The moral effects of pornography are, by now, well attested. The scourge of pornography has brought ruin and harm into the lives of millions of…
The moral effects of pornography are, by now, well attested. The scourge of pornography has brought ruin and harm into the lives of millions of…
The Colorado legislature is considering the repeal of laws in the state that criminalize adultery or any act that would “promote sexual immorality.” According to Lynn Bartels of The Denver Post, the process of repeal is now well underway, with the House Judiciary Committee voting 8-3 to take adultery and sexual immorality out of the criminal code in Colorado.
Missing from the legislative debate, at least as reported in the media, is any acknowledgment of how such statutes entered the law books in the first place. Throughout most of human history, morality and law were united and in agreement when it came to the reality of adultery and the larger context of sexual immorality. Laws criminalizing adultery were adopted because the society believed that marriage was central to its own existence and flourishing, and that adultery represented a dagger struck at the heart of the society, as well as the heart of marriage.
Marriage was not considered merely a private arrangement. Every society regulates marriage, and most have adopted clear and punitive sanctions against adultery. But the moral and cultural revolutions of the past several decades have shifted the meaning of marriage from a public institution to a private contract.
Rep. Daniel Kagan (Democrat of Cherry Hills Village) seemed to be completely unaware that his own state had once considered adultery to be a sin of public consequence. “Adultery is a matter between a person and their spouse and their conscience and their minister, but not between a person and the full enforcement of the state of Colorado,” he said. He concluded: “Let’s keep the police out of our bedrooms.”
Well, the police have not conducted adultery raids in some time, Rep. Kagan. The law in Colorado criminalizes adultery, but includes no penalty. The law has been, at a bare minimum, a reminder of the public nature of marriage and the societal threat of adultery.
The sexual revolution and our cultural addiction to autonomous individualism has changed all that, but that moral shift should not go unnoticed. We are now reaping the inevitable result of treating marriage as a merely private affair, and adultery as a merely private sin. The action in the Colorado legislature is just a sign of what has already taken place in the larger culture.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at email@example.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/albertmohler
Lynn Bartels, “Immoral Law Repeal Bill Moves Forward,” The Denver Post, Friday, February 22, 2013. http://www.denverpost.com/breakingnews/ci_22636378/colorado-lawmaker-wants-decriminalize-adultery-other-morals-laws
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Watching the American scene in the 1960s, historian Daniel Boorstin, invented the idea of the “pseudo-event.” The rise of television and modern mass media had produced a transformation of the news business, so that what now mattered was not if an event was important, but only if it was “newsworthy.”
As Boorstin explained, the pseudo-event was orchestrated and planned to receive maximum public attention, even if the event itself was really unimportant. Pseudo-events merely look important, because the media and the public agree to act as if they are. As Boorstin explained, the pseudo-event is not something that happens by mistake, like a train wreck or an accident. It is something “planted primarily for the immediate purpose of being reported.” Lastly, Boorstin asserted, the pseudo-event is “intended to be a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
Sound familiar? The pseudo-event is the driving force of American political life today, and it is a game increasingly played by both major political parties. The “fiscal cliff” was the most embarrassing recent example of a pseudo-event. Democrats and Republicans alike conspired to create a fake political crisis that each party thought would work to its own advantage. Both parties gambled that public outrage over the loss of Bush-era tax cuts would create a manufactured political crisis that would give the party and its allies political leverage.
Democrats gambled that they would get new tax revenues out of the crisis, while Republicans hoped for spending cuts. In the end, the negotiated “fix” for the pseudo-crisis was a weak combination of increased tax revenue and promised, yet unspecified, spending cuts.
The entire enterprise was tantamount to a war game played with live ammunition. Both sides claimed a modicum of victory and promised to play the game to better advantage next time. Neither side was willing to deal with what the real crisis of governance represents. The “fiscal cliff” was just a dramatic distraction from the real crisis.
As columnist David Brooks argued, “Far from laying the groundwork for future cooperation, it sentences the country to another few years of budget trench warfare. There will be a fight over drastic spending cuts known as sequestration, then over the debt limit and on and on.”
As Brooks predicted, the same debacle is now being played out with the debt limit pseudo-event. Both parties are jockeying for position. The nation has already exceeded the $16.4 trillion borrowing limit previously set by Congress. A bit of financial finagling by the Department of the Treasury has bought just a bit of time before Congress must raise the debt ceiling once again. Otherwise the United States will default on its debt.
How did this happen? Congress approved the spending, as did the President. The spending, which necessitated the borrowing, was approved by the very people who will not debate whether to pay the bills they themselves created.
Federal law requires Congress to establish a limit to national borrowing, but the U. S. Constitution requires the government to pay its debts. The debt limit requirement is merely a matter of law. The pledge to pay the nation’s debt is a mandate of the Constitution. The debt ceiling is now a political abstraction, used by both parties to create a pseudo-event.
Conservatives should be particularly unwilling to participate in such a charade, and yet many do so, thinking they can use the pseudo-event to their advantage. It is a losing game, dishonest politics, and a failure of governance.
It is intended to direct the nation’s attention away from the real crisis and onto the pseudo-event. It avoids dealing with the real disaster that looms before us.
Once again, David Brooks nailed the real issue: “Public debt as a percentage of gross domestic product was around 38 percent in 1965. It is around 74 percent now. Debt could approach a ruinous 90 percent of G.D.P. in a decade and a cataclysmic 247 percent of G.D.P. 30 years from now, according to the Congressional Budget Office and JPMorgan.”
But, do politicians bear all the blame? Not hardly. The public has an insatiable appetite for pseudo-events and a horrified aversion to the truth. Why? We are approaching the point that voters will not deal with the issue because it will cost them their entitlements. They will be glad for their children and grandchildren to pay the catastrophic debt.
As Brooks explains:
“Ultimately, we should blame the American voters. The average Medicare couple pays $109,000 into the program and gets $343,000 in benefits out, according to the Urban Institute. This is $234,000 in free money. Many voters have decided they like spending a lot on themselves and pushing costs onto their children and grandchildren. They have decided they like borrowing up to $1 trillion a year for tax credits, disability payments, defense contracts and the rest. They have found that the original Keynesian rationale for these deficits provides a perfect cover for permanent deficit-living. They have made it clear that they will destroy any politician who tries to stop them from cost-shifting in this way.”
Given this political reality, fiscal conservatives are insane to believe that these pseudo-events play to their advantage. Each “solution” to a false crisis actually lets the American people and the political class claim a false victory — even as the real crisis grows far worse.
Conservatives should point out that the Constitution demands the nation pay its debts, and that Congress and the President must take responsibility for the spending — and the massive borrowing — their actions mandate. Conservatives should point to the real crisis, stand on principle, and refuse to distract themselves and the American people with false crises and pseudo-events.
In the end, pseudo-events only serve to make the problem worse, never better. We cannot deal with the real crisis, if we keep playing the game of the pseudo-event.
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/albertmohler
David Brooks, “Another Fiscal Flop,” The New York Times, Monday, December 31, 2012. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/01/opinion/brooks-another-fiscal-flop.html?ref=davidbrooks
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French President François Hollande recently announced that he wants French schools to put an end to homework. That is certain to thrill school children in the nation, but the reason for Hollande’s war on homework will likely puzzle many French citizens.
President Hollande wants to end homework in order to level the playing field for the nation’s students. As France 24 reports, Hollande told an audience at The Sorbonne, “An education program is, by definition, a societal program. Work should be done at school, rather than at home.”
He went on to explain that it was unfair for students with parents who are engaged with their schoolwork to gain an educational advantage over others, whose parents do not offer such support.
Hollande wants to neutralize the impact of parents by keeping students at school longer. As France 24 notes, French students are already staying at school longer than students in many other nations, often leaving the school “only at 5pm or 6pm.”
The more hours students spend in the government’s schools, the less hours they are at home — where inequity abounds.
As Dylan Matthews of The Washington Post explains, Hollande argues for the elimination of homework, “not in terms of student learning but as a way to equal the playing field for all students.” Further, “Poor children, he argues, are less likely to get parental aid for homework, and so requiring homework can widen the achievement gap.”
Hollande is right about the inequity. Children whose parents are not involved, for whatever reason, are surely at a serious disadvantage. Every effort to help them should be made. But even if homework is eliminated, the inequity will remain.
The reason for the inequity is clear, and it doesn’t begin when the child starts formal education. It starts at the beginning of life and in the earliest stages of infancy and childhood. Parents who talk to their children and, even more importantly, read to their children, give their children a priceless head start. Parents who spend time with their children and are involved in their school work, offering encouragement and accountability, increase that advantage. Involved and engaged parents give a child a priceless advantage.
There is another dimension to this picture, but one that most political leaders will not acknowledge. The presence of two parents in the home at least doubles the opportunity for a child to get the needed help. The breakdown of the family is a major part of the background to this problem.
The only way for this particular inequity to be eliminated is to remove children from the care of their parents and to raise them as wards of the state. Such proposals have been made by statists ranging from Plato to Lenin. To a lesser degree, similar arguments have been made in this country by educational leaders such as philosopher John Dewey. Adding even more hours to the school week is just a further step in that direction.
This is the logic of statism, proposing the state as the answer to inequities it cannot possibly resolve, and marginalizing or subverting the family in the process.
This story from France should prompt all of us to do a little homework of our own, reminding ourselves of the central importance of the family.
I discuss this story and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE [The program will be available at 6:30am, EST]
I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at email@example.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/albertmohler
Links to articles cited:
Russia is in the grip of an apocalyptic fever. The New York Times reports that Russians across the nation’s nine time zones are in the grip of a mass hysteria of sorts — and it’s all about the end of the world.
As Ellen Barry reports:
“Inmates in a women’s prison near the Chinese border are said to have experienced a ‘collective mass psychosis’ so intense that their wardens summoned a priest to calm them. In a factory town east of Moscow, panicked citizens stripped shelves of matches, kerosene, sugar and candles. A huge Mayan-style archway is being built — out of ice — on Karl Marx Street in Chelyabinsk in the south.”
She also explains the cause of the hysteria. It seems that even Russians are fascinated with the Mayan calendar. “For those not schooled in New Age prophecy, there are rumors the world will end on Dec. 21, 2012, when a 5,125-year cycle known as the Long Count in the Mayan calendar supposedly comes to a close. Russia, a nation with a penchant for mystical thinking, has taken notice.”
The apocalyptic fever has now concerned the Russian government, which spoke to the crisis through its Minister of Emergency Situations, who assured the nation that the End is not nigh”
“Last week, Russia’s government decided to put an end to the doomsday talk. Its minister of emergency situations said Friday that he had access to ‘methods of monitoring what is occurring on the planet Earth,’ and that he could say with confidence that the world was not going to end in December. He acknowledged, however, that Russians were still vulnerable to ‘blizzards, ice storms, tornadoes, floods, trouble with transportation and food supply, breakdowns in heat, electricity and water supply.'”
Well, there you have it. The Russian Minister of Emergency Situations has “methods of monitoring what is happening on the planet Earth,” and the End is not happening. Feel better now?
The Russian Orthodox Church has also stated its doubt that the End of the World is approaching, as have other government and cultural authorities. It is unclear that this is helping anything.
The government is also considering legislative action, making it illegal to “violate believer’s feelings.” One member of Russia’s Parliament, a doctor, warned that such anxiety could upset the nervous system. “Everyone has a different nervous system, and this kind of information affects them differently. Information acts subconsciously. Some people are provoked to laughter, some to heart attacks, and some . . . to negative actions.”
The Christian worldview points to the End of the World as a promised reality — an end that demonstrates the righteousness and justice of God and the consummation of the Gospel. God’s judgment poured out on this world is certain, but so is the promise of New Creation.
Russia bears all the marks of a radical spiritual confusion. In the aftermath of official Soviet atheism, the nation is filled with New Age confusions and a host of spiritual fevers. The Mayan calendar is just one focus of those fevers, but a potent one.
The same kind of confusions are present here in the United States, but with less intensity than in Russia. Russians, Ellen Barry explains, “can be powerfully transported by emotions.”
That, we can assume, is true of all people. Confusion marks the worldview and spirituality of millions of Americans just like the Russians, and the Mayan calendar is being watched carefully by many of our neighbors as well.
If I believed in the power of the Mayan calendar to predict the end of the world, I am not at all sure I would trust the government of Russia to tell me it isn’t so.
I discuss this issue, along with several other current concerns, in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE
Link to Article Cited: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/02/world/europe/mayan-end-of-world-stirs-panic-in-russia-and-elsewhere.html?_r=0
Writing a generation ago, sociologist Christopher Lasch pointed to the weakening of the family as the most significant and dangerous development of our times. In…
TODAY 1. The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage — A Decision Not to Decide is Still a Decision. 2. First Same-Sex Marriage in West Point’s Chapel — What it Means. 3. Sharia Law Combines with Autocracy in Egypt. 4. The Two-Edged Sword of Palestinian Statehood. 5. Does Justice Require that Stay-at-Home Moms Leave Home? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.
1. The U.S. Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage — A Decision Not to Decide is Still a Decision
The justices of the Supreme Court went behind closed doors last Friday to decide whether to take a list of cases, including crucial cases concerning same-sex marriage. It was expected that the Court might announce its decision in one or more of the same-sex marriages cases on Friday, but no announcement came. This morning at 9:30 the Court has scheduled another opportunity to announce cases, but the more traditional announcement on Mondays is the list of cases the Court will not take.
Many Americans, including millions of Americans concerned about the same-sex marriage cases, may not understand what such an announcement might mean. For example, if the Court announces that it will not grant a hearing to the case known as Hollingsworth v. Perry, same-sex marriage will almost immediately become fully legal in California.
The reason for this is quite simple. If the Supreme Court decides not to take the case, it will let stand the decision of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. That court ruled that California’s voter-initiated Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, sustaining an earlier ruling to that effect in a San Francisco Federal District Court.
In other words, a decision not to take the case is still a decision — a decision to allow the Ninth Circuit’s decision to stand.
It takes four justices to agree to take a case, and at least five justices to decide most cases. Observers of the Court often try to predict such decisions, but the decision making process of the justices is hidden from view.
In addition to the Proposition 8 appeal, there are cases dealing with the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA], passed into law in 1996. The Court will have a harder time declining to hear that case, given the fact that it represents a frontal challenge to a Federal law passed by Congress and signed into law by the President Bill Clinton.
In any event, a decision in any of these cases, if taken up by the Court, would likely come in late summer.
Some same-sex marriage advocates are already celebrating what they believe will be a major victory at the Court, one way or the other. “2012 has already been the watershed year in the history of this movement,” Chad Griffin told USA Today. Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign, also said: “It’s so clear where this country’s headed.”
Speaking of a DOMA case, Paul Clement, a former Solicitor General of the United States under President George W. Bush told the paper, “The Court will want to take this case and get it resolved.” Time will tell.
2. The First Same-Sex Marriage Ceremony in West Point’s Chapel — What it Means
This past Saturday, Cadet Chapel at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point was the site of a same-sex marriage ceremony. It was a first for the stately chapel, and it came over a year after President Obama rescinded the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” that prohibited openly-gay people from serving in the U.S. military.
As NBC News reported:
“Penelope Gnesin and Brenda Sue Fulton, a West Point graduate, were exchanging vows in the regal church in an afternoon ceremony attended by around 250 guests and conducted by a senior Army chaplain.”
“Fulton said the only hassle involved in arranging her ceremony came when she was initially told that none of West Point’s chaplains were authorized by their denominations to perform same-sex weddings. Luckily, she said, they were able to call on a friend, Army Chaplain Col. J. Wesley Smith. He is the senior Army chaplain at Dover Air Force Base, where he presides over the solemn ceremonies held when the bodies of soldiers killed in action oversees return to U.S. soil. The couple planned on adding other military trappings to their wedding, including a tradition called the saber arch, where officers or cadets hold their swords aloft over the newlyweds as they emerge from the church.”
Though the wedding was the first held in the Gothic-styled Cadet Chapel, it was the second at West Point. The first was just a week earlier, held in a smaller chapel on the campus.
According to the Pentagon, the ceremony did not indicate the Army’s approval of same-sex marriage — a doubtful point made necessary by fact that the Federal government defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
What does all this mean? The celebration of a same-sex marriage ceremony in Cadet Chapel at West Point, complete with the saber arch and full military honors, represents a huge step toward the normalization of same-sex marriage, and of homosexuality itself, in the larger society. The event was a powerful symbol of the great revolution in sexual morality that marks our times.
3. Sharia Law Combines with Autocracy in Egypt
Last week, Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi consolidated his grip on power, establishing himself as an autocrat with apparently unlimited political power. Morsi had previously handed down a set of decrees that established his rule as beyond any judicial constraint, leading to protests in the streets.
As last week came to an end, Morsi approved a rushed new draft of an Egyptian constitution. To no one’s surprise, the draft constitution supports Morsi’s new claims to power. Also to no one’s surprise, the new constitution bears all the marks of influence by Morsi’s colleagues in the Muslim Brotherhood.
The new constitution includes references to Sharia law, without specific language that would limit its application.
As The Wall Street Journal reported:
“The draft constitution was finished early Friday by Egypt’s 100-member Constituent Assembly, a body that had been conceived as representing Egyptians broadly. The group became dominated by Islamist politicians, however, after it was boycotted by Christian and secular members who had made up more than one-quarter of it.”
“Many legal experts said they saw major ambiguities and contradictions in several articles dealing with the role of Shariah, or Islamic law; the powers of the president and the legislature; the nature of the judicial and electoral systems; and the establishment of regulatory and oversight bodies and agencies.”
This is a sad development for Egypt. As one observer noted, the new constitution combines the autocracy of Anwar Sadat with the Islamist agenda of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead of an Arab Spring, the signs in Egypt point to a new dark and dangerous epoch.
4. The Two-Edged Sword of Palestinian Statehood
The decision of the United Nations to grant “observer state” status to the Palestinians last week is still reverberating throughout the world. The U.N. took this action despite the fact that the Palestinians have utterly failed to meet the most minimal criteria for statehood. The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934) represents the international standard for defining the marks of statehood. According to that agreement: “The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”
The Palestinians have met none of these requirements. To the credit of the Obama Administration, Susan Rice, the U.S Ambassador to the United Nations, set her argument clearly: “This resolution does not establish that Palestine is a state.”
Nevertheless, the granting of “observer state” status does mean that the Palestinians can now claim to be a state, and to appeal for membership on U.N. bodies and international tribunals such as the International Criminal Court.
This may set up an interesting two-edged sword for the Palestinians, as Christine Hauser of The New York Times reports:
“In recent years, the Palestinian Authority has tried to have its accusations of Israeli war crimes investigated by the International Criminal Court, only to see its request go nowhere because the Palestinian territories were not recognized as a state. But now the court says it will take a fresh look at the issue after the United Nations General Assembly voted to enhance the standing of the Palestinians, conferring on them the word “state” as part of their new status as nonmember observers. On Friday, a spokeswoman for the prosecutors office said it ‘will consider the implications of this resolution.'”
That represents a threat to Israel, which could now find itself tied up in international criminal courts for decades. But the double-edged nature of the threat was also made clear by the Times.
“Some analysts said that by accepting the jurisdiction of the court, the Palestinians could also open themselves up to prosecution for war crimes, including Hamas’s attacks on Israeli civilians.”
The action of the U.N granting observer state status to the Palestinians is likely to breed more division, rather than to enhance the cause of peace.
5. Does Justice Require that Stay-at-Home Moms Leave Home?
Jill Filipovic of The Guardian [London] begins her article by pointing to a recent statement by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bade Ginsburg that has drawn a good bit of controversy. Justice Ginsburg said last month that there will be enough women on the Supreme Court when there are nine female justices.
In her words:
“So now the perception is, yes, women are here to stay. And when I’m sometimes asked when will there be enough [women on the supreme court]? And I say when there are nine, people are shocked. But ther’d been nine men, and nobody’s ever raised a question about that.”
Filipovic then argued that “It’s not unreasonable to think that, at some point, nine of the finest legal minds in the country would belong to women.
Interestingly, that is where the article actually gets interesting. Filipovic turns to argue why more women are not reaching the highest ranks of the law. Her answer is that the desire to “have it all” takes many women out of the routes to power in the law and other professions. As women decide to marry and have children they take on responsibilities that limit their progress in their chosen profession.
In an extended argument, Filipovic argues that many men actually do “have it all” because they have stay-at-home wives. As she explains,
“Consider, for example, the fact that only 44% of married male lawyers have a spouse who is employed full-time. That means that more than half of male lawyers have a person at home who can dedicate significant amounts of time to taking care of every aspect of the couples’ out-of-work life: housekeeping, childcare, home finances, vacation-planning, social calendaring. Female lawyers, by contrast, are overwhelmingly married to partners who have full-time jobs. It’s a whole lot easier to be the kind of employee who works 16-hour days and dedicates your life to your job when that’s the only thing you actually have to worry about – because you have a spouse who takes care of all the rest.”
Her answer to this inequity?
“Justice Ginsburg is right: there will be enough women on the supreme court when we see it filled by nine female justices. But that won’t happen until women have real access to power and when, crucially, men start to change by actually pulling their own weight, not relying on stay-at-home wives, being aware of just how deep unconscious gender bias goes, making efforts to promote and mentor women, and recognizing that, for all of their individual hard work, they were also given a heck of a lot for free.”
She asserts that men must pull their own weight and stop “relying on stay-at-home wives.” In her worldview, justice requires that stay-at-home wives and moms must leave home and go into the workforce simply because their existence in the home is harming their professional sisters.
Filipovic is not alone in making this kind of argument, but it is still worth taking a clear-headed look at it when it appears in public. Brace yourselves for similar arguments to come. The feminist movement is supposed to be all about choice, but leading feminists show little respect for women who decide to stay at home as wives and mothers.
I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.
Links to articles cited:
TODAY: Another Decision Day at the Supreme Court — Marriage on the Line / Does the Fiscal Cliff Really Matter? / The Gender Police Hit a Toy Store / The United Nations Grants Palestinians Observer State Status, But Where is the State? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.
1. Another Day of Decision at the U.S. Supreme Court — Marriage on the Line
The justices of the U.S. Supreme Court will meet behind closed doors today to decide whether to take a case that will require the Court to rule on the question of same-sex marriage. The case in question today is an appeal by defenders of California’s Proposition 8, the measure passed by the voters of that state in 2008. That voter initiative defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman, overturning a decision by the California Supreme Court that legalized same-sex marriage.
Advocates for same-sex marriage went to the Federal courts, demanding a repeal of Proposition 8. They won at both a Federal District Court in San Francisco and at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.
Defenders of Proposition 8 now hope for the U.S. Supreme Court to take the appeal. Otherwise, the decision of the Ninth Circuit will stand and Proposition 8 will be stricken down.
As Bill Mears, Supreme Court reporter for CNN explains:
“The justices will meet privately Friday for a closed-door conference to decide if they will accept any of 10 pending appeals, essentially over whether a fundamental constitutional right for gays and lesbians to marry exists. If they agree to hear the issue, oral arguments would be likely be held in March with a ruling by late June.”
In other words, the Court could also decide to take another case on the same issue, particularly one that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] that defines marriage for the Federal government as the union of a man and a woman.
Political considerations are always at work, as Mears acknowledges:
“As more states legalize same-sex marriage, one of the key questions the justices may be forced to address is whether a national consensus now exists supporting the idea of expanding an “equal protection” right of marriage to homosexuals. Three separate issues confront the justices, who are likely to only accept only one for review in coming months. These include federal benefits, state benefits and state referendums.”
One way or another, the Supreme Court will have to rule on some question related to same-sex marriage. If it decides to take one of these cases now, it could hand down a decision that is limited in effect to California, or it could also take either the Proposition 8 case or the DOMA case and hand down a ruling with nationwide effect. Even if a decision has direct implications only for California, the impact will be national. The direction set by the Supreme Court in any one of these cases will tell us a very great deal about the direction the Court intends to go on the larger question of same-sex marriage and the law.
2. Does the Fiscal Cliff Really Matter?
Should Christians in the United States give much attention to the fight in Washington over the so-called “Fiscal Cliff?” The short answer to that question is yes. The Fiscal Cliff is not the largest financial, economic, or political crisis facing the United States — but it is the most urgent.
Just what is the Fiscal Cliff? The Wall Street Journal explains it succinctly:
“The fiscal cliff is the combination of large spending cuts and tax increases that are scheduled to be automatically enacted at the start of 2013. Bush-era income-tax cuts will expire for tens of millions of Americans, and billions of dollars of spending cuts will take effect because Congress couldn’t reach a deal last year to reduce the deficit by at least $1.2 trillion over 10 years. Democrats want a combination of spending cuts and tax increases for upper-income households. Republicans want to cut spending but don’t want to raise tax rates, though they have signaled they would consider raising revenue through other measures, such as limiting deductions. Both want to avoid the fiscal cliff, because it forces severe cuts, particularly in military spending.”
This represents a true and urgent crisis — partly because the issues directly involved are so critical, but even more because the impact of “going over” the Fiscal Cliff would almost surely lead to another economic recession.
The prospects for avoiding that catastrophe are not clear, given the divide that separates Democrats and Republicans. Nevertheless, neither party can afford to allow the nation to “go over” the Fiscal Cliff — nor to be seen as responsible for making that happen.
In the end, however, avoiding the Fiscal Cliff is not the greatest challenge our political leaders face. The greater challenge is dealing with the fact that we are borrowing ourselves into national peril, robbing future generations as we do. If the long-term economic facts are not faced with courage, the Fiscal Cliff of 2013 will be hardly worth remembering.
As Robert Pear of The New York Times explains, President Obama and the Democrats now face the greater responsibility — facing the crisis of entitlement spending.
As he reports:
“President Obama’s re-election and Democratic gains in Congress were supposed to make it easier for the party to strike a deal with Republicans to resolve the year-end fiscal crisis by providing new leverage. But they could also make it harder as empowered Democrats, including some elected on liberal platforms, resist significant changes in entitlement programs like Social Security and Medicare. As Congress returned Monday, the debate over those programs, which many Democrats see as the core of the party’s identity, was shaping up as the Democratic version of the higher-profile struggle among Republicans over taxes.”
Pear offers an insightful report, including the fact that some argue that if Social Security and Medicare are transformed by Democrats into welfare programs, rather than earned benefits, the programs themselves will quickly lose public support.
Any agreement will likely require an increase in Federal revenue by tax income. But no tax increase can come close to closing the gap on entitlement spending. That represents a moral crisis larger than any Fiscal Cliff.
3. The Gender Police Hit a Toy Store
Back on November 15 I reported on a preschool in Sweden that had disallowed the use of masculine and feminine pronouns among the children. The pronouns for “he’ and “she” are now replaced with “hen,” a newly created word that is supposedly free from gender.
As reporter John Tagliabue of The New York Times told the story:
“At an ocher-color preschool along a lane in Stockholm’s Old Town, the teachers avoid the pronouns ‘him’ and ‘her,’ instead calling their 115 toddlers simply ‘friends.’ Masculine and feminine references are taboo, often replaced by the pronoun ‘hen,’ an artificial and genderless word that most Swedes avoid but is popular in some gay and feminist circles.”
The article also included this:
“Peter Rudberg, 36, an anesthesiologist whose 3-year-old son, Hjalmar, attends the kindergarten, called its gender-neutral approach ‘a boon,’ though, like many Swedes, he believes the country has moved beyond the problem. ‘In modern Sweden, gender equality is a nonissue,’ he said. Yet he cautioned against extremes, like ‘boys prohibited from playing boys’ games.'”
Well, Mr. Rudberg, you had better watch what is happening at Top Toy, a major toy store chain in Sweden. As The Herald Sun [Australia] reports, the Swedish affiliate of Toys-R-Us has had to go gender-neutral in advertising, after being sanctioned by the national advertising authority for the crime of portraying boys with toy machine guns and girls with dolls.
From the report:
“The country’s advertising watchdog reprimanded the company for gender discrimination three years ago following complaints over outdated gender roles in the 2008 Christmas catalogue, which featured boys dressed as superheroes and girls playing princess. A comparison between this year’s Toys R Us catalogs in Sweden and Denmark, where Top Toy is also the franchisee, showed that a boy wielding a toy machine gun in the Danish edition had been replaced by a girl in Sweden. Elsewhere, a girl was Photoshopped out of the ‘Hello Kitty’ page, a girl holding a baby doll was replaced by a boy, and, in sister chain BR’s catalogue, a young girl’s pink T-shirt was turned light blue. Top Toy, Sweden’s largest toy retailer by number of stores, said it had received ‘training and guidance’ from the Swedish advertising watchdog, which is a self-regulatory agency.”
Reflecting the “training and guidance” the company had received from the advertising police, the Director of Sales told the paper: “With the new gender thinking, there is nothing that is right or wrong. It’s not a boy or girl thing, it’s a toy for children.”
Does he actually believe that? Note that the “gender-neutral” approach required “photoshopping” the photographs. Actual children allowed to choose for themselves are unlikely to get with this program, regardless of the advertising. Gender still matters. Give a six-year-old boy a doll this Christmas and you will probably see that truth in living color.
4. The United Nations Grants the Palestinians Observer State Status — But Where is the State?
Voting 138-9, the United Nations General Assembly granted the Palestinians observer state status, handing Palestinian leaders a great gift. The new status will allow the Palestinians to participate in debates at the U.N. and to request seating on U.N. agencies and the International Criminal Court.
The move was strongly opposed by both Israel and the United States. Very few media reports even mentioned the fact that the Palestinians had utterly failed to meet the leading criteria for state status, but they were granted observer state status anyway.
The Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States (1934) represents the gold standard for defining the marks of statehood. According to that international agreement:
“The state as a person of international law should possess the following qualifications: a ) a permanent population; b ) a defined territory; c ) government; and d) capacity to enter into relations with the other states.”
The Palestinians have met none of these criteria. Most importantly, the failure of the Palestinians to form a stable government is made clear by the fact that the Palestinian Authority is not even in functional control of Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.
This was a political decision that was as much about marginalizing Israel as about rewarding the Palestinians.
Links to articles cited:
TODAY: The Digital Divide — Where the Young People Are / Filtering the Flood in the Digital Age / Are Hindus and Muslims Better at Practicing what They Preach? / The Rise of Muslim Atheists? / You Mean Judges Have Worldviews, Too? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.
1. The Digital Divide — Where the Young People Are
Retailers have no choice but to go where consumers are. The Wall Street Journal took a look at a typical American family, the Ulitcans of Columbus, Ohio. The fifty-something parents have four children, ranging in age from 10 to 27. The parents do their Christmas shopping in local stores and the local shopping mall.
Their children do not follow the same pattern. As Shelly Banjo reports, they do most of their shopping online. While the parents are at the mall, “the offspring mostly ignore the holiday décor, and instead peer into their smartphones, comparing prices, looking for deals and seeking friends’ advice about potential purchases.”
Americans under age 29 are, on average, fully immersed in the digital age. Younger Americans are rightly defined as “digital natives” who stay in almost constant digital contact.
The Journal describes a “generational shopping split” to which retailers must respond, or find themselves soon out of business.
As the paper reports:
“Technology plays an increasing role in the generational shopping split. Millennials are 2½ times more likely to be early adopters of technology than older generations, serving as a leading indicator for retailers of what is likely to become mainstream, said Christine Barton, a partner at Boston Consulting Group. Millennials are more likely than older shoppers to check out brands on social networks (53% versus 37%) and use mobile devices to read reviews, research products and compare prices while shopping (50% versus 21%), according to a recent BCG/Barkley report.”
And the Millennials are a formidable challenge as they move into adulthood. They represent the future buying public.
The Journal recognizes this fact:
“The 79 million people who make up the Millennial generation wield $200 billion in annual spending power. While that is only a sliver of the $3.4 trillion that baby boomers spend each year, analysts say, retailers need to try to nab those younger shoppers now, because their spending is likely to rival the boomers’ as early as 2020 and they already exert a disproportionate influence on their parents’ spending decisions.”
Of course, The Wall Street Journal is interested in what this means for retailers and the business community, but the article is a wake-up call for the church and Christian leaders as well.
Put bluntly. if you want to reach younger Americans, you will have to engage them online. Shopping malls cannot safely assume that the Millennials and their younger siblings will eventually make their way into their stores. This generation looks first to the Internet and social media. If an organization, business, or church is not present in a credible way online, you are writing off influence with younger Americans — something no church can afford to do.
Christian leaders who want to influence the Millennials and other young Americans must join them where are — online — and in an effective manner. Otherwise, we will find ourselves talking only to older Americans and find ourselves and our churches in the same peril as the shopping malls.
2. Filtering the Flood in the Digital Age
Feel overwhelmed by information and entertainment? You are not alone. The Columbia Journalism Review reports this month that the average American home is now drowning in data.
The Review cited a study that compared the amount of information coming into the average American home in 1960 and in 2005. According to the report:
“They found that in 1960 there were 82 minutes of media coming into the home each day for every minute someone in the household actually consumed media. In 2005, that number had grown to 884 incoming minutes for each minute of consuming. Our information overload is nearly 11 times greater than it was 45 years ago. Shocked? No, probably not, but perhaps comforted that there is a plausible number to attach to your sense of the avalanche.”
That overload was dated to 2005 — we are now surely living under an even greater avalanche. We all need filters to help us decide what to read, listen to, and watch. Furthermore, we need a whole new set of skills in terms of analyzing, understanding, and evaluating our media and information intake.
The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that younger Americans are increasingly adept at receiving several streams of information at once — a process often called multitasking. There are real questions about the effectiveness of this process, but this is the new normal for the Digital Natives.
The Review notes the fact that Americans seem overwhelmed by this avalanche because we are overwhelmed. Those of us who fail to develop critical skills in filtering what we really need to take in will almost certainly find ourselves drowning in data, but knowing less and less rather than more and more.
3. Are Hindus and Muslims Better at Practicing What They Preach?
The Christian Century and Religion News Service report that a new study published in the American Sociological Review claims that Hindus and Muslims practice what they preach at a level that exceeds the faithfulness of both Christians and Jews.
Jeanie Groh reports, “With their ‘True Love Waits’ jewelry, conferences and T-shirts, Christians may be the face of the abstinence movement, but Muslims and Hindus are more likely to abstain from premarital sex.”
Researchers Amy Adamczyk and Brittany E. Hayes of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice “found that 94 percent of Jews in the nations they studied reported having premarital sex, compared to 79 percent of Christians, 65 percent of Buddhists, 43 percent of Muslims and 19 percent of Hindus. As for extramarital sex, 4 percent of Jews reported having sex outside of marriage, compared to 3 percent of Christians. Less than 1 percent each of Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists reported having sex outside of marriage.”
That is a very significant embarrassment for Christianity, but there is more to the story. It turns out that most of the Hindus and Muslims included in the study were from cultures that strongly opposed sex outside of marriage. As one sociologist cited in the article explained, “the burka really works.” In many Muslim cultures, young men and women are strictly segregated until marriage — making premarital sex all but impossible.
The real insight from the report should be the impact of secularization on sexual morality. In the secularized West, people can identify themselves as Christians without making any real identification with Christian beliefs or morality. Before the impact of secularization and the marginalization of Christian sexual morality, the cultures of the West were just as opposed to premarital sex and all sex outside of marriage.
Secularization matters, and once the binding authority of a biblical morality is gone, the sexual morality is transformed. One humbling word for Christians comes from a Muslim authority:
“In consistently reminding others and oneself of the importance of modest dress, modest actions and modest interactions, Muslims tend to inculcate the concepts of sexual morals from a young age.”
That was once also true of those who call themselves Christians.
4. The Rise of Muslim Atheists?
The Economist [London] reports that Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken — but they have to be very careful. Atheism remains a crime, often punishable by death, in most of the Muslim world.
According to the report:
“Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—ahudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offenses.”
“In reality such punishments are rarely meted out. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred. (Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.”
Once again, secularization plays an important role. Ex-Muslim atheists tend to make themselves known only in Western nations where such declarations are safe. There is a “Council of Ex-Muslims” in Britain, but not in Iran, where atheism is punished by the death penalty.
Consider this rather stark statement from the report: “A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, found that 84% of Muslims in Egypt and 86% in Jordan backed the death penalty for apostates, compared with 51% in Nigeria and 30% in Indonesia.”
Despite headlines such as this one in The Economist, don’t expect a tidal wave of declared Ex-Muslim atheists anytime soon.
5. You Mean Judges Have Worldviews, Too?
Americans often imagine that judges are impartial agents, able to evaluate questions of law without personal bias. That is nonsense, of course. Putting on a black robe does not eliminate the importance of worldview.
That point is made very clear in a book to be released early next year by Harvard University Press. The book, The Behavior of Federal Judges, looked at judicial decisions in the Federal courts and analyzed the decisions and opinions, judge by judge, on the basis of the party affiliation of the President who nominated them to the bench.
The book has already engendered controversy, as demonstrated in an article about the book published in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times.
As reporter Adam Liptak reveals, the book demonstrates a pervasive link between the judgments of judges and the party affiliation of the nominating presidents.
As Liptak reports:
“Many judges hate it when news reports note this sort of thing, saying it undermines public trust in the courts by painting them as political actors rather than how they like to see themselves — as disinterested guardians of neutral legal principles. But there is a lot of evidence that the party of the president who appointed a judge is a significant guide to how that judge will vote on politically charged issues like affirmative action.”
As the authors of the book assert: “Justices appointed by Republican presidents vote more conservatively on average than justices appointed by Democratic ones, with the difference being most pronounced in civil rights cases.”
Is anyone honestly surprised by this? The pattern revealed in this book powerfully affirms the importance of worldview in human thinking. Judges, it turns out, are no different from the rest of us. They, too, operate on the basis of a worldview, and that worldview actually explains why they were chosen by a president who, more often than not, shared their worldview (or believed that they shared a worldview).
Worldview matters — it always matters. For Christians, faithfulness requires the development of a truly biblical worldview from which everything else follows. This new book makes the importance of worldview clear — for all of us.
I discuss these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.
Links to articles cited:
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