September 9, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, September 9, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Lack of moral authority higher than individual choice evidence in attack on Ohio abortion ban
In recent weeks, the issue of abortion and Down syndrome has been front and center. The cause of this has been the fact that the state of Ohio has been considering legislation that would outlaw abortion when the sole reason for that abortion is a diagnosis of Down syndrome. This is pointed to the chilling fact that all across America there is now a change in the American mind and a closing of the American heart revealed in the fact that upwards of 90 percent well over 90 percent by some estimates of all pregnancies in which there is a diagnosis of fetal down syndrome there is now the result of an abortion, those pregnancies end in abortion, in the termination of this human life. The reality is this issue underlines the diminishment of the understanding of the value and dignity of human life that now is focused on this one issue and on the fact that we are no longer welcoming to the human community when it comes to those who do not measure up to what we demand as a standard of acceptable performance or of perfection. We are now looking at a situation in which there are millions of Americans who will justify a woman’s right to an abortion for any reason or for no reason at all.
When the latest controversy arose situated there in Ohio, one of most interesting and revealing aspects of it was how opponents of the legislation pointed to the fact that the legislation was granting a certain moral status to the fetus in this case to an unborn baby that was diagnosed with the likelihood of down syndrome and is at least to some of those people were saying out loud if the fetus is granted any moral importance at all we lose the argument, incrementally, but we lose the argument and that’s exactly right, of course, because the moment that the unborn child enters into the moral discussion that does change everything, or at least it should. The reality is, however, that for millions of Americans the unborn baby simply doesn’t exist as a morally meaningful entity at all. Yesterday on The Briefing we talked about a very different story and that was the fact that you had a human court that was claiming that it would be a dangerous precedent if natural rights were understood to be a more fundamental reality and a higher authority than the judgments of that court. We pointed out that indeed the dangerous precedent is the idea that human rights and human dignity can exist only as an affirmation of a human court that there is no higher authority that should and must be cited.Show Full Transcript
But now in an article that appeared over the weekend in the New York Times on the very issue of abortion and Down syndrome, we see the same point, and we see it in a very revealing and powerful way. The article is by Mark Lawrence Schrad and he’s identified as an assistant professor of political science at Villanova University and he identifies himself along with his wife as a couple that had to make the decision once there had been a diagnosis of Down syndrome, would they continue with the pregnancy? And even though they solidly identify with what they call the pro-choice position they decided to go ahead with the pregnancy and to welcome their daughter with Down syndrome. In a very moving article, Professor Schrad writes,
“It was the most heart-wrenching moment of our lives, and all I could do was stare at the tissue box.
“A week earlier, my pregnant wife, Jennifer, had undergone a routine prenatal ultrasound that revealed “soft markers” suggestive of genetic abnormalities. Now we were in the consultation room awaiting the results of the amniocentesis, which would conclusively determine whether our daughter would be born with Down syndrome.
“Of course they don’t put you in the room with the industrial-strength Kleenex just to tell you everything’s going to be fine. After the doctors gave us the news, they casually told us how an in utero diagnosis of Down syndrome meant perhaps a 50-50 chance of miscarriage or stillbirth.
“If our daughter somehow made it to full term, her expected life span would be far shorter than a typical child’s, and she’d most likely have a whole host of medical issues requiring a lifetime of medical care. Then consider the cognitive impairments, special education programs and social ostracism. It was a lot to take in.”
Then he goes on to say,
“Hammering home the momentous difficulties that would await us as parents was clearly a tactical move by the doctor to push us toward an abortion.”
That’s an incredible sentence just taken all on its own. It’s set apart in the print edition in a separate paragraph. It is a truly chilling statement. He points out, once again, that the doctors were clearly trying to direct them towards a moral imperative of having an abortion once the diagnosis had been made. Professor Schrad then writes,
“That abortion is not the exception, but rather the expectation in cases of Down syndrome, is not limited to medical professionals. Though precise numbers are unavailable, at least two-thirds and as many as 90 percent of fetuses found to have Down syndrome in utero are aborted. Public opinion polls show that Americans are significantly less critical of abortion in the case of mental or physical impairment. Even the Dalai Lama says it is understandable.”
He then goes back to the situation that he faced with his wife and he says that as a couple of pro-choice liberals they had raised eyebrows even among their friends as well as the doctors because they had chosen not to terminate the pregnancy. They experienced what he described as pushback, asking the question, did we not understand the decision? Schrad then writes very movingly about the daughter whom he clearly loves, he describes Sophia as,
“An exuberant 8-year-old, soaking up the last rays of summer fun before entering third grade.”
Writing of the decision that he and his wife made he said,
“We have never had second thoughts, even though we understand why some parents might choose otherwise.”
So this op-ed appeared in the New York Times, is it for the legislation in Ohio or against? It is decidedly against. Professor Schrad wrote this article to say that he and his wife made this choice, and others should have the equal right to make the choice. When it comes to what he described as the intersection of abortion and special needs, he says,
“There is no easy answer — and the idea that these deeply personal ethical and social decisions could simply be legislated away is ridiculous.”
It’s also interesting to note that Professor Schrad acknowledges the slippery slope arguments and says they do have some traction. As he says,
“Such claims are often hysterical, but they’re not ungrounded: As our ability to screen for “undesirable” genetic traits expands, so does the potential for abortion based upon those characteristics.”
But from a Christian worldview perspective, the most important aspect of this article is the fact that this professor and his wife made the decision to continue the pregnancy and to welcome their daughter after there had been the diagnosis of Down syndrome. They did so they said, because of their personal choice. They did so, in spite of the fact that they had to resist the push from doctors that the moral imperative was to abort under these circumstances. They also had to pushback on family and friends who were making very similar kinds of arguments. That’s very revealing. But what’s really interesting here is the love that this man obviously shows for his daughter. It’s very genuine and it is unquestionable, he clearly has welcomed this daughter into his home, into his heart, into his family and so must the rest of the human community. But at the end of the day, this professor grounds the decision that he and his wife made in what is basically just their decision to continue the pregnancy rather than the decision to terminate the pregnancy with abortion.
He argues against the legislation in Ohio because he says that it is ridiculous to use his words to legislate an answer to the question that is now posed by a diagnosis of Down syndrome with the availability of abortion. And yet that gets right to the issue, if indeed legislation does not address this, then we as a society are saying there is no right answer to the question, and by the way, that’s exactly what Professor Schrad is arguing. There is no right answer for everyone with this question. But that’s where the Christian worldview comes back to say this isn’t a question that comes down to personal decision. This is a question that is answered by the fundamental reality that every single human being is created in God’s image, and that we have no right to pick and choose which human beings, even in fetal form we will welcome into our homes and into the human community. And so yesterday, we had a federal judge that said there is no natural law authority beyond the authority of his court and now we have the argument being made, even in the context of parents who decided and for that we should be so thankful to continue the pregnancy and to welcome their daughter with Down syndrome. We have the argument being made here that the most basic moral issue is the decision that is made by parents as to whether or not they would continue the pregnancy, and there is pushback in this case against the effort of the legislature to say there is no justification for abortion, which is solely for the cause of down syndrome.
Now those of us who hold to a pro-life worldview would make the argument far beyond what the legislature is making here. But it is extremely revealing that at the intersection of abortion and Down syndrome there are those who are arguing not only that abortion is the right answer to the question, but on the other hand, that are now arguing that there is no right answer. And if there is no higher authority than human decision, there is no right answer. But the biblical worldview tells us that’s not where the truth resides. That’s not where the authority is found. That’s not where human dignity is grounded and human decision is not the most basic issue here. It is not in it can never be.
Supposed popularity of sexual fluidity reveals pop culture as tool for moral revolution
Next, another intersection, this intersection is of our lives in popular culture. Aristotle the Greek philosopher famously told the parable of the fish. He said if you want to know what being wet is like don’t ask a fish, because that’s all he knows. And because that’s all he knows, he can’t describe it. He doesn’t even know he’s swimming in water. That’s analogous to our situation as we are swimming in America’s popular culture, popular culture is all around us, far more influential than many of us recognize and there is almost no way totally to disengage from the popular mass culture around us. It simply comes in so many different ways, from so many different directions and by so many media platforms and experiences that it is almost impossible to find any cave where American popular culture will not make an invasion. The moral revolution on issues of human sexuality and gender is driven by changes that have taken place in the popular culture and the popular culture is doing its very best to try to signal the direction this moral revolution is to go and that’s why it’s so important that there are so many in Hollywood, and in academia and in the intellectual elite and in the culture producing business who have joined the moral revolution and see it as their aim and purpose to try to bring Americans along and their using the mechanisms of popular culture in order to make that happen. They’re using Hollywood, they’re using television, they’re using celebrity, they’re using music, and they’re using everything at their disposal to try to bring this revolution to be. They are taking advantage of all the new technologies in the digital world and they are signaling in every way possible the way Americans, according to their new moral understanding are rightly to think about issues of human sexuality of marriage and of gender.
A couple of articles have appeared lately that demonstrate the linkage between popular culture and changes in sexual morality and in understandings of gender. On September 7, just a couple of days ago in the New York Times there was an opinion piece by Charles M. Blow, he’s one of the regular op-ed writers for the New York Times, it is entitled, “Sexual Attraction and Fluidity.”
He cites the artist Miley Cyrus, who told the United Kingdom newspaper,
“I’m very open about it — I’m pansexual.”
In June she had made a similar comment to another magazine that’s more graphic than I can read on The Briefing, but the point is she says that she is open to virtually anything, that’s what pansexual means and having a sexual relationship with anyone so long as adult consent is granted. Beyond that she was far more graphic. Writing an affirmation of not only what Miley Cyrus said, but of the cultural importance supposedly granted to the fact that she said it, Charles Blow writes in the New York Times,
“There was something about the casual, carefree-ness of the statements that I found both charming and revolutionary. It took a happy-go-lucky sledgehammer to the must-fit-a-box binary that constrains and restricts our understanding of the complexity of human sexuality.”
Here you have one of the regular most influential columnist in the New York Times arguing that popular culture in general, and Miley Cyrus in particular, have been responsible for moving the meter when it comes to understandings of human sexuality and of gender identity, arguing that she has helped us all to understand that sexual identity and gender are to be understood as fluid, rather than fixed. Charles Blow cites in his article the fact that he had written a book in recent months in which he identified himself as bisexual, and then he pointed to surveys having to do with young adults in Britain and in the United States, suggesting that they are indicating an openness to this kind of pansexuality and fluid gender and sexual identity. He cites a market research firm that indicated,
“The American data found that “29 percent of under 30s put themselves somewhere on the category of bisexuality.”
Just in the event we might miss his point, Blow went on to write,
“Obviously, these ratings weren’t meant to measure sexual activity, intimate histories or label identification, but they were meant to measure “the possibility of homosexual feelings and experiences.”
He then went on to write,
“Attraction is simply more nuanced for more people than some of us want to admit, sometimes even to ourselves. That attraction may never manifest as physical intimacy, nor does it have to, but denying that it exists creates a false, naïve and ultimately destructive sense of what is normal and possible.”
Hold that thought for a moment – meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal in recent weeks, published an article by Eric Sasson in the headline of which was, “Kristen Stewart, Miley Cyrus and the Rise of Sexual Fluidity.”
Here you have the same word in another very influential newspaper attached to at least one of the same icons of popular culture. Sasson cites Kristen Stewart who said,
“I think in three or four years, there are going to be a whole lot more people who don’t think it’s necessary to figure out if you’re gay or straight. It’s like, just do your thing.”
Sasson went on to argue,
“We may be heading into a “post-gay” era where people are more willing to reject the idea of sexuality and gender being so binary.”
Now, why talk about these articles today on The Briefing? It’s not so much because of the issue of so-called sexual fluidity. It’s because of the articles pointing to the importance of popular culture in driving the moral revolution. Let me state the matter bluntly, I do not believe that something like a third of young Americans under age 30 actually consider themselves gender fluid. I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that they’re actually somewhere on a bisexual spectrum. I don’t believe that. What I do believe is that they think that is how they are supposed to answer the question when it is asked. I believe what it points to more fundamentally, is the fact that you have mass culture that is now exerting such a powerful influence on young Americans that they will answer as they believe they are supposed to answer, as the pollster might think they should answer, as their peers might suggest they should answer if their questions were seen or the responses were heard.
From a Christian worldview perspective, the issue here is not only the reality of gender as a part of the goodness of God’s creation being denied by popular culture, but is even more importantly in terms of life on the ground the fact that the icons a pop-culture believe they have the right and the responsibility to speak into the moral decisions and the moral convictions of millions of Americans and the sad fact is clearly they are having an influence, that too, is very important for our consideration. We are eventually responsible for what we allow into our hearts and minds by means of entertainment and other messaging. But as we are thinking about not only ourselves, but our loved ones our friends, our children and others, we have to recognize that pop-culture has an impact far beyond what we might recognize in ourselves or in anyone else. Furthermore, pop-culture is now so massive in terms of the influence and the reality around us that like Aristotle’s fish, there is no other ocean in which we might swim; it’s simply all around us. So even if we do not watch the movies and we don’t view the television programs and we aren’t listening to the music from these artists, that doesn’t mean that the messaging is not getting through because profoundly it is. And so in both of these articles, you have the writers celebrating the influence of pop-culture and breaking down what they call the old binaries of male and female, of heterosexual and homosexual and in one of the most honest acknowledgments in these articles, the real function of many of these pop artists is to move the spectrum or framework of what is considered normal, so that even if people consider their statement somewhat extreme they appear less extreme over time, the culture morally shifts.
What’s now being celebrated as fluidity and sexual orientation and in terms of gender identity, this is now the messaging of what’s real and what’s right coming from popular culture. In response, we can’t just put her fingers in her ears. We have to make arguments and those arguments need to be grounded in reality, and they need to be grounded in credibility. We’re going to have to make arguments, we can’t simply say don’t listen the pop-culture. It’s not enough to say to Aristotle’s fish, stop swimming.
'Divorce selfies' and celebration of divorce an undermining of basic significance of marriage
Meanwhile, while we’re talking about the moral revolution all around us, marriage is and must be at the center of this conversation, Caitlin Dewey writing in the Washington Post in recent days, tells us about the moral significance of what she describes as,
“On the viral rise of divorce selfies (and the death of traditional marriage).”
“In late August, Shannon Neuman and her husband Chris went to the municipal court in Calgary, Alberta, to get a divorce. They had already filled out the forms and taken the requisite seminars. They navigated the 24-story Courts Centre and dropped their papers off.
“Then, on their way out, Chris and Shannon — no longer the Neumans — paused in front of a courthouse sign. They snapped a selfie, both smiling.
“Here’s Chris Neuman and I yesterday after filing for divorce!” Shannon wrote in a Facebook post that was shared 11,000 times within its first hours online. (Wrote Chris, in the comments: “I couldn’t have hand-picked a better ex-wife if I tried.”)
Dewey then asked the obvious question,
“What is going on here? This isn’t at all the type of dialogue we expect around divorce, particularly since we’ve been taught that marriage is the only viable type of adult relationship or family structure. But in the era of platonic parenting and conscious uncoupling, these sorts of friendly, even triumphant #divorceselfies have become increasingly common. If you search the hashtag on Instagram, in fact, you’ll find over a hundred of them.”
Reporter Caitlin Dewey knows that this has to be morally significant, her article doesn’t take us very deep into that reality, but it does point to the fact that these divorce selfies are indicating a major moral shift in the culture, not only away from traditional marriage, remember the headline in this article is,
“And the death of traditional marriage.”
But towards an ultimate claim of self-assertion in which we claim even proudly to post a selfie of our divorce as a learning experience. One couple who had posted divorce selfies wrote back after criticism saying,
“We were together for 13 years,” she wrote back. “Our time thriving together was fading and now we are able to step forward on separate paths.”
Several years ago, one sociologist pointed to what she called the rise of expressive divorce. Expressive marriage is where people say I am the kind of person to be in this marriage, now expressive divorce is people now proudly saying, I’m the kind of person to experience this kind of divorce. That phrase ‘conscious uncoupling’ by the way that is celebrated in this article was articulated by actress Gwyneth Paltrow, who described her split from Chris Martin in 2014 as a moral improvement, saying they were trying to be very conscious about their uncoupling as if it were a New Age spiritual experience. As Dewey writes,
“In all those scenarios, couples have essentially reimagined what divorce is: neither a tragedy nor a failure nor a source of shame, in their minds, but a natural, amicable point of transition.”
That reminds me of a statement made by Peggy Noonan several years ago in which she said,
“What you hear after a sentence like that is an entire civilization falling.”
In a very real way, the rise of divorce selfies points to the fall of something else, eventually, the fall of civilization.
Elizabeth II becomes longest reigning British monarch today
Finally, on an historical note as we think about our place in history. At some point today, about 5:30 London time, Queen Elizabeth II of Great Britain will become the longest reigning monarch in that nation’s history, surpassing her ancestor Queen Victoria. Queen Victoria’s reign was 23,226 days 16 hours and 23 minutes. No one knows exactly when Queen Elizabeth began her reign, because no one knows exactly between about 5:30 in the morning and 7:30 in the morning that her father died in his sleep, King George VI. But let’s remember just as a point of our historical awareness that were talking in the year 2015. Just one single century ago, almost every human being on the planet with the exception of a few nations such as the United States, lived under the direct monarchial rule of a crowned leader, either a King or Queen or an Emperor or a Kaiser.
Back then, just 100 years ago, the world really was ruled largely by czars and Kings and Kaiser’s, but no more. There has been a tremendous political revolution in the 20th century and now into the 21st and only a very small number of people around the world live under the direct rule of a crowned hereditary monarch. And actually for Queen Elizabeth, she doesn’t have much impact on the political life of Great Britain. She is a constitutional monarch intended to rule, but not to interfere in government. But it is interesting for us to note that Queen Elizabeth II began her reign when Harry Truman was president of the United States and when Josef Stalin was the dictator of the Soviet Union. That’s a lot of history in just one lifetime.