Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018

Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2018

The Briefing

February 20, 2018

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, February 20, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Fifty years later, “The Population Bomb” is an embarrassing bomb, but with deadly consequences

This year marks the 50th anniversary of 1968, one of the most consequential and tumultuous years in the nation’s history. 1968 was the year of a massive transition in the Vietnam War leading to further escalation. It was the year of political upheaval. It was the year of political assassinations, multiple assassinations. It was the year of violence on college campuses and on the streets of America, and it was also the year of the emergence of some of the most toxic ideas in American history.

One of those ideas was population control, and that became the theme of one of the best-selling books of 1968. The author was Dr. Paul Ehrlich. The tile of the book, The Population Bomb. His argument was unmistakable. Ehrlich argued that human being have become a blight on the planet, and that humanity had already, by 1968, reached a population level that was unsustainable, and that mass starvation was right around the corner, inevitable and unavoidable. He further warned that if human beings continued to reproduce, it would lead to even more cataclysmic results. “The population of the earth,” he said, “Is simply too many for the earth to sustain.”

1968 was the year of other very bad ideas, but few ideas have been so deadly of the ideology of the population explosion. He began his book with these words. “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” By those words, he meant, that the battle was lost. He went on to predict that in the next decade, the 1970s, “Hundreds of millions of people are going to starve to death.” He went on to say that this was unavoidable, “Nothing can prevent a substantial increase in the world death rate.”

Now at this point, we simply need to remind ourselves that nothing like what Paul Ehrlich described and predicted took place. As a matter of fact, during the decade of the 70s and into the 80s and the 90s, development in agriculture and agribusiness pushed back on famine to such a degree that human beings have never experienced such an increase in productivity and also in food production. More people emerged out of hunger during that period than went into hunger.

The popularity of the book, The Population Bomb, underscores the fact that man of the people who have appeared in public as either public intellectuals or specialist on particular questions turn out to be neither. Paul Ehrlich was indeed a holder of an academic doctorate. He held the PhD from the University of Kansas, but in 1957, he had defended his dissertation, and the title of his dissertation is this, The Morphology, Philogyny, and Higher Classification of the Butterflies. That’s to say the obvious. He had no clear credibility or academic expertise in matters related to agriculture, or for that matter, to human population.

Ehrlich later explained that he wrote the book in a flurry of just several days after he had given a speech on the topic that had gained him a great deal of attention, but the attention really exploded in February of 1970 when Ehrlich was invited on to NBC’s Late Night Tonight Show hosted by Johnny Carson. For some inexplicable reason, Johnny Carson was taking with Professor Ehrlich and with his book, The Population Bomb. He had Ehrlich on over and over again on the program. He gave the book very wide publicity, and he also introduced many Americans to the fact that famine was just around the corner.

Now what made that even more ironic is the fact that Johnny Carson made his reputation as a comedian, a role he brought over to the tonight show. How in the world anyone was to believe that a serious issue like the end of the human race or massive world famine was supposed to be at home on the Tonight Show, well that’s anyone’s guess, but the reality is that through American late night entertainment, as well as through the book industry and other avenues of media, a very deadly idea was mainstreamed in American culture, most importantly through the Tonight Show.

But sight unseen, the ideas of Paul Ehrlich and others were gaining enormous influence, not just in American popular culture, but in American government, eventually in American foreign policy, and in American academia, where sadly enough, the ideas continued to take the form of protests against human population.

Many contemporary academics and those who are identified with the scientific community claim that Americans are now showing themselves to be ridiculous dismissive of what they insist are the clear findings of science, but all they need to do in order to be reminded of why is to look back to the fact that they endorsed the ideas of the population explosion back in the late 1960s and 1970s and put their own credibility on the line in such warnings. That’s one of the reasons why some of those very same warnings have so little traction with the American people now.

Ehrlich did not back up on his arguments after writing the book in 1968. He followed that up with a statement made in 1969. He said, “Sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.” He said this, “And by the end, I mean an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”

Just to set the record straight, the end of the world did not come by 1974, but one of the ominous issues we need to remind ourselves of is that these ideas did not remain merely the banter of the Tonight Show or even just the concern of academics. They became the driving impetus of policy makers, including policy makers in the United States and internationally. The United States put pressure upon China, for example. Pressure through foreign policy and economic incentives to adopt what China eventually chose as its one-child-only policy, a draconian method of reducing the population growth in China that took over the reproductive capacities of families and led eventually to forced sterilization to forced abortions and even to infanticide, the killing of young children. All of this because it was claimed that the earth could not possibly sustain the burgeoning population growth, especially in Asia.

In a recent article written for Smithsonian Magazine, Charles Mann, looking back at the arguments made in 1968, points that Ehrlich does not see himself as responsible for such abuses. Let’s remind ourselves of this list of abuses. Coerced abortion, infanticide, and furthermore, forced sterilization. We are talking about human beings, a man and a woman, married to each other, told how many children they may have, and even experiencing the forced sterilization of the termination and killing of their own offspring.

Mann is, by the way, the author of a new book entitled The Wizard and the Prophet. He profiles two different individuals at two different sides of this argument, but he points out the incontrovertible truth, and that is that during the very period of time in which Paul Ehrlich was warning the world was going to come to an end, human beings actually experienced, largely through new farming technologies, the biggest explosion in agriculture and the feeding of humanity that the human race has ever experienced.

Just to give one example of the statistics that should remind us of reality, back in the 1940s, the death rate by famine or starvation of humanity was over 100 times what it is today.

Throughout the remainder of human history before 1940, the record of famine and starvation was even worse. We are living in a time of unprecedented plenty, and even as there are still some huge issues in feeding the world to be overcome, we do need to recognize, and this is of huge worldview significance, that the most important obstacles to overcome in feeding the world today are political, not agricultural.

Despite Ehrlich’s predictions, the human population, since the authorship of his book, actually doubled, but death by starvation and famine was reduced by about 90%, or even now we know, a good deal more than that.


Part II

What do declining fertility rates tell us about the American worldview?

Despite Ehrlich’s predictions, the human population, since the authorship of his book, actually doubled, but death by starvation and famine was reduced by about 90%, or even now we know, a good deal more than that. Now keep that in mind when you realize that the New York Times, just a few days ago, ran an article with a headline, Decline in Fertility Below Even What Young Women Say They Want.  Lyman Stone, in the upshot column for the New York Times, tells us that American fertility is in precipitous decline. The New York Times said that its team of forecasters at demographic intelligence projects 3.84 million birth in 2017. That’s down from about 3.95 million just a year before. And Stone warns, it’s likely to fall further, far short, even of what women themselves say they want for their family size.

The latest data is coming from the United States government and the Centers for Disease Control. It’s showing the total fertility rate for women in the United States if falling, and it is falling … Well, the word that Stone used was precipitously, and that is very much born out by the facts.

Stone goes on to explain that the total fertility rate is a measure of how many children a woman entering her reproductive years today could expect to have if age-specific fertility rates remain constant over time. “It his,” he says, “A very simplistic forecast of lifetime births, but it also turns out to be highly predictive of future reality.” Now, here the big warning in terms of worldview. We are told, and I quote, “A key factor is that marriage is increasingly being postponed.” What’s been called the success sequence of humanity in Western societies has been broken. That success sequence has to do with getting married before having children, and now we know that that success sequence has been largely reversed with many, many millions of Americans having children before getting married, but it now turns out that when they delay getting married or they do not get married, they also have far fewer children.

In the United States, we are now facing a population crisis. It’s not too late to recognize this, and that population crisis is not at all the fact that Americans are having too many babies, but far too few. The reasons for this are many, but we do understand that at the bottom line, the issue is an individual’s worldview, and even as the New York Times understands that something seismic is happening in our society and that it poses grave danger to the future of our society, they go on to explain that maybe contributing issues are, and I quote, “Diminished face-to-face interaction or increased use of pornography. All this may explain the fallen sex, and both of those trends,” said the Times, “may be explained by the rise in cell phone usage and other screen time.”

Now, I’m not going to discount for a moment the fact that these technologies and moral issues have an impact on fertility over time, but I am going to argue insistently that there has to be more to this than technology or isolated moral questions. This has to do with the basic shift in the way Americans look at the world. The most fundamental reality of the American worldview. Something has turned deeply hostile to marriage. Something has turned deeply hostile to babies. Something has turned deeply hostile to understanding that without a significant increase in American fertility, we are going to look at the inevitable decline of America as a project and as a nation.

One of the saddest aspects of the recent headline story in the New York Times is just to remind ourselves of the headline, we’re looking at a decline in fertility such that the current level is even below what young women say they want. What’s stunning about that is the fact that the headline tells us that the fertility rates at question now, are below even what the women whose fertility rates are being studied say that they want. There’s a deep cry of the heart embedded in that headline and in those statistics. That deep cry of the heart is coming from women who say they want what marriage promises. They want to have the gifts and goods of family. They want even to have more children. But why is this not happening? Well, that’s the huge question, and the headline in the New York Times just points to the question. It doesn’t come even close to answering it.

Part III

A sarcophagus for one: Why Prince Henrik refused to be buried next to his queen

But next we shift from the United States to Denmark, the story that has to do with the death of Prince Henrik. He died as the consort of Queen Margrethe. She is the reigning monarch of Denmark, and even though they had been married for a number of decades, his burial was not without controversy. It has a great deal to do with the fact that the prince died alienated from the queen, and quite bitter about the fact that she had refused to elevate him to his royal highness, and for him to be known as the King Consort of Denmark.

Henrik came from a French noble line, and he married into the royal family of Denmark. The Danish queen is only the second queen to rule over Denmark. It’s one of the oldest royal houses of Europe, and even as she married Henrik and made him prince, she refused to make him king consort. That’s, by the way, one of the interesting twists and turns of the reality of the monarchy in the modern age. When you have a queen, she is most often married to a king. When you have a queen who is married to someone who is not the king, but rather the queen is the reigning monarch, generally, the consort is known as a prince. That was true for Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It is true now for Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. And it was true in Denmark, but in Denmark, it was bitterly true.

How bitter? Well, it turns out that the prince who died about a year after being diagnosed with dementia, has not only refused to be buried with his wife, the queen, in a royal tomb, he refused to be buried at all. Instead, in order to make his bitterness all the more apparent, Prince Henrik had determined to be cremated with half of his ashes to be spread over Danish waters, and the other half at Fredensburg Castle north of Copenhagen.

Karin Kryger identified as an art historian in Denmark said, “It’s a completely new type of royal burial. It’s unprecedented.” She went on to say, “The sharing of the ashes could be likened to a medieval tradition of burying the corpse in one place and the heart in another.”

Well let’s just be honest here. This isn’t a burial that’s unprecedented. It isn’t a burial at all. Half of the prince’s ashes are going to be spread into the seas where they will immediately dissipate, and the other half, upon the lawn at a castle where also, they will completely disappear, and that appears to be the point. The prince appears to be saying, especially to his surviving spouse, the queen, if you will not have me as your king consort, you will not have me in your tomb. You will not have me in any tomb at all.

So what, from a Christian worldview, is most important here? Well, it’s the fact that what is missing for most of the international press coverage is the fact that cremation has been forbidden, at least until recent years, by most Christian churches. And furthermore, it points to the fact that what this Danish prince is really seeking to do is to spite his relatives by disappearing, by disappearing into the sea and into the ground. There will be no spot on earth where he will be found to be buried. There will be no spot on earth to commemorate him. There will be no monument, and he will not be buried in the royal tomb or mausoleum.

I point to this story just to remind us, yet again, of the basic Christian wisdom about burial rather than cremation. It’s not a matter of law. It is simply a matter of Christian wisdom, and it’s very clearly revealed in scripture in the practice of those in the Old Testament, for example, longing to be buried with their forefathers, and also you see this in the determination of the children of Israel to bring the bones of Jacob all the way back to Israel where they belong. It is shown in the Christian wisdom which is reflected in millennia of cemeteries.

One of the points to keep in mind here is that future generations will have no where to go to be reminded of the very life and existence of this Danish prince. It appears he has done this by his own decision out of spite, but we also need to remember that those who are cremated leave no grave. There is no cemetery for anyone to visit. There is no continuing tie. There’s going to be an empty place in the royal mausoleum in Denmark where the now queen of Denmark will one day entombed without her husband.

Previous plans, by the way, for the royal mausoleum for the couple included a glass mausoleum for two held up by elephants made of silver. Well, you better make that a sarcophagus for one.

Part IV

After decades of ideologically-driven social experimentation, Barbie returns to traditional patterns of play

But finally, we shift back to the United States for a story that appears in the business pages of the Wall Street Journal with no apparent acknowledgement that there are huge worldview, cultural and moral issues at stake. Paul Ziobro of the Wall Street Journal tells us that Mattel is shutting down some products while emphasizing others. We are also told that the Barbie line at Mattel is now going to be focused on more proven patterns, patterns that lead to sales of Barbie. These are proven play patterns, “Like a Barbie line focused on baking and cooking, and other featuring different occupations like bee-keeping and products backed by strong media content.” Gone are ideas of a hologram Barbie, and gone also are many rather interesting ideas about Barbie that had been a part of recent conception and recent marking efforts by Mattel. Barbie has been a very interesting moral barometer of America ever since she emerged. She was transformed from a German sex toy into an American toy for children, but from the very beginning, the exaggerated dimensions of Barbie have pointed to an underlying sexuality that sometimes was rather upfront than subliminal.

We are told that amongst the plans for Barbie is an ultimate kitchen with a Barbie-branded moldable compound where children can make pretend sandwiches, waffles and pies. Another, we are told, will focus on play sets involved with different careers like farming and veterinary science. Mattel is also continuing, we are told, to add more Barbie dolls with different skin tones, hair colors, and body types.

Now it’s really not news that Mattel is trying to use the Barbie line in order to feature different occupations, but what’s really, really interesting here is the fact that Mattel is indicating in an article on the business pages of the Wall Street Journal, that in order to continue the Barbie line and increase sales, they’re going to have to focus on … I’m going to quote this. “More proven play patterns.” And those play patterns turn out to reflect the kinds of things that girls playing with Barbie dolls actually want to do with them and see them doing in a more clearly traditional domestic setting. There’s something sweet about that, but there’s also something sobering about that. After decades of ideologically driven social experimentation, Mattel has now decided that the future is going to be going back to more traditional patterns of play. If only the social engineering undertaken by others in our society could be reversed so quickly.

This business news in the Wall Street Journal tells us that Mattel, as a corporation, now faces an undeniable need for a corporate turn around. The issues we’ve discussed today on The Briefing points to the fact that it’s not just Mattel, it’s the culture at large that desperately needs that turn around.

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’m speaking to you from Nashville, Tennessee, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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