June 21, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, June 21, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Russian athletes banned from Olympics due to Moscow's complicity in doping charges
For the first time in the history of the modern Olympic Games the entire track and field team of a nation has been eliminated from competition. As the Financial Times of London reported,
“Russia has become the first country in sporting history to have its athletics team banned from an Olympics for drugs offenses in a ruling that will raise tensions between the Kremlin and the West. The International Association of Athletics Federations said Russian track and field athletes could not be represented in international competitions including the August Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro after failing to prove that the national doping regime could ensure athletes were clean from performance enhancing drugs.”Show Full Transcript
Now I read that opening statement from the report in the Financial Times to make the point that here you have reporters very carefully, trying to thread a needle. The needle they’re trying to thread is one that officially and in a very clear way states exactly what the Olympics Federation has decided or, in this case, the International Association of Athletics Federations. But what they actually found was that it wasn’t just that the Russian government could not ensure that its team could be clear of performance-enhancing drugs, there is the open accusation that the government itself wanted the athletes to have these performance-enhancing drugs and furthermore, there is the accusation that the nation’s spies actively were involved in an effort undertaken by the government and its Olympics committee to try to get as many athletes as possible to get by, using the performance-enhancing drugs.
The accusation goes back to the Olympics and to other international competitions all the way back into the 1960s and the 1970s. It was well known during the Cold War that Russia and its satellites, then the USSR and its satellites, were openly involved in using hormones and other substances in order to gain a competitive advantage for their athletes. There had been widespread documentation of the use in countries such as Romania, then a part of the Soviet bloc, of hormonal drugs and other medications, especially when it came to female gymnasts.
But that report from the IAAF released just last weekend was followed by an official announcement from the International Olympic Committee that Russia’s appeal of the decision was going to be turned down and that Russian track and field athletes would not be allowed to compete as a Russian team at the summer games that are taking place in Brazil.
There are huge moral issues here; for one thing when it comes to sport and the use of performance-enhancing drugs, there has been a widespread scandal and that scandal has affected not only track and field, but many other sports as well. Just to name the name Lance Armstrong in terms of international cycling competitions draws our attention to the fact that this is not a new problem. The use of doping mechanisms in terms of performance-enhancing drugs is something that sports federations and international sports committees have faced for a very long time.
It points on the one hand to the incredible advantages that apparently are available by the means of the use of these performance-enhancing substances. It also points to the very high-stakes that are involved in international athletic competition—high-stakes economically to be sure, especially in the case of someone like Lance Armstrong, but high-stakes also politically, especially you should go back to the Cold War, but in particular, also as related to Russia right now. Russian autocratic president Vladimir Putin has made Russia’s return to the sporting scene and in particular to the Olympics a major feature of his autocratic leadership there in Russia.
The announcement made by the IAAF and by the IOC both indicate a return in a very much larger sense, indeed a more urgent sense, of Russia to the kind of Cold War footing that was the reality for so much of the second half of the 20th century.
On its editorial page the Financial Times got right to the larger issue:
“There are philosophical questions about exactly what constitutes an unfair advantage in sport an edge can be had not just from using performance-enhancing drugs, but also from training at high-altitude or in cycling from engineering prowess.”
Now that’s a mixture of the legal and the illegal, of the obvious and the not so obvious. The reality is there are of course philosophical questions about what exactly constitutes an unfair advantage in sport, but there is near unanimity that the use of performance-enhancing drugs, especially banned substances, represents what is unquestionably an unfair advantage in sport. One of the points made by the editors of the Financial Times is that these are not questions that are left up to the individual conscience. Instead, they are matters of national and international legal significance. As the editors wrote,
“These matters are not left to the athletes own conscience. However, there is a rule-based system that governs them. In the case of Russia, all the evidence from recent investigations by the world anti-doping agency points to a systemic state-sponsored program to flout that.”
All those words are important: “a systemic state-sponsored program to flout” these international rules. The extent to which Russia and its athletic program went to make a mockery of these international rules was described by the Financial Times as almost a comic strip element.
“Russian athletes,” we are told, “attempted to bribe or run away from doping officials, armed officers threatened international drug testers with deportation. In the run-up to the IAAF decision, the government made some effort to appear contrite when it mattered, however, it was anything but.”
Appearing contrite is one thing; being actually contrite is another. Being contrite would mean that Russia would have indicated a bona fide effort to rectify the situation, but at every turn Russian officials were caught to be complicit in an effort not only to cover up, but to continue the use of these doping mechanisms.
The Olympic games, of course, are not new, dating back all the way to ancient Rome where they were so much a part of that national culture. The Olympic style games actually show up in the Bible and of course they were a major fixture of Greco-Roman civilization. The revival of the modern Olympic movement was considered very much a part of the effort to embrace international cooperation and the promise of world peace at the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. Of course, the Olympics themselves, as a part of the cultures that produce them, are the evidence both of what human beings can achieve and of all the temptations to which humanity, individually and corporately, are susceptible.
Considering the flurry of these headlines over the weekend and beyond and the fact that this is major news all over the world, I immediately thought of the New Testament and the book of 2 Timothy 2:5. The apostle Paul wrote to Timothy,
“An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules.”
There it’s as if you have a verse from the New Testament immediately lifted out of the New Testament text and planted right in the headlines of today’s newspapers. The point of the apostle Paul to Timothy is that Timothy as a young minister of the gospel must follow the rules of the gospel. There is no cutting of the corners, the apostle Paul wanted Timothy to know. There are actually three examples that are given here in 2 Timothy chapter 2 for the Christian ministry. We are told no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.
“An athlete,” as we read, “is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. It is the hard-working farmer,” wrote Paul to Timothy, “who ought to have the first share of the crops.”
Three different pictures: a soldier, an athlete, and a farmer. But it’s that central issue that seems lifted right out of the headlines today. The Apostle Paul wrote something to Timothy that was already, we now know, a matter of conversation in the ancient Olympic Games. It is unfair for an athlete to be crowned who was found to have competed while breaking the rules.
Following these headline stories in recent days, it is clear that there are ever new mechanisms of doping and there are ever new mechanisms of trying to catch those who are using these doping mechanisms and performance-enhancing drugs. On the one hand, you have those who are trying their very best to find a way around the rules or under the rules and then you have others, the investigators and the regulators, who are trying to make sure they are staying ahead of all these technologies in order to catch those who might be trying to gain an unfair advantage by the use of even some new and not yet banned performance-enhancing substance.
But from a Christian worldview perspective, the major point here is the fact that this isn’t actually new at all. It wasn’t new in terms of the modern Olympic Games, it is rooted in the ancient Olympic Games, and it shows up of all places in the Apostle Paul’s Holy Spirit inspired instructions to his young protégé in ministry, Timothy. It turns out the human nature hasn’t changed, not since Genesis 3.
Former SS guard at Auschwitz convicted in what may be the final Nazi war crime trial
Next, also dealing with human nature, a very important story that comes from Germany. Alison Smale, reporting for the New York Times,
“In many ways, it is fitting that Germany’s last trial of a former SS guard at Auschwitz played out far from the spotlight, in this pretty provincial town of 70,000.
“It was from places like these — a rural corner of North Rhine-Westphalia, modern Germany’s most populous state — that the Nazis formed their bedrock, the millions of men and women who signed up to Hitler’s apparently triumphant cause and with little questioning executed its murderous maxims.”
The reason for this story is the sentencing on Friday of a 94-year-old man, Reinhold Hanning, who was sentenced to five years as an accessory to at least 170,000 deaths during his time as an SS guard at the Auschwitz Birkenau camp from January 1943 to mid 1944. Notice that’s only about 18 months. They were the 18 crucial months in which 170,000 deaths could be directly attributed to the complicity of guards such as Reinhold Hanning. The reality is, of course, that the Holocaust stands as one of the greatest moral blights upon all of human history and in particular, the murderous 20th century. We now know that Hitler had the plot to eliminate Europe of its Jews and that eventually led to the deaths of millions of Jews in the death mechanism not only of the SS, but also of the entirety of Nazi Germany.
The trial of a man in his 95th year raises some very huge questions. For one thing, as the New York Times and other Western press indicated, this is likely to be the very last major criminal trial of the Holocaust. The reason for that is simply the ticking of the clock. We’re looking at the fact that this generation has mostly died. By definition, the youngest of those who were involved directly in complicity in the Holocaust are now approximately the age of Mr. Hanning, that is 94 years of age.
At the very end of the 20th century Germany began a reinvigorated effort to try to bring to the court of justice those who have been directly involved in the Holocaust. The background for that is the fact that Germany was particularly inept and perhaps undetermined to prosecute those criminals at the end of World War II. As the Times reports,
“Of approximately 6,500 SS guards who had worked at Auschwitz”—and remember, that was only one of the many death camps—“only 29 people were tried in West Germany. (Twenty more were tried in the Communist East.)”
That’s less than 50 of these guards ever to face a human court of justice when there were over 6,500 of them who were directly involved. This is one of the big moral questions of our time. And of course it’s very timely. The fact that this is probably the last major criminal trial of someone directly involved in the Holocaust draws our attention to the fact that even as this trial has been concluded and even as this 94-year-old man has been sentenced to five years in prison, a sentence he is unlikely to survive, the reality is that the vast millions of those who were involved in the Nazi war machine, the vast thousands that were directly involved in the death camps, mostly escaped human justice.
It is very important that this particular defendant did not escape justice. But even as another former Auschwitz guard also in his 90s was convicted and sentenced last year, yet a third died just this past April before his trial was to start in Frankfurt. The German government registered its satisfaction at the fact that this trial had come to a conclusion, but it also acknowledged the fact that it is likely to be the last.
One of the biggest moral questions of our time is how in the world there can be any appropriate judicial sentence for a crime of this enormity. We’re talking about this one man’s directness in terms of responsibility for his complicity in the deaths of 170,000 fellow human beings. That’s a moral crime, the enormity of which simply stretches our moral imagination. It is hard to come up with any way of imagining how any appropriate sentence could be an adequate response to the horrifying nature of this criminal guilt.
But of course if we’re honest we recognize that that question doesn’t apply only to the Holocaust, it actually applies to virtually every major human crime. Just to take the murder of one human individual, a human court of justice may achieve something like a proximate justice by sentencing a murderer to a life in prison or even to the death penalty, but that is a very inadequate proximate justice because, after all, true justice would require that not only that the wrong be rightly recognized as wrong and punished as such, but that the wrong would be made right. That is what is so excruciatingly outside the realm or the power of any human jurisdiction or court. When it comes to a crime like murder, a murderer may be sentenced but the dead cannot be given back the gift of life.
That points to the fact that even a trial like this, as necessary as it is, isn’t enough. It never will be enough. And it points to the reality of human guilt, which goes beyond matters of crime and, more essentially, is a matter of sin. It points to the fact that every single human being will actually face a court that will not be evaded or escaped by any, and that is the court of God’s own justice on that day of justice. And God’s justice will be not only absolutely righteous, his justice will be the total fulfillment of justice. God will not only punish the wrongdoer, as is right, but will also make things right, at least for those who are in Christ. Thus, there is the promise that every tear will be wiped away and every eye will be dry. But that’s only possible because those who are in Christ are by the power the gospel of Christ forgiven our sins, and that’s why a story like this has to draw us not only to historical reflection, but also as Christians to an understanding of the singular power the gospel of Jesus Christ and of the fact that on that day of justice that no human being will escape or evade. There will be only one plea that will be satisfying, and that is the plea that we are in Christ.
The Scripture tells us that Christ indeed, for those who profess faith in Him and repent of their sins, that Christ is the advocate. As the Scripture says,
“While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”
This story coming out of Germany is deeply sobering when it comes to the realities of the power of the necessity and the limitations of human justice. But it also points to the fact that our human justice, as necessary as it is, is woefully inadequate, crying out for the justice that alone will satisfy and that is the justice executed by a holy and righteous God.
Gender differences continue to shine through despite society's best efforts to gloss over them
Next, a really interesting story when it comes to human nature comes out of the Harvard Business Review, but it actually is a news story on a major article in the Harvard Business Review that appeared in Slate magazine by L.V. Anderson. The headline,
“Harvard Business Review Says Most Millennial Men Aren’t Feminists.”
Then the question,
“This Is a Surprise?”
Well, it turns out that it’s a surprise to many. The Harvard Business Review has done this major article indicating that when millennial men are studied and compared with their fathers, it turns out that neither generation is actually well described as being feminist. There are all kinds of generalizations about the millennials, in particular millennial men, as a matter of fact, millennials have often declared,
“This generation’s belief in gender neutrality will force major changes in our laws governing the work place and its relationship to family life.”
Well, the reason the Harvard Business Review published the article is because its research indicated that that’s really not so. And Slate now is reporting on the Harvard Business Review article, and both are reflecting on the fact that millennial men more say they are feminist than actually it turns out they are. The moral judgment in the article is clear, after all, the question considered by the researchers in Harvard Business Review is this,
“Are U.S. millennial men just as sexist as their dads?”
The answer according to Slate from Harvard Business Review is yes. The main point here from the Christian worldview is the persistence of the reality of gender and sex differences even in a generation that claims that it’s passed all that. It tells us that when it comes to millennials, in particular to millennial men, they are far more officially for feminism than actually so. As a matter of fact, there is virtually no distinction between these millennial men and their fathers when it comes to basic questions about sex differences.
But keep that in mind when we turn to another article, this one from Sunday’s edition of the New York Times and once again, from the Style Section that offers often so many interesting angles for Christian worldview analysis. This is an article by Guy Trebay, and it is about the fashion industry. The headline,
“Hard to tell the men from the boys.”
It turns out that when it comes to male fashions, both for men and for boys, there’s the persistence of a gender line. It turns out that both men and boys want to dress like—well, there’s no other word for it—males. Now the clear implication of this article is that this appears to be something of a revelation to the fashion industry. The fashion industry has been talking all over the place about blurring the gender lines. And especially if you’re looking at the kind of couture reports coming out of places like London and Paris, you would think that there is now a complete blurring of the gender distinctions. But when it turns out to what’s actually sold to men and boys, well, it’s a very different story. And that led to this news article in Sunday’s edition of the Times.
The article is actually about a fashion show recently in Florence, Italy for men and boys and as the report says, Florence was,
“Overrun with men who identify as men demonstrating to their fellow men their current notion of how a man of today ought to look.”
When it comes to stating the obvious that most men and boys still want to look like men and boys, one man said concerning the effort to try to sell them something else,
“Look, you don’t go into the hardware store for oranges.”
One fashion authority demonstrating frustration that men and boys continue to want to dress like males said,
“I’m not going to lie. Because of Gucci and Bruce — or, rather, Caitlyn — Jenner, we’re having this conversation. But, at the end of the day, guys want to be guys.”
Alert the media. There’s also another very interesting aspect of this article, according to the New York Times, it’s much easier for women to transgress over into wearing men’s styles of clothing than it is to go the other way, and anyone who’s seen movies from the 1930s, 40s and 50s knows there’s nothing new about that. But when it comes to the men crossing over to wear more feminine items of clothing, it turns out,
“For guys, it’s not really so interesting in the end to wear girls’ clothes.”
The same fashion authority tried to explain this to the media by saying,
“The cross-dressing thing is not so interesting. People are still into dressing quite masculine.”—people that is, who happen to be male.
The Christian worldview point to make here is that the differences between the genders continue to shine through even in the midst of current cultural confusion and it’s evidenced in the fact that, regardless of what they think they’re supposed to say it, turns out that most men and boys still want to dress like men and boys. The final thing this tells us is that what we’ve just talked about evidently was considered news or newsworthy by the New York Times. That also is in its own way a revelation.