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Culture Friday: Ranking religious liberty

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WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Ranking religious liberty

Plus: What to look for in a candidate and the ethics of AI


AI apps on a smartphone screen, July 12 OLIVIER MORIN/AFP via Getty Images

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s the 21st day of July 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. 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.

BROWN: John, you’re in Colorado. I’m in Alabama and Nick is in Missouri! None of our three states made it to the top ten list of states upholding religious liberty.

What surprised me is the state ranked #1 for validating religious liberty: Illinois! Last on the list: West Virginia. But, you know, if not this list, what should we be looking for as it relates to states upholding religious rights?

STONESTREET: Wow, I'm still just kind of speechless by the ranking itself. I'm not sure that I buy the system, I mean, there's some really good folks that are behind this, I do want to, you know, acknowledge that. And the ranking is based on some safeguards. And these safeguards have to basically do with the protection of religious practice. What it doesn't really have anything to do with is the public expression of faith in terms of especially areas of commerce. So, I mean, according to this ranking the state of Washington, the state of Washington that waged a 10 year war on Barronelle Stutzman trying to force her to violate her conscience and how she actually entered the public square ranks sixth. Now, what they clearly get right is California, which ranks 48, and Colorado, which ranks 41st, and is an absolute disaster, and is only getting worse and worse and worse and worse. For example, you can't even basically run a pregnancy resource center there without being accused of, you know, basically false advertising. And you actually can't even if you believe that you should, you're not allowed to prescribe the abortion pill reversal in my state. These aren't things that are measured in this index. These are not things that are about safeguards. It's about you know, can we be sure that the government isn't really going to step on your faith. It's not really is the government going to create space for the faithful to enter the public society, although it does say that one of the safeguards includes non-participation of a for-profit business. Well, based on that criteria alone, I'm not sure where Washington fits in, but I'd have to see how the math is done. It's just an odd list to see and an odd ordering. It's kind of like when people are like, you know, name, you know, the 10 greatest NBA players of all time, and you're gonna get a whole lot of different answers based on whether you're asked a boomer, an Xer, or a Gen Z. And of course, I'm the one that has the right answer to that question.

EICHER: John, I hope you paid attention to the Republican candidate forum up in Iowa last weekend, the Family Leader Summit. Six candidates were there, not the frontrunner judging by the polls, former President Trump. But his chief rival Governor DeSantis was. Five others, including the former vice president Mike Pence. Other former Trump officials, Nikki Haley, the U.N. ambassador. A new voice who’s really getting a good hearing, tech entrepreneur Vivek Ramaswamy. Tim Scott, the South Carolina senator. Asa Hutchison, the former governor of Arkansas. Maybe it’s too early to tell and it’s certainly a hometown crowd, but that’s what a primary contest is. Two observations: First, the governor of Iowa timed the bill signing of the heartbeat pro-life bill to that summit … and second, the one candidate there who’d vetoed a measure to protect kids of transgender procedures … that was ex-governor Hutchison, went over like a lead balloon. But how do you evaluate the field, in terms of the cultural issues we’re paying most attention to?

STONESTREET: Well, look, I've got thoughts on you know who I want to be the nominee out of the GOP field, and you know what that will look like. I think it's early. I think Iowa gets an awful lot of attention but historically hasn't proven to be as important. I mean, you know, Mike Huckabee won the Iowa primaries. So did Rick Santorum if I I remember correctly. But right now, you know, it's going to play a bigger role, because it does signal where a lot of social conservatives are. And, you know, this idea, I think the media narrative that, you know, social conservatives, evangelicals, and I mean, evangelicals was I don't mean, those who are kind of claiming that title now in a weird sort of political affiliation way. But those who actually are committed to an ever joke or faith, these social issues are non negotiable, it's not going to be like, oh, you know, they're going to suddenly change their mind if President Trump says, we should actually, you know, preserve a woman's right to choose now it's a non starter. The fact that some GOP candidates are squishy on the transgender issue and all that that entails, especially when it comes to preserving parental rights and the rights of parents to help their children and the rights of parents not to have to give control of their children to government officials and various departments, this isn't going to be a non negotiable, they're not going to fold on this in order to get behind a particular candidate. That's what you're going to hear from some of the, you know, I think, major media outlets that evangelical voters believe whatever a handful of people say. So you're going to see that kind of excitement about candidates from people who are you know, I think serious about their faith. And that's what this particular event The Family Leader Summit, there in Iowa really represents and you have a very strong faith leader there, you have a very strong faith community that's united around that. And I tell you what, there is a level of moral clarity on abortion, and on the sex and gender issues like there isn't on almost anything else when it comes to the Republican platform. So I think one of the questions is going to be you know, how big of a role are the quote unquote nones, the N-O-N-E's that are, you know, kind of libertarian? Where are they going to come down on this? And even at that point, like America clearly is not ready for this hyper-transing of the world. It's certainly not where many people on the progressive left think, you know, just check out the Bud Light fiasco, if you need evidence of that. And the same sort of tone deafness and blindness that whoever greenlit that campaign has, you see from the media leads as well. So I think there could be surprises in store, you know, down the line, but it is awful early to know.

EICHER: OK, speaking of the candidates, I’ll use this as a transition to our next subject.

So, pay attention to the use of a technology that is much in the news. It’s an ad by a political action committee that supports Governor DeSantis, and it’s completely true, except in one respect. Former President Trump is quoted accurately. It’s something Trump put out. It’s fair game for criticism, but let’s just listen to it.

AUDIO: Governor Kim Reynolds is a conservative champion. So why is Donald Trump attacking her?

I opened up the governor position for Kim Reynolds and when she fell behind, I endorsed her, held big rallies, and she won. Now she wants to remain “neutral.” I don't invite her to events.

The Dispatch deserves credit for pointing this out and noting that the Trump quote is from Truth Social.

But the voice was an AI rendering of Trump, as if he’d vocalized it, which he did not.

As I say, I want to jump off here and ask you about artificial intelligence, John. A few weeks ago, we noted that Congress received some classified briefings on the subject and it appears they’re working on regulatory decisions to come. It seems we’re again in a situation where new technology is taking hold, and the science is way ahead of the ethics. We’re doing this backwards, aren’t we?

STONESTREET: Oh, absolutely, We should ethically figure out anything before we do it when it comes to technology, medicine or anything like that. We never do. We build the plane in the air, so to speak, at least the ethical plane in the air and sometimes the actual plane in the air. And that never works out. Well, I asked a educator actually this past week, very similar question like how is this going to change your job as a college professor? And he said, well, what it probably means is we're going to go back to requiring people to hand in papers that are handwritten, not typed. And I thought, Oh, that's a really interesting thing that you know, has changed the workload for some professors. But you know, what you think about this has to do with what you believe is true about the human person. Is human exceptionalism mimicable and to what degree is it mimicable? And is there someone out there who in his grace is holding back our bad intentions? And Scripture teaches that there is. And Scripture teaches that humans also have an incredible capacity to do almost anything that comes into their mind. You go back to the Bible story. And that's literally God's pronouncement about humans. And it's why he separated them. It's almost as if God saying, you know, they ought not do everything that comes into their minds. So I think AI is going to exceed our imaginations in many ways. But it's also not going to be some perfect problem-solving utopia that some people hope it is. There's not a way that we can actually evolve ourselves beyond the limits that God has created us with. Because if you are created, you have limits. Now God created us with an amazing amount of capacity to expand and to become more intelligent, and so on. So it doesn't mean it's fixed. So that's my best take on it that based on a biblical understanding of who we are, that's probably my best guess. We're going to be able to pull off some crazy things. So people who are just like AI will never happen. Well, it has to many, many degrees, people are like it will be somehow able to get around our human frailties. Well, we know those frailties are moral as much as anything else. And there are limits because of the fall as much as anything else. So we're, we're not going to be able to fully break through. And our best intentions do not make for a perfect world. And our fallen natures cannot be circumvented through technology. So this is kind of a biblical theology approach to it. And I think so those that are panicking and those that are thinking salvation is going to come from Elon Musk. Neither one of those things are true.

BROWN: All right. 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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