The Briefing 01-29-15

The Briefing 01-29-15

The Briefing


January 29, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, January 29, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Opposition to sex-selective abortion ban absolute marginalization of baby for sake of choice

In the end when you look at the worldview clash over the question of the sanctity of human life there are really not a myriad of positions. There are really two positions; both of them at their essence are somewhat absolutist. To say somewhat absolutist is to point to the problem. They actually are absolutist in some sense, the somewhat comes as people try to find some middle ground where no middle ground actually, for long, exist.

Evidence of that comes from Birmingham, England and Pam Lowe, a professor at Aston University in that British city, has written an article entitled If Abortion Is A Choice Then Sex Selection Abortion Should Remain Legal. This is one of those issues that really presses the point; it really makes the case very clear. Because here we have a professor arguing that making sex selection abortions illegal implies – now get this straight – that at least some abortions might be wrong, even immoral.

Now here you have the absolutism of the pro-choice, the pro-abortion, position. It’s an absolutism that says the moment you say that any abortion might be wrong, evil, or perhaps even just ill advised, you’re actually trampling on what they claim is the moral absolute. And that is a woman’s unfettered right to an abortion, to control her own body – in their language – regardless of any other circumstance, including the fact that the life within her is a human life. Writing at the journal Science 2.0, Lowe writes,

“A campaign is underway in the United Kingdom to make it illegal to abort a child based on its gender.

Proponents say they are worried about women being coerced into terminating female fetuses and that action needs to be taken to stop discrimination against baby girls.

But this is a flawed argument. [She then writes] You cannot promote gender equality by enacting laws that place restrictions on women’s bodies. Banning sex-selective abortion opens up a world in which there is such thing as a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reason for an abortion. What’s more, it implies coercion is a reproductive health issue rather than what it actually is – an act of domestic violence.”

Two big moral issues glare at us here. The first is the sanctity of human life, that’s the biggest issue. The Christian biblical worldview affirms that the Bible is very clear about the sanctity and dignity of every single human life, at every point of development, regardless of ability or disability. To those who argue that that is an absolutist position, we eventually have to respond with intellectual honesty: it is a biblical absolute.

Matters of life and death are treated directly and honestly in Scripture, but it is also very clear that you cannot deny what life is. You cannot deny that every single human being is a creature intentionally created by the creator for His glory and with an inherent dignity and sovereignty that exists solely because every single human being is a divine creation, and furthermore, every single human being is an image bearer, bearing the very image of God. So the first moral insight we need to think about from this story is that the absolute on the other side, that a woman should have an unfettered unquestioned right to an abortion under any circumstance for any reason or no reason, finally meets its absolute expression in an article in which a professor actually says that one should not oppose sex selection abortions.

Now notice by the way that there have been many who have been arguing that this really isn’t a problem, that sex selection abortions don’t exist; if they did exist of course they would be morally wrong. That’s not the argument she’s making at all. She making the argument that of course they exist, and the fact that they do exist should have nothing to do whatsoever with the morality of abortion – under any circumstance, even if the purpose of the abortion is for the elimination of the child simply because of its gender, and that is almost always because the gender is female.

Authorities on both sides of the issue basically now agree that the number of sex selection abortions in nations such as India and China now amount to over 100 million missing girls and women. So what we have here is something we really need to understand from a worldview perspective. We have the absolutist position, the abortion-rights position in its absolutist form and an obvious question that flows from this is just how many alternative positions can there be and one genuinely be pro-choice or pro-abortion? Because the argument that Pam Lowe is making here is that the moment you suggest that any abortion may be wrong, or even ill advised, what you have is a discrimination against women that is absolutely unacceptable.

The second moral issue we need to see from this particular essay is where she tries to shift to the issue very interestingly and in a somewhat of an original form. She’s arguing that the issue of sex selection abortion, which you’ll notice she does concede is an issue, she says isn’t really an issue of abortion at all; it’s a question of domestic violence. She writes at one point in her essay,

“Categorizing abortion by acceptable or unacceptable reasons needs to be avoided.”

She then writes,

“Women being coerced into terminating a pregnancy on the basis of the foetus’s sex is a serious issue. But we need to be clear that this is not a reproductive health issue, it is domestic violence.”

Well a real problem with that is that what we have is a shifting of the moral question in a very ill advice form, indeed an intellectually dishonest form. Why? Because as people on basically both sides of the issue acknowledge in much of Asia, this is not an issue of coercion. Indeed in many cases the women themselves are aborting the babies when they find out about the gender even without telling anyone else, including their husbands. Could the issue of sex selection abortion be a domestic violence issue? Of course it could and in many cases it probably is and it needs to be addressed that way.

But we cannot allow this moral shift, we can’t allow the issue, the paramount issue, of the dignity and sanctity of human life to be shifted away as if it’s not really the consideration here; of course it is. But what we have here is undeniable evidence of what happens when you buy into the pro-abortion argument. Eventually the baby’s existence as a moral agent has to be denied; the issue of the value of the baby’s life has to be sublimated, it has to be marginalized, it can’t be a part of the discussion. Because, as you can understand, if the issue of the baby does become a part of the discussion, you then can’t hold any kind of absolutist position in terms of the pro-choice argument and if you can’t, than that entire argument begins to filter away, it begins to break up. Because, and this is where Professor Lowe is actually right, she’s right that the moment you begin to accept the fact that some abortions may be wrong, you have to face the question, ‘would not all abortions then be wrong?’

2) US government tracking cars presents challenging interface between technology and morality

The intersection of the Christian worldview and issues of technology receives too little attention, especially by Christians who are living in such a highly technological age. The responsibility falls on us to try to think these things through in terms of a biblical worldview. That’s not always easy and technologies always bring new questions even as new technologies emerge. But how about this for a headline in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, U.S. Spies on Millions of Drivers, the subhead, ‘DEA Uses License-Plate Readers to Build Database for Federal, Local Authorities.’ Well that’s a headline that tells us that the United States is spying on millions of cars, but of course the United States government isn’t primarily concerned with cars but rather with those are driving them and riding in them. And what the patterns revealed in terms of this evidence tells them.

Frankly I don’t this story is getting the attention that it deserves. Devlin Barrett writes,

“The Justice Department has been building a national database to track in real time the movement of vehicles around the U.S., a secret domestic intelligence-gathering program that scans and stores hundreds of millions of records about motorists, according to current and former officials and government documents.”

According to Barrett, the primary goal of the license plate tracking programs run by the DEA – that’s the Drug Enforcement Administration – is to seize cars, cash, and other assets to combat drug trafficking. However, it’s also being used to,

“…hunt for vehicles associated with numerous other potential crimes, from kidnappings to killings to rape suspects, say people familiar with the matter.”

Of course in the background of this is the war on terror and the fact that after 9/11 2001 the government has been collecting reams of information – millions and billions of bits of information – about ordinary Americans; not Americans who are necessarily under any suspicion at all. You see the clear implication of this article is that many, many cars are being tracked and all of this data is being collected. Not just about targeted cars but about cars in general; any car that may pass through an intersection that has one of these cameras. But the technological question and the moral questions here are absolutely huge because for instance there are complaints that the government shouldn’t be collecting this data. That the data should exist in the first place and that the government can’t be trusted with this kind of data.

Now let’s just back up a moment. A good case might be made that way. Indeed, when you’re looking at this kind of news report it’s hard not to draw conjuring of the prophecies of someone like George Orwell and his book 1984 or Aldous Huxley in his prophetic novel Brave New World. It is a scary world in which, quite frankly, people are being able to track the movement of cars by the license plates that are photographed simply by going through an intersection. But let’s track this the other way. What happens if you’re missing a child and that child just might have been kidnapped and there’s at least some evidence that could track authorities to identify a vehicle? It would be rather reassuring to know that there might be data coming in that would, in real-time, tell law enforcement officials where that car might be, where it might be headed. If you are missing a child, that might be a very reassuring fact.

The very same newspaper, that is the Wall Street Journal, pointed out in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris that one of the interesting dilemmas faced by Americans is that Americans don’t want the data collected but they want the data used. That’s a very interesting quandary. Americans say they don’t trust their government to collect all this data whether by tracking the mail or telephone or email or any number of other data means, but on the other hand they do what the government to be able to identify patterns that would lead to a terrorist attack and prevent that attack. In other words, we want as that old expression used to say, to have our cake and eat it too.

Civil libertarians are up at arms even as this data continues to be collected. And by the way, it’s not clear that any court is involved in any way in supervising or in authorizing this kind of data collection. And the government appears to be continuing to do it; something that was known to Congress, in terms of these kinds of cameras close to the American border with Mexico, but wasn’t so well known, at least were told, even by Congress, when it comes to the rest of the United States. Reports are – if these reports can be trusted – that the most camera rich environment on the planet is the city of London, where if you step outside a building or even inside a public area in a building, you’re likely to be on camera somewhere. One of the other top ranks cities in terms of this kind of surveillance was New York City – you’re not surprised.

And there’s another aspect of this a many people don’t think about. There is nothing to stop a private company from placing a camera somewhere to collect this very data. In other words, if you’re driving on the highway, on public streets, and you’re going through an intersection – or for that matter just passing a piece of property – there is no promise, and there probably shouldn’t be the expectation, that someone isn’t photographing the license plate and documenting it somewhere, storing that data for some kind of use.

Another one of the quandaries that is often noted in terms of the morality of this equation is that many of the people who complain about the government collecting this data – and by the way, I think this is a rather challenging kind of moral question – these are the very same people that routinely click off permission for people to store any number of data points about them, right down to exactly what they’re saying, what they’re buying, with whom they are relating, and even what they’re having for dinner. This is one of those issues that isn’t getting enough attention and it’s not getting enough discussion because we lack the moral vocabulary, even as Christians often, to wonder how we should talk about these things, how we should think about these things.

I’m reminded of a very influential French theologian of the last generation, Jacques Ellul, who wrote about what he called the technological imperative. And he wrote about it even before the digital age. He makes a very important Christian worldview point and that is this, when a new technology arrives it comes with a set of its own imperatives. First the issue is what may we use this technology for. The second question is, and it comes very quickly, why are you not using this technology, because the technology itself insist upon its own use. This is the technological imperative.

You ask, how does that work? Well just consider some of the questions now being faced by parents when it comes to their own children and cell phones and the ability to track their children. Some people will say, ‘You know it’s wrong to track teenagers. You shouldn’t be having them so much under your thumb that you would insist upon knowing where they are at any time.’ And then if anything happens to a teenager and you didn’t do that, people will save to you, ‘why weren’t you being responsible and tracking your teenager so that you knew at every single moment where that teenager might be?’ And of course from a Christian worldview perspective the question is, ‘why would anyone want to hide?’ And yet the other question is where does human dignity come into where our every movement, thought, click on screen, and dinner menu becomes a matter of someone’s use of data collection?

On some issues the Christian worldview says this is right and this is wrong, on other issues the Christian worldview reminds us there are excruciating questions we have to struggle with and think about – questions that are actually rather contextual in some cases and complex in any case. Should Christians use some technology? Must Christians not use some technologies? Are there technologies that it’s irresponsible not to use? Are there technologies that are wrong under all circumstances? Do we live in a world of continual moral negotiation with our new digital technologies? You bet we do.

The Wall Street Journal thought this story was important to put on the front page of the newspaper but what’s missing (and we can understand why it’s missing) is what we’re supposed to do with this. Because it appears even the Wall Street Journal isn’t exactly sure; nor is Congress. And for Christians these are questions we really need to think about and we need to think about them very intently. But there is not going to be an easy answer to this, nor a quick answer, and if there were, there would be a new technology around the corner with a new set of questions.

3) Generation of young shut-ins of Japan exposes need for rich community of the church

I want to shift, finally, to a different story that appeared also in Tuesday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, this one’s just heartbreaking – very sad. The headline, The Fight to Save Japan’s Generation of Shut-Ins. It’s by Shirley Wang writing from Fukuoka, Japan. You know when you think about the term ‘shut-ins’ I think back to my childhood when shut-ins were those who were almost always elderly; they were those who at some point, in terms of their aging, had reached the point that they couldn’t get out of their homes or their nursing homes. I can remember as a child and as a teenager going as part of youth choirs to visit shut-ins and that was considered an important part of church ministry for pastors and for Christian brothers and sisters.

We don’t will hear that term used so often, but you know the number of those who are shut-ins hasn’t grown smaller, it’s actually grown larger in this age of extended lifespans. But the really interesting thing about this article in the Wall Street Journal is that it is not about the aged, not about the aged at all. It’s about something that we’ve been reading about for some time, but not with this kind of intense focus. It’s about a generation known as the hikikomori, they are a generation of young Japanese teenagers and adults who have shut themselves in and are not even leaving their rooms – much less leaving their homes. There are an estimated 500,000 to 2,000,000 hikikomori in the nation of Japan. As Wang writes,

“When the Kimura family moved here from Tokyo, their middle school-aged daughter missed her old friends. Midway into her first year in high school, she stopped going. Between 14 and 19, she barely left the house, and for one year hardly left her room, interacting only with her parents.

Now 33 and recovered, Ms. Kimura says she was ‘hikikomori.’ That’s the name of a type of social withdrawal that can be so severe, people with it don’t leave their houses for years. It’s also what those who suffer from the condition are called.”

Now one of things that emerges from this story and the research behind it is that most of the hikikomori are actually not young girls, the vast majority are young men and teenage boys. As Shirley Wang says, the hikikomori have been a household word in Japan since the 1990s and many Japanese experts call it one of the biggest social and health problems plaguing the country. As Wang writes,

“Sufferers often are men in their 20s and 30s who would be in the workforce but instead are being supported largely by their parents. Government officials worry about who will take responsibility for long-term hikikomori when their parents retire or die.”

Cultural differences come to the fore here even in this report from Japan because some of the authorities in Japan point to differences between Western parenting styles and Asian parenting styles. Western parents, according to this report, are far more eager and effective at aiming their children to the outside world – they consider that an important part of parenting. Asian parents, in particular Japanese parents, according to this article, are not so pushy with their children when it comes to the outside world and they’re reluctant often to address the problem of the hikikomori even when one is living in their own home.

There are other cultural issues that come before; the Japanese educational system is extremely difficult for many young Japanese students, especially adolescents. The sectoring off of students for university on the one hand – a very small minority – and then for the workforce on the other, raises expectations for parents and children that many of them seem to be unable to endure. But as we were talking about technology in the last segment, technology plays a role here too because many, many of the hikikomori are actually either addicted to digital technology or they find greater satisfaction, or at least a refuge, from the outside world in the digital world.

So once again we face that issue of technology but we also face an issue that is very important to the Christian worldview, and that is that we were created at social creatures. We were created in the image of God; first of all so that we can have fellowship with the creator, but we were also created as social creatures – we are not meant to live alone. That’s not a conclusion to which we came, dependent upon sociological evidence, that’s the declaration of our creator in Genesis 2; at the very beginning of the human story. And that Christian affirmation of the fact that we were meant for community and meant for communion points to our responsibility that is really twofold, first of all to make certain that we are related in the way we should be related, and secondly to make certain that we relate in the way that we should relate. That’s one of the reasons why the church is so important in Christian theology, why ecclesiology is such a core doctrine, because our church life is a preparation for eternity in the communion for which we were created. What we should have in every single local church is a repository of the kingdom, a symbol of the kind of Christian community that should emerge from the gospel congregation. A gospel congregation that understands relatedness as brothers and sisters in Christ as a Christian gospel responsibility, not just something that should be a part of the program of the church but what should be the evidence of the gospel itself, lived out in the faithfulness of Christian believers.

In so many these new stories we confront the question is not so much what’s there but what’s not there. And when I read this article, heartbreaking as it is, it appears to me that what’s not there, in a very large sense for Christians, is the church. Where the church is present, this should be, if not nonexistent, than at least very rare and directly addressed. Not merely because we see the problem as sociological, though the Japanese are right, it certainly is, but because we see this problem as deeply theological and thus our responsibility.

So once again as read many headlines and then look beyond the headline to the news article, we need to read such things and analyze such issues not just with the question ‘what’s here?’ but ‘what’s missing?’ and for many Christians the first thing we should notice is what’s missing is the gospel, and what is also missing is the Church.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go 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) Opposition to sex-selective abortion ban absolute marginalization of baby for sake of choice

If Abortion Is A Choice Then Sex Selection Abortion Should Remain Legal, Science 2.0 (Pam Lowe)

2) US government tracking cars presents challenging interface between technology and morality

U.S. Spies on Millions of Drivers, Wall Street Journal (Devlin Barrett)

3) Generation of young shut-ins of Japan exposes need for rich community of the church

The Fight to Save Japan’s Young Shut-Ins, Wall Street Journal (Shirley S. Wang)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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