The Briefing 03-22-17
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, March 22, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Judge Neil Gorsuch remains poised and unscathed as Supreme Court nomination hearing continues
The big news in the confirmation hearings yesterday for Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch is that there wasn’t really big news. That’s interesting in itself because what happened yesterday was almost as if the script had been written, a script in which the Democratic and Republican members of the Senate and the nominee Judge Gorsuch basically went exactly according to the lines and the arguments and the comments that one might have expected—might have expected simply because that’s the way these confirmation hearings are now undertaken. By now the politicization of the Court and of this process means that nominees are coached as to how exactly they are to avoid controversy, answering at a minimum the questions that are opposed to them and going on as much as possible to indicate their judicial philosophy and their basic understanding of the role of the Court, avoiding steadfastly any comment about how they might rule on an issue that might subsequently come before the court.
Now that requires a very delicate political dance because you have antagonistic members of the Senate Judiciary Committee that includes all the Democrats who are doing their steadfast best to try to get the nominee to trip himself up on some comment or another. And they are also trying their very best to tell their own voters that they are contending for their issues when those issues shall come up before the Supreme Court. Again, the issue of abortion was very much front and center, where you had some Democratic senators asking Judge Gorsuch where he stands on the “settled law” of Roe v. Wade. And you also had several comments that were requested by members of the Democratic contingent in the Senate Judiciary Committee to try to get the nominee to declare exactly how he might rule on issues that would relate to future questions that are instigated by decisions or policies of the Trump administration.
Judge Gorsuch very carefully dodged all of those questions and the thing to note is that that’s his job. His job as a nominee to the United States Supreme Court at this stage in the process is to speak to his judicial philosophy, to speak to his understanding of the rule of law and the role of the courts, but not to speak on any issue that might subsequently come before the Court. Now conservatives are never satisfied with a Democratic nominee who answers according to those rules and Democratic senators will never be satisfied with a conservative nominee who plays according to the same rules. But the rules are rules for a very important reason. That is one of the protections in terms of the independence of the federal judiciary.
If we get to the point that nominees are expected to answer those questions signaling in advance exactly how they will rule on questions that will subsequently come before the Court, judicial independence even as an ideal simply disappears. But once again yesterday was most newsworthy for not being very newsworthy. Americans probably began to tune out the confirmation hearings because there was no train wreck. But of course the story is not yet over and it’s one of the most important stories of our contemporary moment. It’s one that we will continue to follow very closely.
Time for every brand to pick a political side? The politicization of every dimension of American life
Next, looking at the increased politicization of the entire culture, one of the most toxic aspects of this we need to recognize from a worldview perspective is that the reduction of virtually everything to politics means that, well, politics invades every dimension of life, even the cereal aisle in the grocery store. This was made clear in a recent article in Time magazine. Seth Matlins writes,
“It’s Time for Every Brand to Pick a Side.”
Picking a side in this case means picking a partisan side, a side in terms of America’s ideological divide. Seth Matlins writes,
“You wouldn’t expect that standing up for humanity, dignity and equity — or against hate, racism, xenophobia and sexism — would stir controversy for a cereal or a car or a cup of coffee. But in today’s America, it does.”
“Consider that for taking a quiet stand against hate speech by pulling its ads from,” (what he identifies as one controversial website), “Kellogg’s is targeted with #DumpKelloggs by readers who saw the brand’s actions as an attack on their values.”
Matlins goes on to give other examples and then he concludes that,
“Consumers and employees are looking for new ways to be heard, represented and served. They’re increasingly voting with their voices, their choices and their wallets. Brands need to take heed, or pay the consequences.
“What’s clear is that the people buying from you and working for you want to know if you’re on their side. Or not.”
Now if you take his argument and look at it just at face value, it’s not clear that the situation is quite so simple as he describes. After all, the examples he gives earlier in his article about how companies basically messed up with consumers by taking a political side. But the article in the headline of this article in Time magazine indicates the politicization of our culture right down to that cereal aisle where we are now told that brands have to take a stand, and that means a partisan stand in terms of America’s ideological and moral divide. In contrast to what we might call now the good old days, when cereal manufacturers primarily advertised about cereal and car manufacturers about cars, Matlins goes on to say,
“In today’s landscape, functional differentiation and efficacy still matter; it’s just that values-rooted brand differentiation matters even more.”
Now you look at a statement like that in an article on advertising in Time magazine, an article about the larger concept of branding in modern America, and you simply have to ask the question if it’s actually true. Are consumers actually expecting for corporations, cereal manufacturers, car manufacturers or, for that matter, those who are selling insurance or real estate or anything else, to signal to us what their side is in terms of the ideological divide in order to gain our business? I think actually this article reveals something else. I think it reveals the situation that many in the cultural elite hope is the case. They’re actually doing their very best to tell American corporations that they’re supposed to be engaged in this kind of values branding or advertising. At this point I would simply refer to several of the illustrations this author uses in his own story, because they actually point not to how corporations profited by entering into this ideological fray, but by how they did not. Matlins continued,
“No matter what you stand for or against, there will be some who love you and some who hate you. As ad legend Bill Bernbach said, ‘If you stand for something, you will always find some people for you and some against you. If you stand for nothing, you will find nobody against you, and nobody for you.’”
Matlins then said,
“This is our new marketing reality, and cultural values are marketing’s new table stakes . Few are the brands who court controversy as a matter of strategy. But in today’s landscape, avoiding taking sides and bringing your cultural values to life to avoid controversy is a fast track to irrelevance.”
Well, if you suspect that this writer probably has something at stake in this game, you would be right, because Seth Matlin’s is identified by time as Executive Vice President of an organization known as Branded Impact. Well, inside he writes this,
“We call this world-positive marketing Branded Impact, in which there is an alignment between brand and product truths, cultural purpose and, yes, profit. In fact, data from sources as diverse as Harvard Business Review, Women's Wear Daily and Deloitte's millennial survey—to say nothing of a growing number of brands’ bottom lines—indicates that there may be no more efficient or effective strategic growth lever than branded stories of purpose and impact well told across platforms, especially if you’re trying to attract millennials.”
Without doubt, we are watching every dimension of American life politicized, and yet I doubt it’s actually quite as bad as this article insinuates. And I think the fact that you see many companies now doing this kind of advertising has to be weighted over against the fact that the vast majority of companies want absolutely nothing to do with it. They want to sell their pancake syrup to liberals and conservatives, Democrats and Republicans. But Matlins is probably on to something, especially when he writes about the millennials.
Coming at about the same time as his article was an article in the New York Times by Amanda Hess entitled,
“The Trump Resistance Will Be Commercialized.”
And what she’s writing about is the fact that many brands that are addressing themselves primarily to urban millennials are in their advertising, identifying with resistance over against the new administration and its policies. But once again, when you read all the way through that article, most of the corporations that are mentioned are ones that the vast majority—and I assure you that’s no understatement—of Americans have never heard of.
Pointing to the trend she identifies Hess said,
“When it comes to viral marketing, the resistance is hot right now.”
I guess the best thing to say is that time will tell. But what we do need to note here from a worldview perspective is the fact that advertising is a tool, is an instrument in the larger moral revolution, especially when it is driven by this kind of agenda in which advertisers and brands are told you’ve got to join the revolution, you’ve got to identify with the resistance or millennials are not going to buy your products. We will I guess soon find out if Americans want their cookie companies to sell cookies or to sell some kind of moral or political statement. What’s clear already is not exactly what these companies will do, but what many in terms of the moral revolutionaries now demand that they do.
Beyond 'He' or 'She'? TIME magazine and the hyper-individualization of gender and sexuality
Next, we need to recognize just how important it is when a major cultural signal is sent by the photograph and cover text on the front of Time magazine. The current issue of Time magazine this week shows a young person with the headline,
“Beyond 'He' or 'She': How a New Generation is Redefining the Meaning of Gender.”
The inside headline of the article is,
“A growing number of young people are moving beyond the idea that we live in a world where sexuality and gender come in only two forms.”
The article is actually quite easy to summarize, it’s more difficult to detail because of the specificities that are given so much content in terms of this article. But the main point of the article is to stress that identity, sexual identity, gender identity, amongst younger Americans is now no longer even a binary. It is not only that this continuum can no longer be contained within the spectrum known as LGBTQ, but that the plus sign must be added to the end to include everything that could be there and should be there but might not be there yet. Beyond that the argument is that there’s now a continuum in terms of gender identity that can no longer be referenced merely as male and female, or even as formally male and now female or formally female and now male. The continuum argument we need to note as Time magazine presents it is something new and newly popular with younger Americans, teenagers and young adults, but this is where we also need to remember that this argument was made in previous generations by people such as Alfred Kinsey, one of the major sexual revolutionaries in the second half of the 20th century. But now what we are seeing is that this is becoming a far more significant theme in this generation. Steinmetz writes,
“Hyperindividual, you-do-you young people from across the U.S. are upending the convention that when it comes to gender and sexuality, there are only two options for each: male or female, gay or straight. These aspects of identity — the sense of being a man or a woman, for instance, and whom one is drawn to physically or romantically — are distinct. But they are related, and together, they're undergoing a sea change, as an increasing number of people say they aren't one or the other but perhaps neither or maybe both.”
She ties much of this to the transgender revolution. She writes,
“As many transgender people fight for equal status as men and women in society — with identities that feel just as static as anyone else's — others say their feelings about gender don't fit in either of those boxes and might change over time.”
Rowan Little, identified as an 18-year-old high school senior in Kentucky who identifies as “gender fluid and uses the pronoun they, rather than he or she” said,
“Some days I feel like my gender could be like what I was assigned at birth, but there are some days when I feel the opposite way.”
Steinmetz then says,
“Young people are pointing to the middle in terms of sexual attraction too, with one survey finding that nearly a third of young Americans see themselves somewhere between 100% heterosexual and 100% homosexual.”
As justification for her analysis of the movement in Time magazine’s decision to make this a cover story, Steinmetz writes,
“Expressions of gender and sexuality that go beyond this-or-that are nothing new, but they're increasingly moving from the margins to the mainstream.”
She gives ample evidence, including the fact that Facebook, she remarks, “with its more than 1 billion users, now has about 60 options for users' gender.”
Now, by the time you finish reading this article, you’ve come to the conclusion that this article will be out of date by the time that it is in print as we now see it this week. That’s because this revolution is now unfolding at a pace that is unprecedented and unexpected, frankly, even for those who are trying to drive it. If there is one word that probably fits this article in terms of worldview concern more than any other, it’s where Steinmetz began that main paragraph with the word “hyper-individual.” “You do you,” she says, marking this generation. That’s one of the problems. We have now seen the worldview of personal autonomy, a worldview that says that no one tells me who I am and, by the way, that includes the Creator. We now see this hyper-individualism come home to roost, so to speak. It is now coming with such a gale force that everything is falling before it, even the mentalities and policies of those who drove the LGBTQ revolution in the first place.
But in terms of a Christian understanding of these issues, there is truly a big bomb embedded in this article. It’s where we read,
“Some experts say that there is more natural variation than has been widely acknowledged and that terminology is more limited than the sum of human experience.”
Stephanie Sanders, identified as a senior scientist at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute who studies human sexual behavior, said,
“There's something in between 'born that way' and choice. This is a much more nuanced thing ... Is it biology or nurture? I don't know why we can't let that debate go. We are always, at every point in time, the product of both.”
Where’s the bomb? Well, it’s not in terms of the fact that that statement was made by someone identified with the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, infamously and notoriously that supposed institute for the scientific study of sexuality, controversial from the very beginning, has been a major proponent of every aspect of the sexual revolution for the better part of the last half-century. No, the bomb is in the statement made by the expert, as she’s identified, at the Kinsey Institute when she says,
“There’s something in between ‘born that way’ and choice.”
Now as you will recall, this has been one of the major issues of moral controversy in terms of Christians and others trying to understand what’s going on in issues of gender and sexual orientation and identity. We now know, as I documented in my book, We Cannot Be Silent, that those who were driving the revolution to normalize same-sex relationships, same-sex marriage to normalize homosexuality, explicitly argued amongst themselves, right out where we can read it. In the very earliest writings of the early homosexual movements that there had to be the argument that this was entirely nature, that orientation was something fixed and thus essentially biological. The argument was, and it continues, we need to note, that a persons are born that way, then there is no way that society can tell them that they’re wrong.
Now the biblical worldview, we need to remind ourselves, does not argue that there is no biological dimension to this. But the biblical worldview tells us that after sin has affected all of creation, after what we read in terms of Genesis 3, that biology itself reflects fallen creation, not the creation that God intended from the beginning. How do we know what God’s intention is? Well, God tells us, he tells us in Genesis 1 and again in Genesis 2: in his image, we are told, he created them; male and female he created us. So male and female was God’s intention, and you’ll notice that is a binary, very clearly, an essential distinction between male and female that was a part of God’s creative purpose from the beginning and that means that displays his glory in all of creation.
But the argument has now changed and it’s been changing at the margins, but to use the very argument made here by Steinmetz, it is now moving to the mainstream. The argument that is convenient for the moral revolutionaries now is that it’s not all about biology, it’s not all just a matter of what’s given, it’s not unchangeable. No, the argument is now that as there is a continuum between male and female and homosexual and heterosexual, persons can move along that continuum as in their hyper-individuality they know themselves to be right now.
The argument that it’s merely biological and thus unchanging when it comes to gender or sexual identity, that argument began to crack about a decade ago and it began to crack among some very publicly identified celebrity lesbians. Because it turns out that there were lesbians one year and not the next. By the time the argument had developed about a decade ago, there had been the invention of the word “hasbian,” referring to those who were lesbians, but evidently are not now. Well, the issue is this: if sexual orientation is an absolute and given, if it’s a part of biology and it’s unchangeable, you can’t possibly have a hasbian. But now in this week’s issue of Time magazine, we had a cover story declaring that it’s not just true of one subset of the LGBTQ+ community; rather, it is argued, it is true of all humanity. And here you have someone from the Kinsey Institute saying, is it biology or nurture? I don’t know why we can’t let that debate go. Well, before we let that debate go, let’s notice very carefully this was the debate that the sexual revolutionaries insisted was the central question just a generation ago.
This article is also interesting because it basically castigates the gay rights movement as being far too exclusive, because in the argument made by one person cited in the article,
“The very rise of the homosexual as a distinct minority, that people who wanted to be straight-identified had to distinguish themselves from, had a policing effect.”
In other words, it hampered human variety by making persons even declare themselves to be either straight or gay, to use the vocabulary of that time. Now you have the sexual revolutionaries saying even that category of gay identity is now understood to have been repressive to those who aren’t exclusively either straight or gay. We should also note in this article in terms of both concern and urgency that the article is warning us that we should expect this to be a trend that will expand. Steinmetz writes today,
“Ritch Savin-Williams, a professor emeritus of psychology at Cornell University, is researching the population he categorizes as ‘straight with a bit of gayness.’ Savin-Williams estimates that about 15% of women and closer to 5% of men fall in this mostly straight category today.”
But listen to this,
“He also thinks the latter number will grow, as stigma lessens and ‘men realize that this is a sexual label that can apply to them as well.’”
The article cites another who says,
“We have a growing number of kids who identify as genderqueer, nonbinary, gender variant. People put ‘demigirl,’ ‘genderless,’ ‘no gender,’ ‘all genders,’ ‘pangender,’ he says. ‘We get things all the time, and I'm like, ‘What is this? I have to look this up.’”
The point of greatest interest here, perhaps, is that the person cited there is identified as transgender who “started the first summer camp in America for transgender youth.”
Here you have the acknowledgment that even the transgender revolutionaries can’t keep up with their own expanding vocabulary. But a final note in this article is also really important because it acknowledges the role of Hollywood and the celebrity industrial complex in terms of driving this revolution. The article cites celebrities, Miley Cyrus in particular, and then cites one observer who says,
“We live in a time when the entertainment industry says it's cool to question your gender identity.”
That, of course, is a significant underestimation of the reality is also clear that there might be something of a generational divide in terms of the transgender revolution that we read,
“Others who have identities they describe as fluid or changeable say the pushback even comes from some older gay and transgender people, who have long fought for equality with arguments that one's gender or sexual orientation does not change.”
It was Friedrich Nietzsche, the philosopher, who at the turn of the 20th century infamously declared that God is dead, who wrote the book, Beyond Good and Evil, embracing a form of philosophical nihilism. Now you see beyond male and female. But this isn’t coming from a philosopher seminar room, this is coming on the front cover of Time magazine. And that’s what makes this issue particularly important.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.