A Note on Fellipe do Vale’s Review of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self

This review was published yesterday at London Lyceum: https://www.thelondonlyceum.com/book-review-the-rise-and-triumph-of-the-modern-self/

Fellipe do Vale, fellow at London Lyceum and TEDS Professor, makes the following critiques:

(1) Historical arguments, especially genealogical arguments, must be extremely careful about establishing claims of causation.
(FAIR POINT, though this methodological constraint would have made broad analysis like this book almost impossible; I am sure Trueman was very aware of what he was doing.)

(2) one also finds some significant historical inaccuracies
(do Vale cites one example. I am not competent to judge this on most of the historical figures. I did wonder about Trueman’s characterizations in a few points. I’d have liked it if do Vale had referenced more examples even if he did not unpack them.)

(3) The identifying traits requisite for a figure to contribute to the development of modernity are poorly defined
(I take it do Vale is gesturing toward what I complained about above [on my goodreads review], that Trueman’s categories are a bit blunt. do Vale cites an example I too noticed the notion of the “psychologized self.” It’s not that it obviously doesn’t refer to something real in the world; it probably does. The problem is without clear definition it is hard for the reader to judge what developments contribute to it.)

(4) [Consequently], Trueman’s selection of examples often appear unwarranted

(5)–cited at length:
“Finally, there is a pastoral worry. Even if the above objections were avoidable, is this the kind of book that would help a pastor shepherd a flock through the complexities of sex and gender faced today? I don’t think it is. Individuals today experiencing gender dysphoria or who are same-sex attracted are not helped if they are assumed to be a part of a movement or a revolution, especially a political one. Some might have political motivations, others may not; it seems unwise to assume one way or another. Pastors are more successful if they pay careful and compassionate attention to the particular story of the individual in question, not automatically placing them within a broader story they may not themselves recognize. Rather, their sensitive listening should help the person find their home in God’s story, that of the gospel. In the end, it does not seem to me that Trueman’s book encourages careful and gentle attention to the individuals who may walk through the doors of any church”

I am appreciative of Fellipe do Vale’s review and concur with at least half of it. On this last point, I agree that people should treat individuals experiencing gender dysphoria with compassionate attention. This is an important caveat. My sense is that do Vale is offering this as a “pastoral worry” rather than a critique. If so, I wholeheartedly concur. Though I see it as poor form to criticize a book for what it does not address, Trueman might have said something about this. Yet, I am not sure that do Vale’s analysis appreciates the importance of what the book is doing with regard to personal care. Trueman explicitly traces how private sexuality has been politicized. The inverse is also true: public ideas about sexuality are always part of private experience. The politics of sexuality must not dominate caring for people, as it very often does among religious conservatives. But we are not able to bracket out “social imaginaries” from individual experience. Cultural narratives contribute to our embodied habits and our interpretations of bodily experience at a pre-conscious level.

For example, evangelical sexual culture can be Exhibit A for how damaging a cultural lens can be for self-understanding. Evangelical men have often adopted a hyper-sexualized interpretation of their own sex drives. They largely do not think that chastity is a virtue necessary for married men (it may be that this last sentence doesn’t even make sense to most readers, see Rebecca Konyndyk DeYoung’s Glittering Vices). Evangelical men tend to see their sex drive as unalterably who they are and that it is a grace that they’ve been given their own lawful sex partner to deal with it. This is a deplorable way to serve their wives. Understanding the contribution of Freud, for instance, to this unconscious assumption is helpful for learning new ways of being for our own flourishing and for that of others.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: