The Revolution Devours All

Andrew Sullivan - by Trey Ratcliff, Flickr
Andrew Sullivan

Rod Dreher, “The Revolution Devours All” (The American Conservative):

“It’s inimical to me that any religious entity or organization should be compelled by government to compromise any jot or tittle of their doctrine,” Andrew [Sullivan] said.

Addressing [Gordon College President] Lindsay’s case, he said, “Any personal hurt that he experienced, I want to ask his forgiveness for. It really hurts me that people would demonize, stigmatize, and attack people for their religious faith, whatever it is. I think the Gordon College thing is a clear step beyond anything we have seen before.”

Rod Dreher, “Biopolitical Tyranny and the Nominalist Family” (The American Conservative):

In order to justify biotech reproduction outside the womb, in order to justify surrogacy, and in order to justify same-sex marriage, that natural connection [between biology and parenthood] had to be denied. It is the nominalist position: there is nothing natural inherent in the structure of nature; it’s only matter, upon which we can impose our will.

Jeff Shafer, “How Same-Sex Marriage Makes Orphans of Us All” (The Federalist):

There is a biotechnical revolution upon us that treats children as products to manufacture. In the United States and around the “civilized” world, individuals flip through catalogues or search online to purchase sperm and eggs from (usually anonymous) donors whose genetic characteristics they find appealing. These shoppers then hire lab technicians to create embryos for implanting in a womb, often of a leased surrogate, for purchaser retrieval after gestation completes.

Thereby do these people manipulate children into existence in a manner divorced from marital love, in which adults intend to deprive them of relationship with or knowledge of at least one, and perhaps both, of their biological parents, as well as their extended kin.

This practice of human reproduction without relationship, of reproduction arranged by commercial transaction with service providers, graphically instantiates the precepts of same-sex marriage ideology. By eliminating the husband-wife marital norm, that ideology sunders even the conceptual connection of the marital union and fertility.

Joe Carter, “How the Federal Government May Put Christian Schools Out of Business” (Acton Institute):

This threat is more radical than many people realize. It’s not merely that Christian schools will have to choose between accepting federal funds and keeping their religious views about sexuality. If the choice were to follow the example of schools like Hillsdale College or New Saint Andrews College and forego taking any federal money, the decisions about what to do would be painful, but obvious.

But what is being proposed is to revoke non-profit status, a move that would destroy many schools. According to the IRS, if an organization’s tax-exempt status is revoked it is no longer exempt from federal income tax and is not eligible to receive tax-deductible contributions. As Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Seminary, notes, “The loss of tax-exempt status would put countless churches and religious institutions out of business, simply because the burden of property taxes and loss of charitable support would cripple their ability to sustain their mission.”

Roger Scruton, “On Philosophy, Music & Death” (The European Conservative):

Given the constant threat of terrorism with which we now live, do you believe we are facing a cultural war? Is Samuel Huntington’s thesis that the world is divided into several civilisations based on religious ideals that can be fault lines for conflict still valid for the 21st century?

Scruton: There is certainly some kind of clash of civilisations occurring. However, Islam seems to have forgotten its civilisation, and it is rare now to meet a Muslim who has ever heard of enlightened Islamic scholars like Ibn Sinna, or Rumi, or Hafiz, or who is even aware that a great civilisation once existed, built upon the revelation of the Koran. Western civilisation, too, is losing the memory of its religious inheritance. I am reminded of Matthew Arnold’s “On Dover Beach” in which he expresses his fear for a future in which “ignorant armies clash by night”. So yes, there is a clash—not of two civilisations but of two competing forms of stupidity: one given to violence and the other to self-indulgence.

[emphasis mine]


Image: Andrew Sullivan portrait by Trey Ratcliff (Flickr)


  1. Interesting, Kevin, but polarized and polarizing in a messy time.

    Surely the elephant in the room is that Christians have the same Torah as the Jews but have generally had a far thinner ethic of procreation and family, and that marriage-as-romance has been accepted in the churches most Americans know for at least the past few generations. Weddings have long featured fashionable signs of the love between the bride and the groom, and rarely include profound meditations on the implications of Genesis 1:28. Even now, many religious opponents of same sex ‘marriage’ do not assert plainly that marriage is about procreation, but rather equivocate that marriage is ‘between a man and a woman,’ as though the essence of marriage both is and is not Hollywood romance.

    No, religious institutions are not going to win battles that pastors have been losing to strong-willed mothers of brides since time out of mind. Given the folk tradition actually on the ground, it is not at all surprising that the mass discovery of gay romance should lead masses who believe in romantic marriage to mass belief in gay marriage. Nor is it surprising that theological criticisms of gay marriage sound so alien to many ordinary folk that, to them, they are less plausible as expressions of faith than as cloaks for bigotry. That the better-instructed are indignant at this scant regard for learning is understandable, just as it is when clergy complain of brides who write inane promises, insist on silly show tunes, or demand to be wed with holy communion at the 18th hole. The brides now insist on choosing the sex of the groom too? Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

    To be clear, churches should retrieve the procreation-centered ethic that your sources prefer. Perhaps the parting of the civil and the ecclesiastical ways of marriage will open the way to a new pattern of discipleship in the churches. But the popular understanding of marriage has not suddenly changed. Rather, that view failed to change as Americans lost their disgust at same sex couples.

    • Yes, I agree. Marriage was already redefined in the West, probably beginning with 19th century Romanticism and culminating with the sexual revolution of the 1950’s-70’s. That is why gay “marriage” has been so swift and sweeping. Gay marriage is an icon for long-established heterosexual norms and behavior in the affluent West, which is why millennials especially see it as a cause that involves their own identity, not just homosexuals.

      I read JP2’s Love and Responsibility and TOB about ten years ago, and that is when I first realized how pathetic our evangelical theology is, by comparison, on matters of sexual ethics and social philosophy. As a result, our spiritual resources are incredibly thin, in order to foster spiritual community, chastity, ascesis and discipleship. The good news, however, is that evangelicals are finally coming around, admitting its idolization of marriage and the consequent second-class status of singles, especially past the age of 30. I could go on, but you’ve already identified the problem.

  2. My thoughts on this are pretty jumbled, so I’ll just make a rambling over-long list.

    1. I have been (and still am) ambivalent about to what extent Christian ideals of marriage and sexuality should be enshrined in a secularized society. Even granting the validity of natural law arguments about the family, I still don’t quite know which way I’d vote if gay marriage were on a referendum.

    2. Still, I have to admit that some of what social conservatives predicted is starting to come true. The Memories Pizza thing was pretty crazy. The church is going to keep becoming more and more of an alien society over this, which is neither entirely bad nor especially good. The progressive mainline churches will mostly be ignored altogether, besides gaining a few disaffected evangelicals (I have a good friend who went that way), but not that many.

    3. All that said, I’m still not sure how this religious freedom stuff will work out legally. The upper courts often rule in religious groups’ favor, even when it’s Westboro Baptist Church. Generally, I think social pressure on traditional groups is likely to be stronger than legal sanction. At least in the short term, internet social justice mobs will be firing a lot more shots than the justice department.

    4. To be honest, I find Rod Dreher’s perpetual sky-is-falling tone exasperating and I think his “Benedict Option” has some big issues.

    5. Now, on the “biopolitical tyranny” part, which I am more definite on than the rest. I have been reading Christian Bieber Lake’s (English prof at Wheaton) book Prophets of the Posthuman. It’s a semi-theological critique of the assumptions behind the biotechnological movement that draws heavily on a variety of American fiction authors ranging from Flannery to dystopian sci-fi. More broadly than that particular focus, it’s an attack on modern views of the person in general and what technology in general can do to us. A very interesting, creative, and powerful book. You would probably enjoy it. Here’s an interview, which is where I heard about it:
    [audio src="" /]
    With that said, the biotech revolution of course did not start with gay marriage.

    6. Isn’t western society more violent than that Scruton quote implies? Without minimizing the evil of ISIS, Boko Haram, et al, it wasn’t Muslims who invented nuclear weapons and napalm. We have been in perpetual warfare for almost the whole 2000s, and maybe longer depending on how you count it. Not to mention mass incarceration, police brutality, and of course abortion.

    • Maybe I sounded harder on Dreher than I mean to be. I think his magazine does some good stuff, but I wish he would relax once in a while.

    • Thanks, Joel, there are some good thoughts here.

      RE 1 & 2: A few years ago, I was inclined toward a libertarian position on marriage and the state, as was my pastor and other conservative friends. However, I am increasingly thinking that we were naive. And we certainly did not see the fallout in terms of religious liberties, even though the writing was on the wall when the gender revolution became synonymous with civil rights. Clearly, our conception of tolerance and coexistence is not the same as those who spew vitriol (and litigate) against Christian-owned small businesses — or, in the case of Brendan Eich, against senior leadership in big corporations.

      RE 3: Yes, social pressure will be greater, as it already is, than legal sanction. I’ve seen plenty of this already, and the congregants at our church (many of whom are business and medical professionals) have their own stories to tell. This is, in fact, becoming a pastoral counseling situation. The social pressure may, depending on its success, minimize juridical intervention, but I do wonder. Most liberals are statists to the core, even if their rhetoric prioritizes the individual over the state.

      RE 4: Sure, Dreher could use a little Barthian optimism. But that’s why I need some alarmism every now and then — to avoid quietism and isolation.

      RE 5: Thanks for the Lake recommendation. I’ve added the book to my Amazon list.

      With that said, the biotech revolution of course did not start with gay marriage.

      Yes, but the redefinition of the human person is what has led us to gay marriage. The technological and utilitarian aspect of postmodern individuality would make an interesting supplement to my comments to Bowman (above) about how the heterosexual redefinition of marriage both preceded and anticipated gay marriage.

      RE 6: I’m glad someone recognized this potential weakness in Scruton’s comment. I actually hesitated posting it for that reason, and that is why I put it last. But, I think Scruton is speaking entirely from within his perspective as a 21st century Western European, where idle decadence reigns and a warmongering spirit a thing of the past (albeit near past). America, however, is obviously too keen on engaging militarily. Anyway, Scruton is using broad brushstrokes in order to make a witty remark. Sometimes we need that.

  3. On the question of marriage:

    I think that biblical marriage is the union of this man and this woman, a particular covenant between others. Having said this, Kevin, what do you want governmental authority to do?

    I think we need to take a deep breath. What did Christians, especially in the heart of Rome, when Hadrian dotted his empire with his idols of his dead boyfriend, or when Elgabalus “became a woman” and wrote love letters to his charioteer husband? Or Tiberius with his pervert island?

    We need eschatological fervor, but also patience. Nominalism, as any Pagan philosophy, will not threaten the world. I’m not concern about getting in the way of the legalization of homosexual marriage. It’ll collapse under its own weight of insanity.

    Instead, the Church needs to judge itself and how fast it has drunk from the waters of this perverted sexuality. We tend to think that since people are monogamous or heterosexual, we’ve some level of stability or sanity. But such is a fool’s relief. Divorce is rampant, non-marital sex is out of control. Having been suckered into the modern imagination, of a sex that is disembodied, fantastical, non-covenantal, I am guilty all the same. I’ve been lured to non-marital sex by the pornographic mind of modern advertisement and fiction.

    Marriage itself, I think, has become an antiquated and quaint institution, engaged by those who enjoy the rituals, the pomp and circumstance, and the party. The vestiges of the “this is what you’re supposed to do” are vanishing. People do not marry. By the time the homosexual marriage question is answered, probably in the affirmative, I guarantee there will be puzzled social statisticians over the lack of luster. 20 years after, homosexuals will marry in the smallish percentile that heterosexuals do.

    The Neo-Imperialism of America is bound to collapse under its own insanity and inability to balance. These social questions will be buried in the dirt when geo-political restructuring happens. The Nations come and go, evil as they are, and God has a bit in all their mouths. Thank God that His providence is so good and strange.

    some thoughts,

    • The problem is that the state has become the moral educator of the populace, as our secularists demand of the state, which also requires the enforcement of the same. Thus, we have the apparent inability of the state to simultaneously allow for gay marriage and protect the liberties of those who refuse to validate or participate in this nouveau arrangement of the species. I have libertarian tendencies on these matters, but the left is not libertarian…far from it. They have nothing else to believe in than the state. That’s the problem. However, a strong criticism of the libertarian position comes from the effect on the children produced for the sake of these arrangements and whether the state should prevent this. The intentional “production” of a human who will not know one or both of his or her parents, for the sake of a set of consumers, is horrific. From what I understand, this was at the heart of the French protests against gay marriage.

      Yes, the church has to judge itself. I really like your thoughts here, and I think they complement my response to Bowman above about marriage already having been redefined by heterosexuals. We are all culpable here.

      And, yes, I highly doubt that gay marriage will retain its popularity among homosexuals for long, as well as the general population. It is a fairly recent aspect of the gay liberation movement, which originally saw itself as subverting marriage altogether. But once the social/political gains were perceived, the movement switched gears and embraced marriage, even though (statistically) it appears that monogamy is rather loosely applied in these unions. The overall consequence for marriage can already be seen in a place like Sweden, where 47% of households are inhabited by one person, with Norway at 40%. Those are astonishing numbers.

  4. I may vow to be silent on This Topic so long as it is bound up with the Second Civil War. This polarization is as destructive to the Body of Christ as the Wrong Opinion(s) on sex. Why contribute to that? And meanwhile, the peaceful if countercultural Right Opinion lacks calm, effective advocacy. If we say the rare right thing and say it well, lives can change for the better.

  5. Michael B Dougherty (one of the few political pundits I enjoy reading) has a good take on the new “child industry”

    There is the very real possibility of accidental incest and consanguineous marriage…Some donor children are allowed at least to know the “donor number” to prevent accidentally sleeping with one of their scores of half-siblings.

    Any time I’m tempted to think that this possibility is too remote to worry about, I recall that one of my own half-siblings, born on another continent, now works in the exact same industry as I do, in a building just a short walk from the offices of The Week. If we were deprived the knowledge of one another as siblings, the chances of meeting as strangers are intolerably higher than zero.

    And I’m the only illegitimate child out there. Imagine a hundred more.

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