The Briefing 08-25-15

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Stock market roller coaster reminder confidence in market should never be ultimate

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Professor commits transgender revolution heresy by pointing out inescapable biological aspect of gender

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Designers capitalize on gender blur in fashion trends, attempting to shape cultural norms

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 25, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

It’s Tuesday, August 25, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is “The Briefing”, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Stock market roller coaster reminder confidence in market should never be ultimate

It was a roller coaster on the United States financial markets yesterday, and that’s a pattern that just may continue for some time into the future. That’s because there has been building anxiety and a sense of unease when it comes to the major financial markets, stocks, bonds, and the entire financial picture in the United States. The reason for that is traceable to the fact that the markets always operate in terms of cycles. Those who are surprised by the ups and downs yesterday are unfamiliar with the way the market actually has worked overtime.

Back in 2008, the market fell a record 777 points in one day, and there have been various days, moments, and cyclical points in the United States’ financial history –  in which there have been similar kinds of downturns in the market. This is led many people, including some Christians, to ask what exactly does the stock market represent- how should we think about this.

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There are some people who immediately said this is what happens when you look at something like the stock market- with all this uncertainty – and when you consider that this is a form of gambling. But of course it isn’t a form of gambling. The distinction from the Christian worldview here is very important.

When it comes to the stock indices and when it comes to stocks themselves, they represent a genuine amount of value. The question in terms of the market is what exactly that value should be and whether or not looking to the future that value is going to increase or decrease. The markets operate by selling shares of American corporations. Furthermore, of course, there are international markets and there are all kinds of mutual funds and stock mechanisms that go beyond the simple sale of one issue of stock, but the idea at the very center of the market is that the corporation exists as an entity with value. And furthermore, it represents value in terms of its products, in terms of its staff and leadership, in terms of its ideas, in terms of its intellectual and social capital.

And so what you’re looking at in terms of this kind of cycle in the market is that there are people who are beginning to believe that there may be a downturn in the economy. And that downturn will mean that the stocks that are currently held will be worth less in the future than they are today.

As to the question as to whether or not Christians and Christian institution should be involved in the stock market: the reality is whether you know it or not, you are one way or another. Virtually every American at some point is going to be connected directly to one of the major stock issues.

And furthermore, when it comes to the reality of the economy itself, there is no way to get around the centrality of the financial markets when it comes to the way the economy works. Even those who have no direct stake in terms of the markets – at least in so far as their own active participation – they are participating in an economy for which the markets are central – having everything to do with the valuation not only of these corporations, but of the future shape of the economy and the confidence represented in that future.

That’s the most interesting thing here from a Christian perspective. in this case, what we’re looking at is the fact that the economy inherently – always and everywhere – reflects things more basic than money, more basic than economics.

God making us in his image, according to the biblical worldview, means that we are – of course – the bearers of the imago dei, of the image of God, but it also means that we are economic creatures. We are economic creatures from the very beginning. Adam Smith – probably the most profound and influential economist – to have ever lived, said that an economy begins when one individual simply cannot meet all of his or her own needs and it that point that individual says, “I need something from someone else. I will trade or exchange what I have for what I need.”

That point, no matter how simple an economy exists, when you look at the absolute complexity of the American economy now – and add beyond that the global economy beyond – you’re looking at trillions and trillions of transactions and economic decisions made by individuals and made by collectives – whether they are corporations or governments, or mutual funds – the reality is that we live in a massive economy, growing more complex by the moment, and every single aspect of that economy points to something even more fundamental and that is the moral choices that we make in terms of our economic activity.

It also points to something else and that is the question as to where we have our confidence. One of the big headlines, you’re going to see all over the place today is that people believe that the markets have lost confidence, and that means that people begin to lose confidence in the market. Well that’s a misplaced confidence in the first place.

When you look at the financial markets over time, there is no question that they have produced value, and they are produced income, and they have produced wealth. And, of course, that points to the underlying reality that the corporations that are involved in the market have, themselves, increased in value, increased in wealth, and they have prospered over time, but the economy is never an even project. It is always a matter of chaos that is sometimes barely manageable, and when you start to look at the economy, it is a profound statement of what people believe – not only about their own economic status but about the economic status and the future of the entire community, not only in terms of their town, or their state, or even the country but beyond.

Yet, it’s not entirely a mystery. We can look at several things that contributed to what happened yesterday, and why there’s such volatility the markets. For one thing, there has been a downturn in terms of the oil and energy markets. That’s huge. One of the things we think about is the fact that even though we are paying record low prices – adjusted for inflation – when it comes to gasoline that means there is actually a lack of growth in the economy in terms of the corporations and of the stocks that are represented by those energy futures. We’re looking at the fact that we celebrate we’re paying less for oil that means oil companies have less money, and they’re producing less profits, and thus their stocks are showing the impact of those economic decisions.

There is also a very watchful eye upon China. And here again, the Christian worldview tells us there is more here than merely economics. China has been for the last two generations working towards a project of having capitalism without free markets, of having markets without democracy. There are those who have been claiming for the last several years that China is the shape of the future.

But the reality is that we now know that even the Chinese political leadership, the Communist Party, is admitting that they are not going to be able to make their own economic goals in terms of growth. Given China’s burgeoning population and economic expectations of that population, that is likely to be a political crisis, but it also means, that right now, it’s an economic crisis for all of us.

From a secular perspective, there are those who will immediately warn and remind us that – if you’re looking at the stock market – you’re not looking at something that should be seen as a short-term proposition. As a matter fact, values only built over time, and anyone who’s investing in the stock market – whether an individual or an institution, or for that matter, the larger economic project – we have to realize that this is a long-term investment and there will be – we can be assured of this – cycles in that market in terms of value, progress, and regret. Stepping forward and stepping back.

But, we also have to look at this from a Christian perspective and realize just how dangerous it would be to believe that our ultimate confidence could be in anything merely human – whether it is a government, whether it is an individual, whether it is an economy – especially in this case –  a market.

The reality is – as the Scripture tells us – it is fundamentally unwise – it is foolish from a biblical perspective- to consider one’s wealth and security in horses and chariots, or for that matter, in stocks and bonds. On the other hand, the wise steward, according to Scripture, takes all these things into consideration – never placing ultimate hope in anything merely secular and human – but understanding that we do have a responsibility – as the Book of Proverbs makes very clear – to plan for the future and to act responsibly. And as a Christian worldview understands, money is important; it’s just never, ever ultimate.

Professor commits transgender revolution heresy by pointing out inescapable biological aspect of gender

Next as America continues to grapple with the transgender revolution, a bit of that revolution made its way – in a very interesting sense – to the front page of the editorial section of the New York Times on Sunday. And what’s really interesting about this article is that the author of the essay indicates that he was warned by people not to write it because of the retribution he was likely to receive from those who are pushing the transgender revolution.

The man who wrote the article is Richard A. Friedman; he’s a professor of clinical psychiatry at the Weill Cornell Medical College. He’s also contributing opinion writer there at the New York Times. The title the essay: “How Changeable is Gender?” He then writes,

“Thanks to Caitlyn Jenner, and the military’s changing policies, transgender people are gaining acceptance — and living in a bigger, more understanding spotlight than at any previous time. We’re learning to be more accepting of transgender individuals. And we’re learning more about gender identity, too.”

But then he raises a really interesting question – from an entirely secular viewpoint and from a viewpoint that is seeking to be supportive of the transgender revolution, but in this case, Professor Friedman has some serious questions. He said,

“But if gender were nothing more than a social convention, why was it necessary for Caitlyn Jenner to undergo facial surgeries, take hormones and remove her body hair? The fact that some transgender individuals use hormone treatment and surgery to switch gender speaks to the inescapable biology at the heart of gender identity.”

Well now you understand why Professor Friedman was warned that writing this article could get him in trouble.

He has committed heresy right in the “Central Church of the Transgender Movement”. He has written in the pages of the New York Times that the transgender claim that gender is nothing more than a social construct is betrayed by the fact that they actually move towards surgical and hormonal interventions while they’re saying it is merely a social reality. That simply doesn’t add up.

To his credit, Professor Friedman understands this, and he points out that the very fact that we’re talking about sexual reassignment surgery indicates that biology does matter. It matters profoundly and he has a very profound concerns.

In terms of his understanding, he says  that “recent neuroscience research suggests that gender identity may exist on a spectrum and that gender dysphoria fits well within the range of human biological variation.” Now that’s a secular statement of the fact that what we have here is a parallel to the argument was made for the normalization of homosexuality.

Going back to the period just after World War II, Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues came out with research suggesting that sexual orientation was on a spectrum – between one and ten with one end of the spectrum meaning entirely heterosexual and the other being entirely homosexual. Most human beings he said were at some point in a continuum between those two polarities.

Now you, seemingly, have a parallel argument being made in this case – not for sexual orientation – but rather for gender identity. This we should note is something we should of seen coming.

From a Christian worldview perspective, the most important aspect of this essay is the fact that it points to the fact that even those driving the transgender revolution aren’t sure what they’re dealing with. And they disagree among themselves as to what the very reality they describe as being “gender identity” actually means, and how it should be understood medically and scientifically.

Dr. Friedman makes his commitment to the revolution very clear he writes,

“Of course, people should have the freedom to assume whatever gender role makes them comfortable and refer to themselves with whatever pronoun they choose; we should encourage people to be who they really feel they are, not who or what society would like them to be. I wonder, if we were a more tolerant society that welcomed all types of gender identity, what the impact might be on gender dysphoria. How many transgender individuals would feel the need to physically change gender, if they truly felt accepted with whatever gender role they choose?”

While operating from a very different worldview, I can say that he asked a very legitimate question and it points to the fact that if biology doesn’t matter then there is no sense behind these gender reassignment surgeries, and hormonal treatments, and other biological aspects. But operating out of a Christian worldview perspective, we would say the fact that those biological dimensions exist – and are here very much documented in professor Friedman’s article – indicates that a part of our identity is indeed inherently biological.

The Christian worldview explains this in terms of the fact that we are embodied by God’s design we are given – assigned – a body, and that body is an inescapable part of our identity and a part of the goodness of our creation as God’s divine gift.

Now at this point, as I said, you can understand why Professor Friedman may have been concerned about the response to his article, but he actually goes into different territory – expanding his argument that explains why he is an even deeper trouble, or is likely to be, with those who are driving the revolution that he claims to support and obviously intends to support. He gets to the fact that in many the cases of gender dysphoria – that’s the clinical designation for those who believe that their gender identity is different than their biological sex – he says that in terms of many of the treatment categories, including sexual reassignment surgery and hormonal treatments, people who receive them aren’t universally helped by them – even in terms of their own sense of gender dysphoria.

Professor Friedman cites a study indicating much higher death rates, especially premature death rates, especially suicide when it comes to those identified as transsexual people, but he goes on to ask the question:

Still, even if hormone replacement and surgery relieve gender dysphoria, the overall outcome with gender reassignment doesn’t look so good — a fact that only underscores the need for better medical treatments in general for transgender individuals and better psychiatric care after reassignment.

In a very strategic portion of his essay, he then writes,

“On a broader level, the outcome studies suggest that gender reassignment doesn’t necessarily give everyone what they really want or make them happier.”

Then he gets into even more dangerous territory – in terms of the revolution. He says

“Nowhere is this issue more contentious than in children and adolescents who experience gender dysphoria or the sense that their desired gender mismatches their body. In fact, there are few areas of medicine or psychiatry where the debate has become so heated. I was surprised to discover how many professional colleagues in this area either warned me to be careful about what I wrote or were reluctant to talk with me on the record for fear of reprisal from the transgender community.”

He then gets to an issue that is of extreme moral significance. He writes,

“If gender identity were a fixed and stable phenomenon in all young people, there would be little to argue about. But we have learned over the past two decades that, like so much else in child and adolescent behavior, the experience of gender dysphoria is itself often characterized by flux.”

He cites a study by Dr. Richard Green indicating that only one of 44 boys, who as young boys indicated gender dysphoria, continue to have that dysphoria by adolescence or adulthood. He cites another study from the Netherlands, indicating that of 77 young people – aged 5 to 12 – who all had gender dysphoria at the start of the study, 70% of the boys and 36% of the girls were no longer gender dysphoric after an average of 10 years follow-up.

As so Professor Friedman openly questions the morality from a medical viewpoint of the kind of hormone replacement therapy –  sometimes suppression therapy – intended to prevent the onset of puberty and beyond that sexual reassignment surgery, especially when it comes to children and teenagers.

One of the point that I’ve made repeatedly on “The Briefing” is the transgender revolution can’t live with the implications of its own logic. It cannot live with the own inherent contradictions in terms of its claims. And here you have – in a very important, a very strategically placed article in none other than the New York Times’s Sunday’s edition – here you have an acknowledgment from a very prominent medical source that there’s a major problem at the very heart of the claims made by the transgender movement, and he makes it very clear he intends to support that movement. He’s not trying to reverse it is just trying to say, “Wait a minute. There are serious moral issues here at stake, especially when it comes to children and young people.”

And of course he also says something that we should note very carefully. He says that he was warned not to write the article, and there were many people who would not talk him –  colleagues wouldn’t talk to him on the record – because they feared reprisals from the transgender movement.

At that point what becomes very, very clear is that we’re not talking about medicine here. We’re talking about morality, and we’re talking about worldview, and we’re talking about a moral revolution. If we don’t get anything else from Professor Friedman’s article, which we do, we would at least have that, and that’s abundantly clear.

Designers capitalize on gender blur in fashion trends, attempting to shape cultural norms

Meanwhile, on a related note, Ruth La Ferla, writing in the Fashion pages of the New York Times, tells us that “In Fashion, Gender Lines Are Blurring.” I make reference to this article, not only for the claims made in the article, but for the fact that when you come to the end of it, you come to decide there’s more going on here than fashion. And at the same time, there’s less.

This article that appeared on the front page of the style section of the paper says, “Each time Kimberly Wesson sheds her customary trousers and button-front shirt to put on a flowery dress, she suspects something is off. I feel like I’m dressing up in someone else’s clothes,’ Ms. Wesson said.”

The article goes on to say,

“Her frills-adverse approach to dress has tested the tolerance of well-meaning friends. “It’s gotten to the point where they’re pleading, ‘Put on a sequin skirt…Not likely. Ms. Wesson and Aimee Cho, her business partner, have, after all, poured their style convictions into 1.61, a year-old gender-free label built largely on loosefitting trousers, swagger coats and easy shirts — items that they wear themselves and offer in varying sizes to both women and men.”

Here comes the point of the article: “They are among the latest in a raft of designers to capitalize on fashion’s gender blur, that narrowing of the sexual divide that earlier this year emerged on the runways of top tier designers.”

The article cites Ken Downing, identified as the fashion director of Neiman Marcus, who said, “What we’re seeing now, he said, “is a seismic shift in fashion, a widening acceptance of a style with no boundaries, one that reflects the way young people dress.”

The article cites Humberto Leon, the founder of a store known as Opening Company says, “Five years ago we weren’t ready for this. The difference today is that this trend has a label and it’s gained acceptance by a mass audience.”

Well at that point – even when you read this article- you recognize not so fast. The persistence of conventional gender identity, in terms of the mass population, is exactly what we notice and what is affirmed in this article. The reality is there isn’t much danger of the 15-year-old boy or girl in your house deciding to change to a gender-free style of clothing. The gender blur that’s being written about here is more in the minds and on the runways of leading fashion designers in terms of couture culture – it’s not in terms of mainstream culture and interestingly enough – even as Humberto Leon said it’s gained acceptance by a mass audience – clearly, it hasn’t.

And by the time you get to the end of this massive article, filled with photographs as well in the New York Times, you recognize that even some people in the fashion industry are saying that’s so yesterday. Judson Harmon, the owner of Odd, identified as a four-year-old shop in the lower eastside of New York said, “Our clients have been there, done that.”

The store made its name, according to the article, “with nongender-specific offerings, its message reinforced by a mannequin, half male, half female, that greets visitors.” But Mr. Harmon said that manikin’s going to be coming down; “We’re not abandoning the versatility of unisex. We’re just not targeting it.”

There’s another bit of information embedded in this article. It turns out that as the fashion specialists are telling us that some women are far more likely to want to dress in conventionally masculine clothing than it works the other way around. It turns out the very few men, even very young men are inclined to wear clothing that has been associated with a feminine style. The article actually cites one company that decided to put out a line of blouses with bows intended for men, but the article says it turns out that women are buying the blouses more than men. Lucie Greene, nonetheless, the worldwide director of JWT Intelligence, identified as a trend forecasting arm of J. Walter Thompson said,

“ The whole perception of sexual orientation is being challenged by the millennials… Among the cohort of 12-to-19-year-olds defining Generation Z, the lines between male and female are becoming increasing blurred.”

FBut even as you read the article, it’s clear that that’s more theory than practice. From a Christian worldview perspective there are several things important in this article. I mention it because the world of fashion does reflect the larger culture, especially the elites in the culture. The reality is that when you look at these couture magazines, you’re not likely to see anyone you know wearing any of this clothing. That’s probably a relief. But there is a filtering down in terms of how the fashion design houses eventually show up in some watered down fashion in terms of mass-marketing and mass appeal. But we’re also looking at something else and that is the fact that fashion as much as anything else in this fallen world is deeply ideological. Here you have an ideological agenda – this moral revolution on the issue of sexual orientation and gender identity – being forced upon the fashion industry and openly embraced because after all, it is the latest thing. But wait just a minute. It turns out that the latest thing is already the last thing. It’s so yesterday in terms of this approach, but you can count on this, something’s going to come thereafter. The Bible affirms that even as the gift of gender is a part of the goodness of God’s creation and a part of God’s intention for every single one of us at the moment of our creation, the reality is that our clothing is a part of how we present ourselves and either embrace or do not embrace that divine gift. The Bible is clear that the Old and New Testament that women are to look like women and men are to look like men. Now in every culture that will change some watch in terms of how that’s expressed, but the important biblical principle is there something right about being a man and there is something right about being a woman. And there’s something to right about the fact that in spite of all this elite influence, it turns out from you reach mass culture, they’re not buying what these guys are selling.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing