Love Thy Body
by Bill Tuininga
I bought this book in part because the author had studied at the Institute for Christian Studies in Toronto, where I did a year of informal study back in the early 70’s. I went to the ICS to study philosophy – to learn how to think more Christianly – and I came away with a deeper appreciation for the integrity of life in Christ. Pearcey reflects that intellectual integrity throughout her book. She thinks as a philosopher when she says that “the real action happens below the surface, at the level of worldviews” (p9) and that “in every decision we make, we are not just deciding what we want to do. We are expressing our view of the purpose of human life” (p11).
I was intrigued by the subtitle: “Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” Pearcey exposes the common root of thinking behind abortion, euthanasia, homosexuality, transgenderism and what she calls schizoid sex (the hookup culture). She notes that part of what makes these questions hard is that “those who resist the secular moral revolution have lost jobs, businesses, and teaching positions” (p10). The book is a treasure of information (including 40 pages of small print endnotes), exposing how our present culture got to where it is.
Her primary thesis is that the secular morality shaping moral decisions “rests on a deep division that runs through all of Western thought and culture – one that blows apart the connection between scientific and moral knowledge.” She compares our culture’s view of truth to a two-story building. The upper story or realm is that of theology and morality (values), which is private, subjective and relativistic. The lower story is that of science (facts), which is public, objective and holds valid for everyone (p12).
Pearcey goes to great lengths to show how this two-story division of thought has impacted every area of life, particularly how we view a human being: “If you get a handle on this two-story division, you will have the tools to uncover the deeply dehumanizing worldview at the heart of abortion, assisted suicide, homosexuality, transgenderism, and the sexual chaos of the hookup culture” (p18). She contrasts the two-story view of our culture with the biblical view of humanity, where body and soul form an integrated unity – the human being is an embodied soul (p21). This biblical view of humans implies that how our bodies are made/created informs our personal identity. “The way our bodies function provides rational grounds for our moral decisions.” In other words, a Christian ethic always takes into account the facts of biology and respects the teleology of nature and the body (p23).
However, “If nature does not reveal God’s will, then it is a morally neutral realm where humans may impose their* will. (*all italics are in the original text) There is nothing in nature that humans are morally obliged to respect. Nature becomes the realm of value-neutral facts, available to serve whatever values humans may choose. … And because the human body is part of nature, it too is demoted to the level of an amoral mechanism, subject to the autonomous will. If the body has no intrinsic purpose, built in by God, then all that matters are human purposes” (p24).
ABORTION & EUTHANASIA
This two-story view of humans is reflected in the Roe vs. Wade decision of the Supreme Court, when it concluded that a human being has a body and is a person. It ruled that the baby in the womb is not a person. “The baby in the womb has to earn the status of personhood by achieving a certain level of cognitive functioning – the capacity for consciousness, self-awareness, autonomy, and so on” (p25).
The split view of humanity surfaces again in euthanasia (Chp 3. Those who practice euthanasia view the human as a person who, when the body is no longer cooperating as they like, will exercise their last right of control as a person and dispose of the body. One study shows “that the majority of those who seek out a doctor to give them a lethal prescription fear losing control. They check off reasons like ‘losing autonomy’ (91 percent) and ‘less able to engage in activities’ (89 percent)” (p90).
Pearcey’s response: “In a culture that demeans and disparages the flesh-and-blood body, the Bible’s high view of the material world is one reason it is ‘good news.’ The message of Christianity does not start with salvation but with creation. What God has created has intrinsic value and worth…(and) once a culture abandons the conviction that all humans are created in God’s image, human rights are up for grabs” (p99, 102).
Chapter four reveals how many have been “hijacked by the hookup culture,” which says that you can enjoy any level of physical involvement, so long as you don’t become emotionally attached. “The script is that you are supposed to be able to walk away from the experience as if it didn’t happen” (p118). Researcher Donna Freitas concluded that the hookup culture creates a drastic divide between physical intimacy and emotional intimacy and teaches young people not to reckon with someone’s personhood (p118). The two-story theme surfaces again.
In chapter five, Pearcey shows how the homosexual narrative also demeans the body. When making sexual decisions we are not just going by a set of rules, “we are expressing our view of the cosmos and human nature” (p156). In a section called “Born That Way”, after noting that scientists have not uncovered any clear biological cause, she quotes Francis Collins, who said that “sexual orientation is genetically influenced but not hardwired by DNA, and that whatever genes are involved they represent predispositions, not predeterminations” (p157).
And so a “predisposition to such things as depression, alcoholism, drug addiction, and heart disease may be genetic (they tend to run in families). Most people would agree that we are morally responsible for how we respond to our genetic heritage. Locating a genetic link can help us be more compassionate toward people, but genetics does not tell us whether a behavior is right or wrong, good or bad for us” (p157-8).
Pearcey gives some philosophical background shaping the two-level mindset, quoting Descartes (“I think, therefore I am.”), Kant (“Mind is the law-giver to nature.”) and Nietzsche (“Facts do not exist, only interpretations.”). The end result is “the postmodern view that our identity is defined by our feelings and desires; that we may use our bodies in ways that contradict our biological structure” (p165). The powerful narrative shaping the minds of many and played out in countless novels and shows, is that “anyone who experiences same-sex desires has discovered their authentic self, and that they will be most fulfilled by openly affirming it as their true identity” (p166). Questioning a person’s identity is seen as an attack on their selfhood.
Pearcey provides some pastoral advice. “The way to love people is by supporting their telos – what is genuinely good for them in light of the way God designed us to function and flourish” which “in the end leads to richer, deeper sexual relationships” (p171). Her directive for the church: “Christians must make it clear that they are speaking out because they genuinely care about people. No matter how compelling the case for a biblical ethic, people rarely change their minds based on intellectual arguments alone. … Christians must present biblical morality in a way that reveals the beauty of the biblical view of the human person so that people actually want it to be true. And they must back up their words with actions that treat people with genuine dignity and worth” (p190).
In chapter six Pearcey acknowledges that the accepted treatment today “is not to help persons change their inner feelings of gender identity to match their body but to change their body (through hormones and surgery) to match their feelings” (p195). It is noteworthy that even though there is among the public “a sense that there must be a genetic or hormonal basis for feelings of being in the wrong body,…there is no conclusive scientific evidence that transsexualism or transgenderism is caused by genes or any other biological factor” (p196).
It is unfortunate and increasingly tragic that those promoting transgenderism ignore the science and insist that biology is irrelevant to gender and that there is no connection between body and gender identity. As a young woman in a BBC video said, “It doesn’t matter what living meat skeleton you’ve been born in; it’s what you feel that defines you” (p196-7). Pearcey informs us that “Most SOGI (Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity - BT) laws and policies state explicitly that people claiming transgender status need no medical diagnosis, no record of hormone therapy or surgery, no change in legal documents, and no alteration in appearance. … When gender is severed from biology, it becomes something we can choose – and therefore something we can also change. … Gender has nothing to do with having a male or female body” (p197, 202).
It is significant that roughly 80 to 90 percent of children who experience some gender incongruence lose their feelings before adulthood. This stat does not undermine the fact that the struggle with gender is very real. “Today ever-younger children suffer a sense of being out of alignment, and Christians need to develop a pastoral approach that is sensitive and compassionate” (p222). What we in the body of Christ must work towards, is becoming a place where such casualties from the sexual revolution can find hope and restoration.
When two-storied thinking is applied to social structures, biological ties are no longer the basis for a family. Marriage has become a contract people choose to enter (or exit), not a covenant for life. And when parenthood is then also detached from biology, the implication for the family is that it too is more of a social contract. “Instead of recognizing parenthood as a pre-political reality that is logically prior to the state – which the state is morally obligated to respect – parenthood will be treated as something created by the state” (p252).
Again, we follow the line of reasoning: “The only way the law can treat same-sex parents the same as opposite-sex parents is to deny the relevance of biology and declare parenthood to be a state of mind toward the child – what you think, feel, and desire. The state is taking on itself the authority to define what a parent is and who qualifies as one” (p255). In contrast, “The biblical answer to social contract theory is that we do not create marriage so much as we enter into a pre-existing social institution with its own normative structure…we ‘enter into the holy estate of matrimony’” (p258).
This is a brief overview and taste of “Love Thy Body”. This book is filled with insights that are helpful in interpreting the times in which we live. Let me end with these concluding notes from Pearcey: “As we work through controversial moral issues, it is crucial to bear in mind the main goal. It is not first of all to persuade people to change their behavior. It is to tear down barriers to becoming Christian. No matter who we are addressing, or what moral issues the person is struggling with, their first need is to hear the gospel and experience the love of God. The most important question of their life is whether they will have a relationship with the living God that lasts into eternity. … Once a person is convinced that Christianity is true, then they can ask what that means for their sexuality. And only then will they have the spiritual strength and resources to find solutions to their sexual issues” (p260).
“If God has given you a dependable income, a loving spouse, a strong church community, a reliable group of friends, those gifts are not just for you. They are to equip you to reach out and draw in those who are broken and searching. God is giving you the opportunity to bring hope that Christianity is real and not just words – to put flesh and bones on the message of hope and healing” (p264).