Ted and I have thought for a while that our structures of government and economy will be dramatically altered in the next 40 years. Not an apocalypse, but more like post-communism. We tend to frame our parenting discussions around knowing that our kids will live in a v. different world than we do.
We aren’t alone in those thoughts nor are we dismayed. Academics and cultural critics (the modern day Matthew Arnold ones) talk about this among themselves, but–of course–that conversation rarely breaches the 140-character walls of pop culture.
The author of this article is one of those thinkers1. This piece is a truncated version of an article from National Revliew on Bradley Manning’s declaration of a new/old/changed2 gender identity, linguistic invention, and satisfaction/suicide rates of those who undergo elective gender surgery.
I want desperately to unpack this because, like a good piece of writing, it inspires so much deep thought. But unpack I have not. This is rambling.
Quotes that caught me:
“As with the invention of “personhood” in the abortion debate, we have created a metaphysical category — “identity” — in order to avoid talking about physical reality.”
“Every battle in the war on reality begins with the opening of a new linguistic front.”
Now for my quick forming krausen:
We all try to avoid reality because it says that we are essentially powerless between life and death. The struggle with control and for power is the story of being human and of humans together. We’ve found parts of life to be liveable and have even found things worth dying for. As believers, we’ve been given the courage to look life full in the face because we know that our 80 years here is the Battle School of eternity3. So, in a way, we should be looking for the ways our culture tricks us into denying physical reality.
Individual identity is a significant modern invention with clear pros (less oppression of race, gender, class) and unclear but still present cons. The extension of personal choice to gender and sexuality is v. interesting. I think it may be at the heart of the gulf between “traditional morality” and our post modern morality (are we are post-post modern, yet?). Dale Kuehn makes the case well enough in Sex and the iWorld that our new understanding of individualism is the crux of most 20th century change: the sexual revolution, the female progression toward equality, the abortion debate, same-sex marriage. I add to that, now, gender decisions.
Unfortunately and to great consequence, the vocal parts of the church have shied from truly having these discussions by blocking conversation with labels and harsh rhetoric. I firmly know that much good has come from these changes. Since all that is truly good comes from the Father, and that truth, logos, is Jesus himself, we should not fear to go up to our knees in the mud of cultural change, even when it is clearly not within the bounds of Mosaic law. Ted and I are much more likely to live in the middle of this change than that to run toward an exclusive Christian camp4.
Complete abolition and choice of gender definitely seems to be the next romp in the last few hundred year’s philosophical roughhousing6. It seems that it’s roots are clearly in 19th and 20th century philosophy. It may also be another act in the opera of the hard sciences vs artes liberales (though new neuro and psycho research is beginning to draw these studies parallel), and the newest outbreak of our culture’s shifting epistemology.
This is a somewhat new challenge to traditional, religious morality (Judeo-Christian and maybe even Islam). I think that we need to think this through before we–as believers–continue to react judgmentally in fear to things we don’t understand (like we did with AIDS, homosexuality, misogeny, Nietzsche, etc.).
At the worst, we forsake the cross and continue to act cruelly towards those without the light. At best, our culture falls like Rome, and Jesus becomes discernible from our mess of christianese. May we grasp our orthodoxy and suffer great empathy towards our wandering, wondering culture, and listen to the heart cries of our neighbors with their own identity questions.
1. He seems to have made an effort to explain these theories in an approachable book, The End Is Near and It’s Going To Be Awesome . Don’t, however, take my word that it’s approachable. I’m reckless enough to go near anything with print.
2. Forgive me for not knowing what the respectful adjective is.
3. I LOVED Ender’s Game and I can’t wait to see me some Harrison Ford as Graff.
4. Although I confess that I will not put my kids in public education. I actually want them to be educated. So, like most things, I’ll do it myself.
6. We know there are strong biblical and biological differences between the genders, we just prefer to the emphasis on common humanity because of the subtle and relentless misogyny in church and culture. I also admit (I’ve not talked to Ted about this) that there are those born with both biological organs and that there are also those with such emotionally unstable and twisted upbringings that there is sincere gender confusion. For these my only direct response is deep empathy and an open ear. How dare I judge and dictate.