Thursday, Apr. 26, 2018

Thursday, Apr. 26, 2018

The Briefing

April 26, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, April 26th, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

The tragic story of Alfie Evans: What’s at stake when parental rights are not recognized as natural rights

The horrifying results that ensue when parental rights are denied are now being played out right before our eyes in a case related to a 23-month-old toddler in the United Kingdom. Alfie Evans, the toddler at the center of the story, was only a very young baby when he was diagnosed as having a disease that led to what doctors claimed was irreversible brain damage.

Over the last several months his parents have been fighting a brave fight to try to continue Alfie’s life, even at the cost of life support. But the courts in Great Britain ruled against the parents and on Monday, Alfie was removed from life support. But even as the doctors argued that the irreversible brain damage meant that Alfie’s life would not continue but a matter of seconds or minutes after life support was removed, as of last night, Alfie is still alive and breathing largely on his own.

The life support was removed Monday, even after the Vatican and Pope Francis had attempted a last ditch effort to bring him to the Gesu Bambino Hospital that is associated with the Vatican. The Italian government went so far as to offer the child Italian citizenship. But the British courts nonetheless insisted that the child, as a British citizen, should be removed from life support even over against the wishes of his parents, and over against the political pressure that had been brought by what is called Alfie’s Army, an army that exists largely on social media of persons outraged by yet another example of what happens when British medical authorities and the British courts make decisions for British children at the expense of the child’s parents.

Amongst the most important of all rights recognized in human history has been the natural right of parents when it comes to making decisions concerning their own children. The fact that parental rights have been recognized as natural rights, especially in Western countries, is very important, because natural rights can not be compromised by a government. But in this case, what you see are parental rights being redefined as being rights only insofar as the government or other elites, such as medical elites, decide that those rights should extend.

In Britain, we are seeing a very ominous trend. We saw it in the case of Charlie Gard months ago, now we see it in the case of Alfie Evans. In both cases, although the medical diagnosis is dissimilar, the reality is the same. The right of parents to make medical decisions, even in the case of Charlie Gard to bring him to the United States, or in the case of Alfie Evens to take him to the Gesu Bambino Hospital in Vatican, those rights have been denied. Instead, medical authorities, backed up by the courts, have insisted that the child must be allowed to die, but notice that language “allowed to die”.

In both cases, what the government was actually doing was taking the advice of medical authorities to remove life support in some way that would mean that the child would inevitably die. Charlie Gard did die. As of last night, Alfie Evans has not died, but here we also need to note that, as some have pointed out, there are critical distinctions between Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans. In the case of Charlie Gard, there was a very clear medical diagnosis. He had been examined by numerous medical teams. In the case of Alfie Evans, it’s just one team and that team is an acute care team. As Charles Camosy has pointed out, those acute care teams of medical experts often make the wrong decisions when it comes to understanding who will inevitably die. To put the matter bluntly, there are numerous cases in which medical authorities said an individual could not live, but they are alive, and many of them very much alive even today.

Sohrab Amari, writing for Commentary Magazine, gets right to the point when he writes, “The medical complexities of the case, played up by the court and its defenders, serve to obscure a basic moral principle. No one is asking the UK National Health Service to expend extraordinary measures to keep Alfie alive. All Alfie’s parents ask is to be allowed to seek treatment elsewhere, again at Italian expense, even if such treatment proves to be futile in the end.” The same principles, says Amari, was at stake in last year’s Charlie Gard case. Once more, British courts have distorted the relevant legal standard, the best interest of the child, to usurp natural rights. That’s the key issue we had better see and had better see clearly and quickly.

If parental rights are not recognized to be natural rights, and if courts and other elites, including medical elites, are given the authority to subvert parental rights and to insert themselves as the agents of making decisions for the healthcare of children, then we’re going to look for a long succession of cases just like Charlie Gard and Alfie Evans.

What Sohrab Amari refers to here as the relevant legal standard, to quote it exactly, “the best interest of the child”, that can be deployed by agents of the state or other elites to subvert the rights of parents, in the name of serving the best interest of the child. The question is who decides what’s in the child’s best interest? This is where we have to understand if that agent of decision is not the parents of the child, then we’re in huge trouble. The understanding throughout successful human civilizations has been that even as parents are understood to bear the major non-delegatable responsibility for the raising of their children, they also are understood to have the same basic undeniable right to be the decision agents for their children, the ones most likely even to know how to act in the best interest of the child.

Now, modern civilization have also had to deal with the question of what happens when parents are clearly not intending to act in the best interest of their child. So interventions in those kinds of parental rights have often been ordered by courts, but only when there has been overwhelming evidence that either the parents do not intend what is in the best interest of their child, or that they have failed to be faithful to acting in the best interest of their child, usually in an excruciating medical situation.

An important issue to note here is that even now, thankfully in the United States, the legal barrier, the threshold necessary for courts to intervene in parental rights, is extremely high. In Great Britain, not so high. By legislation going back over the last 30 years in Great Britain, parental rights have been successively eroded in such a way that courts and medical authorities can now rather routinely intervene, claiming that they, rather than the parents, know what is in the best interest of the child.

Furthermore, we have to note that there are perverse incentives built into this system. Some of the people who are now in Great Britain making the decisions about healthcare are the very persons trying to save money in healthcare. Some of the persons now making these decisions are driven by legal and moral assumptions that are wildly at variance with the sanctity of human life. Some of the people making these decisions may be operating from worldviews and convictions that are directly at odds with those of the parents. In the United States, that would matter. In the United Kingdom, in Great Britain right now, apparently, not so much.

There are historical, legal, cultural, and constitutional issues behind the difference, at least right now, between the United Kingdom and the United States on this question. But parents in the United States and elsewhere must be very aware of the fact that some of the same elites in our country want to make our own system more like the United Kingdom and less like what we know right now. There are many who want to be able to intervene far more regularly with a far lower legal threshold in the United States.

Just consider what happened in Ohio, just a matter of month ago, when a teenager was removed from the parental authority of mother and father, and placed instead with custody understood to be granted to grandparents, because the parents would not agree to move forward with gender transition surgery, whereas the grandparents assured the court they would be willing to do so. In Great Britain just in the last several months, we have seen the tragic story of Charlie Gard, now followed by the unfolding, still tragic story of Alfie Evans.

We need to observe the fact that some of the medical argument being brought comes with a certain kind of moral dimension, and it’s this. Medical authorities say that they are acting to remove life support in order to protect the child from prolonged and unnecessary suffering. But notice just how that argument can be deployed to bring about the death of just about anyone who is experiencing suffering. That argument can be used not only with a toddler named Alfie Evans or Charlie Gard in Great Britain. It can be used in just about any nursing home or ICU unit in the United States.

Once we deny human dignity and the sanctity of every single human life under every condition, once we deny parental rights as natural rights, we set the recipe and the table for an entire disaster to ensue. As we’re seeing right now in Great Britain, this is not a theoretical problem. We are talking about a very real 23 month-old child, a child loved by his parents, and a child that the Italian government was even willing to grant citizenship, and the Pope was willing to pay for transportation and medical care for. We’re talking about a child that very much, apparently, wants to live, evidenced by the fact that even after he was removed from life support, as of last night, he is still breathing.

Those who often push for this kind of redefinition of medical ethics and legal authority assure us that what happened to Charlie Gard and to Alfie Evans will not happen. But in Great Britain, it has already happened, and even now, it is happening again.

Part II

Pew study reveals deep theological confusion that marks American people

Next, we shift back to the United States and even great indication of the deep theological confusion that marks the American people. In this case, another major study released by the Pew Research Center. The headline of the story was this, “When Americans say they believe in God, what do they mean?” Then comes the subhead, and I quote, “Nine in 10 Americans believe in a higher power, but only a slim majority believe in God, as described in The Bible.”

Now there’s very little news here, when we think about the evidence of religious confusion and theological confusion amongst the American people, but what is documented in the study in an important way is that even as that confusion is thickening, the contradictory nature of the data is becoming more and more abundant. Trying to summarize the data is not just that nine of 10 Americans say that they believe in some kind of higher power, but that about a third of Americans really don’t believe in any kind of theistic deity, but they do believe in some kind of supernatural force.

Yet, as the confusion becomes more evident, I mentioned even the fact that the confusion is contradictor, we notice that even some of those who identify as Christians, even some who are identified as evangelical, seem to have absolutely no clue who God is, as revealed in scripture. Nor do they reveal any kind of biblical belief when it comes to the higher power in whom they say they believe.

Gregory Smith, who’s Associate Director of Research at Pew, told the Washington Post, “One of the key questions that motivated the study was to get more detail among those who say they don’t believe in God. Among those who say ‘no’ in a straightforward way when asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’, what are they rejecting?”, said Smith. “Are they rejecting belief in God or a higher power altogether?”

Well, if you’re a big fan of a higher power, the higher power’s the big winner in this research, indicating that nine of 10 Americans believe in some kind of higher power, indicating even that a majority of those who identify as secular also believe in some kind of higher power. Now, that’s a contradiction, but it’s a contradiction of the other scale of the research to demonstrate how many people say they believe in God, but the god in whom they believe, even if they identify as Christians, doesn’t match at all the God that Christians believe in, as revealed in scripture.

Those who answer the question, “Do you believe in God?” by saying that they do not, received a follow-up question. As the report says, and I quote, “They were asked to clarify whether they do not believe in God as described in The Bible, but do believe there is some other higher power or spiritual force in the universe. Or on the contrary, they do not believe there is any higher power or spiritual force in the universe.” We are then told in the report that of the group, about half, that’s 10% of U.S. adults, say they do not believe in a higher power or spiritual force of any kind. But my favorite sentence in the entire report is what follows. I quote it exactly, “All told, one-third of respondents ultimately say that although they do not believe in the God of The Bible, they do believe in a higher power or spiritual force of some kind. Including 23% who initially said they believe in God, and 9% who said they do not believe in God.”

So all around us in this secular society are people who evidence this kind of deep confusion. You have people who say they don’t believe in God, but then they turn around and say, “Maybe I do.” Then there are a majority who say, “I do believe in God,” but it’s not clear that they mean in any way the God of The Bible. Furthermore, you have people who say they don’t believe in any god, but they do believe in a higher power. Some of them go on to say that nonetheless, they are absolute naturalists in their worldview. That’s an inherent contradiction, but it doesn’t seem to bother many Americans, a vast percentage of Americans, that their own answers to the deepest questions of life evidence this kind of confusion and contradiction.

One of the things we need to note is just how unseriously, evidently, a large percentage of Americans take the question about the existence of God. It turns out that a lot of Americans say they believe in God, but they don’t believe in the God of The Bible, and they’re not too concerned with finding out anything about the God in whom they say they believe. Furthermore, there are those who say they certainly don’t believe in God, but what they mean is that they don’t believe in some kind of god. They turn out to believe in some other kind of god, but they also appear to be relatively unconcerned about just who God might be, if He does exist, and what God might think of them.

Perhaps the most basic finding of this study is not what’s printed in the report at all, but what’s there in the background. It turns out that millions and millions of Americans seem to believe that the question of the existence and character of God is not even important. It’s not even worth any kind of serious intellectual engagement. They clearly are not living in fear of God, nor are they even living in fear of not knowing how to answer the question, “Is there a God, and if so, what kind of God is He? And if so, what does God think of me?”

But on the other side of the equation, the confusion is found also even amongst those who identify as Christians. Another important paragraph in the report is this. Again, I quote it in full. “Belief in God is described in The Bible as most pronounced among U.S. Christians. Overall, eight in 10 self-identified Christians say they believe in the God of The Bible, while one in five do not believe in the biblical description of God, but do believe in a higher power of some kind. Very few self-identified Christians (just one percent), say they do not believe in any higher power at all.”

Now, it’s almost, at this point, a reflex just to throw out the report and say, “This is just abundant nonsense.” Here we are being told that a significant number of those who identify as Christians say that they don’t believe in the God of The Bible. Some of them, even if just one percent, when we’re talking about the numbers involved here, say that they are Christians, but they don’t believe in any higher power at all. It means, by the way, that not only are they not Christians, they’re not even theists.

Elsewhere in the study … And this will tell you a great deal about many other questions as well. Elsewhere in the study, we are told that African-American Protestants and White Evangelicals rate the highest in believing that there is a God, and that that God is the God of The Bible. But the same research indicates that some of those same African-American Protestants and White Evangelicals don’t believe that the God who exists is the God of The Bible, and some of them don’t even believe, even if a very small number, that there’s any god at all. What that tells us is that when researchers and many in the national media use either the word “Christian” or the word “Evangelical”, they are swallowing up and entire group of people who are by no means Christian, much less evangelical.

Before leaving this story, I want to point to a statement made in the Washington Post by Elizabeth Drescher, identified as a Professor of Religious Studies at Santa Clara University. She is the author of the book, “Choosing Our Religion: The Spiritual Lives of America’s Nones”. That’s N-O-N-E-S, meaning no religious afflation. As the Washington Post reported, “Some say the category of belief with its binary options, yes or no, can’t fully account for the diversity of human experience. Transcendence, we are told for example, can be a supernatural experience, but also a natural one.”, and that according to Professor Drescher. “Some people, we are told, may have faith in life’s animating force or in the human spirit.” That again, according to the professor.

So let’s just keep our categories straight here. If you hold to a naturalistic and materialistic worldview, you do not believe in any reality that is supernatural or transcendent. But here we are told that it is possible to deny the supernatural and the transcendent and still to believe in some kind of transcendence, because ‘yes’ or ‘no’ is an artificial binary that doesn’t match all human existence.

Now as much as the confusion in this article is so easy to recognize, it doesn’t appear to be so easy to recognize in one’s self. This is straightforwardly explained, as if it makes sense to deny the supernatural and to affirm it, to say that there is no such possibility as transcendence, and yet to believe in it. Christians looking at that conundrum and contradiction, by the way, understand that as The Bible itself makes clear, there really are no atheists. There is no one who does not have implanted in his or her heart the knowledge of eternity and the existence of God.

Embedded in this entire research and in the media attention to it is not only, however, this confusion, but its description of our mission field. Our mission field is made up of some people who need to be evangelized who know that they are not believers in God, and particularly, they are not believers in the God of The Bible. But we also have to recognize that our mission field is filled with millions of people who think that they do believe in the supernatural, even than they believe in God. Maybe even that they believe in the God of The Bible, but evidently, they have no idea what that means.

Part III

Progressive mayors in New Jersey take aim at gender-specific public bathrooms as ‘next step’ in sexual revolution

But finally, we look at a story published by National Public Radio with its own confusion. Yesterday NPR reported with an article, “Hoboken Mayor doing it his way, orders gender neutral bathrooms.” The “his way” comment refers to the fact that Hoboken was famous for being the birthplace of Frank Sinatra, who was also famous for claiming that he did it his way. Well, the mayor’s way is to declare that all city-maintained, single-occupancy bathrooms must now be gender neutral.

Mayor Ravi Bhalla told NPR that his Executive Order is what he called the next step designed to “further protect the civil rights and dignity of our transgender, gender non-binary, and queer residents and visitors, but this is just the start.” He said, “I will continue to introduce progressive and inclusive policies to protect all residents.” Now, what exactly would he mean by that? This statement that he’s going to continue to introduce progressive policies, by his description.

Well, NPR explains it this way. That Bhalla “plans to take it a step further, asking the city council to vote or an ordinance that will make all bathrooms, including those in private establishments, accessible to all gender-identities.” Now, in the previous article, the Pew Research Center, told us that many Americans are pressing back on the binary of yes and no when it comes to the question as to whether or not they believe in God. But now you have the mayor of Hoboken doing as we are told “his way”, who says that not only is the binary of yes or no about the existence of God out, but also out is the gender binary, about male and female. It’s not only going to be out, according to the mayor’s Executive Order, in public, single-space bathrooms. But he wants to take it further, what he calls to continue to introduce progressive and inclusive policies, that would actually enforce the very same policies in private establishments in the city.

NPR tells us that Hoboken is not the first New Jersey city. In Jersey City, we are told the mayor there, Steve Fulop, had issued an Executive Order in March 2017 that declared all bathrooms in municipal buildings to be gender-neutral. “Phillips order requires a sign at any bathroom maintained by the city, saying …”, note these words very carefully. Here’s the sign. “Gender diversity is welcomed here. Please use the bathroom that best fits your gender identity or expression.”

Notice that in the mayor’s declared policy, whether in Jersey City or in Hoboken, there’s absolutely no limitation on the entire situation, except what any individual defines himself or herself to be. But then again, there’s that binary, himself and herself. I guess the bottom line in all of this is if the words “he” and “she,” “male” and “female,” “boy” and “girl,” “brother” and “sister,” “father” and “mother”—well, you take it and go on—if those still make sense to you, you may not want to go to the bathroom in Hoboken, New Jersey.

Thanks to listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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