June 15, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, June 15, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Obama's cosmopolitan worldview denies obvious link between terrorism and radical Islam
The words “radical Islam” have been a part of our national conversation, prominently so, ever since the September 11, 2001 terror attacks. Americans that had known very little about Islam and had not had Islam in terms of their topic of national and daily conversation, Americans were forced to confront the reality of the fact that America has enemies, and there is a great worldview clash at the center of which is the issue of Islam. That has become a matter of our national conversation—more urgently, even in the last few days in the aftermath of the terror attack in Orlando. It is now known that the attacker in Orlando had called 9-1-1 prior to launching his murderous attack and had identified himself with the cause of ISIS, also known as the Islamic State.
But the national conversation is now heated in the context of the 2016 presidential race, now entering that critical summer season. Both candidates, Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton—Donald Trump the Republican and Hillary Clinton the Democrat—have had, in their own way, to confront the issue. Donald Trump has made quite an issue of the fact that Hillary Clinton, who is not only of course the Democratic frontrunner, but is a former United States Secretary of State, like the president she has served, President Barack Obama, has been very reluctant to use the term radical Islam or even to speak of Islam critically as a major factor in terms of the worldview behind these terrorist attacks. Donald Trump challenged Hillary Clinton to be willing to use the term radical Islam and on Monday, at least once, she did. But that has led to a very interesting conversation typified by an essay that was published yesterday by John Podhoretz; it was published at the journal Commentary. The title of Podhoretz’s piece,Show Full Transcript
“No One’s Looking for ‘Magic Words’”.
This is a very important article. Podhoretz writes,
“After the president’s statement on Sunday, which focused on the anti-gay ‘hate crime’ aspect of the attack on Pulse and disregarded the specific fact that the shooter pledged his fealty to ISIS before and during his monstrous spree, the counterattack on those of us appalled by the astounding gap in the president’s words was perfectly captured by Jeffrey Goldberg’s tweet: “If Obama invokes the magical incantation ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ will the problem go away? If yes, then he should do it right away.”
Podhoretz then writes,
“And though Hillary Clinton herself mentioned “radical Islamism” as a cause of the attack on Monday, she oddly echoed Goldberg on Tuesday by saying Donald Trump seemed to think they were “magic words.” So did the president, who said, “There’s no magic to the phrase ‘radical Islam.’ It’s a talking point.”
Podhoretz then writes,
“This is all an effort at misdirection. The problem with Obama’s conduct isn’t that naming radical Islam would solve the problem. Of course, it wouldn’t solve the problem. The issue is that the refusal to name radical Islam is part of the problem. Obama’s refusal speaks to the mindset at work in the White House about the threat we face.”
But then Podhoretz turns to a very interesting witness in order to make his case, none other than Jeffrey Goldberg, the one who taunted with that tweet. In an amazing piece he wrote as the cover story for The Atlantic recently known as “The Obama Doctrine,” Goldberg says Podhoretz essentially made the case that,
“The president is almost clinically allergic to viewing the threats posed by these incidents as major national-security issues.”
Goldberg wrote then about President Obama,
“He has never believed that terrorism poses a threat to America commensurate with the fear it generates.”
The point being made here is that the President in this lengthy interview with Jeffrey Goldberg made clear he thinks that most Americans exaggerate the danger of terrorist attacks. Furthermore, the President sees the world in a matter of cold calculation. He does not believe that it’s possible that people can be animated by such deep religious beliefs that the terrorism would be rightly described as Islamic terrorism.
The President’s cosmopolitan vision of humanity does not include those who are apparently, genuinely driven by a theological agenda. That he does not understand, and thus the President has been particularly resistant to identifying the Islamic State as the Islamic State. The President has steadfastly attempted to separate Islam from Islamic terrorism, and yet as the attack in Orlando made very clear, that’s becoming increasingly difficult—so much so that it simply, at this point, stretches the imagination to argue that there is something of a coincidence between the terrorist attack pattern and the teachings of Islam.
Now as we have stated many times on The Briefing, we should be genuinely thankful that the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not involved in a jihad against the United States. But there is no doubt at the present that there are sufficient numbers of Muslims around the world who do intend to launch such a jihad and are doing so. From a Christian worldview perspective, the most important thing for us to recognize is that there is a deep chasm that separates the worldview of Islam and the worldview of the West. And, of course, it’s not an accident that the worldview of the West is theologically, at least in terms of heritage, quite distinct from Islam, because Western civilization was based upon a worldview that was overwhelmingly and nearly comprehensively Christian.
It was the Christian biblical worldview that provided the West’s understanding of human dignity and human rights, of the value and sanctity of human life, of the process whereby rights are to be respected and protected by government—those rights including the right of freedom of worship and religious liberty. We’re looking at the fact that this great chasm that separates Christianity and Islam now also separates Islam from Western civilization, but not exactly so. And that’s because Western civilization has been actively and eagerly secularizing itself in order to separate itself from those Christian roots. So the Western secular elites have been doing their very best to establish distance between the Christian worldview and the modern Western secular worldview. They thought they had safely left theology in the rearview mirror, culturally speaking, but now theology is back. And it’s back in a big way, it’s back in a confrontational way, but it’s not coming in the form of a resurgent Christianity so much as in the form of a resurgent and challenging Islam.
One of the most interesting factors here is exactly what has captured John Podhoretz’s attention. It’s really interesting and deeply revealing that the Western secular elites continue to refuse that radical Islam is genuinely Islamic. There is every attempt on the part of so many not only in the administration and beyond to try to describe terrorism in terms of socioeconomic factors, something related to education, something that is explained in purely secular terms, because after all the secular worldview must eventually answer everything in purely secular terms. But as we’ve noted so many times in the past, the secular worldview is rather weak and is weak in virtually every respect when it comes up against the challenge of a strong theological worldview. And the reason for that should be abundantly clear.
A theological worldview comes with the perspective that includes the present and the future but is also eschatological—that is, it places the total context of human time and history in a larger context of meaning, indeed, what Christians might say would be the backdrop of eternity. And that’s why when you have a modern secular worldview that comes up over against a very strong theological worldview, that theological worldview has an advantage, never more so than when the secular worldview wants to deny that theology can actually matter or matters so much to so many.
The modern cosmopolitan worldview that is so well represented by President Barack Obama and also to a great degree by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is a worldview that wants to argue for the eventual supremacy of secularism in terms of the entire global cosmopolitan worldview. But the rest of the world is not playing along. That’s at least part of the conflict between the West and radical Islam. Denying the obvious, we should note, is never a winning strategy. And denying the power of theological conviction, especially when it comes right now to the challenge of the theology represented by radical Islam, is not only not a winning strategy, it can be downright deadly.
The resilience of the abortion issue shows Americans aren't buying pro-choice rhetoric
Next, keeping in the 2016 presidential race, but shifting to the issue of abortion, that issue hit the headlines over the weekend because of appearances made by both of the major candidates, Donald Trump the Republican and Hillary Clinton the Democrat. As Janet Hook, Laura Meckler and Beth Reinhard reported for the Wall Street Journal,
“Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton plunged into general-election combat on Friday, and immediately showed voters the starkly different choices they represent in their views of abortion, women’s issues and the Supreme Court’s future.”
Now what makes this really interesting is that the race has not had much to do with abortion and many of these focal issues until now. That’s because until now, the general dynamic has been amongst the two parties in the races for their respective party nominations. But now that that picture is clear with Donald Trump as the front runner for the Republican nomination and Hillary Clinton all but declared the winner of the Democratic nomination, the general election picture becomes more focused, and now we have a genuine debate and clash between the candidates on many issues, abortion at the forefront.
Mr. Trump spoke to a conference of evangelical conservatives over the weekend and warned that Hillary Clinton would appoint radical judges to the Supreme Court and would push for federal funding of abortion. Now at this point, that’s not scare language, that’s exactly what Hillary Clinton has declared. Mrs. Clinton has said that if elected she would not only support abortion under virtually every circumstance imaginable, but she has gone further along with Senator Bernie Sanders to say that the federal government should actually pay for abortions, it should actually be subsidized and funded by the federal government and thus paid for by the taxpayer.
As if to make the point abundantly clear, Mrs. Clinton actually made her address on abortion over the weekend to a gathering of the group Planned Parenthood. And speaking to Planned Parenthood she said,
“When Donald Trump says, ‘Let’s make America great again,’ that is code for ‘Let’s take America backwards.’”
Make no mistake, she was talking about abortion. As the Wall Street Journal says,
“For Mrs. Clinton, opening her face-off with Mr. Trump at a Planned Parenthood event drew attention to her historic status as the first female nominee of a major party. The speech is part of a concerted effort by Mrs. Clinton and her campaign to rally support among women, where she enjoys an advantage, and in particular to win over Republican-leaning, suburban women who might otherwise not support a Democrat for president.”
As the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times made very, very clear, Mrs. Clinton gave a full endorsement of Planned Parenthood and a full endorsement of abortion, including the federal funding of abortion. As a matter of fact, the Wall Street Journal described her remarks as,
“A full-throated endorsement for her host, Planned Parenthood.”
Speaking to the group, Mrs. Clinton said,
“I’ve been proud to stand with Planned Parenthood for a long time. And as president, I will always have your back.”
The Journal also explains how this issue will separate the two major parties when the article states,
“Democrats are counting on that becoming a winning issue, as it was in 2012, when the president made backing for the group central to his pitch to women. Many women associate Planned Parenthood with contraception, not abortion, and many have personally used its services at one time.”
Now that’s interesting in and of itself because it tells us that for many people, Planned Parenthood isn’t actually associated with abortion, even though abortion is in so many ways it’s animating purpose. Furthermore, Planned Parenthood is one of the most radical action groups in the history of the United States when it comes to advocating for abortion under virtually every circumstance. The political alignment between the Democratic Party and Planned Parenthood is not an accident, it has to do with that political alignment over major worldview issues that began to separate Democrats from Republicans in the late 1960s, and of course it has become very stark ever since the year 1980.
The background of the abortion issue in America includes the fact that virtually no one in 1973 when the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down expected that it would continue to be a part of the American moral, much less political, conversation in the year 2016. As testimony to that I recently came across an essay that had been published in Time magazine in October 1967. That’s right, you’re talking about almost 50 years ago. The headline was this,
“The Desperate Dilemma of Abortion.”
This wasn’t just a news article, it was an essay, in other words it was published as an opinion piece in Time magazine 49 years ago.
The editors wrote,
“For a century, state laws in the U. S. have generally made abortion a crime except where necessary to save a woman’s life. The ban is enforced by religious beliefs, medical ethics, fear of social scandal.”
Now there’s a very interesting lede. This was written roughly 6 years before the Roe v. Wade decision. At the point when this essay was written, abortion was still illegal in most states of the United States and you’ll notice that the editors of Time explain that abortion was illegal not only for religious reasons, but also as defined by medical ethics. The article, however, demonstrates that the intellectual elites in the United States, as represented here by the editors of Time magazine, clearly wanted to move the country in the direction of legalizing abortion. But that’s what makes this article really, really interesting, because it reveals how that conversation took place in 1967 and you can draw a direct line to the 2016 presidential race.
One of the interesting things as you look at the article in 1967 is that American evangelicals are not even mentioned. That is to say that Time could write a massive, two full-page essay in the magazine back in 1967 and talk about the abortion issue without ever mentioning a pro-life movement—it doesn’t appear here, nor American evangelicals; they were not a part. The opposition to abortion found in this article is almost entirely Roman Catholic, and indeed the editors of Time had tried to encourage liberal Roman Catholics to get their church back in 1967 to abandon its pro-life commitment. But the other very interesting and troubling thing in this article is the fact that where Protestants are identified at all, they are identified as major proponents for the legalization of abortion. Time wrote,
“In contrast to Catholic doctrine, most other Western religions now view the mother’s life as primary. Many Jews accept abortion because they regard a fetus as an organic part of the mother and not as a living soul until its birth. The National Council of Churches has approved hospital abortions ‘when the health or life of the mother is at stake,’ and many clergymen broadly define health to mean social as well as physical wellbeing.”
Now to stop right there and observe for a moment, this tells us that when Time magazine in 1967 was talking about the Protestant—that is non-Catholic—belief on abortion, it didn’t even mention evangelicals; it went to liberal Protestants, in particular to the organization that best represents liberal Protestants, the National Council of Churches. And even here you will note that the argument was that abortion should be legal when it’s a matter of the health of the mother. But as Time says, the word “health” had been broadly defined by so many of these liberal Protestants to mean social as well as physical well-being. Last month, we are told—that was in 1967— the nation’s Episcopal bishops approved limited legal abortion,
“…with proper safeguards against abuse.”
That’s the kind of language of liberal moral evasion that led to legalized abortion in America. What in the world would it mean for abortion to be made legal, again, “with proper safeguards against abuse”?
This argument made by liberal theologians and, for that matter, the entire Time article, basically avoids the fetus, the unborn human being, as a major moral factor at all. All that’s important is the mother as an autonomous ethical agent. Something else to note here is the repeated use of the term “hospital abortions.” The implication in 1967 amongst those who are pressing for the legalization of abortion was that it was to be a medical procedure to be treated as a medical procedure and to be located in a hospital. You’ll notice how that fits in the current controversy when pro-abortionists want to argue that abortion should be able to be conducted in places that have no claim whatsoever to anything like the medical status of a hospital.
Furthermore, when it comes to hospital abortion, Time’s editors also acknowledge,
“Actually most hospital abortions are performed for admittedly illegal reasons.”
That’s to say that even back in 1967, most of the abortions that were claimed to be legal abortions in order to save the life of the mother were actually not so. There was a process of legal and medical evasion that, of course, even more importantly was a moral evasion, very deadly to the human being in the womb.
Something else is really important in this article, and that is that even back in 1967 there was an attempt to try to be evasive when it came to statistics—for instance, those that are made available in public conversation through polls, Time wrote,
“All the polls show that Americans heavily favor reform. Of 40,089 U.S. physicians who answered a survey by Modern Medicine last spring [remember this is 1967], 87% favored liberalizing the abortion laws—including 49% of the Catholics. According to the National Opinion Research Center, 71% of Americans favor legal abortion if the woman’s health is endangered, 56% in rape cases and 55% if there is a strong chance that the baby may have a serious defect. Conversely, 80% are against abortion for unwed girls and 83% against it for mothers who do not want more children—the main seekers of abortion.”
Now wait just a minute, back in 1967 you can see how the elites were pressing to change public opinion on abortion. One of the ways they tried to change it was by misrepresenting it. Here you have Time’s editors saying that the vast majority of Americans favor liberalizing abortion laws. And yet even as the paragraph came to an end, we are told by the same editors that 80 percent are against abortion for unwed mothers and 83 percent are against it from others who do not want to have more children—then the editors admitted these words, “the main seekers of abortion.”
This tells us very clearly that back in 1967, the vast majority of Americans who, we were just told at the beginning of the paragraph, who favor legalized abortion actually don’t favor legalized abortion, or didn’t in 1967, for the reason that the vast majority of abortions are actually performed. When you look at that paragraph, clearly you come to understand how the intellectual elites sought to change the moral direction of the country by telling Americans that they were for what Americans actually were overwhelmingly against.
Now you fast-forward to a recent survey on abortion that was just released by the Gallup organization, it was done and released in the context of the 2016 campaign. And here we are told that the distinction between pro-life and pro-abortion Americans is now almost even, hovering around 46 to 47 percent. But what Gallup understands is that the deep chasm that separates Americans in 2016 on the issue of abortion is certainly not just over the issue of abortion. More fundamental issues are always at stake and those more fundamental issues have everything to do with how one defines who is the inhabitant of the womb. Is it merely some kind of accidental clump of protoplasm? Is it some kind of morally insignificant entity? Or is it a human being made in the image of God who at every point of development and under every condition deserves our protection, our care and is to be received with celebration?
Now when you look at this all the way back to 1967, you understand that that deep divide in America was already there in 1967, but it apparently was nowhere near as wide as it is in 2016. I think there’s something here for Christians to understand. The resilience of the abortion issue seems to me to be testimony of the fact that Americans simply can’t get over the issue of abortion. And that’s because even as we have been hammered with the message for nearly now 50 years that abortion is just simply a woman’s right and that the inhabitant of the womb is morally insignificant, millions and millions of Americans aren’t buying that argument, and that should, at the very least, encourage us.
This debate is not over, and for Christians, even though this is undeniably a matter of the 2016 presidential race, this isn’t merely a political issue. We understand, informed by Scripture, that nothing less than life and death hangs in the balance.