Wednesday, February 28, 2018
Wednesday, Feb. 28, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Wednesday, February 28, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Are boys broken? How a basic change in the moral air of American society has led to the systemic devaluation of life
These days, it seems most days like the news is coming to us so quickly, the headlines coming in such a rush, coming such urgency, that it often seems that a larger view of what's happening in the culture becomes impossible. It's also the case that we as Christians understand that we have the responsibility to understand the bigger picture, the deeper currents, the more fundamental issues at stake.
It's also very interesting to watch a secular society, at least some of the thinkers and writers in a secular society, try to grapple with the same big questions. Peggy Noonan attempted to do this in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland, Florida school shooting. She wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal entitled, The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breathe.
Peggy Noonan first came to the attention of most Americans as a primary speech writer for then President Ronald Reagan. She also served as a speech writer for President George H.W. Bush. During that time and thereafter, becoming a major columnist and writer, Peggy Noonan has been known for doing her best to see that bigger picture. She has been a very skilled observer of the culture, and she has distilled those observations into essay after essay, book after book.
In this essay published in the Wall Street Journal, Noonan asked the question, "Why do so many Americans have murder in her hearts?" She refers to the fact that we have observed as a society the tragic hallmark of having shooting after shooting. Not only that, but mass shooting after mass shooting. She's asking a big question; the question of moral motivation.
She coins a word for our contemporary moment. She says that, "America is if anything, increasingly un-gentle." I think that word is not so much wrong as it is a significant moral understatement. We're looking at a society that is un-gentle, but it's a lot more than that. It is decidedly violent.
In the most perceptive portion of her essay, and the reason why I cite it today on The Briefing, Peggy Noonan understands that something very basic has changed in this society, and she traces those pernicious changes to successive moral revolutions. In her words as she writes, quote, "So much change. So much of it un-gentle. Throughout, was anyone looking to children and what they need? That wasn't really a salient aim or feature of all the revolutions, was it? The adults were seeing to what they believed were their rights. Kids were a side thought."
She continues, "At this moment, we are in the middle of a reckoning about how disturbed our sexual landscape has become." She talks about all this change, compressed into 40 years, which she says, "has produced some good things, even miraculous ones," but she says, "it does not feel accidental that America is experiencing what appears to be a mental health crisis, especially among the young."
She writes about the current moral condition as one of a social atmosphere, as she writes, and I quote, "A nation has an atmosphere. It has air it breathes in each day. China has a famous pollution problem. You can see the dirt in the air." But she continued, "America's air looks clean, but there are toxins in it, and they're making the least defended and protected of us sick." End quote.
Now, interestingly at that point, Peggy Noonan goes on to suggest that one of the signals of the dirt in the air was the failure of the United States Senate just a couple of weeks ago to pass a law that would have restricted abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. As she said, "To Americans, certainly it must have appeared that a restriction on abortion just before the sixth month of a pregnancy would make moral sense." But she writes, quote, "Democrats said it was an assault on women's rights, so as far as the Senate is concerned, you can end the life of a six to nine month old baby that can live outside the womb that is not only human, but recognizably and obviously human."
She asked the reader to imagine being six months pregnant, and the baby moving inside. She says this, "When it happens, the mother does not say, 'The fetus lurched,' or, 'A conglomeration of cells is making itself manifest.' Instead, the mother will say, 'The baby moved. The baby's moving.'"
Noonan writes, quote, "You say this because it is a baby and you know it. You say it because you wonder at it, and at life you tell the truth." End quote. "A society that cannot even ban late term abortion," she argues, "is a society that is devaluing all human life." She puts it in these words, quote, "If the baby we don't let live is unimportant, then I guess I am unimportant, and you're unimportant too." End quote.
Noonan argues that, "This is the air, the moral air, that Americans are now breathing in. Also, in the immediate aftermath of the Parkland shootings, Michael Ian Black, a comedian, an actor, and a writer, began a series of tweets, and one of the recurring themes in his tweets is the hashtag, Boys Are Broken. Again, here you have a recognition that it's not just one young man who went on a murderous rampage, it is a pattern of other very trouble young men who have turned violent.
It's not just that, it is a culture of boyhood that is not turning into a culture of manhood. Something indeed is broken. That hashtag, Boys Are Broken, caught the nation's attention, but perhaps only for a matter of seconds. It seems that this comes up again and again, and yet what is not faced honestly by the society around us is the fact that if boys are broken, it's because the society is broken."
Peggy Noonan was right, but in the language she used, she doesn't get exactly to the point. In her essay she wrote, quote, "We all say it privately, but it's so obvious it's hardly worth saying. We have been swept by social, technological, and cultural revolution. The family," she writes, "blew up. Divorce, unwed childbearing, fatherless sons, fatherless daughters too. Poor children with no one to love them. The internet flourished, porn proliferated, drugs legal and illegal, violent video games in which nameless people are eliminated, and spattered all over the screen. The abortion regime," she says, "settled in with its fierce, endless, yet somehow casual talk about the right to end a life." End quote.
She goes on to write perceptively about America's entertainment culture, but the most important thing to recognize is that she gets very quickly to the breakup of the family, but she makes it passive. She says that, "the family blew up." That's not exactly true. The family didn't blow up, the society blew up the family. That's a fundamental difference in moral terms.
We go back a moment to Michael Ian Black and that hashtag, Boys Are Broken, and again, we need to state with moral honesty that as a society, we have broken the institutions, and the relationships, and the moral culture that every previous culture, every previous society understood was necessary in order to lead boys to become men. That's why boys are broken.
We have the absence of fathers. Not only that, we have the absence of strong, male influences in the lives of so many boys. We have normalized having children outside of marriage. We have normalized divorce. We have normalized the absence of fathers, and the abandonment of the family by fathers. We've normalized all of this, and then in shock, we come up with a hashtag, Boys Are Broken.
But again, it's not just that they are broken, so many boys and young men, it is because we as a society have broken the relationships and that moral context, and we've broken the institutions, the structures of life, whether it has to do with the new, redefinition of the Boy Scouts, or with the elimination of something like compulsory military service. We have simply changed the nature of how every previous society in one way or another has devoted its decided moral energies to raising the next generation. It seems that over and over again, the particular challenge is raising the next generation of young men.
Symptoms of the subverted family present themselves on America’s college campuses
In a column that appeared yesterday in the New York Times by David Brooks, and he's usually identified as one of the more conservative columnists in the New York Times, generally a very liberal newspaper, he wrote a column entitled, A Generation Emerging From the Wreckage. He writes that he's been going around to campuses asking undergraduate and graduate students how they see the world.
He acknowledges that most of the campuses he is visiting are super competitive schools. He lists Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, and Davidson. He also acknowledges specifically, quote, "So this is a tiny slice of the rising generation. Still," he says, "their comments are striking."
Well, one of the interesting things that comes up in this essay over and over again, rather typical of many of the pieces by David Brooks, is that he understands there is a basic moral problem, but it's also clear he's either not going to be honest, or he's not going to get to what the actual moral problem is. He says that, "The generation of these students, undergraduates and graduates at institutions like Harvard and Yale, the defining issues is that they see themselves as a generation with diminished expectations."
Now, just hold on a moment. There are some significant economic challenges, but those economic challenges are not coming to the young people who are currently enrolled at Harvard and Yale. Furthermore, they go on to blame the larger society. He cited one student at Harvard who said, and I quote, "Wall Street tanks the country, and no one got punished. The same with government." End quote.
Now, in all likelihood, that student was not politically aware when the Great Recession hit at the end of the previous decade, and there are serious moral and legal, not to mention economic issues, at stake. The important thing to recognize is that that student seems to be fundamentally unaware of the fact that he or she is studying at a campus that over the last several years, has benefited in an outsize way as the student almost surely individually has done also, by the economic recovery, and by the very people the student is blaming. In particular, Wall Street.
Another Harvard student said, and I quote, "To the utopia of our parents is the dystopia of our age." End quote. That's the kind of statement that's included in this essay, as if it's morally meaningful. I don't think it's morally meaningful at all, or if it is, it doesn't look good for the student who said it.
Furthermore, one of the things that Brooks points to is the fact that these students at America's most elite educational institutions appear to be at a loss when it comes to faith in the American idea. It also becomes very clear that they don't know much about American history. Brooks writes, quote, "When I asked how they were taught American history, a few said they weren't taught much of it." End quote.
Now remember, these are students on the campuses of America's most elite academic institutions, the most highly selective. Furthermore, Brooks' essay says, "What they do think they know about American history is almost entirely a long line of oppression." Now of course, there has been oppression. There has been evil in American history, but that's not the whole story, and it doesn't leave these students at these very super competitive schools very competitive in a world of ideas.
By the time Brooks finishes his essay in yesterday's edition of the New York Times, he says that, "These students," and remember we're talking about both undergraduates and graduate students, "these students seem not to know even how to establish a human relationship." Now, that's a far more significant moral context. That's a far more serious and more urgent moral issue.
When you have young people who seem not to know even how to establish a human relationship, you can't just blame technology, you can't just blame the super competitive nature of the campuses that they inhabit. You've got to talk about something far more fundamental, more ominous, more dangerous. Something far harder to fix. The must fundamental issue crying out for attention, but not getting adequate attention in every one of these essays and approaches is the fact that the family is broken, because we broke it.
Peggy Noonan is right. The family blew up, but it's not enough to say the family blew up. We had to go on and say, "We blew up the family." Furthermore, there's a basic moral blindness in the fact that many people who are willing to say, "The family blew up," really don't want to put the family back together again.
Just consider how they now have joined the revolution to redefine marriage, and they have long ago joined the revolution to normalize divorce. The reality is, many of the people who know the irrefutable fact that the pathologies of our day are traceable to one major issue, which is the subversion of the family, they really do not want to pay the moral price to undo what the society has done.
Is there a morality to eating one animal rather than the other?
Next, while we're thinking about societies and the moral distinctions between them, it is really interesting to reflect upon the end of the 2018 winter Olympiad and to recognize that only some of the people who attended and observed the Olympics found the time to write about issues of food and diet. The New York Times ran an article by Andrew Keh in which he wrote about the experience of eating for the first time, live octopus.
Now, we shouldn't at all be surprised that evidently, that's something of a tactile sensation, and amongst the people who were there for the Olympics, especially Americans, eating the live octopus dish was mostly, it was acknowledged, something along the lines of a dare. But nonetheless, it points to the reality of how cuisine differs from society to society.
Some Koreans, by the way, were very offended by the fact that Americans who were visiting for the Olympics, seemed to not to understand that there are distinct differences in food, whether it's in China, or Korea, or Japan. Many Americans seem to just lump Asian food together. As one Asian cook said, "That's sort of like arguing that German, and French, and Italian food are exactly the same."
One of the stories that was covered by USA Today has to do with a very different dietary issue in Korea. Something that the South Korean government worked very hard to try to keep out of sight, out of mind, and under wraps. That is the fact that very close to Pyeongchang, where the winter Olympics were held, is a series of dog farms. That is, farms that raise dogs for human consumption.
It turns out that this is not all that unusual throughout Asia, but particularly in Korea, there are certain health benefits that are advertised in eating dog. But Americans, not only Americans, but many around the world, would recoil in moral horror at the idea of eating a dog. That raises a very interesting question from the Christian worldview.
Is there a morality to eating one animal rather than another? One of the persons cited in the article said that there has been a moral distinction between animals with whom we do not have a very close relationship as compared to animals with whom we do have, species by species, a closer relationship. And of course when it comes to dogs, it's not just in American society, but it's been throughout centuries worldwide, that dogs and humans have experienced a symbiotic and very close relationship.
Americans understand, or at least Americans should understand, that farm animals lead to the production of meat, and you should also trace that directly to your dinner plate, but the reality is that we do make a very clear separation between animals that we husband for domestic purposes and for eating, versus those that we develop a relationship with and welcome into our lives as pets. This line might sometimes get confused. I think of the fact that on one holiday, Winston Churchill told his wife, Clemmie, that he simply could not carve the goose. It's because as he said, when alive, the goose had been his friend.
During the Olympics with so many visitors present, the South Korean government did its best to hide the dog meat industry, but at least some reporters sniffed out the story and reported on it, raising some issues of huge cultural and moral significance. And of course, one of the things we need to remind ourselves of is going back to Peggy Noonan's article, "We are a society that seems to almost universally recoil at the idea of killing a dog for meat, and I think that's understandable, but we're not a society willing to outlaw abortion or even late term abortion, the termination of an unborn human life."
Do dogs feel guilt? What the doctrine of creation tells us about our pets
By the way, at the very same time, USA Today was reporting on the dog meat scandal, or almost scandal in South Korea. The New York Times was reporting on the major dog show in the United States, the Westminster Dog Show, and the fact that Americans are so crazy about dogs, that well, to make it clear, the dogs become stars, pampered stars, in an enormous commercial enterprise that also reveals a good deal about the culture at Westminster Dog Show.
USA Today also reported on the show, pointing to one particular competing dog, a Keeshond named Mumbles, and the fact that the schedule for the dog was given. That schedule included being wakened in the morning after a good night's rest, and then having whitening and clarifying shampoo in order to make Mumble's hair shine. It turns out that drying and preparing the hair of this dog, and it is identified as hair for the dog show, can take 10 hours, many of those hours under a dryer.
Now, just think of the comparison between Korean and American culture on the dogs when the owner of Mumbles said that at 7:45 a.m., quote, "I sprayed him with water and a little bit of modifier to give him a little lift at the roots. I'm trying to make him as poofy as possible. Humidity is your best friend." According to USA Today, the day of grooming has begun.
The current issue of the Atlantic Monthly takes the issue a bit further with a headline article, Your Dog Feels No Shame. The sub-head of the article: The Myth of Canine Guilt. William Brennan is the author of the article, and he goes on to cite scientific research, and as if we needed scientific research, to tell us that when dogs appear to feel guilty, they actually feel no such thing. They are simply responding quite powerfully, and usually quite accurately, to the emotional disposition of their owner.
Alexandra Horowitz, identified as a dog cognition expert at Barnard College, said that, "When we perceive a dog's guilty look, it's actually no sign of guilt at all." In the words of the article, quote, "Far from signaling remorse, one group of researchers wrote in a 2012 paper, 'The guilty look is likely a submissive response that is proved advantageous, because it reduced conflict between dog and human.'" End quote.
The Atlantic also tells us that, "Human beings have been so convinced of moral responsibility on the part of canines, that in medieval Europe, misbehaving dogs," quote, "were routinely tried in court on criminal charges, such as assault and murder. Punishments ranged from jail to death." End quote.
But the Atlantic article, interesting as it is, and there are probably listeners to The Briefing who are ready to disagree with these researchers and insist that dogs really do feel guilty when they do wrong. We do anthropomorphize, which means we read human characteristics onto other animals. Disney has made this an absolute fortune-making industry in animation, that we do it with our pets as well.
The important thing from a Christian worldview perspective is to understand that the doctrine of creation revealed in scripture tells us that there is one and only one creature made in the image of God, and that creature is the creature that possesses a true moral knowledge, a true moral capacity and consciousness. Paul makes this very clear, but the Book of Genesis also makes it clear. Furthermore, daily life makes it abundantly clear even by common grace.
Well, I have to let the dog researchers, the so-called, "Canine cognitive experts," battle out the question as to whether or not dogs feel guilt, but the important thing to recognize as Christians, is that we know that human beings do. That's the big reality, and it takes us back to just about every headline story we've cited today on The Briefing.