Book Review - Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism


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This is a book the author, Professor Dale Kuehne, did not want to write. Nevertheless he felt compelled to write it and provide both theological and sociological responses to a plethora of questions he faced concerning sex in our age of individualism, for which he didn’t have ready answers. So this book is the product of rigorous research and incisive thought by perhaps the only ordained politics professor in America today. It is full of compassion — not judgement. He combines the pastoral sensitivity of a working Protestant pastor, who lectures to youth on ethics and politics, with the hard nose of a politics professor at Saint Anselm College, who understands contemporary society. Kuehne is interested in thoughtful critique and not lofty moralism, light not heat, though his thoughts are not always politically correct.

In the first of two parts of the book, Kuehne traces how our society transformed itself from being the traditional world, or tWorld as he calls it, and has become an age of individualism, or the iWorld. The tWorld was based both on Christian values and Greco-Roman values, with its cherishing of marriage and family.

According to this paradigm, the iWorld sprang from the sexual revolution of the 1960s, with the freedom of safe contraception, an explosion of experimentation with sexuality and challenges to gender stereotypes which combined with a real focus on the individual. In the last decade or so in particular, these trends have resulted in an increasing deletion of any sexual boundaries and the embracing of an ever widening set of behaviors. In fact, Kuehne predicts a range of future changes in relationships and behaviors in the foreseeable future.

In the brave new iWorld, three taboos have been adopted as the only behavior guidelines:

  1. One may not criticize someone’s life choices or behavior.
  2. One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others.
  3. One may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent. (p.71).

In concluding part one of his book Kuehne neatly summarizes the impact that such thinking has had on this age.

Since the sexual revolution, more and more people in the West are saying that to be fully human, to be fulfilled, to enjoy true relational depth and intimacy we ought to have the maximum freedom to do and be whatever we wish, and that this freedom allows for a consensual sexual relationship to extend beyond marriage between one man and one woman to any relationship…. The iWorld is upon us. (p. 92).

What are we to make of such radical and revolutionary change? Any support for human freedom may indeed offer much that is good! Here, our author asserts that our society is only beginning to understand the direction this is headed and the implications of this brave new way of thinking. In fact, he reinforces his point by questioning whether such promised freedom is sustainable, or if indeed the exercise of such freedom may lead to the breakdown of order and the imposition of political totalitarianism as the remedy. Yet however this may be, the deeper question is whether this iWorld freedom is the best response to these issues!

Thus part two turns to a consideration of the rWorld, based on a belief that “humans are made for relationships and that we find our deepest fulfillment not when seeking self-fulfillment but when living and engaging in the full constellation of healthy human relationships.” (p.95). Such an rWorld has yet to be constructed. Accordingly, Kuehne establishes from a biblical analysis that people were not created as individuals, but as man or woman, for relationships with their God and others. Our greatest fulfillment will come from the cultivation of such spiritual connections. Sex, however worthy, is not an essential part of such a deep and fulfilling relational life. Our inner beings crave a quality of love and intimacy that the sexuality and sensuality of the iWorld can’t even approach at its best.

Any move toward the rWorld, it is asserted, will involve making relationships and not ‘I’ the priority of our lives. This is all well and good. But, according to our author, it will also involve joining others in support of such relational constellations, and even public policy advocacy and initiatives. Things such as Sunday laws are recommended as part of this.

At this point I have reservations because strangely, he doesn’t sense the possibility of the rWorld turning toward political totalitarianism, even though he has already warned of its possibility at the end of our present iWorld. Neither does he sense that it may well be that the relationship principles of the iWorld are perhaps best encapsulated in a comprehensive kingdom theology in which the example of Jesus the king, as a single man, is a compelling feature.

The book finishes by addressing the question: “Where then shall we live? The iWorld or the rWorld?” (p. 201). To me, the logic used in searching for an answer here warrants more specific reflection. The aims and fundamental assumptions of these two worlds are diametrically opposed. The quest for understanding individual identity has been a theme in the post-Enlightenment world. How individuals develop, sustain and nurture their individual identity is the issue. In the tWorld, humans understood who they were by living in a relational matrix of people who shared a common human nature. But in the iWorld, individual human differences, rather than our shared commonality, was the key to understanding human nature and identity.

One particular point at issue between the iWorld and the rWorld revolves around the degree to which sexual orientation and preference is viewed as a basic component of personal identity. Increasingly, for people in the iWorld, being human in a particular sense, with particular sexual preferences is more significant for individual identity than being human in the common sense. Here, self-discovery and authenticity is much more the source of human identity, rather than birth or nature. And it is here also that social affirmation becomes a political imperative as individuals seek to have their perceived identity affirmed. On the contrary, the rWorld perceives truth in the biblical portrayal of our common human nature.

Sex and the iWorld has assisted me, as few books have before, in critiquing the society in which we live. But more importantly it has challenged my attitudes concerning sexual ethics and given me new optimism that society will yet engage in compassionate dialogue about such issues.

Dale S. Kuehne, Sex and the iWorld: Rethinking Relationship beyond an Age of Individualiam. Baker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2009. (235 pages).

Peter S Marks is a retired Adventist pastor and professor. He has an MA (Religion) and an MIM-Librarianship and is currently working on a graduate research degree in Theology from Avondale College of Higher Education in Australia.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/5869