The Briefing 11-12-15

The Briefing 11-12-15

The Briefing

November 12, 2015

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

It’s Thursday, November 12, 2015 Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Mexico Supreme Court strikes down marijuana laws on basis of individualism


Last week voters in Ohio made news by turning back a proposed constitutional amendment that would have legalized the use and consumption of marijuana in that state. What took place the next day is something that didn’t get as many headlines, but it may be in the long run an even bigger story. On the very next day, the Supreme Court of Mexico struck down laws in that country criminalizing the use and possession of marijuana. What’s so important in that case is not just the fact that the decision was handed down, but the argument that the court accepted. As Edward Delman, reporting for The Atlantic tells us, Mexico Supreme Court headed in the exact opposite direction of the voters of Ohio, and then he writes,

“The high court’s decision was based not on marijuana’s effects on public health or impact on incarceration rates, but on fundamental human rights. In that respect, it’s pretty precedent-setting globally.”

The conversation over the legalization of marijuana in the United States often involves issues like arguments that there are simply too many people in prison and in jail because they have violated marijuana laws, either in terms of the possession or the use of the drug or the sale of marijuana. There are arguments about personal liberty, arguments about the use of marijuana amongst young people, arguments over public health, but the argument that gained ground in Mexico is an even more stunning argument. The group behind the effort to legalize marijuana in Mexico is known by its acronym SMART translated that stands for the Mexican society for responsible intolerant consumption and that’s of marijuana. But as we are told in this article in The Atlantic the argument that actually gained credence before the Mexican Supreme Court is something more radical than anything we’ve seen in the past. He continues,

“This argument is fleshed out in a court document posted to SMART’s website, wherein the group makes the case that using marijuana is just one way for individuals to differentiate themselves from the rest of society, and that since the Mexican constitution protects the individual’s right to be unique and independent, the state cannot infringe upon that right when the consequences of marijuana consumption—be they positive or negative—only affect the individual who chooses to use the drug.”

The statement said and I quote in translation,

“The imposition of a single standard of healthy living is not admissible in a liberal state, which bases its existence on the recognition of human uniqueness and independence.”

As Delman tells us,

What makes this argument so important is that the court bought it, Justice Olga Sanchez voting in favor the ruling said,

“This court recognized the reach of personal freedom.”

Now, given the technicalities of the Mexican Constitution, the fact that the court handed down this decision does not mean that right now marijuana is legal for all Mexicans. Instead marijuana is now legal for the four plaintiffs in this case. Given the way the Mexican constitutional system works the nation’s highest court will have to rule four more times in a similar way on the same question before the effect is generalized to the entire nation. But what’s really striking is the argument that was made. In the United States, we highly prize individual liberty that goes all the way back to the founding of this nation. Individual liberties are enshrined within the United States Constitution and in the Bill of Rights, but there is nothing in terms of the history of American constitutionalism that comes close to what is embedded in the Mexican Constitution and that is an individual right to your own moral code. The stunning way that is applied in this particular case goes back to that statement made by the group SMART,

“The imposition of a single standard of healthy living is not admissible in a liberal state, which bases its existence on the recognition of human uniqueness and independence.”

So here we see the ultimate extension of this idea of personal liberty to the point that the community, the society, cannot establish a central understanding of what healthy living constitutes. And the case was pressed in the courts to the extent that the Mexican Constitution allows every single Mexican citizen to be unique and independent. Now what’s striking here is the argument that was made by those pushing this case, that every single Mexican has the right to his or her own individual moral code in its totality. A part of that moral code would be the vision of healthy living that the individual may choose, for some people it may choose intoxication, for others not. The extension this argument says that regardless of what the public health or private health implications may be, this radical understanding of the right to be unique and individual in a society means that there will be a complete moral meltdown in terms of any kind of common moral code. This is something we need to note very carefully.

When the American constitutional order was coming into existence those who were framing it had operated out of a basically Christian worldview. We are not arguing that they were all believing or confessing Christians, but the only available moral code was one that was deeply rooted in Christian civilization and in the truth claims of Christianity and what we now see is that there are limits to where that worldview can validate and honor individuality. For one thing, the guarantees of personal liberty in the American Constitution do not prevent at the very least, the establishment of certain common moral principles. As a matter of fact, both the Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution articulate what some of those basic moral consensus issues must be. Delman then asked the obvious question, will this particular case have ramifications outside of Mexico? That’s when he writes,

“The right to the “free development of personality” appears in Article 22 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

All this reminds us that when you adopt the Constitution you are adopting at least on the onset the worldview that is behind it. But there’s no one that can look at the United Nations Universal declaration of human rights and believe that the legalization of marijuana was on the minds of those who framed the document. But then again, there is no one with a straight face who can argue that the United States constitutional founders had any intention to legalize same-sex marriage, something that they not only did not address, but that they could not have conceived. But this reminds us that courts will take arguments to an extremity or in the case of Mexico they will accept an extreme argument when presented to them. If every single Mexican citizen has the right to a private system of morality, a comprehensively private system of morality, then there is no possibility of society even left. That may not be what the nation’s highest court had in mind when they adopted this argument, but it is nonetheless the argument they have now accepted and set loose.


Part II

Marijuana start-up companies aim to profit off of expansion of weed market


Next, also on the issue of marijuana, the New York Times had one of those articles you simply have to look at twice in order to believe it. Farhad Manjoo is writing about the explosion of marijuana startups and he’s writing about in particular the issue of startups related to medical marijuana in anticipation of the larger legalization of marijuana nationwide, but he’s writing in particular from California. What he exposes quite straightforwardly in this article is the fact that medical marijuana is often really not tied to any serious medical argument or ailment. He writes,

“One morning in September, I logged on to the website of HelloMD, a medical start-up that promises to connect patients with doctors instantly over the Internet. I filled out my personal details, explained my ailment — I often get heartburn — and entered in my credit card number to cover the $50 consultation fee.

“Within 10 minutes, a pediatrician based near Washington who is licensed to practice medicine in my home state of California popped up on my screen. She appeared to be sitting in her home — there were a few teddy bears and ceramic figurines on a cabinet behind her — and she wore a red shirt, not a white coat.

“The doctor asked about my medical history, current symptoms and familiarity with certain medicines. The interview lasted about three minutes, after which she announced what everyone who visits HelloMD expects to hear: According to her diagnosis, my heartburn made me a candidate for medical marijuana, which has been legal in California since 1996.”

I can simply relate that when I was in Santa Monica, California, even several years ago there was a storefront that was offering prescriptions for medical marijuana for medical ailments like insomnia. Manjoo writes for the Times,

“HelloMD is at the forefront of a new trend in Silicon Valley: the cannabis tech start-up. As marijuana laws are being loosened across the country, entrepreneurs and investors are creating new businesses to cash in on what they see as an emerging bonanza.”

In one of my favorite paragraph in the article Manjoo cites Mark Hadfield, the founder of HelloMD, who said,

“What we see is moms, dads, professionals, old people, everyone wanting access to cannabis. The old type of experience — go to a crummy dispensary, wait in line — was not going to appeal to the market that we were after, which is everyday Americans, a market that, by the way, is much larger than the old market of — I don’t want to call them stoners, but let’s say, ‘recreationally minded young people.”

There’s much more to this article, but in its most important aspect. It reminds us that a moral revolution comes with vast economic opportunity and as this article also makes clear, there are lots of people ready to jump on that opportunity. What makes this particular article really interesting is how it indicates the mainstreaming of the market. There are high-tech companies in Silicon Valley that now want to ride a cannabis wave and they’re not trying to sell just to those stoners identified in this article as “recreationally minded young people,” but rather they’re trying to sell to moms, dads, business people and even the elderly. So just keep in mind that in a moral revolution of this scale and this scope, the effects aren’t going to be limited to just what takes place at the local college or University campus. It’s also going to affect what takes place in the local nursing home, where you just might find according to this article, recreationally minded old people.


Part III

Russian athlete doping scandal reminder sin prevents humans from ever policing self


The sports world has been rocked in recent days by the release of a 323 page document by the World Anti-Doping Agency indicating that the government of Russia led by the Kremlin itself has been involved in a massive effort to win awards and medals for Russian athletes by use of doping and we’re talking about doping on a systemic and massive scale. The documentation released by WADA or the World Anti-Doping Agency is irrefutable, but of course, the Russians have found a way to refute it. They’re basically saying this is just an American plot to deny Russia of its national greatness as is reflected in athletics. But many people looking these headlines might not realize there is a very long history to this controversy and in particular, it goes back to the Olympics in the modern age during the Cold War.

In the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union were locked in a battle for world dominion and influence around the world. And one of the things we need to keep in mind is the symbolic importance of sports on the world scene. The Olympics became not just a matter of athletics, but of international relations and a show of power and national pride and it was not just the Soviet Union and the United States. In the case of the Soviet Union in particular, it was that nation and its satellite states behind the Iron Curtain. Nations such as Romania that racked up incredible numbers of gold medals in the Olympics, especially in women’s gymnastics, only later to have many of those gymnasts make very clear that they had been heavily involved in doping, something that was suspected at the very time, but nonetheless it was certainly affirmed later. And there have been documented suspicions and admissions in recent years that the temptation towards doping has not left the former Soviet Union nor its satellite states, but in particular, the matter of national pride has been so central to the leadership of Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, that now WADA, the world anti-doping agency is saying that the Kremlin itself has been driving the systematic effort to win athletic recognition and achievement for Russians by means of medical doping.

As Paul Sonne writing for the Wall Street Journal tells us,

“The scandal was first examined in a documentary aired on German television late last year in which Russian athletes publicly admitted to doping and offered evidence of a scheme to cover up positive test results.”

Writing in a separate article also in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, Matthew Futterman says that even his nine-year-old daughter could spot the problem in the Russian system as recognized by international authorities. The Russians had been trusted to report on themselves concerning whether or not there had been any doping. As Futterman writes,

“All doping scandals share the same roots. In every case, there are athletes and coaches willing to cheat and a group of people charged with catching them who have everything to lose and little to gain from doing so.”

That’s a phenomenally important statement in moral terms. Because what Futterman is telling us is that many of the agencies that are supposed to be watching for doping and catching it and reporting it and documenting it actually have much to lose if they find it. For example, he points to the fact the major league baseball here in the United States turned its back and closed its eyes to what was going on in a widespread doping scandal that took place in that very sport and as major league baseball it was saying that it was policing itself in terms of the possibility of doping. As Futterman writes,

“This is the moment when even my 9-year-old daughter can point out the inherent flaw in the system. Did we really think the Russians could be trusted to police their own athletes?”

The moral scale of the story is demonstrated in an editorial that ran in yesterday’s edition of the Financial Times of London in which the editors wrote,

“The report from the independent commission of the world anti-doping agency on drug use in Russian athletics is devastating. It amounts not only to an indictment of Russia’s entire system, its publication marks a dark day in modern athletics. Millions of amateur athletes and spectators, not to mention top-level sports people who issue drugs have been betrayed.”

As the editors of the Financial Times make clear, this is a direct challenge to the international sporting authorities and in particular to the Olympic committee and there may be serious questions as to whether there will be medals rescinded and revoked in terms of the evidence that will now be placed before those authorities. But from a Christian worldview perspective, what we really need to note is that this demonstrates how sin works in terms of its social environment. Sin seizes the opportunity as the New Testament tells us and it will do so to the greatest degree possible. Humans in their fallenness will sin and then they will sin systemically and then they will come up with ways to hide their sin, or to deny their sin. They will come up with rationalizations and they will even seek to come up with entire legal strategies and medical strategies for how they can avoid detection and eventually prosecution and penalty. And then we add to that how much is at stake in terms of these athletic contests. It’s not just about individual athletic glory; it’s also about huge money. We’re talking about the hundreds of billions of dollars and it’s also about national pride and that’s where this particular conspiracy rooted in the nation of Russia takes on an international political significance as well.

But there’s another very important biblical insight and it comes down to this. Even this author’s nine-year-old daughter can see it. We as fallen human beings are incapable of policing ourselves. That’s why in a fallen world we require inspectors and auditors and checkpoints and police and judges and prisons and jails and everything that indicates the scale of the problem. Travis Tygart who is the chief executive of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, he said,

“This just highlights the need for removing the fox from the henhouse.”

And in stating that he merely states the obvious. But there’s something else that’s also obviously true. We have to understand that every single one of us left to our own devices would be a foxhouse in the henhouse of our own devising.


Part IV

Helmut Schmidt, significant leader of 20th century, dead after seeing rise and fall of Nazism and Soviet Union


Next, speaking of the Cold War, one of the most significant historical lives of the 20th century came to an end in recent days when Helmut Schmidt, the former West German Chancellor died at the age of 96. Schmidt was a contemporary of Margaret Thatcher and of Ronald Reagan. He became the Chancellor of Germany in 1980, but long before that he had been influential in the politics of what was then known as West Germany. But that’s not where the story of Helmut Schmidt began. It begins very early in the 20th century, as a teenager he joined the Hitler youth and eventually saw service in the German army. Later after the fall of Nazi-ism, he became a key figure in the political resurgence of West Germany and even though he was a political liberal on the German spectrum, he was one of the chief architects of German alliances with the United States and other European nations when it came to the defense of liberty over against the Soviet Union. Helmut Schmidt, having seen the reality of a totalitarian state in all of its evil during the regime of Adolf Hitler came to understand the Soviet Union as the greatest threats to human life and human dignity in the 20th century. He put himself on the line and often in a way that offended some of his own countrymen. After all, Germany had been cut in two with an Iron Curtain, metaphorically separating the nation into East Germany under Soviet domination in communist rule and West Germany which became one of the leading nations of NATO, which was and is the defense alliance of the Western nations.

Many older Americans will hear the name Helmut Schmidt and remember that that name was once in a big way in the news. Many younger Americans almost assuredly have never heard of Helmut Schmidt and yet in many ways he was one of most important political leaders of any Western nation in the last half of the 20th century. But as we remember the flow of human history, it’s humbling to remember that this one man represents so much of the history of the 20th century and he lived into the 21st century. He was born very shortly after German defeat in World War I and he lived as a teenager to become a member of the Hitler youth. Only later did he discover what was a secret in his family and that was that he had a Jewish grandfather. His life began in the early 20th century, and he lived long enough to know the smart phone. Most Americans will likely pay very little attention to the death of Helmut Schmidt, but the world we know now would not be as it is without him.


Part V

Diplomatic impasse over wine at dinner between France and Iran exposes inescapable nature of theology


Finally, as we’re thinking about human cultures and the issue of foreign-policy. Kellan Howell of the Washington Times reported yesterday an astounding story, saying that France and Iran now facing a diplomatic meltdown over the menu at a proposed meal between the President of France and the President of Iran. As Howell writes,

“French officials have reportedly canceled plans for a formal dinner with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani in Paris next week following a dispute over the menu.

“Mr. Rouhani was set to dine with French President François Hollande during a landmark trip to Europe, but the Iranian, according to France’s RTL radio, insisted on an alcohol-free meal with halal meat, according to traditional Islamic customs.

“But a meal without wine is akin to blasphemy in France, where citizens hold secular ideals sacred.”

According to the report, the French reportedly counter offered with an alcohol free breakfast, but the Iranians rejected the idea, because it appeared too cheap. I’m sure this isn’t the first time that a matter of a menu has come to a diplomatic impasse. But in this case, what’s most interesting about the story is the language that is used about the French devotion to wine, even at the expense of a diplomatic crisis. Again as Howell wrote,

“A meal without wine is akin to blasphemy in France, where citizens hold secular ideals sacred.”

Well, there’s an illustration of the inescapably of a theological vocabulary. France says it holds itself to a secular ideal, but in this article the use of the word blasphemy becomes very, very revealing. I’ll leave it to the French and the Iranians to work out the menu, but what’s most interesting is how this article says that in France citizens hold secular ideals sacred, even in translation that’s what you call a contradiction.



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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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