Tuesday, March 9, 2021
It's Tuesday, March 9, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
“Speak Your Truth”? Oprah’s Interview with Harry and Meghan Raises Huge Questions about the Nature of Truth
Millions around the world watched the interview between Oprah Winfrey and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, better known as Harry and Meghan, broadcast on CBS on Sunday night. The same interview lasting two hours was broadcast on British television within about 24 hours, and this has led, as you might expect, to headlines on both sides of the Atlantic, the tabloids, which were actually quite much discussed in the course of the conversation between Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan. Well, the very tabloid newspapers that they complained about actually took the interviews as an opportunity for yet more tabloid headlines. That's just the way it works.
One of the interesting things that arose, by the way, is the very unique economy between the British press and the royal family. Neither can live without the other, and it's a very interesting thing to watch. The royal family actually does need the press, because the power of the royal house has a great deal to do with the fact that there is so much interest in the house, interest that is prompted by, sparked by news stories and all kinds of attention in the press to the regular annual events of the royalty that take place between the trumping of the colors and the Queen's birthday and what is actually the Queen's birthday, all the very different events that are a part of the British civic life that are centered in, after all, the monarchy.
But at the same time, the tabloids and the activist press live off the monarchy. They live off of speculation and attention and celebrity. It is an economic relationship, but it's also a power relationship. The tabloids are always seeking to get from the Royals the one thing that the Royals don't want to give, which is a certain amount of privacy. On the other hand, the Royals are always looking for the press to give them the one thing that they cannot conjure on their own, which is constant attention. But when you're talking about Harry and Meghan, you really are talking about two people who are only important, only being discussed because of celebrity. This gets to the cult of celebrity and it gets to what Daniel Boorstin, the late Librarian of Congress discussed as people who are basically, in the end, famous for being famous.
When you're talking about the Duke of Sussex, the reality is that right now there is no basic constitutional role for him in the British monarchy. He complains about the fact that there is no future constitutional role for him, but that's just the way it is. You are looking at primogenitor. You're looking at the fact that at one point he was behind only his father and his older brother in line of succession to the crown. But now that Prince William is married and he has children of his own, well, this is just the way that a hereditary monarchy works. But on the other hand, lesser royals, as they are often known, actually live off of their own celebrity.
When it comes Harry, well, Harry has been pretty much a genius at conjuring up celebrity ever since he was an adolescent. His adolescent antics have now turned into an outright rebellion against the royal house, all of this mostly taking place publicly after his marriage to Meghan, the Duchess of Sussex, and the fact that they are now living in the United States in what is effectively some kind of self-chosen exile from the royal family in London. Of course, there was a lot of attention in the press to the fact that in the conversation with Oprah Winfrey, Prince Harry indicated that he is not now in communication with his father, though he said he still has communication with the Queen, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.
There were a few issues of substance actually discussed in the conversation, but the big thing to note is the context, the celebrity, two hours on CBS that attracted millions and millions of people, ardent followers of royalty, ardent followers of celebrity, even more likely, and ardent followers of Oprah. But I want to look at the worldview significance of what was really taking place there. For one thing, we need to separate celebrity and royalty and understand that there is one issue over time that makes the distinction more important than anything else. That distinction is between the dignified and the undignified aspects of royalty. The one thing that the royal house in any constitutional monarchy must produce is a sense of dignity. Without a sense of dignity, there is no reason to have a monarch, a king or a queen, prince or princess.
The reality is without dignity, there is no purpose. Walter Bagehot, the most famous author about the English constitution in a book actually entitled The English Constitution, argued that there are two dimensions to a constitutional monarchy. Two parts he said. The first part is the dignified part. The second part is the efficient part. Now, what he meant by that, well, let's work backwards, the efficient part, that means the actual running of government. But let's be honest, the British Monarch doesn't have much to do with the day to day operation of the British government. That instead is the responsibility of the prime minister in parliament and the ongoing agencies of White Hall, the British government.
The reality is that the biggest purpose now served by the British Royal Family is the dignified part, or at least that's the reason to have a monarchy. In the end, Bagehot understood that of the two parts of a monarchy, the dignified and the efficient, the dignified is the first, it is the primary, it is the most indispensable. That means that if a Royal House ruins its dignity, it basically ruins its own monarchy. Now, there are real lessons here for leaders, regardless of whether or not you wear a crown, and very few of course actually do. The reality is that in every position of leadership, any kind of significant leadership, you could say the leadership can include, must include the same two parts as Bagehot indicated., the dignified part and the efficient part. That means that if you lose the dignity, you also basically lose your efficiency.
Now, Queen Elizabeth II, who is now the longest reigning monarch in British history, exceedingly well exemplifies the dignified part of the monarchial role. She is, if anything, dignified. She's almost never undignified. It's almost impossible to imagine her in an undignified position or context or saying any undignified word. She was after all raised in a time of crisis in monarchy. If you look at the end of World War I, and that's shortly before she was born, you realize that most of the crowned heads of Europe lost their crowns and the tumult of that massive transformation early in the 20th century. Elizabeth's grandfather kept his crown. That would be the King Emperor George V, but he kept his crown by giving incredible attention to the dignified part of the monarchy.
As you're looking to the fact that her father then became king, the history is unexpectedly, and then she became queen. She has served as the longest serving monarch and she has served with seeding dignity. There's a sense in which her heir, Charles, the Prince of Wales, exemplifies some form of that dignity. He does so at least in his public presentations. But as we now know in his private life, we're looking at a lot of lack when it comes to dignity. Once you know certain things about someone like Prince Charles, you can't unknow them. Just looking at the royal family right now, it looks like Prince William, the elder brother of Prince Harry also understands the dignified part of the monarchial role as does his wife, Catherine.
Of course they are now in the Royal line, right behind Charles as the next king and consort queen of England after the reign of Charles. But of course, we're looking at the future, which hasn't happened. It might not happen the way we think it will happen. But in reality, we are looking at the fact that in the royal family, there's a split between the more dignified and the less dignified, and there is nothing less dignified when it comes to the royal family than sitting down for a salacious interview over two hours with Oprah Winfrey. But this takes us to what I consider to be the most important worldview aspect of this interview, which really was about celebrity. But as is often the case, in a context of what comes down to celebrity, there are big, important issues that are revealed.
In this case, it's about the nature of truth. This makes the role played by Oprah Winfrey all the more important because Oprah Winfrey has become the great living prophetess of your truth. Now, if you go back to 2018 in the Golden Globes speech Winfrey's speech in that text celebrated what she referred to as her truth. She said this, "What I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most important tool we all have." Now, what makes that language so strange? Just think about the English usage of truth, the pronoun my truth before truth is something that begs a lot of questions. How would my truth be different than your truth or his or her truth different than, well, let's just cite the gender confusion of the day, their truth?
The reality is that what we're looking at here is the aftermath of what's now culturally accepted postmodern conception of truth, objective truth, historical truth, the correspondence theory of truth that says that a statement is true if it corresponds to external reality. Well, that's just basically gone. We need to recognize that don't jump from postmodern theory in France to Oprah Winfrey. There's an entire cultural process that gets you from the postmodernist of the mid-20th century in France to Oprah Winfrey. But it's Oprah Winfrey that influences the hundreds of millions, not the French post-structuralists.
But again, I want to go back to that 2018 Golden Globes speech in which Oprah Winfrey talked about her encouragement to others to speak your truth. But I remembered an article that appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer back when that happened because of a couple of quotes that simply stand out for their value in our understanding. In the article that ran in The Inquirer by Anna Orso, and that was back in January of 2018, referring to Oprah Winfrey's understanding of her truth, my truth, your truth, a person named Alex Crispino is identified. The article tells us, "Alex Crispino similarly described what her 'truth,'" and the word truth is put in quotation marks here, oddly, tragically enough, "what her 'truth' means."
The article goes on, "She's a 27 year old who works in learning and development at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and also runs a network for women alumni of Temple University. For her, a personal truth means authenticity-- 'whoever you are being your full self.'" Now, whatever that means that has never had anything to do with an English language definition of truth before, but it does now. In the age of Oprah, it makes perfect sense. But Christina went on to say this, "You can't to verify someone's truth. You can't verify someone's journey and it shouldn't have to be verified. It's theirs." Now, once again, we understand that there are different memories of events. There are different experiences of events. That's a part of being a person. It's a part of being an individual.
But the reality is that truth is something that is external to us and our responsibility is to come to know it and then to affirm it, to believe it, and then to pass it on as truth. If we're living in an age in which all we're saying when we make truth claims is, "This is my 'truth,'" then we're sunk. I don't want to be dependent upon my truth for the results of a CAT scan. I want someone who knows how to read a CAT scan to tell me what it means. I don't want to have someone who believes in his truth piloting a plane that I'm flying in it 33,000 feet. What if her truth isn't 33,000 feet?
But we are looking here at a major loss to our civilization. If there is no truth and truth is simply Oprah's truth and Meghan's truth and Harry's truth, if truth isn't even susceptible to being verified or not verified, if that's not even important, then we're doomed in terms of any understanding of truth. This is where Christians have to understand, we really are perhaps the last people around who know that truth is something that is prior to us, our responsibility is to know it. Truth is not something that is dependent upon us for its truthfulness. When Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life," he wasn't saying, "I am my truth." He said, "I am the truth." It's really important that Christians understand that.
Drag King Story Hour is Next? Share the Stage, Drag Queens—Apparently We’re Now Living in the Time of “Drag Kings”
But now, speaking of our current cultural moment, I want to turn to the print edition of Sunday's edition of the New York times. In the section entitled Sunday Styles on the front page, there was an article with the headline, "Drag Kings, Ready to Reign." The subhead in the article, "Once overlooked performers who explore manly tropes are building a fan base online." Frank DeCaro is the reporter. The reporter tells us about the existence of drag kings. Now, that's to be contrasted with drag queens. Now, at least back when all the world acknowledged there was a gender binary of male and female, a drag queen was a male presenting as a flamboyant female. That meant largely an exaggerated version of an imaginary femininity.
But on the other hand, we're now told that there are rivals in the drag business, and these are the drag kings. Again, speaking about men and women, this refers in the classic sense to a female impersonating a man, and also often with exaggerated characteristics, mannerisms, appearance and all the rest. That's the very essence of drag. Flamboyance is simply essential to the picture. Now, the other thing we have to note, even before looking at this article, is that the entire enterprise of drag was considered to be transgressive, that is morally, sexually, and of course, culturally transgressive. That was the whole point of a drag performance. It used to be understood to be directly and even amongst many people who went to such things, excitedly subversive.
But now it's being mainstreamed in the culture as we are losing all understanding of creation order, and where these days, you can't even write an article like this or read it in which the understanding is that an actual female is trying to impersonate a man as a drag queen, because after all there might be a performer who is non-binary by self-description. The reality is that what we're looking at here is an absolute rebellion against creation order. The rise of drag kings in the public consciousness is not going to mean the end of civilization as we know it, it's just one more step. But in this case, an actually important step in understanding the rebellion that is now being set loose and even celebrated in our society.
But this article points to something else, and this turns out to reveal a great deal about far more than a drag king or a drag queen. That is that we are now living in an age in which there is a claim that there must be equity for everyone, which is to say, there must be some form of oppression that would explain why there seems to be more interest in and more money in performances as a drag queen than as a drag king. Guess what, men must be at fault. No matter what's going on, men must be at fault. Behind all this is the accusation that men must be after all more threatened by the idea of a drag king than a drag queen, and it must be about the fact that all their interest is in the objectification of women. Now, by the time you enter into that argument, let me just tell you, sanity is long abandoned.
Now the transgressive nature of all of this is such that I can't read most of this article to you and I can't even mention many of the names of the drag king performers here, nor am I really inclined to. But I do want to point to a couple of issues that turn out to be both, well, somewhat hilarious and also very revealing. For one thing, as I've already noted, there is more cultural interest we are told and more acceptance, that's the word of the day, isn't it? There's more acceptance for drag queens than for drag kings. As we already said, a part of this is supposedly about the fact that men must be fault.
But beyond that, it turns out that becoming a drag king requires a kind of creativity that becoming a drag queen does not equally require, which is to say in the words of one of the drag king artists cited here, "Doing a male character is so much harder than doing a female character." The artist then said, "Men are just not that exciting to look at." Well, now let's just ask who's objectifying whom? Yes, this is hilarious. This is the time to laugh out loud. This is the time to understand the obvious, which is men are a lot less interesting to look at than women, even as it turns out fake men and fake women. But of course, the argument is still the injustice and prejudice must be behind this. One person quoted the article said, and I quote, "Female masculinity is still scary to some people."
Well, I'll just invite you to consider me one of the people to whom the category is scary. Yes, I'm scared. But you also have to note the gender confusion in all of this, and wow, how do we even start with that? By pointing out that the article ends with this interesting statement, "I'm watching girls and performers of all genders who maybe five years ago would have gone into burlesque who now are seeing drag kinging as the ultimate art form." "It's a very interesting space to be in. Masculinity is something that deserves to be made fun of." Well, let me just point out something. It's really hard to make fun of these days when we're living in the midst of a society that is at war with it.
I'll also just point out the fact that if you were to make the public argument that femininity is something to make fun of, the New York Times probably would not put that quotation in a very positive context. But that tells me where we are today. As a matter of fact, this article tells us a great deal about where we are today. Folks, as we know, there's article is not the end of stage in some development. It's one more step along the way. By the way, there was controversy about a year ago about whether or not Drag Queen Story Hour for children in public libraries was a public crisis, and argued back then, of course it is. It is a civilizational crisis. What else could it be?
Especially when you're looking at the targets being children, and you're looking at the context being public libraries. But of course, there was shame and opprobrium heaped upon anyone who would say that there's anything wrong with this or that there's any kind of cultural crisis that is here indicated. I asked then, if there's no cultural crisis about Drag Queen Story Hour in the public library, will there be a crisis about drag kings? If you don't see in the first, you probably won't see it in the second. I'm not sure you'll ever honestly acknowledge it if you ever see it at all.
Pope Francis Visits Ur in Iraq and Media Talk About Unity Between the “Three Abrahamic Religions” — What Does That Mean? A Closer Look
Next, another very interesting headline vying with Oprah Winfrey and Harry and Meghan for press attention over the weekend was Pope Francis who is now safely back in the Vatican after his papal visit to Iraq. There's a lot for us to think about here for just a moment. Obviously, speaking as an evangelical who does not recognize the office of the papacy, there's a lot theologically and historically to talk about. But I want to talk about one angle in particular from the Pope's visit that attracted a lot of media attention. It also was the cause of some theological confusion. Let's try to identify what it is and let's try to clear it up.
You heard the reference to the fact that the Pope was going to Iraq and to the ancient plane of Ur there, the ancient city of Ur, because he was going there in order to talk about peaceful relationships between the three Abrahamic religions. That press has picked up again and again. Where does that come from, the three Abrahamic religions? Now, of course, Abraham is tied to Ur, Ur of the Chaldees, from which he came when he followed an obedience to God. He followed it, and of course, God made the covenant with them that produced Israel as a nation and the covenant came with the promise of the fact that he would have descendants more numerous than the stars in the sky, and of course he has.
The Abrahamic covenant is absolutely central to our understanding, not only of the Old Testament, but of the New Testament, not only of Israel, but also of the church. Now, let's just step back for a moment. What does it mean that there was the claim that there are three Abrahamic religions? That would be Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and Abraham is a part of the origin of all three of them. Well, that will be basically false. There is a role for Abraham that is played in all three of these religious systems, these theological systems, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham of course appears in the Old Testament. He also appears in the New Testament and he appears in the Quran. But the actual depiction of Abraham and Islam and in the Quran has nothing to do virtually with Abraham as revealed in the Bible, in both the Old and New testaments.
But as you look at this, you understand that there's something bigger going on here in terms of our understanding of this phrase, the three Abrahamic religions. Now, this goes back to the 20th century and to the argument that was made, not about Christianity and about Islam and about Judaism taken as theological arguments, but rather taken as religions. There was the effort in the 20th century to look at religion through the lens of what was called phenomenology. Let's just bracket, let's just put aside all the theological supernatural revelation claims and let's just look at religion as a phenomenon. What do these religions teach? How do they work? What's the anthropology and all the rest?
Thus, there was the description of the fact that there was a unifying theme to Judaism and to Christianity and Islam, which was some understanding of monotheism, and this set these three very influential belief systems alongside one another with Abraham playing a crucial role in all three. But actually it's not a commensurate role, but we also have to note that we can never define religion merely along phenomenological lines. We can't just treat religion as a non-theological human observance. We can't look at it as merely a human construct. We as Christians have to understand based upon biblical authority that we're not just talking about religions, we're talking about giant systems of theological claims.
As we look at this, we understand that Judaism and Christianity have much more in common than either do with Islam. As you're looking at the reality of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, well, Christianity is not just like the other two only slightly different. But this phrase, the Abrahamic religions or the three Abrahamic religions is now something that is quite comfortably discussed in Roman Catholicism, especially after Vatican II, after the documents that began with Lumen Gentium, in particular, in which the Roman Catholic church basically embraced to some extent monotheistic religion from either Judaism or Islam within what it defined as the economy of salvation.
Now, to be fair, the Roman Catholic church did not say that there's salvation outside of Christ, but that they would be saved by Christ on the basis of their monotheistic faith. They would eventually come to some kind of Christian knowledge, but that could be after their death. Again, we're talking about a very complicated argument in Roman Catholicism, but the point I want to make is this is not an argument that fits in biblical Christianity. The Bible's context is primarily that a promise and fulfillment, and in the New Testament, as we have even recently discussed, over and over again, the Holy Spirit inspired authors, following the example of Jesus himself point to the incarnation and all that Christ has accomplished for us, the entirety of the gospel in the coming Kingdom of Christ as the fulfillment of all that was promised.
Now, there were promises that were made to Israel, promises that were made first to Abraham. I believe that every one of those promises will be absolutely fulfilled. By that, I mean, even the geographical promises that were given in the Abrahamic covenant, I believe that all of them, every one of them will be literally fulfilled in space and time and history. But the most important thing for Christians to understand is that salvation has come to us, not through the Abrahamic covenant, but through the covenant of redemption. The covenant of redemption is actually pictured also by Abraham, as Paul makes so clear in Romans chapter four, where Abraham's faith is held out and this is affirmed also in the book of Hebrews as an exemplar of faith and his faith was accounted to him as righteousness.
So justification by faith alone Paul says is actually demonstrated all the way back in the Book of Genesis in the singular figure of Abraham. Speaking of Abraham, the Lord, Jesus Christ said, "He knew me and believe." Again, that's very important for our understanding of how we read the Old Testament and how Jesus is the fulfillment of the promises. But as we're looking at this, we need to recognize that there are political reasons why many people would want to simply identify Judaism and Christianity and Islam as just the three Abrahamic face, basically just three variations of one theme.
There's another problem with that, by the way, because there are other religious systems that also follow some kind of identification with Abraham, that would include the Yazidis, the Druze, the Baha'is, the Samaritans, the Rastafarians, and also by the way, the Mormons, calling themselves the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. They also claim some identity with Abraham. So just speaking phenomenologically, it's not just Judaism and Christianity and Islam, it's also some other groups as well. But then again, we as Christians are thinking theologically. We can never merely think in phenomenological terms. We understand why politically and even in a secular world, the phenomenological approach makes more sense. But this reduction of everything to the three Abrahamic faiths is basically a way of saying theology doesn't matter.
By the way, as we wrap up here, the Pope's visit to Iraq was very, very interesting, at least in part because of his actual meeting with Grand Ayatollah Sistani and that's very important because, well, that was an optic you don't often get. The Pope of the Roman Catholic church or sitting down with the Grand Ayatollah, but here's what's important, of Shiite Islam. As you're looking at the Grand Ayatollah, you need to recognize he had his own reason to join the Pope in calling for tolerance of and respect for religious minorities, because the greatest threat to Shiite Islam when it comes to the world today doesn't come from Judaism or Christianity, it comes from the majority Sunni Islam.
But it is sobering to recognize that it is believed that there are well over one million Christians of one sort or another by identity in Iraq before the Iraq War. But after the war, it is now estimated that there may be only as many as 200,000 Christians in that land of such ancient importance. Let's just to remember that we are talking about ancient Babylon. We're talking about the Babylonian and the Sumerian Empires. We're talking about the Grand Ziggurat of Ur, which is still there, and it's believed that it goes back so many centuries that it was actually renovated in the 6th century BC.
The last word for The Briefing today will come from the Book of Hebrews 11, beginning in verse 8: "By faith, Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance and he went out not knowing where he was going. By faith, he went to live in the land of promise, as in a foreign land, living in tents with Isaac and Jacob, heirs with him of the same promise for he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God."
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'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.