On Court-Mandated Brainwashing

By now, most people are aware of the Colorado baker who refused to bake an elaborate wedding cake for a gay couple’s so-called “marriage.” The various commissions and courts have ruled that the gentleman’s religious objections to an act that implicitly required him to approve gay marriage violated the law. The court said that any “reasonable” person would not say that selling a cake violates one’s religion. The issue, of course, is whether the court’s notion of what is reasonable is itself reasonable.

And if that were not enough, the man has to implement “sensitivity” sessions for his employees evidently to cleanse them of any lingering doubts about the law. The baker also has to send regular reports to the court of why he refused any customer a sale. He can personally “hold” the strange ideas that something intrinsically wrong with gay “marriages.” But he cannot refuse to sell wedding cakes and stay in business. On hearing this harsh sentence, the baker announced that he was no longer in the business of selling wedding cakes to anyone. Good news, no doubt, for his competition. Similar cases in other states have dealt with photographers and florists, as well as bakers. The baker’s religious freedom under the First Amendment, the court said, could not be used. What has been overturned here is not just a simple baker’s conscience, but, when spelled out, the very roots of our republic.

George Marlin sketched out the steps by which this same reasoning will come to Catholic priests. The priest at a Catholic wedding acts also as a public official to witness the wedding. He must report it to civil authority. Soon, if not sooner, a Church baptized gay couple will appear at the rectory to request a wedding Mass. If the priest refuses on religious grounds, the “couple” will turn to the local civil rights commission or courts. They have a “right” to “marry.” The priest, therefore, has an “obligation” to marry them. If he refuses, his function as a witness will be withdrawn. He will be subject to “sensitivity” training on discrimination.

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If we were to read the outlines of this case without knowing where or when it took place, we might well think that we were in Soviet Russia or Communist China. Their efforts to “brainwash” believers follow a not dissimilar process. State offices take the lead in correcting unacceptable ideas in citizens’ minds. The baker can privately think what he wants, though he needs to be conscious of “hate language.” But his religious objection about the cake is not valid. Nothing is higher than the civil law. Religion is private. We have to “cure” ideas, not just correct deeds. The law increasingly claims both our deeds and our souls.

We can imagine some amusing aspects of this odd case. Many expect that polygamy and polyandry will be approved by our all-seeing court. Let us suppose that a man and three ladies appear at the bakery. They order three appropriate cakes for their upcoming nuptials. If the baker refuses because he did not accept polygamy, he would be ordered to bake the cakes and appear for “sensitivity” sessions. After all, if the four people involved “love” one another and wanted to live together, isn’t that now what “marriage” is about?

If two gay gentlemen went into a bakery for a doughnut and cup of coffee and were refused; it would be a different case. The Colorado baker in fact said that he has no problem selling “cupcakes” to gays. It was the meaning of the cake that concerned him. What is the difference whether a wedding cake or a doughnut is involved? Well, they do not serve doughnuts at weddings. The cake is a piece of art to be decorated with signs of the nature of the event. On the cake, we have not the small figurine of a young lady and gentleman, but of two gay men or one man and three ladies. Surely “reasonable people” can see the issue?


When we look at the case of the baker and his fate at the hands of the law, what are we seeing? It is not pretty. Whole civilizations stand or fall on principles that arise in instances such as this one in Colorado. We once began thinking about these issues from natural and divine law. We have quickly passed from the view that there is only positive law, the law of the state. At first, it was a question of whether ordinary people “tolerated” gay life rather than warning about it. The focus now has shifted to whether the gay persuasion, now largely in power, will tolerate ordinary life. We find that with the evaporation of Christianity in the culture, we also note that the ethic of forgiveness disappears. What is new and logical in the Colorado case is something much more sinister.

Put briefly, the baker is not allowed to act, no matter on what authority, as if there is some serious problem with gay life. At one time, it was possible to inquire, on some calm and objective basis, whether living a gay life was good for the persons involved or good for the society in which they lived. There were philosophical, medical, sociological, and psychological reasons presented. Recruiting the young to live a gay life was considered predatory. But today it must be considered a “right.” If ordinary people have a “right” to enter a union in which children can be born, so members of the gay society have a “right” to find those who will continue their lifestyle. What we have witnessed is growing opposition from cultural elites to any critique of a gay person’s lifestyle for his own good.

But what is most striking about the Colorado case, already present in the HHS mandate, is its subtle totalitarian overtones. These tendencies have been discussed in political literature for a long time. They begin with the assumption that there is no natural order. Its absence is what “guarantees” our freedom to do what we want. What we are witnessing is merely the logical carrying out of the implications of denying what man is by nature. In this sense, the gay community is perfectly logical in seeking to enforce its views on the rest of society. Such good folks as the baker are taken to be somehow deranged or hopelessly fanatical.

The key step was made when the baker, who was simply following the bible and exercising his First Amendment rights, was judged to exhibit “deviant” thinking. Hence follows his need to undergo “sensitivity” training. Only now the word “deviant” means what most people had thought from time immemorial to be normal. What is new is that no tolerance comes from the victors. They are determined to stamp out any criticism. The Colorado case is not the end but the beginning of the imposition of increasing thought control. Political correctness in schools, media, and universities, if carefully examined, has already prepared the way for a final push.


If we pay any attention to what has been going on in theological circles for some time, we can see that we are not dealing here with only a legal or gay issue. What we are dealing with is an effort to think out of existence any notion of sin or disorder of soul caused by human freedom. This effort requires the prohibition of reason and the reinterpretation of Scripture because it says we can sin and it tells us what those sins are. It also holds that sin is not good. Increasingly we are told we have a right to commit them, and not only in places like Colorado.

Basically, we find two ways to approach the problem of sin and judgment. The first is simply to deny that anything can be known about reality. Relativism leaves us free to make and act however we wish. A further variation of this same point is to deny that there is any objective order in reality to which our minds are open. Thus, the fact that male and female are different but intended to be complimentary in order to keep the race in existence is denied. Nature does not exist. This emptiness of intelligibility in nature leaves it open for us to impose whatever form of life or arrangement with others that we want. We are free to deny the humanity of the fetus or, if we admit it, to deny that we are obliged to respect it if its presence runs against our personal or social preferences.

The second approach does not deny that sin and evil are mentioned in Scripture and in the tradition of the Church. It upholds instead an alternative concept of God as love. It posits that God loves everyone no matter what they do. His love overlooks all our faults and aberrations. In effect, everyone is saved, except perhaps those who insist on the fact of sin and judgment. Thus, if we feel that God loves us in what we do, whatever it is, we can only do this as a grace that assures us that God will save us. We are weak and cannot always do what is said to be right. But the love of God is all-forgiving. If we live up to our own standards, God will accept us into his Kingdom.

Thus, behind this, as it were, “brainwashing” in Colorado, we find an inexorable logic. The baker can be made “sensitive” about his “irrational’ opposition. He, and all like him, must realize that Scripture or reason has nothing relevant to say about gay “marriages” or like practices. Opposition to the new law of the courts and legislatures is by nature irrational and against human “rights.” It needs to be eradicated lest such things as refusal to bake a cake for a gay wedding occur elsewhere in the culture. No claim to religious or intellectual “freedom” can stand against the logic that justifies these new ways of life. They imply that no order exists in nature to indicate what we are and how we ought to live. This outmoded older view is thought to be the root of civil disorder. As we see in Colorado, it must be rooted out of our minds, words, and actions.


  • Fr. James V. Schall

    The Rev. James V. Schall, SJ, (1928-2019) taught government at the University of San Francisco and Georgetown University until his retirement in 2012. Besides being a regular Crisis columnist since 1983, Fr. Schall wrote nearly 50 books and countless articles for magazines and newspapers.

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