I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
California’s Fires, Marijuana Crops and Harvey Weinstein from a Christian Worldview
We’ll see one of humanity’s deadliest enemies: fire in northern California; we’ll see just how quickly concern emerged as marijuana crops are going up in smoke; we will see Hollywood expel one of their own leading figures for sexual misbehavior — the very misbehavior they sell in their movies; and we will trace the moral development back to the source.
FIRE IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA: ONE OF HUMANITY’S DEADLIEST ENEMIES
Some the most fast-moving and deadly wildfires in recent American history continue to threaten much of northern California, specifically the area popularly known as wine country. Over 200,000 acres have already been destroyed and much of it is absolutely flattened by the fire. That 200,000 acres is an area 15 times the size of Manhattan, and the fires have been deadly. As of yesterday evening, at least 40 people have been killed and in Sonoma County, California, alone 174 human beings remain missing. You’re looking at the destruction of over 5,700 buildings, houses, and other structures, and you’re looking at a fire that moves so quickly that law enforcement and first responder officials are telling us that many people were trapped by the fire; they were unable to run or for that matter even to drive out of the fires because the fires were moving so quickly. Swept along by high winds and also accelerated by the very unusual dry season that California has experienced just in the last several weeks and months, and that upon what is considered to be a multi-year drought. We can only imagine the anguish and the anxiety there in northern California. Many people lost their homes, others have lost their livelihoods, most devastating of all, some have lost their loved ones, and others do not yet know they have.
One of most haunting figures in the news reports is that 174 people remain missing in Sonoma County. Officials and loved ones there hope and pray that many if not all of those 174 will be found alive, but the fear is that at least some of them will not. Even as these headlines came out of Northern California, other headlines told us of similarly deadly wildfires in the nation of Spain, those fires are believed to have started in Portugal, and back in June of this year forest fires in Portugal — also fast-moving, trapping many people — killed at least 69 people, caused, it is believed, by a dry thunderstorm. Of course, we’re called to pray for all those who are in danger, all of those who suffered loss, our hearts go out to them, and of course we also want to honor those very important first responders. In particular, firefighters and other rescuers who put themselves intentionally in the line of fire in order to save other lives, and one of the interesting things that is going on there in Northern California reminds us of the particular value of human life because all of the major television networks and others covering the fire have made clear that law enforcement and fire officials there have had to make the decision that human life is valuable above all other goods. An entire community of buildings can be lost, it’s the community of persons, of human beings, who are most important, and furthermore, it’s not just a community or a collective of human beings it is every single human life.
It’s very important for us to note an affirmation of the biblical worldview, even amongst persons who do not believe that they hold to anything like the biblical worldview, or even just a residual remainder of it, but you do see in this context of urgency and deadly danger how there is the immediate recognition that human beings, above all others and all else, deserve our utmost and most urgent rescue in consideration. It’s also very humbling for us to recognize that historians make the argument that the development and the control of fire was essential to the very conception of human civilization. Civilization amongst human beings requires the ability to cook food and also the ability to harness fire in order to provide warmth and to use its energy for that which aids human life and even in some senses makes human existence possible, but at the same time fire, which can be such a friend to humanity, can also be such a deadly enemy.
CONCERN EMERGES AS MARIJUANA CROP GOES UP IN SMOKE
When it’s out of control, fire is a deadly contagion that spreads, as we have seen now in northern California, more quickly than the human imagination can even bear, but it’s also really interesting to note how quickly the media get to some other stories. You might think first of all the personal interest stories; those are very important in terms of our understanding of the events, but how’s this for headline? Trevor Hughes, reporting forUSA Today, gives us this story:
“Pot Farmers Fear Crops May go up in Smoke.”
Similarly, Daniel Victor and Maya Salam of the New York Times gives us the headline:
“Northern California’s Marijuana Crop Burns off in Wildfires.”
The story in USA Today begins with these words from Calistoga, California,
“Marijuana farmers and dispensary owners across Northern California are nervously watching as wildfires burn through some of the state’s prime cannabis growing areas and destroy valuable crops, which could drive up prices for consumers across the country.”
Now, given the gravity of what we’re talking about here, isn’t it at least a bit shocking that here you would have a lede paragraph inUSA Today that tells us that the net result of all this, something that should be lost to our attention even now, is the fact that prices for marijuana might go up in the aftermath of the fire.USA Today quoted Eli Melrod, identified as the CEO of Solful Dispensary in Sebastopol, in northern California. He said, “This is right smack in the middle of people’s harvests … It couldn’t have been worse timing, frankly.
The USA Today story goes on to tell us something that was rather shocking to me at least, “A single marijuana plant can be worth up to $5,000, but,” USA Today tells us, “pot growers can’t get crop insurance like traditional farmers or the vintners whose grapevines tend to get most of the attention here.”
The explanation to that comes later in the story where we are reminded that marijuana is still considered a class 1 forbidden and illegal substance by the federal government, and, thus, there is no availability of crop insurance, and furthermore, the entire business of marijuana has to be conducted — to this point — in cash, even in a state like California, which has legalized what they call recreational marijuana. But the USA Today story plus the New York Times story also gives us a very different vantage point of the finances behind what’s going on here. We are told in the USA Today story that the legal business of cannabis there in the state of California brings about $2.76 billion of revenue into the economy; that’s $2.76 billion in terms of the legal cannabis business, but then we turn to the New York Times article published on virtually the same day and it tells us that even as California, “has long been the country’s illicit hub of growing marijuana,” that illegal market in California is estimated to be $7 billion a year. Now you can quickly do the math and understand that the illegal market in California is more than twice the size of what’s considered there to be the legal cannabis growing market, and furthermore, as these articles make clear, a part of the problem is that many of these marijuana growing areas are purposefully hidden within the other vegetation. In other words, they’re right in the middle of the fires. USA Today also quoted Jessica Lilga of Alta Supply, identified as a statewide wholesale cannabis distributer based in Oakland, she said, “It’s just sad that we live in this underground world where we can’t discuss the true extent of the damage.” She went on to say, “All remaining growers who did not literally lose their crops will be affected.”
Now, USA Today also says it is unclear, an interesting choice of words, exactly how many people even work in the cannabis industry in Northern California, and even how many cultivation operations, as they are called, exist. It’s very telling how quickly the mainstream media got to the story of marijuana, even in the context of these very deadly fires. It didn’t take them long to get there. Actually, it didn’t take them long at all.
HOLLYWOOD EXPELS ONE OF ITS OWN LEADING FIGURES FOR THE VERY MISBEHAVIOR IT SELLS IN MOVIESWe will stay in California for the next issue of our concern, which is the expanding and unfolding scandal concerning the fallen Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein. As Brooks Barnes of the New York Times reported on Saturday,
“Hollywood’s de facto governing body, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to “immediately expel” Harvey Weinstein, breaking with 90 years of precedent and turning one of the biggest Oscar players in history into a hall-of-fame pariah.”
Oh, there’s a big story here, but at the center of the story is not just Harvey Weinstein, but Hollywood and the Hollywood culture. Hollywood more than any other collective of people on earth is adept at virtue signaling and even the mainstream media understands that that’s in large part what’s going on right here. Virtue signaling by the 54 member board of governors of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. The big expansion of the scandal here has to do with the fact that it’s now clear that many people knew that Harvey Weinstein was a serial abuser, a serial sexual abuser of women, and yet they didn’t stop it, they didn’t do anything, they didn’t even talk about it, or least they didn’t talk about it in any way that mattered. The most authoritative sources inside Hollywood and the most influential observers of the culture in the mainstream media are clearly pointing to the fact that there was a conspiracy of silence that involves some of the most significant power figures there in Hollywood. That would include producers, directors, actors, and for that matter just about everyone that’s a part of the entertainment industrial complex, but we also know that that virtue signaling is taking place here because of the language used by the Academy. In their statements in which they said that the vote was “well in excess of the required two-thirds majority.”
The statement from the Academy said:
“We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues, but also to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over. What’s at issue here,” said the statement, “is a deeply troubling problem that has no place in our society.”
Now here’s what’s so important, I’ll give credit to the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, even the Hollywood reporter, some of the most influential news media covering Hollywood; they have understood was going on here. Even as on Saturday, the Academy voted to expel Harvey Weinstein, included in the current and long-standing membership of the Academy are those who have already been known for and even convicted of sexual offenses against women, and in the case of director Roman Polanski, even of sexual abuse of a 13-year-old girl. Brooks Barnes of the New York Times gets right to the issue,
“Although largely symbolic, the ouster of Mr. Weinstein from the roughly 8,400-member academy is stunning because the organization is not known to have taken such action before — not when Roman Polanski, a member, pleaded guilty in a sex crime case involving a 13-year-old girl; not when women came forward to accuse Bill Cosby, a member, of sexual assault.”
Barnes went on to make very clear that the Academy, having voted to expel Weinstein on Saturday, continues to have members it has accepted even in the midst of criminal convictions for sexual abuse of a minor, others have admitted to the same without criminal charges and the list of serial sexual abusers in the Academy is evidently both well-known and long-standing.
I go back to the official statement released by the board of governors of the Academy on Saturday when they said,
“the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”
Well, it’s not even over for the Academy, and it’s not over, by their own admission. The Academy statement also went on to say that it would “work to establish ethical standards of conduct that all academy members will be expected to exemplify.”
But Jo Ellison writing in the Financial Times of London, points out that the products of the members of the Academy are themselves sexually abusive and predatory. In the words of her column,
“Meanwhile, sexually graphic content and scenes of sexual violence have become so prevalent we barely even notice it any more, let alone feel any outrage.”
She’s talking about movies. She goes on to say:
“Film is bad, but so is television — currently being trumpeted as inhabiting a golden age and funded with huge studio investments.”
As you continue through her column, she ends by saying:
“That the Weinstein narrative has unfolded against the more general debasement of our screen culture [she says it can’t] be a coincidence — it’s a culture that, until last week, [she argues,] was being greenlit, produced and promoted by [Harvey] Weinstein.”
She says he’s only one predator; the entire business is predatory, morally predatory. Furthermore, in his column in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, Ross Douthat points to the intersection of moral change in music and in the movies in the 1960s and 70s, and he cites the 60s and 70s because in his sickening admission in recent days Harvey Weinstein said:
“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about behavior and workplaces were different.”
Ross Douthat points to the music culture of the 1970s also headquartered there in the Hollywood area and he cited Matthew Walther in his recent article in the magazine The Week, in which he says that much of the entertainment culture of the 1970s, including rock music and Hollywood was “a spree of statutory rape.”
But then, just to make the Christian worldview aspect of this so very revealing, Manohla Dargis, writing in the critics notebook column of the New York Times, offers us this headline at the end of last week:
“Weinstein Is Gone. Hollywood’s Sin Isn’t.”
The important issue here is not so much the article but the appearance of the word “sin” in the headline. Back in the 1970s, the very decade cited by Harvey Weinstein in explaining why he had abused so many women and also by Ross Douthat pointing to the moral change that took place then, in that very decade, the prominent psychiatrist Karl Menninger wrote a book entitled Whatever Became of Sin? Dr. Menninger’s point then was that in that very permissive, therapeutic, and increasingly even then secularized culture sin had basically disappeared from popular consciousness in conversation, but now we see that in the year 2017 sin is back in the headline of the New York Times on the front page of the arts section in the critics notebook column. Why? Well the Christian worldview explains it fully. There’s no other word that will do; this is not just miss behavior, this isn’t just a transgressive action, this is a serial sexual abuser and we’re talking here about something that demands the word sin. But of course Christians understand, you don’t have to get to Harvey Weinstein, you don’t even have to get to Hollywood to find the word sin absolutely indispensable and necessary, absolutely accurate in pointing to ourselves as much as any other. But isn’t it interesting that on the one hand, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences kicks out someone for sexual perversity, but lets others remain as full members, even convicted of child sexual abuse, and then turns around and awards Oscars to films that represent sexual abuse and perversity.
I want to go back to the official statement released by the Academy on Saturday that statement in which they said that the Academy wanted “to send a message that the era of willful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predatory behavior and workplace harassment in our industry is over.”
That’s what they said. We will soon find out they meant it.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
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