The recent ceremony at the White House for signing the so-called Respect for Marriage Act encapsulates the state of public thought today.
The Act requires the federal and state governments to treat same-sex “marriages” as valid. It doesn’t add anything to current law as interpreted by the courts, but those who support it—who no doubt sense on some level the shakiness of their position—find it reassuring.
In his remarks, President Biden emphasized what seemed to him the clear moral necessity of accepting homosexuality as normal and abolishing social recognition of marriage as a fundamental natural institution. As he put it,
There’s nothing more decent, more dignified, and more American that we’re about—what we’re doing here today… This law, and the love it defends, strike a blow against hate in all its forms.
That supposed blow against hate, he told us, has clear implications in other situations: “racism, antisemitism, homophobia, transphobia—they’re all connected.” Through a cloud of euphemism, the relevant situations can be seen to include the sexual corruption and mutilation of children:
When hospitals, libraries, and community centers are threatened and intimidated … because they support LGBTQ children and families, we have to speak out…
We need to challenge the hundreds of callous and cynical laws introduced in the states targeting transgender children, terrifying families and criminalizing doctors who give children the care they need.
As symbols of the moral outlook for which the President spoke, two drag queens who perform for children and draw them into their activities were guests at the ceremony. The more prominent of the two, Marti G. Cummings, also makes obscene videos, identifies as “nonbinary,” and praises the “kids” who he says are “out to sing and [engage in sexual acts].”
How did such views become worthy of civic honor and even—we are told—central to our identity as Americans? To explain an outlook that is so insane, so fervently held, and so widely accepted among generally intelligent and responsible people, we need to look at basic issues.
At bottom, that outlook has to do with a view of man as either the creator of what he is or a replaceable component of a machine. So he is now seen as either a divine being or an object for manipulation. The two come together in transgenderism: a man can make himself a woman by fiat, and is encouraged to call on biotechnology to aid him in his act of self-creation.
If man is a god or a thing, he is above or below human society. But he is social by nature, and to remove him from that setting takes him out of his element. That destroys his ability to live as a human being. So we are indeed seeing—as C. S. Lewis explained—the abolition of man through the abolition of essential human nature.
Lewis wasn’t the first with such concerns. But they were long limited to the few: almost everyone praised progress, meaning economic and technological progress. By the 1960s, however, the problems were bothering young people enough to provoke many of them to embrace the “counterculture.”
The hippies who led the effort were inspired by a vision of an organic way of life in community. They also aspired to the absolute—in the words of the song, to “break on through to the other side.” But they were young, and badly guided, still in the grip of the expectation that progress would make everything easy. They thought they could create a better world without effort, by rejecting everything old and calling on the aid of sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll.
That didn’t work. Even so, that tendency of thought spread and progressively disrupted concrete social authorities passed down through tradition, such as family, religion, and inherited cultural community. The effect was to turn over what remained of social life to the power of money and the state.
That, of course, made matters worse. Human connections disintegrated, and any vision of natural human community oriented toward something transcendent was blanked out. Since then these tendencies have been reinforced by developments such as globalization and social media, and by ever more obsessive and intolerant enforcement of official social and moral principles.
The result has been an accelerating descent into the cultural confusion manifested in the ceremony at the White House. That confusion disrupts our understanding of man and our most basic human relationships, and thus the ability—especially among the young and vulnerable—to make sense of ourselves and those around us.
It is an obvious social and religious catastrophe. Even so, Joe Biden, Nancy Pelosi, and other influential Catholics believe otherwise. For that reason, it seems worthwhile to discuss evidence that these developments are indeed catastrophic.
Recent surveys cast light on today’s darkness. Perhaps most strikingly, 40 percent of Millennials (those born between 1984 and 2002) neither believe in nor care about the existence of God. Why should they, when they are taught that man makes himself and there is no principle of moral order intrinsic to the world?
The consequences, however radical, are predictable, notably with regard to the sexes and their relationships. Thus, 30 percent of Millenials, including 27 percent of Christians, identify as LGBTQ. Among those born between 1996 and 2004 (“Generation Z”) 39 percent do so.
Confusion regarding sex and the sexes means disorder in basic human relationships. Marriage rates have been dropping rapidly in recent years, and the rate of decline is accelerating. Other statistics confirm the growing weakness of ties between the sexes. For example, a survey found that 26% of Americans, and 41% of those born between 1981 and 1996, say they would be interested in having an “open” (sexually non-exclusive) relationship. After all, if sex and the sexes have no intrinsic meaning, what can be so special about marriage?
Such developments are officially considered liberating: they allow people (it is said) to be their authentic selves living their best lives. But surveys of young people say otherwise. Instead, they indicate large increases in depression and suicide.
Thus, one recent survey indicates that 42 percent of young people aged 18 to 24 have a diagnosed mental health condition, usually anxiety or depression. Thirty-one percent rate their overall mental health as bad, and 18 percent are in therapy.
As a recent article in The Washington Post noted,
The CDC found 45 percent of high school students were so persistently sad or hopeless in 2021 they were unable to engage in regular activities. Almost 1 in 5 seriously considered suicide and 9 percent surveyed tried to take their lives during previous 12 months.
Mainstream commentators are able to recognize some of the causes of this situation. They note that widespread use of social media puts young people in an artificial world without stable human relationships. And they recognize that “COVID”—meaning masking and lockdowns—caused young people special problems by disrupting daily life, human connections, and expectations about the future.
But they are unable to recognize more basic causes, since these prominently include the understanding of man, society, and morality celebrated at the White House ceremony. To reject that understanding today is to resign from respectable society, and that is not something well-placed people do in a careerist world.
The causes they suggest instead—terrorism, climate change, school shootings, and so on—are therefore superficial. Such things get publicity, and many young people focus on them, but the threats they pose are either speculative or remote, and unlikely seriously to bother young people who are otherwise generally secure in their lives.
While the trends are bad, what can’t go on won’t go on. It’s notable that people committed to the moral understandings now official are more depressed and less likely to have children, a tendency that is rapidly increasing. Progressivism is ascendant, but it is not an outlook to live by.
And that ought to mean a bright future for the Church. In remote antiquity, before the rise of the great empires, the seeds of the Logos inherent in local traditions were enough to support civilization. Afterwards, with the growth of cultural exchange and conflict, something more distinct, formal, and authoritative—the Higher Religions—became necessary.
Today, in the age of technocracy and wokeness, nothing less than the fullness of truth will do. Catholics must be prepared to present it to a world that desperately needs it.
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