The CEO of Target recently received a letter from seven state attorneys general warning that Target’s June “Pride” campaign may have violated state laws concerning child protection, parental rights, and obscenity.
At about the same time, the Michigan House of Representatives passed a “hate speech” bill criminalizing criticism of transgender ideology. It looks as though the stage is being set for a major legal clash over the LGBTQ+ movement and its effect on society.
Should, say, the Target matter come before a court (or courts), it will probably attract much attention. Interested parties will submit amicus curiae briefs, and defense lawyers will argue that the briefs sold by Target are really not that brief.
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Such a trial might also have the effect of focusing the public’s attention on one of the great unresolved issues of Constitutional law. The issue can be framed as follows: are laws merely arbitrary or are they rooted in some objective reality?
Up until fairly recently, God’s commandments were the ultimate reality backing up the laws against lying, theft, rape, and murder. It was taken for granted in Western courts that our laws were rooted in the Judeo-Christian revelation—or, alternatively, in the natural law which God has implanted in human nature.
As societies became more secularized, however, so did the lawmakers. Increasingly, arguments based on religious beliefs and/or natural law came to be seen as out of place in courts and legislatures. Gradually, reason and science were given priority as the basis for making moral judgments.
“Science,” of course, included social sciences—psychology, sociology, anthropology, etc.—and, by and large, the social sciences teach that morality is relative. According to the social scientists, ideas of right and wrong differ from culture to culture and from age to age. Therefore, what’s considered good or virtuous in one culture may be considered immoral in another culture or another time.
With this in mind, let’s return to the current controversy over the LGBTQ+ movement. Is there any major precedent that would help us sort out the strongly held but contradictory claims of the two sides? Of course, seeing that it’s such a new phenomenon, we wouldn’t be able to find much precedent about the subject of transgenderism. However, history provides a famous case that did deal with many of the issues that face us today: cultural relativism, changing standards of morality, what should be taught to children, and whether religion has any place in classrooms or courtrooms.
Almost a hundred years ago, in what was billed as the “trial of the century,” renowned defense lawyer Clarence Darrow performed an act of legal jiujitsu that threw all these issues before the court. During the famous Scopes trial (aka “the Monkey Trial”), Darrow turned a trial about the violation of a Tennessee law banning the teaching of evolution into a trial defending the rights of teachers and students to free thought and free speech.
Beyond that, he turned it into a trial of fundamentalist Christianity. It was fundamentalist Christians, after all, who had lobbied for a criminal law that would outlaw any teaching on human evolution that contradicted the account of creation in Genesis.
According to historian Edward J. Larson, Darrow “delighted in challenging traditional concepts of morality and religion” and “spent a lifetime ridiculing traditional Christian beliefs.” During the trial, he accused his opponent, William Jennings Bryan, of insulting “every man of science and learning in the world because he does not believe in your fool religion.”
Those whose only knowledge of the Scopes Trial comes from watching Stanley Kramer’s highly biased film Inherit the Wind might have the impression that Bryan was nothing but an old fool. In reality, he was highly accomplished: a lawyer, a brilliant orator, a three-time Democratic nominee for president, and Secretary of State under Woodrow Wilson. In later years, he headed the anti-evolution movement and spoke and wrote often about the subject of evolution. Although he was not a scientist, neither was Darrow, and it’s quite possible that Bryan understood Darwinian evolution as well, if not better, than Darrow.
But Darrow was the better lawyer. He out-maneuvered Bryan from the start. He quizzed Bryan not on his knowledge of science (for which Bryan was prepared) but on his ability to explain difficult passages in Scripture (about which he was overconfident).
By the end of the trial, Bryan did look somewhat foolish; and though his side won the trial, many felt that he had lost the debate over evolution. In the process, Bryan’s form of Christianity was also made to look foolish. At the time, and for years afterward, it was thought by many that, in the words of one author, Darrow “dealt a deathblow to Fundamentalism.” Likewise, the 1931 bestseller Only Yesterday portrayed the “monkey trial” as a decisive defeat for old-time religion.
That wasn’t quite true. After the trial, fundamentalists withdrew from the larger culture, built up their own subculture, and eventually came back stronger than ever—at least in comparison to mainline Protestant churches.
The Scopes trial is important for our present society because we may be heading toward a similar showdown. The tension between Target and the state AGs may not be the spark that sets it off, but there are plenty of other sparks. At some point, some large organization or group of organizations will likely challenge state laws that seem to be based on religious assumptions. The Scopes trial is important for our present society because we may be heading toward a similar showdown. The tension between Target and the state AGs may not be the spark that sets it off, but there are plenty of other sparks.Tweet This
Like the Scopes trial, the confrontation will be framed as a battle between science and superstition, reason and revelation. Note, however, that unlike the Scopes trial, the “liberal” side will not be appealing to “hard” sciences such as biology and paleontology but to the “soft” sciences—psychology, sociology, and fuzzier fields of knowledge such as cultural studies, gender studies, and sexology.
Such sciences, as I noted earlier, tend to present morality as being relative to changing times and changing cultures. Not surprisingly, the Scopes trial took place during a time of rapid change—right in the middle of the Roaring Twenties. In retrospect, moreover, the ’20s seem to have been the first wave of the Sexual Revolution. It was a time when many young people threw off the restraints of that “old-time religion,” wore short skirts, and danced the Charleston. The spirit of the age was captured a few years after it ended, in Cole Porter’s song “Anything Goes,” which, to refresh your memory, informs us that:
In olden days, a glimpse of stocking was looked on as something shocking. But now, God knows, anything goes.
We’re now in the third wave of the Sexual Revolution (the second wave washed ashore in the ’60s and ’70s), and it’s not surprising that many are employing the same relativist argument that was used in the first two installments—namely, that times change and morality has to change with the times.
The third wave will likely bring an all-out assault on the idea that morality and laws must be rooted in something permanent. It will be argued, instead, that right and wrong should be determined by something more scientific than Scripture and tradition: for instance, something like “scientific” opinion polls—the social scientists’ favorite gauge of what’s happening now.
What do the polls show? Well, a 2022 Gallup poll found that 71 percent of Americans supported same-sex marriage and 71 percent also believed gay and lesbian relations are “morally acceptable.”
Moreover, 80 percent of Americans support laws that forbid LGBTQ+ discrimination in jobs, public accommodations, and housing. However, many draw the line when it comes to their personal privacy. More than half were opposed to mixed-gender public bathrooms.
Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, 58 percent of Americans oppose legislation that would “restrict drag shows or performances.”
Hmm. Does that include restrictions on a drag queen’s right to perform in front of children? Not too long ago, the idea would have been “looked on as something shocking.” But nowadays? Well, give it time. One thing the polls consistently show is that borderline behaviors become increasingly acceptable over time. For example, in 1996 only 27 percent of those polled supported the legalization of same-sex “marriage” versus 71 percent in 2022. You just need time to get used to the idea.
By contrast, time doesn’t seem to be on the side of Christians. In the U.S., the polls show that the number of people who identify as Christian has been dropping year after year.
A Darwinian could take this as proof of the “survival of the fittest” hypothesis. Nietzsche, who was greatly influenced by Darwin, looked upon Christianity as a weak religion fit only for those who were slaves to conventional morality. Clarence Darrow, who was influenced by both Darwin and Nietzsche, held the same view.
On the other hand, the polls could be taken as proof that Christianity gives a truer account of the way the moral world works than do the agnostics and skeptics. Statistically, the decline of Christianity correlates closely with the rise of social ills: crime, promiscuity, divorce, broken homes, addiction, depression, suicide, and so on.
As Dostoyevsky wrote, “If there is no God, everything is permissible.” And, sure enough, as people pushed God out of their lives (as measured by the decline of Christianity), they adopted an anything-goes mentality (as measured in the polls by increasing acceptance of immoral lifestyles). In an echo of Dostoyevsky, William Jennings Bryan warned that “Nietzsche carried Darwinism to its logical conclusion and denied the existence of God…he overthrew all standards of morality…”
Well, not all standards. At the time Bryan railed against the erosion of morals, most of the moral standards were still standing. It wasn’t until the second and third waves of the Sexual Revolution that they began to wash away. By the second decade of the 21st century, it was clear that sexual sin and social breakdown were not only correlated, they were connected in a predictable, this-leads-to-that fashion.
We have the advantage of considerably more hindsight than was available to Bryan or Darrow. The twisted wreckage of the Sexual Revolution is now plain for all to see. There obviously is a natural law which we would do well to obey. Yet, many continue to champion the most unnatural behaviors in the blind belief that this will somehow liberate us.
Of course, society will suffer a breakdown. The movement that we call the Sexual Revolution is appropriately named. It is essentially a rebellion against the created order—a rebellion against natural law and divine law. What’s more, we are told that we should be proud of this rebellion—proud of sowing the seeds of disorder and decay.
At some point, it’s likely we will see another highly-publicized legal clash not unlike the Scopes trial. It will likely stem from an attempt to resist the further spread of the Sexual Revolution, and it will likely be framed, once again, as a battle between reason and science on the one hand and religion and revelation on the other. And, of course, it will also be presented as a matter of moving with the times rather than remaining stuck in the past.
A new Scopes-type confrontation might, however, turn out quite differently than the first one. In 1925, the evolutionists managed to make the Christians look like reactionaries. But this time around the shoe might be on the other foot. Instead of marshalling the latest scientific evidence for their assertions about sexuality, the LGBTQ+/Sexual Revolution party will be forced to defend decidedly anti-scientific views that border on fantasy.
There is no scientific evidence whatever that girls can turn into boys, or that men can become pregnant. There is little evidence for any of the other when-you-wish-upon-a-star claims made by LGBTQ+ ideologues.
By contrast, defenders of the Christian view (which includes many non-Christians) can back up their position with an abundance of scientific facts.
The scientific evidence for the traditional Christian view of gender differences is overwhelming. Anatomical charts can be presented in courts to show that the pelvic structure of females is designed for childbirth whereas the pelvic structure of males is not. Other charts can be produced to show that the female body contains several reproductive organs that are entirely absent in males, and vice versa. Expert witnesses can attest that there are distinct hormonal and chromosomal differences between men and women. Moreover, anthropologists can testify that all societies have understood that these biological differences imply different gender roles for men and women.
Against this, the gender fanatics, having been raised on a diet of unicorns and flying pink ponies, can only point to their feelings as proof that it’s time to turn the world upside down. A man may testify that since the age of three he has always felt himself to be female. And a woman may testify that she has always felt uncomfortable in her body. However, that doesn’t mean a slam-dunk victory for the party of natural law and commonsense. Unfortunately, feelings now play a very large part in determining judicial decisions. “He hurt my client’s feelings” is sometimes all that a judge or jury needs to hear.
Still, what is at issue is not whether gender-confused people have strong feelings but whether the rest of us should be made to bow down before the idol of gender fluidity and expose our children to school curriculums that only serve to confuse them about a basic fact of life.
Clarence Darrow upbraided Bryan for trying to impose his “fool religion” on society, but today’s chief candidate for “fool religion” is the faith-based and fantastical ideology of the LGBTQ+/Sexual Revolution devotees. What makes it foolish is that it is so thoroughly out of date.
Once again, the roles have been reversed. In the current debate over gender, Christians have the science on their side; they also have the test of time on their side. In 1925, Bible-based religion was derided as “that old-time religion,” but fundamentalist and evangelical brands of Christianity have stood the test of time much better than the mainline Protestant churches which long ago adopted a “modernist” view of Christianity—a view which now mainly appeals to “progressive” Catholic bishops in Europe.
But the religion of the sexual revolutionaries doesn’t even rise to the level of “modernist.” Like the “woke” religion of which it is a part, the LGBTQ+ faith appears increasingly to be an old-time religion. I mean this not in the sense that its devotees have embraced ideas that were out of date a century ago but that they have embraced beliefs that became outdated two thousand years ago. In other words, many “modern” people have reverted to primitive beliefs and practices, including ritual mutilation (trans surgery), child sacrifice (abortion), and magical thinking (if you wish hard enough and use the right hormonal potions you can change your sex).
All of a sudden, paganism seems to have come back into style—and with it polytheism, polygamy, and pantheism (as exemplified by the revival of interest in the worship of “Mother Earth”). Far from being a step toward a better future, the religion of the woke reactionaries represents a giant step backward into a past when might made right, women were ruled by men, and the sexual exploitation of children was not uncommon. In woke lingo this regression is called “moving with the times.”
The opinion polls show that a majority of people now approve of moving in this direction. And even though the majority don’t fully understand where it leads, their laissez-faire attitude toward immoral behavior is highly disturbing—all the more so because the data we now have on rising rates of crime, suicide, and social breakdown strongly suggest that it’s time to reverse course. The fact that rates of mental illness, addiction, and suicide are much higher in the LGBTQ+ population than in the general population should serve as one more reason to have second thoughts about celebrating the Pride rebellion—let alone foisting it on children.
The science about sexual differences; the observable fallout from the Sexual Revolution; the evidence of natural law; the testimony of detransitioners and other victims of the Revolution: Christians and their commonsense allies have many of the advantages in this conflict. They shouldn’t be reluctant to use them.
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