One question I often get from parents and other adults in the church has to do with the wide acceptance of gender ideology among Gen Z students. Parents ask, “how can it be so popular to think that someone who ‘feels’ like a woman but has a male body actually *is* a woman? How can they so blithely accept the notion that you can be a ‘woman trapped in a man’s body’?”
Carl Trueman wrote a whole 400 page book answering that question. It’s a great resource. But briefly: we in the church tend to think of issues like that on the wrong level, on the surface. We tackle those issues on the moral and policy levels: is same sex marriage right or wrong? Is it sinful? What should bathroom policy be for transgender individuals? Hear me: those issues are important. We need solid thinking there. But those issues are downstream from more fundamental questions of anthropology--what does it mean to be human?--and metaphysics--what is reality?
Over the last few hundred years there has been a profound shift in those fundamental arenas, and the shift has accelerated the last 50 years or so. Pretty much all Westerners now conceive of identity in a historically unique way, and the youth follow suit.
Most people think that identity and meaning are found by looking within and consulting one’s desires/feelings/personality--especially desires of a sexual nature--and then authenticity demands living out what you find inside publically. The public must affirm and aide the individual in this endeavor, or face charges of discrimination.
In other words, “you do you.” You and you alone get to decide “who you are,” and that is cashed out in inner terms. Who you are is equated with what you find inside, especially the sexual desires.
This was a long time in coming and has a long philosophical trail, weaving through the likes of Freud, Rousseau, and Foucault, but here we are.
This is how almost all youth, secular and Christian, think of identity. This is how most adults look at it too. This is the constant drum beat of our culture, in schools, media, movies, etc. Just look at almost any Disney movie for example after example of this. Almost any Disney movie I can think of, even the ones that we in the church like because we hold them to be “family friendly,” like The Incredibles, are variations of the same narrative: a beleaguered and put upon individual has desires and dreams that are out of step with the larger society (family, town, etc), so the whole movie is their journey of liberation from that, and the society’s gradual realization that they need to live and let live.
This is our kids’ intellectual diet, so they conform to it.
Here’s the thing though: this is the camel’s nose in the tent. Once someone or an institution buys into this way of thinking about identity, it’s game over. The rest--from publicly funded trans surgery to abortion on demand--pretty much follows eventually as a logical consequence. It’s just a matter of time.
So if we want to combat the ideological craziness making the rounds today, we need to start there in our homes and churches. Give kids a solid foundation with which to think about identity. Identity is not wholly or even primarily self-chosen. We are too small to be able to do that. You ain’t Prometheus.
Rather, identity is a negotiation with outside forces, some of which are unchosen: The body, family, society, God, etc. Look up before looking within. That’s a much better way of going about it.