May 19, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, May 19, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Chasing a higher high, NYC teens turn to dangerous substance made from marijuana extract
The whole question of marijuana and its legalization is showing much of the changing moral landscape in the United States. One of the interesting things is how the legalization and normalization of the use of marijuana has been tracking in terms of polls and public acceptance, almost exactly with the question of same-sex marriage and the larger complex of LGBT issues.
But there are huge new issues of marijuana, and about that we should not be surprised. And it’s catching the attention of even those who have been, at least, calling for the legalization of marijuana, medical marijuana, if not now fully what is defined as recreational marijuana. But the moral quandaries show up, for instance, in a major story in the New York Times written by Sarah Maslin Nir. The headline:Show Full Transcript
“Chasing Bigger High, Marijuana Users Turn to a Yellow Waxy Extract”
This article’s interesting especially from a Christian worldview perspective because of the very first words in the headline, “Chasing a Bigger High.”
One of the things we recognize in a fallen world is that sin loses its enticement and an experience leads to a demand for an ever more intense, deeper experience. That’s exactly what is reflected here in terms of marijuana. But notice also how the story begins, I quote,
“On a recent bright afternoon, two teenage boys in boat shoes and shorts strolled up Fifth Avenue in Manhattan in a crowd of passers-by. At 56th Street they paused as one pulled an electronic pipe out of his pocket and held it to his friend’s lips. Inside was a potent and little-studied drug made from distilled marijuana; they were emboldened, they said, by the fact that the gooey wax hardly has a smell, and is so novel in New York that, even if discovered, parents, teachers or even the authorities hardly seem to know what it is.
“As throngs walked by, the boys stood in front of the diamond-filled windows of Harry Winston, getting high.”
But it turns out that these two teenage boys on the streets of Manhattan weren’t just getting high, they were, in effect, getting a lot higher than any previous generation of marijuana users could attain. As the article goes on
“The practice of consuming marijuana extract — a yellow, waxy substance that can contain high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical in unprocessed marijuana that produces a high — appears to have risen rapidly in New York City over the past few years, according to federal law enforcement officials as well as people who use and sell the drug. Its rise crosses social lines, from experimenting teenagers to workers on Wall Street. And it is driven by many factors, including the Eastward-trickling effects of a much more permissive marijuana culture in the West, where it is now dispensed legally in some states.”
Well there is a very telling line. It turns out to what happens in Colorado doesn’t, after all, stay in Colorado; and the new permissive laws about marijuana use in Colorado are now showing up in two teenagers on the streets of New York City as acknowledged by none other than the reporter for the New York Times.
About this yellow waxy substance that these boys are smoking, by the way, it turns out that the process to make it is very dangerous, including solvents that often explode upon the makers. But it is also dangerous when it’s used, having “serious physical and psychological side effects.”
The practice is now known as “dabbing,” that is, smoking this marijuana extract. And the point here is that the marijuana itself, long before the extract is obtained, is much more powerful than the marijuana that became popular in the 1960s and 70s on America’s college campuses. And then when you distill it down to its extract, it is far more powerful still.
Now, as this article concedes, when you’re looking at many the forms of marijuana now being used in the United States, the level of the hallucinogenic effect, the active chemical, is now much, much higher than was ever contemplated in times past when marijuana became an issue of public conversation.
Furthermore, you’re looking at the fact that when Colorado adopted this legislation legalizing recreational marijuana, it did so supposedly offering assurance that it would not be available to teenagers. Now you have the New York Times drawing a direct line between the permissive laws in Colorado and the fact that here you have two New York City high school students who are inhaling not just marijuana, not just an enhanced marijuana, but an incredibly potent marijuana.
Also revealed in the story is that, as the Christian worldview helps to explain, law enforcement officials, parents, and teachers are behind the curve, unable in many cases even to recognize what’s happening or the substance that is being smoked. The two students quoted in the article said,
“A lot of it is we’re doing in disguise.”
One of the teenagers there in Fifth Avenue made the statement, both are identified as students at the Masters School, a private boarding school in Dobbs Ferry, New York.
“The two asked that their names not be used because they did not want get in trouble with the police or school administrators. The advent of vaporizers and the smaller ‘vape pen,’ a device similar to an e-cigarette, users say, is also increasing the popularity of dabbing. Just squeeze the extract into a chamber inside the pen, one teenager said, and inhale. ‘And we can do it so freely,’ he said.”
It’s important to hear what these two students had to say. The other of the students said that the appeal is what he defined as “the ferocity of the high”
“Users can sometimes pass out after inhaling and the stupefying effects can last for hours and border on the hallucinatory. Marijuana in its traditional platform as a THC concentration of about 20%.”
Now, again, note that’s higher than in times past. But it’s still at this point about 20%. But the Times goes and says that the wax used for dabbing can have a concentration of up to 80%. And then one of the teenagers said this,
“Marijuana is the beer of THC as dabbing is its vodka.”
Those who argue that the use of marijuana has no effect need to understand that Emily Feinstein, the director of health and law and policy for the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, that’s a federal agency, said that there has been to date little research on marijuana concentrates and whether they affect the body differently than other forms and uses of marijuana. But she went on to say,
“There is some evidence to suggest that the outcomes, like the effects, may be supercharged,” she said. “Side effects can include: a rapid heartbeat, blackouts, psychosis, paranoia and hallucinations that cause people to end up in psychiatric facilities.”
Other than that, you might say, no problem. Again, from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, one of the big issues here is what’s embedded in the headline about chasing a bigger high. We should understand that that is explained by the Christian doctrine of sin. Sin loses its allure and eventually one has to achieve ever higher and more intense experiences in order to have the same effect. That’s true of many different forms of sin, but it becomes abundantly clear that it is certainly true when it comes to the use of drugs and, in particular, this use of marijuana, or this yellow waxy substance that is a concentrate of marijuana.
Will capitalism transform cannabis, or will cannabis transform capitalism in California?
But the issue of marijuana also points to another article, this one from the Los Angeles Times published at virtually the same time. The headline here,
“California is poised to become the center of cannabis culture”
And it’s another very revealing article. This article informs us that an effort to legalize so-called recreational marijuana in the nation’s most populous state is successful to the point that it will appear before voters in the November election. Medical marijuana is already legal in California, and anyone who’s been to that state understands that medical here has been extended to the irrational. You can visit a beach like Santa Monica beach and you can find persons who will give you prescriptions for marijuana based upon the fact that you have a headache or, for that matter, that you don’t have a headache. Any medical excuse to this point has seemed to suffice. But when it comes to recreational marijuana, California’s not going to have to wait for that to become the epicenter of the marijuana business in the United States. As the Los Angeles Times tells us,
“California with a thriving medical marijuana industry already produces and sells more pot than any other state, including Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, which have all legalized adult recreational use of marijuana, In California, we could see a tenfold increase in what is already a billion-dollar plus industry, and this despite the continuing federal classification of marijuana as a dangerous substance with no medical value.”
Now here’s another interesting thing to note. The federal government still lists marijuana on its schedule of illicit and illegal substances that are to be prevented and the use of which is to be prosecuted. But the federal government under the Obama administration is turning its face away from violations of this federal mandate and federal law when it comes to marijuana.
The Los Angeles Times article tells us that we should expect voters in California to approve this measure to legalize recreational marijuana. For one thing, it’s a very small leap from what’s defined as medical marijuana now to what is defined as recreational marijuana then. But the economic issues are really huge. For example, one man said,
“This is California’s time to reemerge as the center of the cannabis economy and the center of cannabis culture, and that’s what’s so exciting.”
This is a man who’s written a book entitled How to Smoke Pot Properly: A Highbrow Guide to Getting High. In California, as in Colorado and other states, the state government is looking to tax this newly legalized marijuana and is expecting to bring in millions upon millions of dollars in tax revenue. That is another aspect that is often sold to voters when they face this kind of decision as California voters will now in November. But we’ve also seen this before. Even as we are told that the legalization of recreational marijuana in California can bring a tenfold increase in what is already an over billion-dollar business, we also have people in the marijuana business, true children of the 1960s, who say that the last thing they want to happen is for capitalism to ruin marijuana. The main source cited in this article, journalist David Bienenstock, says that his concern is that capitalism will ruin the weirdness of the marijuana culture. As the Times says, this man’s heartfelt plea is to keep pot weird.
“Marijuana should transform capitalism, not the other way around.”
Well here’s a fact that is also undergirded by the Christian worldview: once something becomes a major issue in the economy, the transformation is mutual. Not only will cannabis transform capitalism, capitalism will indeed transform cannabis. The same thing is true whenever anything that has been prohibited is made legal. Once it is made legal, it is made commercial; and once becomes commercial, all bets are off. But this much is certain. It’s going to lead to a vast expansion of marijuana use in the state of California and beyond.
Now tie that to the article we just read from the New York Times in which the two teenagers on the streets of New York City are explained by the fact that a recently, more permissive marijuana culture has reached the streets of New York, and even that boarding school where the students attend—traceable back to Colorado, the state, you’ll remember, that assured its citizens that teenagers wouldn’t have any increased access to marijuana, and suggesting that even as tens and hundreds of millions of dollars will be eventually reaped by the tax revenue, educational efforts toward teenagers would be launched that would prevent teenagers from wanting to use marijuana.
Notice how futile in utopian that is in the first place, and how ridiculous it is when even the New York Times draws a direct line from Colorado’s newly permissive legislation all the way to two teenagers on the streets of New York, not only consuming marijuana, but a particularly and intentionally concentrated form of marijuana.
The most important sentence in the Los Angeles Times article is the final sentence, in which I read,
“If Californians vote to legalize marijuana six months from now, they will be validating what many already know to be true. Pot is no longer the counterculture. It is,” says the Los Angeles Times, “quite simply the culture.”
Feminists watch closely as the Pope considers women for the diaconate in the Catholic Church
Next, sometimes when you see a headline or major mass media coverage, you have to ask the question, Why would there be this interest in this story? That’s a question that comes to mind in terms of a recent front-page in the New York Times. The headline is this,
“Francis asks, can women be deacons?”
The Francis in this case, of course, is Pope Francis, and the question he’s asking is whether or not women should be allowed to serve in what is defined as the diaconate ministry in the Roman Catholic Church. That’s different than how deacons are often defined in Protestant or evangelical churches; Catholics generally define deacons as those who are on their way to full ordination as priests. The diaconate is something of a transitional position in which young priests or priests in preparation are allowed to preach and to perform some other duties, but they are not ordained as priests and they do not have the total sacramental authority the Roman Catholic Church claims for its priests and, in particular, the power of individual priests to forgive sin.
But it is very interesting that this article appeared on the front page because it has to be explained. Why would a secular newspaper of the authority the New York Times care about what any church might do in terms of defining its diaconal ministry? But the answer is, when it comes to the feminist agenda, the New York Times senses it too has an interest. And there’s no doubt that the article by Elisabetta Povoledo and Laurie Goodstein is very much directed towards the New York Times’s hope that this might point to what it would define as an openness on the part of the Vatican, and in particular this Pope, to the ordination of women, not only in terms of service in the diaconate ministry, but eventually in the priesthood.
On a similar note, we have to notice that it’s not just the New York Times that made such an issue of this announcement. The Wall Street Journal also had a headline, this time on page A7,
“Pope weighs women’s roles”
Likewise across the international scene there were many that understood this was a big story. Here’s something to note, almost all of those stories, most all of these headlines, appeared in nations of liberal democracy. That is to say, this did not make big news in other places in the world. It made news where the hopes and demands of feminists are very much focused on those remaining institutions that they see as obstacles to the full equality of women, and they see the Roman Catholic Church and its entirely male priesthood as very much at the center of that obstacle list.
For evangelical Christians, there are several lessons here. One is the fact that the feminist agenda is not going to be satisfied until every institution in every sector of society is fully in line with the feminist vision. The second thing we need to note is that even secular authorities like the New York Times consider it to be very much their interest as to whether or not churches ordain women as well as men to the ministry. And you also see the fact that there is so much hope invested amongst liberals in this particular Pope. The issue here is whether or not Pope Francis is sending a signal about an eventual openness to the ordination of women as priests when he announces that he is willing to allow a theological commission to ask the question about women serving as diaconal ministers.
The big issue here is, of course, that if women are serving as diaconal ministers, if the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church continues concerning the priesthood—and that is a deeply embedded tradition—they will not be on their way to ordination is priest but rather will be in a separate category altogether. It’s also clear in this article that feminists, even though they are encouraged by this headline, an announcement from the Vatican, they’re not going to be satisfied with women serving as diaconal ministers.
But there’s something else for us to understand in this news coverage, and that is this: the secular authorities, the secular newspapers in particular, can only really deal with the Roman Catholic Church as an embodiment of tradition and as an authority structure or hierarchy. There’s absolutely no category whatsoever for any kind of revealed truth. In that sense, we need to understand that when the same secular authorities look to evangelical Christians, they do not see the same tradition they recognize in the Roman Catholic Church, nor is there the hierarchy at the top of which sits the Pope. Instead, when they look to evangelicals and they hear us say, “Thus says God, because this is what God says is the word,” they really don’t have any equipment whatsoever with which to understand even what we are saying.
As I said, there is a lot revealed in the news coverage concerning this latest statement from the Pope. It turns out not to be much of a statement at all; the Pope is merely saying that he’s willing to have a theological commission decide whether women can serve eventually, in some way, as diaconal ministers. By the way, also embedded in this news coverage, is the fact that the Roman Catholic Church is facing a severe shortage of priests, especially in Western nations in times to come. And there is the pressure on the Roman Catholic Church to change its policy concerning a male only priesthood if for the reason of numbers if nothing else. Who knows which way the Roman Catholic Church will go on this under this Pope. It’s really hard to say. But it is interesting to note, indeed, it’s important for us to note, that the secular intelligentsia considers the Roman Catholic Church to be of interest when it comes to this potential headline that this church may be joining the feminist revolution as well.
That explains how they look at any who will not join the moral revolution. We are seen as outliers and oddities somehow to be explained in one way or another. But you also see the secular confidence that one way, kicking or screaming, all of those holdouts in the moral revolution will eventually give in. As the secular elites see it, it’s only a matter of time and pressure. And make no mistake, a headline story like this in the New York Times is not only about time, it’s also about pressure.
If we abandon the doctrine of creation, we abandon the ability to speak of a created order
Finally, along the same lines, we need to notice something that Christians are always in danger of missing and forgetting, and what is that. That is the tie between all the we’ve been discussing and the Christian doctrine of creation. So we’ve been discussing the Obamacare mandate when it comes to contraception; we’ve been discussing the Obama Administration’s mandate when it comes to bathrooms and the question of gender; we’ve been discussing even New York Times headline on whether or not Pope Francis is or is not open to women serving as diaconal ministers in the Roman Catholic Church. What is the big issue we might be missing? It’s this: once you abandon a biblical understanding of creation, the Bible’s doctrine of creation that makes being male and female part of God’s gift to his human creatures, that makes that basic distinction in creation itself—if you abandon creation as the beginning of the human story, or for that matter the story of the cosmos, then you lose any ability to ground the innate differences between male and female, the difference between man or woman, in the objective truth of God’s creative act.
This reaffirms once again that the Christian doctrine of creation is never only about creation, and it points to the importance of affirming all that the Scripture tells us about God’s creative act. Because otherwise we will not know the meaning of the world, nor will we know who we are as human beings as male and as female. The modern rebellion against the created order only makes sense if you believe that there is a creative order, otherwise you see this as a great project of human liberation, human beings coming unto their own. And that’s exactly what the secular worldview promises. But the biblical worldview begins in a very different place. And of course, it ends up in a very different place of necessity. The biblical worldview begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
Everything that follows indeed follows. If we get the starting point wrong, we will get everything wrong—in the beginning in the middle and in the end.