The response to last Friday’s United States Supreme Court decision legalizing Same-Sex Marriage has ranged from whispers to shouts and cheers to moans, in places as varied as boardrooms, backrooms, church foyers and kitchen tables. While it is an unquestionably momentous decision, anyone who pays even passing attention to current events and societal trends, would have to conclude that it was entirely predictable. Whether one’s corresponding response is of celebration or concern, few are indifferent to the result—but no one should be surprised.
Yet the prevailing reaction of many people of faith seems to be one of shock because they didn’t see this headline coming, or at least not until the momentum behind the ‘inconceivable’ became ‘inevitable’. Some appear to be transfixed like deer in the headlights, with little urgency to move from the middle of the road to the safety of the verge because of resignation that there will be no tomorrow.
But the headlights have zoomed past, and everyone is still here. Tomorrow has arrived, in the form of today.
Even so, tomorrow’s headlines have yet to be written. How will they read?
It’ll be more of the same if people insist on refusing to engage or allowing themselves to be surprised by such things. By the time last Friday came, the same-sex marriage debate was no longer about sex and had very little to do with marriage. Rather it was anchored in a redefinition of human identity itself. In the new world order, it is the individual, not biology or God, who determines identity. We are now “selves” of an increasing number of varieties and we are decreasingly male or female in a biologically meaningful sense. One day soon people will cease to use “same-sex” as adjectives for marriage. Every marriage will be the same: Selves who take vows. Two selves. Perhaps even three selves or more.
Moreover, “selves” won’t be limited to human relationships. Professor Sherry Turkle from MIT has written of the question of marriage to a robot. Marriage with animals is tomorrow as well, because it is already today in some places.
Accordingly, tomorrow’s political headlines will be of two variants. One variant are headlines that announce the expansion of the rights of transgender people as well as those whose identity goes beyond gender. Transgender is the next civil rights movement. The second set of headlines will concern the issue of religious freedom for churches and religious institutions whose views on traditionally-accepted morality are deemed discriminatory to “selves.”
Tomorrow’s ecclesiastical headlines will be dedicated to churches and religious institutions that avoided the marriage and sexuality issues and are now faced with playing catch-up on the ‘LG’ portion of ‘LGBTQ’ issues. There is no easy way of addressing these issues, but to do so now with the question of whether the government will extend religious liberty to those whose traditional beliefs are seen as anathema to the ‘BTQ’ will be significantly more complex.
Millions of people of faith in America had effectively buried their heads in the sand even as yesterday’s headlines foretold the future with clarity. Now they find themselves in the unenviable position of playing catch-up. The temptation to either try to close oneself off from a rapidly changing world, or surrender to it just so we can all “get-along” is immense.
Yet given tomorrow’s headlines, where, if at all, does one draw the line? Or will the very idea that there are even lines of morality to be drawn be openly questioned? Is there a way forward? I believe there is and that it can be found in understanding the nature of the question posed by the headlines.
Plato wrote about such matters over 2,000 years ago. In his book, the Republic he writes of the eternal tension between being a good citizen and a good man. The definition of the good citizen is based on the “regime” (societal, political and cultural norms) under which one lives. The definition of the good man is based on the very essence of goodness sown into Nature. He points out that in every society there is tension between being the good citizen and the good man. As no society is fully good, there are always times where the regime asks the citizen to behave in a manner contrary to how a good man is to act. The better the regime the less tension, the more corrupt the regime the more tension. Accordingly, the one thing no regime can tolerate is the wholly righteous man. In Book 2 Plato writes that this man will be tortured and crucified by the corrupt (or not-so corrupt) regime.
In writing this some might infer that I am comparing the same-sex marriage movement with the corrupt regime. Not in the least. The same-sex marriage movement should be seen as a brilliant example of what can be done when one is willing to read tomorrow’s headlines in such a manner as to create them. Others might surmise I am “blaming” the Supreme Court for what has just transpired. They certainly bear responsibility but they could never have issued the ruling they did had the American “regime” not changed, profoundly.
In point of fact, like numerous others, I blame myself. I pride my ability to read tomorrow’s headlines. I am actually quite good at it. I saw this coming and despite my convictions and misgivings I held back from giving my best input. I have been given an education that made me aware of the tension between a society that is always deficient in goodness, and a God who demands allegiance to righteousness that is at odds with every regime. Yet, I decided to care more about what the “regime” thought of me and less about what I believe righteousness demands.
But yesterday is gone. Tomorrow’s headlines are being written and we are all being asked to play a role in their composition. Tomorrow demands that I live into what I profess to be true: That I need to care more about what it means to be a good man and less about what it means to be a good citizen.
Yesterday’s discussions were about sexual morality and marriage. Tomorrow’s discussions are about human identity and purpose. If anyone wishes to revisit yesterday’s discussions, the road goes through tomorrow’s discussions on identity.
So let’s begin. I believe the prevailing cultural notion of identity, as something each of us can only discover by looking within ourselves is logically flawed. I do not believe it is possible for any of us to understand who we are merely by looking within because none of us can know who we are without a reference point outside of ourselves. The question we face concerns not whether we require reference points outside of ourselves, but which ones. Teaching needs to include the examination of external reference points to help people avoid getting lost in the abyss of the self.
If I am right, then our regime is wrong. If the regime is wrong then the consequences for ourselves, our children and coming generations is enormous. If the regime is wrong then we are embarking on a course that is destined to fail by teaching something about identity we know not to be true: that the only way we can figure out who we are is to look exclusively within.
If this makes for uncomfortable reading, make no mistake that to engage the regime in this discussion may well lead to challenges we cannot yet imagine (the ‘crucifixion’ of which Plato spoke) Furthermore, I am under no illusion that we will easily agree on which reference points people should use to come to understand themselves. But the wellbeing of ourselves, our children, and approaching generations depends on such discussions being the focus of tomorrow’s headlines.