The Supreme Court decision yesterday won’t just affect marriage. Giving the government the power to redefine a pre-political institution changes the relationship of the government to all of our rights. As Jay Richards says in “Why a Limited Government Must Recognize Natural Marriage,” “You can’t make war on the natural law and then appeal to it for help.”
The arguments for redefining marriage have been all about individual rights, but the move would actually undermine the foundation of individual rights. Here’s why. A limited government doesn’t try to redefine reality as the Orwellian governments of the 20th century did (including the fictional government of George Orwell’s 1984). A limited government recognizes and defends realities outside its jurisdiction. Our government doesn’t bestow rights on us as individuals. We get our rights from God. A just and limited state simply recognizes and protects this pre-political reality. But a government that gets in the habit of ignoring other pre-political realities is primed to ignore the reality of unalienable human rights.
The individual and his inherent rights are a pre-political reality. Marriage is another. The institution of marriage transcends every political system….
Appealing to nature and nature’s God to defend individual rights and equality, which most cultures have not recognized, while ignoring the universal testimony of nature and culture on marriage, is like sawing off the branch you’re sitting on. Put another way, you can’t make war on the natural law and then appeal to it for help.
So, just as government can’t redefine our rights as individuals made in the image of God, it has no authority to redefine marriage. Communism was totalitarian because it tried to redefine the individual, to create a new “Communist Man.” We’re now struggling with another totalitarian impulse to redefine reality.… If the state can redefine a universal institution rooted in human nature, what can’t it redefine?
Invoking a right doesn’t create a right. Rights come from our nature, from reality, from the way things are. In the case of marriage, we are dealing with a biological reality first and foremost. A government that puts itself in charge of redefining such things is a menace to human rights and human institutions.
Make no mistake, the right on which the Supreme Court is basing its decision is not a natural right to equal protection under the law (no one has ever been denied a marriage license because of his sexual orientation); it’s a right to make marriage whatever we wish it to be—a right they’ve created on their own. As Justice Roberts said, “The fundamental right to marry does not include a right to make a State change its definition of marriage.” The Supreme Court yesterday trampled a pre-political reality in order to create a new “right” that five of the nine justices personally prefer. Today, they happen to prefer having two-person marriage. But once the two complementary sexes of spouses are irrelevant, there’s no principled reason to limit the number of spouses to two.
Indeed, there are no limits at all on a government that isn’t bound to respect and submit to realities outside of itself. We’ll just have to wait and see where five justices’ future personal whims take us.
Nancy Pearcey notes something important about transgenderism (and the worldview of a culture that celebrates it):
The worldview implicit in the transgender movement is that our physical bodies have no particular value – that our biology is irrelevant to who we are as persons….
It is a worldview that drives a wedge between one's body and one's sense of self, which exerts a self-alienating, fragmenting effect on the human personality….
The autonomous self will not tolerate having its options limited by anything it did not choose – not even its own body….
This radical autonomy may be promoted as liberation, but it is a devastatingly disrespectful view of the physical body. The implication is that your body is not part of your authentic self….
Today we are seeing the real-world results of this denial. Transgenderism treats the scientific facts of human biology as having no intrinsic purpose or significance. It treats the body as nothing but a piece of matter that gives people no clue about who they are as persons. It is a self-alienating worldview that teaches people that their identity as male or female has no inherent purpose or dignity….
Liberals often portray the morality of the Bible as negative and restrictive. But in reality, Biblical morality honors humans as embodied beings. It respects our identity as male and female, thus leading to integrity and wholeness. The root of the word integrity means whole, integrated, unified – our minds and emotions in tune with our physical body.
A Biblical worldview offers a positive message that respects the whole person and is motivated by love and compassion.
In a world that happened to begin, where only dead matter existed at the beginning, and where physical forces happened to bring some of that matter together in a particular way such that it now moves around on its own, the concepts of “right” and “wrong” are meaningless fictions.
Sure, there might be an objective way for the collections of molecules we call “humans” to live that will enable those humans to live longer or maximize their pleasurable feelings, but there is certainly no obligation to do so (and nothing to say that either living longer or having pleasurable feelings is something that ought to be done; they’re merely possibilities). Obligation requires a personal Rule Giver to whom we’re rightly obligated, who will hold us accountable to that obligation. Without obligation, without a higher objective standard of the way things should be, without a mind above us and before us, there isn’t properly a “right” and “wrong.” There are merely things we choose to do or not do because of preference.
In this world, who are you to judge anyone’s preferences?
If one begins with atheistic materialism, relativism is the logical conclusion. And yet, we find that this relativism doesn’t match up with what we apprehend to be true about the moral aspects of reality. From Greg’s book on relativism:
Given a particular standard of morality, the person who is most moral is the one who practices the specific system’s key moral rule consistently…. [T]he quality of the moral hero—the one who most closely lives the ideal—indicates the quality of the moral system.
What kind of moral champion does [individual] relativism produce? What is the best that relativism has to offer? What do we call those who most thoroughly apply the principles of relativism, caring nothing for others’ ideas of right or wrong, those who are unmoved by others’ notions of ethical standards and instead consistently follow the beat of their own moral drum?
In our society, we have a name for these people; they are a homicide detective’s worst nightmare. The quintessential relativist is a sociopath, one with no conscience. This is what relativism produces.
Something is terribly wrong with an alleged moral point of view that produces a sociopath as its brightest star.
If there are no binding moral facts higher than the individual, then even the sociopath is moral. And placing the standard on society rather than the individual doesn’t get you out of this mess. If there are no binding moral facts higher than a society—if the community is the moral standard—then even Nazi Germany was moral. At least, those who went along with the Nazis were moral. Any German who resisted them was being immoral. And who are you (or any other country) to say Germany was wrong?
Relativism is a mess any way you look at it. Any worldview that lacks the ability to explain what we know to be true—that there are objective moral facts, regardless of whether an individual or an entire society rejects them—is devastatingly deficient.
In this last chapter of Finding Truth, Nancy Pearcey stresses the necessity of learning how to examine worldviews:
Some Christians seem to think the way to avoid being “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2) is by avoiding “worldly” ideas. A better strategy is to learn the skills to critically evaluate them. (p. 254)
Why is evaluating them a better strategy than avoiding them? Partly because we can't avoid them. We’re all exposed to popular culture all the time, and without the ability to recognize the source of the ideas we’re surrounded by, it’s easy to unthinkingly absorb bits of other worldviews:
[M]ost people pick up their ideas about life [through popular culture]…. Worldviews do not typically come with a warning label attached to tell us what we’re getting. They do not ask permission before invading our mental space. Instead there is what we might call a “stealth” secularism that uses images and stories to bypass people’s critical grid and hook them emotionally, sometimes without their even knowing it. That’s why it is imperative to learn the skill of deciphering worldviews when they come to us not in words, where they are easier to recognize, but in the idiom of picture, composition, plot line, and characterization. (p. 258)
I loved Pearcey’s examples of how worldview ideas have been expressed through art (see her book Saving Leonardo for an in-depth discussion of how the development of philosophy is reflected in literature, art, music, architecture, etc.).
Impressionist art was inspired by empiricism:
Everyone knows what an impressionist painting looks like, with its little dabs and dashes of color. But why did impressionists decide to break up images that way? Because they were influenced by the philosophy of empiricism, which claims that the ultimate foundation of knowledge is sensations. To reach that foundation, empiricism says, we must reach down to the level of sheer sensory input. We must not even interpret sensations in terms of discrete objects standing in three-dimensional space, but only as patches of color filling our field of vision.
That’s why the great impressionist Claude Monet wrote, “When you go out to paint, try to forget what objects you have before you, a tree, a house, a field, or whatever. Merely think, here is a little square of blue, here an oblong of pink, here a streak of yellow.” His goal was to cut through to the level of raw, immediate sense data. Spots. Streaks. Patches of color. (pp. 260-261)
Deconstructionist art came out of postmodernism:
Recall that postmodernism is the claim that there is no “metanarrative” or universal story line valid for all people at all times. Each community has its own story line for making sense of the world. How would an artist give that idea visual expression?
By refusing to give a work of art any coherent overall design. This explains why deconstructionist artists favor the pastiche or collage—a patchwork of disconnected images that defy any attempt at interpretation. For example, the famous collages by Robert Rauschenberg, says one art historian, “juxtaposed images in ways to suggest random incoherence, to which the artist—and viewer—can bring no meaningful order.” What was Rauschenberg saying with these disconnected images? That “life’s random occurrences … cannot be made to fit in any inherent hierarchy of meaning.” (pp. 264-265)
Abstract art was an expression of pantheism:
Why did some artists stop painting objects at all? Because they were influenced by pantheism. The first abstract painter was Kandinsky, who embraced a blend of Eastern and Western mysticism. He argued that the way to oppose philosophical materialism was to get rid of material objects. In his words, abstract art would liberate the mind from “the harsh tyranny of the materialistic philosophy,” becoming “one of the most powerful agents of the spiritual life.”
The purpose of an abstract painting, then, is to free the mind from its preoccupation with material objects and draw the viewer up to the spiritual realm. (pp. 263-264)
If you haven’t yet read Pearcey’s Total Truth and Saving Leonardo, I strongly recommend you do—these three books are best read together. We need to be able to recognize these ideas and where they come from when we see them in our culture. If we don’t carefully develop our own worldview, the culture will develop it for us.
But this doesn’t just matter for our sake. We need to understand the worldviews of our neighbors if we’re going to anticipate their questions and respond in a way that’s meaningful to them.
Thanks for reading with me! What did you think of the book overall? Would you like to do this again with another book? If you didn’t read the book, did you still read and enjoy these posts? I’d love to have your feedback on this book study in the comments below.
Nancy Pearcey: How to Respond to Doubt: “The researchers uncovered the single most significant factor in whether young people stand firm in their Christian convictions or leave them behind…. [T]he most decisive factor is whether students had a safe place to work through their doubts and questions before leaving home…. The study indicates that students actually grow more confident in their Christian commitment when the adults in their life—parents, pastors, teachers—guide them in grappling with the challenges posed by prevailing secular worldviews. In short, the only way teens become truly ‘prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks’ (1 Pet. 3:15) is by wrestling honestly and personally with the questions.”
“We Engage Culture for Jesus”: An Interview of Christian Artist Lecrae: “What we need to realize is that Christianity is total truth not just religious truth. Because it is total truth, it is relevant and applicable to all areas of life. When we don’t know how to navigate through culture, we miss out on Jesus’ power to shape and transform society. We, as Christians, have the unique privilege of being able to expose how things that this world has taken and intended for evil can be redeemed for their intended purpose, the glory of God.”
Here’s a challenge I was just asked to respond to:
When did you choose your heterosexuality?
Though it’s a short question, this is actually a more complicated challenge because there are numerous hidden assumptions in this question. What questions would you ask to help your friend clarify his position and get to the bottom of what he is really claiming? What do you think that rock bottom claim is that you should head for? How would you respond to that claim? What other aspects of this issue might come up while you’re both working through this objection?
We look forward to hearing your thoughts! Check back here on Thursday to hear Alan’s response.
We’ve come to the final principle in Nancy Pearcey’s Romans-1-based method of apologetics: Make the case for Christianity. After you determine how a person’s worldview doesn’t match reality, and how it contradicts itself, how do you move from there to making a case for Christianity in a way that’s relevant and compelling to that particular individual? Pearcey says, look for ways in which that person is living as if Christianity is true, accepting and acting on ideas his own worldview doesn’t support:
[W]e can get started by identifying those elements that people smuggle in from a Christian worldview. They are showing us where their own worldviews break down and, at the same time, what they find most appealing about Christianity. These provide strategic starting points for framing a biblical worldview attuned to the questions of our day. (p. 221)
As I’ve noted before, Pearcey’s approach leans heavily on the idea that the Christian worldview is appealing, not to mention necessary:
The fact that everyone has to function as though Christianity is true opens a creative opportunity for addressing the secular world. Christianity provides the basis for the way humans can’t help behaving anyway. In making the case for a biblical worldview, a strategic place to start is by showing that it alone gives a basis for the ways we all have to function, no matter which worldview we hold. (p. 224)
It should give us confidence to know that the words and actions of those we’re trying to reach reveal that they recognize (even if not consciously) that aspects of the Christian worldview are appealing and necessary. Pearcey offered quotes from atheists who “recognize the limitations and failures of their own worldview.” Their limitations are our opportunities to explain how Christianity succeeds where other worldviews fail:
In the summer of 2013, a beer company sparked controversy when it released an advertisement for Independence Day that deleted the crucial words “by their Creator.” The ad said, “They are endowed with certain unalienable rights.” (Endowed by whom?) The advertisement is emblematic of what many secularists do: They borrow ideals like equality and rights from a biblical worldview but cut them off from their source in the Creator. They are free-loaders. Christians should reclaim those noble ideals, making the case that they are logically supported only by a biblical worldview. (p. 226)
It’s this “free-loading” that we have to call them on. They’re living as if the Christian ideas of human rights, the scientific enterprise, consciousness, moral and scientific knowledge, even spirituality, worship services, salvation, and God make sense in a atheistic materialist worldview. We need to help them squarely face the implications of their own worldview and recognize that these things only rightly belong in Christianity. Do they want them? They can’t have them without the God of Christianity; it’s all or nothing. They must choose.
I thought the descriptions of how some scientists have spiritualized evolution (e.g., by postulating an evolving, pantheistic-type mind) were fascinating. This drive on the part of atheists to find other ways to fill what they’ve lost by rejecting Christianity, again, reveals the appeal and necessity of the Christian worldview:
What drives religious variants of evolution is a sense that there must be more to reality than the flat, one-dimensional vision offered by materialism. Evolutionists are reaching out for higher dimensions to answer the human longing for greater meaning to life. Those longings are one more expression of general revelation. They are signposts to the biblical God. (p. 241)
What ideas are people trying to illegitimately borrow from the Christian worldview? What ideas are missed when they’re gone? Pearcey answers this question according to what she experienced after giving up Christianity as a student, saying, “I was acutely aware of what I had lost”:
I had known that my life had a purpose.
I had known that my actions had a significance that would last into eternity.
I had known that the final reality behind all temporal realities is Love.
I had accepted the existence of an objective moral standard.
I had known that God himself spoke to the human race through Scripture…. When I embraced agnosticism, however, the heavens were closed. I was locked in my own mind, limited to my own tiny slot in the immensity of time and space…. [I]t was impossible to know any transcendent or timeless truths. Indeed, it might be impossible to know any truth at all.
Pearcey’s personal story explains her whole approach: She has known what it’s like to lose—and then try to live without—aspects of reality that we all need and desire; and knowing the lack of them, she can see their beauty with more clarity. She doesn’t want us to take these things for granted. We need to show people the God from whom they come.
When someone rejects God, Pearcey says to ask the question, “If there is no God, what then? What do you think is true, and how would you support it?” This is what she asked of a student, in order to encourage that student to examine the consequences of her change in worldview:
As she began to study the alternatives, she realized that giving up Christianity was not a matter of merely deleting a few files of doctrine from her mind. Christianity is an entire worldview that undergirds many of the great ideals of Western culture, from justice to equality to universal human rights—ideals that the teenager did not want to give up. (p. 249)
What did you think of this chapter? If you’ve had any conversations as a result of what you’ve learned from this book (or these posts), I’d love to hear about it. Leave your comments below, and read “How Critical Thinking Saves Faith” for next Friday. Next week is the final week!
(In this chapter, Pearcey mentions C.S. Lewis’s Pilgrim’s Regress. If you like Finding Truth, you’ll surely like that book, as well. I don’t know how long this deal will last, but today the Kindle version is on sale for $1.99, and you can add the audio version for only $3.99 more.)
Articles mentioned in this chapter (see links in the post above for more):
The Atheist Delusion by John Gray – “[T]he idea of free will that informs liberal notions of personal autonomy is biblical in origin (think of the Genesis story). The belief that exercising free will is part of being human is a legacy of faith, and like most varieties of atheism today, [atheist author Philip] Pullman's is a derivative of Christianity…. Nietzsche…did not assume any connection between atheism and liberal values – on the contrary, he viewed liberal values as an offspring of Christianity and condemned them partly for that reason. In contrast, evangelical atheists have positioned themselves as defenders of liberal freedoms – rarely inquiring where these freedoms have come from, and never allowing that religion may have had a part in creating them.
A Free Man’s Worship by Bertrand Russell – “Such, in outline, but even more purposeless, more void of meaning, is the world which Science presents for our belief. Amid such a world, if anywhere, our ideals henceforward must find a home. That Man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system, and that the whole temple of Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins—all these things, if not quite beyond dispute, are yet so nearly certain, that no philosophy which rejects them can hope to stand. Only within the scaffolding of these truths, only on the firm foundation of unyielding despair, can the soul's habitation henceforth be safely built.”