The Conservative Surrender in the Culture Wars
By Tom Bethell
Tom Bethell, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is the author, most recently, of Eric Hoffer: The Longshoreman Philosopher (Hoover Institution Press, 2012).
In 1992 conservative commentator Irving Kristol observed that “[the culture wars] are over, and the Left has won.” The reception of Robert Reilly’s new book, Making Gay Okay: How Rationalizing Homosexual Behavior Is Changing Everything (Ignatius Press), underscores that judgment. We would expect liberal publications to ignore Reilly’s book. And they have. But conservative journals have followed suit. Various magazines, including The Weekly Standard, edited by Irving’s son William Kristol, have ignored Reilly’s book. National Review, edited by Richard Lowry, and its online version, NRO, refused to review it. The same goes for The American Spectator, edited by R. Emmett Tyrrell.
Making Gay Okay has received a number of favorable reviews, almost all from conservative religious sources. Robert Royal endorsed it at The Catholic Thing website; Austin Ruse, Christopher Manion, and Fr. C.J. McCloskey have published favorable reviews. Fr. James V. Schall praised the book at the Catholic World Report website. In fact, the book seems to have done fairly well, reaching the 700s on the Amazon bestseller list (better than being in the millions!). It also rose to no. 1 in Amazon’s “Gay & Lesbian History” category — which Reilly told me he finds “hilarious.”
But the book’s reception also signals a surrender by many secular conservatives in the “culture wars.” This phrase seems to have been popularized by Pat Buchanan, who said in a 1992 speech at the Republican National Convention that “there is a religious war going on in our country for the soul of America. It is a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we will one day be as was the Cold War itself.”
Published this April, Making Gay Okay asks why Americans are expected to consider homosexual acts as morally acceptable, and why so many have touted the Supreme Court’s acceptance of same-sex “marriage” as a valid form of matrimony. Until a decade ago, such developments were unheard of in the history of Western (or any other) civilization. Reilly reckons that homosexuals constitute two to three percent of the U.S. population.
The book also explores adoption by same-sex couples, the promotion of sodomy in public schools and in the military, and the widespread submission to homosexual propaganda. Reilly mentions that the rainbow flag was flown over the U.S. embassy in Madrid on Gay Pride Day. “I guess the Marines have to salute that now,” he says.
Reilly, 67, has been at the forefront of the conservative scene for decades. He was director of Voice of America, the U.S. federal government’s external broadcast network. He also worked as a special assistant to President Reagan and as a senior advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense under George W. Bush. He is the author of The Closing of the Muslim Mind, published in 2010.
In an interview, I asked Reilly what conservative editors are afraid of.
“The homosexual mafia,” he replied.
“Which might do what?”
“It can only create problems. It’s such a toxic issue. Editors might be socially ostracized. It’s more than a faux pas. It can be a career crusher.” He said he no longer has a career, so he isn’t worried. In some cases, publications that have not mentioned the book may fear alienating writers whom the editors publish and want to retain as contributors.
The editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal illuminate the change. Years ago WSJ published a lengthy piece by Reilly on “Aristotle and the Laws of Nature.” But today they have largely abandoned the culture wars. “They did have a terrific piece by a doctor saying why his hospital will not do transgender operations,” he allowed. But more generally, the paper seems convinced that as long as markets remain free, economies will prosper and all will be well. Perhaps we should call it the libertarian delusion.
Reilly sent a review copy of Making Gay Okay to WSJ, but he “knew they would turn it down because the only op-eds they run are on the other side of the issue.” On marriage, “maybe Robbie George [Princeton law professor and co-author of the Manhattan Declaration] is published once every year or two.” The paper will publish George’s defense of marriage “but not his rebuttals to same-sex marriage.”
What about the objection that homosexuals are born that way? There is no “gay gene,” Reilly replies, but even if there were a genetic predisposition toward destructive behavior, that does not excuse it. Alcoholics may well have a genetic predisposition, but that doesn’t excuse them from getting drunk. They still choose to do so.
Recently, Governor Rick Perry of Texas reiterated Reilly’s position — in San Francisco of all places. “I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that,” he said. “And I look at the homosexual issue in the same way.”
The governor was duly berated in print. Brian Resnick of National Journal commented that “this is important, as it reflects the thinking of the Texas Republican Party at large, which recently adopted a party platform that supports the legality of gay-conversion therapy.”
As to homosexuals who want to leave the lifestyle, Reilly said recently in an interview with MercatorNet.com:
Homosexuals who do want to change have a significant rate of success in changing with the right therapies. It is a sign of how far the rationalization for homosexual misbehavior has gone that two states now forbid therapists from treating teenage homosexuals who want to change their orientation. That’s like telling a teenager that if they injured their eye, they can’t go to an ophthalmologist! The denial of reality has gone that far.Reilly doesn’t see homosexual activists as entirely at fault. Often they are themselves the victims of sexual abuse, or they suffer from an absence of love from their fathers. They have also built on earlier social decisions, such as the approval of contraception and no-fault divorce. They take those precedents to their logical conclusion. “When sex was detached from diapers,” Reilly writes in Making Gay Okay, “the rest became more or less inevitable. If serial polygamy is okay, and contraceptive sex is okay, and abortion is okay, what could be wrong with a little sodomy? First, short-circuit the generative power of sex through contraception, then kill its accidental offspring; and finally celebrate its use in ways unfit for generation. Contraception used to be proscribed, then it was prescribed, and now has become almost obligatory in the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.”
(In June, in the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court granted narrow exemptions to the contraceptive mandate. Notice that the great push to normalize sodomy and same-sex marriage has come from the — unrepresentative — judicial branch, with a few legislatures tagging along behind. Abortion followed the same path.)
Of particular interest is Reilly’s chapter on the health hazards of sodomy, “The Lessons from Biology,” a sorely neglected topic that receives almost no attention these days. “Today we seem to know the purpose of every part of our bodies except our genitals,” Reilly writes. “As unpleasant as the subject matter may be, it is necessary to report on the physical effects of sodomitical behavior and of other homosexual acts. Their consequences are significantly more injurious to health than smoking, so much so that ignorance or denial of these effects is one of the most remarkable barometers of the strength of the rationalization that insists this behavior is normal and normative.”
During homosexual intercourse, Reilly goes on to say, the human body is subjected to an activity for which it is not designed. “If one insisted on using a highway exit as an entrance, one would be told that this is extremely hazardous to one’s health and safety and to that of others. Why is this so difficult to state when it comes to human anatomy?” Ignoring or downplaying these perils to health is perhaps the greatest oversight in today’s highly slanted coverage of the same-sex issue.
Here are some of the facts Reilly cites:
-A study in Vancouver showed that “life expectancy at age 20 years for gay and bisexual men is 8 to 21 years less than for all men. If the same pattern of mortality continued, we would estimate that nearly half of gay and bisexual men currently aged 20 years would not reach their sixty-fifth birthday.”Reilly follows up with two questions: “How is it that there can be warning labels on cigarettes and alcohol and on almost every package of food; health alerts for the level of air pollution, mandatory use of seat belts in cars, and yet no cautionary admonitions regarding homosexual practices?” Further, “Why are we counseled to change our dietary habits if we tend toward obesity because of the health hazards it presents, but not asked to modify our behavior if we engage in sodomy which can be far more lethal?”
-Dr. Jeffrey Satinover, a psychiatrist and the author of Homosexuality and the Politics of Truth, said in 1996 that “the incidence of AIDS among 20 to 30-year-old homosexual men is roughly 430 times greater than among the heterosexual population at large.”
-According to Dale O’Leary, author of The Gender Agenda, “While men who have sex with men make up for only a tiny percentage of the population, they account for 72 percent of primary and secondary syphilis cases plus 79 percent of HIV diagnosis among men and the significant percentage of other STDs.”
He answers: “There are no warning labels because they would disturb the rationalization for homosexual behavior by inviting the observation that there is something in Nature itself that rebels against it. Rather than face the clear implication that what they are doing is unnatural to their own bodies, active homosexuals evade or even deny the overwhelming evidence of the health dangers to which they subject themselves…. This is like fighting lung cancer while remaining silent about the dangers of smoking.”
Reilly cites studies showing that some homosexuals have as many as a thousand sex partners. It’s as though they keep on searching for satisfaction that they cannot find.
Incidentally, if the figures about homosexual life expectancy are correct, the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination (GLAAD) might consider filing a lawsuit against the Social Security Administration. By one estimate, perhaps 50 percent of homosexuals pay taxes into the retirement system but die before they can receive benefits.
Pat Buchanan explored a similar theme in a 1984 article he wrote for The American Spectator, a magazine that made its reputation by being politically incorrect. Buchanan’s article, “Gay Times and Diseases,” co-authored with J. Gordon Muir, shows how much things have changed — and for the worse. They wrote:
Gay-rights promises to become for the '80s what busing and abortion were to the '70s — the social issue that sunders the Democratic coalition. Mondale, Hart and [Jesse] Jackson have all signed on to the non-negotiable demand of the movement: that sexual preference be written into the civil rights act of 1964, to designate another category, homosexuals, against whom it will be a federal crime to discriminate.Thirty years later it is, instead, the conservative coalition that has been sundered. We cannot “discriminate” against homosexuals (whose civil rights have been intact all along, incidentally), and overt objection to their practices has become verboten. Any such criticism violates the most closely monitored taboo of our time.
Furthermore, Jeffrey Levi, a former executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, told the National Press Club in 1987 that “we [homosexuals] are no longer seeking just a right to privacy and a right to protection from wrong. We have a right — as heterosexuals have already — to see government and society affirm our lives.” Needless to say, there is no right to be “affirmed,” whether for hetero or for homosexuals.
Urvashi Vaid, a lesbian activist and author of Virtual Equality: The Mainstreaming of Gay and Lesbian Liberation, said that “we have an agenda to create a society in which homosexuality is regarded as healthy, natural and normal. To me, that is the most important agenda item.” Judged by public utterances, it does seem that homosexuality more and more is regarded that way, whether or not such a view corresponds to reality.
Reilly describes the American Psychiatric Association’s removal of homosexuality from the 1974 edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. A key role was played by Franklin Kameny, who declared that the “entire homophile movement is going to stand or fall upon the question of whether or not homosexuality is a sickness.” Kameny was praised by President Obama in a White House ceremony in 2009. “We are proud of you Frank,” Obama said, “and we are grateful to you for your leadership.”
This was the same Frank Kameny who was arrested in 1957 by a vice squad in Lafayette Park, in front of the White House. After Kameny’s death in 2011, the National Park Service placed his Washington, D.C., home on the National Register of Historic Places.
The Duck Dynasty controversy of late 2013 raises some of the same issues as Reilly’s book. Phil Robertson and his family, purveyors of a bestselling duck call, are the stars of a popular reality TV show broadcast on the A&E network, a show that has attracted the largest non-fiction cable TV audience in history. A journalist who interviewed Robertson for GQ magazine asked him what behavior he considered to be immoral. “Start with homosexual behavior and just morph out from there,” said Robertson, a Christian. “Bestiality, sleeping around with this woman and that woman and that woman and those men.” He elaborated: “It seems like, to me, a vagina — as a man — would be more desirable than a man’s anus,” he said. “That’s just me. I’m just thinking: There’s more there! She’s got more to offer. I mean, come on, dudes! You know what I’m saying? But hey, sin: It’s not logical, my man. It’s just not logical.”
In response, Time magazine reported that the backlash to Robertson’s comments “was immediate and almost too loud to comprehend.” GLAAD demanded that Robertson be purged from Duck Dynasty. A&E duly suspended him indefinitely.
That’s when the real backlash was felt. Followers of Duck Dynasty, both evangelicals and politicians such as Governors Mike Huckabee of Oklahoma and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, defended Robertson. “The politically correct crowd is tolerant of all viewpoints, except those they disagree with,” said Gov. Jindal. “It is a messed up situation when Miley Cyrus gets a laugh, and Phil Robertson gets suspended.”
A&E promptly retreated. The Duck Dynasty audience was too valuable to lose.
“Millions endorsed [Robertson’s] views on what the Bible says and Christianity professes and promises,” Pat Buchanan wrote. “The battle revealed an immense and intense hostility in Middle America to the moral agenda being imposed by our cultural elites.”
Some of our own timid magazines, confronted by Making Gay Okay, might have pondered the same lesson. But they seem to prefer fashionable opinion to rank-and-file readers.
Both Buchanan and John O’Sullivan of National Review pointed out that GLAAD operated a blacklist campaign against Duck Dynasty, not censorship. Censorship involves prohibition of speech by governments. The old blacklist most famously targeted communist sympathizers in the 1950s. Today, we are expected to censor ourselves if we have any doubts about the rationalization of homosexual behavior — sodomy in particular.
O’Sullivan added the important point that what was most offensive to GLAAD about Duck Dynasty was that Phil Robertson “did not disavow the traditional Christian teaching that homosexual acts are sinful.” He didn’t retreat.
The systematic protection of homosexual behavior and the blacklisting of dissenters should be seen as the consequence of an even greater lie: the modern pretense that there are no real differences between the sexes. Camille Paglia, who calls herself an “independent feminist,” commented on this in a WSJ interview (Dec. 29, 2013). She describes an occasion when she “barely got through the dinner” with a group of women’s studies professors at Bennington College, who insisted that there is no hormonal difference between men and women. Paglia attributes much of the current cultural decline to such absurdities.
She also called out feminist activists like Gloria Steinem, Naomi Wolf, and Susan Faludi for saying that gender is nothing more than a social construct, and groups like the National Organization for Women for making abortion the singular women’s issue. In denying the role of nature in women’s lives, Paglia says, feminists have created a “denatured” movement, protected their own “bourgeois lifestyle,” and falsely promised that women could “have it all.”
The ongoing feminist attempt to redefine gender — a war on reality if there ever was one — may have arisen because at the beginning of the sexual revolution numerous men abandoned Christian teaching and urged women to take the Pill, enabling the men to enjoy sex without consequences. To that extent, the sexual revolution in its early stages worked greatly to the advantage of men.
Feminists have never been able to accept that, but at the same time they showed no interest in taking the “reactionary” step of restoring the old morality. Instead, in a bitter and vengeful spirit, they undertook to advance the sexual revolution still further, using their growing cultural power, accompanied by male guilt, to sow the pretense that there are no real differences between the sexes.
In the end, both sexes ended up either ignoring or disparaging Christian teaching. On top of that colossal error, the homosexual activists have built their own defiant heresy.
The rationalization of homosexual conduct is only the most recent campaign in the war on Christianity, and one of the most virulent. A century ago, the communist revolution aimed to destroy Christianity, but before it could do so, it destroyed the economies of those societies that shared in that goal: mainly the Soviet Union and Red China. (Communism, of course, lingers on to this day in Cuba and particularly in North Korea.)
The basic tool of communism was the abolition of property, which had the effect of concentrating power in the hands of a ruling class. Now the West confronts a full-fledged sexual revolution, which aims to destroy the family. As with communism, it could end up destroying the societies that pursue so destructive a goal. Without a restoration of Christian morality, Western societies will become immeasurably weaker, and perhaps before long fall prey to the Islamist resurgence, which has palpably been strengthened by Christian decline. [Emphasis added by G.N.]
The foregoing article by Tom Bethell, "The Conservative Surrender in the Culture Wars," was originally published in the New Oxford Review (September 2014), and is reproduced here by kind permission of New Oxford Review, 1069 Kains Ave., Berkeley, CA 94706.
[Hat tip to GN]