Have you ever wondered why society has so strongly rejected traditional morality? Have you ever asked why people seem to think so differently than they thought even 20 years ago. Nancy Pearcey, in her excellent book Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, gives us the reasons why society has changed so radically.
Pearcey takes us back to people like Immanuel Kant, the 18th century philosopher who first taught that life is defined by a fact/values split. Facts are public, objective and valid for all. Values are private, subjective and relativistic. The problem is, in our post-modern world, values have come to trump facts in every area. When this fact/values split is applied to human life and sexuality, the facts of our biological body are set aside in favor of values that may or may not line up with our biological identity. After laying this fact/values foundation, Pearcey goes on to painfully and exhaustively show how this idea works itself out in daily life.
For example, take the issue of abortion. In the arena of abortion (and many other places), the fact/values dichotomy works itself out as a body/personhood contrast. No one on either side of the abortion debate today denies that human life is present very early on in fetal development. The baby inside a mother’s womb may be life, but post-modern society is quick to deny that it is a person. Persons have moral worth and legal standing. Bodies are expendable, biological organisms that can be sold for parts to the highest bidder. Today being a member of the human race is not enough to qualify as a person. Rather one must earn that status, something a child in the womb cannot do. This lack of personhood provides the justification for abortion.
It does not take much thinking to see how this body/personhood split might affect the end of life as powerfully as it does the beginning of life. Assisted suicide and euthanasia are driven by personhood. In post-modern thinking, there comes a point when an aging or sick human being is no longer a person, but merely a body with no right to life. Doctors are now people making moral decisions, not medical decisions. And when life is no longer valued, the continuance of life comes down to a matter of costs and benefits, not any intrinsic value in that life.
The fact/values, body/personhood split also affects how we see and practice sex. The hook-up culture that exists in our world is a classic example. Our bodies are merely means of fulfilling physical needs that are to be divorced from our emotions. Sex education in our schools is concerned with the health of our bodies, not the health of our hearts or emotions. Sex becomes a religion, a vision of redemption. It is also a lie, as human beings are designed to unite not only physically but also emotionally.
Pearcey also addresses Same Sex Attraction and transgender issues. In these areas, identities are again driven by values, by our feelings and our desires. Those “values” give us permission to use our bodies in ways that contradict biology. The homosexual/transsexual/gender questioning person is convinced that their most authentic self can be found only when they reject the biological body given them by God and build their identity somewhere else. Sexuality then becomes a social construct which is indefinable, able to be manipulated, fluid and severed from biological facts. This, Pearcey explains, when taken to a logical conclusion, ultimately undermines the basis for human rights.
Finally, she addresses how marriage and family are affected by this change of thinking. The assumption today is that marriage is no longer a covenant, but a contract defined by terms we choose. In the Supreme Court’s Obergfell decision, the court reduced marriage to an emotional attachment which was identical to all couples, regardless of biology. Redefining marriage leads to a redefinition of parenting as a contract as well; a contract an increasing number of parents are opting out of. Here in Montana, 10 years ago there were just over 1000 children in the foster system, today there are 4000! The end result is that the state ends up with power over families in ways that were unheard of 50 years ago.
All this is very depressing and worrying. But Pearcey also has good words to say. In each chapter, she is quick to remind the church of its response to these things. Christians ought to be on the forefront of showing compassion to those who are sexually confused and struggling. We need to communicate a high view of the body as God created it. Yes it is corrupted by sin, but it also is of such high value that God will one day redeem it and make it new, fit for eternity. We need to present a picture of a good God who is big enough to bring purpose to suffering and who can turn difficult events to something good. We need to remind people that sex is not God. Jesus Christ lived a fulfilled life, a perfect life, being fully human in every way, without sex. We need to encourage people that our true identities are found in our creation in the image of God and that our biological identities have been given to us by God for good.
Yes, we live in a very confused time. But in the gospel and its hope for now and the future, God has given us wonderful truths to live out and to share. We need to be diligent and see how these timeless, transformative truths can bring life and clarity to our confused world.