Carl Trueman On Gays And Personal Identity
The theologian and I have a good-faith debate.
Carl Trueman is a Christian theologian and ecclesiastical historian. He’s currently a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College, as well as an ordained minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. He’s the author of many books, but in this episode, we discuss The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self (a condensed version of which just came out: Strange New World: How Thinkers and Activists Redefined Identity and Sparked the Sexual Revolution). It’s been a hit on the paleocon right.
You can listen to the episode right away in the audio player above (or on the right side of the player, click “Listen On” to add the Dishcast feed to your favorite podcast app). For two clips of our convo — on our disagreement over the nature of gayness, and whether gay marriages adversely affect straight marriages — pop over to our YouTube page.
Other topics: Augustine, Aquinas, Martin Luther and the printing press, Pascal, Calvin, Rousseau, mimesis vs. poiesis, Darwin, Freud, the Frankfurt School, postmodernism, Charles Taylor, contraception, Reagan and no-fault divorce, reactionaries, and sodomy. Yeah, sodomy.
As usual, I really enjoyed the podcast! Some quick observations:
Rosenberg was smart and witty and engaging, but you could see that she was filtering every opinion she offered through the lens of the culture war. Her responses on the trans book issue were particularly illuminating: “I won’t comment on a book I haven’t read.” It was like she was a judge hoping to make it past the Senate Judiciary Committee. Her tone here was totally at odds with the ways she spoke about her love for literature and writing.
I was a bit disturbed at the notion that parents have to serve as sensitivity readers/indoctrinators for kids. On the one hand, you probably don’t want to expose your kids to extremely racist stuff like Tintin in the Congo without some explanation. At the same time, the idea that you need to go through classic works like the Little House series and highlight each area where the views of a 19th century family on the Great Plains clashes with the specific politics of the 21st century seems crazy to me. I, and many of my peers, read those books in the 1980s and we did not turn out to be racists or bad people. Let kids read without meddling!
Lastly, I was glad to see that Rosenberg (as a credentialed member of the left-wing cultural hegemony) is willing to admit that the reading wars are over and that phonics has won. If there are any parents who want to teach their children to read, I strongly recommend Teach Your Child To Read in 100 Easy Lessons. I started with all of my kids on their 4th birthdays, and they all became excellent readers. It’s insane that progressive educational dogma coming from Columbia’s Teachers College pushed a “whole language” curriculum that didn’t work for decades and that was particularly deleterious to poor kids.
Another quick dissent:
I should have seen it coming when, in response to a gentle tease about her father — that his job is to stimulate donations to Harvard as editor of the alumni magazine — she stumbled this way and that before boasting that her father had published the Larry Summers interview. No mention from her, of course, that Harvard’s defenestration of Summers brought great shame upon the university and was the canary in the cancel-culture coal mine.
I let that one go. This next listener dissents against me:
There was the uncomfortable moment when you strongly suggested that her dad’s essay-editing assistance was cheating, as though a dad who happens to be a writer editing a child’s thoughts to help her learn his craft is much different than a dad teaching his kid how to throw a spiral before football tryouts. Or a science-teacher parent doing experiments at home with his or her progeny is an unfair advantage in the classroom. It seems to me it’s just good parenting. Maybe I’m just an overeager dad who took your remark the wrong way. If so, my apologies — but I found that moment awkward, at the very least, though she handled it gracefully.
More egregious, though, was shoehorning gender opinions into the conversation about kids’ books. I looked at the list of 99 books in the Post to which you referred, and the book you noted as pro-labor indoctrination — The Bear That Wasn’t — was written in 1946 by a cartoon writer. I’m guessing you haven’t seen the book, but indoctrination it’s not. It’s satirical and even more political than, say, whimsical, but how you got from some themes about corporate culture in the 1940s to gender ideology was bewildering.
I agree with you that some schools have overstepped (sometimes dramatically so) in “teaching” about gender. I agree on how far afield some of my fellow lefties have strayed. I agree that overt indoctrination of young kids is bad. But I hardly think The Bear That Wasn’t qualifies. (Neither does Dr. Seuss’ environmental book The Lorax, as Rosenberg mentioned, or hundreds of other children’s classics with underlying themes that suggest morality, religion, politics, or the zeitgeist.) There was no Antiracist Baby to be found on that book list. And yet, you continued hunting for the entrance to the gender topic, even returning to the subject a few minutes after Rosenberg indicated she didn’t have the exposure or expertise to discuss it or make any claims.
Truth is: I didn’t make any claims about that specific book, but noted that the WaPo recommendation said it was a “pro-labor, pro-environment fable … that satirizes the self-importance of stuffed-shirt capitalists while lamenting the destruction they blindly leave behind.” Not my spin. Here’s another listener on the theme of social justice in children’s books:
I found it interesting how Ms. Rosenberg ducked your question on gender teaching to the under-five crowd. She did this by saying that she does not comment on things she has not seen. But this what her professional bio says: “Alyssa Rosenberg writes about mass culture, parenting and gender for The Washington Post’s Opinions section.” How could she write about all those topics and not have an opinion? It was a politician-like response. You should send her the list of school course-outlines that the Dish covered.
I’m afraid I do not have high expectations from MSM journalists who know their every utterance will be parsed for violations of the orthodoxy strictly enforced in their workplaces. Another listener ventures, “Can I make a small suggestion when talking to the woke?”
When they say, “I see nothing! NOTHING!” (Hogan’s Heroes reference here — a show that wouldn’t be made today, but I digress). This has become a standard dodge (“I don’t know of this actually happening,” or “this is some fevered dream of the right wing”) because it works to stop the conversation about something. I would love it if you would ask what I’m always (mentally) screaming at the TV: “Okay, you claim you don’t believe this is actually happening, despite the evidence to the contrary, but if it was happening, would you oppose it? Is this a good idea or a bad idea?”
Another wants to hear more:
I also enjoyed the TV series Slow Horses.
But I think you said you had two recent TV favorites, but can’t remember you giving the second.
I’m currently gripped by the second season of Slow Horses. Oldman is mesmerizing. On the pod I also talked a bunch about rewatching the entire series of Game of Thrones. But the latest season of White Lotus … well, what can I say? Mwah! The smartest social commentary outside of South Park. Here’s a popular recap of the themes in the second season:
Another listener zooms out:
The Dishcast beat for the past several months has been new right or alt-right philosophy. It’s been great. But there has been a big omission: the Tech Bros and their anarcho-capitalism philosophy (unless I missed it somewhere). I have ignored this for a long time as well. A decade ago I was made aware of tech bro anarcho-capitalism, but I thought it quickly died out. Peter Thiel’s seasteading proposal went nowhere. Elon was just a guy making cool rockets and electric cars. Great stuff, more power to him.
But Musk’s Twitter takeover make me think that there is a much more ambitious massively world changing project here. This may be the most dangerous new-right philosophy of them all. In my mind Musk went from Tony Stark to Bond Villain faster than one of his Tesla cars can accelerate. His latest: “Elon Musk Claims Neuralink Will Put Brain Chips in Humans in 6 Months.” Now his purchase of Twitter makes more sense. He wants to make Twitter more like the Chinese “WeChat” — the “everything app” used in China whose parent company is part of Tesla. Is Musk’s plan to put chips in everyone’s brain and link them all with Twitter?
South Park did it first:
Maybe I could invite Peter Thiel himself! Who else in the tech-utopian space? Curtis Yarvin? Here’s another listener on the theme of the reactionary right:
Thank you for your efforts in helping your listeners try to understand today’s world. It’s a big job!
I just read an article in Discourse magazine, “Understanding (and Untangling) the New Right,” which introduced me to the concept of integralism. As I finished the article, I reminded myself we now have a Catholic Supreme Court. Have you addressed integralism before? What do you understand about it and its role in the New Right?
For most of my career, in some way or other. I find the Thomist view of the world enchanting and insightful but irrelevant to modernity. Darwin has simply replaced Aquinas, and expressive individualism is a solvent that liquefies modernity. It cannot be unfucked, as I try to explain in the current Dishcast with Carl Trueman. Here’s a clip:
One more listener has a great suggestion for the 2023 Dishcast:
I am an emergency medicine physician attracted to your content, and I am a long-time reader and listener. You have emotionally moved me to tears during several episodes. In one of your dialogues, you discussed how you have seen apparently ludicrous ideas actually become the norm.
I am pleading for you to discuss animal rights/veganism on your podcast, inviting on an advocate for the animals. I know many laypeople think veganism is ludicrous. That is why I began by listing my credentials as an emergency medicine physician. I am not some crazy, liberal, tree-hugging hippie. I ate animals for 37 years, until watching a documentary (Earthlings by Joaquin Phoenix) that taught me the ethics of animal agriculture.
Like many others, I thought veganism was ludicrous — until I learned it is the right thing to do, and should be the norm. This is akin to gay rights and marriage. Those who thought it ludicrous decades ago have come to learn that it is perfectly and beautifully normal. It is also similar to the ethical arguments of slavery, women’s rights, and many other ethical beliefs that are painfully and unquestionably obvious now, but decades ago were questioned by the masses.
The veganism topic seems to be lacking in your content. Yes, I know your content also doesn’t include physics, botany, or myriad other topics. But veganism is pertinent to the Dish in many ways, most notably from an ethical individual rights and liberty standpoint. It is arguably the ethical topic that is most important in the world today, and you inspire me to be an ethically driven person to bring a change in the world.
The topic is ripe for a full episode, or three. Here are three stimulating guests that would provide you with fantastic conversations:
Ed Winters: Brought up in the UK and now a professor at Harvard, he is a brilliant, well-mannered, intellectual animal activist who is a phenomenal conversationalist and interlocutor. Contact him here and peruse his lectures and interviews at multiple colleges and media platforms.
Alex O’Connor: an Oxford philosophy student, animal activist, and impressive debater (especially for his age). Reminiscent of Coleman Hughes with his temperament and honesty in dialogue, combined with a dash of British wit, he would be exceptional on your podcast.
Joey Carbstrong: an inspiring animal activist who challenges people to live according to their beliefs. From Australia, and now residing in England, he is easily relatable as an individual who has overcome extreme life challenges and wrongdoings, and has morphed himself into an admirable man whose actions and words resonate with the humans we all should aspire to be.
Those are great suggestions. And yes, it is an area in which I know I am acting against my core ethical principles … and yet bacon. We’ll jump on this.
Here’s some remaining reader discussion over last week’s Dish:
Your reader wrote:
Back in 2014, the wise Dan Savage hit that nail on the head: make homophobic businesses identify themselves publicly, so that LGBT persons would not be turned away after walking inside, in good faith, to do business.
The linked Savage column says:
Put up a website with a list of bakeries that don't want to do business with LGBT people. Put signs in your windows that clearly state that gay and lesbian customers are not welcome and will be turned away.
This does not hit the nail on the head but misses it entirely. These businesses are not unwilling to sell to gay people. They are unwilling to create gay messages. They would sell a gay person a “Happy Birthday!” cake but not sell them a “Happy Gay Wedding!” cake. The issue is compelled speech. From the American Bar Association about the Masterpiece Cakeshop case:
The question presented states: “Whether applying Colorado’s public accommodations law to compel Phillips to create expression that violates his sincerely held religious beliefs about marriage violates the Free Speech or Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”
The current website designer case is similar. She’d make a gay person a website for his or her landscaping business, but doesn’t want to be required by the government to create one celebrating that person’s gay wedding, as that would be compelled speech that goes against her values. Her lawyer said she “decides what to create based on the message, not who requests it.”
Your reader and Dan Savage are incorrect. It is creating the message, not the identity of the customer, that raises the concern. These businesses are happy to take money from gay customers, as long as they are not compelled to create speech that they are opposed to. This issue does not disappear if the gay couple’s straight friend walks into the shop and orders a cake or website for them, nor does the issue arise if a gay person walks in with an order for a straight couple’s wedding.
I’m with you, brother. Another followup:
Your reader asked:
At some point, please cite something to explain who, exactly, are doing what you write here: “A movement that once championed sexual liberation now actually operates on children so they will never in their lives experience an orgasm.” Which movement is this? Who are these people?
A good answer is provided by Sasha White in her post “The Cover up of the Biggest Medical Scandal of Our Time”:
The answer lies in the campaign of censorship deployed by the activists and experts who have built their careers on this medical experiment. The gender industry and its enablers attack anyone who dares ask questions. Powerful organizations and activists have created a culture of silence and shame to cover up the profitable craft of reshaping young bodies to resemble the opposite sex. People are fired and blacklisted for disagreeing with gender identity ideology and the body modification it promotes. Asking questions about the massive increase in young people identifying as trans will get you labeled a bigot, a right wing reactionary who hates trans kids. Therapists and doctors who blow the whistle on the gender industry are vilified and smeared. Authors are censored, and trans activists brazenly call for their silencing and deplatforming.
How well does this silencing campaign work? One answer lies in the confession earlier this year by Matt Taibbi, a self described “serial gobbler of negative attention.” Taibbi admits he hesitated before publishing a piece about trans critic and former ACLU lawyer Kara Dansky because he did not want to attract the ire of trans activists. “It was the first time I was scared away from a topic,” he writes.
The orgasm point is perhaps best explained by a surgeon herself — Marci Bowers. Check out the following exchange:
Thanks as always for the great Dish discussion — you can send your own contribution to email@example.com. Here’s one more reader on a changing England:
Your father’s painting “Waiting Hay” moved me to remember my childhood sojourn in the Derbyshire countryside during the years of WW2. I was born in London in 1936. The incendiary bombs that fell during the night of 29/30 December 1940, while we sheltered underground in the safety of the London Bridge tube station, destroyed our home and our partial livelihood. After months of temporary accommodation with relatives and friends, my parents settled in the Derbyshire countryside in a comfortable house between two farms overlooking the valley of the River Dove. When not at the village two-room school, I became a farmer’s boy and was taught how to milk the cows by hand, muck out their bire, hoe the mangold wurzels, and many other things.
In those times, the hay was not baled as it is in your father’s fine painting, and there were no combine harvesters. We had a tractor-drawn machine to cut and bind the oats and wheat into sheaves and we followed along behind standing the sheaves into shooks. When the time came to bring in the harvest to the barn, we would load the sheaves into a horse-drawn cart with high sides. I was given a half-pint pitchfork when I was strong enough to lift a sheaf onto the cart until the load was too high for me to reach.
After a few weeks, an old-fashioned steam engine would trundle up Dobbin Horse Lane towing a threshing machine, and many hands from neighbouring farms would turn up to help. A big leather belt would be attached to the flywheel on the steam engine to drive the thresher and we would sweat away all day until all the sacks were filled with grain and we could gather round the tressle tables for the harvest supper.
It was more Thomas Hardy than Philip Larkin.
After the war, my parents returned to London and I slowly learnt to become at home in the big city. I had a German pen friend who came to visit us, and in later adolescence I walked and hitch-hiked all round Europe. I love this (still) green and pleasant land, and, like Clement Atlee — our first and most brilliant post-war prime minister — I am a proud patriot. But I have always felt myself to be equally a European, and I rejoiced when we joined the European Union. I also spent two very happy years in Uganda, which was a British protectorate when I arrived and an independent nation when I left.
Although I now live in the Midlands, I frequently visit London and rejoice also to move among the crowds of folk who come from all over. (I recommend this Royal Society lecture by fellow mathematician Caucher Birkar; it’s a plea for the enriching virtues of migration — and includes no equations.) Long may we live peacefully together, respectfully rubbing shoulders. Social cohesion is a fragile thing. A country’s culture, its way of living and understanding itself and others, is, as it should be, in constant flux, capable of coherent evolution. I would not want to go back to hand-milking, nor to a meat-and-two-veg diet of cabbage and carrots. I want to make the best of the here and now.
So as an alternative to the phrase
“the great replacement”
I would like to suggest
“the great enrichment”
A beautiful email. I’m so grateful to our readers for engaging so deeply this way. Keep it coming.