Pastor’s Article 5/11/2022
This is the book I referred to & quoted from last Sunday. I’ve hesitated to do a review because I struggled reading it on account of its complexity and depth.
Essentially, what the book does, is explain how our culture has gotten to the point it has.
According to the author, where the culture “has gotten to” is summarized by the statement “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body.” Only a few years ago, such a statement would have been viewed as utterly ridiculous; but today, it makes perfect sense to millions of Americans.
The author, by the way, is Dr. Carl Trueman, professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. He is a highly-regarded church historian and the author of over a dozen books.
Trueman’s thesis is that today’s culture, which we as Christians often find so disturbing and alien, has its roots, not in the 1960’s, but all the way back to the 1700’s.
Trueman begins with the philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Rousseau rejected the biblical doctrine of the depravity of human nature and argued instead for the inherent goodness of man. He said it’s the environment that is the problem, not the human heart.
From Rousseau, Trueman goes on to devote entire chapters to such thinkers as Wordsworth, Nietzsche, Marx, Darwin and Freud.
Freud, especially, is critical to modern culture. What Freud did was put sexual desire, expression and fulfillment at the center of human existence and the key to finding happiness. “Before Freud,” Trueman writes, “sex was an activity, for procreation or for recreation; after Freud, sex is definitive of who we are, as individuals, as societies, and as a species.”
Merely a Symptom
However, according to Trueman, the modern sexual revolution (that Freud and others laid the groundwork for) is only a symptom of a much larger revolution; namely, a revolution in our thinking about the world and our place in it.
In short, Western culture has shifted from a predominantly mimetic view of the world and personhood to a poiesis view.
A mimetic view regards the world as having a given order and meaning. Human beings, then, are required to discover that meaning and conform ourselves to it. This was the view of our grandparents and all prior generations.
A poiesis view, by contrast, sees the world as so much raw material out of which meaning and purpose can be created by the individual. This is the view of our parents’ generation, and even more so, this present generation.
The key is that reality is no longer something we must conform ourselves to or passively accept. Instead, reality can be manipulated according to our own wills and desires. This being the case, it is incumbent upon every person to “to transcend themselves, to make their lives into works of art, and to take the place of God as self-creators and inventors, not the discoverers, of meaning.”
This thinking, Trueman argues, results in considerable chaos and instability in society.
This review only scratches the surface. Many regard The Rise & Triumph of the Modern Self as the most important book of the past decade. It may well be.