Rod Dreher recently set the marriage debate in its broadest possible moral context: “Gay marriage signifies the final triumph of the Sexual Revolution and the dethroning of Christianity because it denies the core concept of Christian anthropology.” “Very near the center” of that Christian culture, he says, citing sociologist Philip Rieff, was its “rejection of sexual individualism,” a rejection that allowed Christianity to displace the “sexual autonomy and sensuality of pagan culture” and substitute its own morality as the operational value system of the West.
The problem today is that “the myth of individual freedom” has by now torn “away the last vestiges of the old order, convinced that true happiness and harmony will be ours once all limits have been nullified.” Gay marriage is individual freedom’s “decisive blow” because it destroys the last communal restraint: traditional marriage. Since every culture “imposes a series of moral demands on its members for the sake of serving communal purposes,” the lack of these limits in contemporary America portends the end of Western culture and represents its final “deconversion” from Christianity.
Dreher’s case that the battle over traditional marriage and family morality has been won by the left, especially among America’s young, is persuasive. But his description of how this happened is almost backwards: freedom and individualism are not to blame. And before retreating to the catacombs, it is well to look more closely at Rieff’s assumptions, which Dreher did warn were those of an unbeliever.