The Briefing 08-20-15

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Designation of pro-life arguments as extremist exposes lack of middle ground on abortion

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In Canada, Europe, assisted suicide laws make death a therapeutic, necessary service

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Hackers release data of Ashley Madison users reminder that your sin will find you out

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 20, 2015

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

 

It’s Thursday, August 20, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Designation of pro-life arguments as extremist exposes lack of middle ground on abortion

The word extremism has been an instrument of political warfare for the better part of the last several decades. It goes back in particular to the Cold War, and specifically to the 1964 U.S. presidential election that saw Lyndon Johnson, then President of the United States run against Barry Goldwater, then a United States Senator from Arizona. In that race and thereafter, the word extremism has been used by opponents in order to paint the other as being in an indefensible position, politically, morally or intellectually. That’s why an article that appeared yesterday in the Washington Post is so important. The article is by Dana Milbank, an opinion writer for the paper and the headline is, “Conservatives double down on antiabortion extremism.”

Here you see a major secular newspaper using the word extremism in order to marginalize a pro-life argument, in order to suggest that somehow a pro-life argument on abortion is lacking in moral or intellectual credibility. The word extremism, especially used in this kind of context insinuates that a physician is somehow out of balance. It’s not in the center where the word suggests the truth is to be found, but rather on an extreme. You’ll note that very rarely in the media, especially in the secular media is there any reference whatsoever to pro-abortion extremism. But when it comes to the pro-life movement, the word extremism seems to be a very handy tool in order for people to try to marginalize or to dismiss it.

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The article by Dana Milbank is important, first of all because it appears in the Washington Post, and it appears with this headline. Dana Milbank is probably not responsible for the headline itself. In the article he doesn’t actually use the word but he does employ the argument. The important thing for our context is that the Washington Post did use the word in the headline that is over Dana Milbank’s column. The point of Milbank’s column is very clear. He’s arguing that those who are now seeking the defunding of Planned Parenthood are on an unbalanced extreme in terms of the abortion position and what’s very clear is that he is offended by a response to one of his earlier articles that came in the New York Times from columnist Ross Douthat. We gave attention to Douthat’s excellent and very courageous piece a couple weeks ago on The Briefing. Anyone reading Ross Douthat’s New York Times column knew that he was responding to an earlier article run by Dana Milbank in which he argued that those who are seeking the defunding of Planned Parenthood would by defunding the organization produce the unexpected and unwanted result of increasing abortions. Thus, Milbank and a couple of others have argued for what they called a pro-life argument for funding Planned Parenthood and against defunding Planned Parenthood. Ross Douthat would have nothing of it and Douthat is right. He suggested that those who are seeking to argue that kind of position were actually debasing their argument by complicity with abortion and a dishonest complicity at that. Douthat said that they simply weren’t being honest about what abortion is and what they were supporting in terms of the funding of Planned Parenthood. Dana Milbank is arguing that Planned Parenthood is actually far more about contraceptives and birth control than it is about abortion. I’m not even taking that specious argument on at this point. But what he’s really trying to say is that those who are now pressing for the defunding of Planned Parenthood are representing an extremist position. He pushes back on Ross Douthat’s argument, in particular the argument about whether or not the use of long-term contraceptives, especially when it comes to unmarried women and teenagers would lead to fewer abortions. But what really, really has Dana Milbank upset is that Ross Douthat accused him of complicity in the murder of unborn babies because that is exactly what abortion is. Once again, Ross Douthat is exactly right. Milbank wants to argue that the left would actually be responsive to some, what he calls reasonable abortion restrictions, if the pro-life movement would simply come to terms with government-sponsored and government provided long-term contraception. Ross Douthat says that’s an extraneous argument. Douthat says he would be willing to consider that argument, but only after the reality of abortion is confronted and the horror of abortion is ended.

Before going further, I simply have to absolutely reject Dana Milbank’s argument that somehow the left will be open to what he called reasonable abortion restrictions, if only the pro-life movement would soften his possession. That’s absolute nonsense. There is no evidence whatsoever that the political left in the United States would in any way support any restriction on abortion whatsoever. Just look at how the current President of the United States and the mainstream leadership of the Democratic Party oppose restrictions even on the horror of partial-birth abortion. But my main point in raising this article today is the issue of extremism as it’s attached to the pro-life movement and the reason behind it. And what it tells us, writing at the end of his essay Milbank suggests what he wants to represent is common ground. He says he wants to find common ground. But the profound point in terms of the worldview analysis here is that there really is no common ground. Dana Milbank doesn’t represent the far left in terms of the American political spectrum. He represents by his own self designation, being center left that is to the left of center but not by his measure at any extreme.

But let’s understand what we’re really dealing with here. We’re dealing with unborn human life and the question is this – if that is indeed an unborn human life, how can it be extremist in any measure to call for that life’s protection? On the other hand, if you follow the worldview of the abortion-rights movement to its logical conclusion, just as Ross Douthat said in the New York Times they consider that unborn child of no greater moral significance than a hamburger in the mother’s stomach. Dana Milbank is clearly offended by Ross Douthat’s argument and even more by his language, but Douthat has it right and Milbank has it wrong. Where is the common ground? Where is the middle position here? If indeed the unborn child is a human being deserving of full respect and protection, then how in the world is it extremist to call for an end to abortion and to do everything possible to bring the very restrictions that those on the left oppose at every conceivable turn? On the other hand, if it’s just a meaningless clump of cells, why would any restrictions be reasonable at all when it comes to abortion? But what Dana Milbank and some others want to argue is that that baby becomes a person at some point along the developmental continuum. At what point? They don’t say. And the fundamental illogic of that position suggest that on one day it’s not a child and the next day it is. One day it’s not a person and the next day it is. One day it has no rights and the next day it is a person with rights. That makes no sense, either in terms of moral logic or in terms of public policy. It is, however, we should note the logic behind the Supreme Court’s Roe V. Wade decision in 1973.

What this article signals and this is very important is that those who will argue for the full personhood of that unborn child, those who will argue and contend against abortion are going to have to recognize that the mainstream secular media has a word for us and that word is extremist. The big issue is whether or not we are willing to carry the scandal of that label because if not, we really don’t believe in the sanctity of human life. We do need to recognize however, that those who operate from a different worldview see the pro-life position as inherently extremist and unbalanced. We’re going to have to live with that.

In Canada, Europe, assisted suicide laws make death a therapeutic, necessary service

Yesterday on The Briefing, we talked about a very important article on doctor assisted suicide that ran in the pages of yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal. Then comes today, an equally important article, this one in the Washington Post by Charles Lane, it’s entitled, “Europe’s sinister expansion of euthanasia.”

Lane then points to two articles based on research in two major medical journals. We’ve discussed both of them in recent months on The Briefing. And then he gets to his major concern and that is that in Europe, it is well documented at this point that euthanasia and assisted suicide are increasingly seen as therapeutic options for those with psychiatric and psychological diseases. We’ve discussed how the logic spreads from arguing for the justification of assisted suicide for those who have intractable terminal diseases to those who simply want euthanasia or assisted suicide as a way out. As Lane tells us, 11 people in the 12 months after the opening of just one clinic in the Netherlands sought and received assisted suicide merely because they were, “tired of living.”

The most important dimension of this story is that it appears as yesterday’s did in the Wall Street Journal, this time in the Washington Post, indicating that several major secular newspapers are at least allowing the airing of these concerns about assisted suicide and euthanasia, even as surveys claim that increasing percentages of Americans believe they are legitimate options. But the most important and noteworthy section of Lane’s essay comes at the very end when he cites Belgian law professor, Étienne Montero who said,

“What is presented at first as a right is going to become a kind of obligation.”

That’s what we pointed to yesterday in terms of the so-called right to die, transforming itself into an obligation to die. But the most noteworthy development on this front occurred not in the United States but in Canada yesterday. With a major article that appeared in the Toronto paper, the National Post. Sharon Kirkey reports that the Canadian Medical Association is now going to suggest that physicians in Canada, if they are unwilling by conscience to participate in physician-assisted suicide must refer patients to another physician willing to supervise assisted suicide or to some kind of independent third-party. As Kirkey reports,

“Doctors who object to helping eligible patients end their lives should refer patients to someone who would be willing and able to help make it happen, suggests the head of the country’s largest physicians’ group.”

That’s Dr. Chris Simpson, identified as the outgoing head of the Canadian Medical Association. He said,

“We don’t support anything that’s going to impede patients from accessing a legal service.”

The discussion on this issue in Canada right now is particularly urgent because the Canadian Supreme Court recently struck down all laws against assisted suicide in the country giving the Canadian Parliament up to a year to come up with new legislation. The article that appeared yesterday in the national post is particularly ominous. Dr. Simpson speaking of physicians there in Canada said that doctors,

“Can’t just simply disregard the patient’s right to access a service they’re eligible for.”

Let’s look at the logic of that for just a moment and let’s recognize that logic for what it is. Here you have language describing physician assisted suicide as a service that Canadian patients may now be eligible for. You also have the head of the Canadian Medical Association suggesting that doctors have a greater moral imperative to avail patience of assisted suicide, then to contend for life even as that’s one of the most fundamental affirmations of the historic Hippocratic Oath, first, do no harm.

When the Canadian Supreme Court handed down its decision on assisted suicide back in February, it stated clearly that doctors would not be required to violate their conscience by participating in assisted suicide. According to the Post the court was unclear about what responsibilities those doctors might have to patients who would or might be seeking assisted suicide. At this point we need to note from a worldview perspective, how a moral revolution brings to worship in terms of the conscience. You not only have the coercion of the Canadian Medical Association, which is going to debate this issue to some extent next week, making a statement already by means of its outgoing head. But you also have the fact that in a general way protections of conscience for professionals in particular for medical professionals are disappearing or their being subverted or compromised. Even in the United States, some states and jurisdictions have very little if any protection for the consciences of doctors, nurses and others; much less pharmacists involved in many these questions.

But when it comes to the issue of doctors in Canada, you now have the Canadian Medical Association itself suggesting that doctors have no right of conscience to have nothing to do whatsoever with assisted suicide. This is a very similar issue to the logic of what’s going on in the United States with the controversy over the ObamaCare contraception mandate. It’s a very similar kind of argument. But for the doctors in Canada, this is going to be extremely personal. And make no mistake; a new moral regime like this brings coercion in just the kind of form we’re looking at here. The coercion whereby doctors who are opposed by conscience and worldview to participation in assisted suicide are made, even if indirectly complicit with the culture of death and with the very practice they believed to be abhorrent.

It is absolutely chilling to look at this news article in the National Post and see the head of the Canadian Medical Association speaking of assisted suicide,

“The patient’s right to access a service they’re eligible for.”

By what worldview does assisted suicide become a service? But wait, it’s even worse right now in terms of the Canadian Medical Association. Back in February of this year, the very month, the Canadian Supreme Court handed down its decision, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reported that the Canadian Medical Association had decided to officially support patients who seek what was described as medical aid in dying, referring to it as a therapeutic service. The very same Dr. Chris Simpson said in an interview with the CBC,

“What we want to do is really make sure patients who are eligible under the new rules have access to this therapeutic service.”

There you have the culture of death and all of its ugliness, referring to assisted suicide and euthanasia as a legal service, as a medical service and even in the official terminology of the Canadian Medical Association “a therapeutic service.” Just think of that word – it’s “a therapeutic service.” It is the therapy of death.

Hackers release data of Ashley Madison users reminder that your sin will find you out

Next, just days ago, hackers announced that they had received and would post millions and millions of names along with account information for people who had established accounts with Ashley Madison, the service that facilitates by means of the digital revolution, adultery and claims as its motto, “Life is short. Have an affair.”

Well it turned out, the hackers didn’t have a false claim, they actually did have the information and now they have posted it in posts that emerged from what is now called the dark web. And according to Reuters and other major news outlets, there may be 37 million names with 37 different sets of account information now accessible to the public. There may be as many as 37 million people whose intention at the very least to have an extramarital affair is now going to be announced to the whole world. By the time yesterday’s news cycle ended, there were already reports about names that had been found on the list. There’s no way at this point to prove whether those persons had any intention to have an affair or not, but at this point, it is clear, they’re going to have to answer for why their name appeared in a service such as this and eventually the truth will come out. In this digital age, all of this information, especially now that it’s been posted in terms of a searchable accessible site, it’s going to come out and the truth will be known.

The report in Reuters by Josephine Mason and Alastair Sharp is particularly interesting. They write,

“Love lives and reputations may be at risk after the release of customer data from infidelity website Ashley Madison, an unprecedented breach of privacy likely to rattle users’ attitudes towards the Internet.”

Well, from a Christian worldview perspective, that’s a lesser issue to the issue of marriage and sexual fidelity. The Reuters report goes on to state,

“The hacker attack has been a big blow to Toronto-based assignation website firm Avid Life Media, which owns Ashley Madison and has indefinitely postponed the adultery site’s IPO plans. But many professions stand to benefit from the unfolding saga, from lawyers to therapists to cyber security firms.”

Then comes this truly revealing statement, it comes from Raoul Felder, a very prominent divorce lawyer here in the United States. He told Reuters that this data dump was,

“The best thing to happen to his profession since the seventh Commandment [he’s referring there to the 10 Commandments] forbade adultery in the Bible.”

He said,

“I’ve never had anything like this before.”

There you see a complete moral breakdown, a meltdown in effect. Here you have the sad, tragic almost unspeakable specter of 37 million people who signed up to a website estimated to be worth $1 billion, simply in order to facilitate by means of digital media, having an extramarital affair. Now you have those 37 million people exposed to the world and to their spouses, and to everyone else on the basis of the fact that hackers gained the information and have now posted it. But you also have like sharks in the water those who are like Raoul Felder, attorneys seeing this as a boon for business, as a renaissance in business so far as they’re concerned, greater than anything since the commandment, “thou shalt not commit adultery.” The ripple effects of this development are likely to expand and expand. For one thing most major media reporting that as many as 15,000 of the emails associated with these accounts are attached to government or military email addresses. As Reuters notes, adultery is actually a legal offense in the United States military and it often leads to expulsion from the military once it is exposed.

The world is looking at this Ashley Madison hack as a sort of soap opera, a very large and very important soap opera, but Christians looking at this can’t see it is a soap opera. We have to see it as a biblical tragedy. But this tragedy of epic proportions isn’t focused upon the hack in the release of the information, but rather on the sin of adultery and the fact that evidently there are millions upon millions of people who are ready, not only to sign up for accounts, but to invest money in the hope of having an extramarital affair. That’s the true scandal, that’s the true tragedy and it is a tragedy of truly epic proportions.

There’s another lesson here of course from a biblical perspective, you recall that in Numbers 32:23 it tells us that if we have sinned against the Lord our sin will find us out. Thus Moses warned the children of Israel, thousands of years before there even was an Internet. But while we are thinking about the clash of worldviews, consider the clash between these two statements. On the one hand, this –

“Life is short. Have an affair.”

On the other hand, this –

“Be sure your sin will find you out.”

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing