The Postmodern Progressive War On The Body

Aug 13th, 2022 | By | Category: Culture & Wordview, Featured Issues

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

Over the years, one of the major arguments I have presented on Issues in Perspective is the Postmodern world’s passionate pursuit of personal autonomy.  The term “autonomy” comes from two Greek words, “self” and “law.”  In other words, autonomy is the pursuit of “self-law;” humans are a law unto themselves, or as the refrain from the end of the book of Judges puts it,  “Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes.”  This pursuit of autonomy rejects universal ethical standards and most forms of authority.  Autonomy is intensely personal and intensely self-centered:  In effect, “I am the center of everything; I set my own standards; I determine what is right and wrong; I come under no one’s authority when it comes to ethical decision-making.”  Two cultural forces feed this pursuit of personal autonomy:  [1] The precious words of our founding documents—“rights and liberties.”  With no agreed upon set of universal and binding standards, however, the terms rights and liberties translate into doing whatever you wish, with few boundaries and few restrictions.  When applied to issues of human sexuality, the results are devastating. [2] Modern technology, especially the Internet and social media, has fed autonomy and in many ways legitimized it as the cultural norm.

The pursuit of personal autonomy drives the sexual revolution exploding across every segment of Western Civilization—an ideology of human sexuality that provides the energy and piercing dynamic across American culture.  R.R. Reno, writing in the journal First Things, makes this astute observation: “. . . [P]rogressives now devote themselves to a bio-cultural war on the limits imposed by our bodies. The 1960s were a key moment in this pivot from what was then called ‘the Social Question’ to concerns about our bodies.  For millennia, sex was bound up with marriage and children.  This cultural link is rooted in biological reality: the intrinsic fertility of sexual intercourse.  But the Pill and new moral norms in the Sixties severed the connection between sex and reproduction.  Why, our cultural revolutionaries asked, should sex be limited to fertility?  Second-wave feminism reinforced this trend, as did gay liberation.  The first insisted that a woman’s body must not limit her professional and personal choices.  The latter insisted that the biological reality of our sexual organs should not limit our choice of sexual partners.”

Has this ideology of human sexuality affected the church of Jesus Christ?  Nancy Pearcey, in her important book, Love They Body (p. 11), offers some disturbing evidence that the church has indeed been co-opted:

  • About two-thirds of Christian men watch pornography at least monthly, the same rate as men who do not claim to be Christian.  In one survey, 54% of pastors said they viewed porn within the past year.
  • A Gallup poll found that almost half (49%) of teens with religious background support living together before marriage.
  • In a 2014 Pew Research Center study, 51% of evangelical millennials said same-sex behavior is morally acceptable.
  • A Life-Way survey found that about 70% of women who had an abortion self-identify as Christians.  And 43% said they attended a Christian church at least one a month or more at the time they aborted their baby.

The sexual revolution anchored in the pursuit of personal autonomy has indeed penetrated the church.

At least since the Enlightenment of the 18th century, “progress” has been a cherished word within Western Civilization.  Our civilization has championed industrial progress via the Industrial Revolution; social progress via the end of slavery, the Civil Rights movement and the expanded rights of women; financial progress as more wealth has been created through industrial, agricultural and computer technology.  In a sense, “progress” is by definition overcoming limits.  But, when progress is applied to the pursuit of personal autonomy, the results are not as positive.  Reno writes:  “. . . the power of the Pill to free women from fertility was widely embraced, and it served as the technological foundation for women’s liberation.  The expansion of options for women, along with changes that freed homosexuals from censure, was welcomed as an extension of our long tradition of promoting political freedom from arbitrary power.  But overcoming our bodies is not the same as rebellion against kings or protesting against racial discrimination.  In its essence, the American Revolution was a political act, as was the Civil Rights Movement.  Neither one redefined marriage, altered what it means to be a parent, or rethought the natural family.  By contrast, the sexual revolution, which is still unfolding, is metaphysical in character.  As a rebellion against nature’s constraints, it touches on every aspect of what it means to be human.”

How does the transgender movement and its ideology fit into this broad sexual revolution?  As the next step on the escalator of human progress, transgender ideology overcomes the constraints imposed by our bodies.  Reno argues that “If our sexual organs should not limit our freedom to have sex with whomever we wish—and please note this assumption underwrites a permissive sexual ethic for heterosexuals, not just homosexuals—why should biological facts limit our understanding of ourselves as men or women? . . . [T]ransgenderism has tremendous metaphysical significance as a symbol of successful rebellion.  Its open warfare on the body promises final victory.”    Indeed as Pearcey observes [p. 195], “scientific facts do not matter.  [Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity] laws are being used to impose a two-level worldview that disparages the physical body as inconsequential, insignificant, and irrelevant to who we are . . . the transgender narrative suggests that ‘the body is an accident that has befallen me; the real me has a true sex’ apart from the body.  ‘The body is an object set over against the personal subject located in the thinking-feeling mind.’  [In effect], the body is dismissed as irrelevant.”  Reno concludes that “By forthrightly and blatantly denying that our bodies can and should limit our sentiments, feelings, and choices, transgenderism puts an exclamation mark on the sexual revolution . . . [W]hat we are witnessing in today’s transgender mania is the next step of ‘progress’: securing our freedom, not from inherited inhibitions, and social censure, but from nature, and, indeed, from reality, which is why so much energy goes into controlling what people can and cannot say [or do].”  [A ridiculous example is the Biden administration’s efforts to amend Title IX of the Civil Rights Act, to include “gender identity” alongside “sex” in the law.  If female sports teams are forced to allow trans girls to join them, the era of female-only sports will be over.]

In conclusion, what does God’s Word say about all this?  How do we settle this confusion and cultural chaos when it comes to the transgender phenomenon?  Because the transgender issue focuses on real people who have real struggles, this is a sensitive and very personal issue.  However, I believe what follows accurately summarizes what the Bible teaches:

  1. Maleness and femaleness are God’s choice, determined at conception.  But growing into one’s masculinity or femininity and embracing it can be thwarted by cultural and family developments.  It seems reasonable to conclude that gender identity is a developmental issue.
  2. It is certainly true that God desires that every male grow to masculinity and every female to femininity.  When that does not occur, the culture has developed labels such as transgendered and transsexual.  Regardless of the labels, God sees each individual as of worth and value because they bear His image—but as broken individuals.  As with every human being, the salvation offered in Jesus Christ heals the brokenness.
  3. It is certainly true that God intends for males to manifest masculine characteristics and females to manifest female characteristics.  The fact that some people are born with evidence of mutations in sex-determining genes does not impact their value and worth to God.   However, the Bible is clear that men are to appear as men and women as women—see Deuteronomy 22:5.
  4. As with every individual human being, our fundamental identity can be found only in Jesus Christ.  Much of the postmodern world has focused on sex or gender as the primary aspect of personal identity.  But the Bible calls on us to identity with Jesus—He is our core identity, regardless of whether we are male, female, transgender, etc.  Identity in Christ is a profound, transformative concept that results from placing our faith in Christ.

May God, in His grace, empower the church to see transgendered people as they are to see every human being:  a broken sinner desperately in need of the salvation that Jesus offers.  As with all human beings, only in Christ is there healing, wholeness and the promise of a resurrected body after which the struggle with brokenness and sin will end.  In eternity there will be no struggle with identity or life’s meaning.  Both will be fulfilled in Christ.

See R.R. Reno in First Things (June/July 2022), pp. 65-67; Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality; and The Economist (25 June 2022), p. 26.

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