Friday, May 25, 2018

Friday, May 25, 2018

The Briefing

May 25, 2018

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

It’s Friday, May 25, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Why one Yale graduate who grew up as a foster child tells us that family structure really matters

This is the season of graduations, high school and college graduations. Just a few days ago, one young man graduated from Yale. His name is Rob Henderson. He had served for years in the Air Force and just a few days ago, graduated from one of America’s most prestigious universities. The headline of his opinion piece that recently ran in The New York Times, “Life as a foster child made me a conservative.”

Henderson writes, “There aren’t many conservative students at Yale. Fewer than 12% according to a survey by our student newspaper. There are fewer former foster children. I am one of the rare students on campus who can claim both identities.” He went on to say, “My unusual upbringing has shaped my conservatism. My birth mother was addicted to drugs. As a young child, I spent five years in foster care. At age seven, I was adopted, but for a long time after that, I was raised in broken homes. Foster care, broken homes and military service have fashioned my judgements. “My experiences,” he wrote, “drive me to reflect on what environments are best for children. Certainly not,” he says, “the ones I came from.”

Later in the article, he says, “Where I came from can be understood through my name Robert Kim Henderson.” He then says, “All three names are taken from different adults.” He tells us, “Robert comes from my supposed biological father. The only information,” he says, “I have about him is his name from a document provided by a social worker responsible for my case when I was a foster child. My middle name, Kim,” he says, “comes from my biological mother. It was her family name. She succumbed to drug addiction rendering her unable to care for me, and my last name, Henderson,” he says, “it comes from my former adoptive father. After my adoptive mother left him, he severed ties with me in order to hurt her. He figured,” he writes, “that my emotional pain from his desertion could be transmitted to my adoptive mother. He was right. The three people who gave me their names all have something in common. All abandoned me. None took responsibility.”

Now, this is a heartbreaking story. It’s a different kind of story, however, than most of the stories like this would end. After all, we’re talking about an opinion piece written by this individual in the New York Times. We’re talking about the fact that he has just, days ago, graduated from Yale University. He tells us that conservatives at Yale are rare, but students at Yale who were foster children, they are even more rare.

Now, the entire point of Henderson’s article is what is of greatest importance to us. He is saying that family structure really matters. It really matters. He says his own family structure really matters. He points back to his own history, and he says it really matters. He points to his classmates at Yale and says it really matters. Just look at how few church from broken homes actually end up at a university like Yale, much less graduating from Yale.

Henderson says that the liberal establishment is in routine dishonesty and denial about the importance of family structure. Henderson writes about received wisdom including wisdom about the family. He writes, “One piece of inherited wisdom is the value of the two-parent family. It’s not fashionable,” he says, “to talk about this. How people raise their children is a matter of preference, but it is not really up for debate that the two-parent home is, on average, better for children.” He explains why. First, he says, “Two parents can provide their children more resources including emotional support, encouragement and help with homework. One conscious parent,” he says, “no matter how heroic, cannot do the work of two. Second,” he says, “single parent households have a lower standard of living, which is associated with lower school grades and test scores.”

It’s not as if a university like Yale doesn’t have plenty of knowledge of the reality. After all, they have access to all the data, and they have the data of decades of history and social experimentation, but beyond that, Rob Henderson says they also have their own classrooms. He writes this. “Here is an example of the success of intact families from one of my psychology classes. The professor asked students to anonymously respond to a question about parental background. Out of 25 students, only one student besides me did not grow up in a traditional two-parent family. It’s no accident,” he writes, “that most of my peers at Yale came from intact families.”

Now, here is a pattern we’ve noted over and over again. It’s the fact that there’s so many people with such liberal world views who we should note don’t live out those own world views. The liberal world view says that parenting and family and sexuality, it’s all merely a matter of preference, but when you look at the young people who actually show up at a classroom at Yale, well, just take that broom. Out of 25 students, only two were not raised and did not arrive at Yale from intact two-parent families. Henderson notes there could be many reasons for this pattern of denial that he says one is cynical. He says, “A cynical interpretation of this attitude is that some students want to keep the competition down. Fewer children raised in good families means less competition for those at the top.”

How did Rob Henderson end up graduating from Yale? He points to three issues. Number one, the influence of a school teacher when he was 10 who told him that if he applied himself, he can alter his life, so at age 10, he decided to apply himself. The second change in his life had to do with what happened during his adolescence. During that period, for a relatively brief period of time, he was in a two-parent family. This too was something of an alternative family, but it actually was a two-parent family. He says that during his adolescence, he had the benefit of that family and he had confidence, a belief that he had control of his future.

With moving prose, he writes this. “My adoptive mother and her partner raised me from middle school through high school in the early to mid-2000s in a rural California town called Red Bluff. They made a stable home for me. We had dinner together every weeknight. We talked about minutiae. They would ask me, “How was school today?” And I would respond with the usual, “It was fine.” They gave me unsolicited advice. I was sarcastic in response, and we loved one another.” Henderson looks back and says, “I experienced a stable family, if only for a few years.” He says, “Ordinary adults taking responsibility made all the difference for me. I maintain that the agency of individuals will lead to fewer impoverished childhoods.” He says in conclusion, “If today, that makes me a conservative, great. I take responsibility for that.”

There are so many important dimensions of the story, but it points to the goodness of God’s intention in creation pointing to the need of children for two parents, and beyond that, the scripture is clear for the need of children for a mother and a father. In this article, we also have this evidence coming from a single psychology classroom in Yale University indicating that if you’re going to explain how those particular individuals, rather than others ended up on the very privileged campus of Yale University, you should at least listen to that question the professor asked about the family of origin and come to understand that 23 out of 25 students at Yale University in that classroom came from intact, two-parent families. We know that’s not an accident.

Part II

The wealth gap and families: Recent economic changes are far more demonstrable in families compared to individuals

That leads me to another article that appeared just a couple of days before, also in the New York Times, this one by Christina Gibson Davis and Christine Percheski. The title of this article, “The Wealth Gap Hits Families Hardest.” The two are researchers, and they’ve been looking at the economic impact of different kinds of developments in the lives of both individuals and families. The bottom line of their research is that the economic changes that have taken place in the last several years, including what’s often discussed as income inequality, is actually far more demonstrable in American households, what they call here families, rather, they’re merely looking at American individuals. The numbers add up just as they say.

The article points out the importance of family, and it points to the relative success in society of children from different kinds of economic straight up. That much is abundantly clear. Of course, the argument being made by these two professors is that income inequality is a huge problem that is becoming especially noticeable amongst families and as you might expect, they have a political argument to make and they want to point to specific economic policies that they would prefer, that they would suggest would help to adjust or resolve this issue of income inequality among families.

The really interesting to note is not what’s in the article but what’s not here. They argue, and the math demonstrates they are right, that there has been a massive shift in relative wealth in the United States over the last several decades from younger people in America to older people. The rise of Social Security pension plans, IRAs, 401Ks, and for that matter, tax policies, has led to a relative enrichment of older Americans, and according to the data, a relative economic displacement of younger Americans. What’s also present in the article is the understanding that there has been a radical change if you’re looking at households in America in relative economic wealth. Their argument is that households, they sometimes use the word families, are falling even further and faster behind.

As I said, what’s interesting is not so much what’s here but what is not here. What’s not here is a recognition of the vast change in the very years they document from 1989 to the present in the nature of those households. To put that bluntly, the big change here is the fact that more of these households represent non-traditional families, that more of these households represent single parent families, and that more of the children in these households, by a radical increase, are born outside of marriage.

It’s alarming to see the data point in this article that about a third of all families with children in 2013 had no relative wealth, only debt. That’s truly alarming, but what’s more alarming is the fact that so many in America are determined, it seems, to talk about income inequality and the big pictures of our society without dealing with the reality that family matters, and that a radical distinction, a radical shift in family structure is actually the big issue and the big change that explains and has to be taken into account when you’re looking at the economic data argued in this article. It’s just not intellectually honest to talk about households in America over time without acknowledging the radical transformation of the nature of those households.

One of these professors teaches public policy, another teacher, sociology. They come to the end of their research and the end of their argument, and they write this. “The United States needs a fundamental rethinking of public policy priorities to improve the lives of the next generation of children.” That’s one of those statements that is morally irrefutable. Of course, it’s true, but the question is what would that fundamental rethinking of public policy look like? This is where Christians operating out of the biblical world view understand that family structure must be taken into account. It’s more fundamental than anything else. If you leave it out of the equation, even if you have the math, the numbers may appear on the page but the meaning will simply not add up.

Part III

Failing the intersectionality test: LGBT community deems pro-LGBT mayor unworthy of their support

Next, there are many different distinctions to be made amongst media in the United States. There would be print media. There would be digital media. There would be weekly and monthly publications and daily newspapers. There would be newsletters and all kinds of interesting reports. There would be the broadcast media including radio and television and of course, an explosion of all kinds of new media, but in the middle of all of this, would be what would have to be described as alternative media. Every major metropolitan area has at least one alternative newspaper. These are often given away for free. They often represent those who are rather on the political fringe of the society, but the very fact that they have a constituency and the fact that they are in print and the fact that they are available indicates that some of these alternative ideas have an interesting way of working themselves into the mainstream.

Even as we look at the fact that on Tuesday, there were primaries held all over the country, one of them was held right here in Louisville, Kentucky, and it was a primary most interestingly in the Democratic Party for mayor. There was a controversy in this case, and the most interesting controversy was found within the LGBT community. That community, through a formal organization known as the Fairness Campaign, gave an official endorsement to the incumbent Democratic mayor of Louisville, Greg Fischer. He has been a big friend of the LGBT community, and has furthered their priorities, and he earned their endorsement, but as the alternative newspaper known as LEO here in Louisville, that’s for the Louisville Eccentric Observer, as this newspaper makes clear, there are some within the LGBT community who thought that this mayor was unworthy of their endorsement? Why? It was not because Mayor Fischer has been, in any way, unenthusiastic about LGBT issues. No. It’s because he is not adequately intersectional.

Deena Lilygren, writing for LEO, says this, “Some in the LGBTQ community, including me, question whether Mayor Fischer deserve the endorsement given his stance on intersectional issues. His support of the so-called anti-gang bills, his failure to declare Louisville as a sanctuary city, and his focus on economic development while the city’s homeless population grows. They say that the alternative candidate to the mayor’s left was a better choice,” she writes, “because of his progressive platform. Then, the article takes a very interesting turn. Lilygren writes, “More broadly, however, Fischer’s endorsement underscores how LGBTQ organizations and all social justice organizations can become entrenched in the establishment that they help, even inadvertently, to maintain the status quo but,” the writer says, “LGBTQ policies must be about all the things that affect all marginalized people.”

This idea of intersectionality comes from critical analysis. It is rooted in Marxist ideology, and it is the claim that identity, essential identity as an individual is never merely about one reality. It’s about multiple realities. Intersectionalism comes from the claim that every individual is an intersection of those realities. To make the issue very clear, if you are talking about intersectionalism, then you want to argue that the intersection of issues such as racism and economic justice and the LGBTQ agenda and you could go down the list, they come together in an analysis that every one of these sections is dependent upon the long term advance of the other.

Just to illustrate what we’re talking about with intersectionality, it would not be enough by some analysis for an individual to be identified as, say, African American because if you can add the African American female and lesbian or transgender, or you come up with some other marginalized category, then the person who has the most of those marginalized distinctions is supposedly having the superior moral voice because that individual has to have a larger voice because they are at the intersection of so many marginalized communities.

What takes us back to this article in the LEO newspaper is the fact that we find the LGBTQ community torn about the extent to which they can endorse even a very LGBTQ mayor if, after all, he falls short on some part of intersectionality. It’s also clear that if you’re talking about anyone elected to major public office in the United States, they’re going to fail at least some of the radical demands of those who apply this kind of intersectional analysis.

If you’re wondering how inside the LGBTQ community this kind of intersectionality will work, well, this article makes it clear. The argument is that gay, white men have inordinate attention and influence and power in the LGBTQ movement. There’s also the argument that the powers that be, the political structures are far more sensitive to the political demands and priorities of gay, white men than they are to more intersectional sexual identities and minorities.

This article basically comes to the conclusion that there probably was no alternative to endorsing Mayor Fischer, but the author writes, “White gay men are always going to gain acceptance first and are going to be the faces of the powerful LGBTQ organizations we count on.” The author goes on to say, “We need to count on those leaders not to leave anyone behind, but they frequently do. In practice, it becomes murky.” By the way, when we’re looking at some of these forms of analysis, it’s not so much that they’re wrong. Just that the analysis is inadequate. Even intersectionality gives us an interesting vantage point in which to understand the arguments that we’re hearing, but you’ll notice that there is nowhere for this to go but into greater division. If you’re going to lean into intersectionality, pretty soon, the only measure is who’s more intersectional than whom?

Part IV

Remembering the lives of Richard Pipes and Bernard Lewis, two titanic figures in the world of foreign policy

As we come to the end of the week, I want to note the death of four major figures. All of them men, all of them rather old, all of them extremely influential on the modern American mind. Two of them were related to American foreign policy and to the realities of the world we face. One of them was Richard Pipes who died just days ago at age 94. He was a Harvard professor, and he was one of the most influential figures in understanding the reality of the Soviet regime and the reality of communism. Richard Pipes was one of the realists who understood the evil that was represented by the Soviet Union, and the force of its arguments and evidence changed the way that successive American administrations, particularly the administration of President Ronald Reagan, understood the reality of communism and the nature of the Soviet regime. Richard Pipes, vindicated by history, died just days ago at age 94.

Bernard Lewis, who also died just a few days ago, was one of the most influential observers of the Arab world. His most famous work asked the question what went wrong. He was looking at the relative decline of Arab civilizations and how that had been transformed especially since the fall of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I into international instability, chaos in the Middle East, and of course, also disillusionment and danger in the Arab world.

One of those interesting aspects of Bernard Lewis is that his thought was very unfashionable at the very time it was most necessary. Something else to note is that Bernard Lewis understood that throughout most of the Arab world, the most important thing to understand is Islam. Those on the far left dismissed Bernard Lewis as a mere orientalist, but Bernard Lewis actually cared about the region and he cared about the Arab peoples, and he also sought for an accurate Western understanding of Islam. It was Bernard Lewis who was very influential, especially over the last 25 years, in understanding and explaining the radical rise in Islamic terrorism. Lewis understood that it wasn’t merely rooted in contemporary sociology and economics. It was deeply rooted in history, and history, he understood. Bernard Lewis died just a few days ago at age 101.

Part V

The literary legacies of Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth—two very different, very fascinating writers

We should also note, dying in the last several days were two of the most influential American authors of the last century, Tom Wolfe and Philip Roth. They were very different individuals, and I found the writings of both of them to be very important and fascinating. Both of them, I read thoroughly and I early read every new book that came from each one. Tom Wolfe was one of the most important and influential non-fiction writers in the United States before he became a bestselling novelist. His non-fiction began to break the mold, especially in the 1960s and ‘70s. It was Tom Wolfe who understood that truth is more interesting than fiction. He revolutionized the way that non-fiction was written in the United States, and of course, Tom Wolfe did that because he was a very keen observer of the American scene having, as a younger man, earned a PhD in American studies from Yale University.

Tom Wolfe died at age 88. He was well-known, for example, for his epic novel of the 1980s entitled Bonfire of the Vanities. The central character in that novel was Sherman McCoy. He was identified as one of those business titans, so aggressive and eager in the 1980s in Manhattan. He looked at the moral convolutions of Manhattan during that time. Thomas Wolfe understood the importance of the cultural elite, and he wrote of them, sometimes unmercifully. He referred to so many figures like his character, Sherman McCoy in New York in the 1980s, as masters of the universe, coining that phrase, but of course, it was Tom Wolfe who coined many phrases including the right stuff, which became the title of his bestselling book about the history of the space program in the United States.

In his later years, Tom Wolfe, who understood the nature and danger of the sexual revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s, wrote about the sexual revolution on the college campuses in the first years of the 21st century. He wrote quite prophetically and clearly of what was then defined, even as now, as the hook-up culture. He had absolutely astounding powers of insight.

For example, Tom Wolfe noted how commercial pilots, that is airline pilots, tended to talk to passengers during the heyday of American aviation and continuing until now. He talked about the fact that even pilots who were not from the south and certainly not from Texas tended to sound like southerners or Texans when they sought to speak to the passengers in their planes. Wolfe had the power to hear a voice and to know where the voice came from, and he identified when he talked about American aviation the fact that so many of these pilots, whether consciously or subconsciously, were trying to sound like Chuck Yeager.

His last book published in 2016 was simply entitled The Kingdom of Speech, and he wrote about the very patterns of speech that he had heard so clearly and translated into some of America’s most powerful literature. Morally speaking in world view analysis, the importance of Tom Wolfe is that he understood the elites. He was, after all, a member of that elite, and he understood how the cultural elites work. He would write of them and he would make evident their own ways of life and their own world view.

Then, finally came news Tuesday night that Philip Roth, one of the most influential novelists of the last century, had also died. He died at age 85. Philip Roth was not Tom Wolfe. They were two very different literary figures. Philip Roth gained prominence because of his infamous early book entitled Portnoy’s Complaint. The important thing to understand about that book, which became quite morally infamous during its own heyday, was the fact that Philip Roth represented a modern secular understanding of American Judaism. Looking back to his own adolescence, he saw the moral turmoil of that adolescence as reflecting a kind of moral weight that was coming from a Judaism and from a biblical understanding of sexuality that most Americans had left far behind.

Roth was, politically speaking, a man of the left even as Tom Wolfe was, generally speaking, a man of the right, but there is no doubt that he exerted one of the most powerful literary influences of the last 100 years. Dwight Garner, writing a major obituary for Philip Roth that appeared just yesterday declared him, “The last front-rank survivor of a generation of fecund and authoritative, and yes, white and male novelist. The others,” he said, “included John Updike, Norman Mailer, and Saul Bellow who helped define American experience in the second half of the 20th century.”

What’s really notable there is the massive Jewish influence on American literature during that time. There are many reasons for this. One of them is the fact that so many major Jewish figures had been driven to art and many dimensions including influence in American literature. Some of the most important stories of American life told over the last several decades had been told exceedingly well and lastingly so by major American Jewish authors.

The other thing to note is that many of these authors had represented an Americanized and rather secularized version of Jewish identity. One of the issues of importance related to this dimension is understanding that for many who have been raised in an America influenced by Christianity, Christianity is in their rearview mirror the way Judaism was in the rearview mirror of Philip Roth. The age of these four men dying just within days is not without note: Philip Roth at age 85, Tom Wolfe at age 88, Richard Pipes at age 94, and Bernard Lewis at age 101. This is sure. We will not see the likes of these four again.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Monday is Memorial Day in the United States, and let us give thanks for all those who have given their lives in the service of this country. We have that sacred responsibility on Monday, and I’ll meet you again on Tuesday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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