Christianity And History’s Ash Heap
Continuing a rush of rulings that have struck down marriage limits across the country, a federal judge in Pennsylvania on Tuesday declared the state’s ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.
“We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history,” wrote Judge John E. Jones III of Federal District Court in a decision posted on Tuesday afternoon.
I haven’t commented on this recent spate of rulings, because what’s the point? We all know the fix is in. We all know where this is going. What ticked me off about this particular ruling is the repulsive, self-congratulatory moral triumphalism of Judge Jones. Read his entire ruling. The cliched prose almost approaches kitsch at times. For example:
As a group, they represent the great diversity of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. They hail from across the state, making their homes in Allegheny,Dauphin, Centre, Northampton, Delaware, Chester, and Philadelphia Counties. They come from all walks of life; they include a nurse, state employees, lawyers,doctors, an artist, a newspaper delivery person, a corporate executive, a dogtrainer, university professors, and a stay-at-home parent.
Look, I’m not questioning Judge Jones’s legal reasoning. I’m not qualified to do so, and in any case, it seems to me that the Supreme Court’s Lawrence and Windsor rulings made these rulings inevitable. What ticks me off is the second-rate crusading ardor with which Judge Jones makes his ruling. That phrase “ash heap of history” used in this context is outrageous. Know where it first came from? Trotsky, denouncing moderate revolutionaries, and consigning them to “the dustbin of history.” Ronald Reagan memorably used it to describe the fate of Marxism-Leninism.
Does Judge Jones really think that the sexual complementarity of marriage, which has been the basis of marriage in all places and in all times, until only two decades ago, is fit for history’s garbage dump? Does he really think that the Christian ideal of marriage, whose time may have passed but which is still strongly believed by many Americans, is so odious that it, and those who believe in it, must be spoken of so contemptuously in a ruling? Yes, he does. This kind of radicalism is familiar, but it must be said that Robespierre was a much better writer.
Well, what do you do if you are one of those Americans whose beliefs belong on the ash heap of history? Michael Hanby has been thinking about it in context of the gay-rights revolution. Excerpts:
Irrespective of what the state decrees, there remain institutions and individuals who regard same sex marriage not simply as politically unwise, sociologically harmful, or morally objectionable, but as ontologically impossible—as a matter of fundamental philosophy and not merely as a matter of faith. Those of us who find ourselves in that position should therefore strive to understand more deeply just what it means to be ‘on the wrong side of history’, not least because we have no choice but to remain there. And we need begin to think long and hard about what may be required of us and how we are going to have to live.
We must recognize first of all what this appeal to the inevitability of history is. It is not an argument but a ‘conversation stopper’ designed to put an end to argument by urging opponents of same sex marriage to resign themselves to a fate which they are powerless to resist and exempting advocates of ‘marriage equality’ from the burden of having to think about, much less defend, their position with depth or rigor. And by placing opponents of same sex marriage beyond the pale of progress and civilization, it encourages those who fancy themselves on the ‘right side of history’ to treat their opponents with contempt. The appeal to history is thus a nifty little piece of rhetorical violence, a ‘performative utterance’ that seeks to bring about the fate that it announces and to excuse the opposition’s loss of agency as the inevitable triumph of justice.
Hanby doesn’t think Ross Douthat and I are going to be successful in hoping that the victors will treat the vanquished with magnanimity. I should say here that I don’t think they will be magnanimous, but I think hoping for the best is pretty much what we are left with:
For magnanimity to prevail it would somehow have to overcome not only the momentum of current social and legal trends, but the very metaphysical and political logic by which same sex marriage has gained the ascendency. The practical conclusions of this logic appear to be inexorable. If arguments against same sex marriage are irrational arguments, then, as Crawford says, they are also publicly bigoted arguments and thus inherently unjust. Publically bigoted and unjust arguments are publicly immoral, antisocial, and uncivil as well, and those who adhere to them inevitably—and justly—suffer the special fate which a civilized culture reserves for such odious views: cultural intimidation, legal coercion, and de facto exclusion from respectable opinion and from public life.
If this is what it means to be on the wrong side of history, then the question of what to do about it cannot principally be a question of statecraft; not because Christians should retreat from the public square and content themselves with an ‘Amish’ interpretation of the so-called ‘Benedict option’—the Catholic Church cannot retreat from the world without relinquishing its claim to universality and thus ceasing to be Catholic—but because this fate systematically excludes us from public life and denies us the very possibility of effective participation in the body politic. This will be a bitter pill to swallow for those Christians, Catholic and Protestants alike, who have made their peace with classical liberalism and who have perpetuated the defining project of American Christianity over the better part of the last century: reconciling Christianity with liberal order.
Read the whole thing. And read the signs of the times. Hanby concludes:
Just as liberalism has attempted to have Christianity without the cross, so the great project of reconciling liberalism with Christianity has striven to create a society in which the Church could live faithfully without suffering. To wake up and discover oneself on the wrong side of history is to find oneself living in a world where that is no longer possible.
UPDATE: For newcomers to this blog, I’m not going to post any comments along the lines of “gay marriage doesn’t affect straight marriage.” We have been over this issue exhaustively on this blog. At this point, making that point — which is not really what SSM opponents are claiming — amounts to cluttering up the thread. So if that’s all you have to say, don’t post, because I’m not going to approve it.