Published: 10 October 2019 (GMT+10)
Important book confronts secular gender confusion
Review of Love Thy Body by Nancy Pearcey
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2018
Published: 10 October 2019 (GMT+10)
Today, one’s self-perception is elevated above biological reality. Someone with XY chromosomes, high testosterone, and other male characteristics can ‘become’ a woman if he claims a deep identification with the female gender, and perhaps undergoes hormone ‘therapy’ and surgery to mold his body into the shape he desires. A woman’s desire to not be a mother grants her the right to kill the unborn child in her womb, in some places up to birth. How society views marriage is, for the first time in history, not based on the production of families, but who one has romantic feelings for.
In this context, traditional Christian morality, much of which simply represents what everyone believed a decade ago, can seem old-fashioned, and our responses to gay marriage, transgenderism, abortion, and other vital issues can be viewed as reactionary.
The Bible is true, and today’s culture needs the Gospel as much as ever. But we need to confront the culture with biblical truth, as much as is possible, with language and arguments crafted to confront and correct the particular errors that are prevalent today, as Paul did when he presented his polemic at the Areopagus. Nancy Pearcey gives us a great example of this in Love Thy Body. She says, “In Love Thy Body, we will move beyond click-bait headlines and trendy slogans to uncover the worldview that drives the secular ethic. By learning the core principles of this worldview, you will be able to engage intelligently and compassionately on all of today’s most controversial moral challenges” (p. 9). The book lives up to this goal.
Christian worldview against modern-day Gnosticism
One reason that Christianity is losing ground in the wider culture is that Christians fail to connect the biblical stances on issues like abortion, euthanasia, gay marriage, and transgenderism to the way the Bible teaches that we were created. Humans are the only creatures who have both a physical and spiritual component. Like God and the angels, we have spirits that mean we are capable of relating to God and that we are morally accountable, but like the animals we have bodies and propagate the species through sexual reproduction.
Christianity teaches that there is moral as well as factual truth, but today there is a fact/value split, where there is objective truth regarding facts like the boiling point of water and the germ theory of medicine, but morality and other value judgments are seen as entirely subjective. So someone can be biologically male (fact) but if he feels more female (value), that takes priority.
This leads to a type of Gnosticism, where the ‘evil’ physical must be brought into line with one’s value judgment. So when a biological XY male declares his desire to be a woman, it is the physical that must be brought into alignment through surgery, hormones, and costume.
Valuing the body
Pearcey argues that much of the problem stems from this fact/value distinction applied to the human being. So someone can have a human body (fact), but if they are an unborn human being, they might be seen as a human ‘non-person’ (value). A ‘person’ is a human (fact) who deserves (value) the protection of the law against unlawful killing.
Pearcey’s central argument is that the body itself has a teleology. A female body by its very design reveals that the woman is designed for a relationship with a husband, not another woman, and for carrying and nurturing a child. So the facts imply values. Homosexuality attacks the design of the male and female human bodies, and instead elevates a person’s feelings, which often leads to grave physical consequences. Abortion ignores the design of a woman’s body, which is intended to shelter and nourish the infant throughout the pregnancy, and elevates the woman’s desire not to give birth, always with grave consequences for the baby, and often for the mother, as well.
Transgenderism ignores the objective fact of the body we are born in and its biological sex we are conceived with, in favour of feeling that we are in the wrong body. These feelings are often based on ill-informed ideas about what men and women are supposed to feel—so Pearcey points out with some irony that transgenderism elevates gender stereotypes over objective reality.
Honoring the body and its implied teleology is good for people struggling with their identity for whatever reason. Pearcey tells the story of people with homosexual tendencies who nevertheless were convinced that the design of their bodies was at least as important for their self-identification as were their romantic feelings. Identifying themselves by their bodies, and not by their thought patterns, eventually led to a change in thought patterns! Some are happily married, while others are content to live celibate lives.
In contrast, she presents homosexuality, transgenderism, and abortion as the products of a ‘gnostic’ view of the body. According to this 21st century Gnosticism, we can’t know by your chromosomes whether you’re male or female, we have to ask your pronouns. Any partner or combination of partners is fine; the only constraint (for now) is that they be consenting adult humans who aren’t too closely related to you. And the difference between an unborn baby deserving of all the care that modern medicine can give and a fetus who can be extracted from the woman it has ‘invaded’ is the mother’s desires.
The denial of objective bodily reality has other baneful consequences. Pearcey points out:
To protect women’s rights, we must be able to say what a woman is. If postmodernism is correct—that the body itself is a social construct—then it becomes impossible to argue for rights based on the sheer fact of being female. We cannot legally protect a category of people if we cannot identify that category (p. 211).
Pearcey’s argument is powerful because it is so self-evidently true. A male that wants to ‘transition’ to female, or vice versa, must have surgeries to remove healthy organs, hormone therapies which carry their own risks, and ‘transitioning’ often takes years and doesn’t make people happier. A growing number of ex-transgender people are speaking out about detransitioning and living as their biological sex. Who loves himself more; the man who has thousands of dollars of plastic surgery and cancer-causing hormone treatments that will almost certainly shorten his life, or the man who decides that he will honor the body God gave him, even if he has thoughts which contradict that sometimes? Both roads are hard and involve sacrifice. But respecting the design of the body honors the physicality of the person, and while it is not a cure-all, following the cues one’s own body provides often leads to a person’s thoughts changing.
A revolutionary culture-challenging argument
Being uninformed about what Christianity teaches about men and women, their bodies, and their relationships (biblical anthropology) is not an option in today’s world. Yet to be persuasive when we present biblical truth, we need to present what the Bible teaches in the context of why it teaches it. Men and women are valuable because each of us is created in the image of God. So age, sex, race, and disability do not affect a person’s value. And the image of God in us implies that teleology in our bodies. God created men and women to be monogamously married as a picture of Christ and the church. God created women to carry and cherish, not kill, their children, because the image of mother and child is an image of how God loves and cares for the person who trusts in Him.
Pearcey’s book is an excellent read to inform the Christian how to defend the Christian worldview by attacking the fact/value divide. Due to some of the information in the book, parents will want to read it first to determine whether their children are ready for it, but going through it with teens could be a good way to help prepare them for what the culture is throwing at younger and younger children.