When I was in the seminary, my spiritual director, Fr. Patrick Brannan, S.J., told me the story of the dean of men dressing down a young Jesuit scholastic for acting in an “overtly effeminate” manner. Fr. Brannan just happened to be walking by the dean’s office when he overheard these words:
“Act like a man. Men don’t act like that!”
That was 1950. That was when our culture had the collective common sense to know the biological fact expressed in Genesis 1:27: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
When it comes to the new trend of “transgenderism,” I don’t think I’m alone in wondering, “How in the world did we get here?” In our modern age, which is supposedly rationalistic and scientific, we have come to a place where sober human beings—scientifically and verifiably “male” or “female,” mind you—are “identifying” as the opposite sex.
When Harry decides he is going to become Sally, anyone daring to attempt to bring Harry to his senses and to accept his God-given gift of maleness is not heralded as being a messenger of truth and mercy; he is demonized. And when you consider the rapidity with which this phenomenon has swept our culture and the readiness of so many people to simply accept something that even on the surface seems patently absurd, the questions arise of “How?” and “Why?”
I suppose the answer on the most basic level is as old as original sin, but to be more specific, I am going to argue that we are living in a tempest caused by the joining of multiple large storms into a superstorm of heretofore unthinkable proportions.
1. Rejection of God.
Psalm 53:1 (and 14:1) declares in no uncertain terms: “The fool says in his heart there is no God.” As a culture, we in the Western world have largely become fools. We have either rejected God altogether or we have reduced him to a force “out there somewhere” who, if he exists, really doesn’t give two hoots about what we do down here on this tiny blue dot. If he does exist, we live as if he doesn’t, which is essentially a distinction with little, if any, difference.
St. Paul tells us plainly what happens when individuals, peoples, or nations reject God:
For although they knew God they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. . . . Therefore, God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves. . . . Their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural, and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in their own persons the due penalty for their error. And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct (Rom. 1:21-28).
In his Confessions, St. Augustine famously wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” The human intellect is ordered toward knowing the ultimate truth, which is God. Our wills are ordered toward choosing the ultimate good, which is God. If we do not choose to worship God, we will worship someone or something. It may be money, sex, power, prestige, or a hundred other things. But, ultimately, whatever we worship that is not God becomes a sacramental sign of the fact that we have been reduced to tomfoolery.
And so we have . . .
2. The reduction of fully human beings to something less.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines pornography:
Pornography consists in removing real or simulated sexual acts from the intimacy of the partners in order to display them deliberately to third parties. It offends against chastity because it perverts the conjugal act, the intimate giving of spouses to each other. It does grave injury to the dignity of its participants (actors, vendors, the public), since each one becomes an object of base pleasure and illicit profit for others. It immerses all who are involved in the illusion of a fantasy world. It is a grave offense (2354).
The Church declares here that in pornography we have a radical reduction of human beings to the level of sexual objects, and this is mostly women being reduced to objects to be used and abused by men—though today there is an alarming increase of a similar reduction of men as well. But the truth is, once one reduces another human being to an object, there is no end to the evils that will follow.
This reducing of human beings leads to all manner of evil—contraception, abortion, euthanasia, physician-assisted suicide, the “use” of preborn babies for experimentation, and more. The common denominator here is each of these sins reduces human beings to something less than who they are: male and female created in the image and likeness of God with an immeasurable dignity.
You may ask, how does this lead to these other evils? It’s easy to see with pornography. But let’s consider contraception. The purpose of the conjugal act is both unitive and procreative. That is, it aids in bringing about the intimate union and mutual perfection of the spouses in marriage as well as the propagation of the species. If either of these ends is purposely thwarted, the act becomes gravely disordered.
Pope St. Paul VI gives us insight into the nature of the “disorder” that arises in contraception in his encyclical letter Humanae Vitae. He describes one aspect of the evil of contraception as essentially reducing women to the level of sexual object even in the context of marriage. It does not respect the woman as an integral whole. It reduces her to something less than what she is—“reduce[d] . . . to being a mere instrument for [the husband’s] own desires” (17).
And worse, this reductionism leads to what Pope St. John Paul II called the “culture of death.” This mentality holds that we can eliminate anything—or anyone—that stands in the way of our being able to fulfill our own desires for pleasure without respect for God’s will, God’s plan, or the dignity of the other person or persons involved. So what happens when a baby “accidentally” comes along? Get rid of it!
This mentality leads to all sorts of inane justifications. “I am only thinking of the baby. I am not ready to raise a child!” Isn’t it amazing how people can kill an innocent human being and then say, “It was for his own good. Really, it was!”?
More commonly, the person considering abortion disassociates what is commonly referred to as “the product of conception” from a baby. The baby is radically objectified to the point of considering him to be just so much “biological matter” in the womb. The truth is, millions of babies have been and are being slaughtered for the simple reason that they are an inconvenience.
This reductionist mentality has not only led to the murder of well more than 60 million babies in the U.S. alone since 1973; it has led to all manner of immorality: euthanasia, embryonic stem cell research, human cloning, physician-assisted suicide, infanticide, et cetera. All of these sins have at their foundation a reduction of human beings to the level of objects in order to justify all manner of immorality and outright barbarism.
With God out of the picture and man reduced to a mere object, mankind had little protection against a third storm that combines the energy of the first two with its own, to produce a force that has proven devastating to our world in ways that would have been unthinkable just a decade or two ago.
3. Reduced to an inclination
In our modern times, this reductionism has morphed into a particularly odd and dangerous storm. Our culture has reduced human beings not just to the level of an object, but even more, to the level of an inclination. And why not? Once a human being is reduced to something less than what he is, there is no end to the absurdities—and tragedies—that will follow.
The root of this rather odd phenomenon can be traced back before the mania for porn to the creation of the notion of “heterosexual” in the mid-nineteenth century. In fact, I would make the argument that its roots may well have contributed to all of the moral evils mentioned above.
In an article in the magazine First Things in 2014, Michael Hannon recounts how, having jettisoned natural-law arguments as too archaic—and, well, Christian—psychologists had to come up with language to communicate the defective nature of homosexual acts. Enter the term heterosexual, which was created in the 1860s and first written in the English language, as far as we know, in 1892. Heterosexual referred to the “normal” inclination that men are “supposed” to have toward women and vice versa. Homosexual was then identified as its immoral opposite.
The problem was, there was no longer a coherent “why” to undergird the condemnation. There is no God, of course, in the post-Christian mindset. The sexual faculty no longer has a God-ordained purpose the thwarting of which is without exception immoral.
Thus, psychologists (it appears unwittingly) introduced to our culture the notion of reducing human beings to the level of an inclination. And there would be no end to the immorality that would follow. Even today, there is no end in sight. After all, a “heterosexual” inclination is just as much an inclination as is a “homosexual” inclination, it would be argued. I mean, you like peas, I like carrots, right?
Inclinations—virtually any inclinations beyond perhaps those offending the day’s protected class—would not only be deemed morally equivalent, but this odd approach to morality has led to human beings becoming identified with whatever their inclination may be. As a result, it has become common parlance to say that if you have a preponderance of heterosexual tendencies, you are heterosexual, and if you have a preponderance of homosexual tendencies, you are homosexual. And then there’s bisexuality: this person has inclinations in both directions. The list of inclinations and identifications seems to grow daily.
But is your identity determined by inclinations? Can anyone calculate how many inclinations he has had or will have in a lifetime? It is no wonder this notion has led us not just to an “LGBT” movement, but to somewhere in the vicinity of sixteen letters added to the acronym? LGBTIQCAPGNGFNBA and climbing! (Forgive me if I left one or two out.)
I’ve got an idea, and it’s simple. Will you join with me and refuse to either be identified or to identify any human being as an inclination? And be bold about it! Let us together determine that we will no longer identify ourselves or any human person to be a “heterosexual.” No human being is a “homosexual.”
Indeed, let’s join together and proclaim the truth that no human being can be reduced to any one or more of these sixteen letters, or whatever the number of letters ends up being—that represent inclinations or impulses. Each human person who has ever or will ever exist is created, as Genesis 1:27 says, “in his [God’s] own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Our inclinations and impulses will come and go. I know that if I acted on every impulse I’ve felt in my life, I would be in prison or worse today! A male must act like a male not because he feels like it, but rather because that is who he is. A female must act like a female because that is who she is. To reduce a human being to the level of whatever inclination he or she may be feeling this week, month, or year is nothing less than an outrage. A man is immeasurably more than his inclinations.
So what do we do when we have impulses or inclinations that are contrary to our created nature—as they inevitably will, given our fallen state? If one is a woman? Act like a woman. If one is a man? In the words of that God-blessed Jesuit dean of men: “Act like a man!”