The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

It’s Wednesday, January 4th, 2023.

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


Part I

‘When Does Life Start?’: The New York Times Asks One of Life’s Biggest Questions — How Should Christians Answer It?

Sometimes there is a moral victory just in asking the right question. And in Monday’s print edition of the New York Times that very paper asked the right question, “When Does Life Start?” And if you thought this might have something to do with abortion, well, the headline made that clear. It asked a question, “When does life start?” and then says, “A post-Roe conundrum.” That is to say, a great intellectual difficulty.

Elizabeth Dias is the reporter for the story. The subhead says, “This is a question that goes beyond politics, law, and science.” And we as Christians would say, well, of course it does. Nonetheless, it is an inescapable question. It is a question that will be answered one way or another. It will be answered in the law. It will be answered in terms of the worldview of the larger population. It will be answered in the hospital. It will be answered, of course, when it comes to the issue of abortion. It must be answered. When does life begin?

Dias gets to the question asking it this way, “When does life begin? In the months since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, it has become unavoidable as activists and politicians try to squeeze concrete answers from an eternal question of human existence.” There’s a lot there. First of all, there is the acknowledgement that this really is a big and unavoidable question. This is something that Christians and other pro-life activists have been insisting upon for a matter of many decades now. This is an inescapable question, and as I say, it is something of a significant moral achievement that the question is asked out loud in print on the front page of the New York Times. This is the kind of question that a secular society has been at great pains to avoid. It’s tried to avoid this question by every means possible. But the reversal of Roe v. Wade and the fact that abortion is out front and center in the nation’s politics and political controversy, well, it means that this question has to be addressed.

Now, the article here is a moral achievement in asking the question not so much a moral achievement in answering it. And that makes sense, sadly enough, according to the Christian worldview. That worldview tells us that any worldview or perspective on life or attempt to define life or when life begins, that begins anywhere other than in the doctrine of creation, in God’s fact of creation, well, it is doomed to disaster. But nonetheless, it’s a very important controversy we need to track.

Dias, as you’ll see, says that the question is now unavoidable, but she also says that it’s activists and politicians who are trying, “To squeeze concrete answers from an internal question of human existence.” Now that seems to be a tacit acknowledgement of the fact that theology and philosophy are going to be in play here. Not just politics, not just the law, not just what might be defined as medical ethics.

One of the things that is also a significant achievement in this article is that there is no superficial response, as in, well, you probably hear these words over and over again, trust the science. So again, we will celebrate a certain kind of moral clarity wherever we can find it. The fact that this article doesn’t just in a facile, superficial way, say trust the science, as if that makes sense anyway, we’ll take that as an achievement. Science can’t answer this question. That’s a very important Christian affirmation.

Setting the stage for why this is such a relevant question, Elizabeth Dias writes, “Lawmakers and judges from Arizona to South Carolina have been reviewing exactly which week of development during pregnancy the procedure that is abortion should be allowed. Some states draw the line at conception or 6 weeks or 15 or around 40. Many others,” she writes, “Point to viability the time when a fetus can survive outside the uterus. The implications she says is that after the determined time, the developing embryo or fetus is a human being with rights worth protecting.” So we really are talking about life and death here. This isn’t just some kind of abstract question, when does human life begin?

It’s a question that comes down to asking it the other way, which is at one point, do we have the obligation to protect and defend what is a human life? This is where the pro-life movement in the United States began the argument in the aftermath of Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade, as we have seen that Supreme Court, infamous Supreme Court decision that was handed down in 1973, the majority opinion written by Justice Harry Blackman, who borrowed the idea of pregnancy trimesters from medical advice he received from the Mayo Clinic.

He simply inserted within the Roe decision that in the first trimester, basically a woman could just seek an abortion and no state could say no. In the second, the state had an increased authority to intervene, and in the third trimester, the last third of a pregnancy, the state could basically make abortion under most circumstances illegal. Now, the states over the course of the next several years and decades, they found themselves mostly in a legal environment in which any state was put at a disadvantage to say no to any abortion at any time. The pro-abortion argument basically became ensconced into law by Roe v Wade. But the idea of those three trimesters, it was taken by many Americans as if this is just the way we should understand pregnancy. So you have sort of a maybe one-day human being in the first trimester, increasingly something that might be more human in the second trimester and a human being, or at least a potential human being in the third trimester.

But of course to the biblically minded Christian that makes no sense whatsoever. The Bible is very clear that we exist because God has said, let there be life. And that beginning of life is at the very moment of conception, or we might even say fertilization when the sperm and the egg come together and when God says, let there be life, there is absolutely no logic in the scripture that allows us to adopt the kind of trimester structure of the Roe v. Wade decision. That’s a part of the deadly nature of that decision and its delusions. But after Roe, well, the issue is right back on the front page because it is right back in the legislatures and it’s right back in the courts. And right now what you have is exactly what Elizabeth Dias describes. There are states that say, look, the line is six weeks.

There are others who say 15 weeks. And there are others like New York and New Jersey and California and others who basically say that a woman can ask for and receive demand and receive an abortion at any time right up until the moment of birth. Dias reports that, for example, in the state of Indiana when there was a debate over abortion. “Republicans argued at length that a fertilized egg was a human life at times citing their Christian principles that human life begins at conception and God, our creator, says, you shall not murder.” Now you look at this and you recognize that is being recorded here, it’s being reported as if that’s a fairly bizarre argument, but one that demands the attention of the readers of the New York Times.

But later, Dias acknowledges this, “Yet the question goes far beyond politics, law and science into the heart of human experience, the creation of children, the essence of the human person and the survival of the species can pull at the most sacred parts of our lives, wrapping together love and death, hope and grief, amid the societal upheaval, women continue to become pregnant, have miscarriages and give birth. They feel first kicks and see detailed sonograms. A pregnant woman uses her own nutrients and blood to grow offspring. Breathing forward until birth, the growing fetus transforms the woman’s body and can even threaten her life.”

Now, Dias goes on. This is very interesting. “Public opinion reflects the range and complexity of belief. Most Americans,” she says, “Support the right to an abortion but within limits. And they disagree on what exactly those limits should be, but almost uniformly across gender, politics and religion. They believe that how long a woman has been pregnant should matter in determining whether the procedure is legal.”

Part II

‘Your Eyes Saw My Unformed Substance, You Knitted Me Together in My Mother’s Womb’: A Theological Argument for Affirming Life’s Beginning at Fertilization

Now, at that point, Christians need to think really, really carefully, and we also need to speak very honestly with one another because here is where you see the logic of the trimester pattern of the Roe v. Wade decision that is also reflected in much historical documentation about what human beings knew about the development of the baby in the womb.

And the fact is that until the advent of modern medicine, human beings did not know a great deal, of course that we know now, but they did know that the baby develops from an unformed form into a very formed form recognized as a human baby over the course of the roughly 40 weeks of gestation or pregnancy. And so there is a developmental process, and by the way, even early human beings could recognize this in other species, for instance, in animals. At the same time, it was recognized as true in human reproduction as well, and that does raise a question then. Do we have the right to say when a lamb becomes a lamb, do we have a right to say when a whale becomes a whale, or do we have a right to say when a baby becomes a baby? Well, once we enter into that logic, here’s what we need to understand.

Once we enter into that logic, we basically abandoned a biblical worldview that gives us no right to make a distinction, but rather has to understand that the gift of life from the beginning means that there is a human person there in that fertilized egg that now becomes a living organism, yes, within the mother, but at the same time a separate person. Now, what biblical warrant do we have for that? That’s a good question. Why would we say there’s biblical authority at stake here? Well, just very quickly, let’s consider one biblical text, but I believe the most crucial biblical text in this regard, and that is the 139th Psalm. Well into the Psalm, even as David has said, “Even the darkness is not dark to you”, speaking to God, “The night is as bright as day for darkness is as light with you.”

Then the psalmist writes, “For you formed my inward parts. You knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works. My soul knows it very well.” And then these words beginning in verse 15 of Psalm 139, “My frame was not hidden from you when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance. In your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me when is yet there were none of them.” Now, if we only had that text, just this one psalm, the 139th Psalm, here’s what Christians would know, and it’s consistent with everything else this revealed in scripture. Here’s what we would know. We have absolutely no right whatsoever to say that human personhood begins at any point other than when God says, let there be life. Here you have the psalmist saying that even when he was unformed.

Now unformed means exactly what the psalmist implies here. He was unformed. You could look at that early development even of the psalmist in the womb, and guess what? It would not have looked recognizably human not to humans, but it does look exactly what our sovereign God had intended a human person to look like at that point in gestation and development. We can also flip the logic the other way and just say from a consistently biblical worldview, we have no right whatsoever to say that human life, human personhood begins at any point after conception, which means in this case fertilization because at any point thereafter, we’re just being arbitrary. But as I said, we really need to be honest. So let’s be honest here. We have benefited in recent decades by the development of modern technologies, imaging technologies that have given us an unprecedented view into the developing baby in the womb.

And this is why in so many cases you have proud parents and even older brothers and sisters able to look at an ultrasound image or something similar taped on the refrigerator in the kitchen, and there is little baby brother or little baby sister before, long before the baby is born. But you also know that there is a developing sense of relationship with that baby in its development, as those images become more clear. And that’s why it has become more and more untenable and there’s moral victory here. It’s become more and more untenable to argue that at a certain point in development that’s not a baby because at a certain point it looks like a baby, but here’s where we need to concede that that has been politically helpful. It’s been politically helpful because it has helped us to create a pro-life consensus increasingly in this country where at least at a certain point, our neighbors who might not even share a deep biblical worldview or Christian commitment say, well, it looks like a baby.

It is a baby. We need to protect that baby. But the dangers here, and this is where the honesty plays in, here’s where we need to recognize that it is equally a baby, that it is equally a person at the moment of conception when it doesn’t look like a baby. And so this is where we need to acknowledge that the moral intuitions for which we should be thankful that lead so many of our neighbors to say, oh yes, we need to defend at that point because the unborn citizen of the womb looks like a baby. At that point, we have to take that as a certain moral victory because we’re pressing back the time from say 40 weeks to 30 weeks to now something like 20 weeks, 15 weeks, even six weeks, yes, that’s going to save a lot of babies, but we need to recognize that we can’t buy into the logic that it’s only a baby when it looks like a baby because the psalmist tells us right here in Psalm 1:39 that God knew him, knew him personally when his substance was yet unformed.

That is really theologically important. It is really biblically helpful. Going back to the New York Times article, it’s also important for us to recognize that Elizabeth Dias asked the question, and it’s to the credit of the New York Times. The question was so publicly asked, but at the same time, the basic answer that comes in this article is that the question can’t be answered. There’s a good historical reference. Listen to this quote, “The Western perspective has been largely shaped by Christianity, a religion that was quite literally born from a pregnant woman who as the biblical story goes, carried a divine child when an angel told her that was God’s plan from the faith’s earliest days”, she writes, “Many theologians have seen the soul as something God creates and puts into a body in utero, though they have differed on when exactly this ensoulment occurs.” Well, there’s some historical accuracy in what she states there, but here’s the theological and doctrinal bottom line for Christians.

When must we believe that the soul is well, to use the word in this article inserted into the baby? You don’t have to believe any such thing. We simply have to believe that when God creates human beings, he creates us as body and soul and we have no warrant whatsoever for saying that that occurs at any point other than again, at the moment of fertilization. And there is a basic moral intuition, and this is just a good creation order intuition. There’s an intuition when the pregnant mother starts to speak of her baby as a baby, even personalizing the baby because she knows it’s a baby. The same is true for other members of the family who are sharing the joy with the expected baby and his or her arrival. But this points to another in the moral catastrophes of our age. So let’s just look at it this way.

Let’s say there are two houses in a neighborhood. There’s a young couple in each of the houses and the mothers, the wives in both of these houses are at the same point of pregnancy, let’s say 20 weeks of pregnancy, about halfway, and yet one couple is eagerly looking forward to the baby. They refer to the unborn child as a baby, but in the other house they’re arguing for a right of abortion. They don’t want to use the word baby, but it’s at the same point of development. It’s at the same week of gestation. We’re in a society that has people advertising about babies unborn but expected, and at the same time insisting on the right to end the pregnancy because of a woman’s right to control her own body as if the baby doesn’t even exist. That is insanity. It’s incredibly revealing about the confusions of our age.

But I want to go back to another point made by Elizabeth Dias when she says that in the West, it’s Christianity that has been the dominant influence in pointing to the humanity, the personhood of the unborn child. And that just points out, again, the danger that comes with the secularization of our culture. The secularization of our culture, which means the loss or the loosening of that Christian worldview from the society. It means to increasing numbers of people around us there is no theological value to human life. There is no reference to the image of God. There is no moral intuition to defend that unborn life. Rather, it is seen as nothing more than a basic question of choice. And in a society that absolutely worships and celebrates and idolizes individual choice, Christians cannot enter into that moral calculation, believing, presuming arrogantly that we have some right to say that at some point we can determine a human person all of a sudden exists.

We have to believe that that human personhood begins at the very beginning and that it is sheer human arrogance to try to argue that it might occur. It might appear at some point after conception or fertilization. But for today on this topic, let’s just say it is a great moral achievement that the question was asked explicitly on the front page of the New York Times, but the New York Times and all the experts summoned by the times for this report can’t answer the question, but for Christians, the reality slipped. We cannot but answer the question and answer the question on clearly biblical terms.

Part III

Just About Everything George Santos Claims About Himself is False — How Did the Media Miss This Scale of Fraud?

While turning back to the urgencies of politics. For a moment yesterday, the House of Representatives after three ballots, roll call votes, it still does not have a new speaker of the house. I’m not going to speak about that at greater length. It will actually be a more important story when we know who the new speaker is.

But at this point, it is a politically important story to recognize that there is a basic dysfunction at work reflected in the fact that on the Republican side, there is no adequate vote to elect yet a speaker of the house. We’ll see what happens today. But speaking of Republicans in the house, well, we have the very interesting story of George Anthony Devolder Santos or Anthony Zabrovsky or Anthony Devolder. Who actually knows who he is? The bottom line is that voters in a congressional district in the state of New York elected George Santos to the United States House of Representatives. He is thus a part of that very thin Republican majority in the United States House in the new Congress. And he was celebrated by many on the left for the fact that he’s not only a Republican there elected in New York, but he is also an openly gay man, married to another man.

And at least at this point, it turns out that that might be the only fact claimed about this man that turns out to be true. Back in September, a newspaper on Long Island known as the North Shore Leader had published an investigative report and also made an editorial statement in which it basically said that there’s no proof that anything this man said about himself is true. That referred to the facts of his birth, the background to his life, the schools both in high school and in college that he had supposedly attended, and from which he had graduated with distinction of course, and the jobs that he had supposedly held in finance and the fortune he had supposedly earned. Well, it turns out that there were huge questions. There were huge gaps in all these claims, but it turns out that no one in the mainstream media seemed to have noticed or for that matter, to have cared much.

And George Santos actually won election. And only after his election did people begin to ask some basic questions such as, are any of these things he says about himself true? And it turns out that one thing turned out to be untrue. Another claim turned out to be untrue. And before long, well just about everything turned out to be untrue. And that leads to a huge question. For one thing, we are talking about New York State. We’re talking about the environments of New York City. We’re talking about the very place where media are so thick on the ground and we’re talking about a highly contested congressional election. How could everyone have missed this? Well, again, it’s not true that everyone missed it. The North Shore Leader didn’t miss it, but the mainstream media completely missed it. Now, the New York Times have been making up for that along with the Washington Post, the LA Times, and others by doing investigative reports.

And it turns out that virtually everything George Santos said about himself is not true. The Jewish background not true. He said he was Jewish, not Jewish when he tried to make some explanation for his misclaim. Furthermore, just a cursory look at his claims about himself would indicate that a little bit of investigation would’ve revealed the fraud very, very quickly. It also points to something else. We basically want to believe what people tell us, especially in a big public claim and something like a contested congressional election. And furthermore, we like people with a very interesting story. It just turns out to be very helpful if the story has some resemblance to the truth. In the case of George Santos, not so much and the truths about him simply continue to unfold yesterday. The mainstream media reported that he has actually wanted for crimes including a form of financial fraud back in Brazil.

That raises another question. It turns out that he’s living in basically borrowed space along with the man to whom he is, at least according to the law, married, but he also loaned his campaign $700,000. But he seems to have no basic source of support. He claimed a family fortune, but there appears to be no fortune in his family. And furthermore, he’s now being investigated for the criminal abuse of campaign funds because he tended to have turned in expenses including something like $40,000 worth of airline tickets. Guess what? They’re on Long Island. You don’t need a jet to get from one end of the island to the other. But it also turns out that an awful lot of his expenses ended up just one penny short of the reporting threshold. He said he was something of a wonder child working at Citigroup in Goldman Sachs. Both of the companies say they’ve never heard of him, or to put it another way, there are lies and there are lies.

And one of the sad facts of a sinful world is that sometimes we, and that means all of us are more likely to fall for the bigger lie than the smaller lie, because after all, who would make up this much about themselves? The answer turns out to be George Santos. So what do we do about it? Well, Peggy Noonan writing at the Wall Street Journal says that he should step down, cooperate with all investigations, and come clean about his past. Noonan, who was a speechwriter for Republican President Ronald Reagan goes on to say, “Assuming that won’t happen, his local party should disavow him, and call for a special election. Republicans in the house should end their silence, formally opposes entry, and close their conference to him.” She concludes in their article, “They can’t afford to keep him. He is a bridge too far. He is an embarrassment.”

And I’ll simply say that I think Peggy Noonan in this case is almost assuredly, right. He’s an embarrassment, he’s a fraud. But the Constitution says he was elected, and there are mechanisms to remove him from office, and there are mechanisms the Republicans in the Republican conference in the House can use to try to limit him. But the fact is the George Santos, whoever he is, has been elected to represent this congressional district in the area of New York.

Part IV

George Santos is Not the First Politician to Lie About His Past, But You Probably Won’t Hear That From the White House

But without saying this is exactly the same thing because it’s not exactly the same thing, the fact is that politics abounds with those who made false claims about themselves.

For example, one major democratic figure during the 1988 Democratic Presidential primary, he basically plagiarized that as to say, stole an entire biography from the biography of a British labor leader by the name of Neil Kennick. As Marc A. Thiessen reports to the Washington Post. He is cited, speaking of himself, asking why is it that he’s the first in his family ever to go to a university? He went on to say his ancestors, who worked in the coal mines of Northeast Pennsylvania and would come up after 12 hours and play football for four hours speaking of his background. And Thiessen then writes, “Not only were many of the words stolen, so were the facts. This politician was not the first in his family to go to college, and his ancestors had not been coal miners. In 2008, the same politician falsely told the United Mine workers, I’m a hard coal miner. A spokesperson leader said he was joking.”

This same politician, according to Thiessen, rightly, “Has also made numerous false assertions about his educational achievements. He claimed in 1987 that he had graduated with three degrees from college, had received an award as the outstanding student in the political science department, finished at the top half of his class at law school, and received a full academic scholarship.”

But then Thiessen writes, “None of that was true. He received a single BA in history in political science, had only been put up for the award by a professor, graduated 76th in a class of 85 from Syracuse College of Law, and had a partial need base scholarship.” And then Thiessen says, “After the Supreme Court reversed Roe v. Wade, this Democratic politician claimed to have written a number of law review articles on the right to privacy. It turns out that the net number of articles he wrote was zero. He’s claimed more than once to have been arrested more than once while protesting for civil rights.” It turns out that none of that’s true either. This democratic politician has met a lot of Chinese leaders, but as the Washington Post said, “He has claimed more than 20 times that he had traveled 17,000 miles with Chinese President Xi Jinping. And that earned the politician a bottomless Pinocchio for lying from the Washington Post.”

He’s lied about a lot more than this. And again, so far as we know, there’s nothing like the financial improprieties. And so far as I know he is never claimed to be Jewish. But nonetheless, the politician we’re talking about is the incumbent President of the United States, Joe Biden. So I want to say unequivocally that the Christian worldview makes very clear that the truth matters and that lying is a devastating sin. And by that standard, George Santos, I agree, should not serve in the United States Congress, but it’s hard to make that argument with a straight face and then turn around and say, yeah, but when it comes to the presidency, well, we’re talking about a different set of rules.

As Marc Thiessen in the headline of his article in the Washington Post says, “Santos must have learned from Biden how to make up details about his past.” Here’s one final interesting thought. It’s going to be fascinating to see the degree to which the White House does and doesn’t comment about George Santos. Let’s just say raising that issue could be a little awkward.

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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