Remember the pill scene from the movie Matrix? Neo is offered a choice between a red and a blue pill. The red pill promises only the truth. The blue pill offers the blissful ignorance to the fact that he is a human battery, one of millions that power futuristic machines.
What’s really incredible about the scene isn’t the possibility of such a fantasy world. It’s that Neo actually has a choice to leave it.
Ours is a culture that celebrates choices—to live where we want, marry whomever we want, work in whatever career we want, and be who we want to be.
Or is it?
Earlier this month, news broke that California had become the first state to ban licensed psychiatrists, social workers, and other mental health professionals from using any therapies or treatments that endeavor to change the sexual orientation of someone under 18 years old.
Governor Jerry Brown and the bill’s sponsor, state senator Ted Lieu, declared that minors would now be spared the trauma of attempting to change their sexual orientation.
Jubilation rung out across blue-state America. “Efforts to change minors’ sexual orientation are not therapy, they are the relics of prejudice and abuse that have inflicted untold harm on young lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Californians,” said Clarissa Filgioun, board president of Equality California, the “largest statewide LGBT advocacy organization” in the state. Another gay rights group, Truth Wins Out, hailed an end to what it described as “child abuse disguised as therapy.”
Apparently, the possibility that a teenager may want to change his or her sexual orientation of their own accord—not due to the firm prodding of overbearing parents—never crossed their minds. Modern liberalism supposedly holds individual choice to be a sacred act, but it seems that some choices are favored over others.
Since the culture war began, social liberals have been fighting under the banner of freedom—not just for consenting adults, but for minors as well, with parental authority an acceptable casualty in the cause of individual rights.
This is still a country where parents can decide when their children can get a car, buy a cell phone, and start surfing the net, but in 29 states teens don’t need parental permission to get an abortion. The same goes for condom distribution in hundreds of high schools in the country. Even the morning-after pill is available on demand in New York City public schools. Teens that come out as gay or transgender are hailed as cultural heroes and, if they are supportive, their parents join the proud ranks of “straight allies.” Parents that aren’t are branded “abusive.”
All this is the handiwork of social liberalism. Contrary to appearances, there’s a lot more to it than just a blind push for ever-widening circles of individual freedom. Indeed, one can discern three stages in the social liberal agenda.
At first, mere tolerance is demanded. Your neighbor, your son, a popular athlete or famous celebrity—it’s OK for them to come out as gay.
But eventually tolerance is not enough. Then the culture war escalates to the next phase, in which the choice to lead a gay lifestyle must be celebrated—gay pride parades, transgender contestants in beauty pageants, or gay nuptials.
All this is predicated on the assumption that real freedom means the right to be true to who you are and the right to openly choose a once-closeted lifestyle. In describing the prejudice aspiring trangender model Isis King faced from fellow contestants on America’s Next Top Model, Tyra Banks said: “But she wasn’t about to stop being who she is for a second. … Ultimately Isis wasn’t able to go all the way, but in her brief time on Top Model, she helped us all redefine what beauty is really about.”
But it is this very notion of choice that perishes in the third stage. Being gay, it turns out, isn’t a choice. It’s biological.
It is this third and final stage of the culture war that is now unfolding in California.
“The idea that people can just pick their sexual orientation the way they pick what to wear or what kind of coffee to drink is so irrational that even conservative vice-presidential nominee Paul Ryan had a problem going along with that line of thinking,” scoffed CNN columnist LZ Granderson in a piece supporting the so-called gay cure ban. “When it comes to sexual orientation, people can’t change who they are. But the ignorant parents could change with a little book therapy,” wrote US News and World Report writer Susan Milligan.
But regardless of where one falls on the nature-nurture side of the question, there still is an element of choice involved, even for those convinced that they were “born that way.” The choice is how one responds to such sexual urges.
It’s a choice that everyone faces, actually, albeit to differing degrees. Many people, for reasons of faith, family, or just a tradition sense of prudence decide to restrain their urges in one fashion or another. Celibate priests, devout Catholic couples practicing natural family planning, unmarried young Christian men and women—all, one may presume, have sexual urges from which they are abstaining, either temporarily or permanently, as the case may be. For those hoping to change their sexual orientation it goes beyond mere restraint: not only must one not act upon those urges, one must seek to eliminate or redirect those urges.
Denying one’s base urges—sexual or otherwise—is inconceivable to modern liberals. Their credo is seductively simple: Good feelings make for good actions.
But beyond the bumper-sticker appeal of such a slogan is an unsettling vision of diminished mankind. To put one’s instinctive urges in the driver’s seat is to hand the keys over to the id—the seat of all that is primal, passionate, and irrational in man, according to Freud. Framed in somewhat more traditional terms, it holds one’s will and intellect hostage to desire. “The most insidious corruption brought about by sexual sin … is the corruption of the mind,” writes E. Michael Jones, author of Degenerate Moderns. “One moves all too easily from sexual sins, which are probably the most common to mankind, to intellectual sins, which are the most pernicious.”
Of course, aside from the siren song of sexual desire, where else is the modern liberal to turn for guidance?
Faith, tradition, moral law, and Church—all pose too great a threat to the autonomy of the self.
Only choices that affirm a person as an individual are to be respected because the self is only authentic when it is autonomous. Call it the Golden Rule of American individualism: Better to be the Dirty Harry, than clean up your act.
Actually, there is one authority, outside the self, which liberals claim to recognize: science. In justifying the gay-cure ban, Brown appealed to science: “These practices have no basis in science or medicine and they will now be relegated to the dustbin of quackery,” the governor said. The legislation he signed into law cites reports, journal articles, and statements from seven social science societies in support of the ban.
Cue the usual canards about science against religious “quackery.”
But this isn’t because social liberals are such good scientists. It’s because science is a weapon of convenience in the war against traditional institutions on behalf of individual autonomy.
It’s easy to imagine that once science loses its usefulness the honeymoon will be over—easy, because it’s already happening. Just venture over to the web site of the National Association for Research and Therapy of Homosexuality, a group that opposes the ban and is challenging it in court. For just about every fact, statistic, or journal article cited by gay rights advocates, you’ll find an opposing one on their site.
Already, the California ban is having a ricochet effect across the country. Lawmakers in New Jersey are reportedly working on their own version and the National Center for Lesbian Rights is shopping the California legislation around to other “gay-friendly states,” according to the Huffington Post.
This third and final stage of the culture war is perhaps the most destructive of all. For decades, the idea of individualism has manifested itself on a collective scale under many guises: multiculturalism, postmodernism, pluralism, deliberative democracy.
But the core idea is the same: the public square has been stripped of anything that imposes demands upon us: family, tradition, Church, virtue, and so on.
In other words, we bring as little of ourselves as citizens and members of society to the public square—as few of our values and beliefs on the fundamental questions of life as possible because those might be offensive to those who don’t share them (i.e. the Left)—and we make our exit as empty-handed and open-minded as we came.
Social conservatives once may have rued the unraveling of the social fabric, the disuniting of America, and further decline of civilization. But at home, in Church, within the neighborhood, the local community, and perhaps in the reddest of red states there survives, even thrives, the vital cells of an old civilization ready to renew a nation. (A few examples that come to mind are the New Monasticism movement on the Protestant side, the Franciscan Friars of the Renewal on the Catholic.)
But now something more insidious is afoot. It turns out that we are not to be left alone anymore in our private lives. The same forces that denuded the public square of any common sense of the good, the true, and the beautiful now will not rest until it has laid siege to the home and the church. A genuinely pluralistic society—which liberals supposedly believe in, if not conservatives—would have tolerated secular adoption agencies open to gay parents and Catholic ones that aren’t. In the name of pluralism such a society would have been OK with churches denying insurance coverage for contraceptives while other employers provide it.
But no more. It’s enough to make conservatives yearn for the good old days of pluralism when toleration was the sole demand of the Left.