These are only general notes and questions to myself, and certainly not a final position on any of this.
I am working with the general proposition that Western history is moving along these lines: The largely Christian (broadly stated) world gave way to a “secular” world (see Charles Taylor for perhaps the most sustained account of this transition), in which the materialist atheist could be presented as the most reasonable person. The new atheism of 20 years ago would be the high water mark of this movement.
However, for whatever reason, that position has proved to be unstable. Even in the height of materialism and atheism, superstition and magic were always present and active among the most seemingly materialistic (see, The Myth of Disenchantment). Now, we are moving into the space of a new general religion (when a religion becomes the most common worldview in a culture, it will appear to be commonsense and not a “religion”: it is just the way things are).
Transgenderism as an ideology seems to partake of the rudiments of a religious system. I’m going to begin with a quotation Kathleen Stock:
Here are four axioms of modern trans activism, which I’ll be examining from different angles in this book.
1. You and I, and everyone else, have an important inner state called a gender identity.
2. For some people, inner gender identity fails to match the biological sex – male or female – originally assigned to them at birth by medics. These are trans people.
3. Gender identity, not biological sex, is what makes you a man or a woman (or neither).
4. The existence of trans people generates a moral obligation upon all of us to recognise and legally to protect gender identity and not biological sex.
Stock, Kathleen. Material Girls (p. 14). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.
This paragraph which begins Material Girls lays presuppositions of transgenderism. What I find fascinating about this the extent to which this is an explicitly religious program.
First, it makes a profoundly metaphysical claim about a real self which is someone different than one’s current physical body. It is not merely that one feels a disassociation from one’s body, but rather that there is a more real self which is not the physical body. The materialist would contend one is only a physical body. A Christian (I’m not adequate to address other religions on this point) would contend the physical body is one’s “real self.” However, we would add the caveat that a description of the human being which is limited to the body is inadequate.
This metaphysical claim is an overarching claim that there is a reality which goes beyond the body in some way. I am not sure where or what this “real” self is. It is not completely clear to me that constitutes an incorporeal mind or soul; it seems to be an ideation.
Second, there is a sin of mis-matching the unseeable, incorporeal real self. That this is a sin is clear in that there is a moral obligation imposed upon all people to recognize the supreme reality of this ideation.
A metaphysical claim to an immaterial reality coupled to unbending moral obligation to recognize this immaterial reality contains at least the rudiments of a religion. Indeed, this metaphysic includes the proposition that language creates reality:
Butler makes the general assumption that anything at all humans can meaningfully think about is socially constructed, ‘all the way down’ as it were. This means she thinks there are no material facts before language – that is, prior to culturally specific linguistic and social constructions of them. Linguistic categories, including scientific and biological ones, aren’t a means of reflecting existing divisions in the world, but a means of creating things that otherwise wouldn’t have existed.
Stock, Kathleen. Material Girls (p. 23). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition. When seen from within a Christian perspective, this is an arrogation of the power of God to create reality by means of speaking. God says “Let there be light,” and there is light. But no such power appertains to human beings. Yet this ideology contends that language actually constructs reality. This is a profoundly religious sentiment.
When we look more broadly into the culture surrounding this belief system we see a number of rituals which fulfill the broad outlines of religious observance.
Early on in this movement, there were commentators (such as Mohler) who noted that transgenderism echoes the Gnostic idea of a secret real self beyond the body. There is another element common to Gnosticism, that of special knowledge held by only some. That special knowledge is critical to transgenderism: “A further influence in the background here is what is known in philosophy as ‘standpoint epistemology’. This is the idea that some forms of knowledge are socially situated, so that only if you are in a particular social situation are you able to easily acquire that kind of knowledge.” Stock, Kathleen. Material Girls (p. 34). Little, Brown Book Group. Kindle Edition.
In short, this is more than the imposition of civility. While this is only the briefest outline, it seems to me that this entails the rudimentary aspects of a “religion.”
It would not be difficult to take these 8 elements of a religion (found here) and find a corresponding application that the general pride and particular “transgender” world constitutes a religion:
EIGHT ELEMENTS OF RELIGIONS
1. BELIEF SYSTEM or WORLDVIEW: Many beliefs that fit together in a system to make
sense of the universe and our place in it.
That is unquestionable.
2. COMMUNITY: The belief system is shared, and its ideals are practiced by a group.
Again, this is a given.
3. CENTRAL STORIES/MYTHS: Stories that help explain the beliefs of a group; these are told over and over again and sometimes performed by members of the group. They may or may not be factual.
The transgender position insists on a story which is radically different than that held by Western Civilization just a few years ago.
4. RITUALS: Beliefs are explained, taught, and made real through ceremonies.
It could be contended that the entire work of physically transitioning constitutes a fundamental ritual, as well the wearing of certain clothing, et cetera.
5. ETHICS: Rules about how to behave; these rules are often thought to have come from a deity or supernatural place, but they might also be seen as guidelines created by the group over time.
6. CHARACTERISTIC EMOTIONAL EXPERIENCES: Most religions share emotions such as awe, mystery, guilt, joy, devotion, conversion, inner peace, etc.
The core emotional experience is the basis of the truth claims.
7. MATERIAL EXPRESSION: Religions use things to perform rituals or to express or represent beliefs, such as: statues, paintings, music, flowers, incense, clothes, architecture, and specific sacred locations.
Transforming one’s body.
8. SACREDNESS: Religions see some things as sacred and some not sacred (or profane). Some objects, actions, people and places may share in the sacredness or express it.
This might be the more difficult element, in that no god is explicitly invoked (at least not by all adherents). But there is an apparent element of being “special” or even transcendent in the idea of transcending one’s body.
I need to read Charles Taylor sometime…