Volume > Issue > Briefly: September 2018

September 2018

Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality

By Nancy R. Pearcey

Publisher: Baker Books

Pages: 336

Price: $22.99

Review Author: Terry Scambray

The opinions of our “educated” elite on hot-button life issues can only be considered pre-packaged mantras. In Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality, Nancy R. Pearcey examines the schizophrenic received wisdom of our secular opinion-shapers. Pearcey is a scholar-in-residence at Houston Baptist University. Her writing is passionate and compassionate, deploying examples that resonate with the young and providing needed background in history, theology, biology, and philosophy.

Abortion rhetoric has changed from a generation ago. Pearcey offers examples of women who concede that the fetus is human but still advocate abortion, using rationales such as “The fetus is indeed a life, a life worth sacrificing,” “You must be prepared to kill” in defense of women’s rights, and “All life is not equal.” British broadcaster Miranda Sawyer was pro-choice. She became pregnant and realized she had a baby inside her. If she thought of the baby as a clump of cells, he could be killed. But, she writes, “that seemed irrational to me. Maybe even immoral.” After researching the issue and producing a documentary, Sawyer concluded that life begins at conception, and abortion ends a life. Despite it all, she decided for abortion because the life inside her had not “grown enough…to start becoming a person.”

Such doublethink underpinned Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun’s Roe v. Wade majority decision, in which he stated that if the baby in the womb were a “person” he would be protected by the 14th Amendment. Blackmun asserted that the unborn baby is not a person, thus rendering babies expendable. This decision is rooted in “personhood theory,” a concept pioneered by Princeton ethics professor Peter Singer and others who concede that life begins at conception but insist that the life of a person begins sometime later. (Pearcey mentions that Catholic theologian Hans Küng agrees with Singer’s personhood theory.)

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.” As advocates of “choice” have employed personhood theory to extend the available time for exterminating a baby, science has been working in the opposite direction, determining the time of conception as the beginning of a human life. Scientists have recently recorded flashes radiating out from the egg when the sperm meets it, calling this event “breathtaking.” And the use of ultrasound technology shows tiny infants in the womb doing what infants do: kicking, sucking their thumbs, and so on. Pearcey writes that due to scientific advances, “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.”

The progressive “faith” is impervious to scientific evidence on this issue, for it is steeped in narrow materialism, in which the body is separated from the mind and the soul (assuming the latter exists). Pearcey describes a debate between professors Stanley Fish (pro-choice) and Robert George (pro-life). At the outset, Fish conceded that the pro-life position is scientific while pro-choicers rely on “metaphysical and religious” distinctions to make their case!

Public perception is, however, the opposite of what Fish conceded. This is due to a now-common pagan worldview that dates back to Plato. More significantly, Pearcey points out, Enlightenment geniuses like Isaac Newton discovered a universe governed by precise mathematical laws. Their vision was so compelling that it appeared that even human beings were subject to the same exacting 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, what we know as scientism.

Prior to Newton, René Descartes felt the influence of scientism. He opted for dividing the human being into a body and a mind, thinking that he had provided a safe space in which 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. Later writers like Jonathan Swift satirized the imperialism of the new science, as did poet William Blake, who contrasted biblical reality with the fragmented vision of the 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.”

Descartes’s “separate but equal” doctrine proved to be inherently unequal. Science 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 Pearcey described it in an earlier book, Total Truth. Darwin then announced that the world accidentally made itself; therefore, life is purely material and purposeless. As Pearcey insightfully notes, such materialistic preachments ironically do not elevate the material world; they debase it.

If the purpose of sex, marriage, and personal relationships can be determined ad hoc, subjectively, then marriage is a construct, as are other cohabitation arrangements, including same-sex marriage. Likewise, if euthanasia is expedient, or if a girl feels she is a man, or if sexual intercourse is purely physical, then so be it. Such rationalizations existed prior to the dawn of modernity and will continue because people crave sensual pleasure. They don’t need justification in order to “follow their bliss,” in the words of that shallow proselytizer of selfishness, Joseph Campbell.

Pearcey says a pagan worldview is reasserting itself camouflaged as progress, and those who fail to progress will be “branded as bigots and misogynists.” She reminds us that Christianity from its beginnings was not “traditional,” for it opposed the status quo of abortion, slavery, and all forms of dehumanization. The Gospel worldview elevated women, even urging men to bring happiness to their wives.

Pearcey’s book is not a call to “make sex a taboo again.” It is a treatise affirming Christian truths embodied in the Incarnation and the Resurrection that the human body is built not for planned obsolescence but according to an obvious plan wherein male and female complement each other. Our bodies mirror the truth laid out in Genesis: “Male and female he made them.” Many books cover territory similar to Pearcey’s, but Love Thy Body is the Goldilocks “Ah, just right” rendition due to its explication of the role a worldview plays in the decisions that people, especially young people, make about sex, love, and other life issues.

The Maternal Face of God?: Explorations in Catholic Sophiology

By Istvan Cselényi

Publisher: Angelico Press

Pages: 225

Price: $17.95

Review Author: Brian Welter

In this book, Hungarian Byzantine-rite priest Istvan Cselényi taps the rich yet largely neglected field of sophiology. The Greek Sophia and Latin sapientia, which translate as “wisdom,” are feminine in gender, and Cselényi argues that sophia expresses God’s feminine side. Sophiology has deep roots in Christianity, expressed by theologians and thinkers as prominent as SS Thomas Aquinas and Gregory of Palamas.

Fr. Cselényi traces the biblical development of Wisdom. He acknowledges that Christianity has never answered whether Wisdom is a person or a personification of wisdom. By the end of the book, the author himself seems to favor the former, though he admits that the Jewish and Protestant traditions have favored the latter. Cselényi introduces Palamitism, theology based on the writings of St. Gregory of Palamas, which offers clear, sound theology and unlocks our understanding of Sophia, or Wisdom.

Gregory of Palamas finds Wisdom in the person of Mary, whom he views as “the connecting bond between God and His creatures. Since she gave birth to God the Creator, she became queen of all creatures in heaven and on earth.” This hierarchical ordering elucidates the centrality of Sophia-Mary to the Christian life: “Through Mary to Christ and through Christ to the Father.” Cselényi points out that “Palamite thinking, similarly to the ideas of sophiology, places Mary on the borderline of the created and non-created existential order.”

The Maternal Face of God is strong on Orthodox theology and Russian thinkers. Fr. Cselényi calls Vladimir Solovyov (1853-1900) the founder of Russian sophiology. For Solovyov, “Sophia connects the masculine ideal, the Logos, with the feminine ideal: sensitivity and perfect form, the representation of beauty.” Pavel Florensky, murdered in 1937 by Russian communists, characterized Sophia as the world’s “unifying principle,” the “highest of all beings,” and “the eternal bride of the Logos.” For Orthodox priest Sergei Bulgakov (1871-1944), Sophia was neglected throughout Christian history due to emphasis on Logos. Fr. Bulgakov called Mary the “incarnation of Sophia.”

Pondering the status of Sophia among Christianity’s branches, Cselényi points out that veneration of the Theotokos by both the Roman and Eastern Churches has resulted in their being spared the worst of feminism, aside from Protestant and secular influences. He asserts that more fully exploring and expressing the feminine side of God could help alleviate the concerns of contemporary feminists without assaulting traditional Church dogma and practice.

Fr. Cselényi’s respect for orthodox Catholic Mariology saves a book that otherwise veers toward heterodoxy. There are very real pitfalls in analyzing an area of theology that lacks settled doctrine and is beset by contradictory ideas and unresolved suppositions. Readers of The Maternal Face of God may be forgiven for wondering about the relationship between Sophia and the Trinity. The author seems to argue at times for a feminized Holy Spirit, who is spouse to the Father and mother to the Son. At other times, he seems to emphasize Sophia as a created being. He argues that the Virgin incarnates Sophia just as the Son does the Logos.

Sometimes the book ventures into New Age territory, such as when Fr. Cselényi talks of a “world-spirit” that “shapes individual beings” with “pronoia (care, prudence, wisdom, force). Thus, the world, the cosmos, is the materialized idea of ideas.” The author also turns to controversial Jesuit scientist Teilhard de Chardin, who taught that “the World Soul is not only an entelechy governing the world, but a personal reality.” In other words, Cselényi supports the view of a personal and feminine universe — a universe that is a mother. Teilhard, he argues, “sets up the claim for overcoming the male-centered conception of God with the help of the reimagination of the Eternal Feminine.” Such speculation prompts one to consider that a warning of New Age errors regarding Sophia would have greatly aided readers.

Seeing is Believing: Why Our Culture Must Face the Victims of Abortion

By Jonathon Van Maren

Publisher: Life Cycle Books

Pages: 171

Price: $22.95

Review Author: Anne Barbeau Gardiner

Jonathon Van Maren laments that in North America people are “sleep-walking through a massacre of unfathomable proportions.” Sixty million have been killed, yet the public remains apathetic. He contends that abortion victim photos (AVP) are the best and most powerful tool we have for changing public opinion. Why? “A visual generation in a visual world needs visual evidence,” he says. Tellingly, the mothers of just-aborted babies are “forbidden to see the remains of their children,” for fear that they will glimpse the reality of what they’ve done. Van Maren cites Chesterton: “There is a road from the eye to the heart that does not pass through the intellect.” This is especially true when the intellect has been blinded by pro-choice ideology.

Strange to say, many pro-life leaders today are strongly opposed to the use of AVP. They find these pictures “confrontational” and “unloving.” They don’t want to shock and disturb people. But why not? Why should people be “at peace” with the fact that 60 million tiny human beings have been “shredded in the womb and discarded like so much garbage,” as Van Maren puts it? How can it be “unloving” to dissuade a woman from ending a child’s life and wounding herself deeply? Van Maren agrees that angry reactions are inevitable, but they are often the first steps to changes of heart. Why can pro-life leaders accept the use of graphic images to stop drug addiction, smoking, or drinking and driving, but reject their use to stop abortion? Their self-censorship is a “fatal misstep,” since for pre-born children it’s a matter of life or death. Seeing is Believing offers proof that AVP are amazingly effective and therefore absolutely necessary. Sure, they turn people off — but “off of abortion.” Their purpose is precisely to repel. They’re not a form of marketing; they’re a tool for social reform.

In the past, Van Maren explains, effective reformers have never been considered “nice.” Long-standing institutionalized injustices were ended again and again by the use of graphic images of victims. There were half a million slaves in the British Empire when William Wilberforce gave his first speech in the House of Commons in May 1789. It took over 20 years, but he turned the tide by using images of suffering African slaves. Most effective was a 1788 diagram of the slave ship Brookes showing 482 slaves inhumanly packed like sardines, lying flat and crammed against one another. The diagram appeared in newspapers, books, and posters hung on the walls of pubs and homes, filling viewers with horror. In February 1807 Wilberforce’s bill came up for another vote, and this time it passed. Slavery was abolished in the British Empire. Similarly, American abolitionists used the famous photo “The Scourged Back,” showing “grotesque ridges and scars” that were “lashed into the flesh of a slave.” Opponents tried to dismiss the image as “fake,” but they failed. It was a brutal fact.

Likewise, at the start of the 20th century, atrocities occurring in the Congo slave state were exposed by photos of mutilated children taken by Edmund Morel and Alice Harris, providing “visual evidence” that Europe couldn’t ignore. Around the same time, the horrors of child labor in American factories and mines were documented by photos of maimed children taken by Lewis Hine. His photos were also called “fake,” as well as “graphic and depressing,” but they helped bring an end to the injustice.

Van Maren shows how the civil-rights movement was launched by photos of the mutilated body of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old boy from Chicago. In 1955, while visiting cousins in Mississippi, Till whistled at a white woman and was later killed for it. When his mother obtained his mangled body and put it on display in Chicago, over 100,000 people saw it, and photos of it were published. Four months later, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. Why? “I thought of Emmett Till,” she said. Martin Luther King Jr. declared that America needed to see racism in order to reject it.

Today, King’s niece Alveda King calls the pro-life movement the “logical successor” of the civil-rights movement and says it must likewise use photos of the victims. Van Maren observes that this might be “the first major social reform movement that faces the active opposition of the media.” While abortion supporters emphasize “choice,” they want to hide the evidence of “what is being chosen.” They know their abstract rhetoric of “reproductive rights” will fall flat once the photos of aborted children are seen. Oh, they may claim that the photos are “fake” or “doctored,” but in vain. AVP reveal the truth of how abortion “dismembers, decapitates, and disembowels a human being.” Graphic photos and videos have caused many people to leave their jobs and join the pro-life movement full time, including Joseph Scheidler, Scott Klusendorf, Troy Newman, Mark Harrington, Lila Rose, and David Daleiden.

Van Maren, who has seen thousands of minds changed by AVP on college campuses, explains that Americans suffer from cognitive dissonance: We know that the child in the womb is human, but this knowledge “does not line up with what we culturally believe about abortion.” Pro-lifers need to break this cognitive dissonance by showing the factual truth of abortion. Only truth can bring about repentance, healing, and change. Naturally, photos of aborted babies will upset women who have had an abortion, but these women may soon have another abortion unless they are moved out of denial and into healing. Pro-lifers can complement their tough message by offering these women post-abortion counseling.

Seeing is Believing has an appendix with scientific evidence collected by Dr. Jacqueline Harvey showing how effective AVP are. Harvey conducted an independent survey of public opinion, before and after, in a defined area targeted by AVP roadside banners, truth trucks, handheld signs, and postcards delivered door to door. Clearly, it is possible to stir people out of their apathy and into acting against this monumental injustice.

An Introduction to Ethics: A Natural Law Approach

By Brian Besong

Publisher: Cascade Books

Pages: 248

Price: $30

Review Author: Dax R. Bennington

An unfortunate feature of many introduction-to-ethics texts and college courses is a severe lack of attention to the traditional natural-law perspective. Many either skip the view altogether or unfairly dismiss it. Brian Besong’s presentation of a natural-law approach to ethics constitutes a persuasive and sorely needed defense of a viable ethical theory. His inclusion of common objections is a valuable resource for responding to the ubiquitous and often superficial objections used to dismiss natural-law theory.

Besong’s Introduction to Ethics is structured to guide the reader in a logical and teleological manner. For example, Besong begins with a discussion of foundational issues concerning questions of metaethics, or the foundations of ethics, specifically within the context of axiology, or the theory of value. He leads the reader to consider a vast array of topics within moral philosophy, and then he addresses moral responsibility, rights and duties, and virtues and vices. Besong covers much ground in these chapters but keeps readers engaged and doesn’t bog them down. In other words, he balances substance and accessibility. By concluding the book with a discussion of virtue and vice, Besong brings the reader full circle: The virtuous person is the person who is happy, an exemplar of what it looks like to answer properly the foundational questions.

Besong brings clarity to difficult subject matter by defining all technical terms in a straightforward manner. Plus, his use of everyday examples helps crystallize abstract philosophical concepts. He uses instances of disagreement over certain applied ethical issues, such as abortion and capital punishment, in order to discuss debates within metaethics — e.g., whether morality is objective or subjective.

An Introduction to Ethics is one of few introductory texts recently published that defends a traditional natural-law perspective. Given that the natural law is often overlooked or ignored in ethics courses, many probably do not know that natural-law theorists are divided into two broad camps. Two primary differences between traditional natural lawyers and those who consider themselves new natural lawyers are disagreement over the basic set of fundamental goods, and the grounding of morality in the metaphysics of human nature.

Traditional natural lawyers think the fundamental goods are hierarchically structured, such that there may be cases in which two fundamental goods conflict and one trumps the other. For example, some argue that capital punishment is sometimes permissible in order to preserve the good of justice, even though it sacrifices another fundamental good: human life. On the other hand, new natural lawyers accept the “incommensurability of fundamental goods” thesis, in which the set of fundamental goods is not hierarchical, and one fundamental good cannot be compared to another. For example, they argue that capital punishment is immoral per se because it is contrary to the good of life.

The second major difference between traditional natural lawyers and new natural lawyers is the former’s commitment to an Aristotelian-Thomistic view of the metaphysics of human nature, in which human beings have essences composed of form and matter. Traditional natural lawyers ground their moral philosophy in the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysics of the human person by claiming that what is good for a human being is what is in accordance with human nature or a human essence. New natural lawyers, such as John Finnis and Germain Grisez, distance themselves from the metaphysics of the human person when developing their natural-law theory. They think this distance from metaphysics is a virtue for their theory, while traditional natural lawyers think it a detriment. Besong’s text follows the traditional natural-law perspective, which has been the predominant position in Catholic moral philosophy throughout most of the history of the Church.

Oftentimes students have difficulty appreciating the value of studying moral philosophy because they are presented with a plethora of theories that have no unifying theme. Besong brings out this positive feature of the natural-law perspective by demonstrating the explanatory power of the natural-law position and the way the natural law forms a holistic system of thinking about the many aspects of morality.

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