April 20, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, April 20, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Utah legislation recognizes pornography a problem—a health problem, that is, not a moral one
The big news yesterday came from the State of Utah, where the governor of that state signed legislation indicating that pornography is to be considered a public health hazard. It’s a very interesting piece of legislation, and it is likely to be followed by similar efforts in other American states. As noted in the building controversy about this bill, the interesting thing is that in this case, the State of Utah and those behind the legislation are arguing that pornography is a health hazard, while not going on to argue the moral consequences of pornography itself or the moral nature of pornography even as a medium. Instead, you see the shift in an argument from the issue of morality to the issue of public health.
Now why would that happen, and what does that tell us? Well, it tells us for one thing that we are a society that shares a moral discourse at least to some extent about health, but not about morality. So to state the matter clearly, if you can define something as a public health matter, that shifts it into a mode of cultural conversation that is at least assumed to offer more ground for agreement. So what this means in this case is that in the state of Utah, the legislature and the Governor were able to reach a consensus on the fact that pornography is a problem, but specifically a public health problem. What we need to note is that the likelihood of the legislature and the Governor in Utah coming to a conclusion in public in law that pornography is a moral problem—well, that’s not a very high likelihood.Show Full Transcript
But there’s something else that tells us about the state of our culture and civilization. It tells us that health is presumed to be an area of wider common consensus and agreement than morality. But this also tells us that we are now reaching the point where we are willing as a society to ignore the morally obvious in order to try to shift somehow the discussion to be a matter about health.
Now in terms of how Christians should see this legislation, it’s not bad news; it’s good news. It’s good news that pornography in legislation is identified as a problem. It’s good news even that it is identified as a public health problem, because on this issue, Christians don’t disagree that it is. We believe that pornography more basically is a moral problem. We also will go on to believe that addressing it as a health problem isn’t going to directly or honestly actually get to the issue. But it is still very telling that in the State of Utah, pornography is now legally defined as a problem in legislation successfully passed through the legislature and signed into law by the state’s Governor.
Now what will be the consequence of this new legislation and now this new law in Utah? That answer is not at all clear. One of the issues that was addressed in the legislation is the fact that it could mean or should mean preventing children from having access to pornography in public Wi-Fi sites, especially such as those that are offered in public places such as airports and restaurants. In a statement signing the legislation, the Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, said that he was doing so because pornography should be considered, like drugs and alcohol, in terms of the potential to “tempt our youth.”
The Governor said,
“We hope that people hear and heed this voice of warning. For our citizens know that there are real health risks that are involved and associated with viewing pornography.”
The Governor went on to say,
“We also want our young people to know that there’s a particularly psychological and physiological detriment that comes from addiction to pornography.”
Now without going into specifics, you’ll note the recent cover story in Time magazine about the fact that so many young men were claiming a psychological and physiological effect from viewing pornography. But once again, the Time magazine article tried to address pornography as something other than a moral issue. Now you have the State of Utah doing the same. But this is where Christians have to come back and say, we can’t possibly deal adequately or honestly with an issue like pornography by simply referring to it as a public health issue.
There’s a moral victory here: at least pornography is recognized in this law as a problem. But the problem is the problem of pornography is far, far deeper and far, far greater than this. It also raises the question about just how persuasive an argument can possibly be that reduces this to health consequences. When you have a governor speaking to teenagers and young adults saying,
“We also want our young people to know that there’s a particularly psychological and physiological detriment to that comes from addiction to pornography”
—we have to note that that’s an argument that’s a bit too complex and remote to have much immediate effect upon most young people. To put the matter a different way, I’m not sure the young people in Utah or elsewhere are going to be immediately influenced or impacted by an argument that says this is basically a public health problem, note the health consequences. I don’t think anyone, young or old, is likely to be persuaded by an argument that doesn’t at some point get down to the issue: you don’t do it, because it’s wrong. Or to use that word indispensable to the Christian worldview, because it is sin.
As polygamy is struck down in UT, Harvard law prof. argues for its constitutionality in NY
Next, remaining in Utah, that state was again in the headlines last week, this time for another moral issue—not pornography, but polygamy. As the headline in the Associated Press reports, last week, a federal appeals court struck down a lower court’s decision that had in 2013 ruled against Utah’s law that criminalized polygamy. Specifically, it criminalized bigamy—that is the practice of having more than one legal spouse at a time. But the big story here is that back in 2013, a federal court judge struck down Utah’s law defining marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman. The first federal court case back in 2013 as the year came to a close in Utah ruled that the state must legalize same-sex marriage. But then in a matter of days, another federal court ruled that the state must invalidate its laws that criminalize the practice of having more than one spouse. So in a matter of days, Utah, back at the end of 2013, had two different federal courts—one that struck down its laws against same-sex marriage and another that struck down its laws against plural marriage. So it was big news last week when a federal appeals court reversed the decision of the lower court and put back into effect Utah’s law that criminalized the practice of having more than one spouse. As the Associated Press says,
“The decision brings back a rule forbidding married people from living with a second purported ‘spouse.’”
But then the Associate Press goes on to say, “making Utah’s law stricter than those in every other state.”
Now why? This goes back to the fact that the United States Congress at the end of the 19th century required the then-territory of Utah to eliminate the practice of polygamy, and to criminalize it as the price of entering the union as a state, which Utah did. The original case challenging the Utah law had come from a family that is depicted in the TV show, “Sister Wives.” One polygamist in Utah cited in the story, a man by the name of Brady Williams, who the report says has five wives, said,
“We’re only guilty of trying to love a different way than the norm. They [speaking of the court] are marginalizing a minority class in the United States. That’s unconstitutional.”
Note that argument very carefully. It was also made by the attorney for the polygamist, a man by the name of Jonathan Turley, who said that the Browns will appeal the ruling.
“The underlying rights of religious freedom and free speech are certainly too great to abandon.”
Now what makes that really interesting is that Jonathan Turley, long before he took up this case, had written articles, including one very well-known in USA Today, in which he argued that the legalization of same-sex marriage would inevitably and automatically lead to the eventual legalization of polygamy. Now we need to note he made that argument before he took up this case, but to give him credit, he’s very consistent in his argument. You will also note that the polygamist cited in the story went back to the language used by the proponents of same-sex marriage before the United States Supreme Court. We shouldn’t be surprised when he said,
“We’re only guilty of trying to love a different way than the norm.”
And then he accused the state of Utah and now the federal appeals court of “marginalizing a minority class in the United States.”
You can tell the kind of argument that is coming when he followed that with the words,
Here you see the kind of challenge we’re going to be facing as a society in the aftermath of the Obergefell decision legalizing same-sex marriage. Many of us discussed this long before the Supreme Court handed down the decision. Frankly, the Chief Justice of the United States and other justices in response to the majority opinion in Obergefell pointed to the very same thing. Now you have these arguments being made in public in a United States appeals court, and it’s an argument we’re going to be hearing not only attached to polygamy, but to any number of other relationships or living arrangements that are defined as this polygamist in Utah defined as “loving outside the norm.”
But here’s a second reason why this story is big, and it doesn’t have anything to do with the court in Utah, but rather with a magazine based in New York City—that is Bloomberg BusinessWeek. A big moral signal was sent in the aftermath of the Utah decision when Noah Feldman, a professor of law at Harvard University, wrote an article defending the rights of polygamists, and it appeared in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. That’s a huge cultural barometer. It’s not now an issue limited to Utah, it’s an argument being made nationally and by a very well-known tenured professor of law at the Harvard law school and published in one of the nation’s most influential business magazines. Making his argument in BusinessWeek, professor Feldman wrote,
“Consider the consolidation of constitutional rights that already exist: I can have sex with any consenting adult under the court’s 2003 precedent of Lawrence v. Texas, which struck down anti-sodomy laws. I can freely engage in any religious ritual under the free-exercise clause of the First Amendment. And using my freedom of speech, I can talk about both my sexual relationships and religious rituals that I’ve used to solemnize them.
“Given these rights,” said Professor Feldman. “It seems strange that the law prohibits me from forgoing sexual relationships with multiple partners and calling them my spouses after we’ve made a mutual religious commitment. If I called them girlfriends or boyfriends, I’m protected by the Constitution. So, it seems indefensible that I can’t call them wives or husbands.”
Now we need to make clear in making this argument, professor Feldman is not coming out of the closet as a polygamist. He is, however, bringing into the public an argument that makes polygamy inevitable, because the background of this argument is once you’ve redefined marriage as being something other than the union of a man and a woman, how can you not extend the same argument to those who are redefining marriage, not in terms of gender or sex, but rather in terms of number.
Another very important worldview consideration here is the argument that was made by Justice Anthony Kennedy in arguing for the legalization of same-sex marriage in the majority opinion handed down by the court. Justice Kennedy made an argument based in human autonomy and human dignity. But then Noah Feldman comes back and writes this,
“If all humans are inherently entitled to have their marriage choices respected and acknowledged by the government, there’s no good reason to exclude people who choose plural marriage.”
Now once again we have to note the consistency of this argument and the fact that it was inevitable after the legalization of same-sex marriage. If you can legalize same-sex marriage, arguing that it’s required by human dignity and the requirement that people have the romantic relationships affirmed by the government, then how can you limit that to LGBT couples and not extend it to polygamists. Speaking of polygamy, Noah Feldman ends his article with the words,
“It’s time the Supreme Court recognized it.”
And once again, the important thing about this article is not so much the argument it makes. We’ve seen these arguments before. It is the fact that the argument is now being made by a very respected professor at the Harvard law school and the fact that his argument appears in one of the nation’s leading business magazines. It should tell us a very great deal that big business is now taking note of an argument for polygamy and the fact that according to this logic, it’s simply now inevitable. When polygamy makes the pages of BusinessWeek, lookout. It’s about to land in your local newspaper as well.
Obama Administration issues threats to states that have defunded Planned Parenthood
Next, another very important article appeared yesterday in the Washington Post. It has to do with the Obama Administration bringing political pressure against states that have defunded Planned Parenthood. According to the Washington Post, there are now 10 states that have moved legislatively or have had action by the governor to do so. Those states include Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas, and Wisconsin. As we have seen in recent weeks and months, the Obama Administration is bringing political pressure, and that includes economic pressure, against states that are moving in a different direction than the priorities and the worldview of President Obama and his administration. But what’s really interesting in this article by Lena Sun that was published yesterday in the Washington Post is this: It’s a quote from Cecile Richards, the president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. In a statement cited in the article she says this,
“These political attacks on our patients have gone from a simmer to full rolling boil.”
Now that is a note of political panic from Planned Parenthood, but that raises a crucial question. Why does Planned Parenthood not ask the basic question: why would there be a roiling boiling controversy against us? That’s the one thing that Planned Parenthood won’t ask. It’s reflected in the very fact that every word in the statement related to Planned Parenthood coming from its president has to do with so-called “healthcare,” not with abortion, not with the moral issue at the center of the controversy.
Now here’s the truly shocking thing, and we’ve noted it many times. More than 40 years after the Supreme Court of the United States claimed to have resolved the abortion issue in the Roe v. Wade decision, it’s not only not resolved, the issue is reaching a boiling point hotter than at any previous point in American history. That’s what’s really telling here. It tells us that the issue of abortion won’t go away, and Christians understand why. There is a residual knowledge on the part of us that human beings are created in the image of God. It is a worldview divide that on the one hand requires people to say in their argument for abortion that the inhabitant of the womb has no moral meaning whatsoever. The only other position that has any coherence or logic to it is that the inhabitant of the womb is a human being made in the image of God and deserving of full protection. That’s why Planned Parenthood is on the defensive. That’s why you have the Obama Administration trying to back Planned Parenthood with political pressure, and that’s why you have the president of Planned Parenthood complaining—not in the year 1973 but in the year 2016—that efforts to deal with abortion are now reaching “a full rolling boil.”
Morality and mortality are correlated in new study on wealth, geography, and life expectancy
Finally, another national story has been making headlines having to do with the study released about the healthcare and death rate of the poor in America. The study indicates that where one lives actually has a great deal to do with life expectancy, certainly among poorest Americans. Now many people would assume that the disparities in lifespan and the disparities in terms of health care would have the greatest difference when you look at those who are the rich and those who are the poor, or those who are the poor and those are the less impoverished. But as this study makes clear, amongst the poor there is a tremendous discrepancy, a disparity between where one lives in terms of specific states and specific cities. Indeed, the assumption had been for a long time, certainly among those who are the proponents of federal medical care, that the rate of Medicare spending in an area would have the greatest impact on how the poor live or what they receive in terms of healthcare and what is their death rate. But it turns out, as the study makes clear,
“There is little correlation between a region’s Medicare spending rate or the proportion of the population with health insurance and how long its poor citizens live.”
So then you ask the question: if death rates for impoverished white Americans have been going up, if the mortality rates are going up and the life expectancy is going down even with advances in medical care, the big question is why? Much attention was deservedly given to a study released months ago by Nobel prize-winning economist Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case, indicating that there was an increased mortality rate and a shortening of life expectancy among many more impoverished whites in America. And as those economists indicated, there was everything to do here with morality, with specific practices that were clearly leading to a shortened life span. The really interesting thing about the new study and about the story as reported in papers such as the New York Times is that there is an acknowledgment buried in the story that morality has a great deal to do with this. For example, consider this paragraph:
“Life expectancy for the poor is lowest in a large swath that cuts through the middle of the country, and it appears in pockets in the rest of the country, in places like Nevada. David M. Cutler, a Harvard economist and an author of the paper, calls it the ‘drug overdose belt,’ because the area matches in part a map of where the nation’s opioid epidemic is concentrated.”
So here you have the region in which death rates have been rising and life expectancy has been shortening, and here you have an economist pointing out that it just happens to be also in what is described here as the Drug Overdose Belt. One of the central issues identified as a cause of death in this article are overdoses of alcohol and drugs. Now the Christian worldview would inform us that, necessarily, when we look at these moral issues, there would be an impact in terms of not only health, but eventually of mortality. The interesting thing, of course, is that this seems to come as such a surprise to secular observers, that somehow if you look at health statistics, if you look at a rising mortality rate and the shortening of a lifespan, there will be surprise that it would have anything to do with moral behavior.
But now you have these two massive studies coming out indicating that there is an undeniable moral element to the question of mortality, and this is where the Scripture would make very clear that that is exactly what we would expect. After all, when God spoke through Moses to the children of Israel, speaking of his laws and commands, he said, “Choose life and live. Obey the commandment that your lives may be long.” That’s a principle made very clear in Scripture. And now here comes a study on the heels of another study making that very principle also clear in mortality statistics. But of course the biblical worldview comes with an even more fundamental affirmation of the link between morality and mortality, because as the Scripture says, “With sin came death.”