October 11, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, October 11, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see one the most historic colleges at Oxford University say that Christianity is just too harmful for freshman. We will see that advertisers are now turning to what is known as the porn metric, and we’ll see a fact checker discover that America really is an outlier on abortion.
Historic College at Oxford says Christianity is just too harmful for freshmen
The year was 1263. That year more than 750 years ago, Balliol College was established, making it one of the most venerable institutions in all of higher education. The rise of the university itself as a European project came only in the 11th century, and here we’re talking about the year 1263. That makes Balliol College one of the oldest parts, one of the oldest constituent residential colleges of one of the oldest and most venerable universities on the planet, Oxford University. So just consider the fact that now for almost eight centuries this is an institution that has regularly, every single academic year, welcomed new first-year students.
But now it’s not welcoming the Christian Union. Indeed, it is banning that union from what is known as the freshers’ fair. Freshers there are equivalent to freshman here. These are first-year students, and the college traditionally has held a fair in order to welcome these students and in order to introduce them to the programs and social opportunities of the residential college. And this is a college that has been doing this as we note for a very long time with Christianity very much a part. We’re not talking about a recent tradition. We’re talking about Christianity being one of the definitional issues of the college’s identity, going all the way back to its establishment in the year 1263. But the distinction in policy here is not between the year 1263 and the year 2017; it’s just in comparison between 2016 and 2017. This year is the first year that Christianity has been considered just too dangerous to introduce to freshman students to first-year students at Balliol College Oxford University. The Times of London presents its headlines this way,Show Full Transcript
“Balliol College Oxford bans Christians from freshers fair”
Similarly, the Telegraph,
“Oxford college bans ‘harmful’ Christian Union from freshers’ fair”
And finally we turn to the Guardian, one of most liberal of British newspapers in London. The headline,
“Anger as Oxford college bans Christian group from freshers’ fair”
Every one of these major articles each from one of the most influential London newspapers tells us the same basic set of facts. Balliol College in terms of its student organizational structure in terms of the sponsors of the freshers’ fair has decided that institutional Christianity, and here we’re talking about one of the most long-standing Christian organizations for students, the Christian Union there at Oxford, that it is potentially harmful for first-year students and thus should be banned from the fair. The vice president of the student body defending the decision said and I quote,
“We recognise the wonderful advantages in having CU representatives at the freshers fair but are concerned that there is potential for harm to freshers who are already struggling to feel welcome in Oxford.”
The next sentence,
“Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.”
Now that can only be explained by the modern secular doctrine of intersectionality that is now so influential on not only European but American college and university campuses. This is the idea that there is a network of oppression that explains virtually everything, and that to protect persons from that web of oppression there has to be an isolation of the groups that have been involved in these kinds of practices and have held these kinds of beliefs so that vulnerable first-year students at Oxford University will not be harmed. But in terms of that diagnosis of intersectionalism and how it works in this case, just consider that sentence offered by the vice president of the student body there at Balliol College. He spoke of marginalized communities. He spoke of Christianity having been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice. Now there we have to understand what is being isolated and identified is historic Christianity. Historic Christianity is indeed conversionist, and here you have the modern secular mindset saying that the very idea of conversion of a conversionist faith is potentially harmful to people. And not only that, not just potentially, they are suggesting that a conversionist theology has already historically proved to be oppressive and harmful. They then go on to indict what they call Christianity’s rules of practice. And that means more than anything else, the moral structure of Christianity, what Christianity defines as right and wrong.
Now here I will simply note as we’ve had to note before that when you have a modern secular authorities like these in the student leadership of Oxford University you will note that there is a picking and choosing of what moral principles of Christianity in this case the rules of practice they want to retain and which ones they want to discard. Generally they seem to be blissfully unaware of what they are doing in such picking and choosing such arbitrary judgment, but we at least ought to recognize what’s going on here. In terms of those rules of practice you will also note the specific complaint about Christianity’s moral understanding of homosexuality. But in another statement made by the very same vice president of the organization, he said that banning the Christian Union from the fair for first-year students might,
“may be a way of helping to avoid making any students feel initially unwelcome within Balliol.”
Again you have a straightforward explanation that the presence of historic Christianity, even in the form of a student Christian group, could be harmful to students who are already not feeling welcome at Oxford University. And yet another statement from the student organization’s president said,
“We didn’t want to monopolise the presence of any individual faith/belief society at the Balliol freshers’ fair.”
So here you have one of the most interesting responses of secularism. It’s the response that says rather than allow anyone religion we’ll just ban them all. And what’s of course most important here is that that ban is almost always directed at that singular religion, which stands at the origin of Western civilization, Christianity. But, of course, as were looking at the history we also need to remember the Balliol College was established in that year 1263 not by a secular society of educators, but by the Bishop of Durham. Like all the ancient Oxford colleges or for that matter all of the ancient colleges and universities, each was established on explicitly Christian grounds and officially and genuinely committed to a Christian worldview. And of course they understood their responsibility at least in part to uphold Christian orthodoxy in terms of theology.
In another statement from the student body they complained that there are not adequate places of worship for non-Christians in the entire environment of Oxford. But of course that really begins at Balliol College, where there is one Chapel, a very beautiful and historic Chapel, a Chapel that is named for Christian saint, a Chapel that is undeniably Christian. Indeed even the historic architecture of the buildings of Balliol College cry out Christianity. Christian iconography and symbolism is found everywhere on the Oxford campus and in particular at its most venerable colleges. If the student government there a Balliol College is actually and honestly determined to eradicate the presence of Christianity from its campus in order to avoid harm to its first-year students, let’s be honest, it’s going to have to physically destroy the entire campus.
But of course that points to another of the ironic and very sad quandaries in all of this: here you have students waiting to get in order that they might repudiate the very origins of the college they have so seriously and ardently sought admission to. Indeed at first glance, this is like one of those headlines that upon closer inspection would’ve emerged from some kind of a prank from what is otherwise known as fake news. But this isn’t fake news. This is published in the Times of London, in the Telegraph, in the Guardian, and furthermore, it’s not denied by the very group at the center of the story.
But finally on this issue we should also note that the phrase secular neutrality is an oxymoron. The words secular and neutrality actually don’t go together. That’s because secularism is not a state of some kind of religious or worldview neutrality. It is actually a state of denying theistic worldviews. There’s no other way around it. And rarely, however, does the language or the argument come to us in such an unvarnished and honest form as it has from the young leaders of the student government at Balliol College and Oxford University. I’ll let the final word go to Dr. Joanna Williams, a university lecturer at Oxford University, author of the book Academic Freedom in the Age of Conformity. She responded to the news from Balliol College saying that it was completely bizarre. In her words,
“It is intolerance being exercised in the name of inclusion. They are saying: ‘Your religious society is not welcome here’. Essentially they are saying that the Christian Union is not allowed to recruit new members.”
“I would argue that a university would be an ideal place for students to explore their religious beliefs. The idea that some religions are not allowed to be represented really prevents students being able to do that. It seems completely bizarre, I am lost for words.”
Why are advertisers turning to porn as a data metric?
Next, sometimes we gain an invaluable amount of information looking at the inside conversation of a major industry. That inside conversation, for example, the inside conversation in America’s advertising industry can tells a great deal about how our society has changed, how it is now changing and how our society is now thinking. I was directed to a conversation in terms of the advertising industry and that conversation has to do with pornography. It’s is found in one of the influential sources inside the advertising industry. It is known as Ad Age. The headline of the story,
“Porn: The Dark Data Metric for Gauging Cultural Attention”
The author of the story, Daniel Carter. Now what’s really interesting about this is the argument being made inside the advertising industry that there is a potentially overlooked metric. That’s their word for understanding cultural attention. And so what is being argued in this article by Daniel Carter is that what advertisers have missed is that one very important metric would be what causes persons to stop looking at pornography in order to look at something else. So the argument here is that the use or disuse of pornography actually indicates how important a cultural event might be. Just as one example, take the annual Super Bowl game, the argument is it takes a whole lot to dent the traffic in pornography on the Internet. And if you see a significant dip in that traffic something important must be going on in the culture. As it turns out, nothing much actually dents that traffic. And that’s the big story here. Or I guess there are two big parts of the story.
The first big part of the story is the pervasiveness of pornography, and some of the statistics inside this advertising conversation should certainly have our attention. Here’s the one that caught my attention more than any other. Just one major pornography site in the United States, and I’m not going to give its name, has 64 million unique daily users. Let me say that again. Just one major porn site has 64 million unique daily users. Now remember, they’re only slightly more than 300 million Americans to begin with of all ages. That is compared in the article to YouTube, which has you might say in this case only 30 million unique daily users. So this one porn site has more than twice the unique daily users of YouTube which is one of the most popular sites in the entire Internet. With that information, those metrics in the background, Daniel Carter goes on to argue,
“Porn may be the most unlikely, yet accurate, data metric for gauging cultural attention.”
Now as I’ve said the first shocking reality from this article would be the metrics that are included within the article. We’re looking at that 64 million unique daily user figure as over against just 30 million of the very same unique daily users for YouTube.
But the second shocking realization is the fact that here you have a conversation from inside the advertising agency where it just seems to come down to the fact that porn more than anything else for advertisers just might turn out to be a very important and reliable metric of cultural interests. So what do we learn from all of this? Well we learn that the American culture of which we are apart is absolutely addicted to pornography and probably at rates that the average American, indeed, the average American Christian cannot even fathom. Just one site over 60 million unique viewers a day. That adds up if it’s just Americans to about 20% of the American population in a single day. But the second thing is simply the amoral context of this entire conversation. It’s as if porn is simply out there is another part of American culture overlooked as a metric for understanding and to gauging cultural attention. But then there is that haunting question at the very center the story. What does it take to pull millions and millions of Americans away from porn? Whatever it is must be a big event, but in moral terms this very article should be understood as a very sad, but very big event.
A fact checker discovers that America really is an outlier on abortion
Finally, once again on the issue the sanctity of human life. The Washington Post regularly features a column known as Fact Checker. This is something becoming more popular in terms of the mainstream media asking the question is a particular statement made by a cultural figure usually a politician true or false. The Washington Post column regularly awards a number of Pinocchios between one and five indicating just how untrue an untruth might be. Fact checker comes back and says wrong, wrong enough for one to five Pinocchios. When right, one is awarded a Geppetto for telling the truth. But here the most important issue is the fact that was fact checked. And in this case, the fact was a statement that came from the Trump Administration on October 2 identifying the United States as only one of seven out of 198 nations that allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. So get the math here. The Trump Administration was identifying United States among the seven nations out of 198 nations that allow elective abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Now what’s really interesting is that the Washington Post Fact Checker column basically says that that did not sound right. That sounded like a misrepresentation. It sounded like a statement that deserves Pinocchios. But it turns out as the Washington Post Fact Checker column had to concede to be the truth. All of this came of course after just a week ago the United States House of Representatives adopted legislation that would outlaw elective abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The Washington Post, as this column makes clear, simply assumed that that would make the United States outlier. But as the Fact Checker column had to concede it turns out that the situation right now is that the United States is with six other nations, the outliers on the issue of late-term abortion. So which are the seven nations, the only seven nations that allow legally elective abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy? Those nations would be North Korea and Vietnam, China, the United States, Canada, the Netherlands and Singapore. Perhaps the most humbling issue to Americans considering this list is that it puts the United States and North Korea in the very same position morally and legally speaking in terms of the destruction of unborn life even in terms of late-term abortion.
I credit the Washington Post with going public with the fact that it fact checked this statement from the administration, and I want to read words directly from the column,
“This statistic seemed dubious at first, because it seemed extreme for just seven countries out of 198 to allow elective abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. But upon further digging, the data back up the claim. We should note,” and these words are also important, “that some of the seven countries allow abortions after 20 weeks, but ban it after 24 weeks.”
And the column goes on,
“other countries have no federal limits, but legislate at the state or provincial level, similar to the United States. Further,” says the column, “what is telling that research from both sides of the reproductive rights debate confirm this figure. It’s not easy,” they say, “to boil down complex abortion laws in a cross-comparative manner like this, and there are some minor caveats associated with this talking point.”
Again, the statement from the Trump Administration, but still they make very clear that those caveats do not make the statement untrue. In their final word,
“We award the elusive Geppetto Checkmark when a factoid surprisingly turns out to be true, as in this case.”
So there America is the truth. The Washington Post and its Fact Checker column has checked the fact. Indeed, the United States is amongst outliers here, only one of seven out of 198 nations that allows elective abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That surprised the Washington Post. My guess is it would surprise the majority of Americans. The big question is, what are we going to do about it?