Posted on: May 29th, 2023 Carl Trueman on the L & the G

Carl Trueman’s The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self is an impressive book from which I have learned much. His use of the theoretical tools of Philip Rieff, Alasdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor is laudatory. His genealogical narration, starting with Rousseau and the English Romantics and continuing with Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and the “New Left” thinkers of Wilhelm Reich and Herbert Marcuse is quite illuminating.

I have serious reservations about the book, which I will spell out soon.

For now, though, I just want to offer some thoughts on Trueman’s work, near the end of the book, on the “L” of lesbianism, the “G” of gay advocacy, and, most importantly, their marriage as the first two letters/causes in the political coalition of (as Trueman has it) LGBTQ+.

In Chapter 10, “The Triumph of the ‘T,'” itself nestled within Part 4, “The Triumphs of the Revolution,” Trueman offers some valuable insights into the history of political activism on the part of lesbian and gay people in the second half of the twentieth century. His thoughts on Adrienne Rich (and her 1980 article “Cumpulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence”) and the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective of the early 1970’s are quite valuable.

Trueman succeeds, in other words, in showing the initial tensions between the L and the G.

But where he fails—his effort to demonstrate how and why the L and the G eventually locked arms in common cause—is equally as noteworthy. He repeatedly affirms that the core of their solidarity is a sense of shared victimhood. He narrates the history of the Stonewall Inn riots and the AIDS epidemic of the 1980’s.

He succeeds, in my opinion, in showing that these events were exploited by gay men to appeal to a sense of victimhood. But he does not really provide any evidence for his claim that somehow these crises paved a way for lesbians to enter into the political rhetoric of victimhood, thereby uniting with gay men in common cause over and against the forces of oppression.

His thesis makes sense, but his marshaling of evidence in support of it is lacking.

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Posted on: September 11th, 2015 Nietzsche & “Family Values”

When was the last time you heard a pastor or a conservative politician in America invoke the notion of “traditional family values”? Examples of this kind of rhetoric abound, and one quick example is this.

Question: if 19th century atheist philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche could hear someone (a pastor, a politician, a “think tank”) invoke this rhetorical phrase, what would he say? I’m pretty sure he’d say: “I won!”

In his editorial introduction to Nietzsche’s _Beyond Good and Evil_, Rolf Peter Hortsmann provides the following summary of three Nietzschean bedrock convictions as expressed in this book (pp xvi – xvii):

  1. “Life is best conceived of as a chaotic dynamic process w/o any stability or direction.”
  2. We have no reason whatsoever to believe in any such thing as the “sense” or “value” of life, insofar as these terms imply the idea of an “objective” or “natural” purpose of life.
  3. Human life is “value-oriented” in its very essence – that is, w/o adherence to some set of values or other, human life would be virtually impossible.

Commenting on this summary, Hortsmann continues: “Where the first conviction is supposed to state an ontological fact, the second is meant to be an application of the ontological point to the normative aspects of human life in particular. The third conviction, though somewhat at odds with the first two, is taken by Nietzsche to reveal a psychological necessity.”

Values, then, are for Nietzsche a way of coping with the senselessness of life.

Now, as Allan Bloom states in this lecture, no-one in the United States talked about “values” before Nietzsche; he introduced this language and rhetoric into our culture. Why, then, do conservative, evangelical Christians adopt a category which has as its foundation atheistic nihilism? Why do they speak of “values,” as in “traditional, family values”?

The answer to that question is complicated, but for me the most penetrating analysis would have to deal with the fact that evangelicalism, in addition to its frequent historical ignorance, long ago jettisoned the Church’s traditional language of the objective Good which is mediated by and embodied in the formation of virtue. It has become a thinly-veiled secularism.

If you lose the language and tradition of virtue (and by the way “virtue” was totally absent from my senior-year ethics class at a prominent Evangelical seminary in the year 2000; instead we focused entirely on “what the Bible teaches”), then you lose any objective basis for morality. And if you lose that, then right-and-wrong devolve into something like preference.

“My tribe’s ‘preference’ over yours:” this is not far from today’s culture wars. That the partisans in this struggle often resort to bullying and might-makes-right tactics (on both sides, including the “Christian Right”) is yet another symptom of the underlying source of the illness: that modern American evangelicalism has “given away the farm” to secularism.

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Filed under: Gender & Sexuality, philosophy, political theology, the Christian Life / Prayer, theology / ecclesiology | Comments Off on Nietzsche & “Family Values”