Friday, February 9, 2018
Friday, Feb. 9, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, February 9, 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 what you're really seeing while you watch the Olympics; we’ll see that historical inevitability crashed, at least for now, in Bermuda; we’ll warn that international assessors are now coming for five-year-olds; and we’ll come to understand what's so special, very special, about the new Gerber spokesbaby.
As Pyeongchang Olympics begin, politics is never far from the front line
There will be an international spectacle on display tonight with the opening ceremonies of the 2018 Winter Olympics and Pyeongchang, South Korea. It is the kind of spectacle that people around the world now associate with every two years alternating the summer and winter Olympic Games. All of this goes back to the beginnings of the modern Olympic movement, this was an internationalist effort undertaken at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries to forge a new internationalism out of the ruins of the 19th century and various wars. Of course the 20th century would be a century of even more tragic wars, but this internationalist understanding that came together with the re-claiming of the Olympic tradition, it was forged in the idea that nations who play together and compete against one another on fields of athletic competition would not go to war with one another. That turned out to be a baseless dream, an unfounded promise, but it also points back to the inherent optimism that shaped most of European society at the end of the 19th century. The Winter Olympics actually debuted in 1924, the first were held in France. What's really interesting here is that the Winter Olympics were distinguished from the Summer Games primarily on where the events took place. By definition the Winter Olympic events must take place on snow or on ice; interestingly, that's the distinguishing characteristic. Over the years since 1924, even as the Olympics that happened or not happened, usually because of world war, the reality is that the Winter Games have focused on different sports, some of the sports, some of the events that were at the very center of the Olympic competitions in the Winter Games in 1924 have long disappeared. Most importantly the event known as Snow Patrol, but there have been other events that have been added and those events seen in the year 2018 could yet not be seen in future Winter Olympic Games. Furthermore, even if the events take place it might be that nations present now will not be represented then. That's another interesting cultural observation; the events and national participation in the events change from year to year.
One of the headline stories in the Wall Street Journal about the 2018 Winter Games and American participation is that it turns out that Americans are having a difficult time putting forth pairs, man and woman pairs, for figure skating or what is known as ice dancing. It turns out that there is no shortage of girls and young women ready to compete in this competition, but there is at this point a rather significant shortage of boys and young men in the United States who are interested in figure skating. By the early 1990s the decision had been made to separate the winter and summer events and to put the games in alternating two-year cycles. So the Summer Games were held in 2016, the Winter Games now in 2018. That distinction has seemed to serve the Olympic movement rather well, it has also served the media well and it allows every two years for there to be a major focus on the Olympics as event and as movement. Another interesting observation is that the Summer Games could theoretically be held anywhere one finds a major population center of human beings on earth, not so the Winter Games. The Winter Games require snow and ice and require them in abundance, and that became very clear even in looking at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. It turned out that even in Russia there were some 59° days, rather incompatible with maintaining the kind of athletic surface required for snow and ice. This is not likely to be a factor in Pyeongchang, South Korea, where the highs during the Olympic Games are expected to be in the single digits and the lows in the significant negative digits. But the big reality in Pyeongchang is not going to be the weather, it is likely to be politics, and politics has never been far from the picture when it comes to the Olympic Games, from the very beginning of the modern games until now. You can think of major events such as the Berlin Games of 1936 hosted by Adolf Hitler; you can think of the Munich Summer Games of 1972 with the mass assassination of Israeli athletes; you can think of the Moscow Summer games in 1980 when President Jimmy Carter pulled the United States out of the Olympics in censure of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan; and then you think of the Seoul Summer Games in 1988, a period at the very height of the Cold War; you fast-forward to 2018 and the games in Pyeongchang and we are looking at the same story once again, but this story, as you might expect, gets even more interesting with a closer look.
The North Korean Dictator Kim Jong-un is sending his own sister along with other North Korean delegates and some North Korean athletes to participate in what is considered to be, at least in part, a combined Korean Olympic team. The visit of the dictator's sister to South Korea for the games marks the first time that a member of the Kim family, the dictatorial family of North Korea, has visited, in any official and documented sense, South Korea. What's going on here is the big game of power politics and Kim Jong-un is playing those politics to the hilt. The Korean dictator is trying his very best to use the 2018 Winter Olympic Games to separate South Korea and the United States as allies. The United States has been responding forcefully to the nuclearization of North Korea and has called for and received severe economic sanctions against North Korea with international agreement including the agreement of Russia and China for decades during the 20th century, the primary defenders and funders of the North Korean totalitarian government. Back in 1988, when South Korea hosted the Summer Games in Seoul, North Korea responded with a massive terrorist attack about 10 months before the beginning of the games. This time the Kim regime has been playing a very different political game. This time they have been assuring South Korea of the fact that they are not going to respond with any kind of militancy or threat, but rather they want to show Korean unity, but this is where we need to watch what's happening here because Korean unity, according to the doctrine of the North Korean state, means only one thing and what it means is the extinguishing of South Korea and the reunification of the entire Korean peninsula under the dictatorial totalitarian rule of the Communist Party headed by the Kim family. The South Korean government is thus playing a dangerous game; we can understand why they are playing the game but they have to know that this game is exceedingly dangerous. They are trying to pacify North Korea in order to have a successful and safe Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, but at the same time they are also risking the relationship between South Korea and its necessary ally and current protector, the United States of America.
In the early 1990s it looked as if the Cold War were over, it looked like the United States and the Democratic West had been triumphant over the Soviet Union, which undeniably fell apart, and the larger communist threat, but of all things, in 2018 we discover that there still is a Cold War, literally and metaphorically, a very Cold War going on right now in Korea. What major media are unlikely, in covering the Olympics, to try to avoid is the political reality that might be less interesting to viewers but far more important than the athletic competitions themselves. There are big numbers associated with the Winter Olympic Games, the biggest of those numbers is $10 billion, American dollars by measure. The Koreans have spent about $10 billion on all the equipment and the sites necessary for the Olympic Games in a very rural and underdeveloped area of South Korea. Furthermore, hundreds of millions of dollars have gone into facilities that may be used in their entirety for about 4 to 6 hours from construction to demolition, billions of dollars in between used for only a matter of a few hours. The Olympic movement also faces the fact that there seems to be declining interest in hosting the Olympics, most importantly in hosting the Winter Games. As we pointed out earlier, geography and climate play at least some part in that but it's interesting that Austria, the historic site of some of the early Winter Olympic Games, actually faced public pressure and dropped out of competition for future Winter Games. History is also important because of the distinction between North and South Korea, which is more than just a distinction in government, more than just a distinction in worldview and in economics, it's a distinction between light and darkness, literally speaking, because when you look at a map of the Korean Peninsula at night, the South is ablaze with light, the north almost totally dark. North Korea is an economic disaster, it is held together only by the totalitarian power of the Kim regime. It is unable to feed its people, it has experienced massive famines in which millions of North Koreans have died, but the North Koreans appear to be fanatically committed to the Kim family, which according to official North Korean doctrine, is deified. But there's ample reason why millions of people around the world will be tuning in not only to the opening ceremonies and all the pageantry of the Olympic Games, but to the events themselves. What you are looking at is one of the rare displays of human achievement, talent, and commitment on the public stage, this time on ice and snow. You also see a significant cultural pushback to what has happened in the last several years, especially in the United States. The attitudinal change in the culture as made clear in the expression that everyone must earn a trophy. Not everyone wins a medal at the Olympics, the Olympics is still a matter of unalloyed, unapologetic competition. It's a competition between individuals, it’s a competition between teams, and, yes, there is no mistaking, it is a competition amongst nations. It is a competition in which there are winners and there are losers, there is indeed the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat, and all of it is a part of the great human drama that we get to witness. What you see in this kind of athletic competition, not just in the Olympics but in many other sporting events as well, is a distillation of the competitiveness that seems to come to human beings quite naturally, the quest for achievement, the team identification, or at the Olympics even a national identification, and it is watching a human drama where very real human beings are competing against one another individually and in teams where we see a certain revelation of humanity and human nature that will be seen, that would be evident in no other context. And it is a spectacle, and there's something about human beings drawn to a spectacle. Evidently, that was true in ancient Greece with the first development of the Olympic Games, and it's true now, which explains why you're watching something truly spectacular when you watch tonight the opening events of the 2018 Winter Olympiad.
Bermuda makes history becoming the first country to legalize same-sex marriage, then abolish it
But now we shift from a cold place to a rather warmer place and a very different kind of story. Bermuda this week became the first nation to have legalized same-sex marriage and then to have rescinded that legalization. It goes back to the fact that same-sex marriage became legal in Bermuda by action of the island Supreme Court, but that has now been reversed by the legislature, which adopted the legalization of domestic partnerships giving them the same legal recognition as marriage but denying the word marriage to same-sex relationships. All of this has brought forth the kind of response you might expect, but it's really interesting to note that the government in Bermuda is saying that it has taken this action according to the very clear will of the people of Bermuda. John Rankin, the governor of Bermuda, signed the bill into law on Wednesday. The government of the island said that the new law gives domestic partnerships these benefits and is intended to strike a fair balance between two opposing causes that have divided the island. One is the pressure from the European Union overwhelmingly to recognize same-sex marriage, and the other is the sentiment, also overwhelming, amongst the population of Bermuda not to legalize same-sex marriage. So the domestic partnerships adopted this week in Bermuda follow the same kind of example of what was found in many Western nations and in many American states as a halfway measure between not recognizing same-sex marriage and eventually legalizing what we now know is same-sex marriage.
Lindsay Bever reporter for the Washington Post said that the act,
“The Act is intended to strike a fair balance between two currently irreconcilable groups in Bermuda, by restating that marriage must be between a male and a female while at the same time recognizing and protecting the rights of same-sex couples.”
In one of the most amazing responses to the action in Bermuda, the British Prime Minister Theresa May said that she and her government were
by the new law. Yet, simultaneously the British government expressed its active displeasure at the action taken in Bermuda and then went on to say that Britain would respect and believe in Bermuda's right to self-government. Well, you can make one of those arguments but you can't plausibly make both of those arguments. But that just shows you the level of international pressure not only on Bermuda but elsewhere, and in particular the kind of pressure now coming from the European courts. Bermuda was long a part of the British Empire and Britain continues to appoint the governor there. Bermuda is actually one of 14 British overseas territories, its population is only about 70,000 but it has made an out-sized statement this week becoming the first legal jurisdiction to resend same-sex marriage after having approved it.
But the moral conflict of our times is made very clear in another statement made by the foreign office in London stating that the decision last year had put Bermuda
“among the most progressive countries in the region in terms of LGBT equality.”
But then the Foreign Ministry went on to say, and I quote,
“It is therefore disappointing to see them taking a step backwards and removing the right for same-sex couples to marry in Bermuda.”
You can easily predict that the island is going to face enormous political pressure. These statements are just a reflection of that which is to come. But it's also really interesting to compare this moral reality with the Cold War we mentioned that so shaped the second half of the 20th century in the battle between Communism, as represented by the Soviet Union, and Western democracy, as represented by the United States and its allies. The Soviet Union and international Marxism had a very clear commitment and that commitment came down to this: Once a region or an entity became Communist it must never be historically reversed, it must never become anything other than Communist. The Communist world had a steadfast commitment to do its very best to make certain that Communism appeared to be in evitable and could never be reversed. The first reversal came only in the 1980s on the small Caribbean island nation of Grenada by action of the United States in toppling a Communist regime after it had taken American medical students hostage. Grenada is a tiny spot on the globe unknown to most people then and now and off the screen of global conversation until, at that moment, Grenada became the first place where the historical inevitability of Communism turned out not to be so inevitable. Bermuda is a very small place and we don't know what's going to happen with respect to this issue even on that island, but at least for right now, this week, it is the very first place were that same claim of historical inevitability has turned out, at least for now, not to be so inevitable as it appeared.
International assessors are now coming for American kindergarteners
But next, while we’re looking at international stories, the Wall Street Journal this week ran a story with the headline,
“A Global Test for Kindergartners.”
Leslie Brody reports that many are asking the question,
“Are American 5-year-olds falling behind the rest of the world?”
It turns out that leaders from the organization for economic cooperation and development now aim to find out how children in various nations are doing at age 5; they’re going to try to quantify and assess the intellectual development, variable across different countries and cultures, of children aged 5. One of the things we need to note and note with concern is that this kind of analytical assessment is now being taken to younger and younger ages. Most children and teenagers, for that matter young adults in college, are assessed over and over again. There are huge questions as to whether or not those assessments actually assess much of the truth, but we are living in an age that is doing two things simultaneously: In the first it is trying to quantify everything; it is a society that increasingly wants a number beside every question and beside every name. We want a number that can give us the comfort that we know what we’re dealing with even in a process which any fair-minded educator or parent would know cannot be reduced to a number. The other thing we have here is that childhood is itself being redefined in this kind of assessment. We’re talking here about kindergarten, we’re talking about five-year-olds, and we’re talking about a very serious international plan to assess the intellectual and cognitive development of five-year-olds country by country. But human nature may trump these concerns and defeat these plans because as many who actually know human five-year-olds point out, five-year-olds just might not cooperate with this kind of assessment program.
Helge Wasmuth, an associate professor of childhood education at Mercy College in New York City said, and said quite helpfully,
It’s very questionable how meaningful an assessment of 5-year-olds can be.”
Her final statement,
“Some kids won’t take it seriously.”
You think? Students around the world are already assessed at age 15 with what is known as PISA, or the Program for International Student Assessment, and, of course, country by country, almost like the Olympics, countries are trying to make certain that their 15-year-olds are on par with the 15-year-olds of other nations, but not only on par but also gaining ground and intellectually and cognitively superior to the 15-year-olds in other countries. One of the problems with the PISA analysis, and remember we’re dealing there with 15-year-olds, is that it turns out, and this is important from a worldview perspective, that culture by culture and country by country, it turns out the 15-year-olds and their parents and their peers and their countries do not always have the same understanding of what achievement looks like or what education should be or to produce. It's also interesting to note that in this article there is the acknowledgment that what those who are doing this assessment might actually be assessing is not the children but their parents. The bottom line is that there is something almost surely wrong with an effort either nationally or internationally to decide that we can now assess five-year-olds. Kindergarten used to be understood as one of the last preschool experiences of children, but it has been increasingly turned into school. Childhood is being turned into a business and education is being turned into a career. Christians and Christian parents may be amongst the last on earth who understand that five-year-olds are indeed five-year-olds and are to be respected and even appreciated for the simple glory of being five. It's a dangerous idea that we can start pigeonholing or even evaluating children at age 5 in terms of their aptitude for the future.
Why the new Gerber baby is a cause for celebration and a reminder of the work we have to do
But finally, as we’re thinking about the youngest among us it is very important to recognize that the 2018 Gerber baby has been named, and it is a baby named Lucas Warren. Most significantly, the first child with Down syndrome to receive the honor of being considered, as the Washington Post suggests, in effect America's cutest baby. Lucas is a one-year-old from Dalton, Georgia, identified as now the 2018 Gerber Spokesbaby, this after more than 140,000 photos have been submitted by parents, but here's what's really important, this is a very helpful, hopeful sign. This is a sign of the fact that the Gerber Corporation has chosen a baby with Down syndrome as its 2018 baby spokesperson or spokesbaby. But how do we square this with the currents of the larger culture? A larger culture in which we are now told that the vast majority of infants unborn and identified with the propensity to Down syndrome are being destroyed in what can only be described as a search and destroy mission in the womb. Lucas, as you might expect, is undeniably adorable, but more importantly he is beautiful, and he is beautiful because he, like every other human being ever born, is made in the image of God. We can only hope and pray that this development in the 2018 Gerber spokesbaby will be a source of pricking the American conscience on this question. But that conscious needs not only to be pricked, it needs to be transformed, and given that challenge we have an awful lot of work to do.