Tuesday, February 6, 2018
Tuesday, Feb. 6, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, February 6, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll see divorce go online. The father daughter dance go kaput. We’ll see the real meaning of Mr. Rogers neighborhood and find out why the Simpson's predict the future.
Why divorce is never easy, despite the promise of one new website
Signs of the times seem to be all around us. Sometimes coming almost in a barrage of headlines. Here's one from the New York Times,
“Easier path to divorce? Go online.”
Amy Sohn reports for the Times about a new technological development, the increased opportunity to obtain a legal divorce online. The point of the article is that divorce should now be routine like almost anything else online even as people now couple online they ought to be able to decouple online. And what makes this particular article interesting is that it appears not in a new section of the New York Times but in the Sunday Styles section. The New York Times is one of those major media outlets, one of the most important major media outlets that reflects the way a glamorous society likes to think of itself. This is true especially between the two coasts where you have a West Coast notion of glamour and an East Coast notion of glamour. And in this case there's a certain amount of intermingling because here you have an East Coast story about a West Coast glamorous attorney who has put together this latest digital opportunity for divorce. The report tells us,
“Since couples now meet online, plan weddings online, cheat online and find couples therapists online, it is only logical that they should be able to divorce online.”
The report goes on to tell us,
“It’s Over Easy,” that’s the website, no kidding. It's, “a new website that takes couples through divorce for a starting fee of $750. It is,” says Amy Sohn, “either liberating in its convenience … or another sign of pending apocalypse.”
Well in all probability it is somewhere in between. There can be no question that divorce has been morally apocalyptic for the United States and for other Western nations. But when you're looking at divorce, the availability of online divorce does appear to be almost technologically and morally inevitable given the widespread acceptance of divorce in the culture. But we are talking about a website that calls itself “It's Over Easy” and offers divorce. The great lie is in those words. Divorce is never easy, and furthermore as you're looking at the reality that some divorces might be more complex or more messy than others, the reality is that divorce is always as the late novelist Pat Conroy said,
“the demise of a small civilization.”
But once this society began to legalize divorce and embrace so-called no-fault divorce before long this kind of routine divorce became inevitable, and now you see it celebrated in the Style pages of the New York Times. And what perhaps makes this story all the more interesting is that the subhead of the article is,
“A glamorous lawyer creates a website to aid the process”
A glamorous lawyer. So the socially aspiring readers of the New York Times who might be considering a divorce or even those who might be considering marriage but want to make sure they’ve got an article like this safely remembered, here they are told that there is the opportunity to buy a digital product about divorce from a glamorous West Coast lawyer. Indeed, behind this is attorney Laura Wasser identified in the article as,
“the affluent Beverly Hills-adjacent lawyer who has represented,” famous clients like, “Angelina Jolie, Britney Spears, Jennifer Garner and Christina Aguilera”
If you pause for a moment, it’s rather revealing that in this article you have this lawyer described as being not of Beverly Hills but merely Beverly Hills-adjacent. Evidently, there's enough cachet in just being close to Beverly Hills to be called a glamorous attorney in the New York Times. Wasser wrote a book in 2013 entitled,
“It Doesn't Have to Be That Way: How to Divorce Without Destroying Your Family or Bankrupting Yourself.”
But now she sees the future in digital divorce, and as I said there is an array of products which are made available on the website. It turns out that LegalZoom has had a divorce platform called Wevorce since 2013. But as the New York Times says, the site,
“lacks the star power of Ms. Wasser, who is frequently featured in tabloid magazines and in Vogue.”
Again this tells us a great deal about ourselves or at least about the readers of the New York Times. The kind of people who wouldn't go to Wevorce because is not glamorous but might go to It's Over Easy because supposedly it is. The article tells us that It's Over Easy's basic level which costs $750 offers downloadable forms, a parenting calendar and child and spousal support calculators. But on the pro level, which costs at least $1500 plus state filing fees, the site also takes care of the petition, filing forms for one spouse and offers a 30 minute phone consultation for one person with a family law consultant. But that's not all there is also a premium level. And at the premium level that cost $2500 plus state filing fees, files for both spouses are then delivered and the site also offers 90 minutes of counseling and unlimited email support.
“The consultants do not provide legal advice, but they answer questions related to the platform.”
One shocking feature of the article is the casual language that is used for what can only be rightly described as earth shattering effects of divorce,
“If a user wants more information about ‘Kids,’ ‘Have/Owe’ or ‘Make/Spend,’ she can click,” according to the article, “on a video featuring Ms. Wasser, …. ‘Custody is based on your children’s best interests,’ she says from a child’s bedroom.”
Now if you need to pay either $750 or $2500 to be told that custody is to be based on the child's best interests, well what you're looking at is the reality that we have routinized this so much that platitudes now cost as much money as filing for divorce. Another telling paragraph comes near the end of the article,
“Lest one think the site’s primary market will be millennials with no children or significant assets, on its first day 30 percent of users were 35 to 44, according to analytics provided by the company, and 22 percent were 45 to 54. A quarter were 25 to 34.”
The glamorous Beverly Hills-adjacent attorney says in the article,
“People ask if I’m a divorcemonger. I say, ‘Nobody is going to hear about It’s Over Easy and get divorced because there’s a good online platform. Divorce is happening. I’m making it easier.’”
Lamentably, she's right about the fact that divorce is happening. It has become so commonplace in America that it is no longer considered amongst America's major moral problems in our cultural conversation. But of course it is, and as you're looking at the sexual revolution, you have to consider the fact that no-fault divorce had to precede same-sex marriage. It was required that marriage be redefined in terms of its endurance before it would be redefined in terms of its gender. Once marriage had been redefined so that it was no longer a covenant that was a public commitment to last a lifetime then it was a relatively short jump in history to marriage being defined as being a man and a man or a woman and a woman. The change in endurance led to the change in gender.
That last statement from the attorney is also very telling in moral terms. She said,
“Divorce is happening. I’m making it easier.”
Well just consider what would happen if you replace that noun divorce with virtually any other lamentable noun. Blank is happening said the attorney. I'm just making it easier. That's a formula for moral disaster, and it's the first of our signs of the times.
Father-daughter dances as the next casualty of the sexual revolution
The second is similar. It’s news coming from Staten Island, New York about the demise of a tradition in the schools there. As Anna Sanders and Sara Dorn report for the New York Post,
“A Staten Island elementary school scrapped its traditional father-daughter dance this coming Friday because of the Department of Education’s new gender guidelines.”
That Department of Education will be the New York State Department of Education. And that department ordered schools to,
“‘eliminate’ any ‘gender-based’ practices like the,” father daughter, “dance in a March 2017 policy update unless they serve a ‘clear’ educational purpose.”
Evidently according to this reading of the Department of Education's guidelines, having an event that celebrates the relationship between a father and a daughter doesn't serve a clear educational purpose, and thus it is forbidden according to this order to eliminate any gender-based practices. PTA president Toni Bennett wrote,
“Until we understand what we are legally permitted to do, we need to table this event,”
The PTA leader told the Post that the PTA will change,
“the annual ‘Father/best guy & Daughter Dance’ to a more inclusive theme.”
Now before going any further, let's note that we had already redefined the event from father-daughter to father/best guy and daughter dance. A spokesperson for the Department of Education said,
“We have clear guidelines in place that require school-related events to be inclusive of all students,”
Now wait just a minute. Let's just take her at her word. Let's just take that phrase about being inclusive of all students. That means by definition that there are no longer any distinctions that would make it possible according to this new policy to have anything other than total school wide events every single time. Otherwise, there is some distinction being made in which there is some failure to be absolutely inclusive. Here you see the modern moral mandate of a schizophrenic age crashing against the sands of reality. The article makes clear that both parents and children are troubled, concerned, confused, and one word used in the article is “befuddled” about the announcement.
But the article in the Post goes on to cite Jared Fox the New York Department of Education's LGBT community liaison as saying,
“Father-daughter dances inherently leave people out. Not just because of transgender status, just life in general,”
Now I would pay just about anything to hear him say that in person. It's almost pitch perfect as an example of the modern moral confusion crashing in reality. Yes, let’s look at his statement,
““Father-daughter dances inherently leave people out.”
Those people left out would be the people who qualify as neither father nor daughter, which is what makes a father-daughter dance a father-daughter dance according to any sane worldview. And then the next statement is that it's true,
“Not just because of transgender status, just life in general,”
Yes. Life in general actually requires these distinctions, which is why children still refer to males and females to boys and girls to men and women and to mothers and fathers. And that's why the reproduction of the species actually continues to count upon the workable distinction between fathers and mothers. So public school 65 on Staten Island has canceled its father-daughter dance or even its father/best guy dance because in the new wake of the moral revolution events like this are just forbidden. But the important thing to note is that the distinctions don't go away. That statement made by the Department of Education official that it's just, well, ordinary life that tends to bring these distinctions to fore. Well, that's just true.
And it’s going to continue to be true, which is why those who are pushing this moral revolution might score huge political and cultural victories, but they can't win in the end. The moral revolutionaries will only have their victory if we no longer even think of terms like mother and father and son and daughter. But that's not going to happen. I can predict that with absolute certainty. It's not going to happen. And it's not going to happen because of mere political and cultural resistance. It’s not going to happen because of the orders of creation, but the fact that what's identified as a shindig that had been scheduled for public school 65 is canceled that is another sign of our times.
The real story of Mr. Rogers Neighborhood: What parents may have missed behind the benign moral messaging
But next we shift again to see how entertainment shapes moral awareness and popular culture around us. Two articles also appearing in major newspapers, on the one hand the Wall Street Journal and the other the New York Times. The Wall Street Journal tells us about Mr. Rogers that would be the late Fred Rogers. The headline story,
“A Few Beautiful Days Back in His Neighborhood.”
Don Steinberg reports that Mr. Rogers is the focus of a new and upcoming U.S. postage stamp, a biopic and a documentary. And then we are told the news from Hollywood that there is going to be a film about Mr. Rogers, and it was announced that Tom Hanks is going to play the lead role as Fred Rogers right there in Mr. Rogers’s neighborhood. Fred Rogers died almost 15 years ago, but he has an enduring influence on television not only in the memory of baby boomers and millennials and generation X, who saw either live or in rebroadcast the PBS program Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood but also by the continuing legacy of the Rogers empire, which includes the very popular children's program Daniel Tiger.
Millions of American children grew up with Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood as a part of their intellectual and moral furnishings and as one of the comfortable parts of entertainment with which they were familiar. But most of those children and most of their parents certainly did not know the story behind the story. By evoking a neighborhood and by asking the question about who is our neighbor and stressing neighbor, Fred Rogers was very clearly picking up on a key New Testament theme. Even as the disciples asked Jesus, who is my neighbor? And Jesus made very clear that they would never meet a human being made in the image of God who was not their neighbor. Most of those parents and children had no idea that Fred Rogers had studied both music and theology. That he was a graduate of a theological seminary and that he was at one point in his life an ordained Presbyterian minister in the mainline liberal Presbyterian Church now known as the PCUSA.
But Fred Rogers abandoned a church-based ministry and instead took up a ministry of sorts in his entertainment program for children which was classified as educational television. And there was a clear moral messaging that was sent to Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. For the most part it was a moral messaging that was compatible with what sociologist Christian Smith and his team is called moralistic therapeutic deism. It came down to the kind of moral messaging with which no one would disagree, a fundamentally benign moral messaging that was important for children just in terms of respect and kindness and neighborliness. But most of those parents failed to recognize that Mr. Rogers was importing other moral messages as well including a bit of gender bending of his own. And at the end of his life it was known that Mr. Rogers was a proponent of the LGBT revolution.
In a 1983 book that he wrote on parenting, Fred Rogers did sound at times very conventional arguing that a child needs the attention of his or her parents and a devoted attention. He wrote,
“From what I've seen and heard and read, I have come to believe that a child is most likely to thrive emotionally when he or she, for the first three years of life, has the full-time care of a consistent mother person and a close participation in that care of a consistent fatherperson.”
That sounds quite backward in contrast with the current sexual revolution, but it's also interesting that he didn't say mother and father but rather motherperson and fatherperson. So what sounded very conventional turns out to be less conventional when in the same book he makes the argument that a male can be a mothering person. There is plenty of evidence in the life and work of Fred Rogers that he based his life on a very liberal Protestant worldview and that he brought that worldview into other contexts such as Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. That is not to argue that parents should never have allowed their children to watch, nor is it an argument that every episode had some kind of subliminal messaging. It is indicative however of the fact that many American parents did not recognize that there could be and on occasion might be moral messaging coming through this entertainment that wasn't actually consistent with their own worldview.
It's one thing for young children to be taught to be loving and accepting and respectful. It's another thing for them rather implicitly to be taught that there is nothing right in making moral judgments. Of course even that is a moral judgment because being made in the image of God moral judgments are unavoidable. The question is how we make the right moral judgments. Indeed, it’s going to be interesting to see how an even more hyper secular world and a world that is far further along the continuum of that sexual revolution deals even with the memory of Fred Rogers 15 years after his death. Because indeed even as we understand that he was coming from a rather traditional liberal Protestant worldview, that worldview is now very much more conservative than the sexual revolutionaries will tolerate. But with a postage stamp, a biopic, a television documentary and a major Hollywood film coming, oddly enough 15 years after his death, there's going to be a lot of conversation about Fred Rogers.
Do The Simpsons predict the future?
But the final article when it comes the influence of popular culture doesn't have to do with Fred Rogers, but rather with a very different neighborhood in a very different family. This the television very long-lived family known as The Simpsons. The headline in the New York Times,
“Want to See the Future? Try Watching ‘The Simpsons’.”
“Smart people behind nearly 3 decades of forecasting on this Fox cartoon”
So, yes in case you didn't know The Simpsons is still a thing. That is a program. And in case you didn't know it is now going into the end of its third decade of production, and in case you didn't know, if you're looking at old episodes of The Simpsons, you will note that indeed the people behind this cartoon did see a great deal of the moral and sexual revolution coming even in some eerie ways when you go back and consider the date of some of those broadcasts. It’s also interesting in this article to find out that episodes of The Simpsons are finished a full year before they are broadcast on Fox.
The point in this article is that it works both ways with The Simpsons. At times The Simpsons reflected popular culture with abundant references to entertainers and events and even news. They may have been a year old, but still in terms of television quite current. But on the other hand, The Simpsons also drove and influenced popular culture. That's made very clear in the fact that on the Simpson's events and issues were discussed and portrayed that were not yet a part of daily conversation but would soon be. The article in the Times points to what are identified as eerie predictions, political and newsworthy in The Simpsons, but the bigger story really isn't what one mathematician referred to as the law of large numbers. And that's the fact that any program that appears this many times and makes references to culture is likely to get some things right.
The bigger story here is not about The Simpsons episodes predicting specific events, but rather predicting the future shape of the culture. And as we’re thinking about the moral revolution taking place around us, in one very real sense that is to be understood as having been contributed to by even a cartoon in this case not a real family, a cartoon family and a cartoon family that nearly 30 years later still has all of its characters exactly the same age. Dr. Bernard Beitman identified as a former chairman of the psychiatry department at the University of Missouri speaking of The Simpsons and the future and prediction and reality said this,
“Under the right conditions, we can know things that we don’t know we know, and we can sometimes predict events or attract what we are thinking,”
Dr. Beitman referred to what he calls the psycho sphere. As the Times explains that is,
“our mental atmosphere that is essentially group mind in action.”
Well to Dr. Beitman I would simply say with full respect it takes a certain psycho sphere even to believe in the psycho sphere. But what is undeniable in reality is the impact of entertainment and popular culture on the moral reality. It really does make a difference what you watch, and it's important that you know what you're watching whether you’re watching Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood or The Simpsons or for that matter anything else.