The Briefing 02-05-16

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Prior to considering legal challenges of revenge porn is the morality of pornography itself

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Recommending "safe sex" in light of Zika virus fails to consider meaning of "safe" or "sex"

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Utah legislator recognizes harmful effects of porn, dismisses as merely correlation

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Barbie's new figure reminds that even toys have a worldview behind them

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Students paying full tuition at Ivy League business school for new age spiritualism

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Transcript

The Briefing

February 5, 2016

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

It’s Friday, February 5, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Prior to considering legal challenges of revenge porn is the morality of pornography itself

Sometimes one of the tasks of careful, Christian thinking is looking at a story and recognizing there’s not only more to the story, the big story is actually a different story. Consider a front-page story that appeared in Louisville Courier-Journal. The question is this,

“What can Kentucky do about revenge porn?”

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Revenge porn is a fairly new term in terms of American life. It has to do with pornographic images that are posted, usually on the Internet, by a jilted person in a relationship, and it is used to inflict harm and embarrassment upon the person who is exposed in the revenge porn. Mike Wynn, writing for the Courier-Journal, cites Jefferson County attorney Mike O’Connell, who said,

“It’s horrific, it’s just horrific.”

According to the news article, the County attorney’s office hears stories from victims, mostly women, desperate to reclaim their privacy and stave off the devastation to relationships, careers, and their mental health. Wynn then goes on to write,

“But unlike dozens of other states, victims in Kentucky have no legal recourse.”

The County attorney said,

“They are fighting. They are fearful. They want to know how they can get this stopped, what they can do.”

The paper then explains,

“Revenge porn has become a common problem in Kentucky and throughout the nation, particularly with the rise of digital cameras. It frequently happens when, after a breakup or divorce, a spiteful ex-partner shares photos or videos of the couple’s intimate moments without consent.”

Now here’s where Christians looking at a story like this need to recognize, it’s true there’s more to the story, but it’s also even more true this is not the main story. The main story is the bigger issue of pornography that isn’t actually even addressed in the article. You can’t have, to state the matter bluntly, revenge porn without porn. Now let’s be clear, there is everything wrong with revenge porn. But the problem, first of all, is that there is everything wrong with pornography before you get to the part that is preceded with revenge. And when we think about what it’s like to live in a truly fallen world, just consider this paragraph in Mike Wynn’s article,

“And whole websites are dedicated to curating and distributing the images – often for profit and with names, addresses and contact information to increase a victim’s exposure.”

So we live in a fallen world in which fallen sinful behavior exists, and then as evidence of that, pornography exists, and then to compound the evil of pornography, revenge porn exists, and then to compound further, an entire industry of websites has come up in order to curate and to distribute and to profit from those very revenge porn images. That’s what a sinful world looks like. It is sin that is compounded by sin that is distributed by sin that is expanded by sin that ends up in a headline story like this on the front page of Louisville’s newspaper.

So one of the ways that Christians exercise a Christian mind and think as Christians in biblical terms is to look at a story like this and recognize what’s truly revealing about the story is what’s not even in the story. There is no consideration in the story of the morality of creating the pornographic images in the first place. The only concern of the story is whether or not the State of Kentucky might by legislation or regulation somehow mitigate the effects of the sinfulness of this behavior, especially when it takes the form of what’s called revenge porn. There is no reason why any Christian should be opposed to any legislation that would limit or criminalize revenge porn. But we should be never unaware of the fact that the bigger issue is pornography.

Recommending "safe sex" in light of Zika virus fails to consider meaning of "safe" or "sex"

Similarly, the same point was made in a recent article just this week in the Washington Post. The reporter is Michael E. Miller; here’s the headline:

“Zika could inject fear back into sex.”

This have to do with the fact that health officials in Dallas announced that a local resident there in Texas had contracted the Zika virus, most likely by sexual exposure. You look at this and, once again, what’s missing is the main point. As Miller says,

“Tuesday’s announcement complicates those efforts, which so far have focused on the mosquitoes responsible for the vast majority of transmissions.”

He continues,

“But the news is also a psychologically terrifying twist to the already frightening outbreak.”

Inevitably Michael Miller gets right to the point, and that is there are people who are now wondering if Zika will be spoken of in moral terms, much like HIV. Zika, he says, may,

“…have injected fear back into sex just as worries over the sexual transmission of HIV appear to be ebbing slightly.”

So how do Christians look at this? Well, number one, we understand the reality of infectious disease. But secondly, we understand what’s really at stake here is not just the reality of the disease, but how would it spread? No one was really thinking in sexual terms when everybody thought the mosquitoes were the culprit, but now that it is understood that the disease can be spread by sexual exposure, this raises what in this article is a public health question. But this is where Christians have to understand that when you’re dealing with human sexuality, it can’t be reduced to a matter identified as public health. It is always essentially, inevitably a moral situation, but that’s not in the article.

One of the things we saw on the revenge porn article is that there was no consideration of pornography. And one of the things you’ll see in this article in this week’s edition of the Washington Post is that there is no attention to whether or not the sex should ever take place; it’s just assumed that that’s morally not significant. What’s significant is merely the fact that it might lead to the transmission of what is now a feared disease. So you can imagine already right where this is going. And here it is right in the article from the Washington Post,

“Now, those same officials are asking people in the Americas and elsewhere to practice safe sex lest they — and their unborn children — contract the disease.”

So the response to this is so-called safe sex. And what is safe sex? It is sex that is ruled to be safe out of a merely public health concern. Moral concerns? Simply irrelevant, not even in the picture. The assumption of our modern secular culture is that sexual morality has to be reduced to something like public health or it doesn’t matter. Once again, one of our basic Christian responsibilities in looking at the public conversation over stories like this is to understand that sometimes we have to say the story isn’t what you think it is or what you want to act and presume it is. The story is far more basic. The story in both situations gets to moral behavior that nobody really wants to talk about on the front page of the Louisville Courier-Journal, or the Washington Post. A society that wants to find refuge in what is called safe sex will never, we should note, be safe.

Utah legislator recognizes harmful effects of porn, dismisses as merely correlation

Next, the dateline shifts to Utah, which oddly enough, perhaps surprisingly enough, according to experts has the highest per capita rate of adult pornography exposure of any state in the United States. Emma Court, reporting for MarketWatch, tells us that a Utah legislator, Todd Weiler, has now,

“…gone so far as to label adult pornography a public health crisis—and he’ll introduce a resolution to that effect in his state on Friday [that’s today].”

A copy of the bill to be introduced today is already available, but as Emma Court reports,

“The bill may be the first governmental action to present porn as a public-health issue.

“The proposal will take weeks to wind its way through the state legislature. But even if it achieves the support it needs—majorities in House and Senate committees and in floor votes in both chambers—the rule won’t ban porn or regulate it in any specific way.”

So there you have, once again, the moral confusion of a very confused age. If indeed anything were to be declared truly and believed truly to be a public health issue, then there would be a public health response. But what is notable here is actually the unseriousness with which most people are even taking the proposal. Pornography has become so much a part of the mainstream of American culture that it seems to be unthinkable to most governments, or frankly to almost anyone else, that anything can or perhaps even should be done about it. One of most interesting aspects of this article is the debate that is reflected in it and as to whether or not pornography actually brings negative, damaging, deleterious results to individuals and the larger society. MarketWatch asked,

“But is porn really a public health menace? Apart from those in the industry, most people in the space say there is some connection between porn and a range of societal problems.

“The distinction comes down to correlation versus causation.

“Activists say porn has a broad impact on relationships, sexual functioning, intimacy and even the way the brain itself functions”

Well, we just need to note at this point there is ample evidence of exactly what happens in terms of pornography and its damaging effects. But if you’re looking for a crystalline example of the moral confusion of our age, it’s hard to come up with a better single sentence than that which I read just a moment ago from this article. I repeat it,

“The distinction comes down to correlation versus causation.”

There is a morally confused society at the depth of moral confusion. Here you have a society saying, “Okay, show me the evidence.” Then you show them the evidence and they say, “Well, maybe it’s not causation, maybe it’s merely correlation.” It might be just a coincidence that with the rise of the rates of pornography all around us with the mainstreaming of pornography in the society, along with all the other societal problems that people just associate with it, including broken relationships, all kinds of corrupted relationships, you go on and on and on. But then you have the assertion right here in public view, maybe it’s just correlation not causation.

Further evidence comes in the article from Dr. Rory Reid, identified as a research psychologist, an assistant professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. According to his argument as found in the report,

“There are established links between high porn consumption and depression, loneliness, relationship difficulty and relationship discord, he said, but causality isn’t proven.”

This is the way moral confusion works and expands, how it spreads in a society. The society says, “Okay you say that’s a problem. Show me the evidence.” You show the evidence and they say, “Maybe it’s just correlation, not causation, bring me more evidence.” And just when you think it can’t get any worse comes this sentence,

“Then there are those in the porn industry itself, who feel they’re being scapegoated for a problem that they say is really a result of deficient sexual education in schools.”

This provides full evidence, not only that moral confusion leads to further moral confusion, but that people, a people, a society, can actually give itself to moral confusion to such an extent that it can no longer even recognize the ludicrous nature of making sentences like this in public, when you have pornographers saying they’re not really the problem, the problem is really deficient sex education in the public schools, and when you recognize that they make that statement expecting that someone somewhere is going to believe it. But there we have to understand as Christians that once we give ourselves over to this kind of moral confusion, we don’t just stick with bad moral arguments, we move on to worse.

Barbie's new figure reminds that even toys have a worldview behind them

Next, when it comes to American popular culture, it’s hard to imagine two more iconic brands than Time magazine and Barbie. And what’s interesting is that this week Barbie ends up on the front page on the front cover of Time magazine. The article is headlined,

“Now Can We Stop Talking about my Body?”

With the subtitle,

“What Barbie’s new shape says about American beauty”

Eliana Dockterman, writing for Time magazine, understands that something big is afoot when Mattel announces that Barbie’s going to come out with new body shapes. Why? Because so many people have complained that Barbie that has existed now for generations is simply too stereotypical and perhaps to unrealistic in terms of the one body shape that heretofore Barbie has represented. Reporting similarly for the New York Times, Rachel Abrams wrote,

“When it comes to Barbie’s body, it will no longer be one size fits all.

“On Thursday, Mattel unveiled curvy, petite and tall versions of its iconic fashion doll whose unrealistically thin shape has attracted criticism for decades. The three body types will also be sold in an assortment of skin tones, eye colors and hairstyles.”

But she says,

“The move is about more than just making Barbie look different. While Barbie was once Mattel’s powerhouse brand, sales have plummeted in recent years as the doll has struggled to remain relevant to little girls who do not look like her and who play with toys other than dolls.”

So what’s going on here that Christians should note? Well, on the one hand, there is the issue of the new body types that are going to be represented by Barbie. This tells us something of how there is now a pushback against the form of femininity and indeed the body shape of the Barbie doll and in that sense it’s been a long time coming. The reality is that no one actually looks like Barbie and no one actually should. This is not only a false understanding of femininity, it has roots that are far more significant and far more troubling than most Americans, including those that have given Barbie dolls to their daughters understand. To its credit, Time magazine gets right to the issue when it reports,

“Barbie has courted controversy since her birth. Her creator, Ruth Handler, based Barbie’s body on a German doll called Lilli, a prostitute gag gift handed out at bachelor parties. Her proportions were designed accordingly.”

In terms of contemporary sensitivities Time goes on to say,

“Therein lies Barbie’s problem. As much as Mattel has tried to market her as a feminist, Barbie’s famous figure has always overshadowed her business outfits. At her core, she’s just a body, not a character, a canvas upon which society can project its anxieties about body image.

“Jess Weiner, a branding expert and consultant who has worked with Dove, Disney and Mattel to create empowering messaging for girls said, ‘Barbie has all this baggage. Her status as an empowered woman has been lost.’”

But that leads to the second issue that Christians should note when it comes to toys. Sometimes, indeed often, toys are not merely toys. So many people look at something like toys and think they’re merely cultural artifacts. They’re merely consumer goods. But Christians have to understand that behind a culture’s patterns, behind its toys and games and entertainments, there is always more than meets the eye. In the case of Barbie, actually, it was mostly there already to meet the eye, but most people didn’t want to accept or to admit what Barbie represented. It wouldn’t have fit for Barbie to have been marketed by Mattel in 1959 as being based upon a pornographic sex toy from Germany. It tells us something about how moral habits change that now many Americans, including many feminists, say the Barbie has to go. That’s an argument that many have been making for a very long time. Why all of the sudden has it gained traction? It is because finally the society reached the point where, evidently, an incredible number of women and girls said we don’t want that doll because we don’t look like that.

Commercially there are many in the toy industry have already gone on record to say they don’t think Mattel’s rebranding or for that matter reshaping of Barbie is going to work. But that leads to a third issue that Christians need to note very carefully. Where should we derive our understanding of what it means to be male or female, man or woman, masculine or feminine? The very assumption, we should note, that toys are morally or culturally neutral leads many Christians to be unaware of the fact that many of our notions of femininity and masculinity are more derived from the culture around us than from Scripture. And even as we’re now living in a day in which so many want to say that gender doesn’t even exist, and that there are no meaningful distinctions between men and women, one of the most crucial responsibilities of Christians is to make certain that we are arguing from a position of biblical truth rather than from implied cultural authority. We’ve got to pushback against the culture that not only says Barbie is passé, but gender doesn’t matter. Of course gender matters, but we now have to make the argument in biblical terms, and we’ve got to make it forcefully. We’ve got to make it publicly, but we’ve also got to make it to our children, and the Barbie controversy reminds us we’re not the only ones trying to message our children.

Students paying full tuition at Ivy League business school for new age spiritualism

Finally, a reminder of the fact that worldview matters. It always matters; it matters everywhere, including in the MBA classroom. Here is an article from Wednesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, the headline is,

“Deepak Chopra Helps M.B.A.s Get in Touch With Their Spiritual Side”

Lindsay Gellman reports,

“In a classroom at Columbia Business School on a recent afternoon, roughly 65 students sat in silent meditation, eyes closed, their smartphones and laptops stashed out of sight.

“At the front of the class, Deepak Chopra encouraged them to direct their analytical skills inward.

“‘Bring your awareness into your heart,’ he instructed. ‘Ask, “who am I?”’”

One of the interesting things to read in terms of the culture is to understand what it takes for worldviews to become so mainstream they show up in a place like the Columbia Business School—that’s the business school, the graduate MBA program of Columbia University in New York City. That’s an Ivy League institution; it’s hard to come up with a more serious institution than Columbia University. It’s hard to come up with a better picture of what’s going on in the theological and worldview confusion of our time than the fact that Columbia Business School is offering for credit instruction taught by one of the world’s most famous New Age gurus, Deepak Chopra, showing up to teach MBA students and to say to them that their responsibility is to bring their awareness into their heart and ask, “Who am I?”

By the way, that shows you something about the direction of the meditation that is involved here. They are to look within to ask the question, “Who am I?” That’s one of the most fundamental distinctions between the Christian worldview and the New Age movement. The New Age movement says the answer is in you, you just have to find it and let it out. The Christian worldview says that the problem is in us, the answer is outside of us and it has to come to us by God’s action in the gift of revelation and in the saving gift of Christ.

At least the Wall Street Journal is honest that a lot of it’s about the money. The reporter writes,

“Making money is something that Mr. Chopra, an author of 84 books who is worth an estimated $80 million, knows something about. The affable spiritual guide to Oprah Winfrey, Lady Gaga and Arianna Huffington, among others, believes that capitalism can be a vehicle for good.”

It’s certainly been good to Deepak Chopra. In the article the Wall Street Journal tells us,

“In the classroom, Mr. Chopra—dressed in acid-wash jeans, sparkly eyeglasses and a looping, crimson scarf that unraveled as he spoke—favors acronyms, PowerPoint decks with rainbow font and phrases like ‘slip into your inner being.’”

Now I’ve had the honor of speaking at Columbia University, but it is still shocking to me to think that students in that institution, an Ivy League institution, would pay good money—and we’re talking about huge money—to take instruction from a man who tells them as they’re trying to earn their Master of Business Administration degree that the key is to,

“Slip into your inner being.”

One student, speaking for why he paid the money and took the course, said,

“Deepak has this sage aura to him, and I thought I could absorb some of that.”

Later in the article we read,

“Mr. Chopra (who is 69 ‘but biologically 35’) shared that he meditates two hours daily and rarely knows his schedule more than a day or two in advance—a way, he says, to reduce anxiety and stay present. For students at the start of their careers and without Mr. Chopra’s staff to handle logistics, the message was somewhat vexing.

“How can we accomplish that at this stage?”

asked one 29-year-old student. Well, as even the Wall Street Journal seems to understand, you can only accomplish that if you got a staff and $80 million upon which to lean. The rest of us have to know our schedule in advance, and can’t spend two hours a day “slipping into our inner being.” But what this tells us more than anything else is that a New Age worldview that emerged in the United States in the counterculture of the 60s and then spread, but has been written off by many people as passé, is anything but. Here it comes showing backup not in just some best-selling book by Deepak Chopra, but in tuition-paying students at an Ivy League university. at Columbia University’s School of Business no less.

I have to admit I found satisfaction in the way the article ends. It ends citing a female student who, speaking of Deepak Chopra, said,

“I would love to follow him around. I’d love to be a fly on the wall of his life for a couple days.”

Well, you don’t have to be a fly on the wall of this Columbia University business class to know what’s really going on here. We all really want to be told in our fallenness that the truth is in us if we could just find it and let it out. But now we find out you can even sell that message for full tuition at Columbia University, where students are paying good money, and they’re spending good time, in order to be told that what they really need to do is to,

“Slip into their inner being.”

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing