A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing By Glynn Harrison: A Must Read For Everyone

Posted at 15:41pm on 17th July 2017
Before I start, I want to say that I have nothing against anyone who is genetically predisposed to the LGBT spectrum.  I have personally known people in homosexual relationships, and always found them to be delightful.  I also have a family member who is transgender, whom I love and get on well with.  However, I have to acknowledge that there are elements of culture and society which, in my opinion, need reform in order for the human race to flourish.  Here, then, is my Book Club’s take on Glynn Harrison’s book.

A Better Story: God, Sex & Human Flourishing – hardly an easy topic for discussion in mixed company at Book Club you might think.  But you’d be wrong.  When we met, last Wednesday to discuss Glynn Harrison’s book, we were so excited we could barely contain ourselves.

Most of us admitted to having found it a challenging read, and one or two were unable to get into it at all.  But without exception, those who did read it, agreed that it was the best analysis of what is happening in society that we’d ever come across.  More than a scrutiny of the sexual revolution, this, we all felt, was a valuable exploration of the social revolution.  In other words, the cultural upheaval of our time.

With a preface beginning with an admission that his friends thought ‘rather you than me’, Glynn Harrison recounts the cultural changes since the 1960’s sexual revolution.  We were reminded of the film, The Magdalene Sisters, which revealed the shame of fallen women and bastard children, and a subsequent film The Imitation Game, which disclosed the arrest of the brilliant code-breaker, Alan Turing, for ‘gross indecency with a male’.  Both were indicators of the power of story.

So how did we get from there, only fifty years later, to marriage being seen as a ‘weird life-style choice’; to a street preacher being arrested for saying that homosexuality went against the Word of God; or to Ireland becoming the first country in the world to legalise same-sex marriage, with more than two-thirds of births outside marriage?

THE ANSWER: RADICAL INDIVIDUALISM

With a rise in employment for women equating to economic and social change that rendered male bread-winners less relevant, plus safe reliable contraception, the link between sex and marriage was weakened.  But it was the theme of how radical individualism went mainstream that really resonated with me, and other members of my Book Club.  Because it highlights so much of what has gone wrong in society.  So while individualism is good, there needs to be balance between individual thought and reason, versus authority and tradition in order for the human race to flourish.  And the 1960’s saw this reversed.

What we now see, following an ‘intoxicating ideology of the freedom to be me’, is sovereignty of the individual.  But in wanting to be ‘different’, free from authority and tradition, the boomer generation has, actually, been ‘dissected, analysed and pitched to’.  In other words, they have become targets for advertising and there are no longer any ‘big facts’; only human interpretation.  Where is the freedom in that?

GNOSTICISM: PLEASURE WITHOUT RESTRICTION – A WAR AGAINST REALITY

This ‘freedom’ says Glynn Harrison, this ‘rebelling against the natural order’ and ‘being your true self’, equates to Gnosticism: ‘pleasure without restriction’.  And having insinuated itself into the modern psyche, it has left those who oppose it as being viewed as ‘bigots of a bygone era’.

Examples of the ‘war against reality’ are given:

  • A 37 year old white woman, who insisted she identified as black.
  • A 20 year old woman who claimed to have been born in the wrong species: she was a cat.
  • And perhaps most alarming of all, in December, a transgender father of seven children left his wife to live as a six-year old girl.

The modern approach, says the author, is to say that reality, rather than perception, is what needs fixing.  He continues by showing that reason – the way we think about a problem – is viewed as less important to the way we feel.  Using the Moral Matrix set up by American psychologist Jonathan Haidt, Glynn Harrison gives the six intuitive foundations of moral reasoning – all integrated in the life and character of Jesus - and shows why we should never rest solely on the side of gut instinct.

THE STORYTELLERS

The clever part of how the social and sexual revolution came about, was the way in which activists realised the power of story to move people. 

  • Story electrifies the brain, fires imagination and hooks our deepest longings and desires.
  • Viewing stories raises empathy, increases the brain hormone oxytocin and makes us ‘live’ the story.
  • The dramatic arc of great stories: a battle; seeming defeat; the discovery of unknown powers; triumph

THE NARRATIVE

So while the narrative of the sexual revolution was: No more rules that encourage bigotry and spite; just be who you are, looking inside yourself is seen as the answer to everything.  Christian faith, however, is rooted in repudiation of self-reliance in favour of trust in God – as the story of David and Goliath shows.  Sadly, this is now seen as repressive.

THE WARRIORS

The activists knew they needed to be so confident in their beliefs that it would make them feel proud.  Hence Gay Pride marches; Pride Festivals; Pride Celebrations – it all needs to be on display.  Likewise, they used ‘bad cop’ means to shame and ridicule their opponents.  Utilising Haidt’s ‘individualising moral systems of compassion, fairness, and freedom from oppression’ (the gut instincts) Peter Tatchell ridiculed the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Carey, by invading the pulpit during an Easter Sunday sermon and accusing him of being no better than white churches supporting apartheid in S Africa.

THE PLANK IN OUR OWN EYE

As orthodox Christians – in a minority – we need to rediscover a similar narrative, using a ‘good cop’ narrative.  So although the moral vision of the revolution is about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, we need to learn - not how to defeat our opponents - but how to build bridges.  And to survive as a minority, we need to mimic the activists of the sexual revolution, by maintaining and supporting the convictions of our members.

Human beings, says Harrison, take ideas on trust and become dangerous conformists – the more so when those ideas are repeated on the media.  We agreed that we see this repeatedly on social media when individuals share and re-share a heart-wrenching story with the aim of acquiring hundreds of thousands of signatures in their favour, which go against convention – as in the case of the terminally ill baby, Charlie Gard.

With orthodox Christian belief viewed as hostile to human well-being, it’s hard to swim against the flow.  But, while acknowledging the plank in our own eyes, we need to nourish our beliefs and patterns of life in order to make them plausible to our members.

It was at this point that members of the Book Club spoke of the moving effect that Jimmy McGovern’s TV drama Broken had had upon them.  On a weekly basis, we saw Sean Bean as the priest – a broken man – being assailed by guilt for offences committed long ago, each time he offered communion – Christ’s broken body – to his congregation.  But as Glynn Harrison points out, we were not created to have shame; it only came about after Eve sinned.   

THE CASUALTIES OF THE REVOLUTION

Why, asked one member of Book Club, do we always home in on the act of homosexuality as more blame-worthy than divorce, extra-marital sex (or even abortion, the horrors of which, said the wife of a doctor, are never shown in full on TV or film) when all four adversely affect human flourishing?  The facts are that far from the promise of sexual liberation, there is actually a decline in sexual activity.  There is also a significant rise in the number of people living alone in the UK.  As another Book Club member – a retired pharmacist – pointed out, with girls increasingly becoming pregnant out of wedlock, they have the ‘advantage’ of welfare benefits, housing and family life, while the young men who fathered the babies have nothing.  There will, she said, be fewer and fewer grandfathers around in future.

WAR ON THE WEAK

Glynn Harrison acknowledges that the breakdown in community adhesion affects children, and examines the following issues:

  • Those who live with parents who’ve separated are ‘subjected to a parade of feckless male role models and a revolving door of carers’
  • At the other end of the scale, are children whose parents are supportive: homework, soccer etc.
  • Marriage is seen as the preserve of the rich but has collapsed in poorer communities
  • Divorce is high (and is now taking place among homosexuals); single-parenting is spreading; “children’s life chances will diminish”; and “young men will live apart from the civilising power of married life.”

Yet statistics show that children raised by two biological parents in a stable marriage do better, on average, than children raised in other family structures.  So while children pay the price of divorce and cohabitation, and sexting and grooming is higher among such families, conventional marriage is the ‘stability factor’.  A good case, surely, for taxes to incentivise and encourage it?

IDENTITY CONFUSION

‘Just be yourself’ might easily translate into ‘Who am I?’  With virtual online identities, cosmetic surgery, and children being taught that gender is ‘fluid’ it’s easy to understand the surge of mental health issues, victimhood and gender dysphoria among the young today.  And as one member of Book Club pointed out, the cry is for the Rights of transgender kids to be paramount, but where are the Rights of girls having to share toilets with a boy who thinks himself a girl – or vice versa?  The fact is, says Harrison, that a tiny minority of the UK population (only 1.7% identifying as lesbian, gay or bisexual in 2015 according to the government Office for National Statistics) is ‘being used to justify imposing a new gender ideology on the majority’.

A BETTER STORY: LIVING IN GOD’S REALITY

In the light of modern Gnosticism and radical individualism, Glynn Harrison points to the five pillars of the Christian view of sex and marriage:

  • God has spoken, we don’t have to figure it out
  • He welcomes us into his reality not ours
  • We flourish when we work with, not against, the grain of his reality
  • God reveals who he is, and who we are
  • No matter what, God is good

Sexual desire, Harrison continues, connects us with heaven.  Reminding us of the marriage between Christ and his bride (the church), he points to the depth and intensity of love in the Trinity, which invites us in (John 17:21-23) and cites the fact that we are made in God’s image as the fundamental reason for our desire for relationships, affection and intimacy. 

THE END OF SHAME

The fact is that we’re happy with the idea of platonic love with God, but erotic love?  No!  But as Dante’s poem, The Divine Comedy, shows, we need to look along our desires to their true home.  Sexual desire teaches us about the intense passion of God’s love for us.  Sex in marriage and abstinence in singleness showcase the faithful character and commitment of God’s love.  And being fruitful requires male and female, which is why the Biblical view of marriage can’t be re-engineered.

We need to understand that this is not just about Me and My development.  It’s about realising that our identity in Christ equates to human flourishing for all.  It’s about understanding that children have paid the price massively, and that a culture of strong marriages brings stability to children’s emotional and psychological development, alleviates poverty, and enhances educational outcomes.

As God’s image-bearers, in a culture of entitlement, we flourish when we look outwards, serving others, making sacrifices.  Yes, we have been harsh and judgemental in the past and we need to apologise.  But for the life of the world, we cannot remain silent.

BUY AT DISCOUNT Copies of my latest books, Time to Shine and Chosen? - novels in the Evie Adams series, set in Devon, in which a counsellor rather than a detective helps solve the mystery - may be purchased via PayPal from my website at discount.

Coming next year, my memoirs, Picked for a Purpose.

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