What makes up our identity? Monsignor Burke writes:
one’s identity is made up of certain characteristics which we have in common with others, and certain characteristics we have differently: and again of some qualities we have as “givens” and others we have acquired. It is only by knowing these that we can identify ourselves. The person incapable of self-identification just does not know himself or herself.
This is already outside the liberal orthodoxy. Although Monsignor Burke does allow that we acquire some aspects of our identity ourselves, others are given to us. So we are not, as liberals usually claim, blank slates, without limitations on our ability to self-define.
Monsignor Burke is aware that he is contradicting trends within modern thought:
The current confusion about identity is mainly rooted in the idea of the self-identifying or the self-defining person. ‘My life is mine and I can make whatever I want of it’. This is not so, in the first place because I only possess my life precisely insofar as it has been given to me; it is a gift.
He goes on to write:
When I receive a gift, it becomes mine; yes, that is true. But if I am sensible, I want to know the nature of the gift so as to use or handle it wisely; for it can be spoiled, even completely, by bad use. If I am given a paperweight of gold, I may drop it and nothing is lost. If the gift is a precious porcelain vase and I drop it, the gift itself is lost. It is important to know that some things given to us in life are both precious and breakable, and not easily recovered if broken.
According to liberalism, we are to define our own good. Monsignor Burke points out that this has disenchanting consequences:
We live in a thoroughly ‘disenchanted’ secular age (as Charles Taylor brings out so well). There is nothing beyond what I see, nothing underlying what I feel, nothing that promises more than what I have ... Things, events, relationships, have no more meaning than what I choose to give them. I decide their value. But, at the best, that value is limited, for I do not, I will not, believe in absolute values. I identify things by how they suit me — my satisfaction, my advantage — not by any value they have in themselves.
What follows is a passage on what is (potentially) spiritually inspiring in the connection between the masculine and feminine:
But there is an enchantment in creation. God himself, the Bible tells us, was pleased, very pleased, with what he had created. He saw it all as good, very good (Gen 1:31). For God, it is a very good world. For man, the summit of his creation, God wished it to be an enchanted world, a world where everything, as an imago Dei, can point to the hidden, ultimate and infinite wonder of God’s existence and life.
It was Adam’s experience when he saw Eve. He was thrilled, she was an enchantment for him; something that seemed to come from another world, or to promise another world. And similarly when Eve saw Adam. In that mutual attraction of theirs, the physical differences were seen, undisturbedly, as a sign of a much richer human reality; and indeed as imaging an infinitely higher reality.
Male and female God made them; and the closer they are, the more they live in mutual understanding, the more they reflect something of the image of God. This closeness is only secondarily expressed in physical coupling. It is in the meeting of souls more than of bodies, in the harmonising of a masculine and a feminine way of being, that they image a perfection much higher than anything either can achieve on his or her own.
There is, or was, truth in that old saying that 'woman promises to man what only God can give’; truth also if the promise is expressed the other way round. Today it is not clear what the sexes promise to each other, and less still what they mean to each other. Romance, so it seems, is almost gone. The enchantment is gone, as is also the sense that there is something of magic in sexuality that has to be protected ... We have to restore the enchantment.
That, I maintain, is not possible without a restored sense of sexual identity; a sense of what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it can mean to show together a better image of God.
I'm not sure how this passage would strike a non-religious reader (hopefully as impressively non-liberal). But I would be disappointed if it didn't encourage Christian readers to seriously question the liberal position on sex distinctions (the view that masculinity and femininity are negative restrictions on a self-defining lifestyle.)
Isn't it clear that liberalism contradicts key tenets of Christianity?