January 19, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, January 19, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Increase in mortality rate due to drug abuse correlates moral behavior and wellbeing
A blockbuster news story on the front page of the New York Times in recent days—the headline,
“Drug Overdoses Propel Rise in Mortality Rates of Young Whites.”Show Full Transcript
The article is by Gina Kolata and Sarah Cohen. Here’s the bottom line. We are looking at the fact that mortality rates for young white Americans—those rates are actually going up, which means the rates of death for younger Americans, for younger white Americans, is actually rising rather than falling; and the reason for it is not some kind of plague; it’s not some kind of new disease; it’s not some kind of environmental disaster. It is instead the use and abuse of drugs, both legal and illegal. As Kolata and Cohen report,
“The rising death rates for those young white adults, ages 25 to 34, make them the first generation since the Vietnam War years of the mid-1960s to experience higher death rates in early adulthood than the generation that preceded it.”
That’s a very, very important paragraph. It’s telling us that, except for the conditions of war during Vietnam, nothing has explained why any recent generation of younger Americans has had higher death rates than its previous generation. And in this case, the reason for it is clear, and it is made apparent right in the headline of this article. It is the use and abuse of drugs; and in this case, the drug rates are actually becoming so problematic that they are increasing the mortality rates. Now from a Christian biblical worldview perspective there is so much to be seen in this article. There is a great deal of pain, brokenness; there is full evidence of sin and addiction. There is the evidence of the fact that people often turn to these drugs in despair; but there is also as Newsweek magazine in its current issue makes very clear. There’s also the phenomenon of the overprescribing and overuse of legitimate painkillers. They have now become a matter of tremendous dependency for many Americans, and that dependence has turned into addictions that have led to behaviors that are actually increasing the mortality rates, that are actually shortening the life span of this very crucial generation of younger Americans.
The biblical worldview reminds us that morality matters in every dimension of life; and in one sense, anyone familiar with the Scripture should know immediately that moral behavior will, over time, inevitably affect the mortality rates. That is a very clear issue and when we’re looking this article, it is clear that Kolata and Cohen, basing their work on some previous research but updating it in terms of current statistics, they recognize there is a big story here. That big story was broken in its base report about several months ago when Nobel laureate, economist Angus Deaton and his wife Anne Case, also a professor of economics at Princeton, released a report that first documented this stunning rising mortality among white Americans, including most especially younger white Americans. But Cohen and Kolata report that these rising mortality rates are not limited to these younger white Americans, but are also extended through other generations of recent white Americans as well.
The reason race factors into this conversation and even into this headline is because this is how these kinds of health and mortality statistics are kept; and over time the big story had been that for white Americans over the last several decades mortality rates had been going down, life expectancy had been going up. In more recent decades other Americans and other ethnic groups had shared in that lowering of the mortality rates and that lengthening of the lifespan; and that’s what makes this headline so incredibly important because it’s telling us that the first group to have gained advantage in terms of lower mortality, in terms of longer lifespan, they are now the very people who are seeing those mortality rates rise rather than fall. The Christian biblical worldview reminds us that the basic issue here is moral behavior. We are looking at something that isn’t a plague or some kind of environmental catastrophe forced upon a generation from outside. It is rather coming from inside.
Now that raises a host of questions. From a secular viewpoint, how would you explain this? Kolata and Cohen do their very best to explain it by going to economic and political, social considerations. They write,
“Researchers are struggling to come up with an answer to the question of why whites in particular are doing so poorly. No one has a clear answer, but researchers repeatedly speculate that the nation is seeing a cohort of whites who are isolated and left out of the economy and society and who have gotten ready access to cheap heroin and to prescription narcotic drugs.”
Thinking on the basis of the biblical worldview, there is no reason to discount all of those reasons altogether. But there is every reason to understand that they, together and individually, will not be a sufficient explanation. A sufficient explanation for moral behavior can never be limited to external considerations. The biblical worldview takes the moral question internally, not primarily externally. As a matter of fact, we are told that it is the heart, the seed of moral judgment in terms of a biblical anthropology, that is where the responsibility for sinful behavior lies; and in this case, that kind of sinful behavior is tied to addictive patterns that have consequences not only for the individual, but for the larger society. It takes an awful lot of people, to state the obvious, to have this kind of behavior that is reflected in increasing rates of death to affect the national mortality rates. That’s why the story landed on the front page of the New York Times.
The first edition of Newsweek magazine for the year had a headline story very similarly. It asked the question,
“Why So Many White American Men Are Dying.”
The subtitle was,
“The painful truth.”
One of the most important sentences in this report is this,
“In 2010 there were enough painkiller prescriptions in the U.S. to medicate every single American adult all day for an entire month.”
This is something that many observers have noted, both secular and Christian, and that is the medicalization of so many of our states of mind; and the fact that when it comes to pain medication, the rates of prescription are now so high that they can’t possibly all be—and that’s an understatement—they can’t all be for legitimate medical reasons. The over-prescription of these pain medications is driven by all kinds of motivations, but one of them is obviously a means of escape; and that very desire to escape reflects a spiritual need that no pill and no drug legal or illegal will ever be able to fill.
We’re becoming a pharmacological society, both legal and illegal, and the lines that distinguish legitimate use and abuse are becoming more difficult for many to maintain and to understand. Even doctors, physicians who are committed to life and to the enhancement of life and to the saving of life, find themselves in no shortage of quandaries when it comes to the use and the prescription of these kinds of medications. The line between legitimate use and then eventual physical and emotional dependency is often very difficult to predict varying individual by individual. But I want to go back to that sentence in Newsweek magazine. In 2010, that’s more than five years ago,
“There were enough painkiller prescriptions in this country to medicate every single American adult all day for an entire month.”
That becomes irrefutable evidence of the fact we are becoming a pharmacological society, and that is a society that is not dealing with its issues, but is trying to find a way out, a way to medicate the problem rather than to deal with it. And Christians looking at this in the biblical worldview understand that this underlines the fact that every single human being has a deep, unquenchable spiritual need. Christians looking at these two major news stories in recent days must learn again the power of the gospel as the only answer to human brokenness, the only answer to sin. The only alternative, it turns out, is one that actually leads to even higher mortality rates. We’re looking at full medicine cabinets and rising mortality rates, and both of them tell us a great deal about ourselves.
Nonsensical amicus brief before SCOTUS argues for abortion rights for "pregnant men"
Next, here in the United States just about everyone recognizes that once again 2016 is shaping up to be a big year at the United States Supreme Court. And as many noted, especially in the last weeks of 2015, it is the issue of abortion that is likely to be one of the headline issues this year before the nation’s highest court. That is because the Supreme Court has already agreed to take at least some cases having to do with appeals from lower appellate courts, appeals that have to do with the rights of states to enact restrictions on abortion. But as is always the case, when we’re looking at abortion, we’re looking at more than abortion. When we’re looking at abortion we’re not only looking at the issue the sanctity of human life, we’re looking at the very definition of human life. We’re looking at the question as to whether the human being is just a biological organism that has learned its way into some kind of morality, or if we are creatures made by a divine creator in his image. And we see the collision of those two worldviews just about every day in the headlines, and the issue of abortion is one that brings it front and center every time the issue arises.
There are now amicus briefs being filed with the Supreme Court on these cases having to do with abortion, most importantly the case out of Texas. An amicus brief is a legal brief that is written by lawyers and submitted to the court in support of one of the arguments that will come before the court. It is called amicus curiae or friend of the court; it is intended to give the court advice, and all of these briefs make very significant legal arguments, at least in theory, and sometimes those briefs and the legal arguments found within them, all of which are part of the public record, become a stunning indication of just where we are or where we are headed as a society. And that’s why a recent press release of the national LGBTQ task force is so very important. It was released on January 5 of this year, and the lead paragraph reads,
“The National LGBTQ Task Force has joined a coalition of LGBTQ, racial justice, and health equity organizations in filing an amicus brief in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down draconian restrictions on abortion providers enacted by the State of Texas in 2013. If the restrictions are upheld, it would lead to the closing of all but 10 abortion clinics in the state. The brief urges the Court to carefully scrutinize the state’s asserted justification for the law, just as the Court has done with other laws that infringe upon fundamental freedoms.”
Now there is something to address in virtually every word of that lead paragraph. But the big question to addresses this, what’s the natural link between the national gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning task force with the issue of abortion? What’s the natural tie? Well, they actually answer the question. In the second paragraph, their press release says,
“A ruling that favors discrimination under the guise of ‘women’s health’ would negatively impact LGBTQ people. For one, it would severely restrict our ability to control our reproductive health and sexual lives.”
Then this sentence,
“Many of us — cisgender women, transgender men and gender-nonconforming individuals, among others — can get pregnant and rely on a full range of reproductive health options, including abortion.”
But as I have said repeatedly on The Briefing, every once in a while you see something that only makes sense in the strange sense of a very thin slice of recent history; and that is the use of the clear argument that is now presented to the United States Supreme Court, according to this press release, that since men can’t get pregnant too it is a violation of transgender rights for men not to be able to get the abortions that are argued on behalf of women in terms of legal documentation. This extends an argument made by Lauren Rankin some time ago when she said that,
“The ‘War on Women’ isn’t just a war on women. Trans men and gender-non-conforming people are losing their rights too, and we need to rework how we frame these women’s issues.”
This is a stunning argument and it’s something that wasn’t of course foreseen when Roe v. Wade was handed down in 1973. As a matter of fact, if you going look at the Roe v. Wade decision, it is entirely about women, and politically at least, it was framed as a woman’s right to choose. But on the other side of the LGBT revolution, that’s not going to be enough. We’re living in a time in which—with a completely straight face and in English that is easily understandable—you have a brief that is now filed before the United States Supreme Court saying that it would be a violation of the rights of pregnant men not to be able to get an abortion, just like it would be, according to their argument, a violation of the rights of pregnant women.
I was able to gain access and read the entire amicus brief that was filed by the national LGBTQ task force along with other gay-rights organizations, and it never actually straightforwardly makes the argument. It is instead implicit in the entire brief. The argument is this, if women have a constitutional right to abortion—and that’s the argument they’re making—then anyone who can get pregnant also has that very same right, and that’s where they invoke transgender and to use their very language, “gender nonconforming” individuals as well.
Now one of the things we need to note is that we have been watching the inevitable collision between historic feminism—ideological feminism—and the transgender revolution. As we have seen, those two groups are making demands and they’re making claims that can’t be harmonized. They are going to be an inevitable conflict. You can’t argue that abortion is a women’s issue and then also say that you’re going to join wholeheartedly the transgender revolution; because if so, then you do end up with the absolute biological, and more fundamentally theological and moral, nonsense of a pregnant man.
We’re living in a day in which we’re supposed to say that with a straight face. We’re supposed to act as if it is really possible for a pregnant person to be a man or for one who is genuinely a man to get pregnant. And now we are looking at the fact that this has reached all the way to the United States Supreme Court in a brief that was filed by a group that was proud to cite this in a press release, that they’re going to represent the men who can be pregnant too, to make sure that their rights and the rights of “gender nonconforming” individuals, to use their phrase, are not limited by the state of Texas. Those of us who are committed to a biblical worldview have to understand that the issue of the sanctity of human life is right here front and center. The sanctity of every single human life made in God’s image, at every point of development from conception—that is fertilization of the egg—until natural death. But the issue of sexuality and gender in human identity, it’s all here too. It’s all inextricably mixed up in an amicus brief now filed with the United States Supreme Court in which it is straightforwardly alleged that at stake in this case soon to be heard before the court are the rights of pregnant men as well.
But one of the other things we must keep in mind is that even though, to many Christians, this proposal will sound incredibly radical, in terms of the actual LGBT movement it isn’t radical at all. It’s just driven by the central logic of that movement. A logic that says that we as individuals have a right to determine exactly who we are, even down to our gender identity, even down to a pregnant individual claiming to be a man. And if you want to consider just where our society is on this, imagine that this kind of question were to arise in the context of a public school or a university or college or in terms of the local governmental agency. Given the fact that the LGBT worldview has become so much a part of the intellectual and moral revolution around us, how could they possibly say no to someone who claims to be a pregnant man? You do have to wonder at times if a society that is drinking so deeply at the wells of this kind of irrationality can ever find its way back to sanity.
Legal and societal issues arising from breakup of the family show marriage is irreplaceable
Next, a big story in The Economist of London, one of the world’s most influential periodicals. It has a headline,
“Unwed Parents and the Law.”
“Births out of wedlock are becoming the norm,” says the magazine. “How should governments respond?”
Well, it turns out that what’s happening in the United States, of course, isn’t limited to the United States. Modern Western industrialized nations as a whole have seen the breakdown and marginalization of marriage. And in many cases, we’ve seen marriage almost disappear from the moral horizon and from the social experience of many individuals. Marriage is becoming a lifestyle option. It is defined by many sociologists now as a certain kind of adult achievement; it’s not to be expected, according to this new worldview, but it’s something to which someone might aspire if you meet certain conditions. But what is clear is that marriage and the bearing of children—they had become decoupled in modern societies, and societies themselves are beginning to note the problem. As a matter of fact, governments are now asking themselves the question, how many of the demographic trends, how many of the trends socially in terms of crime rates and all kinds of economic dependency, how much of those are actually due to the breaking of the tie between marriage and childbearing and child rearing?
But now The Economist is coming up with a solution it proposes to governments; and that is, do not try to confront the revolution on marriage, but try to adjust to it, and they’re calling for what amounts to a form of marriage-lite. They are suggesting that if modern people actually don’t think they can live up to marriage, then try to come up with something that is a form of halfway marriage or marriage-lite, something that has some of the goods of marriage, but not all of them. But as you look at the article in The Economist, it’s clear that what they’re trying to do is to get couples who are cohabitating somehow to be committed to one another long enough to raise their children; and thus they are suggesting that governments might come up with something like what used to be called common law marriage—that is people are just assumed to be married if they are living together long enough, and if they are publicly acting as if they are married. But the big lesson from the Christian worldview is this: marriage can’t be replaced with anything else. The loss of marriage means that the goods that are associated with marriage, the things that God gave us in marriage as the goods that accompany marriage—they can’t be held together by anything but marriage. And marriage as defined in Scripture is very clear. It is the union of a man and a woman; it is a public commitment with the exchange of vows that leads to the fact that their existence together as a couple, their existence as husband and wife, is affirmed not only by the man and a woman, but by the community as a whole. That’s why we talk about a marriage ceremony, and that’s why marriage is a public event, or why at least it is a public relationship that is legally sanctioned. It’s registered to the courthouse, and that’s because marriage has been considered throughout human history to be essential to the building of society and to the health of those societies. There is ample evidence, of course, for why marriage is so important. It is because a husband and a wife and the children that they raise are uniquely related to one another such that and this is the big thing sociologists note—even those who have no knowledge of the Christian worldview—they note that marriage has the very unique function of keeping men involved in the relationship with their own children, which turns out to be very, very important. After all, how many headlines do we see about an epidemic of fatherlessness in America? And what we’re looking at here is The Economist trying to say to governments, look if you can’t meet this revolution head on, if you can’t get people to join in the commitment of marriage, then adjust to the new reality and redefine marriage as something a bit less, or as Daniel Patrick Moynihan the late U.S. Senator might say, just redefine marriage “down.”
The Economist suggests that governments might consider something like recognized partnerships or domestic partnerships. Interestingly, something like this happened in Paris in recent years, when the French adopted not at first same-sex marriage but registered domestic partnerships; and they came not with all of marriage, but with a great deal of marriage in terms of the legal definition. It turns out—and this surprised the French authorities—that not only were same-sex couples interested in these domestic partnerships, but at least some heterosexual couples said they wanted them as well, because they wanted to be recognized as “sort of married.” Well, from a biblical worldview, the difference between being “sort of married” and married is the difference between being not married and married. Marriage, according to the Scriptures, is an enduring monogamous institution in which the man and the woman are united until death. And that’s a very important issue because it forces us to realize that even as most Americans would probably recoil from the idea of marriage-lite, that’s pretty much what we’ve done with marriage in terms of the arrival of no-fault divorce and other ways that we’ve undermined marriage.
Once you take longevity and you take that permanent commitment—the covenant nature of marriage—out of marriage, you end up with something less than marriage, which is why people end up something less than married. Of course, we should also note that this kind of article is, in its own strange way, an incredible testimony to the goodness of marriage as designed by God and given to us as human creatures. And we can understand why the secular world would think this way, as if there is some alternative to marriage that will be as good as marriage. But if governments take the advice of The Economist, they’re likely to find this is yet another dead-end, because you can’t replace marriage with anything else.