Published December 26, 2022
Vindication isn’t victory. For decades, Christians prophesied about the harms of the sexual revolution. And for decades, Christians were dismissed as puritanical killjoys. But Christian critiques of the sexual revolution have proven prescient. It is obvious that sexual liberation has not delivered the happiness we were promised.
But the accumulated misery accrued by abandoning Christian teaching has yet to turn our culture away from its course.
This stiff-necked commitment to sexual liberation should not surprise us. While Christians hope that the pain that results from rejecting God’s law will bring individuals and cultures to repentance, we know that some will persist unto destruction. There are many people and institutions who are too materially, socially, and intellectually invested in the fruit of the sexual revolution to admit error. Thus, when the wrongs resulting from rebellion against Christian teaching on these matters become undeniable, we should expect the continued allure of temptation, combined with pride and stubbornness, to induce bitterness and resentment toward those who have accurately critiqued the evils of our culture.
Two recent essays demonstrate how this dynamic can play out. The first, by Jonathan Chait of New York magazine, criticizes those who have tried to shut down debate regarding transitioning children. Chait admits that the pro-trans affirmation-only model is poorly supported, and that it is rushing children into major and irreversible body alterations. He even chides his fellow Left-liberals for shutting down dissent. He therefore urges more caution and acknowledges that, contrary to the claims of transgender activists, the science is not settled in their favor.
This is a welcome step in the right direction, and it joins other recent pieces in the legacy corporate media in questioning transgender dogmas. Hopefully, such articles will help establish a permission structure for left-liberals to voice their disagreements with, and concerns about, transgender ideology.
However, Chait does not disavow transition, even for children—he just thinks his side isn’t being careful enough in how it screens children for transition.
Because he won’t admit any fundamental flaws with gender ideology, Chait assigns conservatives much of the blame for the excesses of the transgender movement. He declares that Republicans refuse “to respect the basic rights of transgender people.” This, he argues, pushed transgender activists into a mindset in which “Any admission of doubt or disagreement within the medical community would give ammunition to Republican politicians to attack all forms of treatment for gender dysphoria.”
Chait’s excuses for transgender radicalism should fool no one. Republicans did not force trans activists and their Democratic allies into extremism. The exponential increase in trans-identifying children—and clinics medically transitioning them—began years before Republican politicians began to try to do anything about it. Furthermore, the supposed moderation he urges is incompatible with the radical claims of transgender ideology, which posits that someone can be born into the wrong body, and that the psychological distress this causes is best treated by radical body modification.
This mix of dubious metaphysics and dodgy medicine explains why transgenderism, in theory and practice, is nothing like the careful practice of medicine Chait imagines. Chait can blame conservatives and Republicans as much as he wants, but the problems lie in the imperatives of transgender ideology, which insist that children are born trans and that they must be medically transitioned lest they kill themselves. It is hard to establish guardrails when children’s subjective psychological claims are being treated with amputation and chemical castration.
Chait, in short, wants to walk back the most obvious wrongs of transgenderism, but is unwilling to repudiate their sources. With his side in too deep to back out, he tries to push a false moderation while scapegoating those who are actually opposing the source of the evils he identifies.
A similar dynamic is apparent in a long article in The Baffler, in which Emily Janakiram offers an extended critique of pro-life feminism. The piece alternates between denunciation of and concessions to abortion opponents, but whereas Chait urges an illusory moderation, Janakiram demands an even more illusory pro-abortion idealism.
The conclusion of the 6000-word article is remarkable in its despairing defiance. Janakiram writes that:
The language of the right becomes seductive when there is a real poverty of discussion surrounding the class politics of abortion and the limits of liberal sex positivity. But it cannot be stated strongly enough: the “pro-woman” promise of the right is an empty one. The nuclear family is touted as a refuge from the demands of capitalism, from the degradations of sexually disrespectful men: a loving bondage that ultimately sets you free. It is, in fact, a primary site of capitalist exploitation and gender-based violence. If the right promises the gilded cage of the nuclear family to women, they’re also the ones razing everything outside of it to the ground. So winning abortion rights truly does mean asserting that we can “have it all”: free abortion on demand, free childcare, free housing, an end to the police and prisons, and a totally different model of sexuality, one decoupled from male supremacy, rooted in love and care for others and ourselves.
In short, liberal feminism has failed, but pro-life alternatives are unacceptable, so it is Marxist-feminist utopia or bust. The author does not elucidate further on what that might be like or how to achieve it, or why any of it would have anything to do with real love, nor does she seem interested in those questions. Rather, she is content to demand a total revolution in everything from economics to sex, with no idea how to accomplish it. This amounts to a hopeless revolt against existence itself.
Abortion is at the center of this rebellion, for abortion on demand is based on a hatred for natural female fertility and the limits and obligations it imposes. It therefore has much in common with transgenderism, which is also rooted in revulsion at the givenness and finitude of our physical being as male and female.
This loathing of our embodied nature is destructive, both to oneself and to others, and the supposed liberation it implicitly hopes for is impossible. There is no escape from the body in this life. Human flourishing therefore requires reckoning rightly with the realities of our being as male and female, and therefore with sex and reproduction. Human well-being requires sexual restraint and norms. Confronting this truth may lead to despair or repentance, but it can also induce rage toward those who speak against the sexual revolution and its fruits, such as abortion and transgenderism.
Christians should still proclaim the truth in hope and love. But even, perhaps especially, when we are proven right, we should not expect that winsomeness will save us from being hated. Remember, they killed the prophets.
Nathanael Blake, Ph.D. is a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. His primary research interests are American political theory, Christian political thought, and the intersection of natural law and philosophical hermeneutics. His published scholarship has included work on Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Alasdair MacIntyre, Russell Kirk and J.R.R. Tolkien. He is currently working on a study of Kierkegaard and labor. As a cultural observer and commentator, he is also fascinated at how our secularizing culture develops substitutes for the loss of religious symbols, meaning and order.