In short, the modern self is one where authenticity is achieved by acting outwardly in accordance with one’s inward feelings.
Just like a baby.
Carl R. Trueman (PhD, University of Aberdeen) is professor of biblical and religious studies at Grove City College. He is a contributing editor at First Things, an esteemed church historian, and a fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.
This book is presented as an approachable and concise version of Trueman’s book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. As you can see, I chose the concise version for my reading.
From the Foreword, written by Ryan T. Anderson, President of the Ethics and Public Policy Center (and author of the book, When Harry Became Sally – banned by Amazon):
The “self” that Western Civilization cultivated, up until just a few hundred years ago, was what Harvard political theorist Michael Sandel described as an “encumbered” self, in contrast to modernity’s “unencumbered” self.
The encumbered self was a being made with a purpose, a telos. He was free to live in accordance with this purpose. He was considered a creature of God. He conformed himself to the truth, to objective moral standards. He had in his vision eternal life.
The unencumbered self can’t be bothered with any of that:
Modern man, however, seeks to be “true to himself.” Rather than conform thoughts, feelings and actions to objective reality, man’s inner life itself becomes the source of truth.
Just as we describe currency which is tied to nothing objective, that can be created at will out of nothing, “fiat,” so is the modern man, who is his own standard, who can create of himself anything he chooses. Call him “fiat” man.
He is not accountable to theologians, but to the therapists who help him find his true self. Of course, this leads to finding his deepest and most important inner truth of sexual desires, and being “true” to this as well.
Meanwhile laws are passed, contrary to traditional family and sexual norms and requiring others affirm any and every new lifestyle. Objecting to any of it – and especially the worst of it – is now illegal.
Summarizing Anderson’s foreword, quoting the Catholic (sic) Biden: “Transgender equality is the civil rights issue of our time.”
And with this, Trueman begins chapter one:
Many of us are familiar with books and movies whose plots revolve around central characters finding themselves trapped in a world where nothing behaves in quite the way they expect.
Trueman offers Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Franz Kafka’s The Trial, and The Matrix series of movies as examples. However, this is no longer confined to fiction:
Things once regarded as obvious and unassailable virtues have in recent years been subject to vigorous criticism and even in some cases come to be seen by many as more akin to vices.
Marriage is between a man and a woman, for example. Yet, we once found slavery acceptable. So why not continue this liberating evolution into all areas of life? Trueman sees the underlying issue as the notion of the self. And this self connects to three other concepts: expressive individualism, the sexual revolution, and the social imaginary.
First, to define what he means by self. In the common usage, he is Carl Trueman, and not Jeff Bezos or Donald Trump. But Trueman means something else by self:
…the deeper notion of where the ‘real me’ is to be found, how that shapes my view of life, and in what the fulfillment or happiness of that ‘real me’ consists.