By now, the hubbub over Bruce Jenner’s Vanity Fair cover has reached most ears. And eyes. After extensive surgery and hormone treatment, with the aid of heavy makeup and Photoshop, Jenner posed in a corset as “Caitlyn” for Vanity Fair’s exclusive 22-page article on his transition from a man to a woman.
Effusive praise for “Caitlyn” Jenner flooded the internet following the cover’s debut—a reaction symptomatic of society’s default approach to the human person. The reaction stands squarely on a decades-long foundation of practices that deny the God-given meaning of human sexuality, from divorce and contraception to porn and the social acceptance of gay “marriage”. There is no inherent human nature that you could mar or offend by doing these things, says the world.
But why is our society so gullible in the face of such lies? It is said that the devil can appear as an angel of light—he is, after all, the father of lies. And Bruce Jenner is living a colossal lie. But because he looks glamorous doing it, he is heaped with praise as media echo chambers resound with affirmations of his “courage.”
Lies are ugly things, but the point of a lie is to hide its true face; lies don’t seem ugly, but attractive and appealing. They steal the looks of something good—beauty, compassion, or happiness—and mimic it, relying on a deceptive veneer to win us over.
This devilish tactic is one reason the world so easily swallows grave moral errors. Gay “marriage” wears the costume of love; abortion “rights” are promulgated as compassion. And as the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey shows, even violent sexual abuse, when it borrows the exotic appeal of a handsome playboy, can garner eager fans. If the forbidden fruit appears as a chance to be like gods, we’ll bite into the lie with zeal—and blame others when the pains of our sin set in.
Society balks at ugly sins, such as alcoholism or drug addiction, that lack this protective layer of glossy media shellacking. When the deadly dance of stardom tempts a man to drink and drugs, we call it sad and shameful. Yet when the same narcissistic cult of celebrity pushes a sixty-five-year-old Jenner to dress up like a woman, we cheer his transgenderism without hesitation because of his bombshell-like poses for Vanity Fair.
But a pretty lie is still a lie; and pretty lies are often more dangerous. For this whole charade is merely the forging of a golden calf. Both Jenner and the media—applauding and ogling his attempt to reshape his biological identity—are falling prey to one of the oldest, gravest sins: idolatry, the worshiping of false gods which we ourselves have crafted.
We often relegate idolatry to the pagan past; no sane person, we reason, burns incense at the feet of golden calves any more. But in Lumen Fidei, co-written by Pope Francis and Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, idolatry is presented as a sin against faith:
The opposite of faith is shown to be idolatry… Idolatry is ‘when a face addresses a face which is not a face.’ In place of faith in God, it seems better to worship an idol, into whose face we can look directly and whose origin we know, because it is the work of our own hands. Before an idol, there is no risk that we will be called to abandon our security, for idols ‘have mouths, but they cannot speak’ (Ps 115:5). Idols exist, we begin to see, as a pretext for setting ourselves at the centre of reality and worshiping the work of our own hands. Once man has lost the fundamental orientation which unifies his existence, he breaks down into the multiplicity of his desires…. Idolatry, then, is always polytheism, an aimless passing from one lord to another. Idolatry does not offer a journey but rather a plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth. (emphasis added)
One could hardly find a better description of today’s ceaseless cycle of “trending” news and fleeting obsessions—a “plethora of paths leading nowhere and forming a vast labyrinth.” Modern idolatry is our desperate self-veneration through things we have made; as C.S. Lewis once said, human history is the “story of man trying to find something other than God which will make him happy.”
Likely driven by serious mental illness and pushed by a manipulative media, Jenner, in attempting to change his face and thus his identity, has made his identity an idol, “a face which is not a face” but a mask of his own making. He sets himself at the center of reality, reducing reality to his desires. The false identity—the graven image—which Jenner has fashioned for himself is a lie: the false face he paid surgeons to craft for him, the false body he robes in the guise of femininity, the false name he has taken on—these works of Jenner’s hands are the form of a false god.
And the relativistic culture, seeking a new idol, pays tribute at his feet.
For idolatry complements relativism, as Lumen Fidei makes clear: “In contemporary culture, we often tend to consider the only real truth to be … what we succeed in building … what works and what makes life easier and more comfortable…. But Truth itself, the truth which would comprehensively explain our life as individuals and in society, is regarded with suspicion…. In the end, what we are left with is relativism.”
By contrast, Jesus Christ reveals the true Face of the Father to us, and it is only when we direct our love to His Face that we discover our own identity, as Lumen Fidei states: “Christ is the mirror in which [man finds his] own image fully realized.” Having long abandoned Christ, our culture’s relativism seeks new identities through idolatry, the labyrinthine wandering from one false god to another—and for now, the culture worships transgenderism on that altar, lauding Jenner and reviling anyone who refuses to burn masculine pronouns before him.
Only God knows how culpable Jenner is for his deeds—whether he is mentally ill, or the victim of the parasitic celebrity cult that has fed on him since the ’70s. But one thing in this sad episode is certain: beautiful lies are still lies—even if, like the Israelites’ calf, they are made of gold, the molten contrivance of our treasure, and the soulless work of our hands.