In the 1960s it was common to hear American civil rights leaders appeal to natural justice and natural law in defense of the extension of civil rights to oppressed peoples, namely African Americans. Those arguments were compelling to Americans because they are fundamental to the nature of the country. Our founding documents, after all, appeal to “self-evident” truths among which is the truth that “all men,” including African Americans, “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Martin Luther King and others brilliantly prosecuted a America for her crimes against natural justice.
Since the heyday of the civil rights movement, many (but not all) of those whose voices that resonated so strongly with appeals to natural justice, in favor of liberation, have been quite resistant to the appeal to the same natural justice when it also dictates restraint.
In the 16th century Calvin had a word for the Genevan party who resisted moral restrictions of any kind: Libertines. For them freedom from restraint was paramount. Absolute freedom from restraint, however, doesn’t produce more freedom. The French Revolution (about which virtually everyone seems to have forgotten) did not actually produce genuine freedom but rather it produced terror and tyranny. In this regard R. R. Reno has another helpful, thoughtful essay today in First Thingsexploring the “glaring moral failure” of Higher Education, namely the development of a “culture of intimidation” of those who dissent from the late modern consensus among ruling elites on homosexuality. Apparently liberalism only goes so far.
So why were appeals to natural law so compelling in the 60s but less so now? The arguments in favor of liberation had a strong likelihood of succeeding because they fit a larger pattern of the elimination of restrictions on social mobility, a pattern that had been developing since the early 19th century. That same radical, egalitarian, libertine spirit also resists restrictions. In other words, the sympathy for natural law arguments among certain classes of social elites has been superficial, self-serving, and transient. Apparently they weren’t actually committed to natural justice as such but rather to liberation from all restraint. The coincidence of racial liberation with natural law (the founders were right but inconsistent with their own theory in their practice of chattel slavery) was just that. The righteous racial liberation of the 60s became unrighteous sexual liberation in the 70s. It began with heterosexual liberation from monogamy and marriage. According to Jesus, the creational order is one man and one woman. The libertine order is: one man and as many women as possible without the bonds of marriage. The Libertines pushed for no-fault divorce to facilitate sexual liberation. Creation pushed back with a panoply social ills (the virtual destruction of the stable, two-parent, heterosexual, nuclear family, a fearsome rise in the number and quality of STDs (the very fact that everyone knows what an STD is should tell us something) and even HIV but the Libertines will brook no restraint of their libidos.
Recently, I had an interesting dinner conversation, with a psychotherapist from San Francisco. He recounted the development of his thinking about homosexuality. It wasn’t very long ago that it was widely held in his profession that same-sex attraction or behavior was a disorder. It was listed as a as such in standard references. There was real evidence that it is a disorder. The association between sexual abuse, emotional abuse, alcoholism, and homosexuality aren’t negligible. Now, however, despite the fact of those associations and relationships, because of the social and cultural influence of the libertines, who have made it shameful to describe virtually any behavior as shameful, it is politically incorrect (read that expression as if we were spoken in Moscow in the 1950s) to speak what was a standard view not long ago. Did the evidence actually change? This psychotherapist argued that social acceptance of homosexuality had actually reduced the external pressures on homosexuals making them less repressed and allowing them to become better adjusted. Perhaps, but does that change the evidence? No. Just because libertine elites have succeeded in intimidating us into no longer saying what we know to be true doesn’t mean that the truth is not the truth. Just because we’ve decided that a dangerous and aberrant behavior pattern is now socially acceptable doesn’t change whether it is fundamentally contrary to the nature of creation.
Our dinner partner described stable, happy, monogamous homosexual couples as if they were the norm. Are they really? That’s not what Camille Paglia thinks. She wrote a scathing critique of the attempt by the PCUSA, in their report on sexuality, to sanitize and normalize homosexuality. Paglia is much more honest about the matter than most elites. She says the point, and for her, the thrill of sexual deviance is that it is deviant and unacceptable. See “The Joy of Presbyterian Sex” in Sex, Art, and American Culture (London: Viking, 1992). The last report I saw is that random, unprotected, bath-house sex was on the rise again in homosexual neighborhoods, despite the dangers, because post-boomer homosexuals had adopted a fatalist approach to the risks associated with sodomy with random strangers. It seems to be the case that well-meaning, guilt ridden elites have written a narrative about happy, stable, monogamous homosexuals that has relatively few actual actors.
What I’m about to say will seem alarmist to some and outrageous to others but I persist. Brace yourself. If frank talk about sin makes you queasy take this exit now. [3…2..1. You’ve been warned.] If elite libertines may dictate that same-sex behavior is now acceptable and that same-sex marriages must be tolerated in the name of freedom (absence of restraint) what else will we be required socially to accept? Presently pedophilia is considered taboo principally because a child cannot consent. What, however, if consent is redefined? How unreasonable is it to think that consent will be redefined? What about bestiality? If the highest good is now the absence of restraint (and its corollary, “self realization” or “self expression” or “self fulfillment”) then why not? To what degree does the consent of an animal matter? What if it is decided that animals do consent? Why not? It’s a possibility (Ex 22:19; Lev 20:15). Within the current framework, within which the sexual liberation agenda is being worked out, on what fixed grounds can these developments be resisted? If rules are regarded not as fixed in the nature of things (because there is no “nature of things”) but rather as manifestations of an arbitrary will to power then who is to say?
The truth is that human everywhere knows naturally, by virtue of being human, by virtue of being created in imago Dei, that there are fixed moral norms. Moreover, every humans knows what those fixed moral norms are (love God and love neighbor). Those norms are inscribed on the conscience of every human (Romans 1-2). Yes, humans, particularly late modern humans, are busily trying to suppress the knowledge of those norms (and of the God who revealed them) but they can no more be finally resisted than an inflated beach ball can remain submerged. Try as we may the beach ball finally slips away from our wet hands and it pops to the surface. So it is with heterosexual and homosexual libertinism. We know what the truth is. We know what reality is but we seem especially hell bent right now to deny what we all know to be true in the service of a perverse, radical, French-Revolutionary resistance to all norms, even creation. It cannot last and if it does any society that so indulges itself cannot last.
However great the social cost of libertinism, its spiritual and personal costs are even greater. The eschatology of libertinism is empty. There’s nothing there. The thrill of random sex and re-creating the nuclear family outside of natural boundaries is intoxicating but what happens the morning after? What’s next after the thrill fades? To what does one turn for the next excitement? The good news is that there is, grace is for sinners of all kinds, homosexual and heterosexual libertines alike. Jesus obeyed and died for libertines. Acceptance with God is free. All libertines of all sorts need do is admit their brokenness, their sin and sinfulness, and need of a Savior. Jesus has always accepted the broken, the dirty, and the needy. The law doesn’t really change but neither does grace. In the end we rely on that fixity, that stability don’t we? As a culture we may be sitting on our Father’s lap slapping him and he may indulge us for a time, but an end will come. Reckon now with reality, including the reality and necessity sin and salvation. It’s the only way out of the dreadful libertine spiral and the only safety from the wrath to come.
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