briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, June 13, 2019

It’s Thursday, June 13, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Radical New Abortion Law in Illinois: Analyzing the Looming Geographical Divide over Abortion in America

Christians trying to think intelligently about the culture around us have to watch and understand chronological development. We also have to ask basic questions. Is a headline really reflective of a bigger pattern? Is this something that is just a flash in social media? Is this an isolated story, or does it fit, upon reflection, in a larger pattern? Just think about the abortion issue. The larger pattern is basically clear. In the middle of the 1960s you had increased political action towards the legalization of abortion. By 1973 the culture had lurched so far to the left on the abortion question that the Supreme Court of the United States, thinking it was reflecting public opinion, handed down the Roe V. Wade decision, basically legalizing abortion-on-demand in all 50 states. But then it turned out that the picture wasn’t so clear, as especially the Pro-Abortion Movement believed, in the 1970s.

There was a response. The Pro-Life Movement began to gain traction in the 1970s and came into political power in the 1980s. The Pro-Life Movement had its greatest achievement, first of all, electorally in 1980 in the election of President Ronald Reagan, but then as pro-life legislation began to be adopted state after state, but we didn’t notice then what is very evident now. That is that even as the United States is more divided on the question of abortion than perhaps ever before, it hasn’t turned out to be evenly divided in demography, that is across the United States. It is incredibly predictable now in simple geographical terms. The issue of abortion is not the only issue in which this kind of geographical, partisan divide now applies, but it is the most important issue.

But now we turn to an article that ran yesterday in the New York Times with the headline, “Divide Deepens With All But One State Dominated By One Party.” The article’s by reporter, Timothy Williams, and the story he’s telling is the story of increased divides politically among the states of the United States, not within the states, but among the states. Here we’re looking at the pattern of red states becoming more red and blue states becoming more blue, but as Williams points out, a lot of this is now explained by the fact that state-by-state political power, as identified by political party, is now becoming an even stronger indicator, which is to say in a majority of the states there is a one party dominance of state politics. What does that mean? It means that state-by-state the states become more of who they are, and the party in power has fewer checks upon its unrestricted authority to pass legislation.

Just take a state like California. The General Assembly, overwhelming dominated by Democrats, so much so that they can pass any legislation they want without a single Republican vote, and thus it’s basically a question of what the Democrats want to do. There isn’t a single Republican elected to statewide office in California, and so you have a liberal, democratic governor in California and a liberal, democratic legislature, and together they can do whatever they want to do. And here’s something else to note: given the logic of political parties, when there is no party opposition that has any political power to check the dominant party, the party simply moves along following its own logic. That’s what you see. A party that leans left begins to move left very quickly, not only not obstructed, but basically not even slowed down by the minority Republicans.

Then you could look in contrast to a state like Alabama. Alabama has a Republican governor, a conservative. Alabama’s legislature is overwhelmingly dominated by Republicans. Democrats in Alabama are unable to stop legislation that is proposed by a Republican legislature and then signed into law by a Republican governor. So, what does this have to do with abortion? Well, just look at the contrasting abortion laws in California and Alabama, and even look more recently at changes to those laws or proposed changes. Just consider the fact that in the headlines recently we have seen Alabama, by its legislature, a law then signed by the governor, we’ve seen Alabama move to adopt the most restrictive abortion law in recent American history. By recent, we mean going back now for decades. Alabama is clearly throwing down the gauntlet for the United States Supreme Court.

But then we have developments that took place in recent days in the state of Illinois. Just yesterday Illinois governor, J.B. Pritzker, signed a bill that effectively, like the state of New York, legalized late-term abortion in the state of Illinois, and if anything, the Illinois legislation is even more radical than what we saw in New York. That was hardly even imaginable even a few weeks ago. It’s actual now.

The measure signed into law by Governor Pritzker effectively repeals Illinois’s ban on partial birth abortion. It states that a fetus does not have independent rights. It basically legalizes late-term abortion, removing the legal requirement of two doctors approving that late-term abortion, reducing the number from two to one, and also expanding the grounds, making clear the grounds by which a woman might demand a late-term abortion, even a third trimester abortion, to include health, meaning explicitly not only physical health, but also emotional and even familial health. That’s an expansive set of grounds that is so wide that any woman can effectively demand a late-term abortion on any grounds, claiming even that continuing the pregnancy would merely be emotionally distressful, and she can gain authorization to abort her baby, to kill the unborn baby in the womb virtually indeed right up until the moment of birth.

But in his article Timothy Williams makes clear how this happened in Illinois. He writes, quote, “When J.B. Pritzker took over as the governor of Illinois this year, democratic lawmakers who had spent four years at an impasse with his Republican predecessor vowed that their party’s new grip on the state capital would bring immediate change.” Williams then writes, “The pace has been startling. In recent months Illinois legislators have moved sharply to the left, deeming abortion a fundamental right for women, no matter what the Supreme Court might decide, raising the minimum wage, taking steps to legalize recreational marijuana, and introducing a graduated income tax.” Now, Williams draws a direct contrast to what took place 700 miles to the south in the Alabama state capital virtually over the same amount of time.

But as we’re looking at Illinois, we need to understand just how radical this abortion law is. Let me get back to one of the first points I made about it. It repeals what had been the Illinois ban on partial birth abortion. This is even difficult, indeed very distressing, to talk about. But because of the moral urgency of the situation, we have to talk about it. What is partial birth abortion? Why is it called that? It is because the baby is partially born. What is a partially born baby? It is a baby that has largely emerged from the birth canal, but the head has not yet emerged. At that point the baby’s progress is stopped, an abortion is performed, in which the baby is killed, the baby is declared dead, and then, and only then, the baby’s cranium is collapsed, so that the body may be safely removed from the woman’s birth canal. That is horrifying to say. It is horrifying to imagine. That is the horror that the state of Illinois just yesterday passed into law as an allowable practice in the state of Illinois.

In worldview analysis there’s so much to look at here. Committed to the sanctity of human life, because of what the Bible tells us about human identity, created in the image of God, understanding that according to the Scripture every single life under every condition at every point of development is previous, because every single life is God’s gift, understanding that God is sovereign over life and that we have no right to take life, understanding that that is exactly what abortion is—it is the intentional taking of an unborn human life—we are looking at the fact that moral horror is staring us in the face. And even as these are distressing issues to discuss, we’re talking about issues that are so much a matter of life and death and so current that this legislation was signed into law by the governor of Illinois just yesterday. As we might say, as we must say, in Illinois a day that will live in infamy.

But there’s another important issue here, and that is that this was an entirely predictable event. Why predictable? Because of the outcome of the recent gubernatorial election in Illinois. Elections have consequences. If a majority of voters in a state elect a democratic governor committed to unrestricted abortion rights, and if at the same time that state elects a legislature with the very same position on abortion, then you’re going to look at legislation just like this. But then let’s go back to that article in the New York Times, drawing that distinction between Illinois and Alabama. Worldview matters. It matters whether a majority of people in the state consider themselves Christians. It matters whether a majority of people in the state attend church. It matters when you look at the worldview that evidently animates and motivates a least a majority of the voters in a state. Eventually that worldview becomes law.

There’s another issue to note here. When you have the state of Alabama adopt a legislation that it did, you will note that you have pro-abortion activists who immediately go to court in order to find some kind of court action, action by the judiciary, to overcome the will of the people, as reflected in the legislature and in the election of the governor in the state of Alabama. You do not have an equal and opposite reaction in a state like Illinois or a state like California. Why? Because in so many of those states the judiciary is also dominated by one party, because of the appointments that come in most states by the governor and often approved by the legislature. So, eventually even as it takes longer for the courts, for the judiciary, to reflect that worldview, inevitably that’s what’s going to happen.

Part II

Pro-Lifers Are ‘Not Acceptable’ in America? An Increasingly Radical Position on Abortion Among Democratic Candidates

But next, as we’re thinking about elections have consequences, even on this same issue, we turn to the 2020 race for the democratic presidential nomination. One of the issues we’ve been watching is the fact that in the Democratic Party a pro-abortion logic, even a radical, pro-abortion logic is now extending to the point that it’s becoming unrealistic that anyone can lay claim, in a realistic sense, to the 2020 Democratic Party presidential nomination unless he or she avidly moves as far in a pro-abortion logic as is imaginable, or at least imaginable for now. We saw this with former vice president, Joe Biden, caving on his support for the Hyde Amendment just in recent days. But just also, over the last couple of days we have seen this logic in an interview given by New York senator, Kirsten Gillibrand.

The interview was given to the Des Moines Register. That’s not an accident. Des Moines is reflecting the fact that the Iowa caucuses are coming up, the earliest actual vote that’s likely to have an impact on the 2020 presidential nomination race amongst the Democrats. The Iowa caucuses are coming up, and the Des Moines Register is following the many Democratic presidential candidates who are basically camped out in Iowa for a good deal of any given week.

We talked on The Briefing about the fact that Senator Gillibrand had a few weeks ago indicated that she would appoint to the Supreme Court, if elected president, only those who were pre-committed publicly to support Roe v. Wade. We talked about the fact that that was a shift in the Democratic Party from at least claiming that there should not be a pre-condition in a case like that that would be required of anyone to be nominated to the Supreme Court. That was intellectually dishonest, but it was at least a logic that was articulated by Democrats until recently, and now they’re coming out and saying, “We will only nominate someone who will say upfront that he or she, if becoming a federal judge or a justice of the Supreme Court, would uphold Roe v. Wade.

The Des Moines Register asked Senator Gillibrand about that logic and then went on to ask her if this did not mean an unwarranted interference in judicial independence. Senator Gillibrand’s response is so stunning it requires our attention. She said, “I think there are some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable. Imagine saying that it’s okay,” she said, “to appoint a judge who’s racist, or antisemitic, or homophobic, telling, asking someone to appoint someone who takes away basic human rights of any group of people in America. I don’t think that those are political issues anymore.”

Now, just looking at this is as matter of truth or falsehood, whether the statement is true or false, it’s simply false that abortion is no longer a political issue in the United States. That is so profoundly un-factual and untrue that it’s hard to believe, except under these insane political circumstances, that a sitting member of the United State Senate would say such a thing.

There has been legislation on abortion before the Senate just in recent weeks. We just talked about a flurry of legislation, political action on the question of abortion state-by-state. States are deciding the issue differently, but you can hardly argue that abortion isn’t a political issue in the United States. What this really reflects are two dimensions. Number one, it is the fact that right now in the Democratic Party, and increasingly in the entire pro-abortion side of the debate, the argument is we have to quickly move on. We simply have to say that this isn’t debatable. The non-abortion rights position, and let’s just state clearly, the pro-life position, has to be ruled morally out of bounds. Now, this means we’re living in a world turned upside down, in which the defense of human life is now presented as an immoral act.

But the other thing we have to note is that if you are indeed a United States senator in New York, and New York has just passed as a state that very radical pro-abortion legislation, right up to and including late-term abortion, then as a United States senator elected statewide in New York, you just might think that it is to your political advantage to at least state that you think the moral issue of abortion is so settled that it is no longer even a political issue.

But the other thing we have to note is far more ominous. Here you have Senator Gillibrand saying that when it comes to the appointments of federal judges and Supreme Court justices, she is equating a pro-life position with racism. She’s saying that even as a society it’s now incomprehensible that a judge who is a racist could be nominated to the federal bench, it should be equally incomprehensible that a pro-life jurist should be given a federal appointment as a judge or a member of the U.S. Supreme Court. Just notice how extreme this statement is. That tells us at least a couple of other things. Number one, evidently this is the kind of thing you have to say if you’re trying to get attention in the Democratic presidential primary race, and this is the kind of thing the base wants you to say.

Let’s go back and look at that first sentence in her response. “I think there’s some issues that have such moral clarity that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable.” Well, now, what exactly does that mean? Does that mean that she sees those pro-life senators in the United States Senate as illegitimate, as those who should not be accepted? What does that mean when she says that we have, as a society, decided that the other side is not acceptable? Consider the logic of where this leads inevitably.

We would not allow a racist to teach in school. Does that mean that pro-lifers now can’t teach? Professional associations, like the American Bar Association and the American Medical Association would not allow a racist to be a lawyer or a doctor. Does that mean that now you can’t have pro-life doctors or lawyers either? That’s exactly the logic that’s demonstrated here. You don’t have to dig into the situation to find this logic. This is the logic on its face. She’s saying this out loud. She’s saying this to the media. Furthermore, let’s note something else. She didn’t even say this say in Seattle, or in Boston, not even in New York. She said this in Des Moines, Iowa.

Before leaving this story, I want to note that she extended her own logic in her statement to the paper, “There is no moral equivalency when you come to racism, and I do not believe there is a moral equivalency when it comes to changing laws that deny women reproductive freedom.” Those are her words. She’s basically saying to pro-life Americans, “You don’t even have a role in public life. You need to get out of sight and out of mind. Crawl back into your caves and your holes.”

Part III

Gambling as Moral Parable: Why Luck Is All the Secular Worldview Has to Offer

But next we turn to a very different issue. This is the morality of gambling and what gambling tells us about temptations to sin and the very architecture of human intelligence. Jeff Stibel is the author of the story, the headline of which is this, “Gambler’s Fallacy is Tough to Beat.” Stibel, a commentator for USA Today, writes about an experience he recently had in Las Vegas playing baccarat.

“Turns out the game is really simple. There is no skill to it, and all you have to do is flip the cards over and pretend to be lucky.” He was saying he had a good time. He used different kinds of language. But then he writes, “Here’s the funny thing. I was annoyed, because I expected to lose.” The next sentence, “Even though I pretty much always lose, I love gambling.”

Now, what does he love? He explains it. “The energy and noise of a crowded table, the bright colors of the chips, the sound of the dice hitting the back of the craps table, the cackling of the roulette ball as it bounces around the wheel, even the carnival lights of the slot machines,” he writes, “have been known to pull me in a time or two.”

Notice his next sentences, “I’m a smart enough guy. I know that over a lifetime I’m going to lose a lot more money than I’ll ever win. I know that overstimulation, like the kind intentionally created in casinos, causes humans to make bad decisions, but even armed with that knowledge, it’s hard to resist just one more hand, one more roll, one more spin. This is especially true,” he admits, “if I’ve had a run of bad luck. Bad luck has to turn around eventually. Right?”

Now, there’s a whole lot for worldview analysis in this article, but one thing, you have kind of an insider look at gambling, the fact that here you have someone who enjoys gambling, he says, telling us that he really expects to lose a lot more money gambling than he ever expects to win. He also writes about the fact that he understands the enticements, the overstimulation of, for example, a casino environment. He knows how the game is played, and yet he finds himself going back and playing the game again. But then he also tells us something about the human understanding of luck, or at least what we hope is the reality concerning luck. Luck, by the way, is not a theological category, but in this case it’s really interesting to see how in a secular worldview luck, here it’s admitted, is misunderstood. He writes that that idea that luck has to turn around eventually is not just wrong. It’s not just a little wrong. It is, in his own words, disastrously wrong.

He then tells this story, “A large group of gamblers at the famous Monte Carlo Casino found this out the hard way on August 18, 1913.” He continues, “It was a typical day at the roulette table, until the ball started landing on black and didn’t stop. First 5 black numbers in a row, then 10, then 15. The excitement in the crowd grew as everyone bet on red, sure that after so many black numbers a red must be coming up, but they kept losing money as the string of black numbers grew to 20, then 25.”

Stibel continues, “You can imagine the groaning and cursing as the crowd reached into their pockets to bet again and again, but the ball landed on black 26 times in a row. By the 27th time, when the red finally hit, the gamblers were out millions of francs,” that’s the equivalent in France of millions of dollars, “and one winning bet on red wasn’t nearly enough to make up for the previous losses.”

So, here you have something about fallen human nature, even how the fallen human brain thinks. We like to think that if we’ve had a string of bad luck, good luck must be just around the corner. Now, the mathematical point made by Stibel in this article is that human beings, when it comes to fairly large numbers, have no clue what they’re dealing with as they try to think about the odds. He tells us that we might be able to keep the numbers straight, so long as the number’s say up to 10. We might be at least somewhat competent to keep numbers straight even up to something like 100, but when you’re looking at the numbers involved now in gambling, the human mind can’t even fathom them. He admits looking at something like the Powerball Lottery that the odds are about 1 in 175 million. He then writes, “We simply can’t compute or comprehend numbers on this scale, so we anchor on something we can understand and focus on, the one as in one person, that one person will win, and it could be me.” He writes, “This is why most of us irrationally prefer to take longer odds on a higher value than to make safer bets on smaller values.”

Now, a few years ago on The Briefing I pointed to a study released by one major academic center that indicated that scientists running the odds on these giant lottery games found that the odds of dying by being hit on the head by an accidentally falling coconut were higher than the odds of winning the Powerball Lottery. Now, millions and millions of Americans have to bet in the lottery or the lottery doesn’t have the money in order to offer these kinds of payouts. Furthermore, Americans, at least in the main you’d like to think, aren’t stupid enough to think that the odds are even remotely in their favor. Americans look at those huge promises of lottery payouts, and they think, “That’s a huge amount of money.” They don’t think about the fact that it’s actually only a bare fraction of the money that’s bet, which means that the vast, vast, vast majority of those putting money into the lottery have no hope of winning anything.

You have millions and millions of people losing their money, so that one person can win this massive buy out, but Americans, even though, again, we like to think they can do elementary math, they continue to buy lottery tickets. Furthermore, they’re looking for a lucky number.

I said earlier that luck is not a good theological concept. It’s also not actually a very good secular concept either, which is to say luck doesn’t even work in a secular worldview. But on the other hand, luck’s all you’ve got in a secular worldview. That is to say all you have are odds. Everything’s an accident. There is nothing that is superintended by a Creator. There is no Lord in charge of the cosmos. There’s no inherent meaning in anything. There’s a certain amount of life you can explain by cause and effect. You drop a brick on your foot, it’s going to hurt. But when it comes to other issues, it’s simply a matter of incomprehension, so we’ll call it luck.

This reminds me of an ancient Chinese proverb told years ago by John d’Alelio. He tells the story of an old, Chinese farmer who had one son. It was considered very good luck that this farmer had a son to help him in his work, and so his neighbors came by and said, “You’re a lucky man. You have a son.” The old man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who’s to say?” A few days later the man whose son was working with him broke his leg. The neighbors came to him and said, “That was bad luck.” The old man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who’s to say?” The boy was then injured, so he had a broken leg, and he couldn’t work. At the same time a traveling warlord came through and took all the healthy, young men away to war. That was considered good luck, so the neighbors came to him and said, “You’re a lucky man.” The old man said to them again, “Good luck, bad luck, who’s to say?”

The farmer and his boy had a horse, but one day the horse ran away. The neighbors came and said, “You’ve got bad luck.” The old man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who’s to say?” Two weeks later the horse that had run away came back with four other horses. The neighbors said, “What a lucky man you are.” The old man said, “Good luck, bad luck, who’s to say?”

What’s the point of the entire story? It is the basic Confucian worldview that luck is indiscernible. It is very hard to find out, but there isn’t a denial that luck is the bottom line. It’s just to say it’s really hard to tell whether good luck is bad luck, or whether bad luck is simply good luck in disguise, or vice versa. If you’re living in a world of chance, if you’re living in a world without a sovereign god, luck is all you’ve got, but luck is pretty much a disaster.

The point in this article by Stibel is that human beings don’t handle even the math of luck very well, and we have this intuition that if we’ve had bad luck, say in a series of bets, good luck must be right around the corner. But as he writes, “In any conditions of a random event the outcome is random, which is to say if you have only two options, the actual reality in a random condition is 50% every single time. Even if the ball lands on the black 25 times in a row, the odds of the 26th time are the very same as the odds of the 1st, or the 10th, or the 15th. It’s one out of two. It’s 50%.” Stibel’s bottom line in all of this is that if you’re going to gamble, then at least do the math and recognize that you’re going to lose more than you win, and you simply factor that into the experience.

The Christian worldview understand that gambling is a moral wrong, but this story is incredibly powerful in showing us how fallen human beings think. It also shows us that incredible distinction between the biblical worldview that presents the entire cosmos in the context of divine providence and the secular worldview in which providence is impossible, because there is no Creator, and everything is merely an accident. Accidents are simply interpreted by human beings looking for meaning as luck, good luck or bad luck, but if you actually hold to a secular worldview, there’s not even a reality to luck. It’s just meaning we read onto a situation. If everything’s random, then everything is random. So, here Christians ought to see that an article that is supposed to be about gambling and about math turns out to be about the meaning of life and the deepest questions of worldview.

If you hold to a secular worldview, then all you have is luck, but you don’t even really believe in luck. Everything’s just random, and life is meaningless, and the cosmos is stacked against you. But if you’re a Christian, you believe in a sovereign Creator God who created the entire cosmos as the theater of his glory, and there is not one atom or molecule that is loose and outside his sovereignty in the universe, and thus we are safe in a universe that has cause and effect, because God created it that way, a universe in which there is real purpose and real meaning, because it was created by a real God who really rules. It comes down to whether or not you see the cosmos as divine creation or just one giant, accidental casino.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Birmingham, Alabama, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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