Nancy R. Pearcey, Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality (Baker Books, 2018)
It is hard to argue that our culture is in great shape. In Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey looks at issues such as abortion, euthanasia, sexuality, gender, and the family and sees a wasteland. Rather than being fulfilled, people inside and outside the Church are often marred by confusion and pain. Yet, this is a book about hope for ‘in the wasteland we can cultivate a garden. We can discover a reality-based morality that expresses a positive, life-affirming view of the human person’ (p.15).
To get to the hope, though, you need to understand the reasons for the current problems. Indeed, Pearcey says that the purpose of her book is to show that secular morality ‘doesn’t fit the real universe’ (p.11). Her chief concern is that what God has brought together, human beings have separated. Society, from Descartes (‘I think, therefore I am’) onwards, has divorced the mind and emotions from the body, relegating the body to minimal importance. This is particularly evident at the beginning and end of life. If a foetus can’t yet think or feel, then its human body can be discarded through abortion. Likewise, if one loses the ability to be rational at the end of life, then euthanasia may be appropriate.
The physical act of sex and emotional connection are designed to be together not apart.
The same thinking applies to contemporary approaches to sexuality. It is argued that it is possible to have a sexual relationship without emotional commitment – because sex is merely a bodily act. Pearcey notes that this is a pathway to huge insecurity for it is not the way we are made. The physical act of sex and emotional connection are designed to be together not apart.
The chapter on same-sex attraction has a provocative sub-heading: ‘How the homosexual narrative demeans the body’ (p.155). The human body is designed for heterosexual union: quite apart from anything else, it is the means by which the human race continues. But in our culture, that is largely ignored. As we frame our identity, we are encouraged to prioritise our sexual desires rather than think about our physical bodies. Of course, the same applies when it comes to gender. ‘When a person senses a dissonance between mind and body, the mind wins. The body is deemed as irrelevant’ (p.195).
Against this backdrop there is one essential appeal in the book: ‘Why won’t we encourage people to love the body they are in?’ (p.200). There are various reasons to do so. Our desires and thoughts will be prone to change whereas the fundamental nature of our bodies won’t. Paying attention to the body therefore gives a basis for stability. For the Christian, there is the essential point that God made us physical beings: when we were created in his image we were made of flesh. In Christ, God himself has taken on a body, and the Bible has a high view of the physical world. Body and soul were deliberately made to be together.
Paying attention to the body gives a basis for stability.
Recognising this becomes a basis for hope in the area of sexuality. Pearcey cites the experience of Sean Doherty. Though Sean is same-sex attracted he decided to form his identity around the fact that physically he is male and so designed for a relationship with a woman. He describes this as a liberating discovery – his sexual identity is male above all else which, for him, led to marriage. Whilst this may not be the path for all people, it is always the case that to pursue a relationship contrary to the way we are designed bodily will be unwise.
And when questions of gender arise, the physical is what matters most – ‘Instead of escaping from the body, the goal is to live in harmony with it’ (p.211). I found this emphasis very helpful indeed. Often when we teach on sexuality, many of us will say that our sexuality is not our identity, rather our identity is in God. That’s true. However, Pearcey’s book points to an important extension of that. Our identity is formed by God – and part of that is accepting the body that he has given us and living in line with its design.
The book is not a light read. Its references range across ancient Greco-Roman culture, contemporary philosophy, Scripture, and Church history. But I want to commend it warmly. Whilst critical of the culture, it clearly arises from a place of compassion and an insistence on the Church being a place of healing. And it gave me greater confidence in the truth that God’s design for our bodies is good and that, when we live in line with it, we can create gardens in the wasteland.