Gender Ideology, Metaphysical Rebellion, and Reality’s Last Stand

Author:

Doug Groothuis

Article ID:

JAF2312CCDG

Updated: 

Jul 10, 2024

Published:

Jul 3, 2024

“Cultural Critique Column”


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“Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”1 —Philip K. Dick

As the grim and perverse rationale of gender ideology unfolds in our culture, I am struck by the depth of its attack on objective reality itself. Biological men win women’s beauty pageants. Biological men beat women in swimming and weightlifting competitions. Biological men demand to be called women and to be referred to with female pronouns and vice versa. Minors are given “hormone blockers” (they are not tame, but poisonous) and cross-sex hormones, and some have their genitals or breasts surgically removed. To oppose these outcomes earns one the title of “transphobe” — a bigot in the irrational and immoral grip of hateful error.

Once particular untrue and illogical ideas are asserted, they begin to work themselves out in radical and radicalizing ways. Some falsehoods are not contagious and work little damage, such as disagreements about who is the greatest athlete with respect to their standing in a sport or disagreements of taste in music.2 Other falsehoods are profoundly wrong and lead to further false and deleterious implications. If your physician deems you healthy when you are really suffering from a terminal disease, this is no small error. It could cost you your life. If you are accused and sentenced to a crime you did not commit, you will suffer egregious injustice. It can cost you your freedom.

People are often not willing to face the logical implications of their assumptions about reality. They want to deny the existence of God but retain beliefs supported by only Christian theism. For example, if there is no infinite-personal God, then morality loses its ability to specify objective moral truths or to constrain conscience.3 The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) realized this and was ahead of his time. When “God is dead,” all that relies on the concept of God dies along with the deity — objective meaning, morality, and purpose for life.4 Yet many atheists and agnostics continue to make moral statements they take to be true and applicable to all people, although they lack a Moral Law Giver to back up their statements and do not deem people as having any intrinsic value because they bear the divine image.

Francis Schaeffer’s apologetics taught us to gently “take the roof off” of the atheistic worldview to expose it to the acids of reality. The more people are true to their false assumptions, the further away from reality they drift — or run. Sometimes people realize the illogical and unlivable nature of their beliefs when this approach is marshaled.5 But, on the other hand, some will double down on their beliefs and the implications of these beliefs. This is the modus operandi of gender ideology in recent years. But what is the thinking behind allowing biological men to participate in women’s beauty pageants, compete in female sports, and allow men dressed as women to read stories to little children during “drag queen story hour” events?

Gender ideology is an atheistic philosophy rooted in naturalism on metaphysics and subjectivism in moral theory. Its origins are traced to thinkers like John Money and Judith Butler.6 Gender ideology denies the existence of a God who gave us our physical and mental natures. The physical universe is all that exists. It is here for no purpose and has no moral direction. Humans lack any intrinsic meaning and value based on their essence in relation to the rest of nature or in relation to God.

According to this ideology, while certain biological features are objectively real, such as the physiological and anatomical differences between males and females, these features are normatively mute — that is, they have no teleology no intrinsic purpose, or prescribed activity suited to their nature. In other words, human life is not ordered toward anything objectively good, true, or beautiful. Like Jean-Paul Sartre’s (1905–1980) atheistic existentialism, gender ideology claims that since there is no God, there is no human nature, and no heaven of ideas bearing on material realities. Sartre explains this lucidly:

Atheistic existentialism….states that if God does not exist, there is at least one being in whom existence precedes essence — a being whose existence comes before its essence, a being who exists before he can be defined by any concept of it. That being is man, or, as Heidegger put it, the human reality. What do we mean here by “existence precedes essence?” We mean that man first exists: he materializes in the world, encounters himself, and only afterward defines himself. If man as existentialists conceive of him cannot be defined, it is because to begin with he is nothing. He will not be anything until later, and then he will be what he makes of himself. Thus, there is no human nature since there is no God to conceive of it. Man is not only that which he conceives himself to be, but that which he wills himself to be, and since he conceives of himself only after he exists, just as he wills himself to be after being thrown into existence, man is nothing other than what he makes of himself. This is the first principle of existentialism.7

Sartre was a sexual rogue who never married but impregnated a woman who aborted his children.8 Yet for all his debaucheries, Sartre did not question the sexual binary of male and female as an objective given of nature. For him, nature was mute on values, and people must create themselves through arbitrary choices. But he did not apply his self-creation philosophy to gender identity. For Sartre, one could do most anything sexually, but he never posited the notion that one could create a new gendered self through choice (and subsequent physical alterations). That was left to others, who followed his anti-essentialist and existentialist lead.

Sartre’s long-time (but not exclusive) lover, Simone de Beauvoir, another leading existentialist, wrote The Second Sex (1949), a founding text of secular feminism, which plays into transgenderism as well, albeit accidentally. Beauvoir’s feminism took everything uniquely female to be a limit on women. For women to rise to the level of men in society they must be like men.9 Their fertility is their liability since pregnancy and childrearing impose their costs on women who refuse them for other, more traditionally male achievements, such as success in a career. Thus, ironically, the one uniquely female characteristic is taken as a limit on success and meaning. This is the view of secular feminism today. Thus, the feminist Beauvoir denuded the female of her intrinsic value qua female. Although she did not advocate it to my knowledge, it is a short step from her view to the idea that a biological woman can become a man through an act of the will and the accompanying procedures involved in transitioning. For Sartre and Beauvoir, human bodies are bereft of any given design plan or teleology. They are subject to ad hoc revisions based on whatever one wants to make of oneself.

Another existentialist’s thinking can be enlisted to the gender ideologist’s cause, that of Albert Camus’ notion of “metaphysical rebellion,” explained in his book, The Rebel. We should not collapse the thinking of Sartre, Beauvoir, and Camus into one lump, since differences remain among them. However, all were atheists who tried to take their atheism straight and without any residue of theism to comfort or guide them. While Sartre and Beauvoir highlighted self-creation in their morality and sense of identity, Camus valorized rebellion against the powers that be. Although he denied any transcendent reality, Camus believed that we could find meaning in revolting against absurdity. He begins Part Two of The Rebel with these words:

Metaphysical rebellion is the movement by which man protests against his condition and against the whole of creation. It is metaphysical because it contests the ends of man and of creation. The slave protests against the condition in which he finds himself within his state of slavery; the metaphysical rebel protests against the condition in which he finds himself as a man. The rebel slave affirms that there is something in him that will not tolerate the manner in which his master treats him; the metaphysical rebel declares that he is frustrated by the universe. For both of them, it is not only a question of pure and simple negation. In both cases, in fact, we find a value judgment in the name of which the rebel refuses to approve the condition in which he finds himself.10

Along with Sartre and Beauvoir, Camus did not advocate gender ideology, but his philosophy paved the way for it and left no escape hatch. Camus had in mind a rebellion against absurdity that supposedly gave life meaning. However, if all meaning is created arbitrarily by the untethered self, then anything goes. The old Broadway tune by Cole Porter, “Anything Goes” (1943), rang the changes in its day, not knowing how far things would go. The tune begins with a reference to Puritan America’s morality and how it is lost.

Times have changed
And we’ve often rewound the clock
Since the Puritans got a shock
When they landed on Plymouth Rock
If today, any shock they should try to stem
’Stead of landing on Plymouth Rock
Plymouth Rock would land on them.

It goes on:

The world has gone mad today
And good’s bad today
And black’s white today
And day’s night today.

Time will work out the hideous implications of false philosophies left uncorrected by reason and truth.

Consider the stratospheric level of rebellion that gender ideology attains. It is one thing to be a man who is attracted to other men or to be a woman attracted to other women, and then to act on these erotic desires. This is sinful, because it denies God’s moral order and moral imperative against same-sex eroticism (Romans 1:18–32; 1 Corinthians 6:9). However, the category of male and female remains in place ontologically, however much deviation there is from the teleology of that ontology. Although it is an inept employment, one can use the handle of a screwdriver as a hammer. It remains a screwdriver, despite its wrongful and stupid usage.

The philosopher Katherine Stock identifies as a lesbian and yet denies the possibility of changing from male to female or female to male. She rejects gender ideology.11 She is a woman who is erotically attracted to women. As such, she is not fulfilling her female nature heterosexually. But she does not pretend to be a man. Given her stand, she, along with like-minded others, such as heterosexual author J. K. Rowling (of Harry Potter renown), are called TERFs — “trans-exclusionary radical feminists” — and are ostracized and vilified by gender ideologues.

If one engages in non-heterosexual activities, what one does as a male or female violates God’s wise commands, but the fundamental ontology of maleness and femaleness remains in place and assumed. Not so with gender ideology, which assumes that ontology is entirely fluid and dependent on one’s erotic will. This insistent ideology further demands that third parties identify the transgender person as that person sees fit. To do otherwise is to “misgender” someone, which is taken to be as horrible as using a racial epithet. Thus, to inaccurately identify another person’s sex is considered hateful and may cost the offender their livelihood. A father in Canada, Robert Hoogland, was jailed for resisting the gender transition of his daughter.12 He has been released but has been rendered legally powerless to oppose his own daughter’s gender mutilation.13

REBELLION, REALITY, AND REPENTANCE

While sin is a defection from the good and not a power independent of original goodness, the sins of gender ideology are potent and innovative in a most perverse sense. One can use only the material of creation to rebel against the Creator, but gender ideology has managed to translate rebellion into a higher key than previously done within the ruins of a fallen world. Instead of trying to build a tower into heaven in rebellion against God’s command to scatter over the earth (Genesis 11), the gender ideologues have refashioned and deconstructed their very bodies on the model of what their bodies are not. They are attempting to regenerate themselves through metaphysical rebellion against their created natures and intended purpose for human flourishing in God’s world.

The sole solution to this metaphysical malaise is repentance — a turning back and turning away and turning toward. The first word of the gospel is repentance since Jesus began His preaching by saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17 NASB). Jesus was calling His people — and eventually the entire world — to return to the ways of shalom that He would uniquely demonstrate through His unparalleled achievements as Lord and Savior. While sexual sin was common in Jesus’ day, nothing like gender ideology existed, nor was it likely that it was even imagined. Considering the existential catastrophe of gender ideology, today’s repentance must go to the root of the human being. As the psalmist proclaimed:

Know that the Lord is God.
                        It is he who made us, and we are his;
                        we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. (Psalm 100:3 NIV)

God has made us, and we belong to Him. We attempt to remake ourselves to our own peril and in rebellion against all that is good, true, and beautiful — the living God Himself, who Himself is reality’s last stand.

Douglas Groothuis, PhD, is Distinguished University Research Professor of Apologetics and Christian Worldview at Cornerstone University. Among his many books are Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith, 2nd ed. (IVP Academic, 2022) and Fire in the Streets: How You Can Confidently Respond to Incendiary Cultural Topics (Salem Books, 2022).

NOTES

  1. Philip K. Dick, “How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart Two Days Later” (1978, 1985), in The Shifting Realities of Philip K. Dick: Selected Literary and Philosophical Writings, Lawrence Sutin, ed. (New York: Vintage Books, 1996), 261.
  2. Mistakes can be made on aesthetic issues as well. See Douglas Groothuis, “True Beauty,” Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000) and Kenneth Myers, “Where Have All the Standards Gone?” All God’s Children and Blue Suede Shoes: Christians and Popular Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1989).
  3. See Douglas Groothuis, “The Moral Argument,” Christian Apologetics, 2nd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Academic, 2022).
  4. See Douglas Groothuis, “God is Dead,” World Religions in Seven Sentences (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2022).
  5. See Francis Schaeffer, “Section IV: Speaking Historic Christianity into the Twentieth Century Climate,” in The God Who Is There (1968; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2020). This method is still apt in the twenty-first century, since some will still recoil from implications of their false presuppositions and thus reconsider another more intellectually and existentially satisfying worldview, such as Christianity.
  6. For a popular but fair and accurate treatment of these thinkers, see Matt Walsh, What Is a Woman? (Nashville: DW Books, 2022).
  7. Jean-Paul Sartre, Existentialism Is a Humanism, trans. Carol Macomber (1946; New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2007), 22–23, Kindle Edition.
  8. Gary Cox writes of one of Sartre’s lovers, who was impregnated by him three times and aborted all three babies, since he did not like children. Existentialism and Excess: The Life and Times of Jean Paul Sartre (New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016), 162–63.
  9. See Abaigail Favale, The Genesis of Gender (San Francisco: Ignatius, 2022), 61–66.
  10. Albert Camus, The Rebel: An Essay on Man in Revolt, trans. Anthony Bower (1951, 1956; New York: Vintage International, 1991), 33, Kindle Edition.
  11. Katherine Stock, Material Girls (London: Fleet, 2021).
  12. Bruce Bawer, “A Certain Madness Amok,” City Journal, April 1, 2021, https://www.city-journal.org/article/a-certain-madness-amok.
  13. Amanda Prestigiacomo, “Canadian Father Jailed after ‘Misgendering’ Daughter Lands Win in Appeal Court,” Daily Wire, August 29, 2023, https://www.dailywire.com/news/canadian-father-jailed-after-misgendering-daughter-lands-win-in-appeal-court.
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