August 25, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, August 25, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Up today, why it’s not just the Trump Administration that’s having difficulty trying to figure out how transgender persons can be included in the military; we’re going to come to see that Indiana University is claiming that tissue from aborted fetuses is just another commodity; and we’re going to find out why Melinda Gates says she might have thought more carefully about putting computers into the pockets of her own children.
Internal contradictions of transgender ideology exposed as military policy is debated
Yesterday the White House made a major announcement concerning the issue of transgender troops and the policy of the Pentagon. In the last year of the Obama Administration the Department of Defense had indicated that it would move towards the total inclusion of transgender troops within the full range of deployments. There was also an indication that the Department of Defense would pay for selective transgender surgery in order to bring about what’s been defined as gender congruity in terms of the current gender identity. But the announcement was made by the president in series of tweets just a few weeks ago that he was reversing the policy, and at that time he said that being transgender was incompatible with service in the US military. But yesterday the White House indicated that a full policy will be forthcoming from the Pentagon over the next several weeks. The story was broken by the Wall Street Journal. Gordon Lubold wrote,
“The White House is expected to send guidance to the Pentagon in coming days on how to implement a new administration ban on transgender people in the military [that by the issuing of] a policy that will allow [the Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis] to consider a service member’s ability to deploy in deciding whether to kick them out of the military.”Show Full Transcript
Now at the first level, one of the things we need to back up and ask is, ‘What’s going on in this announcement?’ At the first level, the announcement made by the White House about the forthcoming Pentagon policy indicates that there will not be a blanket ban when it comes to existing members of the military who may identify as transgender; it will come down to the decision made by the Secretary of Defense as to whether or not those individuals in those postings are compatible. At the next level, the announcement comes down to the Pentagon saying that it will not be using taxpayer money to pay for gender reassignment surgery. One of the concerns raised by several conservative members of Congress is that persons would enter the military in order thereby to gain access to a funded sex reassignment surgery, which otherwise might be very expensive and not covered by existing insurance policies. The summary of the story by Lubold comes down to this, and I quote,
“The White House memo also directs the Pentagon to deny admittance to transgender individuals and to stop spending on medical treatment regimens for those currently serving, [that] according to U.S. officials familiar with the document.”
At this point it’s a two-and-a-half page memo that is to be expanded into a comprehensive policy by the Secretary of Defense within the next several weeks.
Now thinking about this from a Christian worldview, one of the things we have to recognize is that that’s the story according to the secular media. That makes sense; this is the story as the Wall Street Journal broke the story about this two-and- a-half page memo from the White House to the Pentagon. But we have to understand there’s a story behind the story. What’s that story? Well at one level it’s this: Even though the Obama Administration had made the announcement in its last year that it was going to throw the doors open wide to transgender troops, the Pentagon, even under the Obama Administration, never actually came up with what was considered to be a workable policy about how that inclusion was going to take place. That’s something you’re not going to hear much about in terms of the mainstream media; although, to their credit, both the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times at least mentioned that reality, but there was no extensive discussion of the fact that even though President Obama and the then Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter had indicated, there would be this move toward full inclusion, it was never actually worked out how that was going to work.
Why is that important from a Christian worldview? Well it’s because reality really does matter, and when it comes to an issue such as the specific deployment of individuals, especially in combat units, it of course is not at all clear how in the world you would include a transgender individual within those units. The military has already been used as a laboratory for social experimentation when it comes to the inclusion of women in terms of these forward-placed combat units. But when it comes to transgender that adds an entirely new dimension, and, needless to say, a movable dimension, a transitional dimension. One of the things we have noted, just trying to think about this in terms of the Christian worldview, is that reality is a hard thing to get around. And when it comes to the challenge of this transgender issue, even transgender identity when it comes to troops, there are certain realities that are very hard to get around.
Toward the end of the article in the Wall Street Journal, there’s another sentence that just leaps out at us in terms of worldview significance. I quote,
“The Pentagon’s military service chiefs hold a range of views on social issues, including on open service by gays and women in combat.”
Why is that so significant from a worldview perspective? Because it tells us that even though there have been declarations and new policies announced by the Pentagon, it’s not even true that all the service chiefs are in agreement on the fundamental issues. Once again we have these realities, including the reality of gender and sexuality that are very difficult to get around, even when one is ideologically committed to saying that these realities really don’t exist.
But on this there’s another issue that is also important, and that is that if the service chief’s, even according to this acknowledgment in this single sentence in the Wall Street Journal, aren’t on the same page on these controversial issues, the same thing is even more true of the American people. In reality, one of the things that has come very much to the fore, ever since the Obama Administration made that announcement now well over a year ago, is that the American people, even many of whom say they are entirely for this moral revolution, aren’t really sure how it could possibly be accomplished when it comes not so much in terms of the generalities but in the particulars, and when it comes to the transgender ideology, it’s the particulars to become particularly difficult to deal with.
As we’ve often remarked on The Briefing, the transgender revolution comes with internal contradictions that are impossible to resolve. You have the claims of ideological feminism; they’re incompatible with the transgender ideology. You have even different understandings of what it means to be transgender in terms this ideology. When it comes to the particulars of policy, well that’s where a lot of the ideology actually breaks down. Christians understand why. And that’s because the reality is not just something that is the accidental byproduct of a meaningless universe by evolution; it’s because those realities are a part of what God has given to us in creation for our good and for his glory. Particulars that are not only difficult to get around, but in the end absolutely impossible.
The worldview of Scientism and the commodification of aborted fetuses
Next, we turn to another story that comes originally from the Wall Street Journal. It’s one of those stories that hasn’t gotten much attention, but it really needs to get a lot more attention. Yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal included a story by Jacob Gershman. The headline,
“University Battles Fetal Tissue Law”
As the story begins,
“A legal challenge to an Indiana law that criminalizes research using the remains of aborted fetuses could determine how much power states have to restrict scientific access to fetal tissue.”
Here’s the background to the story. The state of Indiana during the time that Mike Pence, now Vice President of the United States, was governor of the state enacted legislation that adopted amongst other things a blanket prohibition on anyone in the state of Indiana transferring or buying fetal tissue from aborted fetuses, but that’s now being challenged by Indiana University, a Big Ten university.
One of the preeminent institutions in the entire state of Indiana, a very politically powerful institution, and as the story in the Wall Street Journal unfolds, it comes down to just one researcher at Indiana University who is insistent on obtaining tissue from aborted fetuses for brain research. The story, as it turns out, is even more chilling than you might imagine. The story in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal includes this,
“Since 2011, Indiana University has received fetal brains from the Birth Defects Research Laboratory at the University of Washington under a National Institutes of Health grant. The remains are used by Debomoy Lahiri, a professor of neurobiology, psychiatry and genetics who is trying to develop a cure for Alzheimer’s.”
The story continues,
“Dr. Lahiri extracts the healthy tissue from the brains as a “control” to understand how a diseased brain works differently,” that according to the University. He also uses tissue from miscarriages, but said in a deposition that aborted fetal tissue is more scientifically valuable.”
Now just imagine that we rewind history. Let’s just say to the years just after World War II, and the revelation of what the Nazi doctors have been doing in terms of medical experimentation. I dare say that if this kind of report were to have surfaced in the United States at that time, virtually everyone would’ve responded with moral repulsion. That tells us something of how society has changed; it also tells us something of the same period about how horrifying lessons can be forgotten.
The legal issues reported by the Wall Street Journal when it says,
“In court filings Indiana University accuses the state of Indiana of threatening ‘significant research progress related to Alzheimer’s and other diseases’ and the institution’s ‘important role and reputation in the global research community.’”
That tells you something about the clash of worldviews that we’re seeing here. It’s not just a worldview between those who believe that it’s appropriate to use tissues gained by aborting fetuses and those who do not, it’s the worldview scientism over against the worldview of biblical Christianity. Scientism is the worldview that has gained so much influence over the last 60 or 70 years, especially here in the United States and in other Western nations, in which it is believed that science holds the ultimate key to decoding the meaning of life and all knowledge that is to be known, and, ultimately, it is the authority of science that is most determinative. If you accept that worldview, then not only are you reducing all issues to something that can be defined as either scientific or unimportant, but you are also handing over morality simply to the matter of what’s determined by scientists at any given time as being moral or immoral.
Given the mandate, the momentum behind the worldview of scientism, what you see in this article is that eventually those who define morality simply in terms of science and the authority of science and the mandate of science will find a way to justify just about anything in the name of science, and that’s what’s going on here. You have Indiana University, one of most respected universities in this country, suing the state of Indiana, so that it can traffic in tissues obtained from aborted fetuses in order of course to fulfill its research institution status and to gain further — I’ll just use the quote from the University —
“reputation in the global research community.”
It’s also, finally, on this issue very, very interesting to look at the legal documents filed by the university over against the state. Because in these filings, one of the arguments made by the university against the state and this prohibition, is that when the lawmakers voted it into existence, their desire was actually to express their,
“moral disdain for abortion.”
So why did the university make that claim? Because it comes down to this: They are claiming that it really doesn’t matter that the issue came from aborted fetuses because the moral status of the fetus isn’t even of interest; all that’s of interest is the furtherance of science. And they are accusing the legislators of actually being concerned about abortion in adopting this legislation because in the eyes and in the argument of those who are representing the university, if this is about abortion, then it’s not even a legitimate discussion scientifically.
In a sidebar to this article we confront an issue that doesn’t deserve sidebar status. It turns out that Indiana University is invoking the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution in pressing its lawsuit against the state. In so doing, as the Wall Street Journal says,
“The school is invoking a constitutional doctrine that prevents states from interfering with free trade across their borders. University court briefs liken the tissue regulation to state laws invalidated years ago,”
listen to this carefully,
“banning the sale of margarine or banning the sale of fresh meat slaughtered more than 100 miles from the point of sale. It is an argument,” acknowledges the journal, “premised on the idea that aborted fetal tissue acquired by [this professor is an ‘article of commerce.’ The fetal parts qualify as such,” says the journal, according to this argument, “because ‘Dr. Lahiri must pay a fee to obtain it, and it crosses state lines when shipped to Indiana from Washington.’”
That in the brief from Indiana University to the court suing the state of Indiana over this prohibition. As we leave this story simply note, that here Indiana University is saying that the sale of tissue from aborted fetuses is much like margarine. It’s a commodity, just like any other commodity.
Melinda Gates warns parents about dangers of exposing kids to technology too early
Finally, while we think about the role of technology in all of our lives, especially in the lives of young people, yesterday’s edition of the Washington Post ran an absolutely compelling article by Melinda Gates, the wife of Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft. You might expect that she would be a champion of getting this technology into the hands of children and young people as fast as possible, but writing as a mother rather than as the wife of the founder of Microsoft, it turns out that Melinda Gates is acknowledging that she also was concerned about getting some of this technology into the hands of children too quickly. Speaking of how fast all of this is changing, she writes,
“The pace of change is what amazes me the most. The challenges my younger daughter will be facing when she starts high school in the fall are light-years away from what my elder daughter, who’s now in college, experienced in 2010.”
“My younger daughter’s friends live a lot of their lives through filters on Instagram and Snapchat, two apps that didn’t even exist when my elder daughter was dipping a toe in social media.”
Remember, she’s referring back to that prehistoric era of 2010. Melinda Gates honestly says she understands that social media and all of these digital technologies and devices can bring about much good, but then she writes,
“Still, as a mother who wants to make sure her children are safe and happy, I worry. And I think back to how I might have done things differently. Parents,” she writes, “should decide for themselves what works for their family, but I probably would have waited longer before putting a computer in my children’s pockets.”
Know I can’t mention this story without making reference to the fact that the late Steve Jobs, in many ways the genius behind Apple, in interviews made very clear that he didn’t allow his younger children to have access to the very technology he was developing and selling. So when it comes to how parents should think through these issues: the impact of technology, the morality of technology, and of course the vulnerabilities of technology, especially when it comes to children and teenagers and young adults, well, we can’t really ask what is it that the leaders of technology know that we don’t know. Because in this respect, as in yesterday’s article to the Washington Post, those very people are telling us what they know. It’s just a matter of whether or not we hear.