Wednesday, Aug 8, 2018

Wednesday, Aug 8, 2018

The Briefing

August 8, 2018

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

It’s Wednesday, August 8th 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

A society that argues some have the right to demand their death will eventually argue that all have the right to demand that very death, even the youngest

They are now killing children in Belgium. We’re talking about euthanasia, and we’re talking about children seventeen and under. We have seen this coming for some time, as, going back to 2014, Belgium liberalized its already very liberal euthanasia laws in order to allow for children and adolescents to ask for and receive medical assistance in dying. This is not just assisted suicide. This is euthanasia, the deliberate bringing about of a human death.

Charles Lane writing in the Washington Post begins the story this way, “Deliberately taking a small child’s life is unlawful everywhere in the world, even when the child is terminally ill and asks a doctor to end his or her suffering once and for all. There is,” he writes, “an exception to this rule: Belgium. In 2014, that country amended its law on euthanasia, already one of the most permissive in the world, authorizing doctors to terminate the life of a child at any age who makes the request.”

We now know in reports coming from the official commission supposedly giving oversight to euthanasia in Belgium, that at least three children seventeen and under have been euthanized since this law was changed. Later in his article, Lane writes this: “Everywhere else in the world, the law reflects powerful human intuitions, moral and practical, that it is wrong to abandon hope for a person so early in life, no matter the illness. That it is absurd to grant ultimate medical autonomy to someone too young to vote or legally consent to sex, and that even the best intentioned, fallible human beings should not be entrusted with such life and death power.”

“In Belgium,” he continues, “a kind of libertarian technocracy has conquered these qualms. Euthanasia advocates,” he writes, “insist that some children, even very young ones, may possess the same decisional capacity as some adults, and it’s therefore discriminatory to deny them the freedom to choose euthanasia based on an arbitrary age limit.”

Belgium adopted legalized euthanasia in 2002. So did the Netherlands, which did so a few months earlier, becoming the first modern country to make euthanasia legal. We now know that back in 2002 in Belgium, the original legislation that authorized euthanasia was intended to have no lower age limit, but public pressure in 2002 required that the Belgian government put into effect prohibitions on euthanasia for those under age 18. That’s the law that was changed in 2014.

We are often told that arguments that say “this will follow that” are slippery slope arguments that are intellectually indefensible. Here, it’s not just the warning of a slippery slope, it’s a slope that has proved itself to be slippery in a most deadly way. By the way, slippery slope arguments are only invalid if they come without the kind of explanation of causality. In this case, the causality is abundantly apparent.

Once you adopt this idea of human life as being defined only in human terms, then human beings will decide to redefine it. In the culture of death, that means to redefine it in a way that makes the vulnerable even more vulnerable. That claims an authority of life and death, especially at both the beginning and the end of life.

In the beginning stages of life, we have seen that human life has become vulnerable mostly through abortion, sometimes through abortion and infanticide. At the end stages of life, the same logic is now pertaining with human beings claiming that we have the responsibility, not just the authority, we have the responsibility to end our lives, or for that matter as a culture to end the lives of others in ways that will benefit society at large.

Christians look at this and understand exactly what’s at stake. Once you deny human dignity and the sanctity of human life as being grounded in the fact that we are made by a divine Creator in his own image–every single one of us from conception until natural death under every condition–once you begin then to define human beings in purely secular terms, then abortion and euthanasia become inevitable as the culture moves forward.

Back in 2014, one of the Belgian medical authorities who promoted the change said this, and I quote, “Why wouldn’t you give children who are incurably sick and who are unbearably suffering the same possibilities adults have?” You can immediately see where this logic leads. The neighboring nation of the Netherlands has also legalized euthanasia for children twelve and older, but not for children eleven and younger.

As you look back at that statement made by Dr. Jan Bernheim–that’s the medical authority who argued that children should have the same rights as adults when it comes to euthaooking at the doctor’s language, he said that children should have “The same possibilities adults have.” Well, what is this possibility? It is the possibility to request to death and to have others administer that death.

Just think about the vocabulary that’s being used here and the worldview that’s being reflected. There is a horrible, deadly double mindedness here. A form of hypocrisy and an inherent contradiction. Children and other minors in both Belgium and the Netherlands are denied the right to make other basic decisions about their lives, but we are told that they are autonomous individuals with sufficient maturity to ask for and receive their own death.

Back in 2014, Corinne Brochiere of the European Institute of Bioethics in Brussels said “A child cannot buy a house in Belgium. A child cannot buy alcohol in Belgium, and this law would allow a child to ask to be killed, and that is the real problem.”

Indeed, that is the real problem, but the bigger problem is the entire issue of euthanasia. The logic becomes then extendable, and once it is extendable that extension becomes largely inevitable. The society doesn’t have defenses against it. Once you argue that any human being has the autonomy to ask for and receive his or her own death, then the logic is that if any human being has that possibility or right, then all human beings must have that right.

And as you look at euthanasia in Belgium in particular, but also in the Netherlands and now in Switzerland where there’s an entire industry of euthanasia or assisted tourism, you are looking at the fact that human life is being radically subverted. In Belgium, for example, there is the extension of euthanasia not just to those who are suffering from some kind of physical pain or what’s defined as a terminal physical disease, but also to mental illness.

In an earlier article, Charles Lane had explained that official Belgian reports indicate that at least five non-terminally-ill people during a two-year period had received euthanasia for schizophrenia, autism, bipolar disorder, dementia, and depression. All of this, given the moral argument coming from the Belgians of what they define as patient autonomy.

We talk often on the briefing about the danger of this worship and idolatry of personal autonomy in the secular age. As we see here, that autonomy becomes deadly, and it becomes very deadly even for the youngest amongst us. We can understand now exactly how the pattern and the logic of this progression works. You begin to make the distinction between what’s called assisted suicide, even physician-assisted suicide and euthanasia. You then make the distinction between voluntary euthanasia and involuntary euthanasia. The argument is, we will legalize voluntary euthanasia but not involuntary euthanasia.

The earlier argument was: we’ll accept assisted suicide by the patient, but we wouldn’t legalize much less normalize the involvement of medical professionals. But, now of course it’s physician-assisted suicide. We see that voluntary euthanasia very quickly slides into what can only be described as an involuntary euthanasia.

For one thing, what is the agency? What’s the real autonomy of a person suffering so much either physically or psychologically, that death would be presented as an option? How long is it until given economic pressures, we are told, that some lives are simply too expensive? How long before some of the aged using a lot of medical resources, simply figure out that there is the expectation that they will willfully depart this life rather than continue to use up those resources? How long before the arguments are that insurance policies, medical professionals, and others should bend the guidelines offering some kind of incentives towards euthanasia, either voluntary or otherwise?

We should note that this article appeared in the Washington Post by Charles Lane who was a regular opinion writer for the newspaper. That’s important. The article would have been significant had it been an occasional article which was offered by someone off of the editorial team.

But in this case, it’s an official opinion writer for the Washington Post. And what that tells us is that in this country, even in a secular arena, even in the newspaper pages of one of the most liberal papers in this country, it is still possible to sound the alarm about the euthanasia of children.

But we have to wonder for how long, because once you accept the basic logic of euthanasia, then the other extensions of that logic simply follow. That’s not just a warning, it’s now a documented fact and we’re indebted to Charles Lane for documenting that fact when it comes not only to the euthanasia of children, but also to the euthanasia of those who are mentally ill. A scandal he identified as a major moral issue in Belgium and beyond.

A society that begins by arguing that some have the right to demand their death, will eventually argue that all have the right to demand that very same death, even the youngest.

By the way, in the reporting back in 2014 when the law was being changed, those who were opposed to the law were largely described as “representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Christian Orthodox, and Muslim religious groups.” Now, consider for just a moment what that tells us. It tells us that once again we are looking at that massive secular and sacred divide. When we are talking about the coalition in Belgium that opposed euthanasia, and in this case euthanasia for children, consider the coalition, again: Catholic, Protestant, Christian Orthodox and the Muslim.

It’s not often you see all of those for religious groups put together in a simple statement of moral opposition to a single issue. But in this case you see it clearly, and you’ll notice that the opposition here is between those who believe in a creator, most fundamentally, and those who do not.

Part II

Separating the real from the ideal: How a corruption of human beauty becomes a huge problem

Next, we turn to yet another distortion and diminishment of human dignity. In this case, it’s another article from the Washington Post and a medical journal article that’s behind it. Allyson Chiu, reporting for The Post, has a headline story that ran this week entitled “Patients are desperate to resemble their doctored selfies. Plastic surgeons alarmed by ‘Snapchat dysmorphia.’”

As it turns out, that term “Snapchat dysmorphia” is yet another new psychiatric or psychological diagnosis. But in this case, the alarm is being raised not so much by the psychological or psychiatric community as by plastic surgeons. Chiu reports, “Remember the days when people would bring photos of celebrities to the plastic surgeon’s office and ask for Angelina Jolie’s lips or Brad Pitt’s jaw line? That’s not the case anymore,” she writes. “Now people want to look like themselves, heavily edited or filtered versions of themselves that is. Doctors we are told, have spotted a trend of people bringing in their own selfies. Usually,” she tells us, “edited with a smartphone application and asking to look more like their photos.”

This is based upon an article that was published just recently in the Journal of the American Medical Association Facial Plastic Surgery. The researchers are from Boston University School of Medicine, and its department of dermatology. This diagnosis of “Snapchat dysmorphia: is only about a year old, but that tells us something about how modern technology is impacting modern people and their understanding of themselves.

The researchers and doctors writing in the article at JAMA­–the article is entitled “Selfies, living in the era of filtered photographs”–begin by writing, “We live in an era of edited selfies and ever evolving standards of beauty. The advent and popularity of image based social media have put Photoshop and filters in everyone’s arsenal. A few swipes on Snapchat can give your selfie a crown of flowers or puppy ears. A little adjusting on Facetune can smoothen out skin and make teeth look whiter and eyes and lips bigger. A quick share on Instagram, and the likes and comments start rolling in. These filters and edits we are told had become the norm, altering people’s perception of beauty worldwide.”

The researchers tell us that until recently, this kind of enhancement technology had been available only to those who are very wealthy. People like Hollywood celebrities, but now it’s just an app or a swipe away from just about everyone who has a smartphone. And that means just about everyone.

The Medical Association Journal continues, “Body dysmorphic disorder is an excessive preoccupation with a perceived flaw in appearance classified on the obsessive compulsive spectrum. We are told the disorder is more than an insecurity or a lack of confidence. It is often reflected in behaviors, repetitive compulsive behaviors, and the inability of the person who is involved to see themselves as they really are. They begin to see or to want to see themselves as this enhanced idealized version of themselves, but now it’s a version of themselves enhanced and posted on social media.”

At first hearing, this may sound like something on the fringes of our society, something peripheral and distant, but we should be alarmed that this respected Medical Authority tells us that in 2017 alone, 55 percent of those identified as facial, plastic, and reconstructive surgeons, indicated seeing patients who had requested surgery “to improve their appearance on selfies.”

It was 42 percent we’re told in 2015. Last year it was 55 percent. This new diagnosis of “Snapchat dysmorphia” has, we are told, “Patients seeking out cosmetic surgery to look like filtered versions of themselves with fuller lips, bigger eyes, or a thinner nose.” Those are just examples. The surgeon said, “This is an alarming trend, because those filtered selfies often present an unattainable look and are blurring the line of reality and fantasy for these patients.”

Interestingly, these surgeons report that the choice of action in such cases is not surgery, which we are told will not improve or maybe even worsen the underlying problem. Tying all of this specifically to the new technologies of enhancement, the researchers write, “Overall, social media apps such as Snapchat and Facetune are providing a new reality of beauty for today’s society. These apps allow one to alter his or her appearance in an instant, and conform to an unrealistic and often unattainable standard of beauty.”

You won’t be surprised, I think, to know that in the article, the medical researchers indicate that those who are most vulnerable and most involved in this issue are females and in particular adolescent girls. These articles have basically broken in the last few days in the major media, but in the August/September edition of the magazine 1843–it’s identified as the lifestyle magazine of the economist of London–it ran a major article entitled “Read My Lips, Just Don’t Expect Them to Be Real.” The article tells us about the search of the digital facelift. Amy Odell writing the article tells us, “I first learned about Facetune in Los Angeles in 2016 at a convention called Beauty Con. It’s an event we are told that brings together beauty influencers defined as ‘an ever expanding throng of people who have become celebrities by documenting their makeup tutorials for social media.’”

This article in the magazine 1843 tells us that Facetune, which was only launched in 2013, counts forty million daily active users, a majority of them female. This article in what’s billed is a lifestyle magazine doesn’t raise the deep moral concerns explicitly, but it does raise an issue of incredible importance. It’s explained in this article in 1843, that people looking at images, especially printed or published images, don’t realize what’s behind the images. What’s behind them is an unreality.

Odell writes, “A magazine cover is sometimes a compilation of images rather than a single edited one. It may include a woman’s eye from one photo, and her arm from another. One model’s hair for a beauty ad, may use parts of fifteen different images. Even inanimate objects we are told, such as cereal bowls are retouched in this way.” One person cited in the article said, “No one knows that bowl is three different images, the real bowl doesn’t actually exist.”

Now consider what that tells us about these artificial standards of beauty and how dangerous they are, when people begin to internalize those images, and now they begin to see themselves as so inadequate and un-beautiful that they are demanding facial or plastic surgery in order to meet the expectations of social media, or for that matter to meet their own postings which have been enhanced by these new apps and technologies.

This reminds me of an article that ran several years ago indicating that one of the main challenges in pornography these days, is the advent of high definition imagery. Why? Because high definition imagery tends to reveal the real plastic surgery scars, imperfections and all, which it turns out is a challenge for those who are presenting pornography.

But by the same kind of logic, you now see how a twisted misunderstanding and corruption of human beauty becomes a huge problem. Here again, you see a subversion of human dignity, not quite so deadly, but certainly corrupting and dangerous. Once you sever, as the secular world must, the good from the true and the beautiful–the three are always combined in the Christian worldview because ultimately the three are all gifts from God; they are a part of the character of God revealed in us and in creation–once you separate the beautiful from the true, and the true from the good, then inevitably you end up with this kind of distortion. Who would have predicted that 55 percent of the surgeons surveyed in this article would indicate that in the Snapchat, Facetune era, they now have patients showing up demanding that facial surgery or other kind of aesthetic surgery must be the answer to whatever imperfections they see in themselves?

They want to match the idealized self that they now have enhanced and posted on social media. This also points out the very danger of that social media. We’re talking about a situation in which the real, which is also a fundamental biblical Christian affirmation, is severed from the ideal. When the real is separated from the ideal in this way, the ideal almost always represents some kind of very toxic and dangerous temptation.

Once we find our identity in anything other than the fact that God made us in his image and thus in his glory, and once we begin to identify ourselves in terms that are self-defining, then we will find ourselves in any social context very much tempted to define ourselves as we wish others might see us. In this very corrupted age of sexuality and beauty, the toxic effects show up in these headlines and horrifyingly so.

This should remind Christians as well, especially men and boys to understand our responsibility to let women and girls know that they are beautiful, first of all because they are made in God’s image, and also because the good, the beautiful, and the true are combined in them to God’s glory as God’s gift, in a way that is distinctive to them. By demanding and celebrating artificial conceptions of beauty, Christian men and boys can become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

Part III

One of the bloodiest weekends in the history of Chicago represents a challenge to all Christians in all places

Finally, we turn to yet another urgent issue of human dignity at stake. In this case, it’s in the city of Chicago where just over the last weekend, mass shootings resulted in at least 74 people in Chicago being wounded, and 12 of them being killed. It was described as one of the bloodiest weekends in the history of one of the most troubled cities in the United States.

The editorial board of the Chicago Tribune described the weekend with these words, “A hot summer weekend when Chicago should be at its most livable, brings an undercurrent of dread and horror to the city. Summer is block party season, beach season, baseball season, but in some neighborhoods, summer is killing season when armed gang members run amuck firing at each other and anyone in their way. The death and injury total from Friday night to Monday morning numb the senses,” said the editors. “At least 74 people were shot, 12 of them killed.” That, according to a tally by the newspapers reporters. The editors then wrote, “These are figures from a war zone. They shouldn’t reflect the reality of an August weekend in an American city.”

The city superintendent of police and mayor both indicated that there is a geographic mal-distribution here. Almost all the shootings took place in just four of Chicago’s 22 police districts. Those four districts are overwhelmingly on the south and west sides of Chicago, which, as the Mayor and the Police Superintendent indicated means, that they are predominantly African American and Latino. As the editors of the paper pointed out, the problem is overwhelmingly attributable to gang warfare in those areas.

As we think in Christian worldview understanding, we come to know that when you see brokenness like this, it almost always points to a prior brokenness. Of course, the most prior brokenness is the problem of human sin. But, we also see here the breakdown of civilization, the breakdown of a society. The Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson spoke of this in a press conference on Monday when he said, “We need parents to be parents. We need neighborhoods to be neighborhoods.”

The police in Chicago also indicated extreme frustration in the inability to get Chicago citizens to identify those who pulled the triggers in these shootings. Here too, Christians understand that human dignity is at stake. It should be horrifying to the United States that out of the list of the 50 major cities of the world with the highest murder rates, four of the top 50 are in the United States. We can understand that gangs move in when the bonds that hold civilization together begin to fall apart. When the basic units and structures of civilization and civilizational strength begin to weaken.

This kind of headline coming from Chicago represents an assault on human dignity that is not only horrifying, it is simply unacceptable. Here, we also need to be thankful that in the city of Chicago, and especially in the south and west sides of Chicago, there are gospel-preaching churches, pastors, and Christians who are doing everything in their power to try to bring together what the world seems to be doing its best to pull apart.

Christians operating from a biblical worldview also understand that this doesn’t merely represent a challenge to the south and west ends of Chicago. It doesn’t just represent a challenge to Chicago. It represents a challenge to all of us Christians everywhere.

Thanks for 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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