September 30, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
As Wednesday, September 30, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Planned Parenthood president finally appears before Congress
Yesterday we saw what we were finally looking for, it wasn’t enough, but it was a start. Yesterday, Cecile Richards, the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America had to answer questions before the House oversight committee in Congress. As Sandhya Somashekhar of the Washington Post reports,
“Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards on Tuesday for the first time directly addressed members of Congress about undercover videos purporting to show that the women’s health organization illegally sells fetal tissue for profit, telling members of the House Oversight committee that the allegations are “offensive and categorically untrue.”Show Full Transcript
On the one hand, that is a blatant lie and misrepresentation. On the other hand, it’s what you would frankly expect coming from the president the Planned Parenthood Federation of America as her organization has under sustained an important attacked because it has been revealed as being in the business of killing unborn babies and then selling its organs. Now the big question here is whether or not the organs and tissues of these unborn babies aborted by Planned Parenthood, whether or not these tissues and organs are being sold for profit. The keywords there are the words for-profit. When Cecile Richards says to the allegations against Planned Parenthood are, let’s use her words again, offensive and categorically untrue, she’s not denying in any sense, that Planned Parenthood conducts abortions, that it conducts abortion strategically as one of the medical officers of Planned Parenthood indicated on the video, crushing the baby in its unborn state above and below certain organs in order that they can be harvested and then transferred and sold for what’s being defined illegally as a reimbursement, but what by any means is properly described as a sale. Whether or not there is a profit involved, well that’s a legal technicality and that’s the kind of issue we need to face straightforwardly. We should not be concentrating on the legal technicality. Now Planned Parenthood may find itself on the wrong side of the law because of those technicalities, but the reality is that the most important worldview issue, the most important worldview issue is to show the truth of the reality of what abortion is and what Planned Parenthood is doing and how strategically, it is targeting unborn babies in order to get the tissues and the organs that they claim are needed for medical experimentation.
As the story from the Washington Post goes on to say at a hearing centering on whether federal funding should continue for the group, Cecile Richards,
“Forcefully defended her organization, calling it a critical source for cancer screenings, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, contraception care and other services for millions of women, particularly those who are low-income.”
Then came these words from Cecile Richards,
“For many American women, Planned Parenthood is the only health-care provider they will see this year.”
Now even as the very truthfulness of that statement is under question, the most important thing we need to recognize is how Cecile Richards, the President of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America is describing her organization. She insists upon defining it as a “healthcare provider”. Now one of the things we need to think about is how language can be used to hide the truth. Using the phrase “healthcare provider” would give the implication that this is an organization that is solely and exclusively dedicated to the improvement of health, to the care of health, to the perpetuation of health. But as Ryan T. Anderson, the William E. Simon Senior Research Fellow at the Heritage Foundation stated yesterday in response to Cecile Richards testimony, whatever Planned Parenthood is in so far as it performs elective abortion and kills babies in the womb and is involved in the very business they do not even deny, it is absolutely ludicrous and immoral to refer to it as a healthcare provider. It is a killer of infants and that’s the reason we’re talking about Planned Parenthood.
Planned Parenthood is not in the news and Cecile Richards was not before Congress because of the healthcare services that she mentioned and iterated in terms of her testimony. She is before Congress because of those videos, she’s not before Congress because she heads an organization that is a healthcare provider, she’s before Congress and the controversies before the American people because her organization is centrally in terms of our moral concern, a death care provider for unborn infants. Later in the Washington Post article comes this paragraph,
“At the hearing, Richards reiterated her support for the organization’s fetal tissue donation program while downplaying its role, saying that less than 1 percent of the group’s affiliates participate. The few affiliates that participate in fetal tissue donation provide it as a service to women, she said.”
Now let’s look at that language again. It’s the same kind of moral evasion, the same kind of moral camouflage that we find when she describes Planned Parenthood as a healthcare provider. Here she says that Planned Parenthood’s market in terms of unborn baby parts and organs is, let’s use her phrase again,
“A service to women.”
That is a macabre horrifying moral evasion, but yet it’s the kind of thing that she will get away with with millions and millions of the American people. Millions of Americans we should note, who are complicit in a great moral evasion to refuse to admit and to acknowledge the reality of abortion and everything that is now involved in the culture of death. We see this evasion and we see worse in terms of Cecile Richards and the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. We see this evasion and worse on the part of the politicians, including Democratic members of this committee who offer Planned Parenthood support and protection, and we see it on the part of millions of Americans who just want the abortion issue to go away from the headline. We’ve got to keep that from happening and we’ve got to show this moral evasion for just what it is.
Bill Nye's defense of abortion attempts to use 'science' as independent moral authority
Next, an unexpected insight into the abortion-rights movement in America came from an unexpected source and the source was none other than the man known as Bill Nye the Science Guy. As Paula Mejia of Newsweek Magazine reports,
“Bill Nye the beloved Science Guy of yesteryear, who became a household name with his educational science videos is on a contemporary crusade to inject some scientific sense into contemporary issues, including evolutionary teachings in schools, climate change and antiabortion arguments.
On Tuesday, Nye released a video on The Big Things channel entitled “Can we stop telling women what to do with their bodies? The video features Nye facing the camera and tackling a slew of beliefs that activists typically use to protest pro-abortion legislation and abortion clinics.
“Specifically, his argument focuses on the belief that conception begins when a sperm fertilizes the egg and that the result then must be protected, a common refrain from antiabortion activists.”
Nye says on the video,
“Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans.
“But if you’re going to hold that as a standard, that is to say, if you’re going to say when an egg is fertilized, it therefore has the same rights as an individual, then whom are you going to sue, whom are you going to imprison, every woman who has had a fertilized egg pass through her? Every guy whose sperm has fertilized an egg and then it didn’t become a human, have all these people failed you?”
Well what’s failed here is common sense and this is a failure of intellectual honesty as well. Bill Nye knows better or at least he must know better than what he is saying here. His argument is absolutely ludicrous on its face. Let me go back to what he said,
“Many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized then become humans.”
Well, we need to ask him at this point, when exactly then does someone become a human? That very sentence he uses makes a very clear statement that the fertilized human egg is not a human, he implies, no he goes further than that, he states explicitly that at some point later evidently this individual, or at least some of these individuals become human. Well, who we may ask and when? What we have here is a classic demonstration of the art of propaganda. But in this case, as in so many modern cases it is packaged as a supposedly scientific argument. Bill Nye went on to say
“If you’re going to hold that as a standard [that is to say that when an egg is fertilized it therefore has the same rights as a human].”
He then asks,
“Whom are you going to sue?”
That is an absolutely illogical statement. It is not illogical to say that a human life begins at the moment of fertilization and it’s not illogical to claim that that is indeed the moment when conception takes place. But every responsible pro-life authority or scientist for that matter, every informed person who understands the process of human reproduction understands that there are millions and millions, untold millions of fertilized human eggs that are never successfully implanted in the lining of the womb and never actually are born. That doesn’t mean, however, that they are not human, nor does it mean as Bill Nye implies that pro-lifers would or should seek some legal consequence when there is the event that one of these fertilized human eggs is not successfully implanted and does not progress all the way to gestation to natural birth. That would be absolutely ridiculous. It’s ridiculous on the one hand, because the vast majority of these fertilized human eggs that do not make it all the way to live birth, they are never actually known to exist and furthermore, those that are known to exist are described in terms of a miscarriage, but what’s morally and theologically important here is to affirm that that unborn human life is exactly that, at every stage of development and unborn human life.
With condescending arrogance, Bill Nye continues,
“It’s a reflection of a deep scientific understanding. It appears, [and here he is speaking to pro-lifers], it appears you literally have no idea what you’re talking about.”
And as Newsweek explained, he was referring to,
“Anti-abortion activists who utilize this argument in debates.”
Newsweek went on to say,
“In fact, scientists have determined that roughly 50% of fertilized eggs failed to reach full stages of pregnancy.”
Well what we need to note is that no educated, informed pro-life person would ever debate that statement. That is an acknowledged scientific and medical fact. But what it has nothing to do with is the morality of elective abortion. It has nothing to do with the decision intentionally to terminate a living human life. Bill Nye here is trying to use the supposed authority of science to push a political and moral agenda and he does so shamelessly and he has done this as Newsweek indicates not only now on the issue of abortion, but also on the issue of evolution, climate change and many other things. When you find someone using the argument using simply the word science, an alarm should go off in terms of your worldview analysis. The use of the word science by itself is almost always now a decoy argument. It is a false argument that is trying to borrow the authority of modern science in order to further a moral argument and that is exactly what Bill Nye is doing here. The real issue here is political and it’s moral and actually it’s Bill Nye who makes that clear. Later in the video he makes these astounding statements,
“I’m not the first guy to observe this. You have a lot of men of European descent passing these extraordinary laws [he’s talking about pro-life laws here] based on ignorance. Sorry you guys, I know it was written or your interpretation of a book written 5000 years ago, 50 centuries ago, makes you think that when a man and a woman want to have sexual intercourse they always have a baby. That’s wrong. And so to pass laws based on that belief is inconsistent with nature.”
It’s hard to know where to start quite frankly in analyzing that paragraph, but let’s start at the end where he says that the pro-life argument is “inconsistent with nature.” That’s the kind of gross generalization that calls out for an immediate question. How exactly is it inconsistent with nature? Oh and by the way, the people who are pushing this moral revolution do not want to actually talk about what might be consistent or inconsistent with nature. But let’s get to the rest of the paragraph; he goes directly at biblical authority. He dismisses any kind of law or any kind of moral understanding that is based upon what he describes as,
“An interpretation of a book written 5000 years ago.”
He dismisses the Bible as being written,
“50 centuries ago”
And then he goes on to claim that the worldview of the Bible,
“Makes you think that when a man and a woman have sexual intercourse they always have a baby.”
That is manifest and absolute nonsense. It is a grotesque illustration of intellectual dishonesty and furthermore, let’s just remember that in the Bible there are married couples that desperately want a child, they pray for a child, it is abundantly clear within the Scripture, not only in the New Testament, but in the Old that there are people who understand even without the rise of Bill Nye so-called modern science that a baby is not produced every time a man and a woman come together. This is one of the most disingenuous and dishonest forms of moral propaganda I have seen in a very, very long time. I can only agree with Robert P. George and Patrick Lee, who writing for National Review Magazine in response to Nye write,
“Nye’s video is so breathtakingly arrogant and incompetently argued that it is hard to know where to begin.”
George and Lee argue,
“[It] is easily exposed as a non sequitur— a logical fallacy, the conclusion does not follow from the premise. The fact that many human embryos die at an early stage of development (pre-implantation) provides no evidence whatsoever for the proposition that they are not embryonic human beings — no more than comparable high rates of infant mortality in most places before the 20th century showed that infants were not human beings.”
That is a brilliant line of analysis. Here Professors George and Lee point to the fact that it is as illogical to argue that it isn’t a human embryo as it is to argue that high rates of infant mortality would demonstrate that the infants aren’t really human infants. This isn’t science at all. This is moral propaganda. But what we need to note is the alarm that should come to our minds when you find someone just invoking the word science as if it has an independent authority and if it is indeed a body of moral authority that is being presented here as if it trumps anything that might stand against it, including the authority of Scripture which, as we have seen is really at the center of the target of Bill Nye’s concern.
Robert P. George is the McCormick Professor of Jurisprudence at Princeton University. Patrick Lee is a Professor of Bioethics at the Franciscan University of Steubenville. In their response to Nye they conclude,
“At several points in his video, Nye expresses frustration with people who don’t share his support for the moral and legal permissibility of abortion. One can, perhaps, be forgiven for indulging a chuckle at his exasperation, given the level of scientific ignorance on display from a guy whose whole message to those he disagrees with is “Listen to me, you rubes; I know the science.”
What Professors George and Lee are getting at here is genuinely important. This kind of intellectual desperation is very revealing. Driving Bill Nye this crazy and making him this desperate is a sign that we’re gaining ground.
As Chinese consume American culture, American moral messaging spreads
Next, an article from yesterday’s edition of the New York Times reminds us that when there is cultural change, eventually, there is a moral change and vice versa. As Chris Buckley writes, the article is headlined,
“Chinese Embrace America’s Culture but Not Its Policies.”
The background to the article is the recent visit of the President of China to the United States. As Buckley writes,
“Wearing a hoodie emblazoned with an oversize American dollar bill, Zhao Yixiang sells an American brand of skateboards for a living and admires much about the United States, including its raucous rap music and tradition of unfettered expression.”
The man said,
“America is a country full of free speech. You can say what you want, go where you want, choose your own lifestyle. I admire that a lot. But on territorial and military issues, we’re pretty far apart.”
Buckley then writes,
“In some ways, American cultural influence reaches into China deeper than ever. Despite censorship, restrictions on cultural imports and heavy Internet barriers, American television, films, music and technology are widely and avidly consumed.”
Hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens watch American cultural exports, American televisions, the American cable show House of Cards is incredibly popular in China, where we are told many Chinese citizens, especially the young, find it absolutely amazing that the American government would allow the program to be made, showing as it does the corruption that is endemic to some politicians. In China it would be inconceivable that the Chinese government would allow the legal broadcast of such a program. But the point we need to make is that even as these Chinese citizens are getting something of a civics lesson in American politics from House of Cards, they are also getting something else they might not recognize and the New York Times seems not to recognize, at least not directly, they’re getting a moral reeducation as well. The Christian worldview reminds us that when moral change takes place it affects the culture and when the culture changes there is a moral impact. Christians must especially understand that when we consume culture we are also consuming morality, so to speak. There is no way to watch entertainment, regardless of its media format without also receiving moral messaging. Sometimes that moral messaging comes directly to us in terms of something we recognize. But far more ominously from a Christian perspective this moral influence often comes in a far more subtle form. It is the rearrangement of our intuitions, sometimes even of the laugh track of our lives. That is a moral change that we might not so readily perceive that explains why we might laugh at something now we would not have laughed at just a matter of a couple of years ago. That is a moral change and it’s one that most Americans do not even recognize.
Many people in the international scene describe the difference between hard power, that’s primarily military power and soft power, that’s primarily cultural power. While there are no doubt military conflicts, there are also cultural and moral conflicts in the world. And when it comes to being the net exporter of culture, well no one can come close to the United States. Just to state the matter very clearly, millions and millions of Chinese citizens are watching American television programs; the same thing is certainly not true in reverse. Oddly enough, Christians can understand why the Chinese officials, especially the high leaders of the Communist Party in China want to keep these American cultural products at bay. Why they do not want hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens watching these American cultural exports. It’s because they do understand what many Americans seem not to understand is that this kind of cultural export comes with an explicit and implicit set of moral meanings of moral messages and they do get through. The point of this article in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times by Chris Buckley is primarily the fact that even as these American cultural exports are very popular, when it comes to patriotic issues, most Chinese observers of these American programs are still very patriotic when it comes to supporting the Chinese military. But the subtext of this article is also very, very clear. It’s clear that the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese officials in general are very concerned that political change will come with this kind of cultural change, in other words, the Chinese citizens that are watching House of Cards and are riding on American-made skateboards are eventually going to want American-style liberties. And furthermore, they’re going to be affected by a moral messaging and a political messaging that is coming through those entertainment products. But as Christians, our concern in this case is not primarily China, it should be ourselves, it should be our families, it should be our children. That is to say that it’s not enough for us to recognize that the Chinese can’t watch these programs without being affected, we have to recognize that we can’t watch these programs without being similarly affected. We have to understand that we, our families and our children are also receiving a moral rewiring when it comes to watching these entertainment programs and consuming the products of mass American culture.
It is really interesting that the Chinese Communist Party is very concerned about this. It’s very evident they’re trying to block a lot of these programs and if they can’t block them entirely, they’re going to try to restrict their availability. But that’s what makes it really interesting, the Chinese Communist Party holds to a horrifying worldview, but they’re onto something when they recognize the influence of soft power when it comes to culture. Actually, the danger is that we will not recognize the same.