Posts tagged ‘Platonism’

Texas, Abortion, and the Terrible Triumph of the Human Will

Supreme Court Texas Abortion Case

Credit: Associated Press

A front page for the The New York Times caught my eye during a layover at the Phoenix airport last week.  Its headline read, “Justices Overturn Texas Abortion Limits.”  Last week, the Supreme Court ruled against a Texas law that required abortion clinics to have hospital admitting privileges in order to continue operating.  The Justices ruled that this and other standards in the law placed an “undue burden” on the ability to obtain an abortion.

Along with the headline, there was an infographic with this caption: “The Supreme Court Drifts to the Left.”  Sadly, this is the way the abortion debate is often now cast:  conservative versus liberal, right versus left.  But there is far more at stake in this case than just political or ideological points.  What is at stake in this case is human lives.

Yes, the lives of the babies lost to abortion are at stake.  But so are the lives of the women who suffer through the loss of a child to abortion.  Abortion can change profoundly the lives of the women who endure it – and not necessarily for the better.  Indeed, some studies have shown that women can suffer under a crushing weight of hidden hurt and regret after obtaining an abortion.

Yet, regardless of its mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual tolls, many in our society continue to fight for the widest possible access to abortion and, as the Supreme Court ruling symptomizes, raising any concerns about the way the abortion industry operates is regularly met with little more than scorn and skepticism.  The right to abortion, in this view, is sovereign.

The problem, however, with making the right to abortion sovereign is that it makes physical reality subservient to the human will.  The physical reality of life in utero becomes becomes dependent on a person’s choice.  To borrow a quip from 2004 presidential candidate Wesley Clark: it means that “life begins with the mother’s decision.”

Except that it doesn’t.  Life begins in spite of a person’s choice.  But life, tragically, can be ended by a person’s choice.  To try to make the physical reality of life subservient to the human will is to deny that physical reality really matters at all.  But the denial of physical reality in light of human decision seems to be en vogue – not only with babies in wombs, but with people in their lives.

Several weeks ago on this blog, I wrote about the connection between transgenderism and Platonism.  Just like Platonism sees that which is non-corporeal as more important and, in some sense, more real than the physical, transgenderism gives preference to a non-corporeal inner identification over a person’s physical biological sex.  Sherif Girgis made a similar observation about the relationship of the physical to the internal in an article for First Things:

The body doesn’t matter…Since I am not my body, I might have been born in the wrong one. Because the real me is internal, my sexual identity is just what I sense it to be. The same goes for other valuable aspects of my identity. My essence is what I say and feel that it is…

On the old view, you could know important things about me unmediated, by knowing something about my body or our shared nature. And our interdependence as persons was as inescapable as our physical incompleteness and need: as male and female, infants and infirm. But if the real me lies within, only I know what I am. You have to take my word for it; I can learn nothing about myself from our communion. And if I emerge only when autonomy does – if I come into the world already thinking and feeling and choosing – it’s easy to overlook our interdependence. I feel free to strike out on my own, and to satisfy my desires less encumbered by others’ needs.[1]

Girgis’ final line is key.  If we are fundamentally defined by our internal wills rather than by our physical bodies, our wills must be held as sovereign and defining.  Anything and anyone that would encroach on our wills – even a baby growing inside of us – must be put it in its place.

In this way, everything from same-sex marriage to transgenderism to abortion is of one piece.  It privileges the human will over everything else.  I can choose who I want to marry without any regard for a created complementarianism.  I can choose my gender quite apart from what are, in most cases, very clear biological markers.  And I can choose to keep a baby inside of me or to rid myself of it.

I understand and am sensitive to the fact that, in each of these cases, there are strong stirrings that can lead to difficult decisions.  The stirring of affection for someone of the same-sex can lead to a same-sex marriage.  The stirring toward the lifestyles of the opposite gender can lead a person to live as transgender.  And the stirring of fear over what it takes to raise a child can lead to an abortion.  But even when these stirrings are strong, I think it is worth it to at least ask the question of whether or not it is wise to make human stirrings so defining that they can eclipse and even try to deny actual physical states of being.

According to the Supreme Court, the stirring of a person’s choice in pregnancy is defining.  And if anything – even a raising of medical standards for abortion clinics in Texas – impedes that choice, choice must have its way.  So it will.  And with deadly results.

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[1] Sherif Girgis, “Obergefell and the New Gnosticism,” First Things (6.28.2016).

July 4, 2016 at 5:00 am 1 comment

Target, Transgenderism, and Bathroom Brouhahas

Target

Two weeks ago, when Target announced it would continue “to stand for inclusivity” by welcoming “transgender team members and guests to use the restroom or fitting room facility that corresponds with their gender identity,”[1] fuel was added to the fire of what was already a raging debate.  “More than 700,000 pledge to boycott Target over transgender bathroom policy,” a headline in USA Today thundered.  The Daily Beast countered the boycott with its headline: “All the Things You Can No Longer Buy if You’re Really Boycotting Trans-Friendly Businesses.”

It’s a bathroom brouhaha.  So where does this big story leave Christians?

In one way, the fight over bathrooms only serves to mask larger questions about gender and identity.  The transgender movement as a whole seems locked into a form of Platonic dualism.  According to this philosophy, each physical form has a corresponding higher non-corporeal ideal.  So, for instance, a chair here on earth corresponds to a perfect non-corporeal chair in a higher realm.  Key to understanding Plato’s theory of correspondence between the physical and the non-corporeal is that the higher non-corporeal form is always determinative of and better than the lower physical form.  This is why Platonism’s final goal is for a person to escape this realm of lower physical forms and ascend to the realm of higher non-corporeal ideals.  Thus, in Platonism, the non-corporeal is always given preference over the corporeal, even as it pertains to our very bodies.  As Socrates, Plato’s mentor, put it:

The soul is immortal, and ‘tis not possession of thine own, but of Providence; and after the body is wasted away, like a swift horse freed from its traces, it lightly leaps forward and mingles itself with the light air, loathing the spell of harsh and painful servitude which it has endured.[2]

For Socrates, the body is a prison of “harsh and painful servitude” to be loathed.  Why?  Because it is physical.  The soul, however, is non-corporeal.  Therefore, the soul is to be preferred to and determinative of the body.

Many in the transgender movement seem to Platonically privilege non-corporeal inclinations over at least some of the clearer markers of physical biology.  People who come out as transgender are, in essence, declaring, “There is another form of me gender-wise than what my biological sex indicates.  My biological sex has subjected me to a ‘harsh and painful servitude,’ above which I intend to rise.” Jane Clark Scharl, in an article for the National Review, puts it well when she writes:

The … rhetoric used to be about liberating us from the moral and cultural limits on bodies, so that we could do whatever we wanted with them. Presumably that didn’t make us happy, because today, it’s about liberating us from our bodies altogether, by telling us that we can define ourselves however we want regardless of our biology.[3]

Being liberated from the body and its biology is a quintessentially Platonic – and, I would add, theologically problematic – notion.

I do understand that certain biological anomalies – anomalies in the sense that they are statistically rare – can occur in certain individuals.  I am also aware that there are questions over whether there are subtle differences in a transgender person’s brain.  But these questions do not negate the fact that gender dysphoria, the oft-cited trigger of transgenderism, is regularly presented and thought of as a conflict between a person’s physical biology and a person’s non-corporeal gender identity.  To quote the Oxford Dictionary: gender dysphoria is “the condition of feeling one’s emotional and psychological identity as male or female to be opposite to one’s biological sex.”  Notice how, according to this definition, gender dysphoria is rooted in “one’s emotional and psychological identity” being in conflict with one’s biological sex.  In other words, barring a worldview that reduces emotions and psychology to nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain, there is a conflict between the non-corporeal part of a person and the physical part of person who experiences gender dysphoria.  To state the matter simply, there is a conflict between what may be referred to as a person’s soul and one’s body. And many people in the transgender movement assume the soul should win this conflict. But the Bible reminds us that even the non-corporeal parts of us are deeply flawed and should not be blindly trusted.  The prophet Jeremiah warns, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jeremiah 17:9).  Jesus notes, “For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder” (Mark 7:21).  Is it any wonder that the prophets, when addressing human corruption, say things like, “Rend your heart and not your garments” (Joel 2:13)?  For us to address any anxiety – whether it be in our gender, in our sexuality, or even in some medical ailment – we can’t just deal in the physical.  We must consider – and yes, even confront and be converted in – the non-corporeal.

It should be pointed out that it’s not just people in the transgender movement who assume a Platonic view of the physical.  Many Christians do too.  Ask the average Christian which part of a person is more important – the body or the soul – and he will more than likely respond, “The soul.”  But this is not the case, at least according to Scripture.  The fact that the bodies of those who are dead will be raised on the Last Day reminds us that both bodies and souls are important.  After all, both are created by God. The goal for the Christian, then, is never to somehow rise above the body or to let the non-corporeal determine the physical.  Rather, the hope of the Christian is to be eschatalogically redeemed in the body by the resurrection of all flesh.

It is important for Christians to defend and promote a telic view of the body – that the body is fundamental to who we are and is created with a purpose and point.  A person can either steward the body according to the purpose and point for which it was created or work against the purpose and point for which the body was created.  Working against the purpose and point of the body, however, comes with consequences.  Just ask those who suffer all sorts of health problems because they abuse their bodies with, let’s say, junk food rather than fueling their bodies with a balanced diet.  We should not despise our bodies.

This takes us back to Target’s restrooms.  One of the difficulties in demanding that a person use the restroom that matches his or her sex biologically is that there may be a person who identifies as and looks very much like a male going into a female restroom and person who identifies as and looks very much like a female going into a male restroom.  This is sure to make patrons uncomfortable.  On the other hand, stories have already surfaced of predators who are using policies like Target’s to take advantage of unknowing victims.  Depending on how common these horrifying incidents become, Target could find itself regularly grappling with basic issues of of customer safety.  In other words, no matter what restroom policy Target adopts and enforces, it will probably land the company in some kind of legal, cultural, and public relations battle.  Indeed, it seems like the only way to address the restroom needs of a culture where gender is increasingly presumed to be fluid may be to build banks of private unisex restrooms, which could prove terribly costly for businesses that currently offer larger public restrooms.

Though the debate over bathrooms is interesting, ultimately, as Christians, we are called to concern ourselves with how to love all our neighbors – including those who are transgender.  This is why our first questions in this bathroom battle should not be, “Is this policy good for me?”  Or, “How do I feel about transgender people being able to choose their bathroom?”  Instead, our first questions should be, “Is transgenderism good for people?”  And, “Is it good to deny a created physical order for the sake of what is perceived to be a higher non-corporeal understanding of one’s self?” If the answer to these questions is, “No,” we have more than just bathrooms to worry about.  We have people to worry about.

No matter what laws are enacted pertaining to who can use which bathrooms, there will be problems.  But if we devote ourselves to making a winsome, gentle, and truthful case for how God has lovingly, tenderly, and wisely created humanity as “male and female” (Genesis 1:27) that leads people to rejoice in God’s ordering of sex and gender, that strikes me as a better outcome than any restroom regulations could ever offer.

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[1]Continuing to Stand for Inclusivity,” A Bullseye View (4.19.2016).

[2] Socrates in N.T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2003), 75.

[3] Jane Clark Scharl, “The New Sexual Ideology Wins Another Skirmish,” National Review (4.22.2016).

May 2, 2016 at 5:15 am 4 comments


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