Gay Cakes & the Unkindness of the New Totalitarianism
The Decian edict does not seem to have been specifically targeted at Christians, but nonetheless had significant implications for the Christian community. Some apostatized (perhaps crossing their fingers, and not really meaning it), some fled, while others refused to make the sacrifice and suffered the death penalty. Once the persecution had subsided its effects lingered on, as the church was divided over how to treat those who had denied their faith, or ran away from trouble.
Today’s ruling in the Ashers cake case does not have the life and death implications of the Decian persecution, but the parallels are uncanny.
The craziness of the ruling is obvious: That it is all too easy to trot out all the, “It would be like…” examples. (Like a Jewish baker being forced to endorse pig eating; like a Muslim baker being compelled to endorse the superiority of Sikhism; etc, etc.) That Ashers had previously served Gareth Lee and would do so again – his sexuality not being an issue. That same-sex marriage remains illegal in Northern Ireland, so Ashers have been criminalised for refusing to endorse an illegal act. And on and on.
What this case makes crystal clear is the intolerance of the new sexual totalitarianism. No dissent will be tolerated: all citizens of this empire must demonstrate their obeisance. And that raises a question for Christians as to how they should respond: Acquiesce? (Perhaps with some finger-crossing and nose-holding involved). Go into hiding? (Which amounts to acquiescence.) Or face the penalty by refusing to swear fealty?
Imagine the instructions of a Roman magistrate in some dusty corner of the Empire: “Just make the sacrifice, say the words. You don’t have to really mean it. Doing it doesn’t mean you really support it. It’s just something you have to do. Come on, why are you being so unreasonable about this? Don’t you know it could cost you your life?”
That is pretty much the situation that Ashers finds itself in.
Of course, to refuse to bow before this new deity does not mean the death penalty. Practically, for Ashers, it simply means they will now only decorate birthday cakes to order – though that they should be thus restricted is itself a kind of craziness. Also revealed is one of the most disturbing aspects of the new totalitarianism: just how unkind it is.
Yes, the implications for freedom of speech and religious and political freedom are significant, just as they were in the year 250. (Even Peter Tatchell agrees with that.) But also significant are the implications for how we treat one another in the contemporary West. To try and compel a Jewish baker to produce a cake advertising pork products would not only be an assault on that baker’s religious convictions, it would be a profoundly ungenerous thing to do. To push the point because it was legally sanctioned would not make it any more morally justifiable. To push the point would be to undermine the civic bonds that enable a society to flourish. It would be unkind, and vindictive. What we are seeing is that the new totalitarianism does not have space for kindness or generosity – it seeks simply to dominate and control. Mr Lee has not gained any more freedom by pursuing this action; he has merely restricted the extent of business in which Ashers may engage. And he has made his community a less pleasant – a less tolerant – place in which to live. That’s what enforced conformity does.
All hail the new totalitarianism.