HBU Apologetics Professor Nancy Pearcey is exploring taboo issues and the ideas that have become culturally normative tenets in her latest book, “Love Thy Body: Answering Hard Questions about Life and Sexuality.” With a combination of reason, boldness, real-life stories and her characteristic tenderness, Pearcey brings common sense and biblical application to matters like abortion, assisted suicide, transgenderism and homosexuality.
While many have adopted the creed that morality is a matter of personal preference, the doctrine of self-determination is fraught with snares. In “Love Thy Body,” Pearcey goes past the surface assumptions and exposes the ramifications of secular and sacred belief systems. The message of the book has resonated, and has resulted in opportunities for her to speak in many forums including national and international radio and television shows, the Heritage Foundation (the nation’s largest conservative think tank), C-SPAN and even to members of the US Congress in the Capitol Building in Washington, DC.
“People are so hungry to get answers that go beyond the soundbites,” she said. “I’m digging deeper and looking at the worldview – your ethics depend upon your worldview and what it means to be human.”
In spite of connotations of liberation from stuffy rules, the move away from a biblical perspective has led to a lower view of humanity, Pearcey said. “The secular, liberal worldview is demeaning to human dignity and denies human rights,” she said. “Take abortion. Most bioethicists agree that life begins at conception – that the fetus is human. But they say it’s not a person until it achieves a certain level of cognitive functioning. The implication is that as long as the fetus is ’merely’ human, it has no rights. It can be killed for any reason or no reason. It can be used for research and experiments, tinkered with genetically, picked through for sellable body parts (as Planned Parenthood does), then tossed out with the other medical waste. In other words, being human is no longer the basis for human rights. This is a very negative view of what it means to be human.”
Pearcey continued, “Support for euthanasia uses the same reasoning in reverse: It says if you lose a certain level of cognitive functioning, you’re no longer a person — even though you are obviously still human. At that point, you can be unplugged, your treatment stopped, your food and water withheld, and your organs transplanted. Again, being human is not enough for human rights. This is very dehumanizing.”
This split or division between being human versus being a person explains a host of other cutting-edge issues as well, Pearcey noted. “Take homosexuality, for example. It, too, rests on a divided view of the human being that denigrates the body. Think of it this way: on the level of biology, physiology and anatomy, no one really denies that males and females are counterparts to one another. That’s how the human sexual and reproductive system is designed,” she said. “To embrace a same-sex identity, then, is to contradict that design. Implicitly you are saying, ’Why should my body have any say in my moral choices? Why should my biological identity as male or female form the basis for my psychological identity?’ This is a very disrespectful view of the body.”
The denigration of the body is even more obvious in the transgender movement, Pearcey said. “Arguments for transgenderism explicitly say my biological identity is completely dissociated from my authentic self. A BBC documentary says at the heart of the debate is the idea that the mind can be ’at war with the body.’ And when that happens, the mind wins,” she said. “But why accept such a low view of the body? Why not try to recover a higher view? I recently read an interview with a 14-year-old girl who had lived for three years as a trans boy, then embraced her identity as a girl again. She said the turning point came when she realized it was okay to ’learn to love my body.’ The antidote to transgenderism is learning to love your body.”
Such conversations go far beyond the simple truisms that many are taught in church. Pearcey knows she’s not alone in searching for answers to the complex questions that present themselves. In multiple surveys, youth have indicated that they left the faith simply because no one around them could satisfactorily answer their tough questions, she said.
That’s a dilemma that is all too familiar for Pearcey. She grew up in a Lutheran home where the message of salvation wasn’t scratching her intellectual itch. “I asked a Christian professor once point-blank, ’Why are you a Christian?’ He said, ’Works for me.’ I asked a seminary dean about how he knew the faith is true, and he said, ’Don’t worry; we all have doubts sometimes.’ I decided that Christianity must not have any good reasons,” she said. “And if you don’t have good reasons for something, you shouldn’t believe it — whether Christianity or anything else.”
Having spent part of her childhood in Germany, Pearcey returned to Europe in the early 70s. She was soon drawn into the group of other searchers in theologian and evangelist Francis Schaeffer’s home in Switzerland called “L’Abri,” which means “the shelter.” Pearcey and many others had been delving in drugs to expand their consciousness, and looking for answers to the questions that had never been satisfied.
“At age 16, I had pulled books off the philosophy shelves looking for answers. I pretty rapidly realized that if there is no God, there is no foundation for ethics, or truth, or meaning to life. We’re on a rock flying through empty space,” she said. “At L’Abri, I found Christianity appealing because I had never encountered apologetics before. Here were people who actually understood the secular philosophies I had immersed myself in. They could even help me ask better questions!”
“L’Abri was so attractive that I was afraid I might become a Christian before I was intellectually convinced. So, I fled, and went back to the States,” she said. But in her time with the Schaeffers, Pearcey had discovered other apologist writers like C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. In her own study of the theological giants she had been introduced to, Pearcey became utterly convinced that Christianity was true. Hungry for a Christian family to help her grow in the faith, she went back to Switzerland for four months.
Since that time, Pearcey’s compelling motivation has been to help others like the seeker she was. “Teaching apologetics is my heart and soul – that’s how I became a Christian,” she said. “What really drives me the most is helping people answer these questions. I love teaching and interacting with students.”
As a professor, Pearcey knows that students at many institutions are presented with psychological arguments against their faith, such as the idea that God is a social construction by people who never grew out of the need for a father figure. “My long-term goal is a book on how to stay Christian in college,” she said. “I had one student who told me after going to graduate school elsewhere, ’If I hadn’t taken your class, I might have lost my faith because they sure do make secular ideas sound persuasive.’”
While the message of the Gospel is foundational, Christian teaching would do well to go further into the application of all the Bible presents. Some Christian faith traditions focus so much on the conversion experience that they fail to engage the whole person, Pearcey said. “Evangelicalism has been marked by an anti-intellectualism at times that has made people afraid to ask the hard questions,” she said. “The Bible applies to all areas of philosophy. It’s as comprehensive as any other worldview, and is meant to pertain to every part of life.”
A two-time winner of the ECPA Gold Medallion Award, Nancy R. Pearcey has been hailed in The Economist as “America’s preeminent evangelical Protestant female intellectual.” A bestselling author and speaker, Pearcey is a professor of Apologetics and the scholar-in-residence at HBU. She is editor at large of “The Pearcey Report,” and a fellow at Discovery Institute’s Center for Science and Culture. Her past books include “How Now Shall We Live?” co-authored with Chuck Colson and Harold Fickett, “Total Truth,” “The Soul of Science” and “Saving Leonardo.”