The Briefing

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Wednesday, Oct 31, 2018

Tags: Audio

Transcript

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

It's Wednesday, October 31, 2018. I'm Albert Mahler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Same-sex IVFA baby ‘carried’ by two different mothers? Why a new IVF technology is the ultimate manipulation of the reproductive process

Moral revolutions and spectacular developments sometimes land on the front pages of American's major newspapers. Sometimes they don't, and the distinction is of importance is a question unto itself. Consider, for example, that a recent edition of USA Today, it was yesterday's edition of this newspaper, put out a story on the front page with the headline, "Same-Sex Couple Carries Same Baby In a First." The story is by Sonia Azad, it datelines from Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas.

But before going further, we need to note that no other major American newspaper gave this front-page coverage, certainly no other national paper. So what's going on in this story? Well, as USA Today tells us, "Two Texas mothers each carried their 'miracle baby' because of a medical advance that allowed them to do what they thought was otherwise impossible. Ashleigh Coulter, age 28, and Bliss Coutler, age 36, met six years ago," we are told, "and later they were married. The couple who desired a baby knew that welcoming their own biological child would require a sperm donor, and some creativity."

One of the women said, "Obviously, us being two women, we were like, 'How can we make this happen?' We felt like there has to be a way." USA Today says, "It turned out there was a way for both women to carry their child."

Interest in the story grows as we continue, "Fertility specialists Dr. Kathy Doody and her husband, Dr. Kevin Doody, of a fertility clinic in Bedford, Texas, were the first to try what's known as reciprocal effortless in vitro fertilization using radical technology," according to USA Today, "which gave the Coutlers a shot at motherhood."

Now before we press on in this article, let's consider what we've already been told. We have been told that a lesbian couple has now been able to carry a baby together. Now that doesn't make biological sense and by the way, by the end of this article, it still will not make biological sense. But it does tell you a great deal about the moral revolution we are now experiencing.

In what sense, we might ask, could two women carry one baby? Well, this is where one of the doctors explained, "We were just talking one night at home and I said, 'You know, I think we could use this for a same-sex couple,' And Kevin," that is the doctor's doctor husband, said "I think you're right. I think we could." USA Today then explains, "Here's how the process works. It starts like traditional IVF."

Now let's look at some of the nomenclature that's already been used. We are told about a miracle baby that was made possible by a medical advance. We are then told that even using IVF, it would require some creativity. You have a lesbian couple who says, "Obviously, us being two women, we were like, 'How can we make this happen?'" But they then went on to say, "We felt like there has to be a way." And then we are told of the specific medical procedure, which is known as reciprocal effortless in vitro fertilization. Then we have the word motherhood used. And then we are told that the process starts like traditional IVF.

Now, that's a moral leap in and of itself, traditional IVF, that's in vitro fertilization. Here we must remind ourselves that in human history, this is a very recent development.

I have written a lot about this when IVF first became possible. I was part of a book project in which some were arguing for the moral legitimacy of IVF and some were arguing against. One of the points I tried to make in that book, now about two decades ago, is that the further you abstract reproduction from God's intended context of reproduction, the more moral risk you bring into the equation. And by the time you are looking at something defined as a medical advance that is identified as reciprocal effortless in vitro fertilization, which we are told begins like what is called traditional IVF, well, you're on the other side. You're actually on the far other side of a tremendous moral revolution.

After defining the process with a bit more specificity, USA Today then concludes with a statement from one of the moms identified in the article, who said, "No one really knew it was possible, but it worked magnificently."

Now the entire front-page article in USA Today, in the national print edition, it covers all three of the bottom print columns of the newspaper. The article is probably about four inches high, that tells you there's not a lot of text here. This is an article that celebrates what's being defined as a great moral and medical advance. It tells us that the process starts like traditional IVF, but there's not much detail in this article about exactly how something like this would happen. In order to discover exactly how it would happen, you have to turn to the websites that are offering this kind of service. Where you can find what can only be described as inordinate detail.

One of those websites, this one based in Boston, tells us, "Lesbian couples, who do not have infertility, may choose to have in vitro fertilization using the eggs from one partner inseminated with donor sperm, then have the resultant embryos transferred into the other partner, who then carries the pregnancy and gives birth." Now, note the next sentence, "This enables both partners to be physically involved in the conception of their child. It is," we are told in this website, "a very appealing concept for many lesbian couples."

Now in order to make the point about this moral revolution, to consider what's in that USA Today front-page article and then to consider what's not in it, we have to turn to some of the detail in this IVF website addressed to lesbian couples. There is nothing sexually explicit in the following text, but it is a bit complicated.

We are told of one of the women, remember the goal here is that both women will be able to say that they carried this single baby, we read this, "Her cycle," meaning the first woman, "needs to be manipulated with oral contraceptive pills and/or Lupron, after which controlled ovarian stimulation with follicle stimulating hormone may begin. When the follicles are mature, the eggs are retrieved under ultrasound guidance and brief anesthesia. The only technical difference," says the website, "between standard in vitro fertilization and reciprocal IVF is the involvement of two women. The medical procedures are nearly identical."

Now that's only half the equation, because remember there's another woman. What in the world is said of the other woman? Well we are told that her cycle must be synchronized with the cycle of the partner providing eggs using again a combination of birth control pills and Lupron. Preparation for the implantation of the embryo is then accomplished with hormones naturally produced, that is estrogen and progesterone, in dosages, I'm quoting here from the website, "intended to mimic what happens during a natural ovulation cycle."

This particular explanation concludes with these words, "In rare situations due to unexpected circumstances, synchronization may not be possible. In which case, any embryos which are created would need to be cryopreserved with intentions to transfer them in a subsequent cycle referred to as a frozen embryo transfer or FTE cycle."

Now think for just a moment what that text tells us. Those sentences drawn from this explanation of the procedure, which by the way still does not really explain how the procedure works. The procedure, as it turns out, I will simply summarize, involves locating the actual fertilization inside one woman, then removing the instrument whereby this takes place and putting it into the other woman, enabling the fiction that somehow both of these women carried a single baby and were involved in the pregnancy in that sense.

But the impression I hope you have already drawn from that complicated terminology is this, if you're going to use any word to define this, it can't be natural. There is nothing natural about this at all. The entire process is contra-nature. It is contrary to nature. You are talking about two women, who as you know, cannot have a baby together. They have to have the contribution that comes from the male. They have to have the intervention of all of this new medical technology. And furthermore, in order to participate in this news article that brings us to the announcement that two women have carried a single baby, you have to have the cycles of both women artificially, chemically synchronized. And you also have to have every aspect of the process either chemically or otherwise medically altered in order to create a situation in which you can declare a new medical miracle of a baby that was carried by pregnancy by two different mothers.

The deep worldview implications of this kind of story are multi-dimensional, but part of it comes down to the fact that our society as represented in this front-page coverage of USA Today is fascinated by what is declared to be a medical advance and a modern miracle. And furthermore, it's very telling that we are a society that wants to engage in some kind of communal self-delusion into declaring that in actuality this child is going to be able to say that he or she was carried by two mothers in the gestational cycle.

We are really talking about the ultimate manipulation, the ultimate artificial manipulation of the entire process of conception, the entire reproductive cycle and of course, the entire process of pregnancy in order to create the fiction that somehow two women are both the mothers, in a biological sense, of this child.

Now here's what's really important, a biological sense, in what sense? Well, you are talking about cells. You're talking about a female cell and you're talking about a male cell. But given this procedure, there is absolutely no requirement that any of the cells, any of the female cells, would come from either of the two women declared to be, in this case, a married lesbian couple. It could come from one of them, but it can't come from both of them. And even as it might come from one of them, it can be, in some sense, well, linked to both of them, but under the idea that merely allowing fertilization in one woman means that she is, in some sense, a part of the gestational or the pregnancy process.

But here's what we need to understand at the deepest level, this reflects an incredible hunger, an incredible desire on the part of, in this case, a lesbian couple to have a child. It is a deep seeded desire to be able to say to that child, "I am legitimately your mother." We, as Christians, before dismissing that, have to understand how that very urgency, that very desire, actually points to something that the Creator put within us. But we also have to understand that on the other side of the fall, that very wholesome desire can end up being contorted, even corrupted into a manifestation that is not God's intention from the very beginning.

This is why we have to rely upon the Word of God, why we have to trust God's Word, why we have to understand that not every human desire, even if it would be reflected in Eden in a legitimate desire, is, on the other side of Eden, legitimate at all.

We learn by looking at this story of the deep seeded urgency on the part of those who have joined the moral revolution, not to look so revolutionary. But rather to look rather conventional. But this is also a very sad story. It's a sad story of a kind of cultural delusion that is now set loose amongst us and you will notice that it is to be celebrated. That's why USA Today put it on the front page with no question whatsoever that this is supposed to be celebrated as a medical advance and a miracle.

Christians also understand, and we have to remind ourselves over and over again, that the moral status of the child is completely independent of the circumstances of that child's origin. Whether we're talking about biological origin or any other dimension of origin. Every single child, every single human being is of infinite worth, sharing in the same human dignity and the same sanctity of human life as every other human being made in God's image. There is no question about the moral status of the child.

And the Christian worldview also tells us that we are to greet every child as a gift and that includes this child. But the Bible also tells us that even as we would celebrate every child as a gift to the human community, we cannot celebrate every means of producing a child. Every context in which reproduction can take place. Every technology that would claim to be the latest medical miracle.

But the desire for something to appear natural is completely, in this case, undercut by the description of the very unnatural process that is required in order to lead to the conclusion that is celebrated in this headline.

And finally on this story, it's also really interesting that in the online edition of The San Francisco Chronicle, that's right, the major newspaper in San Francisco, California, the headline was this on Monday, "Same-Sex Couple 'Carries' the Same Baby, Making Medical History." But The San Francisco Chronicle, right there in San Francisco, put quotation marks, scare quotes around the word "carries."

Considering the fact that this is the most influential newspaper in San Francisco, California, those scare quotes really tell us something. It tells us that even The San Francisco Chronicle isn't exactly sure what to do with this story. And isn't exactly sure what in the world it means even to claim that two women have carried one baby.

Part

Halloween meets the new age mush that has come to define so much of society

But next, of course, this is October 31, 2018, and when you say October 31 to most Americans, you are saying Halloween. On previous editions of The Briefing and in programs such as Thinking In Public, I have discussed the historical background and the Christian worldview implications of the observance of Halloween. We should simply note that it has a pagan background in European culture transported to North America. And that inevitably, even in the contemporary consumer-driven celebration of Halloween, that pagan background manages to break through, perhaps more now in the present than even in the fairly recent past.

Regina Hansen, who's identified as Master Lecturer of Rhetoric at Boston University's College of General Studies, in a major article that was published by The Wall Street Journal, tells us at the end of the article, "For its part, the secular celebration of Halloween, with its costumes and decorations, seasonal theme parks and annual television specials, continues to resonate with primal themes. Darkness and fear, harvest and nourishment, courtship and sex, the allure and rejection of the supernatural. And it continues," she says, "to be a holiday that emphasizes community. How else," she asks, "to explain all those people waiting at their doors to give free candy to strangers? Even in 2018," she says, "Halloween can still be a way of encountering the sacred."

Now that final line, after an otherwise pretty insightful article, just points to the kind of new age mush to which much of the United States and its intellectual class have simply advocated. It's also interesting that this Master Lecturer of Rhetoric at Boston University tells us, "A large part of Halloween's renewed popularity with adults can be attributed to the LGBTQ community, whose public Halloween celebrations," she says, "began in the 1970s with parades in San Francisco's Castro district and New York's Greenwich Village."

Part

What’s really behind the contemporary resurgence of witchcraft?

But Christians will also want to note, especially as we're thinking about the worldview of our age, that in contemporary times there has been a strange resurgence of explicit witchcraft. Alden Wicker, writing for Quartz, tells us that what binds together crystals, feminism, polyamory, lapsed Catholicism, and tarot cards is their relationship to modern witchcraft. "A movement that is being propelled out of the forest and into the mainstream. The hook-nosed, broom-riding, pointy-hat-wearing, cackling witches of yore have been transfigured into hip, feminist, millennial women with slick websites and soothing advice on manifesting your dreams. Instead of a bubbling cauldron filled with eye of the newt, they're slinging essential oils seeped with wild herbs."

Wicker then goes on to say that if you search online, you will find dozens of spell-casting covens in your area. "The hashtag #witchesofinstagram brings up more than 360,000 posts from practitioners like @witcheryway, a Canadian witch who sells spell kits and incense burners out of her shop, and @light_witch, a self-described feminist in New England who spends her time swanning through outdoor landscapes in capes."

The article continues, "The witching web world carries over into mortal life, too. Stores are popping up across the country, selling crystals, spell kits, and tarot cards. And K-Hole, the trend-forecasting firm responsible for inserting 'normcore' into the pop culture lexicon, has anointed 'mysticore' as the zietgeistiest of current zeitgeists." It is the most current of all current ideas.

In one of the most important paragraphs in this article, I read, "Anyone can be a witch, its an inclusive movement, but it tends," we are told by Quartz, "to appeal to a certain type of demographic. Back in the 1600s, witches were persecuted for being financially independent, single, and essentially good with herbs—all things that are regarded admirably by today's young, liberal women. The typical witch nowadays," we are told, "and its mostly she, though more men," we are told, "are starting to join in, examines her dreams for clues about her unconscious and fills her life with rituals. She probably attends new-moon gatherings or has an altar in her home. She might cast spells using crystals or herbs for manifestation of wealth and love. And," here are the final words of this paragraph, "she likely believes in polyamory, too."

Here's the deepest Christian worldview principle that we learn by looking at this article, we are reminded that when you look at ancient paganism, it almost always, indeed you can almost take the word almost out of almost always, it almost always comes with a sexual dimension to it as well. Ancient idolatry always did, just read the Old Testament. And that continues today in modern paganism that doesn't come without mention of explicit and common polyamory.

Later in the article, we are told that in a secular age with the decline of religious identification, specifically Christian identification, many persons who have lapsed in their belief and what's made explicit here, even more commonly Catholic belief, find a new theological identity in witchcraft. The feminist dimensions of the article are very, very clear. But we are told, "Witchcraft is especially interesting for lapsed Catholics who might miss the mysterious rituals of the church, the incense burning in a brass censor, the invocation of Christ's body during communion, but can't," we are told, "abide by its patriarchal structure, homophobia, and control and shaming of women's bodies."

Now again, this is coming from a very feminist direction, that's abundantly clear, but it affirms what we know and that is that secularism is an unstable condition. The secular space is going to be filled by some other space. It's going to be an explicitly religious space. But that Christian space, that has become in some in cases a secular space, is now transformed, in so many cases, into a modern pagan space.

Another article published earlier this month tells us that the cosmetics giant Sephora recently got in trouble by offering a commercialized product having to do with witches. It was identified as a starter witch kit. But as it turns out, that has made real witches, as they are identified here, very, very angry.

According to Quartz, pressure on the company led them to actually apologize and to pull the product. "The kit was clearly aimed at dabblers in witchcraft, rather than those who actually practice it, which was perhaps part of the miscalculation. Data," we are told, "on the existing population of self-identified practicing witches suggest that a robust and growing witch community exists." Now the article goes on, as we do not have time, to look at where this comes from with the resurgence of what is known as Wicca and also the renaissance of paganism in our supposedly secular age.

By the time you get to the end of the article, research done at Trinity College in Connecticut indicates that by 2008, there were counted at least 340,000 self-identified pagans in the United States. That's not an insignificant number and that's already a data point that is a decade old.

Rod Dreher, writing also earlier this month at The American Conservative, points out that witches have become, in some cases, the New Woke Heroines. They have become the new uber feminists, more morally woke than just about anyone else. It's hard to top a witch for being woke.

As if to make his point, just three days after that article was published at The American Conservative, TIME Magazine released an article with the headline, "Brooklyn Witches Plan to Put a Hex on Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh." Alix Langone, reporting for TIME Magazine, tells us on October 14th, "A bookstore in Brooklyn is holding a public event to put a hex on newly-confirmed Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh."

Catland Books, in the Bushwick neighborhood of New York City, says that Kavanaugh will be the focus of the event, but it will curse at the patriarchy too. The event is known as the "Ritual to Hex Brett Kavanaugh." And we are told that the bookstore sent out invites over Eventbrite.

The invitation reads, "Brett Kavanaugh will be the focal point, but by no means the only target, so bring your rage and and all of the axes you've got to grind. The event will embrace the powers of witchcraft to bring justice to those of us who have been wronged by men just like him."

The main event, and remember we're talking here about TIME Magazine, this is not some kind of arcane website visited by only a couple of dozen people, this is TIME Magazine. It continues with a statement that tells us that the rite the hex is going to be known officially as, "The Rites of the Scorned One."

My favorite sentence in the entire story at TIME is this, "Catland Books put on three events to hex President Donald Trump last summer and is considering adding more public hex events later this year due to of the high volume of interest in the sold out event."

Of course, we as Gospel Christians understand that October 31, 2018 also points to the 501st anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Dated to that very day when we understand that Martin Luther nailed those famous 95 Theses to the door of the Castle Church at Wittenberg. Leading to what we know as the Protestant Reformation, the recovery of the Gospel and the reformation of the church.

Gospel-minded Christians have every reason to celebrate October the 31st as Reformation Day. But it is also really important that we understand why the society around us looks to October the 31st, not as Reformation Day, but as Halloween and why in this supposedly secular age Halloween is becoming more and more pagan by the year.

I conclude with a statement from one of the giants of southern literature, the late William Faulkner who said concerning the past in the south, that in the south the past is not forgotten, it's not even past. But all that we discussed today just reminds us that the pagan past is not only not forgotten, the pagan past is not simply in the past, it is very much in the present.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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