Monday, May 20, 2019
Monday, May 20, 2019
Introducing Kirsten Gillibrand the Theologian
We have theologians in the United States Senate, evidently so, because in the last few days, one United States Senator running for the Democratic presidential nomination decided to turn theologian, and she did so in a setting in Georgia. That wasn't accidental.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand had gone to Georgia because it was Georgia that recently adopted new legislation, a so-called fetal heartbeat bill that restricted abortion, and Senator Gillibrand was in Georgia just the day after Alabama governor, Kay Ivey had signed into law that State's very restrictive new law on abortion. The background to this also has to do with the fact that the cultural elites have been piling on Georgia. They would other states as well, but Georgia has a very lucrative movie industry. And Hollywood has responded with calculated rage and resistance to Georgia, declaring that they will remove vast economic investment and major Hollywood projects in retaliation for George's pro-life legislation.
Senator Gillibrand, turning yourself into a theologian, a regrettable form of theologian, in a setting there in Georgia in a panel discussion said that laws banning or in any way restricting abortion are "against Christian faith.” That's quite a statement. It bears very close scrutiny. Here you have a Democratic United States senator from New York, a contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, a candidate who, by the way, is trying to get over what had been a reputation for conservatism when she first entered Congress. But because of the dynamic in the Democratic Party, she is now running to the left as fast as she can and her chosen issue has become abortion.
In the context of her appearance there in Georgia, she demanded that the United States government codify abortion all the way across the country. That means national legislation that would coop the power of the states to restrict abortion in any way. She called for ending the Hyde Amendment. That was that bipartisan achievement shortly after Roe v. Wade, in which Democrats and Republicans agree that it would be immoral to coerce the American taxpayer into paying for abortion by using tax monies to fund abortion. She went on to demand that the federal funding for abortion guaranteed reproductive healthcare in every state. What that means is not only the development and organization of more abortion clinics, but it means the required coverage and payment for abortion within private insurance plans or the state plans including Medicaid.
She went on also to repeat a pledge that she had made earlier in which she made clear that she would appoint only federal judges and Supreme Court justices that were committed overtly up front to upholding Roe v. Wade.
Speaking at a round table there in Georgia at the end of last week, Senator Gillibrand said that laws that would restrict abortion or much less ban them are, again her words were, against Christian faith. Now, what does she mean by that? The use of Christian language or the attempt to co-opt Christianity or Christian theology for political lens isn't new. But we're looking here at the particularly reprehensible pattern of doing so on behalf of abortion. She said that opposing abortion is against the Christian faith. But she went on to speak further, she said, "If you are a person of the Christian faith, one of the tenets of our faith is free will. One of the tenets of our democracy is that we have a separation of church and state, and under no circumstances are we supposed to be imposing our faith on other people." And she said, "I think this is an example of that effort." She made those statements at a press conference following the round table.
So we need to note that Senator Gillibrand didn't merely say that laws restricting abortion are against Christian faith. She went on to make, in her own way, an explicitly theological argument. We often look at the fact that theology is always there just beneath the headlines, but in this case, we don't have to go looking for it. It's right there before our eyes.
Now, what would be the theological argument that Senator Gillibrand would make? Well, what she cited here was what she identifies as a major tenet or doctrine of the faith, which is free will. Now, is that true or is that false? Let's just back up for a moment and recognize that debates even controversies over the nature and operation of the human will aren't new to Christian history. As a matter of fact, they are some of the most long-standing and sometimes heated theological debates within the Christian tradition. But we also have to note that that debate is not really what's at stake here. That theological debate associated with some of the biggest theological names in church history, Augustine, the Early Church father, Thomas Aquinas in the Middle Ages, and then the Protestant reformers, including Luther and Calvin. And then, of course, the developments within the Protestant tradition after the reformation, the development of a more reformed stream that would also include Lutherans in the sense of the magisterial reformation, and then the more Arminian tradition.
There were good arguments, continuing arguments, over the nature and operation of the human will. But what's important to note is to see that that's not really what's at stake here. When Senator Gillibrand refers to a major tenet of our faith being free will, she wasn't intending to get into a debate between Calvinist and Arminians. No, she was trying to say that the affirmation of human responsibility and the operation of the human will in decision-making means that we should be hands off when it comes to legislation about abortion. We should honor free will, in this sense, that is human decision making and moral responsibility above all else. That's what's really at stake here.
When she talks about free will, she is elevating it to the highest doctrinal importance making the human will relatively sovereign in terms of moral responsibility. Well, how would that work? Well, we simply have to note that it won't work. When you're talking about theology here, this can be summarized by a simple English word, nonsense. When you look at the law, the law exists to recognize human moral responsibility, but to put boundaries upon human libertarian freedom. Just to state the obvious, the law says, and this is true in all 50 states, and so far as it's documented in every single nation, it is against the law to murder someone. We do not elevate free will to the point that we do not put restrictions upon that will and upon human responsibility. That's the very nature of the law.
There are always ongoing political debates about the extent to which the law should bind the conscience and put boundaries upon human behavior. But the very essence of human society is the existence of such laws. And any law restricts human freedom in the sense of human libertarian freedom. That's the very essence of law. When you say, "You can't steal from your neighbor," that is infringing upon your neighbor's absolute exercise of free will, and you're actually depending upon that. But what we do see here is that the only moral issue that evidently rises to such significance in the mind of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is free will in the sense that the only important moral issue, the only important theological issue, is the freedom of a woman to consider and to choose abortion. She's saying, "It's against the Christian faith to in any way put boundaries upon that decision-making.”
Again, the first thing we need to note is that that's not an argument that can be consistently held in any sane society, before you even get to the question of abortion. It just becomes particularly reprehensible when abortion is the issue at stake in this kind of argument. This is an argument that is theological gibberish. It is also a very deadly form of theological confusion. But it also is standing at the intersection of theology and politics, where this will not be the first and it will not be the last effort to coopt Christian theology and the reputation of Christianity for political ends.
You Can’t Legislate Morality: A Bad Argument Rises Again
It's also important to recognize that embedded within Senator Gillibrand's argument is the fact that you really can't legislate morality. To quote her again, "One of the tenets of our democracy is that we have a separation of church and state, and under no circumstances are we supposed to be imposing our faith on other people." She said, "I think this is an example of that effort." So pro-life legislation is imposing a morality upon other people. Is it or is it not? Of course, it is. And is it a particularly Christian moral principle? Well, it has been throughout Christian history, but not exclusively so. And furthermore, good arguments can be made without reference to Christianity at all. This is one of the reasons we would explain by common grace, that there has been a revulsion to abortion in other societies as well.
But it is important to recognize that when you look at Christianity, you're looking at a particularly powerful, and over time, very consistent argument against abortion, going back to the Early Church as one of its fundamental moral assessments and continued throughout virtually all of Christian history until exceedingly recent times. But here's where we also have to recognize that if you're going to consistently make the argument that we have to secularize the rationale for Western law, that's going to be a real challenge because the entirety of the architecture of the Western legal tradition was based upon an explicitly Christian foundation. Good luck trying to undo that without absolute chaos.
One of the most facile and foolish arguments, but nonetheless one of the most common is that you cannot or should not legislate morality. But rightly understood, all legislation has some kind of moral purpose even if it is not apparently so. When you have parking regulations, you might say, "There's nothing deeply moral at stake." But when you are looking at parking regulations, that is within the structure of the fact that there should be equity of access, and to the stewardship of that kind of resource. When you are looking at arguments for anything, you will note that politically, if you peel back the argument, somewhere there is a deep moral motivation.
It is interesting to note that many of the people who say you can't legislate morality are very quick to legislate, in moral terms, on mandating same-sex marriage, but they say, "You can't legislate morality when it comes to sex or when you come to abortion." We ought at least to be honest and say, "We're always legislating morality. The question is whose morality are we legislating?
In response to Senator Gillibrand on Friday night, I tweeted, "Introducing Kirsten Gillibrand, the theologian. This is the insanity of the religious left, not only theological gibberish, but deadly to the unborn." I went on to say, "It makes me want to do a Saturday edition of The Briefing. It had to wait until this morning.” There was a respectful response to my tweet that stated, "The left is not religious. Dr. Mohler." I responded by saying, "I know what you mean, but the left is very religious. Secularism and anti-human humanism are religions. Their devotees are ardent worshipers, and abortion is a central sacrament.”
Again and again, we remind ourselves that there are no non-theological people and there are no non-theological worldviews. The worldview maybe claimed to be secular and non-theological, but secular's actually theological because it is itself defined by the rejection of theism. One way or another every single worldview and its most basic principles has to answer the questions as to why there is anything. It has to answer the question of being. It has to answer the question to morality. It has to answer the question of the structuring and ordering of human society. Ultimately, it has to answer the question of what is a human being? What kind of rights and responsibilities come with being human? Eventually, essentially, your answer is going to be theological, whether you want it to be or not.
But in this case, Senator Gillibrand evidently wanted it to be theological. If you were turning cynical on this question, The New York Times would give you ammunition. Yesterday's edition in print had a full page article with a headline, “Gillibrand Needs a Lane and Some Cash.” It points to the fact that she was first elected to Congress in 2006 as a conservative, joining the Blue Dog Democrats with a very high rating by the National Rifle Association. She's falling behind in the race and big time behind in fundraising and she's now trying to catch up. Even The New York Times recognizes by racing to the left as fast as she can, and especially on the issue of abortion, trying to create some distinguishing characteristic of her race in order that she would stand out from the other contenders for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Gillibrand was appointed to the United States Senate in 2009 when the seat was vacated. Hillary Rodham Clinton became the US Secretary of State. She's moved steadily to the left ever since. Rachel Maddow, the liberal MSNBC host, recently described Gillibrand, "She has been on her own party's right. She has been on her own party's left." But it's this bizarre and reprehensible theological turn that has earned her attention on The Briefing today.
Taiwan Becomes First Asian Nation to Legalize Same-Sex Marriage: What’s Behind the Headline
Next big international news. Asia's first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Taiwan, and it took place late last week. Chun Han Wong reporting for the Wall Street Journal tells us Taiwan's legislature approved Asia's first same-sex marriage law reinforcing the island's reputation as a tolerant democracy despite a turbulent public decade that exposed social divisions about gay rights. We're going to look at this story very quickly because the bottom line is that Taiwan becomes newsworthy as the first Asian government to legalize same-sex marriage. That really tells us something. We then need to ask the question, why is this so?
Well, it's interesting that some of the mainstream media said that there's pressure even in Asia from minority Christian populations, but that wouldn't explain the overwhelming opposition to same-sex marriage. It can't be Christianity when you're talking about the entire context of Asia. No, the reality here is that legalize same-sex marriage is still basically a Western secular outlier. It's sad that that is not honestly reflected in most of the mainstream media coverage. There's another dimension from Taiwan that deserves our attention.
We are reminded that there was a referendum just this past November in which Taiwanese voters expressed opposition to same-sex marriage by very wide margins. And furthermore, the referendum included several questions. And across the range of those questions, the people of Taiwan responded overwhelmingly against same-sex marriage. So why did it happen? Well, in 2017, the Supreme Court and Taiwan struck down the constitutional limitation of marriage, as defined as the union of a man and a woman.
Once again, what we see is the use of the courts in order to trump the will of the people in Taiwan. And we also see the fact that the Western elites are now ready to cheer Taiwan as getting on the right side of history, and going down in history is the first Asian nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
It's also interesting to see that even as the headlines trumpet the fact that Taiwan has now legalized same-sex marriage, you have to look deep in the article to understand it is not exactly like same-sex marriage has been legalized in Western nations. It's a far more limited act and furthermore, it does not extend to same-sex couples adopting children that are not biologically related to at least one of the partners.
The Journal reports, "Gay rights activists say the law falls short of full marriage equality, though they accept it as a temporary compromise.” That's the way moral revolutions work. You have one law and you have activists who push for it. They settle for it for now, but they are not going to settle for it for long.
When you look at the United States, or you look at Western nations and you see how same sex marriage became fully legalized, it was step by step with the activists saying, "Here's where we are now. We're going to celebrate what's just happened, but we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until we have the legalization of full same-sex marriage.”
Same-Sex Marriage Marks an American Anniversary: It’s Still Younger Than Your 16-Year Old
But next, we need to come back to the United States and recognize that Friday represented the 15th anniversary of the first legal same-sex marriage undertaken in any American state. This also came by action of a court, the highest court in Massachusetts. And by action of that court, the very first state-legalized-same-sex marriages took place in the United States on May the 17th, 2004.
Now, let's just think about that for a moment. Let's say that in your house, there might be a 16-year old. Here's what you need to know. When that 16-year-old was born, there wasn't a single state in the United States that had legalized same-sex marriage. That is how recent this revolution is. But you're looking at the fact that the mainstream culture has decided to make it so absolutely normative that it acts as if same-sex marriage has been around for decades, but it hasn't been. It was Justice Samuel Alito in his descent to the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage when he held up a smartphone and said, "Same-sex marriage is younger even than the smartphone."
Rick Klein, reporting for ABC News, interestingly reminds us that if you go back 15 years ago on Friday to 2004, John Kerry, then a senator from Massachusetts, who would be the Democratic presidential nominee that year, opposed the legalization of same-sex marriage. So, also, four years later in 2008, did the Democratic presidential candidate then oppose same-sex marriage. That was then Senator Barack Obama, who on the night before the election said, "I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. I am not in favor of gay marriage.” Of course, we now know that he had been in favor of it before he was not in favor of it and then he was in favor of it again when he ran for reelection in 2012.
In 2008, his main contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, then New York Senator Hillary Clinton also opposed legalizing same sex marriage. She also—to use the word favored by the moral revolutionaries—“evolved” on the issue, and with convenient timing.
Barack Obama's running mate in 2008 also opposed same-sex marriage, although he also later evolved on the issue. And that was then Senator Joe Biden, later Barack Obama's Vice President of the United States, who is right now, by polling, the front runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race. And he and anyone else who just a blink of an eye ago were against same sex marriage, want you to forget that very, very quickly and know that they are now very much for it as if they've been for it all along.
To Be Human Is to Crave a Satisfying End to the Story: A Look at the Nihilistic Worldview of George R. R. Martin and the Quest for an Ending
But next last night was the conclusion of the HBO series, ‘Game of Thrones,’ based upon George R. R. Martin's series known as A Song of Ice and Fire. The big conversation in the culture was whether or not it was a satisfactory ending. Many of the critics had predicted long before the conclusion—and I didn't watch the series, I'm just interested in it as a cultural phenomenon—many of the critics are saying there could be no satisfying end to the story, and there seemed to be a bit of frustration in that. But before looking at the end, we need to remind ourselves that Game of Thrones has been and is a very powerful cultural phenomenon. It is a very powerful narrative. It was the creation of author George R. R. Martin, and like every author, he works out of his own worldview.
Martin's worldview is explicitly secular. Here's something very, very interesting. If you look at the 20th century in the English-speaking world, you might say that there have been just a few massive narratives that have caught the cultural attention. The narratives tend to follow a rather similar kind of pattern. One of these would have been The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis published between 1950 and 1956. Even more dominant was the series by J. R. R. Tolkien entitled The Lord of the Rings. Also his works, The Hobbit and The Silmarillion, it was The Lord of the Rings that sold more than 150 million copies as the three volumes were published between 1954 and 1955.
There will be a minor footnote in the Harry Potter series that took place just a generation ago. But it is Game of Thrones that has had the most massively developed worldview as it was represented in this narrative. What's interesting to note is that Martin appears to have been explicitly trying to give a rather Nietzschean, nihilistic answer to Tolkien. And you might say it was nihilism's response to The Lord of the Rings.
Both The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings were based upon explicitly Christian worldviews. They make sense within the Christian meta narrative. When you look at Lewis and Tolkien, you are looking at the addressing of ultimate issues in the story of humanity through what is recognizably a Christian storyline. Not so with George R. R. Martin. Instead, his worldview is basically nihilistic. It is secular.
In an interview with Entertainment Weekly several years ago, Martin identified his own worldview as atheist or agnostic. He described himself as a lapsed Catholic. I noted that the interviewer asked why there is so little kindness in the novels. Martin answered, "I think the books are realistic. I've always liked great characters. And as for the gods, I'd never been satisfied by any of the answers that are given."
So one of the distinguishing marks of the ‘Game of Thrones’ series was moral ambiguity and moral cruelty. And we also have to note a rape culture that appears in secular terms wildly out of step with the Me Too movement. But in conclusion, let's remember this. We are inherently narrative creatures. God made us this way. Animals don't tell stories to each other, human beings do. We are not only Homo sapiens, the being who thinks, we are Homo narrators, the being who tells stories. We can only understand ourselves in terms of story. Someone's going to tell the story. Someone is going to tell the story that will dominate the culture.
There is a great battle of worldviews, but we also have to understand there is a great battle of stories. And thus, it's really an interesting question as we conclude by ending The Briefing on the question of the unsatisfying end of ‘Game of Thrones.’ Here's the problem. There is only one story that can end satisfactorily. There's only one story that can end with absolute justice and absolute righteousness, and that is the Biblical narrative of creation and fall and redemption and new creation. The only satisfying end, the only truly satisfactory end, is Christian eschatology as made very clear in Scripture.
A story basically established in nihilism can only end with one or another form of cruelty. It's really important for us to recognize that everyone around us, everyone we will ever meet, is looking for the right story, looking for the story with the right ending. We know that story. It's our responsibility to tell it.