156. Why Does Sexualityism Threaten Christian Fiction? | with Bethel McGrew
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“We come to it at last: the great battle of our time.” Last week we shared this metaphor, and since then the cultural struggles have heated up even more. This is mainly because of our world’s possibly fastest-growing religion, which we call Sexualityism—that is, strong belief in one’s own sexual identity, which usually leads to false worship, legislation, and culture wars. One guest who’s experienced with these beliefs, and taken some heat for this, joins us to enjoin this foe. How might this belief threaten not just biblical Christianity, but even some fantastical stories made by Christian creators?
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Introducing guest Bethel McGrew
Bethel McGrew is a high school teacher, math Ph.D., and widely published freelance writer. Her work has appeared in WORLD Opinions, First Things, National Review, The Spectator, and many other national and international outlets. Her Substack, Further Up, is one of the top paid newsletters in “Faith & Spirituality” on the platform. She has also contributed to two essay anthologies on Jordan Peterson. When not writing social criticism, she enjoys writing about literature, film, music, and history.
Follow Bethel McGrew on Twitter @BMcGrewvy.
Quotes and notes
- How the Side B Project Failed, Bethel McGrew, March 14, 2023
- The Last of Us and its unnecessary sexualization, Feb. 16, 2023
- Killing Dead Name, Bethel McGrew, Feb. 10, 2023
- The broken, the sheep, the wolves, Bethel McGrew, Nov. 16, 2022
- Mutilating Our Bodies, Bethel McGrew, July 1, 2022
From Bethel’s article The broken, the sheep, the wolves:
Carl Trueman, in a recent podcast, encourages Christians to distinguish carefully between the victims and the perpetrators of the new sexual revolution—the people who are being “destroyed” and the people who are destroying them. We should handle the former tenderly, but we should handle the latter “ruthlessly.” With some people, it is possible to be too gentle, too ready to assume good faith. On the other hand, Trueman points out that it is possible to forget many people are suffering, and not all of them have the singular goal of destroying Western civilization.
Concession stand (full buffet edition)
- After months of discussion, last month we began planning this series.
- Now we find that cultural conversations about sex/gender are hotter.
- We will proceed, yet more aware of how sensitive these topics can be.
- This goes double if you’re very tired/sick/depressed, and need to rest.
- That’s why this series is meant for folks whom God has gifted strength.
- If that’s not you, don’t worry. Rest up. Just don’t oppose your family.
- And as before, don’t listen to this episode without hearing episode 152.
- Many very wounded people are often deceived by Fantastical Foes.
- Some trauma is culturally imposed, but other wounds are universal.
- Result: real survivors can have their own empathy turned against them.
- Survivors are also vulnerable to many sentimentalist appeals to emotion.
- As we explored in episode 88, we’re no longer living in a “neutral world.”
- To claim otherwise is to call into the Sentimentalism we explored before.
- In a parallel Earth, we’d oppose racism or greed-ism infecting fiction.
- We’re living in the real world, Earth-1, and this is the hand we’re dealt.
- Even as fantastical fans, we believe Christians must reckon with reality.
- We do feel it’s important for Christians to “gatekeep” Christian fiction.
- We wouldn’t want any other harmful, anti-biblical beliefs in our stories.
- This doesn’t mean “no struggling characters.” It means: no propaganda.
- God says: “Woe to those who call evil good and good evil” (Isaiah 5:20).
- If you disagree, we’d rather be honest, and part ways more amicably.
- We’ll stake our rep on this: Sexualityism, not its critics, is harming people.
- Real people are being deceived into destroying their own human nature.
- If human nature is under attack, then so are human creations: stories.
Questions before discussion:
- What does Scripture’s insistence about “male and female” mean to us?
- Given that our Creator told us to steward the world and make families …
- If we minimize marriage and family, what’s our foundation for creativity?
- Consider “toxic empathy”—is this possible? What would this look like?
- Have you ever felt uncertain about a new sexual identity, but kept quiet?
- What culturally popular ideas do you refuse to adopt, or spoken against?
- Even if not now, could such religions persecute us? How could we know?
- Do you believe parents and wise Christians must say “no” out of love?
- How would you discern between a victim and a victim-turned-abuser?
1. What do we mean by ‘Sexualityism’?
2. How does Sexualityism threaten Christians?
3. How does Sexualityism threaten Christian fiction?
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James A. Koogler got real about ep. 155 on Sentimentalism:
Food for thought on the Thomas Kinkade Paintings, they might be helpful and challenging for Christians who seem to hate this world and think that it is all completely evil. Kinkade painted in a time when the “Earth/Material is bad, Heaven/Spirit is good” theology was more prevalent than the “New Earth” Theology, at least according to my knowledge, which may have led to his over-correction, which while extremely flawed, may help some to see that God’s goodness does still dwell in the world, though it is not yet fully renewed.
On Sentimentalism, the phrase “Toxic Empathy” really caught my attention. It’s a phrase I didn’t know I needed in my vocabulary until I heard it. I’ve seen this so much lately, the idea that just because I disagree with someone on their lifestyle or their theological or political beliefs that I can’t also love them and care about their well-being. “Toxic Empathy” attempts to take us emotionally hostage, forcing us to repent and relent our beliefs and convictions to appease someone else’s feelings. Until now, I have not had a phrase to describe this phenomenon. Thank you.
Another thing I’d like to add to the conversation on sentimentality is a more subtle form I’ve found in Christian Fiction, where the protagonist (even if non-Christian) is essentially sinless. I don’t know whether this is done for “clean” marketing purposes or unintentionally or what, but I know this has been harmful for me as a Christian. Even after my conversion/re-dedication I’ve struggled with habitual sin (I’m not surrendering to it, excusing it, etc. simply struggling), and I wonder why so many protagonists in Christian Fiction so often seem so naturally noble. Is that what reflects the majority of people (Christian or not?) Why don’t we see more characters in Christian Fiction struggling with a vice or the evil within themselves? Is it possible that these portrayals might force us to confront that we’re not only facing the monster outside but the one within?
My final thought, one of the biggest dangers of sentimentality is it makes a story and life seem so low stakes. Like, if the protagonist is defeated it’s okay because he’s saved and going to Heaven anyway. Yet, even if this may be true (in reality or fiction), his defeat will not be without consequence. He may be saved and go to Heaven, but what if him dying brings about the death of others who are not saved and go to Hell?
A recent Christian Novel I read that expertly portrayed high stakes is “DarkFall” by Andrews & Wilson. Though the final battle is between one Special Operator and a man possessed by a legion of demons, it’s not just the special operator whose life is on the line, several other peoples lives hang in the balance, and the battle isn’t just about survival, it’s about the faith of the world.
When we fall prey to sentimentalism, we make both stories and life low stakes, and devalue what God, humanity, and what Jesus did to bring us together.
Next on Fantastical Truth
After all this talk about Fantastical Foes and their evil ways that lead to death, who’s ready for some new life and victory? We are! Thank God, we’re moving into Holy Week, helping us remember not only Jesus Christ’s perfect sacrifice, but his resurrection—the same resurrection he’s promised for all who receive him. Here we’ve explored Epic Resurrection before, but not with questions like: Do we get to fly? Could we “apparate” from place to place? Dive underwater for hours? Will we get superpowers after the Resurrection?
Explore the best Christian-made fantasy, sci-fi, and beyond, and apply these stories' meanings in the real world Jesus calls us to serve.
One major takeaway I had from this episode is the danger of Compromise for “Art’s Sake” or “Evangelism’s sake.”
I’ve been writing seriously for about six years now, and I know this has been a temptation for me time and time again, especially when it comes to the heavily politicized issues.
I think it’s easy for novelists (especially those of us who are yet to be published) to say: “well, I’ll stay away from the polarizing issues in my first few books to get my name out there. You know, for Evangelism’s sake. Then, when I gain some popularity, I’ll express my true views, because then people will be more open to them.”
It’s an easy thing to tell yourself, and I’ve done it more times than I can count. Yet, I find that God presses me on this, not just in my conscience, but in my writing. My characters have a tendency to put me in a corner with their philosophizing and conversations, giving me no choice but to address these polarizing issues.
I don’t believe that every story must be “heavy-handed” or unnecessarily address hot topics, as one’s beliefs can be acknowledged for clout as easily as they can be denied for it.
But my point is, as Christians, and particularly Christian Artist’s, any time we choose to compromise our convictions or God’s Word for the sake of Evangelism, Platform, or even “Art” itself, we are stepping onto a slippery slope that can lead us away from God into spiritual cowardice and maybe even heresy.
Awesome Episode Guys!