Summer 2016

Gender Ideology and the Humanum

Margaret H. McCarthy

Sexual difference is one of the important questions of our age, if not in fact the burning issue. According to Heidegger, each age is preoccupied with one thing, and one alone. Sexual difference is probably that issue in our own age which could be our salvation on an intellectual level.

The truth of this claim by the famous French feminist Luce Irigaray cannot be overstated today. Sexual difference has become the lens through which everything is subjected to our gaze. And through it everything is at stake. For many, razing sexual difference is the only way to salvation because it is the last bastion in the way of the liberal self, and its self-determining, self-constructing freedom. For others—and the Catholic Church is now the lonely gathering point for these—the only way to salvation is the recognition of sexual difference. It is “the authentic setting in which to hand on the blueprint of human existence.” Without it, “essential elements of the experience of being human are lost,” since “the key figures of human existence likewise vanish: father, mother, child.” Ultimately, without it, “human dignity also disappears,” as Benedict XVI says.

Given the spirit of the time, those who share the second judgment about things are at a disadvantage, not for want of arguments or reasons, however, but because of them. The problem for them is that there is almost no space for reasons (and argument). The reason for this is tied to the very mentality that led us to the possibility of thinking of “gender” the way we do now in the first place, in terms, that is, of a disembodied will. It is what Benedict calls the “dictatorship of relativism” or of desire. “Relativism” because there is no measure against which to evaluate one’s wants or desires, no nature or “heart,” to speak biblically. “Dictatorship” because one may say nothing about these wants or desires—not even to one’s self! Even worse, one must participate in the lie, as Václav Havel says in his essay on modern dictatorships, by wearing, repeating, and posting the slogans—just like the greengrocers who posted party slogans in their shop windows—and do so with the highest ideals, so as to conceal the fact of having to do so. After all, why shouldn’t we “live and let live”?

To read this article in its entirety, please download the free PDF available above or buy this issue.