NRPLUS MEMBER ARTICLE P ride Month has a sacramental character to it, if you look hard enough.
A sacrament — from the Latin word sacramentum, a translation of the Greek word mysterion, meaning “hidden thing” or “mystery” — is a ritual with both physical and metaphysical components. Consider, to use a papist analogy, how the physical bread takes on the metaphysical substance of the Body of Christ in the celebration of the Eucharist. It’s not one-to-one, of course, but Pride Month is similarly sacramental — the marches, advertisements, and rainbowed corporate logos are the raw materials. Yet Pride Month has a deeper symbolic meaning, one that explains its status as a high holiday on the American liturgical calendar. Pride, that vice the Book of Sirach calls the “beginning of all sin,” is now the centerpiece of a monthlong celebration of the liberated individual’s triumph over the repressive collective.
The ever-expanding LGBT acronym is a useful case in point. How many asexuals do you know? How about pansexuals? Two-spirits? Including ever more obscure and idiosyncratic identities into the movement serves to both celebrate novelty for novelty’s sake and to taunt the collective’s taboos and mores. The fact that “two-spirits” do not, as a practical matter, exist is not the point. As the sacrament is concerned, the point is to further erode any collective sense of shame, any sense that certain things — like identifying as “two-spirited” — might require our compassion but do not merit society’s respect. This impulse is, of course, doomed in a liberal society — Digby Anderson summarized the inevitably successful rejoinder as such: “If we are going to persecute every outlandish idea simply because it’s outlandish, we are going to have a very repressive society indeed.”
The sacrament relies, in part, on reactionary enemies for its fulfillment. As Adrian Vermeule observes, the “sacramental character” of liberalism requires forces of reaction against which the “children of light” can rebel, and over which they can eventually triumph. After Obergefell neutered some of the country’s reactionary elements, Vermeule notes how quickly transgender issues “filled the gap, defining new forces of reaction and thus enabling new iterations” of the sacrament of liberation. The demand for bigots, as the saying goes, outstrips the supply, and the LGBT acronym expands to usher in new frontiers in the perpetual war against stigma and shame.
In his book The Triumph of the Therapeutic, the late sociologist Philip Rieff posited that “spectacle” would replace the religious sacrament when a culture reached a “breaking point” with its past:
At the breaking point, a culture can no longer maintain itself as an established span of moral demands. Its jurisdiction contracts; it demands less, permits more. Bread and circuses become confused with right and duty. Spectacle becomes a substitute for sacrament.
Every culture, Rieff said, has “controls” and “releases,” or informal mechanisms that balance the rigor of inherited rules with the need for mercy and liberty. Rieff concluded that the spectacular would replace the sacramental when “the releasing or remissive symbolic” — meaning the play in the joints that allows norms to be transgressed and old allegiances to be broken — “grows more compelling than the controlling one.”
Each June, we are treated to the spectacle that attends to the triumph of the “remissive symbolic.” Multinational corporations run advertisements proclaiming that Love Is Love, and the Hegelian promise Love Wins is tattooed on buildings and street signs. Nike — which does much of its business in a country that puts dissidents in concentration camps — reminds patrons to “Be True,” and celebrates those who “use their voices for change.” (They should try it sometime.) Planned Parenthood, an organization that poisons viable fetuses and extracts their shriveled corpses from their mothers’ wombs for profit, demands that society pursue “justice for all” during Pride Month. Companies that pay their employees starvation wages render their logos in rainbowed hues, demonstrating solidarity with the movement. All the while, tens of thousands of scantily clad demonstrators keep the accidents of the sacrament alive, taking to streets to play-act as revolutionaries while corporations mouth gnostic slogans about “being an ally” and “gender identity.”
The sacrament retains immense cultural power. Last week, for example, thousands took part in Chicago’s “Reclaim Pride” march. Scores more took to the streets in Manhattan for the Queer Liberation March. The public-health clerisy that told people not to attend funerals, demanded that businesses remain shut down at great personal cost, and insisted that disabled children forgo in-person therapy have offered nary a word about these demonstrations.
Perhaps they fear blaspheming the national faith.