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New York Times

The Writer Who Destroyed an Empire, by Michael Scammell

Friday, December 14, 2018

Friday, Dec. 14, 2018

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Transcript

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

It's Friday, December 14, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Boy Scouts face bankruptcy: What does this tell us about an institution that once represented the mainstream of American culture?

Earlier this week, we talked about the worldview dimensions of the news that the Girl Scouts are suing the Boy Scouts. That is to say that at the national level, the Girl Scouts of America is suing the organization historically known as the Boy Scouts of America. Now, when you look at a headline like that, we looked at the story from The Washington Post, the big question is what has the world come to if the Girl Scouts are suing the Boy Scouts?

Well, as it turns out, the world's coming to even more than a lawsuit because the big news behind the lawsuit is the fact that the Girl Scouts are accusing the Boy Scouts of seeking to recruit girls to Boy Scout units at the expense of the Girl Scouts. The Washington Post acknowledged the larger issues at stake by saying that this raises fundamental questions about what it means to be male and female. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that's the world in which we now live. But I talked about that on Monday of this week. I did not know what was coming just in the last 24 hours. In the last day or so, the news has come that the Boy Scouts are now considering filing for bankruptcy.

Now, when you think about an announcement like this, it's huge. Bankruptcy is not a small decision. There are different forms of legal bankruptcy, but it is never a good word. It's especially not a good word when you are talking about an institution that had once represented the very mainstream of American culture. It did so during a time when Americans knew what a scout was, when Americans knew what a Boy Scout was, even when Americans knew what a boy was.

But now we're living in a time of cultural revolution and confusion and for decades now, the Boy Scouts, along with other mainstream intuitions in society, have found themselves facing a sustained demand for revolution within their own self-definition, within their policies, within their membership. Of course, this is a part of the larger confusion of the sexual and moral revolution that is reshaping everything around us. But this bankruptcy also comes with another very sad pre-chapter and that has to do with the fact that the Boy Scouts are facing the financial cost of massive charges coming with lawsuits when it comes to child sexual abuse in the ranks of the Boy Scouts over decades.

Katy Stech Ferek reports for The Wall Street Journal, "The Boy Scouts of America is considering filing for bankruptcy protection as it faces dwindling membership and escalating legal costs related to lawsuits over how it handled allegations of sex abuse." It's a very sad story and it's not limited to the Boy Scouts, but it's hard to imagine a more symbolic organization when you consider the United States, our national character, and of course, the moral structure of the society we have known for so long.

But it's also really interesting to note that in that lead paragraph and also later in the article in the background explanation for the necessity of the consideration of bankruptcy is the fact that there has been a dwindling membership. Later Ferek writes, "Participation has fallen in recent years, though the group opened some of its programs to girls and transgender boys. The Boy Scouts currently have more than 2.3 million youth members." Now, let's just look at that sentence for a moment. From time to time in a news article like this, you have to wonder if the reporter or the editors of the paper actually recognize the importance of what they're saying here, what's being reported, what's in the article.

The language here is extremely interesting. I'll go back to the fact that Ferek says that participation by boys in the Boy Scouts of America has fallen in recent years, but listen to the words that followed. You heard them before, but hear them again, "Though the group opened some of its programs to girls and transgender boys." The most crucial and questionable word there is though. The insinuation of the language, as it's written here, is that the Boy Scouts of America should have had expanding participation rates because of the inclusion of girls and transgender boys.

There doesn't even seem to be the reflection in this article that the dwindling participation rates just might have something to do with the fact that the Boy Scouts have now added to the confusion, joined to the confusion, aided and abetted and multiplied the confusion that has been engendered in the society by the sexual revolution. The last paragraph in the Journal's article says, "The group, meaning the Boy Scouts, has drawn scrutiny over its slow pace to become more inclusive, including by lifting a ban in 2015 on gay men and lesbians serving in leadership roles." Once again, has anyone considered the grammar and syntax of that sentence?

We are told that the group has drawn scrutiny over its slow pace to become more inclusive with the inclusion of openly homosexual men and women serving in leadership roles. There doesn't even seem to be the acknowledgement that that might have been the very issue that led to the confusion of the Boy Scouts and to the fact that fewer parents and fewer boys aren't interested in joining the Boy Scouts under these circumstances. I would not normally come back to the same issue like this so quickly after having discussed the Boy Scouts and the larger cultural meaning on Monday, but that was before the announcement that came in the middle of the week about the expected filing of bankruptcy.

That's one of those explosive developments that simply demand some comment. It's a sad comment, but if anything, it just makes the Boy Scouts of America right now an even more graphic and revealing sign of the times.

Part

Cannabis, Inc.: When you’re looking at a moral revolution, the money isn’t far behind

But speaking of signs of the times, The New York Times business section on Wednesday featured a front page article entitled, “This is the Dawning of the Age of Pot Incorporated.” Very interestingly, the illustration provided with the article is presumably a man in a dark blue suit with a sharp red tie, but the emblem on the tie is a very large cannabis leaf.

David Gelles reporting for The Times tells us, "Proponents of legal marijuana spent decades fighting a slow battle for mainstream acceptance. Now, with recreational use legal in Canada and in many states in the United States, big business is suddenly swooping in." Now, sometimes when you look at an article like this, you have to consider a word like suddenly and realize there's really nothing sudden about this. Years ago, we were already given advance news that when marijuana became legalized and normalized, big business was ready to move in. There were already documented interest on the part of many major corporations in getting into the marijuana business just as soon as it was legal.

Now, of course, many of those plans, though well-known to people in the business, were not well-known to the public. So, in that sense, maybe it is sudden, suddenly understood, suddenly revealed. But The New York Times article tells us that now you're looking at really big American big companies, really big, getting into marijuana in a really big way or at least getting ready to. They're not actually at this point ready to get unreservedly into the big business of marijuana because you might remember at this point, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 forbidden illegal substance by federal law. But it is interesting that when you're looking at a moral revolution on an issue like marijuana, well, the money isn't far behind.

It's not far behind when it comes to the arguments for legalizing marijuana. State by state the arguments have been, "We can tax it and we need the tax money," but there are also big economic interest at stake when people say, "Look, this will bring jobs, and look, this will bring all kinds of business to our state, to our city." But there's another interesting development here and this tells us a great deal about the moral trajectory of the question of marijuana. Marijuana became most popular in the modern American age in the 1960s and '70s amongst baby boomers, especially when they were in college. Marijuana was then a symbol of the counterculture.

Smoking marijuana was an act of cultural rebellion of a sort. It was also a way of checking out of the culture rather than checking in. The forbiddenness of marijuana gave it a certain elan, a certain quality in the experience of those baby boomers. Many of them had also idealized the perfect marijuana culture as a culture of little tiny businesses growing little tiny organic marijuana plants, selling their customized blends, and doing so in a way that remains, even in the 21st century, groovy. It is really interesting now to have some of the proponents of legalized marijuana saying, "This isn't exactly what we had planned."

Just as an illustration of what The New York Times is talking about, Altria, the maker of marijuana and other cigarettes, last week paid $1.8 billion for almost half of the Cronos Group, which is a cannabis company in Toronto. You'll note Toronto here because this is a Canadian company and thus, an American company is making a Canadian investment because marijuana legal in Canada. But that $1.8 billion paid by Altria really pales in comparison to what happened in August when Constellation Brands, a company that owns Corona and other beers, paid $4 billion for a major stake in a company known as Canopy Growth, again, a major Canadian marijuana company, but they're not alone.

That same month, Molson Coors, another brewer, formed a joint venture says The Times with a cannabis company in Quebec. The Times summarizes it this way, "The arrival of large multinational corporations portends sweeping changes for an industry that until recently operated in the shadows. As billions of dollars pour into product development, marketing and manufacturing, these companies will be looking to create big brands with the market share to match." One estimate is that the global legal cannabis sales will grow to more than $31 billion in 2021. That's up from less than $8 billion last year.

Some American companies, however, are discovering that it is not yet fully acceptable to the public to get into the marijuana revolution, at least not yet. The Times tells us, "In September, Target.com began selling products that contained CBD, a non-psychoactive cannabis derivative. But within days, the company changed its mind and removed the products." Another major American brand, Coca-Cola, it's hard to imagine a more iconic American brand than that, is not yet into marijuana at all, but it's not because the company is opposed to it. It's because America is not ready for it yet. Not ready for Coca-Cola to get into the cannabis business anyway.

James Quincey, identified as the chief executive of Coca-Cola, told The Times that the company is not yet entering the market, "It needs to be legal, it needs to be safe and it needs to be consumable. It's not there yet." Well, you might consider that due warning that it will be there very soon. The way many of these issues work out in the culture, it's not an accident that The New York Times on the front page of the business section has trotted out that magic number of $31 billion. $31 billion is a massive industry. Big enough that politicians are going to say, "We need a part of that in our state." Politicians are going to say, "We need some of that tax revenue in our state."

Local communities are going to say, "We were opposed to marijuana before, but we can't let some other city have what we do not have." Places are going to say, "Look at the cannabis tourism. We can't miss out on that." Major American corporations are saying, "We're not getting into it yet. We're maybe spending billions of dollars in Canada, but in the United States, we're not ready to get into it yet, but the time just might be right very soon." When that kind of logic becomes this clear, very soon generally becomes very soon indeed.

Part

Unprecedented political bargains on both sides of the Atlantic as Theresa May and Nancy Pelosi hold onto leadership posts

Next, there was huge political news on both sides of the Atlantic this week. But in those two stories, there was a very strange parallelism that almost no one in the mainstream media seems to have noticed. Headlines in The New York Times, for instance, yesterday, included the fact that Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, retained her post after a leadership challenge. The headline is this, "May Retains Post, But E.U. Exit Plan Faces Bleak Path." There was another front page article on the very same edition of the paper about another woman, another major political leader, but this time in the United States. The headline was this: “Pelosi reaches a deal to stay in power four years.” There's another fascinating parallelism in these two articles.

It comes down to this. Both of these women, two of the most powerful women in politics in the world today, retained their positions only for a time. Both of them actually retained their positions of influence by pledging that they would not hold onto them for long. Stephen Castle reporting for the New York Times tells us, "Britain's prime minister, Theresa May, survived the gravest threat yet to her embattled leadership, winning a party confidence vote on Wednesday and averting a leadership battle that threatened to plunge the country into prolonged crisis. But the victory celebration, if any, is likely to be short-lived." Why?

Because Theresa May still has the enormous challenge of trying to guide the nation through the Brexit process and there is very little prospect that the measure she wants Parliament to accept is going to be acceptable. It's probably going to crash, but her leadership is going to last at least another year. Because in the British parliamentary system, when there is a leadership challenge within the prime minister's own party, it cannot be repeated if the prime minister survives for another year, but it's likely to be an extremely difficult year.

It is also really interesting for us to note that British prime ministers, especially conservative prime ministers, have often found absolute political and career shipwreck on the issue of the relationship between Britain and Europe. That's because in the postwar period, the British people, the British nation, the British government has not yet figured out what its relationship to Europe is supposed to be. Within the Tory Party, the Conservative Party in Great Britain, there is a divided mind. There are some, the more European traditionalist within the Tory Party, who see England, Britain as necessarily linked to a European identity.

Especially after the two cataclysmic wars of the 20th century, it is unthinkable to them that Britain would withdraw from that European identity. On the other hand, some of the most powerful forces in the Conservative Party there in Great Britain see England's entry into the European Union as a fatal abdication and surrender of national sovereignty, and they want out. They want out in a big way. They're tired of Brussels calling the shots for Britain. But before we leave the Conservative Party, we need to recognize that the Labour Party, that's the traditionally Socialist Party in Great Britain, is also of a divided mind on the question of the Brexit.

There are some who are arguing that, of course, Britain must stay in the European Union. But Jeremy Jeremy Corbyn, the radical liberal leader of the Labour Party, actually has held to a basic support of Brexit. Why? Because he and the other socialists on the left wing of the Labour Party actually believe that Britain's membership in the European Union is preventing it from moving in a more radically socialist direction. Britain's first female prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, found her political ruin on this question in 1990. Just a few years ago, Prime Minister John Major, her successor as leader of the Conservative Party, found his shipwreck on the same question.

But then in 2016, David Cameron, the first Conservative prime minister after 13 years of Labour government, he decided to try to put an end to the Brexit idea by putting it before the people as a referendum. But then the people did exactly what David Cameron didn't expect them to do and approved the idea of Brexit rather than defeating it, leading to his forced resignation and political defeat. Theresa May, Cameron's successor, has held onto the prime ministership, the premiership as it is known, only by agreeing that she will not lead the party, that she will resign before the next national election, which has to come by 2022.

Meanwhile in the United States, the first woman to serve as Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Congresswoman from California, appears to have sealed the deal against all odds and against a lot of adversity to once again become speaker, this in the aftermath of the Democratic wave that will bring a Democratic majority to the U.S. House beginning next year. In January, specifically on January the 3rd, there is now the expectation that Nancy Pelosi will be for the second time Speaker of the House of Representatives. That also means, by the way, by our constitution, second in line of succession to the presidency.

But as you're looking at that, you also come to understand that she only achieved this deal by assuring the Democratic majority in the new house that she will not hold onto the office for more than four years. She is currently 79. That means that she would be, if this holds, about 83 when she would be forced to resign, term limited in effect, by the agreement that is struck this week. But there are some huge issues hinging on all this.

For one thing, the leadership in the House of Representatives among the Democrats is old by political standards. Very old. You're looking at the late 70s for the youngest and you are looking at the fact that amongst those who were elected, especially in the freshman class of incoming Democratic congress members, they are restive, they are looking for revolution and they do not see an octogenarian Speaker of the House representing what they see as an older American liberalism as liberal enough, as progressive enough, as perhaps even angry enough.

Frankly, I can't think of any historical precedent for the fact that you would have the British Prime Minister and the incoming Speaker of the House of Representatives in the United States both effectively holding onto their jobs for dear life and doing so, both of them by pledging that they will not hold onto them for long. In both cases, this probably points to a massive generational transition taking place in every dimension of society, but in particular, right now in electoral politics. You can count on the fact that this is a harbinger of something bigger, something as big as this.

By the time you look at the American and the British political scene in just say a half decade, you're likely to be looking at an utter reshaping, an utter sifting and re-shifting of the entire political picture. Take a snapshot of that political leadership right now. That will not be the same snapshot as you will see five years from now. That's true in one sense over every period of history, but right now things are happening fast, and the things that are happening fast are important.

Part

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn at 100: A look at the man who did more than any human being to bring about the fall of the Soviet Union

But finally, as we come to the end of the week, I want to turn to the centennial of the birth of one of the most significant figures that has shaped the modern age. One of the most important moral voices of the 20th century. I'm talking about Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn who was born 100 years ago this week. He was born December the 11th, 1918. As you look at that date, you are reminded that 1918 represents the year that the first World War came to an end. It was also the year of the continued and intensifying Bolshevik Revolution in what would become the Soviet Union. It was one of those hinge years in history. As a young boy, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in Russia, later in the Soviet Union, he would become an avid advocate of Marxist ideology and of communism. As a young man, he would say later, he held to a young man's passions and also to a young man's understanding. He would serve in the Soviet Army during the second World War.

But almost immediately thereafter, he would find himself labeled an enemy of the state, and he would be thrown into that vast system of underground prisons known as the Gulag. He would eventually become the most famous inmate in those Gulags and it would be he eventually who would tell the story, and in telling the story, help to bring about the subversion and the end of the Soviet Union in all of its torture, all of its tyranny, all of its murder and repression. Michael Scammell, author of the most important single volume biography of Solzhenitsyn, said in an article published this week in The Wall Street Journal that Solzhenitsyn "did more than any other single human being to bring the Soviet State to its knees."

Now, actually I think it's hard to argue with that assessment and understanding of the fall of the Soviet Union would require acknowledging the leadership of figures at the time, such as the American President Ronald Reagan, the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, and the Polish Pope, Pope John Paul I. But we're also looking at the fact that the greatest witness to the horrors of the Soviet Union had to come not from without, but from within. It had to come from someone who would have towering moral authority. It would also have to come from someone who would have personal experience at the hands of the Soviet Union.

It would have to come from someone who had extraordinary literary skill, someone who knew the story, who lived the story and could live to tell the story. That became Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. Solzhenitsyn's nonfiction, but particularly his fiction, especially when it spread first to the watching world and later became distributed within the Soviet Union, it began to subvert the repression of the Soviet State by laying bare the moral horror at its very core. As a man, he came to understand in his own intellectual development that the horrors of the Soviet Union were deeply rooted in the regime's antagonistic radical atheism.

He came to understand that the only rescue could come from a transcendent God, from transcendent meaning, from a morality that was greater than and higher than law. After winning The Templeton Prize, in his address receiving the award, he said and I quote, "If I were called upon to identify briefly the principal trait of the entire twentieth century, here too, I would be unable to find anything more precise and pithy than to repeat once again: Men have forgotten God." He spent 11 years in the Gulags, but he became a world famous figure by his fiction during that time. He was eventually expelled to the West. At one point, he would come to live in the United States.

In 1975, he came and gave an address. It was June the 30th of 1975. In the address, he said this, "At the present time, it is widely accepted among lawyers that law is higher than morality. Law is something which is shaped and developed, whereas morality is something inchoate and amorphous. This is not the case. The opposite the true. Morality is higher than law." That was one of the most important moral declarations that he made. If law is higher than morality, then morality is simply whatever the law says. It has to be the opposite. Morality is higher than law. What the law says should be what is moral, moral according to a higher law, moral according to a higher authority.

You can understand why Solzhenitsyn came to understand atheism as inherently deadly. Christians know that all human beings are complex, but Russian history seems to produce some of the most complex characters of all. When I was a boy and as a teenager, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was one of my heroes. He remains so. He would go back to die in Russia, but the Russia now is not the Russia he had prayed for. But at the very least, Solzhenitsyn, who would win the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970, lived long enough to see the fall, the spectacular fall of the Soviet Union. He had at least the satisfaction of knowing that a good deal of the responsibility for that fall, it could be traced to his words because words matter so long, he would argue, as the words are true.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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