Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Tuesday, November 21, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 21, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see how the summer of love became the horror of helter-skelter. We’ll look at Charles Manson and the moral convulsions of the 1960s. We’ll see the temptation to hypocrisy on both the left and the right, and we’ll see the inevitable result of trying to clarify morality while confusing marriage.
Charles Manson and the moral compulsions of the 1960s
Charles Manson was one of the most infamous figures in all of American history. And of course the headlines about his death that took place Sunday at a prison hospital in Kern County, California takes us back to one of the darkest chapters in American history and in particular back to the last part of the decade of the 1960s. That's when Manson and the so-called Manson family went on a crime spree that eventuated in two successive nights of the most brutal and sensational murders in all of American history. But what made this story so different then at least previous murder cases in the United States was that Charles Manson had already been understood as being the head of not just a crime family, but of a spiritual family, a cultic family, a family associated with Satanism and a family that came to being in the cultural chaos of the late 1960s in the context of northern California. All this takes us back to 1967 when as we discussed on the Briefing, California experienced the Summer of Love, especially the city of San Francisco, and an alternative culture that had been only on the vast margins of American life began growing closer to the mainstream. And American society knew that something very serious was now presenting itself as a challenge.
But that challenge took on a particularly satanic and dark face in 1969 with those two nights of sensational murders. But Charles Manson was not unknown before then. As we now know, Charles Manson was born to an unmarried teenage girl. He had been raised without a father. By the time he was 12 he was for the most part institutionalized and was already understood to be a person who acted on very evil impulses. Serious crimes against Manson go back to the time when he was either a teenager or about to be a teenager. In its lead article on Manson's death the New York Times reports, and I quote,
“Charles Manson, one of the most notorious murderers of the 20th century, who was very likely the most culturally persistent and perhaps also the most inscrutable, died on Sunday in a hospital in Kern County, Calif., north of Los Angeles. He was 83 and had been behind bars for most of his life.”
Almost immediately thereafter, the New York Times article tells us that Charles Manson was,
“a semiliterate habitual criminal and failed musician before he came to irrevocable attention in the late 1960s as the wild-eyed leader of the Manson family, a murderous band of young drifters in California. Convicted of nine murders in all, he was known in particular for the seven brutal killings collectively called the Tate-LaBianca murders, committed by his followers on two consecutive August nights in 1969.”
Now as reporter Margalit Fox indicates for the New York Times, those murders,
“with their undercurrents of sex, drugs, rock ’n’ roll and Satanism, seemed the depraved logical extension of the anti-establishment, do-your-own-thing ethos that helped define the ’60s.”
What we now know is that Charles Manson already a habitual criminal, already institutionalized, already on the radar screen so to speak of law enforcement as a persistent threat, Manson began to meld together several strains that became public and influential in the late 1960s, the use of drugs, hallucinogenic drugs, the worship of Satan. He began to use different kinds of streams, literary and musical, and he used what was described as an unusually charismatic personality in order to attract young people, mostly teenagers and very young adults to himself. Mostly, also, he seemed to have a hold on young women. Many of these young women were then brought in. They were led into the drug culture. They were initiated into the worship of Satan according to Manson's own very unique and twisted worldview, and then they were initiated under Charles Manson himself. Manson used his own evil verification method in order to prove the fidelity of the females, the young women who joined the Manson family. He required them to demonstrate their adoration and submission to him physically, and then once they had proved this they were deployed and deployed in what Charles Manson declared was the coming collapse of civilization. Manson, though many people do not understand this now, taught what he called helter-skelter, the threat of an apocalypse that was coming to American society that would take the form of a race war in which he warned all the blacks are going to kill all the whites. In the New York Times article, his worldview is described as an,
“idiosyncratic mix of Scientology, hippie anti-authoritarianism, Beatles lyrics, the Book of Revelation and the writings of Hitler,” and of course the Satanism already mentioned.
The paper also says,
“he began to draw into his orbit the rootless young adherents who would become known as the Manson family.”
The murders that took place in August 1969 included his victim Sharon Tate, a well-known actress then the wife of Roman Polanski. She was at the time eight months pregnant. Also murdered were others, including a prominent grocery executive and his wife. All of them killed in the most brutal fashion and with clear messaging coming through the murders. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi, who would later write the best-selling book about the Manson family entitled Helter Skelter, Bugliosi was able to tie Manson to the murders by demonstrating that he was at the heart of a criminal conspiracy. Manson himself did not participate in the murders. Rather, he sent the members of his so-called family out to conduct the horrible crimes. Bugliosi told Rolling Stone magazine in 2013 that Manson,
“He had a quality about him that one thousandth of one percent of people have. An Aura.”
A teenage girl told investigators that Charles Manson had,
“brainwashed her and others with sex, LSD, constant Bible readings, rambling lectures about revolution and the continuous playing of the Beatles White Album.”
All this came at about the same time there was a generalized increase in America of activity from those who were described as cults. And so you had the rise of alternative religious movements, including those which very clearly based themselves on a cultic control of their members often tied to cultic practices. You had a generalized understanding in America that there was a significant change of foot, and Charles Manson and his Manson family at one point just appeared to be a particularly dark family in terms of this larger cultic fringe. But as it turned out they were indeed darker than anyone had dared to imagine. The perception became quite common in the late 1960s that the moral confusion of the decade had crashed against the evil reality of Charles Manson and his family at that very time. Ideas for example of moral relativism were beginning to take hold in much of society. The idea that nothing was inherently right or wrong and context was determinative. But when it came to murder such as this, all the arguments about moral relativism faded into insanity.
David Wilson, professor of criminology at Birmingham City University in London, said that it was Charles Manson's family and their crimes who brought the swinging 60’s to an end. Those were his words. He said this,
“His strange and bizarre thinking appeared perfectly in tune with the damaged side of drug culture. It wasn't flower power any more. Youth culture was far darker and more disturbing than people had previously thought.”
How the Summer of Love became the horror of Helter Skelter
One of the strangest reactions to the death of Charles Manson came at the Washington Post where David Smith identified as the founder of the Haight Ashbury Free Clinic began his article with these words,
“Fifty years ago, at the height of the “summer of love,” up to 30,000 hippies crowded San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, dancing to the psychedelic music pioneered by bands such as the Grateful Dead. The event attracted thousands of young people to the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco — a small neighborhood that soon became the epicenter of a counterculture movement centered on the philosophy that chemistry and drugs could improve life experiences.”
The most interesting aspect of this article is that David Smith had begun to research Charles Manson in light of this kind of claim long before Charles Manson came to national attention long before the 1969 murders. He then writes that as he observed Charles Manson he discovered that he and his family was marked by a philosophy that,
“smacked of delusions of grandeur, fueled by LSD and mind control.”
“Manson used his influence over the young female members of the Manson Family to control their behavior, changing their names to dissolve their identities. The philosophy was bizarre — but so was the whole of Haight-Ashbury, and Manson just seemed another character moving through our scene.”
Just to add curiosity to the entire article, Smith says that his research was completed before the murders and published in a journal known as the Journal of Psychedelic Drugs, and the article was entitled,
“The Group Marriage Commune: A Case Study”
Smith said that he and the other researchers,
“Manson served as the group’s absolute ruler, often performing drug-involved magic tricks to show his mental powers.”
But by the time you get to the end of this article at the Washington Post, it is clear that David Smith blames Charles Manson for the end of what was otherwise a glorious experiment in moral revolution. Here's the bizarre paragraph near the end of his article,
“For many, the Manson episode validated their fears of the counterculture movement. But,” he says, “while there were legitimate negatives to the era, there was also real good happening — such as new forms of psychedelic music; increased racial, gender and religious tolerance, as well as acceptance of gays and lesbians; and,” he says, “the advance of the theory that addiction should be treated as a disease in mainstream medical settings.”
Now the very best I can say for that is that it is a jumble of moral and cultural confusion. But if you can acknowledge Charles Manson, the moral reality, the Satanism, the multiple murders, the mind control and all the rest and then come back to say that yes, there were,
“legitimate negatives to the era” well then it just goes to show how many people, especially those of a certain age, really do want to go back and live the 1960s again. But you can't go back to the 1960s and just try to keep the parts you want. If you go back to the 1960s and you go back to Haight Asbury, if you go back to 1969, then, as we know now you got to take it all and that means Charles Manson. The reality is that millions and millions of Americans living today have no idea who Charles Manson was, but it should humble us all and cause us all to reflect that the most infamous murderer in all of American history died just two days ago.
The temptation to hypocrisy on both the left and the right
But next we are living in our own time of rampant moral confusion. That made glaringly evident by the increasing controversy concerning sexual harassment and sexual assault in our society. What I want to look at today is a particular new line of argument which is in itself very revealing. Once again, this argument appears in the Washington Post this time by Kate Harding identified as the coeditor of “Nasty Women: Feminism, Resistance, and Revolution in Trump’s America.” The point of her article is that Al Franken has done something awful. He's now admitted to doing something awful. He's apologized for doing something awful. If other people do this awful thing then they should certainly be removed from office, but not Al Franken. Why? Because he's so politically important to the Democratic left. After acknowledging exactly what Al Franken is accused of doing and now has apologized for, she says and I quote,
“But I don’t believe resigning from his position is the only possible consequence, or the one that’s best for American women.”
She goes on to say,
“If you understand what it means to be a Democrat today — that is, why it makes sense to vote blue over red in this highly polarized political environment — you can understand why it might not make the most sense to demand Franken’s resignation, effective immediately.”
Now even as we note the moral confusion in her argument, at this point, we also have to pause for a moment say this appears to be politically confused as well. If, indeed, Al Franken, a liberal Democratic senator were to resign from the Senate in light of these charges his successor would be appointed by the liberal Democratic Governor of Minnesota, Mark Dayton. If anything, Mark Dayton is at least equally liberal to Al Franken. So why in the world would this writer be concerned about his replacement? It turns out she's not actually so concerned about his replacement. She's concerned as her article makes clear that in all likelihood Al Franken isn’t alone. That there will be other liberal Democratic men in positions of political power guilty of the very same acts, and she fears that if Franken sets the example by resigning then there will be other resignations. And many of those other liberal Democratic politicians will not have a liberal Democratic governor to appoint their successor. In her own words, she says,
“If I believed for one second that Franken is the only Democrat in the Senate who has done something like this, with or without photographic evidence, I would see that as the best and most appropriate option.” That is his resignation. But she says, “in the world we actually live in, I’m betting that there will be more. And more after that. And they won’t all come from states with Democratic governors and a deep bench of progressive replacements.”
But then the article actually becomes even more interesting, where addressing the charge that her argument would be hypocritical, she says,
“if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe for American women, I think we need to reconsider our definition of the right thing. I am in no way suggesting that we decline to hold Franken accountable for his offenses — only that we think in terms of consequences that might actually improve women’s lives going forward.”
To be honest I appreciated her candor. It's not all that common to find someone who says look I know this may appear to be hypocritical, but let me make it even worse. That's what she does, but her argument really deserves our attention. She says,
“if the short-term ‘right thing’ leads to long-term political catastrophe…” then we need to, “reconsider our definition of the right thing.”
But here, right now and very quickly we must make clear that this kind of political and moral hypocrisy is not limited to the secular Democratic left. It is found on both ends of America's worldview divide and America's political spectrum. It so happens that right now simultaneously across America's variegated political landscape we have the very same issues being played out on the right and on the left among Democrats and among Republicans. The question is the short-term right thing at odds with the long-term right thing? Voters in Minnesota are facing this question one way; voters in Alabama are facing the question another way. But the bottom line is both of those states and their voters are dealing with the same basic moral question. Are we looking at the short-term or are we looking at the long-term? Are we looking at moral character or are we looking at political impact? At the very least, Christians must be those who understand that you can never take issues of morality, even questions of morality with immediate political consequences and long-term consequences as well, and say that we can separate politics and morality. That doesn't work in the long-term. It doesn't work in the short term. It doesn't work according to the worldview in any term.
Clarifying reality while confusing marriage inevitably leads to chaos
But next it really is revealing and indeed troubling to see the secular left try to deal with these issues and bring about some kind of moral coherence. It's a great struggle because the moral coherence simply isn't there. Charles M. Blow columnist for the New York Times says that in his view it feels like he's facing a watershed in the culture,
“like something is fundamentally shifting.”
He's talking about the great momentum behind the moral concerns over sexual harassment and assault. But he says and I quote,
“First, let’s state the obvious. I’m a big believer in sexual liberty. Consenting adults should feel free to express their attractions as they please without shame or guilt. Just play safe. But,” he says, “there is no ‘sex’,” for some reason he puts sex in quotation marks, “without consent. To believe that is a twisting of terminology.”
He goes on with a long list I will not detail of what he says is not sex, but here we need to note they are sexual acts by any description. But what he means when he says they are not sex put in quotation marks is that they are not safe or consensual. Those are the only two moral issues he raises. But it is important we recognize the incoherence of this worldview. It simply won't work. He states the fact that he is enthusiastically for the sexual revolution. He calls it, stating the obvious. I quote him again,
“I’m a big believer in sexual liberty. Consenting adults should feel free to express their attractions as they please without shame or guilt. Just play safe.”
But the big problem here is not pointing to consent as a meaningful moral category. Of course it is. It is separating consent from the context of marriage defined as the union of a man and a woman and suggesting that in a meaningful, stable, morally, substantial way you can somehow define consent somewhere else. Looking at an article like this it's not that we disagree with Charles M. Blow about what he thinks are moral wrongs. Sin, we’ll use the word, because we would agree with him that every single thing he identifies as a moral wrong is indeed wrong. The problem is that he doesn't want to call what he defines as safe consensual sexual acts and behaviors as wrong. Here we simply have to note that according to the biblical worldview the absence of consent of course it does make it wrong, but the presence of consent doesn't make it right. Not except, of course, in the context of a man and a woman who are married to one another inside the covenant of marriage. The covenant of marriage thus becomes the most important instrument of consent, but once you eliminate marriage, marriage is the union of a man and a woman, as the basic moral category, once you embrace what Charles Blow actually helpfully defines as sexual liberty, then on the other side of that there is nothing but chaos and incoherence. More than anything else, that's what defines many of the current headlines and the moral confusion of our times.