The case of the UK teenager Brianna Ghey, murdered in a stabbing incident last weekend in a park in Warrington in the United Kingdom, has understandably resulted in widespread shock and outrage, as it should, any time a teenager loses their live to violence.
On Wednesday, two other teenagers – reportedly close friends of the deceased – appeared in a UK court, charged with the murder. UK Police have yet to formally identify a motive for the crime.
This, however, has not stopped others from expressing a zealous certainty about the motive. The victim was transgender, and had a large following on the social media site “tiktok”, where there is a thriving – and growing – community of young people who are in the process of changing their gender from male to female, or vice versa.
As Fatima reported earlier this week, there was, in the aftermath of the murder, an immediate race to make society, rather than the people who wielded the murder weapon, the true villain in the case. Ruth Coppinger, in Ireland, tweeted that “so called gender critical feminists” – people who believe that biological sex, which cannot be changed, is more important than “gender identity” – “need to take a long hard look at themselves”.
On the wider internet, there has been a race to daub the hands of all opponents of transgender ideology in the blood of Brianna Ghey. JK Rowling was blamed. The UK Government, which opposes gender self identification, was blamed. In Dublin, there was a vigil, with transgender flags flying prominently:
A large turnout for the vigil for Brianna Ghey this evening in Dublin 🏳️⚧️#BriannaGhey pic.twitter.com/FMphTQ8dRT
— Caolán Mc Aree (@Caolanmcaree) February 15, 2023
Why the enormous and on the face of it disproportionate reaction? Why the blaming of entirely uninvolved people for a horrible crime where no motive has yet been identified?
Well, there are a few things at play here. The first is that the tides of political opinion are, for perhaps the first time in a few decades, running strongly against progressivism on a major social issue. Polling in almost every western democracy where the transgender question is an issue show that voters overwhelmingly disapprove of laws allowing people to simply change their legal gender by filling out a form, and without any kind of medical process or assessment. In Scotland, just this week, advocacy on the transgender issue was one of the leading reasons that a popular titan of Scottish politics found herself toppled. In the UK as a whole, gender self-ID has been effectively stopped, and there are increasing efforts to restrict the practice of giving teenagers cross-sex hormones. On the side losing the argument, there is bottled up rage and frustration, and an increasing tendency to shrillness.
The second, speaking frankly, is that this is the usual attempt to create a venerated saint around which a cause can be focused: Think here of George Floyd, and his posthumous importance to the Black Lives Matter movement, and the similar international reaction to that. Think of Savita, whose first name remains a watchword on the Irish left – her whole life now reduced to the single sad image of a face which represents not a person, but the cause of abortion rights. I use the words venerated saint advisedly – when you have a large picture of someone surrounded by candles, and people solemnly gathering in silence to reflect upon it, then you are not very far at all from the scenes regularly playing out in Lourdes – which, of course, are generally mocked by the left as the foolishness of the followers of a sky god.
The third is the virtue of victimhood.
Last month, a woman took offence to a joke told by Tommy Tiernan at a comic show in Dublin. To my knowledge, she was the only person offended. She was also, by some strange coincidence, the only member of the audience to immediately find herself on the panel of various talk shows. The Duke and Duchess of Sussex are of course the world’s most famous victims – we live in a world where a Prince of the Royal Blood, of all people, has just sold the world’s best-selling autobiography of all time, in which he talks about how terrible his life was. We live in an era when young children are racing at unprecedented rates to “identify” as something other than plain boring and vanilla, partly because, I suspect, being a minority has become, in and of itself, virtuous.
From a very young age now, children are taught that being a victim makes you special, and worthy of attention. That suffering – especially suffering at the hands of others – is virtuous. Again, the parallels with religion are not hard here to spot. In the dark ages, children were taught that martyrdom is noble. Queen Mary of Scots, having devoted her life to the overthrowing of her cousin Elizabeth, famously went to her execution in the red cloak of a martyr. Today, you go on television to talk about how you were deeply offended by Tommy Tiernan – it is a difference of degree, but not of impulse.
All of this constitutes the difference between what might be called progressive ideology on the one hand, and progressive religion on the other hand. Most people, to some extent, have adopted the core tenets of progressive ideology: Tolerance for others, respect for difference, a belief that people should have a minimum standard of living, opposition to bigotry and racism.
Progressive religion, on the other hand, is something else. It is adhered to by devotees, who see their cause in the black and white of good versus evil, and in largely the same apocalyptic terms as those who waged the wars of the reformation five hundred years ago. To those who adhere to it, it is an existential fight in which there are good people and evil people, and in which only one side can triumph. And just as in reformation times, if you are not with us, you are against us is the order of the day.
So, in that context, to the progressive religionist, we are all guilty of Brianna Ghey’s murder. Because like St. Thomas More, they strive towards Utopia, in which nobody would ever be a victim again. And the rest of us are standing, as they see it, in the way.