As Christians continue to process the ramifications of the Supreme Court’s supreme arrogance on the same sex mirage issue, one of the things we must continue to remember to do is review the basics. This of course will include constantly reviewing what the Scriptures explicitly teach on the matter of same sex sexual activity, but it is also important for us to go a layer beneath all that.
We also need to keep reviewing what the Bible teaches about the nature of man’s nature, and the nature of man’s choices. A hidden driver in a lot of what is going on around us is something that doesn’t appear to have anything to do with human sexuality. But it really does. The roofline is cockeyed because of blunders in the foundation work.
We have to identify, and reject, two false doctrines concerning man — one oddly mixes genetic destiny with Pelagianism, while the other oddly mixes heroic choices with absurdity — a form of existentialism.
One says that homosexuality is baked into the genes, nothing can be done about it, and hence no one is to be blamed for it. Blaming a homosexual for expressing his sexuality this way would be like blaming someone for having red hair.
The other existentialist option says that existence precedes essence. Whatever someone becomes is what they choose to become, and that choice is imprinted on the raw stuff of reality, which cannot be known, so we needn’t worry about it. Someone’s adopted persona, including their sexual persona, is a construct, and the one in charge of that construct is the individual making the choices. The painter moves his temporal brush over the ultimate canvas of absurdity. Sartre said that the only thing that mattered was to move your brush in good faith — as though there were any such thing. But in this scheme the only thing that really matters is the chooser choosing. The universe is bad weed, but everybody gets to roll their own.
One doctrine says that a man cannot be faulted if he had no choice. The other says that a man cannot be faulted if he made the choice. One says that nature is determinative, and that therefore it would be unjust to blame someone for what they are. (Unjust? What’s that? Blaming people is just in my genes.)
The other way says that choice is determinative, and once the choice is made by the sovereign individual, that decision must be respected by everybody, hear? This is why people are so hot to talk these days about gender, instead of about sex. Sex is what God did; gender is what we think we’re doing.
Now I am going to go into this luxuriant thicket of nonsense with the machete of Calvinism. Those Christians who know that we need to respond to the homosexual challenge need not be explicit Calvinists, as I am — though that would be jolly — but I do believe that the only cogent responses to these hidden drivers will have to come from somewhere in the Augustinian tradition. Here’s why.
The Pelagian assumption is that one cannot be blamed for what one cannot help. If that assumption is shared by conservative Christians (as it often is in the circles of evangelical semi-Pelagianism), it will be terribly difficult to answer the homosexual argument that this “is just the way they are.” And you can’t fault someone for that. This is why many Christians find these arguments strangely persuasive, and they don’t know why.
Now I happen to believe the research hunting for the gay gene is a lot of yelling up the wrong rain spout. I don’t think they are going to find it. But that is neither here nor there — it doesn’t matter to a Calvinist if they find it. Suppose they do locate the gay gene, and the research is conclusive, such that no thinking man can deny it. They bring me to the laboratory to show me the proof under the microscope, and as they do so, they are grinning widely. My response would be to acknowledge what they had proven, and say further that I did not think that I would live to see the day, but that I had. “There it was, with my own eyes I saw it! Scientific proof of total depravity. It was a little black twisty thing . . . just like what you might think.”
I would say something like this is because the Pelagian assumption is false. Pelagianism argues that obligation is limited by ability. They say to say we are by nature objects of wrath and to say we are also by nature creatures with a particular color hair is to use that phrase “by nature” univocally, and that this means we can no more be blamed for one than the other.
But sin is defined by the nature and character of God, as expressed in holy Scripture. He defines certain attitudes and actions as sinful, and so they are. He does not define hair color as sinful, and so it isn’t. See how straightforward life is? The phrase “by nature” must therefore be taken equivocally — in two different senses.
Sin is not defined by what I have the ability to stay away from. Why all the fuss and bother to find a homosexual gene? We can already illustrate this excellent principle using heterosexual desire, which is of course genetic. The fact that sexual desire is indisputably genetic does not mean that the subject is not responsible for his lustful thoughts and actions. God’s Word says he is responsible, and so he is responsible. He doesn’t get to point an accusing finger at the (genetically caused!) testosterone flood that derailed all his innocent boyhood activities, those which involved his paper route and his Lego collection, to a thought life that was uniformly girlz, girlz, girlz. There is absolutely a genetic basis for all of this, and he is still being a freak show.
In other words, God faults us for certain aspects of what we are. We are by nature objects of wrath. Jesus does not just point to the sinful actions we do, that rotting fruit on the ground, but He also points to the kind of tree we are. The kind of tree we are can do nothing but produce that kind of fruit, and far from eliminating our moral responsibility, it heightens it.
When Jesus called the Pharisees snakes, He was not showing them an argument to use to get off the hook. “Hey, we never asked to be snakes.” No, they didn’t, but He was going to crush their head anyway.
In short, moral responsibility is defined by our relation to God. It is not defined by our inabilities because there is such a thing as a moral inability, which is culpable. Physical inability — such as my inability to fly to Hawaii by flapping my arms — does remove obligation. Nobody blames me for not doing so. But there is a kind of inability that we do find blameworthy. Take, for example, the well known inability of orc chieftains to participate peacefully in flower garden tours.
The Pelagian argument is valid, which means the only way to deal with it is by denying the truth of one or more of the premises. Some form of the Augustinian tradition is the only real way to do this. And by participating in the Augustinian tradition I do not include drawing a paycheck under false pretenses from a wobbly Augustinian institution.
Since the point is to carve out room for our lusts, and not to be intellectually consistent, as soon as it becomes obvious that fate won’t deliver the goods, we will turn to choice — raw, unbridled choice. Genes be damned! What matters is that I self-identify! And as I do, as soon as I do, all you haters who want to keep me out of the women’s restroom, which is the only place I find any solace anymore, must learn to respect my choices. Does this eyeliner work with the pink contacts?
In order to make choice sovereign in this way, it is necessary for reality, if it has a nature, to keep that nature to itself. We expect nature to keep quiet about it, and it was Kant who most helpfully bolted and padlocked that door for us. A reality that expressed itself would necessarily intrude on our choices. So we pretend that we have no access to things-as-they-are, which leaves us here with . . . Yay! Choices!
In this blunder, for all intents and purposes, nature serves as a blank screen on which we project what we have going on. Nature brings no authoritative information to the game — that would be too constraining and way too off-putting. So we “retreat to commitment,” which is to say, we retreat to our faith community’s projector, which we then point at the screen of who knows what.
But Sartre at least had enough sense to know he was being absurd. Without an infinite reference point, every finite point is absurd. Our current crop of sophomores just got here, which is why they think this is a party where the cool kids still are. But if there are any cool kids left, which is actually uncertain, they are passed out drunk in the back yard.
Who is vulnerable to what? Pop evangelicalism is vulnerable to the first irrationalism, while the academic Reformed are vulnerable to the second. Pop evangelicals have a long history of semi-Pelagianism, and so they have real trouble learning how to give the answers of hard Calvinism. The academic Reformed had just enough hard Calvinism as an undergraduate to be inoculated to it, but they feel they have read more than enough Barth to make up for all that now.
After the reception, the new head of the biblical theology department looked across the seminar room at his new intern, his chest heaving with barely restrained emotion. “Troy, Troy . . . You had me at perichoretic . . .”
So hold your peace, rebellious pot. The Lord is God, and you are not. God is God, and His majesty applies in two relevant ways here. His majesty and person define what the word good means, and His majesty as expressed in creation defines what nature means. This requires that it also defines what against nature means.