December 5, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, December 5, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Moral outrage over currency? Bank of England apologizes for including animal product in new £5 note
Every consistent moral worldview involves both moral approval and moral disapproval. The question is, what is being approved and what is being disapproved? But we also have to recognize that given the complexity of issues and the hierarchy of their importance, we also have a spectrum of approval and disapproval going all the way from approval that’s downright celebration to disapproval that takes the form of outrage. The question is, what brings about that kind of outrage? This takes us to a story in the New York Times recently, the headline,
“Britain’s New £5 Note isn’t Completely Meat Free.”Show Full Transcript
This has to do with England where the basic currency is the pound and the Bank of England’s announcement that it has released a new 5 pound note. As the New York Times tells us,
“The [new] polymer bills were stronger, safer and better for the environment. One thing they are not, it turns out, is meat-free.”
The New York Times tells us,
“To the dismay of vegans and vegetarians across Britain, the Bank of England has confirmed that tallow was used in the base of the new notes, worth about $6.25.”
The Times feels that it has to explain this so it says,
“If you’re wondering how many people would actually eat a bank note — as many did — the answer appears to be a lot: In promoting the new notes this year, the Bank of England said that 5,364 bills had to be replaced in 2015 because they had been chewed or eaten.”
The Bank of England came clean in a public statement about the fact that there is some animal byproduct in what’s defined as the substrate of the notes themselves. The bank said,
“There is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the polymer £5 notes.”
The Times then tells us that the anger was not just abundant, but also swift. By 4:00 p.m. British time last Wednesday, a petition calling on the Bank of England to make a vegan-friendly banknote had been released and had gained 100,000 signatures. The Times does acknowledge that not all British citizens were sympathetic to the concern. They cite one man known as Chris who on Twitter said,
“Even if I was a vegetarian I still wouldn’t eat a five pound note. Don’t know what all the fuss is about. Have a carrot.”
But the Times insists this is a genuine moral issue. I quote,
“Critics of the new note pointed out that the issue was about much more than what people choose to eat. Although some people are vegan or vegetarian for health reasons, or because a meat-free diet suits them best, others are also concerned about animal welfare.”
The new notes represent something of a problem, we are told, for Hindus because cows are considered sacred in Hinduism and eating beef is prohibited. Lynn Elliott, identified as the Chief Executive of the Vegetarian Society in Britain, said,
“There’s a choice issue that comes into it. If you go into the sofa shop, you don’t have to pick the leather one, you can pick the fabric one. But this is the currency of the land, so you don’t really have a choice.”
She went on to say that,
“When you’re trying to live a life that avoids harming animals using a currency that includes a product derived from them makes that goal more difficult.”
By the end of last week, the Bank of England was backpedaling, suggesting that it will do something to respond to the moral outrage about the fact that there is some trace of tallow in the polymer substrate of the new bill. To file in the ‘I didn’t know this before and probably do not need to know it now’ category, the New York Times also tells us that the,
“Guinness [beer company] went vegan last year after coming under fire for using isinglass, a gelatinlike substance derived from dried fish bladders.”
The New York Times—and yes this is the New York Times—went on to report that,
“The new £5 note was unveiled in June and was said to be made from polymer that would allow it to last at least 2.5 times as long as its cotton-paper predecessor. The Bank of England said the notes were safer to chew, and less likely to be destroyed by toddlers or pets.”
Now to be clear from a Christian worldview perspective, I don’t believe it’s necessary to take a position in this controversy whatsoever except to note this: we’re looking at the moral outrage that reached all the way across the Atlantic to the pages of the New York Times in a news story that is clearly intended to be taken with moral seriousness.
From a Christian worldview perspective, there’s no reason to take one decided position on this issue or the other. The issue is this: what’s revealed is the fact that here you have a moral response that can only be described as outrage and a level of moral outrage over this issue that has reached all the way across the Atlantic to the pages of the New York Times that ran a serious news story that is clearly intended to be taken with moral seriousness. What we confront here is moral outrage, a moral outrage that comes down to the Bank of England’s acknowledgment that there is a trace of tallow in the polymer pellets used in the base substrate of the new, supposedly polyester 5 pound banknotes.
By our outrage we reveal ourselves: France bans commercial showing happy children with Down syndrome
Now I ask you for just a moment to hold that article in suspension in order that I can draw our attention to another, this one from the Wall Street Journal.
As we went into the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reports a headline,
“France’s War on Anti-Abortion Speech.”
Here’s how the article begins,
“Abortion is legal in most of Europe, but its proponents are bent on suppressing efforts to change the minds of mothers considering it. Witness France’s ban on a television commercial showing happy children with Down Syndrome (DS).”
The Wall Street Journal tells us that the commercials were intended to commemorate World Down Syndrome Day and they showed cheerful children with Down syndrome addressing a mother considering abortion with messages such as,
“Dear future mom, don’t be afraid. Your child will be able to do many things. He’ll be able to hug you. He’ll be able to run toward you. He’ll be able to speak and tell you he loves you.”
But the Wall Street Journal goes on to say that France’s High Audiovisual Council removed the commercial from air earlier this year and in November, the Council of State, which is France’s highest administrative court, upheld that ban since in the explanation about the Council and the Council of State,
“The clip could ‘disturb the conscience’ of French women who had aborted DS fetuses.”
The Wall Street Journal concludes,
“Advocates say the move hampers efforts to reverse the high rate of DS terminations. Ninety-six percent of DS pregnancies are terminated in France.”
The Journal concludes,
“Setting aside the abortion politics, the Council’s reasoning is so broad that potentially any TV advocacy could be chilled. File this under the illiberalism of self-proclaimed liberals.”
You put these two stories together and what unites them is a pattern of moral outrage. On the one hand, the New York Times article tells us about moral outrage when the Bank of England admits in public that it had included some kind of pellets involving animal tallow that have been involved in the polymer substrate of the new 5 pound note. On the other hand, you have outrage coming from what’s identified as the French High Audiovisual Council and now the French Council of State that there would dare to be on French television a message insinuating the humanity of children with Down syndrome.
By our outrage we reveal ourselves and this is one of the most revealing stories I have seen in a very, very long time. This article from France is one of the most morally devastating acknowledgments of the secularization of our society and the encroachments of the culture of death that I have seen in a very long time.
The clearest moral outrage yet in the world press concerning this release from France appeared in the Washington Post, and it was written by George F. Will. He wrote,
“The word ‘inappropriate’ is increasingly used inappropriately. It is useful to describe departures from good manners and other social norms, such as wearing white after Labor Day and using the salad fork with the entree. But the adjective has become a splatter of verbal fudge, a weasel word falsely suggesting measured seriousness. Its misty imprecision does not disguise but advertises the user’s moral obtuseness.”
He then continues,
“A French court has demonstrated how ‘inappropriate’ can be an all-purpose device of intellectual evasion and moral cowardice. The court said it is inappropriate to do something that might disturb people who killed their unborn babies for reasons that were, shall we say, inappropriate.”
Will goes on to describe that,
“Prenatal genetic testing enables pregnant women to be apprised of a variety of problems with their unborn babies, including Down syndrome.”
He goes on to say that,
“Down syndrome, although not common, is among the most common congenital anomalies at 49.7 per 100,000 births.”
He goes on to say that now in the United States,
“Approximately 90 percent of instances when prenatal genetic testing reveals Down syndrome, the baby is aborted.”
But then Will goes on to describe those who are also now diagnosed as having the likelihood of “cleft lips or palates, which occur in 72.6 per 100,000 births, also can be diagnosed in utero and sometimes are the reason a baby is aborted.”
Will then went on to write that more than 7 million people have already seen the video online. He then writes,
“The French state is not happy about this. The court has ruled that the video is — wait for it — ‘inappropriate’ for French television. The court upheld a ruling in which the French Broadcasting Council had banned the video as a commercial.”
That different life choice, as the French Council described it, we simply have to insert here is a choice to abort the unborn child simply because that child is likely to be affected by Down Syndrome. Perceptively, George Will writes,
“So, what happens on campuses does not stay on campuses. There, in many nations, sensitivity bureaucracies have been enforcing the relatively new entitlement to be shielded from whatever might disturb, even inappropriate jokes. And now this rapidly metastasizing right has come to this: A video that accurately communicates a truthful proposition — that Down syndrome people can be happy and give happiness — should be suppressed because some people might become ambivalent, or morally queasy, about having chosen to extinguish such lives.
“This,” he writes, “is why the video giving facts about Down syndrome people is so subversive of the flaccid consensus among those who say aborting a baby is of no more moral significance than removing a tumor from a stomach. Pictures persuade. Today’s improved prenatal sonograms make graphic the fact that the moving fingers and beating heart are not mere ‘fetal material.’ They are a baby.”
Will’s article is so important that the conclusion deserves to be read in full. He wrote,
“The court has said, in effect, that the lives of Down syndrome people — and by inescapable implication, the lives of many other disabled people — matter less than the serenity of people who have acted on one or more of three vicious principles: That the lives of the disabled are not worth living. Or that the lives of the disabled are of negligible value next to the desire of parents to have a child who has no special, meaning inconvenient, needs. Or that government should suppress the voices of Down syndrome children in order to guarantee other people’s right not to be disturbed by reminders that they have made lethal choices on the basis of one or both of the first two inappropriate principles.”
Will italicizes ‘inappropriate’ to show just how morally adequate that language is. From a Christian worldview perspective, the big issue here is moral outrage. And what we’re looking at in George Will’s article is a moral argument that is clear and a moral argument that is compelling and a moral argument that rightly conveys moral outrage, outrage over the implicit—indeed, given the explicit denial and subversion of the sanctity of human life of not only children, even unborn babies with Down syndrome, but of all people with disabilities.
Will’s article marked by this kind of moral outrage, we also need to note, was expressed entirely in terms of moral principle. He did not make it personal at all. But here I simply have to note that for George Will this is a very personal issue. He has written so warmly and so movingly about his own love for his son, Jonathan Frederick Will, who was born in 1972 with Down syndrome.
The question for Christians is whether or not every single one of us will stand with equal outrage when it comes to any assault upon the disabled, or in this case specifically in terms of those with Down syndrome. In other words, it shouldn’t be left to the parents of those with Down syndrome children to defend the humanity of their own children. That defense is entirely understandable and laudable, but every single Christian needs to stand with equal outrage in terms of this kind of story that has come to us in recent days from France.
You'll know them by their outrage: Fury over Texas requiring fetal remains be treated as human remains
But next, coming back to the United States, another story that reveals a pattern of moral outrage. In this case, again, an article in the New York Times, this one last Friday, the headline of the article by Lizette Alvarez,
“Texas Again Seeks to Place Restrictions on Abortions.”
“Despite losing a milestone abortion case at the United States Supreme Court this past summer, Texas threw down another stumbling block this week.”
Now just note that lead sentence.
“Texas [has thrown] down another stumbling block this week.”
What could that possibly be? Alvarez writes,
“It will require facilities that provide abortions to pay for the cremation or burial of fetal remains, rather than dispose of them as biological medical waste.”
Alvarez then says,
“It is the latest attempt by abortion opponents to make it more burdensome for women to get abortions — by creating new rules and laws that make it more difficult for providers to stay in business. In finalizing its rule on Monday [of last week], Texas joined at least three other states — Arkansas, Louisiana and Indiana — that have called for the burial or cremation of aborted fetal remains.”
In the section of the article that I found most disturbing, you read, Alvarez writes,
“But supporters of the new rules said that fetal remains and tissue are the same as human remains and tissue. They are no different and deserve to be given a dignified resting place.”
Now let’s take that apart for just a moment. This is a reporter from the New York Times. The article was clearly read by an editor from the New York Times. It shows up in the print edition and online at the New York Times. Let me go back to that sentence,
“But supporters of the new rules said that fetal remains and tissue are the same as human remains and tissue. They are no different and deserve to be given a dignified resting place.”
Let me just ask the question, what else could they possibly be? How can that be a controversial assertion? How can human fetal remains and tissue be anything other than human remains and tissue? But here you have the absolute moral insanity of the pro-abortion worldview. And to be quite candid, here you have the complicity of the mainstream media in basically arguing on behalf of abortion by making it appear that it’s somehow a controversial statement made by some kind of political extreme that fetal remains are human remains.
Noting this, Kevin D. Williamson, writing at National Review calls this,
“The Golden Age of Mass Delusion.”
He says about the controversy,
“The underlying question here, which properly understood isn’t a question at all, has to do with abortion, and what it is that an abortion does. The biological answer to that question is straightforward: An abortion is a procedure in which a physician or another party kills a living human organism, either prior to birth or in the course of inducing a birth.”
Williamson then reveals his own rightful moral outrage when he writes,
“The abortion ethic is based on a lie: that the procedure involves nothing more than the elimination of a meaningless clump of cells. That lie is bound up in a nest of lies of which it is one particularly poisonous constituent, all of which are aimed at denying the relationship between sex and procreation or at denying the deep and wide-ranging consequences of attempting to disrupt that relationship.”
“And that larger tangle of lies is itself only a constituent of an even more sprawling mess of confusion and deceit holding that men and women are interchangeable social units, that motherhood and fatherhood are social fictions that were dreamt up rather than evolved, and that you, Sunshine, and your desires are the very center of this universe.”
He then writes,
“The dead baby in the surgical tray makes all that nonsense rather hard to sustain.”
But again, we’re looking at two competing forms of moral outrage: pro-abortionists who are absolutely outraged that Texas would declare that fetal remains are of moral significance, and the moral outrage coming from those who believe in the sanctity of human life who are outraged that anyone could come up with an argument so subversive of human dignity. The point here to be understood from a worldview perspective is that every sane person is at some point outraged. But the question is, what brings about that outrage?
One of our central goals as Christians in terms of faithfulness is to make certain that we are outraged by the right kinds of issues, by the right kind of headlines, by the right kind of arguments and realities. And we must also seek to be outraged in proper proportion. A person who is never morally outraged, given the realities of this day, is a person who simply doesn’t operate with any kind of moral seriousness or intellectual coherence. A person who is outraged by the wrong things reveals a worldview that is fatally flawed at its very center.
The pro-abortion group NARAL Pro-choice Texas says that the Texas law is a “‘transparent’ attempt to burden abortionists.”
But as Williamson says,
“Yes, the Texas rule is transparent: It is a transparent attempt to force Texans to face reality.”
“Our children are not garbage. Not the living ones, and not the dead, as resolute as their parents may be in treating them as though they were. Reality will not be denied. Not for very long. Not in Texas. Not anywhere.”
Moral outrage reveals the heart of the one who exhibits the moral response, but it also reveals the contours of the worldview. Are we outraged by trace elements of some kind of meat product that shows up in a bank note, or are we outraged by a French government that denies a pro-life message concerning children with Down syndrome simply because it might unsettle the consciences of women who, in the words of the French Council, made a different life choice? Are we outraged by a proposed law in Texas that requires abortion clinics to treat fetal tissue as human tissue, or are we outraged by the fact that human beings are being murdered prenatally in these clinics and elsewhere across this country? Perhaps, to put it in biblical language, we will know them by their outrage. But if they reveal themselves by their outrage, so, dear brothers and sisters, do we.