Published December 6, 2022
The American ruling class and its apparatchiks are increasingly post-Christian. This is bad in all kinds of ways, but it does highlight the differences between Christianity and the ethos of our exploitative and incompetent elites. A telling example was recently provided by Kat Tenbarge, a tech and culture reporter for NBC News, who opened a rambling Twitter thread by declaring:
Kids frequently go to concerts with female pop stars who wear sexy outfits, perform suggestive dances, and sing lyrics about sex — the kids sing along, wear their merch, and copy their mannerisms. This is never seen as a problem but equivalent drag performances are. … The problem has never been kids exposed to sex or suggestiveness. Kids have always been welcome to watch movies with their parents that have sexual innuendo, dine at Hooters, watch cheerleaders, and pass by magazine racks that include Playboy. Have you seen some movie posters?
This “culture reporter” has apparently never met a social conservative. Despite Tenbarge’s (perhaps feigned) ignorance, millions of us object to all of this sexualization of children, and we work hard to shield our children from it. But the decades the left spent denouncing us as scolding, prudish killjoys were memory-holed as soon as this history inconvenienced the latest talking point.
In contrast to the conservative Christians who have consistently opposed sexualizing children, Tenbarge is only concerned with ensuring that the sexuality children are exposed to is rainbow-infused. This view is increasingly normal, and it is the result of social conservatives having lost repeatedly for decades. This is the world liberalism created. The many victories won by the sexual and cultural revolutionaries are the reason we are now trying to hold the line against child drag shows and sterilizing children.
Of course, there are some people who eagerly signed up for the toboggan ride down the slippery slope and are only now wondering why there aren’t any brakes. These people persuaded themselves that the cultural and sexual revolutions would go just as far as they were comfortable with, and not any further. But the real, consistent resistance to those revolutions has always been from people and communities providing a comprehensive critique against — and a lived alternative to — them.
The people trying to hold the line now are mostly the same people who have been doing so for decades, and though they have rarely been victorious, they have often been vindicated. The abolition of long-standing sexual mores and obligations was supposed to make people freer and happier. But sexual liberation has brought misery, along with continued inequality and exploitation. The sexual revolution gave us less bliss and far more loneliness, suffering, and fatherlessness than promised. Even liberal feminists such as Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times are acknowledging the problems the sexual revolution has created, especially for women.
Leftists don’t have a solution for this loneliness and exploitation, except for doubling down on the sexual revolution and hoping that even less sexual restraint somehow makes things better. Thus, amid the relational wreckage of modern romance and family, there is an allure to an older way of life in which sex requires commitment and in which children are welcomed as blessings. Furthermore, as ever-more people are alone, it is obvious that a norm of monogamous marriage acts like a sort of sexual and relational distributivism, leaving fewer people on the outside looking unhappily in.
And yet the sexual revolution rolls on unabated and apparently insatiable. This is not just because the wealthy and powerful are best positioned to enjoy its pleasures while avoiding its harms, but also because the vocations of marriage and parenting require hard work and sacrifice that are difficult to sustain without support. Regrets aren’t enough to teach virtue, or to unlearn a cultural ethos of self-indulgence. Nor do they give you a support network or laws that prioritize protecting the dependent over maximizing adult autonomy.
Thus, though Christian belief and community are not necessary to apprehend truths about morality and human flourishing, they are often essential to helping people live by them. Christian virtue cannot be long sustained without belief. A culture of kindness and solidarity cannot be built upon the subjective whims of expressive individualism. For example, in the age of ultrasound, there is no denying the violence of abortion, but it is mostly Christians who have been willing to accept the limitations, from sex to economics, that it takes to protect developing human lives.
Christianity provides both moral and relational resources to resist pleasant-seeming temptations and apparently expedient evils. Of course, even the best Christians and churches are imperfect, and there are always false teachers and treacherous leaders, but these failures and betrayals should not dissuade Christians from proclaiming the truth regarding marriage, family, and sexuality. However, congregations that hope to retain their witness amid a hostile culture need to discipline their members lest the sort of slanders peddled by the likes of Tenbarge become true.
For Christianity to be a light shining in the darkness, Christians must distinguish between light and dark in doctrine and practice. It is no kindness to tell people, whether in or out of the church, that they are perfect the way they are and have nothing to repent of. Mercy presumes righteous judgment. We all know that this world is unjust, and if we are honest with ourselves, we know that we are part of the problem.
This is why our culture is developing a plethora of penitential rites and substitute confessions, from land acknowledgments to implicit bias training. But these are largely a distraction from the real wrongs of our culture, to say nothing of our personal sins. We do not need more denunciations of our forefathers, or confessions of privilege.
In contrast to these false confessions, Christians may be a genuinely prophetic voice against the injustices of our culture. We may need to sharpen some critiques, such as those against current manifestations of greed, while on others, such as those related to sex and gender, we need the courage to continue to proclaim Biblical truth against the cultural tide.
Some, especially among the wealthy and powerful, will not listen, no matter how eloquent we are and how faithfully we live by our convictions. But we may hope that, in God’s grace, many will want to hear more from those who, for instance, have been consistently against sexualizing children.
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.