Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2018

Tuesday, Mar. 20, 2018

The Briefing

March 20, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, March 20, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The intersection of abortion and free speech today at the U.S. Supreme Court

The intersection of abortion and free speech today at The United States Supreme Court. The case pits crisis pregnancy centers as they are known in the state of California over against the state, because in 2015, the state of California violated the rights of those crisis pregnancy centers by requiring those who are operating such ministries to articulate a message antithetical to the pro-life position, and to do so with specific wording that was intended by the state of California to “Lead women to seek and to obtain abortion”.

In his regular column at the Washington Post, George F. Will gets right to heart of the issue when he writes “Governments routinely behave badly, but sometimes their mean spiritedness comes to the Supreme Court’s attention.” He points to the oral arguments in the case today. Speaking of the Supreme Court, he says that “The case will test the constitutionality of measures that California’s government has taken” in his words, “To compel pro-life entities to speak against their own mission.” The oral arguments to be heard today relate to the case known officially as NIFLA vs. Becerra, that’s the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates versus the Attorney General of the state of California. This points back to that year, 2015, when the legislature in California, the general assembly, adopted a law that targeted these crisis pregnancy centers and required them in every conversation with a woman who might enter into those pro-life centers to articulate on behalf of the government of California, and by the coercion of that state government, an explicitly pro-abortion message right down to how women could contact the state about financial assistance in obtaining an abortion.

George Will gets to the heart of the offense in this law when he writes “The government’s obvious, nasty purpose is to make the unlicensed centers’ clients unnecessarily uneasy.” Now, news reports also make very clear, as do the official documents in this case, that the California general assembly … By the way, the law was signed into effect by governor Jerry Brown, that particular law exempts from its coverage any clinic that will offer any abortifacient contraceptives. Now, you’ll also have to note that’s something of an oxymoron when you say “Abortifacient” and contraceptive, but that just fits the modern moral confusion of so much reproductive medicine. We’re talking here about medications that are intended to bring about an early abortion and so long as centers offer those abortifacients, they are exempted from the law. The California general assembly has bared its teeth in demonstrating that it intends to support abortion to the extent that it will violate the free speech rights of crisis pregnancy centers in order to get the message to women that they can obtain an abortion and that the state of California will help to pay for it.

Mark Ramsey, who is a law professor at Catholic University in The Atlantic, makes a very important statement when he says “Most of the time, the government doesn’t get to tell people what to say. If the government has a message it wants to send”, he said, “The government needs to use its own words and its own voice.” That’s a very important issue here, because this case represents the strange, and in some cases unexpected intersection of the question of abortion and free expression, or free speech in America. Because, many people who would take a contrary view on the question of abortion, even right down to the contested issue of abortion rights, and the moral question of what an abortion is, they stand on common ground in understanding that it is extremely dangerous and it is unconstitutional for a government, specifically here, a state government, but beyond that, the government of the United States of America to violate the inherit free speech rights of its citizens by requiring them to articulate a message from the government.

Will also turns the table in this equation by very intelligently and strategically asking the question, “What would be the response of abortion clinics if under the conditions of a pro-life government, legislation were passed, which would require them to articulate a government message concerning the personhood, and the dignity, and the sanctity of life of the unborn child?” You can imagine, and you would be assured of this, that those pro-abortion advocates would be headed as fast as possible to the federal courts all the way up to the Supreme Court of the United States to argue that it is unconstitutional and morally wrong for a government to coerce speech from its citizens, certainly speech contrary to conviction. But, you’ll notice how moral power is used in a society, and how California, almost entirely a one party state under the control of the democratic party, that seems almost to worship at the altar of abortion, you will notice how free speech, even free speech, the first amendment to the US Constitution, is swiftly abandoned in order for the state to use its powers of coercion on the question of abortion. Specifically, against crisis pregnancy centers seeking to convince women not to abort, to murder their unborn child.

Ilya Shapiro, the author of an important brief attached to this case, representing the CATO institute, says that it’s also extremely telling that California has no comparable law requiring abortion providers to post advertisements for adoption agencies, or any other alternative to abortion. Since Roe V. Wade in 1973, there have been a few, very few case to reach the Supreme Court directly on abortion, and every single one of them has been very important. We already know that the decision handed down by the court in this case will be very powerful. Not just about this situation in California, but sending a very clear signal to all 50 states.

In the court of public opinion on the campuses of elite colleges and universities, and at the Supreme Court today, the issue of free speech is very much on the line. We’re about to find out in short order if the justices of the United States Supreme Court mean what they say when they pledge to uphold the constitution of the United States. That includes the right to free speech and that includes the right of a citizen not to have a government, any government coerce speech against conviction.

Part II

Why abortion can never be merely a medical issue

Next, yesterday, a major article appeared in the New York Times about abortion, almost surely not a coincidence with the oral arguments being held today. The author of the article in the Stone column of the New York Times, that’s an article that repeatedly deals with important philosophical questions, the author Laurie Shrage, writing an article entitled “How to Talk about Abortion”, well, the bottom line of the article is that she argues that the way we could move forward in this country talking about abortion, is to stop talking about morality, and instead merely to talk about abortion as a medical procedure. Now, I’ll be honest, when I read the article my first thought was the question as to whether or not this was meant to be serious. Can anyone expect to be taken with moral seriousness in the year 2018, decades after the Roe V. Wade decision, and after generations of debate over abortion, can anyone with a straight face even in a philosophical context argue that we can talk about abortion merely as a medical procedure?

Trying to simplify the issue, she says “Consider for instance, that ‘abortion'”, that’s put in quotation marks, “Is really an umbrella term for a number of different medical procedures appropriate for different stages of pregnancy, each with significantly different health risks. Abortion,” she says, “Is first and foremost a medical service or procedure, not an individual action, and thus a more important and relevant question for public policy is under what circumstances, or for what reasons, should the government prohibit properly trained medical professionals from performing an abortion? This-,” she says, “Is a question that fellow citizens can productively debate and that may lead to a consensus.” Then again, it might not. As a matter of fact, it must not lead to a consensus, because if so, that consensus would be atop the unparalleled murder of millions of unborn human beings simply calling the procedure by which they murdered nothing more than a medical service. That’s the terms that’s used straightforwardly and honestly in this article.

It’s also very interesting that this philosopher says “The individual or personal ethics question on the moral acceptability of abortion is not likely to generate a public consensus,” I love these last words, “Given the current lack of agreement on many background issues.” Now, let’s just be honest. One of those so-called “Background” issues is whether or not that unborn child is a child, is a human person to be recognized with human rights. If you can dismiss those ultimate questions merely as background issues, then you can argue just about anything. Shrage goes on to say “A pluralist, democratic society can accommodate a good amount of such disagreement”, she means on this fundamental moral question of abortion, the lack of agreement on many background issues. Yet, she says, and I quote, “It is necessary that we do reach a strong consensus about to regulate the public service. So, moral, political, and philosophical analysis’ should aim to illuminate the issues that can help generate such a consensus.”

Now, let me just ask the question, I mean this quite honestly. What if you were to try to apply this argument to the context of the Nazi doctors during the time of the Nazi regime in the Third Reich? What would be the result of transferring this argument that we need to transcend morality and simply deal with procedures as so-called medical services? Where would that lead? Well, we have the answer as to where that leads, we know the history of the Third Reich, and we know the legacy of the Nazi doctors. Shrage asked the question, “So, what about abortion? How should governments restrict or regulate the abortion services offered by medical professionals or facilities? Because this is an issue-“, she says “About good medicine, we need to focus on health risks and outcomes instead of personal ethics.”

Now, let’s just pose for a minute that it’s even possible to consider this as a medical question apart from personal morality. Let’s just ask what would it mean to talk about outcomes when you reduce abortion to a so-called medical service. The outcome for whom? The outcome for the woman might be one thing, but the outcome for the unborn child is death. In a bizarre turn in her article, she writes “The state also has an interest in protecting fetal human life, even if fetuses are not legal persons, but the state interest needs to be balanced against others.” That’s one of the statements that appears virtually out of the blue and is unsustainable given the total architecture of her argument. But, she goes on none the less. She writes, “If in the future a public consensus on the question of when human personhood begins, in particular, one that agrees that a human person could exist before any complex psychological properties have developed, then we would need to recognize that there is more than one patient. Patient, like abortion earlier, is now put in quotation marks, involved in an abortion.

“We are not there, yet”, she says, “To get there-“, notice her words carefully, “To get there, the minority who believe this would have to convince the rest of us this metaphysical or religiously based assertion. Until they do-,” she says, “We need to focus on the more manageable and relevant question of how to regulate a medical service or procedure that is sought by millions of women.” Though, when you ask the question from what possible worldview could these arguments come, well, that answer gets clarified even later in the article when Professor Shrage writes, and I quote, “Questions like ‘Is homosexuality immoral?’ Or ‘Is abortion immoral?’ Suggest that entire groups of people that pursue activities necessary to securing their basic human needs are possibly morally compromised and are, thus, insulting.” Now, just consider what we’re told here. Making an argument that homosexuality is immoral or even making an argument, she says, that abortion is immoral, simply stigmatizes people, people who are, in her words, “Pursuing activities necessary to securing their basic human needs.”

Well, now we know the worldview from which this argument is coming. It’s an argument in which the unborn child has absolutely no status and the only question is the medical affect of an abortion, and the medical affect is specifically limited to the woman seeking and obtaining the abortion. Further more, we are told that it is now illegitimate for the government even to ask the question if there might be a moral dimension to abortion, because that would be insulting to those who are seeking an abortion. One of the laws of public life is often referred to as the law of “Unintended consequences” and I thought of that when I noticed the biographical mention of Professor Laurie Shrage. She’s identified as the author of “Abortion and Social Responsibility: Depolarizing the Debate.” But, if this professor of philosophy at Florida International University thought that this argument would depolarize the debate, the unintended consequence is likely to be exactly the opposite.

But, as we’re thinking about this law of unintended consequences, we need also to reflect upon the fact that sometimes a really, really bad argument can lead intellectually honest people to some really, really good rethinking. We can only hope that’s the unintended consequence of this article.

Part III

Just in time for United Nations World Happiness Day, Finland recognized as the happiest nation on earth

Next, we shoot to a very different kind of report. USA Today reported last week that the happiest country on earth is Finland. Perhaps you wondered if there is even a way to know what the happiest country on earth is. If you’re doubtful about that, then you’re sane, because as it turns out, there is an annual ranking undertaken by an organization that is allied with, you guessed it already, the United Nations, determining which country is happiest on any given year. So, even as the Fins came in number one in the year 2018 report, they were only number five just a year ago. How did the country that was number five last year become the happiest place on earth this year? It is because this is all a political game, but what we need to note is that politicians around the world, and those who are trying to bring about moral change, have decided that one of the tools of their toolkit is the concept of happiness.

USA Today tells us that the report from the organization was released in time for United Nations’ World Happiness Day. Perhaps that wasn’t on your calendar, but don’t worry, it’s today! You didn’t miss it. Today is United Nations’ World Happiness Day. USA Today then tells us that the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions network then rated the nations of the world, 156 countries, on six variables they defined as happiness. Income, life expectancy, freedom, social support, trust, and generosity. Now, the first thing you must note is that there is no way to quantify many of the issues that the United Nations organization says that it is using in order to define the happiest people on earth. As you look at the country, following Finland in the top 10 are Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Canada, New Zealand, Sweden, and Australia. Do you catch a theme here? At least one thing would be this, the United Nations is defining happiness in such a way that it seems to fit more socialist nations, but when it comes to Scandinavia, the nations predominating this list is not really fair to call them socialist. That’s a confusing issue many American liberals want to speak to them as if they are socialists, they are not.

But, they do have massive social welfare programs, massive national tax spending towards these welfare systems, and they are also, you should note, largely unitary, very small populations. And, we are told that these northern European countries “Where the emotional range is more modulated” in a sense that they’re humming along at fairly high levels, but don’t have the emotional peaks and valleys that other Europeans countries have, score higher on happiness. That according to a report on the report by the BBC.

Now, here’s where worldview simply intrudes once again when we ask why an organization of the United Nations would  decide that happiness could be quantified and then it can be ranked on an annual basis. That worldview analysis then helps us to understand why a group with the worldview of the United Nations would decide specific criteria that just tend to point towards not only one specific form of economy and government, but also towards one geographical region? Where, of all things, as the BBC says, these northern European countries have … And, I simply have to quote this again, “An emotional range that is more modulated.” I’m not sure exactly what to do with that. Finland, we are told, the happiest nation on earth according to the UN, is also known as the land of the midnight sun. Finland, according to the article, “Boasts long, dark winters, and short summers bathed in almost continuous light.” What that has to do with anything, I don’t know. How you can then have the United Nations organization say that the contentment range is related to the fact that the emotional range is more modulated.

The point is this, happiness is being used by this international organization in order to make a political, an economic, and a moral argument that almost has nothing to do assuredly, with whether or not the Fins are actually happier than anyone else. But, this is where Christians on this issue should think very carefully about happiness and the role the idea of happiness played even in the founding of this nation, and the idea of what kind of government the United States should have. In the Declaration of Independence, of course, there is the language of the right of the people to seek life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Now, what’s most important about that is the enlightenment background to the use of the word “Happiness” and to the fact that happiness, unlike life and liberty, does not stand alone. Happiness in that enlightenment worldview was tied to meaning and life, and the idea was that happiness was an internal reality that would match the individual, and the individual’s worldview to the freedom to live out that worldview, to seek one’s own individual meaning in life against having that meaning coerced upon us by the regime.

The important thing to recognize is that life stands alone, liberty stands alone, but happiness is preceded by the pursuit of happiness.  The idea there was that central to the founding of the United States was a diversity of individuals seeking a different kind of happiness, but the common life, and the common liberty, and the common freedom and respect to pursue that happiness. Now, in economic terms, that meant that persons should be free as economic actors to make their own economic decisions. Some would seek this, others would seek that. A very consumer society, but choice is premised upon that pursuit of happiness. So, also vocation, choices about education. But, beyond that, even the bigger issues in life have meaning. That would come right down to religious conviction. Pursuit of happiness. In the words of the founders of the United States and in the very words of our Declaration of Independence relates to something that the United Nations not only does not seem to respect nor understand, that something that can’t be quantified into anything so ridiculous as an annual ranking of national happiness.

So, in the final analysis, you’ll be the judge of whether or not you feel happy, and whether or not you’re happy about the world happiness score assigned by the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions network. But, [inaudible 00:20:38] for Christians to understand very importantly is that the biblical worldview does not highly value, nor prioritize happiness. Instead, the biblical world points us to something more fundamental and that is joy. Joy, according to the biblical worldview, is grounded in objective truth. The objective truth of the existence of God, the character of God, and the power of God to save. That’s a matter of joy, not mere happiness. But, nonetheless, I want to wish to you and to yours, a happy United Nations World Happiness Day, for whatever that’s worth.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can find 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 tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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