Caitlyn Jenner was unveiled this week on the cover and the pages of Vanity Fair. The former Bruce Jenner, hero of the the Olympic decathlon and Wheaties boxes, showed the world that for all of his external manly form, inside, there beat the heart and mind of a woman.
It's a measure of how far we have come that Caitlyn's unveiling caused barely a ripple in the zeitgeist. There were a few days of big play for the VF cover, but no longer the shock about the idea that a man might inwardly feel female, or a woman male. But there's a great deal to think about, from a theological perspective, about the possibility of a "mixup" between one's genitalia and one's gender self image.
Conservative Christians are not happy with the story, though there has been relatively little backlash, at least in my corner of Facebook. My FB friends are foaming about the Gardisil vaccine against HPV and against welfare recipients who take drugs, but not (yet) about Caitlyn/Bruce.
Yet there is something earth-shaking about the acceptance of Caitlyn's existence. And that has to do with our understanding of the relationship between God and Creation. The news media might not have registered the tremors on their cultural seismographs. But just as in some earthquakes, the aftershocks may be mightier than the initial jolt.
The foundation of natural law is that by studying God's creation, we can learn something about God. Genesis tells us that after each day of creating, God surveyed his work and called it good. We can share in that sense of goodness by admiring the beauty of the stars wheeling through the heavens, the mighty roar of the boundless oceans, the endless drift of desert sands. We see these things and marvel at their grandeur. We see how nature's myriad elements fit so wonderfully together. The bee feeds from the apple blossom and is dusted by its pollen, guaranteeing the fertilization of another tree. Lionesses stalk herds of antelope, culling the weak from the herd, ensuring the strength of the next generation of prey. The human eye, brain and hand, with their interrelated intricacies, allow us to discern colors, shapes, sounds and textures, build amazing tools and delve into the mysteries of nature.
Through all of these observations, human beings have discerned a God who amazingly brilliant -- capable of designing beings and a universe that are bafflingly intricate. This God is the watchmaker's Watchmaker. An unparalleled Designer and Creator.
But what to make of a world in which the intricacies of our species' most intimate component -- the machinery of sexual expression and identity -- seemingly go awry? What of the old bumper sticker "God doesn't make mistakes"? If anything cries out "mistake," it's siting a male mind in a female body. Or making a man who is sexually attracted to another man.
No wonder the conservatives are freaked out by transgendered people, homosexuals and cross-dressers. They tell of a God who can be separated from Nature itself.
It seems clear that if Nature says anything about God, it's that God is remarkably careless in his designs. Rater than a fastidious Watchmaker, God must be more of a bumbling ad hoc creator, flinging out wild ideas and seeing which will stick. He is the creator of designs that not infrequently lead to seemingly non-procreative ends -- women lying with women, men with women, and men choosing to have their genitalia removed. Conservatives can only deal with this kind of behavior by calling it perverse, willful sin. Homosexuality and transgenderedness have to be the sick and twisted choices of sinners who perversely choose to thumb their noses at a God who made them beautifully, heartily "normal." It's kind of like a person who drinks motor oil because, well, God designed him to drink water.
But it can also be that God really isn't behind every nook and cranny of human evolution. It wasn't God's idea to give deer antlers, or bees a sting, or birds wings or humans a voice. It's a God who has some distance from Nature who would give rise to the complex and tangled sexuality of human beings. Who would stand aloof from the complex hormonal, social and cultural cues that lead to the varied combinations of genitalia, sexual self-identification, sexual attraction and gender roles that we see today.
For thousands of years, we have tried to jam God's actual creation -- the varied forms and expressions of sexuality and gender -- into a 2-sizes fits-all paradigm. If the mind of God is to be found in Nature, it's in his preference for unbelievable complexity and uniqueness, rather than enforced conformity. Those who insist that a gender stereotypes reflect the mind and will of God need to look at the actual nature that is Creation: one that is diverse, endlessly, varied and uniquely expressed. If God is present, and if all the gays and transgendereds are not lying, then we need to see him in his preference for variety and experiment -- and even "mistakes."