The Briefing 06-26-15

The Briefing 06-26-15

The Briefing

June 26, 2015

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

  It’s Friday, June 26, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Supreme Court affirms Obamacare, exposing serious responsibility of interpreting texts Yesterday the Supreme Court of the United States handed down one of the most anticipated decisions of this term, not the even more anticipated decision on same-sex marriage. This decision handed down yesterday has to do with the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In a 6-3 decision, the court allowed the Affordable Care Act to stand basically as written. What didn’t happen in this case is the bigger news. What didn’t happen is that the Supreme Court didn’t strike down the Affordable Care Act as unconstitutional and that is the huge story here. Basically this doesn’t change much. But that doesn’t mean it’s not important. From a Christian worldview perspective, the most important issue in this case is what it reveals about differences among Americans and even among the justices of the Supreme Court, in this case most particularly on how a text is to be interpreted and that’s of crucial importance when the text in this case is the Constitution of the United States. In the legislation, now known as the Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010, that we need to note passed without a single Republican vote in either the House or the Senate. In that act we find the phrase, “An exchange established by the state.” That portion of the law has to do with how Congress authorized the spending of tax money to subsidize individual Americans buying healthcare insurance and the law clearly stated that the subsidies were to be available when a state had established a so-called exchange as defined by the law. But in the case of states that did not establish those exchanges, the federal government was still extending the same subsidy by means of a national exchange. The case was brought against the Obamacare legislation and against the United States government by several people, including some attorneys general in the states who accused the government of acting outside the limitations of the law that Congress had adopted and that the president, in this case President Obama, had signed into law. Again, that was back in 2010. The incontrovertible fact is that the law signed by President Obama and adopted by Congress was a law that included the fact that the subsidies were to be made available to individuals when and only when as the law says an exchange was established by the state. So the question before the Supreme Court of United States is whether or not in the first place, the United States government was acting outside the boundaries of those words. The clear and unavoidable truth in this case acknowledged by both sides in terms of the argument is that the federal government is acting outside of those specific words found in the legislation. In writing the majority opinion for the court, the Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. said, “Congress passed the Affordable Care Act to improve health insurance markets, not to destroy them.” The Chief Justice acknowledged the problem with the words, but he said that it was the responsibility of the court to try to determine what Congress’s intention was in passing the law and uphold that intention. In a very revealing sentence the Chief Justice said, “In this instance,” he wrote, “the context and structure of the act compel us to depart from what would otherwise be the most natural reading of the pertinent statutory phrase.” So here you have the supposedly conservative Chief Justice of the United States saying that there are times when the words have to be ignored in order to get to the intention of Congress. In this case, for the second time the Chief Justice of the United States basically rescued the Obamacare legislation from a constitutional crisis. He did so in the Sebelius case in 2012, he did so again in 2015. In 2012, the Chief joined the majority and wrote the opinion and what he did then was to rescue the Obamacare legislation from the fact that the President of the United States had argued specifically that it was not a tax. And Congress adopted the legislation; while also insisting this is not a tax. But then it left the open question on what constitutional authority did Congress and the government then act to intervene in this way in the American economy? To rescue the Affordable Care Act in 2012, the Chief Justice argued that it was allowable under Congress’s power in the Constitution to tax. So you had the President and Congress saying isn’t a tax, but if it wasn’t a tax it was unconstitutional. The Chief Justice of the United States for the majority back in 2012 rescued the law by saying it is a tax after all, regardless of what the president and Congress said. That was very controversial at the time, but it basically means that the Chief Justice and a majority of his colleagues had decided that they would rescue the law and find a way to do so. That’s basically what happened again yesterday and that’s why this is actually so important. It’s more important than the Affordable Care Act, it’s more important than any single piece of legislation. Because what you have in the 6-3 split on the United States Supreme Court yesterday is at least two dramatically different ways of reading a text. Reading the text of the legislation and reading the text of the Constitution. Both sides agreed that the government is acting in violation or at least outside the authorization of the law that was adopted in 2010, but it was clear that the majority was willing to separate from the words in order to associate with the intention of the legislation. But in so doing, they also cited the fact that it would’ve led to effects they didn’t want to see. They didn’t want to see millions of people eliminated from the tax subsidy. So what we’re seeing here is what might be called an outcome based understanding of the law. You decide what outcome is appropriate and then you find the legal argument that will support it. That’s not supposed to be the way the Supreme Court of the United States works, but it’s worked that way now for a very long time. Once again in a scathing dissent, Associate Justice Antonin Scalia said of his colleagues in the majority that the ruling was quite absurd. He called it, “Interpretive jiggery-pokery.” In this case, Scalia said, the problem with these words is that they mean what they say and they were intended to mean just that. Scalia pointed out that Congress had the opportunity to write the law differently but Congress wrote the law this way. This is the law the President of the United States signed into effect. These are the words, said Justice Scalia, that didn’t matter. This is not some kind of typographical error; indeed it was an error in the law. An error that the administration tried to fix by its own bureaucratic action and an error that requires the law as it is written to be disregarded in favor of the law as those who now support it want it to be. Now when it comes to this great divide over worldview one of the major proponents for that more liberal interpretation of a text come from, for instance, the editorial board of the New York Times. In their editorial response to the decision yesterday the editors of the New York Times said that it was ridiculous, “That an ambiguous four-word phrase buried deep in the 900-page law eliminates health insurance for millions of lower-income Americans — was preposterous.” Now the most interesting aspect of that sentence in this editorial is this - they’re not actually talking about the words of the law at all. They’re talking about what they would see as a negative effect had the decision gone otherwise. Now one footnote to this is the reason why the Supreme Court decision was so important. It’s because the obvious question is this, why wouldn’t Congress and the president fix the law if the law needs to be fixed? And the answer is they could not now get a majority in Congress to fix the law. So what they were looking at is the necessity of being rescued from the law by the Supreme Court of the United States and that’s exactly what did happen. Christians have a particular urgency in understanding why the interpretation of a text is so important. Let’s just take this law or let’s go even beyond it to the Constitution of the United States. Are we to be bound by the words of the Constitution? Well the reality is simply this; if we are not bound to those words then we’re really not bound at all. The Constitution is no longer the governing document of the country, rather the governing power is how nine justices of the Supreme Court, or least a majority of those justices, will interpret the Constitution at any given time. The Constitution then becomes just a document that has some historical meaning but we’re no longer bound to that historical meaning. We’re not even bound to the specific words. Now it’s one thing when we’re talking about legislation, it’s another more important issue when we’re talking about the Constitution of the United States. But we have to recognize that we as Christians understand the ultimate question in interpreting a text is how we interpret and read the Bible, how we understand Holy Scripture. And when it comes to development such as the moral revolution we’re now experiencing, note how many on the theological left are now saying we don’t have to be bound by the words of Scripture. We can find some inner intention, some trajectory of argument and we can claim that if the apostle Paul were writing now he would agree with us. The ultimate problem with that of course is that our ultimate authority isn’t the apostle Paul, it is the Scripture. It is the Holy Spirit who inspired Paul to write those letters. And as is true of Paul’s letters and for every other word of Scripture, it is exactly what the Holy Spirit intended us not just to have in the past but to have in the present. Our entire worldview is revealed by how we understand the responsibility of interpreting a text. The key issue for Christians always comes down to this, is the Bible actually God’s word? If it is, and it is, then we are bound to the actual words. What Justice Scalia called “interpretive jiggery-pokery” isn’t limited to the Supreme Court; it’s not limited to constitutional law. To a far greater and more tragic extent, it’s found among some liberal theologians as well. Oddly enough, the Supreme Court of United States handed us that lesson once again yesterday. It’s a lesson we dare not miss. 2) Right to die for depressed clear consequence of secular humanist movement in Belgium Next, another issue that’s right at the heart of the Christian worldview and its intersection with contemporary culture, the issue of euthanasia continues to be a developing issue before us and in the most frightening and horrifying way. Now we have an article in The New Yorker, one of the most important secular magazines in America entitled, “The Death Treatment” It’s by Rachel Aviv, she asked the question, “When should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?” Her article originates from Belgium where the movement for assisted suicide and then doctor assisted suicide and then euthanasia has developed to the point that even children and teenagers are now considered to be candidates for euthanasia. We talked a few days ago about a similar development in the Netherlands, but this story is datelined from Belgium and it is a most ominous story indeed. Aviv tells us that it is increasingly common there where people who do not have a terminal disease at all to ask for and to receive euthanasia. They are killed by the action of a physician simply because they have decided that now is the time they want to die. As Aviv points out, this is now reaching even the cases in which there is an underlying psychiatric problem not a physical problem at all. When she asked the question, “when should people with a non-terminal illness be helped to die?”, we need to note that in asking the question she has already seemed to accept the fact that there would be some point and there would be some people who should be helped to die. But one of the fundamental affirmations of the Christian worldview is that we have no right even to ask the question in that way. When we ask when, we are accepting the fact that at some point, it would be acceptable. The Christian worldview tells us that it is an act of creaturely overreach to determine that we will decide when we will die. The Christian worldview points out, we don’t decide to be born, that life is God’s gift and that every single human life is precious from the moment of conception until natural death. To demand control over the timing of our death in this way is actually an act of human hubris. It is an act of human arrogance and overreach and as we have seen once you bind to this logic, you can say you’re going to keep it at some point in society where it would be available only to those who have a supposedly terminal diagnosis and are the end stages of disease. But as this article in The New Yorker makes clear, even a secular society is asking some basic questions about a country that seems to be so determined to support euthanasia that it is now extending a so-called right of euthanasia to those who have no physical ailment at all, who are merely suffering from something like depression. Every single line in this essay demands and deserves our attention. But for the sake of time I’m going to focus on the most remarkable section of the essay. It’s the section of this essay published in a very influential secular magazine that points to the fact that there is a basic theological issue that is at stake here. Aviv writes and I quote, “The right to a dignified death is viewed as an accomplishment of secular humanism, one of seven belief systems that are officially recognized by the government. Belgian humanism, which was deeply influenced by the nineteenth-century Freemasonry movement, offered an outlet for those who felt oppressed by the Church, but it has increasingly come to resemble the kind of institution that it once defined itself against. Since 1981, the Belgian government has paid for “humanist counsellors,” the secular equivalent of clergy, to provide moral guidance in hospitals, prisons, and the armed forces. Humanist values are also taught in state schools, in a course called non-confessional ethics, which is taken by secular children from first through twelfth grade, while religious students pursue theological studies. The course emphasizes autonomy, free inquiry, democracy, and an ethics based on reason and science, not on revelation.” Now to be honest, when I read this article I could hardly believe my eyes. That sentence sounds almost as if it were written by Francis Schaeffer back in the 1970s, a major Christian apologist who defined where secular humanism was going and now almost as if Schaeffer’s prophecy has come true, here you have that paragraph in this week’s edition of The New Yorker and it goes on. Aviv cites Jan Bernheim, an emeritus professor of medicine at the Free University of Brussels, who is a specialist in ethics and the quality of life. He told her that euthanasia, “Part of a philosophy of taking control of one’s own existence and improving the objective conditions for happiness. There is an arrow of evolution that goes toward ever more reducing of suffering and maximizing of enjoyment.” That is an absolutely stunning statement. Here you have a professor of ethics in an institution that was once committed to the Christian worldview, in which he says that there is an evolution of ethics that is towards enjoyment and life as defined we then understand by enjoyment in which suffering is to be minimized and eventually to be denied to the point of ending one’s life rather than facing the reality of suffering. As we note, we’re not just talking here about the suffering that might come in terms of intractable terminal disease, we’re talking about the suffering that might just be as this article frankly makes clear, coming short of what one defines as happiness. But what’s more important than anything else in this article and it’s a very long and extremely significant article is how Rachel Aviv gets to the point that worldview is the ultimate issue. The ethic of euthanasia could only have emerged and did emerge in a secular humanist revival that took place in that country. In exchange of the Christian worldview, which would uphold the dignity of every single human life and God’s authority over our circumstances of life to a worldview that says that human beings are autonomous free agents, we can decide the qualities of our own life that are acceptable. And if we do not have a life that meets our acceptable qualities we can ask and demand that a physician end our life. But even as we had noted that the California State Senate just days ago moved forward with an assisted suicide bill, perhaps the most frightening question for us is just how long it will take for this logic in its full force to find its own momentum on American soil, and in American minds, in American hearts. 3) International Yoga Day inaugurated in effort to make clear Indian, Hindu roots of Yoga Next, when it comes to worldview and the intersection of worldview and culture. One of the key issues actually is yoga. Very interesting development not here in the United States but in India, where just a matter of days ago the Prime Minister of India made a very important point by declaring international yoga day and getting it acknowledged by the United Nations. That’s not so important as the fact that his purpose in doing so was very explicitly according to his own words, “To recapture yoga for its Indian and essentially Hindu roots and to take it away from the marketplace of Western consumerism.” The international media reporting on the first international day of yoga pointed out that history is very clear. Yoga began as a Hindu religious practice that was an outgrowth of Hindu doctrine and of the Hindu worldview, a polytheistic worldview that is to say the very least directly at odds with the monotheism of biblical religion and Christianity in particular. Now a similar controversy on yoga emerged some years ago and I was quite clear in articles I wrote at the time, that the Orthodox biblical understanding of Christianity simply doesn’t allow for the syncretism of Hindu religious practice. I also point to the fact that even those who brought yoga to the United States were very, very clear that it was a Hindu religious practice and that the very motions and especially the meditations involved in yoga were tied to essential teachings of the Hindu faith. Now what was interesting to me at the time is that what I was articulating then was the position that the vast majority of Christians around the world had understood to be patently true, but given the fact that American consumer culture has adopted yoga in so many ways. There were many Americans, including many American Christians who were shocked; absolutely shocked that Hinduism had anything to do with yoga whatsoever. But in The Economist this week, there was an article entitled, “How far can you stretch?” The subtitle, “Christianity, Islam and yoga.” And in this article, published by a magazine with no theological axe to grind whatsoever, it points out the fact that yoga has been very controversial from the very intersection of yoga with Western Christianity from the very beginning. The Economist writes, “In Western nations which are historically Christian but increasingly diverse in their approach to things spiritual, the very ambivalence of yoga (call it flexibility if you like) is one of its selling points. Depending on which school of yoga you follow and how far you go, it can be a way of limbering up the body and easing tensions, or it can involve the pursuit of extra-ordinary spiritual experiences, culminating in samadhi, variously described as union with, or absorption into, ultimate reality. It is agreed that yoga has its roots in the Hindu tradition and that it constitutes one of the main schools of Hinduism; but it can of course be practiced as a physical and even mental discipline by people who are ignorant of, or even mildly resistant to the teachings of Hinduism.” That’s an amazingly accurate sentence. It is actually probably more accurate than the author of the sentence even understood. Going back to what was written here it says, there’s no major problem for many people being involved in yoga so long as those people, “Are ignorant of,” or listen, “even mildly resistant to the teachings of Hinduism.” That’s a direct quote from the article and that’s again, very accurate. So long as one is only mildly resistant to the teachings of Hinduism, there is no problem. But that raises the question, how can a Christian committed to the knowledge of the one true and living God be just mildly resistant to Hinduism that has so many thousands of gods, they can’t even offer an official count of the number of deities in the Hindu religion? The article acknowledges that the Catholic Church has distanced itself from yoga and it points to the fact that just a matter of days ago the Greek Orthodox Church condemned it as incompatible with its own theology. The article then turns to evangelical Christians and cites me saying that I have warned Christians, “To stay away from stretches.” Actually, my problem is not with Christians stretching their bodies. My problem is with Christians who are stretching Christian theology beyond the breaking point. The Economist writes, “In his attack on yoga, Mr. Mohler described India as "almost manically syncretistic" in other words, prone to the mixing of religious ideas.” The Economist then concludes, “But the fact is that most Western societies, insofar as they think about religion at all, are pretty syncretistic too.  That puts traditional Christian or Muslim leaders on the back foot when they try to argue against the asanas.” Now let’s remind ourselves that syncretism in this context means the mixing of religions and the mixing of theologies, and The Economist is undoubtedly right, that’s exactly what’s going on in secular Western societies. But it’s exactly what must not go on in Christian churches and it must go on in the lives of Christians. Once again here, the problem from a Christian worldview perspective of yoga isn’t in the stretching of the body. It is the acceptance of the larger Hindu worldview that says, by the stretching of the body and by the meditation that can go on with those exercises one can achieve a new spiritual state. The God who said, thou shall have no other gods before me is a God who profoundly excluded syncretism from faithfulness.   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 on Monday for The Briefing.  

Podcast Transcript

1) Supreme Court affirms Obamacare, exposing serious responsibility of interpreting texts

Supreme Court Allows Nationwide Health Care Subsidies, New York Times (Adam Liptak)

The Supreme Court Saves Obamacare, Again, New York Times (Editorial Board)

King et al. v. Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., Supreme Court

2) Right to die for depressed clear consequence of secular humanist movement in Belgium

The Death Treatment, The New Yorker (Rachel Aviv)

3) International Yoga Day inaugurated in effort to make clear Indian, Hindu roots of Yoga

How far can you stretch?, The Economist

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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