briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

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

It’s Tuesday, August 27, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Less Patriotism, Less God, Fewer Babies: New Poll Reveals that Americans Value Patriotism, Religion, and Having Children Less Than Previous Generations

It was only in the 20th century that the industry of polling and surveying really took hold and it became a central part, not only of America’s public conversation but of our political process as well. Just about every day, there is a rash of competing polls telling us who is and who isn’t ahead in this race or in that race and what Americans prefer on any number of issues.

Sometimes, these surveys and research studies turn out to be interesting. Sometimes their findings are sustained over time. Many of them are actually barely disguised marketing ploys or for that matter, just attempts at clickbait trying to get the public attention. But just yesterday, The Wall Street Journal released a major study and its findings that should have major attention.

It deserves such. The headline in The Wall Street Journal, if anything, undersells the importance of the poll. The articles by Chad Day. The headline: “Old and young diverged on values.” Now, if you’re looking at that headline, it would appear to point to a generational divide in the United States and of course it does. This article makes very clear the reality of that generational divide. It also points to a partisan divide, and then it points to some very interesting generational patterns when thinking about partisan politics and the future of the United States.

But the big issue here is the last word in that headline, “values.” Now, if you go back again to the 20th century, if you talk to someone, say, before the second World War and used the term values, they’re likely to think of math. What else would it really refer to? But after the second World War, the word “values” became a false substitute for what would previously be described as morals or truth claims.

The term “values” is actually a sign of the rampant individualism that began to mark America’s culture, especially in the last half of the 20th century, and that also points to a basically relativistic understanding of truth that came at the same time. Morals, the old language would imply, are stable. Values may change. They’re relative individual to individual. We express ourselves and who we think we are and what we think we believe in our values.

So on the one hand, the very use of the term “values” points to a major fundamental shift in our society, a shift away from objective truth and morality, and towards individual autonomy and a relativistic understanding of truth and of morality. But the headline just tells us that values are the substantial interest of the polls. The headline tells us that the distinction is between the young and the old. And again, there is a huge distinction and a generational divide made very clear in this study. Day reports, “The values that Americans say define the national character are changing as younger generations rate patriotism, religion, and having children as less important to them than did young people two decades ago. This according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey.”

Now, let’s just think about that for a moment. Just ponder that opening. We are told that a generational divide is now very clear in the United States over basic issues of our national character. How basic? Well, they deal with patriotism, religion, and having children. Those are not three isolated, unimportant, superficial issues. We are talking about some of the deepest issues that even make a nation possible. Patriotism, religion, and having children. Religion — now we’re being told that America in this fundamental divide, having been socially transformed, now has people in different generations who have very different understandings of the value or the truthfulness of religion in the society. But having children? By the time you get to the end of this three part list — that is patriotism, religion, and having children — you’re actually talking about not what will the coming generation believe, but actually will there be a coming generation?

Again, to put the matter bluntly, these are not equivalent parallel issues. But upon reflection, they are certainly tied together. Day goes on to say, “The poll was the latest sign of difficulties the 2020 presidential candidates will likely face in crafting a unifying message for a country divided over personal principles and views of an increasingly diverse society.” Journalistically, that’s a fairly useless paragraph except for one thing. It signals towards the reality of our political moment. Right now, if you report on almost anything, the immediate question is, “What’s going to be the impact of this headline on the 2020 presidential election in the United States?”

That’s how absolutely obsessed our society becomes for understandable reasons when we come to a presidential election cycle. But the reality is that this poll deals with issues that are far more fundamental than politics. They will have a political effect, but the issues are far more basic, and for that matter of far deeper concern.

Day goes on to report, “When The Journal/NBC News survey ask Americans 21 years ago to say which values were most important to them, strong majorities picked the principles of hard work, patriotism, commitment to religion, and the goal of having children.” Again, look at the terminology here: “strong majorities.” What’s also interesting is that the people who were surveyed by The Journal and NBC News 21 years ago were young then, analogous to the younger Americans reported as being young now in the purposes of this polling.

But Day then reports, “Today, hard work remains atop of the list, but the shares of Americans listing the other three values have fallen substantially driven by changing priorities of people under age 50.” Some 61% in the new survey cited patriotism as very important to them, down 9% points from 1998, while 50% cited religion, down 12 points. Some 43% placed a high value on having children, down 16 points from 1998.

Let’s work backwards for just a moment. We are told here that the number of younger Americans who indicated that they’re going to place a high value on having children is down 16 points in just that short period of time. But that also means that the numbers shift from being more than a majority to less than a majority. Now, only a minority of younger Americans say that having children is one of their top priorities or their personal values.

So, before we read one more word in this Wall Street Journal article, we are already told that the coming future of America is going to be less patriotic, it is going to be less religious, and it is also going to be less populated. Fewer Americans plan to be parents, and those who are, are often planning to have fewer children than their own parents. How do we explain this? Well, let’s work backwards again. Let’s start with the having less children, having fewer children.

What does that mean to us? It’s hard to imagine a fundamental human question that equals this in priority. We’re talking about whether or not there will be a coming generation. Here’s where we have to note that there is something very, very deep and threatening in American society right now, so large that The Wall Street Journal is able to measure it in this kind of poll. There is a deep antipathy towards children, towards having children and towards taking the responsibility of having children when it comes to many Americans.

To state the matter just as clearly as we can, that is not only toxic for a culture, it basically comes down to a form of societal suicide. This is what Malcolm Muggeridge, the British thinker of the 20th century, called the great liberal death wish. Eventually, you do not have children. But on The Briefing previously, I’ve discussed research by people like Mary Eberstadt pointing to the reality that actually there is a tie between having children, you might say also planning to have children, experiencing what it means to be a parent, and the other issues that show up here including religion and patriotism.

Here’s a non-shocking pattern: Parents tend to be more patriotic than non-parents. They also tend to be more religious markedly so than non-parents. When you’re looking at a society that is increasingly made up of unmarried people without children, you’re looking at, by definition, a more secular and a less rooted and a more socially liberal society than one that is marked by adults getting married and having children, because being married and being a parent are deeply conserving experiences.

We pointed to the fact that just a few years ago, it turned out that in the state of Virginia, in the gubernatorial election, the most key distinction was not racial. It wasn’t party. It didn’t come down even to age. Instead, it came down to whether or not voters were married, specifically whether or not women who voted were married. The vast majority of votes that came from married women, and especially married women with children went to the Republican. But the vast majority of votes that were indicated by unmarried women and women who were not parents went to the Democrat.

The insight there is not even so much partisan as it is a testimony to the way God created the entire cosmos and how he created human beings and human society. It turns out that doing what God had intended in human society in itself, in effect, makes us more likely to believe in God, more likely to trust in God, and more likely to have children and to experience what it means to take that responsibility.

Parents are far more conservative than non-parents. It’s because they can’t afford to be otherwise. They have to raise their children in an understanding of nurture and truth and discipline and teaching. They have to take responsibility whether or not they go to work has a great deal more significance than whether or not an unmarried non-parent goes to work.

It’s also interesting to note that at the same time, it has a big theological distinction. It turns out that parents tend to be far more religious than non-parents, especially when it comes to patterns of churchgoing. It also turns out that tied to that is the issue of patriotism. And it’s because again, parents have to be deeply invested in the stability and the health and the conditions of the society moving forward, and that certainly includes the nation, even the nation state.

Parents must have a much longer horizon of meaning and concern than non-parents. Therefore, it’s easy to understand how these things tie together. Parents are far more likely to be patriotic and are also far more likely to be involved in church than non-parents. These issues are not unrelated. They turn out to be integrally related, and this study taken as a whole should set off alarms all over this country.

What does it tell us? Well, it’s telling us that the social elites are winning. It’s telling us that those who had been in the driver’s seat of this society, who have basically been seeking to subvert patriotism and seeking to subvert religion and seeking even to subvert parenting, they’re winning in this society. They’re winning on the college campuses. They are winning in the academic conversation. They are winning in the production of culture. They are in control of Hollywood. They had been sending their moral messaging, which of course has political ramifications, but they’ve been sending, at an even deeper level, their moral messaging and they are winning.

As you think to the future, just recognize what this new reality is telling us. It’s telling us because fewer Americans are going to be parents and fewer Americans are going to take on that responsibility, that you can count on an America that is even less religious, just to use the term used in this poll, and less patriotic when it comes to those issues.

Just consider what the cultural elites have been saying about the United States, especially from the period of the 1960s onward. And so many of the radicals of the 1960s are now the near-retiring tenured professors in America’s colleges and universities. They have been saying that United States is so deeply flawed as a society that there would be no reasonable response called patriotic when thinking about what it means to be an American. This is an inversion of the entire American story.

But it’s something that goes hand in hand with an approach that is also deeply subversive of all authority. And most importantly, if you’re going to subvert authority, you’ve got to subvert the ultimate authority, which is why the secular elites are first of all secular, and why they want to see America increasingly secular. And this should tell us once again that an increasingly secular America is also going to be decreasingly patriotic and decreasingly populated.

In looking at this particular study, I was led to ask this question: How many American parents and older Americans are aware of this pattern, and is it shocking? Are older Americans going to be shocked by the reality of how decreasingly patriotic, decreasingly religious, and decreasingly parent-oriented younger Americans are? Or are they going to be unsurprised? Which leads to another question: Are the younger Americans who are reflecting this transformation of morality and of social expectation, are they growing up in someone else’s houses or are they growing up in our houses?

The general explanation for this pattern has to be that much of the culture, and when it comes to cultural production, almost all of the culture, is in the hands of people who hold America as an idea and as an ideal in antipathy, and especially when it comes to the history of the nation, especially when it comes to the founding of the nation, especially when it comes even to the future of the nation.

In another dimension of this story, we’re going to have to be prepared to press back on the economic determinists who are going to come along and say, the reason that this generation is less committed to parenting than previous generations is because of economic stress, the recession of 2008, 2009.

That simply doesn’t hold up. People who are living right now in what might be defined as subsistence economies, are having children, often having a lot of children. If you go back in American history, if you look at a time of even far greater, fundamentally far greater economic loss in the Great Depression, Americans still had babies. There was a dip in the birth rate during that period, but nothing like what we’re seeing now, and especially on the horizon. What we have right now is the fact that Americans are basically, by the millions, giving up on the fact that to be human is to be a parent, eventually to take on that responsibility to get married and have children, to take on the responsibility of passing on civilization itself.

Instead, we have a generation right now that apparently has bought into the idea that the nation is fatally flawed and God is dead and religion is useless and having children therefore simply isn’t worth giving your life to.

I’d like to believe this kind of poll could be somehow minimized or written off as if it’s exceptional, it’s not really indicative. But we understand that it is. It’s not only a credible poll, it actually just documents what we already perceive, not just on the issues of patriotism and religion and parenting, but in the general direction of our society.

But finally on this story, as we come to the end, we are going to get to politics where so many others would begin, and there is a very interesting, indeed fascinating generational aspect to this research. “Generational differences on personal values were most pronounced among Democrats. In fact, the views of Democrats over age 50 were more in line with those of younger Republicans than with younger members of their own party.” That’s one of the clearest issues of documentation on the great partisan, the great ideological shift to the left, often described as a lurch to the left in the Democratic Party.

Younger members of the Democratic Party are so out of tune when it comes to the older people in their own party, that older Democrats are actually a lot more like younger Republicans than they are like younger Democrats. There’s going to be a lot of interesting response to this survey in days and weeks ahead and we’ll be watching that too.

Part II

Why Did California’s Black Market for Marijuana Grow Last Year Despite Legalization in the State?

But next, I want to shift to another issue. Does it tell us something when we are told that an issue or an action is legal or illegal? Does it tell us anything about morality? Well, the answer is it should, but it doesn’t always, because what’s legal isn’t always moral. It isn’t always right. And conversely, at times, just because something is illegal doesn’t mean that it’s wrong. There are societies that have outlawed the wrong things and legalized the wrong things.

But we’re in a society that is now in the process of legalizing what it had previously rendered illegal on so many moral issues. Most importantly, if you look at the last several decades, think especially of drugs, the drug of marijuana most importantly, and gambling. On those two issues, you have a lot of Americans and particularly several American states that are legalizing what they had once made criminal. They had criminalized it. But now they’re going to be profiting by it in both cases. When it comes to gambling and marijuana, what’s the common denominator? The states and the political entities that have legalized what was previously criminalized are doing so at least in part because they are taxing what they had previously prohibited.

But here is where we learned about something else: The morality doesn’t go away. Even saying that something that was both immoral and illegal is now supposedly no longer immoral, and by law, it is no longer illegal, it turns out that there remains a moral dynamic that shows up in the economics as well. Just for instance, let’s look at those two issues. Legalized gambling and legalized cannabis or marijuana. Very interesting article in The Economist of London. The headline: “Legal and rarer: The legal cannabis market shrank in California last year.” Now, how did that happen? How did the legal cannabis market shrink in California last year? Does it mean that Californians are buying and using less cannabis than they did a year before? No.

What it does tell us is that after California has legalized so-called recreational marijuana, the market is still shifting towards the black market, not towards the new legal market. Why? Well, because when a state puts together a legal market and intends to enrich itself in its tax income thereby, it has to raise the cost. And also in a state like California, you simply have the parable of the fact that if California sees it, it’s going to regulate it, and it’s going to regulate it with pages and pages and lines and lines of regulation that will add even more cost.

How does it get worked out financially? Well, The Economist tells us that the same measure of marijuana now costs $400 in the legal market, but only $150 in the illegal market. As they say, “You do the math.” Something else to remember here is that one of the political arguments made for legalizing marijuana is we’ve got to put an end to the black market. But after California has legalized marijuana, it has an even larger black market. The Economist tells us that California is actually the world’s largest legal cannabis market, “But since the legalization of adult sales, that market has been shrinking.” Not the marijuana part, the legal part.

The economics become pretty interesting. The Economist writes, “Bringing a messy market under control was likened by many in the industry to putting the toothpaste back in the tube. Many firms operating in the medical market find the new regulations challenging and the fees to get permits and licenses too expensive. On top of the regulations come taxes in great abundance. There is a retail excise tax of 15% in addition to a sales tax that starts at 7.25%, rising according to the levels set by county and city governments. Taxes on cultivation are many and inventive too. On top of this,” we’re told, “federal taxes must still be paid even though the product remains illegal.” This means by the way, that in the legal cannabis market, you are absolutely taxed on gross profits when it comes to federal taxes because you’re not allowed to deduct the business that would be involved in selling an illegal product.

Part III

Markets and Morality: When Government Preys on the People. The Inevitable Outcome of Reliance on Tax Revenue from Gambling.

But next, we shift to the issue of gambling. In this case, the state is New York. The headline in the New York Times: “Casino operators bet on New York. It hasn’t paid off.” Now, what we need to know in this article is the fact that there were very loud voices back when these particular casinos were established, pointing out it can’t work. But politicians nonetheless pushed the opening of all these new casinos and the expansion of gambling and the proliferation of gambling licenses because they promised there would be new jobs and economic infusions into economically deprived areas, and of course, there would be massive tax income.

Something else to note is that when these states say that there will be massive tax income, they begin to budget and spend those dollars even before they come in, even when they don’t come in. The Times tells us, “The same challenge has faced casinos across the country as states attracted to the promise of tax revenues and jobs have engaged in a kind of brinkmanship that divides already-served markets into smaller and smaller pieces.” Alan Woinski, a gambling industry analyst and consultant said, “In the early days, it was build it and they will come and that worked for a long time.” He went on to say, “That was great when you only had casinos in every other state. Now it’s like a war.”

This story also reminds us of the kind of perverse effects that take place in an economy once you have this kind of sin industry that is industrialized. One state begins to offer expanded gambling. Citizens go from regional states. But then those states say, “We’re losing this business, we’re losing these jobs, we’re losing this tax revenue,” so they legalize their own casinos and they build them just across the border. But then pretty soon they say, “We need more tax income,” so they build more casinos, and then they begin to expand the forms of gambling allowed in the casinos. And now, you have this article saying that in New York, not only has it not worked, but you’re looking at the entire collapse of many of these operations even after they have tried to artificially boost the business.

But of course, Christians looking at this have to recognize there’s another dimension to both of these stories. There will be very real effects to legalizing marijuana. There’ll be very real effects — there already are — to legalizing and expanding gambling. Some of those effects, especially when it comes to gambling, is that you see states that are increasingly preying upon their own citizens.

They’re putting some of these gambling operations, especially when it comes to lotteries, in the most economically vulnerable communities, because they know that’s where the false hope of this kind of income is likely to sell most ardently. And when it comes to marijuana, just consider this, what the state taxes, it begins to depend upon for that tax income, and thus, it needs an ever bigger market. The state of California is now in the position along with other states that have legalized marijuana of having an economic incentive for the marijuana market to grow, for people to use more marijuana, for more people to use marijuana.

And so to no surprise, the state of California is concerned that more people need to buy marijuana from legal marijuana outlets, so the state gets its cut. And in the state of New York, you guessed it, politicians are arguing for the expansion of the gambling that didn’t deliver on its promises and can’t.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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