What does the organ harvesting ugliness of Planned Parenthood have to do with the spectacle of
Bruce Caitlyn Jenner? Rod Dreher says, quite a lot:
In both the Caitlyn and Planned Parenthood cases, the stand you take has everything to do with what you think it means to be human, and how you relate the human being to the natural order. Modernity generally sees the material world as meaningless matter that we can fashion however we like. The older world — including the world of Christianity — teaches that God is intimately involved with Creation, and that we therefore have strict limits governing how we should treat it, including our bodies. A big problem is that far too many modern Christians have lost that older, classical Christian metaphysics, and no longer view the body and nature as bound inextricably to the divine. The conservative Christian may draw the limits of exploiting nature in a different place than, say, Caitlyn Jenner or Planned Parenthood’s Dr. Deborah Nucatola, but there may well be a shared metaphysics among them.
Dreher is saying that once you define what it means to be a human person in terms of the autonomous will, then the human body becomes an ancillary piece of existence which can and should be changed, forced upon or even mutilated so that it lines up with the inner self. The body becomes either a sacrosanct extension of personal identity or an errant clump of matter that distracts from your true self. What really matters is the personal will, the inner self-expression of identity; the body simply has to follow suit or get out of the way.
This lesson in metaphysics is helpful in understanding why many people who seemingly celebrate the apparent happiness and flourishing of life at any expense to moral norms also see no problem with the termination of unborn life when it is “inconvenient.” If the essence of humanness is what I feel, then it makes perfect sense for Caitlyn Jenner to say “This is who I really am” with no regard to biological reality. But then, if that is so, it also makes perfect sense to reason that an unborn fetus, which has no expressible inner will, but which does have a well-formed and beautiful body, should not be allowed to veto the self-determining will of anyone, much less the individual who would be “forced” to carry it to term.
Do you see what has happened here? The religion of personal autonomy has not just altered our morals or our social norms; it has radicalized our understanding of ourselves. Instead of being souls under the tender sovereignty of a Creator, with a body of His making, we now see ourselves as our own creation. How can that be, when we obviously don’t create ourselves? Well, we don’t create ourselves physically, but we do “create” ourselves in other ways, and if the physical body is not part of our true self–indeed, if it can actually be the opposite of our true self–then it doesn’t really count, and we really are self-created things.
Recently I was perusing the Twitter page of a progressive writer who identifies as bisexual and pro-choice. She wrote effusively in critique of a conservative evangelical blogger who had criticized her sexual ethics. Her main point was that her sexuality, her sexual identity, was not a debatable moral position. “My existence,” she wrote, “is not a moral argument.” In other words, this writer’s bisexuality wasn’t just self-evidently moral, it was actually beyond the purview of morals altogether; her sexual identity was her personhood, and her personhood did not require some sort of ethical justification.
What jarred me was that she then pivoted from this argument into a defense of Planned Parenthood and the abortion industry. She passionately argued that abortion on demand was morally fine and that any other reality was a viable threat on women’s health and freedom. It was one of the most astonishing feats of logical gymnastics I’d ever seen. Just moments after pleading that her personhood, expressed in her sexuality, was an objective fact and not subject to a philosophical examination, she openly denigrated the value of unborn life and subjugated its personhood to the self-determining will of adults.
This kind of radical cognitive dissonance can only survive on a steady diet of misnomers. Call it “transgenderism,” “genderfluid” or “becoming who I really am.” Call it “tissue,” “a clump of cells,” or “reproductive health.” Call it anything other than what is. A generation that is authentically seeking after truth does not have at arm’s reach a platoon of highly contemporary socio-psychological vocabulary. The sheer amount of effort that many put into obscuring reality suggests that we are running from our own conscience. We are not confident. We have to avoid the traps of honest language continually.
I’m reminded of what the demon Screwtape told his underling about temptation and language:
Your man has been accustomed, ever since he was a boy, to have a dozen incompatible philosophies dancing about together inside his head. He doesn’t think of doctrines as primarily “true” or “false,” but as “academic” or “practical,” “outworn” or “contemporary,” “conventional” or “ruthless.” Jargon, not argument, is your best ally in keeping him away from the Church. Don’t waste time trying to make him think materialism is true! Make him think it is strong, or stark, or courageous–that it is the philosophy of the future. That’s the sort of thing he cares about.
The illusion cannot last forever. Deborah Nucatola was giving us a wake up call. The arc of secularism is long but it bends toward profit, violence, and oppression.