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The Strange New World Of Identity Politics (Re-Air)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy
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June 19, 2023 8:24 am

The Strange New World Of Identity Politics (Re-Air)

Family Policy Matters / NC Family Policy

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June 19, 2023 8:24 am

This week on Family Policy Matters, we are re-airing a show from January 2022, where host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Dr. Carl Trueman to discuss identity politics and his book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. 

Family Policy Matters
NC Family Policy

Welcome to Family Policy Matters, an engaging and informative weekly radio show and podcast produced by the North Carolina Family Policy Council. Hi, this is John Rustin, President of NC Family, and we're grateful to have you with us for this week's program. It's our prayer that you will be informed, encouraged, and inspired by what you hear on Family Policy Matters, and that you will feel better equipped to be a voice of persuasion for family values in your community, state, and nation.

And now here is our host of Family Policy Matters, Tracey Devitt-Griggs. And sometimes it seems like everyone has simply lost their minds, because many things happening today just don't seem to make sense. But interestingly, there has been a logical progression that has brought us to this disorienting state of identity politics. Understanding that history can help us think through these issues in a deeper way, and we hope, address them in a way that's worthy of our standing as children of God. Well, Dr. Carl Truman has just released a book that dives deeply into these questions.

It's called The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self, Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. It's been lauded as a must-read for thoughtful Christians, and one of the most important works of the decade on these issues. Dr. Truman is Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies at Grove City College, and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. He's joining us today to give us a glimpse into the gems that can be found in this new work.

Dr. Carl Truman, welcome to Family Policy Matters. Thanks for having me on. It's lovely to be here.

Let's dive right in. You argue that while what we see as insanity in the world today is irrational, it's not necessarily illogical. So what do you mean by that? I think if we take the sentence, I'm a woman trapped in a man's body, for example, that seems to many of us quite bizarre. It's quite illogical in some ways to posit such a dramatic difference between our bodies and our actual identity. But if you trace the history of thought and the history of society over the last three or four hundred years, what you notice is that we've increasingly emphasized feelings as constitutive of who we actually are, and increasingly downplay the importance of the body.

So while the statement itself lacks a kind of rationality in and of itself, the story of how that statement has emerged makes a kind of strange sense. So you argue that feelings have become ultimate authority in our culture, and that anything that gets in the way of acting on those feelings, and that could be parents, the church, any authorities are to be rejected, and sometime even considered the enemy. So tell us why this is important, and why this is having such a big impact on everything in our culture. Well, it goes to the very heart of what we imagine ourselves to be as human beings. Essentially, the modern person imagines themselves to be autonomous, self-governing, to be somebody who has no intrinsic dependencies upon others, but is entitled and able to decide who they are for themselves.

Now, when you think of that, that's extremely important. If that's how we imagine ourselves to be, it makes everybody else and every relationship we have first and foremost potentially, well, I would say adversarial, potentially something that stops us being happy. And it leads us to treat other people like objects. It has implications for abortion, for example, that the baby in the womb ceases to be a person and only has value to the extent that the contents of the womb will either make me happy by keeping them or make me happy by getting rid of them. So this idea that the universe really revolves around me and I'm an autonomous individual touches how we think about pretty much everything. And of course, the sexual revolution is one way that we're seeing a lot of practical impacts in our culture, isn't it?

Yes. I mean, the sexual revolution, when you think about sexual activity in times past, there are two things I think that marked it out. One, it was never traditionally thought of as an identity, lots of homosexuality in ancient Greece, for example, but nobody identified as gay. Sex was something you do.

And secondly, it was always carefully corralled or controlled by what we might describe as the natural world. Sleep with a girl, you get her pregnant. There are consequences of that. Sleep as somebody with an STD, you get a nasty disease you might never be cured from. Technology has meant that now we can sleep with a girl, don't get her pregnant. If you catch a disease, we have a drug for that. The technological revolution has really reshaped the way we think about sexual activity as a risk-free recreation, if you like.

What we're really seeing is, if you like, the coming together of two of the answers I've given. On the one hand, we now imagine ourselves as being able to determine our own identities and to be whoever we want to be that makes us happy. On the other hand, we have sex that has become just pleasurable recreation with no consequences, no risks involved. Well, when you imagine the world that way, when somebody comes along and says, you know, my identity is grounded in my sexual desire, it's really hard to press back against that because we all want people to be happy. We don't want to stop people being happy.

And when sexual activity, sexual desire is the means by which an individual realizes themselves, realizes their happiness, it's intuitively difficult for us to push back against that. Because whatever our personal convictions might be as Christian believers or whatever, society is training us to instinctively think that we should not get in the way of other people's happiness, providing they're not hurting somebody else. Is this shutting us up, then, as Christians and our ability to speak into the culture, do you think?

I think to the extent that this has become a kind of human rights cause and is finding its way into legislation, then yes, it is shutting us up because it's raising the risks of speaking out tremendously. When I was young, the offense of Christianity was that a lot of people thought it was nonsense. But they weren't particularly worried that somebody down at the corner of the street was in a church that believed nonsense.

Nonsense is relatively harmless in many circumstances. Now, of course, what we believe strikes at the very heart of how modern people conceive of their identities. And that makes Christianity dangerous.

And that's why there's so much legislation coming into place that's making it very, very difficult to enjoy traditional freedom of religion in the public square. You mentioned that our society or our culture is training us to accept some of these ideas. And that is a dangerous thing, then, if we don't stop it now. So we do need to be concerned about these things, don't we?

Yes. I mean, the real problem is, I could give you a genealogy of where we've got looking at people like Rousseau and Marx and Nietzsche and Freud, but most people don't read them. That's not where they're getting their ideas from. They're getting their ideas from the way that their imaginations are being shaped.

Their intuitions are being formed by soap operas, sitcoms, conversations with friends. So we need to resist this move, but it's very, very difficult to do so because it permeates all of the things that shape us as human beings within our wider culture. So basically, we're talking a lot about worldview, aren't we? We talk a lot about that on our show, the importance of having what we call a Christian worldview. Can you talk about what a worldview is, how it's formed, and how that affects everything we do?

Yeah. A worldview is essentially an overall way of thinking about the world. How you think about yourself and your place within the world. Does the world have a moral shape and a meaning, or is it just stuff?

It's that sort of thing. How are worldviews formed? Well, formal education would be one of the most obvious. Though if what I've said about imagination and intuition is correct, it's not just formal education. It's also things like how we intuitively relate to technology. It's the culture we consume, the soap operas, the sitcoms we watch. It's the conversations we have. It's the friendships we have. All of these things, I think, shape the way we think about the world. So obviously, for somebody like me, the educational aspect is very important, but I don't think that simply attending a course on a correct worldview will correct somebody's worldview.

It's part of a way of life as well that has to be addressed holistically. And that's why I think something like the Church is very important, because it's in the liturgical rhythm of the Church. It's in the worship of the Church. It's in the singing of God's praise, praying, hearing the word preached that our minds, hearts, and imaginations are formed, often in ways we're not even aware of as it's happening.

You're at Grove City. It's a Christian liberal arts college, and I would imagine as you're confronting these undergraduate students, most of whom probably come from Christian backgrounds if they end up at Grove City. What do you think about the worldviews that they're coming in with, and what do they think about some of the things that you're teaching as far as the history and how far we've come so quickly? I think many of them from conservative backgrounds are pretty shocked at what's gone on, and hopefully my courses help them to understand why what's happened has come about. I think that with the younger generation, my own take on teaching is when I teach essentially my book, I place a lot of emphasis upon what we love at the heart of it. So, you know, there are things that we believe, there are ideas we grab hold of, but a lot of our lives are ultimately motivated by love. And so I present my courses as, okay, this course is a quest to find out what we need to love in order to be properly fulfilled, what we need to love in order to feel free and to belong.

So I found a kind of existential take on this sort of material has been very helpful with the students. Not simply a case of saying this idea is right and that idea is wrong, but this idea is right because actually when you see it, it really reflects who we are as human beings in this world. It touches our desires.

It touches our identity at a deep level. And that's what you mean by natural law, right? That Christians need to have a better understanding of natural law?

Yeah, I think that one of the things that particularly Protestant Christians have not done well is emphasize the fact that the world has a moral shape to it. We're comfortable with the idea of the world having a physical shape to it. If I jump off the top of a building, I plunge to my death.

I'm not a bird. It has a natural shape, but it also has a moral shape as well, that if you behave sexually in certain ways, you'll damage yourself. Not simply physically, but also mentally, emotionally, and psychologically. If society pits itself against demolishing the natural family, it will not go well for society. That there is actually a structure to the world that we need to respect and conform ourselves to in order to fully flourish as human beings. One of your book reviews stated that the tone of your book was gentlemanly, which I thought was such a contrast to the way it seems like most people communicate on these issues these days. Why do you think that was important?

Well, there were two things. One, I wanted to write a book that I would not be embarrassed to hand to a lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender person. I wanted to write a book that if they took offense at it, it was because they wanted to take offense at it, not because I'd said anything offensive. And secondly, the same applies to my students. I'm aware that my students may not think as I do on some of these issues, and I'm aware that many of them may have passionate convictions on these issues. And I wanted to write a book that would make them think. They couldn't dismiss it because of its tone. They'd have to wrestle with its actual narrative and argument.

And also, I think it's just appropriate for Christians. We have to obey the ninth commandment. We have to be very careful in how we speak about other people, including our enemies.

And so I wanted to model something of that in what I was doing as well. Well, sometimes we look around at our culture, I think we feel like it's hopeless. How can we walk this back? But do you feel like there is hope?

Yes. I mean, clearly, from a Christian perspective, there are promises to the church. We know the church is going to win. So I think we can have great confidence in the long run. But I also think there's plenty of hope in the short term, maybe not on the national level, but certainly at a local level, where we have real relationships with really damaged people, people who've been really hurt, really messed up by their lifestyle choices, etc., etc. Individual personal friendships, love and care can be very, very powerful.

So I'm not so hopeful about the national context at the moment. But I think at a local level, many local churches have a great opportunity here to be a place where people can come and belong. Well, I'm very grateful that you took out the time to speak with us today. Thank you very much. And of course, people can go to learn more by getting your books. The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is out now. It's the longer 400-page book, and then a more concise version that has some study helps in it.

Strange New World is coming out in March. So thank you very much for being with us, Dr. Carl Truman, on Family Policy Matters. You've been listening to Family Policy Matters. We hope you enjoyed the program and plan to tune in again next week. To listen to this show online and to learn more about NC Families' work to inform, encourage and inspire families across North Carolina, go to our website at That's Thanks again for listening, and may God bless you and your family.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-06-19 10:24:40 / 2023-06-19 10:30:35 / 6

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