Michael Hanby has a long piece that is well worth reading on the future of American Christendom over at First Things. I am mostly in agreement with what Hanby writes here — I am one of the radicals he describes, as I think the problem resides less in the sexual revolution itself than in the entire intellectual and confessional nature of modernity, and it’s inability to deal with pluralism.
And Rod Dreher deals with this piece in greater detail. I have things to say about marriage, which I swear I will get to on Monday.
However, I have a concern with something Hanby writes early on in the piece:
All notions of justice presuppose ontology and anthropology, and so a revolution in fundamental anthropology will invariably transform the meaning and content of justice and bring about its own morality. We are beginning to feel the force of this transformation in civil society and the political order. Court decisions invalidating traditional marriage law fall from the sky like rain. The regulatory state and ubiquitous new global media throw their ever increasing weight behind the new understanding of marriage and its implicit anthropology, which treats our bodies as raw material to be used as we see fit. [Emphasis mine – CHF] Today a rigorous new public morality inverts and supplants the residuum of our Christian moral inheritance.
I agree with the notion he puts forth that late modernity puts forth a vision of human beings “as raw material to be used as we see fit.” But this isn’t just a problem with the sexual revolution — it is a problem with all of industrial mass modernity, and it was inherent in the entire scientific endeavor in the first place (as Hanby notes). Conservatives can see this when it comes to sex, but are utterly oblivious to people as “raw material” when it comes to economics. Or anything else.
Because this is how mass modernity — the modernity of the industrial revolution, of imperial Europe, of mass society and democracy, of science and progress — views human beings. We are widgets made of meat to be used and discarded. We are economic or social inputs, and the only value we have is what comes out in the end. What someone can buy.
Hanby, and some other conservatives I think, are belatedly beginning to discover that you cannot have a genteel and morally restrained modernity. If people are “raw material” in one way — free to be exploited and used and consumed and discarded by capitalists and industrialists and governments who view them solely (or largely) as costs or inputs into an industrial production process — then why are those same people completely unfree to view themselves as commodities? If I am a mere thing that produces and consumes — and our entire civilization has been structured this way — then why should I be expected to be anything more than a mere thing to myself?
If I can be exploited — to the point of death — by my employer, by my government, by any myriad of commercial relationships, then why am I completely unfree to exploit myself?
One of the reasons I have long supported some version of The Benedict Option is simply because the truth claims the church makes about who human beings are — and these stem from our primary claims of “Jesus Christ is Lord” and “He rose from the dead” — are irreconcilable with the truth claims modernity makes. We need to live like people for whom this confession is true, is real, and matters more than anything a human being could confess. Handy gets this, I think. I fear too many other conservatives will not (and do not), and seek not a resurrected church preaching and confessing true faith, but merely a restored social order in which the church is still subsidiary to a state and a society where people are still looked upon as consumable and disposable “raw material” for everything other than family making.