Carl Trueman Discusses Identity and Contemporary Anthropology

Author: Center for Citizenship & Constitutional Government

Carl Trueman Lecture Poster "Strange New World"

Dr. Carl R. Trueman delivered a lecture on his most recent book, Strange New World, on April 17th. Trueman is a professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College.

In 2020, Trueman published The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution in response to the cultural move toward identity politics. Ethics and Public Policy Center President Ryan T. Anderson encouraged Trueman to write a more accessible book that encompassed his diagnosis of the self as both sexualized and politicized. Strange New World was the product. 

Trueman’s lecture focused on the question of anthropology in our modern culture, specifically the question of what it means to be a human being. He highlighted music, medicine, sex, and transhumanism and explained how they act as symptoms of the greater issue of our modern age. “The distinction between what we are and who we are tends to be very dramatic … [and] today the ‘who’ is far more important than the ‘what,’” he said.

Music, which “traditionally marked key events in communal life,” has “become a matter of individual consumption, not communal production,” Trueman said. In the world of endless choice and streaming services, music has become just another pursuit that one can be “absolutely sovereign” over and that“functions as that which isolates rather than that which brings us together.” Trueman believes that this kind of artistic consumption shapes “our intuition about what it means to be a human being.”

The second aspect that Trueman identified as a sign that anthropology is shifting is within medicine, which has gone “from being primarily restorative to being transformative.” Citing not just gender transition surgeries and gene editing but also the rise in plastic surgery, Trueman believes that this move “is connected to the realization of a vision that transcends the actual through aiming at some idea of the construction of the individual human will. And it sells.” 

“The realities of nature are subjugated to the ambitions of the will and the desire,” as surgery is now being used to “compensate for the psychological,” he explained.

The third topic, sex—the primary topic of Trueman’s book—has been transformed from a procreative act to a purely recreational one, which means that the bonds of human relationships have been turned upside down. 

“Sex is designed to bind us to another particular person in bonds of obligation and care,” Trueman says, but today it is seen as a casual and amoral action. 

Finally, Trueman responded to the “transgender moment,” which he says isn’t necessarily about sexual desire, but is rather about the role of the body in human identity. The onset of technological innovation has led to a world which has “made the unimaginable imaginable.” 

While on campus, Trueman also visited CCCG Director Phillip Muñoz’s Core Texts class, where students discussed Strange New World

He suggested that the culture war cannot be won through arguments, but rather by living out one’s life in a properly ordered way. The answer lies in re-learning what it means to be an authentic friend, recovering natural law and the theology of the body, and understanding one’s objective identity rather than the subjective notion of the self that modern society operates by today. 

“Music, medicine, sex, and transhumanism function as they do because of technology—ways that empower the individual will—that detach the “who” question dramatically from the “what” question,” Trueman’s lecture concluded. 

A full recording of the lecture can be watched here. Strange New World is available from Crossway. 

Article contributed by CCCG Writing Fellow Merlot Fogarty.