Carl Trueman’s new book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is a helpful resource for understanding our culture’s obsession with sexuality, gender, and identity. Trueman’s book overlaps with other similar books I’ve mentioned here before (Live Not by Lies, Cynical Theories, Love Thy Body, etc.). I’ll for sure mention this book again in the future. For now I want to share a section where Trueman comments on Philip Rieff’s discussion of barbarism in Western culture.
Then there is the graphic image of human identities being flushed away like aborted fetuses. This is a clever connotation that Rieff makes. Debates about abortion today are typically not focused on the question of when life starts. Rather, they are debates about when personhood begins, a point used by Peter Singer to argue for the legitimacy of post-natal infanticide. In other words, the abortion debate is really about human identity, about who and what human beings are. And the fact that babies can be aborted and then disposed of like so much excrement is a telltale sign for Rieff that we live in a third world [i.e. a culture with no transcendent moral order].
Abortion, too, is a deathwork – not simply because it works the death of the unborn child but because it profanes that which the second world [i.e. a culture with a transcendent moral order] regarded as sacred: human life made in the image of God from the moment of conception. It is therefore anti-religious because it takes that which is most sacred in the social order, life itself, and flushes it down the toilet without second thought. And it is anti-historical because it erases the physical consequences of the sexual act between a man and a woman. In short, it is an act that can be deemed routinely acceptable only in a world that has repudiated any transcendent framework in favor of the individual preferences of the immediate present. Abortion presupposes a metaphysics, or, perhaps better, an anti-metaphysics.
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