Book ReviewLove Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, by Nancy R. Pearcey. (Baker Books, 2018)

The last group to know anything about water are fish, Marshall McLuhan wrote. That is, while familiarity may breed contempt, it also may breed credulity especially among the “educated” class who confidently recline in the warm bath of received wisdom.

In her latest book, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Question about Life and Sexuality, Nancy Pearcey, Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, examines the schizophrenic received wisdom of our educated class by using examples that young people of any age can empathize with; and she does this against a revealing background of history, theology, biology, philosophy, law and politics.

The British broadcaster, Miranda Sawyer, a confirmed liberal feminist was pro-choice, then became pregnant and realized she had a baby inside her. Then again, if she thought of it as a mere gaggle of cells, it could be killed; but she writes, ”that seemed irrational to me. Maybe even immoral.” After researching the issue and producing a documentary, she concluded that life does, indeed, begin at conception and that abortion ends a life. Despite it all, she decided for abortion because the life inside of her had not “grown enough . . . to start becoming a person.”

Pearcey offers similar examples of women who admit that they were carrying a human life but advocate abortion, using rationales like, “The fetus is indeed a life, a life worth sacrificing.” Or “you must be prepared to kill” in defense of women’s rights. Or “All life is not equal.”

What kind of doublethink twisted these women into latter day Medusas ready to kill their progeny?

‘Personhood theory’

The answer to this question is “personified” in the Roe v Wade decision. In Judge Blackmun’s majority decision, he conceded that if the baby in the womb were a “person” it would be protected by the 14th Amendment; however, he asserted that the unborn baby is not a person, thus rendering it expendable.

The judge’s decision was rooted in “personhood theory,” a concoction pioneered by Peter Singer, the Princeton ethics professor, and others who concede that life begins at conception while maintaining that the life of a person begins sometime later, depending. Furthermore, pontificates the professor, thinking that human life has more moral significance than the life of a pig or dog is speciesism, apparently a most devoutly to be feared prejudice akin to racism.

In contrast Pearcey writes: “With every advance of science, it becomes more evident that to be pro-life is to be on the side of science and reason.” For as advocates of “choice” arbitrarily extend the available time for exterminating a baby with personhood theories, science has been working in the opposite direction, pushing back to the time of conception as the beginning of a human life.  

For example, scientists have now recorded flashes from sparks radiating out from the egg when the sperm meets it, calling this event, “breathtaking.” The use of ultrasound technology shows the infant in the womb in its earliest stages, doing what infants do, kicking, sucking its thumb and so on. As Pearcey writes: “. . . due to advances in genetics and DNA, virtually all bioethicists agree that life begins at conception. An embryo has a full set of chromosomes and DNA. It is a complete and integral individual capable of internally directed development in a seamless continuum from fertilization.”

With the life issue, as with other issues, the progressive faith is impervious to evidence; for the progressive worldview is one of narrow materialism in which the body is separated from the mind and from the soul, assuming that the latter exists within this worldview. Contrast this with the Biblical worldview which encompasses the total truth about life as reflected in human experience, the obvious design of the human body which itself reflects the sublime interconnectedness in all the natural world.

Even choice advocates like the renowned Professor Stanley Fish concede that the pro-life position is scientific while his side relies on “metaphysical and religious” distinctions.

The birth of scientism

The public perception is the opposite of this due to a pagan worldview that dates back to Plato who bifurcated humans into bodies and souls. Of more significance, as Pearcey points out, is that Enlightenment geniuses like Isaac Newton discovered a universe governed by precise mathematical laws. Their vision was so compelling that it appeared even human beings were subject to the same laws.

Though Newton himself didn’t overextend his vision; it was the literati, the publicists, who made a category mistake by fudging Newton’s science into a worldview, scientism, as Pearcey explains in her essential book, The Soul of Science, coauthored with the scientist, Charles Thaxton.

Just prior to Newton, Descartes felt the influence of this new science as it threatened to explain humans solely in material terms; so his opted for dividing a human into a body and a mind, thinking that he had provided a safe space where the human mind would be beyond the reach of scientific reductionism.  

This “disassociation of sensibility,” as it is sometimes called, is seen in the literature of the time; and in later writers like Swift who satirized the imperialism of the new science as did Blake who sounds like Pearcey in his famous lines contrasting the total picture of reality offered by the Bible with the fragmented vision offered by a materialist worldview.

The atoms of Democritus
And Newton’s particles of light
Are sands upon the Red Sea Shore
Where Israel’s tents do shine so bright.

But Descartes’ separate but equal doctrine proved to be inherently unequal. So science, with its impressive achievements formed the basis of a two tiered system in which the human mind “was cast into an upper story, where it was reduced to a shadowy substance totally irrelevant to the material world known by science – a kind of ghost tenuously connected to the human body,” as Pearcy writes in her abundantly rich book, Total Truth.

Darwinism and progress

Later Darwin came along and announced that the world accidentally made itself; therefore, life is purely material and purposeless. As Pearcey insightfully notes, such materialist preachments, ironically, do not elevate the material world; they debase it as mere particles floating around in search of a purpose.

So the purpose of sex, marriage and personal relationships can be determined ad hoc, subjectively. If this is true, then marriage is a human configuration as are other co-habitation arrangements, including homosexual marriage, group marriages and so on.

Likewise, if the aged become troublesome, abort their later years with the rationale that their quality of life is diminished.  Or if a young girl feels as if she is a man then, voila, so be it.  Or if sexual intercourse is purely physical and episodic, like eating or bathing, then do it.

Of course, such rationalizations existed prior to the dawn of modernity and will continue because people crave sensual pleasure; and they don’t need the justification of a worldview in order to “follow their bliss,” in the words of that shallow proselytizer of selfishness, Joseph Campbell.

Pearcey’s theme, though, is that a pagan worldview is reasserting itself camouflaged as progress.  And those who fail to progress will be increasingly “accused of intolerance and discrimination, branded as bigots and misogynists, and targeted for campaigns of shame and intimidation,” as Pearcey describes the price of non-conforming to this materialist worldview.

A Christian view of the body

She goes on to remind us that Christianity from its beginnings during the time of the Caesars was not “traditional,” for it often opposed the status quo, including abortion, slavery and all forms of dehumanization. So too the Biblical worldview elevated women, urging men to bring happiness to their wives including in the sexually explicit ways commanded in Proverbs 5:19 and in the Song of Solomon which celebrates “the delights of sensuous love.”

Pearcey’s book is not a call to “make sex a taboo again”; rather it is a treatise affirming the Christian truths embodied in the Incarnation and Resurrection that the human body is built, not for planned obsolescence, but according to an obvious plan wherein male and female complement one another, their bodies mirroring this truth as laid out in Genesis, “Male and female he made them.”

And, yes, many tracts and books take up themes similar to Pearcey’s, including several that claim to explain Pope John Paul’s Theology of the Body which begins with the same quote from Genesis. Pearcey’s book, though, is the Goldilocks, the “Ah, just right” version on this issue because of its engaging examples along with its clarifying and deeper understanding of the role that a worldview plays in the decisions that people, especially young people, make about sex, love and other life choices.

Terry Scambray is   This article was first published in the New Oxford Review and is republished here with permission.