Carl R. Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College and a fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center, delivers the 2023 Erasmus Lecture, titled “The Desecration of Man”. Trueman argues that modernity has led to a denial of the significance of the body, resulting in a desecration of human identity and personhood. This is manifested in various aspects of contemporary culture, from gender identity movements to the treatment of sex and death.
Trueman’s points include:
- Traditional views, particularly those rooted in Christianity, recognise the body as sacred. Sex and death have deep religious significance, and the body itself is considered sacred and bounded by the mysteries of birth and death. Modern culture tends to deny significance to the body. Embodiment is no longer seen as sufficient for personhood.
- The cultural imagination has shifted, with the lack of a normative embodied understanding of what it means to be human. This shift frees technologically empowered wills from bodily limitations.
- The transgender movement asserts that the body is irrelevant to gender identity. The statement “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is plausible only in a world where psychological feelings are essentialized and given authority over the body. Transhumanism views the body’s mortality is as a barrier to self-creation. The attempt to defeat human limitations, particularly the limited span of mortal lives, is a form of desecration.
- Trueman connects the desecration of man to explicit content in pornography. Pornography is dehumanizing, turning the human subject into an object and the embodied human person into a piece of meat. He links the desecration of the body to acts of violence, such as war atrocities. The human body is reduced to a mere lump of animated meat.
“We need to restore a normative understanding of what it means to be human. How is that to be done? My argument has been that the fundamental problem we face today is not that man is disenchanted or turned into liquid but that he has been desecrated, in part by the impersonal forces of modernity but largely by his own hand. The answer therefore has to have consecration as its core.
“I know it’s very trendy today to talk about re-enchanting the world. I don’t think the world’s going to get re-enchanted. I’m not sure that I want the world to be re-enchanted. I actually quite like antibiotics, analgesics, doctors, etc, etc. The world does not need to be re-enchanted. Man needs to be re-consecrated, and this cannot be legislated. Politicians have no real authority over the spiritual imagination to which the language of consecration speaks.
“The modern crisis of anthropology must first find its solution among the religious communities worshiping in a local context. The answer is first and foremost a theologically informed liturgical one. For it is in worship that human beings are brought into the presence of the God in whose image they are made and who grounds their common human personal nature.
“The early church triumphed because it broke with contemporary Roman attitudes and asserted instead a creed, a code, and a cult that treated human beings as made in the image of God. Women benefited. Children benefited. The weak and the poor benefited. Humanity in general therefore benefited. And this charity was not rooted in a thin altruism but in a deepening understanding of God and his actions in Christ.
“It seems to me no coincidence that deep the theological and liturgical reflection upon the identity of Christ and the Triune God marked this charitable church of the early centuries. Her vision of human beings as persons, not objects, and as possessing innate value was grounded on the notion that all, from the least to the greatest, were made in the image of God. Human nature – body and soul – had a normative sacred content, and that remains true today.
“The answer to giving men and women back their personhood and dignity depends upon the worshiping community of the church grasping the greatness of the God in whose image we are made. Only then, when God is placed at the centre, will we have the critical tools available to address the challenges to human nature posed by the various tools of disenchantment, liquidity and above all desecration, from technology to the everchanging taste of identity politics.
“Contra Nietzsche, God is not dead, but we moderns have used his claim as an excuse for desecrating man, turning ourselves and others into insignificant sexualized animated lumps of meat.
“[…] Only a reclamation and a proclamation of the Living God in the vital worship of the church will therefore consecrate man and bring him back from the brink of a nihilistic dehumanized abyss.”
The lecture starts at 5:30 and ends at 45:40 and is followed by questions and answers.