Just when you thought things couldn’t get any stranger — or you needed a glimpse of how strange they will soon become for us — France has decided to ban the words "mother" and "father" in regard to the civil-legal treatment of marriage. The European country’s proposed new law declares that "marriage is a union of two people, of different or the same gender."
The reason given by Christiane Taubira, France’s justice minister: "Who is to say that a heterosexual couple will bring a child up better than a homosexual couple, that they will guarantee the best conditions for the child’s development?" She then reassured critics of the proposed law, "What is certain is that the interest of the child is a major preoccupation for the government."
If the law goes through, then all references to "mother" and "father" will be erased from the civil code and replaced with the more abstract, cover-all, cover-anything term "parents."
Let’s focus on that shift to abstraction. It’s more important than you might think, because, as France is now demonstrating, he (or she) who controls the language controls the fundamentally human ability to speak about reality.
France’s attempt to impose an abstract term, "parent," in place of a perfectly concrete and natural set of terms, is an act of civil tyranny. It commits a kind of unnatural crime, a crime against the natural use of language, by officially prohibiting citizens to name what every child, naturally born, naturally wants to say: "mother" and "father."
About this, we must note several important things. First of all, this move to abstraction in speech is already endemic in many languages. And it is caused by a cultural rebellion against Judeo-Christian morality. You see and hear it everywhere. This "French revolution" of redefining language and thus reality is already on our shores.
In English, we now speak of "partners" rather than husbands and wives, because sexually linking up for indeterminate periods of time has replaced lifelong, heterosexual monogamy. "Partner" is sufficiently abstract to allow any number of individuals of whatever gender — it wouldn’t even restrict the relationship to other human beings.
And we’ve just stumbled upon two others, "individual" and "relationship." The modern "individual" was invented, in great part, to replace the more concrete "male" and "female." The reason is historically important: Modern individualism, invented by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, didn’t want the family to be understood as the foundation of society.
Hobbes and Locke wanted to reject the Christian natural-law argument that the natural family (father, mother and children) was the natural foundation of society and the root of its moral order. In its place, they wished to substitute the all-desiring "individual," a name that abstracts completely from gender — from male and female, father and mother, son and daughter. This individual, abstracted from any natural connections, is unbound to anyone by natural moral duties, and its only goals are self-preservation and self-interest. Such self-interested "individuals," Hobbes and Locke argued, form society by a contract.
That’s modern individualism, along with its view of what society is for: not the protection and promotion of the natural family, but the elevation of this abstract creature, the "individual" and its interests.
I say "abstract" very precisely: There are no individuals, no human "its." In reality, you will only meet males and females who are sons and daughters or fathers and mothers. Yet, in France, you will soon not be able to speak of them.
"Relationship" is the abstract term you get when a society replaces the understanding that sexuality is defined by heterosexual monogamy with the notion that sexuality should be defined in terms of the pursuit of pleasure wherever and whenever it can be had. "Relationship" abstracts both from the concrete morally laden word "marriage," which implies permanence, and the implicit understanding that sexuality is defined by the complementarities of opposites (as in the opposite sex). "Relationship" is so abstract that it exists between points in geometry and any number of "individuals" in any possible combination of genders. Gone are the roles of husband and wife, father and mother, even boyfriend and girlfriend.
Whoops! I committed an abstraction myself — "roles." The Christian natural-law understanding is that men and women, by their very nature, become husbands and wives, so that in turn they can become fathers and mothers. We regularly refer to these as "roles," that is, something that we play, like a particular character in a play, which is as detachable from us as our costumes. Thus, we speak of the "roles" of mother and father.
But all this play acting is a farce. I am a husband of one wife and have been for almost 30 years. I do not play the role of a husband. I am a husband — it defines my very being and my natural, moral perfection. I have seven children. I do not play the "role" of a father. I am a father. The abstraction "role" was meant to allow "individuals" the freedom to don or discard such "gender roles" as their self-interest dictates.
As you can see, the "French revolution" in abstraction has already made significant headway in our own language. I suggest a counterrevolution for the sake of free speech, especially since (as I’m sure we’ll soon experience) our own civil authorities will be telling us what we can’t say. Say what you should mean, say what’s real, and don’t let anyone make you do otherwise.
Author and speaker Benjamin Wiker, Ph.D.,
has published nine books, with another
coming out this fall with Scott Hahn,
Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical
Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture, 1300-1700.
He is currently working on a book
on the Church and the secular state.