June 16, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Monday, June 16, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
1) Breakdown of nation of Iraq reminder of human inability to prevent catastrophe
There’s simply no question of what the big story in the world is today, and it is the emergence of a nightmare that many people feared might be possible and now appears to be actual. And that is the emergence of global jihad from the very site where American troops have been involved now for over a decade in the nation of Iraq; if indeed you can discuss Iraq as a nation, given the fact that its army was basically overrun by a very small insurgency in a matter of days at the end of last week. All this came to the attention of the world as a group emerged that strategists and military experts have known about for some time. It had been seen as a splinter organization from al-Qaeda. It had been seen as a threat, but not as a reality. The group is known as ISIS. It is known in Europe as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. It is known in the United States as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. In any event, it is now known as one of the most potent military, insurgency, and terrorist organizations the world has certainly ever seen. And it is explicitly theological. Something that needs to be noted very quickly is not just that this group is explicitly Islamic, committed to Islamic jihad, and now threatening to launch a global jihad on the United States and on the West, but it is explicitly Sunni in terms of the sectarian understanding and identification of Iraq that drives the group.
And this leads to a total destabilization of the entire region. Many things now become clear. It appears that Iran, in its hatred of the United States, made a very bad decision when it decided to arm this group. Iran is a Shiite Islamic nation and it had gone to war with Iraq, you may remember, about two decades ago in one of the bloodiest regional conflicts of modern history. And now it appears that if this group is successful, there will be a massive Sunni Islamic extremist state right on the border of Iran. That may tie Iran down in terms of its national foreign-policy preoccupations for generations to come, but it is a haunting realization to what can happen if two giant rogue states appear in this same region. Even if they are at war with each other, they’re going to be making a lot of mischief for the rest of the world.
It is now clear that the rebel strike in Iraq over the last several days was many years in the plotting and the planning, but its success was nothing less than spectacular. As The New York Times reports:
When Islamic militants rampaged through [their] city last week [that’s in Erbil], robbing banks of hundreds of millions of dollars, opening the gates of prisons and burning army vehicles, some residents greeted them as if they were liberators and threw rocks at retreating Iraqi soldiers.
It took only two days, though, for the fighters of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to issue edicts laying out the harsh terms of Islamic law under which they would govern, and singling out some police officers and government workers for summary execution.
As of Sunday night—that’s just last night—The New York Times and other major international media were showing some of the most horrifying video and photographic evidence of the summary executions of perhaps thousands of former members of the Iraqi army and of the Iraqi government taking place just over the last several days. This is a group that evidently intends by sheer force of power and murder and terror to take over not just one nation, but two—both Syria and Iraq—and to form out of those two nations a very powerful rogue state.
Brian Fishman, a counterterrorism researcher at the New America Foundation, said, “What we see in Iraq today is in many ways a culmination of what the ISIS has been trying to accomplish since its founding in 2006.” He went on to say that it’s one of the most ominous developments in recent history not just in the Middle East, but on the world geopolitical stage. The man behind ISIS is known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and he is now considered to be one of most dangerous men on the planet, if not the single most dangerous man now posing a threat to Western interests. He is known by Le Monde, the French newspaper, as the one who orchestrated the sacking of northern Iraq’s largest city and is today now controlling a nation-sized swath of land. He is known by TIME magazine as the world’s most dangerous man. He is also known by Le Monde as the new bin Laden. And as The Washington Post makes clear, the United States government has put a $10 million bounty on his head. In just one year of grisly killing, The Post says, he has in all likelihood surpassed even al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri in international clout and prestige among Islamist militants. Going back to David Ignatius of The Washington Post, he wrote over the weekend, “The true heir to Osama bin Laden may be ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. He is “more violent, more virulent, more anti-American,” and, at the same time, he’s “now recruiting fighters from other Zawahiri affiliates, including al-Qaeda’s Yemen branch and the Somalia-based al-Shabab.” In other words, this is the worst of the worst.
It is not clear how the United States will respond to this, but what is clear is that miscalculations by two successive American presidential administrations have made this disaster possible, if not inevitable. The first mistake was made by the administration of George W. Bush. His administration miscalculated and miscalculated badly about the amount of military force and American troops that would be necessary both to topple the regime of Saddam Hussein and come up with anything stable on the other side. American troops, due to that decision, have been in that country for over a decade.
The second miscalculation was made by the administration of President Barack Obama. President Obama was elected on an agenda to get American troops out of Iraq and that appears to have been almost his singular concern. And in the aftermath of the American withdrawal, all kinds of horrible things have happen and there is plenty of blame to go around. The greatest blame, in terms of any singular person, certainly is to be laid at the feet of Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. He turned his government over to sectarianism, to corruption, and to cronyism, and he has a government that has been totally discredited. The emergence of ISIS has been made possible because the Maliki government has been not only weak, but crooked, and a government that has clearly helped to foster the kind of sectarian divisions that are now driving Iraq to the point of dissolution and not only that, but grave violence.
As of Sunday, the Obama Administration says it is going to withhold any military intervention in Iraq until it sees clear evidence that the country’s politics and governance are reforming. That’s almost a sure recipe for the fact that the American government now doesn’t intend to do anything because the conditions established by the Obama Administration are almost surely never going to be met, certainly not by this government or any conceivable government in the future. It turns out that the American ideal of establishing something like a representative democracy in Iraq in the aftermath of toppling Saddam Hussein was something that did not take into consideration the sectarian violence, the differences in terms of the regions, and the inherent political instability of that country. And in intending to do good, we may actually have sown the seeds for this kind of extremism that may boil over into a new jihad, even against ourselves.
Going back to David Ignatius, in an article that ran today in Investor’s Business Daily, Ignatius says that this group, ISIS, is so extreme that it has been denounced by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the nominal leader of the core al-Qaeda group. He goes on to say, “ISIS has seized control of the Sunni areas of western and northern Iraq in recent weeks — and this success has fueled its rivalry with Zawahiri.” This is very interesting because it demonstrates the fact that when you have evil, as is represented by al-Qaeda, it can be exceeded by an even more radical evil, as is now the case with ISIS. Ignatius says:
The two groups are, in effect, competing for recruits among militant young Muslims. Because of its recent, brutal success, ISIS now looks like the more potent organization — which may enhance its appeal and accelerate the cycle of violence.
But I can’t leave this story today without looking at one additional heartbreaking headline. This one appeared in Saturday’s edition of The New York Times. The article’s by Richard A. Oppel, Jr. The headline is this: “Veterans Watch as Gains Their Friends Died for are Erased by Insurgents.” From a Christian worldview perspective, war is always a horrifyingly serious moral question. The Christian worldview has made war such a serious issue that it developed what is known as just war theory to describe the conditions—the conditions necessary for war to be made morally right and the conditions under which any morally righteous war would be fought. But this much is abundantly clear, when you have a war fought, it better matter. It better count for something, and there is something for the Christian worldview that is absolutely horrifying about seeing gains that have been made at the cost of American blood and treasure now wiped away by an insurgency that we should have seen coming; wiped away by the weakness of a regime that simply in its banality and corruption wasn’t weak enough to even hold the allegiance of its own people and weak enough that it may be toppled by an evil regime that will put in place a two-state unified global threat in terms of a new jihad. All this should be very sobering to us. It turns out that our attempt, even as the United States of America, even well intended, to remake the world in a more peaceful way might have, in the end, the opposite result. That’s a horrifying thought, a very humbling and sobering thought. The world’s only superpower may be powerful, but is not powerful enough to make people behave on the world stage. It’s not powerful enough to make people want what we think they should want. It’s not powerful enough as it seems to turn back a group as determined to kill as ISIS.
2) Fathers’ Day demonstrates cultural confusion over necessity of fathers
Yesterday was Father’s Day in the United States—a day that came late to the American holiday calendar and largely to compensate for the fact that there was already a Mother’s Day. But Father’s Day in 2014 demonstrates, if nothing else, the incredible and very dangerous confusion in America about whether or not fathers are even necessary and, if so, why. The Washington Post, just as the weekend approached, ran an article entitled, “Here’s to You, Dad—You Moron.” Katherine Shaver writes that many Father’s Day cards seem to slam dads; not to salute them. You don’t find these kinds of cards about moms at all. Mother’s Day brings cards that are primarily sentimental in focus and almost always uniformly honoring mothers. But as Shaver writes, when it comes to Father’s Day, the average fare, in terms of Father’s Day cards, presents fathers as offish, “tool-challenged buffoons who would rather hog the TV remote, go fishing, or play golf than be with the kids.” Industry insiders estimated that there were about 87 million Father’s Day cards sold this Father’s Day, but most of them presented dads in a somewhat less-than-positive light. Sometimes fully intending to be humorous, but the humor itself is indicative of the fact that there is a tremendous sense of confusion in this country about who fathers are and why they’re important if they are important at all. Shaver writes:
The greeting card image of Dad as lazy, incompetent boob is increasingly out of sync with today’s fathers, many of whom spend as much time packing lunches and helping with homework as their own fathers spent in the Barcalounger.
Meanwhile, as Father’s Day approached, it was very interesting to see the coverage of the issues related to fatherhood in the international media. For instance, The Financial Times ran a review of a brand-new book by Paul Raeburn. He’s a former science writer for BusinessWeek. He wrote a book entitled, Do Fathers Matter? What Science is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked. I took a good look at the book and one of the most interesting things about the argument that Raeburn makes is that he makes it with several kinds of hesitations that I think are also very indicative. Raeburn is himself a very committed father—he makes that abundantly clear—and he believes that fatherhood is important. And as The Financial Times summarizes:
Fatherhood is currently a hot-button issue in the US. For all the rise of the stay-at-home dad, by other metrics fathers are becoming less present in American society as a whole.
By the way, Raeburn points out in his book that only 11% of US children lived apart from their fathers if you go back to 1960. So in 1960, only about one out of ten American children lived without a father in the home. By 2010, that inclined to 27%. Some estimates in 2014 put that figure at over 30%. Raeburn insists the general undesirability of fatherlessness is important and he points out it has links to crime, educational failure, and depression, among many other pathologies as well.
Picking up on the research, Janice Shaw Crouse of The Washington Times writes:
The more involved the father [the research indicates], the better. When a father plays with, reads to, or takes his children on outings, those children have fewer behavior problems in elementary school and less risk of criminal behavior when they become teenagers.
There is a huge impact science now documents in terms of the impact a father has when he’s in the home with a daughter, especially when she goes into the crucial years of adolescence and puberty. It turns out that the father out of the home has a hormonal impact if the girl is his own biological daughter. His absence means that she is likely going to go into an earlier puberty, and in America, earlier puberty is clearly, clinically linked to earlier sexualization as well. If the father is in the home with his biological child, puberty tends to be delayed and there are other very positive impacts upon girls in particular that have to do with increased self-esteem, increased willingness to take risks, and when it comes to boys, there is a huge amount of evidence demonstrating that the absence of a father in the home can have devastating consequences.
All the pathologies that are associated with boys today—all of them; virtually every single one of them—is statistically tied to the absence of a father in the home. The likelihood that the boy will not graduate from school, the likelihood that he will be in trouble in school, the likelihood that he will be involved in substance abuse, the likelihood that he will have some kind of run-in with the police or perhaps even some kind of criminal behavior and incarceration, the likelihood he will not go to college—all these things are directly tied to the absence of a father in the home and these things are now very well attested. Crouse writes:
The research is very clear that children definitely do need a father, and preferably their biological one, and not just any man. They need involved, hands-on fathering that cements the connection to the man responsible for their birth. There’s nothing new about this need, of course, but recent research has shown us some fascinating wrinkles on the old themes. Fathers, the new research reveals, bring certain factors to parenting that are irreplaceable. Mentors and father-figures are needed, but they are not sufficient to meet a child’s need to experience the touch of their dad’s hand, his unconditional love and his voice reassuring him or her, “You are my son, you are my daughter … and I love you and am proud of you.”
Now the other thing that this research makes abundantly clear is that the lack of fatherly discipline in the life of both boys and girls can come with devastating consequences because it turns out that this is actually counterintuitive. Many people, especially on the left, would assume that where there is strong fatherly discipline, there is a loss of self-esteem when it comes to children. Well that can certainly happen if the father is an authoritarian who abuses that authority, but the authoritative father, the father who exercises that authority in terms of loving and very firm discipline, instills not lower self-esteem, but greater self-esteem in both boys and girls. And where the absence of the father is very clear in boys, it turns out that the boys do not learn how to put limits upon their own impulses. Controlling impulses, as it turns out, is a father’s impact upon the boy, and where that is absent, you see where those impulses then run out of control.
But the father also gives the gift of risk-taking. That was made abundantly clear in a very interesting article that appeared in The Wall Street Journal over the weekend with fatherhood in view. The question was, “What are fathers adding to children?” and what they’re researching from the research that is cited here in this article is that fathers give children the gift of play. Mothers certainly play with their children and enjoy that play and generally spend more hours playing with their children than Dad, but when Dad is home, it is often associated with play, and a particular kind of play, a play that’s more aggressive, more physical, more risk-taking. For instance, the scientist discovered that fathers encouraged their children—both boys and girls, but especially boys—to risk a bit more even if they get a little scrape here or there, even if they stub their toe because they want the child to learn how to take a risk and then stand up and start all over again; shake it off and get back into the game.
And fathers also seem to be very ready to give their children the kind of aggressive physical play that leads even to increased coordination on the part of these children in terms of learning certain physical skills. As The Wall Street Journal says, the fathers immerse in the game emotionally, smiling, laughing, show spontaneity, creativity, silliness. The father in play is generally very good-natured about losing with no signs of ego—something that children need also to see. The father helps the child control his or her emotion and calms him or her when over excited. The father motivates the child to stay engaged and keep going or rejoin the game. The father—as father’s played with these children watched by these scientists—they are dominant in the game, but they share the upper hand, sometimes allowing the child to win—but only sometimes.
But going back to Paul Raeburn’s book, Do Fathers Matter? What Science is Telling Us About the Parent We’ve Overlooked, what’s most interesting is how he seems to be very hesitant in making his case. He seems to want to say that fathers are absolutely necessary and important and the absence of a father can have devastating consequences, but then he explicitly says he doesn’t want to create an intellectual or psychological distress for single-parent families headed by mothers. This is putting him in a very difficult position, and this is the position that our entire culture now finds itself in, in this very confused age. If we cannot state honestly that fathers are important and the absence of fathers can have devastating consequences, we can’t have an honest discussion. And yet in this age of not only political correctness, but emotivist understanding of how you discuss things in public, the reality is that many people make this case and then immediately back off of it and that is a tremendous tragedy. It’s not only a lack of nerve, it’s actually a lack of concern and of love because concern and love mean we tell the truth where telling the truth can make a difference and lead to human flourishing.
But without doubt, the most amazing articles on fatherhood appeared in the current June/July issue of Esquire magazine. Appearing back in the 1950s and 60s, Esquire magazine was hardly concerned with fatherhood. It presented a picture of the single male or married male life that was associated with the jet set and with the kind of things that sophisticated men would find sophisticated; and that did not include taking care of children. Even before getting to its theme articles for the month, the editor of the magazine ran a column in which he said:
What is it with Esquire and fatherhood? Yes, we’ve been paying more attention to fatherhood over the last few years. It’s an interesting time in our cultural history. There is a generation of young fathers that is taking an active, some would say obsessive, interest in their families, but this movement has come on the heels of a decades-long trend in which father’s influence on their children has been on the decline. Owing to divorce and many other factors, there are more single-parent households than in any time in the last century, and, overwhelmingly, the parent outside the house is the father. At the same time, institutions that have long stood in for fathers and have traditionally provided the kind of discipline that boys, in particular, thrive under have been in decline or under attack. Whether it is coaches, priests, or the Boy Scouts, support networks that once connected boys and young men with positive male role models have been in retreat. One cure is fatherhood.
Listen to these next words in the editor statement very closely:
One cure is fatherhood. Recent research has demonstrated that the most direct correlate of success for young men and young women is the presence of two parents. As Stephen Marche put it in a memo a few months ago, “Fatherhood is our most precious national resource.”
Now in the future we’ll give more attention to this series of articles in Esquire magazine, but for now what’s important is that editor statement, stating that Esquire magazine, of all periodicals, has now decided that fatherhood is an essential part of being a man and, furthermore, a sophisticated man. And you have in Esquire magazine a declaration of a national emergency and of the fact—get this—that Esquire magazine, hardly a magazine of the new Christian right, a magazine that has reveled in its moral secularism. This magazine now says that for young men and young women to arrive in adulthood safely and healthily, there needs to be two parents in the home: a mother and a father.
But for Christians this should hardly be a matter surprise. We understand that God’s plan from the beginning was that the family would include the mother and the father and their children, and that the children would thrive to the greatest degree when both the mother and the father are in the home and when the mother and the father are committed to each other and when the mother and the father are deeply involved in the lives of their children. On the day after Father’s Day, we should be thankful that even many in the secular world are beginning to understand why fathers are important, but from the Christian worldview, we understand it’s not enough to acknowledge the importance of fatherhood. We need to go that next step and honor our fathers.
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