How Shall I Then Live?
I have just finished reading Saving Leonardo: A Call to Resist the Secular Assault on Mind, Morals & Meaning by Nancy Pearcey, B & H Publishing Group, Copyright 2010.
As a student of art, music and literature as well as some philosophy and a good bit of theology, this book, found at a local book store, caught my eye.
Saving Leonardo gives the reader an overview look at the history of modern man’s fact/value split (known as the “lower story” and the “upper story” in the book). It seeks to help us to understand the two basic worldviews that are prevalent today: Continental and Analytic. These two streams are manifested throughout today’s art, music, literature, politics and pop culture.
Pearcey uses the following dichotomies to describe our evolved mindsets:
Box of Things/ box of the mind
Mind (autonomous self)/body (biochemical machine) – in toto, the Liberal view of the human being
Imaginative truth (art)/rational truth (deterministic world of science)
Discussing the Continental worldview Pearcey notes that there are the schools of idealism, Marxism, phenomenology, existentialism, postmodernism and deconstructionism. The Analytic worldview stream holds empiricism, rationalism, materialism, naturalism, logical positivism and linguistic analysis. She quotes John Stuart Mill in talking about “the antagonism already separating the two traditions: The lower story, with its materialism, “is accused of making men beasts” while the upper story, with its irrationalism, is accused of making men lunatics.””.
Culture has reflected the dueling mindsets along the way. Artists, composers and writers have portrayed the philosophies of the day through their art. Saving Leonardo gives prominent examples of artists who have either mirrored the prevailing thought or who have worked to oppose it.
The book is divided into two main parts: The Threat of Global Secularism and Two Paths to Secularism. As a trans-gendered woman I became particularly interested in Chapter Three of the book’s Part One. The title of Chapter Three: Sex, Lies and Secularism.
In the section “Hooking up, Feeling Down” Pearcey begins “Let’s move to the most contentious sexual issues of our day such as homosexuality, transgendersism and the hook-up culture.” She then goes on to say that having an understanding of the two-story dualism of modern thinking will help the Christian in providing a holistic biblical alternative. Because of her shotgun approach of scoping trans-gender-ism within the same sights as aberrant sexuality, Pearcey does, I believe, relegate trans-gender-ism to be on par morally with acting out homosexually and one-night stand sexuality. I would state emphatically here that trans-gender-ism is not about acting out sexually. Trans-gender-ism is not homosexuality. It is about gender identity/gender dysphoria. My concern with anyone reading Chapter Three and Pearcey’s own reductionism of the trans-gender-ism issue as being a person with a deluded worldview interlocked with a self-hatred would be that the reader would certainly be misguided and misinformed about trans-gender-ism and gender dysphoria.
To be sure, trans-gendered (TG) people can act out homosexually or bisexually. Certainly, anyone can act out sexually and do it from a broken place in their psyche. Sadly, though, I have witnessed this same type of marginalizing before in the Christian community: trans-gender-ism aligned with homosexuality . In doing so, Pearcey sites the same article that I have contended with previously. Interestingly, though, she doesn’t mention the mindset behind the 50% divorce rate rampant in the church of Jesus Christ. (There appears to be enough biblical grace for divorcees but not enough grace for the trans-gendered individual who is at odds with their own body.)
Saving Leonardo is an overview of culminating worldviews. Because of this, suffice it to say, I read the rest of the section and the chapter and there is no detailed understanding given about trans-gender-ism, only inferences made about being able to flippantly choose your gender. The assumption here being I guess is that Pearcey is going to tell you what to understand about the issue. These assumptions are revealed in the section titled PoMoSexual Alienation. This section does mention that there are people using a postmodern point of view regarding gender. These people contend that gender is fluid and changeable, rejecting “the binary male/female system a mere social construction.”
One of the challenges for Christians coming out of this chapter should have been, “you should seek to understand other people’s world view but keep your own sexuality pure and undefiled by laciviousness.”
The effect of mind/body sanctity and wholeness, including an enduring marriage, is a strong testimony to the rest of the world whereas the elitist knowledge of psychologically determined ‘good and evil’, provided in this book, doesn’t go very far with anyone. Also, the word “compassion” is used by Pearcey. For all intents and purposes and in practice it is just an empty word that is used to frame talk about “contentious issues” by Christians in the ‘know’. In the context of this chaper it is also a condescending term.
As I have mentioned in a previous post, I have provided some identifying ‘sexual’ definitions for the LGBT community that I have witnessed first hand. I made these definitions so that I could talk about differences with the LGBT community. In the community itself the definitions overlap. Definitions, within the community, are secondary or even tertiary issues behind getting people to affirm and codify their behavior as being OK (most recently, the repeal of Don’t Ask; Don’t Tell). The LGBTQ community has changed labels (from homosexual to gay; from homosexuals to community and so on) to massage the message, to make what they are doing more palatable to others. But, they will also use the word “Queer” and other evocative terms when they need to describe their ‘personhood’s’ ‘empowered’ and ‘liberated’ uniqueness.
Some general definitions: trans-sexual men are men who want to appear as women to gain sex with other men. Trans-sexual women are women who want to appear as men to gain sex from other women. I don’t need to give examples here. You have seen this acted out in daily life. I assume that because Saving Leonardo is an overview of the generation of worldviews these sexual distinctions are not noted in Pearcey’s book. Only blanket statements are wielded regarding sexuality/gender issues, perhaps to rattle the cages of the Christian hamsters asleep on the wheel.
I mentioned earlier that transgender people identify themselves by their gender disconnect from their body and not by their sexual preferences. Pearcey does talk about the mind/body brokenness in modern thinking and there is some truth to what she is saying, especially as it relates to the LGBT community, but also to the general public. We are a people who say that bodies can be disposed of (abortion, euthanasia, embryonic research) and can also be used for sordid pleasure (homosexuality, bi-sexuality, trans-sexuality, hook-up sex, etc.) and who augment, plasticize, starve, binge-purge and reinvent our bodies, our looks, to fit a certain desired idolized self-image.
Pearcey writes about gender issues later in the section Bodies Matter. She talks about the Gender (psychological identity and sexual desire)/Biology (physical identity and anatomy) split. She talks about the divorcing of gender and anatomy as a means to denigrating the materiality of the body. She gives her psycho- socio-theo-opinion: “A genuinely biblical view honors and respects our biological identity. Psalm 139 says God “knits” together our bodies in the womb. Masculine or feminine identity is a gift from God to be enjoyed in gratitude.”
I agree with the latter-Psalm 139. I believe in a binary gender/sexuality – of male and female as separate and distinct beings. The physical boundaries of gender are represented by the unique anatomical differences of male and female. Psychologically, male/female boundaries are generally more fluid, hence sexuality issues and gender issues can more easily arise resulting in conflict and a resolution or repression of the conflict. Sexual identity may be influenced by environment, social constructs, psychological trauma and/or biology (hormone secretion on the brain in the womb). All of psychology’s assumptions about how gender identity is ultimately derived are just that, assumptions. None of them are verifiable. Psychology does, though, seek to relieve a person’s distress by trying to understand the cause of distress. The biblical wellness scenario: the whole person is a mind and body, one unified whole, either male or female, who is not in distress or despair.
What God has created is good. He knitted me together in my mother’s womb – with the gender disconnect. Because of this and the fact that there is also the work of redemption going on in human history, I made the decision many years ago to make the changes needed to live as a unified whole and as a woman. This was after many hours of ‘rationale’ sessions with counselors, psychologists and psychiatrists and healing prayer. I came to the understanding that I could make the change because God gave me the grace to do so within the framework of a Christian worldview of redemption. I do not embrace a post-modern worldview of gender.
Born in the fifties, I was raised in a Christian home, without psychological trauma or encouragement to be a female. I had never heard of a postmodern (PM) view of gender as described by Pearcey in her book. Of course, I knew of Woodstock and Warhol and of the ’60s sexual revolution. I also knew at the same time that I had a strong Christian worldview and that I was female. My understanding of being female in a male sexed body can be likened to a Spirit-filled Christian who views himself as a saint in a sinner’s body – a mind/body disconnect that is dwelt with daily within God’s purview of grace.
No trans-gendered person I know of, and there are many, had made their changes based on this PM worldview premise that Pearcey describes in her book. Rather, each one at various times has told me that they knew their gender identity when they were a small child. They may have, later on, used the PM gender theorist’s justification of gender fluidity to endorse their change from a secular worldview point. The real genesis of their change, as told to me, was inherent in them from the start of their lives. Generally, when a person writes about something they have no first hand knowledge of, they make assumptions and generalizations based on the loudest proponents banging their drums off in the distance. That is the case with Saving Leonardo, Chapter 3.
In doing so I feel Pearcey blacklists transgender people. Beyond this, I have also heard Nancy Pearcey, during a recent radio interview, mention the same “contentious” connection – trans-gender-ism and homosexuality. She undoubtedly set some teeth on edge about the subject of trans-gender-ism. I heard her say this on a Saturday morning MBN broadcast program called In the Market with Janet Parshall (I am a former student of the Moody Bible Institute. Therein lays my interest in the radio program.). When a person talks in this way they continue to propagate, I believe, a fear of the unknown (gender dysphoria). And, when people don’t understand something they often will reject it wholesale, out of fear.
Nancy knows, I have no doubt, that Scripture is very definitive about sexual sin whether its homosexual sin or hook-up sin. She also knows that Scripture does not define or mention trans-genderism (TG-ism). Because of this, Pearcey has to make inferences regarding TG-ism. I don’t agree with the inferences she has made in this section, the first being that it is related to a “contentious” sexual “issue” such as homosexuality or hook-up sex.
Here’s something of what compassion for a trans-gendered individual would look like:
1. Understanding that trans-gender-ism is not the same as acting out homosexually. It is not a sexual issue. It is a gender identity issue. (In general, most people are not confused about their gender. Some people are confused about their gender and then, there are a few people who are gender dysphoric.)
2. Understanding that trans-gender-ism (gender dysphoria) is a disconnect between mind and body that usually originates in infancy or early childhood and carries on into adult life. This disconnect may be due to a traumatic childbirth (see Frank Lake’s Clinical Theology), perhaps due to a deep psychological neurosis, perhaps due to a biological imbalance of hormones before birth). In any case, it is a heavy burden to carry. Christians are to bear one another’s burdens.
3. TG-ism may or may not be treatable or changeable in this life. The person may not be able to overcome his/her disconnect through counseling and Christian social ‘shock’ therapies (Dobson-esque tough love). In any case, this person has to choose the path to wholeness. The desire for wholeness, I would suggest, is inborn in all humans (the underlying point, I believe, of Saving Leonardo). I chose wholeness and unity of mind and body and spirit and a celibate lifestyle to walk in.
4. Tough love results in an even tougher resolve in the matter presented here.
5. Accept the trans-gendered person at face value. Don’t be dismissive of them. (I don’t know how many times I’ve seen a wife whisper to her husband, letting him know that she knows ‘about’ the trans-gendered person. This woman only wants a laugh at the TG person’s expense.) There is no need to create a social leper colony, keeping TG people away from the church. Embrace, not exclusion.
5. A trans-gendered person can have a happy life. Much of what I hear from Christian articles about trans-gender-ism is that trans-gendered people go off into despair and perhaps even become suicidal. This is not true, at least in my case and for others that I know.
6. It should be noted that a gender dysphoric person is not a neat little cataloged item found in a DSM manual or some coordinate on a worldview system map who may be pointed out with a “contentious” disdain. Rather, gender dysphoria is a person with their own personal dichotomy of mind and body who seeks complete and utter wholeness.
Having said all this, I do not think that trans-gender-ism should be promoted as a life choice by any group. It is a unique and difficult situation that should not be marketed in a gender ‘mall’. On the other hand, though, I do think that when all possible remedial actions have been considered to resolve the TG person’s identity conflict and a resolution is not forthcoming – is not towards a material end as presented by nature, then a material adaptation of nature can be accommodated to match the TG persons understanding and bring about wholeness. In other words, living with a separation of mind and body is not an option for anyone. For a person who is not trans-gendered this would be a difficult concept to understand. Especially since there are trans-sexuals who do play the gender game.
I realize that a Christian rationalist psychologist will say that a trans-gendered person should live with the tension and find ways to ‘deal’ with it. In other words, live out a Jack London novel of man struggling with nature and the beast. You should understand that this tension can be exceedingly unbearable. Trans-gender-ism tension, unlike sexual tension, does not seek to resolve itself in sexual relations with another person or in emotional relationships with another person. It seeks wholeness of being. Trans-gender-ism is not kitsch posing as a woman. That is trans-sexual-ism. There are, of course, varying degrees of Trans-gender-ism. Every person is different.
Finally, I don’t need the pity or compassion as construed at the end of the chapter. The chapter begins with the mention of “contentious issues” and ends with words about having compassion for the trans-gendered person. As usual, the “contentious issues” are spelled out by the ‘Christian’ but, the word “compassion” is rarely fleshed out.
What is fleshed out: I live as a Christian woman with a Christian worldview as a unified whole. I do not hate my body. I never did. I do hate, though, Christian psychological snobbery disguised as ‘knowing’ compassion.
On the whole, I think the book is an OK attempt to help Christians understand modern man’s dealing with two combating worldviews, Analytic and Continental. This book (actually, more of a collection of topical brochures) offers Christians a place to begin discourse with those who are wishing to find a resolution to the worldview conflicts they are facing on a daily basis. In discussing these topics Christians can introduce the Gospel’s answer of an alternative narrative history of redemption and wholeness to those who have lost their way: The Way, the Truth and the Life.
I certainly don’t agree with the author that art has to have unifying narrative to be of value. One of the earliest painters I connected with was Jackson Pollack. I remember seeing a painting of his in a Life magazine article and then later at the Art Institute in Chicago. This was a time back in my junior high school days. Jackson’s drip paintings reminded me of a brain’s neural network being charged with emotion. Perhaps, his paintings are a one-nanosecond glimpse of a much larger narrative. In any case, art is something you can take or leave as you see fit based on your own life narrative.
In the final words of the book, Pearcey encourages parents to not push their kids into being conservative (keeping things as they are). Rather, she encourages parents to push for “revolutionary” children. From my reading of Saving Leonardo, there seems to be no direct context given for defining her word “revolutionary”. Perhaps she means being an ‘out-side-the-box’ artist, composer or a unique Christian writer (she apparently hasn’t read Flannery O’Connor) or… ?
I’ll supply my own context: one revolutionary thing that I have done (something outside the box given me) is that I did not conserve (keep things as they are). Instead, I began living as woman to create a unifying whole, a life narrative of redemption, an autobiography of grace bestowed. And in doing so, I seek to emulate C.S. Lewis, a romantic-rationalist. Lewis, as revealed by his writing and talks, integrated the upper and lower stories.
Finally, I find it rather strange that the author never mentions the spontaneity, sonority and musical improvisation of jazz.