There Can Be No Demigods in Secularism
The confirmation hearings for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court recently had the following disturbing exchange:
Senator Blackburn: Can you provide a definition for the word ‘woman’?
Judge Jackson: Can I provide a definition?
Senator Blackburn: Yeah.
Judge Jackson: I can’t.
Senator Blackburn: You can’t?
Judge Jackson: Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.
Keep in mind that unless there is a major surprise, Judge Jackson is going to be the next Supreme Court justice, one of the most powerful people of our nation, and this judge who is soon to be granted enormous power, and who will at times be deciding cases based on the reality of whether or not someone is a woman, is unwilling to say what a woman actually is.
The next day, Senator Cruz returned to this topic, and Judge Jackson said the following:
“Senator, I know that I am a woman. I know that Senator Blackburn is a woman, and the woman who I admire most in the world is in the room today, my mother.”
Now, one might ask how it is that Judge Jackson knows she is a woman if she can’t even define what a woman is, but one doesn’t need to ask that question because we all know that Judge Jackson knows exactly what a woman is, just like I know what a woman is, just like you know what a woman is, just like everyone knows what a woman is — because women are actually part of secular reality. Women are adult human females. Or, to put it a different way, women are those whose physical biology proves they are a woman. If the sun fizzled out tomorrow, and the Earth froze over, and a million years in the future an alien race discovered our planet and dug us out of the ice, they would have no problem identifying who was a woman and who was a man — because the concept is based on proof, and they would have the same access to proof that we do today.
But there’s been a recent complication …
Now, we have women who are women because they can prove they are women, and we also have people who claim to be women even though they cannot prove they actually are. In fact, it’s worse than that. They are claiming to be women, even though the physical evidence proves they are men. But they believe they are women. They self-identify as women. And we have been told we have to believe them. We have been told we have to discard the physical evidence and instead rely on faith in their words.
And a (very likely) future Supreme Court justice is publicly showing homage to this demand of faith-based belief. Very unsettling indeed. If those who have been vested with the power to protect our secular nation have decided they don’t want secularism anymore, what are we to do?
But this isn’t the only recent example of the failure of our secular elite to protect secularism. In the news, you can read that Governor Cox of Utah recently vetoed a bill that would prevent boys who believe they are girls from playing in girls sports.
Now, let me say I do have sympathy for Governor Cox about this. I read his letter. I understand some of the process issues with the law, and some of the concerns about litigation. And also let me say that I have mixed feelings about laws like this. Yes, I understand the issue they are trying to solve, and it is an issue that absolutely does need to be solved, but laws like this are flawed because they are targeting just one effect of the problem instead of the problem itself. The actual problem which our government should be trying to resolve is that gender identity, a faith-based belief, is being treated as if it were a part of secular reality, but it is not.
And so yes, I do have some sympathy for Governor Cox’s reasoning, yet from his letter it is clear that he, like so many of our secular elites, completely misunderstands the situation. I don’t doubt his compassion for others, and I don’t doubt that his compassion is a large part of how he approaches this topic, but compassion does not grant him rights that he does not have; and in a secular society, he has no right to demand that people accept a truth claim he cannot prove is true, and neither he, nor anyone else, can prove that a biological male is a woman.
Gender identity is based entirely on self-identity. It is completely faith-based. We are told that people are whatever gender they tell us they are, and we are expected to simply believe them. All based on faith.
But that’s not how secular reality works. A secular identity is not something we self-identify as. A secular identity is something that the physical evidence tells us about ourself. If you ask me how much I weigh, I don’t tell you what weight I self-identify as, I tell you what weight the scale tells me I am — because my weight, like my height, like my age, like my racial heritage, like my biological sex (i.e. gender), are part of secular reality.
(As an aside: If anyone reading this is foolishly muttering under your breath, “gender is different than sex!”, then you need to stop your deceptive nonsense right now. Believers in gender identity are absurdly unwilling (or unable) to provide their definition for the word “woman”, but if you look at how they use the word, then the most honest and concise definition is obviously: “A woman is someone who identifies as a female.” So, on the one hand, you claim “gender is different than sex”, but then on the other hand you purposefully tie gender together with sex in how you use the words “man” and “woman”. Your argument is dishonest and utter nonsense. That is all I will say about that.)
Now, let me clarify that when I speak of “secular reality” I am not talking about what ultimately is true. I am a religious man. I actually belong to the same religion as Governor Cox. I believe in God, I believe in Jesus Christ, I believe in the Bible, the Book of Mormon, and in prophets both ancient and modern. Those are just some of my faith-based beliefs, things I believe in even though I cannot prove to others that they are true.
But what if you don’t believe in my faith-based beliefs? What if you believe in entirely different faith-based beliefs? (And let me be clear, everyone has faith-based beliefs.) How are we supposed to function in a society if we can’t even agree on what reality actually is?
The answer in history, unfortunately, has been that the powerful would rule over the weak, and faith-based beliefs would be imposed by force. Reality would be whatever the strong told you it was. Reality would be whatever Judge Jackson told you it was. Reality would be whatever Governor Cox told you it was. Is that the kind of society you want to live in, one where reality itself is dictated to you by the privileged few?
No, we’re supposed to know better than that. We have been blessed by the Enlightenment. We have been blessed by the concept of secularism, by the idea that each of us can be equal, an idea that can only come to fruition through a single shared reality, not what we each individually believe is completely true but a handshake agreement we all make together that none of us have the right to impose our faith-based beliefs onto the other and therefore the shared secular reality we will interact within must be based on proof.
Let me be clear that religion operates in areas that secularism simply cannot reach because only religion (whether organized or informal) can provide us answers about things outside the realm of proof such as morality and the meaning of life. But when it comes to human civilization, secularism allows us to create a foundation of liberty and equality upon which a just and moral society can be developed — if we choose to do so.
And ultimately secularism is what is at risk here. We are the recipients of thousands of years of human history. We have been given the opportunity to stand on the shoulders of giants, to see further than any society has ever seen before. But we are currently stepping off that fortunate vantage point, finding ourselves in the same muck as countless prior generations, with reality once again being dictated to us by the privileged few.
Governor Cox mentioned a desire for compassion in his letter, and he emphasized the small number of individuals involved in the controversy in Utah when it comes to high school sports, making the point that with such a small number, shouldn’t we err on the side of acceptance and kindness?
Well, let’s make the example even more dramatic. Let’s take the entire population of Utah. Based on the 2020 census, let’s call that 3.2 million. Now, let’s assume out of that population of 3.2 million that there is just one single man who believes he is a woman, just one. Now put yourself in this individual’s shoes. Imagine the amount of anguish it would feel to believe, deep within your soul, that you are something that physical reality, and everyone around you, is constantly telling you you are not. Imagine how happier you would be if everyone else simply ignored physical reality and believed what you believed about yourself. And this is just one person, just one person out of a population of 3.2 million. So what’s the big deal if we make just this one exception to secularism, just this one time?
Before you answer that, let’s think through exactly what we’re saying here. So we have a population of 3.2 million people. Each of those persons have their own faith-based beliefs, but because this is a secular society, those are not included in the shared secular reality. Except, that is, for this one individual’s faith-based beliefs. Everyone else has to prove their truth claims, but not this person. This person can simply state a truth claim and automatically it becomes part of secular reality. Consider the power granted to that individual, power over reality itself. And what would you call such an individual? What would you call someone who has been bestowed with the power to dictate reality to everyone else? I would call them a demigod.
And so, could a population of 3.2 million mortals make space for one demigod? Perhaps. But such a society would no longer be a secular one — because there can be no demigods in secularism.
In his letter, Governor Cox spoke often of a desire for compromise. I am a member of Governor Cox’s religion. I understand the motivation he feels for that compromise. But I am also a member of Governor Cox’s secular nation, and secularism cannot tolerate any compromise that includes the presence of a faith-based belief within secular reality. That breaks the handshake agreement. That breaks secularism. And we return to the mistakes of the past, with reality dictated by the privileged few.
But a compromise actually is possible, a simple one in fact: Those who believe in gender identity need to codify their faith-based beliefs into an official religion, and then they need to request religious accommodation of their faith-based beliefs — just like the rest of us mortals. And they will be granted that religious accommodation, with the same compassion and fairness offered to all other religions.