This month’s issue of First Things includes an excellent editorial by R.R. Reno regarding the marriage case currently before the Supreme Court and the assumptions behind the worldviews involved in the discussion. I especially appreciated his discussion of the way many in our culture view the human body–and it matches some things we’ve looked at on Monday nights in the past year or so. How can we answer questions about what we should or shouldn’t do with our bodies unless we know what our bodies are and are for? And how can we answer those questions unless we know what we are? Determining what a human is may be the most fundamental question before our culture. Without our creator’s definition, who decides what we are? Will the powerful among us simply attempt to remake humanity in their own image? Reno points out what an odd and disastrous thing this new definition will be for our bodies in particular.
Today, we’re seeing a shift in consensus, at least in the Establishment. It’s moving from Washington’s view of religion as, on the whole, good to one that sees religion as oppressive. That’s not because religion has changed. It’s because our view of freedom has.
The human body has become an enemy of freedom, and because Judaism and Christianity affirm the body, we’re now seen as allies of the enemy.
We can see this metaphysical revolution in the dark consistency of the pro-abortion position. The willingness to kill in the womb stems from a fundamental judgment about equality: Limiting abortion burdens women unjustly, because they’re vulnerable to pregnancy in a way that men aren’t. In what sense, the defender of the American abortion regime asks, can women enjoy an equal freedom with men if they must live in bondage to the natural fertility of their bodies? Therefore, to be equal under the law, women must be free from any law that binds them to their naturally fertile bodies.
In the battle to defend the sanctity of life, we sometimes fail to see the depth of this revolution. We rightly focus on the absurdity of determining, as the Court has done, that the life of the child in the womb does not constitute a just reason—a supremely just reason—to override a woman’s personal decision to abort. If the sanctity of life is not a limit on personal freedom, what can be?
Abortion-rights advocates simply refuse this logic. Planned Parenthood doggedly fights against any restriction on the abortion license. This implacable stance indicates the depth and significance of the metaphysical revolution. It transforms a woman’s fertility into an enemy of freedom…
As we have learned in doctor-assisted suicide cases, as well as gay-rights cases, the logic of [court decisions] Roe and Casey is expansive: No fact about our bodies can constitute a legitimate reason to limit our freedom…
Traditional moral principles depend on metaphysical assumptions about the moral meaning of our bodies and our bodily acts. These are dismissed (rarely with arguments) as irrational and unjustified. So we’re left with the principle of utility, which gives the appearance of objectivity but is in practice vague and malleable.
Reno goes on to discuss how this same view of the body affects the debate on transgender issues, adoption rights, and doctor-assisted suicide. He ends by applying scripture to the current situation:
St. Paul asked, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God?” (1 Cor. 6:19) Our bodies are not our own. We have them on loan, as it were, and a large part of what it means to live with dignity involves respecting the natural order of bodily existence, especially its male–female complementarity, which includes, but is by no means limited to, fertility.
By contrast, today’s secular culture sees the human body as a canvas for us to write on, a machine for us to use as we see fit, an instrument of our will. We tattoo and pierce—and, if we’re so inclined, we pay doctors to amputate and rearrange and reconfigure… We treat our natural fertility as an impediment, a burden—until we want children, at which point we quickly resort to technological manipulation if our bodies refuse to cooperate… We preempt our mortality with suicide. We cremate. In our era, the body has no moral meaning.
There are close legal arguments to be made against this expansion of pseudo-liberty. There are moral arguments to be made in hopes of restoring a degree of sanity to Western culture. But as we make those arguments we need always to remember a fundamental truth: We have become metaphysical heretics in an era that denies the body any moral meaning. This makes us the bad guys in today’s culture wars, the enemies of postmodern freedoms, which are no longer political but personal.
It’s worth it to read the whole thing.