The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

It’s Wednesday, March 16th, 2022.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Idaho Follows Texas Model Law: Bans Abortions After Fetal Heartbeat

Deservedly there’s been so much conversation about the Texas abortion bill that effectively has ended abortion at about six weeks of gestation in that state. You’re talking about a law that was adopted by the Texas legislature, signed into law by the governor of the state, that allows Texas citizens to sue those who are involved in what would now be defined as an illegal abortion there. But we are now looking at another state that is joined the Texas model. The second state is the state of Idaho, which on Monday became the very first state to follow in the Texas example. Now its legislation is not exactly like the Texas legislation, but it is based on the Texas model. Like the Texas model, it draws a line at fetal cardiac activity. That’s going to turn out to be crucial to our considerations today, fetal cardiac activity.

Now Christians must understand that we believe in the sanctity and dignity of human life, not from 20 weeks forward, 15 weeks forward, six weeks forward, or even six hours forward, but from the very moment when fertilization takes place and when human life begins. That is the only biblical and logical position, but at the same time, women do not know the moment at which that fertilization takes place. It is a matter of some time later that a pregnancy can be determined, and then it is postdated as you think about the period of gestation. But six weeks turns out to be absolutely crucial.

And as the Texas law then, and the Idaho law now stipulates, when you’re looking at fetal cardiac activity, you are looking at something that has public attention. You’re looking at something that has moral traction, because as you’re just thinking about common, ordinary neighbors, it becomes nearly impossible for them to deny the humanity and the life of that unborn child, once cardiac activity begins. And that is most often referred to as a heartbeat. And yes, it is a rhythmic beat that can be detected by medical professionals, and that is often when you have expectant couples say, “We have heard our babies heartbeat.”

Kate Zernike of The New York Times compares the two bills stating, “Texas allows any civilian to sue anyone, whether a ride-share driver or a doctor who aids or abets a woman getting an abortion after fetal cardiac activity is detected, usually around six weeks, before,” the New York Times says, “many women are aware they are pregnant. It provides $10,000 plus legal fees for successful suits. The Idaho bill, similarly called a heartbeat bill,” she writes, “allows family members of what the legislation calls a preborn child to sue the abortion provider and establishes a reward of at least $20,000 plus legal fees. It allows lawsuits against providers for up to four years after an abortion.”

Now notice what’s going on here. You have the idea that there is a fetal heartbeat raised as something that’s redefined merely as cardiac activity. And then you also have the fact that quotation marks are put around the baby identified in the Idaho legislation as a preborn child, as if that is somehow a controversial way of asserting the identity of that unborn child, indeed a preborn child, but that shows you something of great moral significance. As you think about the great divide over abortion, and you think about those who support abortion and those who defend the sanctity of human life, including the life of the unborn, what you call the baby turns out to be just about everything. If the baby is a baby, that makes very clear, this is a baby human being who deserves and demands our care. If you can refer to that unborn child by any other terminology, you can do your best to try to dehumanize that preborn or unborn human being and thus justify abortion.

The main route taken by the pro-abortion side is to try to ignore the existence of the unborn child altogether, to just talk about the woman or the mother as if she is the only morally significant agent here. But then it’s not just that. You’re also looking at the LGBTQ revolution coming along insisting that the new terminology must be pregnant person, but we’ll have to track that issue on another edition of The Briefing. The key issue here is that in Idaho, as in Texas, you have the fetal cardiac activity, which we would rightly describe as a fetal heartbeat as the issue.

Now, as this news is going across the nation, based upon the Idaho legislation that was adopted on Monday, the two sides in the abortion conflict are lining up just exactly as you would predict they would.

Part II

Defenders of Abortion Hate the Word “Heartbeat” — Because The Word Affirms the Reality of A Human Baby in the Womb

But this particular headline news allows us to go back and look at an issue that simply needs to be considered at a deeper level. When you are looking at the use of the term heartbeat, you’re looking at something that is driving pro-abortion forces, absolutely crazy. And thus you have the effort to try to say whatever it is, it isn’t a heartbeat because after all a heartbeat makes very clear that what is beating is a heart. So the substitution of cardiac activity is not simply a synonym. It’s not simply saying the same thing. Cardiac activity is a lot less personal than a fetal or baby heartbeat.

But that takes me back a few weeks to an article that ran on the front page of the New York Times on Valentine’s Day, February the 14th. And this is the right time to bring this particular argument to the fore. The article’s by Roni Caryn Rubin. The headline, “‘Heartbeat’ moves to center of abortion debate.” Now the argument needs to be made that an insistence upon the importance of a fetal heartbeat is not new, but the Texas legislation, now the Texas and Idaho legislation is new and it is a direct challenge to the abortion regime and Roe v. Wade. So what’s the purpose of this front page article in The New York Times? It is to try to argue that the use of the term heartbeat is an invention of pro-life propaganda.

Rubin begins her article with these words, “The Texas law banning abortions after about six weeks of pregnancy is based on a singular premise disputed by many medical experts: that once an ultrasound detects electrical cardiac activity in an embryo, its heart is beating and a live birth is on the way.” But she goes on to say, “At this very early stage of a pregnancy, however, the embryo is the size of a pomegranate seed and has only a primitive tube of cardiac cells that emit electric pulses and pump blood.” So almost immediately, you catch on exactly the agenda that is exposed here. And that agenda is to try to deny that this is a human being to be respected, whose life is to be defended. This is just a fetus and the fetus, the baby doesn’t have a heartbeat. It is only demonstrating early electrical cardiac activity.

Now stepping back, we can understand and why the pro-abortion movement would be driven so crazy by the insistence on a heartbeat because the heartbeat insists on humanity. And we can also understand that there is more to this picture. After all, just consider this question. Even if you try to just step back from the abortion issue, ask yourself whether you would rather try to deny that the heartbeat is a heartbeat or to defend that the heartbeat is a heartbeat.

The crux of the argument in The New York Times comes down to this, “The consensus among most medical experts is that the electrical activity picked up on an ultrasound at six weeks is not the sound of a heart beating and does not guarantee a live birth.” I’ll simply insert here, at no point prior to birth, is there a guarantee of a live birth. But here’s the point. Unless there is something that causes an interruption in the process, there will be a live birth and that’s the premise of pregnancy.

But the article goes on, “The sound expected mothers here during a scan is created by the machine itself, which translates the waves of electrical activity into something audible.” But what is that called? In the examination room, under the conditions of the ultrasound, what is that sound called? It is called a heartbeat. So you can imagine where the New York Times has to go next. And I quote, “Doctors are partly to blame for the confusion. Many physicians whose patients are excited about a desired pregnancy will use the word heartbeat to describe the cardiac activity heard on an early ultrasound. The word has even crept into the medical literature.”

So now we’re being told that the entire medical establishment out of an emotional affirmation of a woman hoping to be pregnant, uses the term heartbeat when it really isn’t a heartbeat. Except of course it is a heartbeat even if you want to try to redefine it as an early embryonic electrical cardiac activity. The fact is it is revelatory of life. It points to the fact, this is a human life in a human womb, and it is the promise of a human birth.

But this gets to another major moral revelation made in this literature because in the controversy, you have people debating whether or not it should be called a heartbeat, but just go to the clinical setting. Just go to the setting in which you have the ultrasound that is being conducted, and you have a doctor in the room and a patient in the room who now we know is pregnant. And when that electrical embryonic cardiac activity is heard, what else sanely can you call it than a heartbeat? And of course, the logic then flows. What then can you possibly call that person other than a baby? You simply use the term baby. Yes, your baby has a heartbeat. Do you want to hear your baby’s heartbeat? That is not false. It is true.

By the way, the Christian worldview, based in the reality of God’s creation, reminds us that one of the signs of a failed argument is that you have to deny the obvious. If you have to go to this link, to try to say that a heartbeat’s not a heartbeat, and even to make the argument that all it is early electric cardiac activity, you have lost the argument because your argument is demonstrably morally false. It is morally catastrophic.

Part III

When Geography Tells a Worldview Story: Realtors in Idaho Entice Conservatives in California to Move to Idaho

But next let’s think about geography for a moment.

I mentioned that the second state to adopt this kind of restriction on abortion is the state of Idaho. Idaho has been for the most part of the last several decades, a pretty reliably red state. That is to say a Republican state, a more conservative state. And it is right there, at least in part on the border with California, which is one of the bluest of blue states and very proud of it. So how’s that working out? Well, one of the ways it’s working out is that you have realtors in Idaho trying to entice conservatives in California, not only to move to Idaho, but to move to specifically conservative developments there. Come to a sane territory is the argument, but let’s just go to the issue of geography for a moment because sometimes geography overlays worldview and morality. And that is the case with the fact that, let’s recall, it was Idaho that is the second state now to adopt to this kind of legislation.

And over the course of the last several election cycles, Idaho become a predictably red state. That is to say more conservative, more Republican, and in this case, clearly more pro-life. More conservative, more pro-life than what? Well, for example, the state of California to its west, and the state of California is the bluest of blue states. And certainly at least its Democratic political leadership exalts in that fact. California is actually trying to consider ways that it can become not only an abortion destination, but can actually find a way to use California taxpayer money to pay for abortions undertaken by women from out of state. So you’re looking at two different worldviews as well as two different states. And this leads to a very, very interesting development.

The real estate developments in Idaho, the media development was in California. The real estate development has to do with the fact that there are those who are now developing entire communities and neighborhoods in Idaho that are being built in order to entice conservatives to leave California and move to Idaho. But news coverage of this has been perhaps even more interesting in California than in Idaho. The Los Angeles Times ran an article, “Realtors pitch, hate liberal politics, move to Idaho.” The author of the article is Nicholas K. Geranios and the article tells us that there are now these new communities that are being marketed, not only to Californians, but to conservative Californians in order to come and live in a more conservative community. In many cases, even if the communities aren’t new, the developments in those communities are. Sandpoint, we are told, is a four-season resort town built along the scenes of a scenic lake.

But we’re also told, “To capitalize on that trend,” that means more conservative people leaving liberal states to move to Idaho, “a growing number of real estate companies are advertising themselves to people on the right, saying they can take them out of liberal bastions such as Seattle and San Francisco and find them homes in places such as rural Idaho.” There’s actually a consortium of businesses in Sandpoint, Idaho entitled Flee the City. The consortium calls itself “a real estate firm for the vigilant”. We are then told that the consortium, Flee the City, “Has partnered with a community that provide sustainable homes design with integrated ballistic and defensive capabilities.” You can only say that sounds interesting.

The article tells us that Idaho is now the fastest growing state in the nation and has been for five years running. The population grew 2.9% just in the year 2021, mostly by people moving into Idaho from neighboring states. This is just another illustration of what has been called the big sort. It is Americans sorting themselves out, not only by where they go to church, with whom they associate, but also now, where they live. Right down to the state, and furthermore, right down to the neighborhood. That tells you something that is not healthy about American society, but it is a necessary and natural response to the kind of ideological polarization that we see now.

Increasingly, it’s going to be clear in the United States, that where you live by state may well be a statement of whether or not you believe that the unborn human infant is indeed an unborn child. Where you reside in terms of state, where you live even within that state, may become more and more predictable based upon your moral convictions or your religious identification for that matter. You’re also looking at the fact that this big sort has theological and religious dimensions as well.

Part IV

The Theft of Value: The U.S. Faces an Inflation Crisis — And With It, A Moral Crisis

But next we show to another moral issue that is insufficiently recognized as a moral issue. And that is the shape and health of the economy. And this comes with news that inflation has now reached rates that have only been eclipsed as far back as four decades ago. We are looking at a record inflation in terms of the experience of most people now living in the United States of America who can’t remember inflation like this because they never experienced inflation like this. Now in the early months in which inflation became a concern, it was predictable by the way, given so much money being pressed into the economy by those who were of course, seeking to expend so much tax money in response to what was declared to be a crisis in the midst of the pandemic. We’re not denying that it was a crisis. We are arguing that financial decisions were made that basically meant printing vast amounts of money and borrowing from the future and infusing the economy with untold amounts of cash.

You’ll recall that inflation simply means that a dollar doesn’t buy what a dollar used to buy. It means that the value of a dollar or a value of currency is debased by rising prices. And of course this puts pressure on wages, it puts pressure on economies, and it just runs a much higher risk of an economy turning hostile to those who are operating within it. And all you have to do to think about that is go to a gas station or a grocery store and understand that if you made a certain amount of money last month, it isn’t worth as much this month. And as you look at inflation growing at this rate, that means that looking a year from now or two years from now, you are looking at a significant economic challenge. And furthermore, inflation brings multiple dangers. One of those dangers is that it becomes a cycle or a spiral from which there is no early or easy way of release.

Inflation, during the course of the 1970s in particular, was incredibly injurious to the American economy for a decade or more. As you’re looking at the inflation rate right now, and you understand you have to go back 40 years to find anything like it, just rewind economic history to 40 years ago and recognize that you were paying enormously high interest rates. The cost of money went very high. Even as the value of money was driven down, costs went up. Wages could not keep up. Budgets could not keep up. And financial uncertainty was driven into the entire system.

Now, President Biden and other Democrats are saying that this is basically caused by Vladimir Putin and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but that’s fundamentally untrue. Inflation began rising months before we were even talking about Vladimir Putin amassing his arm forces on the Ukraine border. The fact is that the war in Ukraine will make matters worse, especially when you think about spiking energy prices. But in reality, just Google and look back at the headlines where warnings about inflation and rising inflation rates were taking place weeks and months before we were talking about the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

But before leaving the issue of inflation and inflation’s not leaving us, one of the issues we need to consider as Christians is how we would think about this morally. And in moral terms, here’s, what’s important. The Bible makes very clear. The Ten Commandments includes the fact that we shall not steal. And inflation is a way of devaluing the wealth that you own, the money that you own, the dollar bill that is in your wallet, the quarter that is in your pocket. If that becomes devalued by an external force, then basically you have been robbed a part of that value.

If your dollar isn’t worth a dollar and something is responsible for that, then that represents not only a transfer and a diminishment of wealth, it represents what should actually be understood to be a form of robbery, a form of theft. It is the theft of value. And as you’re thinking about this, you recognize that anyone in an economy becomes susceptible to any number of different pressures and inflation is not always caused by human agency, but in this case, there are human decisions that can be immediately tracked, including decisions unwisely undertaken by the Federal Reserve Bank, which seems not to have learned the lessons of decades ago, that you would think would be indelible and unforgettable, but you also have political decisions especially in the rate of government spending. Now, of course, even more out of control that will simply add to the inflationary pressures. And politicians are thus going to have to take responsibility insofar as they have supported that out-of-control spending for producing an out-of-control inflation.

But in a recent editorial, the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal points to something else. Not only to the political responsibility of this administration for fueling the inflation, but it points to the moral fact that one of the problems with inflation is psychological. People begin to accustom themselves to expecting embracing themselves against rising prices that leads to economic decisions that sometimes just continue the spiral.

So let’s think about it this way. If a loaf of bread is going to cost you more, say four days from now, than it will cost you now, maybe you go to the market and you buy at the grocery store, not just one loaf of bread, but two loaves of bread. Well, the law of supply and demand says that the more people, who want to buy more bread today, will drive up the price of that bread. And so you see the way this works. When you understand that inflation is a reality, you make economic decisions to buy now rather than later, you can actually drive up the inflationary pressure simply by buying two loaves of bread rather than one. So what’s the rational, moral, right thing to do? It’s very hard to tell, which is just another part of the confusion of an inflationary economy.

The Wall Street Journal also corrects the historical record writing, “Russia’s invasion has certainly contributed to rising oil and gasoline prices in recent weeks and, as villains go, he,” meaning Vladimir Putin, “is at the top of our list.” But the editor’s right, “Inflation had already hit 7.5% on an annual basis in January before Russia invaded Ukraine. The prices of oil and other commodities have been on an inflation-inspired tear for months. Gasoline prices were up 6.6% in February, but they’re up 38% over 12 months.” In other words, long, long before the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Just remember that morally speaking, inflation is a thief, and this thief appears to be gaining ground and gaining speed.

So what should we hope for? Well, in terms of mechanics and policy, we should hope for the government and in particular, the Federal Reserve Bank, that’s a debatable entity in and of itself, but it does exist and it has massive authority in our economy. As a central bank, its responsibility should be to try to reduce that inflationary pressure by controlling the amount of money loose in the economy. That is why you have a central bank. If there is an excuse for having one, then monetary control should be at the very top of its responsibilities.

But even as the central bank was supposedly put into place in order to allow the so-called and designated financial experts to exercise their expertise, the reality is, and here’s another Christian worldview principle. There is no escaping of politics. And that includes the fact that the appointments to the fed are political. The actions of the fed are political. And yes, in this sense, inflation and the response to inflation are political. There’s simply no way to escape politics. We just need to make sure that the right political decisions are made.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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