Thursday, July 2, 2015

The Definition of Insanity

Last Friday I posted a chapter from my book called The State of Union, but that was written three years ago. I feel like I need to write some more on the topic, although I still stand by what I wrote then. The simple fact then, as now, is that gay marriage is a political reality in the United States. We cannot change that in a short time, just as we couldn't change abortion in a short amount of time. The pro-life position has slowly but inexorably gained ground in the forty years since Roe v. Wade, but it took forty years to get to where we are, and where we are is probably somewhere about halfway to where we need to be. In my book I predicted we would win on abortion and lose on gay marriage, both for the same reason.

Our culture has adopted a moral system based on empathy and feelings rather than on God. That means anything which makes anybody feel bad is wrong, while anything which makes us feel good is right. The rhetorical options available to the pro-life position are very favorable under those terms, while those available to the gay rights movement are also very favorable under the same terms. The political argument against abortion almost writes itself. We are killing innocent, defenseless babies. Regardless of the rational or evidential content of the argument, the emotional thrust is very powerful. Likewise, the gay rights movement rhetoric revolves around discrimination and equality. Especially potent is the comparison to slavery. Again, regardless of the rational or evidential content, the emotional momentum is with them. It is difficult to make an effective emotional argument in favor of abortion, just as it is difficult to make an emotional argument against allowing people to get married. Killing babies makes us feel bad. So does telling people they can't "love" each other. Abortion restrictions and gay rights are both the inevitable policy outcomes of our current moral climate.

If we are dissatisfied with that outcome, it would be behoove us to examine the moral climate itself, and ponder how to change it. That is the real issue, not gay marriage, not abortion, nor anything else. If we are going to spend another forty years fighting abortion and another century fighting gay marriage, perhaps we might consider spending all that time and effort fighting to replace the underlying moral system which renders these outcomes inevitable. Over and over again, I'm reminded of an old cartoon I grew up seeing all the time.

In the cartoon, the Humanism castle basically represents the moral system I'm talking about. Morals are based on human feeling and empathy. The Christianity castle represents a moral system based on God. The balloons are the more visible causes and policies which are natural outgrowths of the humanist moral system. The cartoon points out that fighting against these causes in the public sphere is pointless when the enemy is attacking our foundation. You see one of the humanist soldiers just blowing up another balloon to replace every one that Christianity destroys. You see Christians pointing cannons at each other and ignoring the cracks in the foundation. You also see that Christianity has three times the firepower of Humanism, but is still on the verge of losing because the firepower is aimed at the wrong targets. It is a sad but accurate portrayal of how American Christians fight the cultural and political battles of our time. Every defeat is followed by repeated calls to continue pursuing the failed strategies that got us into this situation. The Supreme Court rules against school prayer? Let's bring more litigation! The Supreme Court rules for gay marriage? MOAR LAWSUITS! Popping enemy balloons while our foundation is crumbling, threatening to send the whole shebang tumbling into the sea.

It is not that I am against efforts to pop the balloons. It is just difficult to be an intelligent Christian watching other Christians fail over and over again for the same reasons that no one seems to remember or learn from. Some people seem to be aware that the battle over gay marriage was lost long ago, but I still see no attempt to find a new strategy. It's almost as if we don't recognize that winning and losing these things is important business, and maybe it's time to reevaluate our strategy and whether our efforts have been well spent. For instance, Concerned Women for America put out a statement that admits bluntly:

"I think we have to be honest and acknowledge that this didn’t happen overnight. The culture has been on this journey since the 1960’s with a huge acceleration in the early 60’s and again in the last five years. How did this happen? Well, I think a recent Pew poll gives us some insight. The summary stated, “The Christian share of the U.S. population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing."

Being "honest"? How about being obvious! But the statement then goes on to ignore the real problem and focus on all the same things organizations like this have always focused on: registering more evangelicals to vote, passing another law, speaking boldly on issues, etc. Several paragraphs are spent advocating a constitutional amendment. A constitutional amendment! When sixty percent of the American public favor gay marriage, yes, by all means, let's go for a hopeless constitutional amendment. What a waste of time. This is not "once more into the breach". It's once more off the cliff. It's almost the definition of insanity. Why do conservatives constantly act as though the law is the cause of social change rather than an effect?

Why? Why has religion been declining in America? Oughtn't we to address that issue as the one of first importance? Is there anyone out there who wants to win? To turn the tide? To stop fighting a hopeless rearguard action and start counterattacking? I hear all the chickens running around with their heads cut off, apparently taken completely by surprise by the Supreme Court ruling, as if none of them understood this is where we've been headed for decades, as if they suddenly pulled their heads out of the sand, looked around and saw what's really happening for the first time. And then the heads go right back in the sand.

When I was a part-time youth pastor, a friend of mine who was in it for life gave me some advice about the youth ministry that I'll never forget. He told me it's not about the events, the programs or the summer trips. It's about who you are. The most important thing a youth minister can do isn't an action. It's being like Christ. Kids see that and look up to it. They want to be who you are. Children learn how to be an adult by watching other adults, and it matters a great deal who the adults are. Children cannot be fooled. They will find out who you are, what you care about, what you believe, and then they will emulate it. When adults rail about "kids these days", they are railing against the sort of people they themselves created by being who they are.

When adults believe that love is a feeling, kids will intuit that love is a feeling, and feelings are legion and without restriction. A fifty percent divorce rate is not something that just happened to us out of nowhere. It happened to us because we replaced our Christian moral system based on God with a moral system based on what makes us feel good. When love is a feeling and the feeling goes away, so does the love, and so does the marriage. If a couple gets married because they "fall" in love, meaning it happened completely out of their control and without rational reflection, it means they can "fall" right out of love again at any time and that is also completely out of their control. The fading of the reason for the marriage destroys the marriage. It also means that any feeling a person has for another could become the basis for sexual attraction. If feelings, rather than religion or even just basic biology, are the basis of sexual relationships, then the feeling is all and the religion and biology is meaningless. Legitimate homosexual relationships are perhaps an innovation of the younger generations, but it's only a logical extension of the humanistic ethic where everything, including sexual relationships, is based on human feelings. When you look at younger generations engaged in this, you are looking in a mirror, and they know it.

If we don't recognize what the problem is and fail to deal with it, we are accomplishing nothing. If CWA's statement is any indication, we do have some recognition of the problem, yet we are still accomplishing nothing because we aren't attacking the source of the problem. We are reacting to anything popping into our vision. We are not seeking the enemy to do battle and wipe him out. We are waiting for his every move, every innovation, every affront and whining about it, then wondering why we lose and are forced into retreat every time. It is extremely frustrating, yet we show no sign of having any understanding of the enemy or any idea how to proceed. The battle is lost and it was lost a long time ago.* Instead we are attempting what is in fact a rearguard action, and a rather poor one at that, without admitting that's what we are doing.

Shortly after the Supreme Court ruling, Texas governor Greg Abbott issued a statement I initially thought was a prelude to armed revolt. I assumed this because Abbott is a lawyer, and I thought he must surely understand that what he said was not legally defensible and could only be defended through force of arms. As events transpired however, it became clear that either he did not understand the implications of his initial statement or he wasn't serious and was effecting an attitude of rebellion for political reasons. Understand that this legal strategy by the state of Texas will fail miserably and quickly in the courts. It barely qualifies as a strategy at all. It is a recipe for the scattering and reduction of an army in catastrophic, full-fledged retreat. Instead of being proactive, gathering the troops together and retreating to an actually defensible position, we are currently attempting to stand and fight on ground that is already overrun. Militarily, I would call it suicide. Culturally and politically, it is a recipe for giving our side false hope quickly turning to despair and defeat.

Yesterday Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issued a statement claiming that the decision by the Fifth Circuit was consistent with his prior opinion. I looked everywhere for a second decision by the Fifth Circuit, but apparently Paxton is referring to the first decision which, responding to the Supreme Court's ruling, struck down gay marriage bans in states that had pending litigation. Paxton's statement references some part of the decision which references the First Amendment and religious liberty protections, but all the Fifth Circuit Court said was that these competing rights have to be balanced in accordance with our system. Surely Paxton knows exactly what that means. Either he is in denial or he is fronting a legal strategy he knows will fail because that's his job and he doesn't know what else to do. I saw Paxton speak on this issue in person a couple of months ago. He did not give the appearance of a man who thought he could win. In fact, he looked as if he had already lost and knew it.

I don't understand this suicidal tendency on the right. There is no honor in refusing to admit defeat when it is upon you. I know I have previously complained about prematurely giving up, but this issue, homosexuality, is already lost in the public sphere. It is, I think, the only political issue we have actually, really lost. However, there are things we can be doing that might actually work in providing us with some defensible terrain to which we can retreat, where we can regroup and continue the fight. This terrain centers around the Church.

The Church is the one place in American life where religious liberty is still completely defensible and also provides a moral alternative to humanism, the actual root cause of the problem. There may be other places where religious liberty is defensible, like privately owned businesses, but the Church is the only place where the root cause can be confronted successfully and on our terms. Statistics I have seen show that among married couples who regularly attend church, the divorce rate is close to zero. This is encouraging, indeed, cause for celebration. It means the American Church has not been overtaken by the political and cultural forces sweeping the public sphere, as has, for instance, the Russian Orthodox Church. It means we have successfully defended this position. It also means that not only can we retreat to it, we are in fact prepared to advance from it in new directions.

Stay tuned...

*Orson Scott Card is a Mormon science fiction author who has been fighting against legalization of gay marriage with everything he has. He risked his career and public reputation by issuing strident statements about gay marriage. His position inspired boycotts of his books and movie and certainly he has lost money and professional opportunities because of it. After the Supreme Court overturned DOMA in 2013, Card admitted that the battle was already lost and it was only a matter of time before gay marriage was legalized in all fifty states.