June 5, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, June 5, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Pearce, reporting for the Los Angeles Times, gets the key issue absolutely correct when he writes, “The story sounds like an urban legend – but it’s real.” Pearce continues his report:
On Saturday morning [of last week], a bicyclist found a 12-year-old girl in the middle of a path in Waukesha, Wis. Her clothes were caked with blood. She had been stabbed 19 times — but she was still alive, and had crawled out of the woods for help.
After calling 911, her rescuer asked the girl, “Who did this to you?” and, as Pierce reports, the answer according to police accounts would be as shocking as the reason she had been attacked in the first place, with the Internet being blamed as a dark and wicked influence. As the police now report, two 12-year-old girls, two girls the same age as the girl who was attacked nearly to death, have been charged as adults on suspicion of attempting to murder their friend and fellow middle school classmate after inviting her to a sleepover last Friday night. According to The Los Angeles Times, the plot was months in the making. It was apparently inspired by a digital-age urban legend named “Slender Man.” The Los Angeles Times reports this slender man is a “not-quite-human figure with spindly fingers and an empty face who shows up in the background of photos from haunted places.” Of course, this is a fictional character, but these two girls had apparently decided he was real enough that they want to please him by murdering a friend. According to news reports in The Los Angeles Times and far beyond, the game actually operates by having this character demand anyone who will follow him and join his cult must first kill a fellow human being, kill a friend.
Now remember all this is taking place last Friday and Saturday in the village of Waukesha, Wisconsin. And now we have two 12-year-old girls charged with the attempted murder and the savage attack of a fellow 12-year-old girl, and it turns out they had invited her to a sleepover only to lure her into what they planned to be her murder. According to Waukesha Police Chief Russell P. Jack:
The Internet has changed the way we live. It’s full of information and wonderful sites that teach and entertain. The Internet can also be full of dark and wicked things. Unmonitored and unrestricted access to the Internet by children is a growing and alarming problem.
The same kind of alarming problem was registered in the coverage of The Wall Street Journal, where Carolyn Porter reports:
The case of two 12-year-old girls who allegedly lured a middle-school friend into the Wisconsin woods and stabbed her repeatedly before leaving her for dead has reignited a debate about the potentially damaging influence of the Internet on children, with local police calling it a “wake-up call for parents.”
The Wall Street Journal story also quoted Police Chief Russell Jack, who told that newspaper, “Unmonitored and unrestricted access to the Internet by children is a growing and alarming problem. Parents,” he said on Monday, “are strongly encouraged to restrict and monitor their children’s Internet usage.” As Porter continues:
The victim, also a 12-year-old girl, remained in stable condition [earlier this week]. She suffered 19 stab wounds. After the attack, the victim crawled out of the woods to the side of a road, where a passerby found her and called 911.
But the Wall Street Journal also gives additional important background information. As they write, “The two alleged perpetrators, who read a website called Creepypasta.wiki and followed Slenderman, a fictional character, had planned the attack for months.” The girls intended to flee to a mansion where they believed this Slender Man had his home and they intended to become his followers, which required that they first kill someone. The complaint issued by the Waukesha Police Department indicates that upon interrogation, the two 12-year-old girls admitted stabbing their friend and attempting to kill her. They have been charged as adults due to the Wisconsin state statute that says that anyone who commits this kind of attempted murder is charged as an adult.
Sherry Turkle—we’ve quoted her before. She’s a psychologist and a specialist in terms of the digital revolution. She’s also a faculty member at MIT, that is, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She said, “This is a tragic story about our vulnerability to a medium where the lines between what’s real and what’s a game are blurred.” She went on to say, “We’re not providing the guidance for these two 12-year-olds to sort out [fact from fiction] when a website tells them to kill someone.” But something is horrifyingly missing from Professor Turkel’s account here, or at least from the coverage in The Wall Street Journal that cites her. Professor Turkel says that we’re not giving our young people—12-year-old girls in this case—adequate information in order to analyze their engagement with sites like this on the World Wide Web, the Internet. The horrifyingly missing question is this: Why would these girls be allowed into such sites in the first place? Where were their parents? Apparently, as the police chief of Waukesha indicates, these girls had unrestricted and unfettered access to the darkest corners of the Internet.
But we should not be surprised about the soul-crushing and morality-corrupting influence of the World Wide Web, that is, of the Internet, on persons of any age or either gender. What we’re looking at here is a revolution not only that is represented by a new technology—in this case, the digital revolution, the Internet, and all that goes with it—but the revolution that is taking place in the parenting of children. Here you have 12-year-old girls and the affidavit from the police indicates that for some number of months and years, these 12-year-old girls from middle-class homes in Waukesha, Wisconsin, have been involved in this kind of really sinister dark corner of the Internet. And what you have here from Professor Turkel and in the coverage of The Wall Street Journal is that these girls were not given adequate guidance as they engaged this kind of Internet presence. But the larger question is this: How can any parent justify allowing children into the dark corners? It’s bad enough that adults find their way there, often by intention, and those adults also risk the same kind of soul corruption and morality confusion. But we’re talking here about elementary or middle school-aged girls, two 12-year-old girls, and what we’re talking about here is a grotesque dereliction of parental duty.
And, as we very well know, this is not limited to the case of two 12-year-old girls in Waukesha, Wisconsin. The reality is that many parents are simply abdicating their responsibility to parent. That is perhaps even a generalized reality, but specifically the concern here is in terms of their children’s digital engagement. Children and teenagers do not deserve unfiltered and unrestricted access to the Internet. As a matter of fact, directly to the contrary, parents must take the responsibility, and exercise and fulfill the responsibility, to protect their children from entering into these very dark neighborhoods on the World Wide Web. And those neighborhoods are countless. They are virtually everywhere. Some about sex; some about violence; some about religious cults; and some a combination of just about all these things put together. These two 12-year-old girls now stand accused as adults of attempting to murder their friend, having been convinced by a videogame, or at least an Internet game, to find their way into luring a 12-year-old friend to their home for a sleepover and then trying their very best to kill her, eventually stabbing her 19 times and leaving her for dead.
Now when you look at a story like this, we should be thankful that this kind of thing does not happen more often. But, of course, what we also must think about when we see a story like this is how much damage takes place in the lives of untold young people—children, middle schoolers, high schoolers, teenagers—who thankfully never resort to this kind of horrifying and violent behavior, but nonetheless have their moral systems grotesquely distorted; have their understanding of the distinction between the real and the unreal horribly confused. God gave children to parents precisely so that parents would protect them from this kind of thing, and we should understand that parents bear a nonnegotiable, non-delegatable responsibility and authority to see to it that their children stay out of these very dark places on the Web.
Christians, in general, and Christian parents, specifically, must rethink our entire understanding of the stewardship of this digital revolution. We have to think about the principles and boundaries we would put in place not only for our children, but for ourselves. And we must also understand and affirm quite clearly that ignorance is no excuse. Some of you, I’m sure, are still able to remember those public-service commercials from the 1960s and the 1970s, when the voice came on the television saying, “It’s 11:00 p.m. Do you know where your children are?” Well let’s translate that into the digital age. Regardless of the time it is, do you know where your children are on the World Wide Web, on the Internet? If not, you should, and if not, they may be in grave danger. As this story indicates, the danger may extend not only to themselves, but to others as well.
Meanwhile, while we’re talking about the inability of many people playing these digital games to distinguish between the real and the unreal, we need to consider an article that appeared earlier this week in The New York Times. The article by Chris Suellentrop has to do with escape rooms or Escape the Room, an Internet game that now fuses the real and the unreal. Rather than just being played in the digital environment, in cities such as Los Angeles and San Francisco, Toronto and New York City, there are now computer games, that is, digital games, video games, that take on a real-life dimension as well, fusing, as The New York Times says, art and theater. But The New York Times is also very clear about the fact that some of these games are very violent and others of them are inherently pornographic, and that is also verified by other national media coverage on these escape rooms. And as you look at this—and most of these, of course, are being played by either older teenagers or those who are young adults—you come to understand that this is not a problem that is isolated to children. We are all responsible for our digital engagements. We’re also responsible for our entertainment choices. And with something like this, the intentional blurring of the real and the unreal with some very negative and sinister issues already attached to it, should be a significant warning to Christians that the escape room is something Christians had probably better not enter in the first place, much less need to escape.
Shifting to the intersection of politics and the Christian worldview, we need to understand that politics for anyone is an expression of the worldview that shapes that individual’s thinking. Keep that in mind when you consider William Galston’s recent column in The Wall Street Journal. He writes:
Today’s political polarization is more than a journalistic trope. It is more intense than at any time in the past century, and it pervades our political system from top to bottom. It feeds legislative gridlock and damages trust and confidence in political institutions.
He goes on to say this is true not only in the United States, but also in Europe, and in particular in the United Kingdom. He says this condition did not develop overnight. He then goes on to say:
Half a century ago, the two parties agreed on Cold War anticommunism as the core of foreign policy and on a broadly Keynesian approach to economics. Most of the cultural issues that dominate today’s landscape and divide the parties were not matters of public conversation.
Well if you look at the opening paragraphs by William Galston in this column, he actually asks a question and then answers it. The question he implicitly asks is this: Why are Americans now seemingly more divided than in any point in recent history across the political spectrum? Why are Democrats more Democratic and Republicans more Republican when it comes to political philosophy? He then points to the consensus that certainly shake the postwar period in the United States; a consensus that included a moderate Keynesianism in economics and also, he gets it exactly right, a uniform approach to foreign policy especially centered in anti-communism. If you go back to the race, for instance, for president in 1960, and you look at the platforms of the Democratic and Republican parties, and then you look at the two standard-bearers for those parties—John F. Kennedy, the Democrat, and Richard Nixon, the Republican—you’ll discover that they differed very little in economic theory. They differed even less in foreign-policy. So, again, as Galston asked, “Why are Americans so politically divided or polarized today?” Just consider how he also writes in that final sentence of the paragraph I quoted that most of the cultural issues that dominate today’s landscape and divide the parties were not matters of public conversation.
Now that’s profoundly true, but, again, that means he has just answered the question that he raised. If you go back to 1960, there was no discussion of abortion. If you go back to 1960, there was no polarization between the political parties on the issue of same-sex marriage. Those issues were simply undebatable. They weren’t even present on the American scene. So let’s go back to Galston’s question. It’s implicit in his entire column: Why are Americans now more politically divided than in any recent point? It’s because of the very issues he says were missing before, but are present now. The political landscape is divided in America not mostly on economic issues, though economic issues do continue to play an important role, but it’s more on the cultural issues as he addresses them. He writes in his column:
By 1980 this postwar consensus had collapsed. Democratic support for Cold War anticommunism waned in reaction to the Vietnam War. Republican support for Keynesian economics had given way to the supply-side revolution. The country had split over new social issues—notably feminism, abortion and the counterculture. And the civil-rights movement triggered political realignments in the South and among the white working class in the Northeast and Midwest.
All these shifts pointed in the same direction, toward increased unity within each political party and more-intense divisions between them. Today, ideology, policy preferences, partisanship and voting behavior are aligned as never before.
Well now that’s a bit of an overstatement because if you go back to the founding era of the United States, if you go back to the early presidential administrations, you’ll discover that they were far more partisan than America is today. But the very interesting thing about Galston’s column is that he appears to be making some very interesting arguments. He argues, for example, that Republicans in recent years have moved further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left, and yet even the data he cites within his article don’t make that argument very clearly. For instance, he writes:
Among voters, the picture is more complex. In 1972, for example, 29% of Democrats called themselves liberal or very liberal, a figure that rose by 18 points to 47% by 2012. During those four decades, the share of Republicans regarding themselves as conservative or very conservative rose by fully 30 points, to 76% from 46%.
Well let’s just think about that for a moment. One of the basic understandings of the Christian worldview is that culture produces the politics; the politics does not produce the culture. In other words, we have to change the culture more fundamentally than we have to change the politics. The Christian worldview also affirms the fact that an individual voter’s worldview is what produces the political decisions—inescapably so. We vote who we are, and we vote our own convictions; our own analysis and worldview. Inevitably, either in a sophisticated way or in a very unsophisticated way, either consistently or sometimes rather inconsistently, our worldview produces our political choices, and that is something that is just basically missing from Galston’s analysis.
But there’s something else here as well because even as he suggests that over the last several decades Republicans have moved further to the right than Democrats have moved to the left, that now appears to be reversing course with the Democrats now moving far more in a liberal direction than you have Republicans moving in a more conservative direction. Interestingly, confirmation of that came in the previous day’s issue of The New York Times, when Michael Powell wrote an article about the fact that the current governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, has had to move significantly to the left in his quest for reelection. As a matter of fact, the specific event that prompted this article in The New York Times is the fact that New York’s very liberal Working Families Party has decided to endorse Andrew Cuomo because he has agreed to move left in his second administration in a far more progressive, according to their designation, or liberal direction. The big article in The New York Times was a debate over whether or not the New York governor actually is as liberal as he is now claiming and posing to be. Similar reports have been issued related to, for instance, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is presumed to be a leading Democratic candidate for president in 2016.
But there’s now an open debate in the Democratic Party about whether or not Hillary Clinton is liberal enough to be the standard-bearer for the party in 2016. In recent days, former President Bill Clinton has had to defend his own presidential legacy over the attacks by his own party’s left wing, accusing him of being basically a closet Republican as president of the United States. So there’s ample evidence here of the fact that the Democratic Party is lurching to the left, and there’s ample evidence to the fact that William Galston is onto something when he points out the increased political and ideological polarization that has taken place in the United States.
But what’s missing from this is what’s most essential, and that is the understanding that this kind of political and ideological polarization is the inevitable result, indeed, it is the outworking, of a basic conflict over worldview. And when it comes to those very issues that William Galston now says divides Americans more than any others, those cultural issues—the issues of cultural conflict such as euthanasia, abortion, the sexual revolution, same-sex marriage, and all the rest—those are the very issues that are shaped most acutely and most urgently by worldview. And, thus, we come back to the point that we make over and over again. Worldview matters immensely because as our worldview is so are we, and that is how we vote. And both political parties, having become more polarized over the last several decades, are now poised almost assuredly to be even more polarized in the future. Why? Because the issues aren’t going away; they’re only looming larger and, of course, coming in greater number.
One final point that informed and intelligent Christians must always keep in mind is this: if we want to change an individual’s position on these intensely controversial issues, if we want to change the nation’s consensus on these very controversial issues, we have to affect change first at the worldview level and then convince on the issues. It simply doesn’t work to try to reverse that direction and change people’s minds on issues in order to change their worldview. We had better keep this truth in mind all the time.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. Remember that last Saturday we released the final installment for the spring of 2014 for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. The new season will begin in late summer, and we are inviting you to call right now with your question in your voice. Remember the phone number is 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Anchorage, Alaska, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.