Transgenderism is not about transsexuals; it's about absolute freedom and equality



Prof. Andres Kinneging

Being yourself. That's one of the central issues of transgenderism. It has nothing to do with the psychological struggle in the body. It is about the idea in the mind. Photo: Pride in Amsterdam 2021. Photo ANP, Remko de Waal

Transgenderism is not about transsexuals. It is a weapon in the social criticism, which focuses on radical freedom and radical equality at the expense of everything else.

As long as mankind has existed, people have been convinced that they are living in the body of the wrong sex. We can see this as a medical and psychological matter, which must be dealt with as humanely and wisely as possible. Then it is something relatively small. After all, only a few people are transsexual.

However, that is not the approach of the ideology of transgenderism. So, it is not about transgender people or transsexuals, but about an "ism" at the end of the word. For transgenderism, the fact that there are transgenders is a starting point for a comprehensive social criticism. Or, more precisely: it is a weapon in that social critique, in addition to many other weapons.

Transgenderism, therefore, is not really about transgender people or transsexuals. It is about something else, namely freedom and equality. Transgenders or transsexuals are, in this view, not free to be themselves. And they are not treated equally.

Debate is akin to that of women and immigrants

We see the same social criticism in the discussion about homosexuals, women, immigrants and people with different skin colour. It is always about freedom and equality. The idea is that people belonging to such groups are disadvantaged and oppressed, and sometimes exploited. They were and are not free to be themselves and are not seen and treated as equals but as inferior.

The issue of transgenderism, in this sense, immediately leads us to a much broader and more fundamental theme: a reflection on the values of freedom and equality. It is of utmost importance that we undertake this because only when we have a clear view of the foundations can we also gain a sharp view of what builds on them.

It all started at the French revolution

Let's start with an outline of the historical background. Freedom and equality are the main principles of the French Revolution. The ideas of the Enlightenment primarily inspired it. So, when we talk about freedom and equality, we are mainly talking about lighting ideas.

However, that's not the whole story. Because in response to the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, a kind of Counter-Enlightenment arose, traditionally called Romanticism. The Romantic era also takes the principles of freedom and equality as its starting point but gives it a different interpretation. Today's dominant social views, also on the themes just mentioned, are a product of Enlightenment and Romanticism.

Christianity and the Christian churches have opposed the French Revolution from the beginning. In line with this, Enlightenment thinking has also been rejected by Christianity from the beginning.

Christians didn't reject Romanticism

For Romanticism, this is a bit different. Due to the shared criticism of Enlightenment and the French Revolution, this seemed to many an ally. It can be said, for example, that everyone in the Netherlands who is in the line of the Reveil is, in fact, also in the line of Romanticism since the Reveil was formed by the latter. Why was Christendom against the French Revolution and its principles? How can one be against freedom and equality? From the perspective of 2021, that question is not easy to answer.

Freedom and equality have meanwhile become so self-evident, so rooted in the spirit, including the Christian spirit, that criticism of liberty and equality as it was prevalent in Christian circles in the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth century can be traced by almost no one.

Were the Christians for slavery and oppression?

What exactly was it that people like Kuyper and his teacher Groen van Prinsterer and many others criticised in the principles of the French Revolution? If they were against freedom and equality, were they for lack of freedom and inequality, for slavery, discrimination and oppression? No, of course not.

The problem here is the language or the concepts used, or rather the impoverishment of language and concepts. If freedom and equality are the only values, anything against them is reprehensible and dangerous. However, if there are more values than just those two, the picture becomes very different.

Take, for example, the value "community" — a central Christian value. Communities are vital in life. An atomised, lonely life is a horror. However, being part of a community means having certain obligations to that community. These obligations limit the freedom of the individual.

Christianity is about salvation

What are the values of Christianity? For Christianity, preceded by Greek philosophy, these are very different values than freedom and equality. If one reads the Old or the New Testament, one reads Plato and Aristotle; one reads Augustine and Thomas Aquinas, one reads Luther and Calvin– to name only the most important names– then it is not about freedom or equality. At least not in the usual sense of the word since the Enlightenment and Romanticism. It is –and I mention only a few central concepts– about ignorance and wisdom, about sin and love, faith and grace. It is, in a word, about the salvation of the soul.

What do the Enlightenment and Romantic era stand for now? To start, the enlightening. It begins with some very astute seventeenth-century thinkers. I mean Francis Bacon, René Descartes and last but not least, Thomas Hobbes.

Their work constitutes a radical and conscious break with anti-Christian thinking. All three are materialists. That is, everything that is, everything that exists, is matter in motion. So, God does not exist, the soul does not exist, and there is no pre-given, transcendent, objective good and evil.

As far as man is concerned, it is about physical life on this side of death. Happiness, therefore, lies in satisfying as many of his desires in life as possible. That and nothing else is good. On the other hand, as evil, there is early death and the inability to satisfy one's desires.

How can we satisfy our desires?

This new view of life has turned almost everything upside down, including the idea of knowledge. The highest knowledge had always been wisdom: how do you as a human being deal well with the given circumstances? That now became technology and the underlying natural science: how can we manipulate nature so that we can increasingly satisfy our desires?

All this has unrecognisably changed the face of the earth, the arrangement of life and what was generally regarded as good and evil. Good in this view is the maximum freedom to pursue the satisfaction of your desires as much as possible, unhindered by anyone. Equality follows from that. Because if everyone should have that maximum freedom, not some can have more freedom than others. Hence equal freedom.

End of this is not in sight

Freedom and equality emerge here, for the first time in world history, as fundamental values. And technology emerges here, also for the first time in world history, as the central knowledge. A technique that has made everything possible, including sex reassignment surgery.

The end of this development is not in sight. Man's desires are almost infinite. The technology strives to offer what is in demand as quickly and effectively as possible.

At the moment, people are trying to link computer chips and brains together, based on the idea that this gives people an infinite amount of intellectual capacity. The DNA technique must, in the future, undo all physical shortcomings and make a perfect human possible. Robot technology should give us the perfect helpers. Medical technology must eliminate all diseases and eventually even death.

Self-love must change to love for God

Thinking from the ancient and Christian tradition, the question is always: What is the value of this? If one stands before the throne of God and has to answer, one cannot do it by saying that one can count so well, thanks to a chip, that one has a perfect body or has acquired immortality. Then it is only a matter of showing that one has seriously tried to be a good person.

Romanticism, which began in 1750 with Rousseau, is critical of the Enlightenment like the ancient and Christian traditions. Yet, it is anything but a return to tradition. She also focuses on freedom and equality, but in a different way than the Enlightenment.

Romanticism resists the complete immanentisation of man and the world that takes place in the Enlightenment. Man and the world are essentially more, richer and deeper. But there is no transcendence. In the tradition, it was about the Higher that exists next to the self and its desires. The Higher towards which man must turn, in spite and at the expense of that I. In Augustine's words: "amor sui", the self-love, must change into "Amor Dei", the love for God, for the Good, True and Beautiful.

Here, in romantic thinking, it is about the higher at the bottom of the ego. The soul of man that is pre-eminently the divine.

That divine absolutely does not include desires. Those are just a surface phenomenon. It is about a deeper layer, about what one really is: the actual self, your true identity. It determines what is commanded and prohibited, what one should do and not do.

Violating one's sacred right

That requires, first of all, that one seeks oneself and not stupidly pursue one's desires. Then that one is oneself. And finally, that one also develops or realises oneself. If you can't be yourself, that's serious, yes, pernicious. Whoever is to blame for this is violating one's most sacred right.

From this point of view, a family, a church community, or a school raising children in a particular faith or ideas is a priori deeply problematic. After all, these children are not allowed to be themselves. They are stamped with the stamp of the community, which prevents them from being themselves.

Every person must be equally free to be himself. There we have freedom and equality again but now based on a particular religious seriousness.

Technology provides all this

Returning to the issue of transgenderism, I think I can conclude that the philosophical premises of that ideology are twofold.

First, a romantic view of the self. What matters above all is that the transgender or transsexual can be themselves, just like anyone else.

Technology provides the means for this. Every effort must be made to further perfect it and thus make those involved happy. This confidence in and this hope in technology are, of course, a product of Enlightenment thinking.

Such a view can be found everywhere in our society, not just in transgenderism. For example, it is also the prevailing view in education and the advertising world. Transgenderism in that sense indeed has nothing to do with transsexuality. It's really about Enlightenment and romance; it's about radical freedom and radical equality, at the expense of everything else. Transgenders or transsexuals are just pawns in this debate, among many others.

The author is a Professor of Legal Philosophy at Leiden University. This text is a summary of a lecture at a conference of the Dutch society Bijbels Beraad M/V. This article was published previously in the Dutch Reformatorisch Dagblad on July 9th, 2021.



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