The ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker to strike down Proposition 8 raises a host of issues that go far beyond the California case. Especially troubling is Walker’s view of gender. His ruling makes the sweeping assertion that “gender no longer forms an essential part of marriage.”
This declaration is being quoted in astonishment for its sheer breathtaking exaggeration. Yet it reveals a pivotal element in the liberal view of human sexuality.
Liberal ethics is based on a fragmented view of the human being that pits biology against choice. Its roots go back to the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who proposed that the body is a machine controlled by a completely separate thing called the mind. The ghost in the machine.
As philosopher Daniel Dennett explains, “Since Descartes in the 17th century we have had a vision of the self as a sort of immaterial ghost that owns and controls a body the way you own and control your car.” In other words, the body is no longer regarded as an integral part of the human person but as sub-personal, functioning strictly on the level of biology and chemistry – almost like a possession that can be used to serve the self’s desires.
This is the philosophy that underlies arguments for same-sex “marriage.” The assumption is that our bodies have nothing to do with our identity as persons. And that, therefore, anatomy can be overridden by sheer self-expressive choice.
The denigration of physical anatomy does not stop with same-sex “marriage.” The cutting edge issue today is transgenderism, a movement that rejects the distinction between male and female itself as a mere social construction – and an oppressive one at that.
According to the New York Times, several universities now offer separate bathrooms, housing and sports teams for transgender students who do not identify themselves as either male or female. Some schools no longer require students to check male or female on their health forms. Instead, they are asked to “describe your gender identity history.”‘ In other words: Which genders have you been over the course of your lifetime?
Gender has become a postmodern concept – fluid, free-floating, completely detached from physical anatomy.
Several states have already passed laws mandating that schools and workplaces accommodate transgenders, and supporters are pushing hard for the same laws at the national level. In 2007, California passed a law requiring schools to permit transgender students to use the restroom or locker room of their preferred gender, regardless of their anatomical sex. The new law redefines sex as socially constructed gender: “Gender means sex and includes a person’s gender identity and gender related appearance and behavior whether or not stereotypically associated with the person’s assigned sex at birth.”
Note the assumption that your sex is “assigned” to you, as though it were purely arbitrary instead of an anatomical fact. The law is being used to impose a secular liberal worldview that dismisses physical anatomy as insignificant, inconsequential and completely irrelevant to gender identity.
As I show in “Saving Leonardo,” this represents a devastatingly disrespectful view of the physical body. It alienates people from their own bodies, treating anatomy as having no intrinsic dignity. No dignity is accorded to the unique capabilities inherent in being male or female.
Ironically, Christians are often dismissed as prudes and Puritans because of their “repressive” sexual morality – and yet the Christian worldview actually affirms a much higher view of the body than the liberal, utilitarian view. It offers the radically positive affirmation that the material world was created by God, that it will ultimately be made whole by God and that God was actually incarnated (made flesh) in a human body.
In the ancient world, these claims were so astonishing that the Gnostics rejected them, and tried to turn Jesus into an avatar who only appeared to have a human body. They could not accept the idea of a Creator who celebrates our material, biological, sexual nature.
Today’s liberal elites such as Judge Walker may pose as enlightened liberators, but in fact they are secular Gnostics, treating physical anatomy as having no intrinsic dignity or purpose. In an unexpected twist of history, it is once again Christians who are defending a high and holistic view of the human person.
Best-selling writer and speaker, Nancy Pearcey, editor at large of the Pearcey Report, is author of “Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals, & Meaning,” which launches Sept. 1.