March 24, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, March 24, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
51 years after asking, "Is God Dead?" TIME Magazine now asks, "Is Truth Dead?"
On April 8 of 1966, Time magazine published a now infamous cover story asking the question,
“Is God Dead?”Show Full Transcript
That particular story announced the rise of a new secular era in America and it pointed to several theologians in the mid-1960s, identified as post-Christian or post-theistic, who were declaring that organized religion in general and Christianity specifically had to move beyond the notion of a living personal God. Of course the tables have now been turned and it’s clear that Time magazine asking the question, “Is God Dead” was not followed immediately by an age of aggressive secularism, but rather by what appeared to be a revival of evangelical Christianity in America. But over the long haul, Time magazine’s cover story proved to be truly prophetic. We are looking at a new secular age; it just came later than Time magazine imagined. That cover story is now almost 51 years old, but coming almost as if timed exactly for the anniversary is the April 3, 2017 cover story. It harkens back to that same iconic art and asked the question,
“Is Truth Dead?”
Now before we even consider the content of these two very different articles separated by almost 51 years, we need to recognize that from the Christian worldview understanding, the second cover story is automatic upon the heels of the first. That is to say, if God is dead, then truth is dead also. There is no way, according to the Christian worldview, for truth to exist independent of the one who is indeed the source of all truth. This is one of most basic arguments for the existence of God, a very persuasive argument taken on its own, and it is also read backwards in terms of the Christian worldview, why we understand that if we are entering a new secular age, it is going to be virtually by definition a post-truth age.
The immediate cause of the Time cover story has to do with controversy over recent comments made by President Donald Trump. The headline of the article inside,
“When a President can’t be taken at his word.”
Nancy Gibbs is the author of the editorial article, inside the magazine Michael Shear pens a much longer essay entitled,
“Can President Trump handle the truth?”
Without getting into the politics of the situation, all of this points to the fact that we are in a new moment in America, a moment that is perhaps best represented by President Trump more so than by anyone else. And yet what’s really interesting here is that we see Time magazine and others in academia and the mainstream media acting as if all of this is entirely new. Undoubtedly there are new elements. President Donald Trump represents an entirely new approach to the presidency, but when it comes to a post-truth America or a post-truth world, well, it’s not as new as it might appear.
It was back in 2016 that post-truth was declared to be the word of the year by Oxford Dictionaries, that’s a hallmark of sorts, but the word post-truth is actually much older than that. I wrote an article back on July 19 of 2005 entitled,
“The Post-Truth Era–Welcome to the Age of Dishonesty.”
And my usage of that term back in 2005 was because Ralph Keyes had written a book entitled,
“The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life.”
Furthermore, Keyes himself pointed back to the late Steve Tesich arguing that he had coined the phrase post-truth, but in any event it has now entered into our public vocabulary. The important thing to recognize however is that this isn’t a radically new idea. Once again, it was a part of our cultural conversation in America, at least as far back as 2005. Why? Well, the reason for that has to do with the rise in the aftermath of a new secular worldview of uncertainty, about the knowability of truth and even the existence of objective truth. This was celebrated in the American Academy and also in Europe by the rise of the movement known as postmodernism, a movement that intellectually presented the argument that either objective truth does not exist or that it is unknowable.
Furthermore, those who declare themselves to be postmodernists argue that claims of truth are basically socially constructed by people in power in order to oppress persons who are not in power. For that reason, they argued that liberating ourselves from the notion of objective truth was a necessary act in liberating human beings from oppression. This is the very same argument used by many who have been advocates for the LGBTQ revolution who have argued that liberating society from Christian, particularly Christian biblical understandings of sexuality is likewise necessary for human liberation to take place. In other words, we’re looking at the inevitable result of arguments that had been made for more than a generation.
When you look at 2016 and the Oxford Dictionaries declaring post-truth to be the word of the year, that didn’t emerge immediately, and it certainly did not emerge from a vacuum. There is indeed a crisis of truth in the White House, but it was preceded by a crisis of truth in the academy and furthermore, by a crisis of truth that was driven by and celebrated by those in the cultural and intellectual elites, including those who were very popular and influential in entertainment, as well as other dimensions of mass culture.
Back in 2005, Americans were already changing their vocabulary on matters of truth, inserting terms such as poetic truth, nuanced truth, alternative reality, or strategic misrepresentations. Let’s just be very honest that what some might call a strategic misrepresentation would in any former era be simply described as a lie.
Keyes explained back then that if you take the postmodern worldview seriously, lying becomes a mechanism for human liberation. Subverting truth claims becomes absolutely necessary for human flourishing. And now some of those very individuals and institutions that have been driving what essentially is described as postmodernism appear to be absolutely shocked that Americans elected a president who holds himself to a very different form of truth and understanding of truth than that which would have been expected at least of most of those who preceded him. Some of the friends and supporters of the Trump administration are also signaling now in public their alarm about this crisis in the White House. On Wednesday, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal ran a major editorial statement that began with these words.
“If President Trump announces that North Korea launched a missile that landed within 100 miles of Hawaii, would most Americans believe him? Would the rest of the world? We’re not sure, which speaks to the damage that Mr. Trump is doing to his Presidency with his seemingly endless stream of exaggerations, evidence-free accusations, implausible denials and other falsehoods.”
Now all of this, the editorial alarm that is indicated by the Wall Street Journal, points to the fact that leadership requires credibility and credibility requires an understanding of truth that is not elastic, is not flexible, that is indeed based upon objective reality, is defensible and explainable, and furthermore, that withstands the test of time. That is true of any leader in any capacity, in any context, but it is particularly true of leadership at the highest levels of importance and at the highest levels of public scrutiny. Everyone notes what the President of the United States says and there are, there is no exaggeration, vast earthshaking consequences that can result by the proper or improper interpretation of what a president says, much less a credibility crisis in which many people do not know if the President actually means what he says.
The White House simply cannot function rightly in terms of national leadership and international stature if it exists in some kind of post-truth condition. But there is no shortage of irony in the fact that here you have Time magazine and many others in the cultural elite who are acting like this is all the sudden a brand-new development and failing to take any responsibility as they have for helping to fuel the very idea that we are living in a post-truth era. For 30 or 40 years now, you have had very celebrated figures in entertainment and in intellectual life, very influential professors and entire disciplines and universities in the Ivy League and beyond, they’ve been celebrated by the culture for the very fact that they have fueled this post-truth reality or at least this post-truth theory. But now they appear absolutely shocked that it now shows up in American politics, and they asked the question, this cover story in Time magazine,
“Is Truth Dead?”
Of course truth isn’t dead. There is a lingering cultural conscience about the reality of truth. That’s at least part of what it means to be made in the image of God. Even as when Time magazine asked back in 1966, “Is God Dead?” it actually pointed to the fact that, of course, God is not dead. Here when they ask the question, “Is Truth Dead?” even as they point to very real contemporary concerns, the very cover story question points to the reality of truth. So many who had argued for the illusion of a post-truth world must now truly recognize the fact that if such a world were possible, it would be a very dangerous world indeed.
Despite clean hearing, Senate Democrats vow to filibuster Neil Gorsuch's Supreme Court nomination
Next, all of that controversy also points us to another frontline issue in Washington, D.C., and this is the end of the confirmation hearings for Neil Gorsuch as a potential Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. You’ll recall that Gorsuch is the first nominee to that court by President Donald Trump, and over the last several days we’ve seen a veritable war of worldviews in terms of the confirmation hearings. And all that came down to a bare-knuckled political reality yesterday when the Democratic leader of the United States Senate, New York Senator Charles Schumer announced that he and his colleagues will filibuster the nomination of Neil Gorsuch to that court.
As a team of reporters for the Washington Post said yesterday,
“Judge Neil Gorsuch, President Trump’s pick to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, faced a critical blow on Thursday as Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer said he would join with other Democrats in attempting to filibuster the nomination, a move that could complicate his confirmation and lead to a total revamp of how the U.S. Senate conducts its business.”
We need to look a couple of issues here first. First is the reality that if there is anyone qualified to sit on the U.S. Supreme Court, it is Judge Neil Gorsuch, qualified by his academic preparation, qualified by his distinguished career in the federal judiciary. He has already been a part of rulings and opinions and 2,700 cases before the federal courts. He holds not only an Ivy League undergraduate degree, but a Harvard Law degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree from Oxford University. He is also understood to be a man of very even demeanor and sterling character, and there is nothing that emerged in all those hours of the confirmation hearings that in any way disqualifies him from sitting on the United States Supreme Court.
Now at this point we need to note that this has also been true of many liberal nominees to the United States Supreme Court. They also have included individuals who have had sterling character and a very even demeanor, a very courtly persona. They have also had excellent academic preparations and they have also had distinguished careers in terms of a tradition of jurisprudence. So what’s really the issue here? The issue is the politicization of the Court, a reality that any informed person must understand such that what is at stake in these cases is not the judicial qualifications; what is at stake is not the judicial demeanor; what is at stake is not the academic preparation; what is at stake is how a proposed justice interprets the Constitution, and that’s not true just in terms of some hot button and controversial issues, but in terms of the larger understanding of how a text is to be read, the understanding as to whether it is the text that has authority or the interpreter, the understanding as to whether the text is limited by its words and sentences and the intention of its authors, or whether it is an evolving text to be interpreted by contemporary judges according to their own current political understanding.
The politicization of the court and the fact that it has taken unto itself the stewardship of settling so many of the most important issues, controversial issues in this culture, points to the fact that every single nomination is now a cataclysmic political event. It is also now, in ways never envisioned by our founders, a very partisan event. Republicans generally oppose nominations that come from a Democratic president; Democratic senators now almost uniformly oppose any nomination coming from a Republican president. That’s a very lamentable reality, but it is the reality. It is also a reality that is not likely in any sense to pass away, even within the current generation. The reason for that is quite simple. The issues are now so stark, the divide is now so deep that when you’re looking at any nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court, you’re looking at a reality that will actually outlive the president who makes the nomination.
But we’re facing a unique historical moment when there is a Republican President in the White House who made the outstanding nomination of Judge Gorsuch to the Court. You also have a Republican majority in the House—that’s basically political background in this equation—but you have a Republican majority in the Senate. And the Republican majority, a majority of only 52 senators, gets to set the rules for the Senate. For centuries now, the rules of the Senate have required 60 votes for a matter to get to the floor, that is 60 votes, which is essentially a vote to vote on an issue, or in this case to vote on a nomination. But it was Democratic senators then in the majority in the last Congress who changed the rules so that they could force through some of the nominations made by then-President Barack Obama over Republican opposition.
But excepted from that rules change, then known as the nuclear option, were nominations to the United States Supreme Court. But here’s the reality in the year 2017. If indeed the Democrats follow through with a filibuster on the nomination of Judge Neil Gorsuch, then Republicans will have no choice if they are to retain any political credibility whatsoever if they are not willing to go ahead and change the rules of the Senate, to make certain that this presidential nominee sits on the United States Supreme Court. There will be warnings that this is breaking the tradition of the United States Senate, and those are not inconsequential warnings. But the greater warning is this, if the Supreme Court does not reflect the kind of views that are represented by Judge Neil Gorsuch, if indeed the Court becomes a progressivist liberal engine for continuing to drive this nation to the left, then we are looking at an absolute catastrophe. The battle over the Court in this generation is not happening by accident. It is happening precisely because both sides in terms of the great political divide, the great worldview divide in this country, understand just how much is truly at stake.
How Anne Hathaway became a U.N. ambassador for paid parental leave
Next we turn to a really interesting story in terms of our unfolding cultural conversation, this takes us to the back page of the current edition of Time magazine, and to an interview with the actress Anne Hathaway. The title says that the interview is on,
“Why She Became a U.N. Ambassador for Paid Parental Leave.”
We’re going to leave the issue of paid parental leave for just a moment just to get to the question of how she became a United Nations ambassador on this issue. The story behind that is very candidly revealed in this interview, and that tells us a great deal about the rather unfortunate intersection of celebrity and serious moral issues and the United Nations. Here is the interview; the key question is this:
“How did you become an ambassador? [that is for the United Nations]”
She said this,
“The United Nations reached out to me, and I was very interested. But it took us a while to figure out what my issue was going to be. Then life provided the answer: I got pregnant. A week after I had my son — I was still fired up on adrenaline — I had an epiphany: the mommy wars are [I have to delete the word.] They distract from the larger, institutional problem of parental leave. It was an issue that had always been abstract to me. Now it was real.”
Now let’s just back up for a moment, it really wasn’t real in any sense that has to do with the job that Anne Hathaway holds. Her job wasn’t in any sense threatened by parental leave or the absence of paid parental leave, but the biggest insight from this article is that when she was asked to be an ambassador, she didn’t have an issue, she had to go out shopping for an issue. Let me just repeat those words again, I quote,
“The United Nations reached out to me and I was very interested, but it took us a while to figure out what my issue was going to be.”
Now here’s a very important revelation for all of us to see. You have a group like the United Nations, it wants to continue to morally posture itself before the world, it wants celebrities to be those who are the face of that moral posturing and so it goes looking for celebrities. But you’ll notice this is not a celebrity who had any knowledge of the issue. She says right here in this interview that she was just interested in being an ambassador for the United Nations and she says, right out in public, that it took some time for them to figure out what her issue was going to be.
Her issue turns out to be what she calls paid maternity leave. She expands that to paid paternity leave, that is just for any parent. She asked in her interview, What good is maternity leave for a two dad family? An interesting question in and of itself.
We need to understand that when you take a complicated issue like paid maternity leave or paternity leave, there can be authentic and cogent arguments made on either side of the controversy. You can have those who argue for it, those who argue against it, and if they’re honest they recognize that there are at least some points that are of value to be made by the other side. But regardless of this, you have to understand number one: the agenda behind this kind of required paid parental leave, it is very much a part of redefining the experience of the family so that work becomes the predominant issue from which some kind of leave is supposed to be the exception. What it rules out largely is the understanding of valuing a parent who would be full-time in the home with the child, otherwise most commonly known as a mother. But also there is the reality of economics, that is to say if there is to be such a requirement as paid parental leave, it will cost a great deal of money. Someone is going to pay that money and that becomes a part of the equation. Again, there can be arguments made on either side, but they should at least be educated and informed arguments.
But when you read this article in terms of Anne Hathaway serving as an ambassador for parental leave for the United Nations, one of the things that becomes very clear is that she doesn’t have much of a grasp of any of the most significant issues at stake here. Certainly when it comes to economics, she simply ignores that and when she talks about the issue she talks about it in terms of justice and equity and fairness, but that is entirely in the service of redefining the expectation in terms of the family. Now of course there are those who find themselves economically in a situation where this would be very advantageous and there are many companies that are already moving having found it to their advantage to offer this kind of benefits to employees. But at this unfortunate intersection of celebrity and serious moral issues, and again that intersection so often takes place in a context like the United Nations, you have a statement like this. The question came in the interview,
“What did you hear from parents?”
Now Anne Hathaway responds,
“I spoke to a mom who worked for a company that offered 12 weeks paid maternity leave. When it was time for her to go back, she felt very strongly that she wasn’t ready. She went to her boss and asked for more time. Her boss said no. She considered whether she could afford to leave her job, but her job covered the family’s health care. So she had to go back to work. She took her son to a day-care facility recommended by multiple moms she knew. She dropped her son off, and a few hours later he was dead. They think he suffocated. I don’t mean to fear monger: that’s not a common story. But if she felt she needed more time, she should have had more time.”
Now that’s a story that by any estimation is not only deeply troubling, it’s horrifying. But then you have the very person who told the story who backs it up by saying, “I don’t want to fear monger, that’s not a common story.” But the bigger confusion in all of this is that she raises this in the context of a mother who had received 12 weeks of paid maternity leave and wanted more, Anne Hathaway simply says, if she wanted more, she should have had more. Just to state the obvious, that is not anything close to what amounts to a serious proposal.
There are dozens of different angles to this story that we could profitably consider from a worldview perspective, but the most important I think is this: Here we come to understand how it is that some people who apparently have no expertise whatsoever on a serious moral issue, nonetheless are appointed by a group like the United Nations to be an ambassador on that issue. We also have the rather stunning revelation here that when she was appointed as an ambassador, she didn’t have an issue; they had to go find an issue.
“We had to decide,” she said, “what was going to be my issue.”
Well, this is her issue and this is how she talks about it. But then there is also the ultimate question, does the United Nations actually believe in what they’ve appointed an ambassador to advocate? Time magazine simply states in its introduction to the interview,
“Hathaway’s work as an activist will begin with the U.N. itself, which does not offer equal leave for men and women.”
So here you have the United Nations getting a celebrity to serve as an ambassador for an issue she had to shop for and to take a position that the United Nations says should be universally applicable to all nations at all times—except to the United Nations itself. In that short interview we have what amounts to a parable of our times.