The Weak, the Strong, and the Rules

James Tonkowich | Columnist | Thursday, September 19, 2013

The Weak, the Strong, and the Rules

Thinking back, it used to be hard enough to decide on school clothes, the right sneakers, which lunchbox I wanted, and what kinds of notebooks and pens would be best. Now, in addition to all that, our kids have to worry about picking out backpacks and, er … bathrooms?

Students in elementary through high school in California and Massachusetts may now choose their gender based on their interior self-knowledge rather than their anatomy. They may decide on a new name, their preferred pronoun (he or she), their clothes, their bathroom, and the sports teams (boys’ or girls’) they want to join. And all between ages 5 and 18.

Proponents of the changes cite greater freedom for transgendered students along with less bullying. After all, why should someone in a male body have to be a boy? If he ... or possibly she ... wishes to wear dresses and use the girls’ locker room, why shouldn’t she be free to act on her “gender identity” rather than be restricted by anatomy? Who does it hurt?

Writing in the August/September issue of his magazine, First Things editor R.R. Reno notes that while things such as sexual and gender freedom appear to many to be good developments, the are bad news for any but the strong, the educated, and the intelligent.

Reno writes, “Rigid, one-size-fits-all rules are eliminated and people are allowed to decide personal, private matters for themselves. But as the legal strictures and social consensus … are relaxed, those who are confused, depressed, and vulnerable receive less protection and find less support. Freedom for the strong … is bought at the expense of the weak.”

There was a time, he writes, when the rules were simply the rules and following the rules produced working class success. Men and women married before having children. Dads worked faithfully at regular jobs. Moms took care of home and children. On Sunday, wearing their Sunday best, the family went to church and probably kept the Sabbath quietly all afternoon.

Reno notes in such a world, “Social roles are assigned rather than negotiated … and their obligatory demands explained in clear and unequivocal terms … ‘Why can’t I play with dolls?’ Answer: ‘Because you’re a boy.’” That, of course, is considered heresy of the vilest sort today.

Yet the working class, beginning with the Wesleyan revivals of the mid-1700s, flourished because they had and lived by clear rules and expectations.

By contrast, the upper classes with higher levels of education have always negotiated the rules. And they’ve often gotten away with it. As Reno observes, “Upper-middle-class Americans have endorsed and adopted sexual freedom to varying degrees, but have done so in a relatively disciplined way.” Thus among upper-middle class, educated Americans, marriage rates are up, divorce rates are down, and out-of-wedlock birthrates are low. They may experiment, but they do what works.

Not so with their less educated, working-class neighbors who are living increasingly dysfunctional lives in increasingly dysfunctional communities. In working-class America, writes Reno, “marriage rates have declined dramatically, divorce rates are high, and a high percentage of children are born to unmarried mothers. Among white women without a high school degree, illegitimacy is above 60 percent.”

Upper-middle-class freedom from the rules has thrown the working-class into moral, psychological and cultural chaos. As Reno concludes, “We’ve deconstructed the moral universe that once worked for the working class for the sake of the dominance of the modes of social control that are favored by the strong — and inscrutable to and unusable by the weak.”

To use Pope Emeritus Benedict’s phrase, working-class America is being crushed by "the dictatorship of relativism." The only way out is regime change.

This is, of course, no small task. Yet chaos and the attending unhappiness can offer opportunities for change if a robust Christianity can provide viable options.

Yet as the Colson Center’s T.M. Moore writes in the new study guide Let God Be True, relativism is in the Church too:

We like to think that we are a people of the Truth, but we reserve the right to pick and choose which “truth” we will embrace. Truths that we find uncomfortable or inconvenient we feel it our duty to avoid. Among these would be included such long-standing — but apparently now outmoded — Christian notions of truth such as repentance and sin, the Law and fear and wrath of God, holiness, and the like. All these we may acknowledge in some way, but we insist on scrubbing them down to fit our comfort level, and thus, we denude them of all real truth so that we can put them on according to our own interests, needs or tastes.

Before we can change anything in our increasingly chaotic culture, we need to be convinced of God’s unchanging truth. Moore’s study guide is a good place to begin. And begin we must lest we find ourselves wondering which restroom we should use.