Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Cicero at Planet Fitness

An earlier version of this Worth Revisiting post was published March 15th, 2015 on the blog Nisi Dominus under the title "Cicero at the Gym"To enjoy the work of other faithful Catholic bloggers see Worth Revisiting Wednesday, hosted by Elizabeth Reardon at and Allison Gingras at

"Quo usque tandem abutere, Catilina, latrinis femineis nostris?"

O Tempora, O Mores!

Are we living in a neo-pagan culture?  One could argue that we are doing just that, or heading in that direction, given that our culture has largely abandoned God and Christianity.  If we are, then we Neo-pagans are in much sorrier shape than the Old Pagans ever were, because they had no access to the Revelation of Jesus Christ, but we do, and we are consciously rejecting it.  Along with Supernatural Truth, we are also increasingly abandoning even natural truths in a way that would have horrified the heathens of old.  Consider, for instance, what the Roman orator, philosopher, and writer Cicero has to say about what we would call Natural Law:

There is a true law, conformable to nature, universal, unchangeable, eternal, whose commands urge us to duty, and whose prohibitions restrain us from evil.  Whether it enjoins or forbids, the Good respect its injunctions, and the Wicked treat them with indifference.  This law cannot be contradicted by any other law, and it is not liable either to derogation or abrogation.  Neither the senate nor the people can give us any dispensation for not obeying this universal law of justice.  It needs no other expositor and interpreter than our own conscience.  It is not one thing at Rome and another at Athens; one thing today and another tomorrow; but in all times and nations this eternal law must forever reign, eternal and imperishable.  It is the sovereign master and emperor of all beings.  God himself is its author, its promulgator, its enforcer.  He who obeys it not, flies from himself, and does violence to the very nature of man.  For his crime he must endure the severest penalties hereafter, even if he avoid the usual misfortunes of the present life.

We live in a culture that no longer believes that: today's conventional wisdom is that we can make reality whatever we want it to be (we are like God, as the serpent promises Eve in Genesis 3:5, “knowing good from evil”). We scoff at the pagan philosopher’s assertion that the natural law “cannot be contradicted by any other law”, and we are increasingly using the power of the state (the senate and the people, as Cicero would put it) to this impose Bold New World on those who won’t accept it willingly. If Cicero were to say today what he says above, he might find himself employing his prodigious rhetorical skills to defend himself from charges of "hate speech."

Intolerance Won't Be Tolerated

     The cutting edge of the new paganism, after all, is the question of what today is called "gender".  This is no longer a function of one's biological sex, but is an "identity" chosen by individuals that need not correspond to any external reality (which frees us from the tyranny of being either male or female, there now being dozens of genders from which we can choose).  Cicero never guessed how truly a man might fly from himself, and do “violence to the very nature of man.”
   If this were simply a matter of people calling themselves what they want, it would be sad and unfortunate.  It seems, however, that those who create their own reality cannot tolerate any opposition, even the unspoken opposition of those who simply live in accord with a more traditional understanding of the nature of things.  That's why we see cases such as this one (link) in which the highest court in the state of Maine ruled that "School officials violated state anti-discrimination law when they would not allow a transgender fifth-grader to use the girls' bathroom."  There is no law, apparently, forbidding discrimination against the vast majority of girls who don't want a boy in their bathroom (the reporter refers to the student in question as "she" throughout the article, but does concede toward the end that the student "is a biological male who identified as a girl beginning at age 2").  In a similar case involving adults, “The head of Ontario’s human rights commission” defended “the right of ‘transgendered’ men to use women’s changing rooms in response to a woman’s complaint that she was ogled” by a man who was not, shall we say, adhering to traditional norms of modesty in his attire or his behavior (link, for mature audiences only).

A Non-Intimidating, Welcoming Environment . . . For Some

   Now it has gone a step further.  We heard last week (link) about a woman who was banned from her local Planet Fitness gym because she complained about a man (who "identified as a woman") in her locker room, and warned other female patrons of his presence.  The gym declared her behavior "inappropriate  and disruptive to other members", and so she was asked to leave, since “Planet Fitness is committed to creating a non-intimidating, welcoming environment for our members”.  Except for female members who object to undressing in the presence of naked men. Apparently, there is nothing inappropriate or disruptive about a man (whatever he thinks of himself) invading an area where women are accustomed to changing and showering.
   It may be that Chesterton didn't really say, "when people cease to believe in God, they don't believe in nothing, they believe in anything."  It perfectly describes, however, what we're seeing in our society today, and is a reminder that "our struggle is not against flesh and blood" (Ephesians 6:12), but is at root a battle in the spiritual realm, which is why spiritual and natural Truth rise and fall together.  And so we must continue to oppose unreason with reason, but also offer prayer and sacrifice in response to unbelief and, of course, always engage our opponents in a spirit of love.


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