By John Sondag
One of the great moral theologians who died a few years ago was Father William Smith from New York City. One of his phrases that I heard him say more than once was that social engineering is usually preceded by verbal engineering.
In other words, if you want to change how people act in society, then change the words which describe or define the action. For example, if you want to have abortion as an acceptable procedure, then don’t call it “abortion” but “removal of fetal tissue.” Who could be against the removal of tissue? That’s what the abortionists want—make the procedure be perceived as palatable and morally acceptable.
Or “euthanasia.” The term has been changed by many to “death with dignity.” Who’s going to object?
So, enter the social scene with the word “gender.” Let’s just expand the word’s definition to include not only male and female but words like transgenderism, transsexualism, transvestism, bigenderism, homosexuality, bisexuality, pansexuality, polysexuality, and asexuality.
Sound familiar? It’s not only the fringes of society that are engineering “gender.” Psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, economists, and other respectable groups are buying into this change in language.
But meet Sister Prudence Allen, R.S.M., Ph.D., a philosopher from St. John Vianney Theological Seminary in Denver. She’s “loaded for bear” with research and data disputing the popular and politically-correct approach of “gender” promoted by academics and the media.
I recently attended a luncheon at the University of St. Thomas where Sister Prudence gave a talk to some faculty members in the philosophy, theology, and Catholic Studies departments along with outsiders who are media types and activists. A true story she told gives an indication of the lengths that gender activists will go to make their point.
Back in 1972, a professor at John’s Hopkins University set up an experiment in which a set of twin boys were raised as a boy and a girl with the a sex change on the one little fellow to make him into a girl. The experiment failed, but the professor, John Money, was not honest with the results and the media published his false findings.
Professor Money was eventually pushed to the side academically, but the media had already done the damage of reporting that there was no difference between boys and girls.
Then, Marxist feminist Gayle Rubin introduced the sex and gender system in 1975 in which gender is determined by a person’s self-consciousness, not the sex. Do you see where this is headed?
If a person thinks he is female even though the individual has been biologically created as a male, then the individual can say his gender is female. Or if two persons think they are homosexuals, their gender is homosexual rather than male or female. And, of course, that means that we cannot define marriage as the union of male and female because such a union could oppress the gender orientation of an individual.
I asked Sister Prudence why people are so determined to make these gender changes—what’s their motivation? Her answer was that many in society have a false sense of freedom and desire to make themselves into what they want to become. Freedom, then, is looked upon as something spontaneous and pleasure-oriented rather than determined by objective reality.
Sister Prudence also talked about the importance that truth has in this cultural situation. She maintained that speaking the truth has its own power when lies have been spoken. She also pointed out that this clarification of gender is critical for the common good—the good of society.
Sister also talked about ransoming the word “gender,” because it’s a good word. The ancient roots of the concepts of sex and gender must be uncovered by going to theology and the Scriptures, especially the Book of Genesis.
The concepts of woman in relation to man must be studied in the works of philosophers such as St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Pope John Paul II. These concepts belong to us and must be ransomed from those who want to change the meaning of gender. What’s at stake is the identity of man and woman, marriage, the family, intergenerational families, the genealogy of Christ, and the integrity of the Incarnation, Passion, Resurrection, and salvation through Christ.
Pope Benedict XVI has made it a point that we are living under the “dictatorship of relativism.” Those are harsh words, but when one thinks of them in relation to the understanding “gender” and the problems connected to the change of meanings, one understands better what the Holy Father is referring to.
To make up one’s own meaning for “gender” will enslave us and society. For gender tells who we are as persons and what our relationship to others is based on. To live contrary to the truth will enslave us, but to live according to the truth will set us free.
John Sondag is Director of Religious Education at the Church of St. Helena in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and publisher of “The Catholic Servant.”