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The real me

Supporters of traditional marriage will need more than rational arguments to win

Issue: "Orphaned no more," July 30, 2011

One of the more compelling arguments in favor of same-sex marriage is that it rights an ancient wrong: the denial to an entire class of people of the right to live in accord with their true selves, with the same rights as others who are more favored. Sexuality (the argument goes) is as much a part of who one is as skin color. The prejudice against biracial marriage fell years ago; isn't it time for the bias against same-sex marriage to go as well?

But one's "true self" is a tougher proposition than a physical characteristic. Some homosexuals believe they were hard-wired from birth: "God made me this way." Others believe they were led or even misled. Others float between a sexual preference for men and for women, or both at the same time, or even a feeling that in their inmost being they are some other gender than they were physically born.

That's the problem with psychology vs. physiology: It's harder to pin down. What is my "true self"? Is it located in the mind and constructed from thought, or located in the gut and driven by instinct? Do I find it by holding on, or by letting go?

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Joshua Knobe, associate professor of cognitive science and philosophy at Yale, is wondering about that. "In Search of the True Self," posted in the New York Times online Stone Forum (for contemporary philosophy), suggests that it's impossible to separate a person's inmost being from his biases. For example, he posed the following proposition to participants in a study: Jim used to be homosexual. However, now Jim is married to a woman and no longer has sex with men. Participants were then asked how much they agreed with this conclusion: At his very essence, there was always something deep within Jim, calling him to stop having sex with men, and then this true self emerged. Self-identified conservatives agreed; self-identified liberals didn't. Other propositions and conclusions more in line with liberal thinking produced a similar result, only reversed. Dr. Knobe asks, "Does our ordinary notion of a 'true self' simply pick out a certain part of the mind? Or is this notion actually wrapped up in some inextricable way with our own values and ideals?"

About 1,700 years ago, Augustine of Hippo delved into his own mind and memory to write the world's first psychological biography. Confessions charts a journey through several "true selves," from the hedonist to the Manichean dualist to the dedicated seeker of truth who couldn't live up to his own standards. At this point in the narrative he reflects the dilemma of Romans 7:22-23: "I delight in the law of God, in my inner being [true self], but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind." Two Augustines, two warring wills. He was almost driven to despair when, in a friend's garden, he heard a child's voice chanting, "Take and read! Take and read!" A scroll of Paul's letter to the Romans was nearby. He snatched it up and read: "But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh" (Romans 13:14). In that moment, his unruly flesh and his rationalizing intellect made peace in Christ.

There's a rational, nonreligious case for keeping marriage between a man and a woman, but selves ruled by instinct are unlikely to hear it. There's a valid emotional appeal to "what's best for the children," but intellectual selves are likely to reject it. Tides of public opinion come and go, and it seems the tide is running against traditional marriage. The real battle is where it always was: within each individual heart. Everyone, no matter how confident they seem, struggles with who they really are. A complex weave of nature and nurture? A patchwork of advertising and catchphrases? Who knows?

God does. Our lives are hidden in Him (Colossians 3:3). When you encounter these divided souls, don't just give them arguments-give them Christ.

Email Janie B. Cheaney

Janie B. Cheaney
Janie B. Cheaney

Janie lives in Missouri, is a columnist for WORLD, writes novels for young adults, and is the author of the Wordsmith creative writing series. She also reviews books at Follow Janie on Twitter @jbcheaney.


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