The Briefing, Thursday, November 29, 2012

TODAY: The Digital Divide — Where the Young People Are / Filtering the Flood in the Digital Age / Are Hindus and Muslims Better at Practicing what They Preach? / The Rise of Muslim Atheists? / You Mean Judges Have Worldviews, Too? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The Digital Divide — Where the Young People Are

Retailers have no choice but to go where consumers are. The Wall Street Journal took a look at a typical American family, the Ulitcans of Columbus, Ohio. The fifty-something parents have four children, ranging in age from 10 to 27. The parents do their Christmas shopping in local stores and the local shopping mall.

Their children do not follow the same pattern. As Shelly Banjo reports, they do most of their shopping online. While the parents are at the mall, “the offspring mostly ignore the holiday décor, and instead peer into their smartphones, comparing prices, looking for deals and seeking friends’ advice about potential purchases.”

Americans under age 29 are, on average, fully immersed in the digital age. Younger Americans are rightly defined as “digital natives” who stay in almost constant digital contact.

The Journal describes a “generational shopping split” to which retailers must respond, or find themselves soon out of business.

As the paper reports:

“Technology plays an increasing role in the generational shopping split. Millennials are 2½ times more likely to be early adopters of technology than older generations, serving as a leading indicator for retailers of what is likely to become mainstream, said Christine Barton, a partner at Boston Consulting Group. Millennials are more likely than older shoppers to check out brands on social networks (53% versus 37%) and use mobile devices to read reviews, research products and compare prices while shopping (50% versus 21%), according to a recent BCG/Barkley report.”

And the Millennials are a formidable challenge as they move into adulthood. They represent the future buying public.

The Journal recognizes this fact:

“The 79 million people who make up the Millennial generation wield $200 billion in annual spending power. While that is only a sliver of the $3.4 trillion that baby boomers spend each year, analysts say, retailers need to try to nab those younger shoppers now, because their spending is likely to rival the boomers’ as early as 2020 and they already exert a disproportionate influence on their parents’ spending decisions.”

Of course, The Wall Street Journal is interested in what this means for retailers and the business community, but the article is a wake-up call for the church and Christian leaders as well.

Put bluntly. if you want to reach younger Americans, you will have to engage them online. Shopping malls cannot safely assume that the Millennials and their younger siblings will eventually make their way into their stores. This generation looks first to the Internet and social media. If an organization, business, or church is not present in a credible way online, you are writing off influence with younger Americans — something no church can afford to do.

Christian leaders who want to influence the Millennials and other young Americans must join them where are — online — and in an effective manner. Otherwise, we will find ourselves talking only to older Americans and find ourselves and our churches in the same peril as the shopping malls.

2. Filtering the Flood in the Digital Age

Feel overwhelmed by information and entertainment? You are not alone. The Columbia Journalism Review reports this month that the average American home is now drowning in data.

The Review cited a study that compared the amount of information coming into the average American home in 1960 and in 2005. According to the report:

“They found that in 1960 there were 82 minutes of media coming into the home each day for every minute someone in the household actually consumed media. In 2005, that number had grown to 884 incoming minutes for each minute of consuming. Our information overload is nearly 11 times greater than it was 45 years ago. Shocked? No, probably not, but perhaps comforted that there is a plausible number to attach to your sense of the avalanche.”

That overload was dated to 2005 — we are now surely living under an even greater avalanche. We all need filters to help us decide what to read, listen to, and watch. Furthermore, we need a whole new set of skills in terms of analyzing, understanding, and evaluating our media and information intake.

The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that younger Americans are increasingly adept at receiving several streams of information at once — a process often called multitasking. There are real questions about the effectiveness of this process, but this is the new normal for the Digital Natives.

The Review notes the fact that Americans seem overwhelmed by this avalanche because we are overwhelmed. Those of us who fail to develop critical skills in filtering what we really need to take in will almost certainly find ourselves drowning in data, but knowing less and less rather than more and more.

3. Are Hindus and Muslims Better at Practicing What They Preach?

The Christian Century and Religion News Service report that a new study published in the American Sociological Review claims that Hindus and Muslims practice what they preach at a level that exceeds the faithfulness of both Christians and Jews.

Jeanie Groh reports, “With their ‘True Love Waits’ jewelry, conferences and T-shirts, Christians may be the face of the abstinence movement, but Muslims and Hindus are more likely to abstain from premarital sex.”

Researchers Amy Adamczyk and Brittany E. Hayes of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice “found that 94 percent of Jews in the nations they studied reported having premarital sex, compared to 79 percent of Christians, 65 percent of Buddhists, 43 percent of Muslims and 19 percent of Hindus. As for extramarital sex, 4 percent of Jews reported having sex outside of mar­riage, compared to 3 percent of Chris­tians. Less than 1 percent each of Mus­lims, Hindus and Buddhists reported having sex outside of marriage.”

That is a very significant embarrassment for Christianity, but there is more to the story. It turns out that most of the Hindus and Muslims included in the study were from cultures that strongly opposed sex outside of marriage. As one sociologist cited in the article explained, “the burka really works.” In many Muslim cultures, young men and women are strictly segregated until marriage — making premarital sex all but impossible.

The real insight from the report should be the impact of secularization on sexual morality. In the secularized West, people can identify themselves as Christians without making any real identification with Christian beliefs or morality. Before the impact of secularization and the marginalization of Christian sexual morality, the cultures of the West were just as opposed to premarital sex and all sex outside of marriage.

Secularization matters, and once the binding authority of a biblical morality is gone, the sexual morality is transformed. One humbling word for Christians comes from a Muslim authority:

“In consistently reminding others and oneself of the importance of modest dress, modest actions and modest interactions, Muslims tend to inculcate the concepts of sexual morals from a young age.”

That was once also true of those who call themselves Christians.

4. The Rise of Muslim Atheists?

The Economist [London] reports that Muslim atheists are becoming more outspoken — but they have to be very careful. Atheism remains a crime, often punishable by death, in most of the Muslim world.

According to the report:

“Sharia law, which covers only Muslims unless incorporated into national law, assumes people are born into their parents’ religion. Thus ex-Muslim atheists are guilty of apostasy—ahudud crime against God, like adultery and drinking alcohol. Potential sanctions can be severe: eight states, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Sudan have the death penalty on their statute books for such offenses.”


“In reality such punishments are rarely meted out. Most atheists are prosecuted for blasphemy or for inciting hatred. (Atheists born to non-Muslim families are not considered apostates, but they can still be prosecuted for other crimes against religion.) Even in places where laws are lenient, religious authorities and social attitudes can be harsh, with vigilantes inflicting beatings or beheadings.”

Once again, secularization plays an important role. Ex-Muslim atheists tend to make themselves known only in Western nations where such declarations are safe. There is a “Council of Ex-Muslims” in Britain, but not in Iran, where atheism is punished by the death penalty.

Consider this rather stark statement from the report: “A 2010 survey by the Pew Research Center, an American think-tank, found that 84% of Muslims in Egypt and 86% in Jordan backed the death penalty for apostates, compared with 51% in Nigeria and 30% in Indonesia.”

Despite headlines such as this one in The Economist, don’t expect a tidal wave of declared Ex-Muslim atheists anytime soon.

5. You Mean Judges Have Worldviews, Too?

Americans often imagine that judges are impartial agents, able to evaluate questions of law without personal bias. That is nonsense, of course. Putting on a black robe does not eliminate the importance of worldview.

That point is made very clear in a book to be released early next year by Harvard University Press. The book, The Behavior of Federal Judges, looked at judicial decisions in the Federal courts and analyzed the decisions and opinions, judge by judge, on the basis of the party affiliation of the President who nominated them to the bench.

The book has already engendered controversy, as demonstrated in an article about the book published in Tuesday’s edition of The New York Times.

As reporter Adam Liptak reveals, the book demonstrates a pervasive link between the judgments of judges and the party affiliation of the nominating presidents.

As Liptak reports:

“Many judges hate it when news reports note this sort of thing, saying it undermines public trust in the courts by painting them as political actors rather than how they like to see themselves — as disinterested guardians of neutral legal principles. But there is a lot of evidence that the party of the president who appointed a judge is a significant guide to how that judge will vote on politically charged issues like affirmative action.”

As the authors of the book assert: “Justices appointed by Republican presidents vote more conservatively on average than justices appointed by Democratic ones, with the difference being most pronounced in civil rights cases.”

Is anyone honestly surprised by this? The pattern revealed in this book powerfully affirms the importance of worldview in human thinking. Judges, it turns out, are no different from the rest of us. They, too, operate on the basis of a worldview, and that worldview actually explains why they were chosen by a president who, more often than not, shared their worldview (or believed that they shared a worldview).

Worldview matters — it always matters. For Christians, faithfulness requires the development of a truly biblical worldview from which everything else follows. This new book makes the importance of worldview clear — for all of us.

I discuss these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

The Briefing, Wednesday, November 28, 2012

TODAY: The Perils of Powerball –The Losing Game of the Lottery / The Deadly Danger of a New Prenatal Test / Abortions Fall by Five Percent . . . Good News or Strange Math? / An Actor Says Watching His Own Show is “Filling Your Head With Filth” / The Ominous Threat of Inflatable Bouncers. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The Perils of Powerball –Why Do So Many Play the Losing Game of the Lottery?

The Powerball jackpot has now reached a record-breaking $500 million, leading to a buying frenzy of lottery tickets. As reported by The Guardian [London], this is no accident. “The big jackpot is not unexpected,” says the paper. “In fact, it is part of a plan put in place early this year to build prize funds faster, drive sales and generate more money for the states that run the game.”

That plan appears to be working. Sales of Powerball reached almost $4 billion in the 2012 fiscal year and many expect that record to be broken in 2013. Since there has been no Powerball winner since October 6, the jackpot has reached this record level — a level exceeded only by the Mega-Millions jackpot of $656 million earlier this year.

As many in the national media have pointed out, the giant jackpot actually means that any single Powerball ticket is reduced in terms of the odds. Powerball organizers estimate the odds of winning at one in 175 million.

How do those odds sound? Just consider this — ABC News has estimated that an individual is three times more likely to die from a falling coconut than to win this lottery prize.

Nevertheless, people are flocking to buy the tickets. As The Guardian reports, “It has been proved that once the jackpot reaches a certain threshold more players play.”

Who really wins? The Guardian helpfully breaks it down. For each $2 ticket, $1 goes to the jackpot and $1 goes to the state lottery as income. The Federal government takes 25% of the jackpot in taxes.

Anyway you look at it, the big winner is government, which ends up with at least 62% of all revenue. Cash-strapped governments are turning to various forms of state-sponsored gambling in order to raise revenue.

But this means that these governments have turned to prey on their own citizens, raising revenue by offering false promises of riches. Furthermore, it is well documented that the primary purchasers of lottery tickets are people in lower-income neighborhoods — the very people who can least afford to lose month by purchasing what will be worthless shreds of paper.

Christians have long opposed gambling as a vice and as a major issue of justice. Dependence on gambling ruins untold families and lives and it perverts the character of government.

The illustration offered by ABC News is powerful and unforgettable. You are three times more likely to die from a falling coconut than to win this lottery jackpot. You do the math.

2. The Deadly Danger of a New Prenatal Test

The Washington Post reports that a new prenatal test is being widely demanded by patients. The tests allow a more determinative finding of genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome, but do not present the risks represented by invasive amniocentesis.

As Rita Rubin reports:

“With the new tests, fragments of fetal DNA extracted from the mother’s blood sample are checked for increased amounts of material from chromosomes 21, 18 and 13, a sign that the fetus carries three instead of the normal two copies of those chromosomes. In this case, more is not better. Having an extra copy of 21, a condition called trisomy 21, is the main cause of Down syndrome, while having a third copy of 18, a condition called trisomy 18, causes a less common disorder named Edwards syndrome. Trisomy 13 is also known as Patau syndrome. All three conditions are linked to serious developmental and medical problems.”

These tests are now offered to thousands of expectant mothers, and even more are demanding them. At present, the most likely mother to be offered the test is older, and thus more at risk of bearing a child with genetic abnormalities.

The main question raised in the article in The Washington Post is who will pay for the tests. Since they are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or recognized as standard protocols, they are not covered by most insurance plans.

Completely missing from the report is any acknowledgment of the moral catastrophe these tests often cause — the abortion of unborn children deemed unworthy. For years now, it has been acknowledged that the vast majority of fetuses diagnosed with Down syndrome are aborted. These tests often amount to a search and destroy mission into then womb. There was no acknowledgment whatsoever of the ethical questions involved.

In that light, consider this chilling excerpt from the article:

“Mark Evans, a Manhattan OB-GYN, says his patients want to skip the standard screening tests and go right to the new tests. ‘My patients are the average New Yorkers,’ he says, ‘who want their answers yesterday.'”

3. Abortions Fall Five Percent — Good News or Strange Math?

Mike Stobbe of the Associated Press reported last week that abortions fell five percent in 2009, according to a report from the Centers for Disease Control. A five percent drop in one year would be the largest single reduction in a decade.

That is good news, of course. Any reduction in abortion is good news. According to this report, abortions fell by about 38,000 in 2009, which would mean 38,000 fewer murders in the womb. Even with this reduction, there were at least 785,000 abortions in America that year. That number defies our moral imagination.

But, were fewer abortions really performed in 2009? A closer look at the story reveals the urgency of that question.

As Stobbe reports:

“Nearly all states report abortion numbers to the federal government, but it’s voluntary. A few states — including California, which has the largest population and largest number of abortion providers — don’t send in data. Experts believe there are more than 1 million abortions performed nationwide each year, but because of the incomplete reporting, the CDC had reports of about 785,000 in 2009.”

In other words, the CDC didn’t even have information from California, “which has the largest population and largest number of abortion providers.” The CDC extrapolated the data in order to come up with its figures. Even so, the report admits that “experts believe” the actual numbers to be far larger — with more than a million abortions actually performed.

A drop in the number of abortions — any drop — would be good news, but there is actually little firm evidence that the drop actually happened.

You wouldn’t know that by looking at the headlines about the story in many newspapers. Beyond that problem, consider the fact that many media outlets asserted that the use of contraceptives was the reason for the drop.

As Stobbe’s article reported:

“The reason for the decline wasn’t clear, but some experts said it may be due to better use of birth control during tough economic times. Their theory is that some women believe they can’t afford to get pregnant.”

Several commentators skipped the fact that this is a “theory” and that the reported reduction is drawn from extrapolated data. They simply claimed that abortions dropped and that the use of contraceptives was the reason.

4. An Actor Says Watching His Own Show is “Filling Your Head with Filth.”

Angus T. Jones, the young star of CBS’s “Two and a Half Men,” recently told a church audience to stop watching his show because it is “filling your head with filth.”

The Chicago Tribune described the show as a “raunchy television comedy” that offers risque humor as its main fare.

Jones, now age 19, has been on the show for nine years. He recently identified with a California-based church, though the nature of his beliefs and the beliefs of the church are not fully clear.

What is clear is the revulsion Jones now feels toward his own program.

“‘If you watch Two and a Half Men, please stop watching Two and a Half Men,’ Jones says in a video, ‘I’m on Two and a Half Men and I don’t want to be on it. If I am doing any harm, I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to be contributing to the enemy’s plan. . . You cannot be a true God-fearing person and be on a television show like that. . . .  I’m not okay with what I’m learning, what the Bible says and being on that television show.'”

Understandably, CBS declined to comment on the actor’s powerful comments.

5. The Ominous Threat of Inflatable Bouncers

The journal Pediatrics alarmed the nation’s parents in recent days with a report claiming that injuries to children in inflatable bouncers has reached “epidemic” proportions.

As USA Today summarized:

“In 2010 alone, 30 children a day were treated for these injuries in hospital emergency departments, the report says. The number of injuries increased from 702 in 1995 to 11,311 in 2010. Falls were the most common cause, followed by stunts and collisions. Smaller children are a greater risk.”

Gary Smith, the lead author of the report, claimed that the increase in injuries from inflatables is “astounding.”

That is remarkable language — proclaiming an “epidemic” threat from inflatable bouncers. The report did suggest some common sense precautions parents should keep in mind.

And parents must protect their children from harm. That is a parent’s charge.

But just how safe can a child’s life be? If inflatable bouncers represent an epidemic, where is a child safe? This story underlines the fact that there is no safe place in a fallen world — not even in an inflatable bouncer. A report issued just a few weeks ago indicated that playgrounds have been made so supposedly safe that children no longer find them playful. Today’s parents are afraid to let children be children.

In a Genesis 3 world, not even a child’s play is fully safe — not even in an inflatable bouncer.

I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 27, 2012

TODAY: What the Christmas Buying Season Says About Us / The Perils of State Sponsored Religious Education / Atheist Group Gets Major Funding at a State University / Paul Krugman Wants to Marginalize Opponents of Evolution / The Last Typewriter Leaves the Factory in Britain. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. What the Christmas Buying Season Says About Us

They came, they saw, they bought. Retailers reported billions of dollars in sales on what is now known as “Black Friday,” the Friday after Thanksgiving. For years now, that day has marked the official start of the Christmas buying season. Nevertheless, new developments threaten to displace Black Friday from its primacy.

The first development is “Cyber Monday,” the Monday after Thanksgiving, which has emerged as the major day for special bargains available through retailers on the Internet. According to Huffington Post: Money, Americans were expected to spend more than $1.5 billion yesterday, setting a new record.

At the same time, USA Today reports that Cyber Monday is itself being displaced by online bargains offered even earlier. As Maria Puente reported, Cyber Monday is being replaced by a cyber season that will last right up to Christmas Eve.

The other development is the fact that several major retailers opened their stores at some point on Thanksgiving Day, attempting to lure customers with advance bargains. This led to no shortage of outrage and discussion, with several commentators lamenting the heartlessness of forcing employees to work on Thanksgiving Day.

Christians must understand the moral complexity of a market economy, and that complexity is fully on display this Christmas shopping season.

We know the dangers of materialism, but we have benefited from an economy that is built on consumer demand. We know that possessions cannot bring true joy, but we are all possessors. A slowdown in sales means that millions will lose their jobs and be unable to feed their families. A shortfall in revenue will hurt corporate bottom lines, but pension funds for retirees and tax support for schools will also be reduced.

It makes no sense to condemn retailers for opening stores on Thanksgiving Day and then turn to make major purchases on the Internet. If retailers do not find a way to compete successfully with online merchants, stores will disappear, leading not only to a loss of community but a net loss of jobs.

There are no easy answers to any of these complex issues. One thing is clear — the retailer most likely to be responsive to these concerns is likely to be local. We are all likely to make purchases online this season, and some in big chain stores as well. But the “Buy Local” movement should be embraced by conservatives as a recognition of the importance of local merchants to the making of a liveable community. That is a conservative virtue we should remember all year long.

2. The Perils of State Sponsored Religious Education

Religious education, of a sort, is required in Britain’s state schools. A new report from Oxford University’s Department of Education indicates that this religious education is not being done well.

Graeme Paton, education editor for The Telegraph [London] reports that academics at Oxford want to help the schools to improve the quality of religious education — especially when it comes to teaching “the traditions and fundamental beliefs of Christians.”

Dr. Nigel Fancourt of Oxford University said that much of the religious education in the schools is “incoherent, lacking in intellectual development, or too stereotypical.”

At the sane time, some teachers shy way from any material that might appear to be “evangelizing.” Though something about Christianity is to be taught in these compulsory classes, there is no guarantee of anything truly representative of Christianity. Add to this the fact that Britain is now one of the most secularized nations on earth. The United Kingdom is also increasingly diverse in religious affiliation, with other religious groups, including humanists, demanding inclusion.

On the one hand, it hardly seems reassuring that the faculty of Oxford University intends to help solve the problem. On the other hand, the real issue is not that the teaching is done poorly, but that it is done at all.

The state — any state — is incompetent to teach Christianity the way any Christian should want it taught. This is the job of churches and Christian families.

Furthermore, when I was writing my book on the New Atheists, Atheism Remix, I discovered that a large percentage of British atheists, including figures such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens, repudiated first of all the tepid, lukewarm, lifeless distortion of Christianity they had received in compulsory religious education classes in school. That should serve as a warning to us all.

3. An Atheist Group Gets Major Funding at the University of Wisconsin — Sign of the Future?

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported recently that a group of atheist students at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is set to receive almost $70,000 in student fees for personnel and programming next year. This is believed to be the first major funding of an atheist student group at any state university.

As reporter Annysa Johnson revealed:

“An atheist group at the University of Wisconsin-Madison seems on track to receive nearly $70,000 in student fees for staffing and programming next year, in what appears to be a first for the university and student atheist groups nationally. The Atheists, Humanists, and Agnostics, or AHA as it’s called, said it will provide support services for students struggling with doubts about their faiths and offer a safe place where they can discuss religious issues without fear of recrimination.”


“The allocation marks the first time that an atheist group has qualified for funding beyond the small, event-specific grants most student-run organizations receive. And it appears to be the largest ever awarded to any campus group of its kind in the country, according to the Columbus-based Secular Student Alliance. ‘It’s pretty common for groups to have budgets of a few hundred dollars,’ said Alliance spokesman Jesse Galef, whose organization has 383 affiliates around the country, up from 206 in 2009. ‘This is something on a different magnitude entirely,’ he said.”

The decision to fund an atheist student group at the University of Wisconsin follows the appointment of atheist chaplains at several major universities, including Harvard University. Taken together, this is another sign of the increasingly secularized character of the nation’s leading academic institutions.

As sociologist Peter Berger has argued, the most fully secularized regions of the world include the nations of Western Europe and the towns where major American universities are located.

4. Paul Krugman Wants to Marginalize Dissenters from Evolution

Writing in his regular column in The New York Times, economist and Nobel laureate Paul Krugman argues that anyone who dissents from evolution should be seen as pulling the nation onto “a path of inexorable decline.”

In his words:

“We are, after all, living in an era when science plays a crucial economic role. How are we going to search effectively for natural resources if schools trying to teach modern geology must give equal time to claims that the world is only 6,000 years old? How are we going to stay competitive in biotechnology if biology classes avoid any material that might offend creationists?”

He begins his column by assaulting Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida for refusing to say how old he believes the earth to be and for making statements critical of evolution:

“Earlier this week, GQ magazine published an interview with Senator Marco Rubio, whom many consider a contender for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, in which Mr. Rubio was asked how old the earth is. After declaring ‘I’m not a scientist, man,’ the senator went into desperate evasive action, ending with the declaration that ‘it’s one of the great mysteries.'”


“Reading Mr. Rubio’s interview is like driving through a deeply eroded canyon; all at once, you can clearly see what lies below the superficial landscape. Like striated rock beds that speak of deep time, his inability to acknowledge scientific evidence speaks of the anti-rational mind-set that has taken over his political party. By the way, that question didn’t come out of the blue. As speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Mr. Rubio provided powerful aid to creationists trying to water down science education. In one interview, he compared the teaching of evolution to Communist indoctrination tactics— although he graciously added that ‘I’m not equating the evolution people with Fidel Castro.’ Gee, thanks.”

There is more of course, but the main thrust of Mr. Krugman’s column is that those who refuse to accept evolution are a threat to civilization itself. There is an unveiled political agenda to his column, but the worldview dimension is massive.

Krugman is not the first major columnist for The New York Times to be apoplectic about the failure of millions of Americans to accept evolution. He will not be the last.

For evidence of another NYT columnist making a similar argument, see my article “Intellectual or Religious? Kristof Requires a Choice,” December 21, 2004.

5. The Last Typewriter Rolls off the Line in Britain

This past weekend the Financial Times reported that the last typewriter has rolled off the line at the last factory in Britain still manufacturing the antiquarian devices. This is a sad day for those of us who relish the experience of writing on a typewriter.

As the paper reports:

“Touchscreens may look stylish but are perceptually one-dimensional. They will never sport the typewriters’ spirited pushback to the finger’s touch, the imperious clackety-clack sound of the keys, the inky smell (and for some misguided souls, no doubt taste, too). Typewriters’ sensory universe has always been part of their appeal: when a silent typewriter was introduced in the 1940s, it flopped. Even in terms of getting the job done, the old writer’s workhorse may still be one up on the newfangled tools of the trade. Frederick Forsyth has asked: ‘Have you ever tried to hack into my typewriter? It’s very secure.’ And no one using a mechanical typewriter has ever been driven to alt-control-delete, the last hope of the hopeless.”

All of that is true, and though the loss of the typewriter was inevitable, it is also sad. The Financial Times was right — such an event should not go without notice.

I discuss all these stories and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE

Links to articles cited:

The Briefing, Monday, November 26, 2012

TODAY: Autocracy in Egypt as Morsi Launches an Islamist Coup / The Real Aims of Hamas / India Executes a Terrorist / An Oklahoma Judge Sentences a Teenager to Church / Larry Hagman Dies — But Is Death Really “Just Another Stage in Our Development?”  I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. An Islamist Coup in Egypt — Autocracy on Display

“God’s will and elections made me the captain of this ship.” So declared Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last week as he issued a presidential edict that gave him unchecked power in that nation. Morsi is the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history, but he was elected with the support of the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. This fact gave rise to the fear that his election would lead to an anti-democratic end: one citizen, one vote, one time.

Morsi had previously discharged the Egyptian legislature and with this new edict he defied the authorities of the courts to constrain his power. The New York Times warned that Morsi’s actions raised the specter of “a return to autocracy.” Actually, Morsi’s moves created the reality of an antocracy.

Dashing the hopes of many who had championed the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011, Morsi has created a virtual dictatorship with one exception — he does not hold direct control of the military. Indeed, the draft constitution proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood does not put the military under civilian control.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, this puts Egypt on the road to becoming the next Pakistan — a very lamentable truth. The Journal was right to call Morsi’s actions an “Islamist coup.”

But, as the Journal warns:

“Mr. Morsi says his diktat will merely last as long as it takes the country to adopt a new constitution, which is what authoritarians always say. They claim to be a necessary step on the way to democracy, but democracy never arrives. Mr. Morsi’s rationalization is that he must have this power to “protect the revolution,” as if the demonstrators who deposed Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely wanted another Mubarak with a beard and prayer rug. Mr. Morsi is claiming more power than Mr. Mubarak ever had.”

As is almost always the case, President Morsi claimed to assume unlimited power for the cause of saving the revolution that brought him to power. “The people wanted me to be the guardian of these steps in this phase,” he told Reuters.

This is the language used by autocrats who assume absolute power. It happened in the French Revolution and in the Bolshevik Revolution. It is still the language of the Communist Party in China.

Christians understand exactly what is going on here — human beings will seek absolute power if they can gain it. In a fallen world, every leader must be held accountable by checks and balances, and every healthy system of government requires a real separation of powers. Otherwise, tyranny inevitably results.

This just proves Lord Acton’s observation that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Christians, informed by the doctrine of sin, understand why this is true.

2. The Real Goals of Hamas

We just pray that the fragile cease fire in Gaza and Israel can hold, but Israel’s predicament was made clear by the fact that the international press claims the cease fire as a victory for Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the government in Gaza — the same organization that launched the recent rocket attacks on Israel.

Clearly, Hamas sees the cease fire as a victory. Young men in Gaza bragged to Western reporters that their rockets had landed for the first time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Furthermore, The New York Times reported that the relatives of slain Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari were celebrating his death. “Rest in peace. The mission is accomplished,” read one sign near the home where his relatives, including two wives, were staying.

One of his widows made her understanding clear:

“Allah give him a big honor because he is going to go to paradise; thanks for God for all this . . .  All this happened because this is from our God and this is the work of Jabari and the fighters here in Gaza. Thanks for God. It’s a big victory.”

Keep in mind that one of the central goals of Hamas, as made clear in its founding charter, is to raise “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

That is what Israel is really up against when it comes to Hamas and its aims.

3. India Executes a Terrorist

India hanged a terrorist last week, its first execution since 2004. Officials executed Ajmal Kasab, the young man who was the sole surviving terrorist in the 2008 attack on Mumbia that killed 164 and wounded more than 300 people.

At his trial, Kasab admitted that he was one of 10 terrorists who conducted the attack and he also admitted that the attack was supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. Kasab was clearly visible on video, shooting and killing civilians in Mumbai.

He was sentenced to death, and hanged last week after appeals for clemency failed. He was barely out of his teens when he participated in the terrorist operation.

India has the death penalty, but it is used very infrequently. Like many nations, including the United States, there is growing discomfort with the death penalty itself. Nevertheless, India’s citizenry offered wide support for the death penalty in this case, eventually resulting in Kasab’s hanging.

What does this demonstrate? At the very least, it indicates that, even in nations that are moving away from the death penalty as a common sentence for the crime of premeditated murder, some crimes still seem to demand the ultimate punishment available to human justice.

But that justice, vital as it is, cannot restore the lives Kasab and his accomplices took that day.

4. An Oklahoma Judge Sentences a Teenager to Church

Another aspect of human justice was evident in an Oklahoma courtroom recently when a judge sentenced a teenager to attend church for ten years.

Erick Eckholm of The New York Times reported,

“Initially there was little outcry in Muskogee, Okla., last week when a judge, as a condition of a youth’s probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction, sentenced him to attend church regularly for 10 years. The judge, Mike Norman, 67, had sentenced people to church before, though never for such a serious crime. But as word of the ruling spread in state and national legal circles, constitutional experts condemned it as a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state.”

The Tulsa World reported the facts of the case:

“The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene. Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.”


“Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.”

Judge Normans ruling is now challenged by the ACLU and others, who charge that the sentence is unconstitutional. The judge was clearly attempting to find an alternative sentence that would accomplish some approximation of justice, mixed with an effort to reclaim a young life.

As a matter of law, the sentence probably is unconstitutional. At the same time, the sentence demonstrates the painful limits of human justice. What is an appropriate sentence for a 17-year-old boy under this circumstance? What are the aims of justice? Even Judge Norman’s critics will be stuck on that excruciating question.

5. Larry Hagman Dies — Is Death Really “Just Another Stage in Our Development?”

Actor Larry Hagman, star of television’s Dallas series on CBS, died last Friday in Dallas, Texas at age 81. He died of complications from cancer, which he had discussed openly in recent months. Hagman had previously undergone a liver transplant and other health crises.

He was at one point the most recognizable male actor in the world, given the audience attracted to Dallas. The “Who Shot J.R.” episode of that series drew the second-largest audience in television history (exceeded only by the final episode of M*A*S*H).

Hagman delighted in his work as an actor, playing the loathsome character J.R. Ewing with relish. His fellow actors professed their enjoyment of working with him.

Speaking several years ago, Hagman said that death is “just another stage of our development.”

He continued: “I honestly believe that we don’t just disappear. We don’t go into a void. I think we’re part of a big energy curtain, an energy wave, in which we are like molecules.”

Every worldview has to answer the challenge of understanding death. Larry Hagman’s worldview, perhaps influenced by Eastern religious thought, is on full display in that comment.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

Links to articles cited:

The Briefing, Wednesday, November 21, 2012

TODAY: The Church of England turns down women bishops / San Francisco turns down public nudity . . . partially, maybe / Teenagers disconnected — Hurricane Sandy’s lessons for the digital age / A true Thanksgiving. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. The Church of England Votes Against Women Bishops — What Does This Mean?

“This is a train crash,” said one frustrated priest. Yesterday was a decisive day in the history of the Church of England, but it was also a deeply divisive day. After 37 years of controversy and turmoil, the church’s General Synod turned down a proposal to consecrate women as bishops. The proposal required a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the General Synod in order to pass, and it failed to receive that vote among the laity.

The lay members of the General Synod voted 132 in favor and 74 against, meaning that the proposal went down to a narrow defeat — but a defeat all the same. Tellingly, bishops voted 44-3 in favor (with 2 abstentions) and clergy voted 148-45 in favor. The defeat means that it will take another five years for another proposal can put the issue before a General Synod vote once again.

The vote came almost two decades after the Church of England voted to ordain women as priests. The question of women serving as bishops was more involved, given the fact that bishops supervise other clergy. A strongly traditionalist wing of the church has staunchly opposed women as both priests and bishops, but they were unsuccessful in blocking the ordination of women twenty years ago. The proposal to consecrate women bishops was presented as a “compromise” that would approve women bishops but call for “respect” to those clergy and parishes that opposed women serving in that capacity.

The meaning of that “respect” was never specified, and this led to the proposal’s defeat. The failure of the proposal was a dramatic rebuke to the leadership of Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and a warning to his designated successor, Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham. Both men had strongly supported the measure.

Bishop Welby had called for the adoption of the proposal with this argument:

“We cannot get trapped into believing this is a zero-sum decision where one person’s gain must be another’s loss. That is not a theology of grace.”

That amounts to a quintessentially Anglican promise — a vote on such a fundamental question that would settle the issue by some form of compromise. But the current proposal was really no compromise at all, and it never could have been

Actually, that point was made with clarity by the Rev. Janet Appleby, a parish priest who drafted the “compromise” language:

“The trouble is our disagreement is absolute: either a woman can be a bishop or she cannot.”

She is exactly right. The Church of England cannot operate without the universal recognition of its bishops within the church. If women are consecrated as bishops, the entire church will have women bishops.

The debate before the General Synod had mostly to do with the nature of the “compromise” language. The House of Bishops is expected to meet this morning “to consider a way forward.”

Press coverage of the vote, even among the church’s own media and press branches, was free from serious theological or biblical debate. A church that has already decided to ordain women as priests is not likely to return to a confrontation with biblical texts and theological arguments that would limit the teaching office in the church to men.

Those pushing the proposal used cultural arguments, instead. They insisted that the Church of England would have to accept the cultural assumption that all gender discrimination is wrong, or look badly out of date, out of step, and out of order.

One thing is almost certain — a church or denomination that ordains women as pastors will one day vote to appoint them to every office and role. Any compromise in this regard is really a matter of time, and not a matter of principle.

2. San Francisco Votes to Limit Public Nudity — Partially, Maybe

San Francisco is famous for its beauty, its history, its cuisine, and its liberal culture. But will San Francisco accept any limits on that liberal sexual culture? Just consider this lead to a news story released late yesterday:

“What started out as a discussion about whether people could stroll naked through this liberal city’s storied streets ended up Tuesday as a discussion about the role of local government. Faced with complaints about a band of so-called ‘Naked Guys’ gathering daily in the Castro District, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation last month to ban public nudity citywide, except for at permitted festivals and parades.”

So reported Maria L. La Ganga of The Los Angeles Times. Supervisor Wiener told his colleagues that calls for keeping public nudity fully legal were not coming from straight couples with children. “The dominant demographic expressing concern is gay men,” he explained.

A group of far-left supervisors (keep in mind that is far-left in the context of San Francisco) fought against any new restriction on public nudity. Supervisor John Avalos said that the complaints were only about “inconsequential nudity.”

San Francisco currently outlaws “lewd” nudity and it requires clothing in restaurants, plastic beneath bodies on public property, and some space between nude bodies. Trust me, no one is making this up.

The Washington Post reported that the law approved late yesterday still has significant allowances for public nudity:

“A first offense would carry a maximum penalty of a $100 fine, but prosecutors would have authority to charge a third violation as a misdemeanor punishable by up to a $500 fine and a year in jail. Exemptions would be made for participants at permitted street fairs and parades, such as the city’s annual gay pride event and the Folsom Street Fair, which celebrates sadomasochism and other sexual subcultures.”

Or, as one activist told the Associated Press, “Freedom is not something man gives anyone. It’s something we all — men, women, children — are born with and then people come in and try to erase it from you and if you won’t let that go they want to silence you, they want to banish you and they want to burn you at the stake.”

The Washington Post also reported that many California cities have no laws banning public nudity. You have been warned.

3. Hurricane Sandy Revealed that Teenagers Can Survive (Temporarily) without Digital Connections

Aimee Lee Ball of The New York Times reported that, for many young people on the East Coast, the extended time without electrical power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy was their first experience of a non-digital world. In her words,

“Blank screens. Cellphones on the fritz. Wii games sitting dormant in darkened rec rooms. For a swath of teenagers and preteens on the East Coast, the power failures that followed Hurricane Sandy last month represented the first time in their young lives that they were totally off the grid, without the ability to text, play Minecraft, video-chat, check Facebook, or send updates to Twitter.”

For these “digital natives,” who have never known a time without smart phones, iPods, Facebook, and all the rest, the power outage was traumatic — and yet they survived. Ball’s report is must reading for parents and others interested in adolescents, young adults … and the rest of us.

As Ball reported, “the storm provided a rare glimpse of a life lived offline. It drove some children crazy, while others managed to embrace the experience of a digital slowdown. It also produced some unexpected ammunition for parents already eager to curb the digital obsessions of their children.”

4. A True Thanksgiving

As Americans gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, several ironies arise. For an increasing number, there is no giving of thanks to God, but just a general sense of thankfulness. But thankfulness requires an object of that gratitude. In an increasingly secularized age, this gets complicated.

Christians understand the nature of the holiday observance, remembering the historic roots of the celebration among the Pilgrims. But today’s Christians need to keep in mind that the most important day of thanksgiving for us is the Lord’s Day, when corporate thanksgiving to God is central to authentic Christian worship.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing. LISTEN HERE.

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 20, 2012

TODAY: Should Israel put its trust in an Iron Dome? / A day of decision for Anglicans — Women Bishops? / Hindu congresswomen to take oath on Bhagavad Gita / Judge grants injunction in contraception mandate case. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Israel’s Iron Dome — Should Israel Place its Trust in Technology?

Americans seem almost as fascinated as Israelis when it comes to Israel’s “Iron Dome,” perhaps the world’s most sophisticated and accurate anti-missile defense system. The system deploys rockets fired at incoming missiles or rockets, thus avoiding a deadly hit during a rocket attack. Israel has been subjected to a barrage of rockets from Hamas forces in Gaza, with some rockets now hitting the cities of Tel Aviv, Ashdod, and Jerusalem.

Israeli Defense Minister, Ehud Barak, has called the Iron Dome “probably the most technologically impressive achievement in recent years in Israel.”

According to recent reports, the Iron Dome system has been hugely successful, neutralizing more than 300 rockets and achieving a success rate of between 80 to 90 percent. The system, created with the assistance of the United States, offers Israel a margin of time once an attack begins. Each interceptor missile costs up to $50,000.

As Isabel Kershner of The New York Times reports:

“Iron Dome shoots down rockets with a radar-guided missile known as Tamir, which was developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, an Israeli company. The radar was developed by Elta, a subsidiary of Israel Aerospace Industries, and another company, Impress, developed the command and control system.

Because each interceptor missile costs $40,000 to $50,000, the system is designed to aim only at rockets headed for populated areas and to ignore those destined for open ground outside cities and towns. Israeli officials say that the cost is offset by the lives and property that are saved.”

In recent days Israeli defense and political authorities have expressed concern that the nation’s citizens may be placing too much trust in the Iron Dome system. They fear that people may begin to ignore or minimize air raid sirens and other warnings, increasing the danger of a deadly strike.

Israel’s current leaders are not the first to sound that alarm. King David sounded a similar concern in Psalm 20:7-8 — “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God. They collapse and fall, but we rise and stand upright.”

Technology cannot save. Any nation that places its ultimate trust in technology is creating an idol that cannot deliver on its promises — no matter how impressive it may be.

2. A Day of Decision for the Church of England: Women Bishops?

The Church of England will decide today if women are to be consecrated as bishops. The church’s General Synod will vote on a “compromise” measure that seems certain to please almost no one.

As The Washington Post reports:

“While opening the way for female bishops, the proposal before the General Synod also commits the church, when it assigns priests and bishops, to ‘respect’ the position of parishes that oppose them — without defining what respect means in practical terms.”

“Enough waiting,” declared Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, a proponent of women bishops. If the proposal is approved by a two-thirds majority in all three houses of the synod, women will soon serve as bishops. If the measure is defeated, it will take at least five years to bring the matter to a vote once again.

In truth, this is not a compromise at all. If the proposal passes, women bishops will be consecrated throughout the church and must be recognized by all parishes and ministers. Given the fact that the Church of England started ordaining women to the priesthood almost twenty years ago, the elevation of women to the episcopacy was inevitable.

One central argument put forth by the proponents of women bishops demands close attention.

Peter Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden (near London), warned that if the proposal fails, the Church of England would “look completely stupid in the eyes of society.”

Similarly, Rosie Harper, chaplain to the Bishop of Buckingham and vicar of Great Missenden told The Guardian [London[ that, if the measure fails, “it will seem to people in the country [at large] that the church is operating within a lower ethical framework than their own.”

In other words, let the culture set the demands for the church. Since the role of women in society is no longer up for debate, the church must give way. Otherwise, it will look backwards, unethical, and stupid.

Note the absence of any theological or biblical argument, or even an acknowledgement that the service of women in the teaching office of the church runs counter to clear biblical teachings. The culture is cited as the authority in the matter.

On any question, that move is a sure sign of theological and spiritual disaster.

3. America’s First Hindu Congressperson to Take Oath on the Bhagavad Gita

A sure sign of America’s increasing religious and ethnic diversity will be evident in January when Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii takes the oath of office as the nation’s first Hindu Member of Congress. The Huffington Post reports that Gabbard will take the oath of office over a copy of the Bhagavad Gita, one of several Hindu texts. The Bhagavad Gita is a text of 700 verses and 18 chapters that tells the central Mahabharata epic.

There are an estimated 600,000 to 2.3 million Hindus in the United States. Gabbard will serve alongside at least 2 Buddhist members of Congress.

This development underlines the changing nature of America as a mission field. The world is coming to the United States, and that world brings a universe of worldviews and religious belief systems. Evangelical Christians must see the seating of a Hindu Member of Congress as yet another indicator of that challenge. At the same time, this same development is an affirmation of our American commitment to religious liberty — the same liberty that allows an evangelical Christian to participate in the public life of the nation.

4. Judge Grants Injunction in Contraception Mandate Challenge

Word came late Monday that U.S. District Judge Reggie Walton of the District of Columbia has handed down an injunction that prevents, for now, action against Tyndale House Publishers. Tyndale House had sought relief from the contraception mandate ordered by the Obama Administration as part of its health care reform.

Judge Walton said that the mandate “affirmatively compels the plaintiffs to violate their religious beliefs in order to comply with the law and avoid the sanctions that would be imposed for their non-compliance.”

This is a major victory, though it may be short-lived. Judge Walton said that he will consider making the injunction permanent at a later date. The Obama Administration is certain to appeal.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.  Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Monday, November 19, 2012

TODAY: Conflict between Hamas and Israel intensifies / Monarchy out of step in the modern world / Mail order ordination in a secular age / The Twinkie goes the way of the Studebaker — extinct. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

The Rockets’ Red Glare — Israel’s New Challenge

Israel, which has endured periodic rocket attacks and similar assaults from Hamas terrorists in Gaza for years, is now facing an escalated conflict and a new danger — powerful rockets that originate in Iran.

Ethan Bronner of The New York Times is providing some of the most important coverage of this conflict. In both Saturday’s and Sunday’s editions of the paper, Bronner provided key insights into Israel’s new challenge.

Hamas has obtained ‘Fajr-5′ rockets capable of hitting Israel’s major cities. How has Hamas obtained such advanced weapons? Bronner reports:

“The rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza, according to senior Israeli security officials. The smuggling route involves salaried employees from Hamas along the way, Iranian technical experts traveling on forged passports and government approval in Sudan, Israeli officials said.”

This is a major development and a dangerous escalation in the risk of an open ground war in Gaza.

On Saturday, Bronner reported that the Israeli government and a majority of its citizens have come to the conclusion that Hamas does not want peace. As he explains:

“Their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous, they agree. That means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will never be broadly accepted here. ‘There is a theory, which I believe, that Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful solution and only wants to keep the conflict going forever until somehow in their dream they will have all of Israel,’ Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former leader of the Israeli Air Force, said in a telephone briefing. ‘There is a good chance we will go into Gaza on the ground again.'”

Over the past two years, Israel’s security has been threatened in new and ominous ways. I discuss these threats in today’s edition of The Briefing.

Hereditary Monarchy in the Modern Age — Badly Out of Step

Reports out of Jordan indicate that the Hashemite dynasty headed now by King Abdullah II may be in real danger. Crowds of young men and boys, numbering in the thousands, have surged through the streets of Amman, calling for revolution and “the toppling of the regime.”

Much of this is surely due to the so-called Arab Spring that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. But a larger part of this picture may be explained by the fact that a hereditary ruling monarchy is just badly out of place in the modern world. We can sometimes forget just how strange it is that the ruler of a people is simply the biological offspring of a previous ruler.

When protests against monarchy hit the streets like this, it seldom goes well for the monarch.

Mail Order Ordination — So What’s the Problem?

It seems that the issue of mail order ministers has become something of a problem in New York State, and probably elsewhere. As Vincent M. Mallozzi of The New York Times reports,

“An increasing number of couples are steering away from traditional religious and civil wedding officiants in favor of friends and relatives who become ordained through online ministries. But many couples are unaware that while New York State recognizes marriages performed by those who became ministers by the power vested in a mouse, there are five downstate counties where such officiants are not technically legal.”

The very existence of these mail order ministers is evidence of an increasingly secular age. As Mallozzi reports, the couples wanting their friends to officiate at weddings, complete with mail order ordination, simply do not want the presence of a recognized minister with “a lot of formulaic vows.” What they want is intimacy and secular affirmation.

The report reveals something of the extent of the mail order ordination business, with firms such as the Universal Life Church, the Church of Spiritual Humanism, and the Temple of Earth offering online ordination, for a fee.

New York State may be confused about who is and who is not a “real” minister, but the faithful church cannot be confused on the question.

The Twinkie is Terminated?

News out of Chicago indicates that the Twinkie, that iconic form of American snack food, is about to go extinct. Hostess, maker of the Twinkie, has decided to liquidate rather than face defeat by strangulation. The company’s labor unions have been strangling the company, which lost $341 million in 2011.

Labor unions held the company to 372 different collective-bargaining agreements, that required the company to offer 80 different health and benefit plans, dozens of pension plans, and more than $30 million in wage increases for next year.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal declared the death of the company a suicide. More than 18,000 Hostess employees killed their own company — and their own jobs.

According to The Chicago Tribune, the Twinkie was born on April 6, 1930 at Chicago’s Continental Baking Company. Hostess will attempt to sell the company’s recipes — including the recipe for the Twinkie.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.     Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Friday, November 16, 2012

TODAY: Violence in the Middle East and the future of Israel / A moral crisis in the military? / Why is adultery still a crime? / Another step toward designer babies, and another threat to the unborn. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Attack and Counterattack in the Middle East

Violence broke out in the Middle East once again, as the forces of Hamas in Gaza attacked Israel with rockets. The rockets, which in the past have killed scores of Israelis, were fired into inhabited neighborhoods. Hamas, a terrorist organization which calls for the end of Israel, may be attempting to sabotage efforts by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to gain international recognition for the Palestinian State at the United Nations.

As expected, Israel responded with force. On Wednesday, Israeli forces killed the Hamas military leader Ahmed Jabari and his assistant. The two were killed by a targeted missile attack that was filmed by satellite and released to the international media as a warning to others. Israel’s leaders warned other Hamas leaders to stay underground, or face a similar fate. (more…)

The Briefing, Thursday, November 15, 2012

TODAY: Social engineering in Sweden means toddlers can’t say “him” and “her” / France debates same-sex marriage, eliminates “mother” and “father” / Turkey’s Islamist turn, ten years later. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Just “Friends” — No More Gender References for Swedish Toddlers

Social engineering is usually the legacy of a revolution. In revolutionary France, aristocratic titles were out, and the French were told to refer to each other as merely “citizen.” In the USSR and other communist states, the revolution’s new title for all was “comrade.” Now, the Swedes are teaching their children to call each other simply “friend.”

As The New York Times reports, the words “him” and “her” are out at Nicolaigarden, a tax-payer financed preschool in Stockholm. (more…)

The Briefing, Wednesday, November 14, 2012

TODAY: Has America made a great moral shift?  / How democracies decide divisive questions. / Was Gen. Petraeus a victim of “Sexual McCarthyism?” / When Football and fatherhood collide. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. Has America Experienced a Moral Shift on Marriage?

Same-sex marriage is back on the front page of The New York Times, with reporter Erik Eckholm presenting a major story in which the advocates of same-sex marriage argue that the national tide has turned in their direction.

Eckholm writes:

“Elated by their first ballot victories, in four states, advocates of same-sex marriage rights plan to push legislatures in half a dozen more states toward legalization as they also press their cause in federal courts. They are also preparing for what they hope will be another milestone: the electoral reversal of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman, in Oregon in 2014.”

Those pushing for same-sex marriage acknowledge low support for their position in regions such as the South, but they clearly think that a major shift is happening in the nation. They are targeting several states for new efforts to legalize gay marriage, including Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and New Jersey.

Eckholm explains that same-sex marriage advocates claim a fundamental change in national opinion:

“A rapid shift in public opinion is bolstering their cause as more people grow used to the idea of same-sex marriage and become acquainted with openly gay people and couples. “The pace of the change in opinions has picked up over the last few years,” said Michael Dimock, associate research director of the Pew Research Center in Washington, ‘and as the younger generation becomes a larger share of the electorate, the writing is on the wall.’”

This is exactly the kind of article we should now expect to appear, and this argument will become more and more familiar. Of course, there is good reason for the advocates of gay marriage to see a turning tide. They won four of four contests last Tuesday, after losing more than 30 consecutive votes in previous years. There is a clear sense that something fundamental is shifting, and the defenders of natural marriage had better understand this.

There is political advantage in claiming a sense of momentum, but this does not mean that their claims are without merit. It is far too early to argue that “the writing is on the wall” across the United States, but that prospect does now loom before us.

Moral shifts of this magnitude do not happen quickly, but the pace is fast at the end of that process. Marriage has been weakened by cultural, legal, and moral alterations over the last century — changes without which same-sex marriage would still be unthinkable.

This article in The New York Times — a fair and responsible piece of journalism — contains a sobering message for us all. It also contains a threat of sorts from one Republican strategist, who argues that his party should not sign a “death pact” with opponents of same-sex marriage.

2. How Democracies Decide Divisive Questions

The editors of The Wall Street Journal also addressed the same-sex marriage issue in light of last week’s election. They argue that the decisions made in Maine, Maryland, Washington State, and Minnesota were made by the right people — the voters.

They write:

“Whatever one’s views of a legally sanctioned union between people of the same sex, the process is itself a victory. A contentious issue is working its way through the political system and being resolved in a manner that both sides can accept as legitimate. This ought to give pause to judges who want to legislate a premature social consensus from the bench and the activists who cheer them on. Social change is more durable when it isn’t imposed from the top.”

This is an important argument. The editors implicitly warn the U.S. Supreme Court that it ought not to hand down a decision on gay marriage tantamount to a new Roe v. Wade. Intending to “settle” the abortion question. In that case the Court divided the nation.

The editors continued:

“As views on gay marriage change, and a growing number of Americans support it, politics will follow. This is how it’s supposed to work. Even if democracy can be slow or cumbersome, everyone plays by the same rules and lives with the result.”

There is wisdom in their remarks, and a message for the defenders of marriage. We will have to convince our fellow citizens of our cause. The evidence is that we face a huge challenge in this respect, but we must face it honestly and directly. Furthermore, we must face that challenge respectfully, as befits the democratic process.

At the end of the day, the side with the better argument wins. At the same time, there can be any number of sad setbacks along the way. Even if same-sex marriage becomes the law of the land, the argument is not over.

3. Was Gen. Petraeus Felled by “Sexual McCarthyism?”

Writing in Investors Business Daily, columnist Richard Cohen argues that Gen. David Petraeus was brought down, not by his adultery, but by the nation’s “sexual McCarthyism.” Cohen argues that Petraeus “only betrayed his wife.”

That is an amazing argument, but Cohen makes it boldly. He accuses Americans of a form of sexual extremism and hypocrisy, claiming that it is ruining the careers of good people. He is not the first to charge the nation with “sexual McCarthyism,” nor will he be the last.

Cohen argues that adultery is a merely private affair with no public significance. Petraeus betrayed his wife, not his country, Cohen argues. His adultery would have little or no public significance in other countries. “A Frenchman cannot be blackmailed on account of sex,” he asserts.

That is largely true of many European nations, and France especially. We will note, however, that French politician Dominique Strauss-Kahn did recently ruin his career after revelations of a particularly lascivious sort. Even the French have their limits.

But is all this merely “sexual McCarthyism?” Americans retain a high respect for marriage, even in confused times. Beyond this, they recognize that adultery is never merely private. At no point in his article does Cohen concede the moral compromise that destroyed David Petraeus’ career, nor does he ever acknowledge that leadership and character are inseparable. We know better.

4. Football Collides with Fatherhood

Charles Tillman, who plays cornerback for the Chicago Bears, found himself on the field of controversy last week when he told an interviewer that, if his pregnant wife was ready to deliver their child over the weekend, he would not play in the Chicago game against Houston. As it turned out, Tillman did not miss the game, and the baby was born early this week — with Tillman present.

But many in the football world expressed outrage that Tillman would put fatherhood before the game. One NBC reporter went so far as to argue that NFL players should be considerate enough to schedule pregnancies so that births would not interfere with the season.

That argument is a breathtaking display if inverted values, but that inversion is not found only in football, or even in sports.

Any time a man stands to make a priority of supporting his wife and children, he should be celebrated, not second-guessed.

The story was well covered by Jason Gay of The Wall Street Journal.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen Here.

Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 13, 2012

TODAY: Adultery in the digital age, worldview and demographics strike again, teenagers ready to vote, religious liberty undermined, and a new reason to elope. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hubris and High Tech: Adultery in the Digital Age

The digital revolution has altered just about every dimension of contemporary life, including adultery. One one hand, digital technologies and social media have facilitated the kinds of connections that have encouraged adultery, with individuals developing relationships online that often do not stay merely online. Flirtation via social media has often led to adultery.

On the other hand, many of these same technologies have made hiding a clandestine affair increasingly difficult, if not impossible. Writing in The Washington Post, columnist Ruth Marcus said that the downfall of former Gen. David Petraeus is a case of hubris brought down by high technology. As she writes:

“The technological part is something that we have not yet fully internalized, although Petraeus, of all people, ought to have known: There are no true secrets in the modern world. Privacy is an illusion that we allow ourselves to avoid the alternative of paralysis. Every communication is potentially public. Like the gift of fire, technology is a magical device that, if not used carefully, contains the seeds of our own destruction.”

There is great wisdom in her assessment. Marcus cites novelist Ann Patchett, who complains that the constant chatter of social media has made the task of crafting convincing fiction far more difficult. “Plot twists fail in a world without secrets,” Marcus explains.

“If you don’t want to see it on the front page of The Post, don’t write it down,” she warns. The Petraeus affair underlines the fact that adultery still matters in the modern age, and that the digital world is no place to hide.

Worldview and Demography

Looking back at the election, The Washington Post offers a detailed analysis of the results with a keen demographic perspective. The data points to the fact that worldview is often tied to contexts and conditions.

First, gender matters. Men favored Mitt Romney for President, with 52% of men voting for him, while 45% voted for President Obama. Women flipped the equation. 55% voted for Obama, while only 44% voted for Romney.

Second, marriage matters. Married women favored Mitt Romney (53%) rather than Barack Obama (46%). Non-married women, in contrast, favored Obama (67%) over Romney (31%). Note the scale of that reversal.

Third, theological convictions matter. White Roman Catholics favored Romney by a huge margin, 59% to 40% for Obama. But white evangelicals preferred Romney by an even greater degree, with 78% voting for Romney and 21% for Obama. But, from the opposite direction, voters with “no religion” as preference preferred Obama, giving him 70% of their votes, leaving 26% for Romney.

As a recent Pew study indicated, fully one in five American adults is now a “none,” registering no religious affiliation of any kind.

All this affirms the vital importance of worldview, but we are also reminded of how worldview is related to gender, marital status, and theological conviction. That lesson is right there in the numbers.

Teenage Idiots to Vote?

Argentina is poised to give 16-year-olds the right to vote and Scotland is proposing to do the same. In Scotland, leaders of an effort to declare its independence from the United Kingdom recognize that they need the votes of younger teenagers. Meanwhile, in Britain and in the United States, some now call for 16-year-olds to be given the right to vote. Is this nuts?

Polly Hudson of the Daily Mail [London] sure thinks so. “This is the worst idea ever,” she argues. She wonders out loud if the adults pushing this proposal suffer from amnesia. Polly Hudson insists that she was “a complete idiot at 16,” and she provided her readers with ample proof. She recounted rebelling against her mother’s denial of permission to pierce her nose by attaching a stud to her nose with super-glue, and other tales of adolescent irrationality. She suggests that her readers were also idiots at age 16.

“It’s extremely obvious the very last thing I should have been given was any power in making important decisions that affect everyone,” she said.

In the United States, the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 by ratification of the 26th amendment to the U.S. Constitution in 1971. President Eisenhower had called for lowering the voting age in 1956. There appears to be little support in the U.S. for lowering the voting age to 16.

The bigger issue in the United States is the lack of maturity among voters 18 and older. Recent studies indicate that a frightening percentage of Americans vote according to no rational principle at all, but merely on the basis of personal preference.

Religious Liberty Subverted

The Obama Administration has made a truly dangerous argument in a Federal court, signaling once again the fact that the contraception mandate handed down by the Department of Health and Human Services is a clear and present danger to religious freedom.

Responding to a suit filed by David Green, head of the Hobby Lobby chain, the Obama Justice Department argued that corporations have no religious liberty rights. The Justice Department lawyer argued in an Oklahoma courthouse that Hobby Lobby is a secular corporation, “and a secular entity by definition does not exercise religion.”

The clear point of this argument is to deny religious liberty to any normal corporation. David Green claims, quite understandably, that the new healthcare law and its contraception mandate violate his religious liberty. He is not trying to make contraception illegal. He simply cannot pay for certain forms of contraception without violating his Christian convictions.

The argument made by the Justice Department lawyer in this hearing are ominous indeed. We will watch this case closely.

A New Reason to Elope

Not too long ago, couples eloped for two main reasons — they wanted to escape parental opposition or legal jurisdiction. Now, a new wave of couples are eloping for a very different reason. They simply cannot afford an expensive wedding.

As the Sydney Morning Herald [Australia] reports, the price of the average wedding in Australia is now $48,296. In the United States, the average wedding now tops $29,000. This is insane.

Christians affirm the importance of a wedding as a public celebration and witness to a public event — the uniting of a couple in the covenant of marriage. Marriage is a public reality, and this is why states require witnesses at the ceremony. Furthermore, Christians understand the importance of celebrating the union. But the modern wedding is often a financial disaster, and many young couples say that they are forced to delay marriage due to the cost of the wedding. This points to very confused values. The point is the marriage, not the wedding.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here. Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Monday, November 12, 2012

TODAY: So, adultery does matter, a new law “vexes” the porn industry, Norway’s mass murderer complains of “inhumane” treatment, and Germany decides to subsidize moms and export grandmothers. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Adultery Still Matters: The Downfall of a General

Even in our morally confused age, adultery still matters. Gen. David Petraeus, who until Friday served as Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, had to resign when he admitted to a sexual affair with the woman who had written his biography. That biography is now significantly altered.

Gen. Petraeus was a four-star Army general, known simply as P4 to many insiders. His appointment to the directorship of the Central Intelligence Agency came after he retired from one of the most illustrious careers in the modern American military.

As The New York Times reported:

“He was the preeminent military officer of his generation, a soldier-scholar blazing with ambition and intellect, completing his meteoric rise as a commander in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Worshipful Congressional committees lauded him as a miracle worker for helping turn around the war in Iraq, applying a counterinsurgency strategy he had helped devise and that was widely viewed for a time as the future of warfare. Then, dispatched to Afghanistan to replace Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, who had been fired by President Obama, he sought to apply the doctrine he had championed, while also applying an aggressive counterterrorism strategy. He was fiercely competitive and carefully protective of his reputation.”

Furthermore, the paper noted that “Mr. Petraeus had seemed all but indestructible.” All that came to an end on Friday, when his resignation was announced. In a letter to CIA employees, Petraeus stated the matter directly:

“After being married for over 37 years, I showed extremely poor judgment by engaging in an extramarital affair. Such behavior is unacceptable, both as a husband and as the leader of an organization such as ours. This afternoon, the President graciously accepted my resignation.”

In the past several years, adultery has brought down two governors (Eliot Spitzer of New York, who resigned, and Mark Sanford of South Carolina, who did not), one presidential candidate (John Edwards), and numerous business leaders (including Harry Stoneciper, former CEO of Boeing). The same day that Petraeus’s resignation hit the papers, word came of the fact that the incoming CEO of Lockheed Martin, Christopher E. Kubasik, had been forced out under similar circumstances.

As The New York Times noted, none were more shocked about Gen. Petraeus’ downfall than his former colleagues in the military, who compared his fall to that of David and Bathsheba in the Old Testament.

Christians know that adultery is not merely a sin — it is the breaking of a covenant and a maligning of God’s good gift in marriage. This particular sin also comes with devastating consequences to individuals, families, and institutions. Beyond that, it leads to the unraveling of community.

Even in our day of moral confusion and uncertainty, adultery has consequences. Tellingly, some argued that Petraeus had not done anything worthy of resignation unless national security had been breached. Gen. Petraeus knew better than that, as do we.

The Pornography Industry is Vexed

So says The Wall Street Journal in an article reporting on the situation in Los Angeles after the county’s voters approved a measure requiring actors in porn movies to wear condoms in order to improve safety.

According to the paper’s report, fully 28% of porn actors were found to have a sexually transmitted disease within a recent 4 month period.

The porn industry is outraged, however, claiming that the use of condoms by actors will make their product less interesting to porn viewers. Some are threatening to leave Los Angeles altogether.

Embedded in the article is the fact that the porn industry means a combined $1 billion in economic impact in Los Angeles alone, providing some 10,000 jobs.

Of course, from a Christian perspective the whole picture is a parable. Sin cannot be made safe, and there is no way that pornography can be transformed into “safe sex,” no matter what laws may be passed.

Anders Breivik is Outraged

Another moral parable comes from Norway, where convicted mass murderer Anders Behring Breivik is serving a 21-year prison term for the premeditated murder of 77 people, mostly teenagers and young adults, in a 2011 rampage. Tellingly, liberal Norway lacks both the death penalty and anything like life in prison without parole. Even with 77 murder convictions, Breivik’s maximum sentence was 21 years in a rather comfortable prison in Norway. He may be held in custody after his sentence, but only if he is deemed a threat to others.

The New York Times reports that Breivik, who inhabits a 3-room cell complete with television and exercise equipment, has written a 27-page screed decrying the fact that he is being treated inhumanely. He complains about everything from the fact that he has no view to his lack of a thermos, which leads to cold coffee. The cold-blooded executioner of 77 human beings complained that his stab-resistant ink pen is a “manifestation of sadism,” even as he sat in his warm 3-room cell with television and all the rest.

Germany Passes a Child Care Subsidy

The German government of Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her what her constituents in Bavaria had been demanding — a monthly subsidy for mothers who raise small children at home. The subsidy had previously been made available only to moms who put their children into child-care facilities. This discriminated against stay-at-home moms, many complained. The most interesting part of this story is the fact that extending the subsidy to stay-at-home moms was so controversial, revisiting the “letting down the team” argument made by some American feminist leaders.

Germans Outsource the Elderly

The German newspaper Welt am Sonntag (World on Sunday) reports that many German families are sending their aged and elderly relatives to care facilities far away — as far as Slovakia, Poland, and even Thailand.

As the paper reports:

“Outside the door, it’s Slovakia.  Mrs Ludl doesn’t know anything about that, because of her dementia – or maybe in this case, one might say, thanks to her dementia. It’s been a month since her son and her daughter-in-law sat the old lady in their motor home and drove here to Zlatna na Ostrove near the Hungarian border. It’s 700 kilometres from her old home in Bavaria, and driving here took a whole day. A nursing home in Germany would have been too expensive. That at least is the argument of the son, who runs a toy store out of his home. For more and more Germans, the last journey is leading to a nursing home outside Germany. In countries such as Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Hungary, and in Spain and Thailand too, there is a growing number of facilities that are geared towards Western Europeans and are often even run by German operators”

There are many issues at stake here, but the breakdown of the family, especially the extended family, makes developments like this almost certain. Furthermore, falling birthrates and longer life spans mean that exporting the aged may well become a practice elsewhere as well. This is a sad story with no silver lining.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.  Links to all articles cited also provided.

The Briefing, Friday, November 9, 2012

TODAY: A new Archbishop of Canterbury, Jared Loughner sentenced to life in prison, Mormonism after the election, can the law make us decent? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Anglican sources have confirmed that Justin Welby, currently Bishop of Durham, will be named today as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The Crown Nominations Commission is expected to nominate the new Archbishop, with action to be taken by the Prime Minister as early as later today.

Bishop Welby has been a bishop for only a year, and his background has been mostly in the business world. He was for many years an oil executive before entering the ministry later in life. He is Eton-educated and considered to identify with the evangelical wing of the Church of England. As The Telegraph [London] reports, “Theologically, he is unashamedly part of the evangelical tradition, upholding a more traditional and conservative interpretation of the Bible than some in the Church of England.” (more…)

The Briefing, Thursday, November 8, 2012

TODAY: A revealing (and troubling) portrait of America in the 2012 election data, Obama’s “rainbow coalition,” the conservative gender gap, same-sex marriage, assisted suicide, and the U.S. election viewed from China. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

The 2012 election may well have changed history, but it also revealed a portrait of America in the present and the future. As Susan Page of USA Today reports, the election revealed a deeply divided nation, “not only along lines of political party and ideology, but also by race and ethnicity, gender and marital status, region and religion, education and age.”

Much of this divide was evident even Tuesday night as the election results were reported. Men voted for Romney by a double digit margin, while women (especially unmarried women), gave Obama an equal margin. Older Americans favored Romney, while younger Americans (especially young adults), voted overwhelmingly for Obama.


“On Obama’s side this time: More than nine of 10 African Americans and nearly seven in 10 Hispanics. A solid majority of women and two-thirds of unmarried women. About six in 10 of voters under 30. More than 90% of Democrats and nearly 90% of liberals. More than six in 10 of those who never attend religious services.”

Christians know that worldview matters, but fewer think of how demography and context shape worldview. Marriage matters, for example. Married women tended to vote for Romney, while unmarried women voted by a large margin for Obama. Clearly, the context of marriage exerts a conservative influence on those within its vows.

But look closely at the issue of church attendance. President Obama drew votes from more than 6 in 10 who never attend religious services. Given the increasing secularization of American culture, this will become a even larger portion of the electorate. Once again, worldview matters. The secular worldview leads to a lessened concern for many of the issues evangelicals hold to be of vital importance. As a matter of fact, Christians and secularists are deeply divided over an entire range of issues, often directlyopposing one another.

Susan Page then offered this contrast:

“On Romney’s side: Six of 10 whites and nearly six of 10 seniors. A solid majority of men and of married women, and nearly two-thirds of white men. More than 90% of Republicans and of conservatives. He won high-income voters, evangelical Christians, and those who attend religious services every week or more often.”

As you can see, the picture is almost directly reversed. Romney drew the votes of those who attend church regularly, including evangelical Christians.

Christians understand why this divide shapes up as it does. Worldview determines voting patterns. The significant shift seen in this election cycle tells us that Americans are deeply divided over worldview, and are almost certainly becoming even more so.

I also discuss the growth in the Hispanic portion of the electorate, the aging of white voters, and other demographic developments.

Reporter Simon Tisdall of The Guardian [London] calls Obama’s voters his “rainbow coalition,” and went on to argue that the newly re-elected President will find that leading a deeply divided nation in his second term may be even more difficult than his first. Pat Morrison of the Los Angeles Times points to the depth of the gender gap in the 2012 returns. The article makes clear that the shift to unmarried female voters threatens any hope of conservative ballot victories.

We now know that same-sex marriage won big on Tuesday, reversing a string of 33 consecutive victories when the voters of a state had their say. The voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington State approved the legalization of same-sex marriage while voters in Minnesota voted down a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage. It was a total victory for the proponents of same-sex marriage, and a total catastrophe for the defenders of marriage. Honesty demands that we acknowledge the scope and scale of this disaster. The defenders of marriage face a far greater challenge than ever before. At the same time, we now know the true scale of our challenge.

A move to legalize assisted suicide failed in Massachusetts, but the victory may not last for long. The initiative is almost sure to return to voters there in short order, promising additional “protections” for the vulnerable. Polls indicate that a large majority of citizens there approve of assisted suicide, but many had concerns about this particular proposal.

Voters in Washington State and Colorado did approve the legalization of recreational marijuana, and voters in Massachusetts approved so-called medical marijuana. Understanding this issue requires a look at liberal, conservative, and libertarian worldviews.

Meanwhile, as frustrating as American elections can be, at least we have them. USA Today reports from China, where the 18th conference of the Chinese Communist Party is set to meet in order to anoint the next party leader. In China, politics is “an elite, forbidden zone, protected by crackdowns that range from the authoritarian to the seemingly absurd. (Among the absurd, the removal by police of pencil sharpeners from Beijing shops.) China’s totalitarian rulers are both harsh and paranoid — a potentially deadly combination.

There is also abject confusion among Chinese citizens. One man in China posted this on the Internet:

“Warm congratulations to the American people. Under the wise leadership of the Party Central Committee headed by the wise and brilliant Obama, you have crushed the attempted usurping of power by the counter revolutionary group led by Mitt Romney.”

America’s political system is far from perfect, but we should thank God that we have no “Party Central Committee.”

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here: Links to all articles cites are provided.

The Briefing, Wednesday, November 7, 2012

History has been made and the issues are becoming clear. The 2012 U.S. election is over, and President Barack Obama has won a second term in office. Massive political and cultural changes are now evident, and American Christians wake up this morning to a witness a seismic alteration in the nation’s moral landscape. At least three states have taken steps toward same-sex marriage and other great challenges come into view.

I discuss the 2012 election and its meaning in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.

I also offer extended analysis in “Aftermath: Lessons from the 2012 Election.” Read it here.

The 2012 U.S. election is over, and more than 100 million Americans participated in the great exercise of democracy — fulfilling the franchise of the vote. Even with some votes not yet counted and some issues as yet clarified, a general picture of the election is clearly in view, and the impact of this election will be both massive and enduring.

Several lessons emerge in the immediate aftermath of the election and Christians should consider them carefully. [Continue reading]

The Briefing, Tuesday, November 6, 2012

It’s Election Day in America, and that fact alone presents us with a full range of issues to discuss in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Millions of Americans will head to the polls today, participating in the drama of American democracy. All elections are important, but a vote to elect a President of the United States is particularly important and historic. Presidential elections establish a trajectory for the nation, and those trajectories often extend far into the future.

As Election Day dawns, President Obama and Governor Mitt Romney are effectively tied. Most polls indicate an easier path to 270 electoral votes for President Obama, but those polls are themselves now called into question. USA Today puts the race at a dead tie, with each candidate likely to receive 48% of the popular vote.

We will see. In the meantime, we should reflect on the fact that this election matters more than most, given three considerations. The first is the urgency of the issues. The second consideration is the significant divergence of the two candidates on these issues. The third consideration is the lasting impact of these policies in years and decades ahead.

If President Obama is re-elected, his signature health care reform will be certain to survive congressional attempts to repeal or even modify the plan. The election of Mitt Romney would mean, at the very least, a significant modification of the plan. Either of these decisions will have far-reaching implications.

As I discuss, a voting decision is usually not as simple as many think. Most of us likely think of ourselves as rational beings who make big decisions after applying a rational analysis. We can hope that this is true, but humans also make decisions on the basis of intuition. Furthermore, the simple issue of likeability is a huge factor. If honest, most of us could not fully interrogate our own hearts and minds when it comes to big decisions. Nevertheless, Christians must work hard to discipline the mind to make decisions consistent with our worldview and our deepest convictions.

The election is now a barometer of voter enthusiasm, and the candidate with the most enthusiastic voters is sure to win today. As I discuss, enthusiasm is a factor of worldview. Our worldview determines not only our position on issues, but the relative importance we grant to each issue.

I then turn to discuss the truth that every voter decides on the basis of a hierarchy of priorities. We decide which issues are most important to us, and work from there. I contend for the priority of three issues: the sanctity of human life, the integrity of marriage, and the urgency of religious liberty. Christians are rightly concerned about an entire (and expanding) range of issues, but some will inevitably have priority over others. Christians should carefully establish these priorities in light of conviction.

From there I turn to discuss the great divide between the two presidential candidates and their parties. There can be no doubt that this will be an election with huge consequences.

I discuss all these issues and more in today’s Election Day edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.    LISTEN HERE

The Briefing, Friday, November 2, 2012

TODAY: Human nature revealed by a storm, ill-timed climate arguments, U.S. birthrate at all-time low, 40% of all U.S. babies born to single mothers, ex-gay men decry enemies of “reparative therapy,” marriage on the ballot and a pressing question — Were evangelicals once pro-abortion? I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hurricane Sandy is now just a weakened storm headed northward through Canada, but there is horrible devastation in its wake. It is now clear that the state of New Jersey bore the brunt of the massive storm. Ocean-front communities along the Jersey shore were largely dismantled. Photographs after the storm reveal missing boardwalks, submerged roller-coasters, windowless hotels, and broken homes. Insurance analysts now estimate that total losses may exceed $50 billion — making Sandy the most costly storm after Hurricanes Katrina and Andrew.

In the aftermath of a devastating storm, a basic fact of human nature is revealed. Even in the midst of storm and tragedy, humans reveal themselves to be amazingly resilient. Within hours of the blasting winds and flooding rains, New Yorkers were already on the streets, clearing debris and salvaging what they could. God made us with an amazing capacity to respond to danger and loss with courage and determination. These will be desperately needed in days ahead.

Watch for this — You can count on a barrage of ill-timed arguments about climate change in the wake of a big storm. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Governor Andrew Cuomo lost no time declaring that Hurricane Sandy was an omen of things to come, due to climate change. They may or may not be right. But this is not the time for either side in the climate wars to manipulate the issue.

Writing in The New York Times, columnist Nicholas Kristof said that Sandy now forced the issue: “Isn’t it time to talk not only about weather, but also about climate?” Even is this is the time for that talk, it is not due to Sandy. Kristof admits as much when he carefully (and rightly) notes that no one weather event is evidence of climate change. He cites William Solecki of the New York City Panel on Climate Change who admitted as much, but then stated: “But [Sandy] is illustrative of the conditions and events and scenarios that we expect with climate change.” That is a clear admission of intellectual opportunism. That kind of opportunism, we should note, can happen on either side of of the intellectual divide.

One problem with this kind of weather argument is our lack of historical awareness. Writing in The Wall Street Journal, Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado reminds us that Hurricane Sandy is not unprecedented in any sense. He then explains that in just two years (1954-1955) the Northeast and the Atlantic coast were assaulted by three deadly and devastating hurricanes (Carol, Hazel, and Diane). Each of these storms was twice as destructive as Sandy.

Furthermore, we are now in what Pielke calls a “hurricane drought.” The last category 3 storm to hit the U.S. was Wilma in 2005. The period since then, he reminds us, “is the longest such span in more than a century.”

Ominous news was released this week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The U.S. birth rate is now the lowest of the nation’s history. Only 3,953,593 babies were born in the U.S. in 2011, indicating the lowest birthrate ever reported for the nation. Add to this the fact that more than 40% of these babies were born to unmarried mothers.

These statistics point to a massive and potentially irreversible demographic trend, and that trend points to an even more dangerous moral shift.

In another development, “ex-gay” men who are upset at the denunciations of reparative therapy were given voice in The New York Times. The paper and its reporter, Erik Eckholm, deserve credit for this fairness.

In the article, men who were sexually attracted to other men, but considered this attraction sinful, spoke of the help they had received from reparative therapy — therapies designed to correct same-sex sexual attraction. This comes after California became the first state to criminalize the use of such therapies with adolescents. As one of the men stated: “If I’d known about these therapies as a teen I could have avoided a lot of depression, self-hatred, and suicidal thoughts.”

The psychological and psychiatric associations may condemn the idea that sexual orientation can be changed, but the New Testament insists that nothing is beyond the power of the Gospel.

As Paul writes:

“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”  (1 Corinthians 6:9-11 ESV)

Note the past tense — “such were some of you.” This is a vital biblical teaching.

Writing at, a young medical student and author accuses evangelicals of a politically-driven change of heart on the question of abortion. He argues that evangelicals were one “pro-choice,” but changed their position in order to make common cause with Roman Catholics and the emerging New Religious Right. Instead of operating on pro-life conviction, Jonathan Dudley argues that American evangelicals were conned by “a well-organized political initiative only a little more than 30 years old.”

Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today responded to Dudley:

“A careful reading of our history suggests not that evangelical convictions are the result of a “well-organized political initiatve,” but that these initiatives grew out of our increasingly wide spread and deeply held moral convictions and deepening awareness of the number of lives being cast away (over a million a year since 1976). To be sure, once the evangelical anti-abortion movement got started, politics reinforced ethics, and vice versa. But as one embedded in the movement for nearly half a century–and one who has been often troubled by the ham-fisted anti-abortion politics of the Religious Right—there is no doubt that the ground of anti-abortion politics is moral conviction and a bloody historical reality.”

I discuss the issue and affirm that Dudley is at least partly right. Many evangelicals did hold to embarrassingly liberal positions on the abortion issue (including, I must admit, the Southern Baptist Convention). He is wrong, however, when he argues that the reason for the shift on abortion was political. Galli sets that record straight.

In Maine, Minnesota, Washington State, and Maryland, same-sex marriage is on the ballot. In an editorial, The New York Times decries the fact that same-sex marriage is on the ballot at all. “The freedom to marry is a fundamental right that should not have to be won or defended at the ballot box,” the paper argued. The problem with that statement is the fact that, in a democracy, every political or legal question is eventually a ballot question. Most issues are not decided by a direct citizen vote, but that vote does determine the eventual shape of the government. This is necessarily so if the government is truly “by the people.”

Similarly, the paper asserts that “ballot initiatives are a bad way to write or rewrite laws of any kind.” That is a truly unfortunate statement. Ballot initiatives are always clumsy, but the editors of The New York Times claim that citizen initiatives are the wrong way to go for “laws of any kind.” This is a dramatic overstatement, and it represents an undiluted and dangerous form of elitism

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.    Links to all articles cited are also provided.

The Briefing, Thursday, November 1, 2012

TODAY: The human dimension of Hurricane Sandy, leadership lessons from Sandy, young millennials turn into economic conservatives, the French government decides to pay for all abortions, churches accommodate to short attention spans, and yet another (very strange) Halloween challenge. I discuss all these in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

Hurricane Sandy is now just a tropical depression moving into Canada, but the storm left a wake of devastation that includes over 50 deaths. Reporter James Barron of The New York Times revealed that the victims included 11 and 13-year-old boys who were killed in their home when a 90-foot tree crashed into the house. An off-duty police officer who helped a family get to safety drowned when he went to check the basement for others who needed rescue. Story after story will unfold with tragedy and grief.

Hurricane Sandy will join those storms that now reside in the nation’s memory of tragedy. Such storms become part of our life story, part of our family saga, and a communal memory that links generations in a shared experience of disaster and its aftermath.

The statistics of Hurricane Sandy are shocking — winds of 129 miles per hour clocked in New Hampshire, for example. Americans have learned a new vocabulary in the wake of the storm, including the word “dewatering,” which now is very much on the minds of those in the flooded region.

Many lessons will be learned in days and months ahead, but the importance of leadership is already very much in view. The good news is that most leaders across the political spectrum have led well, helping citizens to understand the scale of the danger and then to take responsible action. President Obama (a Democrat) joined New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (a Republican)  in mobilizing resources. Mayors like Newark’s Cory Booker (a Democrat) and New York City’s Michael Bloomberg (a Republican turned Independent) demonstrated why mayors still matter.

In other news, Martha Irvine of the Associated Press reports that those young Americans known as the millennial generation are turning increasingly conservative when it comes to economic policy. The reason seems simple enough — as these young Americans move into adulthood and face economic reality, this changes their worldview. They are looking for jobs and hoping to marry, have children, buy houses, and enjoy the fruit of their labor. The worldview implications for Christians are many, but one salient fact is that worldview often shifts with age and with the assumption of new responsibilities. This report adds new data to that evidence.

Other evidence of the importance of worldview comes from France, where the government is expected to approve full and direct government funding of all abortions and to make contraceptives totally free for teenagers 15-18. This highly secularized nation will now not only make abortion on demand fully legal – it will pay for all abortions, in full. The radical secularization of France explains how such a policy could come into place with widespread public support.

Lois K. Solomon and James D. Davis of the Sun Sentinel (Ft. Lauderdale, FL) report that many churches are offering shortened worship services designed to attract attendance from a generation marked by a short attention span. The Rev. Chip Stokes of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach said: “We are increasingly aware of the time pressures on families, and they have been telling us that the traditional service is too long for them. We recognize that things are changing and we have to be more adaptive without losing our core.”

The article raises significant questions about the plausibility of conforming worship services to the tastes or attention spans of those too busy to attend a regular service. Christian worship requires an attention span, and churches that market to taste are likely to find that they gain little and lose much. The article also makes clear that when services are cut, the sermon suffers the greatest cut. Some churches have dispensed with the sermon altogether. For Evangelicals, preaching stands at the very center of biblical worship.

Finally, The Wall Street Journal reported that parents in Churchill, Manitoba in Canada had to warn their children of danger in bone-chilling detail last night. They were not kidding. The danger in that Arctic community is that the little trick-or-treaters would become what the locals call “bear bait.” Polar bears make their way through the area this time of year, eating in preparation for the long winter. The kids out last night were to be protected with helicopter cover, armed sentries, and bear traps loaded with seal meat.

The question that seems obvious to my mind is this — Why send kids out with the danger that they could become “bear bait?”

I discuss all these in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.    Links to all articles cites are also provided.