Progressive culture is a dangerous religion

The new gods of sex and the self

In a response to our recent event with Judith Butler, Olivia Fane offers her view on the progressive movement. No culture is either true or untrue. Culture is a shared narrative; one that should be judged not on whether it is true or not, but on how much people thrive within it. Money, power, sex, gender, and the self, have been turned into new gods for us to either worship or rage against. Progressives are not thriving, argues Fane.


This is the curious thing about our progressive culture as promoted by Judith Butler et al. Unlike other intellectuals who attempt some kind of bird’s eye view, who ask questions like why? and where from? and are happy to compare and contrast one culture with another, the progressive intellectual believes, I’m quite certain of it, that the culture they espouse and promote is in an important way ‘true’. Not only do they write and talk politically, with words like ‘power’, ‘equality’ and ‘vulnerable minorities’ peppering their discourse, but quasi-religiously, as they imagine a time ahead when all things will be good and right and equal – which means chucking out the old Christian-Judaic values, and replacing them with their own.

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I yearn for debate, as in, what are people’s actual experience of being a gender? Would that experience be different from culture to culture – as in, the Russians think of young men as hormonal, irrational, moody, tearful, and might that stereotype make a male Russian teenager simply conform to expectations as he grows up? To what extent are we simply the product of the values and norms of our peers? There are so many exciting questions to be asked – and yet, where are those questions?  Where are the academics asking them? Would they be cancelled if they dared?

If progressive culture is a religion, it demands faith. If a child questions his gender and sexuality, we must simply applaud and listen. It is also a proselytizing one, and the word must be spread to every corner of the globe. Were the ten commandments ever debated? No, they were simply obeyed. If you are not with us, you’re against us, and you are a bad person. Judith Butler should remember Xenophon (400 BC), who understood that the gods of the Ethiopians are flat-nosed and black, while the gods of the Thracians have blue eyes and red hair. Isn’t progressive culture just a hotline to American academic institutions, now consulted with as much deference as the Delphic Oracle used to be?


We live in capitalist times. Our minds have been forged: money and power are what matter.


In a hundred years’ time it will be easier to see the arc from Other to Self significantly more clearly. Once, human beings saw themselves as beholden to Other. They believed in gods who gave them rain and sun.  They believed in the appeasement of those gods, who might, on a whim, bring about a drought and a famine if it so suited them. The God of the New Testament was kinder, was even equated with Love, but nonetheless expected obedience and prayer. Then the Enlightenment came along and man became central to his destiny. The sciences flourished, nature was harnessed – nowadays so well we can even put hormones in bottles to pursue our peculiar human interests - and these last two hundred years have seen the death knell of Other and the relentless pursuit of Self, in all his/her/their glory.


No culture is either right or wrong. A culture is merely a shared narrative, and we live in a time where the old and the new are vying for supremacy.


It was Havelock Ellis who suggested that once we master contraception, we can usher in a new era for humankind: sex, he suggested, had the potential to become ‘a new religion’. He was prophetic: nowadays, in pursuit of our sexual identity and the exploration of those practices which afford us maximum pleasure, we have actually forgotten that sex was once upon a time associated with procreation, and yes, that the reason women got lumbered with child-rearing was because they had breasts which made milk and men didn’t. We bandy about that hideous word ‘patriarchy’ as though there was some terrible conspiracy against women by wicked men who never gave a second thought to their female partners. Yet there is ample evidence that a man recognised his own children in the earliest of cultures – mother, father and water are the three oldest words common to all languages that we know of. The recognition and dare I say it, love of the woman who gave birth to them, would have been natural to him.

We live in capitalist times. Our minds have been forged: money and power are what matter. Most cultures in most eras have given the sexes complementary roles for the good of society as a whole, but in our capitalist mindset that’s not good enough. Men and women must compete side by side for the resources on offer. Money can be measured out in a way that God or Harmony or Peace simply can’t be – even the word ‘equality’ can only make sense in a money-orientated society. As for those women who decide they wish to spend one day a week looking after their children (because they love them and want to spend time with them), this is deemed ‘unpaid work’. Women are increasing the notorious gender pay gap by such behaviour. They must be re-educated, to show them what really matters.

No culture is either right or wrong. A culture is merely a shared narrative, and we live in a time where the old and the new are vying for supremacy. Yet cultures can be put side by side and judged: where are people thriving? Where do people’s lives make sense to them? It seems to me that progressive academics have a good deal of work to do to catch up.


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