Love Thy Body
The Fall of 2017 saw a rash of sexual misconduct accusations and lawsuits leveled against such high-profile celebrities as Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer, Charlie Rose and Tavis Smiley, Russell Simmons and Mark Halperin, Dustin Hoffman and Kevin Spacey, Louis C. K. and Garrison Keillor. The news was tragic indeed, revealing the moral decay at the heart of the entire media industry. And yet, in the midst of the tragedy, there is a grim irony that has the potential to wake up our country.
The deeds committed by these men are both immoral and unethical...when they are viewed from a traditionally religious, particularly Judeo-Christian, point-of-view. But none of these men was taking his cue from Christ or the church; each was simply following the script of the sexual revolution to its logical conclusion. What makes this situation ironic is that the greatest outrage against the accused perpetrators has come from people who are themselves outspoken proponents of the sexual revolution in all of its manifestations: from abortion to radical feminism, cohabitation to no-fault divorce.
That the tree is known by its fruit and that one reaps what one sows are not just sound bites from the sermons of Jesus; they are statements of reality. No one should be shocked by the behavior of these men, least of all the people who have promoted the worldview that has facilitated and even celebrated their behavior. It is the sexual revolution, not Christianity, that has demeaned and objectified women, deconstructing the family and reducing sexuality to a commodity. It is Christianity, not the sexual revolution, that has gifted western civilization with a high view of marriage, sexuality, and motherhood, thus providing women with history's most effective safe haven from male predators.
It is surely serendipitous that as I wrestled with this irony, I received in the mail a copy of Nancy Pearcey's new book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. Like no other book I've read, Love Thy Body draws out and exposes the faulty worldview upon which abortion, euthanasia, the hookup culture, gay marriage, and transgenderism rest. All five are intimately linked together, not because they are part of some vast liberal conspiracy worked out behind closed doors, but because they are all grounded in the same false body/person dichotomy.
Pearcey, who is currently a professor of apologetics and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University, does a brilliant job defining and then working out every nuance of this dichotomy. She begins by highlighting an aspect of the abortion debate that too often goes unnoticed. Whereas pro-choice advocates in the past argued that the fetus was nothing more than a mass of cells, those who defend abortion today have abandoned that strategy. That is because they are well aware that science has demonstrated conclusively that the embryo is uniquely human from conception.
On what grounds, then, is abortion defended today? By arguing "that a baby is human but not a person--and that prior to personhood, human life has no moral claims on us" (57). According to personhood theory, there is no essential link between our physical body and our non-physical consciousness. While the latter "has moral and legal standing," the former is "an expendable biological organism" (19). Our body is simply a part of nature, or matter, and can be used and discarded at will; only the person, the conscious, rational, autonomous part of us, has value.
This may, at first, sound liberating, but it has had the effect of pulling the rug out from under intrinsic human dignity. Once our essential, inherent worth is dissociated from our body, from the empirical, scientific fact that we are human, it loses its universal fixedness. Who is to define or establish criteria for who should qualify as fully conscious, rational, and autonomous? "When the concept of personhood is detached from biology," Pearcey argues, "it becomes arbitrary, with no objective criteria" (84). If a child in the womb does not qualify for personhood, then what is to stop the state from disqualifying an autistic child, or a terminally ill patient, or a paraplegic, or an elderly grandparent suffering from Alzheimer's?
Though personhood theory is quite recent, Pearcey traces its roots back, in part, to "world-denying philosophies such as Manichaeism, Platonism, and Gnosticism, all of which disparaged the material world as the realm of death, decay, and destruction--the source of evil" (35). Those who accuse Christianity of holding a low view of the body have simply not studied the Bible or the creeds of the church. God declared his creation good, took on human flesh in Christ, and promises us that both our soul and body will be redeemed from decay. We are not souls trapped in bodies, as the Gnostics believed, but enfleshed souls who will, after death, continue to be fully physical and fully spiritual.
In the dualistic worldview that undergirds Gnosticism, only the soul is important; the body is a prison from which we must be liberated. Though neither Descartes nor Kant identified himself as a Gnostic, their philosophical systems had the effect of furthering the divide between our physical bodies and our souls/persons. For Descartes, our body is finally "a machine--a robot or automaton, like a clock or a windup toy" (50). Within that machine, our mind, "the realm of thinking, perception, consciousness, emotion and will" (50) resides like a ghost.
For Kant, human beings, Descartes' ghosts in the machine, inhabit a world made up of two distinct layers: "In the lower story they are part of nature, by which [Kant] meant the deterministic world machine of classical [Newtonian] physics. In the upper story humans operate in the world of freedom as free agents who make moral choices" (163). But then Kant took things one step further than Descartes or Newton. In addition to valuing the upper story (person-mind) over the lower (body-nature), Kant "absolutized the mind, treating it as the ultimate reality to which everything else must conform" (164).
What that means, Pearcey explains, is that the "human mind comprises a mental grid that injects order into the chaos of sensory data--imposing organization onto the flux of perceptions. The world appears to be lawful and ordered only because the human mind creates that lawful order, like pressing a lump of clay into a mold to give it shape" (164).
It is through this deft analysis of Kant, that Pearcey joins together seamlessly the life issues of abortion and euthanasia with the sex-gender issues of the full LGBT agenda. As different as abortion and transgenderism may appear on the surface, they both rely on a central belief that the mind (upper story) always trumps the body (lower story). In abortion, the personhood of the mother is privileged over the "non-person" body of the fetus, in transgenderism, whatever people feel about their gender must be accepted by society despite the objective, physical reality of their body. The body as such exerts no claims upon us and may be disposed of or reshaped at will.
This is why, just as defenders of abortion have shifted their tactics from biology (the fetus is a clump of cells) to personhood (the fetus is neither conscious nor autonomous), so LGBT defenders have shifted from biology (gay people were born that way; they can't choose their genetics) to personhood (my gender is whatever I declare it to be). "Today," writes Pearcey, "the accepted treatment 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. In other words, when a person senses a dissonance between body and mind, the mind wins. The body is dismissed as irrelevant" (195).
Needless to say, the body/person dichotomy poses a major threat to our integrity as enfleshed souls and therefore our equal dignity as members of the human race. But the threat does not stop there. Pearcey carefully traces the logical upshot of a worldview that disconnects personhood and gender from the body, leaving them to be determined by arbitrary criteria. Once "gender is de-naturalized," cut off from its connection to the body, "parenthood will also be de-naturalized" (213).
And when that happens, the family itself becomes de-naturalized: "Until now, the family was seen as natural and pre-political, with natural rights. That means it existed prior to the state, and the state merely recognized its rights. But if the law no longer recognizes natural sex, then it no longer recognizes natural families or natural parents, only legal parents. That means parents have no natural rights, only legal rights. You, as a mother or father, have only the rights that the state chooses to grant you" (213).
Taken by itself, the above quote might suggest that Pearcey's book indulges in partisan politics and conspiracy theories. It does neither. Backed up by impressive research that quotes, in context, the statements of those who uphold personhood theory in all its forms, Love Thy Body never falls prey to ad hominem or straw man fallacies. It is soberly and fairly argued, and it keeps its critical focus on the body/person worldview rather than on its individual proponents.
Just as vitally, Pearcey shows great compassion to those trapped in the world created by the severing of body from personhood. Her book is punctuated by moving stories of real people who have struggled with abortion and transgenderism and who have been profoundly hurt by the hookup culture, with its grand lie that we can divorce our sexual behavior from our hearts, souls, and minds. Far from turning her back on the victims, Pearcey calls on the church to embrace them with grace and understanding.
Love Thy Body is an important book that channels the incisive social analysis of C. S. Lewis's The Abolition of Man. Indeed, as I read Pearcey's passionate but irenic book, I realized again how profoundly prophetic Lewis's book has turned out to be. "For the wise men of old," wrote Lewis seventy-five years ago, "the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious--such as digging up and mutilating the dead." Substitute "body" for "reality," and "mutilating the body" for "mutilating the dead," and this reads like a page from the playbook of personhood theory.
Louis Markos (www.Loumarkos.com), Professor in English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities; his books include Apologetics for the 21st Century, From Achilles to Christ: Why Christians Should Read the Pagan Classics, and On the Shoulders of Hobbits: The Road to Virtue with Tolkien and Lewis. His Atheism on Trial is due out from Harvest in Spring, 2018.,