briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

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

It’s Tuesday, January 7, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The Culture of Death at the Golden Globes: Hollywood, Politics, and the Pseudo-Event

Back in the year 1962 when after all, John F. Kennedy was president of the United States, Daniel Boorstin, an historian who would eventually become the librarian of Congress, wrote a book entitled The Image: A Guide to Pseudo Events in America. Dr. Boorstin was talking about events that aren’t real. They are pseudo events, they are constructed artificial events. But in the media age they make for a lot of attention and that’s exactly what we are looking at at the Golden Globes event that took place in Hollywood on Sunday night. And on Sunday night, the big news didn’t have anything to do so much with one of the awards given, but rather predictably with one of the speeches given by one of the award recipients. In this case, it was Michelle Williams who received the best actress award in a limited series for the program Fosse/Verdon, which has been shown in eight episodes on the FX channel.

In her speech, Williams said, “When you put this in someone’s hands,” speaking of the award, “You’re acknowledging the choices they make as an actor, moment by moment, scene by scene, day by day. But,” said Williams, “You’re also acknowledging the choices they make as a person, the education they pursued, the training they sought, the hours they put in.” Then she got to the point. “I’m grateful for the acknowledgement of the choices I’ve made and I’m also grateful to have lived in a moment in our society where choice exists because as women and as girls, things can happen to our bodies that are not our choice.” She continued, “I’ve tried my very best to live a life of my own making and not just a series of events that happened to me, but one that I could stand back and look at and recognize my handwriting all over.”

She went on to say later, “And I wouldn’t have been able to do this without employing a woman’s right to choose.” So early in the speech she spoke of choice over and over again. She spoke about our society as being one “where choice exists” and then she went on to be very specific saying she wouldn’t have been able to make her choices without employing a woman’s right to choose. As Alexandra DeSanctis pointed out at National Review, in this entire speech, which turns out mostly to be about abortion, Michelle Williams never has the courage to use the word abortion. Instead, it is a constant reference to choice and one we’re going to have to look at even more closely.

Later, she said, “To choose when to have my children and with whom when I felt supported and able to balance our lives, as all mothers know that the scales must and will tip towards our children. Now I know,” she said, “My choices might look different than yours, but thank God or whoever you pray to that we live in a country founded on the principles that I am free to live by my faith and you are free to live by yours. So women 18 to 118 when it is time to vote, please do so in your self interest. That’s what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them. But don’t forget, we are the largest voting body in this country. Let’s make it look more like us.”

Now, there can be no doubt the Michelle Williams carefully planned this speech. She carefully constructed it. She very carefully even meticulously timed it, and she gave the speech even after the host of the event, Ricky Gervais had gone on his own time, giving the monologue to suggest that no one really cares what Hollywood celebrities believe, so they should leave politics out of their speeches. Just get up and say their thank you’s and go and sit down. I’ve actually had to clean up his speech considerably. Nonetheless, you get the point. It isn’t actually likely that Ricky Gervais made that statement seriously anyway, and Michelle Williams didn’t take it seriously, but her speech must be taken seriously. As I said, one of the most amazing aspects of her speech is how she elevates the word choice to what amounts to an object of worship. And she almost makes that point explicit when she talks about our nation being one in which we can have our faith and she can have hers. Apparently her faith is in choice.

But what we actually see in this very short speech is a microcosm of a worldview, a worldview in which the word choice is elevated to the greatest good imaginable in the entire world. Now, one inescapable analysis point when you’re thinking in worldview terms is the fact that anyone who could present the word choice or the category of choice in this way sees choice and the act of the will and the will as self-expression and self liberation as the greatest possible good. And Michelle Williams had every reason to expect that the overwhelming majority of her audience, especially there in Hollywood, but furthermore throughout most of the United States at least partly agrees with her in that definition of life’s greatest good. Self-expression, self-identification, self-determination, and choice. But even if you try to follow her worldview principle for a few moments, you’ll recognize the limitations of choice. She speaks even of her talent as an actress as a choice. In fact, the word choice is used so pervasively in her speech that it really is the only meaningful category. But choice doesn’t even explain the basic fact of our lives.

We didn’t choose to be born, we didn’t choose when or where to be born or to whom we would be born. And there are a multitude of issues over which we have no choice whatsoever that determine the real contours of our lives. This isn’t to deny that God made us as moral agents and we do have the very real experience of making choices. But the biggest issue of all in worldview analysis here is how choice becomes an issue of moral evasion. She is talking about the destruction of a baby in the womb, the intentional strategic determined destruction of a baby, a living human baby, a living human being in the womb. And furthermore, she actually in her own way, declared that her career is dependent upon the fact that she has had at least one abortion. She also has a teenage daughter and press reports tell us that she is expecting a baby and was pregnant even as she gave her speech.

The left absolutely loved, predictably, Michelle Williams speech. Amanda Marcotte writing at offers an article with a headline, “Michelle Williams Speaks a Crucial Truth: Abortion Isn’t the Enemy of Motherhood.” Now let’s just state the obvious. It is indeed the contradiction, the opposite or enemy of motherhood when it comes to the fact that abortion is the murder of an unborn child. It is the very contradiction of motherhood. But of course Amanda Marcotte isn’t really talking about a single pregnancy, she’s talking about the fact that abortion by her argument, isn’t the enemy of a woman ever being a mother on the woman’s own terms, entirely her own terms with no restrictions whatsoever on her exercise of choice. That’s the very point that she makes in her article. The moral obscenity for argument is clear in this sentence, “Many women who get abortions do so because they want to be better mothers either to the children they may have already or the ones they may have in the future.”

But Marcotte’s article also makes clear that she sees motherhood even as Michelle Williams sees choice, and that is simply a matter of self expression. Meanwhile, at the Washington Post, Bethany Butler wrote an article in which she declared of Michelle Williams, “Her Globe speech along with her powerful plea for equal pay at last year’s Emmy’s ceremony had put Williams in company with the likes of Patricia Arquette, Viola Davis, Meryl Streep, and other actresses who used their time on gilded award show stages to bring attention to political and industry issues.” Indeed, it appears that now we can safely say that abortion is one of Hollywood’s industry issues because it’s just unimaginable that the recipient of one of these awards or anyone who’s in the inside ring of Hollywood could possibly get up at one of these awards ceremonies, or anywhere else for that matter, and make an unabashedly pro-life statement of conviction.

But before leaving this issue, we need to remind ourselves that Hollywood is itself the great industrial complex of pseudo events. That’s basically its business. But amazingly enough that business has massive cultural and moral impact, not only in the United States but elsewhere. That elsewhere underlined by the fact that the Golden Globes are actually awarded by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. They’ve been hosting the events since 1944. But as we’re thinking about pseudo events, we need to remind ourselves that it’s not limited to just this kind of event. We’re not just talking about awards ceremonies, we’re talking about the outsize influence and furthermore, the exaggerated media attention given to actors, actresses, mostly Hollywood and other entertainment celebrities. Just before New Year’s, the New York Times ran an article in its print edition with the headline, “Fonda Brings Hollywood to Capitol for Protest.” Elizabeth Williamson is the reporter. It’s actually a far more interesting article than I expected it to be.

The Fonda is of course Jane Fonda, famous or infamous since the 1960s for her liberal political activism. But Williamson’s writing about the latest demonstration of her political activism. This comes down to Fire Drill Fridays held in Washington DC and it is largely a project undertaken by a duo, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin. They are starring together by the way, and Netflix is series Grace and Frankie “where they play two women in their 70s whose husbands have run off together.” The article goes on to tell us the two women have been a buddy act since the 1980 film, Nine to Five and on Fridays they team up for Fire Drill Friday. Elizabeth Williamson tells us that this is now a weekly protest against congressional inaction on climate change. It began something like 12 to 13 weeks ago, and it comes down to Lily Tomlin and especially Jane Fonda, inviting other Hollywood celebrities to follow the example of the Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg in holding protests and getting media attention.

What this article underlines, perhaps more than anything else, is just how pseudo many of these pseudo events are. The article we need to note wasn’t intended to be humorous at all. It’s on page 17 of the front section of the New York Times. But it turns out to be humorous because for one thing, we are told that Fonda decided to hold these events on Friday following the example of Greta Thunberg in Sweden, but it turns out that Congress rarely meets on Friday, so it is largely an empty event. But Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin, Fonda in particular, have kept to the schedule because after all it was their media plan.

And speaking of the celebrity media plan, Williamson reports that Fire Drill Fridays “had become something of a place to see and be seen in Washington.” We are told that Jane Fonda has been bringing Hollywood to Washington, “One week it’s Ted Danson and the next Catherine Keener. I’ll see your Diane Lane and raise you a Sam Waterston. Oh look there Sally Field.” Elizabeth Williamson writes quote, “There are teachings and birthday parties and lunches at fashionable Washington restaurants for the climate activists and celebrity friends drawn into Ms Fonda’s orbit, all of whom have the routine down pat, rally, get arrested, get released and repeat.”

Now remember, before we bring this to a close that the entire point supposedly made by Jane Fonda and her colleagues is that we are in a climate emergency. It is the singular most important issue facing humanity. Nothing else comes even close in importance and it is congressional inaction and international political inactivity that is causing the planet now to reach the point of absolute endangerment and thus this is why Jane Fonda herself is going to these rallies. She’s being arrested, she’s being released, and then she does it again. Except the whole point of this article when it comes to the conclusion is that Jane Fonda didn’t show up this particular Friday and why not?

Well, it turns out that she’s been arrested so many times that being arrested again would cause legal complications that might keep her from filming her Netflix show. A spokesman for the movement said of Jane Fonda, “She’s not going to get arrested this time.” The explanation was, and I quote, “After five previous arrests, Ms Fonda was concerned about the jail time that might come with a sixth. She starts shooting the last season of Grace and Frankie on January 11.” In his book written back in 1962 on pseudo events, Daniel Boorstin identified a pseudo event as a nonevent that is treated by the culture as if it were an event. He spoke of those who really have no expertise whatsoever to speak to issues. Their only expertise or credibility is the fact that they are, in his words, “Famous for being famous, well known for being well known.”

The absolute affirmation of the fact that this is like so many other events a pseudo event, is that it is declared to be an emergency worthy of being arrested, except for this Friday that might in this case, delay the filming of the next season of the Netflix show. I guess if nothing else, it really does demonstrate the Jane Fonda thinks there will be a next season.

Part II

The Imago Dei as Dividing Line: The Great Worldview Divide Made Visible

But looking at the issue of abortion as we began today, I want to turn to a recent Associated Press headline, “Why Evangelicals Distinct on LGBTQ Rights and Abortion.” This Associated Press report tells us, “White evangelical Protestants stand noticeably apart from other religious people on how the government should act on two of the most politically divisive issues at play in the 2020 presidential election according to a new poll of Americans from various faith backgrounds.”

The two issues here come down to abortion and LGBTQ rights, but most importantly, abortion. Looking at potential legislation that would make abortion illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or threats to a mother’s life, 37% of Americans at large responded in support of the legislation, but that percentage skyrocketed to 67 when those who were responding to the survey were identified as Evangelical Protestants. There was a similar divide according to these researchers when it came to LGBTQ issues. The Associated Press then says, “The differences between white evangelicals and other religious Americans as well as the non-religious were less stark on other policy issues examined in the poll, but nonetheless, they tied it to the 2020 presidential campaign.” That turns out to be the main interest of this article and the research is undertaken by the Associated Press and NORC. That is the National Opinion Research Center for public affairs research.

Now, let’s remind ourselves on the issue of abortion as treated in this research. The proposed legislation would make abortion illegal except in cases of rape, incest, or to threats to a mother’s life. Those are very important qualifications. 37% of Americans said that legislation sounded like a good idea. That’s a frightening number. That means that 63% evidently we’re not willing to say so, but that number does go up to 67% amongst Evangelical Christians. We also need to note that very strong pro-life sentiment is found amongst American Roman Catholics. But the question comes down to this: why would there be standouts in this case, Evangelicals that are noticed by national opinion researchers on the issue of abortion? You’re not just talking about a small difference. The difference between 37% and 67% is massive. It’s massive politically, massive sociologically, and of course it is massive morally and theologically. But theology is the point, isn’t it? Let’s just think about this for a moment. Why would Evangelical Christians have a view of the sanctity of human life that would be so distinct from the rest of the population?

Why would this be so? What’s the explanation? Well, the explanation is the image of God. The fact is that historic biblical Christianity makes abundantly clear that all life is God’s gift. God is the creator, is the author not only of the entire cosmos, but of every single life and the creator has declared that every single human life is sacred and every single human being, regardless of stage of development or context of life is made in his image. Every single human being at every point of development, an image bearer of the creator himself. Now that comes with consequences. That theological truth comes with massive consequences. One of those consequences is that Christians operating out of a faithful biblical worldview cannot even entertain questions that are behind the abortion rights movement and the logic of abortion, the logic of the culture of death itself. We cannot even consider questions such as at what point during a continuum from fertilization until birth does that unborn child become an actual person deserving of respect and understood to be requiring our protection.

We can’t even begin down that logical road. We can’t talk about potential human life because once fertilization has taken place, there is human life. We can’t talk about lives that are not worth living, that is simply excluded from the entire biblical worldview. But here’s where Christians need to think about the alternative to that worldview. There is no alternative to the Christian biblical worldview that can uphold in any meaningful sense the dignity of human life. And here you’re talking about the abortion argument that is a frontal assault upon unborn human life, but recognize it never comes alone. Abortion comes with demands for euthanasia, it comes along with demands that have to do with our right to a certain quality of life. It comes with demands that we understand that some lives are simply too expensive, that eventually society is going to have to make hard medical decisions.

All of those points of logic, all of those lines of argument come from the very same source and that is a worldview that has no adequate means of providing an insistent foundation that every single life is worth living. The most important insight we can draw from this, is that when you see Christian belief receding in a society, there is no way to prevent the logic of the culture of death from taking hold. Once you have the secularization of a culture as we are experiencing now in the United States, and that’s not just increasing number of Americans with no religious affiliation, it is the decline of substantial Christian belief in the larger population. Once that begins to happen, then all human life becomes by definition more endangered.

Part III

The Sanctity of Human Life and American Politics in 2020

We also have to recognize that the issue of abortion inescapably, inevitably is going to be front and center and unavoidable in the 2020 presidential election and in the entirety of the electoral process this year. Evidence of that comes in another article from the New York Times, Sheryl Gay Stolberg reporting the headline, Republicans Back Overturning Roe v. Wade. This actually refers to a very important development as Stolberg writes, “More than 200 Republican members of Congress asked the Supreme Court to consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that established a woman’s right to an abortion in a brief urging the justices to uphold a Louisiana law that severely restricts access to the procedure.” The case before the Supreme Court is known as June Medical Services, LLC vs. Gee, but the bottom line in this case is the fact that Louisiana legislators have adopted a law that does restrict abortion. In this case, the law requires doctors who would perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. According to the New York Times, “only one doctor in Louisiana has been able to meet the requirement.”

Now just imagine what that tells you about the business of abortion in the state of Louisiana without this legislation. But here’s what’s so significant in this news story. The first significant issue is the number, more than 200 Republican members of Congress joining in this statement. That’s about 80% of the entire Republican delegation to the United States House of Representatives and the US Senate. Stolberg then writes, “The case is certain to inject the divisive politics of abortion into the 2020 presidential race.” The only problem with that sentence is the fact that it is in context nonsense to suggest that any such action would inject the divisive issue of abortion into the 2020 presidential race. It has been a divisive and essential issue in every presidential election since 1980.

There’s no surprise whatsoever that abortion arises in the 2020 presidential election and furthermore, in the very same paragraph, Stolberg writes that president Trump ran on and won in 2016 “partly on a promise to nominate Supreme Court justices who would overturn Roe and June Medical is the court’s first case on abortion since justices Neil M. Gorsuch and Brett M. Kavanaugh, both appointed by Mr. Trump joined the court.” In other words, there’s an open acknowledgement of the fact that abortion was a massive issue in 2016, it’s going to be equal if not greater in importance in 2020 and again it has been ever since 1980. But the surprise in that sentence or at least the effected surprise comes down to the fact that it is the pro abortion movement, and the New York Times is very much a part of that movement, that has absolutely shocked and indeed infuriated that the issue of abortion will not be settled in favor of abortion rights and pro-lifers just go away.

In one sentence of cogent political analysis, Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote, “The sheer number of those signing the brief suggest the importance that Republicans place on restricting abortion rights and telegraphing to their core supporters that they are serious about doing so.” But at the same time, let’s just also mention that the political left and the democratic party is constantly doing the very same thing, stressing the importance that Democrats place on unrestricted abortion rights, arguing for a woman’s right to abortion as they would construe it for any reason or for no reason. And furthermore, as their 2016 platform demanded, coercing American taxpayers into paying for abortion. But let’s just conclude by remembering that Stolberg used the verb telegraphing, and that’s what you’re going to find politicians doing. That’s what you’re going to find the candidates for president doing. But this takes us back to the beginning of today’s program, that’s what you found Michelle Williams doing at the Golden Globes, telegraphing.

We’re in a great war of ideas, a great clash of worldviews, and as all of these stories today remind us, nothing less than the dignity and sanctity of human life is at stake.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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