There is probably a remarkably small audience interested in what I’m about to post, but the importance of this information cannot be overemphasized.
Few people have read the writings of [Immanuel] Kant; nonetheless his philosophical views underpin much of modern culture’s discourse. Not only does this background help explain Judith Butler’s presentation of gender as performative linguistic discourse, it also explains why her writing (and that of other Queer theorists and the gay/lesbian movement generally) is so reluctant to make appeals to ontological realities.
That is, Butler represents a narrative in which traditional Christian gender ethics is portrayed as naive and unintelligible because it bases itself upon some sort of appeal to an ontological reality e.g. A man ought not to seek to become a woman because he was born a physical man; or homosexual acts are immoral because God designed sex to function between a male and female. Both of the preceding statements are making an appeal to some sort of ontological reality, from which implications are then drawn. Such ontological based claims are resisted by Queer writers such as Butler. They are presented as totalising, enslaving and heterosexist frameworks of thought.
Rather than appealing to ontology, Queer theorists prefer to utilise the rhetoric of autonomy, slavery and freedom. They identify their movement with other groups who have sought freedom from repression, such as women or slaves. Most gay/lesbian activists are so resistant to ontological claims, that even when one comes along which may be a support to their cause, they will feel uncomfortable with it and eventually reject it. The most notable example of this was the ‘gay gene’ theory. Many Queer writers now say that even were a ‘gay gene’ demonstrated, they would not want to use it as par of their defence of their lifestyle. It would limit their freedom too much, and conflict with a presentation of homosexuality as a free choice….
The influence of Kant together with the remarkable political and cultural success of apparently non-ontologically based appeals to freedom, has made many Christians doubt the validity of their more ontologically grounded ethics system. Certainly, presenting ontologically based claims, to a person gripped by a system of thought which is influenced by Kant, will be ineffective. This is surely part of the reason that clear and frequent re-statement of traditional Christian teaching on gender related issues tends to not result in many people actually changing their views. Rather than giving up on our ontologically based ethics, or merely repeating our views ineffectually, we ought to expose the fact that writers such as Judith Butler are in fact themselves making ontologically based arguments.
Some readers may need a refresher on what “ontological” means…ontology is the study of that which exists; the study of being. If something is “ontological” it is an evident reality, a tangible truth. The fact that I am is an ontological reality; that I own a Honda Accord is an ontological reality. I was born male; I have brown hair; these are ontological realities.
Prior to Kant [1724-1804] philosophers sought continually to push back the boundaries of that which is known about the world. After Kant, what is known is merely the categories of our own thinking….
An often overlooked point is that both pre- and post-Kantian philosophy was human-centred; the difference was that while each pre-Kantian thinker put himself as the centre of the world, each post-Kantian thinker put himself at the centre of his or her own world. Before Kant, knowledge was assumed to lead to an appreciation of ontological realities. After Kant, with the mind hermetically sealed off from reality, the suggestion that something previously thought to be ontological (like gender), was actually merely linguistic or a category of thought, began to make sense.
If the reality that simply is can be questioned than there truly is no absolute truth, but simply that which is your truth. The irony of all this is that the homosexual agenda’s search for freedom to exercise a perception of reality that justifies their chosen behavior simultaneously prevents those of a different opinion from exercising a freedom to disagree!
Irving’s parody is prescient [referring to a scene from John Irving’s The Cider House Rules]. It captures the oppressive sensation that Butler’s ideology creates in those who are heterosexual. She favours freedom for homosexuality, but frames her argument in such a way as to deny heterosexual identity real dignity. She is claiming to have a better, more accurate knowledge of what goes on inside a person than anybody who says they are not homosexual. In Butler’s world of genders formed by discourse, the homosexual discourse reigns. We see the cultural outworking of this in television shows where the gay man is thought to have some valuable insight into a topic, simply because he is gay. Homosexuality is not only given preferential treatment as a lifestyle; it is though to flow from deeper, more accurate self-understanding than heterosexuality.
In the end, Butler’s conception of freedom is an absolute freedom which forces itself upon people who may not want it, or may not realise they want it. As such it is a freedom which enslaves…. Butler builds on half-truths, and plays with concepts in a way that aims to subvert what she sees as the heterosexist oppressive regime of modern society…. The vision for society Butler offers is precisely the kind of oppressive system which she so passionately speaks against. She has Queered freedom into a system of thought which equates to freedom for all who agree with her, but how will the dissenters be viewed?
The frightening reality is that this innate human longing for freedom is being misused by several powerful propagandist movements today. I will move from the homosexual agenda to other causes in a subsequent post.
But before we leave this particular topic, a final comment from Peter Sanlon is warranted:
The remarkable thing is that the argumentation made thereafter by Butler is identical in form to that put by traditional Christians. The only substantive difference is that the ontological reality she bases her argument upon is an unstable repressed homosexual desire, and the Christian bases their argument upon God’s physical creation of a gendered person.
Thus Judith Butler’s vision of gender is only as convincing as Freud’s view of melancholic gender….
Christians have no reason to fear using arguments which make appeals to a basis in ontology. Not only do Queer writers such as Judith Butler do so, the ontological realities appealed to by Christians are far more verifiable than Freud’s theories. In a post-Kantian word, we would do well to point these things out to those who portray traditional Christian appeals to ontological realities as repressive or philosophically passé.
 Peter Sanlon, Plastic People: How Queer Theory is Changing Us (London: The Latimer Trust, 2010) pp 25-27.
 Ibid, 25.
 Ibid, 24.
 Ibid, 28.
5 thoughts on “Post-Kantian “Reality””
Postscript: This also needs to be said…
“There is much that Christians ministers can learn from engaging with Queer writers. We ought to be humbled by the scale of their achievements in the face of considerable opposition. Queer writers have persistently campaigned politically and sacrificially for the furtherance of their visions. Foucault modeled this. When speaking to a homosexual group he returned the 2,000 Francs payment saying, ‘A gay man does not need payment to speak to other gays.’ The immense cultural impact of Queer theory is testimony to the practical and social changes that can be wrought by academic work. The insight of gay/lesbian activists in perceiving their need for intellectual underpinnings to their political ventures is one Christians would do well to learn from. We once had a similar tradition, which like Queer theory, saw all of life as a unified reality to be seen through a common lens.” (pg 35)
Hello. I have been debating with some gay people on some Facebook pages, trying to defend us ‘Straight’ people, more specifically the right to keep marriage between a man and a woman. Unlike most of the people on my side of the argument, I don’t resort to insults, or name calling. Often, I get into a rather civilized debate with the ‘moderate’ gays on their side of the fence once they realize I am not there to gay-bash them.
Its funny, our gay friends on that page always say religion is meant for ‘control’. I argue it is meant to guide, and we go back and forth. Plus, like you said, they bring up womens rights a lot. They really don’t like any kind of social structure it seems. When I start to break down a few of their ‘anti-religious’ arguments (which are weak at best), they seem to say things like “Oh, well you might be right about that, but the Bible was still meant for control.” They always go back to that.
Just wanted to tell you I see a lot of parallels in your analysis, and my experiences in the discussions I have. I am going to have to re-read this a few times, perhaps I will learn something I can bring to the battlefield.
Mike, best of luck to you. I would recommend that you read _God, Gays & the Church: Human Sexuality in Christian Thinking_ published by The Latimer Trust (available here: http://www.latimertrust.org/ggc.htm) and you would probably also find Plastic People, the book I’m quoting from above helpful as well.
Kant! Poor guy.
I appreciated this post; it was enlightening.