September 12, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, September 12, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’ll see the government is never neutral. We’ll see a search and destroy mission in the wombs of women in Iceland. And we’ll see how some of the most radical ideas about marriage and the family have become mainstream in our society. A really interesting insight into how Washington actually works year in and year out, and how worldview issues are affected by changes and by policies undertaken in Washington.
Government is never neutral: A lesson in how bureaucracy really works
All that became crystal clear in a front-page article yesterday in the New York Times. Above the fold the headline was,
“In Age of Trump, Hard Right Turn On Social Issues.”Show Full Transcript
The article’s by a trio of Times reporters, and they make clear as they introduce their story that there have been crucial changes made in federal policies on a range of social issues since the inauguration of Donald Trump as president of the United States. Now at the first glance, that should hardly be surprising when you have a new president and a new administration well the changes begin to ricochet throughout the policymaking branches of government. But what’s really interesting in this article, what brings it to our attention primarily is the fact that what’s revealed in the article is the absolute outrage and concern on the part of permanent Washington that these moral issues might move in a different direction than they had been counting on.
In the second paragraph to the story, the reporter said,
“While these initiatives lacked the fanfare of some of President Trump’s high-profile proclamations — like his ban on transgender people in the military — they point to a fundamental repurposing of the federal bureaucracy to promote conservative social priorities.”
Now what makes that important is just turning it on its head. What this tells us is that those very mechanisms of the federal government, identified here as the federal bureaucracy, had been used to promote liberal social priorities. Now when you think about the worldview of a newspaper like the New York Times that liberal influence in the bureaucracy is simply taken for granted. That’s the way things should be but that points to the fact that those who have been driving moral change in this country really do understand in a way that many moral conservatives do not understand that it is the policymaking regulation enforcing aspect of government that eventually is where the action is in terms of these policies on these crucial worldview issues.
As the story continues, not just on one but almost 2 full print pages inside the front section of the New York Times yesterday, the reporters talk about this new direction, and they say it’s met with some resistance among rank-and-file civil-servants. The reporters tell us for instance in the Justice Department and in other federal bureaucracies there are many lawyers who are leaving because they disagree with this new direction and there are others who are staying in order to try to mitigate the change. They write,
“Some of these lawyers also faced the unpalatable task of undoing their work defending Obama-era regulations, such as those on birth control and transgender rights. Rather than help roll back those rules, the officials decided to leave the government, according to the people briefed on the departures, who were not authorized to speak publicly about personnel matters.”
But later in the article they tell us that there are others who are,
“staying because they feel like they’re afraid of who’d get put in their seat if they left”
That last quote was made by Sharon McGowan, identified as a former senior career official who had joined the Justice Department in the year 2010, and there had worked on the civil rights division. She left just a few weeks into the Trump administration. Where does she work now? Well as the New York Times tells us she now works at Lambda Legal. That’s a legal advocacy organization focused on LGBT rights.
So just taking a step back and looking at this not so much in terms of politics but just in terms of worldview, what’s the big importance of the story? It tells us that where many of these worldview issues are actually translated into the rules and regulations, policies and procedures of everyday life it’s what has been identified as the regulatory state. It is inside the departments. It is inside the administrative units. This is where the term administrative state comes from where an army of regulators and policymakers operates within the federal bureaucracy basically outside the view and largely outside the influence of the American people. And then you translate the same problem from one federal government with its myriad of agencies to 50 different state governments basically operating in exactly the same way.
In terms of politics and policies every time these kinds of procedures and regulations are put into place there is someone who is pleased and someone who is less pleased. There are effectively winners and losers and that continues when the states even go higher into the moral and the social and cultural issues that are at the very center of this article. There is really no surprise that conservatives are at least a bit more pleased in a conservative administration and liberals are far more pleased in a liberal administrations, but it also has to be remembered that conservatives are almost always in terms of this process of moral change playing defense rather than offense. And that’s very evident in this article. The New York Times and its readers are presumed to be very displeased with the direction taken in the Trump administration, but they do recognize as everyone must that elections have consequences. But in terms of worldview, there’s a huge lesson here about the fact that so many of these issues are actually being translated into law into policy into procedure by an army of those who were unseen by the public. And what we have to remember is that that army, every single individual member of that army, is also driven by a worldview and by a moral understanding of the world. It’s easy but as this story reminds us obviously wrong to think of a bureaucracy as being somehow in terms of worldview and moral judgment neutral. There is no neutrality.
Search-and-destroy mission in Iceland as babies with Down syndrome are nearly eliminated
Next we’ve been watching a controversy and the response to the controversy in recent weeks. Recently CBS news ran a headline story,
“What kind of society do you want to live in?”
“Inside the country where Down syndrome is disappearing”
The CBS report tells us,
“With the rise of prenatal screening tests across Europe and the United States, the number of babies born with Down syndrome has significantly decreased, but,” we are told, “few countries have come as close to eradicating Down syndrome births as Iceland.”
The next sentence,
“Since prenatal screening tests were introduced in Iceland in the early 2000s, the vast majority of women — close to 100 percent — who received a positive test for Down syndrome terminated their pregnancy.”
We’ve been watching this story in the United States and discussing it on The Briefing for some time now. There has been a rather consistent downward spiral in the number of babies born with down syndrome and the reason for that is not any advance in medicine, but rather that prenatal testing has allowed what could only be described as a search and destroy mission inside the womb where babies identified with even having a likelihood of down syndrome are aborted. It’s estimated that across the United States that termination rate for positive indications for down syndrome is between 67 and 80%, but we’re told right now that Iceland – and this is a very chilling way to even the speak of the story – Iceland has now achieved an almost 100% reduction in down syndrome births. Clearly this is a massive moral issue. But there are many in Iceland, including some medical ethicists, who are trying to deny that it’s really a big moral issue at all. One medical authority in Iceland quoted in the article says,
“We don’t look at abortion as a murder. We look at it as a thing that we ended. We ended a possible life that may have had a huge complication… preventing suffering for the child and for the family. And I think that is more right than seeing it as a murder — that’s so black and white. Life isn’t black and white. Life is grey.”
Well actually this is very black and white. It is life and death. It is just that distinct. It is just that clear. But what you have here is an argument for eradicating babies for murdering babies in the womb simply because they are seen as being genetically deficient insufficiently valuable in order to have a right or privilege to be born. In Iceland now one of the most secular nations on earth they actually have a new term that is used in the place of abortion. It is translated basically as pregnancy discontinuity. It’s important to remember that this story ran at CBS news, and to its credit, the network went on to say,
“Children born with this genetic disorder have distinctive facial issues and a range of developmental issues.” But they continued, “Many people born with Down syndrome can live full, healthy lives, with an average lifespan of around 60 years.”
Now here we simply have to note that even if that second sentence were not in the article and even if the actual attributes were somewhat different, including lifespan, that would not reduce in any way the dignity of every single one of these lives. Geneticist Kari Stefansson in Iceland, the founder of a genetic company there, is quoted as saying,
“My understanding is that we have basically eradicated, almost, Down syndrome from our society — that there is hardly ever a child with Down syndrome in Iceland anymore.”
Confronted with the charge that much of the genetic counseling there in Iceland is heavy-handed and very much towards coercing abortion, Stefansson said,
“I don’t think there’s anything wrong with aspiring to have healthy children, but how far we should go in seeking those goals is a fairly complicated decision.”
This is the road towards an absolute disaster for human dignity. We’re not talking here about a slippery slope. We’re talking about being well advanced down that slope. I waited a bit to talk about this story because I wanted to see if there were many defenders of this policy and these claims made about Iceland. And as it turns out, there really is a great deal of silence on the pro-abortion side of the argument. They’re not going to a retreat on this issue, but they don’t want to draw attention to it either.
Meanwhile, there have been some who have spoken up with moral clarity. Alexandra DeSanctis, writing at National Review, points out that the language in the CBS article betrays the reality. Iceland has not eliminated Down syndrome. It has eliminated Down syndrome people. DeSanctis writes,
“The callous tone of the piece makes selective abortion sound like a technological innovation rather than what it really is: the intentional targeting of ‘unfit,’” unfit put in quotation marks, “persons for total elimination.”
Similarly, David Harsanyi writing at the Federalist points out that,
“One day a DNA test will be able to tell us virtually anything,” we might even say everything that, “we want to know, including our tendencies.”
So he points out that in order to understand the moral reality of this report from Iceland, we just need to change the circumstances and recognize how it sounds. As he says,
“So here’s the best way to frame the ugliness of these eradication policies in terms more people might care about:” for instance, “‘Iceland has made great strides in eradicating gay births’ or ‘Iceland has made great strides in eradicating low-IQ births’ or ‘Iceland has made great strides in eradicating births of those who lean towards obesity.’”
His point is clearly this, every single one of those sentences is morally abhorrent, but that’s where we simply have to return where we began. Even as every one of those sentences is morally repugnant, so is the sentence, Iceland has made great strides towards reducing down syndrome births.
Kate Millett’s legacy: A worldview that sees family as a problem cannot but end in sadness
Next, as we often point out, it is an obituary that tells us a great deal about worldview issues and how the worldview of a society changes. In this case, I point to an obituary that ran over the weekend of the New York Times, the obituary of Kate Millett, a prominent feminist, especially from 1960s, 70s and 80s. The New York Times’ obituary headline,
“Kate Millett, Whose ‘Sexual Politics’ Became a Bible of Feminism, Dies at 82.”
Andrea Dworkin, another prominent feminist, once said,
“The world was sleeping, and Kate Millett woke it up.”
And she was referring to this book, Sexual Politics, first published in 1969. Kate Millett did become one of the most revolutionary leaders of feminism in the United States and throughout the Western world and her particular understanding of feminist ideology and feminist politics did change the world in ways that are evident even now, especially on college and university campuses. It was Kate Millett back in 1969 in this book Sexual Politics said that the core of the problem is the family, the family itself. In her book she wrote,
“Patriarchy’s chief institution is the family. It is both a mirror of and a connection with the larger society; a patriarchal unit within a patriarchal whole.”
Now, her point was not that marriage and the family needed to be transformed. She said that is an utterly impossible task. She said that marriage itself in the very existence of the nuclear family is oppressive to women and will always be so. What she called for was an overthrow of patriarchy, which would involve the overthrow the family and the overthrow of marriage and the overthrow of the normativity of heterosexual relationships. She also understood that behind the society’s understanding of marriage and of sex, of gender, of worldview, of family that there was a theological worldview behind it. As she said,
“Patriarchy has God on its side.”
She went on to say,
“One of its most effective agents of control is the powerfully expeditious character of its doctrines as to the nature and origin of the female…”
She went on, but the basic issue is this, she was not seeking here to criticize merely Christianity or even what we might call the Judeo-Christian heritage but all religion because her argument was that basically all religion ends up being patriarchal too. In order for women to be liberated Kate Millett argued, there had to be a total liberation of sexuality from all of the inherited moral distinctions, including those that she saw as underwriting patriarchal forms of arrangements. She said that homosexuality, the idea of illegitimacy, adolescent pre-and extramarital sexuality, all had to come normalized. She called for a sexual revolution that would overthrow marriage, the family, heterosexual normativity, she celebrated a sexual revolution that in her words,
“would represent an end of traditional sexual inhibitions and taboos.”
Her influence continued to expand, especially amongst the intellectual elites and also especially on college and university campuses where her thought is now understood to be foundational for modern liberationist theories. Time Magazine once celebrated her as the Mao Tse-tung of Women’s Liberation. She continued to expand the issues of her concern. Interestingly, as another article celebrating her life indicated, she challenged the gender conditioning of early childhood that she said,
“runs in a circle of self-perpetuation and self-fulfilling prophecy.”
What outraged her more recently? The so-called reveal parties where expectant parents reveals the biological sex, thus the gender, of their unborn child.
This is one of those obituaries that draws our attention, but also really touches our heart. Because as even the most authoritative obituaries have noted just about a week after her death, Kate Millett died a very sad life. She was deeply troubled, had attempted suicide and had been hospitalized repeatedly for her own distress in life. The passing of Kate Millett reminds us of how these kinds of ideas and come into our culture and of the toxic effects that they have had. But very sadly, it also reminds us that any worldview that sees the having and raising of children as a problem as a burden rather than as a blessing cannot but end in sadness.