The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

It’s Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A Government Takeover of Raising Children: What’s at Stake in President Biden’s Plan to Expand Government-Funded Child Care?

When we speak of the Christian worldview, we’re talking about making the proper distinctions and establishing our worldview on the proper principles, the proper truth claims.

We’ve been looking at that issue repeatedly this week, particularly in the denial in our current and very secular age of the distinctions that are necessary to the biblical worldview, the distinction between the Creator and the creation, the distinction between the human being and the other creatures, the distinction between male and female. We’ll be talking more about that, but we also need to understand that there is a current evasiveness. At the very least, let’s say an evasiveness when talking about the family and talking about the roles of fathers and mothers.

Now, there’s an historical background to this that’s important. Over the course of the last several decades, we have seen the private space of the family increasingly invaded by outsiders. Back several years ago, you had people such as Peter and Brigitte Berger warning that the family was now being invaded by a regime of experts, parenting experts, medical experts, educational experts, psychotherapeutic experts, all of them claiming to be able to tell parents how to raise their children.

And if you go back to the 1950s. By the late 1950s, you had the regime of books written by people such as Dr. Benjamin Spock on parenting children. And it represented an absolute rejection of the kind of parental authority that you actually have very clearly demonstrated in the biblical family. It was a denial of centuries of accumulated wisdom in parenting children. It was basically inclined towards what you can only describe as permissiveness. Benjamin Spock, by no accident, was a man of the left. He was also someone who was calling for a rather thorough and comprehensive transformation of society. And he understood that if you want to do that, you’re going to have to start with the most basic cellular or molecular unit of society, and that is the family.

Then by the time you get to the 1960s and ’70s, you have the development of what’s called second wave feminism. And second wave feminism called for the liberation of women. It demanded the fact that women could only be liberated if they may be liberated from all biological and familial restraints, and that meant being liberated from having children and being required to raise children.

Second-wave feminism was led by figures such as Betty Friedan, who argued that the traditional family unit was a domestic concentration camp. That was language that was particularly haunting and audacious when you’re talking about the span of just something like 20 years from the experience of the Third Reich. But nonetheless, you understand the metaphor. You have the accusation here that the traditional family, especially one in which you had a father working outside the home and the mother primarily inside the home, primarily given to the nurture of the family and the raising of children, well, that was suggested as a concentration camp, a domestic concentration camp.

You can understand why second-wave feminism championed the development of contraception that would liberate the sexual act from the consequence of children. And they also demanded the legalization of abortion. And they were clear in making their case. Even in the oral arguments for the infamous Roe v. Wade decision, those who were advocating for what they described as a woman’s right to abortion said that women could never be free nor equal with men unless they were equally able as a man to avoid having a pregnancy.

Now, of course, here’s where we understand that Christians were making a very big mistake at the time. Christians, looking at what was going on with the development of second wave feminism, knew that that was not right. It was not consistent with the biblical worldview. But the arguments that we gave in response, and I say we because I’m talking about evangelical Christians, most of us in the conversation on The Briefing today were either not adults or not yet born when these issues were being debated, especially back in 1973.

But going back to 1973 and in that era, you can see the evangelical said, “No, that’s not right. Here is the biblical pattern.” But we didn’t understand at the time, evangelicals didn’t see at the time, that there is a fundamental assault here upon a biological reality. Now, again, we would define that as a revelation that is the gift from God in creation, creation order. In the design of creation, there is a certain wisdom that cannot be denied and maintain moral sanity.

Now, part of that wisdom is this. If you’re going to hear the argument made by the second wave feminists that women can only be free and equal if they are freely and equally able not to be in the position of having a baby, well, here you have to note that that is an argument that simply defies the reality that only a woman can actually bear a child. And so, you come to see why abortion became something of the central sacrament of second-wave feminism and of the cultural left.

But we’re now a long way from second-wave feminism and Benjamin Spock. We’re a long way from what the Bergers warned as that invasion of the family by a regime of experts. Now we’re also invaded not just by experts but, as we shall see, by Oprah, perhaps even more devastatingly in a sense. But we need to look at a contemporary headline controversy to see how that’s being played out right now. And the headline controversy is over president Joe Biden’s proposal to vastly expand the size and reach and funding of the federal government in order to provide, that’s the language he would use, to provide for every American family. Note he’s also redefining the family.

He says that the federal government should provide something like 16 years of public education, two years of early childhood education, 12 years, and you’re actually talking about 13, with K-through-12, and then two years of college. All of that, 14 to 15 years as a part of the public education promise made to American families. He’s also promised paid parental leave. He has also promised federally funded and federally orchestrated childcare for children so that parents can be in the workplace. Very interesting issues that are now emerging.

Paul Krugman is a columnist for the New York Times. He wrote an article yesterday entitled Biden and the Future of the Family. Krugman, by the way, as a Nobel Prize winning economist, very much a man of the left. So aggressive is he is a man of the left that he often scares the left. But in this case, he is supporting what he describes as President Biden’s plans for the future of the family. He then goes on to attack whom he identifies as Republican politicians for being opposed to the president’s efforts to help the family.

He points to the fact that he says that Republicans on the House Ways and Means Committee issued a statement saying that the president’s plans amount to a top-down socialist agenda. Now in this case, the most important issue in using the word socialism is the government control of a vast new sector of American public and private life. Again, we’re talking about children here, we’re talking, again, about the redefinition of the family, and we’re talking about more and more of the family’s assignment being undertaken by those outside the family. And that’s what this amounts to, a government takeover of a great deal of the nation’s business and raising children.

It’s also interesting that Krugman says that those on the right, conservatives, are trying to make the debate less about economics than about culture war, “denouncing Biden’s plans as lefty social engineering.” He particularly sites New York Times bestselling author J.D. Vance. Now interestingly, J.D. Vance, along with Jenet Erickson, wrote an article published at The Wall Street Journal entitled Biden’s Daycare Plan is Bad for Families. The subhead in the article, young children are clearly happier and healthier when they spend the day at home with a parent. Now it turns out that is a very loaded term. Maybe you didn’t hear it. Young children are clearly happier and healthier when they spend the day at home with a parent. Well, that particular word has exploded in the nation’s debate and over the very use of that sentence in this article.

Krugman, by the way, representing mainstream economics in the United States, wants to see more people working, and that means more women working, and that means more women unencumbered by children and childcare in the workforce. And it is because we face an economy hungry for growth, and that growth can only come when you have more and more people in the workplace. That’s one of the reasons why there has been a vast cultural conspiracy to try to get as many women working as possible. It’s good for the economy. It’s good for the economic numbers. Well, of course it is.

Krugman goes on to celebrate that “only 14% of children are growing up in Leave It to Beaver families with a working father and stay at home mother on their first marriage.” Now again, only 14% of children. He appears to think that’s very good news. It’s also interesting that Krugman concludes his article by saying that he really doesn’t think it would be right just to give families this money. Rather, it should go for early childhood education and for childcare because it is going to be good for society if more of these mothers don’t stay at home and instead go and work.

Similarly, this week in the New York Times, Michelle Goldberg, also writing from the left, offered an opinion piece entitled, “America is Brutal to Parents. Biden Is Trying To Change That.” Goldberg is clearly in favor of this massive federal spending and the expansion of the federal government into the sphere of the family. And like so many on the left, she sees this as a very good thing precisely because it raises the relative authority and influence of the government, and lowers the relative authority and influence of the family and specifically of parents. And she cites the fact that a great deal of the opposition, if not most of the opposition, to this effort to expand government supported health care has come from “the religious right.”

The point made by Goldberg, the argument in essence, is that the only people who are holdouts against this vast expansion to the federal government, not only in spending but also in reach inside the family, are those who are described as the religious right, religious conservatives. Now, is she right or is she wrong? Well, in some sense, she’s right. And that’s because it is those who do hold to some kind of a theologically defined understanding of the family, we’re the last people who can believe that the family can just be redefined at will, and perhaps ought to be in the name of the modern age, in order to liberate all of the individuals in the family, liberate them for the economy, liberate them for the gross domestic product, liberate them for actors in a larger civic arena.

She also zeros her attack on J.D. Vance and his article, and also statements he made on Twitter. She cites Vance’s words, “Universal daycare is class war against normal people.” Now, why would J.D. Vance say that? Well, what he’s saying is that when you have this kind of universal daycare or government sponsored childcare, it is a vast expense of what will amount to eventually trillions of dollars, certainly even in the short run billions and billions of dollars, and it will go only to families that have both parents or the only parent working in the workplace.

What it then de-privileges, what it then discriminates against, is a family, including a tax paying family, in which you would have two parents, let’s just go out on a limb here and say a husband and a wife who would be a father and a mother, and one of them would be working outside the home, and one of them would be staying inside the home. This vast proposal by Joe Biden, that is certainly driven by the left who wants to drive it even further, would put that particular family uniquely at a disadvantage.

Or you might put it another way, and this would be even more sinister. It is the use of the vast reach and what will be the vast taxing authority of the federal government to incentivize both parents to leave the home in terms of primary vocational responsibility, and instead, find their fulfillment in a job. Don’t worry about the kids. There will be government childcare for them.

But at this point, maybe we actually ought to look more closely at the argument by J.D. Vance and Jenet Erickson that was published in The Wall Street Journal this week. He points out that there is empirical evidence to the fact that when government steps in offering this kind of childcare, subsidized, if not outright paid for, by the federal government, it isn’t necessarily good for kids.

As they write, “In 1997, the provincial government of Quebec started offering childcare for five Canadian dollars a day to all families regardless of income. Almost two decades later, economist Michael Baker, Kevin Mulligan and Jonathan Gruber found that children from two parent families who participated showed significant increases in anxiety, aggression, and hyperactivity.” Those effects persisted, they write, and even grew as they reached young adulthood “self-reported health and life satisfaction decreased significantly. Boys who participated were more likely to commit crimes. It was, to put it bluntly, a disaster for Quebec’s children.”

But there’s another looming question here, and Vance and Ericson point to it. How is it that even if you think this is a good idea, by the way, you think the federal government can actually even pull it off? Where is the proven efficiency of the federal government that all of a sudden coming up with a massive program that is supposed to offer government funded, government organized, government sponsored childcare for millions and millions and millions of children? Where’s that going to come from?

Vance and Erickson in their article in The Wall Street Journal point out that childcare is a necessity for some children and for some families. But what we’re looking at here is a redefinition of the family and a redefinition of parenthood that actually suggests that the norm, the normal family situation, should be every conceivable parent, no pun intended there, every conceivable parent deployed in the workplace. The home is, by necessary redefinition, secondary in terms of society’s responsibility.

Now, at this point, I want to go to someone else, someone who has been dead for a long time, but nonetheless played an important role in the intellectual life of the United States. His name was Pitirim Sorokin. He became the first professor of sociology at Harvard University. And he pointed out, quite accurately, that when you’re looking at civilization, there are two major responsibilities. Every society, if it succeeds, must meet these two responsibilities. No society that fails at either of these responsibilities will survive. The two responsibilities are this. Reproducing, number one. And secondly, raising children successfully. He points out that when society attempts to do anything else, it can only make progress anywhere outside or beyond the family if the family is respected, and the family is strengthened, and the family is effective at reproducing and raising children.

Part II

When We Talk about a Parent Staying Home to Care for Children, Do We Really Mean a Mom? Actually, We Do.

Vance and Erickson, by the way, also go on to argue, as we saw in that subhead in the article, that young children are clearly “happier and healthier when they spend the day at home with a parent.” And that’s not a radical idea, but you might think it is because in yesterday’s edition of the Washington Post, there arrived in article with the headline, “Conservatives say they want to help ‘parents'” the word parents put in quotation marks “stay home. They mean mothers.”

Jill Filipovic is the author of the article. She’s also the author of the book, Okay Boomer, Let’s Talk: How My Generation Got Left Behind. But she’s also directing her ire at J.D. Vance and at the use of that word parent. I told you it was important when we looked at the breakout quote, the subhead of that opinion piece that Vance and Erickson wrote for The Wall Street Journal. Young children are clearly happier and healthier when they spend the day at home with a parent.

So, what’s the point of the opinion piece of the Washington Post in response? Caught you. Caught you red handed. You used the word parent, but what you really mean is mom. What you really mean is that it’s moms who ought to stay home with children. She’s accusing conservatives in the United States of using the word parent, but what we really mean is mom.

Now, again, pause for a moment. Is that what we really mean or not? Well, I’m going to go out on a limb here. I’m going to say that what we really do mean is moms. Now that is an absolute heresy in secular America. It’s an absolute heresy to say that there is some inherent distinction in role and in biology and in function between moms and dads, between women and men.

Now I’ll just state it the matter again. When you look at the Christian response to second-wave feminism back in the ’60s and ’70s, here’s a part of the inadequate Christian response. We should have responded, that just doesn’t even work biologically. It just doesn’t work that you can somehow liberate from what you describe as a domestic concentration camp and end up with a family or even reproduce the next generation. It won’t work. Because you may make the ridiculous and deadly argument in court that a woman, if she is equal with a man, must be equally unpregnant. But here’s the fact, you can’t make a man pregnant, period. By the way, you couldn’t in the 1960s and you can’t now, period.

Jill Filipovic, responding to the argument and the use of the word parent, says this. “On the surface, talking about parents rather than mothers might seem like progress. That gender neutral language has become more standard in these discussions does reflect a real shift in gender norms. Men are doing a lot more parenting than they used to. Fathers increasingly say they want a better work-life balance and spend more time with their families. Feminists have pushed for a world in which fathers do their fair share, women can work for pay, and it’s not presumed that women will be the primary caregivers for children.” Again, she’s writing from the left. She thinks that’s all good.

But still she says, when you see conservatives use the word parent, speaking of a parent staying at home with children, understand, the alarm must go off, they really mean moms. She writes “It’s mothers who still do the majority of childcare in the United States and around the world, and who spend much more time with their children than fathers do with theirs. Mothers are much more likely than fathers to raise their children without a partner. The number of unmarried parents has exploded, but the proportion of unmarried parents who are solo dads hasn’t changed since the 1960s. One in four American children are now being raised in single parent households and overwhelmingly by single moms”.

Well, I’m convinced that she thinks that’s a smart argument from the left, but I just want to go back and look at it for a moment. Look at the vast admission that’s made here. You go back to the 1960s, it turns out that there are very few households in which you have a solo dad raising children, especially young children. She says, and she’s basically complaining about this, look, that number hasn’t changed since the 1960s. Well, let’s ask a question. Is that because of societal prejudice? Is that because that you have conservatives recalcitrant in the political process, or is it about something as simple as biology? I’m going to ask the question, and let’s face it, you know the answer.

But here’s where you also have to understand that the modern secular worldview in denying the fact that there is a creation intention in the world around us, they argue that biology is just something that we must attempt to overcome. A Christian looking at this would say, “No, the biology is actually reminding us of the structure that God made for our good and His glory.”

If you’re arguing that the biology is something that has to be overcome, and understand, that is to a considerable degree the argument behind abortion. If you were arguing that biology is what you have to overcome, number one, the Christian worldview would say, “Good luck with that.” But number two would say, “You’re actually undermining the very possibility of human flourishing, human joy, and human happiness, because you are destroying what God established as the way that this can work, the way that it works to our good and for His glory.”

But this comes back to another issue of worldview analysis we see regularly on The Briefing, we need to see it as often as it comes up to us, and that is the attempt to try to use personal autonomy to trump ontology, which is to say, to use our claim of individual rights to overcome the way God created the world and the moral order of the world. So, just consider the fact that in this article by Jill Filipovic that appeared in the Washington Post, there’s basically a complaint that there are not more single men, single male headed households that are raising children solo. There’s the acknowledgement that the vast majority of the millions and millions of children who are being raised in a single parent home or being raised by a single mom.

But here’s where we also need to understand that as that is true, it also itself reflects brokenness. But that’s what politicians are unwilling to say these days, and frankly, that includes many politicians who are Republicans and will present themselves as conservatives. They are not going to say what they know to be true, if they’re willing to confront the truth, and that is that any society that begins to normalize, and frankly we’re already there, but then to celebrate and even to financially incentivize households with a single parent.

Understand what’s going on here. In any civilization at any time, there would be some families marked by a single parent. But throughout most of human history until very recent times, the vast, vast majority of those would mean some kind of household in which where there had been two parents, there is now one, usually by some cause of death. But now we’re looking at the fact that this is being presented as, in an age of personal autonomy and expressive individualism, just another lifestyle choice.

Part III

The Left Claims to Know What’s Best for Moms: Examining an Audacious Claim from the Social Elites

But I want to end by looking at an argument made by David Brooks, with whom I am often in disagreement, but I want to say he’s exactly right when he concludes his article about this controversy by saying that what’s really going on here in many ways is the cultural left establishing its lifestyle choices on behalf of the rest of the population. It is those who are saying, “Look, women should find their identity and their fulfillment in a professional arena.” It is those who are committed to that position who are basically saying “Now pay for the childcare for our children.” And not only that for others, because we also want other women to follow our example.

Brooks concludes by saying that he’s really worried about the class politics of all of this, but here’s the issue. He’s rightly pointing to the fact that there are many in the more affluent, more elite classes who just assume that women should find their primary fulfillment in profession, in work outside the home by definition. There is a basic slight and even condescension towards those, including women and mothers, who would make the decision to stay at home.

It is as if the left is saying, and this means also the socioeconomic elites are saying, “We know what’s best for you. Come join us in the workplace. Join us in professional life. How in the world is it that you could claim to find greater fulfillment in staying at home with your children? You need to wake up and understand the real world.” We’ll be following this debate very closely because, as you can sense, I think it is extremely important not only for the future of our country, but for the future of American families, even the future of the family as an institution. It also tells us a great deal about what happens when government expands. It never retracts.

Part IV

You Can Buy a Smoothie Maker in France, But Not a Desk Lamp? The Expansive French Bureaucracy Makes No Sense and Never Backs Down

I’m going to close with a story coming from Paris that tells us that is exactly what many French citizens fear, because the vast French bureaucracy, it is far more vast in percentage terms than anything that Americans might even imagine. The French bureaucracy has used the COVID-19 pandemic in order to enter entirely new spheres of French life and moving in with all kinds of regulations, many of which, to most people in France, make absolutely no sense. As we know, that’s not true just in France.

The headline in this article entitled Paris Dispatch from the New York Times, the headline, “France is Locked Down, But its Bureaucracy is Thriving,” points to that very reality. When there is a cultural opportunity for government to expand, just watch, it does expand. It expands further than you even were fearing it would expand. And once the pandemic’s over, it’s not going to retract.

Roger Cohen writing this article spoke about going to a large French store intending to buy a desk lamp. But he discovered that the bureaucrats nationwide had ordered that there were certain items that could be sold because they are essential and others that could not be sold because they are not essential. And guess which one was not essential, a desk lamp. It turns out, as he says, that he could buy any number of a dozen different electric cheese eating toasters. He says, “I could buy toasters galore, pans on all shapes, any form of home stereo equipment, but not a desk lamp.”

I found it interesting that Cohen said, “The sheer intricacy of the bureaucratic obtusiveness overwhelmed me. I could not help wondering whether some faction of the many hours devoted to coming up with such regulations might’ve been better used speeding up the vaccines to more people. France has up to now underwhelmed,” he says, “in getting its population vaccinated.”

He spoke of passing a sign on one hairdresser’s door, “Contrary to hairdressers, it seems we are not essential to well-being. Injustice!” But I’m going to conclude where Cohen concludes, and that is when he asked for the rationale as to why he could buy any one of a number of juicers or toasters, but not a desk lamp. The person responding said, “I don’t know, but of course you can always use a candle.” Oh yes. There will always be a France.

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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