The Briefing 11-24-14

The Briefing 11-24-14

The Briefing


November 24, 2014

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


It’s Monday, November 24, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Report on Adam Lanza, Newtown shooter, reveals efforts to explain sin through disease

A major massive report out over the weekend indicates what is described as a major series of failures in efforts to treat Adam Lanza, the very troubled young man who killed 20 children and 6 educators on December 14, 2012 in the infamous massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The report came out from a government agency indicating what is described as a series of massive failures.

As Alaine Griffith and Josh Kovner report for Los Angeles Times,

“In February 2007, Yale [University] clinicians identified in Adam Lanza what they believed were profound emotional disabilities and offered him treatment that … could give him relief for the first time in his troubled life. But [according to the report] Adam was angry and anxious, and he didn’t want to go. [According to the Times] His mother, Nancy Lanza, constantly placating her son, was inclined to pull away from the treatment, prompting a psychiatric nurse to reach out to his father, Peter Lanza, in an urgent email.”

That read,

“I told Adam he has a biological disorder that can be helped with medication. I told him what the medicines are and why they can work. I told him he’s living in a box right now and the box will only get smaller over time if he doesn’t get some treatment.”

According to the Los Angeles Times Nancy Lanza, that’s Adam Lanza’s mother, rejected the Yale doctors’ plan. At that time the boy was 14 – it was six years later, in 2012, that he committed the massacre.

The report that was released Friday in Hartford, Connecticut by the Office of the Child Advocate pointed, says the Times,

“to the Yale episode as one of dozens of red flags, squandered opportunities, blatant family denial and disturbing failures by pediatricians, educators and mental health professionals to see a complete picture of Adam Lanza’s ‘crippling’ social and emotional disabilities.”

The Times goes on to report, and this is very important, although the report does not draw a line between the events of Lanza’s life and the massacre, it points out repeated examples of times when the profound anxiety and rage simmering inside him was not explored in favor of attempts to manage his symptoms. Later in the report, and by the way it was 112 pages long, many of the most significant criticisms in the report were aimed at the fact that parents, educators, doctors, and others, repeatedly attempted to treat Adam Lanza’s symptoms rather than the underlying disease – and that again is in the analysis of this report that comes in Connecticut from the Office of the Child Advocate.

The same report was summarized by the New York Times through its reporter Alison Leigh Cowan in these words,

“Medical experts at Yale University had called for drastic measures to help Adam Lanza in the years before he shot and killed 26 people at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., but those calls ‘went largely unheeded’ by his mother, who was also shot to death, according to a new study.”

At Cowan reports,

“The report, based on a comprehensive examination of the medical and school histories of Mr. Lanza, 20, found he was ‘completely untreated in the years before the shooting’ for psychiatric and physical ailments like anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder, and was also deprived of recommended services and drugs.”

The report went on to state that he also had an undiagnosed anorexia which could also have affected his mental state.

Now this story is truly important from a Christian worldview perspective because what it points to perhaps most profoundly is the fact that we, as rational moral creatures, made that way by God, want to find some kind of rationality in terms of this horrifying crime – the massacre of 20 elementary school-age children, six educators, and the young man’s own mother. We look at this and we have to wonder how can it be that these things could take place within a human imagination, much less with an actual human action? A part of the rationality we seek would be satisfied if we can find a medical, a psychiatric or psychological diagnosis that would serve as an adequate explanation. In this case there is plenty of psychiatric and psychological material available.

This 112 page report makes that abundantly clear. Adam Lanza, according to the researchers, was suffering from any number of major mental illnesses; any one of which could have contributed to this, all of which together certainly paint the picture of a uniquely troubled young man. A young man who was receiving treatment, or at least was receiving diagnosis, who as recently as 2007 had been diagnosed at Yale University by mental health clinicians who believed that he was severely ill and needed immediate treatment. But he was treated instead for symptoms, not for what the psychiatrist believed was the underlying disease.

The biblical worldview understands that human beings are psychosomatic whole – that is we are both mind and body. We are a physical creature; we’re also a spiritual creature. We not only have body, we have a soul. That psychosomatic unity, as it’s described in Scripture, can certainly explain how mental illness can take place and it can also underline the fact that there is a reality of a very serious mental illness. But the biblical worldview does not allow us to shift all issues of moral responsibility onto the disease theory. Even if the disease is actually real – terrifyingly present.

No one looking at the case of Adam Lanza even before looking at the 112 pages of this report could come to any other conclusion than that he was very seriously ill – mentally ill. But the biblical worldview also reminds us that we are mystery to ourselves, and in terms of the psyche, that is the psychiatric dimension of human beings, there will always be a hiddenness, even from the most skilled and insightful psychiatric observers. That becomes abundantly clear in this report because if anything is thoroughly documented in these over 100 pages, it is the failure of the mental health community, the failure of parents, the failure of educators, the failure even of pediatricians, to see just how violently ill this young man was and just how dangerous the situation would turn out to be.

The major question in this report is the major question on most of our minds, how is it that anyone who is familiar with this case, who knew of Adam Lanza and his deep mental illness, can come to any conclusion other than he had to be in some form of treatment and under some form of supervision that just might have prevented that horrifying massacre. That’s the question on our minds. Could it have been prevented? The report itself is not reluctant to point fingers of blame; it points at mental health practitioners, at educators, and particularly at Adam Lanza’s parents, saying that they failed. But the big documentation in this report is that many people failed – there was a massive series of failures. Virtually everyone who knew anything about Adam Lanza failed to take the appropriate action and thus the massacre was not prevented.

The Associated Press report says that Joseph Erardi, that is the superintendent of schools for Newtown, said the report would have great meaning if – and here’s an important quote –

“There is one school leader, one district, one mental health provider or one set of parents who reads this work and can prevent such a heinous crime.”

Well let’s state the obvious. We simply must hope that in this case the school superintendent’s hope might somehow be realized. We just have to hope and pray that future massacres like this might be prevented – indeed that he would not even been known to us because the perpetrators of these horrible crimes would’ve been the subject of some kind of saving helpful intervention or medical treatment, mental health treatment that would’ve prevented the massacre or the horrible crime from taking place. But that’s where the Christian worldview also points to an obvious fact in this report; it only makes sense in retrospect. Looking backwards the report is able to trace what it describes as a massive series of failures. But at the time, none of these actions appear to be such a failure – certainly not such a massive failure – at the time.

One of the other things that is now being commented upon by the mental health community and other observers of these horrifying realities is that there are many people who seem to have propensities such as those of Adam Lanza. It’s hard to identify in advance who is actually violent and who is not. We have to be thankful that there are some mental health professionals and others who do seem to be able to identify some persons who would be violent, dangerously horribly violent. But the case of Adam Lanza, as documented in this report, now seen in retrospect reminds us just how difficult it often must be to identify who is and is not going to be violent. Adam Lanza was missed.

The last observation from a Christian worldview about this report comes down to the fact that the disease theory in terms of mental illness and human crime is simply not sufficient. That’s not to say that disease theory is totally wrong, there could be some truth it is found within it. But what is wrong is shifting the moral question to the disease rather than to the problem of human sinfulness and the reality that sin, violence, murder, anger, all kinds of things, lurk in the human heart and not just in what can be described as a pathology or a disease.

2) Disease not primary cause of alcohol abuse, report reveals

Interestingly, the weekend also saw the release of another report. The second report is not likely to be linked to the first report in many minds but it should be in ours. The headline in the New York Times report on this research is this: “90% of those who drink excessively aren’t alcoholics, a government study finds.” Tara Parker Pope reports,

“Most people who drink to get drunk are not alcoholics”

According to a new government report suggesting that more can be done to help heavy drinkers cut back. As the New York Times reports,

“The finding, from a government survey of 138,100 adults, counters the conventional wisdom that every ‘falling-down drunk’ must be addicted to alcohol. Instead,  [and this comes from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health] … nine out of 10 people who drink too much are not addicts, and can change their behavior with a little — or perhaps a lot of — prompting.”

The report then cites Robert D. Brewer, a doctor who heads the alcohol program at the Centers for Disease Control and prevention. He said,

“Many people tend to equate excessive drinking with alcohol dependence. We need to think about other strategies to address these people who are drinking too much but who are not addicted to alcohol.”

Now the paper documents that there are about 88,000 deaths a year from excessive drinking – or what’s defined here as excessive use of alcohol. The report cites very high rates of binge drinking, of drunk driving, and other things, that are the symptoms of the heavy use of alcohol. So how and why are these two stories connected? Well it gets back to the disease theory and it’s directly addressed in the second news story. Because the whole point of this government report is the fact that the disease theory is also not enough to explain why so many people have so many problems with alcohol, because most of us would also like to put the problem of alcohol abuse in the category of the disease theory. We would like to say that people who commit these kinds of acts are doing so because they can’t help themselves, because they have some kind of syndrome or disease, because they are – in the words used in this report – alcoholics. And yet you’re told here, in this report from the federal government, from the very agency that is directing its attention to the problem of the abuse of alcohol, that it’s not just that not all of these heavy drinkers are not alcoholics but that nine out of 10 of them actually failed to meet the definition of alcoholism. They’re getting themselves falling down drunk, described in this report is dropdead drunk, repeatedly and they’re doing so perhaps even under the claim made to themselves that they are alcoholics. But again, just look at the statistics embedded in this report – nine out of 10 of those who have this kind of problem with alcohol are not alcoholics.

By the way there are some interesting things cited in this report. For one thing, a significant raise in the cost of alcohol leads – in the case of many users – to a drop off in terms of that use; meaning that the disease theory itself is failing to explain the behavior because if it really was tied to a disease there wouldn’t be such an impact from an economic change. Once again the biblical worldview takes us back where we started with the first story – horrifying as it is. The reality is that there may be something to the disease theory. No, let’s put it a little more strongly – there certainly is something to the disease theory, it just isn’t a sufficient explanation, it’s far too convenient to try to look at immoral behavior and say that it is rooted in some kind of mental illness, some kind of pathology syndrome or disease. But now you have a report coming from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that when it comes to the abuse of alcohol not only is it the case that many of the people who were abusers are not alcoholics but that nine out of 10 failed to meet the definition of alcoholism. To put the matter succinctly, even when the disease theory is right it’s simply not sufficient to replace a moral analysis and a moral judgment – indeed a moral understanding of the behaviors that are actually at stake.

3) Marvel Comics emphasis on character diversity reminder any art carries worldview agenda

A reminder of the power and the agenda of popular culture comes in the form an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times with the headline, “Marvel Boost Diversity Frontline.” Blake Hennon reporting for the Los Angeles Times writes that the company wants its comics’ universe to reflect the real world – even as some of its readers remain skeptical. As Hennon reports,

“When Marvel [announced] in July…that a woman would become Thor and a black man would become Captain America in its comics, debate ignited over what in Asgard’s name the House of Ideas was thinking. Such dramatic changes coming simultaneously to two of the publisher’s classic marquee brands – names that front blockbuster film franchises at its sister company Marvel Studios – were celebrated by many people … but others decried the decisions: ‘This is political correctness run amok,’”

Marvel, by the way, is celebrating its 75th anniversary and this story reminds us that some things are simply more important than many people want to believe – in this case were talking about comic books, we’re talking about comic characters. But we’re also talking about movie blockbusters and we’re talking about messaging that reaches millions of Americans – especially millions of young Americans. The point that is made by Blake Hennon is that the content in terms of these comic books is now very heavily directed by an agenda of diversity and is not just gender and racial diversity it is also a diversity that has now extended to sexual orientation, to sexual behavior, to same-sex relationships, and increasingly now to transgendered identities as well. Hennon quotes Axel Alonso who is the editor-in-chief at Marvel, who says,

“Marvel comic books are always at their best when they reflect what’s going on in the world right now,”

He went on to say,

“That’s been our… strength, dating back to Stan Lee – our ability, either through metaphor or through straight-on confrontation, to deal with social issues and the zeitgeist of the day.”

Marvel has recently been attracting the attention of many groups and even awards from some gay rights groups and others. From a Christian worldview consideration the most important issue for us to ponder is this, to be reminded of the fact that cultural products are never worldview neutral. There is some agenda, there is some worldview, there is some point to be made, there is some ideology. There’s some moral judgment, there is something behind the creation of all cultural products, whether it be art that is visual art, drama, poetry, music, the movies, or – as this article reminds us – even comic books. That’s right, even comic books – or in this article’s point – maybe, especially, comic books. Because as it turns out, comic books are particularly attractive to young people who may be the least aware of the worldview issues at stake, perhaps even least aware of the fact that a worldview is being presented to them.

At the very least this news article serves to underline the fact that there is no neutral spot on planet Earth. There is no position of neutrality; there is certainly no neutrality when it comes to communication or the cultural creation. Some agenda is going to shine through. Some worldview is going to shake the presentation – not only in its structure, but also in its form; not only in its style, but also in its content. That’s important when we think about every single Hollywood movie. It’s important when we think about every representational piece of art we see in a museum. It’s important when we think about music – whether it’s the high music of the classical culture or the popular music that is the favorite of any generation. So as we might put it: nothing comes from nowhere, everything come from somewhere and that somewhere comes with a worldview agenda. And now we know that extends even to the comic book.

4) Abortion debate at Oxford shut down, as freedom of speech is valued less and less

Finally, when it comes to the position of the intellectual elites on a question like freedom of speech, a very troubling comes from Great Britain and London newspaper The Telegraph in an article by Tim Stanley telling about the fact that students hoping to hold a debate on abortion culture in Great Britain were shut down. As Stanley reports,

“I would’ve thought that the one place in Britain where you could agree to disagree amicably would be Oxford University. But I was wrong. For instance, I’ve discovered that you’re only allowed to debate abortion there if a) you’re a woman and b) you’re all for it. Any other approach to the subject is liable to attract a mob…”

Stanley then writes, and he’s writing in the first person,

“A few months ago I accepted an invitation by the Oxford Students for Life to debate Brendan O’Neill on the subject ‘This House believes Britain’s Abortion Culture Hurts Us All’. The setting was Christ Church College and around 60 people signed up to attend on Facebook. To be clear: this wasn’t a pro-life demo and the subject wasn’t whether or not women should have the right to choose abortion. Even though I was speaking for the proposition, my speech would’ve begun with noting that the motion has nothing to do with abortion rights per se and was simply a consideration of how having effective abortion on demand affects wider society.”

He went on to say, however, that the debate was shut down. It was shut down because of protest group of about 300 people appeared on Facebook promising to

“take along some non-destructive but oh so disruptive instruments to help demonstrate to the anti-choicers just what we think of their ‘debate’.”

As Stanley goes on to report, that was all it took eventually for Christchurch College to pull the plug on the debate – to state that it was not going to allow the debate to take place because in this new age of intellectual closedness, the intellectual elites are unwilling even to have an issue like abortion – as carefully defined as this debate was at Oxford University – carried on in public.

We should also notice Stanley says that the issue wasn’t actually debating abortion rights. Stanley says that he wouldn’t have been willing to enter into that debate, that’s troubling enough. But the debate even as it was proposed on the effect of Britain’s abortion culture was simply not going to be allowed at Oxford University. Eventually the Students for Life that tried to sponsor the debate sought other colleges, that is residential colleges at Oxford University, to sponsor the debate but found none. Eventually the debate was simply called off – there was nowhere to hold it.

Stanley then writes,

“What it also proved is that elements of the Left are working hard to define new parameters for freedom of speech. You are free to speak so long as it doesn’t offend certain sensibilities, which of course amounts to no real freedom at all.”

In concluding his argument Stanley makes this point,

“On the subject of abortion, the Left can enjoy that authoritarianism because contemporary society broadly agrees with them. But a day will come when they try to argue for something that proves unpopular and they, too, will be gagged. And I’ll be there to defend their right to say something that I disagree with.”

Sadly the pattern that is here so very thoroughly documented by Tim Stanley isn’t limited to Great Britain, it’s not limited to Oxford University. Similar tales have taken place all over American higher education where it is simply now unthinkable that such a debate can take place on many college campuses. There are people who would simply claim that they would no longer feel that their space is – to use the new political correctness – safe if this kind of question were even to be raised.

Furthermore, you have too many spineless, defensive, scared, panicked, college administrators who simply are afraid of any controversy coming from the left and so they’ll even shut down freedom of speech and freedom of debate. What’s happening is that the supposed castles and palaces of academic freedom are no longer really representing ideological freedom – freedom of speech and freedom of ideas at all. Even more troubling, the same kind of restrictive efforts to control speech are spreading far beyond the college campus and Christians must be keenly aware, very urgently aware, that these kinds of restrictions on speech aren’t only about issues like abortion or same-sex marriage or any number of other contemporary controversies, but over the gospel itself. In some circles in this highly secular age, even the gospel is described as hate speech.

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’m speaking to you from La Jolla, California and I’ll meet tomorrow for The Briefing.




Podcast Transcript

1) Report on Adam Lanza, Newtown shooter, reveals efforts to explain sin through disease

New Report on Lanza: Parental Denial, Breakdowns, Missed Opportunities, Hartford Courant (Alaine Griffith and Josh Kovner)

Report on the Life of Adam Lanza Before the 2012 Shooting, Office of the Child Advocate

Adam Lanza’s Mental Problems ‘Completely Untreated’ Before Newtown Shootings, Report Says, New York Times (Alison Leigh Cowan)

Report questions role of wealth in Lanza’s care, Associated Press (Pat Eaton-Robb and Michael Melia)

2) Disease not primary cause of alcohol abuse, report reveals

Most Heavy Drinkers Are Not Alcoholics, New York Times (Tara Parker Pope)

3) Marvel Comics emphasis on character diversity reminder any art carries worldview agenda

‘All-New Captain America’ lands at Marvel’s diversity front line, Los Angeles Times (Blake Hennon)

4) Abortion debate at Oxford shut down, as freedom of speech is valued less and less

Oxford students shut down abortion debate. Free speech is under assault on campus, The Telegraph (Tim Stanley)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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