The Briefing 02-09-15

The Briefing 02-09-15

The Briefing

February 9, 2015

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

It’s Monday, February 9, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Canada supreme court strikes down euthanasia ban in inevitable outgrowth of culture of death

Once again, huge news from across America’s northern border where in Canada that nation’s Supreme Court on Friday struck down laws against so-called physician assisted suicide. This is a huge issue – it’s a massive issue – when we consider that the culture of death is marching forward on the issues of euthanasia and what is at least called physician assisted suicide. And we’re looking at a situation in Canada that is a dramatic reversal because just back in 1993 that very same court upheld the nation’s laws against physician-assisted suicide, claiming at that time that it was in keeping with the Canadian Constitution and of the nation’s humanitarian values.

Courts of this kind of status do not want to reverse themselves directly – at least not very often – because it immediately depreciates the courts prestige. Just back in 1993 not only did this court uphold the nation’s laws against physician-assisted suicide, but so did the vast majority of Canadian doctors – including their official national organization. But now we’re looking at a massive change in the culture that has affected even the dignity and sanctity of human life. And of course it didn’t begin with euthanasia or physician-assisted suicide, it began on other issues, most importantly, the issue of abortion.

In one sense what we’re looking at here is the inevitable outgrowth of the culture of death as its logic spreads from abortion at the beginning of life to the end of life issues that are now becoming issues of controversy and changes in law, not only in Canada, but at least in some states, here in the United States of America. Europe has been far ahead of us on this issue – at least in terms of nation such as Belgium, the Netherlands, and Switzerland – but we’re looking at the fact that Canada more closely emulates Europe in terms of many these cultural and moral patterns rather than United States. Its point of reference on so many these issues would be courts not so much found in Washington and New York City and other American locales, but rather in the capitals of Europe.

And in Europe we’ve seen the development of such things such as euthanasia tourism, especially in nations including Switzerland. We’ve also seen in Belgium and the Netherlands that the so-called slippery slope isn’t a fallacious argument at all, it’s actually demonstrated in what’s been going on in those countries; especially in Belgium, where an argument for physician-assisted suicide began with those who were old and had intractable and interminable disease – diseases that were described as terminal. But now we’re looking at a situation in which the Belgian government has ruled that even children as young as 12 must have access – constitutionally – to physician-assisted suicide.

And we’ve also seen the supposed boundary lines on issues such as suffering and terminal disease constantly renegotiated. In several European nations for instance, mental status is considered just as significant as physical suffering in terms of a terminal disease. And that has now been extended, not only to those who are at the end stages of life, but to those who are in childhood, or at least in the years approaching adolescence. We’re looking at the culture of death finding its ultimate logic in a nation that says it does make sense that a 12-year-old should have the right to demand physician assisted suicide.

As you might imagine, it doesn’t begin there. It didn’t begin there last week in Canada. Instead, the Supreme Court struck down laws against physician-assisted suicide in cases of adults who were diagnosed with “grievous and irremediable” medical concerns. As Ian Austen of the New York Times reports,

“The unanimous decision, which reverses the position taken by the court 22 years ago, came more quickly than expected and might become an issue in federal elections to be held this year.”

In the decision handed down by the court we find these words, and I quote,

“The prohibition on physician-assisted dying infringes the right to life, liberty and security of the person in a manner that is not in accordance with the principles of fundamental justice,”

Now let’s look very closely at those words because even as decisions by the Canadian High Court are not issued in the name of any justice but rather just in the court, it looks as if this decision were written by Justice George Orwell. We’re looking here at a classic case of doublespeak because again just to read from the decision handed down by the court – remember this is a decision that an individual Canadian has the right to physician-assisted suicide, especially under some conditions – but notice the language. It says the prohibition on physician-assisted suicide infringes on what, “The right to life.” So here you have a right to life that is constitutionally claimed as grounds for a right to death.

The next two words are similarly important. The laws against physician-assisted suicide, said the court, infringe upon Canadians “liberty and security of the person.” It’s really haunting to consider that the issue of security here is being extended to the termination of the physical life of the person involved.

The Canadian Supreme Court decision gives that nation’s parliament one year to come up with effective legislation to guarantee the right that the Canadian court now says it has found – a right that it denied as recently as 1993. But as I stated already, it’s not just the court that shifted its opinion on last two decades, it is also a significant number of Canadian physicians who have now turned their back on the Hippocratic oath and instead, it bought into the worldview of personal autonomy to the extent that they now, at least in very significant numbers, and at least in terms of the voice of some of the Canadian medical associations, are ready to side with physician-assisted suicide.

Several news organizations, by the way, indicated that according to recent polling, 45% of Canadian doctors supported a right to physician-assisted suicide. A couple of things to note there: first of all, that’s just a haunting number under any circumstances, but the second thing is 45% means that 55% do not support physician-assisted suicide. Which tells us that you don’t need a majority in order to make a moral shift of this kind of magnitude, all you need is a significant number; a significant number that allowed the Canadian Supreme Court to claim that it had medical backing for what is basically a very immoral decision.

Finally, on this issue, other words taken from the decision are similarly haunting. Every nation, every jurisdiction that seems to find a way to approve and legalize something like physician-assisted suicide says that it’s going to put boundaries in place so that this new so-called right cannot be abused. Here’s the language from Canada,

“We agree with the trial judge that the risks associated with physician-assisted death can be limited through a carefully designed and monitored system of safeguards,”

That’s the language of the culture of death, and as we know from very sad experience, its boundaries are ever expanding.

2) Congress sets new precedent by inviting Pope to address joint session

Next, another major announcement came down on Friday as well – this time from the United State – where the United States Congress announced that the current pontiff of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Francis I, will address a joint session of Congress on September 24 during his first American visit as Pope. As Siobhan Hughes reports for the Wall Street Journal, Pope Francis plans to address a joint session of Congress, making him the first leader of the Roman Catholic Church to do so.

Speaker of the House, John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, said,

“In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds. We look forward to warmly welcoming Pope Francis to our capital.”

This is a new story that has a good deal of press attention and is likely to find a good many evangelicals unsure of exactly what to think. As Hughes indicates, there was wide approval from other congressional authorities in terms of the invitation. As she writes,

“The pope’s acceptance drew praise from Catholics and marked a welcome shift in tone from a planned joint session in March, when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak.”

Susan Davis of USA Today wrote an article in which she says:

“House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who is also Catholic, said in a statement that she was ‘honored and overjoyed’ that Francis would address Congress. ‘Pope Francis has renewed the faith of Catholics worldwide and inspired a new generation of people, regardless of their religious affiliation, to be instruments of peace,” she said.’

President Obama joined the chorus of those enthusiastically welcoming the Pope to speak to the joint session of Congress.  He said,

“Like so many people around the world, I’ve been touched by his call to relieve suffering and to show justice and mercy and compassion to the most vulnerable,”

He challenges us, says the President,

“… to press on in what he calls our ‘march of living hope.’ And like millions of Americans, I am very much looking forward to welcoming Pope Francis to the United States later this year.”

This is an issue in which evangelicals should think very carefully and so should the rest of Americans because make no mistake, this is a major development. We’re looking at the fact that the Congress of the United States has invited a religious leader in his capacity as a religious leader to address a joint session of Congress. Almost immediately there will be supporters of the appearance who will state that the Pope will not be appearing as the leader the Roman Catholic Church, but rather as the head of the Vatican state.

But the untruth of that statement is made immediately clear in the language of those who did the invitation. The invitation was clearly to the Pope as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. This is the first time that a Roman Catholic Pope will ever have addressed a joint session of Congress and there are good reasons why this has never happened before.

The Vatican claims to be a state with diplomatic privileges, but those privileges were not extended by the United States of America until Pres. Ronald Reagan decided to do so early in his first term as President. One of the interesting things to note in that historical review is that a significant number of evangelicals were very opposed to that decision, even if they were supportive of other actions and goals of the Reagan administration in terms of foreign and domestic policy.

But we also have to note that there were some significant evangelical voices who were for it then, largely because the Pope at the time, Pope John Paul II, was known to be an ally against communism and in the case of the moral revolution, a defender of traditional Christian morality on issues such as the dignity and sanctity of human life and the institution of marriage and biblical standards of sexual morality. The pontificates of John Paul II and Benedict XVI led to no shortage of evangelical double mindedness when it came to the status of the Vatican state as a state. But it’s now apparent that there are a good many people who are beginning to rethink that equation, but apparently not so much in Congress.

Treating the Vatican state as a state is to give a church the status of a foreign power with a foreign-policy. We need to note that the Vatican states approximately 110 acres large – that’s right, 110 acres – and its inhabitants are less than 900 in terms of the claim of citizenship. It is by any measure, the smallest entity recognized as a state on the international scene by both size and its population. Whether or not evangelicals may or may not be in agreement with any Pope’s positions on any number of issues at any given time, it is a very dangerous precedent for the Congress of the United States to welcome him as a head of state. It’s even worse to welcome him as the head of a church.

And let me go back to that language used by the Speaker of the House as he released a statement about the invitation. He said, and remember these words:

“In a time of global upheaval, the Holy Father’s message of compassion and human dignity has moved people of all faiths and backgrounds.”

He refers to the Pope, not as the head of the Vatican state, but as the Holy Father. He’s speaking of course not only as Speaker of the House, but as a Roman Catholic. And speaking as a Roman Catholic he has every right to use that title and to extend any number of privileges, as he may have opportunity, to the Pope. But as Speaker of the House, that’s a very different situation.

And of course there is going to be no small amount of irony on any number of fronts. You’ll remember that I cited House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi who infamously is directly at odds with her church on the teachings of the church on any number of issues – including, and especially, issues of the sanctity of human life, including abortion. Just days ago in a press conference Nancy Pelosi said she actually had more credibility to speak to those issues than the leadership of the Roman Catholic Church because, after all, she had endured pregnancies and had given birth.

I spoke of precedence when it came to the decisions of courts – including last Friday the decision by the Canadian Supreme Court – but here again we’re looking squarely in the face at the issue of precedent. This comes now, what comes next. This is a development that will certainly, respectfully, separate some cultural conservatives from one another. But the bare fact remains that when Francis I speaks to this joint session of Congress, he’s not going to be considered by most to be the monarch of the Vatican state, he will be understood to be appearing as the head of the Roman Catholic Church. When someone says otherwise let’s just remember the statement issued by none other than the one who issued the invitation, the speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

3) Marijuana sellers push for term ‘cannabis’ in attempt for legitimacy

In recent days we’ve remarked several times on the issue of how moral change comes by a change in language, especially the change in language toward something that is recognized as a euphemism – a word that is less morally significant than the word it replaces. That’s what makes an article that appeared last week in USA Today by Trevor Hughes so really, really interesting. As Hughes writes,

“Last December, Denver police reported a major increase in the number of marijuana-related arrests in the city’s schools.”

But he says the number turns out to have been skewed by the fact that some police officers use the,

“…now-archaic ‘marihuana’ spelling.”

Hughes writes, the mix-up over the spelling highlights what turning into a heated debate within the legal and increasingly mainstream marijuana community. As he says, for a variety of reasons, many folks in the legal weed community would like to see marijuana and pot and weed relegated to the scrapheap of pejorative descriptions. And they aren’t shy, he says, about letting him know their feelings. One reader for instance complained that his word choices made him sound ignorant and bias. Their preference is for the word cannabis.

So while for decades now there’s been discussion about the law of the land and the moral issue of marijuana, and while sometimes it has been spelled with the J and sometimes with an H, now they want to spell it ‘cannabis’ in order to avoid any pejorative description of marijuana altogether. They want to band words such as ‘pot,’ they want to ban ‘weed,’ they want to insist upon ‘cannabis’ – believing that that Latin word somehow is going to be more palatable, more respectable,  and make no mistake, its respectability thereafter.

As Trevor Hughes concludes his article,

“But I get where people are coming from. After decades of operating in the shadows, marijuana retailers (we used to call them drug dealers) crave the legitimacy that comes from regulation and public respect. And they want to see the language reflect that marijuana has indeed gone mainstream.”

Now notice a couple of things. He uses the word marijuana, even as he says they’re trying to change the language in order to go mainstream. Elsewhere in his article Hughes says that the preference for the word cannabis is because the so-called ganjapreneurs, that is the new legal marijuana businesses,

“…believe cannabis sounds more positive,”

But it turns out things are more easily suggested than done; especially when it comes to changing the language. For one thing, it turns out that some of the laws legalizing marijuana call it marijuana, which means that it is marijuana – at least legally defined. They would have to change the law in order to change the language to cannabis. And it turns out there’s another problem when it comes to changing the language from marijuana to cannabis, it turns out that the marijuana that people are smoking and putting into so-called edibles,

“…is actually two different strains of cannabis,”

As Hughes says,

“The different strains have different effects, depending on how they’ve been crossbred. And don’t even get me started on the brand names growers give, like Sour Kush or Blue Dream; there’s no regulation of what growers call their products.”

Now leaving his article for moment, let’s remember that it was USA Today that weeks ago ran a groundbreaking article indicating that even where there is a claim to regulation, the regulations are either unclear or unenforceable. One Colorado official by name of Ron Flax said,

“There’s really a landmine out there in terms of the words we use,”

He says he tries to be sensitive in terms of using the language. He started using the term cannabis but as Hughes reports,

“…ran into a hiccup because county regulations and state laws refer to the plant as marijuana or marihuana.”

Hughes then writes,

“If he wants his regulations to be legal, Flax has to call marijuana marijuana.”

Well there is a bit of poetic justice in that we might note and a bit of moral reality as well. We at least should have the courage to call something what it is. And when it comes to a shift from marijuana to cannabis, there’s more than marketing that’s involved. It’s more than a shift from common language to the Latin root.

As this article makes clear, the real craving here, in terms of the shift of language, is for respectability. And remember that as Hughes mentions, these so-called new ganjapreneurs, who are also now legal marijuana marketers, used to be called – he doesn’t beat around the bush – drug dealers. When it comes to matters of morality, changing the word doesn’t change the thing. It doesn’t change the moral reality. But it does indicate a shift in the culture; it indicates a cultural preference for deciding to call something less significant than it was before.

And maybe there is poetry too in the fact that as they are trying to announce this moral shift by demanding a shift in language. There want to go back to the Latin, but dressing it up with the Latin won’t change what marijuana is. And, it won’t change the fact that those who are pressing this moral revolution called it at the time, marijuana. And so thus, do the laws.

4) Incredible spectrum of germs in subway lesson in wonder of God’s Creation

Well, in a still serious but a very odd note, I end with an article that appeared over the weekend on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. How’s this for a headline – On the Subway Scientist Track the City’s Secret Life of Germs. The article is by Robert Lee Hotz and it tells us about a group of scientists who are going swabbing around the subway stations of New York tracking down the so-called secret and very unseen life of germs. As he writes,

“In the process, they uncovered how commuters seed the city subways every day with bacteria from the food they eat, the pets or plants they keep, and their shoes, trash, sneezes and unwashed hands.”

In the subway systems of New York, as test by these scientist,

“The team detected signs of 15,152 types of life-forms. Almost half of the DNA belonged to bacteria—most of them harmless; the scientists said the levels of bacteria they detected pose no public-health problem.”

Now keep that in mind as we also read in this same report that they found in 151 stations bacteria used in mozzarella cheese. At the West 4th station and 12 others, they found the germ that causes meningitis. At the 133rd street station they found DNA from the germ that causes bubonic plague. At the South Ferry station they found species of bacteria that had previously been seen only in Antarctica, where, so far as I know, there is no New York City subway station.

Now let me repeat again, hard as this may be to believe, they say all of this poses no direct public health problem. But as you can understand, that’s pretty hard for most people understand and hard for many people even to believe. And of course we are looking at the fact that these kind of bacteria can cause disease. But there’s no warning here about some incipient outbreak of the bubonic plague or something like that. What’s being looked at here is the fact that well, that we are surrounded by other life forms – bacterial life forms – by the countless millions and billions. And then comes this section of the article,

“This emerging field reflects the growing awareness that the human body swarms with bacteria. Typically, every person is home to about a hundred trillion microbial cells bearing five million different genes, totaling about 5 pounds of micro-organisms per person. Indeed, microbes in and on the body outnumber human cells about 10 to one.”

Furthermore, as you’re beginning your Monday listen to this,

“Every person trails a distinctive collection of microbes, by shedding about 1.5 million microscopic skin cells every hour. Bacteria from a person’s body can colonize a hotel room in less than six hours, scientists at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory in Illinois recently discovered.”

But while you’re pondering how it is that all those bacteria associated with mozzarella cheese found their way from the pizza shop into the subway system, and while you’re being told that we as the human being are being outnumbered by the so-called hundred trillion microbial cells – bearing 5 million different genes supposedly in our body, I have no reason to doubt this, every reason to believe it – as a secular world looks at this with befuddlement and tries to come up with some kind of evolutionary explanation, this is a good opportunity for Christians to go right back to Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, right back to the Psalms, whereas David says, we are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Our sovereign loving and holy creator has made us so that we are dependent upon all of these trillions, hundreds of trillions, of microbial things within us, without which many of our biological processes would be impossible. It should remind Christians of the mystery of the gift of life, something that is truly unfathomable. We will never be able to figure ourselves out, neither we, nor our microbes. But I will admit this: I’ll never look at a subway station quite the same way, nor for that matter, a piece of pizza.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the upcoming new release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. The new series begins on Saturday, February 14. Call with your question, in your voice, to 877-505-2058, that’s 877-505-2058.


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) Canada supreme court strikes down euthanasia ban in inevitable outgrowth of culture of death

Canada Court Strikes Down Ban on Aiding Patient Suicide, New York Times (Ian Austen)

Supreme Court rules Canadians have right to doctor-assisted suicide, Globe and Mail (Sean Fine)

2) Congress sets new precedent by inviting Pope to address joint session

Pope Francis to Address Congress Sept. 24, Boehner Says, Wall Street Journal (Siobhan Hughes)

Pope Francis to address Congress, USA Today (Susan Davis)

3) Marijuana sellers push for term ‘cannabis’ in attempt for legitimacy

That’s not marijuana — that’s cannabis, USA Today (Trevor Hughes)

4) Incredible spectrum of germs in subway lesson in wonder of God’s Creation

Big Data and Bacteria: Mapping the New York Subway’s DNA, Wall Street Journal (Robert Lee Hotz)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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