The game was scoreless in the second quarter of the 1929 Rose Bowl when Georgia Tech’s John Thomason fumbled. California’s Roy Riegels recovered the ball and took off for the Tech goal line. But suddenly Riegels did something that forever earned him a place in football folklore. What happened next is the reason why the California Supreme Court ought to reverse its recent decision in giving homosexuals the right to marry.
After scooping up Thomason’s fumble, Riegels ran a few yards but then turned and reversed course. Suddenly, he was in the clear, but racing toward his own end zone. California’s star halfback Ben Lom chased Riegels, trying to turn him around and finally tackling him at Cal’s 1-yard line. The Cal coach, Nibs Price, ordered his shaken squad to punt on the next play, but Georgia Tech blocked the kick for a safety. Those 2 points proved decisive when Georgia Tech went on to an 8-7 victory.
From time immemorial, there have been rules governing the game of life. Philip Rieff said one set of rules called fate governed the “first culture” stretching from Athens to the enchanted mysticisms of aboriginal Australia. A second set of rules called faith governed the “second culture” that stretched from Judaism to Christianity to Islam.1 You can still find either culture today, but the important point is that both societies were dependent on a vertical relationship with the sacred – a set of rules. Eventually, the second culture began to win over the first culture, especially in its view of marriage.
In the second culture, marriage was a social convention under a sacred canopy: “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one” (Ephesians 5:31-33). I can’t say it enough – marriage was a social institution governed by a sacred tradition. The new culture said God is holy, meaning “other” or fundamentally different. So marriage became male and female, two people who are similar yet fundamentally different. This “second culture” view of marriage overwhelmed the Greco-Roman “first culture” where bisexuality and homosexuality were common.2 Homosexual unions misrepresented this new sacred order. They were running in the wrong direction.
But now we’re shifting to a new “anti-culture that would never address sacred order” to determine social conventions, wrote Rieff.3 This even shifts the chief role of religion, which used to be to provide a sense of life’s overarching meaning. In the “third culture” it’s now an underwhelming “therapeutic” message “with nothing at stake beyond a maniputable sense of well-being.”4 If homosexual marriage feels right, so be it. Appeals to a vertical relationship with the sacred are laughed off as fictions. It’s unprecedented said Rieff. It reduces marriage to merely love, long-term relationships, or whatever you want. This is why the California Court’s decision is a reversal of the game’s rules.
Even a columnist who is a Christian says he’s now reversed course. Once opposed to homosexual marriage, E. J. Dionne now believes society has “a powerful interest in building respect for long-term relationships and that gay marriage underscores how important commitment is. Prohibiting members of one part of our population from making a public and legal commitment to each other does not strengthen marriage; it weakens it.”5 Not quite. Prohibiting homosexual marriage only weakens marriage if what I want trumps what God wills – a notion that makes mincemeat of the Lord’s Prayer. It’s no surprise then that the poet W. B. Yeats would pray that his daughter would pursue whatever she preferred – and call it heavenly.
I have walked and prayed for this young child…
Consider that, all heard driven hence,
The soul recovers radical innocence
And learns at last that it is self-delighting,
And that its own sweet will is Heaven’s will.6
When Roy Riegels was informed that he was running in the wrong direction, he didn’t retort, “Who are you to judge?” The fact is, Riegels later told reporters, “Somebody shoved me and I bounded right off into a tackler. In pivoting to get away from him, I completely lost my bearings.” From then on, he was Wrong Way Riegels. Philip Rieff said we’ve completely lost our bearings. “We believe we know something our predecessors did not: that we can live freely at last, enjoying all our senses – except the sense of the past.”7 That’s worth remembering this Memorial Day Monday.
This is why the California Supreme Court is a modern day Wrong Way Riegels. “If you are on the wrong road, progress means doing an about-face and walking back to the right road; and in that case the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive man,” C. S. Lewis said.8 Perhaps we should pray for a Ben Lom to run down the court and reverse this decision before it crosses the goal line and we lose the entire game.
1 John Seel, “It’s the Culture, Stupid! Reflections on the Challenge of Cultural Influence.” This is taken from an address first given at the Boston L’Abri and subsequently republished in Think, a publication of the Work Research Foundation.
2 Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity: How the Obscure, Marginal Jesus Movement Became the Dominant Religion in the Western World (San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco Edition, 1997), p. 117.
3 Philip Rieff, My Life Among the Deathworks: Illustrations of the Aesthetics of Authority. Kenneth S. Piver, General Editor, Volume I, Sacred Order/Social Order (Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2006), pp. 129-130.
4 Philip Rieff, The Triumph of the Therapeutic: Uses of Faith After Freud (Wilmington, DE: ISI Book, 2006), p. 10.
5 E. J. Dionne, “Two Road to Gay Marriage,” Washington Post, May 19, 2008, A17.
6 W. B. Yeats, “A Prayer for My Daughter”
7 Rieff, Triumph, p. 4.
8 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: Touchstone Edition, 1980), p. 36.