The Briefing 08-19-14

The Briefing 08-19-14

The Briefing


August 19, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, August 19, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Spread of Ebola aided by lack of cultural understanding of Western medical practice

Laurie Garrett, one of the world’s foremost specialists on infectious diseases has written an ominous story for Foreign Policy magazine, one of the most influential journals of the foreign policy establishment. The headline ought to have your attention “You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola.” Laurie Garrett has a central concern here, and that concern is this: people in the West seem to believe that a disease like Ebola can be kept at a safe remove from the United States of America. And yet as she writes – even at this point, it has been rather localized, in terms of West Africa – all it has to do is get one significant population and it explodes. And she has her bull’s-eye on one particular population and that is the city of Lagos, Nigeria. Now the disease is in Nigeria, if it should reach this city with teeming millions there is nothing, she makes clear, to keep it from an international breakout. And as she says, quite ominously and quite truthfully, there is no vaccine and there is no demonstrated treatment for this disease, there are no pharmaceuticals available, there is no magic cure.


If indeed the drug that was used on the two evacuated US medical missionaries was effective, it will still not be available. And as Laurie Garrett says, the kind of outbreak we should fear is not going to wait for the development of either the technology or the delivery of those pharmaceuticals. Garrett says that far too many people in the West assume that there must, be in her words, ‘magic bullets’ in some rich country’s freezers that will instantly stop the relentless spread of the Ebola virus. She writes,


If you think airport security guards in Los Angeles can look a traveler in the eyes and see infection, blocking that jet passenger’s entry into LA,


you’re living in Neverland.


She cites John Campbell of the Council on Foreign Relations, a former US ambassador in Nigeria who warned recently the spread of the virus inside Lagos, which has a population of 22 million people, would instantly transform the situation into a worldwide crisis – thanks to the chaos, size, density, and mobility of not only that city but dozens of others in the enormous oil-rich nation. Add to that, she says, Nigerian civil war, national elections, Boko Haram terrorists, and a countrywide doctors’ strike – all of which are not just threatened, but already real.


A similar warning came in the August 17 edition of the New York Times, indicating that one of the major problems right now with containing the Ebola outbreak is the lack of medical personnel – and doctors in particular. Writing for the Times, Sheri Fink points out that many Western organizations have withdrawn their medical personnel – indeed many of them simply had to because the presence of those medical personnel was a part of the problem, and it still is. In much of Nigeria and West Africa there are many people who think that Westerners are infecting Africans with the disease. Western doctors are themselves suspects in the eyes of many Africans for spreading the disease, rather than for trying to help to treat it. That was made abundantly clear just recently when in Liberia people broke into a hospital full of Ebola patients and ‘liberated’ them – putting them out in the population because they felt they had be liberated from Western oppression. The article in the New York Times makes very clear the horrifying kinds of moral questions that are now addressing the world, not only in terms of the situation on the ground in West Africa, but the situation elsewhere, where people are having to make decisions in Charlotte, North Carolina and Denver, Colorado, and in Brussels, Belgium about whether or not to send medical personnel, what kind of medical personnel to send, and whether not sending them would help – or perhaps even hurt.

Similarly, over the weekend the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page article indicating that one of the major problems there in West Africa is not only the shortage of medical personnel but of medical supplies. And one of them is profoundly simple – it turns out that one of the major avenues for the transmission of this deadly disease is the absence of medical gloves. As it turns out, the headline says, “For Want of Gloves, Ebola Doctors Die.” And is not just Ebola doctors who are dying – it’s medical personnel and others are contaminating patient by patient, taking the disease to people do not even have the disease. This kind of news should set seriously minded Christians to thinking very seriously about this issue, about this plague, this disease, and the larger questions that are involved.


For one thing, it should set us to praying in a whole new way when we understand this threat, understanding that we should be praying for the people of West Africa. We should be praying that this disease, this contagion will be contained. We should be praying that there will not be the kind of horrifying outbreak that Laurie Garrett describes in Foreign Policy magazine. We need to pray that – not just so that the disease would not reach us, but so that those who are even right now struggling with this disease may be among the last in this contagion to have to face that horrifying news. But we also need to keep in mind some other truths that most Americans never think of, and many American Christians are included in that number.


For one thing, let’s think about this for a moment, modern medicine is not just an invention or a discovery – it is an achievement, it is a monumental achievement, it is an achievement that emerged only in cultures that were committed to a very common worldview. And that worldview, was not the worldview of technology and industry, but the worldview that was inherited from the Christian tradition – the biblical worldview. The biblical worldview that dignified a rational world, created by an intelligent Creator, in terms of His omnipotence and His glory, who gave us the world and told us that it was to His glory and for our good that we would come to know it – a God of an orderly universe, who created that universe such that there is an orderly repeatable pattern. Modern medicine, indeed modern science, would’ve been impossible without that fundamental worldview. And add to that worldview, another very important issue and that is the dignity of human beings, the sanctity of human life. All those things came together with many other achievements in order to bring about the revolution we know as modern medicine. Most Americans for instance never ponder the fact that it was after the establishment of this nation in 1776, that people, even in the Western world, became accustomed and settled in what is now known as germ theory. As recently as the late 18th century, most people, even most intelligent and educated people – even in cities such as Washington and Boston and London ­– believe that diseases were caused by elements in the universe, and in particular clouds and humors, believing that mist carried those diseases, and that breathing the mist would cause the disease to be obtained, and avoiding the mist or the humor would prevent the same. But as it turns out, the invention of germ theory was instrumental to the rise of modern medicine and to the rise of the kinds of habits that go along with avoiding disease –the habits of hygiene and such things as antibiotics. Those things are part of the achievement of modern medicine, not just an invention, not just a discovery, but an achievement – and an achievement that requires a certain cultural understanding.


The absence of that understanding, right now among much of West Africa, explains why there are people trying to break into hospitals to liberate patients from modern treatment. Why the effort to isolate people, in terms of contagion, is seen as a form of racism or oppression. And amongst people who are even claiming that what is really going on here is an effort to harvest organs from people – the disease not even being real, they claim. One of our main concerns on The Briefing is to talk about the necessary intersection between worldview and life, especially as seen in the leading issues of the news and public conversation. Ebola is something that scares people, and as Laurie Garrett makes very clear, it ought to scare us. But far more than that, for the Christian worldview perspective it ought to make us think like Christians and understand just how thankful we should be for modern medicine – not as a gift of a secular modern age, but as the inheritance of a tradition that was established on the biblical grounds. And we should also see, in contrast, that where that worldview is absent, modern medicine actually doesn’t fit. We should be thankful that it has arrived in West Africa, but we should understand that is not always well received even when it has arrived. So as we say: worldview matters, it matters what you trying to get into a hospital or to break out of one.

2) Pro-choicer criticizes abortion movement for treating abortion as a significant moral issue

Frankly, you don’t have to look very far to find a deadly and devastating effects of a faulty worldview. In recent days all you had to do was look at the opinion pages of the Washington Post. If you did, you would find an article by Janet Harris identified as the president of Upstream Analysis, a news and social media analysis firm. We are also told she was previously the communications director of Emily’s List, a political action committee supporting Democratic pro-choice women running for office. In other words she’s been an activist for abortion – and when you look at this article you’ll understand that activism in a whole new sense. Headline of her opinion pieces is this, “Stop Calling Abortion a Difficult Decision” this is one of those pieces you would almost believe had been written by a pro-lifer in order to embarrass the pro-abortion movement – but  it wasn’t, it was written by someone with vast experience advocating for abortion. Janet Harris writes, and I quote:


Planned Parenthood calls abortion “a difficult decision” in many of its consent forms and fact sheets. When NARAL launched a film on the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade in 2013, the president of the pro-choice organization called abortion “a difficult decision” women and couples face. Lawmakers [she says] use the adjective, too. “It was a difficult, difficult decision, but it was the right one,” [that was said by] Nevada Assemblywoman, Lucy Flores…in defending her choice to have an abortion at age 16.


Hillary Rodham Clinton, then a United States Senator in 2005, described the decision to have an abortion as:


One of the most fundamental, difficult and soul-searching decisions a woman and a family can make.


But then Janet Harris writes this, and these are her exact words,


However, when the pro-choice community frames abortion as a difficult decision, it implies that women need help deciding, which opens the door to paternalistic and demeaning “informed consent” laws. It also stigmatizes abortion and the women who need it.


In Janet Harris’s view, abortion is not a difficult decision – indeed she says,


Often, abortion isn’t a difficult decision. In my case, it sure wasn’t. When I was 18, my boyfriend, whom I was with for more than a year, frequently pressured me into having sex. At the time, I lacked the maturity and experience to exert more control over the situation. For more than 10 weeks, I progressed from obliviousness about my pregnancy to denial to wishful thinking… Once I faced reality, though [she writes], having an abortion was an obvious decision, not a difficult one. The question wasn’t “Should I or shouldn’t I?” but “How quickly can I get this over with?” [she continues,] This was in the mid-1980s, when abortion was about women having control not just over their bodies but over their destinies.


Explaining her own decision to have an abortion and why it was such an ‘obvious choice,’ to use her language, she writes:


An unwanted pregnancy would have derailed my future, making it difficult for me to finish college and have the independent, productive life that I’d envisioned.


So very bluntly, she tells the reader of the Washington Post that it was an easy decision, an obvious decision, for her to have an abortion – terminating the life within her, so that that unborn child would not derail her life or make it difficult for her to finish college, and have what she describes as, “the independent, productive life that I’d envisioned.”


Janet Harris says she understands why the advocates of the pro-life position say that abortions a difficult decision, it’s because they wish it were, they hope it is, and in many cases, she implies, they want it to be. But she says it really isn’t a difficult choice, or shouldn’t be, she says when pro-choice advocates use the difficult decision formulation, they do so so as not to demonize women. They want to make it look as if women are struggling with the great and grave moral decision – and yet she says that’s not necessary. And just when you think her article can’t grow anymore atrocious, she writes


But there’s a more pernicious result when pro-choice advocates use such language: It is a tacit acknowledgment that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue requiring an ethical debate. To say that deciding to have an abortion is a “hard choice” implies a debate about whether the fetus should live, thereby endowing it with a status of being. It puts the focus on the fetus rather than the woman. As a result, the question “What kind of future would the woman have as a result of an unwanted pregnancy?” gets sacrificed. By implying that terminating a pregnancy is a moral issue, pro-choice advocates forfeit control of the discussion to anti-choice conservatives.


From time to time we all read things that shock us, other things that horrify us – but this is not only shocking, it’s not only horrifying, it’s also very clarifying. Because here you have a woman whose had a major post in the pro-choice movement saying that it’s about time that that side of the equation simply took the issue of a hard decision or difficult choice off the table when it comes to having abortion. And she is so straightforwardly, if horrifyingly honest, to say that she makes this argument because the moment you say it was a hard decision, or difficult choice, you bring the fetus in the equation – you give it, as she says, a status – and she profoundly believes that the fetus must not have a status in this discussion. If anything, what she does is to lay bare the entire logic of the pro-abortion movement.


This is exactly the arguments made by the lawyers in the Supreme Court case in 1973 known as Roe v. Wade. They were arguing the fetus doesn’t have a status, this is exactly what those were opposing – even the partial-birth abortion ban act years ago were arguing – the fetus at no stage has a status, they don’t what the fetus as a part of the equation, they don’t want the fetus appearing on the refrigerator in that image from an ultrasound, they don’t want the fetus even implied in the statement that it is a difficult choice. She also goes on to say, as you heard her to say her own words, that the statement that it is a difficult choice or a hard decision implies that there is an ethical issue involved and she doesn’t believe there is. When she concludes her article she says that the only downside to the abortion, in her view, is that it is:


Highly stressful, and [in her words] humiliating evidence of a failure in judgment


But the failure in judgment is not the judgment to get the abortion and kill the baby, but rather the decision to have the sex that produced the context of the pregnancy that now is a problem, as she sees it, of no ethical significance.


In recent months we’ve been confronted with so many arguments coming from the pro-abortion side, arguments with the teeth bared, with no effort to disguise the intention. We have had women who claim that what needs to happen is a public relations campaign in order to make clear that women are proud of having an abortion, rather than being embarrassed of the same. They are now saying that abortion needs to be beautified in art and presented to the public in such a way that it’s an attractive option – rather than something that is to be whispered elsewhere. And now you have this one writing in the pages of the Washington Post, one of the most influential newspapers in the United States, a newspaper that is avowedly pro-abortion, but a newspaper in which is kind of article is still rather striking when it appears in the opinion page. And article is striking – because she’s not really here criticizing the pro-life side, she’s criticizing her fellow pro-abortionists, and she’s criticizing them for accepting, and for even acknowledging that abortion is a significant moral issue – that in the lives of many women, it is a difficult decision, it is a hard choice. It wasn’t for her, she says, and it should be for those women as well. She blames the pro-choice movement adopting that language for inflicting that ethical difficulty upon women, who otherwise would understand, as she did, that the fetus has no status at all and that there is no ethical issue here and the only question is how quickly she can get it done. ]

The culture of death generally hides behind euphemisms, false arguments, and equivocations. It’s really an acknowledgment of what the logic of abortion always is, when you have a woman who has had this kind of experience in the pro-choice, pro-abortion movement, criticize her own movement for suggesting that abortion might be a difficult choice, a hard decision, an ethical issue.

3) Anxiety in parenting reveals heart desires of parents

With Labor Day looming before us, most American schoolchildren are either already in school or soon to be headed that way, and as is usually the case with the back-to-school season, the media are giving a lot of attention to the back-to-school issues and there’s a flurry of articles having to do everything from the quality of schooling to school board and political issues, to questions about what children should wear, and what they should eat – but one most interesting dimensions of the conversation this year is a flurry of articles and analyses suggesting that parents are over-parenting, and that this is a problem for American schoolchildren. And there is also the acknowledgement that something’s wrong, not just with the curriculum but with the kids.


Writing the Wall Street Journal, Adam Price, a psychologist who practices in Newark City, New Jersey, writes about what he calls “The Underchallenged ‘Lazy Teenager’,” as he says the problem of lazy teenager is probably as old as humanity. However, American parents in the current generation seem to have forgotten how to deal with it. Simply wringing their hands as they are often very concerned about their lazy teenagers – and, as he says the major problem here is, the indolence of adolescent males, the laziness of adolescent boys. He’s not writing about the high achievers, whether boys or girls, trying to get into Harvard or Yale, he’s writing about some boys who are not achieving. He says,


They are the ones who make time for television, videogames, social media and friends, but not for school. Many do the minimum required to get by, flying under the radar of official “trouble” while causing their parents plenty of grief and consternation


He says,


My psychology practice is filled with middle- and high-school-age boys who cannot seem to achieve their “potential.”


Interestingly, Adam Price says one of the problems is parents are often a very poor judge of potential of their own kids, and sometimes they hold up the potential that is too high – leading their boys to believe, if I can’t meet that, I’ll  simply go into a shell and not do anything. But that’s not the main problem, he says far too many parents, when it comes to teenage boys, are telling them that they’re smarter than they are, that they’re doing better academically than they are, or they try to cushion the blow when the young man simply doesn’t do as well as he should have done. He also writes, not only should parent stop telling them how smart they are when they’re not actually performing in any smart way, but they should also stop doing the dishes for him.


Children are not helped when parents take care of household chores because the children are “too busy” with homework, sports and other activities. Treating them like royalty whose only job is to bring honor to the family gives them an unrealistic message about life—that they are special. Seeing a parent take out the garbage does not inspire a teenager to rush, with gratitude, to his studies. Rather, he draws the conclusion: “I am above all of that drudgery.” Successful people tend to be those who are willing and able to do things that they really don’t want to do [says Dr. Price]


Next, he says, don’t let the boy off easily. He cites clinical psychologist Wendy Mogul, who’s written


That it is easier for parents to feed, shelter and clothe their children than it is for them to set effective limits. But not enforcing consequences for the indolent teenage boy reinforces the notion, yet again, that he is special, and that the rules of the world do not apply to him.


Then he says,


Don’t make him shine for you. In a culture where teenagers scramble to amass credentials and gain admission to the best colleges…being considered average or even a little above has become unacceptable. But by overlooking the good in the quest for the perfect, parents saddle children with unrealistic expectations. A college counselor I know [he says] likes to say that a good college is one that fits your kid, not one whose name adds class to your car’s rear window.


Coming from a secular source, there is still an incredible amount of wisdom there and one that most parents can recognize as being a wisdom deeper than even a secular psychologist understands. But also buttressing his argument is an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of USA Today, the article by Michelle Healy is entitled “Parent-Reported Cases of Disability in Children Rise” and here’s what’s really interesting: it turns out that there has been a vast explosion of parent reported cases of disability in children, but not where they were expected, amongst those who are more impoverished, but amongst those where it was expected at all – those were the richest. It turns out that America’s most affluent and wealthiest parents believe that their children are somehow broken – marked by some kind of disability. As Healy writes,


Disability due to any physical condition, such as asthma and breathing conditions, hearing problems, and bone or joint problems, declined by 12% during the decade, while cases related to any neurodevelopmental or mental-health condition, such as [you know it] attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities or emotional problems, increased by 21%.


And these wealthy parents are showing up with their children, and especially their teenagers, in the offices of doctors and psychologists and others, saying my child has a mental disability, has some kind of learning disability, needs some kind of drug, because otherwise you will be performing at the very top of the academic ranks and every major Ivy League college university will be seeking him for admission. Healy reports of the study that came out in the Journal Pediatrics yesterday indicated that amongst children living in affluent homes in the United States in the decades from 2001 to 2011, children in those affluent homes had a 28% increase in learning disability diagnoses.


The pediatricians looking at the at this report acknowledge that there is probably something going on here in terms the reality of some of these learning disabilities – but they say they can’t explain two things. Number one, this vast increase – some of that has to be simply an increase of parents worry, rather than any reality in the children and the second thing it can’t explain is why it’s happening mostly amongst the affluent, rather than amongst the impoverished – where at least these kinds of realities, if found, would be understood in terms of the context. No, the pediatricians are also noting something else and that is this: America’s parents, especially those parents amongst the elites and the parents who are most affluent, those parents have been believed that every one of their children must be like those parodied in the community of Lake Wobegon – they  have to be above average, and not just slightly above average but tremendously above average.  And what we have here is a set of very unmatched expectations of the part of many parents – who simply believe that their own self-esteem will rise or fall on whether their children are recognized by the larger world as being exceptional. Well every child’s exceptional, but not in the sense that is implied by this anxiety. The reality is, what we see in parenting is a mirror of ourselves, and what we see in parenting as we said yesterday in that international review, is what reveals a worldview in a culture and what reveals the heart of the parent as well.


It’s interesting that from secular sources there are now so many saying that American parents are over-parenting, over serving, over indulging kids – very arresting article here in terms of the indolent teenager,  but it is also really interesting that the same parents are turning around and saying if my child doesn’t get into Harvard or Yale, doesn’t gain all the approval of the world, and isn’t recognized as exceptional, it must be because of something like a learning disability – something I can blame or something for which there must be a pill. But in reality, most of our kids are average, most of the world’s average, and the glory of God is seen in the glory of average people.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to


This morning at 10 o’clock (EST) I’ll be delivering the address at the annual opening convocation ceremony for Boyce College and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Following history and tradition of the Christian church through the centuries, we will be gathering together in order to consecrate ourselves before God for the academic year to come; praying for the Lord’s blessing. But there is a major message on my heart I want to share with the faculty and students at the seminary and the college, and you invited to watch as well. You can watch the streaming video at The video will also be posted shortly thereafter.


I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Spread of Ebola aided by lack of cultural understanding of Western medical practice

You Are Not Nearly Scared Enough About Ebola, Foreign Policy (Laurie Garrett)

With Aid Doctors Gone, Ebola Fight Grows Harder, New York Times (Sheri Fink)

Ebola Virus: For Want of Gloves, Doctors Die, Wall Street Journal (Drew Henshaw)

2) Pro-choicer criticizes abortion movement for treating abortion as a significant moral issue

Stop calling abortion a ‘difficult decision’, Washington Post (Janet Harris)

3) Anxiety in parenting reveals heart desires of parents

The Underchallenged ‘Lazy Teenager’, Wall Street Journal (Adam Price)

Parent-reported cases of disability in children rise, USA Today (Michelle Healy)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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