Friday, October 20, 2023

It’s Friday, October 20, 2023.

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

Part I

Drag Shows Cause No Harm to Children? Montana Judge Stays Ban on Law Restricting the Exposure of Children to Drag Events

We’re getting used to strange headlines, but as the week comes to an end, I want to draw attention to a headline coming from the Associated Press. The development is in the state of Montana. We’re also getting news to courts seeking to thwart democratic action or action by legislators or citizens to restrict human behavior. The headline in this case, “Montana Judge Keeps in Place a Ban on Enforcement of Law Restricting Drag Shows and Drag Reading Events.” So, that’s a lot of words in a headline, but I guess they’re necessary in order to make the point that this judge has kept in place what is a ban on the enforcement of a ban. A ban in Montana on the enforcement of a ban, a law restricting drag shows and drag reading events where children might be present.

Amy Beth Hanson is the reporter, she tells us just this week, “A federal judge in Montana is continuing to block enforcement of a law that puts restrictions on drag shows and bans drag reading events in public schools and libraries, saying that the law targets free speech and expression and that the text of the law and its legislative history ‘evince anti-LGBTQ+ animus.'”

Now, this is pretty much what you think it is. Here you have a federal judge who is blocking the legislature’s action in Montana to say that you can’t have drag events, either drag shows or drag reading events in public schools, you can’t do things in public–and libraries are included here, public libraries–if there are going to be children, if there are going to be minors present. So, it’s a legislative ban and now you have a ban on the ban, at least you have a stay on the enforcement of the law.

We see this time and time again. Montana is not the only state where you’ve had a judge come in and thwart the will of the legislature acting on behalf basically of citizens and in particular of parents and families. But the language used in this Associated Press report and the language the judge uses in this particular order, well, it’s just really revealing of the challenge we face. In order to understand this, you just have to go to what I read where the judge said that the legislative history in the text of this law, “evince anti-LGBTQ+ animus.”

Now if you think about that, the statement made by the judge is in one sense self-evidently true, not to use the word animus, but to say that this is an effort to try to restrict behavior that is identified in public or in private as LGBTQ+.

But the judge is citing that animus, which he cites as a way of saying this is thus an invalid law, this is an unconstitutional law. That tells us where we stand in this society where even trying to arrange some kind of sane order where children aren’t going to be subjected to sexually suggestive, or even sexually explicit drag shows that because that law restricts in particular those who are engaged in the transgressive action of drag, if that’s unconstitutional, then guess what? You really can’t restrict much human behavior when it comes to sexuality. That’s the bottom line. That’s where we’re headed as a society. All you have to claim is that somehow this is your identity, and this is a limitation upon the expression of your identity, and some judge somewhere is going to say, “This law is unconstitutional.” They’re going to put a ban on it or they’re going to seek to nullify it one way or another or limit it in one way or another.

In this case, the “one way or another” is a preliminary injunction, and the judge in this case as US District Court Judge Brian Morris. The state of Montana defended the legislation by saying, “The legislature determined sexually oriented performances and drag reading events to be indecent and inappropriate for minors and potentially harmful.” But then the Associated Press says that “protecting minors from divergent gender expression is not the same as protecting minor from obscene speech,” and that was made by attorneys for the plaintiffs seeking to nullify or at least get an injunction against the enforcement of this law.

Now get this, the lawyers for those who would be engaged in drag queen shows and all the rest said, “The state hasn’t argued meaningfully that the speech targeted by the law beyond the obscenity already regulated is potentially harmful to children.” In other words, the claim here is there’s no documented proof that gender confusion or in this case even drag shows are harmful to children and teenagers–youth.

Where’s the evidence? They say, “We demand clear evidence of harm,” and of course any sane society would understand that the exposure itself is a form of harm, and you’re really looking at what our society seems increasingly committed to, and that is the removal of all context of innocence or of protection when it comes to children and teenagers. And that’s really interesting because the rules are off here simply because of the LGBTQ revolution. Before this revolution with L and G and B and T driving as the engines of this revolution, before that, no one would’ve thought it controversial to say, “This kind of sexually explicit imagery, acting, costuming, and all the rest in front of children, that would be harmful to children. It would be an inducement; it would be a confusion. It would be in one sense legally defined, a corruption.”

And yet at this point you have courts saying, “No, it’s constitutionally protected free speech. And besides that, you can’t prove that anyone, any child, any minor is harmed by it.” The judge bought this argument entirely, declaring in his injunction, “No evidence before the court indicates that minors face any harm from drag related events or other speech and expression critical of gender norms.” Now, that just means basically it’s all washed away, all of the understanding of human civilization for thousands of years in terms of what it means to be male and female and for that matter, what it means to be a child or a young person, all that’s just washed away in the wake of the sexual revolution, which of course can’t happen without a legal revolution and can’t happen without judges handing down orders like this. The judge went on to say that the law, as it stands, “Would disproportionately harm not only drag performers, but any person who falls outside traditional gender and identity norms.”

Furthermore, what’s really interesting is that the judge went on to say, “There’s not enough definition here.” For example, back in July of this year, the same judge complained that the law does not define terms like flamboyant. I would think that legally flamboyant is one of those words that’s pretty hard to define. On the other hand, it’s kind of the essence of drag queen story hour. When you have a man dressed up like a woman in a drag performance, you’re not talking about a man dressing up as a woman with let’s just say ordinary proportions or for that matter, presenting in an ordinary way. No, flamboyant is pretty much the definition–there are more words to be used here, but not less. Flamboyant certainly seems to be part of the essence of the entire drag persona. Back in July, the same judge in a previous order said that the law as passed in Montana regulates speech based on its content and viewpoint without taking into account what’s defined as, “Its potential literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

Now, that goes back to a US Supreme Court decision from 1972 and in the oral arguments in that case, Associate Justice Potter Stewart of the Supreme Court when pressed to define pornography said, “I don’t know how to define it, but I know it when I see it.” Now, that’s just a commonsense statement, which came from a Supreme Court justice, but I think most parents in the state of Montana would be able to answer pretty much the same thing. What is a flamboyant drag show? Well, I’m not sure I can define it, but I sure know it when I see it. And the point is here, we don’t want children to see it.

By the way, one of the big engines of the sexual revolution is the argument that had to do with obscenity and pornography back in the last half of the 20th century because almost every major European and North American nation had pretty strict laws governing sexually explicit content.

And this came up in famous trials on both sides of the Atlantic and it included some very famous or infamous titles, especially of books published on both sides of the Atlantic, and you had the argument that eventually gave way to liberal courts that a work could not be restricted as obscene or prurient if it had some kind of serious, “Literary, artistic, political or scientific value.” And of course, that’s very subjective and that’s really the point, just about anything and everything can now get through. After getting a copy of the court’s order, that is the order handed down by this judge in recent days, you come to understand exactly what he’s saying, “No evidence before the court indicates that minors face any harm from drag related events or other speech and expression critical of gender norms.” So, here you have a federal judge basically saying, “Unless you can prove a specific harm, and of course that requires a definition of harm, if you can’t define flamboyant, how exactly you’re going to define harm?”

But he’s saying here society has no right to put a restriction on drag queen story hour or on flamboyant, even sexually explicit drag events because there’s no specific proof that any harm comes to young people by these, “Drag related events or other speech and expression critical of gender norms.” Once again, you take the entire civilization, you basically say, “Be done with that.”

We’ll be following the story. I don’t think this is the end of the story, but on the other hand, it is very much indicative. It’s very symbolic of the challenge we face just about everywhere. And you have people saying, “Look, we have laws against obscenity currently on the books,” but you’ll notice that this kind of gender confusion is basically declared to be in essence not even covered by the obscenity laws. And when it comes to being sexually explicit, we understand that’s exactly what’s going on here. If you are going to be a drag queen in particular, I’ll just put it very gently on The Briefing, it’s not all about the hair.

Part II

Sin Seizes Every Opportunity, Even in the World of Chess: Is a Tournament Chess Championship Even Plausible Now?

Next, we’re going to go back to the issue of chess, professional chess, championship chess, a very big issue, a very elite sport. It might’ve been ruined, it might basically disappear because you have the advent of computer programs and even apps on smartphones that can play chess better than any human being. And this is a new development and it’s a development that is ruining the sport already. News is coming to us in Qatar, the Emirate that Magnus Carlsen, who is of course the Norwegian grand master of chess, he’s basically dominated the sport for years, he was shut down, he lost to a far lower ranked player. He said that during the match he had been distracted by the fact that his opponent was wearing a watch: “As his eyes flicked back and forth between the board and the wrist of the 23-year-old Kazakh grandmaster across the table, he,” meaning Carlsen, “Couldn’t shake the feeling that has been gripping elite players for over a year, total paranoia about possible cheating in chess.”

And here’s the deal, you’re not supposed to be allowed to wear a watch, especially a smart watch. You’re not supposed to be able to have on your possession, much less on your body, that kind of access to information. You recall, Magnus Carlsen has made repeated charges of cheating, and frankly, some of them are pretty well documented, including what has been discussed in the highest ranks of international chess as Toiletgate. And this has to do with the fact that you have players going to the bathroom and there are very strong suspicions that there is some consultation or exchange of information.

So in order to avoid this, there has been something of a time delay that has been built in as a safety factor, but in this chess tournament in Qatar that time delay was not operational. Furthermore, the international rules say you should not be able to wear a watch, but this other opposing player was wearing a watch and thus Magnus Carlsen says he was so distracted, he doesn’t deny he lost the match, but he says he lost the match because the officials were not applying the rules and thus he was distracted by the fact that, well, he and the entire enterprise of elite chess just might be facing the end of any authentic, fair, marshaled competition when it comes to one of the great games, even one of the great competitive events of Western civilization.

The article by Andrew Beaton and Joshua Robinson published in the Wall Street Journal says, “It was just last year when Carlsen set the chess world on fire by withdrawing from a prestigious tournament after losing a match because he believed his opponent was a cheater. The allegations led to outrageous speculation about potential cheating methods and a $100 million lawsuit.” But then the paper says, “These days cheating is so easy because anyone with access to the internet has the capability to load technology capable of stomping the best chess players on the planet. It simply takes a few taps on a smartphone to pull up what’s known as a chess engine on a website or an app and instantly discover the perfect move in every situation. No human stands a chance against the world’s best engines.”

From a worldview perspective, there’s a lot of things to understand here. First of all, good and evil show up, right and wrong show up. Cheating and acting righteously show up as significant moral issues, and of course they are significant moral issues. Also, here is the challenge of technology and certainly looming behind this is the challenge of artificial intelligence is just today, what will it be tomorrow? It also points out that it’s the cognitive, it’s the intellectual dimension, in this case of the game of chess, which is so primary, it might be less of a threat, that is this kind of cheating might be less of a threat when it comes to something inherently physical like soccer or American football. It’s harder to think of an app that can carry a ball into the end zone.

But give the machines time. That’s the way some of those who are pressing these technologies simply argue it’s just a matter of time, then there will be casualties along the way. And it looks like in a very real sense, the integrity of chess might be one of those casualties.

That’s another sign of what it means to live in a fallen world where sin, as the scripture says, seizes every opportunity.

Part III

Is Nudity in Art Sinful? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Next, we’re going to turn to questions, and I appreciate all the questions sent in by listeners. I wish I could get to them all. I try to focus on the questions that I think might help other Christians to think through some issues, and I think one of the ways we learn is sometimes by being surprised by an issue that comes up and having not thought about it, we now have to think about it. And one of the issues that Christians have had to think about for some time, but in this generation is coming back in a big way, is raised by a college senior whose name is Nathan.

Nathan writes a very intelligent question. He tells me he’s a senior in college about to graduate, and he says that he and some of his friends who are all Christians, they visited the Houston Museum of Fine Arts and he and his friends, “Were surprised and disappointed with the high amount of nudity that was present there, and it made it difficult for the guys in our group as we were constantly forced to avert our eyes and exercise caution wherever we went.” He says, “I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that every other room had at least one inappropriate painting or sculpture in it. This visit got me thinking about nudity and art, something I hold to be sinful,” and he refers to Genesis 3, and again, an intelligent question, but he asks, “What’s the distinction between an appreciation of beauty and something that is pornographic?”

Well, I appreciate the fact that Nathan declares himself and I think Nathan, you’re basically quite right. You and your friends are right that there’s a problem here, and yet it’s also right that we think about this just a bit. So, let’s just ask ourselves the question, if you take classical human nudity, is it the appreciation of beauty or the opportunity for sin? And we need to acknowledge just a couple of things. Number one, both sexes, that is to say both men and women, both genders, it’s not the wrong word, it’s just not an adequate word, both men and women can be tempted visually, but it’s also true that men, and this would include young men, even boys, can be tempted in a visual way that is a greater temptation than at least has been found among most females. And so you look at this, you say, “Okay, there’s a pattern of temptation.”

Even as you look at the book of Proverbs, there are warnings given to a young man that are quite clear in scripture for good reason. But if we ask ourselves the question, is this aesthetic beauty or is it say sexual temptation? Is it pornography? Well, in one sense, and I appreciate the fact Nathan and his friends kind of stipulate this, it’s true, it depends upon which side of the Fall you are on. If you go back to the garden and you understand that the man and the woman were in the garden and the scripture says, “we’re naked and not ashamed,” well, that indicates that without sin, well, there would be no problem with nudity. The problem for us is we are on the far side of the Fall and we do not know a world without sin. We don’t know ourselves without sin, so we don’t know conditions in which, quite honestly, we can be naked and not ashamed.

And thus even in Genesis 3, the Lord God himself made for them coverings and the scripture’s really clear about the mandate of modesty. Now, that doesn’t mean we cover our entire body, including our faces. The Imago Dei is very much a factor there, but it does mean that we cover certain portions of our body that ought to be kept private. Well, then this question says, “Why when you go into an art museum is there so much nudity?” Well, I think it’s important for us to recognize that nudity tends to be, and I say tends to be certainly throughout human history, it tends to follow a certain kind of pattern. Number one, it has often been an idealized human form. And so if you think of Michelangelo’s David for example, you’re talking about what Michelangelo saw as an idealized human form. In this case, the form of a young man, in this case, of course, supposedly a depiction of David.

One of the patterns, however, you find is that there tends to be a lot more female nudity in art, largely created by the way, by males, and you look at this and you recognize that there is a double standard here. There’s a double standard in much of classical art in which evidently it is more common to see women without clothing or females without clothing than males without clothing, but then you notice something else, especially when you get to the Renaissance. Francis Schaeffer and others and those who follow the history of art have pointed out that this particular elevation of nudity and what’s often described as a voluptuousness, it’s an exaggerated kind of physical expression that’s often depicted, it tends to go hand-in-hand with an elevation of the human being as an object not only of say, the Imago Dei, but frankly of an elevated humanism that is unbiblical.

Nathan, I just want to tell you that in one sense, you’re never going to be able to look at the history of art without coming face-to-face with nudity. And of course you go far enough back, a lot of this is downright pagan, and by that I mean classically pagan, even tied to idolatry. If you look at ancient figurines from the Near East or anything like that, Mesopotamia, the Mediterranean Basin, you’re just going to find a lot of very exaggerated nudity. By the time you get to the Renaissance and other developments, you’re going to find another form of exaggerated nudity, but, and this is also important to recognize, when you come to modern art in a revolt against form and order, you often have grotesque nudity and confusion and distortion, and that too just deepens the sinfulness and the moral complications of either creating or displaying or viewing that kind of art.

A little footnote here, sometimes a certain degree of nudity in art has been an expression of what was claimed to be truthfulness, but the problem is, of course, that one of the truths about human beings is that we look at things with corrupted eyes. We look at things with the potential of lust, we look at things with the potential, as you see in the book of Romans, to worship the creation rather than the Creator. So just to conclude this, Nathan raises the issue that at least some people make the argument that nudity can be an appreciation of beauty rather than something pornographic. And Nathan, I would just say, at times I think that can be the intended meaning of the art, but as you know, art, it’s a two-way equation. It’s not only the intentions of the artist, it’s also the experience of the one who beholds it.

I think it’s also important to say that there’s not just nudity. There’s a danger in art because every dimension of the good, the beautiful, and the true is distorted in a sinful world. And so, I think we have to be really careful about seeing, much less producing or displaying any of this. I also think, Nathan, that you weren’t wrong to go into an art museum. I don’t think you and your friends were wrong to do that. I think in understanding the worldview clash that we face means that we’ve got to look at the history of Western art and understand what that means about even the course of Western civilization, but I think you’re also right to know that wherever you go, and it’s frankly sometimes the shopping mall, not to mention the beach rather than into an art museum, one of the things a Christian man has to learn to do is avert the eyes, lest we sin.

Part IV

What Advice Would You Give a First Time Father? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I really appreciate a question that came in from Tanner, another young man. This one is not writing about being in an art museum, but rather writing about the fact that he’s about to become a father and he and his wife are about to have a baby. He’s very excited about it, that really comes through very, very clearly in this very kind, short message asking the question. He says, “My question is, what advice would you give a first time father?” He then goes on to say, “Spiritual and practical, thanks.” So Tanner, I would say the practical is this, the first thing you need to do is sleep now because you’re not going to sleep for a while. Practically, one of the things I would say is that so much of this falls immediately upon the mother, your sweet wife, and learning how to take care of that baby and the baby being physically dependent upon his mother.

One of the most important things you can do is rearrange the entire equation, understanding that she’s not going to get much sleep, and for a great deal of time, one of your major responsibilities is going to be to take care of her as she takes care of that baby. The next thing I want to tell you, Tanner, is you just need to get ready for the most joyous experience of your life, and I want to tell you a word of testimony. I had to leave the hospital late in the night after we had experienced the birth of our first baby, my wife and I, and I left my wife and I left our sweet daughter there at the hospital. And as I was having to run to the house in order to get something to bring it back, a truck nearly ran me off the road into a stone cliff.

And I can still remember thinking with instantaneous recognition, “I am now a father. This can’t happen. This little one depends on me. My life has fundamentally changed because I’m not just a man, I’m not just a married man, I am now a father, and that changes the entire world.” Thankfully, did not have an accident, but I think the Lord allowed me to experience that just to know with instantaneous recognition, my life has fundamentally changed because now I am a father and that matters so much, and that’s a good thing for us to know, so get ready for that, Tanner. And I’ll simply go on to say by that, you know you’re going to be committed to raising this child in the nurture and admonition of the Lord and understand that means that everything matters. There is really no downtime as a parent because the child is never not learning, never not watching, never not hearing, and that’s a major responsibility, but it is one of the happiest responsibilities of life.

Tanner, I’ll simply end by saying this, I think in a sense a man becomes much of who he is by earning the love of a woman and earning her hand in marriage. I think a man becomes a great deal of what he is as he becomes a father, and so I’m just praying that you will have a great, faithful, wonderful adventure, you and your wife together, and I’ll just say in advance, congratulations.

Part V

How Did Jewish Culture Shift to a More Progressive Worldview in the U.S.? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

We can take one more question. I’m taking one from Sean who asked the question, “If a Judeo-Christian worldview is more closely linked to a conservative worldview, how did Jewish culture shift to a more progressive or left-leaning worldview in the United States?”

Great question, Sean, and let me just say it’s really good that you asked the question the way you did, especially here in the United States, but there is a very clear answer to your question, and that is that much of establishment Judaism shifted its authority from scripture to tradition, and that’s explicitly the form of reasoning that you find in many of the Jewish groups today, and in particular, the more liberal Jewish groups where you find a Jewish tradition that is more tied to scripture, as in Orthodox Judaism and its forms, you tend to find a far more conservative culture.

By the way, one of the interesting things about the far more conservative culture in Judaism in the United States and in elsewhere, and this includes Israel by the way, is that conservative Jewish culture based in a far more biblical tradition tends also to be correlated with a higher birth rate. And so you have the more progressive, liberal-minded Jewish groups in New York, more secular Jewish groups for that matter, that’s not the wrong word to use, they are losing the population race to more conservative and orthodox forms of Judaism. Same thing is at least part of what’s reshaping Jewish life in Israel of all places.

But it’s a warning to Christians that, number one, if you depreciate theology and you shift the authority in theology away from scripture alone to tradition, tradition eventually is going to win that battle, and that tradition’s going to become a very unbiblical thing eventually. That’s just the pattern, and if you free yourself from the text of scripture and you find refuge in what you claim to be an evolving tradition, well, let me just give you a prediction: that tradition’s going to evolve and it’s going to evolve, by the way, more quickly than many of the people involved in that evolution would want, but that’s just the way it is. If you sever from biblical authority, then the fundamental truth is you are unsevered from biblical authority, and that’s going to lead pretty much in one direction. I appreciate the questions and keep those questions coming, and we’ll get to as many as we can.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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