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Same-Sex Marriage Isn’t About Freedom

Indeed, where did the subversive “myth of individual freedom” come from? It was Jesus himself who separated the individual from Caesar, reinforcing this with a remarkably un-communal statement: “Do you think I came to bring peace on earth? No I tell you but division. From now on there will be five in one family divided against one another, three against two and two against three” (Luke 12:49-53). When his disciples were confronted by potential converts who would not adopt the broadly Jewish cultural practices of the early Christian community, Peter, Paul, James, and the others freed the pagans from these cultural practices (Acts 15: 1-21). Paul went to the extent of freeing Christians from the restrictions of the Law itself (Gal: 3:23-29) and added “when Christ freed us, he meant us to remain free” (Gal: 5:1).

As the conservative thinker Frank Meyer emphasized, by freeing the individual, Christianity created a tension between its high standards—to be perfect as the Father is perfect, to turn the other cheek—and the impossibility of achieving them. This tension is the source of the energy that would make the West the world’s dominant civilization, but it also unleashed the impulse to impose a “human design of perfection upon a world by its nature imperfect.” No culture was safe from the potential excesses of utopianism once Christianity opened Pandora’s Box, unless it was restrained by the faith’s new commandment of love.

Ancient civilizations were communal, with sexual institutions that often included polygamy or concubinage. Homosexuality always existed too. These were defended by their supporters as traditional rather than as libertine practices. As Dreher notes, Christianity’s liberation of women and slaves from the “sexually exploitive Greco-Roman culture” was one secret of its success. Ancient sexuality was firmly controlled by a rigid patriarchal social order, which was not undermined until Pope Gregory I forbade marriage to close kin in the 6th century AD. Before this, marriage was between families, not individuals. It was Christianity that made marriage more of a free individual choice.

Dreher and Rieff are correct in a strange way when they find it “pathetic” to consider Christianity “a therapeutic adjunct to bourgeois individualism.” But Christianity is in fact the source of individualism, which simply did not exist before. Almost everything BC was clan, cult, tribe, and state.

If freedom is the problem, Christianity is the culprit for “inverting” the role of culture and freeing the individual to question tradition. Citing Europe’s history of war and unrest, no less a critic than Rousseau concluded that Christianity’s dual forms of loyalty to church and state were “clearly bad” because they “destroy social unity” and civic peace. Rousseau’s solution was that the “sovereign fix the articles” of a new civic religion that would provide for order, welfare, morality, and even freedom properly understood—that is, freedom as defined solely by the state.

The whole modern project has been an attempt to control the freedom unleashed by Christianity’s dual loyalty, to re-create the conformity to “traditional” culture that predated the Christian moral liberation. What we see today in the success of gay marriage is not really freedom run amok, but the result of turning the power to define morality over to the state, or to the dominant group representing it.

People pretty much absorb the prevailing cultural stereotypes generated by the media, as Walter Lippmann taught us. And what finally persuaded a mass public—by way of constant reinforcement from TV news, sitcoms, and in every classroom—was changing the argument from freedom to “marriage equality.” In fact, the American people were told that allowing equality in marriage was the moral thing to do. This assertion of cultural and political power, not the individual freedom arising from Christianity, is what has truly led to what Dreher calls the “final triumph of the Sexual Revolution.”

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