April 7, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, April 7, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
The ouster last week of Brendan Eich as the CEO of Mozilla is the latest example and, to this date, the clearest example of the scale and the velocity of the moral revolution we are now experiencing on the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Mr. Eich was out last week because back in 2008 he had given a $1,000 contribution to what was known as Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment passed by 52% of the voters of California to identify marriage as the union of a man and a woman. That one statement, that one check for $1,000 in that one year, 2008, now years ago, for a proposition that was adopted by the majority of California’s voters and later reversed by the courts, that was enough for Brendan Eich to find himself right in the center of a target and eventually to be ousted because he could not do his job as CEO of Mozilla. And those were his own words and also the words that were echoed in the press release by Mozilla.
Now joining the conversation in the most interesting aftermath of this situation, Farhad Manjoo, writing at The New York Times, suggests that what was really going on here is the fact that Mozilla is an organization unlike most corporations. As he writes:
Mozilla is not a normal company. It is an activist organization. Mozilla’s primary mission isn’t to make money but to spread open-source code across the globe in the eventual hope of promoting “the development of the Internet as a public resource.”
And after Brendan Eich had spent just a few days on the job, Mozilla came to the conclusion that it’s community and its mission were endangered by having him remain as CEO. But what’s truly interesting in terms of Farhad Manjoo’s essay is the language he uses in this paragraph. He writes:
In such an environment, it isn’t out of bounds to consider how a certain leader’s political views might affect employees’ passion for their mission. If the community’s cohesiveness is Mozilla’s primary advantage over its rivals, the fact that Mr. Eich’s views on gay marriage might have posed some danger to that community was almost by definition disqualifying. If his job was to motivate people, and he was instead causing people to question the community’s ethic—well, at the least, you can say he wasn’t doing a good job.
A very revealing paragraph and we need to take it apart and consider it. What Farhad Manjoo is writing here is that that the organization known as Mozilla is so intently and unanimously committed to the legalization of same-sex marriage that it cannot allow any breach in that wall of unanimity. It cannot allow a CEO who merely back in 2008 wrote a $1,000 check to an effort that was supported by the majority of California’s voters. That is a very revealing statement, and the use of the word danger here is incredibly revealing. Going back to his statement, he said that Mr. Eich’s view on gay marriage “might have posed some danger to that community.” Danger: a very interesting word. It implies, on the one hand, that there is such a brittleness to that unanimity that it causes a danger to the community if this CEO had back in 2008 just written that $1,000 check.
Responding to Farhad Manjoo is Ramesh Ponnuru writing for Bloomberg View in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. He writes:
That’s a frustrating argument [that is, the argument by Mr. Manjoo], because the question is whether people, even if they favor same-sex marriage themselves, ought to tolerate those who oppose it or should instead judge them lacking in public-spiritedness and cast them out of the community.
In other words Ramesh Ponnuru goes right at the word that was used by Farhad Manjoo—the word community. If the community is endangered by having Brendan Eich as CEO after he had made every indication that he was fully supportive of homosexual employees, what in the world does that community consist of? On what foundation is it established? And the use of the word danger? Ramesh Ponnuru goes right at it. He suggests that that word is simply alarming because, as he says, the question is whether people, even if they favor same-sex marriage themselves, are now even going to tolerate those who oppose it or, to use his words, “should instead judge them lacking in public spiritedness and cast them out of the community.” In other words, the community is only a community if everyone in the community agrees with the legalization of same-sex marriage. That is an incredibly revealing statement and it’s made by Farhad Majoo in The New York Times and it is very clearly understood by Ramesh Ponnuru at BusinessWeek Bloomberg View.
But the most important article appeared yesterday in the pages of The New York Times. Frank Bruni, an openly gay columnist for The New York Times, wrote an article entitled “The New Gay Orthodoxy.” He began that article with these words:
To appreciate how rapidly the ground has shifted, go back just two short years, to April 2012. President Obama didn’t support marriage equality, not formally. Neither did Hillary Clinton. And few people were denouncing them as bigots whose positions rendered them too divisive, offensive and regressive to lead.
But that’s precisely the condemnation that tainted and toppled Brendan Eich after his appointment two weeks ago as the new chief executive of the technology company Mozilla. On Thursday he resigned, clearly under duress and solely because his opposition to gay marriage diverged from the views of too many employees and customers.
Something remarkable has happened — something that’s mostly exciting but also a little disturbing, and that’s reflected not just in Eich’s ouster at Mozilla, the maker of the web browser Firefox, but in a string of marriage-equality victories in federal courts over recent months, including a statement Friday by a judge who said that he would rule that Ohio must recognize same-sex marriages performed outside the state.
The he continues with these very important words:
And the development I’m referring to isn’t the broadening support for same-sex marriage, which a clear majority of Americans now favor. No, I’m referring to the fact that in a great many circles, endorsement of same-sex marriage has rather suddenly become nonnegotiable. Expected. Assumed. Proof of a baseline level of enlightenment and humanity. Akin to the understanding that all people, regardless of race or color, warrant the same rights and respect.
Making his point, he continued with these words, “Even beyond the circles, the debate is essentially over, in the sense that the trajectory is immutable and the conclusion foregone.” That entire argument needs to be looked at very closely. Frank Bruni is writing with the wind at his back, in terms of this moral revolution. The moral revolution he has called for, been an activist for, and is now celebrating, is taking place and it is, to use his own words, “immutable and the conclusion foregone.” In other words, they are the victors.
But how are they handling their victory? That’s where Frank Bruni writes with very considerable insight and honesty. He says that the endorsement of same-sex marriage in a great many circles has rather suddenly become nonnegotiable, to use his words, “expected, assumed,” and then consider these words again: “proof of a baseline level of enlightenment and humanity.” Well that’s really where we stand or, at least, that’s where Brendan Eich stood. And that’s where the public conversation now stands and that’s where we find ourselves facing a very interesting moment, a very strategic moment in this moral revolution. Because, as Brendan Eich was the first in this kind of role to be ousted simply for writing a $1,000 check in 2008, he will not be the last.
Later in his article, Frank Bruni writes this: “Increasingly, opposition to gay marriage is being equated with racism — as indefensible, un-American.” He quotes Jo Becker, a New York Times writer who has a book entitled, Forcing the Spring, on this issue coming out later this month, and she said, “What was once a wedge issue became wrapped in the American flag.” Bruni then explains:
Becker mentioned what she called a rebranding of the movement over the last five years, with two important components. First, gay marriage was framed in terms of family values. Second, advocates didn’t shame opponents and instead made sympathetic public acknowledgment of the journey that many Americans needed to complete in order to be comfortable with marriage equality.
That’s another very important argument. In this new book, Jo Becker’s going to argue that the gay rights movement on the issue of same-sex marriage won because they made two changes in the trajectory in the strategy of their movement. First, they frame the issue of same-sex marriage in terms of family values, but secondly, she writes they didn’t shame their opponents and instead they wrote sympathetically of the journey that Americans, in their words, needed to make in order to be comfortable with marriage equality. That’s a very important insight and it points to the momentum of this movement; a momentum that has shifted into a very fast acceleration just in recent months and weeks. The proof of that is the fact that Jo Becker has a book coming out later this month in which she talks about a change in the strategy of the movement, but clearly the ouster Brendan Eich indicates that that change is changing again. In other words, that acknowledgment of the fact that many Americans need to make some kind of journey to the legitimation and legalization of same-sex marriage, well now that tolerance is gone; just read the headlines about Brendan Eich.
And that alarmed even Frank Bruni. He cited Andrew Sullivan, one of the world’s most influential gay theorists and writers. In response to the ouster Brendan Eich, Andrew Sullivan said that it should disgust anyone who is “interested in a tolerant and diverse society.” Concluding his own essay, Frank Bruni wrote this:
Sullivan is right to raise concerns about the public flogging of someone like Eich. Such vilification won’t accelerate the timetable of victory, which is certain. And it doesn’t reflect well on the victors.
Well at this point, one of the most important observations that those who oppose same-sex marriage can make about this conversation is that we’re really not a part of it. This is now shifting to a conversation mostly within the community of those who favor, ardently favor, the legalization of same-sex marriage. The most interesting conversation right now is not taking place among those who are on the losing side of this cultural and moral revolution, but those who are on apparently the winning side. And those on the winning side are now divided into two very specific and well-identifiable camps: those who want to allow no voice whatsoever contrary to their position, who want to allow for no one to be in any position other than public, ardent advocacy of the legalization of same-sex marriage, and those, on the other hand, you say that’s a fanaticism that we simply should not accept in our movement and that does not reflect well on us in victory. But as these articles and the conversation makes clear, it is those who hold to the first position who are right now driving the momentum and not those who are registering concern.
Shifting to another very interesting story that emerged in recent days, the MIT Technology Review, that is the technology journal published by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, released last Friday an article entitled “How the Internet is Taking Away America’s Religion.” The subtext in the title said this:
Using the Internet can destroy your faith. That’s the conclusion of a study showing that the dramatic drop in religious affiliation in the U.S. since 1990 is closely mirrored by the increase in Internet use.
As the article makes very clear, back in 1990, only 8% of the US population had no religious preference. By 2010, it was more than doubled to 18%. That’s a difference, in terms of raw population numbers, of about 25 million people. As the article in MIT Technology Review said, evidently these 25 million people, all of them, have somehow lost their religion. That raises an obvious question, the article says: how come? Why are Americans losing their faith? And then they turned to Allen Downey, a computer scientist at the Olin College of Engineering in Massachusetts. He’s analyzed the data in detail. He says that the demise is the result of several factors, but the most controversial of the factors he brings to fore is the rise of the Internet. He concludes his MIT Technology Review that the increase in Internet use in the last two decades has caused a significant drop in religious affiliation.
Allen Downey used a massive sample of about 9,000 people, and as the background information, he drew his data from the General Social Survey—that’s a very authoritative sociological analysis of the American population. He looked at data related to religious preference and religious identification and then, tracing this secularization trend in the United States, he correlated it with other factors. Those factors include, for instance, about 25% of the rate was probably due to the fact that there are fewer people in America who are experiencing a religious upbringing. Allen Downey’s exactly right. The most likely indicator that an individual will have a strong religious preference is the fact that he or she was raised in a household with parents who had that very same religious identification. But he says that massive increase in secular Americans, only about 25% of that increase can be attributed to this factor. What about increasing education? It’s well attested that increasing education, that is, increasing numbers of college graduates and those who go on to graduate programs beyond the baccalaureate, are correlated with a falloff in terms of religious identification. Might that be the issue? Downey comes back and says, well, it certainly is involved, but given the increase in college education over the same period, it can only account for about 5% of that doubling increase. In other words, 25% can be attributed to the fact that fewer Americans are being raised in religious households, about 5% can be attributed to the fact that there are increasing numbers of Americans who are obtaining higher education and all the experiences that that will bring, but that leaves about 70% of this massive doubling of the American population identified as secular. And then he asked the question, “What might explain that?” What happened in our society over that twenty-year period that would be correlated with this kind of increase in secularization? He came to the conclusion that the one thing that might well explain the vast majority of those who are now identifying as secular would be some relationship with the Internet. The MIT journal then explained, “It’s also straightforward to imagine how spending time on the Internet can lead to religious disaffiliation.” They cite Downey, who said:
For people living in homogeneous communities, the Internet provides opportunities to
find information about people of other religions (and none), and to interact with them personally. Conversely, it is harder (but not impossible) to imagine plausible reasons why disaffiliation might cause increased Internet use.
In other words, Downey suggests that there are good reasons to understand why the use of the Internet might lead to secularization, but there’s no causality he could imagine that would lead secular people to have a radical increase in their use of the Internet. In other words, he said the argument works, the theory works, only one way. That’s where the article gets even more interesting. As the technology journal writes:
If this third factor exists, it must have specific characteristics. It would have to be something new that was increasing in prevalence during the 1990s and 2000s, just like the Internet. “It is hard to imagine what that factor might be,” says Downey.
Now this raises a very important issue about how to read this kind of research, and the MIT Technology Review, to its credit, gets right to the heart of this issue. There is a significant difference between causation and correlation. Most of these studies—and that includes studies done in medical journals as much as a technology journal—they can’t prove causation because causation often takes place within a black box of what is unobservable. What they can trace is correlation. Most Americans, for instance, are not aware of the fact that the medical studies done in terms of the approval of medicines are based upon correlation not causation. How do some medicines work? Not even medical authorities know. All they have to prove is that they do work, that there is a correlation between the use of the medication and its efficacy in patients. But causation is often just outside the limits of our investigation, but we need to acknowledge that there is a difference. You can prove correlation, but that doesn’t automatically prove causation. This is where the MIT Technology Review has a very important paragraph, and they write this:
At this point, it’s worth spending a little time talking about the nature of these conclusions. What Downey has found is correlations and any statistician will tell you that correlations do not imply causation. If A is correlated with B, there can be several possible explanations. A might cause B, B might cause A, or some other factor might cause both A and B.
Are you tracking with me? In other words, what this study in MIT Technology Review demonstrates is that there is a correlation and, by the way, any fair-minded person who can read the math has to acknowledge that correlation. There are two trend factors from 1990 to 2010 and what do they demonstrate? They demonstrate that two things happened at the same time and at an incredibly similar velocity. They are the increase in secular Americans and the increase in the use of the Internet.
But does correlation in this case indicate causation? That’s where their argument about a third factor becomes very important. Could there be a third factor that could explain this, such that it’s simply an accident that the Internet and secularization are correlated in this way? The authors of the MIT journal come down to this:
So that leaves us with a mystery. The drop in religious upbringing and the increase in Internet use seem to be causing people to lose their faith. But something else about modern life that is not captured in this data is having an even bigger impact.
“What can that be?” they asked. They then invite readers to write in their suggested answers. Well I have a suggested response. I have a trajectory, a trend that I believe is even more correlated and more easily understood in terms of causation, in terms of this rapid increase in the number of secular Americans, and I think that third factor is nothing less than that great moral revolution we’ve been discussing already in this program. In other words, I think that moral revolution, a moral revolution that is both causing and caused by a radical secularization, is more likely to be the kind of third factor that doesn’t show up in the data in the General Social Survey that is tracking the kinds of things that in this study are believed to be correlated between the Internet use and the rise of secularization.
Now is the increase in secular Americans in some way tied to the Internet? I have no doubt that there is some relationship, but just as the editors of the MIT Technology Review, I’m suspicious that in this case correlation and causation are not the same. Correlation is interesting and it’s also an alarm to us, just in terms of the effect of the Internet in the larger society. You can’t really even talk about the moral revolution we’re talking about, in terms of the normalization of homosexuality, without the rise of social media and the digital age because those have become enormous engines for events such as the toppling of Brendan Eich as the CEO of Mozilla. But it appears to me that the moral issue, from a Christian worldview perspective, is far more fundamental than the technology issue. Technology is not neutral and Christians must understand that, but it is rare that a technology can have this kind of moral effect. It’s more likely that there is a moral cause that is now being accelerated by technological means. I’m going to suggest that to the MIT Technology Review.
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