by Cassandra Hedelius
Late last year, I started brainstorming suggestions for who we could invite to present at the 2021 FAIR conference. We usually look for presenters to counter criticisms of the church on issues like polygamy, Book of Mormon translation, and race. But in addition to these, I wanted this conference to provide more immediately vital resources for parents, building on John Gee’s excellent presentation in 2020. Children are bombarded with not only explicit arguments, but very subtle messages that shape their imaginations and moral judgment in ways that make it very difficult to accept divine authority and parental guidance. I’m the mother of three young children, and my dearest hope is to succeed at building their faith in the Lord, His church, and the prophets and other leaders He calls. I was determined to find speakers that would significantly help me and other parents like me.
Around that time, I started reading a new book by Carl Trueman: The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution. I was instantly captivated by Trueman’s skill at naming and explaining cultural forces that I had dimly intuited but never fully grasped. His bracing exposition gave me the consciousness and competence I need to shape my childrens’ worldviews instead of allowing them to be shaped by the world’s philosophies.
The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self explains how, from Rousseau’s romanticization of nature, to Freud’s centering of sex as the vital center of human identity, to our unwitting acceptance of therapeutic affirmation as the only legitimate expression of love, we’ve become a society whose actual religious basis is expressive individualism. Despite some lingering echoes of Judeo-Christian observance, we by and large worship personal identity, no matter how outlandishly defined and sometimes more worshipful when more outlandish. We shun any moral code that subjects personal identity (or behavior defined as a direct outgrowth of identity) to even the slightest constraint of norms or commandments or criticism. Even those of us sincerely faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ are often more susceptible to this identity worship than we realize. We instinctively shrink from criticism of, or anything short of enthusiastic affirmation of, anyone’s sexual choices or identifiers. And we raise our children on stories of protagonists who defy their parents in order to follow their hearts, which primes them to feel ashamed of the doctrine of their faith when it encourages others to change their hearts in order to follow God.
Everyone I know who has read The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self agrees it’s an extraordinary book, and zealously recommends it to everyone they know. If a dense (but wonderfully written) 432-page tome seems too difficult, a shorter version will go on sale in February 2022. I hope it is widely read and discussed among Latter-day Saint parents, teachers, grandparents, and anyone who wants to be grounded in eternal truth amid the world’s toxic philosophies.
Trueman was exactly the conference speaker I was looking for to help parents. But I didn’t think he was likely to accept–how many Reformed Presbyterian professors of biblical and religious studies would accept an invitation to speak at a Latter-day Saint apologetics conference? Especially when he’s just written a best-selling book and is the toast of every Christian conference and podcast? So I made the suggestion but started thinking about other options.
My friend Jeffrey Thayne is a psychology professor at BYU-Idaho and a brilliant writer and thinker. I knew he was interested in Trueman’s book and had done his own thinking and writing on the same topics. Thayne’s frequent co-author, BYU psychology professor Ed Gantt, was also working on relevant material. I was excited when they both agreed to speak at the FAIR conference, covering much of the ground that I had found so enlightening in Trueman’s book.
Then to my delighted surprise, Carl Trueman accepted our invitation to speak! Hosting Carl and his delightful wife Catriona at the FAIR conference was a joy; they are both gracious, kind, brilliant, and generously interested in better understanding our faith. Carl’s conference address was a tour de force of clarity, faith, courage, and practical wisdom. I hope it gets shared widely and leads many more people to read his book, so that it can lead many more people to successfully raise their children to be dedicated disciples of Jesus Christ instead of spiritually barren devotees of expressive individualism.
Jeffrey Thayne’s presentation was every bit as illuminating as Trueman’s. Several people told me it changed their lives by helping them to understand for the first time how a loved one thinks when rejecting the church, and thereby making it possible to repair the relationship. I learned several strategies for educating my children’s imaginations and worldviews so that the gospel will always be just and logical to them, instead of stifling and irrational as so many now claim to find it.
Ed Gantt’s presentation is a little more difficult for the layman non-psychology-professor to digest, but we hope to soon provide additional materials that will make it more accessible. I was grateful to learn from it how to counter some of the world’s notions about identity that groom children and teenagers to see themselves as misfits in the gospel. We’ve recently seen high-profile cases of psychologists speaking against the church and its doctrine, claiming our standards are psychologically harmful. Professor Gantt reminds us that psychology can also support gospel living.
It is FAIR’s usual practice to publish transcripts of conference presentations quickly but to wait a few years before making the videos publicly available. We’re making an exception in the case of the Trueman and Thayne presentations because the subject matter is so crucially important and almost universally applicable to families and church leaders right now. The transcript of Professor Gantt’s presentation is also available now.
We’re providing these presentations right away so that parents, grandparents, bishops, youth leaders, and any others can help those they care for accept the gospel in spite of cultural trends making it increasingly difficult. These presentations will help you intentionally shape how your children see and analyze the world and society. Our culture wants them to accept premises that lead to the rejection of chastity, the atonement, and priesthood authority. You can help them to build their foundation on scripture and the words of living prophets instead.
Thanks so much to everyone who attended our conference, in person or remotely, and to everyone who will watch, read, and listen to these presentations. We hope they equip you with truth and strength, to build your faith, your children’s, and everyone else’s that you minister to. God bless you in your work of building Zion and sharing the gospel.
Jeffrey Thayne – “Worldview Apologetics: Revealing the Waters in Which We Swim” (transcript)
Carl Trueman – “The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution”
Cassandra Hedelius studied Political Science in Oklahoma and Law in Colorado. She currently lives in Aurora, Colorado and cares full time for her three young children and cat.