The Briefing 09-15-15

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Study links homophobia to mental illness, using therapeutic worldview to further moral shift

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Justice Breyer presents European courts as moral standard for US decisions

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First legal crop of pot in DC sows moral confusion as cannot be legally sold

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Power of images to shape our feelings important factor in how we view world as Christians

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Transcript

The Briefing

September 15, 2015

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

It’s Tuesday, September 15, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Study links homophobia to mental illness, using therapeutic worldview to further moral shift

One of the major mechanisms of social and moral control in our modern world is the psychotherapeutic revolution. This is a revolution that took place, especially in the last half of the 20th century in which many of the most important moral questions of the age were translated into merely psychotherapeutic issues and so the rise of the influence of psychiatric and psychological explanations for human behavior largely began to supplant and to replace in terms of moral authority the moral teachings of the Christian church that had been embraced by Western civilization for about 2000 years. This was a major revolution and it has been noted with concern as well as applause by many in the secular world as well as very thoughtful Christians.

In the 1960s and 70s observers from the secular world like Philip Rieff and Christopher Lasch pointed to what was called the triumph of the therapeutic, the rise of psychotherapeutic explanations for virtually all human behaviors, for states of mind, even for moral perspectives. The triumph of the therapeutic became a major engine for the sexual and moral revolution taking place all around us. The argument came in two forms. In the first place, the argument came that opposition to certain sexual behaviors, orientations and lifestyles was simply rooted in a form of psychological oppression, or for that matter, repression, some kind of negative psychological state, something that should be cured by therapy, either individually or in terms of the larger society. The second major movement came when in the early 1970s the American Psychiatric Association and the American Psychological Association in turn completely reversed their understanding of homosexuality; both the psychologist and the psychiatrist in terms of their official definitions had listed homosexuality as a psychological or psychiatric disease. Under pressure from homosexual activists and that’s very well documented even celebrated by those who are pushing for the revolution, both groups eventually just reversed their position, arguing that it is not homosexuality that is unhealthy, but rather it is opposition, including moral opposition to homosexuality. That led to the development of the word homophobia, a word that became used to dismiss all moral opposition to homosexuality as being rooted in a psychological or psychiatric problem, a fear of homosexuality, a fear of homosexuals designated as homophobia.

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That takes us to a recent headline in The Telegraph, one of Britain’s most important newspapers; the headline is this,

“Homophobic people ‘more likely to display other undesirable psychological traits.”

This is a story that’s getting some attention and it has to do with a study published in a scientific journal that claims, and it claims that it’s for the first time, that it has documented the fact that homophobia, that’s their term, or opposition to homosexuality is rooted in other undesirable psychological and psychiatric conditions. As Jonathan Wells reported for The Telegraph, the researchers found,

“A strong link between “fearful-avoidant” attachment styles – where individuals are uncomfortable with close relationships – and homophobia. It was also found that those with immature defense mechanisms were more homophobic than their emotionally-developed counterparts.”

Now the big cultural impact of this kind of headline is that what we’re noticing in terms of the progression of the moral revolution is that it has now reached the point that there are those who are claiming that those will not join the revolution are psychologically unhealthy, perhaps even afflicted by some psychiatric malady. This report is just one that you can count on being followed by many, many others, but a closer look at the actual study and I’m holding it right now in my hands, indicates that there really isn’t much to it, certainly nothing that deserves any kind of a headline. For instance, as The Telegraph reports,

“The researchers surveyed 551 Italian university students, of ages between 18 and 30.”

So this study that reached headline status is only a 551 University students in Italy and it was conducted by only one team of researchers and reported in only one Journal. Reading the actual study published we should note in a journal called the Journal of Sexual Medicine, reveals that it actually isn’t much at all, but the headlines nonetheless followed. By the way, the researchers in the study betray the fact that they have a very clear moral agenda of their own. They extend their concern from what they call homophobia to what they also call Homo negativity, in other words, any negative response to homosexuality based in morality or any other claim. They point to the importance of religion, noting that those who hold to any traditional religious view are more likely to display what they call the homophobic or Homo negative attitudes. They betray their own agenda when they write sentences such as,

“Discrimination toward homosexuals must be condemned and this study has investigated some psychologic aspects that predispose heterosexual subjects to have negative attitudes toward homosexual people.”

In their final paragraph they conclude,

“Homophobia is a significant social problem that involves specific personality features in the subjects, with an intrinsic aversion toward homosexuals. Psychoticism and immature defense mechanisms specify people with higher levels of homophobia, highlighting a remarkable association between dysfunctional aspects of personality and homophobic attitudes.”

The entire study is only seven pages long and remember the study included in terms of research subjects only about 550 Italian University students. That’s it. And yet headlines almost immediately sprang from London to San Francisco claiming that there had been found a psychological or psychiatric link between negative attitudes towards homosexuality and mental illness. In terms of the moral revolution this is huge. It’s a signal of the kind of headlines you should expect in the future. It’s also a very clear signal of the kind of cultural arguments that are now going to be used to dismiss, as the moral revolution makes its rapid advance, anyone who holds to any negative moral judgment concerning homosexual acts, homosexual behaviors homosexual relationships and yes, of course, same-sex marriage. Those who operate out of the Christian worldview who are committed to Christian truth and who are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ have to recognize that the triumph of the therapeutic in the larger society represents a major challenge to the gospel and a major obstacle to modern people hearing the gospel. That’s because the therapeutic revolution has redefined sin as a form of a syndrome and it points to the answer not in terms of theology, pointing to the cross of Jesus Christ, but rather to therapy and now it is being extended in service of the moral revolution. Since a study like this, although it betrays all the biases of the researchers behind it, serves the cause of the moral revolution, you can count on the fact that those who are in favor of that revolution will turn this study of 551 Italian University students into headline news. But from our perspective, from the Christian worldview perspective, the real headline news is the headline itself.

Justice Breyer presents European courts as moral standard for US decisions

Next, when trying to think through the changing terrain of the moral revolution all around us, one of the things we have to note from time to time is the fact that so many of these issues are now being decided adjudicated by the courts and in one particular case of greatest importance, of course, the Supreme Court of the United States. That’s when a justice of the Supreme Court publishes a book or makes a major public statement about the operation of the court and his or her own understanding of jurisprudence, it’s important especially at the level of worldview. This is true in particular of a new book published by one justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Stephen Breyer, appointed to the court by former President Bill Clinton. Breyer’s amongst the liberals on the Supreme Court and he is one of the most thoughtful and one of the most forceful of the liberal figures on the court and in his new book entitled The Court and the World, Justice Breyer is trying to argue that the Supreme Court should indeed pay attention to the views and decisions of international courts.

Now in recent months, Justice Breyer has made headline news by the fact that as the Supreme Court term ended not only did he vote in favor, that is with the majority in terms of the legalization of same-sex marriage, but he also declared in a statement that was read from the bench that he believes that the death penalty in the United States probably constitutes cruel and unusual punishment. Justice Breyer’s position was shared by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who made a similar statement at the very same time. Now, as we’re looking at the issue of the death penalty, that’s not so much our focal concern, but the issue here, of course, is the fact that those who are arguing that the death penalty constitutes cruel and unusual punishment and thus is unconstitutional have to reckon with the fact that those who framed and ratified the Constitution clearly did believe that the death penalty was constitutional and did not represent cruel and unusual punishment in and of itself. And so what we see here is the setup for a massive debate before the Supreme Court and it’s likely to come sooner rather than later. But the most important issue is that Justice Breyer and Justice Ginsburg and others are going to have to make some argument for why the death penalty now constitutes cruel and unusual punishment when it evidently didn’t when the Constitution was ratified. That leads to Justice Breyer’s new book and he’s arguing that the decisions against the death penalty by foreign courts should indeed inform the United States courts and in particular the United States Supreme Court in deciding the same issue. Thus, the title of his new book, The Court and the World.

As Adam Liptak of the New York Times summarized his argument,

“He said he found it useful to compare notes with foreign judges. In the book, he noted that some Americans were wary of such interactions, partly because they saw “judges throughout the world as belonging to the same social caste — one sharing generally ‘leftish’ political views.”

In this case, Liptak is actually quoting Justice Breyer. He went on to say,

“But he said judges facing similar problems could learn from each other.”

This is a truly important article. Adam Liptak reporting on Justice Breyer’s new book tells us that Justice Breyer admits that there are those who were wary of the influence of foreign courts and they point particularly to the fact that judges as a political cast tend to be leftish, that’s the very words used in the article. But one of the most interesting aspects of this is pointed out by another justice of the Supreme Court, Antonin Scalia, when he pointed out that when liberals on the court talk about wanting to look to foreign courts for President, especially on very important issues of the moral revolution they are very choosy about which foreign courts they want to give attention to, in particular, they tend to want to cite decisions by courts in liberal nations such as northern and western Europe. As Scalia made very clear, they do not cite presidents from courts in Asia and Africa because those courts would not aim toward the direction they’re trying to lead American law and American culture. The debate that is reflected in Justice Breyer’s new book and in this article about it that appeared in the New York Times is consequential because if one is trying to lead America in the direction of European culture in terms of its secularization and it’s more liberal social and political and moral views, then one way to do it would be to lead the American courts, especially the Supreme Court of United States to defer at least in terms of influence to these European courts, thus by judicial action turning America increasingly into Europe. This is one of the major issues now dividing the left and right wings of the US Supreme Court and it’s showing up in decision after decision. In that sense, we should welcome Justice Breyer’s book in terms of making the argument and the argument as we say is now joined and it’s a very important argument. In that sense we should appreciate the fact that Justice Breyer has actually put into words in this new book his judicial philosophy and thus it is open for the kind of argument the book is likely surely to bring.

But the other thing that we should note is this article appears in the New York Times and as Justice Breyer’s new book appears one of the things we should keep in mind is that the looming 2016 United States presidential election is about a great many issues that are of vital concern for the future of this nation and one of them is the singular power of the President of the United States to nominate those who will sit on the United States Supreme Court and other federal courts. That is a massive stewardship, it is a massive power and that means that one of the most important implications of the 2016 presidential election will be the direction of the courts. Just consider how many of the most important Supreme Court decisions in recent years have been by numbers like a 5-4 vote, that points to just how consequential the court is and just how contentious the issues are and just how important the future of the Supreme Court will be to the coming U.S. presidential election.

First legal crop of pot in DC sows moral confusion as cannot be legally sold

Next, here’s the headline for you coming fresh from the Washington Post published of course in our nation’s capital. The headline of the article by Aaron C. Davis is this,

“First legal harvest of marijuana fueling gray market for pot in U.S. capital.”

Davis writes as he introduces his article,

“In upper Northwest Washington, marijuana buds the size of zucchinis hang drying in a room once reserved for yoga. In the Shaw neighborhood, pot grown in a converted closet sits meticulously trimmed, weighed and sealed in jars. Elsewhere, from Georgetown to Capitol Hill to Congress Heights, seven-leafed weeds are flowering in bedrooms, back yards and window boxes.

“Welcome to the first crop of legal pot in the nation’s capital — where residents may grow and possess marijuana but are still forbidden to sell it.”

Now this points to a very interesting issue. The District of Columbia government legalized the growing and the use of personal recreational marijuana, but it did not authorize the sale or transfer of that marijuana, particularly the sale and even as those in the District of Columbia had anticipated it would follow states like Colorado in not only legalizing marijuana, but also legalizing and regulating its sale in the District of Columbia, our nation’s capital after all, it’s legal to grow pot, it’s legal to use pot, it’s not legal to sell pot. But there’s a lot of pot waiting to be sold and thus the headline in the Washington Post. As Davis writes,

“All of which presents a thorny question for District leaders and police in a city where cultivation and possession are legal but sales are not: How the heck will all this pot get from those who have it to those who want it?”

Now that’s a legal predicament that is the responsibility of the District of Columbia government.

He goes on and writes,

“A fitness instructor who took up the hobby six months ago has amassed enough pot to make tens of thousands of dollars selling it. Instead, he’s begun giving away a little bit to anyone who pays for a massage. The instructor asked not to be named out of concern that he or his home, where he sometimes serves clients, could become targets for criminals.”

One recent law graduate, according to the article, says he’s not selling marijuana; he’s simply giving it to people who donate to his Corporation. When you’re thinking about moral confusion in this country, it’s hard to go past this headline coming from the nation’s capital. As Davis writes,

“[In the District] a cottage industry taking root from the inside out. Marijuana has become tolerated in the city so much that the D.C. State Fair added a marijuana-growing competition to its lineup of events Saturday. The “Best Bud” category joined the fair’s growing list of competitions.”

The moral confusion has also lead to a basic moral dishonesty. One man quoted in the article, Delroy Burton, head of the D.C. police union said,

“People are disguising sales as thank-you gifts, but they are being smart about it, distributing in a way that they cannot be charged with distribution.”

Just think about those words,

“[They are] Distributing in a way that they cannot be charged with distribution.”

That’s actually written in this article. It’s a serious statement. The legalization of the use of marijuana, the normalization of marijuana as a reality in this culture is a major part of the moral revolution, it’s a smaller part to be sure than the sexual revolution, but as many observers have noted, in terms of worldview it goes hand-in-hand with the claim of personal autonomy, with the celebration of alternative lifestyles and with the moral confusion that has been sown along with the first so-called legal crop of marijuana in the nation’s capital, a place where it now evidently makes sense or some kind of sense to distribute without distributing.

Power of images to shape our feelings important factor in how we view world as Christians

Finally, as we think about how we engage the world around us, the culture and society around us, even the natural world around us, one of the things we need to note is the importance of the visual. God made us as creatures who are impacted by what we see, what we see with our eyes. As Karen Miller Pensiero has written for the Wall Street Journal, this raises a very important realization in terms of recent headlines or you might say recent headline photographs. In particular, she writes of photographs that have changed history. She writes in a timely way about that heartbreaking photograph that went around the world in recent days of the three-year-old boy from Syria named Aylan Kurdi, “whose lifeless body had washed up on a Turkish beach.”

In the article, she cites historian Douglas Brinkley of Rice University, who said,

“Once in a while, an image breaks through the noisy, cluttered global culture and hits people in the heart and not the head.”

That in and of itself is a fascinating statement and one that demands our attention. We need as Christians to think about how we think, to pay attention to how we engage the world, how our hearts and our heads are affected by what we see, by what we read, by what we hear. In terms of sight, Douglas Brinkley is really onto something here because one of the powers of the visual is that it tends to go right to the heart, sometimes not so much to the head. Let me quote him again, Douglas Brinkley said,

“Once in a while, an image breaks through the noisy, cluttered global culture and hits people in the heart and not the head.”

We are affective creatures made in God’s image. In other words, God made us in his image and one dimension of that is that we not only think but we also feel. And one of the things we need to note is that our feeling can often be very affected by what we see and in particular as Pensiero writes in this article, what we see sometimes is a photograph that does indeed change history. She writes about the fact that in the civil rights movement certain photographs changed history. During the Great Depression and its aftermath, a photograph by Dorothea Lange known as ‘Migrant Mother’, and many of you immediately have that photograph coming to mind, changed history showing the desperation in black and white photography of a mother whose face is so worn with worry during that time of economic deprivation.

In the article Brinkley pointed to other moments when photographs changed history and changed a moral perspective. He writes in particular about the fact that in the aftermath of World War II, General Dwight Eisenhower required photographers to document the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and he made sure those photographs made it to the United States. As Professor Brinkley said, Eisenhower believed that,

“People will deny what’s happening if you don’t have photographic evidence of everything.”

He went on to say,

“Before the release of the photos to the public, ‘people heard about the tragedy of the Holocaust, and they heard statistics about it, but suddenly to see the degradation of human life to such a degree just sort of turned the whole world’s head around. In many ways, it led to the creation of Israel.”

Just think about that. Here you have a historian, pointing to the importance of the visual even the visual in just the terms of a photograph or a series of photographs. Brinkley also pointed to another photograph, not so much of desperation, but of wonder. That’s a photograph that was known as Earthrise. It was a color photograph taken by Astronaut Bill Anders on the Apollo 8 mission in 1968. It is, we should note, one of the first photographs of planet Earth ever taken from outer space. That photograph, again having achieved iconic status, has been seen by billions of human eyes and it afforded this generation of those living, at least those who were alive in 1968 and following, with the perspective of planet Earth that no previous generation of humans had ever seen or experienced. This article reminds us of just how powerful feeling can be and how powerful an image can be, a photograph can be in framing our feelings. Christians have to understand that our feelings are very important, but they’re not enough, it’s not enough to feel, we also have to think and we have to think in ways that are consistent with Scripture. But we also have to remember that even as we think we are feeling and Christianity is the only worldview that explains how thinking and feeling are to be held together in terms of a faithful disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and how both thinking and feeling are to be made accountable to the Bible as the word of God. This article reminds us to pay careful attention to how we engage the world around us and how we engage it faithfully in both thinking and feeling.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing