Anyone who has been to Planet Fitness has seen the so-called ‘Lunk Alarm.’ Installed in every location, the Lunk Alarm sounds “whenever somebody grunts, drops weights, or judges.”
The Alarm sounded recently, but for a rather peculiar reason. A Midland, MI woman, Yvette Cormier, was shocked to discover a man using the women’s locker room at her local Planet Fitness. When she reported the incident to the front desk, she was told that the man self-identifies as a woman. She subsequently reported her concerns to the gym’s corporate office, and was told that the gender identity policy of Planet Fitness is based on “self-reported gender identity.” After telling other women at the gym about her encounter, she was informed by the corporate office that her membership has been revoked because she had violated the gym’s “Judgment Free Zone” policy.
If it seems that we are living in, shall we say, perplexing times, it’s because, well, we are. We in the modern age are endeavoring to live out a civilizational experiment that has never before been attempted, one built on what is in effect an atheistic foundation.
Before the modern age, civilizations sought to cultivate what classical scholars call ‘cosmic piety.’ This involves conforming society to a transcendent moral order in the universe. Because the social order was a reflection of the divine meaning and purpose entailed in the created order, every person born into the world was born with a divine obligation; we were obliged to live out our lives in a way concomitant with the moral order of the universe.
However, our age rejects this notion of cosmic piety. Instead, it is asserted that we are under no divine obligation apart from that which we choose individually to impose upon ourselves. Far from a divinely authored creation, ours is a world reduced to meaningless and purposeless biological, chemical, and physical causal laws. Thus all cultures are merely human fabrications, in that it is through culture that humans impute meaning to an otherwise meaningless world.
This cultural fabrication of course includes conceptions of gender. Contrary to our notion of sex, which involves physical anatomy, a number of scholars see gender as a social construct which is reinforced through culturally accepted patterns of behavior, statuses, and roles. The supposed problem is that the social structures of traditional societies constitute arbitrary impediments imposed on individuals who want to exercise social control over their own life circumstances. Because traditional societies tend to impose arbitrarily key identity markers such as gender, sexual orientation, and religious affiliation on their populations, the extent to which these impositions are overcome and corrected is the measure of what is labeled ‘justice,’ ‘liberty,’ and ‘equality.’
It is ironic that this confrontation took place at a Planet Fitness, for the classical gymnasium was intimately bound up with the notion of cosmic piety. Far from an occasion for self-expression, the gymnasium was historically integral to cultivating what the Greeks called engkratia, ‘self-mastery’ or ‘self-control,’ which was a virtue considered indispensable to one successfully conforming to the moral order of the world. The apostle Paul draws from this in 1 Corinthians 9:25 when he writes, “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control.” In fact, engkratia is one of the fruits of the Spirit in Galatians 5:23.
It is further ironic that this Planet Fitness controversy involves a ‘No Judgment’ policy, for as St. Paul’s quote above alludes, the project of gymnastically-inspired self-control was drawn into the distinctively Christian teaching “Judge not that ye be not judged” (Matthew 7:1). According to the consensus of the church fathers, the intended effect of Christ’s words from the Sermon on the Mount is to elicit a radical egalitarianism, in the sense that we are all on equal footing when it comes to our sin. Augustine comments: “When then we are brought under the necessity of finding fault with any, let us first consider whether the sin be such as we have never had… Should we find ourselves in the same fault, let us not reprove, but groan with the offender, and invite him to struggle with us.”
Christians have always recognized a contradiction in the human person: every person is created in the image of God and is thus endowed with the stamp of infinite worth and dignity, while every human person defiles that divine image because of their fallen nature. Rooted in the Hebraic prophetic tradition, Christian discourse is characterized by a mercy-entailed judgment: moral denunciations are pronounced in light of the salvation freely offered in the sacrificial death of Christ. Sins are thus denounced by fellow prisoners, the apostle Paul designating himself as chief among them. Hence, John Chrysostom writes: “be not a bitter judge; correct him indeed, but not as an enemy seeking revenge, but as a physician applying a remedy.”
However, this is simply not the case with our secular age. Its proponents, too, morally denounce, but they have no savior, no cross, and no sacrificial basis for mercy. And thus proponents of secular values morally denounce others, not as fellow prisoners to sin and death, but as those wholly removed from the sins they are denouncing. They denounce bigots while considering themselves untainted by bigotry; they renounce the intolerant while purporting to be guardians of tolerance.
And as those who could legitimately cast the first stone, they arrogate to themselves the privilege of judging the judgmental, discriminating against the discriminatory, and excluding the excluders.
Of course, this secularized civilizational project is completely unsustainable. We cannot transgender ourselves into fertility. As Eric Kaufmann has documented, conservative Christians are far out-pacing secularists in fertility rates, which has the potential to alter dramatically the demographics of society in a matter of mere decades.
Nevertheless, until then, I am sure the ‘Lunk Alarm’ will sound once again against any who would challenge the politically correct imbecility of our age, thereby demonstrating themselves not fit for this planet.
It appears we’re all Lunks now.
 Serm. In Mont. ii.19, as cited in Thomas Aquinas’ Catena Aurea.
 As cited in ibid.