A century ago G.K. Chesterton prophetically wrote, “The next great heresy is going to be simply an attack on morality, and especially on sexual morality. . . . The madness of tomorrow is not in Moscow [Chesterton is here alluding to Marxism] but much more in Manhattan.”
Heresy is different than apostasy. An apostate simply and clearly breaks with his faith while a heretic claims to be in faith, but so changes the ideas or terms of faith as to give it a different reality. If Chesterton were alive today I think he would believe that many have heretically reinterpreted love.
Carl Trueman wrote about this last fall in First Things. He said that we ‘take anti-Christian sentiments and reinterpret them as fulfillments of Christian faith.’ For example, in places where our Christian ancestors would have said we were being selfish, we now say we are loving ourselves by advocating for ourselves; in places where our Christian ancestors would have said our silence denotes a cowardly refusal to confront evil, we now say we are being tolerant or open-minded. My purpose here isn’t to say that our Christian ancestors were all right and we are all wrong, but rather to show that there has been shift—there has been a real embracing of things as goods that prior generations considered evil.
The clearest example of this has been a “rejection of Christian sexual morality as a fulfillment of the Christian imperative of love”—things like no-fault divorce, which allows any party to dissolve the marriage covenant for any reason at any time, embracing same-sex marriage, and being “non-judgmental” about promiscuity. These things would have been considered sinful by every prior generation of Christians and yet many today consider it moral progress to embrace them. I have had multiple conversations and read multiple articles by Christian writers that have said America is becoming “more Christian and loving” even as church attendance and religious commitment decline. By “more Christian and loving” they mean we have become more tolerant, less judgmental, etc., especially in regards to things related to gender and sexuality.
But the sexual revolution has not been loving. For more than a half century we have been collectively deconstructing the institutions that have regulated love, things like marriage and the family. We have done this in the name of love, but the sexual immorality that we have justified in the name of love, along with the technology we have used to try to replace true love, has led us to the highest levels of loneliness, self-hatred, depression, etc. in history. I know I write about this a lot, but it is worth noting: our children are the richest, and arguably the freest in all of human history, and yet their levels of loneliness, anxiety, and depression are absolutely staggering.
In an attempt to fix this, instead of repenting we have become a therapeutic society that seeks to assuage all the pain that our lack of virtue is causing; this in turn has led us to redefine love as affirmation—i.e. in order to love someone we must affirm their definition of marriage, affirm that they can choose their own gender, affirm their right to dress the way they want, spend their money the way they want, etc., etc. The idea is that if we all do what we want and all tell one another that they are fantastic and that “everything is awesome” then we’ll all be happy. Given this understanding, love is pretty simple—give people what they want and affirm them so long as they don’t harm anyone. This is a radical (and heretical!) redefinition of love!
As Tim Keller puts it, “Ancient wisdom taught that you would thrive as a person only if you put the needs of your family and community above your own self-interest. . . . We are told to “be true to ourselves,” to decide who we want to be and then to demand that our community and family recognize and honor that regardless of its impact on relationships. Today we sacrifice the good of the group for the absolute freedom of the individual. The result is an increasing number of people who feel disconnected and lonely.”
A license to do whatever one wants and encouraging people to define their own identity and reality is not Christian love. True love is not simple affirmation; true love requires that we sacrificially work toward the real good of another. In order to work for the real good of another we need to know what that real good is, even when they themselves don’t recognize it!