In this essay, Wilberforce Academy director, Dr Joe Boot shows the importance of a person’s world-and-life-view to their understanding of sexuality.
It is important to acknowledge that few subjects (if any) are more difficult to address in our culture today than the nature of human sexuality and sexual identity – not because the subject is taboo, but rather because today’s unprecedented sexual libertinism and radical ideological activism regarding sexual orientation and identity have been practically placed above criticism. Indeed, to write or speak on the subject from a Christian standpoint is to invite hostility both from inside and outside the church and risk causing offense to those unwilling to hear counter-perspectives to their ideology of choice in an ostensibly free society. Nonetheless, questioning or refuting the current status quo is not a so-called micro-aggression, neither is it a threat to anyone’s safety – on the contrary, all can benefit from open debate about the critical issue of human identity and sexuality.
Sex and Assumptions
To begin with, in addressing the matter of sexuality, considering the foundational role of a person’s world- and life- view is very important. Without taking one’s underlying assumptions about the world into account, human thinking in areas like human sexuality remains uncritical, shallow and superficial. The central role of worldview comes to light when we consider that the contrast and conflict between a Christian and humanistic or secular view is grounded in underlying presuppositions about the very nature of reality.
To clarify, speaking of a world-and-life-view is simply a helpful way to understand and describe the actual character of human thinking, knowing and acting. As we live in the world and confront various decisions, challenges and life questions both big and small, we do so nurturing (consciously or otherwise) a particular perspective on the world, irrespective of our interest (or lack of interest) in the formal questions of philosophy. Everyone has a view of life and the world – we all believe certain things that underly the philosophies and ideologies we adopt.
More specifically, when we come to analyse reality and reflect upon it in a more theoretical way, a little thought makes us aware that we do not come as blank slates nor as neutral, autonomous observers of ‘bare facts,’ but as complex moral and religious human beings directed by convictions and motives rooted in our hearts (the centre of our selfhood). In addition, we are conscious that we are conditioned beings, not independent or self-explanatory, fully embedded in a reality that we did not create, and influenced significantly by our social and cultural history.
Functioning in some measure like a set of lenses through which we view reality, our world-and-life-view consists of an interconnected set of beliefs and assumptions through which we look at life and the world, which in turn shapes our approach to social, cultural and philosophical matters – including human sexuality – informing what kind of philosophies and ideologies we embrace or deem adequate or acceptable. Consequently, our worldview is that which goes before the particular views we espouse, and this is no less true in the area of sex and the origins of human sexuality. It is important that we are cognisant of and examine those latent assumptions when thinking about our views about sex and identity.
Sex and Revolution
There is also a historical-cultural factor to consider in this debate. The dominant cultural vision of human sexuality has undeniably changed radically in the last sixty years. Although the younger generations might not be adequately conscious of this because we tend to accept the world as we find it, it is beyond all dispute that we live in an age of revolution. This revolutionary upheaval has been manifested dramatically in the area of human sexuality. For example, we have seen the historically novel development in the West of legal and social practices like no-fault divorce, the celebration of sex outside of marriage, and abortion as contraception rather than crime – with not even a pretended desire for holding together in a legal, social and moral union love, sex and child-rearing in the permanent bond of the natural family – these things would have been socially unthinkable prior to World War II.
Moreover, we are witness to the promotion and celebration of what were for centuries considered anti-normative and obscene forms of sexual behaviour, including homosexuality, bisexuality, transvestism, pornography and prostitution. In addition we are increasingly faced with the bold-faced denial of real, normative distinctions between male and female sexes.
What has been dubbed ‘gender mainstreaming’ regards male and female sex as ‘fictive’ and seeks to reinvent humanity in terms of a gender-blending abstraction (in academia called queer theory) in the name of liberation and empowerment. In short, we have seen in the last fifty years the sexualisation, pornification and ‘queering’ (the term of homosexualist activists) of much of cultural life.
The critical question that emerges for our consideration from this revolutionary fervor is whether or not there are creational norms being subverted in this process that are seriously damaging the human person and human society as a whole. Historically, we can observe societies that have attacked the norms of marriage and family as the right and proper context for human sexual expression, in which the structure of the family forges one’s personal identity, declining and collapsing – the Soviet Union being a modern example. In other words, the question of human sexuality forces us to confront the larger question of whether or not the world, and the human world of sexual interaction has a purpose, a design, a goal – in short, a meaning. Is human sexuality meaning-full or meaningless?
There has been much talk, social engineering and affirmative action for two generations in the name of sexual liberation, the result of which has been to leave around half of the Millennial generation at some point growing up in homes without both parents, and almost half of children born in America to unwed mothers. But have we witnessed freedom, health, and success for children? We might also ask in the face of the serious medical crisis of sexually transmitted disease, whether pornography, sexual libertinism and homoerotic propaganda are promoting social and sexual health? G. K. Chesterton notably warned that the contemporary spirit of revolution may end up destroying what it claims to set free, if it is working against a creational purpose:
“You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end.”
If there are creational norms for human sexuality, then the violation of these norms assaults our own humanity and destroys human flourishing. The simple fact is that the contemporary revolution against creational order itself, which is sustained and upheld in the Christian perspective by the Word of God, openly targets the Christian conception of the creator God that shaped our society for generations. The Bible republishes and explicates that creation Word and is therefore vehemently opposed, along with those who believe it, by the artisans of the new sexual order.
Architects of the Revolution
Before considering the Christian idea of creational design and sexual order, it is important to briefly survey the roots of the critical ideas that have decisively shaped popular cultural fashions about sexuality today – many of which young people accept uncritically. What is the worldview the underlies today’s sexual revolution?
One major force in shaping today’s vision of sexuality is contemporary radical feminism. Feminist philosophy affected life at every level in the later part of the twentieth century, especially in terms of mainstreaming concepts and ideas like gender identity, patriarchy and social justice. Radical feminist thought was concerned to challenge the dominant ideas of objectivity, rationality, universal truth and the human self. Whilst diverse, modern feminism, over against women’s rights movements in the ‘20s and ‘30s, has overtly championed welfare socialism and Marxism in order to supplant the family, as well as pragmatism and post-modernism. It laid much of the groundwork for the LGBTQ movement today which is challenging every social norm for human sexuality and identity in the history of Western civilisation.
One forerunner of modern feminism was Simone de Beauvoir, the long-time non-exclusive lover of existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre and a thinker in her own right. Critically, throughout her work she argued that gender was simply a social construction (i.e. “One is not born, but rather becomes a woman”). She championed a form of feminism that rejected all sexual restraint, marriage, motherhood and family.
De Beauvoir was a virulent critic of marriage and defender of abortion, who considered the fetus a parasite, and set up an abortion centre in her Paris salon whilst it was still illegal. She regarded the marriage union and child-rearing as fundamental to the alleged oppression of women. Accordingly, she asserted that normative marriage between men and women and the idea of the nuclear family, along with the church that sponsors this arrangement, must be destroyed. She claimed that marriage killed love, but since she never married and was childless it is difficult to see how should could make such a claim. Nonetheless, she is a mother of many of the modern attitudes toward human sexuality.
Another important figure is Jacques Derrida, an influential French philosopher in the second part of the twentieth century. He deployed the now-familiar idea of “deconstruction” not only in reading texts for alternative meanings, but as a method of conceptual critique for destabilising what he called traditional binary oppositions like male and female, truth and fiction. His purported objective was to approach reality in terms of the deferment of truth and meaning – reality could not be understood in terms of any objective meaning for everything was dependent on the endless web of language. Along with his postmodern counterparts his attack on binary oppositions, including the categories of male and female, has deeply influenced modern views of sex and gender.
Another important French thinker who likewise influenced our times in regard to sexuality by deploying neo-Marxist ideas of oppression was Michel Foucault. He argued that standards of truth and falsehood are simply culturally conditioned conceptual frameworks of language and thought – everything is really relative and there is no objective knowledge. Claims to know universal truth were, in his view (deeply influenced by Karl Marx), masks for systems of power and control. What we call human nature, including our sexual nature, is the product only of historically conditioned forces of oppression. He claimed that embracing this idea liberates you to run your own ‘experiment’ of living. Foucault was wildly promiscuous, practised homosexuality and tragically died of AIDS.
A further collection of thinkers working from similar assumptions also profoundly influenced life in the United States and the West generally. Formative intellectuals like Wilhelm Reich, who combined Marxism with Freudian psychoanalysis, shaped the thinking of the ‘Frankfurt School’ luminaries like Theodor Adorno and Herbert Marcuse, whose influential writings helped produce the student revolution of the 1960s in the United States. They essentially believed that evil was not rooted in the human heart, but inside societal structures. Combining Marxism and sociology, they taught that existing structures must be shattered in favor of a new utopian future where freedom, games, pleasure, eroticism and pornography would be a daily routine for humankind. This could only be accomplished, they argued, by continued radical revolution.
All of these thinkers share important things in common. Their message, resting firmly on their worldview, was relatively simple: there is no living God, nor any law-order and creational design for human beings and their sexuality. Thus, seeking liberation from the feelings of guilt and shame that come with sexual immorality, liberation only comes when one frees oneself from oppressive Christian sexual morality (i.e. monogamous marriage between a man and woman) by living out any and all libidinous urges, thereby creating a social paradise free from all ‘domination.’
In the same vein, and influenced by the neo-Marxists, the lesbian radical third-wave feminist, Judith Butler introduced the concept of ‘gender mainstreaming.’ Butler the use of political and legal measures to change the very fabric of human sexual identity. This new gender ideology grips our culture today like a vice – and is all around you, even though most people have never even heard the term. On this scheme, out go terms and roles like male and female, father and mother, husband and wife, as the two sexes in normative marital relationship. For Butler, like the other intellectuals mentioned, these norms are artificial constructs, in Butler’s view, arising from the ‘incest taboo’ which must be broken.
As the two creational sexes exit the scene in this neo-Marxist worldview, in comes the term ‘gender’ to replace them. According to Butler, sex is an ideal construct. Sexual identities are constructed simply by language. So politically, changing the use of language is central to transforming the gender order of society – hence the importance of forcing people to use the politically correct language today from the school house to the court house. This re-ordering of reality is again done in the name of liberation for all, because for the radical feminist, creational Christian norms are all about oppression. As one feminist writes, “within the present family structure, individuals learn to accept sexist oppression as natural and are primed to support other forms of oppression including heterosexist domination.”
Essentially Butler and her numerous disciples today claim that there is no such thing as ‘men and women’ because, over against the plain facts empirical science (both human anatomy and the chromosomes of our genetic make-up), the idea of biological sex is a fantasy. Gender is not related to biological sex but is free-flowing and fluid – there is no such thing as normative sexual identity. Rather your identity is centred in your ‘orientation,’ which is said to be mutable and freely chosen, regardless of whether you are a man or woman. The majority of today’s vocal advocates of the LGBTQ cause are the devotees (conscious or not) of her philosophy. They choose the word ‘queer’ rather than the word homosexuality now (because homosexual points to its binary opposite) for anything that is not the Christian-derived norm of heterosexual relations between a man and woman. Christian sexual morality and family with its binary norm is for Butler and her followers the ‘dictatorship of nature’ (that is, creation) which must be rebelled against and destroyed.
All the sexual revolutionaries of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries find the root of their revolutionary spirit in the self-creating illusions of Marxism, with its visceral hatred of both God and the family. As Marx wrote, “the secret to the Holy Family is the earthly family. To make the former disappear, the latter must be destroyed, in theory and in practice.” And so the past hundred years or so have given us the interrelated evolutionary, existential, technological, revolutionary, psychological, feminist and gender-fluid views of the human person. The Christian theologian Gordon Spykman has pointed out that “the contemporary quests for self-identity degenerate into the many faces of modern man’s self-deception. He re-creates himself into the likeness of his own multi-masked image.” The cultural implications are all around us, including the fact that you can choose from around 50 self-chosen identities on Facebook.
As a result of the many decades of theoretical, social and political assault on Christian sexual ethics, the norms which are part of any society’s operating system are being radically altered. As this alteration occurs, new social and legal penalties are introduced to protect the new norms because every society protects sexual norms with penalties. As Gabriele Kuby has explained:
“Every culture penalizes violation of its sexual standards. While people previously thought it a feature of primitive societies to have taboos that were enforced by everything from social ostracism to the death penalty, today we are finding that new taboos apply. They gain their validity through social exclusion and gradual criminalization, specifically in the domain that all cultures protect with strict standards – the domain of sexuality. A reversal has taken place. Today the dissolution of moral standards is being enforced and opposition is being punished with exclusion and legal sanctions.”
This helps account for recent developments like Canada’s Bill C-16 which amended the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Criminal Code to add gender identity and gender expression to the growing list of prohibited grounds of ‘discrimination’ which already includes ‘sexual orientation.’ According to the government, open criticism or rejection of these expressions and behaviours could be deemed to encourage hatred and may lead to up to two years in prison. This chilling consequence helps to silence all opposition to the revolution’s new sexual orthodoxy.
This radical sexual identity crisis afflicting our culture reflects the religious crisis of our time. People are in the grip of profound spiritual confusion. We already noted that we must be critically aware that lying behind all these ideas are religious motivations, very ancient in origin, which are now being dressed in a new pseudo-scientific garb and applied socially in the most radical way.
For example, ancient Greek mythology set male gods like Ouranos and Zeus against female goddesses like fertility Gaia and Olympian Hera. This suggested in pagan thought a struggle basic to sexual relations (as in feminism) that is foreign to the Christian view of the world. Then, philosophically, the influential school of Plato taught a unisex or androgynous perspective on origins because the “soul substance” in philosophical thought was sexless. This is a religious denial of the binary, of the reality of twoness, of distinction, of the ‘male and female’ that the Bible says God made from the ‘beginning of creation’ (Matt. 19:4). The positing of original sexless origins and the primitive androgynous emergence of humankind, as well as a denial of the even more fundamental creator-creature distinction itself, is basic to pagan, humanistic thought. And, “once the male-female distinction falls, other creational categories also become irrelevant.”
Ultimately, Anthony Kenny has pointed to the culmination of the philosophical theology of the classical world in the Greek philosopher Plotinus and his abstract vision of the ONE – a divinity concept that claims all reality is one i.e. the universe is all there is and is divine. This ‘Western’ conclusion (a religious worldview) in humanistic philosophy reveals a remarkable similarity to the religious conclusions of the Eastern philosophers who hold that a blank idea of being or non-being is the ultimate root of all things. The late American Philosopher Roy Clouser has pointed out that, ‘although these religions [i.e. Buddhism and Hinduism] believe there is a divine reality, they do not believe the divine is a being at all, let alone a supreme one. Which is to say they deny a personal, relational living God distinct from the cosmos. Like the ancients, all their gods and goddesses are stationed inside the universe where ultimate reality is a bare, blank unity. There is no ultimate creator-creature distinction outside of the Christian worldview.
The philosophical idol of an original oneness, where one is all, and all is an expression of the divine creates a huge problem for knowledge of reality and concrete things like human sexuality. The problem is, how can real predication, differentiation, defining or describing anything be carried on meaningfully if everything is at bottom actually ONE, even though manifest in a kind of temporary fluidity or flux? The answer is that, as the modern thinkers mentioned have argued, universal truth, objectivity, law and creation order must finally be denied. Only an endless denial of creational distinctions in such a pagan view leads to deeper ‘understandings’ (plural) of reality; for these apparent creational distinctions of true and false, male and female, are finally fictive. In short, objective knowledge of truth becomes impossible and all distinctions, including logical, biological and sexual ones, are an illusory i.e. fictive social constructions.
Yet the fact is, our experience of the world reveals a lawful orderliness to all things, including our sexuality. We are not the creators of our own reality, identity or sexuality. We are creatures embedded in a given creation order with an order-diversity. This is a reality that neo-Darwinian thought wants to know nothing about, because evolutionary thought also posits an original oneness to all life and finally all reality. For example, scientist and popular writer Chet Raymo, whom the legendary evolutionary scientist Stephen J. Gould endorsed as a “wise religious humanist” has written:
“The God of spiralling powers resides in nature beyond all metaphors, beyond all scriptures, beyond all “final theories”. It is the ground and source of our sense of wonderment, of power, of powerlessness, of light, of dark, of meaning and of bafflement. It is the God whose history began with the first human who experienced awe, contingency, fear…there encounter gape-jawed and silent, the God of birds and birth defects, trees and cancer, quarks and galaxies, earthquakes and supernovas – awesome, edifying, dreadful and good, more beautiful and more terrible than is strictly necessary. Let it strike you dumb with worship and fear, beyond words, beyond logic. What is it? It is everything that is.”
In contrast to this neo-pagan worldview, the meaning-full order-diversity of creation (unity in diversity) points beyond itself to a personal, purposeful and relational unity in diversity, required for meaning and true knowledge to find a starting point. Because the apostle John tells us the Word was “with God” and “was God” (John1: 1ff), we see that the triune God of scripture is not an indescribable blank unity identified with the universe who cannot freely create or reveal himself, but is a relational community, distinct from creation and therefore the foundation and precondition of all intelligible experience because the source of creation, of all law-order and the ground of unity in diversity. The triune God is the transcendent starting point for knowledge, law and truth in any area of life or thought. In a worldview of pure immanence without a transcendent God there is no place to stand beyond the flux of history and so no foundation for truth.
Intelligent Design of Human Sexuality
In the midst of a popular denial of creation-order the Christian view thus affirms a law-Word of God for all creation including human sexuality. In the gospels Jesus himself points to the original creation ordinance (Matt. 19:4-6). Our first parents were created male and female in God’s image. Thus, each was made for the other, with the specific purpose of joining together one man and one woman in the most intimate of relationships. There is an important sense in which our very bodies, in the mystery and intimacy of self-giving communion in marriage, tell us something about the relational nature of God. A man’s body does not make sense alone, neither does the body of a woman – they were evidently made for each other. Jesus therefore reminds us that men and women were designed for one other creationally. And in marriage, in a unique and lasting bond, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and the two shall become one flesh.”
It is very clear then that Jesus sees Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24 as an original divine ordinance, not simply as a description of the typical way things happen to go on earth at a given time in the historical process. In other words, male and female and marriage are not socially constructed fictions. Jesus Christ also categorically asserts that such a divine norm must not be tampered with (Matt. 19:6). It is God who makes the union possible; who issued the command to be fruitful; who said it was not good for man to be alone; and who brought Eve to Adam in marriage as ‘father of the bride.’
Marriage is therefore God’s ordinance for human beings. As a result there is only one safe, lasting and satisfying context for sexual pleasure and intimacy in the Bible and that is in the sacred, secure, covenantal union of the marriage relationship. By obvious implication sexual immorality, be it fornication, adultery, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, or any other distortion of the marriage bond, are regarding as anti-normative and sinful in Scripture. This is not to spoil people’s ‘fun,’ but to protect, preserve, bless, fulfil and nurture the human community that is founded in the creational family structure.
The desperate search for self-knowledge, to discover our identity in our time, is producing great pain and suffering in the area of sexuality because of a facile denial of reality. Our identity as human beings is not self-created, nor is it defined by what we do with our sexual organs. The “I think”, “I feel”, “I believe” of our personality are all functions of the human heart. We cannot reach the root of the nature of a human person by simple reflection on the relation of our sense of self to the body and sexual desires, nor by our relationship simply to other human beings who have the same problems and identity challenges that we do. Our only sure help for grounding and understanding human identity comes from our religious relation to our creator, who made us in his image. It is from this relation to God that all other relations i.e. to our bodies, our activities and to others receive their meaning, direction and content.
God has revealed us to ourselves as being created as his image-bearers. We cannot live on the illusion that we are independent and self-sufficient like God himself. We only truly live and discover who we are in terms of our relationship to God. This means we cannot reduce our personal identity to social or historical or feeling aspects of life without losing the true knowledge of both God and ourselves. In the Christian gospel it is in Jesus Christ alone, the Word made flesh, that we discover who we are and the meaning-fullness of our lives. Though we are fallen from God in our sexual sins, Christ has come to redeem the totality of our life, including the blessing of our sexuality, and restore it to God’s creational purposes.
In a time where other gods are honoured, I will doubtless not escape the charge leveled against Christians of intolerant bigotry for advancing the scriptural teaching on sexuality because modern man’s war on God and creation takes no prisoners. This false accusation is inescapable because without a common foundation for discourse there can be no possibility of real agreement; indeed, the revolutionaries of our age, having dynamited the foundation, will typically countenance no dissent. Yet the idea, propounded by far too many Christians, that capitulating to a relativistic approach to sex in society might preserve social harmony is badly mistaken. As the philosopher Chantal Delsol has aptly pointed out:
“That there are many points of view, however, does not in fact bring peace because relativism is by nature intolerant: it destroys the foundation on which any common discourse must be based… In the society of late modernity, abuse is hurled no longer in the name of ideologies, but in the name of identities. Individuals rally around their lifestyle preferences, their cultural attachments, or their status as historical victims.”
It is obviously difficult to argue for the Christian view when everyone is a victim with their own norm. In such a world, each group wants its own good and evil, its own law and morality, so that a common discourse is rendered inherently impossible. As such, without a recovery of the common certainties about human sexuality made known in Jesus Christ and his revelation, we are condemned to a tyranny of the loudest and most powerful liberationist group.
However, despite all the challenges speaking of Christian sexual ethics brings in our time, the simple truth is that no matter how subversive the utopian sexual revolutionaries become, they cannot finally overturn God’s creational norm and order. Even in our rebellion it impinges on us at every turn such that we cannot escape it. As Delsol has recognised:
“We cannot reshape humanity according to our will. The horror that grips us as we look back upon the spectacle of the twentieth century shows us that a mysterious order has been subverted…; the category of what is possible imposes itself upon us, and our recognition of this fact is the prerequisite for any reconstruction.”
What is possible is determined by God alone, governed by his powerful law-word for creation. In view of this we can be confident that by our faithful obedience the forces of destructive revolution will be overcome by life renewing godly reformation.