What best explains the development of the Sexual Revolution? According to Carl Trueman, there are three key components: technology, politics, and ideas. In this interview, Sean and Dr. Trueman discuss his latest book – The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self – which focuses on key thinkers that helped pave the way for the Sexual Revolution. This interview was first recorded on Sean's YouTube channel, which is in partnership with the Talbot Apologetics program.
Dr. Carl Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He is an esteemed church historian and previously served as the William E. Simon Fellow in Religion and Public Life at Princeton University. Trueman has authored or edited more than a dozen books, including The Creedal Imperative; Luther on the Christian Life; and Histories and Fallacies. Trueman is a member of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.
Sean McDowell: Welcome to "Think Biblically", a podcast brought to you by Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. I'm your host, Sean McDowell, professor of Christian Apologetics. Today, we've got a bonus episode for you I think you're really going to enjoy. Hands down over the past year, one of the best, most interesting books I read is by Carl Trueman. It's called "The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self". He tells the story kind of the history of the sexual revolution through the lens of key people, such as Karl Marx, Darwin, Rousseau, poets like Wordsworth and others who shaped the thinking of the sexual revolution. He goes back a century in some cases too and shows how thinking developed in the way people understood what it means to be a self, an individual, and that these ideas come to fruition really in our time. Again, this is one of the most interesting and influential books I've read in a long time. In fact, I read it twice. Well, recently I had a chance to interview him on my YouTube channel, which is in partnership with our Talbot School of Apologetics. And because it's right in line with what we do here on the "Think Biblically" podcast, we wanted to make it available to you. So as always, we hope and trust it'll encourage you and equip you. And if you find it beneficial, please consider sharing it with a friend. One of the best books I've read in this past year hands down is by our guest today, Dr. Carl Trueman, and it's called "The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self". In fact, Carl, I read it twice. I enjoyed it so much and there's a good chance I'm going to go back. Well, today, we're going to walk through some of the story behind this. He really tells the story of the sexual revolution through the changing cultural means of what it means to be a self. So fascinating on super levels. But first, you and I were chatting before and you mentioned that about 40 years ago, somebody gave you a copy of "More Than a Carpenter", a book that my father had written. I would love to just hear your journey to faith.
Carl Trueman: Yeah. Well, I grew up in a very loving home, but it wasn't a Christian home. And a friend took me to hear Billy Graham, my friend, Andy Green. He may even be listening to this. We're still in touch. Andy Green took me to hear Billy Graham in 1984. I became interested in Christianity and Andy actually lent me your dad's book, "More Than a Carpenter". As I said before the programs, sadly I don't remember much about it other than the fact it was helpful. And it was that book, of all the early Christian books I remember reading, I remember that one and I remember J.I. Packer's, "God's Words". And it was those two books that I think were among the first Christian books that I ever actually read. So yeah. Have happy memories of your dad's writings.
Sean McDowell: Well, thanks for sharing. Praise the Lord, you came to faith because I absolutely love your book, I've said a bunch of times. And at the heart of your book is a question. It's a core question you aim to answer. What is that question and why did you focus on that one?
Carl Trueman: Well, the question is, how is it that the statement, "I'm a woman trapped in a man's body", has come to make sense, not just to university academics who stock in trade is these kind of things, but to the ordinary man, woman, boy, girl in the street. How's it come to grip the popular imagination, one might say, in such a way. And I chose the question because it's, in some ways, I think the most dramatic question of modernity that we see in our world at the moment and allowed me, well, to grab people's attention and also to get right to the very heart of the revolution that I want to examine in the book and that's the revolution in the notion of what it means to be a self, what it means to have an identity, how we think of our selves relative to others in the cultural historical moments at which we find ourselves.
Sean McDowell: Now that phrase that, "I'm a woman trapped in a man's body", you say there's certain metaphysical assumptions embedded within this. Explain what those are maybe to someone listening who's saying I'm not even sure what you mean by metaphysical assumptions.
Carl Trueman: Yeah. Well, metaphysical is just a sort of pompous way of saying philosophical assumptions or there are certain ideas that one is assuming to be true about human nature in general. Perhaps I can draw the assumptions out most clearly in presenting a contrasting scenario. Imagine going to your doctor 70 or 80 years ago and saying to them, "Doctor, I think I'm a woman trapped in a man's body." Almost certainly, your doctor at that point would've said to you, "Well, that's a problem. And it's a problem with your mind so we need to work on your mind and bring it into to conformity with your body." If you go to the doctor today, almost certainly your doctor is going to say to you, "Well, that's a problem with your body and we need to bring your body into conformity with your mind." When you step back and compare those two scenarios without judging which one is right or which one is wrong, I think it's pretty obvious that something fundamental has changed between those two events. And what's changed is this: the dramatic authority that has been taken from our physical bodies relative to our identity and given to our inner psychological states. In other words, we now work on the assumption that our feelings, for one of a better word, our feelings are the real us and our bodies are at best sort of instruments for realizing outwardly those inward feelings, at worst actually set in opposition to those feelings and problems to us being ourselves. So the basic assumption is that our bodies are no longer necessarily us. Our bodies no longer carry authority compared to our inner psychological convictions about who we are.
Sean McDowell: The way you're framing this is really helpful because you root the story of the sexual revolution going back 200 years. Of those who just joined us, we are going to look at some of the key figures 200 years ago who really shaped some of the thinking of where we come today. But you look at this through the lens of changing what it means to be a self. Why that lens at looking at the sexual revolution and what do you mean when you say the self?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. That was a very good question. I think often when we think about the sexual revolution, particularly as Christians, conservative Christians, we tend to think of the sexual revolution in terms of a set of behaviors that what happened from the 1960s onwards is that technology, entertainment, et cetera, et cetera, transformed what we think of as the range of acceptable sexual expressions or sexual behaviors in our society. So we tend to think of the revolution as a sort of, I won't say entirely isolated, but we tend to think of it as a specific phenomenon relative to human behavior. What I think the sexual revolution is is something much more profound and dramatic than that. And it doesn't stand in isolation from what's gone on elsewhere in society. What I think the sexual revolution is is it's a specific manifestation of the kinds of thinking about what it means to be a human being manifested specifically in the sexual realm. When you think about it, think about the Bible's teaching on sex. For example, it's very clear that sexual behavior is very closely correlated to what the Bible considers human beings to be. A man and a woman can have sex within the context of marriage. Human beings are not meant to have sexual relationships with animals. There are all kinds of taboos attached to sexual behavior in the Bible that indicate sex isn't just one indifferent form of behavior. It lies right at the very core of what we think human beings are and the things that we allow and the things that we forbid really connect to, well, what we think human beings are and what human beings are for. And therefore the sexual revolution, I think, as it transforms the range of acceptable sexual expressions and sexual behaviors is not simply about sex. It's actually about what we think human beings are for. And that brings me to my notion of the self. For me, it's not the kind of common sense notion of the self that you and I might use. When I logged on today, I was perfectly aware that I'm not Sean McDowell and you are aware you're not me. We are different self consciousnesses. What I mean by the self is how we think of ourselves as individuals connecting to other human beings. What is it that makes us tick? Where does our identity lie? What things are important for our flourishing. If you're like, "What are we for? Not simply, what are we? A pile of genetic material organized in a certain way, but what are we for? Do human beings have some kind of larger purpose beyond simply being a pile of stuff with a heartbeat?" So that's what I mean by self.
Sean McDowell: So you're telling this story of the sexual revolution over the past couple hundred years plus. Now I can hear some people saying, "Look, the Bible says we're made as sex beings." Cultures throughout the history of the world talk about sex. I mean, they've found pornographic images on ancient vases, pottery, on caves. So what is it that makes the sexual revolution unique?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. Again, all your questions seem to be good. I've suddenly realized that every answer... that's a great question. Well, that is a great question. And I think you're pointing to the fact that when you look at the behaviors that are embodied in the sexual revolution, they're not typically unique. I mean, adultery didn't arrive in the 1960s. Read the Iliad. The Iliad is an ancient epic poem about what? It's about a guy running off with another guy's wife and precipitating a 10 year war. Now that was put together, last time I looked, I think it was around about the 8th century BC they think the Iliad is sort of formed as a coherent poem. So adultery is not new. Go back to ancient Greece, homosexuality, homosexual behavior is not new. As you pointed out, pornography, the public depiction of sex act in works of art, et cetera, et cetera, that's not new. So there's a sense in which if you want to understand the sexual revolution as the arrival of new sexual behaviors, it's not going to work because they've been around. What's different in the sexual revolution I think it's two things. One, the bounds of transgression are effectively abolished or are massively extended beyond anything we've ever seen before in human history. So that transgressive nature of sex disappears. But more importantly, I think the sexual revolution philosophically is predicated on a notion that really gained steam, oh well, via the work of and then after Sigmund Freud. And that is the idea that our sexual desires are fundamentally constitutive of who we are. And we see that in the language we use. When we talk about lesbians, gays, straight even, we routinely identify people relative to their sexual desire. And of course, one can be a gay person or a straight person without ever having had a sexual encounter, engaged in any kind of sexual activity because we are talking about, to use the modern parts, we're talking about an orientation or a desire. And that way of using sex to define people as who they are and therefore to define human flourishing in terms of sexual liberation and sexual license, that's a new thing. And that really takes us to the heart of the sexual revolution. The sexual revolution is not inventing adultery. It's not inventing promiscuity. It's not inventing homosexuality. What the sexual revolution is doing is legitimating all of these things and teaching us that this is who you really are. This stands right at the very center of that thing called the self.
Sean McDowell: Now there's three pieces of this story that you hint at that need to be a part of the conversation. One is politics. Clearly that plays a role. The second one is technology and the third one are intellectual ideas and people that we're going to get to in a minute. So you say distinctly in your book, again, we're here with Carl Trueman talking about his book, "The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self", that you're giving an intellectual history how some of these ideas have been embedded for centuries and kind of climax in the moment in which we find ourselves. But you do say that technology also helps push the sexual revolution forward. I realize this is a whole nother book, but just give us a hint of what you mean how technology plays a part of the story as well.
Carl Trueman: Sure. The technological side of the story is absolutely central. And as you indicate it, yeah, not wanting to write a book of 2,000 pages, I couldn't begin to kind of touch on that.
Sean McDowell: Sure
Carl Trueman: But I think technology plays a role in two distinct ways. One, on a practical level, it clearly makes behavior plausible that was implausible before. Most obvious example would be the pill. What does the pill do? Well, the pill allows men to have sex with women with a dramatically reduced risk of pregnancy. In other words, it breaks the connection between sex and procreation that really transforms the function of sex within society. A hundred years ago if you're a guy in your late teenage years, all you think about of course in your late teenage years is wanting to sleep with a woman. Probably it's a high risk activity, unless you get a job, you keep yourself clean, you persuade her family that you are a good bet for the rest of her life. You have to put a lot of effort into sleeping with a woman, if you like, because it's going to be for life. Once the pill arrives, then the logic of promiscuity, of penalty free sex becomes a real possibility and that lies, again, at the heart of much of the behavior of the sexual revolution. We could say the same for antibiotics. Again, the advents of penicillin as a way of eliminating or dramatically reducing the risk of very serious sexually transmitted diseases makes promiscuity a more plausible form of behavior. And therefore makes the philosophies that argue for promiscuity more socially plausible. So that's the first thing I think that technology does. It provides a mechanical way of making sex safer. Secondly, I think it plays more broadly speaking to the way we imagine the world to be. And technology as a whole shapes the way we think of about the world and the more powerful and the more influential technology is, the more we are inclined to think of the world as stuff that we can manipulate rather than something that's ordered that we have to respect. Now, human history has always been a balance of the two, but I think the balance is now tipping dramatically in favor of the world being stuff. In the middle ages, farmers clearly plowed the fields and scattered. They manipulated their environment, but they had to do it very much in accordance with the seasons over which they had no control. So their manipulation of the environment ran along pretty narrow tracks set by the structure of the world by the rhythms of the seasons. The more technology is able to manipulate the world around us, the more we are inclined to think that if you like, there are no rules, there is no structure. Anything that gets in the way of how we want to behave is simply a problem to be technologically surmounted and technology can do that if we wish. So I would say the second and perhaps more subtle way that technology affects us quite broadly is it shapes the way we imagine the world to be and therefore of ourselves within that larger world.
Sean McDowell: I love that section of your book because I talk a lot about a lot about this with Gen Z, that they're the first digital generation that has what they want when they want it, how they want it, where they want it at their fingertips. And this creates even that realization, a sense that I can conform reality to myself instead of myself to an external reality. And so it's not a coincidence that one of the words of the year recently was post truth because truth implies an objective reality outside of myself I have to conform to. So this what you're talking about with technology and things like the pill, other birth control and antibiotics plays a huge part of this story moving forward in the sexual revolution to where we're at today. Now, a couple more questions and we're going to jump into some of these key figures historically where we amazingly see the seeds of certain modern ideas a century and two centuries ago. But can you tell us what you mean when you talk about how the modern person being understood with their commitments as the psychological man. What do those categories mean and how is that different?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. It's a term I draw from Philip Reef, really a Freudian sociologist, but a man I think of tremendous insight into the way certainly the modern west had developed in the 20th and then on into the 21st century. He uses the term psychological man really to refer to a type of self, again, to use the term self, a type of self that sees human flourishing and human satisfaction as essentially an inner state of feeling well, an inner state of psychological wellbeing that that which is satisfying to us is that which brings us an immediate sense of psychological satisfaction. And Reef's argument was that when that type of self emerges as normative, then we tend to start thinking of the world outside ourselves as subservient to that end. In other words, if there's something out there that gets in the way of me feeling happy, it needs to be eliminated, marginalized, erased or whatever. We see plenty of that today when you think about so-called cancel culture and the pressure that's growing on freedom of speech and freedom of religion. The very existence of somebody else with a different idea, you'll hear people talking about, that's oppressive or I didn't feel safe when that person said that. Now that's bizarre language for somebody say born in the sixties like I was because ideas don't scare me. People with guns and knives scare me. I'm British, by the way, so I don't even have the American feeling about that, but to say words are unsafe, make you feel unsafe, one's instinct to say, well, that's silly. That's trivializing, but it isn't really. When you do conceive of yourself primarily as your psychological states, then anything that damages or disrupts those psychological states might seem to you to be as dangerous as something that damages your body. So the psychological self really is the self that's emerged as dominant in the last 50 years whereby inner feelings are critical to wellbeing, our satisfactions are psychologically felt, one might say.
Sean McDowell: So if the modern idea is that you're supposed to live out certain feelings and not be inhibited by culture, be true to yourself, why are some psychological identities considered legitimate, such as LGBTQ, but others are considered taboo, such as incest or pedophilia? And for anybody listening, I'm not putting those on the same level. I'm making a logical question based upon the reasoning within our culture that puts emphasis on the self and feeling and authenticity, why are some considered legitimate and others not?
Carl Trueman: Well, there are a number of angles to that question. I mean, first of all, it's obvious that one cannot have a society where everybody's inner feelings are honored the same as everybody else's, that you simply can't have an infinite number of psychological identities all defended, protected, legitimated by society at large. So somebody's got to police this. At the end of the day, to take an extreme example, the serial killer who wants to just go out and express themselves by killing people can't be tolerated. We need laws against serial killers. And I'm not trivializing here when I say let's take an extreme example in order to make the point. So everybody accepts that some identities are going to be considered legitimate. Others are going to be suppressed, marginalized or even punished by law. So that's the first point to make. Secondly, I think that when it comes to psychological identities, well, let's think about the sexual revolution. You raised the issue of why is incest and pedophilia taboo. One can offer a kind of old style, I suppose, liberal objection to those and say, well, incest and pedophilia typically involve the abuse of somebody. It's that one person is being used as an object by another. So the small child who's being sexually abused by the adults, there's no consent there and there's real damage being done simply to allow that adult to fulfill their sexual urges. And an old style liberal, I think, would want to make the case there that, well, in that case it's an issue of consent. The problem, of course, with that is, and I raise this problem in the book and again, like you, I want to say I'm not trying to equate two consenting homosexuals with a pedophile, but what I would say is this, if you move to a situation such as we have in the sexual revolution, where you say that sexual acts in themselves have no intrinsic moral value, that the moral value of the sexual act is only determined by whether those engaged in it have all given their consent, that is not a strong foundation for sexual morality. It's not a strong found because for example, with pedophilia, we get kids to do a lot of things they don't consent to. We get them to eat their greens. We get them to go to school. We get them to go to bed at certain times. Now, again, that's not to trivialize it, but it is to say, hang on a minute, consent, one could also turn around and say, well, pedophilia is an example where children are being damaged by the uncontrolled sexual urges of adults. Well, then you get into a problem with the sexual revolution because we allow how adulterers to get divorced with impunity all the time. And what is it when a marriage falls apart because of adultery and the kids are left all at sea in terms of their family is now broken, what's happened? Well, they've been damaged by the inability of their one or both of their parents to control their sexual desires. So again, the argument that we can't have children damaged by adult sexual desire is already a somewhat weak one, given the way we argue relative to divorce. On incest, well, not all acts of incest involve an adult impose themselves on a child. So some of them involve relationships between consenting adults. And if contraception's used, there's no danger of conception. So if the sex act has no intrinsic value, why would one say it was wrong? So your question really, I think, opens up a real can of worms here and sort against all that background, I would say, so why are some things permitted and some things not? I would say, it seems to me it comes down to taste by and large.
Sean McDowell: Wow
Carl Trueman: There are certain things that society finds distasteful and there are certain things that it doesn't find distasteful. And I find that a very disturbing situation to be in. But I'm not sure that anyone I've yet seen a coherent defense of modern sexual morality, which allows me to deal to my satisfaction with the instances of pedophilia and of incest.
Sean McDowell: That's really well said. If it becomes a matter of taste and the cultural taste changes, then the door is wide open for these behaviors and beyond. And I think that's right. Now, one last question before we jump into some of these figures is I want to hear you explain why it's not enough for somebody to buy a wedding cake at any bakery in town, but they have to be able to buy a wedding cake at every bakery in town. And I asked because just a couple weeks ago, I interviewed Jack Phillips who was a part of the Masterpiece Cakeshop story. He has a new book that's out. And he said, somebody literally could have go on two minute walk down the street and had a cake design for a same sex union, but that's not enough. Something deeper is going on. What's the deeper part that's going on?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. You're pointing here to the difference between tolerance and equality. Ten years ago, a lot of Christians were saying, "Well, we can concede gay marriage because we don't want to see gay neighbors go to prison." And I have a lot of sympathy with that argument. Do we want criminal penalties attached to certain private behaviors? And that's really an argument for tolerance. The thing about tolerance, of course, is that tolerance typically involves disapproval. I disapprove of you, but I don't want you punished. And that's a different thing to equality. Equality is I actually affirm you as who you are. And again, to go back to my Freud point earlier, if sexual desire becomes determinative of identity, then sexual desire becomes is very foundational determinative of who you are. Step out to sort of broader framework for a moment, all of us as human beings, we want to belong. To use the terminology I use in the book, we want to be recognized. We want to be acknowledged by other people as legitimate in the way we think ourselves to be. Go back to the schoolyard. If you think you are a top baseball player and you don't get picked for the team, you feel bad.
Sean McDowell: Sure.
Carl Trueman: You feel bad because you have not been recognized by the captain or the coach or the school and something that is very central to your identity has been denied and you feel bad. Bring that up to the present day, you're a gay couple and you think of yourselves, you think of your sexual orientation, you think of your gayness as absolutely fundamental to who you are. You wander into this cake bakers and you ask him to bake cake for your gay wedding, which is central to your identity and he says, no, he won't do because of his religious convictions. You have there a clash of two different worlds. The cake baker is taking the very legitimate stand that this contravenes my deepest religious convictions. We might say, this contradicts my identity at a very deep level to do this. On the other hand, you have the gay couple and when are refused service relative to the wedding cake, and I think Mr. Phillips made it very clear, he would've served them any other kind of cake.
Sean McDowell: That's right, he did.
Carl Trueman: And we are specifically talking here about a wedding cake, not about the provision of cakes and food in general. What they hear is you are refusing to acknowledge who I am at my deepest level. So we have a clash in some ways of two different identity world views, if there is such a term. But you have two people or three people in this case talking past each other and not fully understanding what the other one is doing. And this of course is where it's going to get very sticky and it goes back to that previous question about, okay, which identities are legitimate and which are not? There you have a classic example of where two identities collide and somebody's going to make a decision about which identity wins in that context. And sadly in Mr. Phillips case, it was the law court. It became the law court, a very expensive and very traumatic process for him.
Sean McDowell: So you're telling this sweeping intellectual history of the ideas that contribute to the modern sexual revolution. Let's look at, we won't have a lot of time, but just kind of highlight some of the key thinkers and ideas that they contributed to these modern ideas that are almost accepted just kind of intuitively by people. So you say Rousseau had a huge contribution. What was his ideas?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. Rousseau's a good example of that sort of 18th century thinker who moved the nature of the self inward. He didn't begin that process. You could go to Descartes, for example. You could even go to Martin Luther to some extent. The reformation itself represents something of a move inward, but Rousseau is the guy who essentially said we are our feelings. Our sentiments are very fundamental to who we are as moral human beings. And he was not entirely wrong on that. I've used this example many times that if I see a horrible crime being committed and I don't feel anything, I have no emotional response to it, then you'd say I was morally defective in some way. When I see a young child being exploited or suffering, it's right and proper that I feel empathy for them and that's part of what I am as a moral being. What Rousseau really does though is sort of so emphasize those inner feelings that that becomes constitutive of what he thinks human beings are. And it's picked up by the romantics. The romantics, the great artistic movements of the later 1830, 19th century really played to the emotions and trying to get the emotions in balance, make the emotions healthy was the way to make human beings moral. The French revolution approved a disaster in terms of trying to do it all on the basis of reason and [inaudible 00:32:02] cultivating through art the right emotional responses, the right emotional shape of ourselves was seen to be very important to what it meant to be a moral human being. And what that did was it really supercharges that process of authorizing psychology that I talked about right at the very start of the interview.
Sean McDowell: Yeah. Now the romantic poets also shifted not only towards this emotional feeling at the heart of being human, but as sex as being central to an authentic identity. Doesn't that trace back to some of Wordsworth, Shelley, Blake and these poets?
Carl Trueman: It does. Not so much to Wordsworth. I think Wordsworth's beef is more to get people back to rural community. But certainly when you look at Shelley and Blake, particularly Shelly, you see a desire there to shatter the idea of lifelong monogamous marriage as being an inherently oppressive institution. Shelley was very much of the idea that as soon as marriage ceases to fulfill the psychological needs of the partners involved, it should be dissolved and you should move on. Shelley, of course, had a vested interest in doing that because it's kind of how he lived his own life. And his second wife who was Mary Godwin before she became Mary Shelley, her father, William Godwin, had argued for sort of open marriage and communal living himself in his political philosophy. But in the hands of Shelley, this becomes part of his artistic presentation to the world. And also of course connects very closely to polemic against religion because what is the primary authority for maintaining marriage as a lifelong monogamous bond? It's the church. It's the church. Much of Shelley's attack on religion was focused on the Jews, but really the Jews for Shelley were kind of code for the church. It was less controversial to hammer the Jews than it was to hammer the Christian faith. But in his mind, organized religion of any form was seen as problematic because of the way it provided a foundation for sexual morality. So you can see obvious continuity with what goes on today in terms of attacks on the church relative to a marriage and sexual morality.
Sean McDowell: So we see the story start to emerge with Rousseau about it's looking inward to the self that's central to being human. We see these poets talking about rejecting religion, going back to nature, but also the sexuality is starting to become a part of who we are. Then you have the section on plastic people who would be the typical foes that would be cited, Nietzsche, Marx and Darwin. Obviously Nietzsche, there's a huge section in your book, written a ton of books, just a towering thinker, but in terms of the sex revolution, what's some of the core ideas that he gave that helped advance the ball, so to speak?
Carl Trueman: I think the central idea that Nietzsche puts forth is, well, it's really the abolition of human nature as an authoritative phenomenon. Nietzsche was essentially saying what later existentialist in the 20th century was saying was that there is no such thing as human nature. Now you might immediately push back and say, well, did Nietzsche not think that there was something that bound him together with Richard Vagner that didn't apply to a horse or a chicken or a rock? So of course, Nietzsche did. Nietzsche knew there were such things as human beings. What Nietzsche was denying was that there was such a thing as human nature that brought with it a moral structure to which individual human beings had to conform themselves in order to flourish. For Nietzsche, we are intentional beings, but by virtue that we are beings that are able to sort of forge our own way. We are not to look to church. We're not to look to religion. We're not to look to some abstraction of human nature as a way of justifying our behavior. We take responsibility for ourselves to act as free human beings. The way that tended to play out in Nietzsche's thinking was he conceived of the ideal human being as being an artist. I say in the book that I think Nazism has given us an unfortunate lens for interpreting Nietzsche because Nietzsche talks about the Superman, the Ubermensch. And often when we think now about the Superman, we tend to think about the racially pure Aryans of Hitler's diseased dreams. I think when Nietzsche's talking about a Superman, he's thinking more about somebody like Oscar Wilde, somebody who flirted convention, who transgressed and essentially created himself. Oscar Wilde was Oscar Wilde's greatest invention and that's become something of the normative type. Set aside the sexual revolution, that's become something of the normative type of the person in the west today. We all like to be ourselves. We all like to invent ourselves. We all like to think of ourselves as wills that are accountable to nothing and to nobody. So Nietzsche, very, very important figure. And what he essentially does is he kind of shatters the romantic dream. For Rousseau, it's okay going inwards because if Sean McDowell and Carl Trueman both go inwards and recover the inner voice of nature, hey, it's going to be a nice, empathetic inner voice of nature. It's going to be the voice of human nature. Nietzsche's going to say no, you go inwards and what you find is raw will. And Trueman finds Trueman and McDowell finds McDowell and the stage is set for an almighty struggle at that point.
Sean McDowell: Wow. Now you also talk about Carl Marx. We won't go into that in depth. Darwin you say is one of the most significant figures, gets rid of teleology, design purpose embedded with nature, but talk about Freud because his idea that sexual fulfillment is central to human existence and this point that I read in you, I'm not sure why I hadn't thought about this before, he's the first one who starts to describe children as sexual beings. Why is that so significant?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. Freud is a central figure in a lot of ways. And one must remember of course that the Bogeyman, Freud that a lot of Christians think of is this sort of liberty and Freud himself was not a liberty. Freud himself had a fairly bleak, certainly the later Freud had a fairly bleak view of the possibilities for human beings. There's much there that an Augustinian or a poor line Christian can kind of affirm in Freud in terms of he's not a utopian thinker at all. Freud is of interest in various ways. I think one, he's a sort of deviant son of Rousseau and the romantics on this level. That Freud agrees with them that yes, that inner voice of nature is sort of who we really are, but where he disagrees with them is that for Rousseau, that inner voice of nature is this sweet, empathetic voice. For Freud, no. The inner voice is ultimately the [inaudible 00:39:18] and the [inaudible 00:39:18] is very dark, an uncontrolled sexual space. So yes, we are constituted by our psychology, but our psychology is a very dark and bleak thing. If anything, Freud, he's sort of agreeing with a Marquis de Sade, one might say, contemporary of Rousseau essentially. That Freud is a very dark figure on that front. He also emerges in the late 1930, 20th century Vienna at a time when a lot of research is being done on childhood sexuality and a lot of interesting things going on relative to what extent are children sexual beings? To what extent is childhood sexual behavior deviance? Does it represent mental illness? Does it represent innate immorality or is it simply part of growing up? And Freud emerges as probably the most prominent spokesman for the idea that human being, our development into adulthood can be characterized by passing through a series of stages where our sexual desires are directed in different ways. And that's an interesting and debatable point about human psychology. Philosophically of course, it's interesting because it makes human beings sexual beings. It's not a case of, well, you pass through puberty and then you develop these sexual desires that become part of you. It's from the moment you're born, maybe even within the womb, the things that are driving you are sexual desires. You may not think that. The ego and the super ego play their role for Freud in rationalizing and controlling these things. But at core you're a sexual being and that makes human nature, human beings, human selfhood, essentially sexual. Once you do that, of course, it means sex is get political because sexual codes at that point, rules about what you can and cannot do sexually become rules about the kind of person you can and cannot be. And there's nothing more political than rules that determine who you can be. So the rise of sex as politics was inevitable once the Freudian idea of sex as identity had come to grip the imagination.
Sean McDowell: Now you also talk about people like Wilhelm Reich, who wrote in the thirties the sexual revolution where the family is oppressive and must be overthrown, kind of a neo-Marxist kind of thinking. Herbert Marcuse basically says freedom comes through regulating order and education and the state must be used to advance these ideas. You're telling this broad couple hundred year history that culminates in this moment, but how does pornography today advance some of these ideas and help bring them to culmination?
Carl Trueman: Yeah. Pornography is of course, one of the great scourges of modern society. And I would preface my answer by saying, we have no idea where the current epidemic or pandemic of porn is going to take society in the coming years. Pornography often again, when Christians think about pornography, we tend to think about a number of things. We tend to think about the lust it inspires and we tend to think about the exploitation of the human beings involved, particularly sex trafficking, sex trade. And those are certainly very, very legitimate concerns. I would also say we should add at least one more to them and that's the philosophy of sex that has been presented there. The philosophy of sex is that sex acts are there for the purpose of the audience. Sex acts are there for the pleasure of a third party. Sexual activity is not about giving oneself to another. It's about receiving pleasure one self. And those are all characteristics of the modern self in general, and specifically of the modern sexual self. So I would say pornography is a ferocious way of reinforcing many of the pathologies that already exist in our culture. And it reduces sex to an impersonal thing as well. One of the great moments in English literature, I read this in class, I think I may have quoted it in the book is John Milton's description of Adam seeing Eve for the first time in paradise lost. And what comes across so beautifully in that encounter is when Adam sees Eve, he first understands himself in a way that he's never done before and he comes to see the whole world in a different light. And then he gives himself. They run off into the bushes and make love. And to me, that's a great example of what sexual behavior in the Bible is meant to be about. It's meant to be between a man and a woman within the lifelong bond of marriage and it's about giving oneself specifically to another. To use Roger Scruton, the English philosopher's language, love is about faces, not bodies. You have sex with a body, you make love to a face. I say to students, on the day you get married and you turn around and you see a woman walking up the aisle and she's a beautiful woman, but she's not the woman you're engaged to, that won't do because you do not want to have sex with a beautiful body that night, you want to make love to the beautiful woman. And I think what pornography does is it depersonalizes sex. It makes sex a commodity and it teaches us that life is all about our personal gratification, not about dependency, sacrifice, vulnerability relative to other people. And that I think, that [inaudible 00:45:07], that's what the Bible teaches about the human self, as opposed to what's society currently teaches about the human self.
Sean McDowell: Got one last question for you, that in the section you have about the LGBTQ revolution. But it's so fascinating. You said there's some tension between the L and the G and the T, but ultimately they come together with the shared sense of victimhood and oppression from Stonewall through Aids, the crisis because of a larger cause. That was such a helpful way of describing that. Let me end by asking you this, because I want to respect your time, give me one practical thing. I really hope everybody's going to go get your book and read it and understand these ideas in so much more depth, but what's one practical thing those of us who are believers can do to make a difference to resist some of these ideas that have been so destructive?
Carl Trueman: Wow. I can give you two or three.
Sean McDowell: That's great.
Carl Trueman: One on its own would not be adequate. First of all, I think the church needs to be the church and we need to make sure we are teaching people the whole council of God. Don't get so preoccupied with the specifics of culture that that's what you focus on. We can understand the LGBTQ movement within the context of rich teaching on the whole council of God and on biblical teaching on marriage. So make sure the basic catechetical stuff is in place so that we are well placed to handle whatever the culture throws at us. Secondly, I think understand that life is going to get more difficult. I don't see China level persecutions arriving in the United States anytime soon. I think some individuals like Mr. Phillips that you referred to earlier are going to suffer terribly. I don't see that suffering coming generally to everybody at this point, but I think the church needs to realize life's going to get more difficult and therefore we need to prepare ourselves for that. And we need to remember. We need to remember that one of the great things that the Bible teaches is that believers, God's people will suffer, but their suffering will be sanctified to them to their greater glory. And I think they need to keep hold of the heavenly dimension of this. Thirdly, I think on a very practical level, we need to realize that so much of the attraction of something like the LGBTQ movement, particularly to young people is that it's providing a cause and it's providing a community for them to belong that gives them something greater than themselves. I could have written the book about the statement, he pledged allegiance to ISIS online that would've allowed me to explore many of the similar themes, believe it or not, because I think what we are facing at the moment is a generation where the traditional ways of belonging; family, church, and nation have collapsed and yet human beings still want to belong. Young people still want to belong.
Sean McDowell: That's right.
Carl Trueman: So I would say the church needs to think about the community aspect of being a church, not to soft peddle doctrine, not to soft peddle the distinctiveness and even the offensiveness of the gospel, but to realize that we need to provide somewhere where people go and they can belong. And that of course applies to young people struggling with LGBTQ stuff. Not that we affirm them in their chosen identities, but they should be able to come to our churches and feel welcomed
Sean McDowell: Amen.
Carl Trueman: even as we speak out of that loving community to show them a better way. So those would be the three things. [inaudible 00:48:29] whole council of God. Remember hope, remember the promises. And thirdly, think about what loving community looks like in your church. It probably doesn't look the same in every church. It will look different in Western Pennsylvania to Los Angeles. But think about what an affirming, loving community will look like in your church.
Sean McDowell: I love that you wrap up your book bringing it back to the importance of natural law and the theology of the body, but also the importance of community. Thanks so much for excellent work and for joining us on the show.
Carl Trueman: Well, thanks for the great questions and for the kind words about the book. Look forward to seeing you. And pass on my thanks to your dad for "More Than a Carpenter."
Sean McDowell: I will that you said that. My pleasure. Let's do it again. Thank you.
Carl Trueman: Thanks.