November 17, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 17, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events Christian worldview.
Failure to recognize theological will of ISIS raises question of future of Western civilization
As of yesterday, French authorities identified as the mastermind of the murderous attacks in Paris a man by the name of Abdelhamid Abaaoud, identified as a 27-year-old Belgian who is known to have fought in Syria for the Islamic State. A French official briefed on the investigation according to the New York Times, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss operational details said that Abdelhamid Abaaoud, already a suspect in the Belgian terrorist plot, had mentioned plans to attack specifically a concert hall in France. Affirming in general what French authorities now believed to be the case, President François Hollande said that the attacks had been, in his words,
“Planned in Syria, organized in Belgium, perpetrated on our soil with French complicity.”Show Full Transcript
He then described the nation of Syria as,
“The biggest factory of terrorists the world has ever known.”
One of the most remarkable things in all of this is the language that is being used by both the President and the Prime Minister of France. It is in stark contrast to the language now customarily used by many other Western leaders including the Prime Minister of Great Britain and the president of the United States. One of the main points of contrast between the president of France and the President of the United States is the way the French President, François Hollande refers to the Islamic State as the Islamic State, or uses the name it is given to itself Daesh which is also a reference to its Islamic identity. Meanwhile, the American President appeared to be largely on the defensive yesterday when he spoke to the press insisting,
“We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through.”
In light of the massacres in Paris, the president of the United States also said,
“But understand that one of the challenges we have in the situation is that if you have a handful of people who don’t mind dying they can kill a lot of people.”
“That’s one of the challenges of terrorism. It’s not their sophistication or the particular weaponry that they possess, but it is the ideology they carry with them and their willingness to die.”
And once again, what we note is the president’s use of the word ideology, very similar to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the Democratic debate last Saturday night. The use of the phrase ideology here is not absolutely wrong, it’s just not right. An ideology can be secular, and certainly there have been people willing to die for secular ideologies, but they are radically outnumbered by those who are willing to die for Islam and that is not for a secular ideology to say the very least, and they are driven by a theological purpose which is not only to further the mission of Islam that is to gain for themselves the promise of paradise, which comes to Muslims only in a shared sense if indeed they are martyrs.
The president was certainly right when he said that one of the challenges we face is that if we do have a handful of people who don’t mind dying they can kill a lot of people. That’s one of the symptoms of contemporary terrorism, but for that matter, it’s been one of the hallmarks of terrorism from the very beginning of this blight upon humanity. As I said, President Obama appeared to be largely on the defensive as he was speaking to the American and international press, and that’s because it was just a matter of hours before the massacres in Paris that President Obama had claimed to have contained ISIS. Furthermore, it came after the Obama administration has repeatedly claimed that ISIS represents a regional threat. But as the bloody Friday night on the streets of Paris indicated, this is not now just a regional threat and the president was on the defensive because his statements have been made just hours before what took place in Paris. But what took place in the press conference yesterday was days after not hours before and that makes these remarks even more significant in their historical context. And again, the president said yesterday,
“We have the right strategy and we’re going to see it through.”
But what isn’t abundantly clear to anyone is exactly what that strategy is. We have been talking about the inability of the secular left to come to terms with this particular challenge. An illustration of that came yesterday in an op-ed piece in the New York Times by Paul Krugman, a Nobel prize-winning economist who is a regular columnist for the New York Times and is predictably, a voice for the left. In a column entitled,
“Fearing Fear Itself.”
“Like millions of people, I’ve been obsessively following the news from Paris, putting aside other things to focus on the horror.”
He then continued,
“It’s the natural human reaction. But let’s be clear: it’s also the reaction the terrorists want. And that’s something not everyone seems to understand.”
He then criticizes Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor and current Republican presidential candidate for saying,
“This is an organized attempt to destroy Western civilization.”
Paul Krugman retorted to Bush,
“No, it isn’t. It’s an organized attempt to sow panic, which isn’t at all the same thing. And remarks like that, which blur that distinction and make terrorists seem more powerful than they are, just help the jihadists’ cause.”
Now one of the issues that is central to any worldview is the explanation of immoral behavior and of moral evil. And as we’ve noted again and again, the secular worldview has a particular problem with this. In the end, it’s only the Christian biblical worldview that has an adequate explanation for evil in terms of its origin and significance and of course its final disposition. But what we’re looking at here is the inability of the secular left to understand when it faces a direct and murderous challenge. Paul Krugman is writing an article that could well have appeared in Paris or in Belgium or in London, much less in any liberal center in United States and yet again, if it had appeared before the Paris attack it would make far more sense than appearing just a matter of days after. Continuing to misconstrue the problem Krugman writes,
“So what was Friday’s attack about? Killing random people in restaurants and at concerts is a strategy that reflects its perpetrators’ fundamental weakness. It isn’t going to establish a caliphate in Paris. What it can do, however, is inspire fear — which is why we call it terrorism, and shouldn’t dignify it with the name of war.”
One of my favorite quotations from Winston Churchill is when he said that we had better look at facts because facts are looking at us and the fact is that we are involved in a war, it is not a typical war of nation against nation, but it is, we need to note increasingly becoming that as the Islamic State has increasingly become an actual state. Krugman is right when he said that the resort to terrorism demonstrates its perpetrators fundamental weakness, but that’s a weakness that is only in terms of military strength. In terms of ideology, in terms of worldview, in terms of theology, the terrorists are actually in a far stronger position. Paul Krugman is arguing that we’re allowing the terrorists to win when we acknowledge that it is terror and that we are now at war. When we make fundamental changes in the way we live in light of this challenge. We’ve heard this argument ever since September 11, 2001. We are told that to take the issue of terrorism at face value is actually to give the terrorists a victory, but in the long term as Churchill said, if we do not face the facts we have to understand that the facts are looking at us and the facts are looking at us right now in the face with a very murderous intention and Paul Krugman makes a very interesting argument. He says,
“There isn’t going to be a caliphate in Paris.”
Now one of the things we need to note is that the Islamic State has declared that its intention is to accomplish just that. As a matter fact, in its propaganda it claims one day not only to raise its black flag of the caliphate over Paris, but also over the White House. Now in military terms that’s just based upon the size of Army in weaponry and the sophistication of technology that is an absolutely ridiculous ambition, but we need to note that empires in the past have fallen not because of the size of opposing armies, but because of the size of opposing will. The Roman Empire fell in exactly that manner. The British Empire fell in the same manner. Similarly, we can look at the fall of the Soviet Union in the late 80s and the early 1990s and understand that it too did not fall because of opposing army, it fell because of an opposing ideology and it fell because of its own internal weakness. That was true of Rome, that was true of the British Empire and it is true of the Soviet Union. The question is, is it true of Western civilization? But as time passes, increasingly, we have to acknowledge that as Western civilization denies its own roots, it cuts itself off from its own sources of strength and eventually an opposing ideology that is as strong as the ideology of ISIS can indeed pose a credible threat, not only in terms of terror attacks but the larger civilizational project and that’s where I will argue that Jeb Bush was exactly right and Paul Krugman is precisely wrong.
The final thing we need to note is that the attacks weren’t as random as Paul Krugman indicates. As the statement from ISIS made clear in the aftermath of the attacks, these were very targeted attacks that were directed at a soccer game between France and Germany, no accident. A soccer game in which the French president was present, again, not an accident, a concert venue that was targeted because of what ISIS called the idolaters and their perversity and multiple venues that we now know were chosen not at random at all, but rather precisely to distribute the attacks so that it would lead to a breakdown of first responders and others who are trying to deal with the developing massacre. We’ll need to watch this developing cultural conversation very, very closely, especially in the immediate days ahead because what we are likely to see some of the most revealing conversation that will demonstrate the worldviews that are currently at stake and the conversation that will revealingly tell us a great deal about the future of Western civilization, even the question as to whether Western civilization has a future.
Supreme Court to take up most significant abortion case in decades
Next, even as our attention in recent days has been primarily directed to France and rightly so, other major developments have taken place in recent days. Going back to Friday, the Supreme Court of the United States announced that it would be taking the first major abortion case to come before the nation’s highest court in a matter of several years. As Adam Liptak for the New York Times reported,
“The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to hear its first major abortion case since 2007, one that has the potential to affect millions of women and to revise the constitutional principles governing abortion rights.”
Now the announcement comes down to the fact that the Supreme Court has decided that it has to take one of these cases, in particular the case that is now originating from Texas, where the state of Texas has adopted restrictive legislation concerning abortion clinics that would according to some press reports, shut down between half and three quarters of all the abortion clinics in the state. This issue goes back not only to the Roe v. Wade decision at the Supreme Court in 1973, but back to the Casey decision in 1992. It was the Casey decision in which the majority opinion was written by, you guessed it, Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy, it was the Casey decision that explicitly allowed the states to put restrictions on abortion so long as those restrictions did not impose what was defined as an undue burden. And now coming back in a case that will certainly be dated in 2016 is the question of exactly what constitutes that undue burden. But Adam Liptak is absolutely right when he predicts that this decision in the case will be,
“The term’s most consequential and legally significant decision.”
As he explains,
“Many states have been enacting restrictions that test the limits of the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade, and a ruling in the new case, from Texas, will enunciate principles that will apply in all of them.”
He then summarizes,
“The case may turn out to be the third installment in a legal trilogy on the scope of the constitutional right to abortion, one that started with Roe and continued in 1992 with Planned Parenthood v. Casey.”
Now here’s what we need to note. Look at the language used by Adam Liptak. His language is actually a bit more technical than may have at first appeared. He says,
“Many states have been enacting restrictions that test the limits of the constitutional right to abortion established in 1973 in Roe v. Wade.”
That statement refers back to Roe v. Wade as the date in which a constitutional right to abortion was established, that’s the very language that Adam Liptak uses. Now just to think this through, no one speaks of religious liberty, or the right to freedom of expression or the freedom of assembly as something that was established by the Supreme Court. And why is that the case, it’s because those rights are explicit in the language of the Constitution, precisely in what is known as the Bill of Rights, the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution, amendments that were adopted along with the Constitution when it was originally ratified. So what we’re looking at here is a concession, it’s an admission that if there is a constitutional right to abortion, it was established by the court. In other words, it is not explicit in the language of the Constitution, what we’re actually looking at here is the fact that what was required was a liberal revolution in constitutional law whereby the court’s freed themselves from the actual words of the Constitution and instead presumed to be able to establish rights that clearly were not intended by the founders, much less articulated within the language of the Constitution.
That same logic is extended to the editorial that appeared in Saturday’s edition of the New York Times in which the editors wrote,
“The question for the court is whether abortion will remain a safe and legal choice for all women, as the court has mandated under the Constitution for more than four decades.”
Again, shockingly candid language. So here you have the editorial board of the New York Times, among the most pro-abortion voices in America, acknowledging that what they prize as what they call a woman’s right to choose is something that was mandated by the U.S. Supreme Court. And then they use the phrase, “under the Constitution.”
Whether or not they were paying attention to their own words in both the news story and in the editorial the New York Times acknowledged that what is now claimed to be a woman’s right to an abortion is actually something that was mandated by the court or to use the language of Adam Liptak, “established by the court.”
But we also have to note that even as the Supreme Court announced on Friday that it would be taking this case, and that should be headline news, it is also the opinion almost every informed observer of the court that once again, it will be justice Anthony Kennedy, who is likely to place the deciding vote. And as we have seen in contemporary America, so many of the biggest issues we face now come down to how one man decides the issues and that man is Anthony Kennedy, whether it is abortion or same-sex marriage or any number of other issues. We’re looking at a Supreme Court of nine people, which makes that crucial fifth vote determinative, not only for the court, but increasingly for the nation.
US gives designation of genocide to Yazidis, but not Middle East Christians
Next going back to last week’s announcement by the White House that it would support the so-called equality act, writing at the American Conservative Rod Dreher writes,
“So, last week the Obama administration endorsed redefining the Civil Rights Act of 1964 in a way that would give churches, mosques, and Orthodox synagogues the same status under federal law as racist organizations.”
Now just consider that opening sentence, because is one of the most profoundly important sentences I have read in quite a while. Dreher argues that the announcement made last week by the Obama Administration would place; here are his words,
“Churches, mosques, and Orthodox synagogues the same status under federal law as racist organizations.”
He also notes that,
“Hillary Clinton said that passing the so-called Equality Act would be her “highest priority.”
Dreher then writes,
“I get that. If you believe that homosexuality = race, then it makes sense that you would try to write LGBT into the Civil Rights Act. But you cannot hide from the implications of that move — that is, what it means for traditional Christians, and how this administration, and a Hillary Clinton administration, would be likely to view traditional religious believers.”
But something else happened last week that should also have our attention. Michael Isikoff of Newsweek magazine had reported that the Obama Administration is soon to designate the Yezidi minority in Iraq as the victims of genocide. But what’s big news is not just that the Obama Administration is expected to undertake that designation, but that the administration is not extending the same recognition to Christians who are being martyred and eradicated in the Middle East at the very same time as the Yezidi’s. The big question being asked by many, especially here in the United States, is how the White House can draw the distinction between Yezidi’s being killed for their faith and Christians being killed for their faith and as many have pointed out, the position taken by the White House trying to draw a distinction between Yezidi’s and Christians in this case is not only flimsy it’s intellectually almost nonexistent. Someone may ask why this is so important, but it comes down to an important issue in international law. Once the United States decides that a group is designated as being the victims of genocide it then commits itself to their protection and by extending this designation to the Yezidi’s, the United States is then saying that it is willing to take military action to defend them. By refusing to extend the same designations to Christians who are dying under the same threat in the same area, the United States is saying that it will not pledge itself to come to their defense. As Dreher explains,
“A genocide designation would have significant policy implications for American efforts to restore property and lands taken from the minority groups and for offers of aid, asylum, and other protections to such victims. Worse, it would mean that, under the Genocide Convention, the United States and other governments would not be bound to act to suppress or even prevent the genocide of these Christians.”
Dreher affirms that he believes the Obama State Department should designate the Yezidi’s as victims of genocide, but should also do the same to Christians. He then cites religious liberty advocate Nina Shea is saying that in taking this action the State Department would be turning a blind eye to the extermination of Christianity in the near East which,
“would reflect a familiar pattern within the administration of a politically correct bias that views Christians — even non-Western congregations such as those in Iraq and Syria — never as victims but always as Inquisition-style oppressors.”
This is an extremely important issue, and for so many Christians in the Middle East this is a daily matter of life or death. There are many secular observers of the situation in the Middle East, who warned that Christians may be eradicated from large regions of the Middle East, even within the next five years not to mention within the current generation. But we need to go back to the original issue that Dreher cites in this article and that is the so-called Equality Act, and understand that if that act were to become law that it would establish that churches, mosques and synagogues holding to traditional understandings of sexuality and in particular we’re talking overwhelmingly here about Christian churches, those churches would be designated in the same way as racist groups and then when we come to understand that the Obama Administration just last week said that it would put its full authority behind an effort to adopt that legislation and then when we hear that Hillary Clinton, now the front runner for the Democratic nomination says that passing this legislation will be her highest priority, then we understand something of the intensity and the urgency of the challenge we now face.
American Christians understand that every presidential election is important and yet we hear ourselves often say every four years, we think that this election is even more important than the one that came before. And by the way, that’s not an illusion. that can be a very accurate assessment. Because as we continue in this direction in the culture, what we’re noticing is that these issues are now front and center in our nation’s conversation and they are now front and center of the collision between erotic liberty and religious liberty and these issues are front and center in the 2016 presidential election, because at least at this point, the Democratic frontrunner has said that adopting this legislation will be her highest priority. Thus, we can hardly be surprised if she is elected president if she makes it her highest priority. After all, she’s already told us she would do so.