Sex and the iWorld - a review
I firmly believed that I didn’t need anyone but me
I sincerely thought I was so complete
Look how wrong you can be
Rod Stewart, “Every Picture Tells a Story”
It’s a topic that all of us are talking about but not many want to make a pronouncement on. One that we are all invested in and need to have an answer for yet know that, whatever we say, there will be someone nearby and maybe close who is in painful disagreement. In Sex and the iWorld Dale Kuehne has sought and, I think successfully, trodden a path to explore the root debates of sexuality and identity.
Moving through ancient philosophies to the Bible, to twentieth-century ideals, business leaders’ soundbites and song writers’ lyrics, Kuehne take in a whole range of thinking on the questions of ‘who are we?’, ‘What does it mean to be human?’ And ‘How can I find something or someone that fulfils me?’
Kuehne will not tell us what to think, but precisely breaks down the arguments for different viewpoints
One reason to choose this over other books on the same topic is that Kuehne sets out and debates the question behind the question. Instead of providing a model of behaviour to follow or answers for Christians to give those who ask, Kuehne (almost frustratingly) will not tell us what to think, but precisely breaks down the arguments for different viewpoints.
In two main sections, he considers the dominant, traditional ‘tWorld’ view that has died away and the ‘iWorld’ representing the ‘individualistic worldview that is rapidly replacing the tWorld throughout Europe, the United States, and urban centers worldwide’ (32). Then, writing for both those who do and don’t hold the Bible as their ultimate authority, Kuehne presents and argues persuasively for the relational ‘rWorld’ view which follows biblical principles.
Kuehne begins with a look at the history of human thinking on this topic:
Marriage and the extended family were the relational foundation of the tWorld. They were so important and so constant that whether you lived in the tWorld one hundred years ago or several thousand years ago, your identity and your life were rooted in a well-ordered relational structure. Your identity was inextricably connected to your nuclear family, your extended family, your local community, and your nation. Much of your life was determined at birth on the basis of your family relations and social class, to say nothing of genetics. Your situation at birth impacted your educational path, your place in society, your occupation, whom you would marry, and with whom you would interact. Moreover, all this transcended individual choice. It was a world composed of relationships that were for the most part determined by birth. (35)
This overview is presented through all sorts of voices, from Aristotle to Nietzsche to Dylan to Jobs. This section means that you don’t, as I didn’t, have to approach this text with a good understanding of philosophy, classics or even history. Kuehne does the hard work for us. Having said this, it is a book to concentrate on. There’s a lot packed in and while a brief scan will easily throw up the main arguments, there’s great worth in spending time learning from it.
Kuehne then turns our attention to the iWorld:
During the past several decades we have witnessed a dramatic shift in our culture’s relational framework and moral compass. Sexual behavior that for millennia was regarded as unvirtuous or sinful is not merely tolerated today but is often regarded as acceptable or healthy. A shift is occurring in the worldview on which Western civilization is based. (43)
Kuehne draws a vivid picture of what it feels like to be living and relating now
Kuehne artfully tracks the changes that we, our parents and possibly our grandparents have lived through. He characterises our societies well and draws a vivid picture of what it feels like to be living and relating now:
People can and do prioritize anything – including material wealth, power, or status – into their highest aspiration. They can converse with others for no other reason than the intrinsic joy of conversation. They can find meaning in solitude and meditation as their highest ideal. People can choose a life of celibacy or a single, lifelong, monogamous relationship. They are free to decide on whatever lifestyle or values they choose, but ever-increasing numbers are embracing unfettered sexual freedom in an unprecedented way. (75)
Yet Kuehne isn’t content just to show us what it is like. As with the previous section, Kuehne explores where such attitudes originate from and gently asks questions of the iWorld such as ‘is this right?’ and ‘is it what you want?’. He suggests that ‘the question before us is whether there is an alternative that more fully satisfies the longing of the human heart’ (93).
The second part of this book considers a Christian answer to these questions. Kuehne is careful to dissect this argument as critically as he did the previous worldviews. This can give us confidence that his arguments are not only sound in themselves but stand up and make sense in the world we live in.
Kuehne explains that where the iWorld makes identity primary and nature secondary, ‘the Bible asserts that identity is developed out of our nature’ (140). With our nature being humans created by God in his image, we are therefore hardwired for relationship, just as God is. To illustrate, Kuehne unpacks the Bible’s teaching on family, sex and relationships. He shows how Old and New Testament ‘rules’ develop and support an identity which is fulfilling as it makes sense of who we are at our most basic level.
Skilfully, while leaving room for differences of opinion, Kuehne doesn’t allow his readers to skirt around the question, and neither does he:
Is the iWorld preferable because it allows individuals to tailor their identities and sexual relationships as they wish, whereas the rWorld would deny this?
The bottom line is that I believe the rWorld offers a quality of love and intimacy that is more fulfilling than the iWorld at its best. (163)
Kuehne is a good and trustworthy guide for a difficult conversation that needs to be had
Kuehne is a good and trustworthy guide for a difficult conversation that needs to be had. While the Church perhaps recognises the shift that has occurred so that culture no longer stands alongside its teachings, many are asking what the alternatives are. Indeed, many are asking if the Church ever had the answer in the first place. Kuehne sets out, explains, critiques and argues for a biblical worldview that has always made sense and still does. Read this book: it’s wholly worth your time, thoughts and conversations with others afterwards.
Title: Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualism
Author: Dale S Kuehne
Publisher: Baker Academic
Publication Date: 2009
© 2017 Katie Shaw