Book review: “Sex and the iWorld – rethinking relationship beyond an age of individualism” (Keuhne, Baker Academic)

Christianity tends to attract a various of opinions to it, within it or because of it.  Those who think (like Chicken Licken) that the sky is falling down, and those who go through life with rose-tinted glasses, assuming the best of all, regardless of the reality in front of them.  And no doubt, such a diversity of views can be of great help to the wider body.

Some of these views are shaped or influenced by theology.  Particularly eschatology (end times) and whether one takes a reformed or arminian view on the world, but also based on many other things.  One such opinion was recently expressed by a friend and deeply respected pastor here:

“There is nothing progressive about the moral trajectory of Europe. On the contrary European society is regressing. We are not gaining traction toward a utopian culture, rather we are descending into a dystopian nightmare.”

(the context to this can be found in their lecture here and on their blog here)

This book would disagree with that first assumption as one of its major points.  I might come on to the second of those points tomorrow, if I have time.  Below I will outline why my reading of the book would suggest this:

Keuhne sets out to convince us that the old world was one sex-and-the-iworldwhere relationships like family (of several generations) were central, and geographic locality tended to dominate out relationships.  This was the tWorld (traditional world).  This world supposedly was founded on Christian values, but in practice because it was actually a mish-mash of many philosophical worldviews at various points in European thought, it allowed for much mistreatment of women (banning them to the kitchen and to certain jobs) in a patriarchal society, lack of care of environment and often views of sexual practice as something not to be discussed.  Faithfulness within marriage was even often encouraged in horrible cases of abuse, due to social norms.

Now we live in one where relationships are more individualistic and family units less the staple of current society.  Geographical location although still influential, with current trends of transport, change of career/job and internet trends, is not as key.  This is the Individualistic World – the iWorld.  This world perhaps has some roots in the sexual revolution of the ’60s, and in postmodern thinking.  The rise of this has debatably led to whole populations addicted to porn, the further breakdown of the family unit and society, with greater loneliness exhibited than ever before.

Both worlds, Keuhne would argue, has their great strengths and their horrific weaknesses.  Both world were far off the Christian worldview and ideal.  Perhaps many would differ in which was better or worse, morally speaking, for the world.  But what is certain is that there’s been some progression in some fairly major areas.

But where to go now?  Keuhne says the gut instinct for many taking a Christian worldview, is to think we should return to “the good old ages” where things looked more Christian.  But partly because returning to past history is not possible (much as we sometimes like to think it might be – the cultural context has moved on and cannot be reversed), and partly because trying to reverse such changes is always harder than liberalising things to start with, Keuhne thinks that this should not be our option.  Living in the iWorld with a thin veneer of tWorld morality will be an impossibility, but one that many churches are still trying to persuade their adherents to live out.

As Bristol professor in psychology Glynn Harrison would point out, there is little point lecturing young people about porn, if we do not realise that it is merely a small part of the consequence of living at this time in history, that we all have been affected by.  Not just those “porn users over there” or “those affected by unwanted sexual desires” but us all.  We are all products of our culture, to some extent or other.  Until we understand this, ranting about moral behaviour “x, y or z” will do little good at bringing real change.

Instead, the author proposes a new world to aim for: the “rWorld” (Real World).  This is one that has Christian relational values at the very heart of it, but Keuhne refuses to call it the “cWorld – Christian World” because he believes that there is much that anyone would agree about this world, regardless of your worldview.

And his case if powerful, controversial and intriguing, and is worth reading and probably re-reading.  It verges on being an academic book in the style he writes, but don’t let that put you off.  The chapters are manageable and are worth persevering, as the content could shape a lot of how we think and act in life, and his engagement with the arts and ways of framing his case is dynamic.

This one probably falls into one of my top 10 reads of this year.  But then again, I am quite philosophically minded.

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