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Spiraling further downward

With transgender pageant winner, the Dutch reach a new low

Rikkie Kolle poses after winning the Miss Netherlands beauty pageant in Leusden on July 8. Photo by Evert Elzinga/ANP/AFP via Getty Images

Spiraling further downward
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God’s graces are new each day (Lamentations 3:22-23), but in our fallen, modern world so too are stories that strain reason and defy explanation. The last decade has seen Western culture broadly descend into a state of unreason and virtual insanity. A recent example is just a single data point, of course, and in many ways a trivial one at that. But the latest story celebrating the sexual confusion of our culture comes from the Netherlands, as for the first time the Dutch have crowned a transgender person as the nation’s Miss Universe representative.

To be sure, the frivolity of such beauty pageants is not the most pressing social challenge of our day. On the list of cultural institutions and traditions worth preserving, such spectacles probably shouldn’t rank very high. At the same time, the frequency of these kinds of stories do have something important to tell us about the current state of things in the West.

While this year’s contestant is the first transgender Miss Universe Netherlands, the Dutch have allowed transgender contestants since 2012. The first transgender competitor to represent a country in the event came from Spain in 2018.

WORLD Opinions contributor Carl Trueman opened his magisterial work, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, with the question of what would make the following statement intelligible: “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” What we are facing now is not just the need to make such claims understandable, but the broader cultural push towards celebrating and affirming such assertions.

Even if these kinds of dissonant cultural moments have multiplied in recent years, some prophetic voices already saw many of the modern consequences of human rebellion against God a century ago. To provide some historical analysis of the latest bizarre headline coming from the Netherlands, we need look no further than some prescient Dutchmen from the past.

Human beings who set themselves as the highest authority inevitably rebel against God’s ordinances and set up their own standards.

G. Groen van Prinsterer (1801-1876) was a Dutch historian and politician, most famous for his penetrating critique of the worldview animating the French Revolution. In his Unbelief and Revolution, Prinsterer connected the historical overthrow of the ancien régime to a philosophy of radical revolution against God’s order: “The Revolution, with its variety of schools of thought and its successive historical manifestations, is the consequence, the application, the unfolding of unbelief.” In a revolutionary perspective, human beings place themselves in God’s seat, and determine for themselves what is right, just, and good.

Against this radical, unbelieving philosophy Prinsterer, along with his follower Abraham Kuyper (1836-1920), inspired an “anti-revolutionary” movement, which became a political force in the Netherlands in the latter half of the 19th century. Kuyper was many things: a churchman, theologian, journalist, politician, and keen cultural critic. Applying this antirevolutionary perspective to what he called “modernism,” Kuyper warned that one feature of the modern revolt against God was its desire to undo the natural orders and institutions of human social life, particularly as regards marriage and family.

Against the natural diversity and variety of God’s created order, modernism imposed an artificial uniformity and sterility: “Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity.” Writing at the end of the 19th century Kuyper was able to predict the course of this modernistic worldview as it permeated schools, churches, political, and civic institutions.

Elsewhere Kuyper traced such developments to broader cultural decay, as he described a “phenomenon that is observed in all declining societies: namely, that nature itself allows its boundaries to become impure as females become mannish and men turn effeminate.” Kuyper’s own views of relations between the sexes is marked by his own times, certainly, and we might quibble or disagree vigorously with some of the dimensions of his analysis that are particularly grounded in Victorian-era sensibilities.

But the core of his diagnosis remains salient and has only become more prescient in the intervening century. Human beings who set themselves as the highest authority inevitably rebel against God’s ordinances and set up their own standards. And each individual person becomes his or her own god. This self-idolatry is not strictly a modern phenomenon, even if it has distinct characteristics given what is possible in today’s technologically advanced world: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 17:6).

What we need nowadays is less of a journey of self-discovery and affirmation and more of a desire to understand and affirm God’s will. Speaking of the significance of a divinely grounded moral order, Prinsterer put it well: “Without belief in God there is no basis for morality.” A culture of revolutionary unbelief will do far worse than awarding a beauty queen’s crown to a transgender person. But the triviality of the thing is no reason to celebrate it. It is, rather, a reason for all of us to mourn, lament, and repent.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of First Liberty Institute, and the associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.

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