August 30, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, August 30, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Sexual assault education ... in kindergarten? When morality is untethered from revelation
Eventually, every big moral question gets shifted down to the level of children and teenagers. That’s why when you’re considering a cultural or moral revolution, you center so much of your activity on what will take place in the schools. Because in the schools, you gain access to these developing minds and developing worldviews. Those who can get to the young own the future in terms of worldview, and that is so often the case. That’s reflected in an NPR story that ran in recent days with this interesting headline,
“To Prevent Sexual Assault, Schools and Parents Start Lessons Early.”Show Full Transcript
Now that’s something that could just be something of a no-brainer, the announcement that should be obvious, that children and teenagers should be warned against the possibility of sexual abuse and sexual assault. But that’s not what’s really behind this story, and that’s certainly not what makes it so interesting. The article is by Tovia Smith of NPR, and what she writes about is how there are now efforts not just to talk about and warn about sexual assault when talking to children and teenagers, but to indoctrinate them into an entire new worldview when it comes to sex and sexual morality and the related issue of drinking.
And this takes us back to a very interesting story we covered on The Briefing on Friday. That distinction was made by Caitlin Flanagan between two styles of parenting: the Good Parent, as she describes, that’s the old moralist, and the Get Real parent, that’s the relevant parent that understands that these things are simply going to happen, and that the parent’s responsibility is to make certain that these things happen with as much consent and as little damage to their children as might be possible.
The NPR story tells us that New England’s Patriot’s owner, Bob Kraft, is concerned about sexual assault and what’s happening on high school and college campuses, and is funding an effort to come up with an educational program for teenagers and college students. He’s given half-a-million dollars, and the backbone of his team’s star power to team up with Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey to watch what is known as Game Change: The Patriot’s Anti-Violence Partnership. As she tells us,
“In its first year, some 90 Massachusetts high schools have been trained to run a dating violence prevention program called Mentors in Violence Prevention (MVP).”
Using the star power of the Patriots football team has gained the impression of at least some. Danny Ryan, a junior at Lincoln Sudbury High School, Massachusetts said,
“You talk about cool, yeah, that’s as cool as it gets.”
The really important worldview dimension of this story points to the fact that what we have is an organized effort to try to indoctrinate children and teenagers, not just the prevention of sexual assault, but the embrace of an entire new sexuality and a new sexual morality. As we have seen, the moral revolution has now reached the point in this culture that with the specific issue of sexual assault on college campuses being the issue, the morality has been reduced to nothing more than consent.
Now, we need to note in terms of human history and the development of this moral conversation just how we arrived at this particular point. What we have seen through most of human history is a continuation of a traditional sexual morality, a sexual morality that virtually every society has established in its own way and often in its unique language, but a sexual morality that has eventually favored heterosexual marriage, and normalized that marriage as the proper arena for sexual activity.
In terms of Western Civilization drenched in a biblical worldview from Scripture, every other form of sexual behavior and sexual relatedness has been met with moral and social censure, until now. The moral revolution explicitly sought to topple Christianity from its influence in terms of sexual morality in the culture, but in its place came a succession of new arguments. The latest of these new arguments is the reduction of all moral considerations to consent.
Now in order to understand this, let’s consider the fact that personal autonomy, individual autonomy, has now been exaggerated in this culture to where it is the highest good that is attainable, and ultimately the final arbiter of moral judgment. Every single human being, according to this worldview, is his or her own moral lawgiver, but of course this moral revolution has made it indeterminate even to use those words “his” and “her.”
What we now see is that this is being filtered down to the very young. This NPR story tells us that the morality of sexual consent—it is echoing that Get Real parenting style we discussed on Friday—is now being packaged as the way to address what’s identified as an epidemic of sexual assault on America’s college and university campuses. These programs are addressed to children as young as kindergarten. The complaint being made in the background of this article is that by the time 18-year-olds arrive on a college and university campus, you get the logic that it’s already too late. But that means you have to ask the question, how early should this start? And according to some of those cited in this article, this kind of consent as a sexual morality with the background of sexual assault should be a part of the education of children as young as kindergartners.
One of the experts cited in the article, that’s Kate Rohdenburg who runs a violence prevention program for a group called WISE or Wise in Vermont and New Hampshire, insists that five- and six-year-olds can actually be taught,
“Basic principles of boundaries and autonomy.”
Listen to this paragraph,
“Of course, we’re not saying the word ‘autonomous’ to kindergartners,” she says.
“But we talk about who here likes hugs, and some kids raise their hand and some don’t. Well, how are we supposed to know if this person wants a hug when they’re feeling sad or not? And kindergartners will tell you that you should ask them.”
Well, if you do at the level of society reduce all sexual morality to a question of consent, then inevitably you’re going to be arguing about whether or not you use the word autonomous with five-year-olds. There is no way to avoid this. Current federal law encourages but does not demand the inclusion of this kind of curriculum in terms of the public schools at every level and at every grade, but there are efforts to mandate that it would be so. For example, the current Democratic vice presidential nominee, Senator Tim Kaine, is quoted in the article as saying,
“I would like it to move more over into ‘you have to do it.’ Look, there’s traditional skittishness about sex ed in the K-12 system.”
Now why would that be? That’s because every single successive generation of sexual revolutionaries has understood that the sex education curriculum mandated for the public schools is the major way that a sexual morality is going to be conveyed with government authority and with the prestige of the schools right into the hearts and minds of the young people in those classrooms.
Now operating out of a biblical Christian worldview, we have to understand that there is a very real problem of sexual abuse and sexual assault, and not only on American college and university campuses, but we also understand that there is a unique problem and crisis in sexual assault in the context of those campuses precisely because of the abandonment of any kind of sane and objective sexual morality.
There’s been a celebration of sexual revolution on those campuses, and there has also been a celebration of binge drinking, something that these colleges and universities have found themselves at great difficulty trying to address because they have undermined their own moral authority and forfeited their own moral responsibility across the board when it comes to policing the lives of their students. And why? Well, it’s not by accident. It’s because, through successive generations, especially beginning in the 1960s, there’s been the argument that these young people showing up on college campuses are after all—you get it—autonomous human beings, and that the university has no right to police their private lives or make their major moral decisions.
That’s imbecility, of course, and it doesn’t work. That’s why these universities are now finding themselves coming up with page after page, or website after website, of policies related to how sexual activity is supposed to take place on college and university campuses. But that points out the fact that they assume that sexual activity is going to happen and that there is nothing basically wrong with sex outside of marriage or, for that matter, there is nothing actually normative about marriage at all, certainly not as the union of a man and a woman.
The biblical Christian worldview makes clear that every form of abuse and every form of assault is wrong, categorically wrong. The theological word is “sinful,” but that same biblical worldview makes very clear that other forms of behavior that are celebrated in the culture of consent are also sin, and the biblical worldview points to the insanity of trying to come up with a new, false, artificial, reconstructed sexual morality and to believe that it will actually work. The meltdown of this new artificial sexual morality is writ large across the culture and in headlines such as this NPR story.
Just consider the fact that in the story a mother, that is Kasie Hudson of Frederick County, Virginia, is cited,
“disappointed that her kids’ public school doesn’t tackle the issue of sexual assault at all.”
“I think it’s kind of a cop-out to just say, well, parents should be handling this. But I guess I’m going to need to do this myself.”
This is where the story gets yet more interesting.
“Hudson says that she improvised a bit, and then got some help from videos she found online. Like one that tells teens to imagine that instead of asking about consent for sex, they’re asking about a cup of tea.”
The video begins,
“You say, ‘Hey, would you like a cup of tea?’ And if the person offers an enthusiastic ‘Yeah!’ then bring it. If not, then don’t.”
The video, we are told, was produced by Blue Seat Studios, and it continues through several other scenarios,
“Like what to do if someone wavers about having tea, or — somewhat absurdly — if you’re offering tea to someone who’s unconscious.”
“”You should just put the tea down,” the video implores. “Unconscious people don’t want tea!”
The mother then told the reporter,
“It was cute and funny, and my 13-year-old son thoroughly enjoyed it.”
Well as a former 13-year-old boy myself, I can only say that almost any 13-year-old would enjoy adult human beings making fools of themselves at this level of ludicrous behavior and argument. The new sexual morality as related to middle schoolers and high school students was made clear in another mother who said,
“As a mother of three boys, I worry about that.”
She has said that she has warned her older son who is 15,
“to never mix drinking and sex.”
“I worry that he could make a mistake,” she says. “I worry that even if he didn’t think he was making a mistake, that he could later be accused of having made a mistake.”
Another mother said she “hadn’t yet broached the topic with her sons, who are 13 and 19,”
“Good thing you’re talking to me; I should probably have some sort of conversation with them.”
So what we have here is an example of parents in the modern age at least telling a reporter what they think the reporter will want to hear, and that is that they are Get With It, Get Real parents who are doing their very best to tell their children, “We know you’re going to have sex and you’re going to drink, just do so responsibly and don’t mix the drinking and the sex. Keep those two very discreet.” As if, by the way, that’s going to happen and as if that is sound moral advice.
I simply can’t shake the image of watching modern sex educators trying to talk to kindergartners about their autonomy. One of the things we need to know, however, is that it’s not just modern sex educators fueled by and trying to feed a sexual revolution who are conveying this kind of message to our children at every age. It’s the larger culture. It’s coming from the entertainment culture and from every other imaginable aspect of messaging. The new morality of sexual consent is all the sexual revolutionaries now have, and it will not last for long. But for now, this is their main message. And what’s important for parents to understand is they’re targeting this message at even the youngest of our children.
Whose life should be saved first? The irreducibly moral dimension of public health
Next, one of the most difficult of all human moral questions is this: who shall live and who shall die? And sometimes that’s not a hypothetical question. Sometimes it’s a matter of urgent decision. That’s reflected in a recent story in the New York Times with the headline,
“Whose Live Should be Saved? Researchers Asked the Public”
The story’s datelined from Baltimore, Maryland; the reporter is Sheri Fink. She writes,
“In a church basement in a poor East Baltimore neighborhood, a Johns Hopkins doctor enlisted residents to help answer one of the most fraught questions in public health: When a surge of patients — from a disaster, disease outbreak or terrorist attack — overwhelms hospitals, how should you ration care? Whose lives should be saved first?”
The doctor, as it turns out, is Dr. Lee Daugherty Biddison, a critical care physician at Johns Hopkins University. She and several colleagues had been going around the state of Maryland asking residents of that state for advice about how to make these decisions when this horrifying decision must be made.
“Preparing to make recommendations for state officials that could serve as a national model, the researchers heard hundreds of citizens discuss whether a doctor could remove one patient from lifesaving equipment, like a ventilator, to make way for another who might have a better chance of recovering, or take age into consideration in setting priorities.”
Now, we need to step back for a moment and recognize this isn’t a new question. It might be coming with new urgency, especially in light of national and international headlines, but many Americans were awakened to the relevance of this question when Hurricane Katrina hit the United States back in 2005 At that point, there were a greater number of lives in danger of needing medical care than there was available medical care and service, and so questions had to be asked, and they have been re-asked, and there have been even criminal federal investigations into accusations that some of these decisions were not made well. This must be at least partly in mind as researchers at Johns Hopkins University try to work with authorities there in Maryland to answer the question before it is asked in the context of a crisis.
There are huge questions that become subsets of the larger question. Should children be privileged over adults? Should women be privileged over men? Should the young be privileged over the aged? At what point is there a decision that this life is perhaps more recoverable and sustainable than another life? And who makes that decision? And what are the fixed criteria?
At least some of the implications of this kind of moral decision-making were made clear in terms of the dialogue between these researchers and Maryland residents. One youth program developer sitting across from the researchers said that he thought children should be favored over adults.
“Just looking at them, seeing their smiles, they have so much potential.”
On the other hand, another citizen retorted,
“Who’s going to raise them?”
The article is also helpful in pointing out that some of this rationing is already taking place, especially when it comes to such high-profile issues as transplant organs and other rare procedures. Some of the rationing is already taking place in terms of decisions being made by bureaucrats and regulators and even insurance companies along with primary care physicians and specialists. According to this New York Times article,
“At least 18 states from New York to California, and numerous hospitals, including the 152 medical centers operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs, have already developed protocols. Some efforts, including Maryland’s, have received funding from a federal program supporting hospital preparedness. But relatively few people know about the plans for allocating scarce resources, and fewer still have been consulted.”
Now here we have a really ominous background reality. These protocols are already in place in VA hospitals. They’re already in place in other hospital systems. They are already in place in 18 of the 50 states, with statewide implications in those states. But most citizens have no idea what those criteria and policies actually are. Charles Blattberg, a professor of political philosophy at the University of Montréal in Canada, said that he’s worried about the opposite side of this equation, that the very existence of these policies and protocols could mean that they are enforced artificially and over against moral judgment.
“The kind of judgment that’s required to arrive at a good decision in these situations needs to be extremely sensitive to the context,” he said. “It’s not about just abandoning one lone doctor to their own devices to make it up on the spot, but we can’t go the other extreme in thinking we have the solution to the puzzle already; just follow these instructions. That works for technical problems. These are moral, political problems.”
Well, these are clearly moral problems, these are moral questions, and these are not merely medical issues. Every aspect of this question points to underlying and even more fundamental moral questions. But that points back to the previous problem. Since this society is increasingly untethered to any common and objective morality, how in the world are these question supposed to be answered? How even are they supposed to be asked?
Back during the 1960s and 1970s moral relativism was reflected in what was known as the Values Clarification Curriculum that was popular in many public schools. Central to much of that curriculum was the kind of question about who should live and who should die, especially for instance if there were to be a shipwreck and there were a limited number of lifeboats. More popularly in current terms has been the Trolley Problem as it has been called, which has been something of a staple in college and university moral debates. But there is also something in the background to this, and that is the fact that modern medicine has his own limitations. And its always had to deal with the fact that there is more demand in many cases than there is supply.
One of the most urgent arenas of this decision-making has not just been in the aftermath of some kind of natural disasters, but in the aftermath of war. It was on the battlefield in the aftermath of battle that many of these issues first came to light with the rise of modern medicine and in particular of modern battlefield medicine and nursing. The French came up with the process they identify as triage in order to identify two things: the most urgent patient need, and the greatest likelihood of an impact in terms of medical treatment upon a patient. Anyway you square the question being asked in this New York Times article, the answer is going to come down to some formula weighted along the same lines.
But what’s missing from explicit reference in the story is the one thing that Christians should insist must be in any consideration of a question of this magnitude. What is the value of human life? And how do we judge that value? The biblical worldview answers that by identifying every single human being as being made in the image of God and thus of infinite worth. But there is also a recognition that every single human life is mortal and that there is no way ultimately to hold off death and sickness and decay. And thus, Christians have grown accustomed to facing the reality of death and very difficult decisions. There is no easy formula even to those who operate out of the Christian biblical worldview in answering some of the questions about the rationing of medical care. But that just points to the even more frightening reality of a modern culture trying to answer those questions untethered from the Christian morality and that Christian worldview. Trying to answer these questions when the society isn’t actually certain just how much every human life is worth or any human life is worth—that’s the really scary part of this headline.
Peace in the Americas: Permanent cease-fire concludes half-century civil war in Colombia
Finally, sometimes news is bigger than it appears, and it’s even bigger than what is conveyed in a news story. We were told yesterday that there was headline news in Columbia when the government reached an accord with the FARC rebels. It took effect even though there’s been something like local cease-fires for a period of the last several years. This was the formalization of a peace accord that promises to bring a lasting peace to Columbia after decades of what amounts to civil war. Now at this point in the story, we should all pray that this will be a lasting cease-fire that can lead to a genuine and lasting peace. But what’s not in this headline story in the Wall Street Journal, and what’s not in most other stories as well, is an even bigger picture, and it’s something for which we should be especially thankful.
At this point, with the cessation of these hostilities in Columbia, with the agreement to this peace accord that is now looming and promising to the Colombian people, from the very northern reach of the Americas to the very southern reach, covering two different continents connected in one massive landmass, there is at present no war, no armed hostilities, no national conflicts. That is a very rare achievement. Who knows how long it might last? But for right now one of the most massive landmasses on earth, including hundreds and hundreds of millions of people, there is no armed conflict between nations and no current civil war inside one of these nations. That’s no small fact. And with wars and rumors of wars characterizing so much of the population of the earth for so long, we should give thanks tonight that in the Americas at this point there is no armed conflict. There is no open warfare. And rare is the time when in human history any continent, much less two, can say that as they tuck their children in bed at night.