Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018

Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018

The Briefing

December 18, 2018

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

It’s Tuesday, December 18, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Emergency contraception on demand: What the rise of Plan B vending machines reveals about the society we are becoming

If you were to go back to the 19th or the 20th century and look at the kind of dystopian future that was being foretold by novelists and some futurists, one of recurring themes would be the separation of sex and reproduction, it would be the artificial control of humanity and humanity’s future. But even worse than that it would be the development of something like a pill that would simply prevent pregnancy, an anti-baby pill as it was called first in The German.

But then you would take that particular idea and run it out even further, and that would be the ubiquity, the commonality, the universality of the availability of that kind of pill, the social expectation that salvation would be found in that kind of pill. Now, as you consider what would have been dystopian, that is, the opposite of a utopian vision going back just decades ago, consider this headline from yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal: Vending Machines on Campuses Sell Plan B.

The reporters are Melissa Korn and Melanie Grayce West, and what is reported is that several universities in the United States are now installing or considering the installation of vending machines for contraception, in particular, vending machines for Plan B, that is the pill that is sometimes called “The Morning After Pill.” As the reporters tell us, “Some universities are installing vending machines where students can purchase emergency contraception, an effort to remove barriers to and anxiety surrounding products like Plan B.”

Now as you’re looking at a transformation of worldview in a relatively shockingly short period of time, just consider the language that is required in that sentence and the meaning that is required behind it. Here you have an explicit statement saying that these vending machines are understood to be progress because the existence of these machines will, again, “Remove barriers to and anxiety surrounding products like Plan B.”

Seriously? Is anyone actually suggesting that there is some kind of restricted availability to these kinds of pills? Even later in the article, it is pointed out that several of the institutions that are installing these vending machines actually offer the very same pills to their students for free. But still you have the logic behind this, that somehow we are responsible to remove barriers to and anxiety surrounding products like Plan B.

You won’t be surprised about some of the colleges, Barnard College in New York is one of them. It has said that it will now install a vending machine, that’s months after Columbia University and Stanford University did. Again, here’s something of the kind of “If you do it, I’ll do it” logic that now prevails in much of our culture, but specifically in the rarefied world of elite academic institutions. These institutions fear that they will be perceived even to the slightest degree as being even to the slightest degree behind any other institution. Thus, you’re going to be seeing a lot of these vending machines installed very quickly.

Students are also demanding the machines, that’s true at Yale University and at Miami University in Ohio, where the student counsel, according to The Wall Street Journal, voted last month in support of selling emergency contraception in their own campus markets. But then the reporters tell us, “Access to emergency contraception has grown significantly since Plan B, sometimes called “The Morning After Pill”, came to the market in 1999. It is now sold over the counter to customers, regardless of age.”

Let’s just stop there for a moment. How do you make something more available than making it available over the counter to all customers, regardless of age? How could you make it more available without, perhaps, just delivering it to people who all of a sudden announce, under any circumstance, that they just might need something that might be defined as “The Morning After Pill”, or an emergency contraception? By the way, consider that compound. Emergency contraception. That implies that if the contraceptive is not used, there is an emergency. What would that emergency be? It would be the emergency previously celebrated throughout human history known as pregnancy.

Is this not an ominous commentary on the kind of society we are becoming? A society in which it makes perfect sense, on the one hand, to have people demanding this extraordinary access, unconditional access, in many cases, tax payer funded access, to what’s defined as emergency contraception because the emergency would be a pregnancy. Whereas on the other hand, we have individuals, and more importantly couples, that are suffering with infertility and are now seeking access to advanced reproductive technologies because they desperately want a child. We’re a society that now considers medicine to be the answer to desperately wanting a child, and desperately not wanting a child.

But again, we just need to pause for a moment and consider the logic behind this kind of perceived urgency. We’re told that the urgency is also described by the fact that campus medical offices or pharmacies aren’t always open when the pills are most needed. Again, absolutely amazing. That includes weekends, according to students, “They also may prefer the anonymity of buying from the machine.” So now we have made available this morning after pill, as it’s known, the so-called emergency contraception Plan B, it’s now available to all persons regardless of age, over the counter, but there just might be a few moments in the day when that counter is not open.

I think it probably is pointing to something very real when we are told that many of these students actually don’t want any human contact whatsoever. They would prefer to get this pill not from the clinic, not from the campus pharmacy, but from a machine. That also tells us something, it tells us something very important in moral terms about the context in which this kind of urgency and this desire for anonymity is being perceived.

A couple of other interesting notes in this story is that some of these machines are simply small boxes attached to a wall, others are dispensers “resembling those for candy or soda, and the might sell other health products like cold medicine and condoms.” Another interesting issue here is the very fact that so many in our society believe that salvation is to come in the sexual revolution by sex education.

Now if it’s going to come by sex education, then you would think that the people who’d received the most sex education would be the people who are most educated sexually, by the definition of the sex educators, but that doesn’t appear to be working. For instance, by the time you get to the end of this article, we are told that a 2018 survey from the American College Health Association “estimated that nearly 17% of sexually active undergraduates used or reported that a partner used emergency contraception in the prior 12 months.” Now that 17% means 17 out of 100 just in the last year, supposedly needed and used this kind of emergency contraception. But this is the very generation that has been force fed this liberal sex education in virtually every year of their schooling in the public schools.

Furthermore, by the time these students arrive in these prestigious educational institutions, they go through orientation, they register, and are in classes, they’ve been force fed an entire diet, an awesomely large menu, of the sexual revolution under the label of “sex education.” Guess what? It’s not working. That 17% over the past 12 months should be a very clear indication of the fact that there is no liberation, even as the secular society wants to believe there is in sex education. It’s because the problem really isn’t education, the problem is moral.

One final note on this article, it is presented without any apparent moral context whatsoever. It’s published in The Wall Street Journal, it appears in the front section. It reports it, more or less, as a business story, a national news story, just to be considered like any other news development. You just might find this story interesting, is the implication of where the story appears in the print edition of The Wall Street Journal. Indeed, we might. Indeed, we find it a lot more interesting than The Wall Street Journal probably expects that we will.

Part II

As both sides attempt to read the tea leaves on abortion, the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is called into question

Meanwhile, a massively important article appeared as an op-ed in yesterday’s edition of The New York Times. It’s by Louise Melling, she’s identified as Deputy Legal Director of the ACLU, where, we are told, “she oversees the organization’s work on reproductive freedom.” So there’s fair warning, buckle your seat belts, this is going to be an interesting ride.

The headline of the op-ed is this: “Reading the Tealeaves on Abortion.” She begins by reporting, again, that the Supreme Court decided last week not to take a case related to Planned Parenthood. We discussed that development on The Briefing, and we tried to understand whether or not it is an indication of where the high court is likely to rule in the future on Planned Parenthood and on abortion, but we warned at the time it’s extremely dangerous to try to look at a decision like this and believe we understand what that means about the future of the court. What it does mean is that that case is not going to be considered by the Supreme Court this term.

But now you have Louise Melling, again, an attorney that has the assignment of reproductive freedom for the ACLU, that tells us where she’s coming from, and what she is writing about in this op-ed is her own consideration of what that decision, not to take the case, really meant last week by the nation’s highest court. That’s what she means when she talks about reading the tealeaves on abortion.

Again, on the basic point of being unable to read the tealeaves, I’m in agreement with Melling. We simply don’t know exactly how to read that non-decision from last week as we’re looking at future decisions to be made by the court on abortion. She of course, however, is coming from exactly the opposite direction, she fears any restriction on abortion, whereas Pro-Life Americans have been working for, praying for, striving for, and arguing for, the understanding that abortion is nothing less than the murder of the unborn.

So you’re looking at the great collision of this country, you’re looking at the great division and polarization in our society, on the question of the sanctity of human life, the dignity of human life in the womb, and we’re looking at the fact that those who are concerned about the question on both sides are trying to understand, because of the centrality of the Supreme Court and American policy on this question where the court is headed. But that’s not really all that interesting, we knew that last week.

What makes her article really interesting is how she is arguing to the Supreme Court, basically, as the audience she’s concerned about with this article, about why the court must now, should not, reverse Roe v. Wade, the infamous 1973 decision legalizing abortion in all 50 states. She writes this, and I quote, “The court’s legitimacy rests on more than unanimity or incremental change, it rests on respect for precedent and the idea that court’s decisions don’t swing with each new president. That means,” she says, “that the court doesn’t likely upend precedents like Roe v. Wade, now in place for nearly half a century, and already reaffirmed once against a concerted effort to over turn it. And most important,” she writes, “the court ought to be especially careful about upending settled expectations about core constitutional rights, such as the right to choose an abortion, that had played a central role in the ongoing struggle by women for equal status.”

So far as I’m concerned, that’s the only really important paragraph in this entire opinion piece, but it’s an extremely important paragraph for two reasons. First of all, notice how she begins her argument. She’s trying to argue that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court is at stake. If they were to reverse Roe v. Wade, she says that would be a violation of the court’s deference for precedent, and the language that she is using, make no mistake, is directed to the court and its institutional stability. She’s most concerned about the fact that the hopes of the pro-abortion movement in America now rests primarily on the Chief Justice of the United States, understood to be that fifth swing vote in major cases, if indeed there is a swing vote.

But Chief Justice John G. Roberts is, of course, very concerned about the institutional prestige of the court, that’s the responsibility of any chief justice. He is concerned with deference to precedent, he is concerned with trying to negotiate, within the sealed conference of the court agreement, as many votes by as many justices as possible on major decisions. That’s understandably a part of the responsibility of chief justice, but that’s not the ultimate responsibility of either the chief justice or of the court.

You need to notice something that is implicit. It’s not explicit, it is beneath the surface of the argument made by Louise Melling. She argues, just to use her words, “However, the court’s legitimacy of course,” she says, “rests on more than unanimity or incremental change, it rests on respect for precedent and the idea that the court’s decisions don’t swing with each new president.” Is that really what the legitimacy of the court rests upon?

Now, here is where Christian’s need to understand something, if you are operating from a secular worldview, the answer to that question is yes. If you are operating from a merely secular worldview, if you believe that ultimate meaning is created by human beings, and constitutionally in the United States by the Supreme Court, then you will have to argue, as she does argue, that the legitimacy of the Supreme Court rests on its own institutional prestige and its continuity. In other words, the prestige of the court rests on itself. The legitimacy of the court, basically, is that which is constructed and maintained by itself. If so, we are in big trouble.

But you also need to note something else. The word “constitution”, as in the Constitution of the United States, does not even enter into her argument. It’s as if the Constitution isn’t there, just the court, and that also tells us something very important. To the progressive left in this country, that’s basically true. The Constitution doesn’t exist, only the court. That is why they keep calling upon the court to interpret the Constitution to mean whatever they believe it needs to mean, rather than what the words and the grammar and the syntax actually indicate. That is extremely revealing.

It’s interesting that The New York Times would run this kind of article by the Director of the Reproductive Freedom Unit of the ACLU, would run this article at this time and just assume that the readers of The New York Times are going to share this worldview and thus simply be affirmed in the fact that, yes, this is exactly what constitutes the legitimacy of the United States Supreme Court.

But I said there were two issues in this short paragraph of incredible importance. The second is this: She writes, you’ll remember these words, “Most important, the court ought to be especially careful about upending settled expectations about core constitutional rights, such as the right to choose an abortion, that have played a central role in the ongoing struggle by women for equal status.” Well, at least the word “constitution” appears there, finally, even in the construct of constitutional rights, but you will notice something really interesting.

She acknowledges that the Roe v. Wade decision, and behind that the decisions on contraception beginning with Griswold in the 1960’s, they have become a part of the expectation of those who have been pressing for a feminist vision of women’s rights ever since the 1950’s and ’60’s. Thus, her argument is this is a part of our expectation now, you can’t dare reverse it much less contradict it.

She also understands something else that is implicit in this article, and it becomes almost explicit in her argument. It’s this: The issue of abortion is now so central to the expectation of so many who have joined the feminist movement, and especially the left wing as represented by the ACLU, that they cannot imagine a world in which the unborn child would become an actual concern, recognized as an entity, recognized as a human being. That is so far from their moral horizon that all they can see is the protection of a certain series of expectations that are now central to American feminism.

Part III

How should we consider the trial of a 94-year-old man who was a teenager when he was a guard at a Nazi concentration camp?

But next, we shift to Germany for a very important story that will make us think legally, historically, morally. It’s going to stretch our ability to think by means of the Christian worldview about a very difficult historical question. That question comes down to this: What exactly do you do if you’re trying to hold a criminal trial of a man who is now 94, but was a teenager when he is now accused of having participated in the Third Reich’s elimination program of the Jews in the concentration camps of the Holocaust. How do you consider the trial of a man who’s now 94, but who was about 15 or 16 when he was taken into the Nazi regime and was less than 20 when the war came to an end? How morally responsible was he? How morally responsible is he?

Given prevailing German law throughout much of the 20th century, he was immune from this kind of prosecution because he was under age 21 when the crimes took place. But none the less, back in November it was reported that the German government is going ahead with the trial of the 94-year-old, seeking to convict him, even after all these decades, of active intentional complicity in the murder of Jews in a concentration camp in Germany.

Melissa Eddy, reporting back in early November for The New York Times, told the story this way: “A 94-year-old man, who served as a guard in Hitler’s SS, clutched his cane as a bailiff wheeled him into a courtroom for the start of his trial on charges of assisting in the murder of hundreds of the 60,000 people who perished in the Stutthof Concentration Camp. Johann Rehbogen was still a teenager when he began work as a guard at the camp where he was stationed between June 1942 and September 1944. Because he was under the age of 21 at the time the alleged crimes were committed, the case is being tried before a juvenile court where the maximum sentence he could face is 10 years in prison.”

Now, you heard that right. You have a 94-year-old man, who in 2018 is facing trial in a juvenile court in Germany, for crimes that are alleged to have taken place between 1942 and 1944 when he was a teenager. The crimes themselves are beyond historical question, this is a documented case of the genocide of the Jews in this particular concentration camp, in which this young man as a teenager was a member of the stationed SS contingent.

It is also interesting, sad, and ironic to note that in this juvenile case in Germany right now, in which a 94-year-old is being tried, if he is indeed found guilty of all of these crimes he can only, according to Worldwide Media, be sentenced to a sentence of 10 years, he cannot be sentenced to a longer term. But we’re talking about a man who would be virtually 95 when he would go into prison, he would be 105 when he might be released. We are talking about a situation that defies our moral imagination.

The legal problems are massive. How do you go back and document exactly what happened between 1942 and 1944? Actually, one of the interesting things to keep in mind is that many of these trials are assisted by the fact that the murderous Nazi regime was also fanatical about keeping records. The records are there for now all to consider, but the court in Germany has to consider the actual complicity of this man, who was then a teenager, in the horrifying crimes that took place in the Stutthof camp.

The question is, was he a willing participant? Was he, himself, involved in the murder at least of the hundreds that are documented as having been killed during the time he was in particular responsibility as part of the SS contingent? How do you hold a man accountable, at age 94, for crimes he’s alleged to have committed, and it looks like he did commit those crimes, going back to 1942 to 1944? How do you morally consider all those decades in which he was effectively a free man, even as the German media had made clear, he was a haunted man? How do you deal with a young person who was taken, basically by conscription, into the SS and assigned to this concentration camp?

In his testimony over the last several weeks, Johann Rehbogen said that he is a Christian, and that as a Christian he found it extremely hard to maintain these duties. But, he said, that as a teenager, he had been afraid to offer any protest because of retaliation by the SS.

It’s a huge question, a difficult question, of how to assign moral responsibility when a man was taken in as a boy and forced to serve in this way, but none the less, he did so. And we know the complicity in this kind of crime is indeed a crime in itself, there is no way that history can absolve anyone who was a participant in that process of the murderous regime of the Third Reich. But at the same time, there is a distinction between adult courts and juvenile courts for a reason, and it’s at least an attempt at some kind of historical consistency that Germany is trying this man, or was trying this man, in a juvenile court. That’s something that defies our imagination, a 94-year-old man being tried in 2018 in a juvenile court in Germany.

One of the reasons the trial is taking place now and not before is because of a change in German law in recent years, which has allowed the prosecution of those who were involved in the killing machine of the Third Reich even if they were not in supervisory responsibility, and even if there is no direct testimony to their involvement in the actual murders. Their involvement in the machinery of the engine of death is now, in Germany, enough to bring about the cause for a trial.

But notice how late this is coming, and it comes at a time when so many in this generation are now passing into the annals of history. This man’s 94-years-old, being tried as a juvenile, but he isn’t being tried as of today. That is because, just last week, the court ruled that he was too infirm to continue the trial. And because in Germany there is no way for a trial to continue if there is a gap in the evidentiary process, the German government has ceased the trial of Johann Rehbogen in Germany.

The court did announce that at some future time there will likely be a re-evaluation of Johann Rehbogen’s health, with the question as to whether or not the trial might be restarted, but at that time he would almost assuredly be already 95-years-old, again perhaps to be tried in a juvenile court in Germany.

But as Christians think about this, we have to understand that according to the biblical worldview, justice does not have an expiration date. It is never too late to bring about the best human approximation of justice, it is never wrong for human beings to seek, to go to the courts, and to go through the proper process for justice to take place. But of course, it also humbles us to recognize that even if this man were to be convicted and he were to be sentenced to the maximum sentence of 10 years, that would simply not be sufficient for understanding the crimes that are involved, and thus we are humbled once again to recognize not only the necessity of human justice, but the limitations of human justice.

Frankly, for me one of the most interesting dimensions of this international news story was a photograph published in The New York Times, it came originally from Guido Kirchner, photographer for the French Press Agency. It shows the hand of the defendant resting on a feeble cane. That is an elderly hand, a 94-year-old hand, holding onto a cane as he’s sitting at a desk where defendants are juveniles in Germany. In so many ways, that photograph becomes one of the poignant, ironic, haunting photographs, not of the 21st century but of the 20th, and sometimes a photograph seems to tell almost as much as a news story.

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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