This is the 3rd post on the topic of ‘Why I was wrong about Gay Marriage: the New Sexual Ethic’.
In the first post, we briefly outlined the seismic shift that has taken place in western society over the last 20 years, in relation to sexuality (wrt homosexuality and gay marriage in particular).
In the second post, we put forward the view that the sexual revolution doesn’t merely reject Christian sexual morality, but rather replaces it with its own morality.
This third post will examine a number of the key principles of this New (replacement) Sexual Ethic.
And so let us begin.
I want you to imagine a guy named Dave.
Dave is a graphic designer.
And one day, a Christian uni student from a local university Christian student group rings Dave up, and asks if he’d put together some marketing material for the Christian group, to help promote Christianity on campus.
Now Dave is a strident Atheist, who, along with the New Atheists, such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and the late Chris Hitchen’s, believes that religion is an unequivical force for evil in this world.
And so Dave politely declines: it goes against his conscience to provide support of any kind to a religious group.
Of course, he’s more than happy to do work for individual religious people (e.g. designing invites to birthday parties of religious people etc): but he’s not comfortable supporting a religious cause.
Should Dave be punished for his rejection of this particular job request from the Christian group?
Now imagine a lady named Sue.
Sue runs her own event management company.
The local branch of the Fishers and Shooters political party wants to run an end of year function, celebrating their political wins throughout the year, which included opening up national parks to hunting.
But Sue is an animal rights activist.
And so she is profoundly opposed to any sort of animal killing.
Thus Sue politely declines this particular job: it goes against her conscience to provide this sort of support to this sort of political event, although she’s more than happy to do jobs for individual members of the Fishers and Shooters party, e.g. wedding catering. But she can’t in all conscience provide support for an event that celebrates something that she is morally opposed to.
Should Sue be punished for declining this particular job request?
Now imagine a man named Michael.
Michael runs his own photography business.
He’s photographed all sorts of people before, including gay and lesbian members of his community.
One day, a gay couple walk through the door, and ask Michael whether he might photograph their ‘committment ceremony’ (Gay marriage is illegal in Michael’s state).
Michael politely declines, and offers the number of another photographer who would gladly have their business.
You see, Michael is a devout Muslim.
And according to his (religiously informed) conscience, he can’t support an event which he disagrees with (i.e. the gay committment ceremony).
Should Michael be punished for declining this particular job request?
Let’s think about it:
All three of these business owners had requests for work, namely particular events that they were asked to support.
All three events were entirely legal, and were supported by many everyday people in their respective communities.
All three business owners had conscientious objections to the particular events that they were asked to support.
And I would give my right arm to say that as little as even 5 years ago, an overwhelming majority of people would have supported all three business owner’s rights to conscientiously object, by not taking on these particular jobs.
Five years ago, if I’m not mistaken, the majority of the western Judicial system (in the English speaking world, at any rate) would have defended all three of the business owner’s right to freedom of conscience (i.e. to refuse work that violated their individual consciences).
However, today, only business owners rejecting the first two types of jobs are allowed to object: the business owner rejecting work relating to a gay commitment ceremony/wedding is not allowed to object.
In fact, in the USA, many a business owner in Michael’s position (including wedding cake bakers, florists, and wedding photographers) have already been taken to court by gay couples.
And found guilty of unfair discrimination.
Why is that?
Why the sudden change in what constitutes conscientious objection (and yes, it has been a very sudden change)?
Well, it has to do with the first tenant of the New Sexual Ethic.
Namely, the radical change that has taken place in what it means to be human.
Sexual identity is human identity.
Historically speaking, in the western world, Christianity has had an enormous influence in shaping the understanding of what it meant to be ‘human’. In the Christian understanding of humanity, human beings are made in the image of God (i.e. we’re not just animals); human beings have inalienable, pre-political rights (i.e. human governments don’t GIVE rights: they merely RECOGNISE those [God-given] rights – see for example, the US Declaration of Independance); and human beings are either male or female.
As the influence of Christianity has waned, and is waning, in many western societies, so too is the Christian understanding of what it means to be human.
And so here’s the key:
As the Christian understanding of what it means to be human recedes from western society’s consciousness, a new understanding of humanity is replacing the Christian understanding.
Speaking specifically of the gay rights revolution, American author Rod Dreher argues that this radical shift in our understanding of humanity is the key reason why we’re living through such an unprecedented sexual revolution:
‘The struggle for the rights of [the Gay community] would not have succeeded if the old Christian cosmology had held: put bluntly, the gay rights cause has succeeded precisely because the Christian cosmology has dissipated in the mind of the West.’
A new understanding of what it means to be human has under-girded, and supported the sexual revolution that we are living through.
Without such a (radically) different understanding of humanity, the sexual revolution that we’re living through could not have happened. So for example, gay marriage has come so far, only because society’s understanding of what it means to be human has undergone (and is undergoing) a massive shift.
Now prior to this radical shift in what is core to human identity, a person’s identity was bound up with a number of different factors: their religion, nationality, job, and so on.
But sexuality was never part of this equation: who you preferred to sex with was never what defined you.
It was never the most important part of your identity.
But now, your sexual orientation is core to who you are.
It’s the most important part of your identity.
It’s the most important part of your humanity.
And if it’s the most important part of your humanity, then another very important implication follows:
Sexual Freedom is the First Freedom.
If our sexual desires are core to who we are, then the most important freedom we can have is the freedom to express those sexual desires, however we please…as long as it doesn’t (seem to) hurt anyone else, and as long as it’s consensual.
As Alistair Roberts writes in his article ‘Five principles of the New Sexuality’,
‘‘…[O]ur sexuality is a subjective sense and intrinsic to our self-identity. Provided no harm is caused to others, we have a duty of care for ourselves to realize and express our desired sexual identities, even when this may involve measures such as sexual reassignment surgery. As members of a society, we also have a duty to ensure the sexual identities of our neighbors are affirmed and supported.’ [Emphasis added].
Rod Dreher writes:
‘In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and good—the more of it, the better—and that sexual desire was intrinsic to one’s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern [Westerner] claims his freedom.’ [Emphasis added].
Or to summarise this in less technical language, the New Sexual Ethic is as follows:
You are fundamentally a Sexual Being, who should be free to do whatever turns you on, as long as no-body gets hurt, and as long as it’s consensual.
That’s the New Sexual Ethic, in a nutshell.
And it’s a MASSIVE shift.
Whereas sex used to be seen as having a specific purpose, and was to be restricted and channeled only toward that purpose (i.e. used only within marriage, for the building of the relationship between husband and wife, and procreation), it is now free from any such ‘restriction’.
Whereas modern Western societies used to prize freedoms such as freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of association (e.g. as codified in the US Constitution’s First Amendment), this is rapidly no longer the case.
Sexual freedom has become more important than any other freedom: where sexual freedom collides with another freedom, sexual freedom always wins.
Sexual freedom has become more important than freedom of religion (e.g. the wedding photographers/florists/bakers who were penalised for not supporting a gay wedding).
It’s become more important than freedom of conscience (e.g. when Mozilla CEO Brendan Eich being forced to step down from CEO from Mozilla when it became known that he believed in traditional marriage).
It’s become more important than freedom of speech (e.g. the threats made against Chick-Fil-A restaurant, after the President of the company made public statements supportive of traditional marriage).
And it’s become more important than freedom of association (e.g. University Christian groups in America being told that they have to open up their leadership positions to those who practice sex outside of a heterosexual marriage, or be kicked off campus).
Society has undergone a massive shift: it’s hard to overstate the change that we’ve gone through.
Much of what we take to be normal today, sexually and politically speaking, would have been unthinkable 100 years ago.
But we need not look back 100 years: most of the shift is so rapid, that much of what we take to be normal today would have been unthinkable as little as 5-10 years ago.
But this just goes to show the speed of the moral revolution that we’re living through.
And what propelled this moral/sexual revolution, arguably more than anything else, was the (rapid) redefinition of what it means to be a human being.
This redefinition explains the massive speed of the moral change we’re living though.
However, if you redefine what it means to be human, then it’s not just marriage that’s up for grabs: other things will also be up for redefinition.
And we don’t have to wait and see what those ‘other things’ will be.
The next stage of the revolution has already arrived:
Namely, the Transgender revolution.
And to that we’ll be turning to next.