The Briefing 06-16-16

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Equal opportunity becomes equal responsibility: U.S. Senate votes for women in the draft

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A utilitarian worldview undergirds the most alarming developments in bioethics

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The tragic death of Prince highlights importance of hearing "no" from those who care

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The Briefing

June 16, 2016

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

It’s Thursday, June 16, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Equal opportunity becomes equal responsibility: U.S. Senate votes for women in the draft

The great gender revolution in America reached a milestone this week, but a milestone that has largely escaped the public attention. As Jennifer Steinhauer of the New York Times reported yesterday,

“In the latest and perhaps decisive battle over the role of women in the military, Congress is embroiled in an increasingly intense debate over whether they should have to register for the draft when they turn 18.”

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But as you look at this unfolding debate described here as “increasingly intense,” it is clear that it has already turned a major corner because, as the New York Times reports,

“On Tuesday, the Senate approved an expansive military policy bill that would for the first time require young women to register for the draft.”

We’re also told that,

“Under the Senate bill passed on Tuesday, women turning 18 on or after Jan. 1, 2018, would be forced to register for Selective Service, as men must do now. Failure to register could result in the loss of various forms of federal aid, including Pell grants, a penalty that men already face. Because the policy would not apply to women who turned 18 before 2018, it would not affect current aid arrangements.”

This news story deserves far more attention than it has received today because it is actually representing a very significant moral shift, a shift in the way America looks not only at young men, but at young women. And there is a logic that is being revealed here that should have our very close attention. The logic is this: the article in the New York Times—articles similarly in the Washington Post and elsewhere—have made clear that the logic behind the move undertaken by the Senate is that this is the logical next step, indeed, the inevitable and necessary next step, once the military opened all combat positions to women on the same basis as men. That’s the real revolution we are facing here. It’s a revolution that insists that there are no essential differences between men and women, especially when it comes to something that is described as equality of service or equality of opportunity.

But this leads to a Christian reconsideration of the use of the word “equality.” What exactly would this mean? For example, we can separate three different issues here: equality of opportunity, equality of responsibility, and equality of ability. We should note that even those who have been behind the effort to try to include women in all positions in the military, even the advocates of what has been described as full inclusion and equal opportunity, have not argued for equality of ability.

As a matter of fact, news stories throughout the mainstream media have affirmed the fact that most women are not capable of meeting the military strength standards and the physical requirements that are associated with many forward-placed combat positions, especially this seems to be true with relation to special units in the military. And yet Ashton Carter, the United States Secretary of Defense, announced months ago that all positions, including all combat positions, would be fully open to women. And of course, this was widely celebrated not only within the Obama administration, but within the political left.

But as this New York Times story and as the Senate action both make clear, this is not a logic that is found only on the political left. That’s why even the New York Times found it very interesting to note that many senior Republicans also backed the measure. We asked the question, why? And the answer is simple. Once you begin to buy into this logic, it’s very hard to apply the brakes.

We’ve been looking at three different aspects of equality. Equality of ability is something that is not even claimed by those who are the proponents of this policy. Instead, concession is made to reality, and that is the fact that most women will not qualify for many of the physical standards. But that also gets to the fact that, by the way, most young men in America do not currently meet those standards either. Nevertheless, the average in terms of the likelihood of meeting those standards is remarkably different between men and women. And yet the United States military has insisted that it will not lower standards in order to meet the requirements for the full inclusion and equality of women. Several in Congress have also raised the concern that that’s simply not going to be possible, and thus in order to reach the quotas that will necessarily come that fit in terms of the logic and mentality of government writ large in the military particularly, there’s going to be an almost inevitable lowering of those standards.

The second equality is equality of opportunity. Here the argument has been made that women are simply being discriminated against if they are not allowed into all combat positions on the same basis as men. The argument has been made that rising within the highest ranks of the American military officer corps has been historically tied to combat experience. If women do not have that same combat experience and exposure then they are going to be discriminated against in terms of reaching those highest ranks of the officers.

But then we need to note equality of responsibility. Here’s where the draft issue really comes into play. Once you make the argument that there must be an equality of opportunity, you really are in no position to argue that there shouldn’t be an equality of responsibility. Now let’s make this very clear. Just looking at men in the military, even as young men, when they turn 18, are legally required to register for selective service, the reality is that once a young man enters the military, currently all of them by volunteer entry, they cannot limit themselves to where they will be deployed. Once a young man enters into the military, he comes under that military authority and can be deployed anywhere the military in terms of his superior officers may send him.

Now those who are arguing for the equal opportunity of women for that equality of opportunity were arguing that young women must have the same opportunities as young men. But what about the same responsibilities? Even when it was declared by the United States Defense Department that all combat positions were going to be equally open to women, the Secretary of Defense did not make clear at that time that that inevitably would mean that young women in the military could be involuntarily assigned to forward combat positions. But anyone familiar with the military would know that that was automatically and necessarily so. Now it comes down to the equality of responsibility for the draft and selective service. The way this logic works is made very clear in the New York Times article, quoting Nora Bensahel, who is a military policy analyst at American University’s School of International Service, she said, I quote,

“I think the change is inevitable, whether in this debate or through the courts. It just seems that now that you have women allowed to serve in any position in the military, there is no logical basis to say women should not be drafted.”

So there you see it. Even as what was announced was what might be described as equality of opportunity, it has very quickly become equality of responsibility. A matter of choice has now been redefined as a matter of responsibility and no choice. Let’s be clear, the law that was adopted by the Senate this week will require all young women when they turn 18 to register for the selective service on the same basis as young men.

This is where the Christian biblical worldview reminds us that equality is not always the right category to apply. Certainly when it comes to equality of status, being made in the image of God, the Scripture about that is abundantly clear. But there are essential differences between men and women that are also made clear and even celebrated in Scripture as a part of the glory of God in creation. And when you look at many of those issues, equality is just not a proper category at all.

But we also need to note that when equality is raised to this kind of absolute cultural priority, it is quickly transformed from equality of opportunity to an equality of responsibility and even of obligation. That’s exactly what we see reflected in this. This is where we also see a great deal of the inconsistency of the modern confused American mind. So you’ll have many people, including in this case many Republican Senators, who have said it’s just right that equality of opportunity must mean equality of responsibility, and thus they lent their political support to the bill that was adopted on Tuesday. But we also need to note that even many of those, if not most, would argue that in the case for example of the sinking of a ship, the principle that women and children should be protected first should still pertain. But how can that be true if equality of ability equals equality of opportunity, which equals equality of responsibility?

Here we see that the issue of equality is not really the most fitting category at all. But once a society raises the issue of equality above everything else, there is a logic that becomes absolutely necessary to that entire societal logic. One final thought on this matter: even as so many of the Americans who are arguing that this decision undertaken by the Senate was right, even if inevitable, the fact is that most of them are able to make that judgment from the safe situation of the reality that they really do not fear that their own daughters or perhaps granddaughters will be drafted and assigned a forward combat position. But we need to note that this is exactly how cultural revolutions happen. They happen in terms of legislation driven by a logic, the ultimate consequences of which are not fully understood or even admitted at the time. The United States Senate this week has voted in order to adopt a policy that young women are to be available for the draft on the same basis as young men beginning in the year 2018. This is a far larger story than the media has yet acknowledged. It’s a far larger story than the proponents of this bill are likely to want you to recognize.

A utilitarian worldview undergirds the most alarming developments in bioethics

Next, when it comes to human dignity and to the sanctity of human life, two big articles on bioethics that demand our attention: first, yesterday the Wall Street Journal ran an article with the headline,

“India tightens screws on human organ trade.”

As we are told in the Wall Street Journal, earlier this month a woman marched into a police station in India’s capital to file a domestic abuse complaint and then made another allegation that her husband was involved in illegal organ trafficking. Now the background to this article is the fact that there is actually a huge black market in the illegal trade for donor organs, indeed human organs. Police in India said that the accusation made by the woman has sparked a probe that has yielded at least 12 arrests as of this week. Authorities said they had uncovered,

“A complex nationwide network that was illegally trading in kidneys.”

Now the morality of this should be something that comes to our attention pretty readily. We’re talking about people who are being taken advantage of by offer of the opportunity to make far more money than they can make in any other arena of life, desperate people who are likely to have desperate needs, they are presented with the opportunity to make this money if they will sell one of their own organs. Now at this point, there are some people who would say, well, what’s wrong with that? After all, these organs are worth a very great deal in terms of transplant. If they are worth that kind of money, why shouldn’t people be able to sell their own organs if it is their own free choice? But that’s the issue. The reality of the illegal organ trade demonstrates that the people who are in the position of being so desperate as to sell their own organs are not people who can legitimately be understood to have given consent; they’re not really doing so out of a free decision but rather out of economic necessity, even perhaps desperation.

The inequities are also made clear in the fact that these donors were given $6,000 to sell their kidneys, meanwhile, the recipients paid more than $37,000 for the same organs. This demonstrates the black market in terms of how it operates, and you have two kinds of desperation that are involved here. On the one hand, you have the desperation of demand. You have the fact that there are people who need these donor organs and are willing to pay for them, even if that means making an illegal transaction. But then you also have the desperation of supply, you have the fact that people are in such a desperate situation that at least some of them, perhaps thousands of them, will sell their own organs in order to gain even what they know will be income from the black market. The Wall Street Journal explains quite simply,

“Most countries prohibit organ selling, in part because of fears the poor and sick will be exploited by unscrupulous brokers.”

How big a market is there in human organs worldwide? The Journal tells us that an estimated 2,000 citizens in India sell a kidney every year, that according to the Voluntary Health Association of India, a public health group there. The nations of Pakistan, the Philippines, and Egypt are also understood to have very large black markets for kidneys. At this point it’s important to note that the Christian worldview does not prohibit organ donation or organ transplantation, not so long as the organs are received and the transactions are conducted in a way that is absolutely ethical and legitimate, without any kind of coercion. Donor organs from those who are killed in accidents are particularly free of that kind of moral complication, but in many parts of the world, a prejudice against donating organs either for oneself or one’s loved one comes into play in such a way that the black market seizes the opportunity to provide what otherwise would not be available.

The Christian biblical worldview, by the way, would prohibit the desecration of the human body after death. But that does not include the donation of a kidney or another organ that might be available to save yet another life. That is not the desecration of a body, that is the gift of life from someone whose life has come to a natural end.

By the way, there’s another ethical complication here, and this applies even in the United States and other Western nations. Here we have to watch the fact that some medical authorities are trying to redefine death or the moment of death in order to obtain more donor organs. This could be an issue of vast compromise in terms of bioethics if indeed death is redefined simply in order to obtain more organs.

The second article comes from China, and it’s published in the New York Times. Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports,

“Six years ago, Wang Huanming was paralyzed from the neck down after being injured wrestling with a friend. Today, he hopes he has found the answer to walking again: a new body for his head.”

This Chinese man, he’s 62 years old,

“Is one of several people in China who have volunteered for a body transplant at a hospital in the northern Chinese city.”

Tatlow goes on to explain the idea for a body transplant is the kind of thinking that has experts around the world alarmed at how far China is pushing the ethical and practical limits of science. Such a transplant is impossible, according to the New York Times, at least for now, citing leading doctors and experts, including some in China,

“Who point to the difficulty of connecting nerves in the spinal cord. Failure would mean the death of the patient.”

The big thing to note here is that China has become the Wild, Wild West of organ experimentation and transplantation. And in terms of bioethics, China is becoming increasingly the outlaw nation. All over the world medical ethicists are increasingly concerned about what is going on in China where the government does not exercise even the kind of oversight found in the United States and European nations. The idea of a full body transplant deservedly sounds like something out of science fiction, but as this article in the New York Times makes clear, that doesn’t mean that it’s not going to be attempted in China, as horrific as it sounds. But the most important aspect of this article in the New York Times is the acknowledgment of worldview made by Didi Kirsten Tatlow in the article. She writes, quote,

“Critics attribute such medical experimentation in China to national ambition, generous state funding, a utilitarian worldview that prioritizes results, and a lack of transparency and accountability to the outside world.”

Let’s consider the importance of those words, “a utilitarian worldview.” Now what exactly does that mean? Interestingly enough, a utilitarian worldview is widely celebrated by secular elites in the United States. Utilitarianism is a philosophy and worldview that tells us that what is ethical is what works. In other words, this is often described as the ends justifying the means. Utilitarianism is actually based on a sophisticated philosophy that is grounded in what is called pragmatism—again, it all comes down to results. This worldview was established by William James, one of the most influential American philosophers of the last century, when he said that truth “is what happens to an idea.”

That tells us that this worldview is the repudiation of the biblical Christian worldview, which tells us that right and wrong are matters of objective reality. Now we are told that in China this has become a matter of national priority, a utilitarian worldview that prioritizes results ends up replacing an ethic of right and wrong based in any objective criteria. We’re being told here that Chinese doctors and scientists are now willing to undertake this kind of horrific experimentation precisely because they prioritize results, and results are all they are concerned about.

Now you’ll also note that China has been on the forefront of bioethical concern for a long time. For one thing, it returns us to the issue of donated organs, because in China it is widely acknowledged that the state itself—that is, the government—actually profits through the sale of human organs. And making the situation even worse, those organs are often taken from executed prisoners. This means that the Chinese government actually has a financial incentive to execute people in order to profit by the sale of their organs.

All these stories remind us of the fact that the closer you get to the dignity of human life, the higher the stakes become, even in terms of the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal understanding that something very significant in terms of the value of human life is at the forefront in these controversies from India and China. But we also need to note, and note very carefully, that when an objective morality of right and wrong is abandoned, inevitably something like pragmatism and utilitarianism is all that will come in to play. The argument will be made that the ends do justify the means. A secularizing society is increasingly unable, or perhaps even unwilling, to reject that argument.

The tragic death of Prince highlights importance of hearing "no" from those who care

Finally, another important moral front and an important headline, this one in USA Today recently by Maria Puente. The headline has to do with the death of Prince and the reality of drug use. She asked the question,

“As the old rock song, Deja Vu, goes, ‘We have all been here before.’

“Once again,” she writes, “the headlines are full of the unbearable news of another superstar’s drug overdose. Once again, experts on addiction are rushing to use a celebrity death to draw down on the failures of the culture, law enforcement and the medical system to prevent another talented artist from ending up in an early grave due to substance addiction.”

The most interesting moral point in terms of this article in USA Today is the fact that so many celebrities seem to fall prey to addiction, and even to fatal addictions, largely because they are able to, they are able to afford access to the addictive substances, and they are often able to afford the ability to be in seclusion so that their addictions are not so readily observed as they might be in others.

But another major moral point is made in this article by Maria Puente. She argues that one of the reasons why celebrities seem to be so susceptible to this kind of addiction, even deadly addictions, is because these stars rarely hear the word “no.” The USA Today article goes on to list a roster of so many in Hollywood and beyond who have died of substance addictions and then it laments the fact that there is really very little surprise when yet another name is so tragically added to this list.

But Christians looking at this need to understand that behind all the issues of substance abuse and addiction is the larger issue raised by this article, and that is the danger of never being told “no.” It turns out that human beings who are never told no are themselves in a very vulnerable moral position. There is a susceptibility that comes not only to celebrities but to anyone man, woman, and child who is not told “no” when “no” needs to be the word. Being outside moral scrutiny and outside moral limits is a very dangerous place to be. As this article makes clear, it can often be not only dangerous, but downright deadly. In the Ten Commandments we are given the evidence of the fact that God has told us both, we shall do these things and we shall not do others. Our Creator loves us enough to address himself to sinful humanity and say “no.” Whether we hear that “no,” as it turns out, as the Bible makes clear, is a matter of life and death.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing