Our Voyage, and Bruce Jenner’s

Editor’s Note: I’ll be appearing on EWTN’s “The World Over” this evening (8 PM ET) with Raymond Arroyo and Fr. Gerald Murray to talk about an exclusive interview Raymond did recently with Cardinal Walter Kasper, who is the main proponent of allowing some Catholics who are divorced and remarried to receive Holy Communion. It’s an eye-opener – and we’ll try to explain a bit about what it will mean for this October’s Synod and beyond. This is just one of the many things that your support for The Catholic Thing enables us to do on a regular basis. It’s no secret that something serious is brewing in Rome, Northern Europe, and even here in America on family questions. We can’t allow the secular media or dissident Catholics to manipulate events for their own purposes. But the struggle to maintain clarity about Catholic teaching goes far beyond the Synod and related subjects. We’re now living in a culture in which traditional Christianity itself is being portrayed as a source of hate. The challenge is so broad that we need every ounce of effort we can muster to defend the truth. If you haven’t already done so, please click here and read more about why TCT needs your help. No one will do this crucial work for us. Do your part today.Robert Royal

Although my wife and I gave up our cable television subscription when we returned from Rome in mid-April, there was no way even we could avoid the news of the cosmetic transformations of Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner. Now insisting on being called “Caitlyn,” Jenner is already well on his way to fulfilling his decades-long dream of living life as a woman, as the recent pictorial and story in Vanity Fair clearly shows.

It is difficult to believe that it has been nearly forty years, when, as a 15-year old aspiring athlete growing up in Las Vegas, I sat riveted to the television screen watching the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal. It was there, at the height of the Cold War and with the stings of Watergate and the Vietnam War still fresh in the American consciousness, that Jenner won the gold medal for Team USA in the decathlon. Given the circumstances of those days, Jenner’s victory was an incredible boost for an American public that had lost so much of its national confidence over the previous decade (with the Apollo moon missions providing a welcomed respite).

In the year following the Montreal Olympics, NASA launched its two interstellar Voyager probes. Their purpose was “to extend the NASA exploration of the solar system beyond the neighborhood of the outer planets to the outer limits of the Sun’s sphere of influence, and possibly beyond.” Just in case one of the probes were discovered by an alien race, each carries a time capsule that includes “a phonograph record – a 12-inch gold-plated copper disk containing sounds and images selected to portray the diversity of life and culture on Earth.” It was “intended to communicate a story of our world to extraterrestrials.” In the section of the record labeled “Scenes from Earth” is a drawing by Jon Lomberg, “Diagram of male and female.”

Although both the scientists at NASA as well as the general public knew of individuals like Jenner – the story of Christine Jorgenson, for example, was widely publicized – they harbored no doubt that human beings by nature were male or female. This is not to say that there were not (as there are today) individuals who are intersex, which refers to a variety of conditions “where there is a discrepancy between the external genitals and the internal genitals (the testes and ovaries).” (Jenner, by the way, is biologically male and not intersex; he refers to himself as “transgender.”)

Because these conditions are the result of a flaw in one’s development – hence, they are called “disorders of sexual development” – the existence of intersex individuals, however tragic, no more counts against the claim that humans are sexually binary than the existence of Thalidomide babies born without legs counts against the claim that human beings are by nature two-legged.


What then has changed since the year NASA offered to extraterrestrial space-faring explorers an account of the human story that at the time seemed mundanely uncontroversial? Nothing really, for the empirical question was never in dispute. As I have already noted, it was common knowledge that some people underwent sex-change operations, and that there were phenomena that we now categorize as intersex. It was also no secret at the time that there were men and women who desired to wear, and some of whom did indeed wear, the conventional clothing of the opposite sex while displaying the mannerisms often associated with each.

What has changed is a fundamental reorientation of how we are required by an array of cultural mandarins to look at nature, and human nature in particular. Although the societies of modern Western democracies, such as the United States, were shaped by the ideas of the Enlightenment, including its denial of teleology in nature, their civil and subsidiary institutions, up until very recently, still retained that understanding in their traditions and practices, largely informed by the inherited religious beliefs of their citizenries. As long as governments allowed these institutions to flourish with little interference, the tensions inherent in the West’s philosophical bipolarity were held in check.

With the rise of the administrative and regulatory state and the diminishing of strong traditional religious beliefs and practices among the general populace, however, what seemed like a stable and liberal truce has come to be seen as an intolerable injustice by the descendants of the Robespierrian wing of the Enlightenment.

This is because the teleological understanding of human nature – that there are basic goods to which a human being is ordered and that there are real virtues to which we ought to aspire – is fundamentally at odds with the view that had been restrained but is now in ascendancy, that there is no summum bonum against which an individual’s preference satisfactions can be legitimately measured or judged.

As for Bruce Jenner, I will always remember him as that great Olympic hero of my youth, who, for that small sliver of time in the summer of 1976, helped renew in his countrymen a confidence that had been absent from our polity for far too long. It was that same confidence, ironically, that inspired those idealistic space pioneers who launched the Voyager probes that contained within them the truths of human nature, which Mr. Jenner now suggests, by his engineered metamorphosis, we should doubt.


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Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith

Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy & Church-State Studies, Baylor University, and 2016-17 Visiting Professor of Conservative Thought and Policy at the University of Colorado, Boulder. Among his many books is Taking Rites Seriously: Law, Politics, and the Reasonableness of Faith (Cambridge University Press, 2015).

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “This is because the teleological understanding of human nature – that there are basic goods to which a human being is ordered and that there are real virtues to which we ought to aspire – is fundamentally at odds with the view that had been restrained but is now in ascendancy…”

    Talk about yesterday’s news! In her 1958 paper, Modern Moral Philosophy, Miss Anscombe wrote, “In present-day philosophy an explanation is required how an unjust man is a bad man, or an unjust action a bad one; to give such an explanation belongs to ethics; but it cannot even be begun until we are equipped with a sound philosophy of psychology. For the proof that an unjust man is a bad man would require a positive account of justice as a “virtue.” This part of the subject-matter of ethics, is however, completely closed to us until we have an account of what type of characteristic a virtue is – a problem, not of ethics, but of conceptual analysis – and how it relates to the actions in which it is instanced: a matter which I think Aristotle did not succeed in really making clear.”

    • Linda Wolpert Smith

      Josef Pieper writes: “Prudence is the cause of the other virtues’ being virtues at all. For example, there may be a kind of instinctive governance of instinctual cravings; but only prudence transforms this instinctive governance into the ‘virtue’ of temperance. Virtue is a ‘perfected ability’ of man as a spiritual person; and justice, fortitude, and temperance, as ‘abilities’ of the whole man, achieve their ‘perfection’ only when they are founded upon prudence, that is to say upon the perfected ability to make right decisions.”

      ” … there is a large[r] significance in the fact that people today can only respond to this assertion of the pre-eminence of prudence with incomprehension and uneasiness. That they feel it as strange may well reveal a deeper-seated and more total estrangement. It may mean that they no longer feel the binding force of the Christian… view of man. It may denote the beginning of an incomprehension of the fundamentals of Christian teaching in regard to the nature of reality.”

      • lwhite

        I would suggest that there is no desire to comprehend “the fundamentals of Christian teaching in regard to the nature of reality” within the majority of our society and even in the case of our own teaching authority, the desire to substitute the nature of reality, or more explicitly, the rejection of fundamental Catholic teachings on the virtues, replacing them with modern psychological and atheistic philosophies of man.

  • John Whaley

    Perhaps this out-of-the-lime-light celebrity was missing the lime-light and decided to change his sexual ID for the sake of being back in the lime-light. It worked, but I wish there was a better way for old Bruce.

  • Stanley Anderson

    It’s like a pantomime of the feminization of the Church. In fact, the rather bizarre idea (sorry, it just now struck me and gives me the squirms, but also suddenly seems curiously relevant symbolically) of Jenner deciding to become a priest would be a pretty close symbolic representation of what some (and some of those being Catholics, and some of those being actual priests) are advocating that the priesthood aspire to. Lord have mercy on us.

  • VP Mary

    I find myself contemplating the role of man’s concupiscence and the overall amout of evil in general, in this pattern of self descruction our society is undergoing.

  • grump

    Enough already of transjennerism. The more this disgusting topic is discussed the more credence and legitimacy it accrues. What’s missing is the money angle. Bruce/Caitlyn and his/her associates will make millions from this farce while the media once again advance a depraved agenda of expanded “acceptance” and “tolerance.” God created them “male and female.” Beginning and end of story.

  • Veritas

    Right after Bruce Jenner won his gold medal in the Olympics, he announced his plans to convert his success into financial fortune. Today that seems passé; back then, my Greatest Generation parents were shocked to hear of such an admission. Perhaps they were just naive.

    Jenner has programmed himself for fame and fortune. I wouldn’t be surprised if this latest event is part of that master plan.

  • RosaryVictory

    Bruce Jenner is running from his mortality.

  • RainingAgain

    Solzhenitsyn warned of something like this, did he not and Dalrymple recently echoed it? The rationale seems to be that if one succeeds in persuading society to agree to a sufficiently implausible lie, that society is broken and becomes completely under control. Solzhenitsyn advised not uttering or agreeing with any lie whatsoever, at all costs.

  • veritasetgratia

    Sorry I cant agree with you. What Jenner represents and what Beckwith points out, is that the question of “purpose” in creation affects everyone including Catholics. The question raised by Beckwith about what constitutes human nature is something we all need to be able to answer. The “purpose” written into our body and into our spiritual soul says something about our final destiny which extends beyond physical death. Personally I believe we need to be able to speak about religious things in non religious language to enable people to ponder and perhaps question whether they should allow themselves to drift into nihilism and then despair. This drift is happening right inside the Catholic Church. As Catholics, we are called to be prophets and speak the truth in language which is used by our peers. We are not going to be able to do this without a lot of help by writers such as Beckwith.

    • Veritas

      What don’t you agree with me about? That Bruce Jenner is NOT a female?

      As for the truth, I’m all in.

  • Veritas

    Ms. Jenner?

    Uh, does not Catholic theology have anything to say about morality? Marriage? Human sexuality?

    Ms. Jenner? Boy, has Brucie done a con job on you.

  • GaryLockhart

    “Leave her(sic) alone.” William Manley

    Denial is not a river in Egypt. Jenner was born a male and will die a male. As a “practicing Catholic” you should know better than to bear false witness, William.

  • Eileen

    Thank you for this article. I note there is mention of human beings who are born with an Intersex condition and would like to ask you to provide more guidance and thoughtful analysis on this subject for your readers.

    In reading your article, I’m reminded how proponents of the so-called gender theory support eradicating the biological truth and underpinnings of the male and female dichotomy by including these individuals under their so-called “transgender” label. Perhaps that was the impetus for the inclusion of them in this article’s thesis development. But the reader is not informed to whom the counter-argument concerning those born Intersex is directed.

    Unfortunately, both undesirable and unintended consequences may result when uneducated readers see these various labels associated with each other without discussion of Catholic teachings regarding them. For example, it is a reality that between 2008-2012, up to 73% of pregnancies identified with complicated sex determination due to Intersex conditions were aborted in Europe alone. I cannot say there is a direct causation, to be sure, but patients who have been interviewed following such abortions have stated that such a complicated sex determination made them fearful. It could be, they are fearful their children might be viewed as so-called transgender.

    Joyfully, there is a history of charity, Church dealings, and Church teachings related to these children of God that affirms that the fetus is not a monster. Those things also affirm the true binary nature of gender as a gift from God but also recognize the known complexities of biological sex determination in these cases.

    Perhaps you could devote an article to the Church history in this regard at this time when the faithful may conflate issues of the so-called “gender ideology” on the one hand with the actual lived experience of families with children born with an Intersex condition on the other.

    If you did, it may serve the purpose to humanize and de-stigmatize those born with an Intersex condition and to re-claim the definition of gender as a biologically determined construct and not as a matter of self-determination on the one hand or the sole product of nurture on the other.