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Culture Friday: Punch right, coddle left

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WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Punch right, coddle left

Pope Francis sacks a conservative American cardinal, cancel culture comes for a German day care named after Anne Frank, and what’s behind rising suicide numbers


Pope Francis Associated Press/Photo by Andrew Medichini

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 1st of December, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Just a big word of thanks if you were one of the record-breaking number of new donors who became WORLD Movers for the very first time. Thank you so much.

BROWN: Calling what you did “record-breaking” is really inadequate. Listen to this: we had almost double the number of new WORLD Movers this year over last. We’ve never seen anything like that. That kind of growth is extraordinary and we’re humbled by it. We’re so grateful.

EICHER: And I want you to know that this very weekend, we’ve pulled in about a dozen of our WORLD people for some professional development. That will be a part of rolling out for you, we hope sometime in the first quarter of the new year—certainly by early second quarter—an all-new weekend edition of The World and Everything in It.

We’re going to take the efforts that go into making our standalone podcasts, the things you’ve enjoyed but only occasionally, like Legal Docket, Effective Compassion, Lawless, Listening In, Doubletake, Truth Be Told.

And we’ll present that kind of long-form journalistic storytelling, combine that with good interviewing of great guests, add in some inventive new features, and give you some good listening for your weekends, a [big] weekend edition of The World and Everything in It every weekend, and it’s your support that will help to make that happen.

BROWN: So we’re very encouraged by the new-donor response. We’re hopeful about the December Giving Drive that’s coming up, and we’re busy creating, building on the week-day success of The World and Everything in It.

We will keep you posted!

For now, though, it’s Culture Friday.

Joining us now is John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint Podcast. John, good morning.

JOHN STONESTREET: Good morning.

EICHER: Maybe it’s inside-baseball around the Roman Catholic Church, but important, I think: the story this week that one of the conservative cardinals in the church, Cardinal Raymond Burke, was kicked out of the church hierarchy, and the Pope made Burke pack his things and move out of his Vatican apartment. And this followed the forcible removal of another troublesome priest the bishop in Texas, Joseph Strickland.

Now, some may say that the pope isn’t completely one-sided, that he’s told the German bishops who are the most liberal pushing for an array of pro-LGBTQ changes that the pope told them to pipe down, and church teaching would not change.

But as one of my favorite Catholic writers, Ross Douthat in The New York Times, noted a few days ago, you can’t help but notice the difference in the punishments. Quoting him here: “Both sides will note, for instance, that criticizing the pope earns you a sacking, but seeming doctrinal disobedience merits only a sternly worded letter.”

How do you read these moves by the pope?

STONESTREET: Well, like you, I think Douthat's probably got a pretty strong read on it because that's really what it seems. I mean, from the very beginning, this pope has become more and more and more like a kind of a center, center left evangelical in their approach to the various sides, you punch right and you coddle left. And that's what this pope has done more and more and more. Just like, you know, mainstream evangelical publishers do. You know, I get four or five manuscripts of kind of edgy, maybe Christian should rethink the Second Amendment or even the first amendment for every single conservative take on those same topics I get. 

The same thing has to do with evangelical institutions and pro-LGBTQ things, you know, if you voted for the wrong guy in 2016, or 2020, I mean, this is a real reason for some to doubt your loyalty to Christ and, and proclaim that you're doing “real damage” to the evangelical church and yet you turn around and becoming fully affirming or becoming so confusing you might as well be affirming, like many evangelical voices has. I think this is something that Rosaria Butterfield has been speaking up about an awful lot lately. 

And you know, I guess, to me, it's just so interesting to see these two things almost mirror each other: the evangelical milieu where again, you punch right hard and you coddle left. And this is something I think Carl Truman actually wrote about just last week in World Opinions, same sort of thing. And you're seeing it then in this top-down, power, heavy hierarchical body. And it really then underscores the importance of doctrine, at the basis of what we think is legitimate Christianity, and whether we actually think ideas and coming up with the wrong ideas, and being loyal and allegiant to the wrong ideas is as dangerous or more dangerous than misbehaving. And it does seem to me to be plainly obvious, and it seems to be a problem that is inflicting all the major historical expressions of Christianity right now.

BROWN: John, I’m going to steal a phrase from one of your latest Breakpoint articles “Cancel culture comes for Anne Frank.” You know the story. Let me paint the picture for our listener.

Parents of a German daycare center named after Anne Frank proposed a name change, because they said it was too difficult to explain the significance of Frank to their children. The school director agreed, saying it was better to choose a name without political background.

Essentially, they wanted to edit history to fit their comfort level.

I started thinking about this John, and in the back of my head I could hear a proponent of critical race theory asking this question: How are those parents in Germany any different from parents in this country who oppose critical race theory?

In other words, CRT proponents argue the conservative right is trying to prevent such curriculum from being taught in schools because CRT is the ugly truth of American history, a history that includes slavery.

So, what’s the difference?

STONESTREET: You know, I think it's a legitimate question, actually. And I think for some, there wouldn't be a difference. It would be trying to whitewash the history that you don't like on one side, versus whitewashing the history you don't like on the other side. And I think for some, the conversations have, I think, revealed that we're not thinking honestly about issues of race. And that's why for a long time, I've really tried to push, look, the racial history of the United States is one that actually needs to be taught. But CRT should not be in schools for two reasons. Number one, it's the wrong way of talking about race. It just is. And it actually introduces categories of morality and categories of human identity that are fundamentally wrong and even fundamentally dangerous. 

And it also then actually misrepresents history, only in another way. And when parents legitimately complain about CRT, that's what they're complaining about and they're right to do so. I think though, and we've had some voices basically say if you hear any of these kind of phrases, that's what CRT is. And sometimes that's true. And sometimes that's not, and some people are basically opposing any conversation about race at all, in education. And that's not helpful, nor is it biblical, nor is it true. And we got to deal with the fact that there is a history of racism in the world. It takes the form of being preferential to some groups of people over and above others, instead of seeing the value of each and every individual person as made in the image of God and inherently valuable. And ironically, that's the mistake that CRT makes, as well as seeing people as groups of people, and therefore not as good as other people. 

You know, in the case of the German daycare center story, that was just weird. In a context right now of, you know, kind of rampant anti-semitism, with the whole history of Anne Frank, and the need to just be really clear on who the Nazis were, and so on. And look, it was a daycare center. So we're talking about really little kids, I'm not sure how many conversational crises you kind of you know, have around the dinner table with four-year-olds, you know about this. So it was basically an attempt to just get rid of the problem altogether, when there was a real opportunity to hold up who Anne Frank was in a really simple way that young kids could understand. And that's a way to advance learning. 

So education should not be moderated by comfort level, that should fundamentally not be the way we approach it. And so, you know, you're, I think that's why the question you asked is a legitimate one, that that's the basis upon which we're deciding what we teach and what topics we cover and what names we use and what statues we removed, then that's the absolute wrong approach, because you got to be age appropriate. You can do that I think in really meaningful ways. And getting at the truth, and helping kids get to the truth is what education is all about.

BROWN: And we should add, we should say that public backlash was strong and so the trustees of that particular school decided to reverse the action.

STONESTREET: Yeah, that's right, it was and we can be thankful for that, that a lot of other people kind of came around and kind of spoke some sanity, you know, into that situation in Germany.

EICHER: John, you’ve talked before about deaths from despair, this terrible trend, and here’s a development: new numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, government numbers, WORLD reporting this week:

Nearly 50,000 people in the United States died by suicide last year. The CDC published its report on Wednesday. Year-on-year, it’s a rise of three percent. But it marks the highest number ever recorded in a single year, going back to at least 1941. Men were about four times more likely than women to take their own lives. And the only bright spot in the grim report: suicide rates dropped for children and young adults between 10 and 24.

But you know it’s serious when the government has made available a three-digit hotline 988 for people who are in crisis. A good development, but bad news that it’s necessary.

So John, in the past we’ve sort of attributed the spike possibly to isolation due to Covid, but this is 2022. It’s not Covid.

STONESTREET: No, I think it's in the wake of it, I think it's in the wake of the things that were worsened. But these trend lines started before COVID, and they got worse after COVID. And so what we're talking about here is a crisis of meaning, a crisis of trust, a crisis of identity, and a crisis of connection. And these are inevitable crises when we disconnect people into radical individuals. And we tell them that they have to construct their own meaning, they have to actually impose their own identity on the rest of the world, they have to get everybody else to agree with it. We've put a level of pressure, especially on young people's heads, and the other group too, that are failing this, and the numbers are really bad, are middle aged and upper middle aged men. And between the two of these things, clearly money's not the problem. And money is not the answer. It is this catastrophic loss of meaning of trust, of connection, and of identity. And I think at the root of that we left people with their feet firmly planted in midair. And eventually, the question of why not, why shouldn't I do this, becomes unanswerable for them. 

It's an epidemic, the World Health Organization just launched a task force as well to combat loneliness as a global health epidemic. I don't believe almost anything they say. But they're right on identifying that there's a crisis here. Which of course, is ironic, because we're more connected in so many ways than ever before. When we're connected globally, we're more connected through technology and through relationships. And we're more in touch with people on social media platforms than ever before, and we're more lonely. 

So look, there's just a bunch of irony that kind of emerges at the level of the ultimate questions. Who am I? Why am I here? what's right and wrong. When you pull God out of the picture, you untether people and so people are free floating, and then you're like, you know, be yourself and what does that even mean? The compass doesn't apply if your feet aren’t on the ground, and I think it's going to get worse before it gets better. This is a trend line – it predates COVID and it's gotten worse since.

BROWN: John Stonestreet is president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast. Thanks, John!

STONESTREET: Thank you both!


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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