Welcome to the New Orthodoxy…

Christian Martyrs being burned at the stake… but, to borrow from The Who, it’s not the same as the old orthodoxy. I’ve just read a very interesting article called “The Unhappy Fate of Optional Orthodoxy” (only the top half of the page is the article in question; the rest is a collation of shorter pieces. H/T John Richardson via Facebook for the link).

I think it sheds some light on the comments I’ve received here recently about my posts on sexuality and marriage. It seems that anything about sexuality from a traditional Christian perspective has the ability to get people’s backs up like nothing else at the moment (with the exception of women bishops, perhaps – although I haven’t blogged about that much so I haven’t experienced commenter wrath on that one…)

Anyway, I’d like to quote from the article because I think it hits the nail on the head. This is a fairly lengthy quote but I think it’s worth it. I’ve highlighted in bold the quotes I think are particularly insightful.

… The new liberal orthodoxy of recent decades is hard and nasty; compared to it, the old orthodoxy was merely quaint. The old orthodoxy was like a dotty old uncle in the front parlor; the new orthodoxy is a rampaging harridan in the family room. The old orthodoxy claimed to speak for the past, which seemed harmless enough. The new orthodoxy claims to speak for the future and is therefore the bearer of imperatives that brook no opposition. The choice of a few to live in the past could be indulged when the future was thought to be open and undetermined. Tolerating the orthodox was also a way of playing it safe. You never know: Maybe the ways of the past would come around again. But the old orthodoxy that is optional is proscribed by the new orthodoxy, which is never optional.

… In some churches, the new orthodoxy is most aggressively manifest in feminist and homosexual (or, as it is said, “lesbigay”) agitations. These, however, are but the more conspicuous eruptions that follow upon a determined denial of the normative truths espoused by an older orthodoxy. Proponents of the new orthodoxy will protest, with some justice, that they, too, are committed to normative truths. These truths, however, are not embodied in propositions, precedent, ecclesial authority, or, goodness knows, revelation. They are experiential truths expressing the truth of who we truly are—“we” being defined by sex, race, class, tribe, or identifying desire (“orientation”).

With the older orthodoxy it is possible to disagree, as in having an argument. Evidence, reason, and logic count, in principle at least. Not so with the new orthodoxy. Here disagreement is an intolerable personal affront. It is construed as a denial of others, of their experience of who they are. It is a blasphemous assault on that most high god, “My Identity.” Truth-as-identity is not appealable beyond the assertion of identity.

… Nobody denies that there are, for instance, women, blacks, American Indians, and homosexuals beyond number who do not subscribe to the identities assigned their respective groups. This, however, does not faze those in charge of packing and distributing identity kits. They explain that identity dissidents, people who do not accept the identities assigned them, are doubly victimized—victims of their oppressors and victims of a false consciousness that blinds them to the reality of their being oppressed. Alternatively, identity dissidents are declared to be traitors who have been suborned into collaboration with the deniers of who they are. The proponents of truth-as-identity catch the dissidents coming and going. They say their demand is only for “acceptance,” leaving no doubt that acceptance means assent to what they know (as nobody else can know!) is essential to being true to their authentic selves. Not to assent is not to disagree; it is to deny their humanity, which, especially in churches credally committed to being nice, is not a nice thing to do.

This helps explain why questions such as quotaized representation, women’s ordination, and homosexuality are so intractable. There is no common ground outside the experiential circles of identity by which truth is circularly defined. Conservatives huff and puff about the authority of Scripture and tradition, while moderates appeal to the way differences used to be accommodated in the early Church (before c. 1968), but all to no avail. Whatever the issue, the new orthodoxy will not give an inch, demanding acceptance and inclusiveness, which means rejection and exclusion of whatever or whomever questions their identity, meaning their right to believe, speak, and act as they will, for what they will do is what they must do if they are to be who they most truly are. “So you want me to agree with you in denying who I am?” By such reasoning, so to speak, the spineless are easily intimidated.

In other words, gender and sexuality have become badges of personal identity. It’s not possible to discuss or question these things because by doing so you will be fundamentally denying someone’s identity. Let’s take a slightly ridiculous example to illustrate: let’s imagine a man called Fred, who is a massive fan of Chelsea Football Club. Let’s go further than that and say that Fred loves the club so much that his identity becomes bound up with being a Chelsea supporter. Now, if I – for example – start criticising Chelsea supporters to him and say that it’s not right to support a club morally where the money has come from dodgy sources, for him it would be an attack on his very person.

You see, we’re allowed to talk about the rights and wrongs of various things, but we’re not allowed to talk about the rights and wrongs of what makes a person a person. Because these kind of issues (sexuality and gender, for example) have become so fundamental that in order for our identity to be complete we must fulfil everything which we believe that entails. Consequently, anyone who questions someone’s identity is fundamentally denying something about someone’s identity: it’s akin to denying their very humanity.

I find this illuminating with regards to some of the feedback I’ve received about marriage and sexuality, and some of what I see around in society. If you question the new orthodoxy, you are branded as an unbeliever and the new orthodox inquisition will come and get you.

How do we move forward from here? I’m not sure, but I think some verses from the Bible might be appropriate:

Firstly, Jesus said: “You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matt 5:43-45)

Secondly, the apostle Paul said: “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” (Romans 12:14, 17-18)

I’d love at this point to say “All you members of the new orthodoxy, take heed!” But I realise that I need to apply these verses to my own life, first and foremost. That said, it does seem to me that some members of the ‘new orthodoxy’ who would champion love and tolerance seem to not demonstrate much of it when dealing with opinions such as mine. At any rate, in a highly charged and emotive time, these verses are not bad ones to finish with and reflect on.


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