Dr. James Emery White

Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary

After This, The Deluge

After France lost the battle of Rossbach in 1757, the mistress of Louis XV, Madame de Pompadour, attempted to comfort the King by saying, “Après nous, le deluge.”

“After us, the deluge.”

[Or, if Louis XV said it himself, as some contend, it would be “Après moi, le deluge.”] 

The idea was that it mattered little what had happened. After all, it could flood tomorrow and all will be gone. So eat, drink and be merry. An alternate reading of the phrase is even more telling. “After this, the flood will come.”

Either reading would make the observation prescient.

Louis XV is widely credited for the severe weakening – internally and externally – of France. And then, fifteen years after his death, the devastation of the French Revolution broke out.

Like many, I have been stunned by the rapidly changing moral landscape; the floodgates that have opened through our culture’s recent moral freefall from earlier understandings of right and wrong, particularly of a sexual nature. And not even of right and wrong, but the obliteration of even the most basic of sexual constraints.

This is more than the legalization of gay marriage or the onslaught of “call me Cait.” Consider those symptoms of a much larger, and more deeply rooted, disease.

Consider the influential statements by outspoken celebrities such as Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus and Cara Delevingne. For example, Stewart, when asked about her sexuality in an interview said:

“I think in three or four years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s like, just do your thing.”

And from Miley Cyrus:

“[I don’t] relate to being boy or girl, and I don’t have to have my partner relate to boy or girl.”

And they are not alone.

For example, a recent U.K. study revealed that nearly half of all young people don’t think they are exclusively heterosexual. The YouGov survey revealed that 49% of people between the ages of 18 and 24 identified as something other than 100% heterosexual. This despite the repeated findings that only about 4% of the entire adult population are actually homosexual.

What is being revealed is an increasing “sexual fluidity” that refuses either the homosexual or heterosexual label. The idea is that both labels are repressive. Sexuality should be set free of any and all restrictions and allowed to follow its desire, moment by moment.

This isn’t a slippery slope. It’s something more substantive, more …

… frightening.

I cannot help but think of the telling phrase cited not once, not twice, but three times in Paul’s opening manifesto to the church at Rome. In speaking of, and to, the depravity of humanity, Paul’s prophetic words thundered:

“Therefore God gave them over” (Romans 1:24, NIV).

“Because of this, God gave them over” (Romans 1:26, NIV).

“… since they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, he gave them over …” (Romans 1:28, NIV).

Three times the idea was reiterated: God gave them over.

And to what did God give them over to?

It was the same in each instance:

“… [to] the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another” (Romans 1:24, NIV).

“… to shameful lusts” (Romans 1:26, NIV).

“… to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done” (Romans 1:28, NIV).

In other words, God turned them over to their sin, letting their choice for sin run its natural course as an act of judgment.

Many look at the cultural landscape of the West and either call for, or fear, God’s judgment. But what would the nature of such judgment be? Perhaps it will be nothing more, but nothing less, than being given over to our own choices.

As C.S. Lewis once observed, in the end, there will only be two verdicts: Men and women who said to God, “Thy will be done.” Or men and women hearing from that same God, “Thy will be done.”

“Après nous, le deluge.”

Perhaps that is the greatest judgment of all.

James Emery White

 

Sources

“Nearly half of young people don’t think they are heterosexual,” by Helena Horton, The Telegraph, August 17, 2015, read online.

“Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus and the Rise of Sexual Fluidity,” by Eric Sasson, The Wall Street Journal, August 17, 2015, read online.

 

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Annual Mindset List (2015)

It’s that time of year again. Students returning to colleges across the nation, including a new freshman class. Which means the annual college freshman mindset list from Beloit College; always a cultural cornucopia full of illumination.

I’ve picked a few of my favorites from their fifty-point list.

**********

Students heading into their first year of college this year are mostly 18 and were born in 1997. 

Among those who have never been alive in their lifetimes are Princess Diana, Notorious B.I.G., Jacques Cousteau, and Mother Teresa.

Joining them in the world the year they were born were Dolly the sheep, The McCaughey septuplets, and Michael “Prince” Jackson Jr.

Since they have been on the planet:

Hybrid automobiles have always been mass produced.

Google has always been there, in its founding words, “to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible.” 

They have never licked a postage stamp.

Email has become the new “formal” communication, while texts and tweets remain enclaves for the casual.

Four foul-mouthed kids have always been playing in South Park.

Hong Kong has always been under Chinese rule.

They have grown up treating Wi-Fi as an entitlement. 

The announcement of someone being the “first woman” to hold a position has only impressed their parents.

Charlton Heston is recognized for waving a rifle over his head as much as for waving his staff over the Red Sea.

Cell phones have become so ubiquitous in class that teachers don’t know which students are using them to take notes and which ones are planning a party.

If you say “around the turn of the century,” they may well ask you, “which one?”

They have avidly joined Harry Potter, Ron, and Hermione as they built their reading skills through all seven volumes.

Attempts at human cloning have never been federally funded but do require FDA approval.

The therapeutic use of marijuana has always been legal in a growing number of American states.

Teachers have always had to insist that term papers employ sources in addition to those found online. 

The Lion King has always been on Broadway.

At least Mom and Dad had their new Nintendo 64 to help them get through long nights sitting up with the baby.

First Responders have always been heroes.

Splenda has always been a sweet option in the U.S.

The Atlanta Braves have always played at Turner Field.

The proud parents recorded their first steps on camcorders, mounted on their shoulders like bazookas.

They had no idea how fortunate they were to enjoy the final four years of Federal budget surpluses.

**********

James Emery White

 

Sources

Click here to read the Beloit College Mindset List for 2019.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

The Coddling of the American Mind

In 1987, Allan Bloom dropped a cultural bomb on to U.S. intellectual soil with his surprise bestseller, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students. Bloom (now) famously opened his diatribe against cultural permissiveness and political correctness with the following words:

“There is one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative.”

Fast forward to 2015.

In a cover article in The Atlantic titled, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” authors Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt explore how in the name of “emotional well-being” college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like, and seeking punishment of those who give even accidental offense.

In other words, things aren't just “relative” anymore. “A movement is arising… to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense.”

And, of course, the idea of what causes discomfort or gives offense is highly… relative.

Two terms loom large on today’s campuses: first, “microaggressions.” These are small actions or word choices that “seem on their face to have no malicious intent but that are thought of as a kind of violence nonetheless.”

The second term is “trigger warnings.” This is what a professor is expected to issue “if something in a course might cause a strong emotional response.”

Sound good on the surface?

Keep in mind the “relative” aspect.

During the 2014-2015 school year, the deans and department chairs at the 10 University of California system schools were presented by administrators at faculty leader-training sessions with examples of microaggressions. The list of offensive statements included: “America is the land of opportunity” and “I believe the most qualified person should get the job.”

As Lukainoff and Haidt note, this is beyond political correctness. The ultimate aim, it seems, is to turn campuses into “safe spaces” where “young adults are shielded from words and ideas that make some uncomfortable… [and] this movement seeks to punish anyone who interferes with that aim.” 

Ready for another term? Try “vindictive protectiveness.”

In essence, in the name of emotional well-being, students can eliminate anything they do not want to think about, read about, or be challenged about. And penalize those who would expose them to it.

How?

In the name of “offense.”

“Emotional reasoning dominates many campus debates and discussions,” write Lukianoff and Haidt. “A claim that someone’s words are ‘offensive’ is not just an expression of one’s own subjective feeling of offendedness. It is, rather, a public charge that the speaker has done something objectively wrong.”

For example, a student at Indiana University-Purdue read a book titled Notre Dame vs. the Klan, a book which honored student opposition to the Ku Klux Klan when it marched on Notre Dame in 1924. The cover of the book featured a picture of a Klan rally. Despite the book’s actual content, the student was found guilty of racial harassment by the university’s Affirmative Action Office.

Why?

Someone was “offended.”

Or consider “Hump Day” at the University of St. Thomas in Minnesota. Inspired by Wednesday being known as “hump” day in the workweek, students would be allowed to see and pet a camel. 

But a group of students created a Facebook group protesting the event for animal cruelty, for being a waste of money, and for being insensitive to people from the Middle East (despite the event being devoid of any reference to Middle Eastern peoples).

The event was canceled because the “program [was] dividing people and would make for an uncomfortable and possible unsafe environment.”

All to say, the “thin argument ‘I’m offended’ becomes an unbeatable trump card.”

This is breeding a generation to “focus on small or accidental slights.” Even more, to then “relabel the people who have made such remarks as aggressors.”

Lukianoff and Haidt rightly opine, “What are we doing to our students if we encourage them to develop extra-thin skin in the years just before they leave the cocoon of adult protection and enter the workforce? Would they not be better prepared to flourish if we taught them to question their own emotional reactions, and to give people the benefit of the doubt? ... If students graduate believing that they can learn nothing from people they dislike or from those with whom they disagree, we will have done them a great intellectual disservice.”

They are right.

And it is a closing of the mind that goes beyond anything Bloom would have ever dreamed.

Except in a nightmare.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt, “The Coddling of the American Mind,” The Atlantic, September 2015, pp. 42-52, read online.

Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (Simon & Schuster, 1987)

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

Happiness, or Having Children?

Quick.      

Make a list of what could happen to your life that would be worse than divorce.

Worse than unemployment.

Even worse than the death of a spouse.

Still thinking?

Me too.

But even if I gave myself a long time to reflect, I cannot even begin to imagine putting “having a baby” on the list. And as a father of four, that’s not theoretical.

Yet according to a new study published in the journal Demography, having a child is not just bad, but devastatingly bad. Yep, worse than divorce, unemployment or even the death of your partner.

Here’s how the study worked: take 2,016 childless Germans and then study them until at least two years after the birth of their first child. Then, get them to rate their “happiness” from 0 (completely dissatisfied) to 10 (completely satisfied) in response to the question, “How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”

Why is something so generically worded instantly tied to the existence of a child? Researchers Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskyla respond, “Although this measure does not capture respondents’ overall experience of having a child, it is preferable to direct questions about childbearing because it is considered taboo for new parents to say negative things about a new child.”

Apparently the study’s goal was to try and find out why most couples in developed countries, such as Germany, say they want two children, yet the birthrate remains 1.5 per woman. And has for 40 years.

Here’s the comparative results:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion?

Having a baby proved to be so devastatingly horrific that plans for a second were scratched.

When asked what is so tough about having kids, the answers fell into three categories: the physical pain and nausea conflicted with the desire to work (and fathers were concerned about the medical issues of their partner), complications during the birth itself made them wonder whether to “go through it again,” and finally, "the continuous and intense nature of childrearing" was the biggest issue.

So what to make of this?

First, to ask people a generic happiness question that is not in specific reference to a new child, and then to tie their answer to their new child, is the worst type of “correlation.” The child may have had nothing to do with it, or at least not directly. A child will certainly bring many things to the surface – financial stress, pre-existing marital difficulties, in-law dynamics – but that is not the same as simply saying “children are a negative experience.”

Second, if you ask people what is tough about having a child, of course they are going to tell you issues related to the pregnancy and birth. There is nausea and conflict with work. There is pain in childbirth. But to say this is why they aren’t happy, or don’t want more kids, is proven false even by the study. In fact, the study found that the life satisfaction for most couples ticked up in the first year prior to birth. Translation: they viewed life more satisfactorily during pregnancy than before.

So what really is going on here?

I have an idea. 

Anyone who has had a child knows that it brings about radical change, and the most radical aspect of all is the death to self. Nothing forces you to become more selfless than the primary care of a child. You lose freedom to do whatever you want, whenever you want to do it. You might have to alter your employment situation. There are additional monetary expenses. 

And at no time is the “shock and awe” of these dynamics more in play than the first two years.

“How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”

Well, if you have lived a life with yourself at the center, and then suddenly find yourself having to die to yourself for another, your “satisfaction with life” may take a hit. Particularly if you deem “satisfaction with life” having “life” revolve around you.

So yes, it may “feel” worse than divorce, unemployment or even the death of a spouse.

That’s how much we value “self,” and how we have made “satisfaction” all about ourselves.

Yet it is only in dying to ourselves that we ever really come to life. When we choose to die to ourselves, prompted by love, a new dimension to living begins to aggressively take hold that changes us at the most foundational of levels.

Yes, it can be resisted and resented, but if embraced and pursued, it is the most beautiful, rewarding and fulfilling life that can be lived. In fact, the sheer joy of having children – not necessarily happiness, much less satisfaction, but joy – is unparalleled. 

There are some terribly misguided reasons to have a child, such as to “save” a marriage. But the most misguided of all is for your own personal fulfillment or satisfaction.

You have a child because of the overflow of love between you and your spouse; you have a child because of your desire to die to yourself and live for another; you have a child to invest yourself in family; you have a child for anything,

…but yourself.

Susan and I would be the first to go on record that if we had bypassed children, we would,

…have more money,

…have a bigger church,

…have traveled more,

…and lived a life of less joy, less fulfillment, less purpose, and much less love.

It’s been a good trade.

(And I haven’t even mentioned grandchildren!)

So let’s go back to the study’s question:

“How satisfied are you with your life, all things considered?”

It all depends on how you define the meaning of life.

James Emery White

 

Sources

Ariana Eunjung Cha, “It turns our parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment – even the death of a partner,” The Washington Post, August 11, 2015, read online.

Editor’s Note

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, which he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, The Rise of the Nones: Understanding and Reaching the Religiously Unaffiliated, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church and Culture blog, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on twitter @JamesEmeryWhite.

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