Friday, Aug 31, 2018

Friday, Aug 31, 2018

The Briefing

August 31, 2018

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

It’s Friday, August 31, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The sexual revolutionaries have learned this truth: If you can change the language, you can change the entire society

Every dictator throughout history has understood a very basic lesson. If you can change the language, then you can change the entire society. That is exactly what’s going on with the LGBTQ revolution. And demands about a change in language are never merely about language. They point to a more fundamental and often more lasting shift in the culture and moral meaning. That was made very clear in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal by Abigail Shrier. The article’s entitled “The Transgender Language War.”

Now, before we even go beyond the headline, let’s just look at those words, The Transgender Language War. Now if you put those four words together, we’re talking about a language war. You might not think of putting those two words together, but of course, we do. We do when we’re talking about the battle over which word should be used. What word has which meaning. How are we to come up with a list of the words that are allowed and a list of the words that are culturally disallowed? That is a language war. And virtually every society at different ages has different wars over different units of language.

But the big issues right now we are facing are language wars over gender and sexuality. And the most important catalyst for those battles, well, it comes down to the T in LGBT, the transgender dimension. Abigail Shrier writes beginning, “If you want to control people’s thoughts, begin by commandeering their words. Taking this Orwellian lesson to heart,” she writes, “Virginia’s Fairfax County Public School System recently stripped the phrase biological gender from its Family Life curriculum, replacing it with, ‘sex assigned at birth.'”

Now, what difference would that make? Why is this a battle in the transgender language wars? Well, as Shrier explains, “Without permitting parents to opt out, public schools across the country are teaching children that gender is neither binary nor biological. It’s closer,” she writes, “to a mental state. A question of how girl-like or boy-like you feel. According to these educators,” Shrier tell us, “students will fall anywhere along a gender spectrum.”

Well, that’s exactly what we’ve been documenting week by week, month by month, and year by year on The Briefing. It is the fact that the rejection of the so-called gender binary affixed in objective reality as male and female means that not only is there supposed fluidity between male and female, but we are also told there are an infinite number of progressions between male and female. As she writes here, “It comes down to how boy-like or how girl-like a student in the schools might feel at any given time.”

Shrier makes the argument that this is now forcing adolescents in particular, middle school and high school students, to ask basic questions about determining their own gender identity. Whereas most boys and girls throughout all of human history have never had such a struggle. As I’ve often tried to point out, we are now abusing children by forcing them to deal with questions that the very essence of childhood should seek to avoid. And that comes down to the fact that identity is a central issue for every single human being. And this is where Christians understand as almost everyone everywhere throughout time has understood that our bodies are one of God’s ways of telling us who we are.

But Shrier, a graduate of the Yale Law School, goes on to tell us that there are specific coercive efforts being made my government and by educators. She writes, “Consider recent state and local actions punishing those who decline to use an individual’s pronouns of choice.” She continues, “California Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation last year threatening jail time for healthcare professionals who ‘willfully and repeatedly refuse to use a patient’s preferred pronouns.'” She continues that under guidelines issued in 2015 by New York City’s Commission on Human Rights, “Employers, landlords, and business owners who intentionally use the wrong pronoun with transgender workers and tenants face potential fines of as much as $250,000.”

Now, once again, let’s just pause. We are talking here not only about language wars as a part of the larger ideological warfare, we’re also talking about units, either government or educational units, other kinds of units with coercive power now claiming the ability to read human minds. How in the world, for example, is New York City’s Commission on Human Rights going to be able to read the reality as to whether a landlord or an employer intentionally did not use an individual’s preferred gender pronoun?

Shrier’s reference to the legislation signed by California Governor Jerry Brown goes back to that state’s now rather notorious legislation against what is called reparative therapy. But you will notice that the coercive power of this legislation includes the criminalization of language or of actions, but particularly of language here that are considered to be out of bounds by the new moral revolutionaries. But we also have to step back for a moment and understand just how impossible compliance with this kind of legislation will turn out to be.

For example, put in the context of a modern school, a classroom, an educational setting. Or an employment setting. How in the world is any employer or educator, no matter how up-to-date an affirmation of this moral revolution, how in the world is that educator to keep up with what can be a virtually daily change in any individual’s preferred gender pronoun? This is insanity. But it’s the kind of insanity that is now being drilled deeply within our culture. And it’s the kind of insanity that is showing up in these language regulations that Shrier rightly calls The Transgender Language War.

Shrier is absolutely right when she points out to the readers of The Wall Street Journal that an entire worldview can be packed into a single word. The single word that she provides as evidence or as an example is the word fetus. And you will immediately recognize just how right that is. And entire worldview packed within a word. The choice as to whether to call the unborn child a baby or a fetus reveals an entire worldview. The shift in the culture trying to talk about a fetus rather than a baby indicates a radical shift in the worldview. An entire worldview, indeed, packed within a single word. In the transgender revolution we have similar worldview shifts packed into a now coerced shifting vocabulary and language form.

Shrier’s not finished at that point in her essay in The Wall Street Journal yesterday. She goes on to say that this kind of language coercion is also a denial of religious liberty because religious liberty, if it means anything, means the ability to use the language consistent with your deepest religious beliefs. And to that also means the right to refuse to use the language that others would coerce one to use that would be consistent with the moral revolution with which one is in profound disagreement.

As Shrier argues, “When the state compels such denial among religious people it clobbers the Constitution’s guarantee of free exercise of religion, lending government power to a contemporary variant on forced conversion.” As I often point out, the article is important not only for the arguments very powerfully made in this particular essay, but also for the fact that this essay appeared in the pages of The Wall Street Journal, including the print edition. When you have a newspaper like The Wall Street Journal running an argument like this, you can count on the fact that the coercion that is identified in this article is already taking place. That’s why the editors found the argument compelling and the publication of this article timely.

Part II

As sex education begins at age 4 in the Netherlands, an entire transformation of moral reality is underway

But next, we turn from the United States to the Netherlands. And we’re going to look at another aspect of how these issues are treated in the mainstream media. The medium in this case is The Atlantic. Now, The Atlantic has become a major forum for America’s intellectual conversation, As a magazine, it goes far back in American history in influence. But more recently, The Atlantic has been one of the few old flagship periodicals to make it big time in the internet world online. And, of course, in order to survive and thrive online, it has to continually offer articles that readers are going to choose. It requires clicks. And those clicks often come down to how compelling or interesting a headline might be.

So how about this one that ran this week at The Atlantic? “How The Dutch Do Sex Education.” The subhead: “In The Netherlands, One of the World’s Most Gender-Equal Countries, Kids Learn About Sex and Bodies Starting at Age Four.” Now, I promised a new dimension of how to understand how the mainstream media deal with these questions. Well, who’s the author of this article? She is Bonnie J. Rough, identified as a writer based in Seattle, Washington, and the author of the new book, Beyond Birds and Bees: Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality.

What’s the big issue here? Well, the issue is that this is basically an article which serves as an advertisement for a new book. Now, that’s fair, but it’s also important for us to recognize. Authors need attention to their books. That’s as old as the world of publishing. And news media need continual new material and content. So this is a symbiosis of sorts. But what we need to note is that this is an article that appears at The Atlantic the purpose of which is at least in part not only to gain clicks for The Atlantic but book sales for this author. That means the article has to be interesting. It has to make the readers of the article in The Atlantic so interested that they just might, in some numbers, go on to by the book.

So what does Bonnie J. Rough in this new book tell us about the Dutch and sex education? Well, what it tells us is that in the Netherlands, sex education is a very different reality than most Americans might ever imagine. Much of the article is actually unreadable on The Briefing because it is so sexually explicit. That’s really the point and that might be the hope that The Atlantic and this author have that those who read this article will want to go on and read the book.

It’s at least safe to say that the greater part of the content in this article is about just how open-minded and morally progressive and liberal the Dutch are. Not only Dutch educators, but also the Dutch parents who celebrate this kind of sex education for their children and understand sex education not only as a matter of biology and physiology and human reproduction, not only a process whereby children come to understand the development of human bodies, the process of puberty and all the rest, but rather understand sex education as an opportunity to bring an ideological change in the entire culture and in their children.

And even as this article is very clear intentionally to point out means that the larger society, the teachers and the educators and Dutch parents by and large, have now reached the point where they are basically encouraging children and teenagers into sexual exploration, and especially teenagers into sexual behaviors. But the importance of this article is not just the contrast between the very different understandings of sex education that I think most American parents would have as contrasted with what’s documented here as the approach of the majority of parents and educators in the Netherlands. The bigger issues are more deeply embedded in the article.

One of them comes down to the fact that when you are looking at this article and when you’re looking at the concept of sex education in the Netherlands, we need to note just how much is loaded into the concept. Because again, we’re not just talking about what might have been considered in any previous age as sex education, we’re talking about an entire transformation of moral worldview.

So when you’re thinking about not only the article but the book behind it, remember the subtitle, “Bringing Home a New Message to Our Kids About Sex, Love, and Equality.” Now, I think it’s fair to say that if you were to go up to virtually any sex educator in the United States, no matter how liberal in say the 1960’s or 70’s, the word equality would not have been one of those words that would have made much sense. Especially in a trio of the top three words used to describe what sex education should be. But the word equality here, we need to note, is actually carrying the freight for the entire moral revolution. Equality here means the normalization of … Well, what? Well, the normalization of virtually anything. Any kind of sexual relationship, any kind of sexual identity, any kind of anything that comes under the rubric of sex, sexuality, gender, or personal identity.

The article celebrates the fact that we are told that Dutch parents are “almost unbelievably open” with their children. And I’ll just go ahead and affirm and say if this article is correct and then those parents are unbelievably open with their children. But there’s another big issues here and it comes up in this paragraph: “Since 2012, the Dutch Education Minister has mandated that all students beginning in primary school receive some form of sexuality education that includes lessons on health, tolerance, and assertiveness.”

Now, again, let’s just pause for a moment. The last part of that sentence is very interesting, where we are told that all students beginning in primary school are to receive state-organized education, sex education, that would include health, tolerance, and assertiveness. Now again, let’s just consider there are only three words in that series. Health, tolerance, and assertiveness. Go back just a generation in sex education, even amongst liberals, and try to find the word assertiveness as making any kind of sense. If it did make sense, it would probably have a negative connotation.

But in this context, we are now told that it has a positive connotation. If you’re looking for evidence of the moral revolution, it’s hard to find any evidence more compelling than this. But actually, in that sentence, the most important part is not the series at the end, it is the subject of the sentence with which it begins. We are told that since 2012, the Dutch Education Minister has mandated this form of sex education. Now wait just a minute. Then how else would the American sex education system and America’s public schools be different than what we find in the Netherlands?

Well, one important issue is that there is no American education minister. No federal or national education secretary that has the authority to mandate what would be taught in all schools across the nation. There is a U.S. Secretary of Education, but that cabinet position holds nothing like this kind of responsibility. But in the Netherlands, you’re talking about a national system of education in which a national government through a bureaucratic agent can decide to mandate this kind of moral coercion.

Nothing like that is now possible in the United States of America. But this is how, as we shall see in just a moment, those who are trying to make the United States more like the Netherlands are hoping for exactly the same kind of coercion. And what does that mean? That means reducing local influence over education and making education more under the control of a national government.

Later in this article we also read, “While health matters such as birth control and abortion access are considered private rather than public concerns in the Netherlands and other more gender-equal countries, in the U.S. partisan politics can whiplash policies and programs geared towards sexual health.” Now, I’m just going to say that is one of the most dangerously misleading sentences I have read in a very long time.

First of all, notice again the language. Notice how abortion and birth control are now changed into mere health matters. And you say, “Well, that’s interesting in the Netherlands.” But that’s exactly what’s happening in the United States. That is increasingly the discourse on the question of abortion that you find in the Democratic Party, including in the 2016 Democratic National Party platform. It’s increasingly the language you hear from pro-abortion organizations such as Planned Parenthood.

But in that single sentence, there was something else. Where we are told that in the Netherlands, even an issue like abortion is considered a private rather than public concern, as contrasted in the United States where we are told that partisan politics makes it a pubic rather than merely a private concern. But let’s just be clear, that in the Netherlands as well as in other supposedly progressive European nations, the laws on abortion are often more restrictive than laws in the United States of America. And so when you’re looking at a sentence like this you have to understand that it’s misleading. It is tremendously misleading.

We also simply have to note that in this kind of article, we see something like abortion included within the qualification of what it means for countries to be more gender-equal. And again, you say that’s the Netherlands or that’s an international kind of gradation. But we simply have to understand that that same argument was the argument made by the pro-abortion lawyers in the Roe v. Wade case back in 1973.

Now, for another problematic part of the article, I read, “Americans overwhelmingly favor medically-accurate sex ed in schools and calls to action in the MeToo era have parents and teachers wondering how to bring new more egalitarian ideas about sex and gender to the next generation. The answer,” writes Rough, “may rest in emulating those who normalize human sexuality by getting the facts of life out in the open early and often, at home, in school, or even at the science museum.”

Wow. Consider all that’s contained there. We are told that the overwhelming majority of Americans will favor accurate sex ed in schools. Well, just consider that polling question. How in the world are Americans supposed to answer a question as to whether they are asked if sex education should be medically accurate? Where’s the constituency for medically inaccurate sex education? But the problem here is not medical. The problem here is the qualification of what is intended and limited as accurate.

But shockingly enough, the article goes on to say that maybe the answer would be “more egalitarian ideas about sex and gender taught to the next generation.” Well, there’s that entire moral revolution. The answer may rest, you’ll remember she said, “In emulating those who normalize human sexuality.” Well, wait just a minute, Normalize what human sexuality? Here’s what’s really, really interesting. No worldview present on Earth, no political regime anywhere on Earth, not even the most wild-eyed moral relativists that are popular in the United States or influential in the academy actually would be so bold as to normalize all human sexuality. That’s not even an honest statement.

By the way, very consistent polling does indicate that the majority of Americans, including the majority of American parents, want sex education in the schools. But the sex education they want is nothing like the sex education described in this article. It’s one thing to talk about sex education as human reproduction, anatomy, and physiology, but it’s another thing to recognize that sex education can never actually be merely about anatomy and physiology. It has to deal with moral questions. And virtually every honest person knows that. At least this article has the honesty of making very clear the kind of moral content that this side of the equation would demand on the other side of the sexual revolution.

Part III

Why sex education must deal with moral questions and can never merely be about anatomy and physiology

But as we’re thinking back in the United States about the distinction that we would see between the Dutch and the American approaches to sexual education … And again, we’re talking about a Dutch approach because there is one government minister who can mandate it … In the United States you’d really have to talk about many different approaches. It would be different in Alabama than in Oregon. It would be different in Texas. Perhaps even different places in Texas than it would be as compared to Manhattan or Massachusetts. That’s local control and influence over public education. That, by the way we should note, is something that is increasingly endangered in America’s current political climate.

But we go to the State of Indiana now, where WTHR in Indianapolis reports on the fact that Indiana just this year has adopted legislation, “To draw the line on sex education, making parents decide.” The most important aspect of this article is that it indicates that according to this new legislation in Indiana, parents must positively affirm that they want their children to be involved in specific sex education curricula and experiences. So in this case, we’re talking about not only recognizing a local authority and responsibility for sex education, but we’re talking about a parental right and responsibility when it comes to the sex education of their children.

Going back to the issue raised by the article on the Dutch sex education, in this article, Angela Potter, identified as a graduate researcher at Indiana University, Purdue University Indianapolis, said that, “Sex education in the United States is predominantly local. In other countries there is a national mandated curriculum.” Now, in this context, this particular researcher appears to be arguing that it’s a bad thing that in the United States there is not such a nationally-mandated curriculum.

Another authority, rather on the more liberal side, cited in this article as Ginger Hixson-Kahl in Edinburgh, Indiana. She has been, we are told, for the last 37 years. She said, “I really think a bill like this is really going to hamper the schools from even thinking about offering the openness. And it needs to be because the school is supposed to be separate from the church. I mean,” she said, “it’s separation of church and state and the school is the state and religious schools are not controlled by these laws.”

Now, that’s a rather tangled set of sentences, but the bottom line seems to be the argument that if you have specific moral ideas about sex education, and by no doubt, the vast majority of American parents do, then the only rationale behind that must be religious and enforcing or even recognizing those parental convictions would thus be a separation of church and state.

Another interesting statement from this particular sex educator affirms that there just might be a rationale for parental permission for younger children, but not for older children, specifically in high school. She said, “I think in the younger ages, possibly, I don’t think it’s necessary in high school. I think parents are a little blind,” she said, “To the fact of what their children already know. And personally, if I had ever been a parent, I would rather they learn it officially than in the streets.”

Now again, looking at that statement as sympathetically as possible, we are told that parents are a little blind to what their children already know. If they already know it, they don’t need sex education. If they already know it, then they don’t need it being taught to them. But, of course, we understand there’s a larger context here that no doubt this sex educator is point to, and that’s exactly why parents would be concerned.

But then you’ll notice those words “personally if I’d ever been a parent I would rather they,” meaning children “learn it” meaning sex education “officially rather than in the streets.” The problem for many parents is precisely that. Officially. Many parents are rightly very officially concerned that their children would be taught an official sex education that is officially in contradiction to their own moral convictions.

Part IV

If there are more computers than books in your college library, there just might be a problem

But finally, we turn to yet another article that appeared this week in The Wall Street Journal. This one’s by Danny Heitman. It’s entitled, Don’t Close the Books on Books. Subtitled, At a College Library, I Saw More Computers Than Volumes. Now, Heitman in this article is making an argument I make over and over and over again. And I make it especially to those who are prospective students, college or seminary students, or the parents or influencers of those who will be students. When you visit a campus, go to the library. If there are more computers than books, there just might be a problem. Go to the bookstore. If you can’t find a book or you have to go exploring in order to find a book in the bookstore, you just might have a problem.

If there isn’t a bookstore in some sense, there is some kind of problem. Now, the larger problem is in the eclipse of the book culture, not directly the responsibility of any college or university. But when it comes to an academic institution, I continue to believe that books, real codex form printed books, continue to be very important. Because the experience of reading is qualitatively different when you’re talking about reading from a book or reading from some other mechanism.

Furthermore, over time readers develop relationships with a book. We develop a certain relationship with the physicality of a book. We can make a mark in a book. We can go back years later to the same edition of the book. We can pick up that copy of the book and we can remember the self we were when we read that book and compare it to the parts of the book that we might mark or be particularly significant to us now.

The physicality of a book also explains why when we turn to a book and we read something on a page, we can sometimes years later go back to that specific page. Maybe with a note or without a note, simply because the physicality of a book has a way of imprinting a certain knowledge on us that is not available in the wild, wild world of the digital revolution. Now, of course, I’m thankful for the fact that there has been a digital revolution and there’s so much information available at our fingertips. But this is a reminder that books really are important.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

As many listeners to The Briefing know, we’re living in an increasingly secularized society moving at a pace unprecedented in human history. In the midst of this, Southern Seminary stands firm in our commitment to train the next generation for faithful Gospel service. If you or someone you know is considering a call to ministry, I want to personally invite you to attend Southern Seminary Preview Day coming up on October the 12th.

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Monday is Labor Day in the United States of America. So I’ll meet you again on Tuesday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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