The Briefing 09-02-14

The Briefing 09-02-14

The Briefing


September 2, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, September 2, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Dismissal of warning of European war as scaremongering denial of reality

Anne Applebaum writing in Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post writes about the experience many of us have had. Looking back at photographs of countries just on the brink of World War II and recognizing that even as many people then knew the war had to be coming, and in some places the war was already raging, they were trying to live life as if it could go on normally. She writes back in particular to Poland in the year 1939. She writes about pictures of weddings and other family celebrations, and she says,


All of these pictures convey a sense of doom, for we know what happened next. September 1939 brought invasion from both east and west, occupation, chaos, destruction, genocide. Most of the people who attended that June wedding were soon dead or in exile. None of them ever returned to the house.


Her reference back to one specific photograph of one family at one wedding is haunting to us in the year 2014. But Anne Applebaum has a point in raising that photograph and its meaning now, and that point is this – are we now looking at Europe on the brink of another major war? Are we looking at the fact that many people around the world right now are denying the obvious, even as we’re the people that wedding photo in Poland in 1939? As she writes,


In retrospect, all of them now look naive. Instead of celebrating weddings, they should have dropped everything, mobilized, prepared for total war while it was still possible. And now I have to ask: Should Ukrainians, in the summer of 2014, do the same? Should central Europeans join them?


Anne Applebaum is a veteran of Foreign Affairs and a keen observer of the contemporary world. And she writes this article in the Washington Post acknowledging that many people around the world would read her article and think that she must be scaremongering; that this must be an example of apocalyptic kinds of warnings. And yet she writes, if the questions sounds to some as hysterical, it’s only because they are not yet seeing what people in Eastern Europe are seeing right now. As she writes,


In the past few days, Russian troops bearing the flag of a previously unknown country, Novorossiya, have marched across the border of southeastern Ukraine. The Russian Academy of Sciences recently announced it will publish a history of Novorossiya this autumn, presumably tracing its origins back to Catherine the Great. Various maps of Novorossiya are said to be circulating in Moscow.


Even more complicated and more concerning, she writes, those maps of a country that does not now exist, and is recognized only by Russia – this country of Novorossiya, it includes cities that are hundreds of miles away from the current fighting. Some Russian maps now place Novorossiya along the coast so that it connects Russia to Crimea and eventually to Transnistria, the Russian occupied province of Moldova. She goes on to warn that even if this country starts out as what many in world affairs have called Russian rump states, the reality is that it keeps growing like so many these other states over time.


The main thrust of Anne Applebaum’s essay is this: Europe is actually already at war. The war may at this point be rather localized, mostly in what is now called the east of Ukraine, but is localized only because it has not yet reached other parts of the globe, and in particular other regions of Eastern Europe. And the thing that Anne Applebaum was warning us about, when you look at the parallels with World War II, is that Vladimir Putin is exactly like Adolf Hitler in terms of the fact that he has announced what his intentions are. And he’s made very clear that the map he has of Europe is one that includes a greater Russia; a Russia that includes, as the czars used to claim, all the Russias – which means the lands where any major population of Russians may be found – and furthermore, the greater Russia Vladimir Putin also includes land and especially corridors that would unite Russia with most important ports and other kinds of facilities. You put this all together and the thesis of Anne Applebaum is exactly right. What we’re looking at here is an almost parallel recreation with 1939. Of course there is a huge question hanging over this: Is Vladimir Putin actually able to carry out, as it turned off Adolf Hitler was close to carrying out, his ambitions? Is he actually as determined as Hitler was? And is he as ruthless as Hitler was? At this point, it’s hard to say.


But let’s look at the signs that have appeared already just in recent months. A major airliner, filled with hundreds of innocent people, shot down over East Ukraine; lands that had formally been uncontested as part of Ukraine, simply annexed by Russia and taken over by Vladimir Putin; an influx of troops going into a neighboring country under the pretext of maintaining order and protecting the Russians who are there, and now troops wearing the uniform of a country that doesn’t even exist, Novorossiya, now in Ukraine, now fighting. Fighting and killing; fighting in already taken territory; taking conquest of cities.


To put it another way, it doesn’t sound at this point that Anne Applebaum is actually hysterical; it sounds like the historical parallel she’s drawing is one that ought to have our attention. And she presses the point even further. She goes back to 1939 and asks, with over a half-century of retrospect, why is it that people who were alive in 1939, who knew exactly what was going on in Czechoslovakia and Poland and elsewhere, why did they deny the obvious? Why did they furthermore go to weddings as if nothing was wrong? Why do we now look in retrospect to see that as hopelessly naïve? What would we now tell them they should’ve been doing in 1939? That’s the question Anne Applebaum is asking of the United States and our European allies. What must we be doing now to make certain that this is not a repeat of 1939? It’s about time someone asked the question in just that way. Time and again we discussed the fact that we live in a fallen world – in a dangerous world – but here’s one of the realities that Christians often have to come to terms with; human beings have a huge capacity to deny reality when it is set right before us. We can look reality in the eye and call it something else because our defense mechanisms, emotionally and otherwise, tell us that it simply can’t be as bad as it looks. And as Anne Applebaum argues, when you look at Vladimir Putin we do know, note this: it is as bad as it looks, at least in terms of his ethics, in terms of his character, and in terms of his imperialistic ambitions. Is it as bad as it looks in terms of his ability to pull off anything analogous to what Adolf Hitler in World War II? At that point Anne Applebaum is again honest, no she says; he doesn’t have the capacity at this point to have those kinds of global military ambitions. But here’s the point, he doesn’t have to. In the world of 2014, he doesn’t have to have troops everywhere with boots on the ground. Given the interrelation of the economy, given the fact that we are now part of a global economic and political system, all he has to do is have enough territory and enough economic control and enough ability to leverage the kind of pressure against his neighbors in the world system. He can largely get what he wants; even without having boots on the ground everywhere. But if you’re in East Ukraine right now, the boots are already on the ground.

2) Coverage of abortion by mail indicates pro-abortionist perceive no alternative to abortion

And speaking about war, we transition out to a different kind of war: a moral war – a war having to do with the issue of abortion. And one of the things we need to keep in mind is the fact that the pro-abortion side is fundamentally unable to understand why this is still an issue. You go all the way back to 1973, in the Roe v. Wade decision, the pro-abortion side was convinced that the issue of abortion was soon going to be just a settled moral fact in the United States, that people all across this country, in all advanced economies, would simply come to terms with legal abortion and come to terms with the fact that it must be a good thing. And now, over 40 years after Roe v. Wade, the fact is that America’s more divided over the issue of abortion than ever before. And pro-lifers understand why, but the pro-abortionists fundamentally cannot understand why the issue persists as a matter of controversy. And yet, it does.


And this is leading some very interesting analyses and reports in the world press; one of the most significant is this Sunday’s cover story in the New York Times Magazine; the title, “Abortion by Mail.” Emily Bazelon’s writing about the effort on the part of some in the international community to get abortion where it is not now legal – by making it available by pill by mail. It’s a very interesting article indeed – it’s a very troubling article – the article begins with someone we’ve talked about before on The Briefing and someone whose been well known in terms of the abortion issue for a matter of decades. The woman is a doctor who goes by the name of Rebecca Gomperts. She came to the world’s attention back in 2001 when she established a ship as an abortion clinic. She started an organization known as Women on Waves and she went to places like Ireland, which did not have legal abortion, and she brought abortion – or intended to – as a publicity stunt, she now admits, in order to gain attention for abortion and to help to catalyze an abortion-rights movement in Ireland and beyond. Very similar efforts took place in Portugal, two years after her effort in Portugal, that country legalized – at least in part – abortion.


What we’re looking at here is a veteran of the abortion wars and now she’s gone from Women on Waves to Women on the Web. And her current effort does not consist of trying to take an abortion ship, but rather to ship abortion; in this case, by shipping abortion pills where abortions are not legal. The interesting thing about this article and what’s caught the attention of the New York Times is that several women in the United States, dozens a month she reports, are now contacting the organization wanting to gain an abortion by means of an abortion pill without the intervention of a doctor by going to Women on the Web. She has, at this point, steadfastly refused to send any of these abortion pills into the United States. She says it is because abortion is legal the United States, and even as she believes that women should have unfettered access to these pills, she argues that it’s a political problem in the United States. What she does not acknowledge is the fact that she knows that if she did involve herself in that activity in the United States, she would find herself very quickly behind bars.


Rebecca Gomperts started her career as an activist with Greenpeace, but even as she was working with that organization she transitioned to the cause of abortion. As Emily Bazelon asks her, why, as a Greenpeace activist, did she choose abortion as her cause? The response was


Her philosophy, she said, was about the “reduction of suffering” but also about self-determination. She said she was “interested in finding the blind spots of the law.” She liked upending the system. “I enjoy that,” she said. “If I was interested in money, I’d have a company in the Cayman Islands, getting all the tax deductions I could to get rich.”


That’s a very interesting sentence in that response to Emily Bazelon. In this case Dr. Gomer says, my first concern is “the reduction of suffering,” but she’s never clear, indeed she’s never even specific about what kind of suffering she’s talking about, what kind of suffering, who’s suffering. She then says that her next concern is self-determination, well at that point we’re on firmer ground; because the abortion-rights movement clearly claims over and over again, consistently in virtually every way possible, and in every context imaginable, that the only moral issue at stake is the right of a woman to absolute unfettered uncomplicated self-determination. But she’s not even finished there because she goes on to add a third reason why she is a Greenpeace activist shifted to the issue of abortion, and she said she is, “interested in finding the blind spots of the law.”


So this is something of a gain, she says, “I enjoy that.”


This cover story in the New York Times magazine makes a couple of very interesting points right up front. First of all, the fact that this is the cover story tells us that the New York Times considers this a very important story. And even as Americans are mildly interested in Foreign Affairs, they’re very interested in controversies here at home; and this article makes that turn pretty quickly; turning from the context of Women on the Web, in terms of an international mission having to do with abortion, and turning it to political controversies of a very current form here in the United States.


In recent weeks several issues related to abortion have appeared at the federal courts, both district court and appellate courts, and in most of those cases these have been appeals against restrictions on abortion passed in states such as Texas and Mississippi. A similar ruling was handed down just recently in the state of Alabama. The interest of the New York Times magazine in that context is this, that raising the question, could something like women on the web be the answer for women in the United States who might not be able to obtain an abortion immediately, locally, by other means? It’s a very interesting question, it interests the editors of the New York Times magazine clearly. And yet it also is going to raise a host of profound questions. Emily Bazelon recognizes that, and she writes,


In the United States, the idea of terminating a pregnancy without much or any medical assistance can sound troubling, reminiscent of the sorts of procedures women were forced into before abortion was legal. Yet in March, she writes, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists reviewed the medical literature and concluded that women can “safely and effectively” use telemedicine to have a medical abortion.


But not all obstetricians and gynecologists are buying the argument, and to her credit Emily Bazelon recognizes that. She cites Monique Chireau, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine; she’s also a board member of Americans United for Life; she says the number of women who die or suffer serious complications from abortion may be higher than reported. As she states,


The truth is we have no idea what the rates of morbidity and mortality for abortions are in the United States, because the data system is flawed.


Some states don’t accurately report, Emily Bazelon tells us, and the numbers may not be dependable because women who go to the doctor or emergency room with complications may be reluctant to say they’ve had a medical abortion. Monique Chireau then said,


Despite all we may hear about abortion being a benign procedure, it’s really not…And it’s important to remember it’s elective. This is not lifesaving surgery or surgery for cancer.


So many aspects of the story should trouble us and also gain our attention, because when you’re looking at a story like this it tells us of the issue of abortion looms so large on the moral horizon of this country that it’s almost impossible to exaggerate just how perplexing this issue is to many. There are many people on the side of the abortion-rights movement who simply look at this and wonder how in the world almost a half-century after Roe v. Wade can it be possible that the issue is still a controversy? And yet, if you look at this article you recognize immediately why. It’s because one person who never appears in this entire consideration is the baby. There is no baby in this picture. It’s all about a woman and the way a woman determined at abortion might be able to gain access to that kind of abortion, whether by an abortionist in a clinic or by a pill that may come by mail.


And you also see the fascination here with a woman who admits that as a Greenpeace activist, she shifted to abortion at least in part because she’s interested in finding loopholes in the law, and here you have this woman, Rebecca Gomperts, who is shifting from Women on the Waves to Women on the Web. And it’s clear that many people in the United States, in particular in the pro-abortion movement, are beginning to ask themselves, ‘could this be the wave of the future?’


But to those who affirm the sanctity of human life and who will not allow this discussion without putting the baby in the picture, we see here just what we’re up against. Here you have the most influential newspaper in the United States of America, and its Sunday magazine – very prized real estate – here you have an article that they clearly expect will gain the interest of their own readership and furthermore reinforce the worldview that the paper itself represents. And it makes perfect sense according to that worldview that if you can’t get an abortion one way, you simply press on to gain abortion some other way. There simply is not even the acknowledgment that there might be an alternative to abortion itself.


The only alternatives that are of any consequence in this article are alternative ways of getting or giving an abortion. There is no alternative to abortion even under consideration here.


Consistently and persistently the abortion-rights movement refers to the pro-life movement as extreme, but in terms of radical arguments, it’s hard to imagine anything more extreme than this.

3) Global division over sex education due to concept of supposed human autonomy

Finally along similar lines Sunday’s edition of the Washington Post featured an article by Jonathan Zimmerman entitled “Sex Education is a Global Dividing Line Between Liberals and Conservatives.” Sometimes you look at headline like this and ask the obvious question; how did this become a headline? Who thinks this is news? How in the world can it be news in the year 2014, the claim that sex education is a global dividing line between liberals and conservatives? It has been for the better part of the last several decades. And that’s actually something that Jonathan Zimmerman admits right up front.


He goes back to September 5, 1994. 20,000 delegates from 179 countries, they gathered in Cairo for the International Conference on Population and Development. As he writes,


Unlike prior population meetings, which focused mainly on family planning services, the Cairo convention endorsed equal access to education for girls. It also demanded “reproductive rights” — including rights to contraception and information about sex — for adolescents of both genders.


That was back in 1994, and Jonathan Zimmerman is written his article now because fast-forward 20 years later, guess what hasn’t happened? What the Cairo agreement called for simply hasn’t come to pass. And I think Jonathan Zimmerman is probably right when he says the world is even more divided now over this question than it was then.


Jonathan Zimmerman reports,


But sex education has stalled. In most countries, children and adolescents receive a smattering of information about their reproductive organs and a set of stern warnings against putting them to use. Whereas the Cairo meeting envisioned preparing youths to be autonomous sexual beings, most contemporary sex education simply admonishes them against sex itself.


That sentence includes a most important statement. That the Cairo agreement was that teenagers, adolescents and young adults, were to be treated as autonomous sexual beings. There’s the great myth of the secular modern mind; the fact the human beings themselves whether adults or teenagers are to be considered autonomous. Human autonomy is the great idolatrous first principle of the modern secular worldview, and the modern secular worldview is what produced that Cairo agreement. And that Cairo population conference came back to say that teenagers, as a matter of fundamental human rights, should be given the kind of sex education that will treat them as and prepare them to be autonomous sexual beings. Well here’s the problem with that right up: front human autonomy is a mirage. It isn’t even real.


The claim of absolute human autonomy is a claim that should make any intelligent human blush. It simply runs up against the fact that we didn’t create ourselves, we can’t sustain ourselves. The reality is were not autonomous, and even those who do not operate out of the Christian biblical worldview have to define that kind of autonomy such that it’s relegated to certain sectors of life. And guess where they start first? Sex. Again, this conference said that teenagers are to be considered autonomous sexual beings. And writing about the fact that were now according to this worldview further behind than more ahead in terms of this effort to turn teenagers into autonomous sexual beings, he writes


And that’s not because certain parts of the world are “conservative” or “traditional” on the topic. Instead, conservatives around the globe have united across borders to block or inhibit sex education. On issues of sex and reproduction, [he writes] it’s not East vs. West anymore. It’s liberals vs. conservatives, each of which often have more in common with their ideological soulmates in other parts of the world than they do with people next door.


Now that’s a fairly accurate statement. The problem with this article is the insinuation that this great divide on the issue of sex education between liberals and conservatives globally is something new. What he does the knowledge is that the people who often represented countries in Cairo didn’t represent those countries. If you go back to the Cairo conference in 1994, you will become immediately convinced of the fact that many of those were in those meetings were far more liberal than the people they were there to represent.And that was true of those representing the United States of America as well as those who were represent many other countries around the world.


These international agreements on sex education globally, such as the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s definition of 2009 are all way out there on the left. And furthermore, it’s hard to believe that even the people in the meetings think that these goals are going to take place. And looking back at that 2009 declaration by United Nations , here we see it again, it included the goal that teenagers “could develop their own sexual selves.” There’s that autonomy coming back just without the word.


Zimmerman ends his article by quoting a Swedish sex educator who wondered aloud back in 2004, “how can a sexuality reproduction and health perspective based on individual rights become a global norm?” Zimmerman says, “Ten years after that, we’re no closer to a global norm on sex education. We might even be further from it. And it’s an interesting article but what makes this article even more interesting is what’s not in it. What’s not in it is the acknowledgement that if you take out global here, you take out any reference to a worldwide reality, and you just talk about the United States it’s still pertains. In other words you can rewrite the sentence to say “how can a sexuality reproduction in health perspective based on individual rights become a national norm?”


It’s not even in this country a national norm. You talk to parents in one state and another state, or for that matter, in one neighborhood and another neighborhood, or for that matter, one house on the street at another house on the street and you’re likely to come up with very divergent understandings of what kind of sex education should be given to American children and teenagers. The reason for that should be immediately apparent to anyone who operates out of an intelligent Christian worldview. The Christian understands this when you’re talking about sex education, quite obviously you’re talking about sex. And when you’re talking about sex, you are talking about an issue that is invariably, always, consistently, every single time a moral issue. And when you’re talking about the morality of sex, that’s where you see that Americans are deepest in their deep cultural and moral divide. And that’s why in the United States of America there is no consensus about sex education, and thus it’s a bit disingenuous to point to the world scene and act as if we’re shocked to there’s no consensus globally. There’s no consensus because in the world today, in this nation today, perhaps even in your PTA meeting today is no consensus about sex education. And that’s because we don’t have a moral consensus on sex. And that’s because, at the most basic level, we are morally divided people. And that becomes very evident perhaps preeminently evident an issue like sex education, and in a news story that isn’t really news.


Thanks to listen to The Briefing. For more information to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for the Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Dismissal of warning of European war as scaremongering denial of reality

War in Europe is not a hysterical idea, Washington Post (Anne Applebaum)

2) Coverage of abortion by mail indicates pro-abortionist perceive no alternative to abortion

The Dawn of the Post-Clinic Abortion, New York Magazine (Emily Bazelon)

3) Global division over sex education due to concept of supposed human autonomy

Sex education is a global dividing line between liberals and conservatives, Washington Post (Jonathan Zimmerman)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).