Philosophy of Technology in Six Ideas

As I prowl around bookstores, I find a gaggle of books on managing technology overload. One after another fall of the presses and make their way on the shelves and into my hands. Some, I buy; most, I pass over. Often, I think, “I noticed that twenty years ago.” I did not predict Google or Facebook or Wikipedia, of course; but in my unread book, The Soul in Cyberspace, I did exegete the medium qua medium, noted some of the internet’s strengths, but warned of ways it could diminish the good life that God wants us to live. Here are six words that capture some of the insights I find repeated again and again in these new books.

  1. More is often less. Humans can profitably interact only with a limited amount of data and sensory stimulation. We must limit our exposure to internet (and all) electronic media because, unless we are careful, it will addle and unravel us. It may even stupefy us, even as we twitch and click away.
  2. The medium is the message. As Marshall McLuhan wrote 50 years ago, each communications media shapes its message according to the dictates of the form of communication. An image communicates differently than the spoken word, the spoken word, differently than the written word, and so it goes. Attending a worship service cannot be translated truthfully by watching it on line.
  3. Efficiency is overrated and may be dangerous. Many good things come slowly, such as strong and vibrant relationships, handcrafted furniture, and skill in playing a musical instrument. All too often, modern technology accelerates without regard to quality. Downloading a PDF of a book can be done quickly; but perhaps finding a hard copy and enjoying its un-electrified slowness is what you should do. It is more efficient to use a program to put comments on students’ papers. However, writing with pen and ink is more personal and embodied. Yes, it is slower—and better (if you have the time).
  4. Resist quantification over qualitative concerns. Technologies trade on numbers. How many likes did your Facebook post receive? People may like it for the wrong reasons. How many people follow your tweets? How can you maximize exposure to your blog? What is left behind, too often, is the quality–the objective nature–of what is available online. What might God think of your essay, your poem, or your cartoon? Does what you put on line contribute to human flourishing.
  5. Virtuous engagement online requires abstention. We often give too much of our time to the on line world. Our very souls are shaped by its speed, its fragmentation, its instantism. Thus, we are wise to retreat, to unplug, to desist, to desert it. Leave your phone in the car when you go shopping or when you meet a friend at a coffee shop. Designate hours and days when you are off line entirely. You will gain a new perspective on your on line life by going off line. You will notice what slipped into the background: friends, pets, nature, the Bible, prayer needs, and more.
  6. Every new communication technology gives and takes away. There is no sheer advantage. The telephone and radio extend the voice, but take away the physical presence. Early users of telephones were rattled by a disembodied voice coming from far away. The internet opens up the world to us, but may separate us from the people in our midst. Hence, “the absent presence” of much of life today. How can someone listen to you when they are texting someone elsewhere? Electronic music files make music available nearly anywhere, but the sound quality is worse than a record. And when you can listen to music through your ear buds in public, you will not be as aware of the world around you. You may not see the tears in a stranger’s eyes or hear a sound of distress in your midst.

My miniature essay fails to address the evil algorithms out there, the good and evil of big data, and other empirical matters worthy of concern. Nevertheless, my six ideas cover much of what is being written about today, twenty years after I warned about the down side of technologies. My inspiration was and is thinkers such as Neil Postman, Marshall McLuhan, Malcolm Muggerridge, and Jacques Ellul. Take some time away from Facebook, Instagram, et al, and read them, please.

 

Kierkegaard on Sin

When I read the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) in the spring of 1976, it opened the doors of myself that eventually lead to Jesus and his Gospel. In this excerpt from Philosophy in Seven Sentences, I explain Kierkegaard’s understanding of sin—a concept that showed me to myself for the first time. 


Kierkegaard on Sin

Kierkegaard is now ready to spring the trap. He says that “despair is sin.” It takes two forms.

Sin is: before God, or with the conception of God, in despair not to will to be oneself, or in despair to be oneself. Thus sin is intensified weakness or intensified defiance: sin is the intensification of despair. The emphasis is on before God, or with a conception of God; it is the conception of God that makes sin dialectically, ethically, and religiously what lawyers call “aggravated” despair.

The self is divided against itself in two ways, which are two sides of the same self. The first state of sin is to give up willing to be oneself. This is “intensified weakness,” which may sound odd but is not. One may shrink back from any task at hand (inward or outward) by hiding in excuses, such as “To err is human” or “Nobody is perfect.” These statements are true, but not the kind of truth the self should be satisfied with. The self is a movement and is not static. We know what an error is, and we do not praise it. We know what imperfection is, and we do not praise it. We embody both error and imperfection regarding moral intensions and actions. Kierkegaard will not let us rest in the popular phrase “mistakes were made.” We wonder how all these mistakes occur by themselves and without agents making them. Weakness is intensified when we play the victim when we are not the victim. I once accidently hurt a young playmate of mine. It was not traumatic to him, until his mother appeared. He then threw a fit over the egregious injury I had so unjustly caused him. His weakness was intensified.

The second state of sin is when we will to be ourselves in despair. We continue in a pattern of life that is less than ideal, with no hope of reform or renewal. People may say, “I’m just a big eater [meaning: glutton]” or “I will never get organized,” but they will to be this way—and without hope. Yet the conscience is not clean; it is not satisfied with chronic tension and disappointment. It is resigned to its condition but still feels guilt. Think of Friedrich Nietzsche’s defiant boast in Thus Spoke Zarathustra where he speaks of a life considered well-lived. This is a life so well-lived that one could bear repeating it eternally. Of the whole life one can affirm “Thus, I willed it.” Nietzsche said yes to the overcoming self, the self which is free from excuses but also free from scrutiny outside the self. For Kierkegaard the Nietzschean self is no self at all. This is because the essential dynamic of despair has been dissipated in the pure, untrammeled will. (The apostle Paul calls this “will worship,” and it is thus a form of idolatry.) But surely the will can go wrong. If so, then the will in itself cannot correct the will.

Nietzsche deftly illustrates Kierkegaard’s idea of “defiance.” To ignore or to repress is not to defy. Defiance pits itself against something. Nietzsche, in the voice of “the Ugliest Man” in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, says,

But he had to die: he saw with eyes that saw everything; he saw man’s depths and ultimate grounds, all his concealed disgrace and ugliness. His pity knew no shame: he crawled into my dirtiest nooks. This most curious, over-obtrusive one had to die. He always saw me: on such a witness I wanted to have my revenge or not live myself. The god who saw everything, even man—this god had to die! Man cannot bear it that such a witness should live.

This defiant despair is not just found in Nietzsche and a few others. I know it from the inside out. As I mentioned, I was assigned The Sickness Unto Death in a history of modern philosophy class. When I began to read that book I found that it was exposing the deepest dynamics of my soul. Through my study of atheists—such as Nietzsche, Freud and Marx—I thought I had dispensed with God. However, I could not fully suppress my awareness of God (see Romans 1:18-21). Yet I did not want to submit to this God. Rather, I would will to be myself in my despair. As a rebel against God, I wanted to be a witness against him. Kierkegaard made me distressingly clear to myself, which was the reason for his book. This literary, philosophical, spiritual experience opened a tightly shut door that a few weeks hence led to my confessing myself as a sinner and Christ as Lord (see Romans 10:9; John 1:12-13).

We still hear the word sin quite a bit, and most of the lingo is not very compelling. Augustine has already deepened our understanding, but we will face a daunting challenge to conceive this concept aright. Most references to hell today are glib and unthinking. Some years ago a cartoonist drew a strip called Life in Hell, which had nothing to do with the place Jesus Christ warned about. Why this flippancy? This old, grave word was evicted from its home and is now acting as a vagabond, casting about for some shelter far from its native country. The ghost word sin now alights on notions such as mistake, miscue, false guilt, and needless shame. It finds no grounding in gravitas. According to the oracle of Google, there is a group named “The Sinners” and another called “Sinner.” But Kierkegaard does not discuss it in the way that Billy Graham or Rick Warren does, although all three hold to the historic Christian doctrine of sin. Nor does Kierkegaard resemble the approach of Jonathan Edwards’s much-excerpted (and much-misunderstood) sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

Kierkegaard labors to explain and treat sin in existential-psychological categories, but without denying or compromising the church’s historic confession of humans as sinners. (He deals with original sin in The Concept of Anxiety, which is a companion to The Sickness Unto Death.) Kierkegaard sought to look inside the human condition to sound out its often obscured depths: its desires, its despair, and its possibilities. He feared that people could easily lose their selves in a labyrinth of popular dead ends but still receive the applause of the crowds and the money of investors and customers.

Groothuis, Douglas. Philosophy in Seven Sentences: A Small Introduction to a Vast Topic (p. 136-139). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

7 Principles of Technogesis

“If you want to know what water is, don’t ask a fish.” So goes the Chinese proverb. By extension, if you want to understand the strengths and weakness of American culture do not ask an America. Why is this? To walk through life, we must take some things for granted, such as driving on the right side of the road or standing in line at the grocery store. However, God calls us to be discerning citizens of heaven and earth. Worldliness is a constant danger. To paraphrase David Wells, worldliness makes the godly look odd and the ungodly seem normal. The way of the fallen world is the way of the unregenerate flesh and its works. Paul warns us to avoid the works of the flesh by being filled with the Spirit.

The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God (Galatians 5:19-21).

Acts of the flesh can become habitual patterns of life and so recede into the background. They seem normal. Everyone does them. For example, selfish ambition is often seen as the engine of success: sell yourself, put yourself first. The humble are the losers. They do not inherit the earth.

Worldliness may also throw its invisible net around us through the uncritical use of technologies, particularly communications media. Facebook, for example, might make us jealous or feed illicit erotic desires. The sinful may become normal for us.

Media may dull our senses to things divine and may enmesh and ensnare us in habits of the heart and mind that are earthbound. Marshall McLuhan, the media theorist (trained in rhetoric and literary criticism), wrote that “We become what we behold.” Or, as Scripture says, we resemble the idols we worship or we resemble the God we worship.

To avoid worldliness and to embrace godless, we ought rightly to evaluate the cultural givens, testing them for truth-worthiness and asking how they may be used for human flourishing and the expansion of God’s Kingdom. Technological awareness also makes life more interesting and is another fun way to annoy your friends. Consider several principles of interpreting technologies in light of Christian character and Christian mission. I call this technogesis.

  1. Every technologies both extends and contracts human communication. The telephone extends the voice over distances far greater than a shout or even the stentorian capacities of a George Whitfield or L. Dwight Moody. However, the visual presence is removed. Thus, all nonverbal aspects of communication vanish. Skype allows us to protect our images around the world, but it still cannot bring the whole person with it.

In light of this, consider what the best form of media may be for particular kinds of communication. Hearing a sermon with other Christians in a church involves the whole person. Hearing the sermon on the radio or a podcast does not—useful as that may be.  You should not only send a text when you should shed a tear with someone who is suffering.

  1. Each medium has biases and prejudges. The text message or tweet has a bias toward speed and brevity. It is prejudiced against developed exposition and argument. Donald Trump releases may of his ideas and even policies on tweets. Had he lived to see it, this would have even shocked Neil Postman. The printed page has a bias toward recording thoughts through words in a linear fashion. Of course, the page can be fill with incoherence and randomness, but those values are better served by the Internet.

 

  1. With the development of technologies, there are always winners and losers. The carriage industry suffered with the advent of the automobile, as did the blacksmith. The original radios were large and took a central place in the home. They were well-crafted pieces of furniture. Now they are relicts, and how many families gather around a radio to listen to news and entertainment. Ear buds have radically individualized and miniaturized entertainment. With the coming of computer writing, typewriters become relics, whatever their virtues may have been. I wrote half of my first book on an IBM Selectric, the King of automatic typewriters in the 1980s. I could feel and hear the impressions of the letters on the paper. I could see most of the workings of the machine. It was not the black box, about which I could know nothing about its inner workings. What did I lose when I stopped writing on typewriters (as I did for all my many undergraduate papers) and switched to a computer?

 

  1. Technologies cater to extant assumptions and help reinforce them. Since Americans like to take technology with them, cell phones became smaller and more portable. However, that boomeranged when they became too small to manipulate. Now they are larger and some opt for even larger tablets for most of their communication. Since Americans love screens, technologies have put them everywhere—even on phones and watches. Many years ago, there was a cartoon called Dick Tracy, who sported a small screen on his wristwatch!

 

  1. Technological innovation is always a tradeoff. Consider e-books. What is gained in portability is lost in presence and heft. A book is a discrete object in the world. It has a history it carries with it. I have the first copy of Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There, which I purchased from the University of Oregon book store in the fall of 1976. I have the same information in other token of the type of this book. Yet there is only one artifact that carries the meaning of this book. E-books are electronically searchable, a great boon to research. You can add notes. And yet…the book possesses virtues untranslatable into digital forms.

 

  1. Many media encourage the passive consumption of its content as opposed to the creative engagement of culture. Amazon video gives me access to myriad films and television programs. Watching (some of) these may be relaxing or touching. Some of the films may be great art. Because of my wife’s dementia, watching video and some old TV shows is one of a small number of activities we can share. Since Becky’s mental abilities are decaying, she cannot create or engage very much. She used to read, write, edit, sing, and more. I am grateful for the availability of this entertainment. It also makes me weep when I see her sitting in front of the screen by herself. Has it come to this? Yes, it has, although we search for others activities.

In Culture Making, Andy Crouch argues that we should try to create more culture than we consume. Play catch with a kid instead of buying him a video game. Enjoy no-tech meals with your family, paying attention to the preparation of food and the setting of the meal. Write a personal card instead of posting factoids on Facebook.

  1. Communication technologies encourage using culture instead of receiving it. According to C.S. Lewis in An Experiment in Criticism, to use a book or an image or a song is merely functional and utilitarian. One may read to “kill time,” God help them. Contrariwise, to receive a book or an image or a song means to submit to it, to consider it for what it is in itself. You pay your respects to a cultural artefact, such as a Mark Rothko painting in The Denver Art Museum. You linger at leisure. The Internet has a prejudice against receiving anything—although it is possible, say if you are watching a masterful jazz performance by Pat Martino.

My seven reflections are more suggestive than detailed. There are, doubtless, other principles for technogesis. These, however, should serve us well as we try to be in the world, but not of it.

Recommended reading

  1. Sven Birkerts, The Guttenberg Elegies.
  2. Andy Crouch, Culture Making and The Tech-wise Family
  3. Douglas Groothuis, The Soul in Cyberspace. First Christian critique of the Internet—which no one read.
  4. S. Lewis, An Experiment in Criticism.
  5. Neil Postman, Amusing Ourselves to Death and Technopoly.
  6. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: Extensions of Man.
  7. Jacques Ellul, The Humiliation of the Word, The Technological Bluff.
  8. Lassie: The First Fifty Years (1993).

Is Religion Dangerous?

As a freshman in college, I imbibed a heady brew of modern atheism, served up by Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, and Friedrich Nietzsche. Freud claimed that religion was a projection, a figment of wish fulfillment. We desire a Heavenly Father to make life tolerable, while the vault of the lies empty. Marx thundered that religion pacified and placated the desire for social justice, since lasting goodness could only be found in a heaven that did not exist. Nietzsche insisted that Christianity was the attempt by the weak to get revenge on the strong and that the truly free can live “beyond good and evil” by creating their own values in the godless, gladiatorial theater of nature.

Having little understanding of Christianity and no awareness of apologetics (the rational case for Christian truth), I viewed traditional Western religion as dangerous to the intellect, while I became attracted to Eastern religions in a vague sense. I stopped praying, tried to meditate, and fancied myself an aspiring intellectual who needed to oppose Christianity.

But something strange happened that first year in college: Christianity began to speak to my condition, despite my antipathy toward it. A philosophy professor assigned some readings by Soren Kierkegaard, the Danish Christian philosopher. After having dismissed Kierkegaard in a paper, I decided to actually read the primary text, The Sickness Unto Death. I found a profound assessment of the human condition before God. Much to my surprise and dismay, the book began reading me—exposing both my rebellion against God and God’s offer of grace through Christ. Added to this was the loving and courageous witness of two Christian women, who were involved in the Navigators, a campus group focused on discipleship and evangelism. Through various providential events, many conservations, and Bible reading, I confessed Christ as Lord in the summer of 1976.

After a difficult summer of vainly trying to believe Christianity without evidence, I discovered the works of Francis Schaeffer, James Sire, C.S. Lewis, Os Guinness, St. Augustine, Blaise Pascal, and many more high-caliber thinkers, who demonstrated that the Christian worldview has nothing to fear in the world of ideas. I eventually switched my major to philosophy and began a grand intellectual adventure that continues to this day. Now, as a professional philosopher, I find some of the best philosopher alive defending Christianity.

"The Christian worldview has nothing to fear in the world of ideas."

In a sense, I have spent the last thirty plus years trying to disprove Christianity—not as an atheist, but as a philosopher who has investigated all the major religions and philosophies on offer. I found that the anti-Christian arguments of Freud, Marx, Nietzsche, and others missed the mark. I have tackled the toughest challenges to the Christianity and investigated case for other worldviews. My years of study, teaching, and writing have convinced me that Christianity is objectively true, rational, wise, and pertinent to all of life. But I still believe it is dangerous—not to the intellect, but to any other worldview that attempts to refute it.

The PersonalPhilosophyTrainer (PPT)


Always looking for more applications of philosophy to life, I have come up with a sure-fire winner: the PhilosophyPersonalTrainer (or PPT). Personal trainers developed out of the fitness trends of the last three decades. We pay and defer to experts to size up our (generally unacceptable) bodies and propose solutions (or at least ameliorations).

Now: enter the PPT. Poor thinking is a perennial problem, at least since the fall introduced intellectual torpor, stupefaction, and dereliction. Things really got dumber east of Eden. Poor thinking, which leads to bogus worldviews and ruined lives, needs to be corrected. As C.S. Lewis opined, good philosophy needs to exist if for no other reason than to counteract bad philosophy. Yet many never take a philosophy class, never read a philosophical book, and don’t even know what modus ponens is. (Hint: it is neither a snow mobile nor a skin rash.)

The PPT will access your intellectual life—if there is one. First he or she accesses your library. Since most do not have a library (of books at least), the trainer will recommend starting one, even if this means talking money always from (gasp) cable TV and Netflix. Then, one must actually read these rather archaic objects in book form (not on line). One must learn to love the text, to indwell it, and have it indwell oneself. This, of course, takes work. Withdrawal symptoms include: twitches in the direction of the nearest remote control, urges to check one’s smart phone and email, boredom because the book’s text does not move, blink, or bark, and so on. The trainer can provide practical help by regaling the client with stories of those who used to intoxicate at play station who now are hopeless book addicts who cannot let a logical fallacy pass unnoticed. Support groups are available as well.

Second, the PPT audits your vocabulary and knowledge of the history of ideas. This is not done through a routine test but through conversations. The PPT sometimes uses personal restraints on the more hyperactive clients who tend to lunge toward whatever electronic medium is in sight. After several conversations, the PPT accesses the client’s knowledge (and ignorance) and makes general recommendations. Here is an excerpt from one recommendation made to Ivan Ignoramus:

Ivan, you know everything about “The Matrix,” but nothing about Plato. So, you really cannot understand “The Matrix,” since it trades on Plato’s cave allegory. You are terrific at video games but no knowing of Wittgensteinian “language games.” You are swimming in data about sports, but know nothing about theories of human nature or why humans even care about sports. Your vocabulary is miniscule, pathetic. You rely on a few emotive terms to do all the work of analysis (if I can call it that). Things you like are “cool” or “awesome,” but there is no clear sense what you mean by these terms. Things you don’t like “suck,” but you show no understanding of where this expression came from (the gutter) or just why you dislike the things that “suck.” You say, “Oh my God,” all the time, but have never considered whether there are any sound arguments for God’s existence. And you don’t know what “sound argument is.”

Of course, there is much more to the discipline of being a PPT. But this is enough to start a new movement, a movement of the mind in the making. All you need is a car, philosophical knowledge, and a lot of patience and clients. But what should the hourly rate be? As Proverbs says, “Buy the truth and do not sell it.”

 

The Philosophy of Gender

Ideas have consequences, but few understand how the consequences are rooted in, and flow from, those ideas. Inextricably related issues such as same-sex marriage and gender identity illustrate this point and require philosophical analysis. Spurring this article is the Supreme Court’s egregious decision that a ban on same-sex marriage is illegal. Worldview assumptions behind this jurisprudence must be exposed to the light of reason.

Gender is now considered a flexible concept; it is not a given in one’s nature. Biology now has nothing to do with gender. Rather, one takes one’s gender by identifying with a wide range of possibilities. The nature of a human organism—down to the DNA—is irrelevant to gender identity. The tradition of the human race that male and female are fixed and perpetual categories of being mean little to the gender experimentalists. Men may identify as women (and perhaps have a sex change operation); women may identify as men (and perhaps have a sex change operation); men may identify as bisexuals; women may identify as bisexuals. Male or female may identify as partially heterosexual and partially homosexual. And on it goes.

How did this reassigning human identity come about? Before we try to answer that, consider the metaphysics of the movement in relation to Christian theism, a worldview increasingly rejected by the power brokers of American culture.

Christians, along with Jews, know that universe has an intrinsic meaning given by an infinite and personal God, the Creator and Designer of the universe. This Being, who thinks and speaks and acts, brought humans into existence as His representatives; as such, they possess rationality, will, emotion, and relationality. As the first book of the Bible teaches:

God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and    increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground” (Genesis 1:27-28).

This statement is philosophically rich. Humans have a God-given nature and a constitution as male and female. This is a divinely-bestowed given. That is, humans are a particular kind of being, as is the rest of the living creation. Before the creation of humans, Genesis reports that:

And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good (Genesis 1:24-25; emphasis added).

The word kind should not be taken in a biologically precise manner; rather, it speaks to a distinct form of being, an essence. God did not create the cosmos and humans in a value-neutral manner. On the contrary, the meaning and proper functioning of living entities are specified by their designer and worn in their very being.

While male and female are equally made in God’s image, their equality is not a matter of sexual sameness. Genesis, chapter two, tell us that God created humans as heterosexual being, whose sexual unity is found in marriage. After beholding the first woman, Adam broke into poetry:

“This is now bone of my bones
  and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
  for she was taken out of man.”

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:23-25).

Our first parent’s rejection of God’s order and command issued from the desire to redefine reality independently of God. Their rejection of God’s world on God’s terms resulted in the Fall, the effects of which have been experienced down through the ages (see Genesis 3; Romans 3:14-26).

Moving from creation to resurrection, the Apostle Paul affirms objectively real categories of reality—living and nonliving—in his great discourse on the resurrection of Christ and of Christ’s followers.

Not all flesh is the same: People have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another. There are also heavenly bodies and there are earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly bodies is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another. The sun has one kind of splendor, the moon another and the stars another; and star differs from star in splendor (1 Corinthians 15:39-41).

One need not delve into Paul’s greater and detailed argument to discern his intent—God has specified the nature of things. Since this is so, creatures should heed their Creator’s design.

When one rejects the existence of God (or simply ignores him), one is not merely rejecting a philosophical or religious idea. One is also rejecting all ideas and practices that are uniquely supported by Christian theism. Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) understood this well. In his famous parable, “The Madman” (from The Gay Science) Nietzsche lets his prophet speak of the implications of “the death of God.”

How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it? There has never been a greater deed; and whoever is born after us — for the sake of this deed he will belong to a higher history than all history hitherto.”

Here the madman fell silent and looked again at his listeners; and they, too, were silent and stared at him in astonishment. At last he threw his lantern on the ground, and it broke into pieces and went out. “I have come too early,” he said then; “my time is not yet. This tremendous event is still on its way, still wandering; it has not yet reached the ears of men. Lightning and thunder require time; the light of the stars requires time; deeds, though done, still require time to be seen and heard. This deed is still more distant from them than most distant stars—and yet they have done it themselves.

Yes, “they have done it to themselves,” by banishing God from their thinking, their living, and their culture. God is dead to the ungodly, but remains stubbornly alive as Creator and Judge. Psychologist Eric Fromm (1900-1980) wrote that in the nineteenth century God died. In the twentieth century man died. If man is not created by God, why care much about him? The grim harvest was the tens of millions murdered by Nazism and communism. In the twenty-first century gender has died, since man has no given nature by God. Gender is now unhinged from biology, history, logic, and religion. It is flexible, fungible, malleable, and endlessly fickle, since it need not obey anything objectively real.

Gender talk is everywhere; gender fact is nowhere. Facts make too many demands on free spirits.

Francis Schaeffer (1912-1984), philosopher and social critic, discerned this break from God’s given reality in 1968 in his landmark work, The God Who is There.

Some forms of homosexuality today…are not just homosexuality but a philosophic expression. One must have understanding for the real homophile’s problem. But much modern homosexuality is an expression of the current denial of antithesis. It has led in this case to an obliteration of the distinction between man and woman. So the male and the female as complementary partners are finished. . . . In much of modern thinking all antithesis and all the order of God’s creation is to be fought against—including the male-female distinctions.

Schaeffer saw the source of the problem: People were denying the real antithesis between truth and falsity, between good and evil, between what God created and what man corrupted. But even Schaeffer—prophet though he was—could not have seen the extent to which reality would be denied in the name of love, tolerance, choice, and freedom.

Let us try to bring all this together. The philosophy that undergirds and animates this redefinition of gender is anti-essentialist and constructivist. Humans as male and female have no objective nature, qua gender. Gender is only a placeholder for the will of the identifier, who chooses gender not on the basis of anything stable or trustworthy, but only through erotic eccentricity. One constructs a gender identity, but without the aid of a blueprint. What one constructs, one can deconstruct—whimsy without end. And now this philosophy is backed by the full force of federal law. If you disagree, you will be punished. I will take this up in a later essay.

Photo Credit: Drew Angerer/Bloomberg