Wednesday, May 24, 2023
It's Wednesday, May 24th, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The ‘Religious Right’ in Japan? The Moral Revolution Hits an Unexpected Obstacle. It’s Probably Not What You Think
We understand in terms of worldview that one of the great polarizing facts of the United States of America is an increasing divide between believers and non-believers, between those who are Christians, and this means seriously minded as Christians and those who are not.
What we note from time to time is the disappearance of the middle. But we also note how the media has latched on to this in such a way that they believe that just about anyone to their right represents something of a radical right. And they also, and this is what's really interesting, they're also on their own making the connection between religious belief and worldview implications. They're noticing that those who have really strong religious beliefs, and here of course in the United States, I mean those who in particular would be, for instance, Orthodox Jews or traditionalist Roman Catholics or Evangelical Protestants, we come at issues very differently than those who come at the same issue from a secular perspective.
One of the other patterns in the media is, as I said, trying to describe conservatives as the radical right and because of that second issue, the religious right. But sometimes all that basically blows up. And one example is an article that recently appeared in the New York Times is by reporters Motoko Rich and Hikari Hida. The headline is this, The Religious Right's Hidden Sway as Japan Trails Allies on Gay Rights. Wow. The religious right's story is now not only about Washington D.C. It's about Japan. We are told that the religious right is actually a hidden factor as Japan, "trails allies on gay rights." So the term here is religious right. The religious right's hidden sway in Japan.
Now, first of all, a little background. Japan is the only one of the G7, that is the group of seven, the group of the seven most advanced industrialized economies in the world, and Japan's the outlier because it's the only one of the G7 without legalized same-sex marriage.
Now, background issue number two, Japan hosted the recent G7 meeting. The President of the United States was there, the Chancellor of Germany, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, and of course the Prime Minister of Japan was the host for the meeting that at least part of the time was in Hiroshima, one of the most historic sites there in Japan. And of course one that comes itself with a great deal of moral and historical meaning. But the G7 met there and one of the interesting subtexts was the entire array of LGBTQ issues.
Now, you asked the question, why would those issues be so paramount? It is because the fact that activists make those issues paramount and they have sway upon the politicians who at least in large part such as the United States President, Joe Biden, they actually owe much of their electoral fate to those kinds of activists. And as we know in the Democratic Party, those activists are basically in one giant coalition constellation that would involve pro-abortion activists, LGBTQ activists. You just go down the list, identity politics and all the rest. And as we say on the right and on the left, you can pretty much figure that constellation out pretty quickly.
But when it comes to the LGBTQ issues, well, when the G7 leaders went to Japan, they were going to have to go home and at least those who were elected by liberal or progressive parties, they were going to have to go home and tell their constituencies, "You know, we did our very best to convince Japan to get on board with the legalization of same sex marriage." More on that in just a moment.
Let's go back to the news report that the issue of the influence of the religious right in Japan became a matter of public concern with the G7 meeting, there in Japan, the specter of the religious right. But as you look at that headline, readers in the United States will look at that and say, "Wow, Evangelical Christians, Orthodox Jews, maybe some Mormons from Utah, Evangelical Protestants they were showing up there, and as the influence of the religious right that is the obstacle to Japan moving forward with getting with the program with LGBTQ rights and legalizing same-sex marriage?" Well, of course, interestingly, the reference here to the religious right isn't about Christianity. It's not about Mormons. It is instead about Shintoism.
Now, there are a few things for us to consider. For one thing, Japan is a very, very old civilization. Both Japan and China claim to be very ancient civilizations continuing in a rather unbroken pattern. Broken perhaps by different kinds of political structures, but unbroken in terms of the succession of the culture over time and just stating the matter bluntly, compared to western nations and western civilization, yes, Japan has a very old, as does China, a very old, very long historical tradition. Largely unbroken, at least in part because of the insularity of those cultures through so many centuries and also because of the ethnic identification of the makeup of the population.
But as you think about Japan, Shintoism is a very important issue. Now, Shintoism is often described as uniquely Japanese, whether that's true or not is a matter of academic debate, but it certainly has arisen in very close connection with the understanding of Japanese mythology and with the understanding of Japanese nationalism. Shintoism playing a very important role, sometimes a very obvious court centered ceremonial role.
So, when this pair of reporters for the New York Times writes about the religious right's hidden sway in Japan on these issues, it's not about Christianity. It is instead about Shintoism. And Shintoism, by the way, doesn't even require or invoke a deity. There is no theism in Shintoism. Now, there are many variants, and this is basically true of so many of the Asian religions. But nonetheless, the point is that Shintoism is not explicitly religious. It is explicitly moral and it is very much tied to Japanese national identity, even Japanese nationalism.
But here's something for Christians to consider. What we actually have here is a very interesting testimony to what Christians would define as natural revelation, even a common law, in this case, a natural law showing itself, and it shows itself in some very interesting ways. For one thing, in Japan, Shintoism as a part of the Japanese nationalism, has also been about having more and more Japanese people. But here's the point, if you want to have more and more Japanese people, you're going to need more and more Japanese babies. And if you are going to get more and more Japanese babies, you're going to have to have people in Japan who know how babies are made.
And that means, and by the way, it's just an obvious fact that every successful civilization has come to this dawning awareness. It takes a man and a woman, and it takes society privileging the relationship, the exclusive relationship between a man and a woman. And that comes down to the institution of marriage. And there's a reason why marriage has been recognized by virtually every civilization, certainly every successful civilization, every lasting civilization in the entire history of the human species.
There's a political dimension to this as well, because it turns out that the Japanese weren't particularly friendly to all these people coming from the other G7 nations to try to enforce their morality upon Japan. The western, and I would say revisionist and corrupted understanding of marriage, foisting it upon Japan, at least trying to do so, trying to shame Japan into adopting and legalizing same-sex marriage.
The reporters for the New York Times put the story this way, " To millions of Japanese, the Shinto faith is not so much a spiritual practice as a cultural one. Every January crowds gather at shrines to pray for good fortune for the new year. Families take their children to celebrate rites of passage and many seek blessings for luck and romance, school entrance exams or job interviews.
Few regard these rituals as being tethered to any fixed doctrine. Shintoism and indigenous religion has no official dogma or scripture, but unbeknown to most and largely secular Japan, a National Shinto Association has tried to spread a conservative ideological message among lawmakers including on gay and transgender rights." And now at least a part of what's going on here is again, the fact that this is a group of conservatives in Japan who care deeply about Japan as a nation. They care deeply about its future and oddly enough, they have tied that to population and they have rather logically tied population to reproduction.
Something else is going on here in terms of worldview, and that is the fact that in many cultures of the world, the individual is simply not paramount, certainly not without accountability to responsibility for the whole, and thus in Japan and in many other cultures, there is less of the autonomous individualism we now take for granted in the United States and in western nations. And that certainly plays a factor here as well. In the United States, in Canada and in Western Europe, there's just going to be an assumption of this modern secular notion of autonomous individualism. But as we shall note, it doesn't transport very well to other cultures, and in particular, it does not transport well to cultures that are concerned with, oh, something like human reproduction.
But there's something else we need to recognize, and that is that elections in the United States have consequences as well. There are some interesting moments in the G7 meeting on this issue. You had Bloomberg reporting, "The prime ministers of Italy and Canada took pot shots at each other over LGBTQ rights. An unusual display of open disagreement between Group of Seven leaders attending a summit in Japan." So here we're not talking about the United States and Japan, we're talking about Italy and Canada. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada said, "Canada's concerned about some of the positioning that Italy is taking in terms of LGBT rights, but I look forward to talking with you."
The Italian Prime Minister was not amused. But Italy, right now, which is also experiencing a frightening fall in birth rates, is also rethinking, at least in part, its celebration of autonomous individualism as transferred to the issue of marriage. Prime Minister, by the way, represents the left of the left, and if he could find a way to be further left, he would likely work his way there.
But you'll notice the preachiness in all of this. You'll notice that the cultural left is arguing in explicitly moral terms, whether they want to admit it or not, they're arguing a moral ought. We just believe it's the opposite of the actual ought. But before we transfer that too quickly, we better ask who we are because when it comes to the United States of America, we had better remember that when we elect a president, we effectively elect a foreign policy, and that foreign policy is going to be personalized by the United States ambassador to a country.
And in this case, the U.S. Ambassador is the former mayor of Chicago, Rahm Emanuel. He has often been described politically as a bull in a China shop, and he has been that in Japan, and he has been that as an aggressive proponent of gay rights, even trying publicly to position Japan in such a way that it would be embarrassed if it does not go along and follow the example of the United States in liberalizing on these issues.
Motoko Rich reported on this as well, telling us, "As Japanese lawmakers debated a contentious bill declaring that there 'should be no unfair discrimination against gay and transgender communities.' Mr. Emmanuel, that's Ambassador Rahm Emanuel, 'marshalled, a group of 15 foreign ambassadors in Tokyo to record a four minute video nudging Japan to embrace LGBTQ rights and by implication, same sex marriage.' The U.S. Ambassador said with the other ambassadors he corralled together in this video, 'With all the challenges that we face from the implications of climate change, wars, civil strife, hunger, the last thing that should occupy our energy is two people who love each other and want to build a life together. Together, he said, let's be true to Japan's constitution and to the Japanese people.'"
Now, there's several things to note here. One is the inherent contradiction between the United States ambassador filming a video entirely to influence Japan on LGBTQ issues and then saying it's because there are bigger issues, climate change, wars, civil strife and hunger, and thus Japan should not be distracted by this issue. But arguably it's the US Ambassador that was distracting Japan on the issue.
The second thing is the incongruity of the U.S. Ambassador calling upon the people and especially the legislators of Japan, to be true to Japan's constitution and to the Japanese people. But he put it in these words, "Let's be true to Japan's constitution and to the Japanese people." It should be to no one’s surprise that some of the people in Japan wondered when the American Ambassador was speaking who he thought we were.
Rahm Emanuel has been a very divisive figure in a lot of American history. In recent years, he was the mayor of Chicago from 2011 to 2019. He was in the House of Representatives in 2003 to 2009 and was Chief of Staff to President Barack Obama from 2009 to 2010. Where you find Rahm Emanuel, you find a lot of noise, just ask the Japanese.
One of the important things for us to recognize is that elections in the US have consequences. One of the consequences for Americans is that our foreign policy at present is leveraged towards trying to force the LGBTQ activist agenda upon other nations. It's being done with the full force of American foreign policy. It's being done in the name of the United States of America. Let that sink in for a moment.
There's one final observation we need to make on this story, and it goes back to that identification in the media of the religious right and it turning out in Japan to be Shintoism. And that is this, as you look at worldviews all over the world, the most seriously and historically religious worldviews are also in general the most conservative worldviews. They are trying to conserve far more than would be true in a more liberal secularized society. And we understand that comes for good reason by good logic.
The Centrality of Bathrooms in the Culture War: It’s Not By Accident
All right, now I'm going to shift back to the United States. Let me just tell you, we're not going to go into dangerous territory here, but there is something really, really important in controversy these days over who can use which bathroom, what restroom, which facility. That is now a matter of intense cultural controversy with deep moral meaning.
And the fact that it is moral in its meaning has caught the attention even of an opinion writer for the New York Times by the name of Lydia Polgreen. The title of her article, "Bathrooms Are Where People Are Most Vulnerable." Now, this means psychologically and emotionally vulnerable, but nonetheless, you do understand that something's going on in a bathroom that needs to take place in a bathroom and not somewhere else, and it is a context for having to decide who belongs in which bathroom.
Now, there's just some basic common sense here. Everyone doesn't belong in the same bathroom. That is just for very good reason and people basically figure that out very early in life, and by the time you are old enough to be in any institutionalized setting, you walk down the hallway and you come quickly to understand there's a door marked boys and there is a door marked girls, and you better be careful which door you enter, boys in the boys room, girls in the girls room.
Now, it's also interesting that the argument that has been made there over the course of time has primarily been the argument that there's a particular vulnerability in that kind of space that means that you need to segregate by gender. But even then it's not necessarily an equal threat because it's not so much the concern about women getting into the men's room as it's a concern about men getting into the women's room.
All kinds of issues going on there. But why in the world is the New York Times giving a half page in the printed edition to this issue? Well, it's basically because this is an argument that unless you buy the entirety of the LGBTQ revolution and you translate that into a bathroom policy, you're oppressing people and you're oppressing them where they might be, say, well, most oppressed pressingly, when it comes to a bathroom.
Polgreen's onto nothing when she writes, "Bathrooms have long been porcelain crucibles for our deepest fears and anxieties, one hardly needs to crack open the collected works of Sigmund Freud to understand why they've been the sites of repression and humiliation and service of enforcing hierarchies." Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait just a minute. Is this all about oppressive hierarchies? This writer goes on to say, "It is no surprise that policing access to facilities, meaning bathrooms, has long been an effective method of repression."
Now, this just raises an issue that came up very early. When I heard a teacher a long time ago say that when you're accused of repressing, just understand that society itself exists to some extent to repress some things and not to repress others. Every sane society represses something. No society, no surviving society says, we don't care how you behave. We don't care how you act. If you want to save money or you want to steal money, it's all the same to us. No, society says that. Societies want to repress thieves or at least a successful society does.
But this just points out that this article in a bathroom indicates that for so many, especially on the cultural left, in the United States and in other advanced countries, when it comes to industrialized economies and modern academically informed societies, cultural creatives, and all the rest, the argument is that repression must usually refer to something sexual or something related to sexuality or gender identity.
And again, this is where an honest statement coming from someone operating out of the Christian worldview, that honest statement would be basically yes, every sane society tries to repress certain forms of sexual behavior. Every society does. And by the way, if you're looking at the situation right now, you might say the left and the right, both want to bring moral sanction against the other side.
On the right you have say, conservative Christians, Orthodox Jews, again, we're looking at the same kind of territory. Traditional Roman Catholics who want to say, it really does matter that males go into the boys and the men's room and females go into the girls and the women's room. That really does make sense. Others say that's repressive. And then there'll be people on the other side who say, look, here's what's endangering. Here's what's morally wrong. It is putting, for instance, girls and women in the position of having someone who's biologically male showing up in their bathroom, claiming to be a girl or a woman.
Both sides have moral arguments. They are contradictory and incommensurate moral arguments. But let's just face the facts. Both sides are making a moral argument. We just know that when it comes to this kind of disagreement, both sides can't be right. This article comes to an end with this, "The rash of bills," that means bathroom bills, "targets transgender people for scrutiny, surveillance, and judgment." Let me just pause here. That means if you say that a men's room should be for men and a women's room should be for women, a boys' room for boys, a girls' room for girls, if you police that in any way by policy, you are a represser, you are intolerant.
The author then says, "There is reason enough to reject them as an affront to human dignity, meaning these policies. But my experience tells me that these laws are really about something else. A step along the path to a rigid enforcement of gender norms, roles and presentation, the routine humiliation and degradation of people who look or behave in ways a fanatical minority wants to punish. They will not stop until anyone who fails to meet their rigid definitions of identity forfeits the right to feel at ease."
So, notice anyone who here believes that the longstanding immutable characteristics of male and female are to matter when it comes to say, bathroom facilities, you are now dismissed as a fanatical minority who wants to punish. And don't forget those concluding words, "They will not stop until anyone who fails to meet their rigid definitions of identity forfeits the right to feel at ease." The most amazing part of that, I think, is the combination of words, rigid definitions of identity.
Just imagine going back to any previous generation of human beings who have ever lived and tell them that it is oppressive to believe that the men's room should be for men and the women's room for women, and they're going to look at you as if you are nuts. Which by the way, if you believe this, you are.
You Can Have Celebrity or Deep Privacy — But Not Both. Lessons from Prince Harry and Meghan
But finally, just another note, as we're thinking about cultural sanity and also understanding that, and that's like there's certain immutable laws that you simply can't overcome. One of them is the law that if you want to be a very well-known public person, say a celebrity, you can't at the same time claim that your main ambition in life is personal privacy.
Those two things just don't go together and they don't go together anywhere. They don't go together in Great Britain. They actually don't go together in the United States of America and they don't go together when you're talking about the Duke and the Duchess of Sussex. Prince Harry of the United Kingdom and his wife Meghan Markle were according to recent reports, hounded by paparazzi seeking photographs throughout the streets of New York last week as they were in a cab and as the paparazzi sought to follow them.
Now, of course, this is a fraught situation, especially since Prince Harry's mother was killed in an automobile accident as Princess Diana was seeking to escape the paparazzi. We can understand that would have very deep emotional trauma involved. We understand that. We don't want anyone harmed, we don't want anyone mistreated, and that includes Prince Harry and his wife, and of course their children as well.
But there's something here we need to understand. Many people are saying, look, just leave them alone. Prince Harry and Meghan, they deserve their privacy. Well, in a certain sense, they certainly do. If they were seeking to live private lives, they would deserve that privacy and it should be expected by all. And we know that there are those who would not respect that privacy, and they should be policed. If they want to live private lives, let them live private lives.
But the point is, you can't actually have it both ways. That's another immutable law of the universe. If you want to withdraw into private life, you don't write a bestseller, basically an entire expose of your family. You don't do hours and hours of interviews with Oprah. Oprah and privacy are two words that just won't go together. But if you really want your privacy, then you don't go to New York with media fanfare in order to go to a liberal activist group presenting an award to Meghan Markle. You can't have it both ways.
And my point in raising this today is not so much just to speak about Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. It's to speak about the human condition where it seems to be a part of the fallen human condition that we actually think that if we play our cards right, we can have it both ways. One of the lessons of childhood that explains how someone becomes an adult. One of the lessons of maturity, one of the lessons of moral honesty is that such an approach always eventually fails.
Another basic moral insight of Scripture is that you find out what people really believe and what they really want, not so much by what they say they want, but by what their actions show they want. By your deeds, the Scripture tells us, you shall know them.
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.