One of the more extraordinary events of 2019 was a British court ruling that Christianity is incompatible with human dignity and not worthy of respect in a democratic society. In its determination the tribunal—a lower court—didn’t define human dignity, or democratic society, or justify its authority for determining that “Belief in Genesis 1:27, lack of belief in transgenderism and conscientious objection to transgenderism in our judgment are incompatible with human dignity and conflict with the fundamental rights of others, specifically here, transgender individuals.” Like the judgment against George Pell, this is clearly a case of judicial activism.
The defendant, a Christian doctor with twenty years experience in the National Health Service, applied to become a disability assessor. His crime was admitting that his conscience wouldn’t allow him to refer to a biological male with female pronouns.
This essay appears in the latest Quadrant.
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This case is about compelled speech and religious freedom. It’s also about what the term nature means, and misrepresenting the compromise between Christianity and evolutionary biology, when one’s identity depends on their mutual exclusion. The trope of Christian fundamentalist is useful—as a scapegoat for many things—but jurisprudence isn’t about scapegoating. In theory, in a democratic society, the legal system isn’t where those who believe in the Bible are persecuted, and courts aren’t where Cultural Marxism is compelled.
The previous year in Liverpool, a female lobby group, Standing for Women, paid for a billboard to advertise a simple dictionary definition:
adult human female
A transgender activist had it removed, and branded Standing for Women a hate group. These examples show how the court system and law enforcement agencies have embraced social activism on behalf of the elites against the citizenry. Now we have the spectacle of biological men who identify as women attacking biological women. This is an extremely disturbing cultural development.
The biblical worldview sees humanity at the centre of a creation (nature) made in God’s image. The evolutionary worldview sees changes in heritable characteristics through natural selection over long periods of time. These two worldviews are traditionally understood to be mutually exclusive, but they need not be, although harmonising them requires more mental subtlety, rhetorical civility and patience than public discourse allows, or the media is capable of.
Now the West faces a greater problem as it enters uncharted waters, wilfully detaching itself from evolution as well as Christianity. It’s one thing to turn your back on Christ, when following him becomes culturally perilous. It’s another thing to turn your back on natural selection, when Cultural Marxism becomes hegemonic, insists nature doesn’t exist—because life is socially constructed—and uses law enforcement and judicial systems to mandate its brave new world.
Nature (Greek physis, Latin natura) originally referred to everything not made by humans. It was once a boundary between human activity and the natural order. After Darwin, the theory of natural selection became an alternative to religion. Those who didn’t believe in the biblical account of creation, or the God of Israel, could still believe in nature with a capital N. Yet natural selection—the key mechanism in evolution—tells us nothing about how evolution was set in motion. The same holds for human uniqueness, its anthropology and psychology, since we don’t know when the singularity of the human body and mind began. If we’re honest, we must admit our power is limited to manipulating life-forms we didn’t create, but can destroy.
Camille Paglia begins Sexual Personae (1990) by observing:
In the beginning was nature … We cannot hope to understand sex and gender until we clarify our attitude toward nature … Sexuality and eroticism are the intricate intersection of nature and culture … Feminists grossly oversimplify the problem of sex when they reduce it to a matter of social convention: readjust society, eliminate sexual inequality, purify sex roles, and happiness and harmony will reign.
The identification of woman with nature is ancient. Paglia believes it’s a reality, not a myth. Feminists disagree and call Paglia anti-woman for suggesting there’s a limit to what woman can alter in herself and man’s relation to her. This takes us to the crisis of our age, the dilemma at the heart of our culture wars, because we’re now legally compelled to believe gender identity is socially constructed. At the same time, we’re also legally compelled to ignore the link between sexual identity and evolutionary biology.
This is difficult, for many reasons. In evolutionary terms, maleness and femaleness predate modern humans by millions of years. They existed long before the primates split into dry-nose and wet-nose groups. They are not sociological constructs of a patriarchy, deconstructed by gender theorists. They are aspects of hard-wired dominance hierarchies older than society itself. Nevertheless, at present, we’re legally compelled to believe these differences of sex and gender don’t exist. Apparently, sexual identity is really gender identity, wholly fluid because socially constructed, while sex and gender are functionally independent; further, both are independent of evolutionary biology and can be changed. This is madness.
We live in a society where speech is compelled, where ordinary citizens cannot conscientiously object to referring to transgender men as women, where ordinary women aren’t allowed to advertise the dictionary definition of their biological sex. For logical consistency, it’s not enough to scapegoat Bible-believing Christians here. For completeness, those who believe in nature rather than God should also be scapegoated.
In most battles in the culture wars, exceptions are taken to be the norm and attempts are made to normalise the exceptions for political advantage. Obvious examples of this include abortion; whether it’s justifiable if the foetus has abnormalities or the woman was raped. Yet these exceptions don’t represent most pregnancies. Foetal abnormalities are unavoidable. Rape is avoidable. Most abortions happen for other reasons. This presents an ethical dilemma for those who generalise exceptions for political purposes, since abortion cannot be justified simply because a pregnant woman doesn’t want to be a mother. So, feminists and social justice warriors push abortion as a human right, a woman’s right to choose, instead of a violation of the commandment not to kill, if you believe in God, or a crime against nature, if you believe in nature.
Another obvious example is transgenderism. Intersex is a natural but rare phenomenon in which around 0.05 to 0.07 per cent of babies are born with ambiguous genitalia or have biological attributes of both sexes. This is a hardware issue, which means it occurs in nature and can therefore be regarded as natural. In recent decades the hardware issue, intersex, has morphed into a software issue, transgenderism, where a person feels they are in the wrong body and identifies as another sex or gender.
Transgenderism is a cultural not a natural phenomenon. Attempts to make it a natural phenomenon are unconvincing. Insisting a biological male who identifies as female is a natural woman, real under the law, removes humanity further from nature. Homosexuality doesn’t alter nature’s organic characteristics. Interfering with evolutionary biology, denying its objective reality, legislating the reality of human imitation—mimesis—is tantamount to saying nature has no organic characteristics and doesn’t have or obey her own laws. Our ethical and moral frameworks must distinguish between intersex and transgenderism. At best, gender reassignment isn’t necessary. At worst, it’s rebellion against natural law, a crime against nature.
If Paglia is right to suggest we cannot hope to understand sex and gender until we clarify our attitude towards nature, this is what we must do. It’s not helpful to simply assert transgenderism as a fundamental human right, with the same dignity as biological sex, without demonstrating why that’s so. Intersex occurs in nature and may require human intervention to ameliorate something natural but rare. Transgenderism is a purely cultural phenomenon, sociological and political.
The weaponisation of democratic institutions against the citizenry prevents the conversations that are necessary if Western civilisation is to survive. It’s not dog-whistling to say this, or to notice the obvious dangers in the atrocities being acted out daily around us. Much is made of common sense, but that doesn’t help during a hostage crisis.
Michael Giffin is a priest in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney. He wrote “Catholic Authority in the Anglican Church” in the January-February issue