Change Sex, Change the World

Change Sex, Change the World April 3, 2013

I’m very grateful to Ken Hagerty – who has had an extraordinarily varied career, from serving in two Presidential administrations to organizing businesses to pressing for policy change to helping to pilot Renewing American Leadership – for the following guest post:


Sex and Western Civilization

By Ken Hagerty 

In his Pulitzer Prize winning book Guns, Germs, and Steel, American scientist Jared Diamond recounts a conversation he had with an inquisitive native leader in New Guinea. “Why is it,” the man wanted to know, “that you white people developed so much cargo and brought it to New Guinea, but my people had little cargo of our own?” Professor Diamond recognized the importance of the question and rephrases it for his readers: “Why did human development proceed at such different rates on different continents?” His book then follows various geographic and technological clues to that mystery through world history.

But important as geography and technology are, they explain only a small part of the disparity in rates of human development. Religion, culture, morality — and, yes, sex — have been even more fundamental factors in the rise of Western civilization. Another professor, the Jewish theologian, writer and talk show host Dennis Prager, published a candid and eye-opening article in 1993 that explains the crucial contribution that traditional Judeo-Christian sexual morality has made to the success of the West.

In “Judaism’s Sexual Revolution: Why Judaism Rejected Homosexuality,” Dr. Prager contends: “When Judaism demanded that all sexual activity be channeled into marriage, it changed the world. The Torah’s prohibition of non-marital sex quite simply made the creation of Western civilization possible.”

He provides a brief summary of his longer article: “The subsequent dominance of the Western world can largely be attributed to the sexual revolution initiated by Judaism and later carried forward by Christianity. This revolution consisted of forcing the sexual genie into the marital bottle. It ensured that sex no longer dominated society, heightened male-female love and sexuality (and thereby almost alone created the possibility of love and eroticism within marriage), and began the arduous task of elevating the status of women.

“It is probably impossible for us, who live thousands of years after Judaism began this process, to perceive the extent to which undisciplined sex can dominate man’s life and the life of society. Throughout the ancient world, and up to the recent past in many parts of the world, sexuality infused virtually all of society.”

As our nation struggles to clarify the status of same-sex relationships, it’s all too easy to ignore the fact that the foundation of America’s social, economic and military success has been our society’s broad, voluntary commitment to Judeo-Christian morality. That moral consensus has been the key to America’s exceptionalism. As C.S. Lewis explains in The Problem of Pain: “The road to the promised land runs past Sinai” — Sinai being the mountain where God gave the moral law to Moses.

Much of the current debate over same-sex relationships turns on the difference between the legal and economic accommodations already provided by civil unions, versus the moral and religious affirmation implied by the term “marriage.” Civil unions are fine. Mandating the recognition of same sex marriage by steamrolling over the religious doctrines and beliefs of a majority of Americans is not. Genuine morality is grounded in religion. Neither morality nor religion can be legislated — nor dictated by judicial fiat. They are not determined by public opinion polls.

In the Proposition 8 case now before the Supreme Court, the people of California voted to preserve their moral code and their traditional definition of marriage. Overruling their decision would allow unelected judges to impose their religious and moral views on citizens who are explicitly guaranteed the “free exercise” of their faith by the First Amendment. This is exactly how a free people can lose their freedom and their voluntary pluralism. No society is truly free without unhindered freedom of religion.

The great British statesman Edmund Burke wrote: “Men are qualified for civil liberty in exact proportion to their disposition to put moral chains on their own appetites…Society cannot exist unless a controlling power upon the will and appetite is placed somewhere; and the less of it there is within, the more there must be without. It is ordained in the eternal constitution of things that men of intemperate minds cannot be free. Their passions forge their fetters.”

Dennis Prager concludes his insightful article on sex and the rise of the West by observing: “The acceptance of homosexuality as the equal of heterosexual marital love signifies the decline of Western civilization as surely as the rejection of homosexuality and other non-marital sex made the creation of this civilization possible.”

Ken Hagerty is a lawyer and public policy strategist in Washington, D.C.


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  • mediabob

    Great stuff, but one point that needs refining is that “civil unions are fine.” No, they’re not. The state should never incentivize sin, and when it does, the moral principle is lost, and then the war. Civil unions always lead to demands for same-sex “marriage.”

    • Donalbain

      If the state should not incentivise sin, then does that mean it should remove tax exempt status from sinful religious organisations? And what about sinful wedding ceremonies that involve the worship of other gods? Should the state recognise those? And what about second marriages after a divorce?

  • flyaway

    Right on!

  • Very nice!

    Here’s something on a related note, if anyone cares to read:

  • Dorfl

    Is it just for me that the link leads to a page selling printed t-shirts?

  • Dorfl

    I don’t know about Dennis Prager’s text, but I can see several problems with Ken Hagerty’s reasoning.

    “That moral consensus has been the key to America’s exceptionalism.”

    I agree that America is exceptional – to Americans. Just like – to me –
    Scandinavia is the best place is the world, and the cinnamon buns that
    my mother makes are the best. But treating ‘America is exceptional’ as a
    factual statement about the world, rather than an affirmation of
    patriotism by Americans, is obviously a mistake – which makes it
    completely misguided to discuss what did or did not contribute to making
    America exceptional.

    “Mandating the recognition of same sex marriage by steamrolling over the
    religious doctrines and beliefs of a majority of Americans is not.”

    This kind of argument is very much a double-edged sword. It only works
    as long as you are – in fact – the majority. Since support for same-sex
    marriage inched past 50 percent sometime during the last year, it can
    now be turned around. You are suddenly the ones who are trying to
    steamroll over the doctrines and beliefs of the majority of Americans.

    Of course, he immediately goes on to say:

    “Neither morality nor religion can be legislated — nor dictated by
    judicial fiat. They are not determined by public opinion polls.”

    So he seems to be trying to have his cake and eat it: If the majority
    oppose gay marriage, it would be wrong to steamroll over their beliefs.
    If the majority support gay marriage – well, morality isn’t determined
    by opinion polls anyway.

    • LouiseCA

      Morality is determined by the Lord and His wisdom. Common sense which is acquired after viewing the facts, validates that He is right.

      • Dorfl

        That may or may not be true. The problem with Hagerty’s argument remains:

        To him, morality seems to be determined by God or by popular opinion, depending on which one happens to agree with him at the moment.

  • joe_chip

    I’m a bit disappointed that instead of hearing from Ken Hagerty we instead got a huge helping of Dennis Prager, but whatever. Ken’s argument Re: Prop 8 is unconvincing in the extreme. About the vote to ban gay marriage in California, he writes:

    “Overruling their decision would allow unelected judges to impose their religious and moral views on citizens who are explicitly guaranteed the “free exercise” of their faith by the First Amendment.”

    So a “free exercise” of faith when it comes to denying the right to marriage for US citizens is fine. Funny, I was sure the First Amendment was talking about *exercising* your religion, not imposing it on others. How is this any different from Sharia Law? Where do the people actually affected, ie, those wanting to be in a same sex marriage, fit into all this? Gays should just be happy that the “Christians” didn’t vote to actually follow their Holy Book and put them to death, is that it? (Leviticus 20:13) Would that be “free exercise” as well?

    It is impossible to believe that Ken Hagerty would be tolerant if the citizens of Dearborn, Michigan (40k Arab-Americans) voted to ban “Christian” marriage, or if San Francisco voted to ban all marriages, gay and straight. So the question remains: Why should your religion prevent those who do not share it from enjoying the rights you take for granted?

    This civil rights battle has everything to do with loving your neighbor as yourself. I count numerous gay friends who, as life-long partners, are forced to live together in a cruel twilight-zone of half-rights, where I could get married tomorrow to a drunk woman I meet at the bar tonight. This unfairness must, and thankfully will, end.

    By the way… countries that have legalized SSM are not falling apart, on the contrary, they are doing just fine.

    • LouiseCA

      No, they’re not. They’re in chaos.

      There is no right to marry. Neither is there any right for any group of people to attempt to destroy the very bedrock of society, which is the traditional family structure.

      • Dorfl

        I’m from Sweden. We’ve had gay marriage since 2009 and a form of civil union since 1995. Things are going fine.

  • candeux

    “The subsequent dominance of the Western world can largely be attributed
    to the sexual revolution initiated by Judaism and later carried forward
    by Christianity….”

    Leaving aside for a moment whether the “dominance of the Western world” is a good thing, as well as whether Dr. Prager is correct in this analysis, it seems to me that we can tweak the model slightly without reverting to pre-Christian or pre-Jewish sexual norms. As I understand it, the issue was heterosexual men who were unsatisfied with their wives, or who visited male shrine prostitutes, or who wanted to violently violate other men, etc. Surely our current laws and taboos regarding adultery, prostitution, and rape can deal with these issues without having to turn back the clock on same-sex couples who want to declare their commitment by marrying. In other words, I’m not sure how allowing same-sex marriage will result in the release of the sexual “genie” from the bottle and men reverting to promiscuous and/or violent seuxal rampages.

    • LouiseCA

      And what do you have to say about the Australian lesbian who just made headlines admitting that homosexual marriage will indeed destroy the institution of marriage and that that is their real intention for wanting to marry?

      Amazingly, it bothers her that she is lying when she says that she wants to marry. Because she doesn’t want to marry, she wants marriage to be abolished.

      Do you really think this confused woman is alone in her bizarre beliefs?

      • candeux

        Unless you have some evidence to suggest that this view is widespread, then, yes, I think this represents the exception rather than the rule.

        I daresay there are plenty of heterosexuals out there who would like to do away with the institution of marriage, but that, too, is a fringe opinion that for the time being has no impact on either the Church or the State.

        In reality, people vote with their feet: they marry if they want and don’t marry if they don’t want. What the Australian woman wants is not to destroy marriage, but to define it in her own unique way. Those like her who want legal protection for their unusual configurations will probably always need to take care of that for themselves because it will be impossible to formulate a law that will cover their situations.

        In other words, I fail to see how legalizing same-sex marriage will destroy the institution of marriage. For Christians, marriage is something that God ordains, not the State, and will not be destroyed by whatever the State does. Moreoever, I don’t see civil marriage going anywhere either, since there will always be a need for legal rights and protections.

        Bottom line: her statements, while provocative and disturbing, are clearly meant to rattle some chains and are not to be taken seriously. By taking her seriously we have already given her too much credance.

  • DavidR

    Others have shredded Hagerty’s overall argument satisfactorily. I just want to offer two comments on the claim that “the foundation of America’s social, economic and military success has been our society’s broad, voluntary commitment to Judeo-Christian morality.”

    (1) Where exactly does Jesus (the Jewish originator of our Christian religion) fit in with regard to “military success”?

    (2) Stolen land and slave labor lie at the root of a good deal of America’s economic success. Is Hagerty saying that these are consistent with “Judeo-Christian morality”? Or maybe “morality” only means “sexual morality” for him?

    • LouiseCA

      The Bible has much to say about obeying our leaders and the law, about defense, and about rendering unto Ceasar what’s his. Maybe you should read it.

      It is because of Christianity that we have hospitals, modern medicine, laws, and culture.

      • DavidR

        Well, the Bible certainly speaks of obeying the Roman Emperor: Rom. 12:1-7; 1 Pet. 2:13-17. Of course, both Paul and Peter were martyred by the Emperor, which to my mind raises questions about the meaning of Christian obedience and its limits.

        As to defense, the OT does speak about it and so does the NT, and they say different things. For me, Christianity is believing in Jesus as Son of God, Savior, and Lord, and therefore accepting him as teacher and pattern for our lives, and as criterion for biblical truth. His teaching, of course, was not to defend ourselves but to act in self-giving love–the kind of love he practiced–even for our enemies (Matt. 5:38-47). The second mile, for instance, was an act of love for Jesus’ and his audience’s national enemies, the Roman soldiers occupying their land.

        “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Caesar, once again, was the foreign enemy of Jesus and his people. But more to the point, what, in our Judeo-Christian world view, is not God’s? In particular, are not we ourselves God’s, being made in God’s image? Caesar minted coins with his image on them, and, as I read this, Jesus said to give them back to Caesar and to put ourselves utterly and entirely at the service of God alone.

        No doubt Christianity is responsible for the development of hospitals. (I’ve often wondered what an atheist is to do when given the choice among St. Francis, Presbyterian, and Mt. Sinai. 🙂 ) Maybe modern medicine in general too. By the same token, I’ve often been struck by the fact that socialism originated in the Judeo-Christian West, with its prophetic call for justice for the poor, rather than elsewhere.

        As for laws and culture, those that exist in countries with a strong history of Christianity (the U.S., for instance, western and eastern Europe, Russia, Ethiopia) surely have been influenced by something like Christianity (though hardly in full obedience to Christ’s teaching). OTOH, of course, laws and culture also existed in Egypt, Assyria, Sumeria, India, China, and elsewhere long before Christianity.

        Sorry for the length of this; I’m kind of a chatterbox, and opinionated too. One last thing: I try not to make assumptions about what other people have read or thought; let me ask you, of your kindness, not to make assumptions about me.

  • mountainguy

    Ok Mr Hagerty, with all your references to american exceptionalism, one might ask whether your argument should make sense to christians outside the USA… frankly, we should be more worried about USA military success than about gays getting married in California

    • LouiseCA

      If America continues on the path that she’s going, she won’t need to worry about military success.

  • jcon526

    I think it is helpful to note that the much-lauded tradition of marriage was compromised when God allowed his people to get divorces, because of their hard-heartedness, as Jesus spoke. That’s not to mention the multiple wives and concubines that many kings took, instances of incest, and other practices that are generally frowned upon.

    I mean, as much as I’d like to believe that marriage played a major factor in stemming sexual anarchy, the institution alone hardly kept the Israelites well-behaved.

    At any rate, I’d be careful on lauding marriage as the panacea of a civilization at
    the expense of dismissing so many other factors like military might,
    style of government, sustainable economic systems, and the like.

    But faithfully speaking, I believe that the survival of nations has more to do with the fact that Lord will have mercy on whom He will have mercy, and less to do with our noble laws and traditions. Even Paul said that sin is empowered by the law.

  • Y. A. Warren

    The day that municipalities allowed clergy to legitimatize legal contracts, such as domestic partnerships, the door was open to a combining of church with state. Both the domestic partnership and the religious covenants of marriage would, in my opinion, be greatly improved by a distinction between the two. I believe it is high time this issue is addressed.

  • msallyjones

    Not so fast there, Mr. Ken ” forcing the sexual genie into the marital bottle” Hagerty. That’s exactly what SSM does. It commits two people to confining their sexual relations to each other. In other words taming the sexual impulse so energy is turned toward creating a stable society and culture and not sexual chaos. Your analogy is not only inappropriate it’s self serving.

    And give me a break about about your idiotic myth of elevating women’s status. Christianity and Judaism are both patriarchal religions. Women elevated women with no help from either religion.

    • LouiseCA

      You are incorrect..Christianity elevated the status of women.

  • LouiseCA

    Then you got ordained for the wrong reasons. One should only get ordained if they are led by God to do so.