briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, September 14, 2020

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

It’s Monday, September 14, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Deadly Fires on the West Coast: Multiple Lessons in the Deadly Flames

It’s a horrific sight just about everywhere you look with the fires on the American West Coast, California, Southern and Northern California, the state of Oregon, the state of Washington all are experiencing what are declared to be unprecedented threats from wildfires in the area. Jennifer Calfas and Leslie Brody reporting for the Wall Street Journal this morning tell us that there are nearly 100 wildfires now raging in the West “as high winds and dry conditions were expected to fan some of the fast-moving blazes in the coming days in states reeling from a death toll of at least 33 people and struggling for resources.” It is just horrifying.

We’re talking about fire. We’re talking about one of the greatest enemies of humankind when it comes to destructive injurious fire. We’re also talking about a deadly effect. Thus far, 33 deaths in Washington, Oregon, and California trace to these fires. 22 in California alone. We’re looking at something that defies a human scale of response. By now, giving attention to media reports on these fires year after year, we’re accustomed to hearing almost the kind of reporting that comes with hurricanes. Except with hurricanes, you can’t do much more than just report on the likely course and the expected power of the storm. When it comes to fires, we have professional firefighting teams, especially on the ready in the West, but the scale of these fires just simply goes beyond anything that human beings can contain. That’s the key word.

Even as you hear the Saffir-Simpson scale and hurricanes one through five, you hear the percentage of containment in so many of these fires. Right now, some of them are basically uncontained. You have others in which the ability to contain the fire is being estimated in weeks rather than in hours or in days. It’s not just a deadly threat of the flames themselves, it is the larger effect of the fire and consuming so much fuel that produces so much smoke. Across much of the Pacific Coast, right now, the main color of the atmosphere and of the sky is either brown or orange. It’s haunting to Americans to recognize that if all the cities on the globe, over the weekend, it was Portland, Oregon that registered the worst air quality. It’s downright dangerous and unhealthy to breathe the air, right now, in Portland.

Even as we look at these fires and we think about the smallness of human beings over against the speed, the energy, and the immensity of these fires, we also understand that there are other dimensions of human responsibility that pertain, at least, to many of these fires into the larger context. For one thing, political decisions have at least something to do with the nature of these fires burning in recent years and consecutively in California, deadly fires going back to 2018. Of course, long before that, in a line of these horrifying fire seasons and as you’re thinking about human responsibility, it would include factors such as governmental decisions about the kinds of development that take place in certain places about whether or not water is retained.

There are decisions that government has made concerning the growth of the underbrush in so many of these forests that adds an enormous amount of fuel to the combustibility of this entire region. Of course, you’re looking at the fact. This is simply a political reality that throughout the Pacific Coast, almost every one of these governments is overwhelmingly in the hands of one party. It’s not by accident. In this case, the Democratic Party. The West Coast is far more liberal than the rest of the country. The Democratic Party is more liberal than the Republican party. The state government apparatus in all three of these states is, if not, exclusively than nearly so, in Democratic hands.

Now, whenever you have this level of government in the hands of one political party at the expense of almost any meaningful input from the opposing political party, then you have a context in which you have many of these issues arise without any kind of political check and balance. Now, let’s be clear. This kind of political temptation is bipartisan. It can come to Republicans if they do not have to take into effect any kind of meaningful Democratic Party input. On the West Coast, it’s just a fact that the entire area statewide is overwhelmingly democratic. In the state of California, the Democrats can do whatever they want and basically, had been able to do so for years without worrying about any argument from the opposing party. That sets up a very dangerous political dynamic.

Well behind all the politics is simply the reality that these fires are beyond human control even as some of them actually started by human agency. As we think about this, we need to recognize that fire is one of those gifts and curses that come to us as a part of fallen creation as evident in these massive, uncontrolled, deadly fires, the fire and the flame can be humanity’s enemy, but at the same time, the fire and the flame could be humanity’s friend. Just think of the ability to cook or especially, think of cold weather and the necessity of the flame for heat. Just think about all the good things that come to us by the gift of fire, but in a fallen world, in which it’s not just individual acts of human sin, but the effect of our human sin on the entire cosmos, going back to the sin of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter three. That’s the explanation for why water can both give us nourishment and quench our thirst and drown us.

It is why gravity both keeps us on the earth and enables us to build structures that we can trust in which we can inhabit and gives predictability to the world. It will also kill us if we fall off of a cliff. Fire, yes, the very fire that as you read in the prophet, Isaiah chapter 44, warms us by the fire and enables us to cook bread and to roast a roast there on the fire. That same fire can consume us. In a biblical theology, that’s actually the last word about fire. The last word about fire in a biblical theology is not about fire as a gift, but fire as an eternal threat. There is a fire that, in God’s judgment, will consume all that that is done by humanity and especially all evil doing. In the judgment of God, there is a fire that will consume this corrupted cosmos. Of course, there is refuge only in the new heaven and the new earth.

Safety is to be found only in that new heaven, that new earth, that new Jerusalem. Access to that new heaven and new earth is the very access that comes by Jesus Christ, our Lord, by the salvation that he has accomplished. By our personal faith and trust in him, thereby, our names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. We are then Christ safe in that new heaven and new earth, even as this present cosmos will be destroyed by fire. Of course, there is eternity in which there’s a dual destiny. For those who are in Christ, there is the safety of being in blessedness with God the father in Jesus Christ. For those who do not know Christ, whose names are not written in the book of life, well, they will spend an eternity in the flames of everlasting hell.

It is not to minimize, in any way, the real terror and danger of these fires to point to the reality that there is a greater horror in a fire yet to come. You can’t look at these fires even as we honor the heroism of those who are trying to fight them. We understand the terror of those who are running from them. We understand the human frailty and vulnerability that is made visible in them, but it makes me think of those famous lines from James Baldwin. When speaking of God’s promised to Noah, he said these very memorable lines, “God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time.”

Part II

Hypocrisy in Hollywood: Netflix’s Troubling New Movie Sexualizing Young Girls and its Defenders

But next, we shift to another very important issue. This one, in a very troubling sense. We’re talking about the Netflix movie, which is known as “Cuties.” As USA Today described it, it is “The award-winning French film.” It has arrived on Netflix. The immediate controversy was over art and advertisements by Netflix about the movie and then the trailer of the movie. Now, the controversy is about the movie itself.

There are at least two huge dimensions to this particular story to which Christians need to pay heed. Number one, what are we actually looking at when we consider this movie known as “Cuties?” Secondly, what does it say that the controversy has taken the course that it has? Those are two fundamentally important issues. Number one, what are we talking about here? What we’re talking about this new French film that has, indeed, arrived on Netflix, the name of the film is Cuties. It has to do with the supposed either sexual awakening or sexual misuse of these pre-adolescent girls in this film. It should tell us something that at USA Today, Carly Mallenbaum begins her article by asking a question.

Here’s how it’s posed, “‘Cuties,’ the award-winning French film met with outcry for its provocative promotional poster has arrived on Netflix. But,” she asked, “does the movie actually deserve the backlash it received for an image of pre-teen actresses dancing in midriff-baring tops and short shorts with their backs arched?” It’s actually more than that even as you look at even the advertising image, the look on the girl’s faces is also blatantly sexualized, but the question that Mallenbaum was asking is whether or not the film actually deserves, that’s the word used here, the backlash it has received. I’ll be honest, the second part of what we’re going to discuss the response, especially from Hollywood and the cultural elites to the controversy itself, it’s been extremely troubling.

USA Today doesn’t seem to see it as so troubling. The reporter tells us, “But there’s more to the movie than its marketing material, which, at one point, described “Cuties” as the story of 11-year-old Amy who’s fascinated with a twerking dance crew. The report at USA Today continues, “When vitriolic reaction surfaced on Twitter, mostly from people who hadn’t seen it, Tessa Thompson, who saw the movie at Sundance Film Festival, called it ‘beautiful’ and with a ‘fresh voice at the helm.'” The actress went on to say, “The film comments on the hypersexualization of preadolescent girls.” She went on to say, “Disappointed to see the current discourse.” Disappointed to see the current discourse, here, embedded in that very statement by this actress who says that she saw the movie at the Sundance Film Festival calling it beautiful, she says that it is, indeed, about, but she says it interestingly. She says the film comments on the hypersexualization of pre-adolescent girls.

Now, here’s the point. This is a very urgent point. This isn’t a movie that merely comments on. That’s a kind of postmodern discourse that’s a means of moral avasion. It doesn’t merely comment on it. It capitalizes on it. Oddly enough, it capitalizes on it. Netflix is guilty as can be of using these sexualized images of girls in the poster originally offered for the movie. They have taken it down digitally at least, but the reality is, what you are looking at here is a film in which you have critics saying, this is commenting on the hypersexualization of pre-adolescent girls, but of course, it is doing so by depicting. You can only say celebrating the hypersexualization of girls. Now, let me tell you right in front, I haven’t seen the movie and I’m not going to see the movie. I did see the poster. I have read the defenses of the movie offered by Netflix and those who are associated with it. That tells me everything I need to know. The defenses are actually as troubling as the images that have been out there in the digital world.

The artists behind the entire film, and that would be Maïmouna Doucouré, the writer and director of the film. This is her debut in that sense. She said about her movie, “Our girls see that the more a woman is overly sexualized on social media, the more she is successful. Children just imitate what they see, trying to achieve the same result without understanding the meaning. It is dangerous..” Now, I cannot read Maïmouna Doucouré’s heart. Wouldn’t pretend to, I don’t know her. Even if I knew her, I couldn’t really read her heart. I can look at the argument she’s made and also at the movie that she has now given. The reality is that even if, somehow, she intended the movie to comment on, as in, as indirect as that would be, offer a critique of the sexualization of women and the fact that girls often are influenced badly, toxically, by the sexualization of women. Even if that had been her purpose, that doesn’t justify sexualizing girls in order to supposedly produce a film that is supposed to have the effect of moral outrage at the sexualization of girls.

Now, here is something of a moral paradox. It has not only happened here in Hollywood. It can happen even to Christian ministries. Let me tell you what that paradox is. Let’s say that you are gravely concerned in your community about an incident that has to do with pornography. You are having to talk about this as an informed Christian, as someone who’s concerned and trying to address the issue in public. Well, the reality is, and I face this continually on The Briefing. There is only so much you can say about pornography without committing it. There’s only so much you can describe without becoming the problem, you say, you are trying to confront.

Now, that’s the conservative Christian quandary. We have to be very chaste in talking about things that aren’t chased, but when it comes to the left and particularly to the artistic community, quite frankly, there seem to be very few of those concerns. I’m gravely concerned about the fact, there’s so much of the press coverage in the last, let’s say, two to three to four days about “Cuties” is about fact that those who have concerns about the movie are the ones who have the problem. Writing at Sam Adams offered a basic defense of the movie, but the headline at Slate was, “The creepy conservative obsession with Netflix’s “Cuties,” Explained.” The moral concern about the sexualization of pre-adolescent girls here is described as a creepy conservative obsession. You got to turn the world upside down in order to get there.

Consider this particular argument that Sam Adams brings. “Considering how few of Cuties’ attackers have actually seen the film, countering their criticisms with facts feels a little like bringing a knife to a gunfight.” Okay, Mr. Adams. I get the snarky, but the reality is, it is not intellectually honest to say that someone must see a film in order to comment on why it would be morally troubling and problematic. Not when the publicity about the film is quite enough. In other words, even if there were not a film, the poster, the digital kind of advertising is itself, the sexualization of young girls. You don’t even have to have the movie, but you do have the movie. Quite honestly, over the course of the last several days, the defense of the movie had been, to my mind, the most morally disgusting.

Richard Brody writing the Front Row column for the New Yorker, offered an article, the headline of which was this, “‘Cuties,’ The Extraordinary Netflix Debut That Became The Target Of A Right-Wing campaign.” There you have it. Artistically, we’re told, “Step back. This is an extraordinary Netflix debut. If you don’t get it, you just don’t get it. If you’re a critic, then you’re just a part of a right-wing campaign.” Now, understand that Brody likes the film, at least, in part for ideological reasons. What would that be? Well, he writes this, “Unfortunately, the platform’s misleading advertising has given rise to a scurrilous campaign against the film itself.” Let’s pause there for a moment. We’re told that it was the Netflix misleading advertising, this given rise to this illegitimate campaign against it. “The promotional image, showing young girls in bikini-like clothing dancing in provocative ways, matched with an inaccurate description, has been taken to suggest that the film celebrates children’s sexualized behavior”

Now, notice that Netflix produced all of this. Netflix produced the film. Netflix has distributed the film on its platform. Netflix produced the advertising that Richard Brody says was misleading, but the right wing campaign against it, what does he say about that? “In fact, the subject of the film is exactly the opposite: it dramatizes the difficulties of growing up female in a sexualized and commercialized media culture.” He goes on to say, “I doubt that the scandal-mongers (who include some well-known figures of the far right) have actually seen ‘Cuties,’ but some elements of the film that weren’t presented in the advertising would surely prove irritating to them. He says, “It’s the story of a girl’s outrage at, and defiance of, a patriarchal order.” Oh, so the film is justified with even the controversy that is rightly directed at the sexualization of girls, because at the end, it’s about opposition to patriarchy. Oh, I get it.

Now, there’s another pattern here, and this is Hollywood’s obsession on both sides of the Atlantic when we talk about the film industry. That is an obsession with attempting to find a high-minded excuse for very low-minded behavior. If you think I’m exaggerating, just consider this. Back in 1977, the Polish French director and producer, Roman Polanski, was arrested in Southern California on a charge of raping and drugging a 13-year-old girl. Keep that in mind. Polanski pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of unlawful sex with a minor. In other words, he did deny that it happened. He pleaded it down to a lesser charge, but then after having made a guilty plea and entered it legally, he fled the country and went to France because he said he could not get a fair prison sentence in the United States. Just remember this, 1977, Roman Polanski, Polish French, director and producer pleaded guilty after having been arrested and charged with raping and drugging a 13-year-old girl. He issued a plea in which he basically accepted the facts, but pleaded to a lesser charge. He then fled.

Now, you would think that would end his career, wouldn’t you? You would be wrong. It wasn’t until 31 years later, the #MeToo movement. 31 years later that Polanski was taken out of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s the organization in Hollywood behind the Oscars. It’s not just that. The film industry on both sides of the Atlantic kept giving the man awards, even as he could not come back to the United States because he would be arrested not only for the original crime to which he offered a guilty plea on lesser charges, but also, for the crime of fleeing justice. France doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the United States on such a case, and thus, Polanski was safe remaining in Europe. Again, he continued to receive the accolades, the applause, the adulation and defense of the Hollywood Glitterati.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences that finally kicked him out 31 years after the guilty plea in the intermediary period in 2002, actually gave him the Academy Award, the Oscar for best picture for the film, The Pianist, but surely, you would say that crime, back in the late 1970s, still must be answered for. But Roman Polanski is still not in prison. He has never been in prison to serve his sentence in the United States for this crime against a minor. Until finally, the year 2018, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which is, oh, so politically correct, still celebrated Roman Polanski as a member and gave him the Oscar in 2002. Now, just to remember, the Oscars are awarded there in Southern California. Roman Polanski, in 2002, could not come to receive his Oscar in person and everyone knew why, but they gave him the Oscar anyway. It is almost impossible to articulate the scale of hypocrisy.

It also, at least, has to be mentioned at the French culture in itself has an ongoing problem with making any kind of sane, moral judgment against the sexual abuse and hyper sexualization of women, and yes, young girls. French law, the French legal system and the French elites, right now, tolerate behavior between adult men and young women and girls that would be unacceptable here, or at least you would think so.

Part III

The Moral Insanity Continues in California: Governor Gavin Newsom Signs Law that Makes Teenagers More Vulnerable to Sex Crimes — And in the Name of LGBTQ Equity

But then in refutation of that point and coming back to California, we have to recognize that over the last couple of days on the weekend, the governor of California actually signed what had been known as Senate Bill 145. We discussed it thoroughly and painfully on The Briefing last week. In the name of LGBTQ+ advocacy as the Los Angeles Times reports, “The measure Senate Bill 145 will amend existing state law that allows judges to decide whether an adult convicted of having heterosexual activity,” I’m paraphrasing here, “with a minor should register as a sex offender in cases in which the minor is 14 years or older and the adult is not more than 10 years older than the minor.”

The point here is that Governor Newsom, who has long been an advocate for the LGBTQ revolution and almost radically so, he signed the bill because he did so in the name of LGBTQ advocacy. The primary legislative sponsor behind the bill, democrat state senator, Scott Wiener, of San Francisco said, “The disparity in current state law, that Senate Bill 145 will address as a remnant of California’s old,” and I’ll paraphrase here, “anti-homosexual laws.” The Los Angeles times then says this, “The intent of SB 145, he said, is to address cases in which two people close in age and 18-year-old and a 17-year-old dating in high school, for example, are in a sexual relationship. The 18-year-old can still be convicted of a sex offense, but should not automatically be registered as a sex offender, a lifelong designation that is an impediment to finding employment, a place to live and other necessities of life.

Again, that’s credited to State Senator Scott Wiener, but notice what’s going on here. The illustration given is of an 18 and a 17-year-old, but the law that was just signed by Newsom is actually addressing the law when it comes to required registry on a sex offender registry for someone who could be almost 10 years older than the younger person who only has to be 14. As one very brave member of the California legislator pointed out, this would allow a 14-year-old boy or girl to be sexually abused by a 23 or 24-year-old man or woman without any absolute necessity of the convicted sex offender being listed on the state sex offender registry. By the way, there are national ramifications as well.

The Times did have one paragraph of moral sanity. Listen to this, Nathan Ballard who worked as an aid to Newsom when he was mayor of San Francisco had said, “Newsom may have been wise to veto the legislation and recommend the state lawmakers change the provision with the 10-year age gap given how the Republicans were weaponizing the issue politically.” Well, how about given the fact that in no morally sane world, would you do anything to minimize the consequences of a 24-year-old sexually abusing a 14-year-old? As I said, there’s only a little bit of moral sanity there, and whatever little bit there was, Governor Newsom absolutely rejected, getting right in line with the California legislature.

Tragically enough, we come back to where we started. It’s become abundantly clear that it’s not just France, it’s also California and it’s Netflix, and it’s Cuties, and it’s Hollywood’s Elite. If you, not being a part of that elite dare to raise a moral concern about what Hollywood will serve you, well then, you just don’t get it. You’re not one of the illuminated ones. Thus, you don’t have friends like Roman Polanski, which actually it turns out is the point.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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