Tuesday, June 12, 2018
Tuesday, June 12, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, June 12, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
What the Miss America Pageant reveals about the jumbled contradictions in America’s cultural landscape
It is clear, of course, that the biggest story of consequence on the world stage is the summit meeting between President Donald J. Trump and Kim Jong Un, the dictator and chairman of the Communist Party in North Korea, but it's also clear, at this point, that the picture isn't yet clear of exactly what this summit means or even how we are to interpret the official statements coming from the two respective governments. Thus, we're going to wait until tomorrow for a comprehensive analysis of what has taken place over the last couple of days in Singapore in the interaction, the very historic interaction between these two world leaders, but, now, we need to turn to American culture, and we need to face some of the contradictions of our culture.
For a long time, America has been a jumble of contradictions. On the one hand, we say we believe certain truths, and, yet, on the other hand, our behavior betrays a very different pattern of belief and behavior. Some of the contradictions in American life are quite obvious and apparent. Others require a closer look, a look under the surface to ask what's really going on here. Just consider the recent announcement by the Miss America Pageant that it is going to be eliminating the swimsuit competition as the pageant looks to the future. This is an interesting headline, but as we're thinking of worldview analysis, it's actually more important than an initial response to the headline might indicate.
Emily Yahr, reporting for The Washington Post, tells us, "After months of controversy within the Miss America organization, executives announced last week that the nearly century old pageant will no longer judge contestants on their physical appearance."
Now, let's just pause for a moment and recognize that the headline and the opening sentence of the article don't exactly say the same thing. The headline said that the Miss America organization was eliminating the swimsuit competition. The first sentence in the story tells us that contestants will no longer be judged on their physical appearance. The difference between the two is actually huge. Physical appearance has a lot more to do with the pageant than the swimsuit competition.
A further look at the story becomes necessary. Yahr reports, "Effective this year, the show will scrap the famed swimsuit competition. Instead, the organization said in a press release, 'Each candidate will participate in a live interactive session with the judges where she will highlight her achievements and goals in life and how she will use her talents, passion, and ambition to reform the job of Miss America.' The changes, "come on the heels of a major shakeup of the Miss America board. Last December, chief executive, Sam Haskell, and board chairman, Lynn Weidner, stepped down after a story by the Huffington Post revealed disparaging emails sent by pageant leaders and staffers about former contestants using crude language."
Now, what The Washington Post doesn't say in that paragraph is that the crude statements had a great deal to do with the physical objectification of the women who were in the pageants, disparaging statements made about some of the contestants who were judged to be less attractive than others. It's interesting again that The Washington Post did not put that fact in that paragraph mentioning the crude and disparaging language.
The New York Times reported the story with reporter, Jessica Bennett, by telling us, "Fifty years ago, the swimsuit wearing beauties of the Miss America Pageant were confronted with the spectacle on the Atlantic City boardwalk 100 feminists throwing bras, girdles, curling irons, false eyelashes, and other 'instruments of female torture into a trash can labeled freedom.'"
Notice the interesting fact here that The New York Times went back 50 years ago, a half century ago, to feminist criticism of the very same issues back then. Going back to that 50-year mark, Bennet notes that, "Even then they were condemning what they saw as an antiquated institution, which had mostly male judges scrutinize women's bodies, women of color, at one point, not allowed to compete and three in four American households watching it all happen."
As you're thinking about American culture in recent decades, it's easy to see the Miss America Pageant as a part of what, at least at the level of popular culture, has been associated with mainstream America. This has always been a bit incongruous given the fact that the very event centers on the objectification of women's bodies, and it began in 1921 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as a publicity stunt trying to extend the summer season for just a few precious additional days, and it was successful, but it was successful far beyond the ambitions of those who planned the publicity stunt in Atlantic City. Instead of remaining simply a stunt, it became a part of mainstream American culture.
We also must note that just about every major media article on this headline has told us that the story comes in the context of the #MeToo movement and the fact that the Miss America organization was roundly and soundly and rightly embarrassed by the revelation of those emails, and it did lead to a shakeup of the organization with Gretchen Carlson, who had won the Miss America Pageant in 1989, taking over as both the major leader and the public face of the pageant. In one of her public statements explaining the change, Carlson said, "We are no longer a pageant. Miss America will represent a new generation of female leaders focused on scholarship, social impact, talent and empowerment. We are experiencing," she said, "a cultural revolution in our country with women finding the courage to stand up and have their voices heard on many issues. Miss America is proud to evolve as an organization and join this empowerment movement."
Also, but not so interesting to many in the media, is the fact that it's not only the swimsuit competition that is being eliminated, but it is also the formal-wear competition that is being redefined. Carlson said in her statement, "We're no longer judging women when they come out in their chosen attire, their evening-wear. Whatever they choose to do, it's going to be what comes out of their mouth that we're interested in when they talk about their social impact initiatives."
Now, why are we talking about this today on The Briefing? Well, that's because this beauty pageant movement in America, which has now we need to note, spread all the way from Miss America and other adult competitions all the way down to something of a cutthroat level of competition with American girls, some as young as preschoolers, but we're also looking at the fact that the pageant itself, then and now, demonstrate some really interesting contradictions.
For one thing, you look at the statements by Gretchen Carlson, and taking her at her word, it is not at all clear that the Miss America organization has any understanding what it's doing. It appears to be responding to the Me Too movement and to its embarrassment by saying, "We are going to be against the sexual and physical objectification of women and of girls. Therefore, no more swimsuit competition, no more required formal-wear competition. It's all going to be about talent and social justice initiatives," but at the very same time, the media has reported quite accurately that all the events in the entire beauty pageant system, leading up to Miss America, are, at least in this point, unchanged, which is to say even if, in Atlantic City, they say, "The physical objectification of women is over," it's not over at all at the local and state level and regional pageants that lead to the Miss America competition.
It's all not at all clear that Miss America means to be taken seriously as an organization when it says that physical beauty is going to be no longer even an issue in the competition. For one thing, it doesn't explain why anyone would want to watch the competition, given the fact that it is now defined in such intellectual and cultural terms.
It's also interesting looking at the statement by Gretchen Carlson that she seems to place importance on the fact that the Miss America experience is being redefined not as a pageant, but as a competition, but, here again, who's fooling whom, because the pageant has always been a competition, and the competition has always been a pageant, but in the bigger picture, as we unravel the contradictions, one of the central questions is, how do you have an event on the other side of this great moral and sexual revolution, especially on LGBTQ issues and especially on T for transgender, how do you actually have an event that is now called Miss America? Why would the event be limited to women? One interesting observer pointed out that if indeed this is supposed to be all about inclusion and achievement, it should include boys and men. If it's about cultural impact, if it's about intellectual attainment, if it's about the kind of presentation that might be made about how to improve the world, why would that be limited to women, however women are going to be defined at any given moment by our very confused culture?
Furthermore, Catherine Cueller, writing in yesterday's edition of the Dallas Morning News, points out that, "If you're looking at American society and if you're going to decide that the physical objectification of women is wrong and the Miss America contest is now going to have to get in line and stop the swimsuit and the formal-wear competition, what are you going to do, remember, I'm in Dallas, with the cheerleaders for the Dallas Cowboys?"
The reality is that in these morally confused times, our culture and the organizations that make up the culture are about a lot of virtue signaling and about a readjusting, time by time, day by day, year by year, with how exactly they're going to stay on the right side of history and on the right side of public opinion, but that public opinion is just as conflicted as anything else. We have a public who says, "The physical objectification of women is wrong. Therefore, the Miss America Pageant's going to have to change," but then they turn the dial to a sports channel and watch and celebrate the very same objectification, but then, before leaving this issue, we need to think at the deepest moral level as Christians as to what the Christian moral worldview would say about the entire picture, and, here, we need to be reminded that Christianity, long before the #MeToo movement and long before the rest of American society, at least knew in the very beginnings of the beauty pageant movement that there was a problem here, and long before there was this current in the contemporary culture, evangelicals in the United States were already making the moral declaration that this kind of event was wrong, that it was an enticement to sin and that, furthermore, it was an insult to women.
Evangelicals, with the rest of the society, may be a bit confused about this reality now, but it's helpful to remember that evangelicals, decades ago, were a lot more clear, so clear, in fact, that in 1926, the Southern Baptist Convention, just five years after the birth of the Miss America Pageant, passed a resolution stating the moral wrong that was represented by the very idea. The language adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention almost a century ago included this. "Whereas the purity and sanctity of the home depends upon a proper respect for and safeguarding of our girls and whereas 'beauty contests,'" that's put, by the way, in quotation marks, "and so-called 'bathing reviews,'" also put in quotation marks, "are evil and evil only and tend to lower true and genuine respect for womanhood, emphasizing and displaying only purely physical charm above spiritual and intellectual attainments, we, the Southern Baptist Convention, do deplore and condemn all such contests and reviews." Remember that language? It's from 1926.
Abortion and the fight for life: Has Northern Ireland redefined or recognized basic human rights?
But now we shift from the United States and Atlantic City, New Jersey, to the United Kingdom and Northern Island. You'll recall that just over the last few weeks, the nation of Ireland, known as the Republic of Ireland, changed its constitution by popular vote to legalize abortion.
Ireland had been really clear ever since 1983 on the morality of abortion, amending its constitution then, also by popular vote, to make clear the sanctity of human life, including the sanctity of unborn human life, but after years of enormous pressure, especially from European culture, but also from North America, and after decades of argument from feminists and other advocates of abortion rights, the people of Ireland voted just recently to remove amendment eight and to open the door for the full legalization of abortion on demand, especially in the early weeks of gestation, but then the scene almost immediately turned from Ireland to Northern Island, and you'll remember that Northern Island is a part of the United Kingdom. It is eventually under the legislative authority of the British Parliament, under the philosophy adopted within the United Kingdom of what is known as devolution. Certain rights and legal responsibilities have gone to the peoples of Wales and Scotland and Northern Island, but the issue right now is that Northern Island is one of the few outliers in Europe that recognizes the sanctity of unborn human life, and for that reason, it has now become the target of choice for those who are trying to pressure the legalization of abortion.
What's most important is a headline that came just in recent days. The New York Times headline is this. "UK Court Rejects Test of Northern Island's Abortion Law." Looking at the headline, you would think that the most important issue in this story is what didn't happen, but, actually, the most important dimension is what did. The team of reports for The New York Times tells us this. "Britain Supreme Court struck down an attempt to overturn Northern Island's restrictive laws on abortion over a legal technicality barely two weeks after Ireland voted in a landslide to do away with similar rules." The reporters went on to say, "But in an important caveat, Justice Brenda M. Hale, president of the court, that's the Supreme Court in Great Britain, said that a majority the justices 'are of the firm and clear opinion that the current law is incompatible with the European Commission on human rights to which Britain is a party.'"
The paper went on to say that the court's conclusions are not binding, but Justice Brian F. Kerr said that they, "Must be worthy of close consideration by those in whose power it lies to decide whether the law should be altered."
What's really going on here? We have noted the fact that when you take the issue of human rights and put them in our post-modern, post-Christian context, they become often something very different than human rights.
For example, we had pointed to the fact that a secular society has no objective truth on which to hang or establish claims of human rights. Especially since the end of World War II, we have seen repeated efforts by international authorities to try to ground human rights in the idea of human rights. The problem is, of course, that human rights and human dignity have to be grounded in something beyond just the language of human rights and human dignity or, very quickly, the dignity and the rights disappear, but we have seen also the redefinition of human rights and human dignity by international organizations and by statements, such as the European Convention on Human Rights, which is the authority cited by the British court in this case.
Here, you'll note that what the Supreme Court of Britain said concerning the challenge to the law in Northern Island is that on the basis of a technicality, the court would not strike down the Northern Island law, but they did send the signal that a majority of the justices on the UK Supreme Court believed that the law in Northern Island cannot stand scrutiny because Britain is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights.
Here's something that many Americans don't understand. That European Convention on Human Rights requires abortion as a fundamental human right. Here, you'll notice that this modern, secular, European definition of human rights means no right recognized for the unborn and the right of abortion recognized as a basic human right. Just consider what that means in moral terms. Later in the article, we are told the math. It was five out of seven of the justices on the UK Supreme Court who came to that conclusion and have now warned Northern Ireland of that conclusion.
Jason Douglas of The Wall Street Journal got the point exactly right when he began the article in that newspaper with these words. "Britain Supreme Court rejected a legal bid to overturn Northern Ireland's near total ban on abortions but set the stage for future challenges."
That's exactly what's going on here. The highest court in Great Britain has sent Northern Ireland the signal that its law restricting abortion cannot stand scrutiny when the standard of that scrutiny is going to be the European Convention on Human Rights.
Now, here's a huge issue for us to consider. When you're looking at many of these international courts and international organizations that supposedly are about the maintenance and the protection of human dignity and human rights, it often turns out that, in effect, they are anything but. It often turns out that they are incredibly inefficient and incompetent at preserving and protecting human rights, and it also turns out that they often are very corrupting, redefining human rights at the expense of the unborn and to make the argument that abortion is a basic human right.
You'll also notice that this represents what is often known as the cosmopolitan worldview. In Europe, that cosmopolitan worldview, since the end of World War II, has meant the development of a way of looking at the world in which individual identity and citizenship is redefined away from the nation state and towards the idea of a common brotherhood of humankind with the idea that, for instance, Europe is a sounder ground for human rights and human dignity than the individual nations thereof. It's then a diminishment of national sovereignty, but it has also meant that well-educated, intellectually-leaning, liberal Europeans see themselves primarily as citizens of Europe or citizens of the world rather than as citizens of their nation, and this re-definition of national sovereignty means that Europeans now think in terms of going to international tribunals, even to take their own nation to court, suing over issues as basic as abortion law.
This should serve as a warning shot, in effect, to Americans because that cosmopolitan worldview is very much a part of the intellectual furniture of America's intellectual elites, those who shape the culture. They also increasingly define themselves as citizens of a larger collective rather than the United States of America, and many of them, in order to further their own moral purposes, want to force the United States to come to terms with the kinds of statements made by the European Commissions, such as the European Convention on Human Rights.
We also have to face the fact that many, in the creation of the United Nations, saw the very establishment of that organization out of the ruins of World War II as the way for this kind of cosmopolitan worldview to gain political power, political power that can be used against, at least in its conception, any nation state.
The bottom line on this story is that Northern Ireland is the outlier still recognizing the sanctity of unborn human life, but Britain's highest court has told Northern Ireland that its law will not be able to withstand scrutiny because Britain is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, which means that the signal was sent by five out of the seven justices of the Supreme Court of the United Kingdom that Northern Ireland has an abortion law that will survive only for a matter of time, just until a successful challenge can be mounted.
How eating a chicken sandwich can send an unintended moral message and outrage the cultural warriors
Finally, as we're thinking about how cultural change takes place and as we're watching the ever-changing cultural chess board in the United States, just consider this headline that was offered in recent days by CBS. "Jack Dorsey, Twitter CEO, Blasted for Patronizing Chick-fil-A."
Well, it turns out that Jack Dorsey, who is indeed the CEO of Twitter, had posted on his very own platform the fact that he had recently patronized Chick-fil-A. His point wasn't even about Chick-fil-A. It was about the Cash app of which he is a co-founder, but as it turns out, the cultural warriors were upon him immediately. One of them was Soledad O'Brien, the former anchor for CNN. She Tweeted, "This is an interesting company to boost during Pride Month," citing his Tweet, and others, we are told, also chimed in, but almost immediately Jack Dorsey retreated, indicating his mea culpa, his apology also on Twitter. He said that he had completely forgotten about the company's background, and, of course, the company's background goes back to controversy over statements made by the chairman and leader of Chick-fil-A, Dan Cathy, in which he had simply affirmed marriage. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman.
This had led to an outcry by the LGBTQ community and by a host of celebrities from Hollywood and political leaders, you name it. The culture warriors for the LGBTQ movement decided that Chick-fil-A simply had to go. By the way, there's some really interesting aspects of this story. Listeners to The Briefing will remember a recent article in the mainstream media that actually referred to Chick-fil-A in Manhattan as an invasion, as if Chick-fil-A, representing anything that might have even a corporate connection through its CEO with Christian commitment, indicating that the presence of such a company in the secular environment of New York City must be tantamount to an invasion, but as we close, as we began, thinking about the cultural and moral contradictions of modern America, here's one of those contradictions. It turns out that modern, liberal, secular people in New York City, who are supposedly opposed to the sexual objectification of women are also opposed to any company that wouldn't fully join the LBBTQ revolution, but it turns out that even though that's what they say, by their buying habits, they indicate they really do like chicken sandwiches, and they do a lot of business with Chick-fil-A.
It turns out that for Jack Dorsey, representing that kind of progressive elite, it's okay evidently to go to Chick-fil-A, but if you put such a transaction on Twitter, you have just outed yourself as being out of step with the cultural moment and on the wrong side of history, but all this just reminds Christians that there are moral, theological, and worldview issues that pertain to every single artifact and dimension of our culture, whether it be a beauty pageant or abortion laws or even just a chicken sandwich.