The religious divide of our time is between those who think they can compromise with the sexual revolution without compromising their faith—and those who are awakening to the fact that this experiment has been tried and has failed.
Solzhenitsyn famously defined the principal trait of the twentieth century in four words: “Men have forgotten God.” So far, the twenty-first century might be summarized in six: Men are at war with God. Awakened from agnostic slumber by new forms of temptation, chiefly the sexual revolution, humanity is at war with God over a question that reaches back to the beginning of time: Who, exactly, should have power over creation?
Christianity and Judaism teach that the answer is “God.” The culture dominant in the West today teaches the opposite. It says that the creation of new life is ours to control—more precisely, that it is woman’s to control. It says that we can dispose of life in the womb for any reason whatsoever, from simple whim to a preference for a boy rather than a girl. It goes further, saying that we can erase life on the basis of rationales that continue to expand. In Belgium, a middle-aged woman was recently euthanized because she was distraught over the surgeries done and chemicals taken in the vain hope that she could change her sex. She was seduced by the prevailing culture, which says that we can re-invent ourselves in new genders, cosmetically accessorized by surgeries and chemicals.
How did we reach the point where our society repudiates creation? Let’s begin in the present. Many voices, both supportive of and opposed to identity politics, have discussed what this new code of conduct is doing to us. We need to ask a different question: What is the nonstop obsession with identity telling us—about ourselves, our civilization, and the wounds that our complicity with the sexual revolution has caused us to inflict on ourselves?
By way of answer, consider this syllogism. The sexual revolution led to the decline of the family. This weakening in turn has fueled the decline of organized religion. (I lay out why this is the case in How the West Really Lost God.) Both of these losses have left elephantine holes in the Western sense of self. As a result, many Western people now scramble to fill those vacancies with something else.
The revolution robbed many of a familial identity. By spurring secularization, it also robbed them of a supernatural identity, which is why swaths of the materially advanced societies once rooted in European civilization now suffer unprecedented uncertainty about who they are. This is especially true among the young. They are racked by the compound fractures of what is now a sixty-year experiment, motivating frantic, often furious attempts to construct an ersatz identity. We are told to see ourselves as members of political collectives based on race, ethnicity, gender, and the rest of the alphabetized brigade. This divisive project has in turn given rise to today’s sharply politicized turns of public discourse, street unrest, and the rancorous, unforgiving tone of much of our politics.
Famous experiments on animals demonstrate that artificial isolation from their own kind produces dysfunction. We need to understand that humanity is running an analogous experiment on itself. The revolution ushered in facts of life that had never before existed on the scale seen today. Abortion, fatherlessness, divorce, single parenthood, childlessness, the imploding nuclear family, the shrinking extended family: All these phenomena are acts of human subtraction. Every one of them has the effect of reducing the number of people to whom we belong, and whom we can call our own.
Outside consciously religious communities, which now amount to a counter-culture, generational reality for most people can be summarized in one word: fewer. Fewer brothers, sisters, cousins, children, grandchildren. Fewer people to play ball with, or talk to, or learn from. Fewer people to celebrate a birth; fewer people to visit one’s deathbed. In a way that is not generally acknowledged, the sexual revolution has produced a relationship deficit. And since we are social creatures and define ourselves relationally, this shortage means that we face an identity deficit. Who am I? This is a universal, inescapable question. Because of the revolution, many of us have lost the material with which to construct an answer.
As our individual lives become more disordered and bereft, so do our politics. The first use of the phrase “identity politics” appears in a manifesto published by radical African-American feminists in 1977—just as the first generation born into the revolution was coming of age. For those who haven’t read it, the Combahee River Collective manifesto is a poignant window onto modern times. It declares, in essence, that its signatories—all women—are giving up on the men in their lives. They are banding together for a future that does not include unreliable boyfriends and husbands. There is a straight line from that declaration of failure to the one uploaded by Black Lives Matter last year (and subsequently removed), which likewise denied healthy relations between the sexes and within the natural family, and failed even to mention fathers or brothers. Both proclamations signify that political identity has become a substitute for familial and communal bonds. Both are rooted in a fury at creation itself—an anger at the disruption of the natural order, which the creature now claims the right to re-order.