CULTURE: by Bill MuehlenbergNews Weekly
Where to now in the Culture Wars?
, December 16, 2000
In the light of two new books attacking traditional morality and celebrating the sexual revolution, Bill Muehlenberg asks "what next?" in the Culture Wars.
Who said the following: "Even in purely nonreligious terms, homosexuality represents a misuse of the sexual faculty and, in the words of one.... educator, of 'human construction.' It is a pathetic little second-rate substitute for reality, a pitiable flight from life. As such it deserves fairness, compassion, understanding, and, when possible, treatment. But it deserves no encouragement, no glamorisation, no rationalisation...."
The answer: not someone you would expect.
While many possible candidates come to mind, the quote actually comes from Time magazine, January 21, 1966. I wager such quotes would never be found in Time, or Newsweek, or the Bulletin, or any other major publication today. All of which illustrates the point of this article: a remarkable shift in thinking has occurred in most Western nations over the past 30 or 40 years.
Values held near and dear just a generation ago have been turned on their heads. Vices have become virtues and virtues vices. Nowhere is this better exemplified than in the radical transformation of Western opinion concerning the nature of homosexuality.
The late B.A. Santamaria was wont to point out that the radical cultural revolution of the late 60s and early 70s has had as profound an effect on the Western world as any of the other great revolutions, including the Russian and Industrial Revolutions. The consensus of centuries concerning what was socially good and acceptable has collapsed in a heap in just a few short decades. The triumph of gay activism is a major case in point.
While homosexuality was a "love that dared speak not its name" prior to the 1960s, today we find the exact opposite. There is no feature of modern Western culture that is not saturated with the rhetoric and reality of the homosexual rights campaign. Legislation is being overturned, terminology overhauled, relationships redefined, and morality - both public and private - radically revised.
How is it that a small and ignored minority has become the "flavour of the month?" How is it that a lifestyle universally condemned throughout most of history has now become chic and cool?
How is it that societies that used to put the common good ahead of the desires of individuals now cater to every noisy minority group? How is it that societies that made the institutions of marriage and family the cornerstone of public policy have all but decimated those institutions, and now propose homosexual marriage and the like?
The general answer can be found in how successful the counter-culture of the 60s was in capturing all the major institutions of power and influence. The media, academia, the political sphere, and even sections of the Christian churches, have been effectively co-opted by the radicalism of the 60s.
A more specific answer can be found in a revealing new book about the cultural battle that is unfolding around us. Living Out Loud* by Graham Willett is a history of gay and lesbian activism in Australia. It is the first major historical account of how the gay community emerged from next to nothing to become one of the major movers and shakers in the new millennium.
While the entire book is a fascinating account of how Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci's prescription of winning the revolution through the capture of social institutions has been realised, the overall conclusion of the book is the most revealing aspect of this historical account: the battle is nearly won, and it has been won far more easily and quickly than anyone could have imagined.
Indeed, so successful has the homosexual revolution been, that Willett suggests that the main job for the homosexual community is a mopping up operation, with internal bickering perhaps being its greatest problem at the moment.
A few quotes help to illustrate his optimism. He begins his book by noting "how very different" attitudes are today compared to not so very long ago: "Anti-gay ideas still exist in society, of course, but a basic liberal tolerance is the dominant mood.... It is a startling indication of just how far we have come that the moral crusaders' demands are widely regarded as silly and unfair."
His concluding chapter offers more of the same: "Never have homosexuality, the gay and lesbian community and their issues been more visible or more seriously dealt with by the mainstream, or more entrenched in social and political life.... One of the great changes of the past 40 years has been the growing visibility of lesbians and gay men in Australian society.... [t]his visibility is reinforced by the role of the mainstream media."
Indeed, so successful has the gay offensive been that Willett argues that the real problem for the homosexual community may be internal fragmentation due to its own diversity and acceptance.
A number of snapshots of this successful revolution can be provided. Willett notes, for example, that when the first Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras took place in June 1978, many of the marchers were arrested by the police, and the Sydney Morning Herald even published a complete list of the names and occupations of those arrested.
Today, of course, the SMH is the most left/liberal of all the major dailies in Australia (followed closely by the Melbourne Age), giving regular support to and promotion of the homosexual cause.
On the political front, Willett shows how the Whitlam Labor Government was the real catalyst for change concerning the fortunes of homosexuals in Australia. It set in motion a number of ideological and legislative changes from which Australia has never looked back.
Says Willett, "If there is a decisive moment in the rise of the new liberalism to dominance in Australian politics and society, it came with the victory of Gough Whitlam and his programme within the Australian Labor Party.... [t]he major breakthrough came at the 1969 Federal Conference, where progressive policies were adopted on a whole raft of social issues."
Of great interest is the role of the churches in all of this. The gist of much church reaction was appeasement or surrender, even support of the homosexual agenda.
Some denominations did put up a fight, and the Festival of Light is singled out as a major source of resistance. But many church bodies actually committed themselves to the support of the gay agenda. As Willett remarked in an interview with a gay newspaper recently, "The churches have been all over the place. They were often among the first to speak out for law reform and tolerance. These days we hear more from the noisy minority who hate gay people. But in the end, the churches don't have a lot of political clout in Australia, thank God!"
Academia also played a prominent role in the rise of homosexual activism. Of course the universities have long had a reputation for radicalism, but it was the Australian Union of Students (AUS) that really acted as a vanguard of the revolution. Over the course of the '60s and '70s, Willett notes, this national body became more and more politicised. Its "most important contribution" was its organisation of the National Homosexual Conference in Melbourne in August 1975.
It also launched the Homosexual Research Project in 1977. The formation of the Melbourne Gay Teachers group in the same period was another of a number of pro-gay initiatives occurring in the universities. All of these developments were small in themselves, and often "went entirely unnoticed. But the cumulative effect was impressive".
Law reform also deserves a mention. Willett documents how effective the homosexual lobby was in getting legislation changed to advance the gay cause. Victoria and NSW led the way. In Victoria during the '70s the Homosexual Law Reform Coalition (HLRC) made great headway, by means of a "sophisticated and well-managed lobbying effort," at times with the assistance of the Communist Party and the trade unions. Willett summarises: "It was a remarkable few years. Seemingly out of nowhere a ground-swell of opinion had been channelled by the HLRC and its friends into a reform package that was widely hailed as the best in the English-speaking world."
NSW quickly followed suit. The Gay Rights Lobby (GRL) worked tirelessly in the early '80s to achieve similar ends. Willett expresses surprise at how quickly such victory came: "In New South Wales, conservative Laborites had been forced by the largest and most sustained mobilisation of gay people yet seen in Australia to compromise their strongly held beliefs."
Numerous other examples could be produced. But the overwhelming impression one gets from reading this book is how quickly and easily most of Australia capitulated to the demands of the homosexual activists.
Thus we have a story not only of the success of homosexual activism, but of the failure of traditional social and cultural institutions to mount any kind of rear-guard action.
However, it needs to be pointed out that not everyone shares Willett's views that the battle is largely won, that the activists are home and hosed. Another Australian writer has also released a new book. But he sees the small pockets of resistance to the new liberalism as both formidable and diabolical. I speak of David Marr's The High Price of Heaven.
This book actually appeared a year ago, but a brand new edition has just emerged, containing a new chapter entitled "The Hand of Salvation". In this chapter Marr writes with fear and loathing of the new forces of evil in the world, the renewed Christian Right in Australia.
In the earlier edition he had, of course, bitterly attacked the National Civic Council, the Australian Family Association, the Catholic Church "the enemies of pleasure and freedom" as he calls them. In this chapter he has uncovered some new demons to exorcise. The AFA and Salt Shakers get especially rough treatment.
Peter Stokes, the executive director of Salt Shakers, is called a "Christian warrior," "a spin doctor for Christ," and a "huckster". He says Stokes is "a model morals campaigner - powered by computer, quoted by newspapers, determined to fight any reform that might make life easier for those who live outside his narrow definition of Christian virtue."
But wait, there's more: "Hatred of homosexuality is at the heart of his ministry". Now I know Peter Stokes, and I know that he does not hate homosexuals. But I do know that anyone who reads this book could easily find one word to describe its tone and that of its author: hate.
Marr's venom can be found on almost every page of this book; he lavishly pours his contempt upon anyone or anything that disagrees with him. Look at the number of pages he devotes to the likes of Brian Harradine, George Pell or Fred Nile, as he subjects them to relentless character assassination.
And those involved in groups like the AFA, Festival of Light and Salt Shakers are treated with equal contempt. They are called "ruthless Christian warriors," "religious zealots," "bigots," and worse.
He believes the "Churches remain the most resilient, most respected and the best-connected lobby in the nation. Sin is their business. Heaven is their aim. Government is their partner." Anyone familiar with actual church life in Australia, however, might beg to differ.
Marr of course is an interesting character. He was brought up Anglican, was converted at a Christian camp, but later repudiated the whole lot and embraced the homosexual lifestyle.
He says he ditched his faith in 1965 at Sydney University while in a philosophy course that raised the problem of evil and the question of God's goodness.
He has been getting back at the church ever since. (He is now a writer for the SMH, which helps make my case of the complete turn-around of it and so many other media outlets.)
The stridency and viciousness of Marr's work shows just how intensely the cultural war is being waged in Australia. While Willett may be right that much of the homosexual agenda in particular, and the new liberal agenda in general has been triumphant, Marr shows that the animus and hostility to the old ways of thinking continue to bubble along.
And this is strange, given how successful the Left has been at toppling most of the old verities; one would think that popping champagne corks would be the order of the day.
But some cultural warriors evidently are not happy without a fight, so the old dinosaurs of faith and family have to keep being resurrected and targetted.
Thus he continues to assail the old demons like Harradine and Nile and Watters and Pell, while vilifying the new ones, like Stokes and Muehlenberg. The psychological reasons for Marr's bitterness and anger cannot here be tackled.
But his reactions to those who still uphold faith and family values shows that there are many for whom the culture wars are a permanent fixture.
And if the other side feels this way about the battle, then perhaps our side should as well. That is, maybe more people who think family and faith and marriage and love and democracy and decency matter, should get a bit passionate as well.
Maybe we need to learn from the Marrs of the world. There are some things in life worth arguing about. There are some things in life worth fighting for.
These two books, written by two men aligned to the same causes, see the culture wars in a slightly different light. Willett believes (rightly, I think) that the opponents of homosexuality have basically put up the white flag. Various vocal minority groups have engaged in battle, and have been quite successful.
That is because they have encountered too little opposition. As a result, centuries of tradition and values have been jettisoned almost overnight. As Willett puts it, "The triumph of liberal tolerance is now more or less complete".
David Marr, however, believes that the old enemies, especially the Christian Right, are alive and well, a force to be reckoned with. Indeed, the Christian Right almost seems invincible from Marr's perspective (perhaps deep down he really does believe God is on their side).
Peter Craven, however, in a review of the first edition of his book, is closer to the mark when he says Marr "overplays his hand here" by putting "an extraordinary weight on the power of the Christian lobby".
But whatever the strength of the two sides, the battles continue. And as Willett makes clear, one side is doing a good deal better than the other. Thus the lessons of history continue to elude us.
The warning of Edmund Burke has gone unheeded. When he said, "All that is needed for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing," he could have been speaking directly in Australians in the new millennium.
* Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2000.
**Sydney: Allen & Unwin, 2000.
***See Peter Westmore's review in News Weekly, 25 March 2000, p. 23.