Love Thy Body, Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, by Nancy Pearcey, Baker Books, 2018.
This is an important book that I highly recommend. It is not published by Baker Academic, nonetheless it is a thoughtful read that requires your concentration. However, Pearcey writes in a way to help deeper ideas be accessible to your every day person. The chapters of the book are designed this way as well. In theory, you could read only chapter one! Yes! In this chapter, Pearcey presents the core argument, and then briefly applies it to each issue that the book will cover in the succeeding chapters. Or you could read chapter one, and then skip to chapter topics that most interest you. Of course, I suggest you read the entire book!
Why should you read this book? As stated in the introduction “Human life and sexuality have become the watershed moral issues of our day.” The news is filled with stories about sexuality, and the secular sexual ideology is being promoted and imposed by all the major social institutions.
“But current events are merely surface effects, like waves on the ocean. The real action happens below the surface, at the level of worldviews. These are the tectonic plates whose movement cause the rolling surface waves. In Love thy Body, we will move beyond the click-bate 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.” (page 9)
Later in the book, Pearcey indicates that this has become an apologetics issue for Christians. Moral issues have become a barrier to people even hearing the gospel. Many people today are NOT asking “is Christianity true?” but are asking “why are Christians such bigots?” – Therefore, we must be able to intelligently and compassionately discuss these issues in order to tear down barriers to becoming a Christian.
So what is the core argument? As touched on, Pearcey focuses on the underlying worldviews. Secular society rests on a division that runs through all of Western thought and culture. Prior to the modern age, most civilizations saw a connection between the natural and moral order; they were integrated or unified. I’m not sure Pearcey mentions this or not, but did you know that in the Middle Ages theology was considered “the queen of the sciences”? Yes! But that changed; theology even came to be considered anti-science.
In the modern age, the integrated concept of truth was split in two or totally disconnected from each other. Science is objective and considered the only source of reliable knowledge, while theology and morality is considered subjective and relative. This can also be thought of as the fact/value split or the upper/lower story. Facts (lower story) are public and objective, while values (upper story) are private and subjective.
Am I losing you? Hang on with me!
SO WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH GENDER and SEXUALITY? A lot actually! In the postmodern age things changed further, and the upper story became primary and paramount. Perhaps you could think it sounds good for the upper story to be primary? But no. Facts and values, science and theology need each other. God made this world, so God’s creation and the study of it matters. Both our minds and bodies matter too.
“The key to understanding all the controversial issue of our day is that the concept of the human being has likewise been fragmented into an upper and lower story. Secular thought today assumes a body/person split, with the body defined in the “fact” realm by empirical science (lower story) and the person defined in the “values” realm as the basis for rights (upper story). This dualism has created a fractured, fragmented view of the human being, in which the body is treated as separate from the authentic self.” (page 14)
Catch that? Think about the implications of your body as separate from your authentic self, and the self taking precedence. That means that the self can impose its own interpretations on the physical body.
Pearcey calls this: personhood theory. It is a two-tiered view of human beings, where the value of the body is diminished and the mind is what matters and makes us truly human. Personhood theory is behind most common arguments for abortion (focus of chapter 2). This concept is very evident with transgenderism. Transgender people often say they feel trapped in the wrong body. In other words, your “gender identity” (whether you identify as male, female, or some other option) is completely separate from our body. Transgenderism is the focus of chapter six. (Other chapters cover euthanasia, “hook-up” sex culture, homosexuality, and marriage/family.)
Sadly, today, too many Christians don’t even understand what Christianity teaches about the body and soul, and Christians (while not to the extent of secularists) can also think it is their soul that is the most important thing about them. We focus on our soul going to heaven, and forget about the final resurrection when we get our bodies back. Pearcey summarizes:
“Christianity holds that body and soul together form an integrated unity – that the human being is an embodied soul…By contrast, personhood theory entails a two-level dualism that sets the body against the person, as though they were two separate things merely stuck together. As a result, it demeans the body…something inferior that can be used for purely pragmatic purposes.” (page 21)
Christianity has a high view of the body, and some Christians need to learn or review these essential beliefs. It could, on the surface, seem like Christianity is anti-body because it is restrictive regarding what we should do with our bodies. But actually it is the opposite. An “anything goes” view of sexuality robs our sexuality of depth and significance, disconnecting our body and soul.
Is your head spinning? The book flushes these things out, and slowly builds on itself, so that you grasp the ideas better as you keep reading. Don’t expect to fully “get it” in a 1,000 word book review! Read the book! It has practical content as well. We as believers need to be ready to compassionately help those who have been harmed by the consequences of the secular sexual ideology. A study guide in the back of the book has questions to help you better think through these things and apply it to potential real-life situations.
I’ll have several more posts where I focus on certain aspects of the book. Thanks for reading this review. I hope it was coherent!
⇒ This post is part of a series on gender and sexuality.