when one is actually on the mountain, so it is difficult to understand how revolutionary a change is when in the midst of the revolution. And we are today in the midst of a great revolution, a dramatic shift in the way we understand human nature. That is, our culture in the West is changing the way it understands gender.
This change is all-encompassing, and expresses itself in such large movements such as feminism, gay rights, and now transgender rights.
The change is not a matter of refining or tinkering with past approaches. Past approaches are not so much moderately altered as completely overthrown. The revolution regarding gender is radical and vociferous, and like all devout revolutionaries, its advocates are taking no prisoners, which accounts for much of the rhetoric and verbal violence in America’s culture wars. If the Lord tarries, historians hundreds of years hence will look back on the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries as the time when the West waged war on the way its ancestors understood gender differences from time immemorial. Those reading sociology will speak of a fundamental paradigm shift. Those reading Screwtape will wonder if the revolution was not the result of far-reaching decisions taken by “our father below”.
The ancient approach saw gender as a divine gift. Judeo-Christian texts spoke of our gendered existence with its resultant differing roles as ordained by God at creation: “So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them” (Gen. 1:27). Islam inherited this understanding of gender, and even the pagans who did not read Scripture of any kind understood maleness and femaleness as basic and stable categories. That is why they privileged legal marriage above unregulated sexuality. Certain pagans (Greeks for example; the Romans were slower to follow) had no problems with pederasty, but they still insisted on heterosexual marriage as the foundation for a stable society.
As far as everyone until the mid to late twentieth century was concerned, you were born either male or female, and certain rare anatomical or other medical anomalies aside, that set you on the path of life and provided you with specific roles and responsibilities. Men were to behave in a certain way, as were women. To be sure, the prescribed behaviours contained a fair degree of latitude—“tom boy” behaviour, for example, was still acceptable for girls, and men could knit if they wanted to—but the basic path was fairly clear, even if it was wide. And this was not confined to the Judeo-Christian or the Islamic traditions. As C.S. Lewis illustrated in his book The Abolition of Man, these norms could be found in all cultures. He termed this “the Tao”, and recognized it as the universal practice of mankind.
The revolution in the West began in the 1960s, with what was then called “Women’s Lib”. Women’s Lib found cultural acceptance because much of it seemed to be simple common sense, and because the Suffragette movement demanding for women the right to vote had partly prepared the way for it. Though not introducing radical or harmful change in the basic understanding of gender roles, Women’s Lib prepared people to regard change as essentially a good and much-needed thing, and this openness to change would continue to govern basic attitudes when more far-reaching changes were proposed. Women’s Lib also drew heavily upon the language of racial civil rights, and presented itself in terms of an analogous struggle. The emphasis here is upon the word “struggle”, since the movement used the tactics of protest (famously with its symbolic bra-burning and its marches), and its labelling of its opponents as enemies of enlightenment and progress. The seeds of a future culture war may thus be traced to this early predilection for protest.
Despite the use of angry denunciation of perceived oppression and inflammatory rhetoric that increasingly characterized the diverse feminist movement, the radical changes first appeared with the gay rights movement. Here too we observe a progression. What began with a simple act of decriminalization continued with a demand for social acceptance of an alternative lifestyle as if it were as valid as traditional marriage. Thus, first came demands for social acceptance and non-discrimination, then came a demand for the provision of legal civil unions between homosexuals, and then a demand for providing legal marriage for them. Inherent in these demands was the assertion that maleness and femaleness were not all-encompassing roles, but simply anatomical realities which did not bring with them any societal roles or norms. Thus, one could be born anatomically male but still seek sexual union (socially legitimized through marriage) with another male—or, with both males and females. Anatomy had been definitively sundered from gender role and its accompanying sexual “preference”. Indeed, the very language used—“sexual preference”—presupposes that one gender could be preferred as easily as another. Formerly, men did not just “prefer” women, but were ordained to this choice, if not by internal sexual desire for women over men, then at least by divine law. Now one could “prefer” male to female as easily and legitimately as one could prefer chocolate to vanilla.
The next step was to sunder anatomy not just from gender role but from gender identity. In this move to legitimize transgenderism, it was asserted that one could be born anatomically male and yet still “be” a woman. There was no objective way to tell if a person “was” a male or a female. All now depended upon a person’s subjective feelings and which gender one “identified with”. And throughout this long progression of change, its advocates continued to employ the rhetoric of civil rights, indignantly denouncing their opponents as bigots and cultural Neanderthals. The culture wars were now raging loudly. In the din, the voice of the historic Christian Faith, replete with both inviolable standards and subtle nuanced distinctions, was usually shouted down.
Thus those who identify as gay or transgender now occupy the role of noble victim in constant danger of harm, while those who oppose the new revolution occupy the role of dangerous cultural criminals, whose bigoted opposition to the new revolution threatens very lives of those in the LGBQT community. Those assigning these roles are often driven by a self-righteousness that takes no prisoners and justifies any amount of hatred, anger, and bullying.
The revolution is poised to continue, driven as it is by its own interior logic. If physical anatomy counts for nothing, then it counts for nothing. If the will (or preference) is sovereign, then it is sovereign. That includes not just the gender of the sexual partner, but also the number of partners. Or the age of the partners. Paedophilia (or “minor attraction” as it calls itself) is currently beyond the pale of general acceptability, but the landscape of the debate and its borders are shifting quickly. No one living in 1950 could have foreseen the current situation. It is therefore possible that the presently radical call for the acceptance of “minor attraction” will one day become mainstream. Where the revolution will end is anyone’s guess. I myself believe that the end is not yet in sight.
The question remains: what is the problem with the revolution? Who is it hurting? Granted that the gender revolution (or “gender confusion”, depending upon point of view) overturns the way humanity has regarded itself since the beginning, why it that wrong? Much could be said, but a single reply will have to suffice. In the new paradigm offered us, what was once regarded as “true manhood” is labelled toxic in some places, and is fast becoming extinct.
What does it mean to be a “real” man? True manhood involves more than simple sexual “preferences” or the question of who takes out the garbage. It involves primordial self-defining symbolism and emotions springing from the deepest hidden levels. To be a real man is to relate to those weaker—notably women and children—with gallantry, protection, and self-sacrifice. (Christians will note that this is how Christ, as a real Man, related to His bride, the Church.) We note this in a thousand ways: the man proposes the woman on bended knee, (not vice-versa), and in situations of danger, the man defends the woman even at the cost of his life. And this last example applies not just to the man’s own wife, but to any woman, precisely because she is a woman. Womanhood was considered as sacred per se.
This could be observed in the investigations following the sinking of the Titanic: witnesses were emphatic that some lifeboats contained only women and children, the men sacrificing themselves to save them. Doing anything less—taking a space in a lifeboat that could have been taken by a woman or a child—would have violated their manhood. Manhood and masculinity, increasingly derided as toxic by definition, included both the symbolism and actions of gallantry. A true man was a knight.
It is true of course that acts of bravery and self-sacrifice can be and are done by women and children, and of course by homosexuals and transgenders. Anyone can become brave. But that is just the point: since bravery and self-sacrifice are no longer part of what it means to be a man, one does such heroic acts only if one is a hero. But heroism is not common (which is why it is applauded when found). One may or may not feel oneself called to heroism and bravery. But in the old paradigm a man sacrificed himself not because he felt called to extraordinary heroism, but simply because he was a man. The gender role he inherited by virtue of his anatomy contained within it the moral imperative of sacrificing himself, if need be, for women and children.
It is just this protection that real men once offered that is so desperately needed now. We now rely upon “public education” (i.e. propaganda) and the stigma attached to being politically incorrect to motivate people to gallantry, self-sacrifice, and bravery. We can see how well this is working (or not working), by how dangerous the nights remain for women and other vulnerable people. The cry of those trying to educate the public is to “take back the night”. More helpful perhaps would be sustained reflection upon how the night was lost in the first place.
Father, I remember the beginnings of women’s lib, and associate with it a song by the Limelighters (who were popular with university crowds).
“Oh the pill is a birth control method, the best one invented to date
Just get someone’s daughter to take one with water
There’s no mess and no time to wait
Oh! Put all your faith in the pill, put all your faith in the pill
For the doctor has said you can hop into bed
And put all your faith in the pill”
At the time, many TV commercials featured a male figure in a white coat touting this or that scientific/modern health-enhancing product. People trusted doctors. That made the pill Scientific, Safe, Healthy. It would theoretically allow one to do whatever was desired “without consequences”. I believe it was a hinge point for the sexual revolution, more so than older birth control methods. It implied that one COULD have sex, at will. Today perhaps the implication is that one MUST have sex, that anything less is a selfish refusal. There is less reason to take “NO” for an answer.
The function of sex has been disconnected from giving life, and has become just a means to an end: temporary pleasure. The God-given design of two sexes has been robbed of meaning. Screwtape must be laughing.
Very well said Fr.
I would like to note that to identify as “gay”, is to ontologically tie this to ones essence. Thus it’s a “God made me this way”, scenario. We see this taken to it’s horrific conclusion in the Roman cathoolic Church, where they say, “the inclination isn’t sinful, but to act on it is”. The deviant passion tied ontologically to the person by God, but it must be resisted with the help of God?!?! A disastererous aquiessence to the passions and modern quakc-phsychology! What was once a mental-disorder, is now a part of our God-made nature! When we see priests like Fr. John Jillions identifying as a “gay man” in his notorious article in “The wheel”, we see the poison in Orthodoxy at the highest levels. It must be stamped out!
This is the logical (or illogical?) result of Western nominalism. If nothing has a nature unto itself, but is just what we happen to call it based on phenomenon, then even something as fundamental as biological sex isn’t safe from redefinition. We’re getting down to tinkering with the basics of sex and genetics, so I really wonder how much rope God has left to give us. We’re at the cusp of being able to pollute our basic human nature.
It doesn’t look like you’ve taken the time to read what some Christians mean when they call themselves gay.
Someone like David Bennett (who has written an excellent book on his life changing encounter with Christ and choice to be a celibate gay man) believes the letters in the LGBTQIA describe real things, but that these letters describe a FALLEN sexuality to be finally redeemed in the resurrection state. I’ve heard Hopko and Abbot Tryphon say similar things, though Hopko preferred to use the term SSA. It’s important to remember that each one of our sexual natures are tainted in some way or another and need to be restored in Christ. I agree that heterosexuality IS the logos whereas homosexuality is the mode where some folks sexuality falls for still unkown reasons (though theologically, I would ground it in some sort of fall). Nevertheless, many of us heterosexuals, including myself, certainly have aspects of our sexual nature that needs redemption as well!
Thank you for your comments, Mark. The topic of causality is a big one, and very complex. Pastorally I tell those who approach me, saying that they are gay, that the sin/ guilt resides not in the inclination or desire for illicit sex (whether the passion be homosexual or heterosexual), but in giving in to the passion and acting upon it. Chastity is required of all who are not married, whether “straight” or “gay” and everyone has problems with lust regardless of their “orientation”.
May our Lord, Jesus Christ, bring to repentance all who reject any part of His Word.
Thank you Fr., Bonnie, Dan, and Kevin for your posts. So MUCH truth, so uplifting, and so encouraging.
Obergefell v. Hodges redefined the family from its Christian shape. Indeed, Christianity shaped the Christian family on the natural family, then inserted in a pagan ethos. Gender Ideology did not remove the traits that made the family Christian nor restore it to its former pagan context. Rather, the family has been deconstructed beyond recognition. As its mother cell, society itself is unrecognizable with the demise of the Christian family from the Western ethos.
And, since laws only change after a majority consensus has been reached, we can say that a milestone was reached: when this pathos became its ethos, the West is now fundamentally not Christian. Because it’s not merely a religious apostasy, but an anthological one, God only knows what will follow, between anti Christian and anti not Western persecution.
Lots, have mercy.
Thank you for your posts. While I am not Eastern Orthodox, I have found that I agree with you far more than I disagree. In these evil times in our world, I am convinced Christians of all traditions will need to stick together and strive for unity. While I am not sure how we will settle our differences, I am not as concerned with that as I am the foe of Postmodern Secularism. It is less like a veracious wolf and more like a parasite. While we live in this world, it is a constant struggle not to be of it. The amoeba eats its prey a little at a time, and I can see this happening all around us. It is somewhat disconcerting and can bring a level of anxiety to the soul of mankind. Then, I remember that we “walk by faith and not by sight.” The hope of the Gospel is our vision, and our efforts follow suit. May God give you grace and peace as you strive valiantly against the parasitic influences of our world. Thanks again. I’m glad that you’re out there!
I watched the video you linked to. The speaker argues that people who are sexually attracted to children are born that way. She does not argue that therefore pedophilia is okay. To the contrary, she says that it is wrong and justly punishable under the law because of its disastrous effects on the children so violated. Instead, she points out that the vast majority of child molestation occurs by heterosexual men. Therefore, we must distinguish between pedophilia (attraction to children) and sexual abuse (sexually violating a child). She goes on to point out that pedophiles, because they cannot admit to being pedophiles without being considered abusers, wind up leading lives of social isolation, which puts them at risk of acting out. None of this discussion seems to be the thin edge of any wedge. The title of the video is, to say the least, misleading.
You are correct, especially about the title. My only point is that the move to legitimize it has begun. The first step in legitimizing something previously unacceptable is to sanitize the language used, and to suggest that the desire in question is inborn.
Please do not take this response as being argumentative. I will say nothing more on the topic, mostly because it is not the main point of your argument, with which a largely agree. I respect that you have the training and experience to speak pastorally to these issues, and I don’t wish to be understood as questioning that.
My response is this. I have protestant friends who accuse us Orthodox of “sanitizing” sin by using a medical metaphor to understand our passions over a juridical one. And they have a point. A medical metaphor mitigates our tendency to resort to punitive judgment. It’s a more sanitary way of looking at sin.
The presenter is only asking us to be Orthodox (!) by using a sanitary rather than a juridical metaphor to understand pedophilia. Doing so, we would refuse to judge those who admit to such an orientation, knowing there is a distinction to be made between temptation and sin. If we make room for people to confess to such passions without judgment, and if we allow such people to be present and active in our communities, then they will have more strength to resist them. (I agree that this will require certain safeguards such as not allowing them to be alone with children, and full cooperation with the authorities should this person — or any other — be accused of sexually molesting a child.)
I agree it’s a tall order, but it’s nothing more than what we ask of our communities when we learn of each other’s sins and passions. And so I suggest we not use this presentation as an example of pushing the boundaries illegitimately.
I do take your point, and appreciate your irenic spirit. I do not disagree with you that much, but would offer a tiny clarification. By “sanitize” I did not mean using medical or therapeutic language rather than juridical. I meant using euphemisms instead of clear language. Thus, for example, in the abortion industry one does not speak of murdering babies in the womb, but of ending a pregnancy. I detect a similar kind of thing going on with the use of the term “minor attraction”; and the change of terminology is often the first step toward further changes. (I may add that I do not equate the sin of abortion with anyone’s interior desires; the sole point of comparison was the use of changed terminology.)
Great post Father. Thank you for having the courage to be one of the few public voices of sanity.
Hi Father Lawrence Farley,
I just read your article translated into french here:
Your article is extraordinarily well written. You have summarized the subject very clearly. Thank you so much.
Dany, catholic believer and french-canadian, leaving in ville de Québec.
If you have time and think it’s worth your while, Father, I would be interested in your review of this Orthodox book which just came to my attention today: Rev. Vasileios Thermos, “Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: Answers and … People” (2019). It’s being distributed by Sebastian Press. It’s 80 pages. I just ordered it (see link below). From the description: “Issues connected with sexual orientation and gender identity raise questions for traditional Christian attitudes (and not least Orthodox attitudes) to what it means to be human, for which Scripture and Tradition provide little guidance.” [End of description.] No doubt there are many specific nuances to these issues, but I could have sworn that Scripture and Tradition do indeed provide much guidance. I guess I’ll have to read the book to see what is meant. Thanks for your consideration.
The book looks interesting and I am a fan of Sebastian Press since they published my book on Genesis. I have ordered the book; thank you for the book recommendation.