How thinkers and activists redefined identity and sparked the Sexual Revolution
by Carl R. Trueman
2022 / 187 pages
Just how strange is this new world we live in? Well, we’ve seen:
- A father jailed because he used the “wrong” pronouns to refer to his gender-confused daughter
- Pastors arrested for holding worship services while thousands marched unmasked to protest alleged systemic racism
- Elementary school students sent to the principal’s office for “misgendering” their classmates
- Boys taught that their natural rambunctiousness is an example of toxic masculinity and must be despised and replaced with more feminine traits.
The world is in the throes of madness, but to assume that there is no method to the madness would be naive. In Carl Trueman’s, Strange New World, (a concise version of his earlier The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self), we take a swift trip from the Enlightenment to the 21st century to review the radical thinkers responsible for the madness of today’s identity politics.
Under identity politics an individual is only as important and valued as the racial, social, or sexual group he is part of. A black transgender woman would be near the top of this hierarchy, deserving of society’s sympathy and support while a straight white male is at the bottom, deserving of ridicule because of the privilege he must have based on the color of his skin. People are no longer judged by their character but rather by their lived experience and the history of oppression or privilege their “group” has experienced.
As Trueman details, the problems associated with identity politics can be traced back to our notion of the self. For all of history, we recognized that if our inner feelings differed with the physical reality around us it was important to realign our feelings to that reality. However, bringing the mind into line with the physical body has, in the space of only a few years, been rejected in favor of bringing the body into line with the mind.
Toleration was once… well, tolerated. But no longer. Now full acceptance of the latest new view is expected, with severe repercussions to those who do not. How does our culture justify that severity? Well, if the mind is said to be the driving force behind reality, then words have much more significance – words themselves can now marginalize and cause damage to the person. The saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” needs to be adjusted to something along the lines of “sticks and stone may break my bones, but your words are also violent.” Many institutions are quickly writing laws that carry punishments for inflicting emotional damages to those in marginalized groups.
What Trueman makes plain is that although this shift towards identity politics has occurred recently, thinkers such as Rousseau, Marx, and Freud long ago laid the foundation on which identity politics now stand. Identity politics is not some passing trend but is rooted deeply in our culture’s psyche.
Seeing it widely embraced could lead Christians to despair. However, as Trueman reminds the reader, Christ has promised His church that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. God is sovereign and His will shall be done, on earth as it is in heaven. With this hope we can continue to eagerly await the coming marriage feast of the Lamb.
This book is a must-read for older teenagers and adults alike (and ranks in my personal top 5). Understanding the history of the ideas that led to this moment gives us the power to resist our culture’s siren call into identity politics, and will better equip us to sympathize with those who haven’t resisted, and have been shipwrecked.