Friday, Dec. 7, 2018
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, December 7, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
How the loss of moral authority leads to the loss of theological authority
The headline that came late yesterday at The New York Times tells us a great deal about the massive moral revolutions taking place in all the world around us, most especially in this case, the epicenter of the change is the small European nation of Ireland. The story comes by Ed O'Loughlin, writing from Dublin, "Fighting off last ditch resistance, Irish lawmakers overwhelmingly passed a bill introducing free and legal abortion to a nation that was long a bastion of staunchly conservative Catholicism seven months after voters repealed a constitutional ban on abortion." The headline of the article in the Times, Irish Lawmakers Vote to Allow Abortion, Part of a Landmark Liberal Shift.
It's one thing if a conservative analyst points to this and says, "That's a landmark liberal shift." It's another thing, altogether more significant in this context, when a liberal newspaper, such as The New York Times, offers the very same analysis in the headline of this very important news story. We are talking about one of those milestones in the moral trajectory of Western civilization that must not be missed, certainly ought not be missed. We are talking about the land that had been so staunchly committed to a pro-life position that, in 1983, 67% of the voters in Ireland voted to amend that nation's constitution to outlaw abortion under almost all conceivable circumstances.
We're talking here about 1983. Just think about that amount of time. Generally, when we are talking about big moral changes, and we're really talking about a moral revolution, we're talking about a period not only of decades, but, often, of centuries.
Kwame Appiah, making a very important point about moral development in the culture, points out that if you look to the first arguments made against the slave trade and then you follow through to the actual abolition of slavery, especially a slave trade, in much of Europe and North America, you are looking at about 300 years, 300 years of argument, 300 years in which it took a long time for that kind of moral change to take root and to take effect. Of course, at one point, this becomes accelerated. You're really looking legislatively and politically at a shorter amount of time, but the point is this. You're really looking at decades. You're looking more than decades at centuries on these huge issues.
When you think about evolutions in Western society and the nature of the law, the understanding of criminology, when you're thinking about something like the sanctity and dignity of human life and you even look at just an issue like abortion, you're talking about a very, very, very long period before anything like abortion on demand becomes conceivable, and then you're also looking at the fact that you can pretty much determine where nations are going to be on a question such as abortion if you know their religious identity, the religious identity and convictions of the majority of the people who make up that society. That's what's so interesting here.
In a relatively short amount of time, in what historically amounts to a blink of an eye, a nation that was one of the most resolutely anti-abortion is now very clearly pro-abortion. We're not talking about centuries. We're talking about voters who voted overwhelmingly for a constitutional amendment to protect human life, who just a matter of months ago adopted the repeal of that constitutional amendment and are now demanding abortion on demand, and that is exactly what the legislators in Ireland gave them this week. Not complete, the Lower House adopted the legislation late, just before midnight on Wednesday night, but, by yesterday, the legislation had already gone to the Upper House there in Ireland, and there's no question that it's going to be passed and adopted, signed into law very quickly.
I've often cited Theo Hobson, a British thinker, as he defines what it takes to accomplish a reversal in morality, "a moral revolution," as he rightly identifies it. The first is this. "What was condemned must be celebrated," but the second is very important. "What was celebrated must now be condemned." The third step is the last step. "Those who will not join the celebration are themselves to be condemned."
You see exactly how that works on the array of LGBTQ issues in society, but now you see how it works in Ireland. Where it would have amounted to political suicide just a few years ago to have supported a woman's right to abortion, as it's defined, now, it turns out that the society is demanding exactly the opposite. You're looking at changes to the Irish constitution on the same question and a reversal between 1983 and 2018.
There are several other dimensions here worthy of our note. For one thing, we are talking about the erosion of Catholic authority within Irish society. Ireland has been historically not merely one of the most religious societies on Earth, but, specifically, Roman Catholic. That probably goes without saying. The imagination of most people in Western nations about Ireland is explicitly Roman Catholic, and the authority of Roman Catholicism within Irish culture had been so powerful that the Catholic church's historic stand against abortion and birth control had, in previous times, simply been enough. The question was closed, but we have seen in recent decades Ireland go from being one of the most religious to one of the most secular societies in, again, a very short amount of time, faster indeed than most sociologists of religion believed even possible, but here's where Christians, biblically-minded Christians, have to watch what's happening. We have to understand that you cannot have the one revolution without the other. You can't have this kind of revolution in morality without simultaneously a massive shift in the religious, the theological beliefs, of the people who comprise the society.
Another note on this case. It's not just secularization of some kind of sociological process that's going on here in Ireland. It is also the moral scandal of widespread priestly sex abuse, child sex abuse, within the Irish Catholic church, so notorious that it has become a scandal in many places in Ireland to be associated with institutional Catholicism. That's a vast shift, but all of us should note this. When you are in a position where secularization is accelerating in a society, if the church offers a horrible example that leads to a diminishment of moral authority, that moral authority lost will be followed by theological authority lost, but we should also note another interesting dimension. If you look at the law that the Irish Parliament, at least the Lower House, overwhelmingly adopted on Wednesday night, the vote was 90 to 15 with 12 extensions, the interesting thing is that that law is actually more conservative than prevailing abortion law in the United States of America.
The New York Times reports the legislation this way. "The bill would allow a woman to seek abortion for any reason up to the 12th week of pregnancy and later in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality or serious risk to a woman's life or health." Now, as you look at that, you say, "Where is that more conservative than prevailing American law on abortion?" Well, you'll notice the limitation here is abortion for any reason up to the 12th week of pregnancy. You ask a question. "Well, what is the upper reach of the weeks of pregnancy in the United States?" Well, in some cases, it can be almost limitless, even right up to the point of birth.
Given new arguments and new evidence on fetal viability, that is the point at which a baby can survive outside the womb, there have been many states and many legislatures that have moved to try to restrict abortion in later weeks, even making the argument about the pain that will be suffered by the unborn child through the abortion, but you'll notice that the pro-abortion movement in the United States fights every one of these laws, and the Democratic party in the United States has gone so far even as to oppose the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act that was, thankfully, eventually, adopted by Congress and signed into law by President George W. Bush.
Something else to note here is a similarity with American law, hauntingly so. It says that the exceptions are "in the case of a fatal fetal abnormality or," here's the language, "serious risk to a woman's life or health."
Now, back when Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973, similar kind of language was used. What's interesting is that the pro-abortion side has used that language to argue that referring to serious risk to a woman's life or health is to be extended to her mental health, even to the point of a risk of emotional distress if a woman is not allowed full access to abortion. In other words, that limitation for a serious risk to a woman's life or health turned out to be, in most cases, no limitation at all.
One final observation from Ireland, even as this massive moral revolution on abortion has apparently come almost full circle, the pro-abortion activists in Ireland are not satisfied. They're not close to being satisfied because what they want is taxpayer-funded abortion for a woman at any point of the pregnancy for any reason, and you can be assured of this. They will not rest until they gain that one way or another, one day or another, and the pace of this revolution would indicate that day may tragically come very soon.
An insidious argument for abortion gains traction as pro-abortion advocates take aim at the Hyde Amendment
Then, we shift back to the United States of America, an article that appeared about abortion not in Ireland, but in the United States. This argument did appear as an opinion piece in a London newspaper, that is The Guardian, a left-wing paper in that city, but the important thing here is to note that this paper has a very large American audience. Indeed, it is thought by many that the readership of The Guardian is now larger in the United States than in the United Kingdom. Moira Donegan writes an article, the headline, "Yes, I Do Want Your Taxes to Pay for Abortion." The subhead in the article, "Ending the Hyde Amendment, Which Bans Federal Funding of Abortions Will Give Americans Their Full Rights and Dignity."
What I want to draw attention to here is one of the most insidious and subversive arguments that we have seen in a very long time, but the reason it demands our attention is that this argument is gaining traction right here in the United States. The issue does come back to the Hyde Amendment, as Donegan writes, "Enacted in 1976, the Hyde Amendment is not a law so much as a tradition. It is a provision that is attached to the annual appropriations bill that dictates funding for the Department of Health and Human Services. The Hyde Amendment prohibits any federal money from paying for abortions. Until 1994, the provision was absolute," she writes, "but, since then, three narrow, hard to obtain, exemptions have been carved out."
This is one of those arguments that's technically true. The Hyde Amendment is not so much a law as part of a law. It's far more than what she argues here as a tradition. It is indeed, as she acknowledges, a provision that, we must point out, has the force of law that is indeed an amendment to the annual appropriations bill for the funding for the United States Department of Health and Human Services. What's so important here? It means, the bottom line is this, that federal funding, the money taken from American taxpayers, cannot be distributed through the Medicaid program in order to pay for abortion.
You're going back here to 1976. Notice that the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down in 1973. We simply need to note that, in 1976, even three years after the Roe v. Wade decision, there was a clear majority in both Houses of Congress to support the fact that, at the very least, no American taxpayer, whose money is confiscated through taxation by the federal government should be put in the morally compromised position of paying for what the taxpayer believes is nothing less than murder.
The reason this is so crucial, it becomes very clear after the 2018 midterm elections. Just go back to 2016 in the presidential election year. The Democratic party's official platform in 2016 demanded an end to the Hyde Amendment. Let's be clear about what that means. It means that the official platform of the Democratic party in 2016 called for the confiscation of taxes from taxpayers to be used even against their will and moral conviction to pay for abortion, and here you need to know the twist in the argument that is extremely revealing.
The twist in the argument is this. It comes down to arguing that equality for women, equality for all women, can only be achieved if they have total power over their reproduction, and that means that they must have equal access under every circumstance to abortion and that a woman who cannot pay for an abortion should have the taxpayer pay for the abortion instead, under any circumstances, under all circumstances, no questions asked, no questions allowed, no acceptance, no acknowledgement of the viability of the fetus, no acknowledgement, no protection for that unborn human life, that baby in the mother's womb, under any circumstances. The baby simply disappears. All that is left is someone who can demand an abortion to be paid for by the taxpayer anytime, anyplace, but there's also a dimension to this article by Donegan that, if not new, is at least newly frightening when we understand the political moment.
Speaking of the argument in support of the Hyde Amendment, she writes, "The argument conveniently ignores that women who seek abortions are taxpayers themselves and that the Hyde Amendment imposes on them an unequal protection from the state. Since there is no male medical procedure that is banned from federal funding the way that abortion is, men who use Medicaid receive a full range of coverage. Women do not. They pay just as much in taxes as their male counterparts, but they do not receive equal benefits."
Well, just one clarification on the taxation side. The vast majority of the people receiving Medicaid are not paying taxes, male or female, period, but let's leave that aside for a moment. Here, you have the insidious, irrational, and, yet, increasingly influential argument that men and women have to be absolutely equal, and that comes down to the fact that there isn't any medical procedure for men that isn't covered by Medicaid, but that means that women must also have no obstacle whatsoever to any surgical procedure they might demand, including, specifically, abortion.
Here, you have an argument that is the culture of death at its deadliest. You have an argument that, in the name of equality, by the way, an irrational equality in this case, in the name of equality, a woman should have the right to demand taxpayer payment to terminate the life within her, the human life within her, and no one has any right to prevent that because then that creates an unequal situation between men and women. Of course, this is something that has marked human existence from the very beginning. Women can get pregnant. Men can't.
It's also very interesting, just a little footnote here, you will note that in making this argument, all of the progressive understandings and insistences about transgender issues disappear. They disappear because it would be very politically and ideologically inconvenient, not at this point, to be very clear what a woman is.
As we're thinking about that moral change in Ireland, let's remember moral change taking place in the United States of America. Between the years 1996 and 2016, just in a 20-year period of time, the Democratic party in the United States has gone from explicitly acknowledging even pro-life influence within the Democratic party to making it virtually impossible for any pro-life argument, not only to gain traction, but to be acknowledged. You now have, by the way, increasing calls within the Democratic party to make certain that no one who has even private reservations, even private religious reservations about abortion, should be allowed to have the support of the Democratic party. In the long run, that might turn out to be a bigger moral revolution than even what we just noted in this headline coming from Ireland.
Evidence of that came just this week in The Washington Post. Elizabeth Bruenig wrote a column entitled Why this Progressive Texan Can't get Excited About Beto O'Rourke. You may remember that O'Rourke was the nearly successful liberal challenger to Republican Senator Ted Cruz in the 2018 midterm elections there in Texas, but here's what's interesting. You already have signals being sent with the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination in view that the left wing of the Democratic party now solidly in control does not even want someone as liberal as Beto O'Rourke. They want someone not only from the left, but the far, far left, and when it comes to the question of abortion, no Democrat, who has even private reservations about abortion is going to be allowed anywhere near that nomination.
Here's what's interesting to note. That is explicitly the deal that was made by that party in the last generation. The formula was this. You say, "I'm Roman Catholic. I'm evangelical. I'm X. I'm Y. I have private religious convictions that abortion is wrong, but I will not force those convictions on the American people." That was the language that was pioneered by the late New York Governor Mario Cuomo, by the eventual Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, and by the past and probably future Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi, but watch the 2020 season heating up and you will notice that that argument is likely to be surgically excised because when you look at the great worldview divide in this country, just over the question of abortion, that divide is not only not being bridged, the chasm is not only not being minimized, it is being widened, the chasm is growing ever deeper.
How tourism in a small island in the Mediterranean is a microcosm of the moral revolution
Next, as we're thinking about moral change, it's one thing to talk about Ireland. It's another thing to talk about the United States. How about this travel headline? Coming in The Telegraph, also from London, not about Ireland, not about the United States, but about Malta. Malta, there in the Mediterranean, is one of the most historic island nations on Earth. Just consider the role of Malta, for instance, in the crusades in the Middle Ages. Just think of Malta as also where the Knights of Malta have lived, the most Catholic of all the Catholic Knights in the entire chivalrous order of the Middle Ages, but, now, you're talking about Malta in an instant, historically, between 2010 and 2018, as a travel writer is indicating, writing travel guides about Malta. In 2010 and 2018, that society has been utterly transformed on the question of homosexuality.
The headline is this. How Conservative Malta Became Europe's Top LGBTQ Destination in Under a Decade. Juliet Rix is the travel writer at The Telegraph, and she's saying, "Look, in 2010, I wrote a travel guide, and I had to warn gay people, 'Don't go to Malta,'" but, now, just eight years later, here, you have a travel guide writer saying, "They're must have been something big that happened because Malta is now the destination of choice, the top LGBTQ destination in Europe, and it all took place, all this change, in less than a decade."
What makes this article perhaps the most interesting is that it isn't being written by some kind of editorial writer, but, rather, by a travel writer who is simply noting this massive moral change, but there's something else here. In my book, We Cannot Be Silent, I pointed out that the moral revolution had to demand first a major change, redefinition of marriage on the question of divorce. Only then would the LGBTQ revolution make sense. It's really interesting that now you have this week a travel writer writing about Malta, making the very same point. Consider these words. "It really started in 2011 with a referendum on divorce."
Feeding two birds with one scone: Recommended language from PETA unveils deep cultural hypocrisy
Finally, we will leave Ireland, we'll leave the United States on the question of abortion, we will leave Malta on the LGBTQ issues, and turn back to the United States and to the larger English-speaking world, when it comes down, once again, to our vocabulary, and, now, those demanding a change in the vocabulary are animal rights activists, specifically the organization known as PETA, previously known as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The headline in The Washington Post this week, PETA Wants to Change Anti-Animal Sayings, But the Internet Thinks Their Feeding a Fed Horse. According to The Washington Post, PETA wants to end this anti-animal language, demanding, for example, the English expressions, such as "kill two birds with one stone" be rewritten, for instance, to not "kill two birds with one stone", but "feed two birds with one scone". I thought, at first, the article was a joke, but then it appeared in the mainstream media, and I decided to go right to, dare we say it, the horse's mouth.
I went to PETA. The headline at PETA's website is Animal Friendly Idioms that Your Students Will Love. This is written as a guide for teachers to use with students and classrooms. "The words that we use have the power to influence those around us. Unfortunately, many of us grew up hearing common phrases that perpetuate violence toward animals, such as 'kill two birds with one stone, beat a dead horse, and bring home the bacon.' These old sayings," said PETA, "are often passed down in classrooms during lessons on literary devices. While," PETA warns, "these phrases may seem harmless, they carry meaning and can send mixed signals to students about the relationship between humans and animals and can normalize abuse."
Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the argument here is that the English aphorism, "beat a dead horse," means that elementary and middle school students are likely to hear the expression and go right into the pasture and get about the task of horse beating, but even, as PETA says, we can no longer say, "Kill two birds with one stone," but rather, "Feed two birds with one scone," I simply want to point out that even in Scotland and in Britain, I have been served some scones that could have been used to kill two birds with a scone rather than a stone.
The teaching kit includes statements with posters, such as, "Don't say, 'Let the cat out of the bag.' Instead, say, 'Spill the beans.' Don't say, 'Take the bull by the horns.' Instead, say, 'Take the flower by the thorns.' Don't say, 'Be the guinea pig.' Say, 'Be the test tube.'" It goes on and on. You get the point.
Given all the moral issues swirling about the nation right now, even USA Today thought that PETA had gone one step too far. The headline was this. PETA Ridiculed, Criticized for Comparing Speciesism with Racism, Homophobia, and Ableism. It's virtually impossible to unwind all of that as we think about worldview analysis, but let's just note that we are a society that is now facing arguments like this and saying, "That's wrong for comparing speciesism with homophobia," as if that's supposed to make sense. Of course, it does make sense who are doing their best to join and to drive the moral revolution, but aren't exactly sure, as this argument makes clear, how exactly to drive and where exactly to go. Over a cliff appears to be the most likely answer to that question.
The worldview is what's crucial here. The idea of speciesism behind PETA is the argument that human beings are not different in any important way from any other species, and their arguments against the use of animals, including wearing their skins, using their products, eating their meat, even consuming their eggs, is that that is itself abuse, and it must be ended.
The sad thing to note is how many people who would make this kind of argument, not against the misuse of animals, but against the use of animals. They will then turn around and demand the right to kill the unborn baby in human wombs.
The last poster offered in this teacher's kit from PETA says, "Don't say, 'Put all your eggs in one basket.' Instead suggest, 'Put all your berries in one bowl.'" I'll say I'll go with that so far, so long as I can pour lots of milk, taken from cows, on those berries.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing.
Today, I'll be preaching the commencement message for the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary at graduation. My message is going to be drawn from Isaiah chapter 11. The title: “For the Earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” To watch the commencement ceremony at 10 o'clock Eastern Time this morning, just go to sbts.edu/live.
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.