In an article in The Week, Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry addresses the popular understanding “that social change driven by appeals to science and reason is (a) good and (b) irreversible.”
Gobry’s article was written in response to a question asked by his colleague: “Can you point to any socio-cultural revolution — in race, gender, and now sexual orientation — that’s ever been halted or reversed?” The rhetorical question was meant to be a statement about the inevitability of a permanent change in the definition of marriage, but Gobry can point to something:
Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it started out as a fringe idea and became mainstream seemingly overnight….
Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it draped itself under scientific accoutrements….
Like other socio-cultural revolutions, it advanced under the banner of moral progress….
Like other socio-cultural revolutions, some Christians jumped on the bandwagon, and those who stuck to traditional teachings were branded as backward fundamentalists….
What cultural phenomenon is he talking about? Racism. As it turns out, the advancing of racism has more in common with the current marriage revolution than does the ending of racism (see more on that topic here). And that revolutionary advance was neither good nor irreversible, as time has proved. Read the whole article “Gay marriage, racism, and what everyone misses about the inevitability of social change” for more details on each of the above points. Here’s his conclusion:
The conventional wisdom sees our civilization’s still-incomplete turn away from racism over the past 50 years as the cornerstone case for the inevitability, goodness, and irreversibility of socio-cultural revolution. In fact, it was not a “socio-cultural revolution”; it was the halting and reversing of a socio-cultural revolution.
Can we draw any lessons from this? Well, that's risky business. But one potential lesson is that while socio-cultural revolutions are reversible, they take a long time to play out — 150 years in this case.
In any case, it turns out, not all social change is irreversible, and some social changes are good, but others are bad. And maybe, just maybe, history is on the side of orthodox Christians after all.
It may take a long time, but because marriage existed before politics, politics won’t be able to force it into a new, artificial shape forever. The truth of what it is, why it exists, and why it’s necessary for a functioning society will eventually prevail. Not before damage is done, but eventually.