Archive for the ‘Mercy’ Category

Irrationality, Magical Thinking, and Gender Ideology

Friday, June 3rd, 2016

The drive to enforce universal acceptance of gender ideology is accellerating in our country. Government action, coupled with cultural propaganda, is seeking to transform our understanding of the nature of the human person as male and female. I have been having a number of discussions about this with my friend and colleague, Alexis Carra. She has a background in academic philosophy, which gives her very valuable insights into the problem. She recently wrote me an email that I thought was worth sharing, along with my responses (her thoughts in italics, mine in plain text):

First of all, why have we so easily accepted the distinction between biological sex and gender? Who suddenly defined gender as “an individual’s actual or perceived sex, gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior, or expression, whether or not that gender identity, self-image, appearance, behavior or expression is different from that traditionally associated with the sex assigned at birth”? Just because new concepts have been invented doesn’t mean we must accept them, let alone accept them without any sort of debate with regards to their correctness or truthfulness. 

The short answer, I’m afraid, is that people are acquiescing in this patent nonsense out of fear and cowardice. Smart people in academia, law, and the public square willingly submit and fail to resist, out of concern that they will be marginalized, penalized, and ostracized. Administrators of universities and schools bow to decrees from distant government agencies out of fear of conflict, and to sustain funding streams. Debate is stifled, or never initiated, because those who object are stigmatized as bigots and haters.

One would think that scientists – and those who like to style themselves as the “reason-based community” – would be the first to resist those who deny the reality of sexual difference. Just think of how vigorously people denounce “climate change deniers”, for even the slightest variation from “orthodoxy” on that issue. The science on the sexual differences between male and female is hugely developed, and indisputable in its conclusions. So why aren’t they in the forefront of the debate?

Philosophers, too, should see right through this kind of shoddy reasoning.  They certainly should realize that gender ideology is incoherent at its core. Gender theory holds that the idea of being male and female has no inherent meaning, that sexual identity can be defined independently of physical reality, and that the physical differences between men and women are irrelevant or meaningless. But if that is so, then what could it possibly mean for a person to claim to be a “transgender man” or “transgender woman”? “Male” or “female” can’t simultaneously both mean something and mean nothing. That violates a basic rule of reason, the Law of Non-Contradiction. Any philosopher should be able to see that this is irrational, and that the ideologues actually wish that “gender” simply means whatever any individual wants it to mean, at any given day. That is intellectual anarchy, not reason. But the philosophers are silent.

Secondly, aren’t we concerned that adhering to this ideology reinforces a lie? Namely, I can, by virtue of my will, create reality. There are no external forces beyond my control (i.e., the laws of nature, the laws of biology, the laws of logic, etc.) that shape reality. As such, I can be whoever or whatever I want, even if nature/biology/logic says otherwise.  A person may be born male, but can magically identify as female if he so chooses! And we all must now refer to him as such!

Gender ideology adherents promote the strangest kinds of ideas. One recently wrote this about the simple, straight-forward statement that “transgender girls are biologically male”:

That is an offensive and inaccurate notion… But transgender girls are not “biologically male.”… [People] might believe that a person’s genitals define their “biological” sex, but that does not make it so. Continuing to put forth that narrative without challenging it as an ideological position, as opposed to a fact, is extremely harmful.

This is magical thinking. It denies a fundamental truth about reality, namely that things exist independently of anyone’s beliefs, language usage, feelings, conceptual ideology, etc. One cannot reason with a person who believes that they can change reality by waving a mental magic wand. The fundamental differences between men and women do not disappear, do not become a mere “narrative” or an “ideological position”, merely because someone wishes it to be so. They remain facts. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.”

As a lawyer, I also am dumbfounded at the way that gender ideology turns anti-discrimination law on its head. The traditional understanding of anti-discrimination law is that there are certain inherent qualities (e.g., race, sex, national origin, disability) that absolutely cannot be taken into account when making certain decisions (e.g., employment). This is an expression of the value that all persons must be treated equally under the law. Yet the drive to include “gender identity” in anti-discrimination laws actually does the opposite. It requires people not only to recognize the existence of this alleged quality, but to make it the essential factor in granting favorable treatment when making decisions (e.g., about bathroom access). In this one case, failure to use “gender identity” would be made unlawful. All this, based not on an immutable characteristic like race or sex, but instead on a purely self-defined, malleable concept that is entirely subjective and not related to any kind of reality.

Thirdly, why is this being perceived as compassionate? There is nothing compassionate about reinforcing lies. In fact, if we reinforce a lie held by another person, we not only harm the person by allowing him to continue living the lie, but we also rob him of an opportunity to know the truth. And as Christians, there are few roles of greater importance than proclaiming the truth to others.  

One does not have to be a Christian to understand that “the truth will make you free” (Jn 8:32). Anyone with any degree of self-awareness and knowledge can tell that they cannot live in a coherent way if they deny the truth. Lies imprison us, truth liberates us. Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, on the day that he was arrested by the Soviet secret police due to his dissent from Communist ideology, wrote a great essay, “Live Not by Lies”. In it, he said this:

the simplest and most accessible key to our self-neglected liberation lies right here: Personal non-participation in lies. Though lies conceal everything, though lies embrace everything, but not with any help from me… It’s dangerous. But let us refuse to say that which we do not think.

People who are struggling with their sexual identity are troubled, and need help. But we do them no favors if we continue to participate in the lies. More than anything, they need to be liberated from the irrationality and magical thinking of gender ideology. All it offers them is continued enslavement to false ideas about reality, sexuality, and the way to achieve happiness. Accepting the truth about our human nature, about our maleness and femaleness, has to be the foundation of the development of a healthy sexual identity.

Living the Year of Mercy

Tuesday, January 12th, 2016

The phone calls come at very inconvenient times.  This last Sunday, it came just before 10 am, when I was having breakfast.  It was the Red Cross.  There was a fire in Mount Vernon, people had been put out of their homes, and they needed somebody to go and help them out.  That person happened to be me.

Since 2001, right after 9/11, my wife Peggy has been a Red Cross volunteer in Westchester County. She worked with others responding to the scenes of fires. Her task was to find the fire victims shelter for the night, usually in a local motel. She also helped them get replacements for their clothes, some food for the next couple of days. But the main task was to give them some hope, a friendly person to talk to and sympathize with, and sometimes a loving shoulder to cry on. After a few years of watching her get out of bed in the middle of the night to go to a fire, I decided that I wanted to do it with her. So I joined the Red Cross too, and it’s been one of the best things I’ve ever done.

This Sunday, when I got to the fire scene in Mount Vernon, it was bad — a restaurant had caught fire, and it spread to two nearby homes.  The streets were filled with smoke.  The firefighters were, as usual, doing their heroic best, but the homes were clearly destroyed.  There were eight people out in the street, with nothing but the clothes on their backs.  Several of them had significant health problems already, and one had to be taken to the hospital.  Several other Red Cross volunteers were on the job, so we spent the next few hours talking to the victims, answering their questions, and  arranging for them to have a safe place to stay, some clothes to wear, and some money for food.  It’s not much, but the people are so grateful for these small acts of mercy that we are privileged to do for them.

This is not easy work. Nobody likes getting up at 4 a.m. to drive across Yonkers in a blizzard to a fire scene, and interview a family in a smoky, wet, dark hallway. It is emotionally exhausting to deal with distraught or upset people, especially when somebody has been hurt or even killed in the fire.  But it is a tremendous blessing.

In his Papal Bull announcing the Year of Mercy, Pope Francis called us to “look forward to the experience of opening our hearts to those living on the outermost fringes of society”.  He went on to say that “During this Jubilee, the Church will be called even more to heal these wounds, to assuage them with the oil of consolation, to bind them with mercy and cure them with solidarity and vigilant care.”  And he encouraged us to contemplate the corporal works of mercy (to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, and bury the dead) and the spiritual works of mercy (to counsel the doubtful, instruct the ignorant, admonish sinners, comfort the afflicted, forgive offences, bear patiently those who do us ill, and pray for the living and the dead), and making them a part of our lives.

Pope Francis reminds us of the lesson of Matthew 25 — in the end, we will be judged by the Lord based on how we’ve helped people in need, because “In each of these “little ones,” Christ himself is present”.

So it’s a good idea to take this lesson to heart.  There are so many ways to live the Year of Mercy — volunteering for the Red Cross, cooking for a soup kitchen, praying outside of an abortion clinic, visiting moms who are in prison, calling an elderly homebound woman who has no family, or a million other things.  But what a wonderful opportunity we’ve been given — a chance to bring God’s mercy into the lives of those around us, so they can experience how much God loves them and cares for them, especially when they are most in need.