Anthony Esolen: In our sex-crazed culture, it is almost impossible to see the girl who is not tempted – who has determined to obey the moral law. She finds no help anywhere.
David French – the famous political commentator and prominent legal defender of religious liberty – has been wringing his hands, trying to explain to himself and to his fellow Evangelicals why he has flipped on what is called same-sex “marriage.” He worries that the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, establishing a federal right to something that makes neither biological nor anthropological sense, has become settled law. And people have based their lives on it, making decisions that should not be undermined by – as I would put it – any new and surprising surge of judicial humility and honesty by the current Court.
That’s the same justification that Sandra Day O’Connor used to drag her feet on abortion. That, too, was an act of judicial hubris, and it had woven itself into the expectations of young American men and women, who depended upon it as a fail-safe for their lives of pleasure-seeking, material ambition, or boredom.
And it acted as a false teacher, imparting the lesson that our bodies are our own to dispense with as we please, so that in this most important regard – ineradicable from any society’s most fundamental concern, how to replace itself with children – we reverse the wisdom of the poet and claim to be islands unto ourselves.
So it is precisely because the law is a teacher, and precisely because of its wide variety of social implications, that I oppose the Obergefell decision. I do not want the mad, cruel, confused, and lonely society that a fundamental denial of the reality of marriage must produce.
Or I may put it this way. Such a society or anti-society has already been produced by our large-scale abrogation of the moral laws that promote and protect marriage, family life, and the innocence of children. And now that it has been enshrined in constitutional law, it’s been made nearly impossible to reverse, and has been considerably worsened by claiming the unnatural is natural, with additional implications e.g., for genetic engineering and the manufacture of children.
When I wrote Defending Marriage: Twelve Arguments for Sanity, I was if anything not pessimistic enough in my predictions. I said that the recognition of homosexual mock marriage would visit a crisis of confusion upon children, especially those whom our prior sins – divorce, fatherlessness – had already rendered vulnerable.
I did not foresee that so many would long to mutilate themselves, loathing their own bodies and their sex, and that a burgeoning industry would arise to meet and to stoke the demand.
I said, and many other people said the same, that the Obergefell decision left us with no rational basis for limiting marriage to two people, and sure enough, “polyamory” is before everyone’s eyes, and “open marriage” has surged up out of the pit of man’s lusts, with a vengeance.
I said that, since so much of the real impetus behind the unnatural is that it is unnatural, or, as they call it, transgressive, we would be removing a guardrail against behavior still more unnatural, and sure enough, we now have drag queens reading sex-and-identity stories to little children, with librarians and schoolteachers smiling along.
I did not predict the wholesale madness of turning pronouns into personal markers, or that people would be punished for not getting them right, or that divorced parents would end up fighting over whether their sons and daughters would get to be neutered, with the sane and truly loving parent threatened with loss of custody if he or she will not comply.
So much of sympathy depends upon where you happen to be looking. That is why people responsible for the common good must take a long and comprehensive view, and permit their sympathies to reach people whom they cannot see, who may not even have been born yet, or who do not seem – do not seem – to be involved in the controversy.
It is easy to see the girl who has tipped over the edge into the unnatural, walking hand-in-hand with the friend whom she thereby designates as sometimes sharing her bed. It is a lot harder to see the girl who is trying to resist the same temptation, but who finds acceptance and even celebration just a nod of the will away.
It is almost impossible to see the girl who is not so tempted, but who has determined to obey the moral law, and finds no help anywhere, no encouragement, no understanding, and, alas, almost no prospects for marriage and family life.
I’ve long said that the most unpitied person in our world is a lonely teenage boy who doesn’t have the advantage of being on a sports team, who may not have a brother or even a father in the home, who wants to make friends and doesn’t know how, and whom the girls ignore or despise.
In a healthy society, he could still make his way. Nobody would allege anything about him, except that he was quiet. He could ask a girl to a dance, because that’s the sort of thing you do, and there would be no ponderous meaning to it. He would be relieved of much of the pressure of having to prove himself, right here and now.
But that relief is gone, and the pressure has been increased, unbearably, and there are almost no opportunities for normal and gradual growth. What does he do? Where is he even supposed to begin, when everything around him is saturated in a cold, selfish lust?
I don’t half blame David French for not thinking of these things, because almost nobody thinks about them now. Everybody thinks instead about their colleagues at work, how friendly they are, and how you don’t want to hurt their feelings or cause them trouble.
White-collar sympathy for white-collar adults; but what about the marriages never formed in the first place? What about the messed-up children? What rough beast that might still appall French has already slouched in our midst, though we do not want to glance that way?
You may also enjoy some of our most popular columns from the last dozen years:
Fr. Jerry J. Pokorsky’s Who Is the Woman Caught in Adultery?
Fr. Thomas G. Weinandy’s Gnosticism Today
Anthony Esolen is a lecturer, translator, and writer. Among his books are Out of the Ashes: Rebuilding American Culture, and Nostalgia: Going Home in a Homeless World, and most recently The Hundredfold: Songs for the Lord. He is a professor and writer in residence at Magdalen College of the Liberal Arts, in Warner, New Hampshire. Be sure to visit his new website, Word and Song.
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