This week, Ryan T. Anderson joins the podcast. Ryan is the President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and the author or co-author of five books, including the just-released Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing as well as When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.
Ryan and Inez discuss the validity of slippery slopes, what has led us to a world in which it is controversial to distinguish male from female, whether religious liberty is a refuge or surrender, if society can ever be truly individualistic, and how both the right and left’s increasing secularization are affecting politics and culture.
Welcome to High Noon, where we talk about controversial subjects with interesting people. Today my guest is Ryan Anderson. Ryan’s the president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He’s also the author or co-author of five books. His most recent is “Tearing Us Apart: How Abortion Harms Everything and Solves Nothing.” One of his other books is “When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Moment.” You wrote this, what, back in 2017?
Ryan T. Anderson:
Yes. I wrote it in 2017, it came out in 2018 and then it was banned in 2021.
Actually, let’s kind of start there. There’s a lot of strange, new respect, I feel like, out there for the slippery slope. It really seems like we’ve slippery sloped ourselves right off a cliff. One place that there seems to be absolutely no respect for the slippery slope is actually in sort of the establishment of the Republican Party. They still seem to be licking their wounds from losing the gay marriage debate. It seems to seep into the way they think about a lot of cultural issues. But now we have this opportunity where the Republican Party is now going to be on record as to whether or not they’re going to codify gay marriage. You have an op-ed out with Representative Chip Roy, who’s also been a guest on this program, basically saying Republicans don’t know how to defend what … Even after this loss, they don’t know how to defend marriage, they don’t know how to defend a lot of these social issues. They’re inarticulate and cowardly on them. Why do you think that is?
Ryan T. Anderson:
Oh geez. There’s a lot there. I mean, some of it is that some of the members don’t actually believe it. It’s not just that they’re inarticulate, the reason they’re inarticulate is that they’re phonies. In their hearts of hearts, they think their supporters are bigots, which is why several of them, they’re lame duck senators. Of the 12 that have voted for closure in this, I think three of them are lame duck. At least two of them, Markowski and Collins, have just always been same-sex marriage senators. It’s not that they’re inarticulate, they publicly don’t believe it. I think some of the ones who are leaving, and just in general, some of the ones who voted for this might publicly say that they support marriage, the unit of husband and wife, but privately they don’t really believe it. I think others are just given bad advice by their staff, by their political consultants that this is a losing issue.
To a certain extent, I mean politically, not so much with GOP voters, but just as a legal matter, I don’t see much appetite on the current Supreme Court, or in any future Republican party for overturning Obergefell. In that sense, the consultant class is right, but that’s not a reason to therefore say that we’re going to ratify Obergefell in legislation and we’re going to betray all of the people who have voted for us and put us into office and just for that matter, actually define marriage incorrectly in statute. I mean, I think the broader problem though is that, because social conservatives lost on the gay marriage debate, so many people just assumed that meant we were going to lose on the transgender debate and that the LGBT acronym was somehow a unified, monolithic block. It led a lot of people to prematurely surrender without ever putting up a fight, in a way that now five years later people are now reconsidering.
They’re like, “Wait, maybe we should have fought the transgender ideology.” You don’t actually need to be a conservative or a Christian. You just need to believe in basic biology and common sense. There have been all sorts of people, and you guys have done a great job in highlighting all sorts of voices who are not standard issue, card-carrying conservative Republicans who are concerned about what the transgender ideology is doing to women’s rights, children, sports, bathrooms, medicine, et cetera, et cetera. This is an issue that Republicans could have led on and instead, so many ran away from it.
What, to me as a Christian, is particularly embarrassing, are the number of religious leaders who caved prematurely, who ran away from the issue, didn’t want to speak out, which to my mind betrays their primary calling, vocation in life, which is to bear witness to the truth. That’s not even a political consideration, that’s just more of a … If you claim to have certain beliefs about the nature of reality, the nature of creation and a political loss leads you to more or less give up before even engaging in the new issue, what does that say?
Yeah. It strikes me that the gay marriage flipped now where it is in a small minority at this point of people who will say they adhere or they don’t believe in gay marriage, they don’t believe it should be recognized by the state. It’s a very obvious example of law leading public opinion. I remember one of my first votes in California, and I’m very mixed up on this issue, and maybe you can set me straight, I don’t know. I’ve gone back and forth on this issue where one of my first votes I cast was in favor of gay marriage and against Prop 8 in California. In California even, that proposition passed. It was enormous. Even in liberal California in 2008, which is not the dark ages, so even in California … Of course, Barack Obama famously evolved on this, but ran initially against gay marriage.
To fast forward just what, 12 years, 14 years later, depending on which episode you’re talking about. 14 years later, hardly decades and decades of “public opinion” evolution and it’s completely the opposite way where it’d be difficult to find a red state, probably, that would pass a ban on gay marriage or non recognition of gay marriage.
Ryan T. Anderson:
It’s even less, because it’s only seven years after Obergefell. Obergefell was a 2015 case. We’re sitting here, it’s 2022, so it’s been a little over seven years. Obergefell was decided in June of 2015. You can see how it shapes public opinion. This is why the Andrew Breitbart quote that always gets thrown around, that politics is downstream from culture, it’s a half truth. I mean, it’s true that culture shapes politics, but it’s also true that law and politics shape culture and they shape beliefs. They shape religious institutions. Religious institutions aren’t immune from the broader culture, including the legal culture, et cetera, et cetera. What I’m amazed by, and the current debate taking place in the Senate, is no one thinks Obergefell is going to be overturned by the current court or that the Republican party is going to be dedicated to nominating and confirming Supreme Court justices who will one day overturn Obergefell.
The Senate vote, actually it’s unnecessary if you’re in favor of gay marriage because gay marriage isn’t going anywhere, but it will be used to fuel those people who want to harass Catholic schools that don’t want to embrace gay marriage or Catholic adoption agencies or the Evangelical baker, florist, photographer, et cetera, et cetera. Because now they all say, “Well look, the executive branch of government, the judicial branch of government and now the legislative branch of government all are on the record supporting same sex marriage.” Our state government’s in favor of it. Then it looks much more like a Bob Jones University style situation where there’s a compelling government interest and, therefore, you’re going to get strict scrutiny and you’re going to lose on your either free speech or religious liberty or freedom of association claim, et cetera, et cetera.
What I can’t understand is for the 12 Republican senators who have gone along with this, and right now in the Senate, nothing can get done without 60 votes on an issue like this. They’re being cheap dates. If they’re going to vote for this bill, they have leverage. They can say to Schumer, “The only way you get our vote to codify same-sex marriage in federal statute is if you provide meaningful protections for religious liberty, meaningful protections for the people who lost Obergefell,” which is historically what checks and balances are about. If the courts give a win to one side of this issue, the way that a different branch of government, Congress as a check and a balance on the court might say, “Well, the look, the people who lost that case need some protections, not the people who won the case need additional protections.” There’s largely, to my mind, a window dressing amendment that’s kind of providing cover where the 12 can say, “Look, we did get some religious liberty protections,” but the religious liberty protections are woefully insufficient in the bill.
They really only apply to the bill itself, not to the broader concerns. Mike Lee has proposed, to my mind, a much more robust set of protections. The fact that they won’t even vote on the Lee Amendment probably tells you all you need to know. If you really wanted to find a so-called compromise where same-sex marriage would be enacted in the law and there would be protections for the people who don’t support same sex marriage, you would take Lee’s amendment and put it on with this bill and then that’s what the 12 should be saying. I still wouldn’t vote for the bill because I’m not in favor of voting to redefine marriage, but for those who are inclined to either just straight out they embrace same sex marriage or they want to find some compromise, they have leverage. I think they’re not using it to actually protect meaningful religious liberty and actually find something that would more embody what they’re claiming is the common good.
This kind of points to a problem with, I think, capturing some of these issues as religious liberty versus this dominant paradigm. I think the deeper sort of push pull on the right and the frustrations of so many people on the right with the failures of essentially the right to win any of these cultural battles for the last 30 or 50 years, because it seems to me that religious liberty is not enough. It’s a very untenable position to essentially acquiesce the dominant cultural position. This is bigotry. This is bad. We are going to formally recognize it. There’s a certain force that comes with writing this down in law or having a Supreme Court decision on it.
Then we’ll say, “Oh, but for the bigots, we’ll make an island.” You’re always going to be defending your island. The waters are always going to be creeping in. We see this now with the current Supreme Court term where there’s essentially a variation on the baker’s case. Actually, a really interesting variation because it’s about a wedding website designer and what struck me is that actually the appellate court adopted, to my mind, an absolutely insane opinion saying that this woman, this one woman who designs websites for people, that she’s a monopoly.
Ryan T. Anderson:
You can’t get her anywhere else. You can’t get her custom website anywhere else.
Yeah. It’s just funny to me because we have all this discourse about Google not being a monopoly, but here we are, we have this one woman in North Carolina, or Colorado, sorry, who designs wedding websites and the court is saying, “Well, maybe she is a monopoly over her particular product.”
Ryan T. Anderson:
Which also would suggest that therefore it’s all the more protected speech. If you can’t get anything else like this that actually highlights the argument that EDF is making, that this is her speech. It’s not a cut and paste website that you can get anywhere. It’s a very weird fact pattern of the case that the left has advanced, not our side.
But to the deeper question here, is religious liberty enough?
Ryan T. Anderson:
Oh, no. Not at all.
How can you defend religious liberty in a society where you’ve lost the substance of the battle.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Yeah, no. The op-ed that Chip and I did earlier this week at Fox News was focused primarily on the marriage part. It highlighted that the religious liberty protections were insufficient, but it also wanted to point out that we shouldn’t just give up on the central institution of civil society, of human existence millennia old, all across the globe, all throughout human history, the idea that men and women are different and complimentary, that their union is something that’s unique, that children deserve both a mother and a father. Why are we being so quick to vote to overturn this, especially as conservatives who are supposed to respect tradition, think that there’s wisdom in tradition, are supposed to conserve the best of human practices, et cetera, et cetera.
It was almost two years ago now that I became president of the Ethics and Public Policy Center. The day that I became president, I had an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal with the title “Religious Liberty Isn’t Enough.” It was more or less the op-ed version of summarizing a national affairs essay that I had written a couple of years earlier that had a very similar title. I think it ended up being published under the title of “Proxy Wars Over Religious Liberty.”
What I pointed out in both pieces was that I had this weird phenomenon of all throughout the end of the Obama administration, and the beginning of the Trump administration being invited to speak places where the host said, “We want you to talk about religious liberty issues.” I was like, “Okay. Fine. What do you want me to talk about?” They’re like, “Oh. We want you to talk about this boy that just won a female athletic competition and we want to talk about these men that are being transferred to women’s jail.” I was like, “These aren’t religious liberty issues.” People were using religious liberty as just either the catch phrase for whatever the latest social conservative issue is.
Or, and this is actually more disconcerting, there were groups who only wanted to talk about those issues in so far as it infringed religious liberty. I mean, the very first book I ever wrote, it was based upon a Harvard Journal of Law policy article that I had co-authored with Robbie George and Sherif Girgis titled, “What Is Marriage?” Then the book came out as “What Is Marriage? Man and Woman of Defense.” We said, “Look, we actually have to win the underlying substantive issue here, not just retreat to religious liberty.” Same thing’s true in all of the gender identity questions, all of the transgender ideology questions.
There’s been a certain push in the post Obergefell social conservative world to say, “Look, we’re going to lose on these substantive issues, so let’s just protect little islands of freedom.” I think that’s misguided in a variety of ways. One, I don’t actually think it’s ultimately sustainable. If you allow the other side to frame your beliefs as the functional and legal equivalent of racist bigotry, you could expect to be treated in both law and culture the way that we rightfully treat racist bigots. To my mind, it’s a self-defeating strategy to box yourself into the corner of, yeah, I’m a bigot, but even bigots have rights. I think that’s a problem.
But then two, I’m not convinced at all that we’re going to lose all of these social and cultural issues. I think that we would be on even better footing today, had more people five years ago been willing to say that some of this transgender stuff is utterly groundless. It’s not grounded in reality. There’s no evidence for it. It doesn’t make any sense at all what we’re doing, especially to children on these issues, but I think it’s true for adults as well. I don’t think it’s a good idea for Bruce to try to live as if he’s Caitlin, but I think it’s even more preposterous when we are blocking pubertal development for children, when we’re performing double mastectomies on teenage girls, when we’re allowing boys into girls bathrooms and locker rooms and to compete against women in athletic competitions.
None of those are religious liberty issues. The bodily health, the bodily integrity of that young person, whether they’re religious or not, it matters. The athletic fairness, the athletic equality, the competition, whether that athlete is religious or not religious, it matters. The privacy, the safety for women who have been assaulted in restrooms, in prisons, et cetera, et cetera. I think it’s a mistake for us to frame those things as religious liberty issues.
It’s also a mistake for us, not to, as religious believers, to actually be advocating for justice and the common good when it comes to our political witness. I’ve had several women on the political left, in one case it was a lesbian who disagrees with me about more or less everything. She’s like, “I’m so glad that you haven’t done what some other Christians have done and embraced a piece of policy called “Fairness for All,” which would impose all of the transgender ideology on the general population under the guise of an anti-discrimination statute and then exempt certain faith-based institutions. She’s like, “That bill does nothing for me that’s good. All it does for me is it imposes on me all of the bad transgender ideology and because I’m not religious, I get none of the protections that you guys are then going to craft into the law to protect yourselves.”
I think that’s hugely detrimental to the witness of religious people engaged in the public square and public policy debates. If the law requires exemptions for us, how could it be fair for us to impose that law on others? Anyway, yeah, I entirely agree with you. Just the religious liberty only approach is terribly misguided and for a variety of reasons.
I mean, you keep bringing up the common good or the public square, some notion of the idea that we as a society have to come up with some kind of normative, assertive set of truths or right and wrong that we’re actually asserting. It seems like a lot of the time the right has relied on procedure. Look, I have a law degree, I think due process is very important. I think procedure is important, but it’s almost the procedural at the expense of the central, actual normative debate.
I mean, when it comes, for example, to men and women, which I think runs through a lot of these issues, the idea that men and women are somehow interchangeable is not something that started with in the last few years with transgender ideology or gender ideology. It’s much older idea. Oftentimes, I get a lot of pushback, because I declare myself to be an anti-feminist. I just want boys and girls to get the message that they can do whatever they want and it’s fine for women to stay home and it’s fine for women to go out and work. I just want this sort of individualistic neutral message. Do you think that’s possible for a society? Or are we inevitably saying and enshrining some kind of actual content about what it means to be a good woman or a good man, or to have a good marriage or what …
Society does have to say something, or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is some kind of neutrality where we can have a sort of society that has nothing to say about what a good woman is or a good man is, but nevertheless allows for sex differences in a statistical way or whatever.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Yeah. There’s a lot there. The big picture part of your question is every piece of public policy embodies some vision of morality and some vision of human flourishing, even protections for freedom, even protections for limited spaces of so-called neutrality are still based on some vision of morality and the human good. The reason that you might want to protect freedom of speech, which could be a freedom protection, and you could say we want to have viewpoint neutrality when it comes to the messages, is because you think that would advance certain goods when it comes to communication, certain goods when it comes to political debate or intellectual debate, or because you think there’s a certain moral norm that protects what sort of government restrictions we should and shouldn’t have on speech, et cetera, et cetera.
There’s no kind of moral neutrality when it comes to law. Every piece of law, even protections that embody some type of neutrality principles are still based on a moral vision. This is true for religious freedom. Why do we think we shouldn’t be coercing religious acts? It’s because of some vision of what we think authentic religion looks like. Even, I think, our most coherent defenses of the free exercise of religion are based on an understanding of man’s religious nature and why religious action needs to be voluntary in order to be authentic. This is the argument that Madison gives in the “Memorial and Remonstrance” where he says, “Because we have duties to the creator, a vertical relationship, we have certain rights amongst men, a horizontal relationship.” But I think all of these things have limits.
You might want to say, right, the state should be neutral amongst monotheistic religious traditions, maybe it shouldn’t be neutral with respect to polytheistic religious traditions, because you could know that monotheism is true and polytheism isn’t as a matter of a reason alone, you don’t need revelation for that. Maybe you just want to say, no, it should be neutral amongst Christian sects. I mean, you’re going to have to draw lines. You could also say, look, it should be neutral amongst all religious communities, but it shouldn’t be neutral vis-a-vis religion or irreligion.
I just gave you three different places of where you could draw limits on the free exercise of religion. Why the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster or the Church of Satan shouldn’t get the same protections as the Baptists and the Anabaptist get, but you’re somewhere you’re going to have to draw that line. That doesn’t just drop from the sky. That’s going to be based on some vision of morality and human flourishing. All right?
When it comes to men and women, chapter seven of the “When Harry Became Sally” book traces how almost all of the modern gender ideology stuff actually has its roots in second wave feminism, which itself has its roots in certain aspects of first wave feminism that you … It was interesting, Paul McHugh told me he thought that was the chapter that was most insightful for him. This is Paul McHugh, the medical doctor at Johns Hopkins who shut down this sex reassignment clinic back in the seventies. He knows all of the medical literature, he knows the science, the biology, the psychiatry. For him it was more of the cultural narrative and the history of how we got from certain first wave to second wave to transgender ideology. That was what he was finding most new or unique or interesting from his perspective.
For people who don’t want to have to buy the book, especially since it’s not for sale on Amazon any longer, I published a version of that chapter, it was beefed up a little bit, so I just pulled it up online. It’s 52 pages long in the Texas Review of Law and Politics. This is at UT Austin’s law school, and it’s titled “Neither Androgyny Nor Stereotypes: Sex Differences, and the Difference They Make.” The title, I mean, gives you a sense of where I come down on this. I don’t know if we’re coming down in the same spot or not, so push back, but I think androgyny is a problem. Much of, to my mind, contemporary feminism is an androgynous form of feminism where equality means sameness. In order for women to be equal to men, women have to be the same as men. I think that’s one way in which we could go wrong is denying that there are differences that make a difference.
I think the other way we could go wrong is distorting those differences. Some of the stereotypes, men are from Mars, women are from Venus, men should be lawyers, women should be paralegals, men should be doctors, women should be nurses, whatever. You could see how we could have a certain stereotype, that might be true on average and for the most part. On average, and for the most part, men enjoy hunting more so than women. I’ve never hunted in my life. My wife will be hunting a few hours after we finish recording this podcast. My wife field dresses the deer, and she’s the hunter in the family, and all of her sisters are hunters. None of my brothers are hunters. Therefore, we defy stereotypes. That’s perfectly fine. That’s why I think both denying that there are differences or distorting, those differences are mistaken. Neither androgyny nor stereotypes.
The subtitle, “There Are Sex Differences That Make A Difference.” There are sex differences and those differences make a difference primarily for marriage. I mean, I think the focal reason, the primary case of why we are embodied as male and female is to unite as one flesh in marriage and then to provide children with mothers and fathers. If that’s the primary reason, then there’re going to be a variety of social practices that you’re going to want to foster in which you can help navigate the pathway of boy to man, to husband to father and girl, to woman, to wife, to mother and they’re probably not going to look identical and that’s okay.
This is where we don’t want to do the androgyny thing, we don’t want to do the stereotype thing, but we do need distinctive pathways. This is why I think it’s good that we have boy scouts and girl scouts, and we don’t just have uni-gender scouts. I think it’s a mistake for the various people who are saying, “Let’s make everything co-ed.” We need some times and spaces that are co-ed, but we also need times and spaces that are single sex. The challenge of this is it’s easy to talk about this in the abstract. Aristotle says, “A virtue is the mean between two extremes.” So one vice would be androgyny, one vice would be stereotype, the virtue is the middle. What that looks like in practicality, we could debate any given instance of that all day long. I think it’s more going to be a matter of different communities, different religious traditions, political communities, trying to titrate this accurately and trying to avoid either of those extremes and then figuring it out.
Anyway. Yeah. I don’t think it’s possible to say we’re going to just have strict neutrality on this or to have some form of agnostic understanding.
Yeah. I guess maybe I’m more in favor of stereotypes than you are, it’s possible. I think one of the best ways I’ve ever been led to think about this is actually it was Louise Perry, when I had her on this pod, but also I think she had taken it from one of the researchers that she was reading in preparation for her book. That is, this is clusters of traits. This really is not a binary. Biological sex is a binary, but what you have with the underlying biological differences between men and women are much more male and female faces. Where on any given trait, there are women with large noses and there are men with small noses. But on average, men have bigger noses. There’s a lot of variation in that. Same thing with the jawline, same thing with the size of the eyes versus whatever.
There’s a lot of these traits, and in any one of these traits, there’s a lot of defectors. Nevertheless, if you look at a whole face together, it’s 99 point something percent. You could almost always tell male or female. There are these clusters of traits that appear together. On any one of these individual things, you might not hunting, your wife might like hunting, that doesn’t make her necessarily masculine and you feminine. But if you take collections of your traits together, I would bet that she’s more feminine and you are more masculine. That’s how I think of these traits, but I think you’re right to …
Ryan T. Anderson:
Well, and I think there’s one step more. The way that I describe this in the book and in that law review article is that there’s kind of the essential differences between men and women, which are about the embodiment and reproductive capacity. It’s how you’re organized with respect to sexual reproduction that determines whether you’re male or female. Those are kind of bright line, physical, ontological, metaphysical differences, male and female. Then the second thing is that there are certain, the way you put it was clusters of traits that are on average, and for the most part. On average, and for the most part, men are more interested in hunting than women. Women or on average, and for the most part, more interested in ballet or the color pink, whatever. If you happen to be a man that likes pink or women who likes hunting, that doesn’t mean you’re transgender. It’s totally fine. These things are bell curve distribution patterns, blah, blah, blah.
Therefore, it’s also going to make sense that the Boy Scouts might be the one that have an annual hunting trip, and the Girl Scouts have an annual trip to the ballet. The reason why is that it might be 19 out of 20 of the Boy Scouts really want to go hunting, and 19 out of 20 girl scouts really want to go to ballet. You, as the parent, of the one child that would prefer the other, might have to schedule a special daddy daughter hunting trip or mother son ballet trip, whatever.
Then the last thing I’ll say is that there are not just descriptive differences … What we’re describing here are law of averages, who has what sorts of interests or inclinations or even you’re talking about the facial structure of men and women, which has variations. This is where you could have gender norms. The idea that there’s something normative that we should take away from our embodiment as male and female in how we live, and how we act, how we raise our children to help that boy grow up to be a man, help that girl grow up to be a woman. I think those largely center around marriage and family life.
It largely centers around what’s it going to look like when one of you is specializing at labor inside of the house and one of you is specializing in labor outside of the house during the early years of childbearing and rearing and nursing, because there’s certain things I can’t do that only my wife can do. Those things have normative implications for how we’re going to specialize the use of our time for this stage of our marriage. Anyway, those are the three buckets I kind of think in on the kind of sex differences topic.
I think you’re touching on people’s actual fear and why there’s so much resistance to the biological realities here. I think people are terrified about something that’s actually true, that in fact the biology is important and that it does and ought to dictate something about how we organize our lives and consequently how we organize society, that it does have implications. I think that’s why people are so terrified to look at even the science on sex differences. For example, I agree that transgenderism is very much the child actually of feminism more than of gay marriage in a certain sense.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Very much so.
Because this denial of sex differences is involved. Now, you could say, is there a denial of sex differences and roles in a marriage if you have two men or two women? But I think people understand intuitively, even if they won’t say, that there must be something actually different about same sex relationships. There must be something that functions differently in that kind of relationship or marriage than, for example, between me and my husband, just by necessity, because there are sex differences. Certainly most of my gay friends agree with that, but I think even more left wing sort of gay folks, if you get a few drinks in them, they will admit that their relationships function differently because men and women are different, so it’s going to be different when there’s …
Ryan T. Anderson:
It’s what makes them gay. I mean, it’s only attractive to people of the same sex or of the opposite sex or both. The idea being that the bodily differences make a difference for my sexual attraction. Then you would also think that a double male relationship, a double female relationship and a male female relationship are going to function differently if you think that men and women are different. This is what the social science says. Whenever I talk to my friends who are the number cruncher bean counters, they’re like, “Yeah. Lesbian relationships, gay relationships and then male-female relationship look different,” not because of homosexuality per se, but because a double female relationship accentuates stereotypically or characteristically is a better term here, characteristically female attitudes about relationship. The double male relationship, accentuates characteristically male attitudes and behavior. Then the male female. There’s a certain compliment there.
I think anyone who’s either honest or you’ve gotten a few drinks in them, as you say, is going to recognize that. I will say when the UT Austin Journal article as it was going to press, the law students there tried to cancel the editors of the journal. They tried to get the dean to shut it down, because they said it was my article and then one other piece in that issue where hate speech, et cetera, et cetera. It came out right as COVID was starting. And so they got a couple weeks of agitation, or maybe this was a year before COVID, I’m trying to remember. There was a kerfuffle down at Austin. Precisely for the reasons I think you’re suggesting, people are afraid of acknowledging that our biology is not just an empty costume, but it actually has normative implications.
Yeah. Speaking of our biology not being an empty costume, you have this really interesting essay that you wrote a few months back about how the idea of the body as a costume, or as somehow very separate from “who we are” runs through a lot of these issues, the differences between men and women. It runs through our debate over euthanasia, which is going into overdrive with some of these horrifying articles about the MAID program in Canada, which is now permitting mentally ill people to just select suicide. It runs through the abortion debate about whether you can separate biology from personhood.
What is it about our modern age that we are so attached to this kind of … We are a pilot in a meat suit kind of thing, that the essence of who we are is somehow completely disembodied? Why have we grabbed on so hard to that idea in this age? From the Christian perspective anyway, there’s different heresies of each age. We like cycle back into this one. I’m wondering why this one has such a tight hold or why you think it has such a tight hold on the way we think today.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Yeah. The best books that have been written on this are by Carl Truman. He’s an intellectual historian. He’s a fellow with me at the Ethics And Book Policy Center, and then he’s also a professor at Grove City College. Carl wrote a big book, about two and a half years ago, titled “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.” Then I encouraged him to write a shorter book that was kind of a summary of that, and it’s titled “Strange New World.” What Carl more or less does in both books is give you a 400 year history of how the person became a self, how the self became politicized, and then how politics got sexualized. What he had set out to do was, he said, “None of my grandparents would’ve ever thought it was plausible that Caitlin could be a woman trapped in a man’s body, who previously was known as Bruce.” All of his grandparents would’ve thought, “What are you talking about?”
Yet, now, an entire generation of college students thinks that’s like a civil right, that’s a human’s right that’s his truth and, or her truth, and who are you to deny it? He tells that history. There are a variety of steps. It’s much more complicated than just saying it’s John Locke’s fault. Locke plays a part in that story. Lockean dualism is very much a part of this, but I think it has to do with how we’ve questioned taken-for-granted truths that the enlightenment, and then to my mind more so the scientific revolution, really opened up new questions. Then also the way that technology intersects all these things. In a culture that doesn’t have synthetic testosterone, synthetic estrogen, puberty blocking drugs, a culture that doesn’t have surgeries to create so-called neo vaginas, et cetera, et cetera, much less likely to think that Bruce could become Caitlin. I think we can’t overstate the role that technology plays.
Another thought on this, there are four major issues. I’ve written books on marriage, gender, ideology, religious liberty and abortion. Three of the substantive things, the marriage, the gender identity, and then abortion, coupled with the paper that I was most proud of that I wrote, I was at Heritage for a decade. The backgrounder that I wrote, that I actually thought was the best thing I had done was a paper on assisted suicide, back in 2014 or so, back when the district of Columbia was voting to allow it. I think you’re exactly right in saying that all those issues, killing the unborn child and killing grandma, thinking that the so-called plumbing doesn’t matter when it comes to marriage. Then thinking that our embodiment doesn’t matter when it comes to our gender identity. The idea that sex and gender identity are separate, they all presuppose an understanding of the person as essentially a disembodied self.
That the person is the higher consciousness, the person is the rationality, the person is the interiority, and therefore the unborn baby does not yet have that. Grandma no longer has that. If the real me is the consciousness, the interiority, well then my body is a costume. If the real me is a female, I can have the surgery to have a neo vagina and then transform my body to align with my beliefs. Then if the real me is the inner feeling, well then love makes a marriage. Bodily union isn’t essential to what marriage is, emotional union is, and then the body is just being used as an instrument of generating pleasurable feelings.
I see that as what’s underlying so many of our deepest cultural disagreements right now. A lot of it really has to do with a philosophical understanding of the human person. Are we rational animals? Alasdair MacIntyre, maybe 30 years ago, published a great, short book, very difficult book titled “Dependent Rational Animals.” I just think all three of those words are essential for a sound understanding of the human person. Various people deny it. Some people want to overemphasize independence and they downplay our dependency. To my mind, we shouldn’t be dependent on government. We should be dependent on family, on community, on civil society, on church. Yes, we are even dependent on good laws, but not the type of dependency that the left wants to promote on the state.
We’re rational, meaning that we can actually know truths. So much of modern culture is emotivist. It’s all just subjectivism and emotivism, well, no, I mean the key part of being a rational animal is we can know true and false, we can know good and bad. We can actually reason about this. Then lastly, we’re animals. We’re embodied creatures. The body makes a difference. I think you could spend an entire career inside of a think tank or inside of a university just trying to defend that cluster of terms; dependent, rational animals as applied to a whole host of areas of public policy.
There is some intuitive sense to this sort of pilot. I do have that intuitive sense that my interior life, when I’m thinking that it’s somehow separate from … I know that there’s synapses going in my brain, but it does have some sort of sense of being apart from the body. It’s made people very unhappy. The self-defining human has turned out to be incredibly unhappy and unsure about what the self is without any of those guide posts, if your body can be wrong, if there’s no objective truth, there’s no set of moral laws handed down from a creator. It seems like that search has now sort jumped the faculty lounge and the grad student conversation and is now a very pragmatic and rubber meets the road political problem, not just in America, but in the West. We do have this sort of despair of searching for who we are, what we are, that is now having some very real not gauzy philosophical consequences.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Another great book to recommend to our listeners, it’s by Ben and Jenna Storey. I wish they were EPPC fellows, but they’re AEI fellows. They wrote a book maybe a year, year and a half ago titled “Why We Are Restless.” Part of the story they tell is that, look, it’s each and every one of us has to be a self-made man, not in the kind of how you use that phrase historically of a self-made man, someone who made a living for themselves or made, did well in the economy. We actually have to not only navigate the world, but we have to decide for ourselves, what are the values, what are the truths? I’m using scare quotes here that we’re going to create, rather than we’re going to discern existing rules of the road, we’re going to discern existing guardrails, and then our challenge is to navigate within those confines.
Here it’s, well wait, the world is entirely silly putty, and we now have the obligation of deciding for ourselves what are the values that we want to live by? We have to create those values and then live them out. That’s actually much more challenging than it sounds. It’s not as liberating as I think the people who thought that they were going to be liberating the human person, liberating the human spirit. Actually, for many students it’s very, I’m struggling for the right way of putting it, but there’s an existential dread or fear or anxiety that I’m not up to the task. I don’t know. Having to create all of this stuff for myself is actually really, really hard. The mental health problems right now on college campuses are through the roof. I think part of it is the choose-your-own-adventure understanding of what becoming an adult entails and many people experiencing that not as liberating, but is very constricting.
Well, I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask you before I let you go. So many of these concepts that we’ve been talking about really do have a direct link in theology, and I don’t mean in sort a cheap way like, “Oh, your argument, you’re just saying because the Bible says …” In a deeper way where it really does come down to theological questions of what kind of beings we are. Nate Hochman, another guest on here, had an essay in the New York Times about how even the right is secularizing now. We have rapid secularization happening, in America actually slower than in many European countries, for example, which by the way, has always been my rejoinder to our integralist friends has always been pointing at the Catholic countries in Europe and saying, “They haven’t done any better.”
Ryan T. Anderson:
Nope. In some places their collapse was much quicker. Ross Douthat made the point of, well, you look at Ireland and you look at Quebec, and once the kind of state propping up the church fell apart, it was almost an utter collapse. Anyway, but then there’s a response to that as well. The debate goes on.
Right. In America, perhaps slower than in some countries, but now nevertheless seems to be hitting America in earnest, this kind of secularization. We have the rise of the nones, the N-O-N-E, not the N-U-N-E-S. Sorry, N-U-N-S. You have increasing numbers of people even on the right, and Timothy Carney kind of called this early back in 2015, pointing to the fact that the new Republican voters, those who are coming in because they were interested in Donald Trump and what he was saying, were actually much more likely to be unchurched than traditional Republican voters. Where is the right going and what is the future for a lot of these arguments that you are making in a society or even the right, does not subscribe to the same set of theological priors.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Yeah. I mean, great question. We could have spent the entire podcast on this. Tim’s book, “Alienated America” is excellent. It’s where he makes the observation that you just rehearsed. What he pointed out was that, look, as people are alienated from family, community, civil society, and church, they turn to a more strong man vision of politics. They want to protector for them. Ross Douthat phrase, “If you don’t like the religious right, just wait for the post religious right,” that Christianity actually had a moderating or tempering force on conservatism.
You had opened your question by saying that these things are theological or religious. My thought is yes and no. Just this morning I was rereading an essay by C.S. Lewis where he makes the argument, well, actually no, there’s not a distinctive Christian morality. That if you think about the nature of Christianity, repent and believe the gospel, seek forgiveness, it’s all predicated that there is a moral law that already exists that you have a certain awareness of, to a certain extent that you know need to repent and seek forgiveness, et cetera, et cetera. What he’s making there is simply saying that it’s built into creation from the religious believers’ perspective, that it’s not as if God’s act of creation and then God at Mount Sinai giving the 10 Commandments, that these things aren’t in harmony with each other, given the type of creatures we are, the type of moral laws that have been promulgated, they fit together.
Which means that, insofar as you have people who reject that, it’s not that there’s an alternative set of moral values that we’re now going to discover are true or good or beautiful, it’s just that it’s going to be harder to embrace the natural law when you’ve rejected the natural law giver. It’s going to be harder to embrace the natural law when you don’t have the religious institutions that were the historic vehicles for embodying and promulgating and cultivating a way of life in accordance with the natural law. That’s to say nothing of the supernatural purpose of Christianity, which is ultimately holiness and friendship with God. Even on just the purely kind of natural level of what are the virtues, what are the moral norms that should govern life? It’s a yes and a no, in the sense that the moral content there is actually reflective of our natures, but it seems that we’re going to have problems both knowing it and living it out as we secularize.
I think that’s exactly what we’re seeing all around us right now. It happens first in Europe, now it’s happening in America, that as these historically Christian nations secularize, truths that were apparently self-evident, truths that we could declare to be self-evident, become a lot less self-evident. Moral norms that we thought were common to Jewish, Catholic, Protestant, and the reasonable atheist all of a sudden are very contested. I don’t see any shortcut. I just think that is the situation that we’re in. It’s going to mean that we need to rejuvenate our religious communities. EPPC is unique in that we’re not just a state focused or government focused think tank, we actually have programs that are focused at religious communities. We’re a think tank that exists to help the churches, to help priests, pastors, bishops, et cetera, et cetera, do a better job at their job and we focus on the state, on the government.
I just think we’re going to need to have renewal of the religious communities and then simultaneously willing to make alliances. Politics might make for strange bedfellows, and people who don’t agree with me on everything I can work with on some things. People who vehemently disagree with me on both abortion and marriage are joining arms to combat gender ideology. You guys are doing that at IWF, where you have people who have a variety of views on abortion and on same sex marriage who understand that what it is to be a woman shouldn’t be up to self-declaration. The fact that we even have to have that discussion shows you how bad we are. It’s not a sign of health that we can have these partnerships across various divisions, because a generation ago, we wouldn’t even need to have the discussion. It would’ve been unthinkable that Bruce could be Caitlin.
That reminds me of also all the religious or inter-religious partnerships that have sprung up some other strange bedfellows. You guys all used to kill each other over these theological differences and now you’re all on the same team.
Ryan T. Anderson:
[inaudible 00:56:13] referred to as a humanism of the trenches. For a lot of this, it happens right after Roe v. Wade. This is a way in which you could see the law shaping the culture, shaping religious communities. Here, a bad Supreme Court decision, got a bunch of Baptists and Catholics to realize that not only did they agree on the underlying moral and constitutional question of Roe v. Wade and of abortion, but also that while they had serious disagreements about the papacy and about Mary and things like that, they also had a lot of core agreements about Christology and Trinitarian theology, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. Yeah. It’s a mixed bag. I think there has been serious theological good that has come out of that humanism of the trenches, both for how it’s ultimately led to the Dobbs decision and overturning Roe and how it’s led to … Some of my best friends are evangelicals, and perhaps two generations ago, those sorts of friendships wouldn’t have been as possible, but it’s also a sign of cultural weakness that those sorts of alliances are necessary. It’s a mixed bag.
As with all things. I’m going to ask you one last question. We’re recording this on Tuesday afternoon, Thursday is Thanksgiving. What are you and your family thankful for this Thanksgiving season?
Ryan T. Anderson:
Oh, gee. We literally could have spent the whole podcast on this. We have a lot to be thankful for. We’re very blessed. I would just say at the very top of the list, are our children. Anna and I have three children, a nine month old, a two and a half year old, and then a four and a quarter year old. They’re just wonderful. They’re all at each different ages where their personalities are so unique and they come through. Even the nine month old is really just blossoming into his own little person. The two and a half year old is the spunkiest little girl in the world. It’s just wonderful. I would start the list with our kids. Then I would quickly move to the animals that we’re going to slaughter later, either this week or next and get to enjoy.
Yes. Ryan is homesteading out on the farm. He’s left DC, the soft confines of, what is it, soft handed intellectual life.
Ryan T. Anderson:
I have callouses on both of my hands.
[inaudible 00:58:52] has moved out to a farm. Well, happy Thanksgiving. Ryan. Thank you so much for coming on High Noon.
Ryan T. Anderson:
Yeah, no, this was a lot of fun. We should do it again.
Thank you to our listeners. High Noon with Inez Stepman is a production of the Independent Women’s Forum. We also have other productions like At the Bar, which is something my colleague Jennifer Braceras and I do every so often on issues that center around the intersection of law, politics, and culture. We also have the great Beverly Hallberg hosting She Thinks, which is another one of our podcasts. Please do check those out. As always, you can send comments and questions to [email protected]. Please help us out by hitting the ‘Subscribe’ button and leaving us a comment or review on Apple Podcast, Acast, Google Play, YouTube, or iwf.org. Be brave, and we’ll see you next time on High Noon.