The Briefing 01-29-16

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Christian response to Zika virus should be righteous concern for human life, not fear

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Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's letter illustrates human propensity to deny guilt

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Transcript

The Briefing

January 29, 2016

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

It’s Friday, January 29, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Christian response to Zika virus should be righteous concern for human life, not fear

The headline is indeed ominous.

“Zika virus ‘spreading explosively,’ level of alarm, ‘extremely high.’”

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Reporters Ariana Eunjung Cha and Lena Sun writing for the Washington Post reported

“The World Health Organization announced Thursday that it will convene an emergency meeting to try to find ways to stop the transmission of the Zika virus — which officials said is ‘spreading explosively’ across the Americas.”

Margaret Chan, Director General of the World Health Organization said,

“The level of alarm is extremely high, as is the level of uncertainty.”

She went on to say,

“Questions abound. We need to get some answers quickly.”

As the Washington Post went on to report, the World Health Organization said,

“The pathogen, which was virtually unheard of in the region a year ago, is spreading so fast that it could infect as many as 3 million to 4 million people within 12 months. Chan said those numbers and the severity of the possible complications being reported — from a brain abnormality called microcephaly in children to paralysis in adults — make the situation dramatically different than what epidemiologists have seen with past outbreaks of the virus.”

Now, as Christians look at this, we need to be very aware that this is a portrait in miniature, a portrait in reality, of the fallen world in all of its symptomatology of the fall. The reality is that all kinds of evil, including both moral evil and what we call natural evil—that would include tsunamis, tornadoes, mosquitoes, and infectious diseases—they are evidence of the fall.

And Christians must also keep something else in mind. During the last half of the 20th century, Americans grew accustomed to no longer worrying about infectious diseases. If you go back to the midpoint of the 20th century, you’ll look at medical textbooks or just at the newspaper headlines, you will see a constant barrage of concern, urgent life and death concerns about any number of infectious diseases. They included mumps, encephalitis, measles, including rubella. They included polio, and any number of other very infectious diseases that threatened to wipe out populations, to bring death and deformity and all kinds of horrifying effects to a human population. In great cities, there was always the danger of an epidemic breaking out. When Americans met others, for instance, in the context of war, there was always the possibility that an epidemic could spread from one place to another, as did the great influenza in the second decade of the 20th century that killed millions of people worldwide—killed more people, we should note, than all of those killed in the theaters of war during World War I. But by the second half of the century, Americans believed, and we allowed ourselves to believe, that we had largely conquered infectious diseases. The development of modern antibiotics is something that dates back really only to the last half of the 20th century. The medical marvels that came with vaccinations and immunizations and all of these antibiotics, along with various forms of treatment and the avoidance of disease, that meant that most Americans now alive really haven’t worried too much about the effects of an infectious disease. Certainly, they weren’t worried that it will be something that will be life threatening to themselves or potentially, to their offspring.

But even as we are rightly thankful for all of these medical marvels, in the end, we have to be very careful that our confidence is never fully placed in them. Our confidence must ultimately be in God. Our awareness must be that even as we are pressed back against these diseases, these diseases and new ones, including the Zika virus and in the future viruses and infectious ages not yet known, will press against us. That’s exactly what we are seeing now. The first recent headlines about the Zika virus came about three weeks ago and they told us of an outbreak of this mosquito-borne disease in Latin America, in Central and South America, in the Caribbean basin, not in the United States.

As a matter of fact, those early headlines, or at least the early news stories said Americans really don’t need to worry about this. Now, you have the Washington Post, for instance, running an entire series of articles, including one with the headline,

“Zika virus ‘spreading explosively,’ level of alarm, ‘extremely high.’”

As relates to the United States, a different Washington Post story with the headline,

“Why the United States is so vulnerable to the alarming spread of the Zika virus.”

Lena Sun and Brady Davis reported,

“With the Zika virus now circulating in two dozen countries and territories across the Americas, the mosquito-borne pathogen seems destined to reach the United States, and probably sooner rather than later.

“What is far less certain, say public health and infectious disease experts, is Zika’s potential reach and impact here. The South is seen as especially vulnerable because of its warm, humid climate and pockets of poverty where more people live without air conditioning or proper window screens. Plus, the region is already home to mosquitoes that can transmit the virus.”

 

The Washington Post summarizes that some infectious disease models estimate that as many as 200 million people live in areas that might be conducive to the spread of Zika during the summer months. That would include the East and West coasts and much of the Midwest. Now, remember that the total population of the United States is something just over 300 million, so this is 2 out of 3 Americans, according to these models of a potential epidemic.

What we know about Zika right now is that the current outbreak had its epicenter in Brazil; and in Brazil, there are believed to be now thousands and thousands of people who have been infected with the diseases. Medical authorities tell us that only about 1 out of 5 of all of those who will develop the disease after being bitten by a mosquito will show any symptoms or any effects, at least immediately, of the disease itself. It is now believed that the Zika virus can lead to paralysis in adults and to deformities in babies when the mother who is pregnant develops the disease in the course of the pregnancy. Microcephaly, which is a condition in which the baby is born with a smaller than usual head leading to brain damage, that is now causally linked to the Zika virus, at least in terms of the fact that an unusually large number of thousands of babies born with the condition in Brazil and elsewhere came with the disease and only in connection to the disease. It’s the only cause of link that has yet been identified. That’s very scary.

Americans of the certain age can think back to the 1950’s and the 1960’s, even into the 70’s and beyond, when scares about pregnant women in the United States developing rubella were very, very similar. The scale of the threat is now represented by a medical response, not just from the World Health Organization, but from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States and various other governments and NGO’s all across the region. Reporting for The Atlantic monthly, Tajha Chappellet-Lanier tells us that,

“Countries across the affected region are coming up with [as she said] various ways to protect against the virus.”

Here is one of the most radical proposals. It tells us something that in the year 2016, this is seriously being put forth by a government. Let me read from The Atlantic.

“In El Salvador, which has seen around 5,000 cases of Zika, officials are urging women not to get pregnant until 2018. Critics of the strategy worry about pregnancies that are unplanned.

“Jamaica, Colombia, and Ecuador have also recommended that their citizens delay pregnancy.”

Now, just imagine that we could roll back time just a few days, just a few weeks. What if we were told that in the year 2016, there would come an official advisory from a government that the women in that country should not get pregnant for two years, until 2018. The Christian worldview reminds us of just how unlikely it is that that might happen. But it also tells us that something of incredible consequence is taking place here. Christians looking at this need to think very, very carefully. We need to be aware of the fact that certainly, in the face of any kind of disease, this represents a real public health challenge. But we also have to recognize that ultimately, our hope cannot be merely in technology or in medical science. It can’t be merely in a serum or a vaccination, an immunization or even an antibiotic. We also have to understand that when you have the intersection of some kind of medical emergency like this and a large population, people respond to fear, and that’s what we’re seeing. And fear can bring out the best and the worst in terms of human beings. And that is also reflected in another Washington Post article in the same series. In this one, Christopher Sherman and Marcos Aleman report that,

“In face of Zika virus, women ponder abortion, childlessness.”

Now again, we’re talking about 2016. This kind of headline would have been virtually unimaginable just a matter of a few days ago, not to say just a couple of weeks ago. What we’re looking at here is where we have to think very carefully. It is appropriate from a Christian worldview that we press upon governments and every responsible institution to respond to this in such a way as to bring hope and healing as quickly as possible. We are not opposed to modern medicine. To the contrary, it is the Christian worldview and its rational understanding of how the world operates because God made it in such a way and because of what we understand as the value of every single human life—that’s why Christians have been at the forefront of the healing professions from the very beginning. That is entirely appropriate. That’s where we should be, and we should be pressing for every available resource to be directed towards the eradication of this disease and the alleviation of its consequences. We also have to recognize that if we respond in abject fear, we will be driven away from our confidence in the gospel of Jesus Christ and to something else. That is exactly what we see when a headline tells us that in the face of the spreading of the Zika virus, there is a new openness to abortion in a region of the world that had been very opposed to abortion even just a couple of weeks ago.

Almost as predictably, Wired magazine had a headline yesterday that was this,

“Zika virus may push South America to loosen abortion bans.”

What does that tell us? It tells us that there are those, right now, who are prepared to seize upon this public health emergency in order to further their moral agenda. And what is that agenda? It is an agenda to legalize abortion and to loosen bans on abortion. But as the article by Sarah Zhang tells us, there are those who right now want to seize upon this disease as an opportunity to try to further the cause of legalizing and to use the word in this article, “destigmatizing abortion in Latin America.”

Biblically-minded Christians take death and disease very seriously. We understand that they are real. We do not, like Christian Scientists, deny that disease and death are realities. We also understand that we should be on the front lines of pressing back against these diseases and that we validate legitimate medical approaches to eradicate and alleviate disease. We should not only welcome them, we should press for them. But we also need to keep in mind that every emergency brings an opportunity for that which is even worse, in this case, the opportunistic seizing upon an epidemic in order to further the cause of abortion rights.

We must keep in mind that it is the Christian conviction of the sanctity and dignity of every single human life that undergirds the integrity of any proper approach to medicine in the first place.

Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann's letter illustrates human propensity to deny guilt

Next, also on the issue of the sanctity and dignity of human life, we shift to a story, a big story, that broke this week from Jerusalem. Isabel Kershner reporting for the New York Times tells us,

“After he was convicted and sentenced to death in Israel for his role in the annihilation of millions of Jews by Nazi Germany, Adolf Eichmann pleaded for his own life.”

Adolf Eichmann, you may remember, was the architect of what was called by the Nazi regime The Final Solution, the effort to eradicate Europe of all living Jews. The Third Reich, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler ultimately, and the Nazi regime, sought to eradicate the Jewish people from the face of the earth, to use the very words of Adolf Hitler.

Adolf Eichmann was one of Hitler’s lieutenants. He was one of those, specifically the point person, to develop the way The Final Solution would be carried about. That plan was plotted out and finally confirmed at an infamous gathering that took place in Vonziu, that is a suburb outside of Berlin, about the midpoint of World War II. Adolf Eichmann was at the very center of it. At the end of World War II, as the Nazi regime fell, Adolf Eichmann disguised himself and escaped to Buenos Aires, Argentina where he was finally found by Simon Wiesenthal and other Nazi hunters and brought to Israel for trial. That trial took place in 1961. Eventually, in May of 1961, Adolf Eichmann became the only person judicially executed in the history of the state of Israel, executed for the crime of the murder of millions of Jewish people during the Holocaust.

The news story that broke just in recent days as reported by The New York Times tells us that Eichmann had written a letter to the then president of Israel as he was approaching his execution begging and pleading for his life. He wrote,

“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders.”

This was in a letter, hand written by Adolf Eichmann dated May 29, 1962. That was the very day that the Israel Supreme Court rejected his appeal.

In the letter, Eichmann wrote to the Israeli president. He said,

“I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”

Now, we need to look as Christians at this very, very closely because it is extremely revealing. Here we have the architect of Hitler’s Final Solution, the architect of the Holocaust, which led to the deaths of between 6 and 7 million Jews and many others as well. We’re looking at a man who, having been brought to the court of justice, the best justice that a human court could bring about, pled for his life saying that it wasn’t his fault, that he really wasn’t morally responsible. This letter had not been known even to have existed until it was released by the Israeli government this week. It was released by Israeli president Reuven Rivlin in connection with commemorations of International Holocaust Remembrance Day this very week.

As we heard the words from the letter, we also note something that we need to look at very carefully. Adolf Eichmann is making an argument for his life in this letter pleading to the Israeli president. He is making the argument for his life based upon two very, very illuminating claims. The first is, that, as he said,

“There is a need to draw a line between the leaders responsible and the people like me forced to serve as mere instruments in the hands of the leaders.”

Now, that argument failed for Eichmann on at least two grounds. The first is, he was not merely a pawn in the Nazi leadership. Even though he was not in the very highest ranks of the Nazi leaders, there is no doubt, the historical record proves he was front and center in the actual planning and plotting of The Final Solution.

He took credit for it when the Nazi regime was in power. He was rightly condemned for it when he was arrested by Israel in 1960, eventually condemned for his crimes and eventually, executed.

But that claim failed on the second ground and that is this. It is not morally plausible to claim that you are merely ordered by your superiors to perform an inherently immoral act, in this case, an immoral act that extended to the murder of millions of people.

But in this shocking letter from Eichmann that was released this week, there was the other sentence I read to you and that is this,

“I was not a responsible leader, and as such do not feel myself guilty.”

Upon reflection, that is one of the most shocking sentences any human being could write.

Here you have a man the historical record proves was at the center of the planning and plotting of the Holocaust, a man who during his lifetime as a Nazi bragged about the effectiveness of what he called The Final Solution. And his statement in this letter was that he did not, to use his words,

“feel myself guilty.”

It is not only impossible in the year 2016 to read Adolf Eichmann’s heart; it was impossible to read it in the year 1960, ’61 or ’62 when he was executed. We are not able to know whether he felt himself guilty or not, but the big point for us is this: It really doesn’t matter in terms of justice whether he felt himself guilty or not. He was guilty. The historical record demonstrates himself to be guilty.

That sentence demonstrates to us the human propensity, the enormous, almost unfathomable human capacity to delude ourselves about ourselves, to rationalize our own behavior, to create, as did Adam and Eve, fig leaves of a sort. We are better at creating fig leaves of moral argument in order to cover our own sin, to redefine it, to euphemize it, to call it something other than what it is, and to find ourselves not guilty. The release of this letter also brings to the forefront an enormous public conversation that took place about Adolf Eichmann not only in the 1960’s but far beyond.

The German-American philosopher, Hannah Arendt famously argued as an observer at the Eichmann trial that Eichmann was a mere functionary. She found the greatest moral alarm in that if Adolf Eichmann could turn into this murderous monster, anyone could. The Christian worldview tells us that there is truth in Arendt’s understanding. Any of us could turn into this kind of moral monster. As a matter of fact, the Scripture is abundantly clear about this very thing. At the same time, it is also understood that in looking at someone like Adolf Eichmann and his henchmen in the Nazi regime, this was not something that came out of the blue all of the sudden as a recent development in his life. It was a deep-seeded hatred that grew and abscessed and expanded and took over his life to the point that he was ready to become the architect of The Final Solution, to call the Jewish people, among others lebensunwerten lebens, life unworthy of life. That didn’t come out of a vacuum.

There’s another aspect of this story to which Christians should also pay attention, humbling attention. We look back to our knowledge of World War II and the Nazi years in Germany and the Holocaust is front and center in what we now know, what we cannot as a matter of fact not know about the Nazi regime—the murder of multiple millions of people in the death camps; the use of a gas knows as Zyklon-B designed in order to kill human beings; the use of crematories and the massive machinery of death that became the Holocaust of the Third Reich. This is now something we cannot not know. To think about World War II is not only to think about armies and countries at war, it is to think about a machinery of death unprecedented in human history.

That gets to my point. It wasn’t really the fact that many people in even western nations thought much about the Holocaust until the 1960’s. It happened in the 1930’s and 40’s. It was well known and documented at the end of World War II. As the world wanted to move on from World War II, it did its very best to move on from any memory of the Holocaust. It was the arrest and trial and execution of Adolf Eichmann in the 1960’s that actually brought this to the world’s attention in a way that renewed the awareness of what had happened. The world had to come anew and again to the knowledge that there had been a regime that had targeted the Jewish people and had murdered them by the multiple millions.

In order to have a name for this, the word “genocide” was actually coined as a new word to describe this intentional murder of an entire people by the millions. After World War II, we became aware of the fact that genocide didn’t begin with the Holocaust, nor did it end there. So as we look to the headlines about the release of this letter form Adolf Eichmann written to the president of Israel, pleading for his life in 1962, what should come to our mind is a knowledge of the weight of history and the knowledge that the Holocaust did take place, the knowledge that the world allowed it to take place, and the knowledge that the world tried to put it out of its mind for any number of years after it was known. The release of this letter from Adolf Eichmann in the year 2016 should remind us of those words that haunt us: Lest we forget—lest we forget.

We need to remember what is revealed in fallen humanity when we read these pathetic words from Adolf Eichmann.

“I was not a responsible leader and as such, do not feel myself guilty.”

Hell, we should note, will be filled with those who never felt themselves guilty.

Dr. Mohler recording The Briefing