The Briefing 05-28-15

The Briefing 05-28-15

The Briefing


May 26, 2015

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

It’s Thursday, May 28, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Chimps’ day in court exposes confusion of human dignity with care for animals

Though they were not in court, Hercules and Leo got their day in court on Tuesday in a state courtroom in New York. As Jacob Gershman of the Wall Street Journal reports,

“The question of whether two chimpanzees should be afforded the right to challenge the legality of their detention got a hearing on Tuesday before a New York City judge.”

The two chimpanzees are known, again, as Leo and Hercules. They are, according to the Journal,

“allegedly in the custody of State University of New York at Stony Brook.”

As I said, they weren’t at the proceeding, they certainly didn’t speak for themselves, but a lawyer nonetheless argued their case demanding that the animals be moved to a sanctuary for animals in south Florida.

In terms of how moral issues progress, they begin with something that is unthinkable, then it becomes thinkable. Once it becomes thinkable, it becomes plausible. And at some point, many issues moves from being merely plausible to being acceptable, and sometimes even morally celebrated. The issue of animal rights in terms of our moral landscape is actually more important than may first appear. That’s because our understanding of animals is a mirror relief to how we understand ourselves, and the more fundamental question: is there anything distinctive that separates human beings from other intelligent creatures?

And what we’re looking at here is the undeniable evidence that there are some intelligence that is possessed by Leo and Hercules. But they are chimpanzees. The first thing to note in terms of this story is the fact that the hearing took place at all. It was something of a surprise when the judge in this case decided to take the case, and even though Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Barbara Jaffe did not rule on the case, she did hear the case. That’s already something of a victory for animal rights activists, but we need to remind ourselves that here, when we use the term animal rights, we’re not specifically just talking about the human responsibility to care for the animals and to respect them, but rather we’re actually confronting the argument that animals, like human beings, possess certain rights.

And the argument in this case is that one of the rights that the animals supposedly will share with us is a right not to be falsely imprisoned, which is what they are arguing is the experience of Hercules and Leo in terms of their custody by a state university for the purposes of research.

The actual argument made on behalf of the chimpanzees by attorney Steven Wise is that the chimpanzees are falsely imprisoned and must be granted a writ of habeus corpus. That’s a very important issue of constitutional rights for citizens of the United States, who are granted the right of a writ of habeus corpus lest they be falsely arrested or imprisoned.

Speaking to the judge, Wise said,

“They’re essentially in solitary confinement. This is what we do to the worst human criminal.”

Speaking on behalf of the university was an assistant state Attorney General of the state of New York, Christopher Coulston, who argued that there were no merits to the case; that the plaintiffs of the case had no legal standing because they are chimpanzees after all, and as non-human beings, they do not enjoy the rights that are restricted to human beings themselves.

The assistant Attorney General told the judge,

“The reality is these are fundamentally different species. There’s simply no precedent anywhere of an animal getting the same rights as a human.”

At the end of the hearing on Tuesday the judge gave no indication of how she might rule. But the first problem, from a Christian worldview perspective, is that the hearing took place. Because the hearing itself is an indication of a grotesque moral confusion. And one that will inevitably undermine human dignity. The Christian biblical worldview would insist at every point that animals must not be mistreated. That there must be respect for animals simply because they’re a part of God’s creation. They are not merely evolutionary accidents, they are part of the greatness and the goodness of God displayed in his creation. A creation in which the Creator registered his own good pleasure. But to respect the animals as animals is not to recognize them as human beings. That would be a huge category mistake that would be deeply injurious to human dignity. There is a basic biblical understanding, deeply rooted in the doctrine of Creation and in the entire Christian worldview, that human beings alone (according to Scripture) are created in God’s image. And human beings alone, in that respect, stand out from the rest of Creation as those who are the special objects of God’s redemptive love. And are also held uniquely responsible in moral and spiritual terms.

If the judge were to rule in the chimpanzees favor – and again, the first mistake was actually granting the hearing in the first place – we can immediately understand there would be an almost infinite number of complexities and problems that would immediately ensue. Where would one draw the line in the animal kingdom? As to which animals, which species, would be understood to have these rights? Which among the right that are understood to be possessed by human beings, and specifically by citizens of the United States, would be applied to animals?

Presumably, even those who are now making the argument against what they allege is the false imprisonment of these chimpanzees, are not going to be arguing that they should have the right to vote. On the other hand, if they are the equal to human beings, and if they do possess the same rights, then how could one deny them the vote any more than one could argue that they could not be illegally imprisoned?

In the last half of the 20th century, evangelicals in the United States began to understand a worldview that was a direct alternative to that of the biblical Christian worldview. It was often referred to as secular humanism. It was a worldview identified very well by people like Carl Henry and Francis Schaeffer – a worldview that was established in the understanding that as an ancient Greek philosopher said, “Man is the measure of all things.” But as many of the most insightful Christian voices of the 20th century recognized, secular humanism is a compound worldview that will not long survive. The hearing that took place on Tuesday in a New York City courtroom is evidence enough. Because the confusion that was evident there was evidence of the fact that there is now eroding around us any understanding even of humanism.

We can see in Western society a transition from what might be called a ‘biblical humanism’ that understands, according to Scripture, that human beings are made in the image of God – and are distinctively accountable, and distinctively addressed by God’s Law and the Gospel – to then by the process of secularization, what might be called a secular humanism. But then, as we now see evidence coming from New York City in an absolutely undeniable form, that secular humanism turns merely into a secularism. Humanism itself disappears.

And as I pointed out when it was announced this hearing would be held in the first place, there is no shortage of irony in the fact that these chimpanzees who supposedly should be recognized to have human rights could not represent themselves in the courtroom and were not even present.

But Christians must take note of this: the confusion that was evident this past Tuesday in a New York City courtroom will not stop there.

2) Leftward trend on social issues reflects cultural milieu more than beliefs of Americans

Next, the issue of animal rights can’t actually be abstracted from other moral issues that are very much in the forefront of our culture. And that’s what gives special importance to a recent report that came from the Gallup organization. It was dated May 26, 2015, and the headline tells the major point of the story: “Americans continue to shift left on key moral issues.”

Frank Newport of the Gallup organization summarizes that Americans are now more likely than even in the early years of the 21st century to find a variety of behaviors morally acceptable. Including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, and sex between an unmarried man and woman.  Moral acceptability of many of these issues, he says, is now at a record level high. And we’re talking about more change here in the course of just about 15 years.

Research coming from the Gallup organization is generally very thorough and trustworthy. And the Gallup organization has been in existence for such a long time that they are actually able to document much of this moral change over the course of the last century and more. This is a snapshot, however, of moral change in just the last 15 years or so.

As they report,

“This latest update on Americans’ views of the moral acceptability of various issues and behaviors is from Gallup’s May 6-10 Values and Beliefs survey. [They say] The upward progression in the percentage of Americans seeing these issues as morally acceptable” –

And these are issues including gay and lesbian relations, having a baby outside of marriage, sex between an unmarried man or a woman, divorce, medical research using stem cells obtained from human embryos, polygamy, cloning humans, doctor-assisted suicide, suicide itself, gambling, abortion, cloning animals, and a few other issues also thrown in as matters of research.

In the section of the article headlined “Implications.” Newport writes,

“Americans are becoming more liberal on social issues, as evidenced not only by the uptick in the percentage describing themselves as socially liberal, but also by their increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable.”

He very quickly summarizes that,

“The biggest leftward shift over the past 14 years has been in attitudes toward gay and lesbian relations, from only a minority of Americans finding it morally acceptable to a clear majority finding it acceptable.”

Well, a couple of observations based upon this report. In the first place, I think there’s really no argument that America is shifting left on so many of these issues. We didn’t need a report from Gallup to tell us that. But it is important sometimes to have it quantified, and in terms of the data, laid out so that we can compare it over time. In this case we are shown that in the last 14 years there has been a very significant shift to the left morally speaking, in a very clear liberal direction.

But there are a couple of other very interesting aspects to this research, and one of the questions has to do with the research itself. One of the interesting things that Frank Newport acknowledges in the paragraph I read is that there is a “increasing willingness to say that a number of previously frowned-upon behaviors are morally acceptable.” That’s a very interesting way to say it. He is nonetheless being very clear and careful in making his argument. He is not saying that Americans – to look at these percentages – have actually shifted their moral judgment to this extent over the course of these 14 years. But they have shifted in what they are now willing to say.

So when we’re looking at so many of these reports on moral change, or moral conviction in America, one of the things we need to recognize is that the survey or the research instrument itself is an indication of what Americans say. It’s not necessarily a reflection – at least in adequate terms – of what Americans believe.

But it is very revealing that this society is shifting remarkable to the left in terms of what increasing numbers of Americans believe they are supposed to say when it comes to the approval or their willingness to approve certain moral behaviors. And yet, some of the same data brings back a rather mixed picture – certainly when you get much closer to asking the question whether these people are actually saying what they believe. There is evidence that the beliefs are also shifting – no doubt, shifting left in terms of the general trajectory of the population. But it’s also interesting that perhaps what is more important here is what increasing numbers of Americans believe they’re supposed to say.

3) Approval of assisted suicide dissipates as voters recognize threat of slippery slope 

In one of the interesting questions asked in the survey, the issue was the acceptability morally speaking of doctor-assisted suicide. According to this report, there has been an increase in support for doctor-assisted suicide from 37% of the population to 56% of the population. Well, just to state the mathematical obvious, 56% would reflect a clear majority of the American people. And to put the matter even more specifically in a political context, eventually, what 56% of Americans want, 56% of Americans will get.

There’s also no question that there has been an increased acceptability when it comes to assisted suicide. But, an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal points out that when voters actually have the opportunity, or the responsibility, to confront the legalization of doctor-assisted suicide, they often decide – indeed, right now they most often decide – that idea is not so good after all.

Aaron Kheriarty is associate clinical professor of psychiatry and the director of the Program in Medical Ethics at the University of California Irvine School of Medicine. He stated in the Wall Street Journal,

“In the past 20 years, more than 100 campaigns to legalize assisted suicide have been introduced in various states. All but three have failed.”

That means that more than a 100 have been attempted, only three have been successful. As he writes,

“In 2012 the same Massachusetts voters who elected Elizabeth Warren and re-elected Barack Obama gave the thumbs down to doctor-assisted suicide. Compassion & Choices—the “death with dignity” organization formerly called the Hemlock Society—saw a 40-point lead in Massachusetts polls evaporate on election day, despite millions of dollars in campaign spending. Bills this year in Connecticut, Maryland and Colorado also failed after legislators took a closer look at assisted suicide.”

But then he gets to major point of his article,

“California is the latest place where the wheels appear to be coming off the assisted-suicide bandwagon. Senate Bill 128, the End of Life Option Act, was introduced in January after the widely-publicized death of Brittany Maynard, the 29-year-old patient who moved from California to Oregon to avail herself of that state’s assisted-suicide law last November. Advocates for “end of life options” declared her case, which ended in her death, a game changer.”

He then writes,

“The bill was expected to fly through the California Senate, but now SB 128 is stalled. It was placed in the Senate Appropriations Committee “suspense file” last week, where bills go when they are short on votes. Most bills on the suspense file simply die, while others get watered down to appease opponents.”

Why have the vast majority of these efforts to legalize assisted suicide failed? Well, the professors tells us,

“Californians are realizing that assisted suicide represents the slipperiest of slopes. This can be especially true for those who rely on emergency rooms for primary care, lack health-care access, or who predominantly come from minority or immigrant communities with documented health-care disparities where many remain uninsured. They would have every reason to mistrust a health-care system under considerable pressure to drive down costs.”

He writes of the opposition to the bill in California, describing a grassroots movement that includes groups like the Disability Rights Education & Defense Fund, the California Foundation for Independent Living Centers and the Autism Self Advocacy Network. It turns out that so many advocates for the disabled, and those who are representing minority communities recognize that if assisted suicide is legalized, there will be many who will be incentivized to bring about their death rather than to treat them in life.

He also writes about the fact that suicide rates in general in Oregon rose dramatically during the years following that state’s legalization of assisted suicide in 1997. Now, the rate of suicide in the state of Oregon – that is as of 2010 – the suicide rates are 35% higher in that state than the national average. Now I remind you, here we’re not talking about doctor-assisted suicide in Oregon, we’re talking about the general suicide rate. 35% higher than the national average, spiking after the legalization of assisted suicide.

As Professor Kheriarty ends his article,

“As the evidence mounts, proponents who favor placing society’s stamp of approval on suicide find themselves increasingly on the losing end of the public debate.”

So why do I bring these two reports together? It’s because it’s important when you look at something like this massive Gallup poll to indicate that undoubtedly something is going on. There is a dramatic shift to the left in terms of America’s moral perception. And yet, as Frank Newport indicated, in the actual text coming from Gallup, what is indicated coming from this survey is what Americans now say they believe about these issues, not necessarily what they believe about them.

Because if you look at that Gallup poll it shows that a clear majority of Americans indicate they favor the legalization of assisted suicide. And yet, out of over 100 attempts to legalize assisted suicide at the state level, only three have succeeded. And in one of the most liberal states in the union – the state of California – right now an effort to do the very same is stalled in a Senate committee.

But at this point these two stories also tie back to our first story in terms of the hearing held in that courtroom in New York City for the chimpanzees. As in that story, the big issue here is the nature and dignity of humanity. Whether or not human beings are distinctive creatures made by a divine Creator in his image. Whether or not every single human life is sacred and thus deserving of our full support, and demanding our full protection. Assisted suicide is fundamentally inconsistent with the Christian worldview, but as this story from the Wall Street Journal indicates, it also runs against a basic moral instinct that, at least for now, seems to exist in the American people. We should be thankful that that basic moral impulse still remains. But as the society continues to secularize, given that very pattern we discussed when it comes to animal rights, we should not expect that it will survive indefinitely. Perhaps not even for long.

4) Chinese crackdown on religious groups reveals idolatrous effort to co-opt religion for state

Finally, when it comes to human dignity, one of the most important of all rights is religious liberty. And that is made graphically clear in an article that appeared in recent days from the Voice of America. The headline: “China Aims to Break Foreign Influence on Religion.” It turns out that the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, has now asked religious groups in that country to pledge their loyalty to the state, even as (the Voice of America tells us) he warned religions China must be independent of foreign influence.

As the Voice of America tells us,

“At a time when China’s Christians now outnumber the membership of the Communist Party, some say there is an intensifying crackdown on religious groups.”

Specifically, on Christianity. One leading observer of Christianity in China said,

“The crackdown and persecution against Christianity, in particular, has really accelerated to a level that is perhaps the worst in two decades. The kind of crackdown on government sanctioned churches is the worst since the Cultural Revolution.”

From a Christian worldview perspective, the issue is not only religious freedom – and what we’re seeing here is the persecution of Christian believers – it is also the fact that what we have articulated by the President of China is actually a religious statement itself. It is the religion and the ideology of statism.

Statism is an ideology – indeed it is secular religion that places the state in an idolatrous position that puts the state as the center of meaning and the object of highest adoration and obedience.  The president of China is here demanding that religious leaders – pastors in particular, but Christians writ large – must obey the state in all things and pledge their ultimate allegiance to the state. Given the fact that religious beliefs are growing so fast in China, and that this is a direct challenge to the Chinese Communist Party, the president said,

“active efforts should be made to incorporate religions into socialist society.”

What that means is that the president of China is calling for all religious beliefs to be  co-opted by the state for the purposes of the state. And in China, given the supremacy of the Communist Party, and the one-party government there, that means that all religions and all religious believers and all religious leaders are all to be co-opted by the state, for the purposes of the state. Which means for the purposes of the Chinese Communist Party.

Totalitarian governments always fear religious liberty and they fear the Christian gospel in particular. And one of the most interesting aspects of this report from the Voice of America states,

“There are an estimated 100 million Christians, more than the total membership of the Communist Party.”

So if you’re wondering why the president of China is so concerned about the threat to his government and to his Communist Party that is represented by Christianity it’s because in China, an officially atheistic nation, virtually everyone now acknowledges there are more Christians in that country than there are members of the Communist Party. The Communist Party sees its influence eclipsing and sees the influence of Christianity rising, and it fears that reality greatly. But rarely do you see such an open display of raw, undiluted, unadulterated statism. Christians have to recognize this for exactly what it is. It is straight, unadulterated, undiluted idolatry. Christians at the very least should call it what it really is.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at There  you will find an article posted yesterday entitled, “A Requiem for the Boy Scouts.” You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to our website at For information on Boyce College just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Chimps’ day in court exposes confusion of human dignity with care for animals

Judge Ponders Whether Chimps Should Get Same Rights as Humans, Wall Street Journal (Jacob Gershman)

2) Leftward trend on social issues reflects cultural milieu more than beliefs of Americans

Americans Continue to Shift Left on Key Moral Issues, Gallup (Frank Newport)

3) Approval of assisted suicide dissipates as voters recognize threat of slippery slope 

The Assisted-Suicide Movement Goes on Life Support, Wall Street Journal (Aaron Kheriarty)

4) Chinese crackdown on religious groups reveals idolatrous effort to co-opt religion for state

China Aims to Break Foreign Influence on Religion, Voice of America (William Ade)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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