Nancy Pearcey, a renowned Christian apologist and professor in residence at Houston Baptist University discusses her valuable insights into some of today’s biggest hot button cultural topics.
Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. Sometimes, we as parents, aunts, uncles, grandparents and even friends find that we have to explain some very difficult concepts to children, especially in our current cultural climate. Finding a balance between helping children understand God’s Truth and then how it applies to our everyday lives, can really be quite difficult.
Our guest is renowned Christian apologist Nancy Pearcey, a professor and scholar in residence at Houston Baptist University. Nancy’s newest book Love Thy Body: Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, provides valuable insight into some of today’s biggest hot button cultural topics.
Nancy, welcome back to Family Policy Matters. It’s great to have you on the show.
NANCY PEARCEY: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
JOHN RUSTIN: Young people these days, Nancy, seem to have an innate appreciation for justice and compassion, which is great. But you warn that today’s secularism can really destroy the basis for true compassion and true human rights. How do we balance the quest for justice and compassion without inadvertently tearing down or undermining the fundamental rights and dignity that we all should experience as members of the human race?
NANCY PEARCEY: I think what we need to help our children understand is that you cannot have human rights unless you have an adequate view of human nature. In my book Love Thy Body, I quote an internationally best-selling book called, Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and [the author, Yuval Noah Harari] basically argues that if you’re an Atheist, if you’re an Evolutionist, you do not have a basis for human rights. And he himself, by the way, is an Atheist. And so, he’s arguing that there is no basis for human rights. For example in the Declaration of Independence, we Americans say that human rights are endowed by the Creator and that all humans are created equal. Well, in this internationally best-selling book he says, that’s not true. If you’re an Evolutionist, you realize that natural selection works on variations among living things. And so he says, “created equal” should be re-translated into “evolved differently.” And of course in a materialist worldview, there’s no creator to endow humans with rights. There’s only, as this book puts it, “A blind evolutionary process devoid of any purpose.” And so phrase-by-phrase, this book dismantles the claims in the Declaration of Independence. It says that humans are merely biological organisms driven by the instinct to seek pleasure, and that the concept of equal rights is nothing but a Christian myth. So we have to realize that when ideas like this permeate down through the pubic mind, human rights will increasingly be seen as nothing but a Christian myth; and then, of course, who is going to bother to protect them. So politics is downstream from culture. To be effective, we really cannot avoid the larger philosophical question: “What does it mean to be human?” Do we have an adequate concept of human nature to guarantee human rights?
JOHN RUSTIN: I know that as we apply this to our daily lives we often hear a common objection to having standards: “Why not just let people live the life they want to live, as long as they are not hurting anyone else.” Isn’t that okay? Nancy, how can we help our children understand that God’s design for us is really to live in community with others, and that as we live in that community, the things that we do and the things that they do will inevitably influence and affect other people?
NANCY PEARCEY: Right. And they affect us because people change the laws to reflect their viewpoint, and when the laws are changed that affects everyone. So, a free society is possible only if it recognizes some rights as pre-political. That means they’re based on something prior to the state. The state does not create them, it merely recognizes them. So take for example the right to life, the issue of abortion. The right to life used to be a pre-political right; it was something you had just because you’re a member of the human race. But the only way the state could legalize abortion was to rule that some humans are not legal persons, and that means the state has claimed the authority to decide which humans have a right to live—not based on biology, not based on the fact that they are human, but based only on its own legal fiat. This is a huge power-grab by the state; it’s an enormous increase in state power. Let’s take another issue that’s in the news a lot today: Marriage used to be a pre-political right. It was based on the fact that humans are a sexual, reproducing species and the state merely recognized it. But the only way the state could treat same-sex couples the same as opposite-sex couples was to redefine marriage as a purely emotional commitment, which is what the Supreme Court did in its Obergefell decision when it legalized same-sex marriage. The trouble is, we have a lot of different emotional commitments, so the state has claimed the authority to define which relationships qualify as marriage, based not on biology but only on its own say-so. And if you read same-sex advocates, they say the next step will be parenthood. Up until now, who counts as a child’s parents was based on biological relationship. But in a same-sex couple, at least one parent is not biologically related to any child that they have. So the only way the state can treat same-sex parents the same as opposite-sex parents is to redefine parenthood without regard to biology. So you will be your child’s parents only by permission of the state. And this really is the background to all of the transgender laws as well, which are on the front burner today. It used to be that gender followed metaphysically on your biological sex. But the only way the law can treat a trans-woman—that means someone born male—the same as a biological women, is to say biology is irrelevant. And so that’s why you have public schools now enforcing policies telling teachers which pronouns they must use, without regard for the students biological sex. So you see in every one of these cases, biology or natural realities are being dismissed and the state is substituting its only legal definition. And of course, what the state gives, the state can take away, and that’s why human rights are no longer inalienable. A secular ethic is setting us up for control by an all-powerful political state.
JOHN RUSTIN: That’s so important. And I know, Nancy, that you’ve echoed Pope John Paul II in criticizing both the hookup culture and our increasingly sexualized media for showing too little, rather than too much of the human person. How can we help our children develop a more discerning and respectful eye for both media and relationships?
NANCY PEARCEY: Again, I think we have to help young people recognize the underlying worldview. We have to help them think critically. Pope John Paul II was great at showing the denigration of the body and biology that is central to the secular ethic. Let’s take another hot-button issue like homosexuality. Many people are stunned by how quickly same-sex marriage won the day. How did that happen? And the reason is it’s just the logical implication of the same secular ideas. Think of it this way: No one really denies that on the level of biology, physiology, chromosomes, anatomy, males and females are counterparts to one another. That’s how the human and sexual and reproductive system is designed. So, to embrace a same-sex identity is implicitly to contradict that design. It is to say, “Why should the structure of my body inform my identity? Why should my biological sex have any say in my moral choices?” Again, do you see that this is a profoundly disrespectful view of the body? There’s an outspoken lesbian named Camille Paglia, and this is exactly how she defends homosexuality. Basically she says, the body’s a product of purposeless random forces and therefore, it has no intrinsic purpose, and the mind is free to use the body any way it wants. Here’s how she puts it in one of her essays. She says, “I realize that nature has made us male and female. Humans are a sexually reproducing species.” And then she asks, “Why not define nature? After all, fate, not God, has given us this flesh. We have absolute claim to our bodies and may do with them as we see fit.” So, if our bodies are merely product of undirected material forces, then they convey no moral message, they give no clue to our identity, they have no inherent purpose that we’re obligated to respect. This is what we have to help people to see! It goes back to a very low and demeaning view of the body. And the alternative, of course, is to say: Yes, the body does have meaning and purpose. The technical term there is a “teleogical view” from the Greek word “telos,” which just means purpose. And what that means is that nature exhibits a design, a plan, an order, a purpose, and when we live in harmony with that design, when we live in tune with our bodies, we experience greater “human flourishing,” as Ephesians put it, which just means you’re happier and healthier, because morality is not merely arbitrary rules. It’s not just social convention. It expresses the teleology—the purpose—of what it means to be fully human. So, this is how we need to get our young people to think in terms of these big questions. What kind of cosmos do we live in? Is it a cosmos of atoms bumping around by random forces? Or is it a cosmos ordered by a purpose which provides rational grounds for our moral decisions?
JOHN RUSTIN: Nancy, I once heard a pastor say that the demographic shift that we’ve been seeing in younger generations, who are simultaneously more pro-life and at the same time more permissive about sexuality, is all rooted in a sense of “compassion.” Compassion, rightly placed in loving and protecting the unborn, but compassion wrongly placed in wanting to support an individual’s sense of identity, regardless of what that identity might be. So, do you agree with his assessment? And how do we help young people bridge that disconnect between a sense of real compassion that we would probably agree with on one hand, but compassion that leads them astray on the other hand?
NANCY PEARCEY: It is true that surveys find that Millennials are the most pro-life generation today. They’re much more pro-life than their baby-boomer parents, and that’s very heartening. They’ve grown up seeing ultrasound pictures posted on the refrigerators and they are much more aware that the human being is human from the beginning, from conception. Now it’s true that they didn’t turn around and say, we should be compassionate and not judge people for their choices. And again, the answer to that is to help them understand the underlying worldview. We haven’t talked yet about the hookup culture, but the hookup culture also rests on a very low view of the human person. It’s the assumption that sex can be purely physical, cut off from the whole person without any hint of love or emotional attachment. And so what are they saying—they are essentially saying—the human being is nothing but a physical organism driven by physical impulses. Rolling Stone magazine quoted a young man who said, “Sex is just a piece of body touching another piece of body. It is existentially meaningless.” What kind of a philosophy is that for young people? No wonder it’s creating a trail of wounded people. It’s trying to live out a worldview that does not fit who they truly are. And so, genuine compassion in a case like that is to help people see that they’re living out a worldview that is destructive.
JOHN RUSTIN: Well Nancy, there’s so much that we could talk about in a continuation of this discussion, but unfortunately we’re out of time today. But I know that we have listeners out there who are very interested in learning more and understanding more, especially the insights that you have graciously provided in your new book, Love Thy Body: Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality. Where can our listeners go to get a copy of this new book?
NANCY PEARCEY: They can certainly buy it at any of the online bookstores like Amazon and Christianbook.com. The publisher is Baker, so you can also get it from your local Christian bookstore.
JOHN RUSTIN: Great! And again, the title of that book is, Love Thy Body: Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, by Nancy Pearcey. And with that Nancy, I want to thank you so much for being with us on Family Policy Matters today, and for being a light for Truth in an increasingly confused and secular world.
NANCY PEARCEY: Thank you. And thanks for having me.
– END –