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Transcript: The Briefing 04-17-14

The Briefing

 

 April 17, 2014

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

 

It’s Thursday, April 17, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

 

Yesterday’s edition of The New York Times includes an article with this headline: “PET Scans Offer Clues on Vegetative States.” Denise Grady, the reporter for the story, writes:

 

People with severe brain injuries sometimes emerge from a coma awake but unresponsive, leaving families with painful questions. Are they aware? Can they think and feel? Do they have any chance of recovery?

 

As you well know, the controversy over persons diagnosed as being in persistent vegetative states is not just a matter of an ideological controversy, but of real-life medical decisions and often life-and-death medical decisions. All you have to do is think back to the national controversy over the infamous case of Terri Schiavo, knowing that in that case you had her husband wanting her feeding tube to be removed and her parents insisting that it should be continued, and the debate was over she was actually dead or not and whether or not life-giving sustenance could be removed from her. The courts eventually ruled that it could be removed and it was and she died. But now, contravening many of the claims made by those who argued for the removal of life-giving sustenance from those in a persistent vegetative state or diagnosed as such, comes this article.

 

A new study has found that PET scans [that’s a positron emission tomography scan] may help answer these wrenching questions. It found that a significant number of people labeled vegetative had received an incorrect diagnosis and actually had some degree of consciousness and the potential to improve.

 

That one sentence throws on its head many of the claims that had been made by those who argued for ending sustenance and treatment of those diagnosed as being in a persistent vegetative state or PVS. For years now, we’ve heard the claim that people that were in this diagnosis had no chance whatsoever of any kind of recovery and had no level of consciousness, but now this PET scan—and the PET scan, by the way, is a form of radioactive imaging that includes a three-dimensional image in color—it is demonstrating that there is at least in many of these patients some level of consciousness and a very real potential for improvement.

 

Dr. Steven Laureys, an author of the new study—he’s director of the Coma Science Group at the University of Liège in Belgium. He said, “I think these patients are kind of neglected by both medicine and society. Many of them don’t even see a medical doctor or a specialist for years. So I think it’s very important to ask the question, are they conscious?” How many people are we talking about? The New York Times reports that in United States alone there are 100,000 to 300,000 people thought to be minimally conscious; an additional 25,000 are vegetative. Now just think about that. A town of 25,000 people would be a fairly significant county-seat town. A population of 100,000 to 300,000 is a large metropolitan area. In other words, we’re talking about a significant number of Americans being diagnosed right now—today—as either in a persistent vegetative state or in minimal consciousness. Many have been arguing for removing life-giving sustenance, feeding tubes, and similar kinds of resources for these people identified as being in a minimally conscious or vegetative state. They have claimed, over against many who have argued on behalf of the sanctity of human life, that these persons are not conscious and that there is no hope of any kind of recovery of consciousness or other kind of recovery. But what we have now is proof positive coming from Belgium that those claims were wrong, and, yet, we need to recognize they were deadly wrong. In other words, there are people who are now dead because decisions were made based upon a very different understanding of those who are in a persistent vegetative state.

 

From a Christian worldview perspective, what this demonstrates more than anything else is the fact that science actually cannot define us. In other words, what defines us is the fact that every single human being is made in God’s image, and until the point of natural death, every single human being has to be treated as one who was indeed made in the image of God and every single human life, regardless of the point in the continuum of development or the assessment of capabilities and capacities, is equally deserving of protection; the sanctity equally intact and to be respected.

 

So the news that arrived yesterday, courtesy of The New York Times and other major media, the news that was released by the University of Liège in Belgium, this comes as good news for those who have been arguing on behalf of those identified as being minimally conscious or in a vegetative state. But it comes too late to save many, and, frankly, it does not conclude the debate even in this country because there are those—and you watch—there are those who will now say, well, even if there is a capacity to recover or even if there is a minimal consciousness, it’s not enough. You see, when you engage in an argument that bases the worthiness and the sanctity of any human life based upon any kind of criteria that can be negotiated, we’ll continue to negotiate it. And those who say, okay, this report makes us move the markers, we’ll just move the markers minimally. You either believe in the sanctity of every single human life or you do not, and if you do not, you serve the culture of death—perhaps incrementally, but you serve the culture of death all the same.

 

A testimony to the importance of marriage and family came out yesterday. It was released at Politico magazine. The authors are Stanley Greenberg and Erica Seifert. Stanley Greenberg is one of the nation’s most prominent Democratic pollsters. The headline of the article is, “Why Unmarried Women Are Key to 2014.” Now before looking at the argument, we need to understand that we already knew that unmarried women are a crucial swing vote; sometimes a determinative swing vote. The most recent evidence of this was last year’s election for the governor of Virginia, where was discovered that the actual swing constituency in that election was unmarried women. If you took unmarried women out of the population of voters and you left in just married women, Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia’s then attorney general who was running as the Republican candidate for governor, would’ve won by a sizable margin, but indeed he lost by a smaller margin because the number of those who were unmarried women voting for his Democratic challenger was rather overwhelming. Stanley Greenberg and Erica Seifert, writing in this article, say:

 

Marital status is one of the strongest predictors of whether a person will vote and for which party, which is why so many progressives and Democrats are paying attention now.A majority of American households are now unmarried.

 

That’s a very important statistic. In other words, right now, if you take all American households, the majority of those households are not households marked by a man and a woman living together in the bounds and bonds of matrimony. They go on to write, “Marriage is now politicized. Nearly 60% of those who call themselves Republicans are married”—a very important statistic to keep in mind—“and three-quarters of conservative Republicans are married. By contrast, two-thirds of unmarried women voted for Barack Obama and Democrats for Congress in 2012; two-thirds of unmarried women voted for Terry McAuliffe for Virginia governor in 2013.” There’s that Virginia race coming up again.

 

The authors also point out that in the 2012 presidential election, nearly a quarter of all of the voters were unmarried, but not just that, they were unmarried women. That is the cause of the article by Greenberg and Seifert that appeared earlier this week. These writers are now pointing to a poll undertaken for National Public Radio (that’s NPR) that was conducted jointly by Democracy Corps and Resurgent Republic. They argue:

 

The Democrats were ahead by 1 point in the generic congressional ballot, but unmarried women gave Democrats 58 percent of their votes. That sounds high, but it is nearly 10 points below what we would see in a presidential-year election, suggesting that Democrats have some work to do.

So these two authors, both prominent Democratic pollsters, are arguing to the Democratic Party, “You better pay more attention to unmarried women if you want to win in the fall.”

 

They then write:

 

What unmarried women (widows, never-marrieds and divorcées) share—and what makes them lean so heavily for Democrats—is being on their own, vulnerable economically, at a time when jobs that pay enough to live on are very scarce.

Well we can turn this around and say that, oddly enough, what we have here is a massive testimony to the importance of marriage not just politically, but in every other dimension of life. In other words, the fact that these women are not married is, according to these pollsters, what makes them vulnerable, what puts them in a disadvantaged position. It is, they write to the Democratic Party, the vulnerability of these women, their sense of being disadvantaged that leads them to vote overwhelmingly Democratic. But from a Christian worldview perspective, we need to turn that around and say, what a pointer this is to the importance of marriage. What an indication and affirmation this is of God’s goodness to us in giving us the gift of marriage. In other words, what makes women feel far less vulnerable and puts them in a far stronger position? It’s being within the institution of marriage, and the voting polls simply show the results over and over again. Just to take that Virginia race as one example: married women voted overwhelmingly for the Republican candidate; single, unmarried women voted overwhelmingly for the Democratic candidate. In other words, it’s not just that people disagree on issues. It’s not just that we have a very vigorous conversation about issues described as being in the culture war. It’s that the issue of marriage, which is itself at the center of our cultural controversies, is also at the center of determining why people believe as they believe, live as they live, and vote as they vote. In other words, what we have revealed to us in the Scriptures about the importance and the centrality of marriage actually comes out in a very odd way: in argument written by Democratic pollsters to the Democratic Party of why women who are unmarried overwhelmingly vote Democratic. But the real message to all of us is about the importance of marriage; a far more profound point than any pollster or political party can understand.

 

Given the fact that so many states are considering or accomplishing the legalization of marijuana, so-called recreational use of marijuana, given the fact that the American people seem to be changing their opinion on this issue, given the fact that this is playing into the larger moral revolution as following the issue of same-sex marriage as an indicator of the secularization of the American culture, it’s interesting to note that The Boston Globe is now out with a report that verifies something that has been a concern for some time. As Kay Lazar reports for The Boston Globe:

 

Young adults who occasionally smoke marijuana show abnormalities in two key areas of their brain related to emotion, motivation, and decision making, raising concerns that they could be damaging their developing minds at a critical time, according to a new study by Boston researchers.

 

The researchers were studying a group of young adults, age 18 to 25, and many of them were students at Boston University. In other words, you have a very privileged selection of young people whose brains were considered here. Half the group said they use marijuana at least once a week; the other twenty had not used the drug in the past year, and they also reported using it at least less than five times in their entire life. Among the group that did smoke, the median use was about six joints per week, but what it revealed, in terms of this study, is that the nucleus accumbens, that is, a part of the brain, was larger in marijuana users compared to non-users and its alteration was directly related to how much the person smoked marijuana. The nucleus accumbens is a hub in the brain that is involved with decision-making and emotiveness, that is, the seed of emotions. One of the lead researchers in this project said that this kind of evidence may point to the fact that the brain is actually forming new connections that will encourage further drug use; in other words, “a sort of drug learning process.” In other words, at the point at which young brains are developing, here is medical evidence that the brains are actually being affected by marijuana in order to rewire the brain to need or desire marijuana, teaching the brain to want marijuana. This study did not address whether the brain changes are permanent, but it does indicate that the brain changes are real.

 

Stuart Gitlow, the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine, told The Boston Globe that the study provides “much-needed hard evidence of brain changes that appear to match the changes in cognitive skills—thinking and reasoning—that other researchers have demonstrated in marijuana studies.” He said, “We’ve known that people who use marijuana when they’re younger tend to have cognitive abnormalities, but this gives us direct evidence.” In other words, what was already known and very well documented, and, for that matter, cited even in the legislative debate in states like Colorado, was that the use of marijuana by teenagers and young adults affects their cognitive abilities. That’s not news. That’s been well documented; it’s well-known. But now you have biological evidence that indicates what is actually happening in the brains, and these two centers of the brain that show this kind of abnormality after the use of marijuana are also now suspected of making the individual user, the smoker of marijuana, desire the marijuana itself; in other words, a kind of self-replicating circle of addictive behavior. Stuart Gitlow—again, he’s the president of the American Society of Addiction Medicine—said, “It’s fairly reasonable to draw the conclusion now that marijuana does alter the structure of the brain.”

 

The Washington Post, reporting on the same research published in the Journal of Neuroscience, indicates that even casual marijuana smokers are showing significant abnormalities in these two regions of the brain. Hans Breiter, one of the researchers of the report, said, “Some of these people only use marijuana to get high once or twice a week.” He went on to say, “People think a little recreational use shouldn’t cause a problem, if someone’s doing OK with work or school. Our data directly says this is not the case.” He went on to say, “This study raises a strong challenge to the idea that casual marijuana use isn’t associated with bad consequences.”

 

Now what we have here from a Christian worldview perspective is something that we should expect to see. What we have here is verification that the kind of moral judgment that comes naturally in the use of something that would affect the brain cognitively is also likely to bring about biological consequences and changes as well. But, furthermore, from a Christian worldview perspective, there’s another very important point here and, that is, that this kind of scientific data will have a limited effect on those who want to argue to the contrary. That’s something to watch. One of the things we talk about regularly on The Briefing is what theologians refer to as the noetic effects of the fall, that is, the fact that the fall affects the way we think. The effects of the fall explain why our memory is faulty, why our reasoning can be mis-wired, why we sometimes convince ourselves of things that are patently untrue because we desire them to be true. All kinds of things are evidence of the noetic effects of the fall, but one of those effects is also this: sometimes when we want to make an argument, we’re actually impervious to the evidence against it. And that’s exactly what we should expect to follow this. In other words, there was already ample evidence when the legislature in Colorado was considering the legalization of recreational marijuana. There was already adequate evidence of the fact that there were cognitive effects to the use of marijuana, especially among young people. There were already warnings that marijuana was especially dangerous to young brains. That’s why the legislature in Colorado and the governor put into effect a law that they said would prohibit young people from getting a hold of marijuana. But that came after other evidence that indicated that already in the state of Colorado, before they adopted that legislation, the first cigarette smoked by most teenagers and young adults in Colorado wasn’t made of tobacco, but of marijuana. In other words, what they were already arguing was contradicted by the evidence that was already available. Now here’s more evidence, a deeper level of evidence, but you can count on this: those who are determined to argue for the legalization of marijuana will not be fazed by this evidence, but it does pileup. That’s what happens with the truth: it piles up to judge us when we think we’re judging the truth.

 

Finally, an article coming from Great Britain that gives us evidence of the sad secularization of culture and its effects. Newsdesk reports that:

 

At one church, the only thing being worshipped is beer—at another, gleaming cars are on sale. Increasingly, it seems, a different kind of conversion is taking place at Britain’s churches.

 

In other words, what’s happening at Great Britain is the acceleration of secularization to the point that the Church of England and other denominations are finding themselves hard-pressed as to get rid of some of the property fast enough because congregations simply aren’t meeting in these old church buildings. As Newsdesk reports:

 

Thanks to a steady decline in religion and the high costs of maintaining these historic buildings, a rising number of churches are being given new lives that may have horrified their founders.

 

Well, as a matter fact, that should horrify us now. Many of these churches are being turned into things like nightclubs; others are being turned into car dealerships. They are all symbolic of the fact that Christianity has long been in eclipse in the United Kingdom, and they are also pointing to the results of secularization when it proceeds in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom.

 

One of the interesting aspects of this article by Newsdesk is that the policy for getting rid of these buildings varies by denomination and church. The dominant Church of England has “strict rules on conversions,” meaning a building can only be sold if a committee approves its future use after a lengthy process. Jeremy Tipping, manager of the Church of England’s Closed Churches Team—now just imagine the denomination that has to have something called a Closed Churches Team. He said, “Churches can’t be used for sex shops, gambling premises, and things like that.” So, in other words, the Church of England has standards about what can happen to its buildings after they are no longer Church of England churches. But the report goes on to say that a wide range of other church occupants has been given the nod by the Church of England’s Closed Churches Team, including a climbing center in the center of Manchester, a circus school in Bristol, where trapezes are now hanging from the rafters, a supermarket, a library, and a Sikh temple. But it’s hard to see how some of these uses can be disguised in any way as appropriate for the use of a closed church, but, then again, what is the appropriate use of a closed church? The tragedy is the closing of the church not so much in the disuse of a building, but in the loss of Christian witness and proclamation that it had once taken place within that building.

 

One haunting sentence in this report states, “The Church of England knocked down nearly 500 churches between 1969 and 2011.” That’s more than 500 churches knocked down. While more than 1,000 were then consecrated and sold or rented out, bringing in a much-needed 47 million pounds (that’s about $77 million) to the Church of England. In other words, in order to save themselves, they’ve been selling their property and selling their church buildings.

 

The secularization of the culture brings vast consequences. The most important of them certainly isn’t the fate of church buildings, but when you think about the importance of an architectural skyline and you think about what used to be said with many churches and steeples dotting the skylines and when you consider what is happening in many of those buildings now, it’s a very haunting reminder of the fact that secularization has consequences; consequences that go far beyond the skyline of a British village.

 

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.