Though he might not have put it quite that way, the eminent sociologist Philip Rieff would probably have said yes. Rieff’s landmark 1966 book The Triumph Of the Therapeutic analyzes what he calls the “deconversion” of the West from Christianity. Nearly everyone recognizes that this process has been underway since the Enlightenment, but Rieff showed that it had reached a more advanced stage than most people—least of all Christians—recognized.
Rieff, who died in 2006, was an unbeliever, but he understood that religion is the key to understanding any culture. For Rieff, the essence of any and every culture can be identified by what it forbids. Each imposes a series of moral demands on its members, for the sake of serving communal purposes, and helps them cope with these demands. A culture requires a cultus—a sense of sacred order, a cosmology that roots these moral demands within a metaphysical framework.
You don’t behave this way and not that way because it’s good for you; you do so because this moral vision is encoded in the nature of reality. This is the basis of natural-law theory, which has been at the heart of contemporary secular arguments against same-sex marriage (and which have persuaded no one).
Rieff, writing in the 1960s, identified the sexual revolution—though he did not use that term—as a leading indicator of Christianity’s death as a culturally determinative force. In classical Christian culture, he wrote, “the rejection of sexual individualism” was “very near the center of the symbolic that has not held.” He meant that renouncing the sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture was at the core of Christian culture—a culture that, crucially, did not merely renounce but redirected the erotic instinct. That the West was rapidly re-paganizing around sensuality and sexual liberation was a powerful sign of Christianity’s demise.
[…]As philosopher Charles Taylor writes in his magisterial religious and cultural history A Secular Age, “The entire ethical stance of moderns supposes and follows on from the death of God (and of course, of the meaningful cosmos).” To be modern is to believe in one’s individual desires as the locus of authority and self-definition.
Gradually the West lost the sense that Christianity had much to do with civilizational order, Taylor writes. In the 20th century, casting off restrictive Christian ideals about sexuality became increasingly identified with health. By the 1960s, the conviction that sexual expression was healthy and good—the more of it, the better—and that sexual desire was intrinsic to one’s personal identity culminated in the sexual revolution, the animating spirit of which held that freedom and authenticity were to be found not in sexual withholding (the Christian view) but in sexual expression and assertion. That is how the modern American claims his freedom.
To Rieff, ours is a particular kind of “revolutionary epoch” because the revolution cannot by its nature be institutionalized. Because it denies the possibility of communal knowledge of binding truths transcending the individual, the revolution cannot establish a stable social order. As Rieff characterizes it, “The answer to all questions of ‘what for’ is ‘more’.”
Our post-Christian culture, then, is an “anti-culture.” We are compelled by the logic of modernity and the myth of individual freedom to continue tearing away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.
Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology. In classical Christian teaching, the divinely sanctioned union of male and female is an icon of the relationship of Christ to His church and ultimately of God to His creation. This is why gay marriage negates Christian cosmology, from which we derive our modern concept of human rights and other fundamental goods of modernity. Whether we can keep them in the post-Christian epoch remains to be seen.
It also remains to be seen whether we can keep Christianity without accepting Christian chastity.
One of the reasons why I write so much about chastity and dating and courting on this blog is to try to convince people that it is necessary to have a rigorous, grounded understanding of the practical execution of chastity and marriage. See, a lot of apologists have tunnel vision. They want to focus on apologetics, especially on philosophy, without talking about sexual morality, politics, current events, and other things that will affect whether a person is open to Christianity or not. Like it or not, Christianity has regulations on sexual behavior, and we have to be able and willing to defend those regulations.
I am not opposed to basic Christian apologetics on God’s existence and Christ’s resurrection, but I recognize that people who are too deeply compromised by unbounded sexual appetites are not going to be open to a genuine Christian re-prioritizing following conversion. I am not saying that we need to stop talking about the problem of evil and the women discovering the empty tomb and the fine-tuning of the cosmological constant. I am saying that we need to add onto all of that good stuff an understanding of public policy and ideology. We need to promote, in the culture, lifestyles and moral rules that are going to make it easier for a person to become a Christian. And that means studying to be persuasive on things like premarital sex, cohabitation, no-fault divorce, same-sex marriage, and so on.
I think a very important thing that Christians need to be able to do is to explain and demonstrate that chastity empowers an individual to love others in a way that is not available to them if they are sexually active with that person before marriage. See the papers below for more.
- New study: delaying sexual activity produces improves relationship quality and stability
- New study: staying a virgin longer enables more satisfying relationships
- Study explains why college women abandon courtship for hook-ups
- New study: relationship quality diminished by early sexual activity, especially for women
- New study: marriage drops probability of child poverty by 82%
- New study finds that Christians who regularly attend church divorce less
- Can recreational sex turn a selfish, irresponsible man into a marriage-minded provider?
- New study finds that cohabitation damages children
- New peer-reviewed paper highlights the benefits of pre-marital chastity/abstinence
- Does being a virgin before marriage affect marital stability?
- How important are biological fathers for healthy child development?
- What causes women to become single mothers, and how are children affected?
- New study shows that children of working mothers live unhealthier lives
- New Scientist article shows why fathers are necessary for children’s well-being
- New study finds that women choose mates based on appearance
- Study: 80% of single evangelicals aged 18-29 are no longer virigins
- For women under 30, most births occur outside of marriage
- In the UK welfare state, single motherhood is passed from mother to daughter
- New study finds that teens who lose their virginity are more likely to divorce
- How more compassion and less moral judgments increases teen pregnancy
- New survey finds women more sexually active than men in high school
- Why do feminist academics think that feminism has empowered women?
- Who is responsible for the abolition of marriage? Men or feminists?
- Who is to blame for the hook-up culture?
- How the feminist welfare state causes generations of fatherlessness
- Less than half of 7 to 21 year old women think that marriage precedes child-bearing