Tuesday, May 29, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, May 29, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Historic and deadly vote in Ireland to repeal abortion ban marks massive moral and theological shift
Viewed from any conceivable angle, Friday's big decision in Ireland repealing a constitutional ban on abortion is historic, but as we know, it's not only historic, it's deadly. As Paul Hannon reported for the Wall Street Journal, Irish voters repealed a constitutional ban on abortion, a sweeping change that caps an emotion-filled debate and marks another significant step away from the country's historic Catholic influence but, of course, the headlines tell a great deal of the story.
The headline in the Wall Street Journal, "Irish repeal abortion ban in landslide." The front page of Sunday's edition of The New York Times, "Landslide vote by Irish to end ban on abortion." In this case, the use of the word "landslide" is justified. As we look at the story, we see this is no exaggeration. Over 65 percent of those who voted on Friday in Ireland, voted to repeal that nation's law that was known as the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution. Also passed overwhelmingly by the Irish people back in 1983, the 8th Amendment very clearly stated an unborn child has a right to life, a right to life on par with any other human life. That's the exact language that was overwhelmingly repealed by the very same Irish people in the year 2018, just last Friday.
We're talking here about something just about everyone in the international media has tied to a massive moral change. Behind that moral change, there is also the almost universal recognition that this is a huge theological change. When we're talking about Ireland, we're talking about a specific kind of technological change. We are talking about the decline, indeed we might now say the collapse of Catholic authority within Ireland. That hardly seems possible. It seems just almost parabolic that when you say "Ireland," you're speaking of Roman Catholic, St. Patrick, the entire tradition. Of course, it was Catholicism and the influence of the Catholic Church that explained why, in 1983, Ireland became, even then, something of an outlier in European nations by making very clear a constitutional recognition of the right to life of the unborn.
We're not just talking about change, we're not just talking about moral change. We are talking about an absolutely seismic change that has taken place within one human lifespan, even less than that. We're talking about an issue as central to Irish identity as abortion. The Prime Minister of Ireland, Leo Varadkar, said, quote, "This has been a great exercise of democracy." He went on to say, "The people have spoken and the people have said, 'We want a modern constitution for a modern country.'" He went on to say that, "We trust women" and that "We respect them to make the right decisions and the right choices about their own healthcare," end quote. Now, embedded within that statement is just about everything we need to know about the contours of the giant change that has taken place in Ireland. Even behind this statement we have to recognize that the man who made the statement, the Prime Minister of Ireland, is himself openly gay. We also have to keep in mind that just less than three years ago, Ireland also, by action of its voters, became the very first nation on Earth to legalize same sex marriage by democratic vote.
Pro-abortion activists have been working for this change for a very long time, but even as of last Thursday, it was not believed that those forces should have confidence as they looked to the vote on Friday. Why? Because the Irish people, even though they have been liberalizing on so many moral issues, on the issue of abortion there was no assurance that the Irish people were going to liberalize on the question of the sanctity of human life, but of course they did, and they did so overwhelmingly. In that action are some massive lessons, not only for Ireland but for all of us.
In one sense, Ireland is a fairly young nation. It gained its independence from the British Empire only in 1922, thus it's less than a century old. One of the hallmarks of Ireland when it broke from the British Empire is the fact that it was resolutely and overwhelmingly Catholic. Even as we look at the vote on Friday, we have to understand that the vote was not merely a repudiation of the 8th Amendment, it was a clear repudiation of the Catholic Church in Ireland. There may be many reasons for this, including the legacy of sex abuse, child abuse scandals that have robbed the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland of a great deal of its moral authority. We also have to note that that moral authority had begun to erode long before those abuse scandals came to public life. The factor behind that is the secularization of Europe, a secularization process that has raced ahead far more quickly than we have seen in North America, at least until recently.
Here we also have to observe that it was Ireland that was believed to be the outlier, the exception, but Ireland, it turns out, is not an exception. Now consider the language that was used by the Prime Minister. He said that the voters indicated on Friday that they wanted, "A modern constitution for a modern nation," meaning Ireland. What we need to note there is the conflation of the word "modern" with abortion. That tells us a very great deal about the massive moral change that has taken place, not only in Ireland and pervasively in Europe, but in North America as well. That is the idea that modernity, being modern is associated with autonomous individualism, and the sacrament of the religion of autonomous individualism is abortion.
Jason Horowitz, in a front-page story for yesterday's edition of The New York Times, which by the way, deserves credit among newspapers for giving the most insightful coverage of the vote, Horowitz wrote an article with a headline, "Secular Europe rises and Pope looks to the South." Horowitz began his article by writing, "When nearly one-third of Ireland's Catholic population came to see Pope John Paul II celebrate a papal Mass in Dublin in 1979, divorce, homosexual acts and abortion were all illegal in the country. Ireland," he wrote, "Like much of Europe, toed the line on Roman Catholic Church teaching," end quote.
You go back to 1979, Pope John Paul II, a third of the entire citizenry of Ireland turned out to observe a public Mass by the Pope, but that was then and this is now. That Pope, we should note, was resolutely pro-life. Not so much the current Pope. Not that he has done anything to repeal the Catholic Church's teaching on the sanctity of human life. To the contrary, he has affirmed it, but he has not made it a major thing of his public ministry, of his Pontificate.
Horowitz writes, quote, "Across Western Europe, the Church's once mighty footprint has faded, in no small measure because of self-inflicted clerical sex abuse scandals and an inability to keep up with and reach contemporary Catholics. Church attendance has plummeted," he wrote. "Parishes are merging, and new priests and nuns are in short supply. Gay marriage is on the rise and abortion is widely legal." He also looked to Francis and wrote, quote, "And yet, Pope Francis is not sounding the alarm or calling the faithful to the ramparts. He seems resigned to accept," says Horowitz, "That a devout and Catholic Europe has largely slipped into the Church's past." End quote. Now, this is something we have observed over and over again, the massive change that has taken place in Europe. It's not just a change towards a more secularized Europe, that would be significant enough. It's a change to the extent that much of Europe wants to repudiate, perhaps even just to forget the Christian past that gave European civilization its birth.
We also need to remember the dates here. That public Mass by John Paul II, 1979. That action by the Irish people to put the 8th Amendment in place, recognizing the sanctity of unborn life, 1983. The vote that took place on the question of abortion repealing that Amendment, it was just last Friday. We are talking about a rapid moral change, the velocity of which, if not unprecedented, has even caught the attention, the very rapt attention, of a secular audience. If this were just about Ireland or for that matter, just about the Roman Catholic Church, Evangelical Christians in the United States and elsewhere could probably ignore it, but I think we sense it's not just about Ireland and it's certainly not just about the Roman Catholic Church, but the collapse of the authority of that Church in Ireland and Europe, it is stunning.
Frankly, it's rarely documented so clearly as Jason Horowitz accomplished in yesterday's edition of The New York Times. Horowitz tells us that just last week, Pope Francis told those gathered for the Italian Bishops' Conference that it was time, that in Italy, to look at consolidating parishes, a rather radical reduction in the total number of Catholic parishes in Italy. Then Horowitz writes quote, "In Italy, many Catholic parishes are now operated by clergy born outside the country." I'll just stop there and say that's a pretty shocking development that in many of the already declining Italian parishes, they don't even have Italian priests. That's not something that's likely to make it into popular culture or to catch the attention of Hollywood.
Then Horowitz writes, quote, "In mostly Catholic Luxembourg, the government, led by a gay prime minister, abolished religious teaching in state schools in September. In 2012, the Archdiocese of Vienna," again, one of the most highly populated Catholic areas, "Consolidated its 660 parishes into 150." Then consider this, quote, "Only one in five Catholics attend Mass in Spain now. In France, it's one in ten. In the Netherlands, Mass attendance among Catholics is down to about five percent. In Germany, financial contributions to the church have thinned." Horowitz went on to say, "In Ireland, this week's vote was only the latest step away from a Church that long dominated the country's culture."
In abortion vote, Ireland embraces modern European identity over historic theological identify
Also in yesterday's edition of The New York Times, was an article by Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura. Headline in this article, "With abortion vote Irish embrace chance to back liberal values." Freytas-Tamura writes, quote, "In a remarkably compact span of time, the country has gone from being a bastion of social conservatism in the West to a place that wholeheartedly embraces positions that would have been unthinkable just a generation ago." The reporter goes on to say, "The culture of silence and deference to religious authority that long dominated Ireland is gone. The country that has emerged is an unlikely leader of liberal values."
The reporter cites Adam Tyrrell, age 24, who said, quote, "Ireland has changed 180 degrees on everything." Ireland is a nation of about 4.8 million people and as this report tells us, it has experienced some of the fastest social and economic change in the world. The reporter tells us, quote, "In a matter of 30 years, Ireland has gone from being a poor and deeply Roman Catholic country to one that is seeing high growth rates and has installed a gay man as Prime Minister."
Well, when you look at all of these articles and you come to understand the secular observation of Friday's vote, there is a sense on the secular left of relief, relief that Ireland is no longer an outlier. Relief that one of the nations that had refused to go along with the pro-abortion tide has now finally succumbed and is flowing very much with that tide, not against it. As Christians try to think about the meaning of the vote on Friday in Ireland, and then we try also to think about what it means for the rest of us, we need to recognize, first of all, that what took place in Ireland was the detonation of a moral time bomb, and we need to recognize that that bomb is embedded in just about every modern nation. The question is when, not if it goes off. It waited until Friday of last week to go off in Ireland.
On the question of abortion, it went off in the United States. Well, to think of just one historic hallmark, in January of 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision. What we note in Ireland in contradistinction to the United States, is that here, ever since 1973, the abortion argument has grown hotter, and it can be argued the pro-life forces have actually grown. The devastating reality of the time bomb that went off last week in Ireland is that this was a democratic vote. The American people did not vote on Roe v. Wade. There is no evidence that they would have voted for anything so extreme on the question of abortion. The Irish people did vote, and that gives an unusual sense of importance to what took place in Ireland last week.
Several lessons here. Number one, we note the identification of modern culture and being a modern nation with a liberal pattern on moral issues. In Ireland, amazingly enough, that is represented by the fact they have an openly gay Prime Minister, that within the last three years, they legalized same-sex marriage, and now they've also legalized what will be amounting to abortion on demand within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy. At this point, we need to recognize that Ireland here is in the context of Europe. That 12 week period is rather common in the European nations, but now we need to note that it is the United States that is the moral outlier. The United States allows abortion, effectively on demand, in some senses, all the way, almost until a baby is born, but certainly until the third trimester. You'll notice that when you define modern, in this sense, this means a modern morality. That's the language that was being used by Ireland's political leader, and that's the sense in which we understand it. That's the sense that a newspaper like the New York Times was celebrating.
A second insight, moral issues are connected. Many observers were saying that it would be possible for the vote on the 8th Amendment in Ireland to go down to defeat, for pro-life forces to win, even as recently as the middle of last week, and the reason offered was this: It's one thing for a nation to legalize same sex marriage, but for a Catholic nation, the pro-life issue is even more central and important, but that's refuted by the vote that took place on Friday. Here, we as Christians doing world view analysis, we understand that moral issues are inherently interconnected. You really can't liberalize the very definition of marriage without liberalizing other huge issues of life. In one sense, the vote that took place last week on abortion was almost baked into the cake of the vote that legalized same sex marriage less than three years ago.
A third insight is when you look at Ireland and you look at the vote, this tells us that Irish people now consider their European identity, their modern European identity, to be far more important than their historic Catholic identity. This is where Protestant Evangelicals need to look very closely, because the loss of theological authority is here merely symbolized by this rapid change that has taken place in Ireland. We sense that the same kind of change is taking place elsewhere. Here we understand as thinking Christians, that when a society secularizes like this, the modern morality that it adopts is a morality that is explicitly, self-consciously, perhaps even proudly severed from any theological sense of authority. In Ireland it was the Catholic Church, but elsewhere in Europe it was historic Protestantism.
Here we note something else that was of interest in the Irish vote. The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland was strangely silent. Pro-life forces, as a matter of fact, had largely convinced priests in Ireland not to talk about the referendum that was held on Friday because of the fact they did not want it to become a Catholic issue. Now, once again take a step away from Ireland and Catholicism, and understand how the same kind of logic is often brought up in the United States. We don't want this to appear to be a Christian issue. We don't want it to appear to be a religious issue. Here is where we must note that if you try to ground the sanctity and dignity of human life in anything other than an explicitly theological world view, it will have no tenacity or staying power. If anything, that was fully and tragically evident last Friday in Ireland.
A couple of other notes. We watched the Irish Prime Minister say that the vote was really about whether or not the Irish people would recognize the right of a woman to be the one who determines and makes her own healthcare decisions. As we have seen in the United States with figures such as Cecile Richards, until recently the head of Planned Parenthood, the transformation of the abortion question into a healthcare question is deadly for the unborn. Another insight is economic, or more popularly, the intersection of economics and morality. Alan Barrett, Director of the Economic and Social Research Institute, in Dublin said, according to The New York Times, that the results of the abortion referendum indicate a, quote, "Convergence with European norms," end quote.
Professor Barrett went on to say, and I quote, "If you take the standard mainstream views in continental Europe, Ireland was the outlier, and it was always economically behind Europe.” What are we listening for there? We're looking at the fact that that academic said, "Look, if you want to understand when Ireland was pro-life, understand that Ireland was also poor." What you have here is another very modern argument. The argument that with rising wealthy, a society can now afford moral liberalism. That's an argument that has had a great deal of influence in the United States, and as we've seen, it's an argument that obviously has some evidence behind it when we look to Ireland.
We also have to note the influence of the entertainment industry on a big moral question like this and in Ireland, well, as has often been remarked, the most famous modern Irish export is the band U2. Perhaps you won't be surprised to know that the band came out enthusiastically encouraging the Irish people to vote to repeal the 8th Amendment and join the pro-choice or pro-abortion world. When this became something of a controversy, the band sent out David Evans, known as a guitarist and sonic engineer, who came out and explained, quote, "I think that we acknowledge that we have very strong feelings on both sides. I personally," he said, "Am in favor of repealing, but I do understand why people might have a problem with that. The important thing is to vote," end quote.
Oh, and by the way, as the Weekly Standard observed, "The band has encouraged the Irish people to vote. Not only that, but to vote but to vote to repeal the 8th Amendment." According to the band's spokesperson, "The big issue is to vote," but U2 didn't vote. They were on a world tour. They were simply too busy to vote. They weren't too busy to encourage the Irish people to vote to repeal the 8th Amendment. This was very disappointing to many, including those who had looked to Bono, the most famous member of U2, as having some kind of Christian identity.
We also need to note that there were open complaints in Ireland. One of them made the pages, the opinion pages of The Wall Street Journal, complaining that Facebook had effectively tipped the scales in Ireland on this question. In the name of removing fake news, there were far more pro-life postings, we are told, that were taken down by Facebook than those who supported the repeal of the 8th Amendment.
In 2004 Gavin Newsom was denounced by his own party when he issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Today he is considered a hero of the moral revolution.
Shifting to the United States and thinking about the kind of moral transformation that we have experienced, the most interesting illustration in the last several days is found in a major report in the LA Times. The headline of the article by Melanie Mason, quote, "When Gavin Newsom issued marriage licenses in San Francisco, his party was furious. Now it's a campaign ad." Well, Gavin Newsom is considered to be the front-runner to be elected the next governor of California. This headline refers to the fact that long before the legalization of same sex marriage, by action of the United States Supreme Court in 2015, when Gavin Newsom, virtually a decade earlier, was the Mayor of San Francisco, he made news by just announcing that San Francisco would declare same sex marriages to be legal. At the time, Gavin Newsom was a fresh-faced democratic figure on the national scene with very little profile. He changed all that on February the 12th of 2004 when he made that announcement in San Francisco. It was considered to be something of a publicity stunt, but it turned into what The Times called, quote, "A 29-day saga, during which more than 4,000 same sex couples wed." As The Times says, "Catapulting Newsom into the national fray."
Now what's really significant here is the contrast between then and now, going back to 2004. Gavin Newsom, the liberal democrat who declared same sex marriage legal in San Francisco for 29 days until he was shut down by higher authorities, Gavin Newsom was almost exclusively, universally, roundly trounced and denounced by his own party, including for example, the very liberal democratic senior Senator from California, Dianne Feinstein. Feinstein went so far as to blame Gavin Newsom for the loss of John Kerry when he ran for President of the United States as the democratic nominee against then incumbent President George W. Bush.
When Gavin Newsom took that action in 2004, he was considerably ahead of figures such as Dianne Feinstein. Ahead of figures such as John Kerry. Ahead of figures such as Nancy Pelosi. For that matter, he was far ahead of figures such as Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton. They all caught up with him we should note, but the big issue as we're thinking about moral change in the United States, is in the headline to this news story. What was incredibly controversial, even denounced by leading liberal democrats in 2004 is now so taken for granted after the moral change in this country on same sex marriage, that was once so controversial that democrats claimed it would end the political career of Gavin Newsom, now he's turned it, in 2018, into a campaign ad.
Alan Bean, 4th man to walk on the moon, dies at age 86
As we're thinking about generational change in the United States, we should also note the word that came at the end of last week of the death of astronaut Alan Bean. He was the fourth person, the fourth of only 12 human beings to walk on the surface of the moon. We remember that there were 12 Apollo astronauts who walked on the moon's surface. There were nine Apollo missions between December of 1968 and December of 1972. It was in many ways one of the high watermarks of American technology and American patriotism. Alan Bean died last week at age 86. Now there are only five human beings alive who had the experience of walking on the surface of the moon.
Finally, as we think of world view, we need to remember that it was only with those Apollo missions from 1968 to 1972, that human beings first really gained that opportunity to look at the pale blue dot of planet Earth from outer space or for that matter, even from the surface of the moon. That changed our perspective of the world, it changed the perspective of our planet. Just imagine what we know now compared to what they knew then. Could those who looked at planet Earth in that period from 1968 to 1972 have imagined the kind of moral change we've been talking about today on May the 29th of 2018?
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'm speaking to you from Washington, D.C., and I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.