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Friday, July 17, 2015

Obergefell v. Hodges: The New Tower of Babel

by Christopher Ziegler

Author Christopher Ziegler can
be found @CZWriting on Twitter
On Black Friday, June 26, 2015,  a day that will live in infamy, the U.S. Supreme Court legalized "gay marriage" nationwide in Obergefell v. Hodges

Self-described homosexuals make up less than three percent of the U.S. population. The number of homosexuals who will actually get married as a result of the recent decision is even smaller. But Obergefell has a more far-reaching significance than merely changing the status of homosexuality in America.

Many, including myself, have written about how the constitutional precedent set by this decision could be used as a weapon against religious institutions. Lawsuits will fly. Others, including the dissenting justices, have drawn attention to the dangerously broad interpretation of the Constitution it introduced.

Some have speculated that this decision will lead to legalized polygamy. Already, the word throuple has entered
Throuple: A threelationship;
 a relationship with three partners.
my vocabulary. These remain legitimate concerns. We’ll have to see how things play out in the coming years.

However, no one has written about the deeper meaning, perhaps because no one has seen the historical context. Obergefell v. Hodges will have profound consequences for reasons that have nothing to do with the Constitution or gay marriage per se.

The real meaning of the decision is in the message it sent. That message was not limited to just three percent of the population. It was directed at every man, woman and child in the country. I myself received that message loud and clear. As did you.

The message is a pronouncement about what kind of society we are becoming—nay, have become. It has nothing to do with gay marriage and everything to do with advancing the agenda of our secular age.

Some would say this is an atheist age rather than a secular one. They’d be wrong. Atheism
is strictly a philosophical position and most people are not philosophers. Real atheists are not usually welcome at cocktail-parties among secular people -- they talk about God too much. If you want to waste an evening on poor quality theological discussion, go talk to an atheist. 

Atheism is one of the most brittle of all beliefs. It’s been said that there are no atheists in foxholes; which is why, when I meet an atheist, I tell him he is simply a man who hasn’t found his foxhole yet. (They don’t seem to like that.) 

Nor is it even a philosophy suited for most people. Humans have always worshipped gods of some sort. We cannot help but organize our lives around some first principle or ultimate concern. Whatever this ultimate concern is functions as our de facto god, whether we acknowledge it as such or not. And if this god is not the Trinitarian God of the Bible, it will be something else.

If a man does not serve God, he will serve something within the created order (the secular). Money, sex and ego are the usual suspects. This has been the story since the beginning. God created man in his own image, and endowed him with the power to wrestle with the divine. Although man is part of God’s creation, God placed him at the top, making him the master of nature.

But, unfortunately, God’s generosity has given man a generous appetite. God created man to love, honor and obey Him. But man wants to seize the fruit and forsake the source, to
“worship the creature more than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). He will take the fruits of the tree, those things which are delectable to the eye, and reject the root and branch, which is God. This is the essence of our first disobedience and it remains our perennial temptation.

As Bob Dylan said, “You’re gonna have to serve somebody. It may be the devil or it may be the Lord but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” As it so happens, the devil doesn’t care who or what you serve as long as it’s not God. Pope Francis made this point in his first homily as Pontiff: “Whoever does not pray to God, prays to the devil. When one does not profess Jesus Christ, one professes the wordiness of the devil.”

In other words, secularism, unlike atheism, is not about what one believes but how one lives. It’s about the things one lives for and serves. A person can go to church every Sunday and still be just as secular as the village atheist. The question is whether one’s loyalties are with this life or the next, with the here or the here-after? Is one’s ultimate concern in time or in eternity?

The word secular derives from the Latin root
saecularis, meaning worldly or temporal. Christianity understands that God exists outside of time and in eternity. Hence, the Medieval schoolmen gave us the concept of secular to distinguish the affairs of this world from the affairs of the next. On the hierarchy of values, the religious was considered higher than the secular vocation.

This duality gave birth to a tension in Medieval society. There was resentment on the part of some that they were on what they wrongly considered to be the slow-track to heaven. This tension was the fuse that lit the Protestant Revolution. It was Martin Luther who first tried to collapse the distinction between the religious and secular vocations by eliminating the former and endowing the latter with a higher significance.

This began the slow drip, drip of secularism which today is a raging flood. Luther and subsequent reformers didn’t know they were starting a 500 year war between the secular and eternal, which Catholicism had always tried to balance out in separate but complementary vocations.

Luther’s doctrine of “faith alone” disparaged the religious vocations and celibacy for the

kingdom. This upset the hierarchy of values and led to a great equalization in which everything, including religious experience, had to be secularized to be accepted. Nothing could be set aside for God. Inevitably, “faith alone” became “the world alone.”

The reformers believed that, with no help from the Church and the communion of saints, an individual could serve the secular yet still keep the eternal in his heart. But a man cannot be the servant of two masters. He will love one and hate the other. And that’s what happened.

The history of the five centuries since the Reformation is the story of how the soul of Western man gradually became acclimated to the spirit of the world. We began to believe we could get by on our own. The state of secularism today is one of widespread ignorance of the matters of eternity, as well as widespread lukewarmness and spiritual error.

This came to pass because we started to exchange the things of heaven for the things of earth. Nationalism and central government became a substitute for Christian fellowship and charity. Mechanistic science became a substitute for wisdom. Technology and capitalism became substitutes for faith and hope.

All these things are good and have their rightful place, but the condition of our secular age is that everything is out of place. The natural order has been inverted. They are proximate, but not ultimate ends. Man’s ultimate end is the knowledge and experience of God. But for secular man, the ultimate concern is human flourishing in this world.

Secularism has been culturally dominant in the West at least since the time of the Victorians. I know there are some atheists who believe they are being rebellious, intrepid or counter-cultural by cursing God and insulting the beliefs of Christians. I find this adorable. Two centuries ago that would have been rebellious. Today it is practically encouraged.

By 1901, Chesterton had already noted in England, “In our time blasphemies are threadbare. Pessimism is now patently, as it always was essentially, more commonplace than piety. The curse against God is Exercise I in the primer of minor poetry.”

The only way to be rebellious and counter-cultural now is to be devoutly Catholic—to not be secular. But this is becoming harder than ever. Even though secularism is triumphant, the tension which Luther first set out to resolve is still with us. The resentment which fueled him is felt even more strongly today.

This brings us to Obergefell v. Hodges. Although modern technology and government have endowed man with brave new powers, making it easier than ever to live without God, there was still a void. After all, these are corporate, not individual, phenomena.

Man yearns for the experience of God, which is something he feels in his bones. He seeks personal fulfillment. And for this a suitable substitute is not easily found. There’s only one thing that comes close. And that is sex, sex and more sex.

(The irony, of course, is that God made sex. The devil doesn’t even like sex—he finds it disgusting, animalistic. But he knows it is a powerful narcotic and, therefore, a most handy tool to tempt us away from keeping God first in our hearts.)

Obergefell ratified in law what the sexual revolution had already achieved in fact over 50 years ago. It was merely the inking of the latest cultural victory of secularism. Superficially, the ruling established a right to gay “marriage.” But in the larger sense what it accomplished was to establish a right to lust for all. It said, in effect, “Every individual was the right to personal sexual fulfillment, regardless of how they seek that fulfillment.”

Something can only be a right if it is applied universally. Hence, homosexual unions had to be brought under the fold of the law if lust was to be elevated into a right for all. By sanctioning the exceptional case (homosexuality), it establishes the pursuit of sexual fulfillment as a new norm. This is the consummation of our secular age.

After the decision was announced, there was a very broad show of support. But not all those people waving rainbow flags could possibly have been homosexual. It was a demonstration of the solidarity of sinners. You scratch my sin and I’ll scratch yours. People want the freedom to seek sexual fulfillment without the hang-up of being reminded of their eternal destiny. For this reason I expect there to be legal battles in coming years to remove all references to God from public life. That is the subtext of “#LoveWins.”

The resentment that comes from serving two masters was felt in that decision and the reaction in its aftermath. If we are to truly serve the world and enjoy our God-substitute (lust) in peace, the old master has to be
New Tower of Babel:
buried at last. It’s all hands on deck now. Everyone must join hands in building the new Tower of Babel. Slackers will not be tolerated anymore.

Law is grounded in the moral norms of a culture. Hence, most people will always take their cues as to what is morally acceptable from what is legally permitted. For this reason, Obergefell does not just give us a right to lust but an invitation as well. “Come: eat, drink and be merry,” it tells us, “for tomorrow we die.”

This is a tragic message to send to a country already suffering from a near total lack of self-control. It created a new atmosphere of permissiveness that will push many of those already struggling with temptation, homo and heterosexual, over the brink. That means more divorce, adultery and fatherless children. It means more disease, heartbreak and rape. Lust is always stupid because it is the wrong answer to one of our deepest questions: what is the meaning of our bodies?

“Our culture no longer corners us into virtue, but impels us into vice,” Robert Reilly says in his book, Making Gay Okay. “Almost every contemporary cultural signal militates against chastity, which is why the fabric of our society is falling apart. The effort to construct a political order on Eros, of which homosexual marriage is simply the capstone, will end in the same way as Pentheus’ Thebes—in slavery, subjection, and destruction.”

In the Song of Moses, God says, “I will hide my face from them; I will show what their end will be” (Deuteronomy 32:20). Some Christians are wondering when and how God’s wrath will manifest itself. The answer is that it’s already here. We see it in all the freakish abnormalities that are quickly multiplying in the bodies and minds of people in our culture. Bruce Jenner is the least of it.

Paul tells us in Romans that those who do not honor God as God are given over to an inferior mind, and quickly dishonor themselves and their bodies. This is a natural cause and effect relationship. No lighting bolts from the sky required. Not acknowledging God is its own punishment, and naturally brings upon itself the punishment it deserves.

The cure for secularism is the fear of God. Eventually this fear will dawn on us when our permissiveness and wastrel ways brings the downfall of our government and society. The question is whether the rude awakening will come from within or without.

In the meantime, there is only one reaction to all this which is appropriate to a good Catholic: Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Disturb the self-contentedness of the secularist at every opportunity by being a living reminder of eternity. Don’t allow them to have any inner peace. And, in all things, conduct yourselves with aplomb. After all, we know where we’re going; we know where we’re from.

“Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:13).


  1. Very good article on the case. I really appreciated the sub-point you have about the myth of neutral secularism/humanism. I'll be sharing this on my FB page.

  2. Oh Wow! So much to agree with and also disagree with. In general I agree. In person I don't.

    Is it me? Am I old fashioned?

    I'm secular with values. Don't classify me!