The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

It’s Tuesday, September 27, 2022.

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

Part I

Cuba Legalizes Same-Sex Marriage—A Big Story Behind the Headlines in the Communist Nation

As you recall, in 1959, under the leadership of Fidel Castro, Communists took control of the island of Cuba and established a Communist form of government driven by a certain form of ideological Marxism that conformed Communism to their own political whims, as a matter of fact. But nonetheless, the Castro regime was both a cult, a personality, and a Marxist regime. And like so many Marxist or Communist governments, the government repeatedly held elections, which no surprise, the government won overwhelmingly every single time.

As a matter of fact, there was often not a competing candidate to the Communist Party candidate. But nonetheless, they said, “It is an election.”

So there was a lot of quite automatic skepticism as the Cuban government put before Cuban voters the question as to whether or not the country should adopt a new family law that would include a new marriage law that would, for the first time, legalize same-sex marriage in the island nation of Cuba. The results came in just over the course of the last several hours, and we are told that by a 60 plus percent margin, the measure was adopted.

Now, do we have confidence in the electoral integrity of Cuba under a Communist regime? No. Emphatically no. But nonetheless, this is not exactly unexpected. And this leads to some very deep worldview considerations.

First of all, as we are looking at the actual headline news coming in from Cuba, we are told that the measure that was adopted includes more than 400 articles. So we’re talking about a rather comprehensive revision of family and marriage and sexuality laws there within the island of Cuba. And we’re also told that this family law was approved. The most recent numbers are 66.9% to 33.1%, that reported by the President of Cuba’s National Electoral Council.

The code is rather comprehensive, and it is liberal pretty much across the board. It would allow for surrogate pregnancies and the use of IVF technologies, and even as was reported by the Guardian, that’s a liberal newspaper in the United Kingdom, “Broader rights for grandparents in regard to grandchildren, protection of elderly people, measures against gender violence.”

But nonetheless, the big issue was the legalization of same-sex marriage. And as a part of this code, it has now been affirmed by a majority of those voting in this Cuban election, at least according to the Electoral Council in Cuba. The nation’s current President, Miguel Díaz-Canel, supported the entire package, but he also acknowledged the fact that many voters there in Cuba didn’t exactly understand even what they were voting on. He said, “Most of our people will vote in favor of the code, but it still has issues that our society as a whole does not understand.”

Now, by the way, the Guardian, again, it is a liberal paper in the United Kingdom. It does acknowledge the fact that, in Cuban elections, there is no other party than the Communist party that is represented on the ballot. And, no surprise there, the elections quote, “routinely produce victory margins of more than 90%.” And that includes a supposed Pueblo site on a constitutional reform in the year 2019.

Now, is this a legitimate vote in Cuba? The fact is we don’t know. We have no reason to trust the Cuban regime. But on the other hand, as we look at this, it is perhaps not as surprising as some might present the numbers to be. Because as we’ve been looking at country after country, what we see is a parallelism. The parallelism is this: it is a parallel movement of secularization and unbelief, a rejection of historic Christianity on the one hand, and the adoption of an entire agenda, a progressivist morality in politics, on the other hand. Those two things do move along very closely together.

And let’s just remind ourselves that, going back to 1959 and the Castro Revolution, the Marxist regime there in Cuba established itself over against the religious beliefs of the majority population there in Cuba at the time. That would’ve been Roman Catholic. And as stalwartly opposed to the practice of religion, a denial of religious liberty, the repression of all Christian churches and religious systems. And so, as you’re looking at Cuba, we need to recognize that it reflects many of the patterns we have seen throughout the previous domination of Communism in Eastern Europe. And that is that those societies were often accelerated in the process of secularization or the retreat of theological belief and specifically the retreat and diminishment of Christianity as public witness in those lands.

Cuba seems to be indicating a similar kind of process of secularization. But this one of course has been driven by the government now for more than six decades.

But as you’re thinking about this particular vote in Cuba, there are a couple of very interesting wrinkles in this story. For one thing, the Cuban Revolution that was led by Fidel Castro was not only a revolution of Marxism; it was also driven by a Cuban image of machismo. That was very much a part of the picture, very much a part of the personality, the iconography, not only of Castro, but of his fellow revolutionaries. They presented themselves as quintessentially men. Men of the mountains, men who were willing to put their lives on the line. And a thematically Latin American understanding of machismo was central to the Cuban Revolution and to revolutionary leaders.

And that extended from Fidel Castro who died, by the way, in 2016, to his successor and brother, Raul, and even to the contemporary Cuban regime. But maybe not now quite so much. If you’re putting the issue of same-sex marriage and so many of the issues on this ballot before the people of Cuba, maybe you’re actually abandoning some of what we might describe as, at the very least, the gender clarity of the Cuban Revolution.

This seems to be a retreat from that clarity. That cult of machismo, by the way, included not only Fidel Castro himself, but also the revolutionary that was, at least at one point, very much a part of the Cuban Revolution, and that was Che Guevara, who became one of the symbols of the alternative culture of the left during the last half of the 20th century. Even into the 21st century, by the way, you’ve got teenagers walking around with Che tee-shirts, even if they really have no idea who he was.

But the Castro family was involved in this particular revolution; this time, a revolution in morality. In another way, it was Raul Castro’s daughter, that would mean Fidel Castro’s niece, Mariela Castro, who, as head of the National Center for Sex Education, was pushing a progressivist moral agenda, including the normalization of homosexuality.

Another interesting worldview wrinkle in this, for Christians to consider, is the fact that at least some, including Mark Frank writing for Reuters, the international news agency, some pointed to the fact that this was the first election in the history of Cuba in which voters had at least some access to the internet. And at least some international observers were saying that that in itself might be a force towards the moral liberalization of Cuba.

That’s something for Christians to consider. I think it’s actually a big part of the civilizational struggle we have here. I think here we understand that even as social media and the internet have brought all kinds of new means of communication, it has also brought a revolution in morality. And I don’t think you could have the social acceptance of something like same-sex marriage or the very powerful influence of the entire LGBTQ community without the mobilizing power of social media and the larger communications context of the internet.

In order to understand the revolution that has taken place, not just in Cuba politically, but morally, understand that even in the early years of the Communist regime there, in the 1960s under Fidel Castro, those who were convicted or suspected of homosexual behavior were often sent to reeducation camps. And now, same-sex marriage is to be legal.

Another interesting fact is that back in 2018, the regime itself had decided to move forward with the legalization of same-sex marriage, but it feared a conservative backlash, of course described in the media as homophobia. One final note on this: I think it’s really important for us to understand that in classical Marxism, even in the thought of Carl Marx himself or Marx and Engels together, in terms of Communist ideology, one of the central goals of the Communist movement was to basically eliminate the family or redefine the family, so to weaken the family so that the bonds of family would not come before ultimate and idolatrous allegiance to the Marxist state.

But one of the things we need to note here is that that revolution has come something of full circle in Cuba where the Communist vision of eliminating the family has, at the very least, led to what we are told is the vote of Cuba’s citizens to redefine marriage.

And so, homosexual behavior and relationships described by Cuba, after the revolution, as a “deviation incompatible with the revolution,” it is now to become an official part of Cuban society by government approval. The legalization and normalization of same-sex marriage.

Part II

‘The Book’s Literary Value Overrides Scenes Involving Nudity and Sex’: Pornographic LGBTQ Book Stays on the Shelves in Kentucky School District — So Who Determines Literary Value?

But next, we’re going to shift from Cuba here to Kentucky, from which I am speaking, where in Kentucky the state’s largest public school system, that would be the Jefferson County Public Schools here in Louisville, a district panel for the school system decided that it would not allow the pulling of the book known as Gender Queer from student access.

Instead, it will remain on the shelves of two public school libraries in Louisville where the book had been challenged. As Olivia Krauth for The Courier Journal reports, “A group of educators and parents that have final say over library challenges and Jefferson County Public Schools voted Monday afternoon to keep, and here’s the title of the book, Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe, at Liberty High School and the Phoenix School of Discovery. In doing so, says the paper, “They side with multiple school principals and the district’s head of media services in arguing the book’s literary value and impact on LGBTQ students override a handful of scenes involving nudity and sex.”

Now, in all the reporting about this kind of incident, and I talked on The Briefing, just in recent days, about what’s called Banned Books Week, in which the most important thing to understand is that, in the United States, not one of those books has actually been banned. They were all available for purchase. The fact is that we’re talking about challenges to books being on the shelves of public libraries and primarily school libraries. And it is a propaganda victory for those on the left to redefine any challenge to a book in a public school library or a public library as an effort to ban a book.

If a book is banned, then it’s illegal to sell it, to own it, or to distribute it, to publish it, to print it. Nothing like that is taking place in the United States about any of the books that are at the center of these controversies. Instead, what we really are facing are that there are those who are winning the argument, at least in most jurisdictions, to say that children in the public schools, teenagers in those schools, and those who would walk into public libraries, should have access to materials which, at least to let’s say an incredibly large percentage of the American population, would be considered sexually explicit, morally transgressive, and furthermore, yes, pornographic. Now, I said that sentence is really important.

I want to go back to the Courier Journal’s coverage of the decision by this panel in the Jefferson County Public Schools to keep the books on the shelves: “In doing so, they cited with multiple school principals and the district’s head of media services in arguing”–arguing what? Let’s pay close attention to this–“the book’s literary value and impact on LGBTQ students override a handful of scenes involving nudity and sex.” Now, the next thing I want to tell you is that you should not be too nervous that I’m going to say too much more about this book. And that’s simply because I’m not about to go into detail about what this book actually does contain.

I simply want to say to listeners to the briefing that we are clearly talking about sexually explicit and indeed pornographic images and content. But I want to go back to that sentence, the sentence that was made saying that the panel “sided with multiple school principals and the district’s head of media services in arguing that the book’s literary value overrode,” and also they said the impact on LGBTQ students, but literary value overrode “a handful of scenes involving nudity and sex.”

So, what is this about literary value? Well, this goes back to the Supreme Court decision controlling so much of the restrictions or lack of restrictions on pornography in the United States. Because in that decision, the Supreme Court said that pornography could be justified and that bans on such materials could be struck down if the work was judged to have a surpassing literary value that justified the book remaining on the shelf. Now, just to state the obvious, that is a subjective determination or a subjective question, even if it’s legitimate in the first place.

Let’s just state that if you’re talking about redeeming literary value, the big question is going to be: who decides that? And the answer is, and here’s what we need to understand, because even as we talked about the so-called Banned Books Week, just a matter of days ago, this is an opportunity to come back and say something, and that is this.

The argument here is that people say just voters, parents, those in the community have no right to determine whether or not a book has some kind of redeeming literary value. No, that must be left to you know what’s following: professionals. And who are the professionals? They are those who are schooled in and formed by the professions who basically say that just about anything that might be controversial… Here’s the catch 22, here’s the moral full circle. If it is controversial enough, according to a certain logic, it must have redeeming literary value.

And that, of course, is one of those circular arguments that just comes back to the fact that if you hand over to anyone the power to decide what will be in public school libraries or public libraries, and you say that the public doesn’t get to have a say? Well, not only does that really violate the very claim that these are public schools under the control of the public. No, they’re under the control of ideologically formed professionals.

Public, get out of the way. When it comes to the public library, the same thing.

Part III

Parents, Don’t Leave it to the Professionals: Moral Knowledge In Literature and the Responsibility of Christian Parents to Faithfully Steward What Their Children Read

But at the same time, that very title reminded me of an argument that just recently appeared in quintessential form in the Los Angeles Times by Robin Abcarian. The editorial columnist, therefore the Times tells us, “It doesn’t take long to read the most banned book in America, an award-winning memoir in graphic novel form called Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. It’s about the illustrator’s years-long quest to unravel what it means to be gender nonbinary, that is to feel neither female nor male.” Now, just notice this is an opinion piece, so that’s fair. A lot of opinion being expressed here. But notice the form of the opinion. It’s the most banned book in America. Again, it’s not banned. And then it’s described as an award-winning memoir. Well, what awards exactly are we talking about here?

But then Abcarian goes on to write, “It takes even less time to understand why parents and PTAs around the country have pounced on the book, demanding it be disappeared from school libraries.” That’s again a very interesting statement. This columnist says, “Hey, I’m all for this book. But you take a quick look at it, you know why parents don’t like it.”

Now, I’m not even going to be able to read a lot of the words from the Los Angeles Times. I’m simply going to say that this colonist describes the book, first published in 2019, as covering “topics guaranteed to be explosive in certain quarters.” And I’m just going to tell you that if you’re listening to me use these words, you live in those quarters. Another of my favorite sentences from the Courier Journal’s coverage of this particular event here in Louisville includes this sentence: “A Courier Journal reporter who read the book counted fewer than a half dozen instances of nudity or sexually explicit images.”

Well, that’s kind of helpful to know, in an odd way, isn’t it? A reporter for the newspaper evidently looked at it in order to count how many images might feature nudity or something sexually explicit. And here we are told we should all back off and calm down because the count was fewer than a half dozen. A lawyer for the parents and PTA officials who had brought the challenge pointed out that graphic imagery in the book itself mentions the name of a specific pornography website. The lawyer went on to say that if you go to that website, the first thing that comes up is, “Pick your porn, straight or gay.”

The local school superintendent here in Louisville, Marty Polio, had refused to pull the book from the school library shelves. And according to the Courier Journal, the superintendent, in rejecting the request, said that Gender Queerdoesn’t meet the law’s definition of obscene material–this is the Courier Journal report–and “disagreed with her assertion, that is the lawyer’s assertion, that the book depicts a prurient interest in sexual conduct or is patently offensive.” Instead, “Pointing to multiple literary awards, including one focused on young adults, Polio wrote, ‘The extensive literary value of the work makes it clear that it is not obscene material.'” Yes, ladies and gentlemen, here you have the school superintendent of a major public school system in the United States, like so many others in similar positions, basically arguing that the book should be on the shelves because, in the superintendent’s view, having won multiple literary awards, again, just understand where those awards come from, the book demonstrated “extensive literary value that,” he said, “makes it clear that it is not obscene material.”

Now, just notice something here. Let’s just understand this clearly. That means that no matter how sexually explicit or obscene materials in a book might be, if in the view of the powers that be such a work has some kind of overwhelmingly redeeming literary value, it can continue to be available to children and teenagers.

And yes, you may be wondering, while you’re talking about this kind of redeeming literary value or very significant literary value, who’s deciding that? And again, what exactly does it mean? Well, the head of the library services for the local school district said that literary value is, according to the paper “when people gain something from a book.” Well just think about that. When people gain something from a book? From what book could someone gain nothing? And for that matter, if the book is full of obscene or pornographic material, what one gains is obscene or pornographic material. That is a definition that would exclude no book at any time for any reason for any reader.

But later, the newspaper also tells us that the same library official “could not think of a time when a book did not make it into a library.” So in other words, of all the books that might be available that might pass or fail the test for that particular library system, evidently, as yet, not one book has failed.

But to reassure us, the paper goes on to tell us that even if the book is available in the library, it may be available only to older students. The superintendent here said that the particular book known as Gender Queer is not available to middle school students at one of the contested schools. There are so many issues that I hope we can talk about in coming days. But rather than shift to another issue at this point in today’s addition to The Briefing, I just want to affirm to Christian parents that one of your most important responsibilities is to guide and protect your own children and teenagers in the process of reading.

Don’t apologize for that. That is one of the reasons God put you here on planet Earth, and it is one of your responsibilities. And the other thing that Christians understand is that there is a morality of knowledge issue we always have to keep before us.

Interestingly, I mentioned this yesterday related to nuclear weapons. Once humanity comes up with something like the knowledge of how to build a nuclear bomb, then we face the morality of that knowledge and the fact that you can never not know it. Just understand that at least a part of how the progressivist agenda is winning is because that the more they put these images and messages and entertainment narratives before people, the more they are accepted because they become normalized, and Christians and others become desensitized.

And so, when someone says to you, “Look, I’m a professional. Trust me. Look, I’ve been trained in this particular discipline. Trust me. Let me tell you what your children should watch. Let me tell you what your children should learn. Let me tell you what your children should read.” Just understand that when you hear that argument, your defenses should go sky high.

But it also reminds us that when you look at so many of these libraries, they have been considered for so long to be safe places. Surely, where there might be a disagreement over policies, book by book. There might be different worldviews presented. But now we just have to understand that the agenda being presented by so many of these libraries is just an absolutely unvarnished embrace of the progressivist agenda.

As you go into those libraries, that is something you had better understand. And if that’s true for you, how much more so is it true for your children?

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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