I’ve read a first-rate article by Edward Feser explaining why the Left reacts so viscerally when people “on the wrong side of history” feel like they have to make clear their lack of endorsement of same-sex weddings. (I mean, in the 21st Century, you’re telling me, you won’t bake a wedding cake for me?! Seriously?)
In this article, Feser suggests that not baking that cake or photographing that blissful day is ultimately a deeply subversive act that threatens the very fabric of the society (modern-day) liberals have built for themselves: a egalitarian, anything-goes sexually “free” society. It suggests that what we are doing is wrong, and it brings the suppressed shame (that we don’t want to deal with or admit we even have) to the surface. So let’s look at not baking that wedding cake actually entail (because I don’t have time to discuss the issue of general discrimination, and plus, most of those (even Christian!) bakeries are generally happy to serve all customers regardless of orientation … that’s not the issue: the wedding cake issue is). Two points and a conclusion (and FULL DISCLAIMER: some reflections suitable for the day after Good Friday and before Resurrection Sunday).
1. Not baking that gay-wedding cake challenges the entire premise of the sexual revolution.
Thanks to the sexual revolution, people can finally engage in marital relations with whomever they wish (as long as there is consent). This is a foundational pillar to modern society. Sex is uniquely powerful in providing fulfillment and joy and pleasure and intimacy (when enjoyed in a proper context). In a world without God or meaning or purpose, it seems that only sex, however distorted, still has the power to offer a sense of transcendence and interpersonal knowledge, however fleeting. And what a deep craving of all humans to wish to be known and to glimpse the transcendent.
When sex is not zealously guarded within the protective bounds of marital faithfulness and exclusivity, it can bring about deep pain, suffering, and worse: shame. But thanks to the sexual revolution, we can now try to ignore the shame that comes from knowing deep down that what we are doing is wrong. In other words, sex provides pleasure, and I want it, and now, I can have it, and I can tell myself that it isn’t wrong as long as there is consent. Everyone does it now anyway, so it can’t be wrong. In fact, it isn’t wrong, right? Sex is a good and pleasurable thing that I can enjoy however I want. And if I can convince myself that no one else thinks it’s wrong, then I can finally have the self-centered pleasure I know I deserve. I can use social consensus post-sexual-revolution to combat the gravel-in-my-mouth emptiness and the feeling of intense shame after engaging in such self-serving pleasure.
When fundamentalist Christians challenge this unspoken (and spoken) consensus that has been around for decades, that I can have (and deserve) sex with whomever and whenever I want, that person is being very cruel. That person seeks to overthrow the many protections set by society to allow me my deep pleasure. Such an insulting and offensive suggesting that you do not approve of my same-sex “marriage” is to strip away all those protections that society has helped me set up to protect my pleasure-seeking self from the shame of knowing I did something wrong.
The same can be said from the perspective of egalitarianism and plurality: any implicit appeal to objective morality, of right and wrong, of the superiority or inferiority of certain moral positions challenges the pluralistic, supposedly-“liberal” and tolerant, egalitarian society we live in. Those who refuse to bake a gay-wedding cake attack another foundational pillar of our modern society: egalitarianism and uniformly-equal diversity.
2. Not baking that gay-wedding cake challenges the entire premise of egalitarianism and relativism of guaranteeing validity to all positions sincerely held.
When anyone (especially if you are a Christian) refuses to participate in a gay-wedding via baking the cake or photographing the event, such people are seen as incredibly and offensively self-assured and imperialistic to suggest that their view on marriage is somehow superior or objectively right. Such a “backward” stance is threatening to take our society back to its Jim Crow days (so many claim) and even back to the Middle Ages (whatever that means … who here is a medieval student, I mean really!). “Who are you, Mr. or Ms. High-and-Mighty to so casually and flippantly dismiss my dearly-held notion that every opinion is equally valid and none are superior to others morally or objectively?!” How dare you?! When you do not genuflect to the latest and trendiest whims and wishes of this tolerant and sexually progressive and egalitarian society, you are actively and willfully undermining it and obliterating my world as I know it. You are taking away my self-identity as one who can seize hedonistic sexual pleasure for myself (provided it is engaged in with consent from all parties involved, of course) and divorce it from the deep shame that comes with knowing deep down that such pleasure is wrong. And frankly, I cannot live in such an “oppressive” world of shame. I don’t know how to live in a world with objective morality and sexual sanity and purity. Such a radical (or backward) society would flood me with too much shame. No one is pure, and I will be the first to drown. Are you really ready to drown me in guilt and shame?!
This then explains why otherwise rational, fair, pleasant, and tolerant liberals turn into hateful, tyrannical fundamentalist mobs who hurl insults and slanderous labels of bigotry upon those who “disagree.” This is why the reaction from the Left is so viceral and irrational. It completely overturns their whole understanding of a sexually libertine and egalitarian society, and it brings about the sickening and toxic feeling of shame. We all are evildoers, and we know it. Where can we run away from the oppressive tyranny of shame? It is a cruel master. Not only does not baking that gay-wedding cake destroy someone’s worldview and society, but that ultimate act of subversion, in challenging our sexual norms, destroys the society that protects us from facing our uncleanness and our sexual immorality. It brings us to a frighteningly clear understanding of our wicked selves, and such knowledge brings profound shame. Can anything or anyone rescue us from this shame? No one is righteous, no not one.
I didn’t mean to do a final evangelistic bait-and-switch upon you, my dear reader (I really didn’t plan to, really!), but I am compelled by conscience to offer you hope: we live in a society that claims it doesn’t understand sin. But it does understand shame. We are becoming more and more an honor-and-shame society, and we know shame. We have been acting in immorality and sexual license for generations. Therefore, we know shame. But a Jewish rabbi from the hillbilly region of Nazareth hung naked and beaten on a cross 2000 years ago. He knows your shame. He died shamefully. In his death, he has offered to take not only your sin, but your shame. He bore it all. And he promises not only to remove guilt and shame, but to offer life, and life eternal, a life that even the best sex here on earth can but only hope to reflect in the dimmest way. May this Jesus seek you out and welcome you into his family. It is fitting that I am writing this post between Good Friday and Easter. There is no other shelter from shame. Christ himself knew shame in the most profound way. I may not be able to sympathize and understand your shame (though I have my own, just as you do too). But the Lord Jesus Christ can sympathize, for he has experienced shame until even his death. And he is risen, and he offers you a seat at the table in Paradise. None who humbly come will be refused. He takes only the sick and shameful and those who have nothing to offer him.