June 9, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, June 9, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Well the big stories over the weekend had to do with dads staying home to take care of children. The headline in USA Today, “More Dads Do the Mom Role”; in The New York Times, “For More Fathers Who Stay Home, It’s a Choice”; in The Washington Post, “More Dads Stay Home to Raise Children.” But the variance you saw in those headlines is a variance that is also reflected in the interpretations of the data, and the data is coming from the Pew Research Center, a major report that came out late last week. As Brigid Schulte of The Washington Post reports:
The number of stay-at-home Dads has doubled in the last 25 years, reaching a peak of 2.2 million in 2010, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center. And although the Great Recession contributed to a sharp uptick, by far, the fastest growing segment of at-home Dads say they’re home taking care of the kids because they want to be.
Now that’s a very interesting lead paragraph, and a very similar kind of lead is what you find in The New York Times. Claire Cain Miller reports for The Times:
Despite a recent small decline in the number of fathers who take care of children full-time, their numbers have doubled over the last 15 years, according to new data from Pew Research Center. And the main driver for the growth is the increase in men staying home by choice, not because of unemployment or injury. That shift reveals a structural change in gender roles in families and at work in the United States.
Now when you look at a news report like this and paragraphs interpreting data in this way, you need to go back and look at the data and find out if these conclusions are warranted. Does this pattern reflect a major change in gender roles in the United States? Well it might, and if it did, we would want to know so.
But a closer look at the data reveals that the picture is a bit less clear than these lead paragraphs would have us to think. In the first place, The New York Times conceded that there’s actually been a decrease, a net decrease, over the last couple of years in the number of fathers staying at home. So why the headlines there are more dads “doing the mom role” as USA Today reports? Well it’s because the report looked at a long-term pattern, and over the last 15 years, there has been an increase, indeed, roughly a doubling of the number of fathers staying home to take care of their children. But the newspapers also report the data further down in their articles, and that is that far more mothers than fathers are staying at home with their children. As a matter of fact, it’s only about two million fathers at the height of this pattern who are staying home to take care of children. Over against the total population of the United States and about 300 million, that’s not insignificant, but it certainly is not necessarily any kind of major trend.
But the other thing that is also clear from the data is that the economic recession that started in 2008 was the major driver. To their credit, all three of these newspapers acknowledge that fact in their reports. But we should note that they buried that very important piece of information long after their evaluation was made in the opening paragraphs. Now when you think about the claim being made by at least two of these three newspapers that this is a major trend reflecting a change in gender roles, we need to again step back and figure out if that’s really what we’re looking at here. For instance, what we have is the acknowledgment that the biggest factor here from 2008 forward was economic. So many men lost their jobs vis-à-vis women in the last recession that many economists refer to the recession itself as a “he-session;” in other words, a recession that particularly affected professions and jobs generally held by men. One thing alone explains that more than anything else and that was the severe downturn in construction. So many men who would be working were not working because there were no houses being built. Well you look at that and you recognize that, once again, there is an honest acknowledgment in these articles that over the last couple of years there are actually fewer, not more, men staying home with their children, and they also acknowledge that as economic. More of these men have returned to the workplace.
So when you actually look at the data, here’s the way it comes down. If you take the fact that approximately two million at some point have stayed home to take care of their children, approximately 80% of those men are staying home for economic reasons. But the fastest growth in the remaining 20% of the two million is among those who say they are making the decision to stay home with their children. Now if you’re following, that means that this really isn’t a very big development at all. As a matter of fact, in The New York Times, we find this: 35% of those stay-at-home dads say they stay home because they are ill or disabled; 23% are unable to find work; 22% are in school or retired. As you follow on down, only a bare minority of those fathers who are staying at home say they’re doing so out of choice. But that’s not insignificant, but it doesn’t justify the kind of headlines that we find in these newspapers. For instance, within the article in USA Today, we read a statement by Fred van Deusen, a researcher at Boston College. He said:
I think it’s a shift in cultural trends. Probably the main factor is the expectation for fathers is changing. Women expect more involvement, men see peers becoming more involved, so it’s kind of self-reinforcing.
Well that’s an interesting statement and there may be a good bit of truth in it, but it simply isn’t verified by the very data reported in the article. Similarly, the coverage in The Washington Post includes the fact that of those fathers who are staying at home, they tend to be older, poorer, and have less education than their working-father counterparts.”
Now let’s look for a moment. Those are the very same things that are cited in these same reports as the reasons why men have been unable to get back into the workplace or have left the workplace in the first place. In other words, there’s an internal tension within these articles. There’s also a very interesting pattern that should have our attention here, and that is the fact that this reveals the fact that so many in the media seem to have a great urge to declare at virtually every turn that gender roles are changing. Well we’re living in a time of gender transformation, that’s for sure, but a closer look at these articles indicates that there really isn’t that much to shout about here. But it’s very telling that there are people who want to do the shouting, who want to declare that gender roles are changing, and that when it comes to the raising of children in the domestic life, men are finding their way into this more eagerly by choice, even as women are by choice more eagerly entering the workforce. But a closer look at the data indicates that this is actually a very small picture and it’s a very small development. It’s one that should have our attention, of course, but it doesn’t deserve the screaming headlines in the mainstream media. In this case, the headlines tell us more about the media themselves than about the matters about which they’re reporting.
These stories do give us a heads up, by the way, with fatherhood close on the calendar that this time of year points out the cultural awkwardness in American society these days of talking about the specific role of fathers. The epidemic of fatherlessness is one of the main engines propelling all kinds of dysfunctionality and pathology, broken lives and great harm to lives in this country, but it’s become almost politically incorrect to speak honestly about it. So it’s very interesting. Father’s Day coming along requires the culture to talk about fathers in some way. It tells us a great deal that this is the way at least these newspapers have wanted to talk about fatherhood with Father’s Day looming on the horizon. As it comes even closer, you can count on this: there will be further confusion even as there is something of an attempted celebration of the role of fathers. We’re living in a time in which the role of fatherhood has become so confused to so many they’re not sure what to condemn or want to celebrate.
This past weekend, I was speaking to a conference in Seattle, Washington, and while I was there, I noticed Thursday’s edition of The Seattle Times. And what I noticed was not a glaring headline, but a story that was effectively buried deep within the newspaper. As a matter of fact, the story appeared in the print edition of last Thursday’s edition of The Seattle Times on page B7, and that, as it turns out, is incredibly telling. The headline of the news story is this: “More Than 100 Died After Taking Lethal Dose in 2013.” The report that was based on information from the Associated Press indicates that in Washington State last year more than 100 people died after requesting and taking a lethal prescription through Washington State’s Death with Dignity Law. That was reported last Wednesday by the Washington State Department of Health. Officials with the department said 173 people requested and received lethal doses of medication in 2014. Now listen to this: that’s a 43% increase from the year before.
Now let’s just pause for a moment. So you here you have an article about assisted suicide. Washington State is one of the few states in the United States that has legal assisted suicide. It celebrated the adoption of that legislation just a few years ago, but now you have a state that has had a 43% increase in requests for legal assisted suicide in a single year and the story is considered so insignificant that it appears in the print edition of the leading newspaper in the state on page B7. That’s the seventh page of the second section of the newspaper. What does that tell us about the devaluation of human life? Just consider the composite information coming from this report from the state’s health department. Those who requested assisted suicide ranged in age from 29 to age 95. More than 95% lived west of the Cascade Mountains. That tells you something else. In other words, almost all—95% of those who requested and received assisted suicide in the state of Washington—were from the more liberal coastal areas of the state on its western edge. The report indicates that 77% of those who applied had cancer; 15% had a neurodegenerative disease; 8% had heart disease or another illness. The report also indicates “most of the people who ask their doctors for a lethal prescription told them they were concerned about losing autonomy, dignity, or the ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable. Most died home and were in hospice care at the time of their deaths.”
Now we need to note this very carefully. When the legislation for assisted suicide was sold to the voters in Washington State, as elsewhere, it was sold with the idea that those who were terminally ill had the right to end unbearable suffering by means of assisted suicide. But even in this report that was released last week by the State Board of Health there in Washington State, it is revealed that a good many of those who have requested and received assisted suicide just in the last year were not so much terminally ill, they were not speaking of pain, but rather they were “concerned about losing autonomy, dignity, or the ability to participate in activities that made life enjoyable.”
This report in itself tells us a great deal about the devaluation of human life. That is, if this report had been on the front page, it would have given us that information. But it wasn’t on the front page. It’s even more telling and even more haunting that a report of this consequence appeared buried within the newspaper’s second section on its seventh page. In other words, this was information that The Seattle Times felt obligated to report, but not obligated to point out with any importance. The devaluation of human life is seen in the entire complex of euthanasia and assisted suicide. It’s a short jump from arguing that those who are certified to be terminally ill and are claimed to be suffering unbearable pain should have the right to end their lives, to the claim that one is justified to assist one in suicide simply if the person claims that they’re no longer able to enjoy those pursuits that had made life meaningful.
The loss of the Christian worldview, as it turns out, makes euthanasia and assisted suicide not just possible, but probably inevitable – because the devaluation of human life, once one no longer believes that every single human life at every point of experience and development is made in God’s image, then we come to understand that all of human life becomes a negotiable good. And eventually there are those who will decide that death is preferable to life, and there are those in society who evidently will decide that it is actually right to help those who have made that decision to end their own lives. And mark this very clearly: once you cross that barrier, there will be no limit to the number of acceptable reasons for ending life and there will be a continual marginalization of the sanctity and dignity of human life to the point that this kind of story slides from page one to page B7, and, hauntingly we think, soon perhaps to no notice at all.
Meanwhile, on a related issue, Saturday’s issue of The New York Times included a story datelined from California. The headline: “California Pioneers the Court-Aided One-Day Divorce.” We can thank California for the entire idea of no-fault divorce. In 1969, California, the nation’s most populous state, became the first state to feature legal no-fault divorce. Interestingly, it was signed into law in 1969 by then-California Governor Ronald Reagan, and it was signed into law with the claim that this would be a great assist to families. It’s the kind of argument of doublespeak that we need to see very clearly now in retrospect. The claim was that families were being harmed by the fact that divorce (back before no-fault divorce) required the finding that one party or the other in the marriage, one spouse or the other, had committed adultery, and thus there were legal grounds for the divorce. No-fault divorce meant that that was no longer necessary and it was claimed as a great humane act. Of course, what we now know is that it was not humane at all. What it led to was the acceleration of divorce and the breakup not of thousands or even tens or hundreds of thousands, but millions of marriages. Such that marriage became redefined in a single generation; such that divorce became customary when it had been rare; and no-fault divorce that began in 1969 in California soon spread so that in now all 50 states there is the equivalent of no-fault divorce.
But now this news story appeared Saturday in The New York Times indicating that California is pioneering divorce once again. In this case, it’s a one-day divorce. The article by Ann Carrns points out there have to be a couple of preliminaries. For instance, one spouse has to serve the other spouse with divorce papers, but once it gets to court, it’s a greased slide. Just one day. As Carrns reports, “now some courts in California offer one-day divorce programs for people who either can’t afford or don’t want to hire a lawyer.” As Carrns explains:
Couples arrive at court in the morning having generally agreed on the division of property and debts and a plan for the care of any children. The coordinator makes sure the paperwork is in order and helps wrap up any remaining details. (The coordinator isn’t representing either side and doesn’t offer legal advice or strategy, said Judge Hallahan.) Then, you go before a judge in the afternoon and leave with a divorce judgment. Since the program made its debut in March, the court has handled four to five such divorces a week, said Judge Hallahan.
Later in the article, Randall Kessler, a divorce lawyer in Atlanta, said that one day divorce programs are “the wave of the future.” Well he may be right. After all, California pioneered no-fault divorce and it spread across the country in less than 15 years. Now, as this headline explains, California’s pioneering the one-day divorce and we just have to wonder how fast it will be until California’s quickie one-day divorce becomes a national norm. We now know that no-fault divorce led to devastating consequences. We can only imagine that the one-day divorce will lead to even worse. Well at least we’ve been warned
Finally, the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal included a news article about pioneering new efforts in therapy for dogs and other animals. The article’s written by a specialist by the name of Laurel Braitman, and she tells us, “There are depressed and anxious gorillas, compulsive horses, obsessive wombats, self-harming dolphins, and dogs with dementia.” Writing about Oliver, a dog she tried to help cure of depression, she wrote:
I tried almost everything available to American pet owners, from Valium and Prozac to behavioral modification training. I couldn’t save him. But others have been more successful in treating troubled animals.
Dr. Braitman says that some forms of therapy aren’t so medically inclined. She writes:
When it comes to the animals dearest to us, this may mean, for instance, working harder to gauge our cats’ opinions of particular houseguests, taking our dogs on more challenging walks, giving the hamster more places to hide or removing a bullying turtle from the tank.
I feel obligated to insert at this point: No, I’m not making this up. This is an article that appeared in the weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal. There is evidence of mental illness here, of course, but I don’t think the mental illness is particularly attributable to animals in this case. We’ve become a society that finds it somehow reasonable that in one of the most important and influential newspapers in the country, we would find a serious article mentioning anxious gorillas, compulsive horses, and obsessive wombats. If you’re looking for evidence of a worldview out of whack, I can hardly come up with anything more emphatically important than this. In Washington State last year, there was a 43% increase in assisted suicide, and we’re a society that pauses to give serious interest to obsessive wombats.
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. We’re receiving questions now for Ask Anything: Weekend Edition and the new season beginning in late summer. Just call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Baltimore, Maryland, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.