Any student of history knows that the challenges of each generation are often complex, presenting the Christian with choices for which his simple formation may not have prepared him. Beyond the initial centuries after the outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, which armed them for the binary option: “Christ or no” (with the corollary of “martyrdom or life”) the predominant choices were considerably more obscure.
The early Church, in her first ecumenical Councils, grappled with the nature of the Trinity, the Incarnation, and the correct way to address the Blessed Mother. The vast array of heresies in those centuries was astonishing, and heads of local churches had the effect of sweeping their adherents along with many errors, with few (or no) viable options for resisting. The Protestant revolt added a new twist to the confessional state, but while the average believer was called to a life of personal holiness, the rest may have been above his paygrade.
For well over a millennium, Christians have had to weigh their myriad obligations to local lords, overlords, and emperors—and this has carried into the modern world. Any call to arms meant that family obligations were put on hold, and that local shops, farms, and industry must be abandoned—leaving those behind vulnerable and overworked. A knight calling his vassals to the Crusades meant that his crops were left in less capable hands, just as the World War 2 conscript entrusted his loved ones to a pastiche of Providence, grandparents, and local institutions. A more sophisticated grasp of conscience may have obligated some to reject conscription altogether when the mission itself was questionable, and there are saints who are known for rejecting a widely held consensus over what patriotism required.
There have been work-place quandaries over ethics, family squabbles over proper behavior, and parish dilemmas over the choice of programs and proper use of funds. In many instances, personalities held sway, obscuring the actual theology in play; in other setting sentiment or superstition were the primary opponents to virtue and right worship. Ultimately, good Catholics have disagreed about legitimate and contentious questions, and these combined with myriad scandals have compromised the Church’s ability to witness to the truth and joy of the Gospel.
The larger point is that whatever complexities were at play in the past, we are in a very different place now. Having followed various proclivities to sin to their logical end points, we find ourselves confronted with a remarkably simple challenge. Revisiting the opening chapter of Genesis, we are asked to confirm that God made human persons “male and female” (Gn 1:27). This isn’t rocket science, nor is it obscure theology. We are not asked to distinguish between homoousion and homoiousion, but to affirm the existence of XX and XY chromosomes. We are not asked to thrash out the just war theory anew, but to testify to the fundamental nature of human sexuality that has stood uncontested from the dawn of time. We are not asked to revisit the question, “And who is my brother?” with the ensuing debate over how best to give alms but to protect young children from mind-bending depravity.
When our great-grandparents tut-tutted the bawdy fashions and frivolous pastimes after two world wars (and a depression), they were dismissed as fuddy-duddies and kill-joys. Who could argue with harmless fun after such hardship! When the birth control pill loomed on the horizon as an innocuous way to space births within marriage, the Church was derided as a benighted institution unable to see how technology could be harnessed to improve life. When Tipper Gore suggested warning labels on some records that contained pernicious lyrics, she was ridiculed and cancelled before cancelling was cool. These are but three snapshots along the slippery slope (a slope very long and often treacherously subtle). In all honesty, throwing off the authority of religious leaders is arguably the most consistent theme in the Bible, and why should our generation be any different?
But what is different now is the utter brazenness of the sin. Some may still scratch their heads over “choose life” (Lev 18:5, Deut 30:15; Rom 10:5) and quibble about its relation to abortion, while others dismiss the admonition about divorce and remarriage (Lk 16:18) with a shrug, but such is to be expected in a post-Christian age. (The fact that many Christians themselves no longer respect any sort of authority over their personal lives is deeply distressing, but something to work on in-house in the coming years.)
To be sure, we have stepped beyond the world of Revelation and Redemption into the natural world that has decided to throw off nature as it would a straitjacket. Despite all the yard signs touting the importance of science, despite all the materialists who reject spiritual realities, and despite all those who decry convention and stereotypes as suffocating, we are awash in the denial of science. We are trapped in a shallow spiritual zoo whose conventions have more of a vice grip on society than Christendom ever had. We cannot even call it a culture in the proper sense because culture is biologically and etymologically related to life—and the spectacle before us is death on steroids.
While one dreads the emerging freak shows at every turn, one must be grateful for the simplicity of the task at hand. We might have been astonished at how one generation of Christians came to blows over one letter—the “iota” distinguishing orthodoxy from error, but we have ourselves an opportunity to go to the mat for a different letter—the difference between he and she. Warning labels for words may have been rejected in the past, but now we have an opportunity to protect children from a cascade of vulgar images in their own kindergartens. The subtlety of competing theories on how best to approach poverty has given way to throwing tax dollars at gender-based curricula and the shredding of innocence. Can we still plead ignorance over the proper demands of faith? Those children who have run the gauntlet of contraception and abortion are now prey to mind-numbing evils, and we wring our hands.
Can we commit to promoting the basic truth, confirmed by science, that humanity is divided into two sexes? And the fact that sex is ordered to procreation? And marriage is ordered to the flourishing of children? Let every person with XY chromosomes dress as he will, let every person with XX chromosomes work where she wants, but there are only two sexes. Gender might be a construct and identity a parlor game, but let’s insist first on the binary nature of the sexes and hold on as if our lives depended on it.
What are job losses, social shunning, and imprisonment in relation to life-destroying hormones and surgeries? What is a little ridicule compared to the horror of an impressionable child forced to watch pornography? How can anyone plead ignorance when the next generation is being groomed with lies for lives of misery? There is nothing subtle about this battle, and cowering on the peripheries while the children are prime for slaughter is an unconscionable take. We should know. By now we should know.
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