January 8, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, January 8, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events Christian worldview.
North Korea's claim to have hydrogen bomb stark reminder of challenge in restraining evil
News came this week that North Korea claims to have exploded a nuclear weapon—not only a nuclear weapon, but a hydrogen bomb. As the Editoral Board at the Washington Post commented on Thursday,
“North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, on Wednesday, may or may not have involved, as it claimed, a hydrogen bomb, which would represent a major advance in its weapons capability. It was, however, an unambiguous demonstration that the United States, as well as China and North Korea’s other neighbors, are failing in their attempts to restrain the regime and its ambitious 30-something ruler, Kim Jong Un. Unless those outside powers can exert more influence, Asia’s rogue state is on a path to becoming a strategic threat to the United States and its allies.”Show Full Transcript
That’s a very interesting and apt editorial assessment by the Washington Post. But there are bigger issues here from a Christian worldview perspective. In the first place, there’s the realism that if North Korea has a hydrogen bomb, that is exceedingly bad news. The use of the phrase “rogue state” in this editorial comment refers to the fact that not only are some individuals rightly described as sociopaths unable to exist peacefully in a social setting, there are also nations that are truly rogue nations. They are by no means held to the other rules of morality and statecraft that had been observed even by very dangerous and evil regimes such as the Soviet Union during the years of its existence. It’s notable that, for instance, you can look at the communist regime in China—as dangerous as it can be at times—and we realize that China, given its economy, given its engagement with the West, given its own national priorities and concerns for stability and influence on the world scene, is still bound in some sense to the basic rules by which states operate. Not so with North Korea, and not so from the very beginning when the Kim family in the aftermath of World War II established not only a national cult of personality, but an absolute cult of idolatry when it comes not only to the state, but specifically to the Kim family.
Kim Jong Un is the third generation of the Kim family to rule by means of autocracy and horror ever since the creation of that regime. North Korea is truly a rogue state. It’s a rogue state in terms of how it treats its own citizens. If the Kim family believes that any member of the society, including members of their own family, aren’t sufficiently loyal they simply disappear. They are summarily executed. The North Korean regime has subjected its own citizens to decades of famine. A very interesting photograph can be easily found on the Internet. It’s a photograph of Asia at night, and what it demonstrates is that North Korea is so backward economically that it is isolated in Asia as a very dark space—dark in terms of the fact there’s no electricity available to its citizens by means of which they could turn on lights. But that darkness is symbolic of an even deeper darkness, an absolute idolatry of the Kim regime. And what we’re also noticing here is that when you have a rogue state that is armed with the most dangerous thermonuclear weapons, you’re looking at something that is truly disruptive on the world scene, and, as the Washington Post Editorial Board recognized here, poses a direct threat to the United States.
The United States, through successive presidential administrations, has tried to restrain North Korea and, in particular, has tried to keep the North Korean regime from gaining nuclear weapons. Clearly that has failed. For years now it has been known that the North Koreans have had nuclear bombs. But when it comes to a hydrogen bomb which can be, at least in theory, thousands of times more powerful than a mere atomic bomb, and when you add to that the fact that North Korea is known to be developing intercontinental weapons and missiles that can reach the United States as well as submarine-based nuclear weapons, you’re genuinely looking at what foreign-policy experts call an existential threat not only to the United States, but to the entire world order.
It is suspicious that North Korea claimed to have exploded a hydrogen bomb. North Korea’s known as a lying regime as well and often boasts of armaments it doesn’t have. But Western security analysts are quite certain that some sort of nuclear bomb was indeed detonated by North Korea this week. Time will tell as evidence is revealed as to whether or not it was a hydrogen bomb. In any event, the larger lesson here surely has to do with our understanding of what it means to live in a dangerous world, a Genesis 3 world in which all the effects and consequences of the fall are very apparent, not only in terms of individuals, but also collectivities of individuals, and in this case a regime, a government of a rogue nation.
This ties back to what we discussed earlier this week when President Obama made his very tearful announcement of his proposals concerning very limited efforts at gun control. President Obama said that his effort was undertaken in order to prevent the wrong people from getting guns. The particulars of the president’s proposal aside, the big issue here is the actual implausibility of doing what the president announced he intended to do. Successive American presidents, both Republicans and Democrats, have generally failed at preventing North Korea from first gaining nuclear weapons and now potentially from gaining an actual hydrogen bomb.
The editors of the Wall Street Journal this week made the observation rightly when they said, the more realistic view of the developments out of Pyongyang is to see this,
“As another giant step toward a dangerous new era of nuclear proliferation that the world ignores at its peril.”
Just as any sane person would genuinely want to keep deadly weapons out of the hands of the wrong people, we would also want to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of a rogue regime. But the difficulty is it’s very difficult to pull that off. That is the very point made by the Wall Street Journal. The Wall Street Journal’s Editorial Board represents a foreign-policy outlook known as Realism. He contrasted with more liberal approach, which is often identified as Idealism. In any sense that is not always a partisan issue, but the Wall Street Journal here is saying that realism demands that we understand the ineffectiveness of any current efforts—or any efforts to date—at restraining North Korea. Restraining evil is a very basic impulse and it is a rightful impulse. We need to recognize as Christians that one of the reasons that God gave us government, as the Scripture makes clear, is so that the government itself will restrain evil. But what do we do with the government that is itself unbound by any rules of morality or of traditional statecraft? That is the challenge presented to us by North Korea, and it’s a challenge that will not easily be settled. It’s a challenge we should note that has been from the very beginning theological, rooted in an absolute idolatry of the Kim regime. We have seen absolutely idolatrous regimes before. What we have not seen is an idolatrous regime armed with a hydrogen bomb.
Sex education controversy in Omaha is a battle over morality, not "just the facts"
Back to the United States, this week also saw headlines having to do with sex education in schools. Again, the paper is this time the Washington Post. Emma Brown is the reporter—the headline in the article is this,
“Omaha parent says proposed sex ed approach ‘rapes children of their innocence’”
The opening line in the article tells us that in Nebraska,
“Omaha Public Schools’ effort to revise sex education standards for the first time in 30 years has revealed deep divides over what young people should learn about issues ranging from sexual orientation to gender identity and contraception.”
One of the issues here is what’s called comprehensive sex education. This approach to sex education emerged among liberal elites in the 1970s, but it actually took concrete form in many public schools only in the last two decades. Behind comprehensive sex education is a certain morality, as we might expect, about sex, and it is a very liberal sexual morality. One of the very interesting things we should note from a Christian worldview in looking at a controversy like this located, after all, in the heartland of America in Omaha, Nebraska, is the fact that there are people who are arguing that there are new sexual facts. That’s a very interesting argument and one we need to consider very upfront. Are there new sexual facts? That’s the claim behind the effort to update this sex education approach and the curriculum that, after all, according to this news article, hasn’t been updated in 30 years. What are the sexual facts that supposedly would have been discovered in the last 30 years? Well, upon reflection, we recognize that they have to do with the LGBT revolution in particular, and also with some issues that were very much alive 30 years ago, such as abortion and contraception. But what we see here is an effort to argue on the part of some that this is just a public health issue, and that all they are asking for is an updating of the curriculum in terms of facts.
Well, here’s a fact that Christians need to keep in mind. There is no such thing as a merely factual sex education. That is to suggest that somehow fact can be separated from value. That is one of the most dangerous philosophical moves that has influenced the contemporary worldview, especially among more secular Americans. The idea that you can somehow separate fact and value—and then separate for instance, sex from morality—is rooted in an understanding that basically sidelines any moral consideration of something like sex. And so when you’re looking at the demand here to update the curriculum and you’re looking at the fact that many parents are, as you might expect, quite outraged about the proposal, you see a collision between two very different and incommensurate worldviews when it comes to sex. One follows the contemporary sexual logic. That’s a logic that says it’s all a matter of adjusting to a new moral reality. And in this case, the morality is simply presented as facts, and the facts are supposedly updated by science—as if science has discovered a whole new set of facts about sex. In reality, it’s always about morality, and that’s what has outraged so many parents in Omaha, Nebraska. The issue, of course, is localized here in Omaha, but it’s an issue that is generalized all across the country. The Washington Post article closes with a comment from one of the supporters of the revised sex education, the more liberal approach. That person said,
“We can debate morality all day long, but I think it’s really important to provide facts,” she said. “I believe it’s our responsibility to give our children the tools that they need to make informed decisions in this changing world that we live in.”
Well, there you have it. The perfect encapsulation of the new worldview. You refer to facts—again, she said,
“We can debate morality all day long, but I think it’s really important to provide facts.”
But in the very next statement she makes clear it’s really not about facts at all, when she says that instead it’s about helping children to,
“…make informed decisions in this changing world we live in.”
There you have an open acknowledgment which is in direct contradiction to the sentence that preceded it of the fact this really isn’t about facts in any factual sense at all. This isn’t about biology and reproduction. This is about morality, and thus the real issue here is what morality is going to be taught under the guise of supposedly factual sex education.
Upcoming caucuses will reflect current divide in America along basic worldview commitments
Next, looking at the 2016 American presidential election, we’re looking at three early contests that are going to determine, in large part, how the rest of the presidential nomination process will go. Three states in particular, those states are Iowa, where the first caucuses and the nomination process are coming in just about a month, and then the state of New Hampshire and the state of South Carolina. That sequence is really important, and there are some very important worldview issues at stake here. In fact worldview itself is very much front and center. Although the Wall Street Journal in looking ahead to these three contests doesn’t use the term, it does however describe the worldview implications. For example, the reality is that Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina are likely to go in different directions. If we’re just looking at the Republican side of the presidential nomination process, different candidates right now are in different positions in polling when it comes to those three states, and the Wall Street Journal points to the reason why.
The profile of the electorate and those three early states—that profile state-by-state varies greatly. For example in Iowa, 57 percent of the likely voters in the Republican caucuses identify as evangelicals as, to use the term of the pollsters, ‘born again Christians.’ Forty-three percent are not evangelical. Before even going to New Hampshire and South Carolina, that tells us that Iowa is heavily evangelical. Then we go to New Hampshire, only 22 percent of those in New Hampshire likely to vote in the Republican side indicate that they are evangelical Christians; 78 percent say that they are not. Well, let’s just look at those two states. At this point, two very different candidates are in the lead in those two states in polling. Then you go to South Carolina; in South Carolina 65 percent of likely Republican voters are evangelical Christians, 35 percent are not. About ideology, 47 percent of those in Iowa describe themselves as very conservative, 37 percent somewhat conservative, and 17 percent—we might say only 17 percent—identify as either moderate or liberal on the Republican side. In New Hampshire, only 21 percent—that’s half as many, actually less than half as many as in Iowa—identify as very conservative, 32 percent as somewhat conservative; but 47 percent—that is the largest group in New Hampshire of Republican voters—indicate they understand themselves to be moderate to liberal. Thus, we should expect very different candidates will lead in those two states simply because the worldview of the voters in those two states are so different. By the way, in South Carolina, 36 percent identify as very conservative, 32 percent as somewhat conservative, and 32 percent as moderate to liberal.
So looking at the numbers here we should expect that a very conservative candidate will be at the top when it comes to the Iowa caucuses; a less conservative candidate or a candidate less associated with conservative policy positions and ideas is likely to triumph in New Hampshire. New Hampshire has been, at least in Republican contests, where the more establishment Republican candidate has often won. Then the race is on to South Carolina, which looks more like Iowa and less like New Hampshire. Then what follows is Super Tuesday, with many states voting—the largest single day of primary voting in either party—and it’s going to be very interesting to see where we are when we arrive at Super Tuesday, a matter now of several weeks away. Those weeks will go very quickly in this presidential contest. We’re about to get to actual voting, and one thing Christians must keep in mind is that these votes inevitably will reveal worldview—basic intellectual, basic moral, basic political, basic spiritual commitments. Inevitably, the voting will reveal worldview.
New study confirms ancient Christian teaching: children need both mothers and fathers
Next, an interesting story that emerged from Great Britain that is a great affirmation of God’s plan for the family and of the fact that children need both a mother and a father in the home. Urmee Khan, reporting for The Telegraph, tells us of a major study undertaken in Britain at the University of Newcastle that discovered that children who spend large amounts of time with their fathers have higher IQs than children who do not. The study was indeed major, and it’s been long-standing, going back to children who were born in the year 1958. The discovery that fathers have an impact on the actual IQ of their children, so long as they’re actively involved in their lives, goes to the point that children need both a father and a mother in the home, and fathers and mothers bring different assets to parenting. They bring a different set of skills and, as we shouldn’t be surprised, children need both of those sets of skills—the parenting skills of both the mother and a father, the particular investment that both the mother and a father make in their own children over time. Another finding in this report should also not surprise us, and that is that the effect of a father, an engaged and active father in the life of his children, continues well into the adulthood of those children, even as they are no longer children, but fully functioning adults. Stating what should be simply axiomatic and assumed by the Christian worldview, the researchers said,
“What was surprising about this research was the real sizeable difference in the progress of children who benefited from paternal interest and how thirty years later, people whose dads were involved are more upwardly mobile.”
“‘The data’, said the researchers, ‘suggest that having a second adult involved during childhood produces benefits in terms of skills and abilities that endure throughout adult life,’”
But looking at the actual research, it doesn’t point merely to the asset of having a second parent in the home. It is very specific about having not only a mother, but a father in the home. It’s important to have this kind of study released that points to the importance of fathers, but all Christians really need is the Scripture. Because the Scriptures make very clear God’s intention for children to have both a mother and a father, married to each other, and faithful to each other. That plan for the family didn’t emerge from a think tank, it emerged from the revelation of God in the very structures of creation and explicitly in the Scripture, going all the way back to the book of Genesis.
"Mobile" generation tends to find self-worth in social media, not in the image of God
Finally, this week the New York Times ran a major article, a sizable article, that was entitled,
“Growing Up Mobile.”
And it has to do with children and especially with teenagers in America and the reality of the digital age. Reporter Conor Dougherty is going to great lengths in this article to demonstrate just how feverish the competition is among digital corporations to be the latest thing when it comes to social media and America’s adolescents. The question is not just what are they using now—an array of platforms in the digital age—but what is going to be the next thing that will draw the attention of America’s adolescents and young adults. But from a Christian worldview perspective, parents need to be particularly attentive to what was embedded in this article, and it’s a pretty candid assessment of the impact of social media in the lives of America’s teenagers. And the big issue here of parental concern should be the degree to which self-esteem appears to be tied to their engagement with social media. One key paragraph in the article says this,
“The same way Gen X measured its worth in answering machine messages, the mobile-minded teenager sees each like and mention as reassurance of an active social life. And when your phone is the default security blanket for enduring the awkwardness of walking a high school hallway, it feels nice to have a bunch of digital hellos ready with a swipe.”
But this article makes clear that it’s not just “digital hellos” that are at stake here, it’s negative judgments as well, and the fact that many teenagers have great injury to their self-esteem and their emotional condition when they see themselves slighted or attacked, undermined or neglected, in social media. A negative response, it turns out, can be overly important to a teenager, and in particular teenage girls, according to these studies, find themselves in exceedingly vulnerable positions given the fact that they have staked so much on their digital engagement.
Many teenagers have staked much of their self-esteem on how many likes or equivalent they can get in social media, and they tend to be very hurt and offended if those likes do not happen or, even more seriously, if negative judgments are expressed in the digital realm. One digital analyst cited in the article found that,
“… teenagers are extremely anxious about being criticized on social media and are more conscious than their parents of when an app makes them feel bad.”
From a Christian worldview perspective, one of the dangers here is the very fact that in any attempt to ground self-worth in anything outside the fact that we are created in the image of God, that leads to an emotional disaster, or at least to the vulnerability that is revealed in this article. But there is a particular vulnerability that appears to be front and central in the digital age. This is something that should concern us all, and should particularly concern America’s Christian parents.