The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, May 18, 2022

It’s Wednesday, May 18, 2022.

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

Part I

‘There are Prior Worldviews at Work’: The Inevitable Function of Theology in the Abortion Debate

One of the issues we try to stress on The Briefing is that there is no such thing as a nontheological idea. It simply doesn’t exist. And it is because theology is such a fundamental issue that even the atheist predicament comes down to this. If you are an atheist, you say that you deny God. But by even mentioning God in order to say you deny God, you bring God into the equation. Now, we believe that’s not just an artifact of language, that is not just some kind of vestige of logic, it is actually representative of the fact that God made creation, he made the entire cosmos, and he filled it with his glory. And you can’t avoid God.

That means you can’t avoid theology. And that means that every single worldview is actually theological in some sense. It might be more consistently, less consistently theological. It might be a more rightful and truthful theology, it might be a less truthful theology, that is to say it might correspond with scripture to a greater or a lesser extent. But the point is, there is no nontheological ground. There isn’t a nontheological square inch in the entire cosmos. And even those who declare themselves to be secular have to define what it means to be secular over against belief in God.

So, why am I talking about this today is because every once in a while, people, particularly who consider themselves more secular, and as we see there’s an overlay in our society that generally means also more liberal, it turns out that there is repeated shock on the part of the cultural left in the United States and more secular environments, that there is no way around the fact that the United States and the people in the United States are still represented by theological thoughts and theological truth claims. And this comes right down to the issue of abortion.

The most interesting article on this is one written by Maureen Dowd, long-time opinion correspondent for The New York Times. She wrote an article with the headline, it gets right to the point, Too Much Church in the State. It was published just a couple days ago. Again, the headline, “Too Much Church in the State.” She points originally at Justice Amy Coney Barrett of the Supreme Court saying that even as she was nominated by President Trump, then President Trump to the Supreme Court, people should have known she was a religious extremist. That’s not the word she uses, but it’s implied. We are reminded that she had identified as a handmaid in a Christian group known as the People of Praise.

And just in order to shock readers, Maureen Dowd went on to write, “The group has a male-dominated hierarchy and a rigid view of sexuality, reflecting conservative gender norms and rejecting openly gay men and women.” Well, just listen to that again. That represents historic Christianity and virtually all its forms going all the way back to the New Testament. There’s a big shock there. But that does point out that biblical Christianity and for that matter, Christian orthodoxy, and theology, and in morals, wherever it’s found, is profoundly and increasingly out of step with an increasingly secular and increasingly hostile culture.

But even as Maureen Dowd is writing about this issue, “Too Much Church in the State,” and even as she is criticizing, first of all, Justice Amy Coney Barrett, she doesn’t like the fact that there are so many Catholics on the Court, six of the nine justices. And she says that when you look at, for example, the draft opinion by Justice Alito that was leaked, she says there’s proof positive that they are driven by religious worldviews, they are not actually operating as justice is interpreting the Constitution. Except, here’s what you need to notice, she doesn’t actually make any argument from the Constitution. She makes an argument for what she believes is right for our society.

And as someone on the left, she believes that what is right, what is helpful, what is needful, what is best is a society of personal rights and personal autonomy that would include a woman’s right to an abortion. But here’s where we need to look at her language more closely. Just after beginning her article, Maureen Dowd writes this, “It’s outrageous that five or six people in lifelong unaccountable jobs are about to impose their personal views on the rest of the country.” Now, you know that’s not an absolutely ridiculous argument. But you’ll notice that she’s not making that argument about January of 1973 when the Supreme Court, a majority of the Supreme Court, just decided to morally transform the entire United States and to discover, to declare, to invent a so-called right to abortion from the text of the Constitution.

No, that is outrageous in one sense. But it just points to the fact that the people who were ecstatically pleased by Roe v. Wade in 1973 or thereafter knowing about it or ecstatic about it are the very same people who are going to be outraged when the Supreme Court, if indeed it does as we hope and pray, reverse Roe v. Wade. You’re going to have excitement on the one hand and depression on the other hand. It’s just going to be inversely distributed. The people who were ecstatic in 1973 are likely to be very, very disappointed in 2022. And the same thing’s true the other way around. That’s just how deep the worldview divide currently is in the United States.

But Maureen Dowd is right about something else. Here’s what she says. “While they will certainly provide the legal casuistry,” that’s a word that has to do with legal argumentation, goes back to the Jesuits, “while they will certainly provide the legal casuistry for their opinion, let’s not be played for fool.” She writes, “The Supreme Court’s impending repeal of Roe will be owed to more than judicial argumentation. There are prior worldviews at work in this upheaval.” Now, I want to focus on those last words, “There are prior worldviews at work in this upheaval.” I simply want to say, of course, that’s right. But that’s right all the time in every case. That was right when it comes to Roe v. Wade in 1973. It was the worldview of the more liberal justices then that prevailed.

And if the draft opinion is an indication of how the Court rules in just a matter of weeks in the Dobbs case, then again, you’re going to have the reality that prior worldviews are at work. But this points to another big issue and many Americans don’t think about this. You have to ask the question from whence, from where does the law come? The law doesn’t merely come out of the blue. It’s not just merely a process of social construction and legal negotiation. Christians believe, as just about everyone in Western society until recently has believed, that the law begins in a moral law that is prior to any human law, including the law that is now the U.S. Constitution. That is to say the U.S. Constitution, our constitutional order, our understanding of law, our current laws and statutes, they were not merely created out of a vacuum. They actually come from prior worldviews.

Maureen Dowd identifies as a Catholic, but clearly a far more liberal Catholic. She says, “There is a corona of religious fervor around the court,” meaning the Supreme Court, “a churchly ethos that threatens to turn our whole country upside down.” Now, you look at this and you understand, we’ve got to frame an understanding of history here, the history of the United States, even the history of say the last century or so. And here’s the question you have to ask. Was America a horrifying place when it comes to say just a question of abortion, let’s just focus on that, was America an unfree oppressive, absolutely unacceptable unfree place before 1973 and free thereafter, or is that the wrong way to construe the question?

Now, again, Christians understand that’s the wrong way to construe the question. But if you don’t put it that way, you don’t understand why the left is currently so frustrated. As an indication, by the way, of proof that Justice Barrett is too Catholic, too pro-life, well, she writes this, “President Biden is a Catholic who’s uncomfortable with the issue of abortion despite his support for Roe. Still, when Barrett was a law professor at Notre Dame, a group she belonged to unanimously denounced the university’s decision to honor Biden even though he didn’t support the church’s position on abortion.” Again, what’s the point of being a Catholic university if you do not uphold Catholic Church doctrine? What’s the point of being a Catholic law professor if you don’t believe in what the Catholic Church teaches?

It’s President Biden who’s out of step here–and by the way, this language is very slippery–“is a Catholic,” speaking of President Biden, “who is uncomfortable with the issue of abortion.” What in the world does uncomfortable mean? I don’t care if Joe Biden’s uncomfortable with this issue or not. The question is, Is he on the side of life or not? The fact is that Joe Biden, over the course of the last several decades, has been increasingly denying the teaching of his own church. Even as he wants the benefit of identifying as Catholic, he violates one of the central teachings of the Catholic Church. And you can’t hide, as former New York Governor Mario Cuomo tried to hide between a distinction between a public office and private conviction on this kind of issue.

We’re not talking about what the fines should be for traffic tickets here, we’re talking about whether unborn human life should be protected if it will be protected or not. That leads me to a second article, a second argument in this case is by Thom Hartmann. He identifies in more secular terms. He’s identified as a talk show host, an author of books such as The Hidden History of Monopolies and The Hidden History of the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of America. You pretty much know where he stands. He wrote an article at Common Dreams with a headline, “Why is the Court Using Religious Belief to Alter What Should be Secular Law?” Fascinating. What’s the distinction here? Well, in his mind, it’s a distinction between secular law and religious belief.

But where does secular law come from? It comes from some set of beliefs. Every single idea comes from some worldview and a secular worldview is just as much a worldview as a Christian worldview. And furthermore, here’s what Christians understand, and this infuriates secularists, but actually, a secular worldview is just as theological as a Christian worldview. It’s the wrong theology, but in its own way, it is just as theological. You can actually only define secular with reference to God. The default is still, and this is for reasons that are explained in scripture because we’re made in God’s image, the default is still to believe in God and to know of God’s existence. And even if you want to deny him, you end up having to invoke him.

But the article by Thom Hartmann gets to the point really quickly. Thom Hartmann’s arguing that if you hold to a pro-life position, it can only be based in a theological worldview, whereas if you hold to a pro-abortion position, you don’t have to be theological at all. Now, I’m going to say that’s just patently false. But it’s also interesting to see how he frames the argument. It comes down to the question as to who is in the womb or whether or not even the inhabitant of the womb is a who. Because if you believe that indeed it is a human being, a pre-born human being, as Justice Alito says in that draft document an unborn human being, well, Thom Hartmann says you’re invoking theology. There’s no other way to explain why you would think that is a human being.

And of course, most of us would look at that and say the argument’s absolute nonsense. But as we see here, the secular worldview just increasingly believes, “Look, we simply hold to a secular rationalist, materialist understanding of what it means to be human so we don’t have to acknowledge the inhabitant of the womb at any point of development as being an actual human being, not until we say that human being is a human being, not until we want that human being to be a human being.” And in response to that, Christians have to say, “Well, that’s why the doctrine of creation and an understanding of a sovereign, perfect creator God, having created the cosmos and having made human beings in his image, that’s where human dignity comes down to whether or not it is an objective reality prior to our society recognizing it or it’s not.”

But one of the things we see right now on the left is that we encounter forms of positivism. And you say, “Well, what does that have to do with anything? That sounds abstract.” Well, it comes down to this. There are many people who believe there’s nothing behind the law at all. The law is just a positive statement and it is based upon nothing. When you make the argument that there has to be something under the law, something before the law, well, Thom Hartmann will come along saying, “There you go, a theologian again.” Writing about Justice Alito’s argument about the unborn human being, Hartmann says that the justice’s belief “merely represents one point on a broad spectrum of religious belief. He dressed it up as law with a healthy dose of pseudoscience grumbling about fingernails and heartbeats thrown in, but it’s really all about Alito’s religious belief that human life begins at conception.” Fascinating.

Let’s put a little pause on that for just a moment. He accuses Justice Alito’s belief that human life begins at conception as being inescapably, irreducibly, theological or religious. But then you ask the question and this is key. This is something I’m going to be pressing on in public debate on these issues in weeks to come. The question is then raised. Well, when do you think human life begins? Where do you think human life begins? What is the status of the inhabitant of the womb at say two weeks of gestation, or 20 weeks of gestation, or say 39 1/2 weeks of gestation? It is moral insanity to say that calling the inhabitant of the womb an unborn human being is religious, it’s insane to believe that there’s any other position that somehow has some kind of non-religious foundation, and maybe anti-religious, in this case, anti-biblical and anti-Christian.

But trust me, you can see it, it’s religious. I mentioned Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post. Last week, she chimes in on a similar theme, “In assuming life begins at conception, thereby giving the states unfettered leeway to ban abortion, Alito and his right-wing colleagues would impose a faith-based regimen shredding a half-century of legal and social change.” Again, the intellectual dishonesty here is in the implication that all other worldviews, all other positions are, well, less theological, less religious, each in its own way.

Part II

Gallup Poll Reveals Person’s Religious Beliefs Most Influence Their Views on Abortion — What Else is New?

But at this point, I want to do something that might sound a little bit like a U-turn. It’s not. But I want to warn you in advance. We’re going to shift a bit here. And it’s because we simply have to underline every worldview is theological in its own way. I am not arguing that it’s implausible to say that the conservative majority on the Supreme Court, that those justices are greatly influenced by historic Catholic, historic Christian teaching on the issue of the sanctity of human life. I’m not saying that they do not bear that influence. I’m saying that every single one of the justices and everyone commenting about any one of the justices also comes with certain theological worldview preconditions. It simply points to something else. You better have the right preconditions.

And that leads me to a massively important story. And we’re looking at a recent report, data released by the Gallup Organization. And in the history of the United States, the Gallup Organization has a very, very important role. Gallup is the name, going back to George Gallup, the founder of the firm, Gallup is a name that is synonymous with polling data surveys with the kind of data, information, trend spotting that has been reported in the media for now, about a century, or at least the better part of a century. But just in recent days, the Gallup Organization has released a study. Here’s the headline, “Personal Religiosity and Attitudes Toward Abortion.”

So, here’s the point I want to make. Yes. If you are looking beyond the question of abortion, guess what you’re going to get? You’re going to get to religion real quickly. You’re actually going to get in the main to Christianity real quickly. And the big issue is going to be the presence of Christianity or the absence, the presence of religiosity or the absence. Gallup makes this clear in a report that was released just on May the 13th of this year, “Americans’ attitudes about abortion, brought to the forefront of public attention by the recently leaked Supreme Court draft opinion overturning Roe v. Wade, significantly correlate with their personal characteristics and identities. One of the most important to these variables is religion.”

“This,” says Gallup, “reflects the fact that many opponents of abortion make their arguments based on religious grounds and many religious organizations have made their positions on abortion a significant part of their tenets, beliefs and principles.” So, we’re not looking to Gallup as an authority here. But it is really interesting, is it not, that here you have the most famous and venerable research firm in the United States saying, “Oh, by the way, the position on abortion that an individual holds might be more correlated with theological and religious issues than with any other single issue.” And by the way, you can predict exactly where this is going. “Those with no religious identity are much more accepting of abortion.”

“Only 5% of this group say abortion should be illegal in all circumstances, only 21% of these more secular Americans say abortion is morally wrong. When it comes to those who identify as Protestant, 56% of Protestants,” and by the way, that would include many and liberal Protestant denominations, “56% of Protestants and 54% of Catholics say abortion is morally wrong.” Again, 56%, 54%, clear majorities say that abortion is wrong and that would include people even in more liberal denominations in the Protestant world, even in more liberal parishes or movements in the Catholic world. But those with no religious identity, well, it gets cut way down. Only 21% say abortion is morally wrong, and a far smaller group will actually go so far as to say the law should reflect the fact that abortion is morally wrong.

When we think about how worldview works, well, I’m glad to cite this paragraph from this latest Gallup study. “The relationships reviewed above reflect the highly intertwined cluster of attitudes, demographics, and religious, and political identity positioning in today’s America. Highly religious people tend to be Republican, tend to have a formal religious identity, and tend to live in the South. And all of these, in turn, are related to an increased probability of belief that abortion should be illegal in all circumstances.” Gallup says, “This makes it difficult to argue that one of these factors causes the other. Abortion attitudes could reflect pre-existing political identity, which in turn is a factor in personal religiosity, or religiosity could lead to become a Republican and to adopt a negative position on abortion.”

So, Gallup’s not saying which came first, we can pretty much figure that out, but Gallup is acknowledging they really do go together. More than any other salient factor, religious identity points to and predicts an individual’s understanding of abortion. But you might say this breaking news, after all, Gallup released that report only on May the 13th of this year. But wait just a minute, wait just a minute. Gallup said basically the same thing in a study that was reported on April the 3rd, 2006. That’ll soon be 20 years ago. And it’s predictable that had the same research been done 20 years before that, you’re likely to find the same pattern. The headline from 2006, “Religion, Politics Inform American Views on Abortion.” The subhead, “Churchgoing frequency is associated with strength of anti-abortion views.”

I’m not taking anything away from the newsworthiness of the latest Gallup report, but it is really interesting that in order to cite its own work, Gallup basically says, “Oh, by the way, we said the same thing almost two decades ago on April the 3rd, 2006. It was true then just as it’s true now.” Speaking of the priority of the theological or the religious over the political and the constitutional, I want to say a word of appreciation for Ron Elving’s report at National Public Radio. They get a lot wrong. They at least, on this point, got this much right. The headline is, “The Roe Draft is a Reminder That Religion’s Role in Politics is Older Than the Republic.” Really, really important, very true. Religion’s influence in the United States is older than the United States. It is older than the U.S. Constitution. This is not a new thing.

Looking at the very data provided by the Gallup Organization, Elving reports, “Many Americans, particularly those born since Roe, may find all this rather mystifying. The question arises, since when did so much of our politics have to do with religion? And the answer is, since the beginning and even before.” That’s just good writing, since the beginning, he means of the United States, and even before. He writes, “Religion was a driving and determinative force in politics on this continent even before the United States had been formed. And it has been brought to bear in widely disparate causes. Religion has been invoked to condemn slavery and segregation, to ban alcohol and the teaching of evolutionary science and to bolster anti-war movements.” The big point here, this is not new.

Part III

Thinking about Christian Thinking: Starting Right and Ending Right

Finally, as we bring this discussion to a close, as we think about how worldviews actually work, it comes down to this.

There are prior beliefs we all bring to our thinking. There are prior convictions that frame the way we understand reality. You can claim that somehow, those are supposedly, philosophically, and morally neutral. But the fact is, there are no ideas that are morally or philosophically neutral. We’re all grounded somewhere and our ideas are all going somewhere as well. They’re pointing towards a trajectory. We might be more or less consistent. But the fact is that on the deepest issues, our worldview will show. Just consider thus that when Americans disagree on an issue as fundamental as abortion, the disagreement just goes lower and lower and lower towards more foundational questions.

That’s why this issue is so important and that is why it is virtually impossible to create some kind of compromise position. Because that compromise is going to come at a severe cost to one of those positions, one of those worldviews or another. But here’s where we also understand just in intellectual honesty that there are two different issues here. One of them is having the right starting place for thinking and then the second is thinking rightly from that starting place. Frankly, no matter how well you think, how consistently you may think, how faithfully you may think, if you start in the wrong place, you’re going to end up in a wrong place.

Similarly, even if you begin in the right place and then you are inconsistent and careless in moving forward, you will violate at least what you say are your most cherished basic foundational commitments. The task for Christians is making sure that we start in the right place and then move consistently to apply the most basic truths we know, the truths of God’s word, the truths of the Christian faith to every question of life. We understand that if we start in the wrong place, we’re going to end up in the wrong place. But we also understand that if we start in the right place, we’ve got to work hard to make sure that consistent with biblical truth, we end up in the right place.

You might say the time is easier and the rest of the society did a lot of this work for us. But hey, wake up, the society’s not doing any of this work for us now. It’s all up the Christians, it’s all up to the Christian church. We’ve got a lot to do. You probably got a busy day in which you’re going to get some of that done.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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