Before the year 2000, no US state recognized same-sex marriage. By 2015, it was legal throughout the US and most of Western Europe. Before 2015 most Americans knew nothing about transgender issues. Within a year transgender issues are on the front pages of newspapers every day and schools may be forced to provide special bathrooms for trans students. The pace of change in the sexual revolution is not just rapid. It’s accelerating around the world. Why? This is the second instalment in a MercatorNet symposium.
WALTER SCHUMM: our culture puts a premium on what is fast and pleasurable, regardless of the long-term consequences.
Why is the pace of the sexual revolution accelerating so quickly?
That is a great question. One of my failures in life was that I made an assumption that it would not do that. If I had assumed otherwise, I would have begun evaluating research on that topic much earlier in my career. For example, I would have re-analyzed all of Dr Evelyn Hooker’s data on homosexual men rather than having to settle for an analysis of what little could be reconstructed from her publications. I would have obtained the NESARC data set before the Federal government restricted it.
The truth is I probably don’t know any more about this than anyone else but I will give it a shot and see how others react.
I think as a culture in the West we are losing sight of the value of delayed gratification. Radio and TV (perhaps Facebook, too) focus on appearances and reward people for having better appearances.
The store that can get you your pizza faster (for the same cost and taste) will likely get rewarded by more of your business. I think we have put a premium on fast and pleasurable, regardless of the long-term consequences. Well, my deceased colleague Dr. Bruce Bell used to say you can have two of three: good, fast, cheap. But not three out of three.
The problem is that none of us are perfect. That means that developing a good relationship with others, children, or with God will take time, effort, and sacrifice from each person involved. But if the value of good is not proclaimed effectively, who will want to bother with a long-term proposition like that? If good is not part of your equation of life, then it’s down to fast and cheap, which can lead to a lot of relationship turnover.
One problem has been that proponents of sexual “freedom” have often been loose with the truth as well. As I noted in a recent article*, over 150 legal and social science articles reported that the number of children being raised by same-sex parent couples in the USA was as high as 28 million when finally the true number was found to be closer to 200,000. Very few scholars ever disagreed with those numbers, even though some of the numbers originally came from unreliable sources (eg, newspaper articles).
Another issue is that Western society seems vulnerable to emotional appeals or words. As long as you say you are promoting equality or equal rights, few will dare to challenge what you are saying as most don’t want to be accused of being against equality or against equal rights. Issues of responsibility or earned privileges tend to get lost in such discussions.
I think another useful angle is how one creates and sustains one’s identity as a special person. The hard way is to develop your character, love others, and actually create useful products or services through your intelligence and effort. However, it is much easier to develop an identity based on social status, wealth, or even a political minority status. One can easily conclude that I am special because I am a lesbian and deserving of special attention because I am oppressed. The Scriptures suggest that we become special (have something to boast about) not by power, or wealth, or social status but by knowing God.
Another angle is the issue of personal motivation. We can allow our feelings to drive our behavior or we can be driven by our cognitive parts. In marriage and family therapy, this is known as “differentiation of self”, where you don’t let your emotions drive your cognitive decisions. Transactional analysis would have said you don’t let your inner child tell your inner adult what to do. Freud would have said you don’t allow your Id to override your Superego. Jesus said that sinners were slaves to sin, which I interpret to mean that sin is often a result of letting the pursuit of emotional pleasure override our better, longer-term interests in our decision-making.
One danger in society today is that our feelings determine our identity or factual status. So, if one day, you wake up and don’t “feel” married, well then you really are not, so you are being inauthentic if you don’t go ahead and divorce your spouse. If you don’t feel like you are a male, well perhaps then you are not, regardless of the biology of the matter. If you feel some slight sexual attraction to a same-sex person, then you must be gay or lesbian, regardless of whether you have any desire to engage in sex with someone of the same biological sex.
If you don’t feel like being a parent anymore, well just walk away from it and leave it all to your spouse. Instead of feelings being a delightful but small part of life, they are assumed to be virtually the whole thing of life, what determines your personal authenticity, and what your whole identity and moral choice should be based upon. So, if it’s a good thing to do but you don’t “feel” like it, don’t do it. If it’s a bad thing to do, but you “feel” like it at the moment, go right ahead and do it because that’s the only authentic thing to do.
However, the net effect of this way of operating turns evil into good and good into evil and a condition in which everyone does what is right – or feels good – in their own eyes. I believe this can lead to or at least reaffirm a condition in which those with the most power in society feel even more entitled to push those with less power around and to do so, even more guilt free.
Another issue is associated with the human need for justification. We compare ourselves with each other and often feel better about our moral life if we see others who seem worse. Sometimes this may work to lead us (wrongly, in my opinion) to despise those with seemingly worse moral standards or behaviors. On the other hand, I think that another pattern is for us to feel better if others are being justified for moral behaviors more extreme in a negative direction than our own.
I may be having a heterosexual affair, but I tell myself that at least I’m not as extra-dyadic as many gay men. So, if gay men are met with social approval, then I must be even better and have less basis to feel guilty about my own variant sexual behavior. Therefore, if I grant approval to gay men for their morality, that justifies my own deviations at the same time, so I make myself look tolerant and positive while allaying my own conscience at the same time, killing two psychological birds with one stone, so to speak.
In the larger society, this may become an iterative process, feeding on itself, with a race to the bottom, so to speak, with approval being increasingly granted to a wider range of sexual practices that may have been frowned upon in earlier times. What might those be? My guess is that adultery will be (where it hasn’t been already) decriminalized, perhaps even approved, as part of spreading the “love” around. I think that consensual adult-child sex will gain approval, perhaps to the age of 13 or above, as an important step in the sexual identity development of youth (after all, who could be against educating our youth?). Surely, polyamory will become “cool” in many circles and with a push from Islam, perhaps polygamy will gain acceptance in the West (with my apologies to the author in First Things who recently argued that polygamy would never gain such acceptance). If polyamory can be OK with gay men, why not other men?
How has traditional Christianity coped?
This leads me to discuss some ways in which I am concerned that traditional Christianity may be less effective than it might otherwise be in influencing our culture’s sexual values.
I am not sure if my military analogy will extend to churches but here’s my take on it. When I was a battalion commander of a prisoner of war camp in the US Army Reserve, I was required to develop a METL, a mission-essential task list. Rather than putting this into a book no one would ever read, I created a 4 foot by 22 foot poster that had our unit vision statement at the top: “Maintain the honor of the United States of America”. Under that I had lower levels with things like “Treat all prisoners and detainees humanely and with respect” and “plan, establish, and operate prisoner-of-war camps in a variety of environments”. Under that I had missions for each part of the unit and then individual and team tasks that had to be done to fulfill the higher order requirements. At the very bottom were soldier-level tasks required of all soldiers, no matter what the unit.
My higher headquarters regarded this as the dumbest thing any battalion commander had ever done. But I wish they could have seen the brains light up of the soldiers and inspectors whom I briefed whenever they joined or visited our unit. I would say that if we didn’t treat prisoners in a way so as to maintain the honor of the United States (and implicitly our treaty obligations to the international community through the Geneva Conventions) then none of the rest mattered. But the rest did matter because we couldn’t maintain the honor if we didn’t know and do the rest.
So, it was essential for everyone to do their part at the individual, team, platoon, and higher levels. I would tell each soldier where he/she fit in and what they had to learn and be able to perform in spite of challenges from local circumstances. If they got bored at training then they needed to ask their sergeant to cross-train on adjacent tasks to get more of the total picture.
When I showed this to a training inspector, he closed his briefcase and left, saying something like “it’s so clear that you “get it” about training, I have no further need to check on you”. Later, when my battalion set up a POW camp in Iraq and was inspected by Major General Taguba, it was found to be the only camp of at least eight or so in Iraq where the soldiers both knew what to do and were doing it correctly in accordance with the Geneva Conventions and also upholding the honor of the United States. The report said specifically, “The 530th MP Battalion, commanded by LTC Stephen J. Novotny, effectively maintained the MEK Detention Facility at Camp Ashraf. His soldiers were proficient in their individual tasks and adapted well to this highly unique and non-doctrinal operation”.
Among the various Christian denominations, I think many laity are uncertain how to engage constructively in the culture wars. I don’t know about your church, but most that I attend have little sermons on this verse or that verse but it’s seldom coherent as part of a larger picture about life and culture. Perhaps it’s coherent to the priest or pastor, but is it coherent to each person in attendance?
We all need to be able to explain how God’s algorithm appears to be to maximize the quality of your life in all its dimensions, including an eternal perspective of time, rather than maximizing short-term physical pleasurable results at the expense of other dimensional outcomes over longer periods of time. Sometimes, in the short run, His algorithm may appear to be less than optimal than that used by others, but God cares too much for us to lead us to buy into short-term, one-dimensional results at the expense of multi-dimensional, long haul results for each of us as a whole person.
I am concerned that until the churches get their act together and can raise up a generation that feels enthusiastic about taking on such an agenda and mission, society will continue to wander in the direction of fast and cheap rather than long-term, costly, and good.
That is to say, without more light in terms of some of the above vision, goals, tasks, etc., I fear that society will continue to decay rapidly in terms of a abandoning a morality that is based on delayed gratification and putting long-term good ahead of short-term pleasure and superficial appearances.
Walter Schumm is a professor of family studies and human services at Kansas State University.
* Walter R. Schumm et al. “Assessing the history of exaggerated estimates of the number of children being raised by same-sex parents as reported in both legal and social science sources.” BYU Journal of Public Law, vol 30, no 2, pp 277-301.
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