The Trueman Show: A Fairytale of Human Ontology
“Indeed, if we strive to be too good we only engender the opposite reaction in the unconscious. If we try to live too much in the light, a corresponding amount of darkness accumulates within.”
– John A. Sanford
Shadow work is the process of integrating the individual or collective parts that have been largely hidden, repressed, and denied. However, to know how one’s shadow is formed to begin with, look no further than Carl Trueman‘s book, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.
Trueman speaks of human and cultural evolution as being something objective, rooted in history, and only recently challenged by the gnats of progressivism, the “New Left” and modern psychology. However, Trueman lacks a historical critical perspective that would serve to shed a less myopic perspective.
Trueman says in one podcast interview, as well in his book, “The cultural shift around gay marriage is because of media, particularly shows such as Will and Grace.” This answer shows a detached rationalism that devalues cultural evolution and human experience. Stating that Will and Grace is responsible for the boom of the sex identity movement is like saying the tail is wagging the dog, the universe revolves around the earth, or ‘I think therefore I am.” Ironically, Trueman seems to be projecting his Western philosophical perspective onto the “modern self” and then judging it for being merely a product of the Enlightenment.
Trueman shows himself to be well read philosophically, but narrowly educated in the world of depth psychology, though that does not stop him from making bold claims about psychology. He repeatedly takes large swings at modern psychology, with the dull hatchet of reductive Freudian psychology. Yes, Freud was quite reductive, but Trueman somehow compresses Freud to nearly a two dimensional caricature, which he then crucifies to legitimate his xenophobic conclusions. Using Freud to critique modern psychology is like using the Wright brothers to prove humans should not fly.
Trueman credits Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, as responsible for the modern assumption of “sex as identity”. He is critical of the public space sexual identity has taken up in the modern world. He writes, “From art to politics, sex is omnipresent […] We are categorized as straight, gay, bi, queer, and so on; and sexual preferences, once considered private and personal, are now matters of public interest.” He goes on to critique the oversized modern emphasis on sexual identity as an oddity in relation to human history by playing on tropes that substantiated homophobia and transphobia.
Freud, like Jung, lived in a time of great sexual repression. Jung in particular dealt with patients who displayed deeply imbedded neurosis rooted in hyper-disintegration of their sexuality. Perhaps had Trueman investigated a little further, he would have discovered that Freud merely started a conversation, which Jung further developed. Jung did not believe all unconscious contents were rooted in sexual repression, but saw sexuality as a part or complex in the vast human psych/soul. He believed the purpose of the human experience was individuation; that is the integration of the self into consciousness (For Christians, individuation is a word that essentially sums up the process salvation and sanctification (or self-differentiation for Friedmanians)).
Further, Trueman repeatedly critiques hyper individualism but fails to see the plank in his own eye. The whole book is a criticism of the human experience based on his personal vantage point. At one point in the podcast mentioned earlier, he states something to the effect of transgenderism is the furthest extreme of the sexual identity revolution. Furthest from what? Furthest from your identity? Whatever objective reality exists for Carl Trueman, it seems to critique only those outside his fairytale of human ontology.
As leaders we must be incredible suspicious of these seemingly innovative and transcendent perspectives that belittle current issues and prescribe solutions to the complexity of the human experience. At best they prop up the egoic assumptions of the unconscious and patriarchally-oriented masses, and at worst they are an accusing and gaslighting voice of oppression against marginalized people. Trueman wants Western society to pour new wine into old wineskins, but such containers have proved to be unsuitable for human life.
 John A. Sanford, Evil: The Shadow Side of Reality (Crossroad, 1981). 23.
 Everything Just Changed, “Everything Just Changed – Carl Trueman on The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self,” Google Podcasts, accessed November 1, 2022, https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9hbmNob3IuZm0vcy8xOGUyZjllYy9wb2RjYXN0L3Jzcw/episode/ZGM5ZDMwMTItN2NmYS00NDNmLTljM2YtMzY5N2IyMjA4YmI3.
 Carl R. Trueman, The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution (Crossway, 2020). 178
 “Everything Just Changed – Carl Trueman on The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self.”
7 responses to “The Trueman Show: A Fairytale of Human Ontology”
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Michael, so…did you like it? Just kidding! A question based on this statement made about Trueman’s take on Will and Grace: “shows a detached rationalism that devalues cultural evolution and human experience.” Can you say more about this or, perhaps, what would be the opposite of this as it relates to the topic? Thanks…
Lol 🙂 Yeah, it was a very difficult book to read, both as a dedicated social scientist, and as a follower of Christ. I found his one-sided conclusions on sexuality to be arrogant and inhumane. His trope usage of Will and Grace was pure ignorance; that show resonated with something in the collective that had yet to be expressed. The show simply gave form, image, and language to many’s experience. Trueman seemed to suggest that people rationally chose, based on the show, to engage or identify as LGBTQ. How did you take it?
Michael, this is a fair statement that you make:
Trueman lacks a historical critical perspective that would serve to shed a less myopic perspective.
While I would certainly lean in the direction of this book, as far as sexuality, etc., my sense was that he approached it very one-sided. While it was a fine argument (in my opinion), it let me wondering what the other side might say.
On Freud, I was a psychology student. What are you thoughts on his emphasis on sex, to the extent that it has led to the sexualization of children, and more, at least according to Trueman?
Yeah good question. I think Trueman does with Freud what he does with scripture-take it out of context. Yes, Freud centered sexuality as the primary, if not only, motivator for many human functions. However, to his credit, he was illuminating sexuality in a time and culture where it was highly repressed. The Oedipus complex, for example, was simply a way of explaining how boys develop from identifying with their mother, and competing with their father, to identifying with their father. I think Trueman take on Freud and the sexualization of children is the same tone that many Evangelicals use today to claim that children are abused at drag shows. It’s hyperbole.
Michael, I appreciate your impassioned reflection on this week’s reading. Putting aside the evidence that Trueman doesn’t take the log out of his own eye, are there pieces of his “thesis” on individualism that have a basis in which the church could learn?
Ya know, I don’t think there’s much meat in his thesis. I think what Trueman calls individualism is simply the rejection of homogeny and reductive dogma. His thesis only upholds the evangelical status quo, at least that’s my perspective. What do you see as valuable in his thesis.
Hi Michael. Thank you for your post and engagement with Trueman’s book. As I was reading it this week, there were so many times I wanted to talk with you and hear your take on especially his chapter dealing with Freud. Your post shed light on some of what I was wondering. Thank you. It seemed to me that he was pretty selective in who he chose from the social sciences to lean on for developing his argument…it felt like isogesis rather than exegesis.
One question I grappled with but didn’t have space in my blog to engage (and would value your thoughts): I thought regularly of Polanyi’s book on “The Tacit Dimension” as I read Trueblood…so much of Trueblood’s argument felt like he was reacting to the world he has tacitly known being ‘upset’ by what has emerged over the past multiple decades regarding sexuality and gender. Polanyi writes about how when what has been implicit (tacit) becomes explicitly examined it creates room for a new tacit knowing to emerge. This seems to me to be part of what we are culturally experiencing. How would you use the lens of Polanyi to engage Trueman’s writing?