The Briefing 08-21-15

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Impressive advance in gene editing expose lack of boundaries to 'progress' in Western worldview

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Marijuana's rising approval neglects reality of consequences and harm of its legalizaiton

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Denver councilmen express moral concern over religious values of Chick-fil-A owners

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Transcript

The Briefing

August 21, 2015

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

 

It’s Friday, August 21, 2015, I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Impressive advance in gene editing expose lack of boundaries to 'progress' in Western worldview

For years now we have seen a brave new world of bioethics in the making. And we have appeared at various points to be getting closer and closer to the age of the designer baby. Now the addition of the influential British magazine, The Economist coming out this weekend tells us that we may now actually be at the arrival date of the age of the designer baby when it comes to the advent of new genetic technologies. The cover story in the magazine is extensive and it deals with a new genetic modification technique known as Crispr that C-R-I-S-P-R, which is short for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, that’s genetic language for a major new issue of biomedical ethics. And The Economist to its credit understands that this is a massive ethical issue. The magazine reports,

“Because it is so simple and easy to use, CRISPR has generated huge excitement in the worlds of molecular biology, medical research, commercial biotechnology—and gene therapy, where it may make it possible to make changes with profound consequences.”

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The magazine goes on to say,

“To date gene therapies have been designed to fix everyday sorts of cells, such as those of the blood, or the retina, or the pancreas. CRISPR makes it possible to think about aiming at the special cells that make sperm and eggs, or the genome of a fertilized embryo awaiting implantation in the womb.”

But is it that point to the magazine drops a sentence that is the biggest issue from an ethical consideration as they write these changes would,

“Would pass from one generation to the next, and the one after that, in perpetuity.”

As the magazine that acknowledges, that’s why most people have seen this as an ethical boundary that no one should want to cross. They go on to say that even some very influential academics, including scientists are now calling for a moratorium on any work, “aimed at engineering the germ line.”

If a reference to “engineering the germ line” sounds innocent or innocuous keep in mind that this means the actual genetic modification of a human being and all the humans will come thereafter in that reproductive line. As is usually the case, The Economist matches its massive report in this kind of article with an editorial at the very beginning of the magazine. In their editorial statement entitled “Editing humanity,” the magazine’s editors describe,

“A new technology that promises to make it possible to edit genetic information quickly and cheaply.”

But then they say,

“This could correct terrible genetic defects that blight lives. It also heralds the distant prospect of parents building their children to order.”

But the article itself indicates that this might not be so distant after all. We may be on the threshold of this kind of technology being employed on human embryos. As a matter of fact, the magazine itself cites reports coming from China that that is exactly what is going on in that nation right now. Even as reports say that no child has yet been born out of these medical technologies that is clearly the goal and the Chinese scientists are not shy about acknowledging such.

From a Christian worldview perspective, one of the most interesting insights in this article and alarming incite at that is the fact that here you have one of most influential magazines in the world acknowledging that there are very grave ethical considerations. The magazine acknowledges that these very therapies which can be used it is claimed, in order to treat or to avoid intractable genetic diseases could also be used in order to develop children who have a superior intelligence or other particular customer order traits. The editorial also acknowledges the fact that this is an area of science that is truly dangerous and the most important issue from that perspective is that this would not be limited to a single human individual, but would be passed on to every generation of humanity that would follow. But after acknowledging these and other massive ethical concerns, the magazine says that the research should nonetheless continue.

From a Christian worldview understanding, that tells us that we’re living in an age that’s going to define its own moral limits. It’s going to negotiate those limits continuously. If there are no moral absolutes, then there’s no policy that will stand for any considerable length of time over against the claim that the technology is inevitable, or that the benefits of the technology outweigh the dangers and ethical concern. It also alerts us to the fact that the secular worldview has no brakes on this kind of medical technology. It has no brakes even when it acknowledges the very significant ethical concern. Even when some of the most illustrious and famed scientists in the world are crying, stopping, calling for a moratorium and even when President Obama’s head of the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Francis Collins, says that this is a boundary that no responsible scientist should cross ever.

As is now so often the case, the magazine calls for a responsible use of this kind of research. As they write,

“If CRISPR can be shown to be safe in humans, mechanisms will also be needed to grapple with consent and equality.”

Let’s just hold on a moment. How exactly would it be demonstrated that this genetic technology is safe in humans? What would define what safe means in this? Given the fact that this is a genetic modification that might not show up in terms of its effects for several generations, how in the world can anyone ever declare this technology to be safe? They go on to acknowledge and I quote,

“Gene editing raises the spectre of parents making choices that are not obviously in the best interests of their children. Deaf parents may prefer their offspring to be deaf too, say; pushy parents might want to boost their children’s intelligence at all costs, even if doing so affects their personalities in other ways. And if it becomes possible to tweak genes to make children smarter, should that option really be limited to the rich?”

But then the editorial ends up exactly where we sadly expect. They write,

“Thinking through such issues is right. But these dilemmas should not obscure CRISPR’s benefits or obstruct its progress.”

Oh no – nothing must stand in the way of what is defined here as progress. This is an age that can’t say no to no new technology, no matter its dangers. Finally on this issue, the editors also write that there will be those who oppose the technology,

“Because it lets humans play God.”

But then they go on to say,

“But medicine routinely intervenes in the natural order of things—saving people from infections and parasites, say. The opportunities to treat cancer, save children from genetic disease and understand diabetes offer justification to push ahead.”

This is one of those moral arguments we must always watch very closely. It is its own form of the end justifying the means, but there’s something else here and it’s a missing honesty. If I have surgery on my heart, it’s surgery on my heart, not on the heart of my grandchild. But when it comes to genetic modification, it’s not only going to affect me or you but all who will follow us in every generation for perpetuity that is a major categorical difference. But all ethical concerns aside, The Economist simply announces nothing should obstruct the progress of this new technology. In all candor and in all likelihood – nothing will.

Marijuana's rising approval neglects reality of consequences and harm of its legalizaiton

Next, marijuana’s back in the news in a very big way. For years now, we’ve been talking about the link between same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana. It is not a causal link, it’s a correlation. It so happens that the moral revolution that brought about, for instance, the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage shows a process whereby America’s more fundamental moral understandings are changing and thus by extension, they’re changing on an issue like marijuana as well. When a massive moral revolution takes place, the Christian worldview helps us to remember that something even more fundamental is at stake. The moral revolution is evidence of a more profound shift in the worldview and that’s becoming increasingly clear on the issue of marijuana. And what a unique witness to this that now comes along, none other than the first openly gay congressman in the United States, now former Congressman Barney Frank. Writing at Politico, he explains, “How Gay Marriage Is Like Legalizing Pot.”

In the article published just this week, former Congressman Frank says,

“As a political issue, the fight to remove criminal sanctions for the recreational use of marijuana closely resembles the campaign for the recognition of the right to marry someone of the same sex. The momentum same-sex marriage had gained even before June’s Supreme Court decision gives me confidence that we will see significant growth in marijuana legalization—and in less time than many now expect.”

He goes on to say, of course, the fact that the court has now settled the marriage issue, points out one major nonpolitical difference between the two issues. He says he doesn’t expect the judiciary to resolve the issue of marijuana legalization, but rather for it to take place through the legislative process. In his own way, Congressman Frank gets to the very issue we’ve been talking about. The fact that there is a fundamental moral change going on that points to an even more basic change beneath the morality. He goes on to talk about the velocity of change when it comes to legalizing same-sex marriage. He points to the fact that for many years little progress was apparently made until he says the watershed year of 2012. He says,

“That year, all four states where it was on the ballot voted for it, while President Barack Obama suffered no damage from his self-proclaimed “evolution” on the issue and his dramatic refusal to defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.”

After that, he points out the forces behind the legalization of same-sex marriage hardly lost any major court case, eventually of course triumphing in June before the United States Supreme Court. Then he gets to what he sees as the intellectual link between the two issues. He says,

“It begins with an entirely voluntary activity that some adults want to do”

And then he argues that there is a breakdown of resistance to what some adults autonomously and voluntarily want to do. He then argues that those who oppose same-sex marriage, and now oppose the legalization of marijuana are falling behind in failing in the moral contest because it is hard to point to a harm that comes from either of these realities and yet that points to something else we need to note very carefully. There is no harm if no one will acknowledge the harm. We’re talking here about a situation in which marriage has been utterly redefined before our eyes. Just in one lifetime – marriage, family, parenthood, all these things have been utterly redefined and of course with significant personal and religious liberty concerns coming as well. But there is no harm we are told. In reality there’s no harm that the forces behind these movements will acknowledge and that’s why the argument has been lost. And that’s not because the harm isn’t present, or the harm isn’t visible, it’s because the harm is denied in the wake of a moral revolution that is, of course, the higher priority for the revolutionaries.

Just think of the issue of marijuana, marijuana does bring documented harms. As a matter of fact, a newspaper like USA Today’s done a very good job in recent months of pointing to the very real problems, the very real harms coming to many people and to communities in the wake of the legalization of marijuana. Thus, I think the former Congressman is exactly right when he says there is a link between these issues. They are common to this moral revolution. But I think he’s exactly wrong when it comes to saying why. Those pushing these moral revolutions take the position of seeing no evil and hearing no evil, but it is not because it isn’t there, it’s because they will not see it and they will not hear it.

In evidence of that point, just consider a Washington Post report from this week that originates in Colorado. The headline is,

“Colorado rebrands anti-pot campaign for kids.”

It’s by Kristen Wyatt, published first by the Associated Press. In the article, Wyatt acknowledges that the state of Colorado has failed in terms of its attempted message to teenagers and children not to use so-called recreational marijuana. Now the state is attempting to rebrand and re- message its anti-marijuana campaign. Now just wait for this one – here’s the theme of the new campaign,

“Marijuana isn’t evil, but teens aren’t ready for it.”

Now before dealing with the morality of this let’s just consider the likelihood that that kind of message is going to be received well by teenagers. Telling teenagers that something isn’t evil and telling them that their parents are fully free to use this substance, but then telling them that they’re not ready for it yet, that is a recipe for disaster as anyone who’s worked with teenagers should know. Furthermore, you don’t have to work with teenagers, just remember being one and consider the position you would be in if someone tells you, here’s something that’s very culturally attractive, here is something that is culturally cool, your parents and other adults have every right to use it and to enjoy it, but not you, because your brains haven’t fully developed yet and marijuana might affect your brain in terms of the present, which may have some effect indefinitely in the future. Just again, consider how that’s going to go over.

The Christian worldview explains why that messaging is so irrational. It is because when it comes to the morality of an act in this kind of case, age has actually nothing to do with it unless let’s go back to Barney Frank’s statement, unless the issue is harm – harm to others. Well, now we’re being told that the legalization of marijuana, which makes recreational marijuana legal for adults in Colorado, is having a dangerous effect on teenagers and young adults there. So that undercuts the very argument that was made by former Congressman Frank and gets right to the issue that the evidence is right there before our eyes. But those who are pushing this revolution will not see it, and they will not hear it. They certainly will not acknowledge it.

But here you have the Washington Post running this article; again, it’s the Washington Post. And here you have the state of Colorado acknowledging it has a problem. Wyatt tells us some of the specifics of the ad campaign,

“One ad shows a teen girl working out on a basketball court and the tag line, “Don’t let marijuana get in the way of ambition.” Another ad shows a boy rocking out on a drum set with the tag line, “Don’t let marijuana get in the way of passion.”

Now stack that messaging up over the messaging from popular culture that not only teenagers, but children and adults are also receiving at the very same time. You have in Denver and in other Colorado cities, the report that there are now more legal marijuana dispensaries than Starbucks and McDonald’s combined. Keep in mind that this very same newspaper published in the nation’s capital on the 28th of July, ran an article by Ariana Eunjung Cha, the headline of which is this,

“The terrifying timeline of how a Colorado teen ate a pot cookie and then jumped to his death.”

Cha reports,

“After 19-year-old Levy Thamba inexplicably leapt to his death off a 4th floor balcony in March after eating a cookie with marijuana, public health officials have been scrambling to figure out why. A new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — based on the autopsy, police reports and interviews with the sales clerk and the friend who gave him the cookie — provides a detailed timeline of the events.”

And because of the timeline and the importance of the issue, it’s important to look at exactly what’s reported here,

“A 23-year-old friend purchases the cookie. It contains a label that notes that “This marijuana product has not been tested for contaminants or potency.” It also lists inactive ingredients as well as the active ingredient.”

And then we are told,

“The sales clerk instructs the buyer to divide the cookie into sixths, with each piece containing approximately 10 mg of THC,”

That’s the active mind altering ingredient. The friend then gave the cookie to the young man who police described as,

“Marijuana-naïve”

That’s described as,

“No known history of alcohol abuse, illicit drug use, or mental illness. He initially eats just one piece. Approximately 30-60 minutes later, the teen — “not feeling any effects” — consumes the rest of the cookie.

“During the next two hours he exhibits erratic speech and hostile behaviors. About 3.5 hours after first taking a bite of the cookie and 2.5 hours after he ate the rest, Thamba jumps off the balcony and dies from trauma.”

The cookie was an intentional edible marijuana product and according to the Washington Post report, a study after the teenager’s death indicated the product was entirely legal. Keep that in mind when you told that there is no evidence that recreational marijuana is in any way dangerous. Just consider that story and consider the fact that it ran days before the second story in the very same newspaper. Hear no evil, see no evil, acknowledge no evil, there’s no problem here. Just keep moving.

Finally, before leaving that particular issue comes another report, this one from the LA Times, indicating that the state of Ohio is going to vote this November on a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. If the state should approve, it will become the fifth state in the union and the first in the Midwest. The worldview significance is this, if there is any state in the United States that, statistically, has often been looked to as a bellwether for the entire culture, it’s the state of Ohio. And if the state of Ohio will legalize marijuana, any state will legalize marijuana. Come November we’re going to know not only where Ohio stands, but where in all likelihood, the nation will stand on this issue.

Denver councilmen express moral concern over religious values of Chick-fil-A owners

Finally, another story came from Colorado just yesterday, the headline in the Denver post,

“Chick-fil-A location at DIA paused after Denver Council cites chain’s LGBT stances.”

The report goes on to say that,

“Chick-fil-A’s reputation as an opponent of same-sex marriage has imperiled the fast-food chain’s potential return to Denver International Airport, with several City Council members this week passionately questioning a proposed concession agreement.”

According to the Post, this is usually a noncontroversial routine matter for the City Council, 10 of 13 members were present, no one spoke up in defense of Chick-fil-A. One city Councilman, Paul Lopez, described his opposition as,

“Really, truly a moral issue on the city.”

The paper acknowledges this came after those who will be running the concession made very clear,

“That strict nondiscrimination policies will include protections based on sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Another councilmember, in this case the first openly gay member, said that she was concerned about,

“Corporate profits used to fund and fuel discrimination.”

Again, that came after there were assurances that all nondiscrimination policies would be applied. The Denver Post goes on to report that this particular committee of the Council is going to meet again on 1st of September and then,

“City attorneys likely will brief the committee behind closed doors on legal considerations affecting the decision.”

The paper acknowledges that,

“City leaders in Chicago attempted to block a new Chick-fil-A location for similar reasons three years ago, ultimately backing down after reaching an agreement with the chain. Mayors in Boston and San Francisco vowed to fend off any foray by Chick-fil-A into those cities. The issue continues to flare on some university campuses.

 

But legal scholars often have come to the company’s defense, raising company leaders’ First Amendment rights.”

But again, while being told that there are no serious challenges to religious liberty in the wake of this moral revolution, consider that no less than the Denver Post reports that several of the councilmembers openly expressed concern about the Christian convictions of the leadership of Chick-fil-A. I read from the article,

“Several council members — including four on the six-member committee — raised questions related to Chick-fil-A’s religion-influenced operation, which includes keeping all franchises closed on Sundays.”

Always mindful of the bottom line, the Post also reported,

“Chick-fil-A restaurants typically generate more in six days a week, DIA says, than most fast-food concessions that are open all seven.”

Keep in mind here that even as those asking for this concession at Denver international Airport reflected that there is overwhelming demand for Chick-fil-A at the airport by travelers, the reality is that a majority of those on the City Council of Denver indicated they had moral concerns about Chick-fil-A because of the moral convictions of the leadership of the company. Even more ominously they went on, several of these members; according to the Post to say that they were concerned about Chick-fil-A because of the Christian theological convictions of the leadership of the company extending far beyond issues related to sexuality.

Here we see a major article in a very important American newspaper centered in Denver, Colorado about an open threat to religious liberty and the open questioning of the Christian convictions of the leadership of a company. When the article began about what was supposed to be a routine matter – what concessionaire would replace the steak escape in Concourse B of the food court of the Denver international Airport. This is how moral revolutions happen – headline after headline, decision after decision, meeting after meeting, sandwich after sandwich.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing