January 25, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, January 25, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Ultrasound as "stealth warfare"? Pro-abortion article defies science, rationality, and morality
Get ready for plenty of discussion this week about the issue of abortion and the sanctity of human life, and that’s datable back to 1973 in the Roe v. Wade decision that took place 44 years ago this week. And as that discussion unfolds, it always year-by-year unfolds in ways that are very crucial for our understanding. This year one of the most interesting aspects of the public debate is the advocacy for abortion and the even more ardent denial that the inhabitant of the womb just might be a human being.
The explicit text and implicit logic of the Roe v. Wade decision is that the inhabitant of the womb is not life, but merely potential life, not a person, but merely a potential person. The moral background to that is immediately clear. If indeed the baby in the womb is a person, if that baby is a human life, then it must be protected rather than destroyed and effectively abortion would be what it is, a form of homicide.Show Full Transcript
Going back to 1973, we need to keep in mind that most persons had no idea how to see that life within the womb. That was a vision that had not been allowed to virtually any previous generation. All that changed with the development of what’s now called ultrasound technology. That imaging technology allowed a view inside the womb. This first came in generalized images that came of a mother with a baby in a womb, but eventually every expectant mother in the United States came to expect an ultrasound image, and that created something of an enormous problem for the pro-abortion movement. It turns out that seeing the baby inside the womb, even at very early stages of development, instinctively informs the person seeing the image that this is not merely a potential life, this is life. This is not just a potential person, it is a person. This isn’t just a maybe baby, this is a baby.
The development of ultrasound technology did not reverse the abortion debate in America. That’s tragically clear, but it did make a difference. It made a difference in the general American psyche where there was all the sudden the knowledge that we do know how to see, even how to expect to see the inhabitant of the womb, the baby in its developmental stages. It also made a difference in the doctor’s office where when obstetricians and other physicians show the image to those expectant mothers, the mothers instantly recognized that the being inside their womb was indeed a baby, undeniably, even by the power of sight a baby, and it made a difference and continues to make a difference in such organizations as crisis pregnancy centers where women who might be considering an abortion are shown an ultrasound. And that often does make a profound difference in the decision that is made. Furthermore, in recent years, several states, even in recent weeks have adopted legislation requiring an ultrasound with the hope that women who might be considering an abortion would actually see that image, and once again might change their minds and choose life.
Several years ago, Time magazine ran a cover story on the power of the ultrasound to at least change the debate over abortion in America, and one prominent pro-abortion advocate simply said, “The fetus beat us,” speaking of the fact that when the fetus becomes visible, the fetus often overwhelms any argument for abortion.
But we’re talking about the issue of ultrasounds today because of a bizarre twist in this tale that came yesterday in an essay published yesterday morning at The Atlantic. It’s by Moira Weigel, the current headline is this,
“How Ultrasound Became Political.”
“The technology has been used to create sped-up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”
Why is that important? Because the article was originally published with this headline,
“How the ultrasound pushed the idea that a fetus is a person.”
The original subhead was this,
“The technology has been used to create an imaginary heartbeat and sped up videos that falsely depict a response to stimulus.”
This led to an absolute fury on Twitter yesterday, and for good reason. And that fury is at least to the explanation behind why both the headline and the subhead were significantly changed during the course of the day. Referring to the legislation requiring an ultrasound before an abortion, Weigel wrote,
“These measures raise even more elementary questions: What is a fetal heartbeat? And why does it matter?”
Now let’s just pause for a moment before going even a second further and recognize she’s actually asked the question, why would the fact that the baby has a heartbeat even matter? What matters is that she dares even to ask the question. She then says,
“The idea would have been unthinkable before the advent of a technology developed in 1976: real-time ultrasound. At six weeks, the ‘heartbeat’,” she puts heartbeat in quotation marks, “is not audible; it is visible, a flickering that takes place between 120 and 160 times per minute on a black-and-white playback screen. As cardiac cells develop, they begin to send electrical pulses that cause their neighbors to contract. Scientists can observe the same effect if they culture cells in a petri dish.
“Doctors,” she insists, “do not even call this rapidly dividing cell mass a ‘fetus’ until nine weeks into pregnancy. Yet,” she says, “the current debate shows how effectively politicians have used visual technology to redefine what counts as ‘life.’”
Perhaps the scariest thing about that sentence is the fact that the word “life” is itself put in what are called scare quotes, as if it is a term of art. Again, getting back to the legislation requiring the ultrasounds, she says,
“These measures are based on two assumptions: First, that an ultrasound image has an obvious meaning. Second, that any pregnant woman who sees an ultrasound will recognize this meaning.”
Now let’s go back to her statement.
“First,” she says the assumption is, “that an ultrasound image has an obvious meaning.”
Now in order to write that sentence, you have to step back for a moment and consider the fact that if the baby in the womb is indeed a baby, it simply doesn’t matter. Because if it is a baby and the obvious meaning of the ultrasound image is that there is human life in the womb, then there would have to be an entire moral shift in this country on the issue of abortion and that unborn life would have to be defended. So she writes that it’s simply an assumption, she says a wrong assumption, that an ultrasound image has an obvious meaning.
Secondly, she says the legislation also makes a false assumption that “any pregnant woman who season ultrasound will recognize this meaning.”
I will actually argue that virtually any woman who sees that ultrasound image does indeed get the obvious meaning that there is a baby, a baby developing in her womb. The extinguishing of that life is the extinguishing of the life of her baby. I don’t think a woman seeing an ultrasound image who goes ahead with an abortion is doing so after seeing the ultrasound unaware of what she’s doing, but rather that image has somehow been overcome by whatever rationale is behind the abortion itself.
Responding to the article, Sean Davis wrote a piece at The Federalist in which he rightly indicted Weigel for writing an article that is not only inherently immoral, but frankly also irrational. In her article in The Atlantic, Weigel had said,
“‘The origins of fetal ultrasound lie in stealth warfare’”
“Before ultrasound,” he explains, “medical care received by pregnant women had depended on their testimony, or how they described their own sensations.”
Notice the fact that she here describes the ultrasound as a weapon of war, as a form of stealth warfare. Just consider the worldview behind that kind of assessment and not only the worldview behind the article, but the worldview behind the publication of such an article. Sean Davis then writes,
“Weigel’s anger is not limited just to medical imaging technology, though. She’s also extremely upset at the way social media allows newly pregnant moms to share their joy over the Internet.”
In her Atlantic piece, Weigel had written,
“In many ways, social media have heightened the social reality of the unborn.”
Notice the fact that Weigel sees this as a very bad thing. She went on to write,
“Yet it remains unclear what the popular enthusiasm for fetal images actually means.”
Now here I simply have to ask a very basic question. Could this author possibly mean what she writes here? Could she really be asking the question? We’ve already seen this when she asked even if the fetus has a heartbeat, “what difference would it make?” But now we see where she writes that she really doesn’t understand why there’s such popular enthusiasm on the part of moms for posting pictures of their unborn babies as if this is a happy and well, almost miraculous event. Sean Davis rightly concludes in his article,
“Like most treatises from abortion activists about how babies aren’t real people, Weigel’s comes across more as a sad attempt to convince herself than a credible attempt to convince her readers. No amount of euphemisms can obscure the truth that unborn babies are alive, that their hearts beat just as ours do, and that the abortion industry is dead set on killing as many of them as possible.”
It is so important that thinking Christians recognize that the war of worldviews is all too often a war that distinguishes between life and death. That’s what’s hanging in the balance. The culture of life must continue to make arguments on behalf of human dignity and the sanctity of human life. But, of course, in the public debate the culture of death has to make its arguments as well. We do well to look these arguments squarely in the face. In doing so, we’ll see the arguments as just as horrifying as we feared they were.
Solving the world's problems or part of the problem? World Economic Forum meets in Davos, Switzerland
But next, while we’re considering the importance of the worldviews that shape and inform the world around us, one of the most important of these contemporary worldviews is cosmopolitanism, sometimes called globalism. It is not only a worldview, it is also an ideology. As Greg Ip wrote for the Wall Street Journal, it reflects,
“The mind-set that globalization is natural and good, that global governance should expand as national sovereignty contracts.”
As Ip points out, there are many who deny that it is an ideology, mainly those who hold to it, but it is an ideology, and it is an ideology we should note that unites many in the elites, including the elites of both political parties. In this sense, both Barack Obama and George W. Bush were in one sense cosmopolitans. As Ip points out, this crosses the ideological spectrum, including figures as different as Hillary Clinton and Tony Blair, George W. Bush and David Cameron. It is the predominant unifying worldview of the elites, the intellectual, economic, political, and cultural elites and there is no event that so symbolizes that elite and its ideology as the annual World Economic Forum that meets every January in the mountainous town of Davos, Switzerland.
As Andrew Ross Sorkin explains in a recent front-page article in the New York Times,
“Every January, a glittering array of the cognoscenti descend on the Alps: the tech-titan-turned-philanthropist Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft; the billionaire investor George Soros; Jack Ma, the founder of China’s e-commerce giant, Alibaba; and — until recently — Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany. An assortment of Hollywood actors including Angelina Jolie, Leonardo DiCaprio and Matt Damon have made the pilgrimage over the years to promote their nonprofit work. And the conversations tend to be dominated by issues like inequality, climate change and the economic challenges facing developed and emerging countries.”
Now it’s really interesting to consider that this is a group that bills itself as the World Economic Forum that often includes statesmen, even heads of state, certainly heads of government, along with others from the academic and the economic elites, especially the CEOs of the world’s largest corporations and a smattering of the glitterati as well. That is, they wouldn’t be found there in that Swiss resort town without an adequate serving of Hollywood celebrities.
But the other interesting thing to note is that almost all the problems that they seek to address, especially income inequality and even gender inequality are actually symbolized by the group even as it meets. First of all, tickets to the World Economic Forum limited to 3,000 people by invitation only are free. That doesn’t sound like much until you recognize that the annual membership can be as high as $585,000. That tends to cut down on the danger that anyone from the middle class might show up at the World Economic Forum. And when it comes to gender inequality, the Davos leaders say that’s a major problem. But as the New York Times itself pointed out just a couple of days ago, it turns out that 80% of the attendees of the World Economic Forum are men and only 20% are women.
The ideology of cosmopolitanism or globalism holds that every single individual is not a part of a national community, certainly not identified by a local community, but rather by membership in a global community to where there is the responsibility of a global allegiance. Samuel P. Huntington wrote years ago about the development of what he called “Davos Man.” He described them this way,
“[These] ‘transnationalists’ who ‘have little need for national loyalty, view national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing, and see national governments as residues from the past whose only useful function is to facilitate the elite’s global operations.’”
That’s one of the reasons why the CEOs of these massive global corporations meet at Davos for this meeting, because in effect, they see themselves as beyond the reach of any national government. They see themselves in effect as governments unto themselves.
In one of his most important articles, Samuel Huntington pointed out that Amy Gutmann at Princeton University argues that it is repugnant for American students in our schools to learn that they are “above all citizens of the United States.”
She insisted otherwise that the primary allegiance of Americans “should not be to the United States or to some other politically sovereign community, but to what she called the ethos of democratic humanism.”
That in essence is another statement of the cosmopolitan worldview. You do not belong to your local community, you do not belong to your nation, you belong to the world. But of course all of this implies that if we are citizens of a global community, then we should be governed by a global government. But the interesting thing about the Davos set or as Huntington said Davos Man is that there is no desire so much for a big global state as much as there is for a global regulatory regime. And who would be the regulators? Well, it seems most fitting that it would be the very people who show up at the World Economic Forum.
As virtually all the major international media noted, this particular meeting of the World Economic Forum was overshadowed by the fact that politics is going decidedly against what the elites have called for. Just give the examples over the last several months back in 2016, the vote by the people of the United Kingdom to leave the European economic community, the Brexit vote was a deliberate slap in the face to the Davos community. And then of course there was the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States. Because Trump ran explicitly against Davos Man and the very idea of a global elite, to which primary allegiance was to be given.
Several in the international media pointed out that the mood of the meeting was of those who feel threatened by the peasants and are grabbing the nearest pitchfork. In its ample coverage of the Davos event, the New York Times has also given attention to the entertainments, often very lavish, extremely expensive parties paid for by the corporations. The paper reported,
“There are several official cocktail receptions, but the action really lies in a galaxy of events hosted by corporations. Some are small, intimate dinners that feature the likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Bono.”
But others they say are dazzling affairs, including a reception that took over an entire museum that was hosted by J.P. Morgan Chase, featuring an opportunity for guests to have drinks with its Chief Executive Jamie Dimon along with Tony Blair, the former British Prime Minister. The paper then continued,
“A more recent up-and-comer is hosted by Salesforce.com, a business software maker, whose chief, Marc Benioff, is one of the forum’s most ardent boosters. Last year’s Salesforce party included Mr. Benioff flying in scores of fresh flower leis and a band from Hawaii, as Eric Schmidt of Google and other tech notables danced in a corner.”
Then get this,
“Several years ago, Sean Parker of Napster and Facebook fame, hosted an over-the-top gathering that featured stuffed animal heads shooting laser beams out of their eyes. And the Russian billionaire Oleg Deripaska has thrown opulent gatherings at a nearby villa where the Champagne flowed freely.
“For a nightcap, the Davos crowd traditionally retires to the Tonic Bar at Hotel Europe, sipping cocktails while the forum fixture Barry Colson leads the crowd in Billy Joel singalongs.”
So that’s what the elite that would rule the world counts as entertainment, and they’ve now left Davos and gone back to their corporate headquarters and centers of government.
In the aftermath of the Davos meeting, there have been some really interesting reflections on the part of those who generally count themselves a part of the Davos set. One of them lamented probably quite accurately that it might turn out that the best way to address the problems that Davos has identified is not to hold a panel discussion in a very posh resort in Switzerland. But don’t jump to the assumption that this is just a meeting to be criticized and even sometimes lampooned, but not taken seriously. It needs to be taken seriously. Those who go there invest serious time and serious money because they are seriously committed to this Cosmopolitan worldview. And they are also absolutely convinced that at the end of the day they’ll outlast the competition.
We need to remember that the biblical worldview does assigned to us a responsibility for all. When Jesus explained to his own disciples who we should count as our neighbor, he made very clear that there is not one soul on the planet who does not qualify in some sense as our neighbor. But the biblical worldview also makes very clear the principle that is often described as subsidiarity, that means that the greatest responsibility falls to the smallest possible unit. That points out the biblical importance of marriage and the family. That’s where civilization starts.
You’ll also remember that the New Testament warns that he who will not take care of his own family is worse than an unbeliever. That tells us that God has implanted a moral sense even in unbelievers that they are to take care of their own family. Radiating out of marriage in the family is an entire community, which is marked by mutual obligation and care. The government that is closest to the smallest locality is always going to be far more efficient and responsive than a government that operates at a larger frame. If we do take care of our families at home and we honor marriage, if we do responsibly engage one another at the level of local community, if we do encourage justice and righteousness and what will lead to human flourishing at the most basic level, we will also be able to make a difference elsewhere. But if we begin to envision ourselves first and foremost as belonging nowhere to no one except to a global community, well, you’re going to end up with a global elite who is going to inevitably decide just how we should live, what we should believe, what our laws should be, and how we should relate to one another.
There’s another really interesting aspect to all of this, and it’s not to deny that many of these corporate CEOs are in themselves quite hard-working and productive. It is to say this: most who are working in their jobs, those who are taking care of their families at home, have neither the means nor the time to fly to Davos, Switzerland in order to engage in this kind of elite conversation or this kind of entertainment, even if it turns out we were to be invited. We couldn’t possibly afford to go. And that points out a final aspect about the elite. By the time they are so defined sociologically, politically, and economically, they really have far more in common with one another than they do with their own neighbors in their own communities and in their own countries. That perhaps more than anything else marks the real problem with the rise of Davos Man.