Wednesday, May 30, 2018
It's Wednesday, May 30, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
As Roseanne and Starbucks are both in the headlines, national conversation about implicit bias continues
Race is back on the front burner of American culture, especially today after yesterday. It was yesterday that Roseanne Barr, the star of one of the most popular restarts on American television, had her series canceled by ABC after she had posted a racist tweet. I'm not about to repeat what she had posted, but it is clearly racist. In response, ABC had little choice but to cancel the program.
This came just a matter of weeks after the network had indicated that it was going to continue the program for a new season. It came just days after ABC faced advertisers and in company with other major media tried to sell something like $9 billion dollars of television advertising for the next several months. It takes a lot for ABC to cancel a show in which it has staked so much.
At the recent media event Rosanne Barr appeared before the advertising community before any of the major ABC executives had made their own appearance. That says something about the priority that ABC had placed upon the program.
Roseanne Barr has always been as an actress, as well as the character on her own television program, rather unpredictable. One ABC executive said simply, "You can't control Roseanne Barr."
Channing Dungey, who is the entertainment president for ABC, said, quote, "Roseanne's Twitter statement is abhorrent, repugnant, and inconsistent with our values, and we have decided to cancel her show," but the controversy over Roseanne also came the very same day that Starbucks shut down its almost 8,000 locations all at the same time in order for about 175,000 employees to undergo a form of anti-bias, nondiscrimination training.
Andrew Ross Sorkin reporting in The DealBook of The New York Times described the situation this way, quote, "Starbucks will temporarily shut 8,000 stores for four hours Tuesday afternoon to conduct racial bias training for its employees. It follows an incident in Philadelphia last month in which two black men were arrested simply for waiting in a store."
"What would seem like a positive step forward is already, said Sorkin, "perhaps predictably being criticized." End quote.
A review of the response to Starbucks in the major media indicates indeed criticism from both the right and the left. Conservative criticism is focused upon the fact that there will be one way or another ideological content to what is packaged here as anti-implicit bias training.
The criticism has also come from the left and from some in the civil rights community, as Sorkin reports, Starbucks bias training, according to [inaudible 00:03:02], a political organizer in Orlando is, quote, "A self-righteous and disingenuous public relations stunt to glorify a white-owned corporation for making a feeble attempt to combat systemic racism without investing in the communities or people most affected by its oppression." End quote.
Similar sentiments came in the very same column by Robert L. Woodson Sr. of the Woodson Center, identified as a community development organization, who wrote that the effort was a form of what he called virtue signaling. He said, quote, "It's easy to see who benefits from this kind of response, the consultants who devise and conduct sensitivity training sessions." End quote.
Well, Sorkin went on to say that the gripping will also go on, but, as he pointed out, Starbucks becomes the first company of its size to take the issue so seriously that it would shut down all of its 8,000 stores for four hours in order for its employees, all 175,000 of them, to undergo this kind of training.
Starbucks officials themselves indicated that this was a first step. That was the very comment made by Rossann Williams, identified as the executive vice president for U.S. retail at Starbucks, who said in a letter to employees that the company has posted online, quote, "May 29 isn't a solution, it's a first step." End quote.
Even as we understand that implicit bias is real, I discussed at length recently on The Briefing, we also understand that the very concept comes in the context of what can only be ideological, which is to say it can only be rooted in some kind of worldview.
A lot of the implicit bias training that takes place in corporations and in the academic world is not only aimed at removing by identifying the kind of implicit bias that is so prevalent on race, that same form of critical analysis is often applied to other issues, especially in the corporate and academic communities, issue including the entire constellation of questions that are included within the letters LGBTQ. Thus, you see that ideology is never far. It's never even far in the foreground of these kinds of discussions.
There can be no doubt that, like ABC, Starbucks found itself in a very uncomfortable and embarrassing situation after the arrest of the two African-American men in Philadelphia simply for waiting in a Starbucks store.
The situation gets a lot more complicated for Starbucks and for the customers of Starbucks when just a few days ago the company announced that its stores, all of its stores, would be open to virtually everyone anytime defined, by the way, with the use of the word customer, regardless whether or not the customer ever makes a purpose.
This was extended to making clear that facilities would include bathrooms. This led to an immediate backlash from Starbucks customers wondering if their local Starbucks is going to become simply a dangerous place in order to visit, and if there are no rules about who is and is not welcome in Starbucks, which is, after all, labeled as a store, then it becomes a very different kind of place. More akin to, say, a local bus terminal than to a coffee shop.
This gets to the very heart of Starbucks as an experiment, as a company, and as a brand. Howard Howard Schultz, who was famous for making Starbucks a household name in the United States, referred to the company and to its stores, as he has called them, as a third place. What would a third place be?
Well, he defined a third place as a communal gathering place, a social reality, between the first place, which is home, and the second place, which is work. This kind of third place fits within a certain kind of liberal communitarianism in the United States, and thus, from the very beginning Starbucks was never just about coffee, it was about an experience.
Not only that, the company has been quite open, quite direct in its liberal advocacy of all kinds of issues, so much so that Starbucks sold itself to the public as being not just a coffee experience, but a social experience, and beyond that, a moral experience.
This understand underlines some of the inherent conflicts and complexities of operating any kind of organization, much less a company with 8,000 stores, in a country as diverse and complicated as the United States, because if you are trying to sell your stores to the public as something of a new kind of public place then the public is going to assume that your store is some kind of public place.
A public place is treated quite differently than the private space of what might be termed a more traditional kind of restaurant. Here you're talking about the invitation to the American society that is on the very back of the Starbucks brand to be involved in remaking a new form of community by experiencing Starbucks.
Some Starbucks customers in social media and in other varieties of media responded to the announcement by Starbucks with a very clear sense of alarm. Would Starbucks simply become something of an extended public restroom, or would its restrooms become places where drug addicts could simply shoot up drugs?
Now, Starbucks of course does not want that to be the reality and Starbucks has come up with what is surely a part of the curriculum yesterday, a set of instructions to Starbucks managers about how personnel in the stores are to identify persons who might be problematic.
According to The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, personnel, according to these new policies, will have to find a corroborating member of the Starbucks team in order to agree that some kind of wrongful activity is taking place in order for authorities to be called.
Now, if that sounds complicated it's because it is complicated, and if that sounds like moral judgments are going to continue to be made that's because of course moral judgments will continue to be made.
There is a very important issue for us all here to recognize, Starbucks wouldn't be in this position if it had not been in the situation of having to confront the kind of bias and discrimination that some Americans have to experience virtually every day in almost any kind of context simply because of their race or ethnicity or the color of their skin.
Adding to the complexity of trying to deal with a very genuine moral issue like this is the fact that there is an entire industry of moral reeducation out there. Daniel Henninger refers to this in his column recently published in The Wall Street Journal. The headline of his piece was this, "Starbucks' homeless problem," but in the subtext he goes on to say, quote, "No matter what you do to try to appease unhappy progressives you will be wrong." End quote.
Another dimension of this was made clear in a recent edition of The Weekly Standard in an article by Andrew Ferguson, who points out quite correctly that this diversity industry with its very expensive consultants is never satisfied. It's an industry like any other that depends upon expanding, and sometimes that expanding comes by what can only be described as a form of public extortion against companies.
If you're looking at evidence of sin, and understanding how this works, understand that the companies themselves have a very clear motive to develop certain kinds of diversity policies and to require their employees to undergo diversity training.
Ferguson refers to this quite openly as well by pointing out that three psychologists recently commented in The Harvard Business Review, quote, "Currently diversity initiatives' strongest accomplishment may actually be protecting the organization from litigation, not protecting the interests of underrepresented groups." End quote.
To put all of this into a nutshell of worldview analysis, implicit bias is a real problem, but it's also a real problem to try to figure out how it can be overcome. Furthermore, even when you have a real problem, as you're looking at doing something, something is almost assuredly better than doing nothing, but doing something means you have to do something specific. That means in this kind of situation that that will require some kind of specific worldview or ideology behind the training.
Furthermore, in a world of sin, the motivations for doing such are themselves quite complicated, perhaps even to the people who are making the decisions. Beyond this, there are those who seek to preserve their profits by requiring their employees to undergo this kind of training, but the training itself also involves an industry that is out for its own profits.
If you see a circularity and complexity of problems there, well, that's where Christians understand, and uniquely understand, that this is all traced back to the original problem of sin, a problem that we are called to confront in both the private and the public spheres, but a problem that Christians know we cannot possibly overcome on our own.
The Christian worldview affirms that every single human being is made in God's image, and thus, every life is to be understood and respected as sacred, and every single human being is, as Jesus said, to be understood as my neighbor and your neighbor. Every single human being is deserving of full respect.
Any form of education that affirms that truth, and an understanding how we can diagnose where we fall short of understanding and obeying that truth, that's good, but I think most of us know and fear that in any secular context of this kind of training the ideology itself being quite secular, well, there we see a problem.
Now, again, in a situation like this, doing something is usually better than doing nothing, but when you have to do something, you have to do something specific. In this case, nothing that can be established on a secular worldview could possibly come close to resolving this problem.
Why a secularized doctrine of original sin is not likely to get much traction
Next, now that we have addressed the issue of sin, let's look at it more closely. Why? Well, for one thing because The New York Times recently did. One of the most interesting facets of The New York Times is a series called The Stone. It's a series of articles, commentaries, and essays that deal with deep and meaningful philosophical subjects.
In the case of a recent article, the headline should certainly have our attention. It asks a question, what's so good about original sin? It's also interesting to note that the author of this column in The Stone is identified as Crispin Sartwell. He's ID'd in the article as, quote, "A professor of philosophy." End quote.
Now, that's not uninteresting, but what is interesting is that that's all that said. Another descriptor found in another source identifies Professor Sartwell with these words, he is an American philosopher, self-professed anarchist, and journalist currently a faculty member of the philosophy department at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.
Again, the article asks this urgently important question, what's so good about original sin? Of course, the important thing here is that a secular newspaper and a secular author is addressing the idea of sin, but not just sin, original sin.
Sartwell writes, quote, "The doctrine of original sin has often been held to be intolerably dark, a council of despair. It says," says Sartwell, "we are by nature morally flawed, that we are born in error and live in it irremediably that each of us deserves punishment and will receive it unless redeemed by God's arbitrary grace."
"It insists," he says, "that we cannot cure ourselves by our own efforts, and it has led some people to made extraordinarily disturbing claims such as that children who die in infancy could burn in eternal hellfire." End quote.
Now, that's quite a description of the doctrine of original sin. It basically jumps over nearly 2,000 years of Christian theological wrestling with sin on the basis of scripture, but it tells you something about how a secular philosopher would try to describe original sin even at first just to pique the interest of the readers of The New York Times.
You'll notice he also both underestimates and over describes original sin, basically contorting it in one sense, but he gets the nature of it right. That is that from birth, and indeed we would understand as Christians from conception, we are sinners. We are born in sin.
The interesting issue here is that Sartwell isn't trying just to dismiss the idea of original sin. He's trying to recover it in a secular sense. He says this, quote, "A rejection of the idea of original sin might argue that if we believe we can be good and do good by our own efforts we are likelier to strive to do so. If we believe," he says, "that we are intrinsically evil," it follows, "we will cease trying to make ourselves or the world better. Why not then think more positively about ourselves and believe in the possibility of human goodness and our potential for improvement right here in this world?" End quote.
Now, let's note very carefully, Sartwell is not saying that he agrees with this analysis. He's just saying this is the general kind of analysis that secular people would generally give in giving a general dismissal of original sin. Notice also the pragmatism behind this, a truth is to be judged on the basis of either its effects or its understood effects, not whether or not it's objectively true.
Now, let's move on. Sartwell's point again is not merely to dismiss the idea of original sin, but rather to try and reinvent it on secular terms for a secular age. Later in the essay he gets to the point. He says, quote, "I would like to entertain the notion that a secularized conception of original sin is plausible, and that believing it might have good effects."
Well, what is it? His summary comes in these words, quote, "Even by our own moral standards we are profoundly flawed." End quote. It should also interest us that this philosopher goes back to consider the understanding of original sin held by Augustine, one of the greatest theologians of the Christian tradition. He also goes back to Romans, Chapter 7 and the testimony of the Apostle Paul.
He concludes with these words, quote, "The doctrine of original sin in religious or secular versions is an expression of humanity, an expression of a resolution to face our own imperfections, an undertaking any such act there is risk. To allow the self-scrutiny required in this act to turn to self-loathing would be debilitating."
He says, "A secularized doctrine of original sin, a chastened self-regard, doesn't entail consigning ourselves to the flames. There is much to affirm in our damaged selves," he writes, "and in our damaged lives, even a sort of dignity and beauty we share in our imperfect awareness of our own imperfection and our halting attempts to face it and ourselves." End quote.
Now, the scripture tells us that we will see even in fallen creation reminders and signs of a deeper knowledge than a secular world can even know itself to have. That's what we see here. We see here the indispensability of the biblical understanding of sin. It doesn't shine through in its biblical form in this argument, but the fact is the argument makes no sense without explicit reference to scripture.
Decades ago it was G. K. Chesterton who remarked that the doctrine of sin is the only Christian doctrine that can be empirically verified. What did he mean by that? He meant a bit tongue in cheek that every single intelligent human being must understand sin in ourselves and in others. The empirical verification is merely the experience of our own lives and our observation of the lives of others.
We have often observed that around us are secular attempts to try to create doctrines and principles of the secular worldview that would replace these central Christian doctrines, but function in much of the same way.
Here you have evidence from a secular philosopher that those secular alternatives really cannot suffice, nor replace, scripture. Of course, Christians also understand that the doctrine of original sin is centered in the biblical understanding of sin, which is first and foremost sin against a holy god.
God is of course missing from Crispin Sartwell’s argument, and that's why in the end his argument for a secular version of original sin is not likely to get much traction even amongst secular folks. Why? Because it is denied by the very people who deny the reality of God.
Only a very sick society would sacrifice its own children on the altar of the sexual revolution
Finally, as we're thinking about denial we go to the American city of Philadelphia. The editors of The Wall Street Journal raise the issue this way, quote, "What's more important, finding a foster home for needy children or identity politics? The answer," they say, "from the political left is exacerbating a crisis in Philadelphia that is leaving hundreds of children to languish in group homes."
The editors continued, "Catholic Social Services has worked in Philadelphia for decades and oversees about 100 foster homes, but two months ago the city abruptly halted referrals to the group because the Catholic charity holds Catholic beliefs about same sex marriage. Last week we are told several foster parents represented by The Beckett Fund for Religious Liberty sued in federal court to resume the group's foster care placements."
The editors went on to say that Catholic Social Services worked with children regardless of race, gender, or sexual orientation, but based upon Catholic doctrine and the understanding of the Catholic church and its official teaching, the group cannot place children in homes where the marriage is a same-sex marriage.
Even as we are told that there is a crisis in placing children in Philadelphia in foster homes the city of Philadelphia says the editors, quote, "Has none the less denounced Catholic Social Services as discriminatory and launched an investigation into its practices." The editors then say this, "Unless the group agrees to provide written certification for same sex foster parents the city will terminate the contract with Catholic Social Services in June."
Kathleen Parker commenting on the story for The Washington Post said, quote, "I'm not Catholic, nor do I share the church's belief that same sex marriage is a sin, but," she says, "defunding Catholic Social Services is no good answer." She explained why, on a typical day Philadelphia's CSS serves an average of more than 120 foster children and supervises about 100 homes, and in 2017 the agency worked with more than 2,200 at-risk children.
Parker and the editors of The Wall Street Journal are asking the same with, what does Philadelphia care more about, what or who? Do they care more about children in need or do they care about satisfying those who will not be satisfied until every single religious group is forced to bend the knee at the altar of the sexual revolution?
This story would be troubling enough and big enough if it were merely about Philadelphia and merely about Catholic Social Services, but of course we understand that the reality is far larger. It's not just about Philadelphia, it's about the entire nation, and it's not just about Catholic Social Services, it is about any religious organization involved in the care of children or, for that matter, many other areas of philanthropic and humanitarian work that will operate by Christian conviction, by their own religious beliefs.
What we see here is a secular age beginning to crack down on any religious organization. What's the great problem? The fact that there would be any hold outs whatsoever to the coercive power of the moral revolution.
Clearly religious liberty is very much at stake in this story, but even more immediately what is at stake are the lives of hundreds, potentially even thousands, of children in Philadelphia. It's a very sick society that would sacrifice its own children on the altar of the sexual revolution. But as we now see this is not just a threat, it is a reality.
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 Washington, D.C. and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.