Lately many who view the approval of homosexual marriages as if not desirable at least inevitable have used the epithet “on the wrong side of history” for those who oppose it–as if history in some way were an intelligent design with a moral compass such that whatever happens in the future is good and right. It is the worship of change disguised by the word “progress”–a word that inherently assumes what it contradicts, that there is an ultimate divine good toward which we are striving. Yet quite apart from whether we are moving in the “right” direction, or even whether their is such a thing, the question of whether that which is inevitable is necessarily good or desirable does not withstand much scrutiny.
Less than a century ago the Prime Minister of one of the greatest countries in the world believed that the greatest of evils would be another great war. They had within the memory of most of those alive fought a war in which his country, Great Britain, had lost a million men, which made them the winners, as the French lost more than they did, the Germans more than the French, and the Russians–who abandoned the First World War in the middle to fight their own possibly inevitable internal revolution–more than the Germans. Thus Neville Chamberlain agreed with any demands made by Adolph Hitler, considering them reasonable as long as they did not require anything from England and would avoid another war. Yet World War II was inevitable, perhaps from the moment the papers were signed signalling the unconditional surrender of the losers of World War I, certainly from the moment the NAZI party rose to power in Germany. Neville Chamberlain was simply on the wrong side of history, trying to prevent the inevitable. Yet will anyone claim that World War II was good?
History is replete with examples in which people who may have been on the right side of morality or truth or ethics were on the wrong side of history. Those who opposed the the armies of Alexander the Great were on the wrong side of history. The same could be said of those who supported the Roman Republic against the establishment of the Empire under Julius Caesar. In the modern age, opposition to the Leninist revolution in Russia, the rise of Stalin in the Soviet Union, the rise of Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy and Milosevic in Serbia and Amin in Uganda were simply on the wrong side of history–these cruel, violent, ambitious dictators rose to power and caused great pain to their own subjects despite the opposition.
So, too, those who warned of the 2007 housing crash were as much on the wrong side of history as those who foresaw and called for efforts to prevent the 1929 stock market crash and the Great Depression. Those hoping for a peaceful end to American slavery who struggled to avoid having to fight the Civil War–including Abraham Lincoln–found themselves on the wrong side of history. What the future brings is not always good, not always desirable; it might not even be always inevitable. To be on “the wrong side of history” can be to be on the right side of justice, or mercy, or morality. That something happens does not mean it was ever inevitable; that we think it was inevitable does not make it good or right. Inevitably Rome fell and the Dark Ages began. Inevitably factions within the Roman Catholic Church rose to power and launched the Inquisition. Those who did not want these were on the wrong side of history, and the number of people who suffered during those years does not make the right side of history the right side of anything else.
I do not yet know that homosexual marriage will become the law of the land. It might be that marriage will cease to be a recognized legal institution entirely. Although the fact that it is now legal in the majority of states is widely touted by supporters, in fact in most of those states it became legal entirely by judicial fiat. Certainly that has been the way in which many good things have come to be law; it has also brought many bad things. Yet even if history moves in the direction of the recognition of such relationships as “normative”, that does not mean that the future is not simply moving into greater moral depravity toward the time when bestiality and pedophilia are also regarded “normal”. I do not mind being on the wrong side of history if I am on the right side of something greater.