February 1, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, February 1, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Origin of "-phobic" in cultural vocabulary reveals link between conversation and worldview
One of the most important cultural and intellectual developments of the 20th century was the psychotherapeutic revolution. This was a revolution that shifted so much meaning in this society away from biblical categories and on to psychotherapeutic categories. One of the most interesting things for us to ponder is the fact that most of those categories didn’t even exist in the beginning of the 20th century. As that century began, most people still operated with a view of the human being that was at least basically founded upon biblical principles. They would’ve understood the most basic human problem as being somehow related to sin. All of that changed in the 20th century. That’s why we often speak of the four horsemen of modernity as Nietzsche and Darwin and Freud and Marx, and if you take them in order, Freud is actually the most recent.
Many American evangelicals, even if vaguely or generally aware of the impact of the psychotherapeutic revolution, don’t realize just how recent it is. Almost all of it at the popular level has emerged since the midpoint of the 20th century, but emerge it did, so much so that the triumph of the therapeutic has now become one of the major ways of understanding how the modern mind is quite different than the mind that came before, how the worldview that now shapes our society is radically different. The big change in the psychotherapeutic revolution was away from understanding that we are the problem to understanding that something must have happened to us. And so the psychotherapeutic revolution not only changed the moral categories, it changed our understanding of what’s wrong with humanity. In the psychotherapeutic worldview, what’s wrong with humanity is something that has happened to us. In one sense it might be biochemical, in another sense it might be relational.Show Full Transcript
Sigmund Freud was not alone in launching that revolution, but he was the singular most important figure. And as we know, Sigmund Freud clearly understood himself to be replacing a biblical worldview with a new worldview. Writing in yesterday’s First Word column for the New York Times Magazine, Amanda Hess writes one of the most interesting articles about the impact of this language that I have seen in many, many years. She writes about how the word, indeed the suffix “-phobic” has so changed the moral vocabulary, and it wasn’t by accident. As she writes,
“The ‘-phobic’ suffix has emerged as the activist’s most trusted term of art for pinning prejudice on an opponent. There’s ‘xenophobic,’ ‘homophobic,’ ‘Islamophobic,’ ‘transphobic,’ ‘fatphobic’”
—and many others. She goes on to say anyone,
“…who spews bigotry against a marginalized group — or any journalist who pens an article perceived as insufficiently sensitive — risks being called out for an irrational anxiety over one Other or another. When did this particular diagnosis become such a powerful weapon in the identity wars?”
She asked the question, and even more importantly, she answers it. As Amanda Hess writes,
“The fuse that would eventually set off the modern ‘-phobia’ boom was lit a half-century ago by a psychotherapist named George Weinberg.”
She goes on to explain that Weinberg came to express any opposition, moral opposition in particular to homosexuality, same-sex relations or same-sex sexual behaviors as being rooted in an irrational fear of same-sex relationships, thus, “homophobic.” As Hess explains, Weinberg just invented a new psychotherapeutic disease he called homophobia. She writes,
“Weinberg believed that ‘discriminatory practices against homosexuals have deep psychological motives,’ as he wrote in his 1972 book ‘Society and the Healthy Homosexual.’”
But then Hess points to something really, really important. She writes,
“But Weinberg was not only a therapist; he was also a gay rights activist, and in his book, he hinted at the term’s strategic value in furthering the goals of the budding movement.”
“In the early ’60s, homosexuality was classified as a ‘sociopathic personality disturbance’ often ‘treated’ with sadistic group therapies and electric shocks. Pathologizing the anti-gay position gave heterosexuals a taste of their own medicine.”
As Weinberg wrote,
“The very knowledge that homophobia is being investigated,” Weinberg wrote, “helps people keep in mind that homophobia is a personal problem.”
Before we go any further we need to pause and look closely at what we’re dealing with here. George Weinberg was not only a psychotherapist highly invested in that psychotherapeutic worldview, he was also a gay activist highly invested in that movement as well. He saw, as Hess writes, the strategic advantage in shifting the problem, shifting the problem away from homosexuality being the problem to any negative judgment of homosexuality being the problem, from homosexuality being a psychological or psychiatric disease or disorder. Christians looking at this have to realize that the moment in the culture was opportune for this argument to come along. It wouldn’t have worked if the psychotherapeutic revolution had not convinced a significant percentage of the population—probably at one level a majority—that whatever problem we have is something that happened to us, it doesn’t come from ourselves. The whole Christian doctrine of sin in a biblical anthropology had been replaced with a secular psychotherapeutic worldview and an understanding of the human being as being a fairly vulnerable being in the midst of modern society, to which any number of things might happen that would cause syndromes or disorders or psychoses or, in the word that was used back in the 60s and 70s, neuroses—whatever, it’s something that happened to us. And as George Weinberg understood, if you can shift the problem from being homosexual to being any moral opposition to homosexuality, and if you can shift the problem from being a psychological disorder of same-sex attraction to being a psychological disorder of being against it, well, there will be an enormous opportunity for public, moral, cultural, and political victories, and that’s exactly what we’ve seen.
Amanda Hess writes in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times magazine,
“‘Homophobia’ was a hit. Weinberg had intuited that culture wars are waged not just in hearts and minds, but also in conversation.”
That’s an amazingly astounding point. And let me return to it again, here in the pages of a secular newspaper, the New York Times Magazine, we have an assessment of how moral change takes place, and it is a very accurate and insightful assessment. As Amanda Hess argues, cultural change, moral change, takes place,
“…not just in hearts and minds, but also in conversation.”
That’s something we as Christians need to think about. Our worldview shapes our conversations, but our conversations also shape our worldview. And what Hess is writing about here is that if our conversations shift so that we are using these psychotherapeutic categories, we really are weakening any ability to speak in a distinctively Christian way based in biblical truth because the two worldviews start in very different points, have very different authorities, end up in very different places, and are fundamentally incompatible. But the reality is that for decades many Christians have tried their very best to join the psychotherapeutic revolution. You walk into far too many Christian bookstores and what you will find when you find a book is actually warmed-over secular psychotherapy with some Bible verses added. What that amounts to is an effort to take a secular worldview and somehow make it Christian simply by changing secular language into a more Christian language, even adding biblical verses for citation or illustration. That doesn’t make the worldview Christian or biblical, and that’s something Christians had better watch very, very carefully. The infusion of the psychotherapeutic worldview into the Church isn’t new, but one of the great dangers is that many Christians now are so accustomed to it, they no longer even recognize it.
The change brought about by the use of this term homophobic as Hess indicates led to the American Psychiatric Association ceasing to classify homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1974. But the importance of Amanda Hess’s article for biblically-minded Christians isn’t limited to her main point. Her main point is how successful that term homophobia was in fueling the moral revolution. What we need to note is her other insight which she throws off almost as an aside, and that is this, that cultural and moral change happens, not only, as she says,
“…in hearts and minds, but also in conversation.”
The words we use, the categories we accept, our conversation itself not only is driven by our worldview, it drives our worldview. It impacts the way we think once we accept certain terms and once we begin to use them in the way they are used in the larger cultural conversation—we need to note this, in many ways we have already abandoned our ability to uphold Christian truth and to make a distinctively Christian argument. That means that in conversation, sometimes Christians need to stop and say, “I can’t even use that term. I can’t use that category. I can’t use that vocabulary and maintain a distinctively faithful Christian conversation.”
Multiplication of new gender pronouns a rejection of God's design of man as male and female
Next, actually yesterday’s edition of the New York Times was a target-rich environment when it comes to vocabulary and what that means about moral revolution and change around us. Writing in the Command Z column of the New York Times yesterday, Jessica Bennett wrote,
“She? Ze? They? What’s In a Gender Pronoun.”
We’ve seen various articles like this come around, but none quite like this one. Bennett writes,
“What happens when 334 linguists, lexicographers, grammarians and etymologists gather in a stuffy lecture hall on a Friday night to debate the lexical trends of the year?”
She goes on to say,
“They become the unlikely heroes of the new gender revolution.”
Now, let’s just pause for a moment and consider this. If you get to set the definitions in the dictionary, you get to set the terms, and that’s exactly what this article is about. When it comes to the moral revolution taking place around us Bennett writes,
“That’s what happened here earlier this month anyway, at a downtown Marriott, where members of the 127-year-old American Dialect Society anointed ‘they,’ the singular, gender-neutral pronoun, the 2015 Word of the Year. As in: ‘They and I went to the store.’”
Now, anyone who knows the English language traditionally as it has been defined by rules of grammar and syntax and usage would recognize that is not a proper English sentence. But that’s the point. We are in this moral revolution actually now seeing a change in the most basic English sentence, and it’s being reflected in the fact that these specialists in language have noted the use of the word “they,” now as a singular pronoun, as being of utmost importance for the year 2015. Why? It’s all about gender confusion. It’s all about the fact that he or she, his or her, is now giving way to they and their, even in the singular. For centuries in terms of proper English usage, “they” has been a plural pronoun. But now it’s being used in the singular. It is being used in the singular as a way of avoiding using he or she. As Bennett writes,
“They is used for a person who does not identify as male or female, or they is a filler pronoun in a situation where a person’s gender identity is unknown.”
And this is not merely a reflection by these language specialists on what is happening, it is rather also driven by their own agenda of what must happen. One person in the crowd shouted,
“We need to accept ‘they,’ and we need to do it now.”
According to Bennett, Anne Curzan, an English professor at University of Michigan said,
“As a gender neutral pronoun, ‘they’ has been useful for a long time.”
Now we need to note that the use of “they” as a singular pronoun has not been unknown, it has just been considered to be wrong. But now everything is changing. And why? It’s because of the issue of gender and the transgender revolution. And here’s an article in the New York Times that puts that issue front and center. Bennett writes,
“But to Ms. Curzan’s point: Indeed. If we’ve learned anything over the last year, from vocal transgender spokespeople like Caitlin Jenner and Laverne Cox; from on-screen depictions like ‘Transparent,’ the Emmy-winning Amazon series about a family patriarch who comes out as transgender; or even from Miley Cyrus — who has said she identifies as ‘pansexual,’ or sexually fluid — it’s that both sexuality (whom you go to bed with) and gender (who you go to bed as) are much more … flexible.”
This article in the New York Times cites Julie Mencher, identified as a psychotherapist in Northampton, Massachusetts. She is said to conduct school workshops on how to support transgender students. She said, listen carefully,
“Many claim that gender doesn’t even exist.”
So that’s the new world we’re living in. A world in which gender supposedly now doesn’t even exist and the language itself is going to have to change. And if the language changes, the dictionary is going to have to change and not only that, English usage is going to have to officially change. But when it comes to gender, Bennett writes,
“It does exist when it comes to language.”
At least it does for now. As she says,
“He, she, hers, his, male, female — there’s not much in between. And so has emerged a new vocabulary, of sorts: an attempt to solve the challenge of talking about someone who identifies as neither male nor female (and, inevitably, the linguistic confusion that comes along with it).
“These days, on college campuses, stating a gender pronoun has become practically as routine as listing a major. ‘So it’s like: “Hi, I’m Evie. My pronouns are she/her/hers. My major is X,”’ said Evie Zavidow, a junior at Barnard.”
“‘Ze’ is a pronoun of choice for the student newspaper at Wesleyan, [Bennett tells us,] while ‘E’ [that’s just the letter E capitalized] is one of the categories offered to new students registering at Harvard.”
That’s right, Harvard University now has a pronoun “E.” This is actually hard to take in. Bennett writes that,
“At American University, there is ‘ey,’ [That’s E-Y]”
Add to these, she says,
“‘hir,’ ‘xe’ and ‘hen,’ [H-E-N]”
—which, as we reported on The Briefing some time ago, has been adopted by Sweden—that is a joining together of the masculine and feminine terms so that you end up with a gender neutral “hen.” Amazingly enough, Bennett’s article is not just about the gender neutral or gender confusing pronoun issue, she goes on to talk about other language that these linguistic specialists were noting as reflecting the kind of cultural, social, and moral change taking place around us. One of the most insightful statements came from a man identified as Micah Fitzerman-Blue, he’s a writer on the show Transparent. According to him,
“It’s like the hyper-individuation of identity.”
Christians thinking of biblical terms need to recognize that is exactly what is taking place here. We need to recognize that language reveals our moral understanding, our worldview, the use of terms like “he” and “she” reflects the fact that we understand human beings to be made male and female. Once you abandon that worldview, the language itself is going to have to change. But whether or not Bennett intended it or not, this article demonstrates what a perfect massive confusion this has created. No one actually knows what kind of pronoun is now to be used. Here you have a group of linguists meeting in a Marriott in Manhattan saying, “Let’s just go with ‘they.’” Meanwhile, Harvard says it can be “E,” any number of institutions are saying it just might be “xe” or “xir,” you have the American University saying “ey,” and let’s not forget that Facebook gives its members 50 different choices—and that’s as of today. That number will certainly increase.
Jessica Bennett’s article, written entirely from a secular perspective as a champion of the LGBT revolution, indicates just how difficult it is even for the people who want wholesale to join that revolution to figure out how in the world they can even use terms and how the language has to change to keep up with them. In that first story we looked at the incredible impact of that one term homophobia, but in Jessica Bennett’s article she talks about some new terms that also indicate the scale and scope of this moral revolution. Here’s one for you,
And what does that refer to? It refers to conversation or any other language act in which we get the gender identity of someone wrong. But the ultimate impact in the language is going to be a meltdown. Reading this article makes that abundantly clear. Not only, as Jessica Bennett writes, are college students having introduce themselves not only with their name, but with their preferred pronouns—but who in the world can keep up with what pronouns any given individual may want or desire at any given point in history, and especially given the multiplicity of people we know and given the sheer numbers of the people to whom we have to make reference? So once again we have an incredible piece of evidence about how language shows the revolution taking place around us and how a change in language brings about that revolution and how the revolution in turn requires further changes in language.
But once again, there’s a huge point in Jessica Bennett’s article that wasn’t her main point, but thinking Christians need to look back at this extremely carefully. I read the sentence just as she wrote it just so you could hear it, but my guess is most people hearing that sentence will go right over it without recognizing what we were just told. Jessica Bennett writes, I’ll repeat it,
“Indeed. If we’ve learned anything over the last year, from vocal transgender spokespeople like Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox; from on-screen depictions like ‘Transparent,’ the Emmy-winning Amazon series about a family patriarch who comes out as transgender; or even from Miley Cyrus — who has said she identifies as ‘pansexual,’ or sexually fluid.”
She goes on and on and on. The lesson she says is that both sexuality and gender are much more flexible. But the key issue is how she began that sentence.
“Indeed, if we’ve learned anything over the last year from…”
—and then she mentions Bruce Jenner, now known as Caitlyn Jenner, and she mentions others, and she mentions that program on television Transparent and she mentions Miley Cyrus. The key issue here is she said “if we’ve learned anything…from” these people. That’s the point. Here you have a writer for the New York Times making the point right out loud that we’re supposed to be learning from Hollywood; we’re supposed to be learning from celebrities in the larger culture; we’re supposed to be learning from fictional depictions on television how we are to think morally about these issues. That’s absolutely massive. And it tells us two things that thinking Christians had better think about immediately. In the first place it tells us that all entertainment is coming to us with an agenda. It is coming to us in order to teach us something. The other thing we need to note equally carefully is when we’re watching something, we are being taught.
The show Transparent has been honored by the secular society—Hollywood always honors its own—it has been awarded within Emmy. And of course, it is identified here as a comedy, it’s supposed to make the viewer laugh. But that’s where Christians have to understand, along with the laughs come moral lessons. Along with watching a program like that comes a change in the way the viewer sees the world. It’s not accidental, it is intentional. Here you have an open admission, not even the main point the article once again, that tells us that when Hollywood creates a product like this, it’s not just trying to make us laugh, it’s not just trying to make us cry, it’s not even just trying to make us watch. It’s trying, quite successfully we should note, to change minds.