It was not long ago that we awaited the birth of our last biological child. It was 2010 and already having three beautiful girls at home we looked forward to the 20 week ultrasound, not only to be assured of our baby’s health, but also to find out if it might be a boy. I remember feeling the combination of shock and joy as we heard the tech report confidently that we would be having a boy. Oh how times have changed. Today expectant parents need not wait until 20 weeks nor rely on the ultrasound before choosing the paint color for the nursery. Taking the place of that older method is Harmony, a simple blood test at 10 weeks into the pregnancy that boasts over a 99% accuracy in identifying the sex of a baby.
The Harmony was developed as a non-invasive prenatal test to find chromosomal abnormalities such as Down’s Syndrome. Because it reliably identifies the baby’s chromosomes, the sex can easily be determined as well. The presence of the “Y” chromosome indicates a male and its absence indicates a female. Add to that the identification of male and female anatomy observed on an ultrasound and the case is closed. The material, observable biology is evident and quite simple. Before a baby breathes his or her first breath, cries, eats, speaks, laughs, or plays, the sex can be known through observation. No interview with the child is required and no witness of the child’s behavior is needed because in the vast majority of cases the biology is clear.
With the observable evidence firmly established, it seems there would rarely be any question about the sex of an individual. But we know that is not the case. Because gender has now been distinguished as something other than sex, the picture is much less clear. Take for example the fact that in many major university settings a student may choose a personal pronoun from a list that expands well beyond “he” or “she” and that choice does not need to have any basis in the student’s biological features. Gender has become very complex because, according to some, it has nothing to do with biology.
Traditionally the term “gender” has meant the state of being male or female – it was essentially synonymous with the sex of a person. According to genderspectrum.org however, gender identity is now defined as “our deeply held, internal sense of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither; it is who we internally know ourselves to be”. Gender expression is defined as the “way in which a person expresses their gender identity, typically through their appearance, dress, and behavior”. Based on those definitions, gender has nothing to do with observable biology. It is a totally separate entity from our gross anatomy and chromosomal configuration. It is unrelated to the results of any Harmony test. A morbid example may help to drive the point home: If a dead body was discovered, based on the definitions of gender given above, there would be no way to determine if that subject identified as a male, female, or something else. We wouldn’t know what it was because we would have no access to its deeply held beliefs.
If the gender that one “deeply feels or senses” contradicts material findings, could it mean that we are more than material?
Naturalistic science will tell us that we are nothing but material. There is no spirit, there is no soul. It tells us the human mind functions entirely on the basis of electrical impulses and chemical reactions and that it invented belief in the Divine. We are asked to believe that only time, space, and matter make up the universe and nothing more. From this materialistic viewpoint, how can we explain gender identity? Researchers have tried, but have been unable to find an observable causal factor for human beings contradicting their biology with their behavior (click here for more). One potential explanation for the gender identity phenomenon is that human beings are more than material and that their behavior does indeed go beyond biology. Is it possible that we are not governed solely by our genetics but also by something nonmaterial?
And what if we are more than material? What if we are spiritual beings? What bearing does that have on our lives? If we have a spirit then what is the nature of that spirit? Where does it come from? Is it always good and true? If there is something beyond biology does that imply we have a Creator? If we have a Creator then what is our relationship to that Creator? Are we accountable in some ultimate sense to anything or anyone beyond ourselves? These are the questions that should arise when we begin to see ourselves in a spiritual sense.
The concept that humans live beyond biology is consistent with a Christian worldview. From that perspective there is indeed a spiritual reality and it is the most important and enduring part of us. As anyone who has been to an open-casket funeral can understand the body without the spirit is truly dead. Unless illuminated by the spiritual indwelling of a person, a body is quite lifeless. It is also consistent with Christianity to believe that the spirit within us has a default setting that is at odds with our Creator. In other words, the spirit that lives within us is not naturally good. It is a rather strong-willed roommate that we must contend with the whole of our lives. If that is true, how does it affect our desire to follow our deeply held sense about anything? The spirit may make us who we are and drive our behavior but is it the source of truth? Can it be trusted in an ultimate sense?
Are the deepest feelings of my spirit always true and right, or is there a standard of truth and rightness that can only be found outside of myself?
As a Christian I believe that, before God makes us alive, our spirits are broken. The Bible goes so far as to say that we are spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1). On our own we are in great need. We cannot fix ourselves and that is why God in His great grace provided redemption through the person of Jesus Christ.
The purpose of this post is not to be critical of gender identity per se. That argument can take place another time. I am writing about gender identity because the fact that it exists reveals something about ourselves, namely that we are more than material. The first step in realizing our spiritual condition is to recognize that we are spiritual beings. Insight into the spiritual nature of our lives is critical if we ever hope to see the God who created us. And seeing the God who created us is the most important endeavor we can ever attempt.