January 17, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, January 17, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Feminism and abortion: Under pressure, Women's March releases statement excluding pro-life women
The fact that abortion is the central article if not the only article of the feminist creed was made very clear in a controversy that broke just late yesterday. As Alexandra DeSanctis reported for National Review,
“The Women’s March on Washington has removed the pro-life group New Wave Feminists from its list of official event sponsors after backlash from feminists arguing that pro-life women are not welcome in the feminist movement.”Show Full Transcript
The event itself underscores what’s taking place this week in Washington D.C., and what’s taking place points ultimately to the inauguration of the 45th President of the United States on Friday. But between here and there and associated with all the events of the ceremonial inauguration will also be events of protest, perhaps especially so this year. And this year we’re looking at the fact that this march, known as the Women’s March on Washington, has become a focal point of a great deal of anti-Trump sentiment, but it’s also a feminist statement. But it’s not going to include all feminists, only those feminists who clearly and publicly adhere to the first article, the only article, of the feminist creed. And that is, “Thou shalt not ever question a woman’s right to abortion,” much less speak up for the sanctity of human life, or you are written out as a feminist.
This kind of ideological lockstep we’ve already seen, just in recent months, coming from the LGBT movement. During the 2016 presidential campaign, one and only one major figure in California’s Silicon Valley backed the candidacy of Donald Trump. That was Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal, one of the major entrepreneurial forces in Silicon Valley. He’s also openly gay. But after Donald Trump was elected president, some of the LGBT backlash fell not just on Trump but on Peter Thiel as well. Some significant national LGBT activists were asking openly whether or not Peter Thiel should actually be considered gay at all. Why? Well it has nothing to do with his sexuality; it has everything to do with his ideology. The fact that he had backed Donald Trump was enough for some gay activists to say he’s really not gay because he doesn’t evidently “think” gay. It’s not enough to be gay sexually. You have to be gay ideologically.
And when it comes feminism, as we’ve seen in the controversy that broke out late yesterday, it’s not enough to be a feminist in any classical sense. One has to be a pro-abortion feminist. Now just one historic footnote here, many of the most active and influential early feminists such as Susan B. Anthony were not only not pro-abortion, they were avidly against abortion. Many of these early so-called first wave feminists understood that abortion is the revenge of the male against the female because of her reproductive capacity. In this light, and it’s a proper light, abortion is often understood to be violence inflicted upon women by men who do not want to take responsibility for their offspring. But modern feminism as we know it, especially since the 1960s, modern ideological feminism has been avowedly pro-abortion all the way, without any compromise. And that became abundantly clear in the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, which was brought about largely by feminist legal activism, demanding that equality for women and men would allow women to be as unencumbered by the threat—that was actually one of the words used—of pregnancy as would be men. The logic of the pro-abortion movement is that abortion is central to the freedom of women, and the baby is a non-entity.
Indicating this feminist ideological uniformity yesterday, the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington apologized publicly for having made the horrible mistake of even accidentally including a pro-life feminist group in the march. In the online statement the organizers said,
“The Women’s March’s platform is pro-choice and that has been our stance from day one. We want to assure all of our partners, as well as participants, that we are pro-choice as clearly stated in our Unity Principles. We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions. The anti-choice organization in question is not a partner of the Women’s March on Washington. We apologize for this error.”
In the infamous show trials of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin, the accused and convicted would follow a particular ritual of having to go before the Soviet people and make very highly constructed apologies, public apologies that had often times, we now know, been written by Joseph Stalin himself. The apology we saw appended to this online statement yesterday reminds me of nothing more and nothing less than these Stalinish show trials. The organizers of the Women’s March on Washington have here apologized to all of their participants and partners for having made the mistake of including even by accident this pro-life group.
But before leaving this apology statement, we also need to take a closer look and recognize why the organizers say in this case that the march was organized in the first place. They said,
“We look forward to marching on behalf of individuals who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions.”
Notice that classical feminism could not recognize anything that was stated in that sentence. This is ideological feminism, and the march is now reduced to individuals. And how are they defined? Not classically in feminist terms, but in abortion terms, rather as individuals “who share the view that women deserve the right to make their own reproductive decisions.”
This raises another interesting point that comes about in terms of this headline. We’ve noticed on American college and university campuses that the current zeitgeist is towards what’s called intersectionality. That’s the left’s new phrase for saying that identity politics can include many overlaying issues of identity, thus intersectionality. You can layer together all of your different issues of identity politics and come up with your own composite, your own intersectional slice. But intersectionality can evidently only go so far. Roxane Gay also on Twitter wrote this,
“Intersectional feminism does not include a pro-life agenda. That’s not how it works! The right to choose is a fundamental part of feminism.”
Once again, we come back to that central, irreducible article of feminism. It’s reproductive choice or, in this case, the right to choose, otherwise known as the right as it is claimed to abort the unborn child in one’s womb.
The controversy was in one sense sparked by Emma Green at The Atlantic for writing the article about the fact that the pro-life feminist group was going to be included in the March. The backlash came from figures, including Jessica Valenti, writing at The Guardian.
As National Review points out, she quickly argued in The Guardian that pro-life women should be excluded from the March and from the feminist movement for that matter, as National Review says, “because their opposition to abortion makes it impossible for them to be authentic feminists.”
Once again, we get this ideological purity. At 2:00 p.m. yesterday, Valenti posted on Twitter,
“Horrified that the @womensmarch has partnered w/an anti-choice org. Plse reconsider – inclusivity is not about bolstering those who harm us.”
A matter of just a few minutes later, she wrote,
“We need to stop the myth that feminism is simply ‘anything a woman does.’ Feminism is a movement for justice – abortion access is central.”
Well, central indeed. By late yesterday afternoon, the organizers of the Washington March had fallen on their sword. They had offered their public apology, and they asked all pro-abortion friends to join them in the March and to please, please, please forget the controversy yesterday had ever taken place.
Theological confusion: Scottish Episcopal Church allows anti-Christian reading from the Koran
Next we turn to Scotland in a controversy in the Scottish Episcopal Church, that’s the Anglican Communion there in Scotland. As the BBC reports,
“The head of the Scottish Episcopal Church says the Church is ‘deeply distressed’ at the offence caused by the reading of a passage from the Koran in a Glasgow cathedral. The comments of the Church Primus, the Most Rev David Chillingworth, follow criticism that Islamic verses were read during an Epiphany service” at St. Mary’s Cathedral.
We’re also told that,
“Police are investigating offensive online messages aimed at the church.”
The head of the church, known as the Primus, “who is also Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, said the church wanted to bring together people involved in interfaith relations.”
In an online statement, the head of the church said that,
“The decisions which have led to the situation in St Mary’s Cathedral are a matter for the provost and the cathedral community but the Scottish Episcopal Church is deeply distressed at the widespread offence which has been caused. We also deeply regret the widespread abuse which has been received by the cathedral community.”
“In response to what has happened at the cathedral, the Scottish Episcopal Church will bring together all those who are involved in the development of interfaith relations.”
That’s the typical language you might expect from a church bureaucrat who has been caught with a red hot situation. But the BBC, writing from a basically secular perspective, doesn’t actually understand the scale of what’s at stake in this controversy, because it wasn’t just as if you could say just that reading from the Koran took place in a Scottish Episcopal Church, much less the Cathedral there in Glasgow. It is in particular the passage from the Koran that was read.
It should be absolutely inconceivable that any Christian church would allow the reading of any non-Christian Scripture in its worship service. That immediately signals that this is a church that has completely lost its theological bearings. But what we’re also noticing here is the broad inclusivity of the modern post-Christian movement represented in what can only be described as a modern post-Christian church. But one other aspect of this story is the abject ignorance of Islam that is reflected on the part of those who claim to have undertaken this action, allowing this reading of the Koran in the Cathedral because of their concern to include Islam. But those who are arguing for the inclusion seem to be those who know so very little about Islam itself and even about the text that was read.
The service was of course an Epiphany service familiar in terms of those who follow the Christian liturgical calendar, and the reading that was chosen from the Koran was a reading from Surah 19. In that passage from the Koran, it is indeed affirmed that Jesus Christ was born of the Virgin Mary. The story is reconfigured in the Koran, but it is clearly affirmed that Jesus was born of a virgin. But that very same reading explicitly denies that Jesus is the Son of God. The passage goes actually far further than that. Surah 19 at line 35 explicitly denies that God has begotten a Son. It denies that God should beget a Son. It claims that Jesus is falsely understood as the Son of Allah by Christians who are described in this text as unbelievers. Surah 19 explicitly calls Christians who believe in the Trinity of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit as polytheists and disbelievers in the oneness of Allah. And it is promised that such unbelievers will incur the wrath of Allah.
So let’s just understand what took place in this Cathedral in Glasgow, Scotland. There was a reading by a Muslim of a text from the Koran, not just any text, but Surah 19, a text that includes the absolute rejection that Jesus Christ was begotten as the only Son of God, a text that denies that God has any son, and a text that explicitly refers to Christians as unbelievers. That was a text that was read in a supposedly Christian Cathedral. A bit of theological sense was helpfully injected into this controversy by the Reverend Dr. Gavin Ashenden, who is chaplain to Queen Elizabeth II. After pointing out the many contradictions between Christianity and Islam, the chaplain wrote,
“What is the significance, then, of a Muslim standing at the lectern in a Christian cathedral and publicly proclaiming words from the Koran which announce that the Gospel writers were engaged in a blasphemous deceit? Allah can have no son’ insists Surah 19. Jesus was mistaken or misreported when he proclaimed himself one with the Father, the Way, the Truth and the Life, the only access to Him.
But the chaplain writes this is exactly what happened in the Cathedral “when a Muslim law student called Madinah Javed read out from the lectern Surah 19 on January 6th, the Feast of the Epiphany.”
The chaplain said that he couldn’t imagine what was going through the mind of the Provost of the Cathedral “when he arranged for this assault on Jesus and the apostles who authored the Gospels, during the proclamation of the Word in the Epiphany Eucharist at the place of the bishop’s seat, the heart of the Christian community.”
He went on to say,
“The accusation of lying or deception was not just directed towards Jesus and the Apostles; but is also directed against those who have lived out this deceit; those who as a tribute to them who built the cathedral in which he serves, in the shape of a crucified God; to those, too, who have been martyred at the hands of Islam, because they refused to renounce this deception when confronted with it.”
In perhaps the most crucial paragraph of his response, the chaplain wrote this,
“The flaw in his approach is that while the Muslims who chose the reading seem to have been only too aware of the differences, and chose to declare them in their Koranic reading during the Christian worship, the Provost, on the other hand, appears to have been unaware. When asked if he had known what the passage of the Koran said about Jesus, how it denied what Christians hold central to their faith, he ‘declined to comment further.’”
The philosophical liberalism of the Enlightenment gave way to theological liberalism, at least in Europe by the 19th century, and quickly in the United States as well. The truth of the Christian faith was denied, and instead it was argued that religion is simply a human experience. The Romanticists argued that it was an experience without which humans cannot do, but merely an experience nonetheless. But if religion is merely an experience, then just about any experience will do. Universalism was the logical outcome of the denial of truth claims in Christianity, and it was the very clear result of the de-doctrinization of Christianity, reducing Christianity from a theological truth claim to merely one variant of a religious experience.
What you see in so much of what’s presented as interfaith relations in the world today is simply based upon the understanding that religion is just a part of the phenomenology of human experience; truth is simply beyond even a casual interest. But one of the things this particular controversy makes clear is that Christians are particularly inept at this kind of interfaith engagement. Because as the chaplain to the Queen pointed out, even though the Christians who invited the Muslims to read from the Koran in their Christian worship service didn’t understand what the Koran verse meant or the passage from Surah 19, the Muslims clearly did. They chose the passage precisely in order to make that point.
Vatican invites doomsday prophet who supports forced abortion and sterilization to speak
But next shifting to Rome, it is clear that the Vatican continues to send exceedingly mixed signals and that, if anything, is a kind way of putting it. It turns out that Paul Ehrlich, one of the most infamous figures from the 20th century, is going to be speaking at the Vatican at an official Vatican conference. Paul Ehrlich was famous in the 20th century and infamous now for his argument that the great threat to human existence and human flourishing was humanity, or in particular human beings reproducing. In his best-selling book, the Population Bomb, he argued that humanity was itself threatened by an expansion of the human population In the Population Bomb published in 1968, he went so far as to argue for the morality and the constitutionality of compulsory abortion. He wrote—remember this is 1968—I quote,
“Indeed, it has been concluded that compulsory population-control laws, even including laws requiring compulsory abortion, could be sustained under the existing Constitution if the population crisis became sufficiently severe to endanger the society.”
He predicted that mass starvation would result in one half of all Americans dying by the year 1990. He also argued for the morality of sex-selection abortion. He said in a 2011 interview—now let’s remember that’s 2011—“it would be a good idea to let people have their choice”—that is the choice between a boy or a girl—“so that they could have fewer children and could have what they wanted.”
As Life Site News reports, he added “a sex-selection abortion and possibly even infanticide might be a better fate for females than what awaited them in an overpopulated world.”
Put simply, Paul Ehrlich is one of the most intellectually reprehensible human beings of our time. His thought would fit far more naturally in the Third Reich than in modern America, much less in the Vatican. It should be simply obvious to state that what Paul Ehrlich here has been arguing for decades runs explicitly counter to everything the Catholic Church has been teaching in terms of the sanctity of human life in its opposition to abortion, much less compulsory abortion and sexual selection abortion. You would also think that someone whose prophecies have been so spectacularly disproven, as in the case of Paul Ehrlich arguing that massive millions would be dying of starvation, including half the population of the United States, by 1990, you would think that his total ideas would be so discredited that he wouldn’t be invited to speak anywhere for any reason. But in making that assumption, you would be wrong. Because not only is Paul Ehrlich going to be speaking, he is going to be speaking at the Vatican. It turns out that the infection of inclusivity is very contagious indeed.
Theological horror and the fascination with evil: Author of 'The Exorcist' dies at 89
Finally, once again in terms of the intersection of worldview and entertainment and what entertainment tells us about the worldview of our culture, I turn to an obituary that ran Saturday in the New York Times. It’s the obituary of William Peter Blatty, who was the author who created the novel The Exorcist, later made into a best-selling and very influential movie. As Paul Vitello writes in the obituary,
“William Peter Blatty, the author whose best-selling book ‘The Exorcist’ was both a milestone in horror fiction and a turning point in his own career, died on Thursday in Bethesda, Md. He was 89.”
He then summarized,
“‘The Exorcist,’ the story of a 12-year-old girl possessed by the Devil, was published in 1971 and sold more than 13 million copies. The 1973 movie version, starring Linda Blair and directed by William Friedkin, was a runaway hit, breaking box-office records at many theaters and becoming the highest-grossing film to date for Warner Bros. studios.”
The Exorcist as a novel and then as a film became one of the milestones in the cultural development of America during the 1970s. It was a shocking film. As the New York Times says, it invented a whole new genre, both of novel and filmmaking. It’s described here as “theological horror.” The theological part of theological horror had to do with the fact that it was a movie about a 12-year-old girl who was possessed by the devil. But there’s another very interesting twist to this tale, it turns out that Americans were fascinated by The Exorcist for at least two reasons. In the first place, the 1960s had brought such questions about basic matters of good and evil, of right and wrong. The development of the popularity of this kind of film and the novel behind it indicated that Americans were fascinated by the struggle between good and evil. The movie was a blockbuster, but the real twist in the tale is this: those who watched it by the millions seemed to believe and be fascinated by the idea that in the conflict between good and evil, between God and the devil, it would be evil, the demonic, that would win.
It was no accident that the late 1960s and the 1970s were marked by continuous headlines having to do with the rise of sex and cults in the United States, and that included openly occultic and satanic groups, including most infamously Charles Manson and Manson family. William Peter Blatty was deeply, and I do mean deeply, distressed that the film version of his novel was understood by so many to indicate that evil rather than good had triumphed. He actually brought so much pressure upon the director of the film that it was rereleased with a different ending making the victory of good very much more apparent than in the original, but of course it was far too late. The original is what is implanted in the American memory, and the popularity of the original is what becomes a milestone in the development of the American character. One of the things that Christians need to understand from this is not only the importance of popular entertainment and the influence of Hollywood and its products, but the fact that if you shift from an age of the denial of the difference between good and evil, what comes after that is a fascination, not so much with good, but with evil.