So now we’re debating whether or not two men or two women can get married. How, over the course of less than two decades, did we become blind to something as obvious as the difference between friendship and marriage?
The rapid shift in public opinion isn’t the product of superior argument. Arguments have been made, but the emotional symbolics of tolerance, love, and equality have been far more decisive than any detailed argumentseven in the courts.
Political explanations are more illuminating. As R. R. Reno pointed out earlier this week, American universities have been sidelining and silencing dissent for decades, and now other institutions are following their lead. While ideology explains why progressives spend so much effort on symbolic victories, it doesn’t explain the wider cultural phenomenon. People who are under no threat from anyone have concluded that same-sex marriage is a great idea.
A pinch of Marxist analysis takes us a step further. Elites protect themselves not only through raw intimidation, but through the soft power of entertainment, advertising, journalism, video games, cartoons and comics, art and music, not to mention more thoroughly entrenched vehicles like the public school system. Dominant ideologues don’t impose ideologies on unwilling masses; they don’t have to. According to Antonio Gramsci, hegemonic cultural classes elicit “‘spontaneous’ consent . . . to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group.” A subordinate class is well subordinated when “for reasons of submission and intellectual subordination, [it] adopts a conception which is not its own but is borrowed from another group.”
Gramsci knew that subordinate classes can turn subversive and “subaltern,” resisting the dominant culture through sporadic, disorganized action. In normal times, though, dominant and subordinate classes share a way of living and being that reinforces the superiority of the superiors. Cultural elites who favor same-sex marriage shape the imaginations of culture consumers, who are typically unaware that they’re thinking someone else’s thoughts and living someone else’s script.
This is dark, but the Christian assessment is darker still. According to the New Testament, social life is never merely social. It’s always also spiritual. According to St. Paul, supra-human “principalities and powers” infest and pervert political life. God is an active player in our politics, and no realistic appraisal of our situation can ignore the central role of the universal Judge.
Ideology is, in Christian terms, idol-ology. In Romans 1, Paul claims that God turns idolaters over to their idolatry, then to increasingly calamitous calamities. Idolaters are delivered to sexual confusion and unnatural sexual practices, and those who persist in sexual sin are turned over to moral chaos. Because of God’s judgment, the “foolish hearts” of idolaters become “darkened,” and they “give hearty approval” to those who practice evils that they know to be “worthy of death.” Paul’s is a grim account, but it is hardly unreal. It could be grabbed from the headlines of the twenty-first century rather than from an apostolic epistle of the first.
Paul is reprising a theme from the Psalms and prophets. Idols have eyes but cannot see, ears but cannot hear; they are immobile in spite of having hands and feet. According to Psalm 115, “those who worship them shall become like them”deprived of sense and the capacity for action. Isaiah was sent to prophesy to an Israel so gripped by idolatry that their ears had become dull and their eyes dim (Isaiah 6). Yahweh didn’t send him to heal, but to further blind the blind and deafen the deaf.
When Christians see something that looks like a collective delusion, they’re looking at demonic deception and/or divine judgment. We live in a culture that has venerated idol-ologies of unbounded freedom with relentless zeal, and God has given us over to the logic of our folly.
I will be accused of demonizing opponents, but my argument leads to the opposite conclusion. If “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers and rulers in heavenly places,” then flesh-and-blood persons are not our principal adversaries. They are victimswilling victims, perhapsof demonic deceit. But we should focus on fighting the real enemies, while offering the good news of liberation and clear sight to political enemies. I am demonizing opponents only to the extent that I’m suggesting demons are our opponents.
If I’m right, then Christian tactics and strategies should be adjusted accordingly. You can’t combat demons with what Paul calls weapons “of the flesh.” In a spiritual war, our main weapons are the usual Christian armamentsrighteousness, truth, mercy, love, the Gospel of peace, faith, and the sword of the Spirit that is the Word of God. Some demons, Jesus said, come out only by “prayer and fasting.” For the present, our mission is that of Isaiah: to show reality to the blind, to speak truth into deaf ears.
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