The Briefing 10-09-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, October 9, 2015. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Withdrawal of McCarthy from Speaker nomination reflects battle for soul of Republican party
The political world in the United States was rocked yesterday when the Speaker presumptive to the United States House of Representatives announced at the very last moment that he would not be running for that post. He did so even as the Republican caucus was meeting to nominate a new Speaker of the House. He did so even as he had been considered the frontrunner for that role ever since the current Speaker of the House, Representative John Boehner, had announced a couple of weeks ago that he would be stepping down from the office. That was also an announcement that rocked the political establishment.
But the announcement yesterday was, in many ways, even more of a shock. Representative Kevin McCarthy of California had been the frontrunner for that role and he had been seen as the candidate of the Republican establishment. He was largely handpicked by the Speaker of the House as his own successor. Once Eric Cantor, who had been the Majority Leader in the House, lost in the last election cycle, the last obstacle was removed for Kevin McCarthy to move into the number two slot. As of a few days ago, even as of yesterday, the presumption was he would move into the number one slot as Speaker of the House of Representatives.
But in the announcement that was made yesterday shocking his fellow Republicans, Rep. McCarthy said he was not going to run as Speaker because even though he was assured of getting the Republican nomination, he was not assured of actually being elected Speaker of the House. That's because given the rules of the House, he would need 218 votes. There were a significant number of Republicans who are expected to vote against him yesterday who were also expected to vote against him when the actual vote for the Speaker came up later this month. Rep. McCarthy, currently the Republican Majority leader in the United States House of Representatives, announced that he made his decision for what he called "the good of the house", suggesting that what the House needed in terms of leadership was a fresh face.
What's really going on here is a battle for the soul of the Republican party. That's going to be something that is going to take a great deal of our national attention over the next few days precisely because the presumptive heir to Speaker John Boehner has now withdrawn. That leaves an open battle for the Speakership. That leads to a host of issues for thinking Christians.
The first that comes to mind is the affirmation in this particular issue of the fact that even as America is increasingly divided between two political parties, it's also divided between two political worldviews. Two larger worldviews have meaning and morality. But we need to note that this particular controversy is not between Democrats and Republicans, at least not yet. It's currently between Republicans and other Republicans, a battle for the soul of the Republican party. Which tells us that even as there are two giant worldviews now separating Americans one from the other, there are also breakdowns within those two worldviews of those who are operating in terms of different understandings of priorities and political strategies. That's reflected right now on the Democratic left in the 2016 Presidential nomination race and it's also reflected not only among Republican Presidential candidates but also in this big question as to who will lead the House of Representatives.
That leads to another understanding important for intelligent Christians, and that is this. Even persons who operate out of what is basically the same worldview, even in terms of political goals, may differ in terms of the strategies and approaches that would take us toward those goals. Thus, you have a disagreement between Republicans and other Republicans, between Democrats and other Democrats on many issues precisely because there is a disagreement over the appropriate political strategy to be undertaken on any particular issue at any given moment. Sometimes, political debates are over deep philosophical, ideological worldview moral issues. Sometimes they are over basic issues of priority and strategy. Those are two very different kinds of questions. Both of them, however, are central and for that matter inescapable when it comes to politics.
We also have something else that intelligent Christians should think about here. At the national level, we vote every four years for a candidate to serve as President of the United States and on that ticket, also, Vice President of the United States. We vote every two years for every single seat in the House of Representatives. We vote every 6 years in alternating terms for every member of the United States Senate but we do so in that sense only for the two Senators from our state. A single voter in America votes for one candidate for the House of Representatives depending upon where we live in congressional district. In alternating political cycles, we vote eventually for two candidates to serve in the United States Senate. Every four years we vote for a President and Vice President of the United States. That means at the federal level, we vote for a total of 5 different candidates, President, and Vice President, two United States Senators and depending on our district, one member of the House of Representatives.
But we need to keep in mind that there are constitutional offices in which we have no vote. One of those is the Speaker of the House. The Speaker of the House is elected by the elected members of the House of Representatives. The Speaker of the House, you will remember, is third in line of succession when it comes to the Presidency of the United States. That line goes from the President to the Vice President to the Speaker of the House. But we don't vote directly for the Speaker of the House, members of Congress do. The Speaker of the House is one of the most powerful positions in American politics. The Speaker of the House basically determines the order of business in the House and whether or not a bill will ever meet the floor of the House of Representatives.
The Constitutional presiding officer in terms of the United States Senate is the Vice President of the United States. But even as he holds that ceremonial role, the Vice President only votes on a bill before the Senate in the case of a split vote. We also need to note that there are a number of other Constitutional offices, there are appointive rather than elected. That extends of course to the federal judiciary but also to the President's Cabinet. But we need to note that those positions are appointive but they require the consent of the United States Senate. We also need to keep in mind that there are offices of enormous responsibility for which there is not even a confirmation process. No consent of the Senate is necessary.
An example of that kind of role will be the individual who serves as Chief of Staff to the President of the United States. That has been in every modern administration an outsized role of enormous power and responsibility. But that person is not elected by the people and that person is not even confirmed by the United States Senate. The appointment of that position is at the sole discretion of the President of the United States.
As thinking Christians look at the developing bombshell in terms of the new choice of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, we need to note that we do not have a direct role in this process. That affirms the fact that we do live in a Democratic form of government but it is not a direct Democracy. It is instead a constitutional republic. That's a very important difference. We also need to note that even though we do not have a vote in this particular choice, we do have an interest and thinking Christians will watch this very closely because the new Speaker of the House of Representatives will be one of the most powerful individuals in government. How that person is chosen will tell us a great deal about our political future.
#ShoutYourAbortion falters over moral difficulty of unconditional celebration of abortion
In recent days, we've talked about the #shoutyourabortion hashtag movement on Twitter, an effort begun by those who support abortion rights with the effort of removing what they call the stigma attached to abortion. We've talked about the worldview issues that are very clear in that particular effort. Bu7t now there's a huge story that has appeared on the front page of the New York Times. Its headline "Shout Your Abortion" gets angry shouts back. Reporter Tamar Lewin in rights about the two women at the heart of this effort, first of all, Amelia Bonow and then Lindy West. She tells us that these women who began this particular effort have found themselves at the very center of a public controversy over abortion. Of course, it's a controversy they largely incited through the #shoutyourabortion hashtag.
But what's really interesting and deeply chilling about this particular article is what it reveals about the worldview behind abortion in general and behind the "shout your abortion" effort in specific. What you have here is a statement being made by one of the women, in this case, Ms. West who said and I quote, "One of the final hurdles is getting into people's heads that the reason for an abortion doesn't matter." She went on to say, "Women own their own bodies and you just can't force someone to bring a baby into the world." She's identified in the article not only as the person who came up with the #shoutyourabortion hashtag, but she's identified as being best known as a writer for the website, Jezebel.
In this article in the New York Times, her worldview is all too apparent. Let me go back to that statement. She said that one of the final hurdles, remember her effort is to remove what she calls the unfair stigma about abortion, she says that, "One of the final hurdles is getting it", these are her words again, "into people's heads that the reason for an abortion doesn't matter." One of the things we've said repeatedly in talking about the abortion issue of late is that the argument being made by the staunch defenders of what they call abortion rights is that an abortion should be legal and it should be available to any woman in any place at any time for any reason, or for that matter, for no reason at all.
The argument explicit in her statement is that there is no wrong issue, there is no wrong argument for abortion. She says, point blank,
"Women own their own bodies and you just can't force someone to bring a baby into the world."
Rarely, if ever, do we see this kind of absolute candor when it comes to the question of abortion. Rarely do you have an abortion rights advocate quite this bold and quite this revealing to say there is no bad reason for an abortion. Abortion is basically a good unto itself. There is never the acknowledgment that it is the killing of an unborn human life because that unborn human life simply, according to this worldview, doesn't really exist. It certainly doesn't matter.
The article also cites the other woman behind this effort, Ms. Bonow, who said, "Having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way. Why wouldn't I be happy?" she asks, "That I was not forced to become a mother." Even if you have many, even in the Democratic, even in the pro-choice movement as they characterize it, who have argued according to the words of former President Bill Clinton, that abortion should be, in his words, "safe, legal and rare", these women are arguing it shouldn't be rare, it shouldn't be stigmatized. It shouldn't have a bad reputation. It should be celebrated as an end unto itself. As this woman said, "Having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way. I don't think, to be quite honest, that I found anyone who's made that kind of statement so boldly on these terms.
Here you have a woman ready to tell the entire world that she felt very happy about her abortion, she didn't even have the slightest twinge of conscience, to use her words again, "Having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way”. According to this report in the New York Times, this statement wasn't made in some closed room in a backdoor session. It was instead posted by this very individual on her Facebook page for all the world to see.
Later in the article, another woman posting to the effort said, and I quote,
"In 1988, a late term abortion got a teenage me back on track for college , career and motherhood."
This is one of those statements that simply defies the moral imagination. Here you have a woman, and by the way, we need to note how she introduces the sentence. She says, "In 1988, a late term abortion", that means an abortion after the point of viability of the fetus, and she says that that abortion, and here are her words again, "got a teenage me back on track," for what she says? "for college, for career and for motherhood." At that point, we simply have to ask how anyone with a straight face morally speaking can say that it was a late-term abortion that got them back on track for motherhood. That is a statement of what simply has to be called "moral insanity", for that's what it is.
It's really important to note that this article on the front page of the New York Times after all appeared there but it also tells us that this effort, the "Shout Your Abortion" movement isn't working. As Tamar Lewin reports,
"This week shout your abortion posts dwindled to a couple of thousand a day. With fewer people sharing their stories and the chain devolving into both sides arguing the usual points on the issue."
Earlier in the article, Lewin tells us that when the effort was first launched, it drew more than 150,000 Twitter posts according to Lewin,
"showing how volatile and emotional an issue abortion still is four decades after the Supreme Court declared it legal."
What this article in the New York Times tells us is that the Shout Your Abortion movement isn't working and it's failing not because of a failed digital strategy, not because of a failure in terms of its political approach, it's failing because you are never going to be able to remove what they call the stigma of abortion. That's because every time you even use the word "abortion", you are pointing actually to the moral reality it represents. You're talking about the abortion of a life. You're talking about the abortion of a human life. You're talking about the intentional termination, the intentional murder of a baby in the womb.
The fact is that so long as you use the word "abortion", there is no way that you can avoid the centrality of the moral issues at stake. That's why there has been an effort to try to shift the issue to choice on the part of many in the pro-abortion camp. But, as we have seen, that really didn't work either. Furthermore, what you see in this article very explicitly, is an impatience in terms of the abortion rights movement with even Democratic politicians and so-called pro-choice politicians who want to say, as President Clinton said, that abortion should be safe, legal and rare.
Once you use the word "rare" they are arguing, you're acknowledging that there could be some abortion that under some circumstance for some reason shouldn't happen. According to their understanding and their worldview, there's basically no abortion that shouldn't happen. To go back to the statement made by Ms. Bonow, "Having an abortion made me happy in a totally unqualified way." Just imagine what that statement really means and feel the horror of it.
Recycling thrives despite questioned ecological impact because helps people feel virtuous
Finally, there was another important article in the New York Times that's likely to be missed by many but from a Christian worldview perspective, it's really important because it tells us something about how we go about the process of moral reasoning and how at time we make certain decisions we think are moral decisions basically to make ourselves feel better about ourselves. John Tierney is a science writer for the New York Times. He writes about what he calls, the reign of recycling. The bottom line of the story is very easy to understand.
For the last 30 to 40 years, the United States has been involved in a movement towards the recycling of materials, paper, plastics, metal and many other things. But it turns out that the recycling movement is an environmental disaster. It's also an economic disaster and no one really wants to admit it. In his article published just this week in the New York Times, Tierney writes,
"In 1996, I wrote a long article for the New York Times magazine arguing that the recycling process as we carried it out was wasteful. I presented plenty of evidence that recycling was costly and ineffective but its defenders said that it was unfair to rush to judgment.”
Noting that the modern recycling movement had really just begun just a few years earlier, they predicted it would flourish as they industry matured and as the public learned how to recycle properly.
"What's happened since then?" he asks.
"While it's true that the recycling message has reached more people than ever, when it comes to the bottom line both economically and environmentally, not much has changed at all."
He goes on to say that
"Recycling fails at several different levels. For one thing, in terms of carbon emissions, it's actually more costly to go through the recycling process in many cases than to come up with new materials and to simply bury the old materials in a landfill. Those who are arguing that America would run out of space for landfills and that landfills were themselves, a blight upon the ecology"
He pointed out that "landfills have been vastly improved and many of them are actually producing methane gas for use of energy." He pointed out that in a nation with this much land, it's actually ludicrous to suggest that somehow we're going to run out of space to bury our garbage.
Later in his article, Tierney writes, and I quote,
"The future for recycling looks even worse. As cities move beyond recycling paper and metals and then to glass, food scraps and assorted plastics, the costs rise sharply while the environmental benefits decline and sometimes vanish."
"Recycling has been relentlessly promoted as a goal in of itself an unalloyed public good and private virtue that is indoctrinated in students from kindergarten through college."
"As a result, otherwise well-informed and educated people have no idea of the relative costs and benefits."
My interest in this article is not basically over recycling. Even as the science here is documented very clearly, I think most of us feel in some sense, morally virtuous for recycling. For taking the care to separate out recyclable products and somehow feeling like we're doing the Earth a favor in doing so. But there's actually a very important point to this article about the way we do moral reasoning and the fact that at least some of our moral reasoning, if we're not careful, is actually an attempt to make us feel better about ourselves, to make ourselves feel virtuous. Tierney gets right to that point. In asking why the recycling movement survives politically and culturally, Tierney writes, and I quote, "Then why does so many public officials keep vowing to do more of it? Special interest politics is one reason, pressure from green groups, but it's also because recycling intuitively appeals to many voters." It makes people feel virtuous especially affluent people who feel guilty about their enormous environmental footprints. It is less in ethical activity than a religious ritual like the ones performed by Catholics to obtain indulgences for their sins."
That is a fascinating, incredibly interesting statement. Here, you have someone who is a science writer for the New York Times saying, when it comes to recycling, it's really not an effort that in any way is justifiable on ecological terms or economic terms. It shouldn't then be justifiable on political terms or on moral terms. But we continue to feel virtuous when we recycle or when we at least think we're recycling. But what Tierney gets to here is that that's exactly what's going on.
To get back to what he says, he says,
"it's also because recycling intuitively appeals to many voters. It makes people feel virtuous."
Now, that's the point, isn't it? We need to acknowledge that if we're not careful to think things through in terms of a consistent worldview, then we will make some big choices. Economic choices, political choices, relationship choices, we'll make social choices, we will make moral choices, and choose some moral positions because doing so makes us feel more virtuous. We are actually, as this article makes clear, incredibly incompetent at making ourselves virtuous by trying to appear virtuous or even to make ourselves virtuous.
It's interesting that this comes from a secular writer in a secular paper, operating from everything we can tell from an entirely secular worldview. But he notes the parallels between recycling and a religious impulse, specifically tying it to the Roman Catholic Church's teaching on indulgences. But leaving that aside, the big issue is that sometimes we indulge our own sense of wanting to feel morally virtuous by doing things that actually aren't virtuous at all.
We need to be very careful and if these Christians need to be constantly reminded, that we have to go back to the scripture, we have to go back to the wealth of the Christian worldview. We have to think things through in a consistent way otherwise, failing that test of consistency, we'll find ourselves taking some position because, in doing so, we like ourselves better. Let's face it. We all want to like ourselves. We all want to feel virtuous about the positions we take and the arguments that we make.
But now, as this article makes clear, and it should shoot far beyond the secular audience right to the Christian audience as well, we should understand that making ourselves feel virtuous is not substitute for virtue. If that's true, for the secular readers of the New York Times, it's certainly far more true, for more emphatically true, for Christians who are accountable to everything that the Bible teaches and to the consistency of reasoning through all things and reaching our understanding of all things through the lens of that scripture.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.