The Briefing

The Briefing

Thursday, Sept 20, 2018

Tags: Audio, Bert And Ernie, Gender Identity, Parenting, Sesame Street, Theyby

Transcript

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

It's Thursday, September 20, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

A transformation of what it means to be human: How the trend toward self-determined gender identity undermines the very foundations of society

Just how fast can a society transform its most fundamental understandings of what it means to be human? That's no longer a hypothetical question, it's the question we face looking at daily headlines.

Few more obvious in their importance than one that appeared yesterday at the Washington Post. The article is by Style reporter Monica Hesse, that perhaps tells us something, a Style reporter, but the headline in the article is this, "Was their child a boy or a girl? Naya's parents wanted to let Naya decide."

Now, let's remind ourselves this is the Style reporter for the Washington Post. This is being treated as a story of importance, but a story that's now more about something interesting in the culture than something of fundamental importance. That's alarming. The story itself is even more alarming.

As Hesse writes, "Naya is an almost three-year-old I recently met, who in the course of an afternoon, wondered the following things. Why does the blue marble look green when viewed through yellow plastic? How is cheese made? How do things fall down when you drop them, or do they sometimes fall up? Spending time," she says, "with an almost three-year-old is an excellent way to realize how hard it is to deconstruct concepts that adults take for granted. What does it mean to be a girl, for example? What does it mean to be a boy?"

Hesse continued, "When I first met Naya, I didn't know what gender Naya was, and neither did Naya's parents. They knew what was on Naya's birth certificate, of course, but as for what was in Naya's brain, they were waiting for Naya to tell them."

Now, we need to pause at this point and consider what this tells us about this moment in human history. We have reached the point in which it makes sense to at least some people, and it evidently appears to be of rather routine interest to the Washington Post, that you have a couple here who have a child, and it is explained to us that they do not know what gender the child is. They do know what sex is on the birth certificate, but they say they do not know what is yet in the child's brain.

Now, what's so important for that is understanding that in no previous epoch of human history was there any question that one's personal identity, including what we would now call gender identity, is integrally essentially tied to the very same question of biological sex. Hesse would have her readers just assume that now all people, all right thinking people, just automatically assume what we are now told, that there is a fundamental distinction between gender identity and biological sex.

Then we read this, "Naya's parents, Jeremy and Bryan, had thought about all of this, maybe more than most. Jeremy had worked with transgender and intersex people. Their stories about the traumas of childhood, being forced to live as boys, for example, when they felt like girls, began to haunt him once he became a parent, and so did the aisles of Target, an assault of segregated pink and blue.

He started to worry," we are told, "would Naya, at that point a newborn, feel pressured to conform to the stereotype of a birth certificate sex designation?" But then Hesse goes on to tell the story. "One night, this question became a hypothetical proposal. What if he and Bryan didn't tell Naya whether Naya was a boy or a girl? What if they just let their kid decide?"

"It make sense to Bryan," we are told. "his native language, Tagalog, doesn't include gender pronouns. The word 'siya' was the equivalent of 'that person over there.' No 'he' or 'she' specified. He liked the idea," we are told, "of Naya being able to tell him, 'Here's who I am,' instead of him dictating, 'Here's who you are.'"

The Washington Post article doesn't actually develop the story much from there, but there's sufficient narrative for us to understand the fundamental issues that are at stake. The revolutionary, indeed, shocking nature of what we're reading here. If we're not shocked, it's only because the ambient culture around us has been signaling in every way it can that this is the new normal. Indeed, this is the new true, this is the new reality for the better part of the last decade or so.

But in this narrative from the Washington Post, let's recognize we have two adults, both of them identified as male. We are told that they have a child, but that they have decided they do not want to tell the child what gender the child is, rather they are going to wait for the children, without any regard to biological sex, to tell the parents, as they're identified here, these two men, what gender the child is.

The story does go on to tell us that the child has declared that the child is a girl, but then we read this, "Jeremy says he would have been happy with any choice Naya made. There is no right answer, he believes, and they still don't talk about what's on the birth certificate. His goal was only ever to provide Naya with the breadth of experiences and the chance to think about who she really wanted to be. There could be more conversations in the future, but he and Bryan," we are told, "have spent years telling their kid that it was important to respect the way people saw themselves."

Now, let's understand what we're looking at. We are looking at the fact that what has been taken as revelation to human beings throughout all of human history as to our identity, the revelation revealed in our anatomy, that is now being dismissed as having any fundamental importance in telling us who we are, even to the extent of being rather meaningless in telling us who we are as either male or female, boy or girl, man or woman.

Now, to state the issue just as clearly as we must state it, that is not only nonsense, it is a deadly, toxic form of confusion that can only begin to undermine the very stability of the idea of personal identity, but we also need to note something else. What we have here is an even more fundamental rebellion. It's a rebellion against the idea that our identity is chosen for us, rather than chosen by us.

Here again, this is a fundamental shift in the way human beings think about themselves. It's also important to recognize that civilization itself really only works when we know who people are, who an individual is. Just consider a real life example. Let's say there is a situation in which there is someone who is in a context of a crime, perhaps a witness to a crime. He says that he saw the criminal act, and he tells the police, "You should be looking for a man of about this height, about this weight, wearing these kinds of clothes." That is something that we're now totally and generally familiar with.

But what if we now are to understand that it's wrong to say, "It was a man." After all, how does he know that that particular individual identifies as a man? Furthermore, we're being told that in this gender fluid age, it's not only a matter of deconstructing the binary of male and female, it's also a matter of deconstructing the idea that there is any givenness or permanence to the idea of a gender identity.

We also just have to note how unworkable this is. Let's just say that you have a playground of children, and you're going to talk to your child. That child would be otherwise known as a boy or a girl, about another child. Do you identify that child as just a child? Do you just point and say, "There's a child?" Do you distinguish between children just on the basis of let's say height, or weight, or the clothing that they're wearing, or does it make sense, as it has made sense throughout all of human history, to refer to children as boys and girls?

Now, here we need to note just a matter of what we might call anthropological economy, the economy of understanding human beings. At the very least, identifying human beings has required some kind of normal, even normative distinction between men and women. Now, that just cuts all of humanity roughly in half, so that now you can talk about half of humanity being women, and half of humanity being men.

So that means that you could talk about in any situation, if you're talking about a woman, well, you've eliminated half of humanity. If you're talking about a man, you've eliminated for consideration another half of humanity. That narrows down by at least half who you're talking about when you're trying to identify someone.

Also, looking back through history, let's just note it's also impossible to refer to any kind of historical epoch without talking about ... well, there it is again, male and female, man or woman. We talk about kings and queens. There's no other way to tell human history, and I'll go out on a limb here and say that when future historians have the opportunity, if they do have the opportunity, to record and reflect upon the history of our own times, they're still going to use those tried and true categories or male and female.

I'm going to go out even further on a limb in saying that regardless of the idea that gender is just a matter of self-identity, and social construction, my guess is that when history settles out, history's still going to have a pretty good idea of who was a man and a woman, which will still mean born male or born female.

As I so often try to point out, ontology trumps autonomy. What does that mean? It means that reality, real reality, what Francis Schaeffer called, "true truth." The Greek word there is ontology. Ontology trumps autonomy, the claim that we basically construct our own selves.

Proof positive of that is the simple fact that in some future epoch, if there is an investigation, say a DNA investigation, of persons living now, that DNA is going to reveal individuals regardless of what kind of surgery of any kind they may have had. It's going to reveal a chromosomal identity as male or female; the same male or female determined at fertilization, and revealed anatomically at birth.

By the way, it is a canard, that is a false and distracting argument, at this point to bring up the category of intersex, because even though there are persons born with ambiguous genitalia and anatomy, sometimes referred to as intersex, that is a very, very small number, a very tiny percentage of human beings, and that's clearly really not what we're talking about here as a phenomenon, because here we're talking about the fact that there is a baby with no ambiguous anatomy, it's an ambiguity in the minds of the parents, not in the body of the child.

Part

Redefining ‘they’: According to the revolutionaries, even the English language must bow the knee to the new sexual norms

This story in the Washington Post yesterday reminded me of an even bigger story that ran in New York Magazine, and it ran just a few months ago. It was entitled, "It's a Theyby! Is it possible," asked the headline, "to raise your child entirely without gender from birth? Some parents," we are told in the headline, "are trying."

Alex Morris is the author of this rather extended article, and let's remind ourselves that New York Magazine is the magazine that directs itself most classically to what we might consider to be the cultural and social elite within New York City, Manhattan in particular, and thus what we have in this article is a signal of what's considered to be the new normal, the new normative.

We're all supposed to be thinking this way. We're supposed to look at the content of this article and say, "Yes, those parents are exactly right. That's exactly what we should do with our own children. What were we thinking telling our children that they are boys or girls corresponding to their anatomy?"

Once again, we are taken into a narrative, in this case, of a man who was going to be the father of a child by means of his partner, identified as a woman, but he's very concerned about what's going to happen to this child as we think about gender identity. He says this speaking to the hospital staff, "At minimum, do not describe the anatomy or what you think the anatomy means when this baby's born. We definitely wanted to prevent them being gendered in any intense moment, and everybody was aware of that."

Now, wait just a minute. Throughout the recent history, and by that we mean centuries of the English language, "them" has been a plural pronoun, not a singular, but here "them," and later in the article, "they," refers to a single human individual, no longer "he" or "she," because we can't say "he" or "she," we are told. So we are left with "they," which I will simply point out, once again, begins to deconstruct the entire English language.

There is something very fundamental in knowing the difference between singular and plural, but all that is blurred because the agenda of this kind of gender transformation, well, it's considered to be so important that the language is simply going to have to be transformed, even if it is thus made all the more confusing and unclear.

But notice beyond the pronoun what this man said about his just about to be born child as he was speaking to hospital staff. Notice this says, "At minimum, do not describe the anatomy or what you think the anatomy means when this baby's born."

Well, just try that, I might offer. You can almost be sure that everyone in that room taking a look at that unborn child immediately thought what comes naturally to human beings, and not only naturally, but rightly. "That's a boy. That's a girl. Congratulations, you have a son. You have a daughter."

What we are told here is that this set of parents did not want the medical personnel to state the obvious, or to state the truth. Why? Because that would interfere with the way they wanted to raise their child.

As the story in New York Magazine continues to unfold, we find out that this couple, particularly the man in the couple, had come to know of couples raising children as theybies, that is "babies whose parents had decided not to reveal their sex, who used they/them pronouns for their children, and whose goal was to create an early childhood free of gendered ideas of how a child should dress, act, play, and be."

Let's just ponder what we're being told here. We are being told that their goal was to create an experience for their child free of "gendered ideas," of how a child should dress. Okay, act. We can understand that based upon this logic. Play, well, perhaps we can understand that in current controversies, but that last word is, "be." They really think they're going to be able to let the child determine who the child is to the extent of using the verb be?

In the article, we are told that when this man in this partnership, the father of this child, when he discovered these groups on the internet promoting the raising of children as theybies, as the article describes, he had found “a sort of utopia come to life."

Well, that's also more revealing than perhaps the author of the article, or the man in this narrative will understand. It is because one of the lessons of human history, one of the fundamental realities and assumptions of the Christian worldview is that there is no such reality as utopia. Furthermore, human history reveals that attempts to create utopia on earth almost always lead to an anti-humanism and utter disaster.

Morris, reporting later in the article, tells us, "For a small but growing cohort of parents, ones who see gender as a spectrum rather than a binary, the unisex movement of the '60s and the gender neutral parenting trends that have followed, have come up woefully short. For them, society's gender troubles cannot be solved by giving all children dolls and trucks to play with, or dressing them all in the color beige. The gender binary must not simply be smudged, but wholly eradicated from the moment that socialization begins, clearing the way for both the child's future gender exploration and for wholesale cultural change."

There's breathtaking honesty in that. "Wholesale cultural change." That means the transformation not only of this society, but ultimately of every single human society. It means nothing less than the fundamental redefinition of what it means to be human.

It means pressing on this agenda until words like "man" and "woman," "father" and "mother," "brother" and "sister," "boy" and "girl," are not only meaningless, but they are so fluid as to be virtually unusable. It is to redefine humanity away from the very ontology, that is the reality, of our creation as male and female, and to argue that instead we are the creatures of our own massive, singular social experiment conducted mostly within our own minds, and for our own sake, presented to the world as a project of our continual own making.

Even later in the article, we're told that these parents don't like the term, "gender neutral," because it's just not comprehensive enough. Instead, they prefer terms like, "gender open," "gender affirming," or "gender creative." Before leaving this article, I wanted to turn to something else Alex Morris wrote, this is very important.

He wrote, "There is," italics on the word is, "There is an element to proselytizing, if not an uber-progressive form of virtue signaling on the part of some parents. Choosing to raise a theyby cannot help," he writes, "but function as a statement to the outside world."

And one of the parents identified here we are told is okay with that, cited as saying, "I'm very tired of the heteronormative and cisnormative model. I'm very tired of the patriarchy. A part of why we are parenting this way is because intersex people exist, and transgender people exist, and queer people exist, and sex and gender occur on a spectrum, yet our culture loves to think people, all seven billion of them, can and should be reduced to either/or."

Another person cited in the article, however, said that given her worldview, gender opened parenting was less a decision than an obligation. "You have to give people the benefit of the doubt that they are trying to love their children in the way that they know best, and that really looks different for different families. This is how we know to love our child best."

To be sure there's candor in this article, recognizing that much of this is "an uber-progressive form of virtue signaling," but there's something more fundamental in the rebellion reflected here. Remember the parent who said that the parent is tired of "the heteronormative and cisnormative model, very tired of the patriarchy," and then we went through an entire catalog of what this individual wants to overthrow.

What this parent wants to overthrow is what's been fundamental. We also have to affirm still really is fundamental to understanding humanity, not just humanity in general, but every single human being. Another very interesting note in this article is the recognition that even without any level or possibility of human socialization, "Scientists have seen evidence of distinct and distinctively gendered toy preferences in young primates who tend to group themselves along male/female lines."

We're also told that in a 2017 study, it was found that children's preferences for gendered toys were not much changed in countries known to be more egalitarian. As Morris writes, "There is no way to entirely untangle nature from nurture."

So now we're being told that it's been acknowledged by scientists that there is a gender specific form of play, even gender distinct toys among primates. What do these parents do with that? Well, evidently, they just feel that the primates are as confused, and backward, and patriarchal as we are told that humanity is.

There's one rather politically incorrect, as if all of this isn't politically incorrect, observation to make about that Washington Post story at the very beginning. We're talking here about two men identified as a couple with a child. This is where Christians, if no one else, must recognize that when you look at LGBTQ, and remind ourselves, that letter list is going to continue, what you are looking at is a redefinition of humanity, a reordering of human morality, a redefinition of gender and sexuality that can't stop with just the letters you see. Furthermore, one letter is linked to another, which leads to another, and in the political moment, LGBTQ are perhaps mostly united by their common argument that each of them must be accepted on his or her own terms.

Part

What we can learn from the latest uproar over Bert and Ernie’s sexual orientation

But next we turn to yet another article in yesterday's edition of the Washington Post. It covers similar territory, but this might be even more unexpected. In this case, we're not talking about theybies, we're talking about Bert and Ernie. The headline in the article is this, "Why Bert and Ernie's sexuality matters to LGBTQ people."

Now, if you've been following this controversy over recent days, it all started on Sunday when the website Queerty released an interview with Sesame Street writer Mark Saltzman, and a part of the interview had to do with the characters Bert and Ernie. Nora Reed reporting for the Washington Post tells us that in the interview, Saltzman was asked if he had thought of Bert and Ernie as a gay couple.

The writer responded, "I always felt that without a huge agenda, when I was writing Bert and Ernie, they were. I didn't have any other way to contextualize them." Now, there have been suggestions over the last several decades that the characters Bert and Ernie living together as such close friends might represent something of a gay couple.

Well, that's been generally denied. We need to note it was specifically denied after Saltzman's statement by Frank Oz, the creator of the characters Bert and Ernie, and he made the denial on Twitter. He wrote, "It seems Mr. Mark Saltzman was asked if Bert and Ernie are gay. It's fine that he feels they are. They're not, of course, but why that question? Does it really matter? Why the need to define people as only gay? There's much more to a human being than just straightness or gayness."

That was posted at 2:31 p.m. on the 18th, but the response was vitriolic towards Mr. Oz, suggesting that it was Oz, not Saltzman, who is dangerously out of step with the modern zeitgeist. The subhead in the headline of the article explains the point of the article, which is to criticize Oz or anyone who would think that way. The statement is this, "It's affirming to see people who are like you in the fiction you read and watch, especially when you are young."

Well, note that really carefully, because it's an announcement, as if we needed the announcement, it's a rare concession, as if we needed yet one more concession, that the people who are directing entertainment at our children, at your children, have an agenda, and the agenda's becoming more and more clear.

It's an agenda that we are now reassured, was not a part of the original story of Bert and Ernie, but we're now told it's a part of the only way the writer could contextualize the story. The only vision that he had of the story was that Bert and Ernie is gay. That wasn't told to America's parents.

This article in the Washington Post ends by criticizing Frank Oz once again. I read, "It would obviously be a kindness to a lot of queer people to have Sesame Street or Frank Oz just come out and say that Bert and Ernie are queer, but that's not the only path they could have taken.

They could have simply said that they are honored that queer people have seen themselves in their characters, that they hope that in doing so, they've made a positive impact on their lives. Instead, they chose to invalidate the queer reading. Oz," we are told, "repeated the same interrogative excuses we've seen cisgender heterosexual people use about the irrelevance of representation that we've heard our whole lives.

The conclusion, it is precisely because of that attitude," we are told, "precisely because the world remains so inimical to visions of queer intimacy that so many of us have identified with characters like Bert and Ernie. We're not going to stop, but that doesn't mean," she writes, "the Frank Oz's of the world need to make things harder."

So notice has now been served to Frank Oz and to all of us, it does matter, we are told, and here is claim upon representation in fiction, but we're not just talking about Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, or Solzhenitsyn, and Faulkner, we're being told here about ... and let's remind ourselves, Sesame Street, Bert and Ernie.

Again, we see an entire moral order, the entire world turned upside down. The biblical order of creation and definition of humanity completely, utterly, directly rejected. If nothing else, this is a not-so-subtle reminder that everything has deep worldview significance, especially in a time of moral revolution. A story like this, let's be clear, is not just about Muppets, it's fundamentally about morality and moral order.

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 Jacksonville, Florida, and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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