28 Jun 2013

“Not Just a Social Revolution But a Cosmological One”

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Detail, Thomas Couture, Les Romains de la décadence [Romans in the Period of Decadence], 1847, Musée d’Orsay, Paris

Ron Dreher, back in April, explained the battle over Same Sex Marriage cuts very deeply into the culture, about as deeply as its possible to go.

What makes our own era different from the past, says [Philip] Rieff [in The Triumph of the Therapeutic (1966)], is that we have ceased to believe in the Christian cultural framework, yet we have made it impossible to believe in any other that does what culture must do: restrain individual passions and channel them creatively toward communal purposes.

Rather, in the modern era, we have inverted the role of culture. Instead of teaching us what we must deprive ourselves of to be civilized, we have a society that tells us we find meaning and purpose in releasing ourselves from the old prohibitions.

How this came to be is a complicated story involving the rise of humanism, the advent of the Enlightenment, and the coming of modernity. As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his magisterial religious and cultural history A Secular Age, “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).” To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.

Gradually the West lost the sense that Christianity had much to do with civilizational order, Taylor 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 American claims his freedom.

To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of “revolutionary epoch” because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order. As Rieff characterizes it, “The answer to all questions of ‘what for’ is ‘more’.”

Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.

Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.

A must read.

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SDD

More broadly we have moved from a culture that shared a fairly uniform set of cultural norms to one that actually extols deviance (in every sense of the word). Fifty years ago, even those who were non-Christian subscribed — or at least conformed — to Christian/American values. To flaunt one’s homosexuality, at the very least, was very bad manners (and in some places would get you beaten to a pulp). To have children out of wedlock made you a pariah. Today you are lauded as a “brave single mother”. To be on welfare or live on the streets made you a “bum”. Today it makes you a “homeless victim”. Once upon a time even Japanese Americans aligned to support the war against the Nips. Today, we can’t align against the Islamist threat because it might offend some Muslims. A society that puts offending sensibilities ahead of self-protection is doomed. A society that doesn’t share common values is one destined for havoc.



Kathleen Wagner

I’m becoming more sure every day that there will have to be a real revolution. I think it’s very likely there will be a civil war and I’ll probably lose all my sons in it. It isn’t what I hoped for when I was bringing them up, but I trust I’ve brought them up not to shame themselves or me.



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