September 28, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, September 28, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We will see news of an earthquake on the political landscape from Alabama. We’ll see why the collapse of morality inevitably leads to a failure of etiquette, and we will understand why the womb is now one of the most dangerous places to be in America.
What does Roy Moore’s victory mean for the Republican party and the state of American politics?
Over the past few years, most urgently over the past few months, we have seen the reshaping of the American political culture, and this has meant big changes not only in terms of national politics writ large but in the lives of the two major political parties in this country. Both the Democratic Party and the Republican Party are experiencing seismic changes. And in both cases, there’s been injected a good deal of unpredictability. On the Democratic side, the major trend has been a move towards the left. The far left in the Democratic Party is clearly sitting in the ideological driver seat. That becomes increasingly clear when you see that even legislative proposals that would have attracted little if any actual interest from Democratic members of the United States are now routinely signing up not only sponsors, but cosponsors as well. It appears that on the side of the Democratic Party Senators and other major political leaders are trying to show that not only do they have bona fides on the left, but they’re trying to indicate they were actually there all the time even if voters didn’t know it.
On the Republican side, the situation’s if anything even more chaotic. That made abundantly clear in the past several days. Most importantly, on Tuesday when Republican voters in the state of Alabama decidedly turned back an incumbent United States Senator, instead electing an insurgent candidate for the nominee of their party in a special election to be held on December 12. The scenario that unfolded Alabama just a few years ago would’ve appeared as something like political science fiction. But actually what happened in Alabama on Tuesday is that the Republican voters in the state chose as their nominee for the United States special Senate race coming up in December, the former Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, the former two-time Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court, twice removed from office over major conflicts over issues. Those issues related to a 10 Commandments monument the first time and to the proper role of judges over against the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage the second time.Show Full Transcript
So what’s really going on here from a worldview perspective? The most important issue is not the personalities, but the personalities are genuinely interesting. The two personalities at the center of the election on Tuesday in Alabama includes former state Attorney General Luther Strange, now Senator Strange, who was appointed to at least part of the unexpired term that was created when Senator Jeff Sessions was nominated and confirmed as U.S. Attorney General. Attorney General Strange was made Senator Strange by the now outgoing governor of Alabama who left in the midst of the scandal. The other personality at the center of the story is the former Chief Justice Roy Moore, and so you’re looking at two people extremely well-known to Republican voters in Alabama. And under any normal circumstance, Luther Strange would’ve had the advantage simply by being an incumbent. But the situation actually gets a lot more complicated. Because not only is Senator Strange the incumbent, Senator strange also had the public support of the President of the United States, Donald Trump, and of the Vice President, Mike Pence. Both of whom are extremely popular in Alabama, neither of whom could carry Luther Strange, the presumably advantaged incumbent over the victory line in terms of the nomination race. Instead it went to the insurgent candidate and not by a small margin.
Here the worldview analysis gets really interesting. On the one hand, what becomes clear and is very clear to the national media is that this was not a traditional left right race. That might happen in terms of the election in December between the Republican and Democratic nominees, but in the Republican Party, there’s no question that both of the candidates were very conservative. Instead it came down to a particular form of identity on the part of the candidates. And beyond question, Roy Moore was clearly identified with conservative Christianity in the state of Alabama. And by any measure that’s what made the difference in terms of this particular primary election.
So by the time the election took place on Tuesday, Senator Strange, the incumbent, appeared to be the establishment candidate, and Judge Moore appeared to be the insurgent candidate and with two particular issues attached to his reputation in the state. The first was his defense of a 10 Commandments monument and of the biblical background to American law. And the second was his resolute defense of judges and magistrates who would refuse to recognize same-sex marriage. In terms of analysis, we need to note that in the main more establishment political candidates tend to run from these controversial issues, whereas Judge Moore ran absolutely toward them and so did Alabama’s Republican voters.
But the other thing to note here is the incredulity, the absolute shock that has sent through the political system as represented for example by the mainstream media by Tuesday’s election in Alabama. So what we heard in terms of a lot of the news analysis was analysts and reporters and other intellectual leaders scratching their heads wondering where did these people come from? Meaning the majority of Republican voters in the state of Alabama. So on the one hand you’ve got some geographical distance between Alabama and what’s called inside the Beltway – that is inside the power structures of Washington D.C. But that geographical distance as it turns out is almost negligible in significance over against the great distance of worldview. So the most fundamental reality here is that the positions taken by Roy Moore the Senate candidate in Alabama were not only plausible to the voters of Alabama, they were convincingly plausible.
But at the same time, those very convictions are unthinkable within the corridors of power in the nation’s intellectual thought capitals, including places like Los Angeles, and furthermore, of course, New York and Washington D.C. The thought classes in America have been fairly certain for the last several decades that people holding the kinds of positions now reflected by the majority of Republican voters in Alabama had been safely consigned to the dustbin of history. And that’s why Tuesday’s election was such a shock sent through the entire political system. Judge Moore now the Republican nominee for the office of the United States Senate will face off against former U.S. Attorney Doug Jones, the standard-bearer for the Democratic Party. Again that election will take place on December 12 in the state of Alabama. Of notes here is the fact that the recent interest has been between the two Republican candidates. An entirely different worldview conflict and a display of ideas is likely now to be exhibited between the Democratic nominee and the Republican nominee. That unfolding argument and the outcome of the special election will itself be of interest, and with you, we will stay tuned.
Why the collapse of morality inevitably leads to the failure of etiquette
Next we turn to another election, this one in the state of Virginia. This one relatively difficult to discuss, and that turns out to be the main point. As the Washington Post reported yesterday,
“Virginia Politics ‘Just who I am’: In new ad, Va. Democratic candidate discusses being transgender”
The story is Antonio Olivo, and it is interesting, but mostly undiscussable in terms of its particulars. The bottom line has to do with the fact that the candidate on the Democratic side here – that is Danica Roem –
“has put her transgender identity,” as the reporter says, “ is front and center in a YouTube ad meant to chastise her opponent, Del. Robert G. Marshall (R-Prince William), for refusing to acknowledge her as a woman.”
Now as the report goes on,
“Roem, who would be the first openly transgender politician elected in Virginia, is shown in the ad,” again this is the ad the candidate put up, “taking hormone medication and putting on eye makeup. In a voice-over, she tells viewers that her gender identity ‘shouldn’t be newsworthy or political.’”
But, of course it’s the candidate who has made the issue both newsworthy and political. We’re not talking here about a friend’s newspaper. We’re talking about the Washington Post. And as the story is very clear, painfully clear, there is a conflict between these two candidates over whether or not the Democratic nominee is a woman. In this case, the Republican candidate refuses to recognize the Democratic candidate as a woman and citing a medical background just goes on to say that biologically it isn’t so. Roem has received a great deal of financial support. Interestingly, indeed, tellingly, most of it from not only outside the district but outside the state. One can only suspect that taking this issue in terms of the controversial turn the candidate has taken it is actually a way to continue that fund-raising and to gain headlines.
An interesting political assessment was made in the story by Stephen Farnsworth, a professor of political science at the University of Mary Washington. He said the,
“candidates’ spat over gender identity will probably appeal only to their bases in an election that will probably be decided by voters from the middle of the political spectrum.”
It is interesting, and that’s a very important point. The way this race is unfolding over this issue means that people are going to run to the base – that is this is probably going to increase turnout on the left for the Democratic candidate and on the right for the Republican candidate. But why we talking about it today on The Briefing? We’re talking about it because it is so difficult to talk about it. We’re talking about it because the story begins by telling us that this is newsworthy because the person complaining about it being newsworthy made it newsworthy. But to me the most important worldview analysis when it comes to the story is the fact that the story is a story. That tells us a great deal about that sexual revolution that is so reshaping America’s entire cultural landscape. But I want to point to the difficulty of discussing this particular story. It’s difficult to discuss. It’s awkward to discuss. There is no current etiquette in even knowing how to discuss this. Now that’s very telling in itself because etiquette is a reflection of morality. Morality is prior to etiquette. Etiquette is the product of a certain moral worldview, and what we see here is the breakdown of a Christian biblical worldview with its understanding of etiquette and the absence of any other moral worldview adequate to provide a new form of etiquette.
Now there are those on the left who will simply champion this as a sign that the old etiquette was based upon a worldview that had to go, but it’s also just very awkward that there is no new etiquette here nor I would argue can there be. Because when you’re looking at the moral revolution we are experiencing, the forces behind it are not even agreed on where that revolution should go not to mention what kind of moral judgments should be reflected in etiquette. In the meantime, we are stuck with the awkwardness of the fact that there is no way to escape the awkwardness of this kind of conversation. The awkwardness we face when a discussion takes place on this issue between a parent and a child, between the teacher and a student, between colleagues in an office, between a pastor and his congregation or even just people looking at a news story like this think there ought to be some way to talk about this. But of course far more important than the social awkwardness we face in the absence of any sustainable etiquette is the reality that we know that what’s changing here and what’s challenged here is something far deeper than etiquette can ever touch. We’re talking about a fundamental redefinition of what it means to be human. It will be a failed attempt in the meantime even our etiquette fails us.
As life expectancy for those born with Down syndrome increases, the womb becomes more dangerous
Finally we turn to a really important story at ABC News, and many others in the media have covered it as well. The ABC story gets right to the heart of the issue.
“Should states ban abortions when Down syndrome diagnosed?”
This story originates at the Associated Press in the background of something we have discussed even recently on The Briefing, especially as related to Iceland where it is claimed Down syndrome has been largely eradicated. Meaning, of course, that means the eradication of people with Down syndrome. This particular story has to do with the fact that there are now efforts within the legislature of Ohio to outlaw abortions that will be undertaken entirely because of the diagnosis of Down syndrome. And you can expect the kind of pushback that we now know will come. In this case, the pushback is coming not only from pro-abortion forces, but from at least some medical authorities who are saying that the law would represent,
“gross interference in the patient-physician relationship.”
A story like this reveals what persons hold to be moral ultimates, and there’s no question that for many people on the left abortion is now the singular most important moral ultimate. But it’s also clear that for many people in the medical professions. It is the relationship of the patient to the doctor that is the moral ultimatum. A law similar to that proposed in Ohio was enacted in 2016 in Indiana, but a federal judge has blocked the state’s authority to enforce the measure. What’s most important for our recognition is the fact that human dignity is here at stake. But that’s not what most people seem to want to argue. They want to argue this entirely from a conception of human rights, claiming this newly constructed right of a woman to destroy the unborn life within her. As we point out again and again on The Briefing, any conception of human rights depends upon a definition of what it means to be human. And here we see the ultimate sterility of the secular worldview in its attempt to construct an entirely secular understanding of what it means to be human. That secular conception of humanity cannot sustain long-term any kind of claim for human rights. And as history sadly already reveals, once you deny the dignity of a person unborn it’s a very short jump to begin to deny dignity for those who are already born.
Here we also see the extreme absolutism of the abortion-rights movement. An absolutism that leads them in the each and every single case to oppose any restriction on abortion for any reason, including in this case abortions solely for the reason of a diagnosis of a likelihood of Down syndrome. The very same people, the very same organizations, the very same politicians who also vehemently oppose any effort to outlaw abortion for the reason of sex selection. It’s hard to imagine a deeper cleavage amongst Americans or for that matter most human beings over the question of what it even means to be human.
Deeply embedded in this article is something else, and that is that there’s the experience of a particular mom reflected in the story who did not abort her child, now a two-year-old boy. And as she says, he has a very happy almost normal life. Also embedded in the story is the fact that life expectancy for persons with Down syndrome United States has increased from 25 years to 60 years just over the past generation or so. So we have become the kind of country that has a health system that will help to extend the life of persons and not only that the quality of life of those who have Down syndrome from a life expectancy of 25 to 60. But let’s note we’re the country where that’s only relevant if that person who has Down syndrome can survive the womb. It’s just a tragic fact of life in America that one of the most dangerous places to be is the womb.