Nation of Bastards: Essays on the End of Marriage by Douglas Farrow (BPS Books, $15.95, 116 pages)
In one of the more haunting passages in Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville writes: “Thus, not only does democracy make each man forget his ancestors, but it hides his descendants from him and separates him from his contemporaries; it constantly leads him back toward himself alone and threatens finally to confine him wholly in the solitude of his own heart.”
Individualism not only produces the “lonely crowd” of today, but seduces the current generation to think of itself as the latest and greatest in a progressive line running toward the glorious future. Only the current generation ignores the past and recklessly acts without regard to the future. We also forget those presently around us. Ironically, we convince ourselves that we are members of a “humanity” to whom we owe utmost respect and moral concern.
We disparage the vessels of our ancestors and descendents – our families and faith communities in particular – in favour of a disembodied and abstract “humanity,” which is actually an expression of nihilism, because “humanity” is no existent thing. How can we think of humanity in concrete terms when, in our isolation from one another, we have failed even to learn how to love concrete human beings? Bigger is better, or so we have tricked ourselves into thinking.
Into our nihilist morass steps Douglas Farrow with his new book, Nation of Bastards. Farrow has taken on the Herculean task of being Canada’s foremost critic of this humanitarian secularism. That is, when he is not working on his other Herculean task of being Canada’s foremost and thoughtful defender of marriage. However, the two tasks go together.
Douglas Farrow is thrice blessed and cursed. He is a Christian theologian, a public intellectual, and teaches at a publicly funded institution of higher learning (McGill University) in Quebec, the most statist and secularist jurisdiction in North America. As a Christian theologian and public intellectual, he follows in the footsteps of Saints Augustine and Aquinas, who brought the highest level of Christian and philosophical learning into public debate. This book is a thoughtful, but easily accessible, reflection about the state of marriage, culture and our souls. From his position at one of Canada’s top universities, he actively resists the tip of the spear of secularism and statism that is plunging into Canada’s body politic. The cut is not pretty, nor is it clean.
In Nation of Bastards, Farrow reflects on the state of Canadian society in the wake of Parliament’s legalization of same-sex “marriage.” Farrow indicates his defence of marriage is not for the sake of religion alone, but also for the sake of reason. Indeed, he exposes numerous sophistries and legerdemains in arguments made, by courts and partisans, in favour of same-sex “marriage.” The biggest “whopper” he deflates is that same-sex “marriage” is consistent with classical liberalism’s protection of private freedoms. There is nothing libertarian about same-sex “marriage.” The early chapters of his book document the transformation Canada has undergone since Trudeau quipped the state should not be in the bedrooms of the nation, to the current situation (in ways that extend Trudeau’s liberalism), whereby the state, in the name of the above-mentioned humanitarianism, has become our tutor and overseer in an increasing number of nooks and crannies of individual and communal life. His examination of the speeches of Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin is chilling.
Another “whopper” is the whole category of “civil marriage” that the Supreme Court purported to uphold in its reference. In defining it as civil, the Supreme Court tried to steer clear of having to confront whether or not SSM would infringe on the rights of religious groups. However, it never explained what civil means, except to say that it is private. But private by its very definition is not civil, which is public. Indeed.
Behind the spear-tip of same-sex “marriage” is the broader humanitarian and secularist ideology that disparages particular attachments, including marriage and religious communities, because they get in the way of realizing abstract “humanity.” This is not to say that behind every gay activist stands a black helicopter pilot or KGB agent. Rather, the claim is that most people do not realize that the public acceptance of same-sex “marriage” logically belongs to radical undercurrents in modern political and moral thought. When people of good will disagree, it is necessary to point out those other well-intentioned people do not know what they are talking about. Farrow shows how much fun this can be when one’s adversaries think of themselves as humanity’s latest and greatest. Embrace your inner redneck and have fun cajoling them!
Same-sex “marriage” is not about equal rights, but about producing genderless marriage (because gender constructions also get in the way of “humanity,” where we are neither male nor female, neither Jew nor Gentile and neither slave nor free, to abuse the wisdom of Paul). Farrow dismisses the argument, made by Jonathan Rauch for example, that same-sex “marriage” can discipline homosexual practices: “No one pretends we are about to embark on some general program to discourage sex outside of marriage.” “Beyond marriage” resides beyond genderless marriage. See the proposal by a group of esteemed intellectuals and law professors to eliminate marriage altogether in favor of various “polyamorous” relationships (beyondmarriage.org). This humanitarian secularist ideology wants to go “beyond marriage,” because marriage impedes progress.
Farrow alerts us to the next battlefronts. Germany, and to a large extent California, have banned home schooling. In the words of a former chairman of the Calgary School Board, the state “owns” children and must liberate the children from their claustrophobic parents so they can enjoy a plurality of viewpoints – as long as those viewpoints conveniently coincide with the Ministry of Education. With same-sex “marriage” having eliminated the category of natural parent (which caused France, of all jurisdictions, to step back from instituting it), we shall have no shortage of custody battles and attempts to co-ordinate three-way, four-way or 14-way parenting. The logical end is the state becomes our ward: “For same-sex ‘marriage’ makes bastards of us all and, as a nation of bastards, we are all wards of the state.” Along the way, our biologists can “create” clones, chimeras, centaurs and anything else the imaginations of our bioethicists explain away. Let us not forget the long-term shifts in demographics toward a greying population, which threatens economic growth and the welfare state and will make immigration debates particularly touchy.
In the Epilogue, Farrow reflects upon the theological reflections on the family in light of Michelangelo’s magnificent painting, The Holy Family. The family is the relationship in which human beings find their completion, short of the ecclesia. The family places a check on the moral claims of the state. Drawing upon Augustine, Farrow reminds us that the marriages we enjoy now are transfigured in the church and ultimately in the Resurrection. We are married “till death do us part.” Recall, the church is the bridegroom.
Yet historically, the church has made room under its wings for that other love, friendship. Christ tells his disciples that now, having learned what he learned from the Father, they are no longer his disciples, but his friends (John 15:15). Monasteries and convents expressed the friendship ideal throughout the history of the church. Unfortunately, the church has since neglected the importance of friendship. This, in addition to humanitarian secularism’s disdain for particular relationships, consists in a double body-blow for friendship, much to the chagrin and pain for those not called to family life. The church and humanitarian secularism has cast them out into the darkness.
In his provocative, accessible and frequently humorous way, Farrow demonstrates it is also the ideology of the stupid.
John von Heyking is an associate professor of political science at the University of Lethbridge and co-editor of Friendship and Politics: Essays in Political Thought (University of Notre Dame Press).