briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 6, 2019

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

It’s Friday, September 6, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

New Age of Legalized Sports Gambling: The NFL’s Centennial Season and the Future

It is very interesting to watch the spread of legalized gambling across the United States. In many dimensions it’s transforming the reality on the ground. We have seen the fact that it brings false promises, especially in the fact that so many casinos and other gambling operations have first, failed economically; second, failed in terms of their promises of employment and enrichment to the communities; and third, failed to provide the revenue that the states and other government entities promised would be coming. And the other thing we need to note is that, of course, those governments often begin to spend the money before it comes and then it doesn’t come. You have the promise made to Americans, especially tax payers, that if they will approve or and elect people who will approve legalized gambling in its expansion, then they will pay less in taxes or their taxes will be raised at a lower amount over time.

The reality is that the states become dependent upon that revenue and then they have to turn to prey on their own people. But there’s another dimension of the expansion of gambling and gaming that is becoming very, very interesting as we think about its moral effects. This has to do with the legalization of gambling on college and professional sports. The particular issue right now is gambling on professional sports and that entire landscape changed when the Supreme Court of the United States not long ago handed down a decision that struck down federal legislation preventing the states, at least 48 of the states, from offering legalize betting on sports.

The number 48 is important because two states had been granted exemptions, and the Supreme Court struck down the law that allowed only two states to be involved in gambling on professional sports and that means that the entire professional sports landscape is going to change. You don’t have to go to Las Vegas or to Atlantic City to place a bet on professional sports games anymore. That’s likely to be coming to a location very near you. And if some have their way that very near means to your phone or to your laptop that’s already taking place with the development of some gambling apps.

And make no mistake we’re talking about a lot of money, but here’s what’s really interesting. If you rewind history, going back to the first half of the 20th century, one of the greatest moral fears in the United States was that the pristine integrity of sport would be fatally compromised and destroyed by allowing gambling. The reason for that is easy to understand. It is the fact that if you have people who are invested in a game either on the winning side or the losing side or in some cases hedging their bets by betting on both sides to some degree, then you are corrupting the game and especially when you consider the scandals that were associated with some professional sports teams, particularly in baseball and some particular figures both in the coaching and the staffing and the playing side. It’s a really difficult situation to consider when you know that you are opening the door to an enormous amount of moral risk.

It begins to spread like a virus. One state moves to legalize and expand sports betting and then the neighboring states say, “We can’t be left out on the action. We don’t want our people crossing the state line. We need that revenue.” And so you see the logic by which it spreads rather quickly, but it’s also spreading rather quickly when you consider the types of professional sports that are becoming involved. But what does that say about the moral reputation of those sports and their professional leagues?

Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times had a headline story: “As gambling proliferates, NFL keeps its distance.” Kevin Draper is the reporter in the story, and what it tells us is that the NFL is, on the one hand, keeping its distance, but on the other hand, not so much.

Draper begins by pointing out that this season is the NFL’s centennial season. He then wrote, “Some observers believe that a true transformation of the sports economics is only just starting now thanks to advancing legalization of sports betting across the country. The Supreme Court last year struck down a law that had banned sports betting in most states, so when the Packers and the Bears kickoff on Thursday night” — that’s just last night — “football fans in 12 states will be able to partake in some form of legal sports gambling. Several more States have launches in the works.”

But then Draper goes on to say that this isn’t at least by his judgment at least right now going to lead to much public perception of a change. He says, “But fans hoping that this will radically reshape how they watch America’s most popular betting sport will be left disappointed, at least for now. This year’s NFL will look a lot like last year’s NFL, which looked a lot like the previous year’s NFL.”

The story gets even more interesting when Christopher Halpin, the NFL executive in charge of strategy said, “We get great engagement. We don’t need to integrate sports betting directly into that.” A closer look at the story reveals that the word “directly” actually fulfills a very important role in that comment. The NFL will be involved if nothing else, by the fact that it’s an NFL game that is the focus of the betting, but you can also bet on the fact that it’s not going to remain that way. Later in the article, Draper tells us that the estimates are that the legalization of gambling could earn the NFL $2.3 billion in annual income from legal sports betting, and we’re also told that sports leagues in total could earn about $4.2 billion.

So as we’re thinking about this and worldview perspective, we have to understand the logic by which at least this form of moral change happens. It happens because there is a huge and obvious economic incentive. The posture of the NFL becomes more clear when we understand that the league does want to gain by the income from sports betting, but it doesn’t want to alienate at least a conservative portion of its fan base.

As Draper writes, “The NFL’s basic position is that it’s still early for legalized sports betting and the league doesn’t want to annoy the large portion of its audience that does not and will not bet.” And he goes on to say, “With an enormous mass market audience already, the NFL contends it will benefit from legalization less than other sports. Consonant with that caution, the NFL has far fewer betting related deals than other American sports leagues.” Now again, there’s a word there and that word is “fewer.” It doesn’t say “no.” It doesn’t say that the NFL has no betting related deals, it says that it has fewer because of this concern. You recall that the conditional word earlier in the statement from the NFL executive was “directly,” which means that the other dimension could well be “indirect.” But whether you would classify this as direct or indirect, Draper reports, “Last month the NFL made its most consequential sports betting decision yet expanding its partnership with Sportradar, a sports data company. Sportsradar now has the exclusive right to sell official NFL data to casinos and sports books worldwide.”

One of the issues addressed in this article in the New York Times is the extent to which or not sportscasters are going to be able to make explicit references even to giving or being forbidden to give gambling advice during the broadcast of these sporting events. Again, what’s really interesting to note as we look at this article is the fact that there’s at least some acknowledgement that this is going to be very, very difficult to prevent, and yet it’s also going to be very, very dangerous when you think about the moral risk.

So let’s think about the kinds of arguments that are going to be presented here. One of the arguments is, “Hey,” as this article makes clear, “professional football was before the legalization or the expanded legalization of sports betting already the most betted upon sports event around the world.” That tells us something. It tells us that illegal betting was already a big business and of course that’s rather obvious. But then the argument comes, “There is revenue there that we could put to good use.” Indeed the argument comes, “We owe it to ourselves and to our constituents to make sure that we get at least our fair share of that revenue and eventually the income that will come by sports betting.” And then you can hear the argument, “We can protect the sports from any kind of corruption that might come.” As a matter of fact, you’re going to hear the argument, “We will take some of the money that will come by this revenue and we will invest it in to prevent the corruption of the sport.”

Now, how we know this is because this is exactly the kind of logic that was used for expanded casino gambling in the United States. The states understood that there was grave moral risks. The grave moral risk is obvious if you go to a place where casinos are visible and then you look at what happens in many cases to the communities around them. You begin to see the kind of businesses that grow up. You begin to see the kind of economic desperation that sets in. You have addictive patterns of gambling. You have families that are impoverished and all kinds of individual lives that are harmed, and thus the state said, “We understand that there is that moral risk, so here’s the deal. We’re going to take a considerable part of the revenue that will come from this expanded gambling and we’re going to put it into various forms of preventative mechanisms or you can put it into counseling or some kind of rehabilitation.”

The point is that you have a moral argument that is being made on the basis of the fact that yes, there will be moral harm, but the revenue is simply too important to leave. There’s simply too much money that could be on the table. We can’t afford not to take this moral risk. And then you see what happens in the states, as we have already noted, when they begin directly to prey upon their own citizens having to entice the citizens least able to take that economic risk to do so because the state has to, it will argue, maintain the level of income.

And then comes the other moral threat that is so powerful in politics. When it turns out that the state has to turn to this kind of mechanism, then the argument comes, “Well, if we don’t do that, then dear citizen, you’re going to have to pay higher taxes.” Why is that true? Well, it’s true at least in part because the states and other governments began already to spend the money that they had predicted to come from gambling and now one way or another, regardless of the moral risk, they have to provide that income.

I’m going to conclude this section by simply pointing out the fact that the moral risk was so well known in America in the last century that the argument came because of real experience, that there will be the inevitable expansion of this gambling into those who manage and own and who play these sports and eventually will come down to what happens or doesn’t happen on the playing court or the playing field. Because you could also look at the fact that it is absolutely unavoidable that the moral risk will eventually come down, not just to those who are doing the betting, but those who are affected by, enticed by, and corrupted by the vast sums of money that will flow into the legalized gambling on these sports.

Part II

Dogs Are Dominating the Headlines in Recent Days: A Look at Canine Issues as a Reflection of American Culture

Next, one indication of the moral confusion around us is the fact that the categories become blurred. We look at that from time to time, including the category between animal and human. And a flurry of articles has appeared that indicates the depth of that kind of confusion or at least the width you might say, the breadth, of that confusion.

An article in Wednesday’s edition to the New York Times on the opinion page. It’s by Alexandra Horowitz. The article is entitled, “Dogs are not here for our convenience.” Well, that’s an interesting title. What’s it about? Well, it is about what she argues is the grotesque moral harm of neutering or desexing pets, in particular dogs. She writes with sympathy for dogs saying that the dogness of the dog is at least largely harmed and reduced by eliminating its reproductive function and effectively the dog’s sexuality as well.

She also says that this is going to lead to a further hybridization of dogs and the development of breeds without mixed breed dogs, which she says will harm the long-term health of the species. She writes about the fact that her own pets have been desexed. She says, “I’ve never lived with a dog with testes or ovaries. My pups all come from shelters whose policies have often been to desex a dog before adoption if possible. I never knew Pumpernickel as a fertile young thing or Finnegan, the virile version.” She says, “This is by design, and the design had its desired effect. I do not need,” she says, “to make a choice about the future of my dogs reproductively and I did not limit the loss of what I had never known.”

If that sounds like bizarre language it is, but we’re living in a bizarre age. I’m talking about this because it’s above the fold in the print edition of Wednesday’s edition of the New York Times. It’s an article about the fact that we are harming dogs and we are treating dogs as if they exist only for our convenience by desexing them. This runs right into conflict with the general moral argument that has held sway in our society for decades in which it is a moral imperative to desex or to neuter animals, especially those that are captured as strays. Now, this might not sound like one of the great moral debates of the age, but at least it is an intense moral debate where it’s found. And what’s odd about this is that that was Wednesday in the opinion page of the New York Times.

But in the same section of the New York Times on the same day, there was an article with the headline, “Spaying, neutering and rescuing lead to drop in pet euthanasia.” The reporter is Alicia Parlapiano. She reports from Dallas, “When a lost, stray, or abandoned pet entered an American city’s animal shelter 10 years ago, there was a good chance it would not leave.” Why? Because so many of these animals, animals by the millions, were euthanized. But there again is moral change. The judgment was that the right thing to do back then was to euthanize these animals because no one was going to adopt them and they would otherwise be hungry. They would be stray. They would be endangered, but the moral argument changed with animal rights activists arguing that euthanasia was itself wrong and should be avoided and they began to bring political pressure on animal shelters to avoid euthanasia at virtually all costs. But that also leads to some huge questions including, “What is society to do with all of these animals?” Well, the article at least makes clear that there has been an increase in the number of Americans who are going to rescue shelters to adopt these pets. But the reality is that at least in many parts of the country, this euthanizing is still taking place.

But there’s another little moral clue that’s embedded in this article, and that is the fact that many private shelters and rescue groups, “Accept only animals most likely to be adopted.” That’s to say they’re stacking the deck when it comes to the animals that they accept in their shelters. They don’t even accept the animals they don’t think will be adopted. That confusion of categories is made clear by Richard Avanzino, a longtime activist, “known as the father of the no-kill movement.” He said, speaking of the dogs, by the way, “They’re family members on four legs. Society,” he said, “is no longer willing to say, ‘Well, there are just too many animals and not enough homes.’”

Well, I’ll just point out the fact that this is the kind of article, it’s the kind of moral issue that can only emerge from a society of relative wealth and the relative kind of lifestyle that allows people to develop this kind of companionate relationship with pets and the kind of society that can even have a nonprofit sector that can build up all the institutions necessary for rescue shelters and all the rest. To state the matter in contemporary parlance, this is a first world reality.

But the Christian worldview point here that intelligent Christians ought to think about is that if the conditions were to change, the likelihood is that the moral judgment would also change. I would like to think at least that the vast majority of those who are very deeply involved in this issue would be more concerned with a child going without meals than a dog that is underfed. But what we’re looking at here is by the kind of language that’s being used, a bit suspicious of the reality that that’s not automatically the case. It’s already not automatically the case when you look at giving too many of these national and international organizations. It’s already apparently not the case when the media have reported on people of vast wealth sending private jets to rescue dogs rather than people from places where, for instance, there’s been a natural tragedy or a storm.

There’s a sense in which most pet owners can at least wax sentimentally about pets being family members on four legs. But there’s a danger if that is taken with full seriousness or meant that way.

But at the same time, a recent edition of the Washington Post had an article telling us that the very wealthy, very powerful enclave of Chevy Chase, Maryland, is now facing a political uproar that involves at least the spouses of prominent members of the United States government because that particular municipality, such a wealthy enclave of powerful Washington D.C., established a dog park and because Maryland state money was used, the municipality is prevented from limiting access to its dog park to citizens of Chevy Chase.

What does that mean? It means that the riff raff from everywhere around Chevy Chase is bringing in dogs to do what dogs do in a dog park. And that includes not only what you’re thinking but also barking, which turns out to be a nuisance to the human inhabitants of Chevy Chase. And you also have the fact that there are again, very powerful people in Washington who are involved here, including the wife of the chairman of the federal reserve board.

The bottom line in this article is that Chevy Chase is considering closing its dog park because the wrong kinds of dogs are showing up and since they can’t discriminate on the dogs, they are likely just to shut down the whole dog park.

Part III

Garlic the Cat Has a Clone: China Leads the Way in the New Pet Cloning Industry

But if that sounds strange, consider the following that is stranger. Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times had an article by Sui-Lee Wee. It is datelined from Beijing. The headline: “The Cat Is Dead, Long Live the Cat.”

What’s this talking about? It’s talking about the burgeoning Chinese industry of cloning pets. The new innovation is cloning cats. Again, this article was from yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, “Garlic was dead and there was nothing Huang Yu could do. So on a cold winter day, he buried his cat’s body in a park close to his home. Hours later, still heartbroken, the 22-year-old businessman recalled an article he had read on dog cloning in China. What if someday he could bring Garlic back to life?”

He went on to say, “In my heart, Garlic is irreplaceable,” but evidently Garlic really wasn’t irreplaceable because he paid a lot of money to have Garlic cloned. He put Garlic in the refrigerator until he could determine exactly how this might happen, and then he spent roughly $35,000 and waited seven months, and then a company named Sinogene produced what China’s official news media, “Declared to be the country’s first cloned cat,” and said the New York Times, “Another sign of the country’s emergence as a power in cloning and genetics.”

The article says it also suggests that China could turn pet cloning into a viable business. We’re talking about big business. We’re talking about near $40,000 to $50,000 for cloning a dog, and now at least by this estimate, $35,000 for cloning a cat. Again, step back for a moment. We’re talking about tens of thousands of dollars in order to have a genetic replica of a pet you have loved and is now dead, named Garlic or otherwise.

Sometime back on The Briefing, we discussed the fact that Barbara Streisand has spent thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars to clone her own dogs, but we’re also told that in China, this is a new big business. We’re told, “Garlic is the first cat cloned by China, solidifying its position among major cloning nations which include the United States, Britain, and South Korea.” More ominously as we have seen a rogue Chinese scientist went on to use cloning technology with a human baby.

But here we’re talking about cats and China’s looking for big business. It’s looking for revenue. It’s looking for Western dollars and it looks like at least one enterprise that might lure much of that attention, encourage much of its technology, and lead to even further cloned animals would be this Sinogene business and other related kinds of enterprises.

From a Christian worldview perspective the interesting thing is just to step back for a moment and recognize, we are talking here about pets. We’re talking about animals. We’re talking about the fact that these are genetic beings even as we are genetic beings, but we also come to understand something that seems to be missing in this article. When you are talking about human beings, we are not just our genome. We’re not less than our genome, our genetic structure, but we’re not only our genetic structure. And even when you look at animals — after all, they’re not made in the image of God, they do not have souls, they do not have anything like a human consciousness — they do have a personality and that personality is unlikely to be replicated identically, to say the very least, when it comes to cloning technology.

It also turns out that when Garlic was cloned — yes, I’m also surprised to hear myself using those words — when Garlic was cloned, the cloned product did not have a dark mark on the lower jaw that Garlic had had. Speaking of the fact that Garlic’s clone is not a visibly exact replication of Garlic, the owner said, “If I tell you I wasn’t disappointed, then I’d be lying to you. But I’m also willing to accept that there are certain situations in which there are limitations to the technology.”

From a biblical perspective, there are at least huge worldview issues here, moral issues, philosophical issues, even rightly understood theological issues. But when it comes to the Chinese government, they’re seeing big opportunity here. And what could be the problem? The article sites Wang Chuduan identified as a professor at China Agricultural University in Beijing who said, “It satisfies the owner’s spiritual needs and increases happiness. There’s a market demand. So what’s the problem?”

So from a Christian worldview perspective, what we see here, in a final point, is the kind of market morality that is found where the market is the only moral reality that’s really recognized. If there’s a market for it, then what could be the problem?

And of course, there’s another kind of commentary in fact, that it is explained that this kind of pet cloning, “Satisfies the owner’s spiritual needs.” God made all of creation for His glory. He made the diversity of animals, again, as the display of His glory. He made certain animals that are threats to us, but he loves us and he gave us certain animals that, even in a fallen world, are friends to us. But there’s a clear barrier between humanity and the animal kingdom, but if we confuse that, we not only endanger the world of the animals, we also endanger human dignity as well.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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