May 2, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, May 2, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
SCOTUS's liberal direction a product of Hollywood's influence on Washington, not the reverse
While primary political tension in the United States is directed toward the 2016 presidential race, and that’s quite understandable, there also looms the question of the future of the United States Supreme Court. But even as we look to the 2016 presidential race with an important understanding that the future of the Supreme Court is at stake, the present and immediate past of the Court are also of immediate interest. Richard Wolf, writing a front-page story for today’s edition of USA Today wrote,
“When the Supreme Court completed its last term in June by upholding same-sex marriage and Obamacare, conservatives predicted this year would provide an about-face from a surprising string of liberal victories.”Show Full Transcript
Wolf then writes,
“It hasn’t turned out that way. The death in February of Justice Antonin Scalia, combined with the same factors that gave liberal justices an advantage last year, has led to a continuation of the trend.”
And then comes this paragraph,
“From voting rights and the power of labor unions to class action lawsuits against corporations and the rights of criminal defendants, the court’s four liberal justices have been on the winning side of every major decision so far this term.”
Now as we are headed into the final weeks of this Supreme Court term, this is a signal from Richard Wolf that we should expect a continuation of the trend we’ve already seen this year. And as Wolf points out, this isn’t just about the death of former Justice Antonin Scalia; it’s about the larger question of the direction of the Court over the last several years. Now many Americans have considered the Supreme Court something of a very necessary brake on an expansionist government, especially since the Court took a more conservative turn in the 1980s. But now, perhaps trending towards the larger indications in American culture, also pointing left, the Supreme Court seems to be solidly moving in that direction; and of course that makes that 9th justice position all the more strategically important as both sides in the American political equation now fully understand.
Now the most surprising thing about Wolf’s assessment, which is borne out as accurate, is the fact that every single major case of this term has included a victory for the liberal justices. Toward the end of the article, it is suggested that one of the reasons this is true is that the liberal justices tend almost always to vote as a bloc, whereas the conservative justices, or least those identified as more conservative often tend to split on major issues. This is a decisive change from where the Supreme Court stood in the 1990s when it was conservatives who are understood to have a very significant bloc on the Court.
Now as we think about this as Christians, one of the things it points to is the fact that we are now experiencing a massive shift in this culture that is probably even larger than we had anticipated, even larger than we can fully estimate or understand even in the present day. Indeed, we have been watching the massive tectonic plates that shaped the American landscape moving in recent years, and these have pointed in a more liberal direction. But now we understand that this liberal direction is not something that just might happen—it’s not just a potentiality out there on the American horizon—it’s actually something that is already happening. In one sense, it might already have happened. There is a sense in this culture that we’ve made some massive shift, that some kind of tipping point has now been reached when we’re watching America shift into a new direction for the next generation or so in terms of the American experience. Christians have to look at this recognizing that politics catches up with the culture; it’s not vice versa.
In other words, one of the most important conservative understandings of culture, indeed a biblical understanding of culture, is that the culture precedes the politics; it produces the politics. The politics does not ultimately produce the culture. In a representative democracy where citizens have the right to vote, eventually the politics conforms to the larger cultural direction. This was true in the 1940s, 50s, and 60s; it was true in the 80s and the 90s; and it’s also true today. American culture is trending in a far more liberal direction across the landscape of issues. It’s not just when it comes to matters of sexuality and the definition of marriage; it’s also when it comes to matters economic and the larger understanding of the relationship between the citizen and the government, questions about the size of government, and even about basic human liberties.
But this is where Christians have to pause and think a bit more deeply even than the deepest of secular thinkers around us. The more considerable and thoughtful secular analysts will look at the situation and understand that there has to be something more here going on than the political. There has to be something more basic, and the more basic in their view has to be a basic set of moral understandings; and with them we are in full agreement. But this is where Christians have to pause and offer an even deeper analysis, and that is because the Christian worldview obligates us to understand that the morality is actually produced by the theology and, again, not the other way around. Eventually, a moral set of understandings emerges from theological convictions, from a theological worldview.
Now this brings us around to the larger question, the largest question of all. The secularizing trend of the American culture is now following in a direction of Europe and other Western democracies. We had noted the secularization of those societies going all the way back to the 1960s and 70s. And yet many have considered America to be the exception, the nation that would stand as the singular exception to the trajectory of Western secularism. But now we’re seeing the secularization is happening here as well. And as we have seen in so many other issues, it’s now showing up in every dimension of American life. It is showing up in the Supreme Court; it is also showing up at the local school board. It is showing up in the 2016 presidential race; it is also showing up in conversations with our neighbors. It’s more than a bit interesting that the current edition of USA Today has such a major analysis of the U.S. Supreme Court and the stunning assessment that the liberal bloc has been on the winning side of every single major case this year. There’s really no expectation that that story will be different even as this term comes to an end in June.
Before leaving this, Christians have to understand that there is reciprocity, there’s a cycling effect in terms of these influences. It is true that the politics influences the culture. It is also true that the morality influences the theology. But fundamentally the question is direction and, over time, it is eventually the culture that produces the politics. It is eventually the theology that produces the morality. And thus we have to keep peeling the onion back, as it were, getting back to ever more basic questions.
There is also, we should note, something of a celebration in this article in USA Today, something of a media celebration of the direction the culture is now taking, which points to the fact that we also have to add the media to the mix. The media is also a major driver, a major engine of the culture, and that makes the point even more emphatically. It’s not the politics so much that influences the media—just about any informed observer would quickly understand that it is the media that influences the politics. Just ask yourself this fundamental question, who cares more about the opinion of others? Is it politicians that worry about those in the media, or media who worry about the opinion of politicians? In reality, in determining the future of the culture, it’s important to understand that it is the politicians who really worry about the opinion of the media, and not the other way around. That is a fundamental shift in American culture. It’s something that has emerged in the celebrity media and in the 24/7 news cycle of the American current media entertainment complex.
The truth is that politicians go to Hollywood; Hollywood doesn’t have to go to the politicians. Americans are influenced far more about what comes out of Hollywood, in terms of moral and other signals, than what comes out of Washington. Just think of it this way, it wasn’t Hollywood that caught up with the Supreme Court; it was the Supreme Court that caught up with Hollywood. And at this point, Christians simply have to come to the informed observation that the larger culture, driven by and reflected by Hollywood, ricocheting and eventually extending through the entire culture and our political system, is trending in a very secular direction. It is that that explains the liberal trajectory, and it is not the other way around.
Confusion in moral chaos: GOP Congressman inadvertently passes measure to register women for the draft
Next, shifting directly to Congress, something bizarre happened in the US House of Representatives last week and it demands our attention. What we’re looking at here was reported by MSNBC in an article by Steve Benen, who pointed out that,
“It’s been about five months since the Obama administration took the historic step of opening all combat jobs to women.”
But now the issue is women registering for the draft on an equal basis with men. And the bizarre thing that happened last week, in the House Armed Services Committee, that committee voted to register women for the draft in a vote that was, at least in part, accidental. As NBC news reported,
“Women would be required to register for the military draft under a House committee bill that comes just months after the Defense Department lifted all gender-based restrictions on front-line combat units.
“A divided Armed Services Committee backed the provision in a sweeping defense policy bill that the full House will consider next month, touching off a provocative debate about the role of women in the military.”
Now why did I say that this action was at least in part by accident? It is because the author of the bill, Representative Duncan Hunter, Republican of California, offered the suggestion in an effort to try to get the committee to do the exact opposite. But even as his intention was to get his committee to back blocking the forced registration of women for the draft, it ended up going the other way. Eventually the committee dominated by Republicans voted 32 to 30 to require women to register for the draft. This included the Democrats on the committee plus 5 Republicans who joined the opposing party in supporting the measure. Once again, we see how fast the velocity of moral change is happening in America.
Just a few years ago, it would’ve been inconceivable for women to be serving in all combat positions, but now that is the official policy of the United States government. Furthermore, even months ago, it would have seemed implausible that the American people would’ve stood for the requirement that young women be required to register for the draft alongside and on an equal basis with young men. But now that has happened in terms of the action of the House Armed Services Committee, and it happened with the Republican majority. It may have happened by accident in the sense that the author of the measure intended the opposite, but nonetheless, once Representative Hunter put the matter before the committee, it became a matter for the committee’s deliberations and the committee voted in the opposite way that Hunter had expected. That tells us that Hunter himself underestimated the velocity of the moral change, not only when it comes to the larger society, but when it came to his own committee, dominated by his own party in the United States House of Representatives. Hunter is against women serving all these combat positions—he certainly is against the requirement that women should register for the draft—but he ended up making the proposal as a discussion point that he hoped to put an end to the proposal, but instead it passed his own committee by a vote of 32 to 30.
The measure will eventually have to go to the entire House of Representatives and, at least in this congressional term, it is virtually impossible to believe that the U.S. Senate will pass the same measure. But it tells us a great deal that this committee chairman’s effort backfired, indicating that even he underestimated what was going on in the moral direction of this country and even in the political judgment of his own committee. Steve Benen is right when he concludes his report,
“The debate will continue, of course, but as the spending bill reaches the House floor, it’s now officially the position of the House Armed Services Committee to change the status quo and require young women to register for the draft, just like young men.”
Now from a Christian worldview perspective it is hard to overestimate what this represents in two different ways. In the first sense, directly, when it comes to requiring women to register for the draft and then on the basis of that draft, were it to be reinstated, to be deployed just as young men in combat positions. One of the things we saw when the Obama Administration announced the change that all combat positions would be open to women is that we are now in a secular society that seems to have lost not only its sanity, but also to have lost any ability to make a moral argument against women serving in combat. Successive generations of feminist ideology and political correctness have rendered even Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, at least some of them in this case, the crucial margin for passing this bill in the House Armed Services Committee, from recognizing or making or having the courage to stand by an argument that in some sense men and women are different, and that in any sense it is morally wrong to put women in combat positions. But we need to note how this particular discussion has shifted in a matter of weeks and months. It has shifted from the right, as it has been defined, for women to serve in these combat positions to a duty, because that duty is exactly what is implied and explicit in the registration for the selective service or the draft. It is a duty. It is not considered a right of young men to register for selective service; it is not considered a right in a time of draft for young men to be inducted into the military and sent to whatever assignment the armed services may assign them. But now that particular right, as it has been first styled, will turn into a duty when it comes to this inevitable effort to register women for the draft.
French millennials toy with anarchy under the false promises of utopian politics
And next, speaking about this younger rising generation, especially the generation right now on America’s college and university campuses, the generation that would be most directly affected if indeed the change in selective service legislation were to be adopted, that generation is showing all kinds of signs of moral worldview confusion, and it’s not just in the United States. Over the weekend, the New York Times ran an article that is datelined from Paris:
“There are denunciations of ‘speciesism,’ of multinational corporations, capitalism, G.M.O.s, the police and nuclear power. There are pleas for Julian Assange and African workers. There are drumming, guitar playing, free soup and 20-somethings swigging beer.”
—all this coming from the place of the Republic in Paris. As Adam Nossiter reports for the Times,
“A jolly ragged man, unsteady on his feet, takes the microphone to denounce “words, words, words.” Another announces, mysteriously, “We’ve got to be on the side of the dominated!
“This is France’s newest political movement, open every night to the public on a main square in Paris, the Place de la République, which has been transformed into a giant outdoor sit-in recalling the demonstrations of May 1968 in multicultural form.
“The plaza has been packed with young people every night for nearly a month, venting their anger — at just about everything.”
But the reference here to May 1968 in Paris is not just any historical reference, that refers to the student uprisings in Paris that signaled a resurgent left not only in France, but in Europe and, eventually, not only in Europe but also in the United States. But the larger importance of this story is that it reflects a general unrest in France that is leading to the almost certain fall of the government of President François Hollande who, as the New York Times says, “is facing near-certain defeat in elections next year.”
But what is going on the streets of Paris right now would indicate an even further swing to the left in terms of France, one of Europe’s most dominant cultures and, of course, one of its most populous nations. From a Christian biblical worldview perspective, one of the most interesting aspects of this story is the fact that this movement, which is known as “Night, Standing Up”, a student-led movement, is actually—it is claimed—not led at all. This is a typical kind of anarchist strategy. In the late 19th and 20th centuries, anarchist groups became one of the most destabilizing forces throughout much of Europe, also reaching even the United States, including the assassin of then-President William McKinley. The anarchist worldview is by definition rather ambiguous, but it calls for an end to all human authority, including governments. The demonstrators on the streets there in Paris in the Place of the Republic are so committed to a form of anarchism that the leader of the group claims not to be the leader, that is at least ideologically. Frédéric Lordon, a left-leaning economist at France’s National Center for Scientific Research, according to the New York Times—he scoffs at the fact that he is even the leader.
“It would be claiming a position of authority, and that’s ridiculous,” he said in an interview. “They don’t need a ‘master thinker.’ They are producing ideas in every direction. They don’t have a leader or a spokesman.”
They define what they are doing with the bizarre term “horizontal democracy.”
This is exactly what the Framers and Founders of the American experiment sought to avoid. It is anarchy, and anarchy is one of the most deadly realities on the planet. The Bible recognizes this in the Old Testament where in the rebellion of Korah it is said that every man did what was right in his own sight. As even this report in the New York Times ironically points out, even anarchist groups actually do have leaders. If you’re going to do a report like this, you’ve got to find someone who is a spokesman for the group, even if they deny that they have a spokesman. When you have this particular theorist who is credited with being the ideological figure behind the demonstrations who says that the students are producing “ideas in every direction”, that’s an indication that this is not going to lead to any specific set of political proposals. Anarchist groups almost never do.
But the thing Christians need to understand is that anarchy is a blight on humankind leading to all kinds of dangerous results, political assassinations, destabilization, and all kinds of things that run into direct conflict with what we read in Romans Chapter 13, which is that God has given us government for a very important reason, as a gift. To live with too much government is tyranny, but to live without government is absolute deadly chaos.
Concluding the article, Florent Chappel, an engineer at the Housing Ministry, said of the group,
“They are attempting another way of doing politics. It’s stimulating; it’s a taking-hold of conscience. A sort of vitality, a will to re-enchant the world.”
This introduces us to another one of the deadliest ideas of human history, quite prominent in the 20th century, and that is the allure of utopian politics, the allure of promising that politics can provide meaning, spirituality, even in this case a re-enchantment of experience. The Christian worldview tells us that in proper perspective, politics and governments can bring some limited goods; but when you have the promise or the demand here that politics should lead to the re-enchantment of the world, that’s something politics can never deliver. And as we will see tomorrow on The Briefing, this particular temptation isn’t just in Paris, as we shall see, it is also reaching very close to home.