The World and Everything in It — December 27, 2019

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: Good morning!

A look back at some of the biggest culture stories of 2019 and what they might tell us about what we can expect in 2020.

NICK EICHER, HOST: That’s ahead on Culture Friday. Also Megan has a review of the latest adaptation of the classic book Little Women.

And, I am nervous to say, our annual staff blooper reel!

BASHAM: It’s Friday, December 27th. This is The World and Everything in It from listener-supported WORLD Radio. I’m Megan Basham.

EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Good morning!

BASHAM: Up next, Jill Nelson has the news.

JILL NELSON, NEWS ANCHOR: Christmas typhoon kills 20 in the Philippines » AUDIO: [Sound of wind and rain]

At least 20 people have died in the central Philippines after a strong typhoon charged over several of the country’s islands. The storm interrupted Christmas Day celebrations as thousands of people fled their homes.

Strong winds downed trees and power poles and blew apart houses. Rain and flooding inundated low-lying villages.

Christmas is a popular time for traveling in the predominantly Catholic country. Many people headed to visit family ended up spending the holiday in bus stations and airports.

California weather snarls holiday travel » Meanwhile, here in the United States, a winter storm is creating havoc in Southern California on the busiest travel day of the year. Meteorologist Andrew Orrison says the storm is bringing heavy rain and snow.

ORRISON: In fact we’ve actually seen as much as 1 to 2 feet of snow for some of the higher elevations outside of Los Angeles. 

Flooding forced officials to close several freeways in the area. Orrison says despite the inconvenience for travelers, the storm is actually a blessing.

ORRISON: It’s actually very beneficial for them to get the rain and especially the snow in the higher elevations because that snowfall will eventually melt once we get into the later part of the winter and into spring, and that will help to replenish the reservoirs for the water supply.

By Thursday evening the rain had tapered off, bringing clear skies in its wake.

Advocates cheer charity parking tax repeal » Advocates for charities are celebrating the repeal of a controversial parking tax on churches and other nonprofits. 

Just as lawmakers tucked the provision into the big tax overhaul in 2017, they tucked its repeal into a huge appropriation bill earlier this month. President Trump has now signed that legislation into law. 

The Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission helped lead the two-year-long effort to repeal the measure. It touted bipartisan support in the House and Senate from Republicans James Lankford and Mark Walker and Democrats Chris Coons and Tom Suozzi. 

In a statement the ERLC credited the—quote—”collective advocacy of hundreds of groups representing millions [of] Americans of diverse faith communities and nonprofit organizations.” 

Fractures in GOP solidarity over impeachment » Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska is trying to distance herself from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in the upcoming impeachment process.

In a recent Fox News interview McConnell said the Senate would handle the trial in—quote—“total coordination with the White House counsel’s office.”

This week Murkowski told Alaska TV station KTUU she found that characterization disturbing.

MURKOWSKI: I heard what leader McConnell had said, I happened to think that that has further confused the process.

Murkowski is a moderate and made it clear she won’t necessarily stand with the rest of her party in supporting President Trump.

MURKOWSKI: I am viewed as one who looks openly and critically at every issue in front of me, rather than acting as a rubber stamp for my party or my president. I’m totally good with that.

Murkowski said she wants to see a “full and fair process” in the Senate. She previously criticized Democrats in the House for the way they conducted their part of the process—passing two articles of impeachment with exclusively Democratic votes. 

The Senate will hold simple majority votes to determine the rules that will govern the trial portion of the process. Republicans have 52 seats, compared to 48 who caucus with Democrats.

I’m Jill Nelson. Straight ahead: John Stonestreet joins us to review the most significant cultural stories of 2019.

Plus, we’ll share a few of our not-so-airworthy moments from the past year.

This is The World and Everything in It.

MEGAN BASHAM: It’s Friday, December 27th, 2019.  Glad to have you along for The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Megan Basham.

As we look back at the big culture stories of 2019, it’s hard to think of a better word to encapsulate them than stark. The clashes of worldview in our society seem to be reaching ever-deafening proportions. 

We heard big tech debating whether it should suppress political speech. We watched Catholic teenagers vilified by the largest media megaphones in the world. We saw parents fighting to prevent drag queen story hours at their local libraries. 

And that doesn’t begin to address the many legal battles over life and religious liberty issues.

All of it suggests Americans are finding it increasingly difficult to find common ground in a shared culture.

John Stonestreet, president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, joins us now for Culture Friday.

John, good morning, and as this is the last Culture Friday before 2020, I’ll add Happy New Year!

JOHN STONESTREET, GUEST: Thanks, Megan. And Happy New Year to you!

BASHAM: So, John, as I was preparing for our discussion today, I came across a speech Attorney General William Barr gave at Notre Dame in October. 

I’d like to play a brief excerpt.

AUDIO: Today we face something different that may mean that we cannot count on the pendulum swinging back.

First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today. This is not decay; it is organized destruction. Secularists and their allies have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion.

These instruments are used not only to affirmatively promote secular orthodoxy, but also drown out and silence opposing voices, and to attack viciously and hold up to ridicule any dissenters.

One of the ironies, as some have observed, is that the secular project has itself become a religion, pursued with religious fervor. It is taking on all the trappings of a religion, including inquisitions and excommunication.

As I look back at so many of the topics we’ve covered in this segment in the past year, this seems like a pretty accurate summary of the conflict at the heart of many of them. 

So I’d like to start by asking you to give us a sort of cultural year-in-review. What were some of the most significant stories to you and did they play into Barr’s thesis?

STONESTREET: Well, absolutely. I don’t think it’s unique to this year, but I think we’ve absolutely seen significant stories that show the clash of worldviews at the heart of the American experiment. I mean, look, there’s a difference between disagreeing on the surface but agreeing on fundamental questions of what it means to be an American, what right and wrong is, what it means to be human, things like that. It’s a completely different thing when we’re disagreeing at the most fundamental levels. 

Obviously all of the stories surrounding sexuality and the conflict between sexuality and religious liberty fall into this category. And those are significant because those touch both cultural, corporate, political interests—whether we’re talking about the ongoing struggle of someone like Barronelle Stutzman or we’re talking about just kind of everyday questions. 

I mean, we ended the year with a string of people who apparently aren’t woke enough and they included Martina Navratilova, J.K. Rowling, and, of all people, the first gay candidate for president, Pete Buttigieg. 

But, obviously, at the heart of where we’re at are kind of fundamental visions for America. And we might think they’re between Republican and Democrat, but we’re kind of playing with categories here that don’t even get to the heart of where the issues lie. 

So, for example, whether government’s going to drive us in this direction or that direction is a completely different conversation than the extra-governmental institutions that we have seen increasingly diminish this year. And it’s certainly been on a downward trajectory. But the loss of civil society, the loss of institutions of local governance, the loss of the ability to have strong communities. This is the most significant thing that’s happened, and so now we’re debating issues on a federal/national level, including issues that shouldn’t be debated on that level. And so I think that’s a real loss of a vision of what America has long been about. And we’re kind of seeing that come to a head as well.

BASHAM: You know, it kind of feels, too, like you’re seeing corporations and the political world completely supplant communities, churches, faith communities as the arbiters of what’s moral. And I feel like so many of the stories we saw this year from Chick-fil-A to Hallmark to all of these things kind of play into—we now have different people, different groups dictating what a moral society looks like.

STONESTREET: Oh, yeah. Sure. And that’s been going on for awhile. But the entrance into the corporate space is we’ve kind of seen that on a new level in 2019. I mean, you just mentioned kind of the major stories, but you know 2014 was the first time when we saw, for example, corporations kind of jump on the side of the LGBT rights in particular, and that kind of created a whole new momentum of that movement because it gave them a sense of power, and now you kind of fast-forward five years later and it’s not just some corporations taking sides, now corporations are forced to take a side. Or to pay a very dear price for it. And we did see it at a new level in 2019.

BASHAM: Well, you know, to ask sort of a really big question, then, one of the things William Barr also mentioned in that speech was in the past we sort of trusted the pendulum to swing back, but that maybe there are forces at work this time that suggest that may not happen. That we don’t have a reason we should just assume that we’re going to reach a point of excess and people are going to pull back and say this is too much. But I don’t know about that. I feel like maybe I have started to see some people in 2019 who you might expect to be more sympathetic to a progressive or ever leftward march going, wait a minute, this is too much. Like comedians. 

So what do you think? Do you feel like you saw anything of a pendulum shift maybe back in 2019?

STONESTREET: Oh, yeah, I mean, I think for example we just came out of so many years where the left was using the state to run things and the right was trying to engage at a more local, at least even a local government level, but even beyond that. Just kind of a more localized level. And that actually reversed. 

And so now with the right in power, the left resorted to kind of state-level politics, community-level politics, and kind of local community. I kind of joked when you kind of saw the run of pro-abortion legislation on the state level is when did the left become states-rights people? Right? I mean, but this is how it happens. So I think you saw that pendulum take place there as well. 

On the sexual issues, I do think particularly the transgender issue is pushing individuals even who are sympathetic to LGBT causes to a level of discomfort. And that was one of the developments of 2019, where the real conflict between the L and the G and the T, I think, became obvious. 

And it became obvious at least on a couple levels. One is just kind of the refusal to stand with each other on causes, and then, secondly, I mean, the L and the G advance their cause with a “born this way” narrative and a “stay out of our bedroom” narrative. The T is advancing on the exact opposite. I was born this way and I have to change. And, by the way, let’s have drag queen story hour. So, in other words, it’s no longer “stay out of my bedroom,” it’s “allow me into your home.”

And so of course, one of the questions is that the advances that we’ve seen, for example, in the judiciary and with religious liberty and with, you know, reversal of policies having to do with Title IX and Title VII—these are all political things, but if the culture doesn’t catch up with them, then they’re only going to last as long as the next election cycle. Which, as we all know, is next year.

BASHAM: Well, and you mentioned the J.K. Rowling and that really surprised me that someone who’s been so vocal on leftist causes and friendly to the LGBT movement, that she’s suddenly come under fire. And you go, maybe feels like as we’re moving into the new year that anybody can come under fire, then. 

So what kind of stories are you keeping your eye out for? What sort of trends in 2020?

STONESTREET: You know, I’m not sure it’s going to be anything different as much as it’s going to be kind of more of the same, and we know it’s going to hit a new fever pitch having to do with the election season because, again, some of these fundamental disagreements about the nature of reality, the nature of the human person, the nature of morality—all of these things are being seen and battled, you know, at the political level. I mean, there’s obviously kind of a shot across the bow from Mark Galli and Christianity Today at the end of 2019, what’s going to be interesting is whether the divide that we have seen outside of the church is really going to become so pronounced inside of the church. 

There’s a real issue happening right now where both being for Trump and being against Trump are being pitched as whether you’re for Jesus or against Jesus. These are really dangerous waters to get into. And we’re seeing it on both sides.

I mean, at one level we certainly have the pro-Trumpers who want us to believe a version of the president that doesn’t seem to fit the facts in terms of his personal character. On the other hand, there’s those who are never-Trumpers who often will say—and they’ll say to me personally and they have—we understand those who can kind of hold their nose and vote for the president. But I’m really talking about the whole-hearted advocates. 

And then pieces like this CT piece don’t really leave room for people who are struggling in that arena, basically say we’ve got to withdraw support despite the realities that are actually on the ground when it comes to the political process. 

So I think it’s put everybody in a very compromising position and I appreciated Erick Erickson’s words in reaction to that, which is I’m waiting for 2024. And I kind of feel that way, honestly, because I don’t think there’s a way forward other than just to muddle the way forward. And it’s going to be messy and it’s going to be difficult. But, you know, here we are.

BASHAM: John Stonestreet is the president of the Colson Center for Christian Worldview. It’s Culture Friday. 

John, thanks so much.

STONESTREET: Thanks, Megan.

NICK EICHER: Something recently came down the chimney of a family home in Ohio, but it wasn’t Santa Claus. 

Homeowner Mitch Ferguson heard some noise coming from the fireplace and at first he thought a bird had gotten in. But as he looked more closely, he saw the tell-tale fluffy tail of a squirrel. 

So Mitch and his father grabbed a blanket and tried to carefully trap it as Mitch’s wife Haylie did the internet a favor and recorded the ordeal.

AUDIO: Here, hold the blanket. I’m gonna pull this out. Oh yeah, he’s coming out. No he’s not, he’s gonna stay in there.

But soon the little guy managed to squirrel his way out of the fireplace, and chaos ensued!

The squirrel made his way across the sofa, through the kitchen, into a bathroom and then into the family’s basement—before they finally cornered him—but they showed mercy and released the critter back out into the wild.

BASHAM: I feel like I remember this scene from National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.

EICHER: Yup, life imitates art!

It’s The World and Everything in It.

NICK EICHER: Today is Friday, December 27th. I hope you’re still feasting on Christmas leftovers! Good morning to you. I’m Nick Eicher.

MEGAN BASHAM: I’m Megan Basham, and yes I am! Speaking of comfort food, there are some stories that occupy such a treasured place in our hearts, as long as the retelling is relatively faithful and well-executed, audiences will turn out for an infinite number of adaptations. We’re happy to relive every familiar turn of plot, every line of memorized dialogue in such comfort food. No surprises needed.

CLIP: Is it fairies? Santa Claus? No, it’s old aunt march. Mr. Laurence sent it. The Lawrence boy’s grandfather? Yes. Why? He saw you giving your Christmas breakfast away and he wanted you to enjoy the day. But I thought he was a mean old man. It is so generous of him. His grandson Laurie put the idea in his head. I know he did. We should make friends with him. 

Perhaps no tale better exemplifies this kind of devotion than Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. In fact, just to save a draft of this review on my laptop, I had to give it the title Little Women-2019. That’s to differentiate it from the other three Little Women reviews that already live on my hard-drive.

And yet, the latest film version from director Greta Gerwig manages the miraculous. She hits all those treasured beats and respects the traditional themes that have won over audiences for generations. Yet surprise, she does.

By jumping back and forth between past and present rather than using a standard chronological narrative, Gerwig injects something fresh into Little Women that allows us to experience it anew.

We still see Jo burn Meg’s hair. See Amy burn Jo’s manuscript. See Beth receive her beautiful piano. But we see it all through Jo’s memory.

CLIP: Jo, would you like to dance with me? I can’t because… Because why? You won’t tell? Never. I scorched my dress. See? There. And Meg told me to keep still so no one would see it. You can laugh if you want to, it’s funny I know. I have an idea of how we can manage.

The story begins in the period that so often causes the first real self-reflection in a young person’s life. Jo has left home. She’s now a writer living on her own in New York. Just as she always dreamed.

But reality can have a funny way of undercutting those visions that seem so fine and aspirational when you’re still a girl safely tucked up in the restraining arms of your family and community. The actual experience of them is almost always lonelier.

Some secular critics have made a bit of hay by asserting that Gerwig is offering a feminist take on the story. I’d hate for anyone to be put off of this wonderful production by such reports. It’s true that Gerwig leans into Alcott’s own biography to explain the decisions of the fiercely independent tomboy, Jo. And it’s true that discussions of marriage as commerce are threaded throughout. But these seem more a shorthand way to highlight the dilemma the low-income March girls face in their era.

No less than Austen’s Bennett ladies, they have to grapple with how idealistic they can afford to be about love.

CLIP: Josephine! Yes, here. Is there a reason you stopped reading Belsham? I’m sorry. I’ll continue. You mind yourself Dearie, someday you’ll need me and you’ll wish you had behaved better. Thank you Aunt March for your employment and your many kindnesses, but I intend to make my own way in the world. No one makes their own way. Not really. Least of all a woman! You’ll need to marry well. Well, you’re not married Aunt March. That’s because I’m rich!

In fact, there’s only one line in the film that could be read as overtly political—an allusion to Michelle Obama’s 2008 comment about being proud of her country. And even that could be coincidence.

In the end, Gerwig includes several scenes that discourage any cheap, 21st century woman-power reading of her film. Let’s just say the sly Gerwig hilariously shows that she, like Alcott, knows what kind of stories are most likely to win female affection.

CLIP: Frankly, I don’t see why she didn’t marry the neighbor boy. Because the neighbor marries her sister. Right, right. Of course. So, who does she marry? No one, she doesn’t marry either of them. No. No no no, that won’t work at all. Well she says the whole book that she doesn’t want to marry. Who cares! Girls want to see women marry not be consistent. No, it isn’t the right ending. The right ending is the one that sells. Trust me, if you decide to end your delightful little book with your heroine as a spinster, no one will buy it and it won’t be worth printing. Well I suppose marriage has always been an economic proposition.

What we most want from the Little Women is to see them grow into loving, self-sacrificing big women we can join Marmee in being proud of. And with that one heartbreaking exception that makes the other sisters all the more dear, we do.  For once, all the March sisters are given their due, especially Amy who’s too often been shunted aside to play the villain.

With a phenomenal cast that includes Meryl Streep and young Oscar winner Timothee Chalamet and Oscar-nominee Saoirse Ronan, the PG-rated Little Women is the perfect Christmas-break film for mothers and grandmothers to share with their not-so-little girls. And their not-so-little men too.

MEGAN BASHAM: Today is Friday, December 27th. Good morning! This is The World and Everything in It from WORLD Radio, supported by listeners. I’m Megan Basham.

NICK EICHER: And I’m Nick Eicher. Well, Megan, as our movie maven you’ve no doubt heard a lot of examples of what we’re about to air.

BASHAM: You mean bloopers! Oh yeah! I’ve heard plenty of samples from the movies. Of course it’s always hilarious when it’s somebody else’s blooper…

EICHER: Right? 

These always make me nervous, because I know the depth of my own guilt. But, put away the Christmas leftovers and have a slice of humble pie with me. We will hear plenty of our own goof ups, and those those of our colleagues—who are kind enough to consent to let everybody hear their tongues trip up and tangle, some hilarious spoonerisms, you know what those are?

And those moments where we lose track of—what was I talking about??

BASHAM: …and being interrupted by dogs barking, babies crying, cars honking, thunder and lightning…and who knows what else?

NICK EICHER: Well, that’s it for our week of special programs for Christmas. Lots of people worked to make them meaningful. So we thank Myrna Brown, Paul Butler, Kent Covington, Kristen Flavin, Katie Gaultney, George Grant, Anna Johansen, Leigh Jones,  Jill Nelson, Susan Olasky, Mary Reichard, Sarah Schweinsberg, and you! Thanks for sending in your Christmas memories to round out the program.

MEGAN BASHAM: Thanks also to our wonderful audio engineers, Johnny Franklin and Carl Peetz. And a hat tip to J.C. Derrick, our managing editor, and Marvin Olasky, our editor-in-chief.

WORLD’s mission is biblically objective journalism that informs, educates, and inspires.

I hope you’ll have a great day and worship this weekend in spirit and in truth. We’ll be back on Monday for The World and Everything in It.

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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