Culture Friday: Unalienable rights and Stranger Things


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Friday, the 12th of July. Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: And I’m Megan Basham. First up, Culture Friday.

This week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the formation of a new commission.

POMPEO: As that great admirer of American experiment Alex de Toqueville noted, democracies have a tendency to lose sight of the big picture in the hurly burly of everyday affairs. Every once in awhile we need to step back and reflect seriously on where we are, where we’ve been, and whether we’re headed in the right direction. And that’s why I’m pleased to announce today a Commission on Unalienable Rights.

Pompeo said human rights is too often—quote— “hijacked” for dubious or malignant purposes. So he’s created this new panel of religiously diverse experts to advise him.

REICHARD: The commission hasn’t started its work yet, but—surprise—it’s already stirring controversy. Democrats and left-leaning advocates denounced the group saying it will likely only serve to curtail the rights of women and LGBT people. 

Those critics took particular issue with the woman who will chair the commission: Mary Ann Glendon. She’s a Harvard law professor and former Ambassador to the Vatican in the George W. Bush administration. She’s also pro-life.

BASHAM: Here to talk about it is John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, good morning!

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Good morning!

BASHAM: What do you make of this new commission? 

STONESTREET: Well, I think it’s an absolutely necessary thing because the attacks on human dignity are kind of the story of modern Western culture. I mean, there’s a whole history to this. And the more secular our culture gets, the more dehumanizing it gets. And that’s just kind of the natural order of things. You can only properly value human beings in light of who they actually are as created in the image and likeness of God. But also human rights have been hijacked, the whole idea of human rights and human dignity—which, by the way, many philosophers including even folks like Frederich Neitzche identified as having their source as an idea in Christianity. In other words, the idea of human rights didn’t exist until Christianity gave it to the world. 

But now the intent is to often times keep the idea of human dignity—we like it. It’s a better world with it. But we want to untether it from its intellectual source. And so I think that’s what’s happening here. And the critiques of this, it’s just the way that things go. And it’s interesting to me, by the way, for the record, that those who are worried about a group curtailing the rights of women are worried because of the woman who’s leading it. I mean, this is the inconsistency that plagues our culture. That if you’re a woman and you’re pro-life, you don’t count. And Mary Ann Glendon is ultimately and imminently capable of leading this commission, and she’s going to lead it in a tremendous direction. She’s a rock star and she’s a very important thinker. So, I’m grateful that she was the selection for this post. 

BASHAM: Do you think some of these complaints from the LGBT community are just a reflection of the rights of religious people to live out their faiths versus the push to demand that they not live out their faith? I mean, is that a legitimate concern there? 

STONESTREET: No, I think that the point of this commission is to expand human rights and that includes—that’s specifically directed at individuals whose human rights are being curtailed. If there’s a group right now whose expansion of rights—even beyond rights into privileges—is most evident, it’s the LGBT community. There’s not a systemic set of persecutions or dehumanizations against this group of people. It’s remarkable, in fact, whatever essentially it seems they want to claim, they can have. And what other movement do we know of that just hijacked the marketing campaigns of entire industries for an entire month? You can’t think of a single other group, but that’s what happened in the month of June with the rainbowization. Is that a good word? Rainbowization? 

BASHAM: Yeah, I think rainbowization is a great one!

STONESTREET: Rainbowiszation of corporate America. 

BASHAM: OK, shifting gears, for the last couple of summers, a little show that could on Netflix has been dominating the pop-culture conversation. Stranger Things. 

Now, we don’t necessarily want to recommend it as it contains some language and scary imagery, but I do find its popularity really intriguing. It’s an a-political show set in small-town America at a time when the public by and large embraced patriotic spirit. 

And, unlike a lot of mainstream movies and TV set in the ’80s, it doesn’t try to show a dark underbelly of the Reagan era. As one of the creators said, “It’s not nasty or mean or condescending or ironic or any of those things a lot of content can be right now.” 

What do you make of the show’s popularity and ’80s nostalgia in general?

STONESTREET: I think it’s fascinating. It’s a very well-written show. It’s one of the most clever and the characters are just really compelling. And it’s creative in that it’s all of this new stuff, but in the middle of it you’re thinking of ET and you’re thinking of The Goonies and it’s really amazing. Now, part of that, too, is the worldview it reflects. The ‘80s were—it was a decade for movies that really reflected existentialism, which is we’ve got to make our own rules and our own meaning and reject authority. So if you think of Back to The Future and you think about ET, it’s the adults who are messing things up—maybe even the enemy—and it’s the kids who save the day. In Stranger Things, it’s the government programs, it’s foreign powers and it’s this kind of underbelly underworld. And, again, it’s the kids who save the day. Although, there are a couple good adult characters in it as well. So, it’s reflecting that whole ethos of the ‘80s. Now, I will say that there’s a couple things that trouble me throughout this. Number one is the sheer count of profanities from season one to season two to season three has just skyrocketed. And, of course, there’s also been—despite all the love—this questioning about when is an LGBT character going to show up? Again, what movement has the power to say, oh, you can’t be popular unless you have this represented well. And there it showed up in episode six of season three. And one of the things that struck me—

BASHAM: Spoiler alert, by the way. I watched the first episode and I started going—I’m expecting something. And we’re primed, right? I’m waiting for that moment. 

STONESTREET: Oh, yeah. And they anachronistically treated it. There’s nothing—Look, having grown up in that era, when someone comes out, that’s not how the whole thing goes down. But because we have these new categories that have been invented—like sexual orientation and identity being your sexual orientation and this kind of sense of tolerance of everything—the thing that I struck is that’s not how it would have happened in the ‘80s. Not that there weren’t characters and individuals in the ‘80s that were gay or lesbian. But it was not the same world. But they dealt with it as if it were the 21st century, as if it were our decade instead of the ‘80s. And that’s kind of like the epic wristwatch shows up in Braveheart sort of flub. It’s just, that’s not the way it would have went down. 

BASHAM: Well, and certainly not—definitely not in high school. Because I know, man, nobody would have come out in high school when I was—and I was in high school in the ‘90s and that wouldn’t have happened yet then. It was a very quick turn around.

Well, John Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. John, we’ll see you next time.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Megan.


(Photo/Stranger Things, Netflix)

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