Theologian Carl Trueman discusses ‘What is a human?’ with Lila Rose

Trueman carl

Live Action president and founder Lila Rose recently sat down with Carl Trueman, a professor, theologian, and author of the book “The Rise of Modern Self.” The two discussed how American culture did not become what it is today by accident, and examined the ideological trends that led to current cultural conventions, the rejection of natural order, and the change in how people view sex.

Trueman explained that individuals, especially Americans, like to believe that they are free, autonomous, and without obligations. Americans, he said, live by an idea of radical individualism, which was once a great strength but has arguably become an Achilles heel of the United States. “That which made America great,” he said, “I think at this point in time, is beginning to make America weak.”

Over the last 500 to 600 years, said Trueman, Western society has “increasingly emphasized psychology, feelings, and inner mental life as being definitive of who we are” and external connections have slowly been pushed into the background. He said, “We’ve persuaded ourselves that we are who we think or we feel that we are.”


He explained that what he believes to be the problem is that humans began “authorizing the inner space over everything else.” Rather than having an external authority — namely God — Trueman told Rose that “in the modern world we’ve allowed the inner space to become an authority.” He noted that an acceleration of the power of the inner self began in the 18th century and that in the 19th century, people “got rid of God but continued to act as though He existed. People would begin to become their own gods.”

Trueman and Rose discussed the theories of everyone from Friedrich Nietzsche, who said people should not allow language to dictate who they are, to Sigmund Freud, who believed human happiness is found in sexual satisfaction. They also discussed the impact of Simone de Beauvoir, who suggested that gender is a social construct, not a biological factor, and Hugh Hefner, who worked to break down the social and cultural stigmas surrounding pornography.

“It’s interesting, the Catholic philosopher Augusto Del Noce in an essay… in 1970 writing about the sexual revolution of the 60s,” said Trueman, “he makes this comment that the sexual revolution will have a deeper impact and create more chaos in American society than anywhere else in the west because of America’s deep roots in individualism.”

In the interview, Trueman and Rose also discussed what it means to be human. Trueman explained, “How you imagine what it means to be a human being is critical here. If you, let’s say you’re a Christian believer, then you’re going to think human beings are made in the image of God and you think that brings with it natural obligations, natural vertical obligations to God and horizontal obligations to those who are also made in His image. If you imagine human beings being free, unencumbered individuals, then you’re going to think that every human relationship is a contractual one, and it’s the negotiating terms of the contract that will determine what your moral obligation is in any given situation.”

The conversation continued with discussions on normative anthropology, what it means to be human, gene editing, the LGBTQ movement, the dangers of technology that allows humans to do anything they want, and sex as recreation.

Trueman noted, “When you have a strongly contraceptive/abortion culture, the way you imagine the importance and the nature of sex changes because of that. It becomes recreation. You start to think that pregnancy is an unfortunate by-product of the activity and not a central part of it. [The natural order of sex is] between a man and a woman in the confines of marriage. I think it’s the common sense position… because that’s the context in which children can be protected. One of the funny things about the debate about marriage in this country is that people have forgotten why we had state laws about marriage in the first place. We had laws about marriage to protect children. That’s why the state has an interest in marriage because the state has an interest in protecting children.”

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