The Taboo Iceberg and SSM

I have really benefited from reading Dale Kuehne’s book Sex and the iWorld, in fact I often reference it when dealing with the complexities that the SSM debate is throwing up. And it would be remiss of me to fail to note that my recent blog posts on this have stirred up some reactions.

Kuehne has some pearler lines, including a list of the three taboos of our modern West that have pretty much replaced the Ten Commandments when it comes to social engagement.

In my scribblings (I was rubbish at Art and stick figures remain my modus), I thought the following might illustrate the issue for us more clearly in what we are going to have to deal with to argue convincingly into the culture on sexual ethics (not just SSM):


I think we can chip away at the tip of the iceberg (and that tip has got any number of sexual ethical matters on it), but the underlying 90 per cent remains unchanged.  Hence as Western culture drifts more and more into its original pagan roots, the battles will become increasingly more difficult.

Kuehne makes this observation:

“I call these “taboos” because they are regarded by our culture as primary rules of social engagement.  They are taught to us by society from an early age and reinforced through our life.  If you want to get along in the iWorld (by that Kuehne means the “individual-centred” world – Ed), adherence to each of them is essential.  We still talk in somewhat reverential terms about the Ten Commandments, but we break them with impunity and save for two or three, they are infrequently enforced or punished by government. These three iWorld taboos, however, command a much greater respect, and they are reinforced daily in schools, the workplace, the media and so forth. If the government can’t or won’t reinforce them, then citizens will.  Indeed, the first taboo is the basis for the creed of political correctness.” (p71).

It’s the lack of traction that the Christian position has in the culture on the three taboos (indeed there is often an implicit acceptance of them), that will stymy our efforts on SSM.  Of the 80 per cent of Australians that sit in the middle on SSM (the 80 per cent that the two more forthright sides of the debate are trying to win over), it would be fair to assume almost all hold those three taboos, because that’s the water they swim in! Insofar as we fail to tackle those three taboos and expose them as fallacies, we will fail to convince the culture that the traditional perspective on marriage matters.  Yes we should speak clearly and urgently about why SSM is a poor parody of marriage (which I believe it to be), but the iceberg under the water will sink our arguments every time.

Now you may think that is defeatist.  I don’t.  I still believe that the ramifications of where our culture is headed over time with sexual ethics will come back to bite it, and when it does we will find that many people will look to God’s people for wisdom, for recovery, and most of all, for a better vision of what life is about. The church needs to be ready for this.  It seems clear to me that most of those who disagree with my perspective in the last few posts, don’t have a problem with what I believe about SSM, but simply about how we will tackle it.

And I would add in conclusion, I think religious freedom, and freedom of conscience are the matters we should be going to the wall on at the moment – in the public sphere at least.  Will SSM affect marriage. Yes.  Will it have ongoing consequences for the vulnerable. Again, Yes, but maybe not in ways we can anticipate.  Can we address it effectively and efficaciously without first tackling those cultural taboos?  To that I would give a resounding “No”!


  1. Hi Steve,

    Excellent illustration of Kuehne’s 3 underlying taboos as it impinges on the SSM debate (conceptually not technically, obviously!). Of course, the response to these when they rear up in commentary is to ask the question of each, “Why not?”. The bottom line is that a secular humanist/atheist society has no substantive basis for declaring these taboos to be self-evidently true. Although the common thread appears to be the intrinsic worth of the individual and the right to unmolested freedom of self-hood, there are obvious inconsistencies or incompatibilities with these notions at work amongst their a-religious proponents. For example, how is the value of the individual human being applied in the abortion or euthanasia debates by these same protagonists? On what basis, particularly from an evolutionist worldview, do we attribute any value at all to the old, the defective, the poor, etc.? How is the value/rights of a child measured in these debates? And we could go on and on.

    However, having said this, I nevertheless find it very difficult to be passionate in these debates. Scripture clearly sets out the direction our decaying society is bent on – everyone wants to do what is right in their own eyes. The privileged position Christianity has occupied as an influence in western society is coming to a rapid end & we are returning to a moral state similar to other fundamentally decayed & decaying regimes full of various dominant isms – atheism, pluralism, pantheism, panentheism, humanism, hedonism, etc. (the Roman empire is one that springs to mind). My thought is that instead of expending all our energy in debates in which we cannot prevail (including the freedom of conscience & religion), we should be spending more time coming to grips with the spiritual reality of what is happening & preparing ourselves & our churches for the inevitable opposition, hostility, marginalisation, etc, that will dominate our lives (both legally & culturally) as believers in the future. I am NOT a defeatist as I continue to believe that regardless of what the world throws at us our God will prevail & has already won the victory in Christ.

  2. I don’t know if I’m missing something, but I would have thought that we (Christians) would have no problem agreeing with taboos nos. 2 and 3. If I am missing something, please help me understand.

    Other than that confusion, I also agree with you and with Andrew L. I note too that neither Jesus in His earthly ministry nor Paul, in his travels through the Roman empire, ever undertook to try to reform the culture but rather to transform individuals through the redeeming power of Christ and His gospel. Surely that should indicate our roles too.

    1. Hi – I think they come as a package in that they are a hermetically sealed unit that repels any criticism. If you take the first one out of the equation the seal is broken. That would be my take on it.

      1. I had the same question as M Evans. But isn’t it a (the) corollary of the last two that Christians might take issue with:
        2. Any behaviour is permissible as long as I don’t think it coerces or causes harm to others.
        3. Any sexual relationship is acceptable as long as I think I have the other’s (or others’!) consent.

      2. Thanks, Stephen. Jeremy’s comment re the corollary helps make sense of it too, so thanks, Jeremy.

    2. The problem is that in our society’s declining spiritual state all of these taboos are defined/understood solely from an egocentric perspective & are utilised only to validate the life-style/choices of the individual. And in doing so, the taboos are therefore inherently hypocritical. For example, we have no problem coercing or even harming others (at least at a community level) if doing so will protect or preserve our own individual “freedoms” or rights to happiness/security/prosperity/etc. I realize Kuehne has specifically articulated the 3rd taboo in the context of human sexual relations, but I would suggest it could be broadened a little for a more general application to: One may not engage in conduct that violates or infringes upon the desires/rights/well-being of another person without their consent (or something to that effect anyway). In this way the taboos can be used to justify any course of action and repel dissenting opinion or criticism in any debate, not just in relation to sexual issues.

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