Arguably no subject divides Americans more passionately than what it means to be a human being, especially when it comes to sexuality, identity, and the body.
What lies beneath the bitter cultural squabbles over physician assisted suicide, abortion, same-sex marriage, and transgenderism is a secularist ideology that wages war against the human body, argues Nancy Pearcey, a former agnostic who teaches at Houston Baptist University in her book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions About Life and Sexuality, which was released last month.
"We live in a moral wasteland where human beings are desperately seeking answers to hard questions about life and sexuality, "Pearcey, who The Economist describes as "America's pre-eminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual," stresses in the book's Introduction.
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"But there is hope. In the wasteland we can cultivate a garden. We can discover a reality-based morality that expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person — one that is more inspiring, more appealing, and more liberating than the secular worldview."
Pearcey's book has received acclaim from some of the leading Christian intellectuals who have been at the forefront of the major cultural battles in society.
The following is a lightly edited transcript of The Christian Post's interview with Pearcey.
CP: Why did you choose the title Love Thy Body and what does it have to do with the subtitle: Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality?
NP: Human life and sexuality have become the watershed moral issues of our age. The daily news cycle bombards us with stories related to sexuality, abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, and transgenderism. A secular orthodoxy is being imposed through virtually all the major social institutions: academia, media, public schools, Hollywood, private corporations, and the law.
In Love Thy Body, I move beyond trendy slogans to uncover the worldview that drives the secular ethic. As a former agnostic, I give an insider's road map to postmodern moral theories, showing how they devalue the human being and destroy human rights.
CP: Assisted suicide seems like the compassionate course when someone has lost cognitive or physical capacity through an illness or accident. Explain why you disagree. How might Christians contend against this effectively, without resorting to the "slippery slope" arguments that always seem to be snidely dismissed.
NP: Assisted suicide is a good example of what I mean in saying that secular ethics devalues the human being. Bioethicists defend assisted suicide by proposing a distinction between being biologically human and being a person. If you lose a certain level of cognitive awareness, so the argument goes, then you are no longer a person — even though you are obviously still human.
At that point, you can be unplugged from life-sustaining equipment, your treatment can be withheld, your food and water can be discontinued, your organs harvested.
The implication is that being human no longer guarantees human rights. The call to "love thy body" is a call to counter this drastic devaluation of human life. A biblical view says all humans are persons and are worthy of dignity and rights.
CP: The hookup culture is now being broadly criticized in light of the #MeToo movement. You argue that the hookup culture puts too little meaning on the physical dimension of sex. Do you have hope for a cultural turnaround given everything that has transpired in recent months?
NP: The hookup culture rests on the same devaluation of the body. The assumption is that sex is a purely recreational activity cut off from the whole person — without any hint of love or emotional attachment.
Young people know the script all too well. In Love Thy Body, I include poignant quotes from college students, like Alicia who says, "Hookups are very scripted. ... You learn to turn everything off except your body and make yourself emotionally invulnerable." A senior named Stephanie chimes in: "It's body first, personality second."
The stereotype is that men are happy with the hookup culture. But British singer Sam Smith, in "Stay with Me," sings about the pain and emptiness a guy feels after a one-night stand. The character in the song is begging the other person to "stay with me," longing for human connection that goes beyond just the physical.
The hookup mentality comes out of a Darwinian worldview that treats the human being as nothing but a physical organism driven by physical impulses. No wonder it's creating a trail of wounded people. They are trying to live out a worldview that does not fit who they truly are. There will not be a genuine turnaround unless we address the underlying worldview.
CP: The gay rights movement claims to be about freedom, but again, you assert the body and biology is denigrated. Do you believe the Church has failed to talk about these things because they are too squeamish about sex? Or too ignorant? Given how medically dangerous and risky certain sexual acts are for anyone who practices them, why haven't leaders been more vocal?
NP: Christians don't talk enough about the topic because many are concerned about being seen as negative and judgmental. We need to turn the tables by showing that it's actually the homosexual narrative that is negative and harmful.
After all, no one really denies that on the level of biology, physiology, and anatomy, males and females are counterparts to one another. That's the way the human sexual and reproductive system is designed. So when someone adopts a same-sex identity, they are contradicting their own biological design. Implicitly they are saying, "Why should my body inform my psychological identity? Why should my biological sex as male or female have any say in my moral choices?"
This is a profoundly disrespectful view of the body. It creates inner conflict between a person's physiology and their psychological identity, leading to fragmentation and self-alienation.
In the book I tell several stories of real people, like Jean Lloyd who wore a tuxedo to her high school Christmas dance, then lived as a lesbian for several years. Finally, she said, "I began to trust the One who knew the truth of my identity more than I did, who wrote His image into my being and body as female, and who designed sexuality for my good." To her own surprise, Jean writes, "a flicker of heterosexual desire emerged," and today she is married with two children.
What was the key change? Jean accepted her body as a good gift from God. Our feelings can change, and often do. The most reliable marker of who we are is our embodied identity as male or female. Christian morality is in tune with our biology. It heals the inner conflict and leads to a psychological identity that is in harmony with our body.