Black or White? Male or Female? Dead or Alive? When Obvious Isn't Obvious Anymore

“Doctor Barrett, you know that patient Mr. Jones? He’s not breathing!” the nurse’s voice over the phone sounded only slightly concerned.

“So, he’s dead?” I asked.

“I don’t know!” she replied.

“Trust me. You can make this diagnosis!” The patient was not breathing, had no pulse and was unresponsive. It did not require advanced medical training to recognize that the patient had died. I thought it was a pretty straightforward diagnosis.

As my career is progressing I am realizing that things that were once simple and universally recognized are not anymore. Delivering babies was a part of my medical practice for 18 years. One of my favorite things in medicine was that special moment after delivery when I checked the genitalia and announced, “It’s a ______.” It wasn’t too difficult. The boys had penises and the girls had a vagina.

I was pretty sure that I could diagnose skin color as well. Country of origin could be a challenge but based on melanin content and other features I was pretty sure, mixed race excepted, that I could tell the difference between a Caucasian and a person of African-American descent.

Recent events have called into question my diagnostic competency with regards to both situations. I am now hearing that gender has nothing to do with the genitalia with which you are born nor your genetic makeup. Gender, it seems, cannot be determined by any physician or external observer as it is totally dependent on the perception of the individual in question. What you are depends on how you feel.

The definition of race may be similarly evolving. This last week, before the ink was even dry on the Vanity Fair cover on Bruce/Caitlyn Jenner, came a story of a 37-year-old white woman, Rachel Dolezal, who claims that she is in reality African-American. This news is disputed by her white parents who have made public photos of a fair-skinned, straight-haired, freckle-faced and obviously Caucasian young Rachel. Rachel has immersed herself in black culture for years and had been identifying herself as an African-American for nearly a decade. Contrary to all visible, observable and measurable criteria, she calls herself a woman of color. Who she is depends entirely on how she feels.

A man feels he is a woman and a white woman feels she is black. How should we respond? Why should anyone care? We care because both of these stories remind us of the truth that it is dangerous to allow feelings to reign supreme. Feelings can defy reason and logic and are inherently self-centered. When feelings are emphasized the desires of the individual become paramount, personal fulfillment and happiness trump duty, obligation and love for others. Moral codes and values are thrown out. Science, reason and the opinions of others are of no value if they do not agree with one’s emotionally defined reality.

Our post-modern culture is embracing these new artificial realities in the deceptive belief that right and wrong are individual things, that no one person has the right to question the feelings and desires of another. The problem with this is approach is that it denies reality. Feelings lie.

When we allow feelings to define us we will lose the truth of who we are and we defy the God who created us as we are. God created us according to His plan and for His purposes. He created us male and female, He created the family, He created marriage and He encoded the DNA that makes us what we are, tall or short, brown or white. As the creator He alone defines what that means whether we choose to accept it or not.

- Bart

Follow me on twitter @bartbarrettmd. Comments and questions are always welcome!