The Briefing 10-03-14

The Briefing 10-03-14

The Briefing


November 3, 2014

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


It’s Monday, November 3, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Tragedy of Brittany Maynard ending her life reminder humans are not self-defining beings

Sadly, on Saturday Brittany Maynard ended her life. People magazine, that had an exclusive with her and her family, reported on Sunday that she who had become the public face of the controversial Right to Die Movement over the past few weeks ended her own life Saturday at her home in Portland, Oregon at age 29. People had a statement she had released that had said, and I quote,

“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more. The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

That was also pasted to her personal Facebook page. According to People’s report, doctors had told Maynard she had six months to live in the spring of this year after she was diagnosed with a likely stage four glioblastoma – that’s a brain tumor. She made headlines around the world, says People, when she announced she intended to die under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act, and that she had decided to do so by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates prescribed for her by a doctor. She had decided to take the barbiturates when her suffering became, in her judgment, too great, and when she feared losing total control.

Last month she told People magazine that her brain tumor,

“…is going to kill me and that’s out of my control,”

She said,

“I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”

How should Christians think about this? Well, first of all, we need to recognize this as an unmitigated human tragedy. We need to sympathize with Brittany Maynard, with the struggle that she faced in these end months of her life; when she faced the almost sure prospect of a death, indeed a very difficult death, by this aggressive brain tumor. We need to sympathize with her family and loved ones who surely grieve her even now and grieved in anticipation as they knew she was suffering from this disease. But Christians also know that something is fundamentally wrong with this picture. Even though we grieve with this young woman in her struggle and even though we understand her intention to try to avoid losing control of her life in these end stages, and to avoid what was in her mind unacceptable and unbearable suffering, we also recognize that what she was doing was taking her own destiny into her hands. She was effectively saying, ‘I will determine how and when I will die.’

Steadfastly throughout this public controversy she insisted that she was not actually committing suicide. We need to look very closely at that. Sympathetically we need to understand that in her mind she was not committing suicide because she had faced a death sentence – a rather soon death sentence by the medical diagnosis of this glioblastoma, a very aggressive brain tumor from which there are very few survivors. And yet we also need to understand that even as in her own mind she was not committing suicide, actually she was. Her death on Saturday came by means of an act, of an act of ending her own life, by taking what will be defined as an overdose or a lethal dose of barbiturates. And she did so intentionally, making very clear by her public statements that she intended to end own life on her own terms and on her own timing. The Christian concern about this has to do with the fact that we do not number or order our own days. We also need to understand that there is a hopelessness that was very evident, indeed writ large, in terms of Brittany Maynard’s action on Saturday. And that’s a hopelessness we need to note that might actually makes sense in terms of a secular worldview; it simply doesn’t make sense in terms of the Christian worldview.

The Christian worldview does not embrace death, indeed quite the opposite, it sees death as the enemy which is to be resisted and it promises that death is eventually the enemy that is defeated in the cross and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. But the Christian worldview based in Scripture also tells us that we are not those who hold in our own hands the destiny of either our birth or our life; or for that matter even all the days and hours in between. The Bible tells us that we simply are not in control of ourselves, we are not self-defining creatures and the hopelessness that marks the very end of Brittany Maynard’s life and the hopelessness that is actually evident in her death by suicide on Saturday is evidence of the fact of the Christian worldview actually runs, not at many points, not at some point, but at every point over against the secular worldview.

Looking at the public controversy that emerged when Brittany Maynard announced her intention, and the public controversy that now continues after her tragic death, we come to see that that public controversy in itself demonstrates the direct collision between the Christian biblical worldview and the secular worldview. It comes down to such issues as this: Brittany Maynard’s decision is celebrated by those certainly within the Death with Dignity Movement – and that’s a very cleverly devised and named movement. It’s a moment that says not only she, but every American, indeed every human individual, should eventually have the right – this is always presented as a right – to end one’s own life on one’s own terms, depending on whatever circumstances may lead an individual to believe that life is not now worth living.

One of the things we need to note is that this Death with Dignity Movement almost always centers first and foremost on those who are suffering from intractable or incurable, even terminal, diseases. And yet, country by country, state-by-state, where there is evidence of why people decide to take their own lives, this is not limited to terminal diagnoses. It is not limited even to those who are suffering from what are described as terminal illnesses. In much of Europe, especially in nations like the Netherlands and Belgium, even Switzerland now, we know there are people who are ending their lives because as they define the quality of life, it comes down to the fact that life is not now worth living – not because of a terminal medical diagnosis or even some kind of intractable and incurable suffering, but because they decided on the basis of some other impact upon their life, some other life condition, that it isn’t worth living. There so many sad cases coming out of Europe of people who actually reached the point of what is probably rightly described as despair. When that despair turns deadly and they decide to go to a place like the Netherlands or Belgium or Switzerland, through what is now even described in the media as death tourism or euthanasia tourism in order to end their own lives. The Christian worldview throws it back upon us to understand that when we look at a tragedy like this it speaks not only to the collision between these two worldviews but to the fact that we as Christians have to understand that we are not self-defining creatures; that we do not have the right biblically speaking even to define the terms by which we would find life livable. At any number of points human beings in any number of context, suffering from any number of diseases, or even for just afflictions of life, might come to terms with the fact that so far as we believe ourselves at that time, life is not worth living. But that’s where the Scripture comes in to tell us that that is a sign of a hopelessness that simply is not compatible with Christian faith. It is also a sign of the human being overreaching, in terms of defining our own lives on our own terms, and that’s the real issue here.

A tragic story like this should cause Christians to respond with genuine sympathy. We should not look with condescension at a young woman who was struggling with such a horrifying diagnosis; we should not look with dismissal at the fact that she had very real concerns about horrifying things that might lie in her future. But we also have to understand that even as we sympathize, even as we empathize, we cannot follow the same lines of thinking. And we have to see this is a fundamental challenge, not so much to her nor even to her own movement but to us, that we understand the dignity of human life at every point along the continuum of development and the lifespan in terms of the fact that we live it as creatures of a benevolent and loving sovereign Creator, whose intentions for us go beyond ourselves to His glory and to those who are around us. And who is also a God of great surprises; because most of us probably know, even now, someone who has received a diagnosis such as this and has gone through horrifying months of treatment, perhaps even years of struggle, but is still now very much alive and very much contributing to the glory of God and to human flourishing; very much contributing to the good of those around them and very much a living encouragement of the fact that life is precious, that it is a divine gift, and it is not to be forfeited – it is certainly not to be ended by her own hand on her own terms.

Brittany Maynard’s final words as posted on Facebook and reported by People magazine are particularly haunting,

“… Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”

Those are interesting words coming from a young woman who is announcing her decision, actually now posthumously, to take her own life. A faithful Christian’s last words can’t come close to something like Brittany Maynard’s ‘Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!” But those last words do need to be very much in our mind as we think about her death today and we recognize just what’s missing from those words and what must be present in our own faith – very much present as we consider a tragedy like this.

2) UN Climate report raises question of nature of scientific authority

Yesterday saw a major release of a climate change report from United Nations panel. The report was much-anticipated and yet it’s not really full of surprise since much of what the panel would eventually report yesterday was previously reported over the last 18 months by United Nations sources. But as Joby Warrick and Chris Mooney of the Washington Post report, the panel released a statement saying that

“The Earth is locked on an ‘irreversible’ course of climatic disruption from the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, and the impacts will only worsen unless nations agree to dramatic cuts in pollution.”

The report warned of extreme weather, rising sea levels, and melting polarized from soaring levels of carbon dioxide and other gases. The statement from the report said,

“Continued emission of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and long-lasting changes in all components of the climate system, increasing the likelihood of severe, pervasive and irreversible impacts,”

The report came from United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, known as the IPCC, and is drawn from contributions from thousands of scientists says the Washington Post, from all over the world. In one of the strongest statements to come from any similar group, the report said that some impacts of climate change will “continue for centuries,” even if, as the scientist said, all omissions from fossil fuel burning were to stop right now. As the Washington Post reports,

“The question facing governments is whether they can act to slow warming to a pace at which humans and natural ecosystems can adapt, or risk ‘abrupt and irreversible changes’ as the atmosphere and oceans absorb ever-greater amounts of thermal energy within a blanket of heat-trapping gases.”

One of the authors of the report is a Princeton University geosciences professor known as Michael Oppenheimer. He said,

“The window of opportunity for acting in a cost-effective way — or in an effective way — is closing fast,”

That’s what makes this report so interesting and interesting at so many different levels. First, at the scientific level this report comes with what is intended to be a unique authority coming from this panel of scientists and other leaders bearing the official imprimatur of the United Nations. And yet as you look at it you come to understand that the statements are incredibly stark. For instance, as the Associated Press reports,

“Climate change is happening, it is almost entirely man’s fault and limiting its impacts may require reducing greenhouse gas emissions to zero this century,”

As the Associated Press continued,

“But it underlined the scope of the climate challenge in stark terms. Emissions, mainly from the burning of fossil fuels, may need to drop to zero by the end of this century for the world to have a decent chance of keeping the temperature rise below a level that many consider dangerous.”

Now let’s look at this again, just at the scientific level; what’s present and what’s missing? What’s present is dire predictions. What’s present are very clear warnings. What’s present is the claim that this is a vast scientific consensus. As a matter fact as the New York Times and many others are reporting this morning, what this really reveals is the fact that there are very few scientist – to use the language often employed – who are outliers, denying in any way, that human beings are causing this kind of global warming and that it has to be addressed and addressed now. What’s missing from the report is any adequate or honest consideration of what kind of modeling is involved in coming to these conclusions. What’s required is a massive leap of imagination as you understand that scientists are here coming up with ways of modeling geothermal change over centuries and millennia of the past in which there are no available records. And as many have pointed out from the scientific community, the actual models vary tremendously. What’s glossed over in so much of the major media reportage on this is the fact that these models actually incorporate vast very important presuppositions that simply can’t be tested.

This gets to a second issue of the scientific import; how is it that we are to understand scientific authority on a question of this magnitude? Christians should understand that the world is indeed intelligible, that God gave us the cosmos that we are intended to try to seek to understand. There’s nothing in this sense that is wrong with scientist asking these questions. What’s wrong is the assumed authority that is claimed by scientists in terms of trying to come to an intelligible understanding of something that simply requires data that is not available. Now on the one hand we need to understand that vast areas of science require this kind of speculation, this kind of employment of presuppositions, but on something with this magnitude the import of these presuppositions looms larger than the public conversation is yet allowed or accepted or admitted.

This report put into a political context also reveals the fact that what is really intended by the release of this kind of report, that was after all released on a Sunday by the United Nations, is to try to get the world’s attention in order to create political momentum for a particular kind of change; political momentum for the demand of and acceptance of certain policies that are also embedded within this report. And yet when you look at that you see that the political challenge is actually vast because when you look at the report itself here’s what becomes clear: if we are indeed to bring the use of fossil fuels down to zero over the next 100 years and if indeed we are to make radical changes right now, this will require a massive change in the quality of life – even the means of life – for not only Americans but for people in all parts of the world. We are so dependent upon fossil fuels that any suggestion that we can simply now escape the problem of fossil fuels and their use is simply imagination, imagination run wild – it’s irresponsibility. We’re not going to shut down power plants, we’re like a turn off electricity; the impact upon human flourishing of that kind of act would be immediate, vast, deadly, and devastating – far more damaging and devastating as a matter fact than even the climate change impacts that are threatened or promised in this kind of report.

But this is not to say that Christians should not take a report like this with deep seriousness – of course we should. We are given by God, as the creatures made in his image, a stewardship responsibility for the entire cosmos in so far as we have the power or the influence to affect change for the better. We are given the responsibility of dominion, but that dominion is in the context of a stewardship. We are not to be the mere users and abusers of the cosmos, but it is within the biblical context that we see that we are those who were assigned attending of a garden – that’s the metaphor for creation – and our task is to tend the garden well, to tend the garden faithfully, even as the good farmer, the good gardener knows that is our responsibility. And to hang it off to generations yet to come, understanding that is not just a matter of a human stewardship but it’s a matter of what it means to glorify the Creator and to exercise the responsibility He has given us in faithfulness. But as we look at a report like this we understand that there is an inevitable quandary that we all now face. What authority do we ascribe to a report like this? How do we read this kind of scientific consensus? What were the presuppositions, not only of the report but of the scientists involved? And what actually is being demanded of us?

One of the alarm bells to Christians is reported in the New York Times in their coverage of the report when United Nations general Secretary Ban Ki-moon is quoted as saying,

“Science has spoken. There is no ambiguity in their message. Leaders must act. Time is not on our side.”

We can understand why the Secretary-General of the United Nations might sense a bit of urgency in this; there is urgency in it. But the statement that science has spoken, there’s no ambiguity in their message as if that is supposed to end the discussion, is not only irrational, it’s fundamentally dangerous. Christians are indeed to take science seriously but we are to investigate its findings and its presuppositions. We cannot simply defer to scientists or to science as if it is the ultimate authority of the age, though for many in the secular world it functions as precisely that.

And that leads to another story that also appeared in the New York Times this one on Saturday with the headline, “Alarmed by Ebola, Public Isn’t Calmed by ‘Experts Say’” as Richard Pérez Peña reports,

“When public health leaders and government officials make the case against isolating more people returning from the Ebola hot zones in West Africa, or against imposing more travel restrictions from that region, time and again they cite science and experts. It isn’t working very well.”

An amazing statement from the New York Times. It turns out that when Pres. Obama and others say, ‘scientists assure us this is the right thing to do;’ scientists say ‘that isn’t the right thing to do,’ the public isn’t buying the arguments. Because when it comes to something as directly threatening is the Ebola virus, the American people say ‘look, all of a sudden our confidence in what the experts say or what the scientist say is shaken by the fact that the experts haven’t kept their story straight and the scientists haven’t shown their ability actually to maintain their authority by the exercise of the policies they present. It comes down to the fact that the New York Times reflecting a great deal of frustration in Washington, New York, and elsewhere has to face the fact that the American public, the American people, aren’t buying the arguments when there ended by ‘this is what the experts say’ or when introduced by ‘scientists say this.’

When it comes to the mishandling of so much of the Ebola crisis, not only in West Africa but in the United States, scientists, as important as they are and as much as they contribute to our public discussion and to our knowledge, as much moral authorities as they are often recognize to have, simply don’t have the authority to say ‘trust us’ – not an issue like this. And as the climate change report also makes abundantly clear, not on a host of other issues as well.

3) Election day is an exercise of political and Christian responsibility

Finally, faithful Christians in the United States must keep in mind that tomorrow is Election Day in the United States. And that is a part of the exercise of our political responsibility as Christians. But we also need to understand that not voting is itself a moral act, it’s also a huge moral problem because in a democracy where citizens have the responsibility and opportunity to vote, failure to exercise that responsibility means giving others a far greater vote; it means by not voting allowing things to happen otherwise would not happen, it means failure to exercise that stewardship. It is a right that is recognized and enshrined in the U.S. Constitution and is recognized as a part of the great Democratic experiment of representative democracy. Failure to vote is a failure of Christian conviction and a failure of Christian stewardship.

And there’s something very important about Election Day. Writing in USA Today Robert Zubrin, who is the president of Pioneer Energy, speaks about the fact that in Colorado there actually isn’t any more of voting day. The pageant of democracy whereby voters went to the polls on the same day to vote exercising by means of that action and by that priority in the day what it means to fulfill that Democratic stewardship – that’s now gone in Colorado; where voting is now taking place by other means and voting is now stretched out over days and weeks, even a month. And as he writes,

“In Colorado, you can still drop off your mail-in ballot at a few places on Tuesday, but the traditional local polling places no longer exist. For all intents and purposes, [he writes] Election Day has been abolished in my home state. Instead, we now have Election Month.”

Now in writing this article Robert Zubrin is concerned that this plays to the advantage of political incumbents. And his argument is probably sound; it probably does. But as George Will has argued in the Washington Post with a similar kind of concern, the loss of election day is the loss of something that symbolizes a representative democracy and symbolizes the equality of all Americans showing up, giving priority in the day, to a polling place, where the exercise of democracy is commemorated and visible for us all. Furthermore the opportunity for malfeasance in the election system is multiplied when you abstract the democratic process from a voter standing in the voting booth.

There is of course something to be said for increasing access to voting, there will always be the need for some absentee voting as people will not be able to get to the voting place they are assigned on that particular day, but for the vast majority of voters Election Day should be a part, not only the pageant of democracy but of the conscious exercise of the stewardship the vote. Elections have consequences; we’ve learned that over and over again. Your vote matters and your stewardship as Christian especially matters and is what makes tomorrow, Election Day, a test not only of Christian interest but a test of Christian citizenship.

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 I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.



Podcast Transcript

1) Rise of ISIS reveals world is not becoming less religious

The New Crusades, Bloomberg Businessweek (Pankaj Mishra)

2) Fall of Arab civilization reminder of danger of seeds of barbarism to any civilization

The Barbarians Within Our Gates, Politico Magazine (Hisham Melham)

3) Consent laws replace objectivity of marriage with subjective experience as basis of morality 

Consensual Sex: There’s an App for That, Slate, (Amanda Hess)

4) Individualized preferred gender pronouns underline centrality of gender to human identity

What’s Your PGP?, Chronicle of Higher Education (Allan Metcalf)

What the heck is a “PGP”?, Gay Straight Alliance for Safe Schools

When no gender fits: A quest to be seen as just a person, Washington Post (Monica Hesse)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).