October 12, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, October 12, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Colombia, Obama, and the Nobel Peace Prize: Award of moral accomplishment or political aspiration?
Ever since the year 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Norway has awarded what’s been considered one of the most illustrious and respected awards worldwide. Politicians and historical figures have coveted the award, and it has often been shrouded in controversy. There’s a little irony in the fact, of course, that the benefactor and namesake of the award was a manufacturer of dynamite and of destruction, not of peace. But since 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize has been certain to gain headlines whenever it is announced.
And that was the case in recent days when the Norwegian Nobel Peace Prize Committee announced that the recipient for 2016 would be President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, and the controversy this year has to do with the fact that Santos was awarded the prize precisely because he had negotiated an historic treaty of peace between his nation and the so-called FARC rebels. They had been fighting a civil war for decades, a civil war that had brought much mayhem and murder and a great deal of death to the nations. But what makes the story really interesting is that the peace prize was awarded publicly just days after the president was repudiated by the citizens of the nation who turned down that peace agreement with the rebels and put the president back at the starting line in terms of the negotiation.Show Full Transcript
The New York Times reflected this oddity in terms of a headline of an editorial entitled,
“The Nobel ‘Give Peace a Chance’ Prize.”
That’s a huge question. Is the Nobel peace prize awarded to someone for achieving peace or merely for attempting, even failing to achieve peace? Is it a statement in terms of moral accomplishment, or is it merely a statement of moral aspiration? And if so, what is the logic behind the award? As you look at the history the Nobel Peace Prize, it is abundantly clear that sometimes it has been richly deserved. It has been awarded to U.S. presidents including President Theodore Roosevelt for negotiating the end of war between Russia and Japan, but it has also, especially in recent decades, clearly been awarded for nearly purely political reasons. It has also been awarded not just to individuals but to organizations, and sometimes it has been awarded in a shroud of worldwide controversy and has resulted not in any kind of genuine advance for peace, but rather an attempted advance of a certain ideology.
But when you look at the award that President Santos of Columbia, very interesting questions from a worldview importance come to mind. For one thing, how in the world do we actually believe that peace can be achieved? The Nobel Peace Prize goes back to 1901. The first year that it was awarded, and the date 1901 should alert us to something that was going on in Western culture. It was a very optimistic era. It was an optimistic era to the extent that there were those who believed that warfare might be eradicated, that human civilization, in particular Western nations, had moved into a period of moral progress from which the inevitable result would be peace. The Nobel Peace Prize among other Nobel prizes was to be awarded for someone who advanced that moral progress. Now of course that idea of inevitable moral progress died on the killing fields of World War I and then again in World War II. Looking back to the moral optimism of the year 1901, it’s oddly out of place, something of a moral embarrassment in the 21st century. But the Nobel Peace Prize is still being awarded and is not being awarded by a committee that represents worldwide opinion, but rather the elite opinion of the leaders of a Scandinavian nation, that is the nation of Norway.
And from a Christian worldview perspective, there’s something really interesting about the worldview that so often is reflected in how this award is given. It is often given for someone who is perceived to be a cool, rational actor on the world stage, someone who, very much in accordance with the worldview of 1901 rather than 2016, is understood to be an agent of the right kind of moral statement. Now this is something that should also clue us in to an important distinction. The distinction is between mere moral statement and actual moral action. The irony of the award this year is the fact that it appears to be given to a president who ended up with a failed and flawed peace treaty. The argument can be made he didn’t actually advance peace at all, or at least has not yet.
In recent decades the Nobel Peace Prize is often reflected to intellectual fads of the day, and it reflects the secular worldview of the Western elites. And that was never more reflective than seven years ago last week when President Barack Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The irony there was that this was a newly elected president of the United States. He hadn’t had time yet to do anything on the world scene other than make a few speeches. But President Obama was awarded the peace prize virtually everyone understood at the time because of who he was not, and that was President George W. Bush. The Western secular elites did not like the American president, and they did not like his foreign policy. And they were out to make a statement by awarding the peace prize to a man who to that date had done basically nothing more than to repudiate the foreign policy of his predecessor.
All this points to the fact that when a peace prize is seen openly to be a political prize, it loses a great deal of whatever moral value it may have had in the first place. Sohrab Ahmari writing for the Wall Street Journal says,
“Seven years ago this week the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the Peace Prize to Barack Obama. The decision was greeted with ridicule in the U.S., and it unsettled even supporters of the president, who hadn’t finished his first year in office. Still Mr. Obama flew to Oslo and delivered one of his trademark speeches. The philosopher-president was the toast of Europe.”
Then he writes,
“Mr. Obama today almost never mentions the prize, and the Nobel Committee’s former secretary has expressed regret over the choice. Barack Obama the Nobelist is a bad memory among Europeans, who face more pressing concerns, chief among them a Syrian civil war that has flooded the Continent with more than a million refugees. Yet this Nobel indigestion is unfair to Mr. Obama. On its own terms his prize has been a resounding success. Seven years later the president has achieved the future-tense victories first celebrated in Oslo.”
What in the world does all that mean? It means that the Nobel Committee chose Barack Obama as representative of that cool, analytical, rational approach to the world that refused to see the world in terms of right and wrong and black and white, instead seeing the world in endless shades of moral comparison and understanding that more often than not the United States was a bad actor on the world scene. Of that, the Western secular elites were very much convinced. So what’s changed since 2009? Well what’s changed is that the retreat of the United States on the world scene has led to disaster, and that is even recognized amongst the people who seven years ago were openly lauding Barack Obama for declaring his intention to manage that retreat strategically from the world scene by the United States and its Armed Forces.
But the Wall Street Journal article also pointed to the great moral issue that raises all the huge questions of a worldview significance in terms of foreign policy. Only one word need be uttered to state that problem in all of its form. That word is Syria. Liberal columnist Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times wrote an article about the time of the anniversary of that Nobel award in 2009. He wrote,
“Our excuse for failing to respond to mass atrocities used to be that we didn’t fully appreciate the horrors until it was too late. ‘If only we had known,’ became one refrain, along with, ‘Never again!’”
But then Kristof rightly notes,
“In Syria, we are deprived of that excuse: We have a daily window into war crimes.”
The title of his article is this,
“The Blot on Obama’s Legacy.”
He goes on to say,
“Russia and Syria appear to be deliberately targeting civilians like Bana. The aim seems to be to bomb and starve civilians into exhaustion and submission, so that they flee or no longer support the opposition, or else support extremists regarded as better fighters. That would bolster the Syrian government narrative that the opposition consists of terrorists who must be fought.”
The background of this, and Nicholas Kristof is right in this regard, is that Syria has become a massive indication of what happens when Western powers lose their moral resolve. And in this case, they have lost their moral resolve to oppose a regime that is known even in the present as in the past to be committing war crimes against its own people. And Nicholas Kristof is on to something huge when he says the American excuse for not taking action used to be that we didn’t know. But that excuse is absolutely ripped away in the case of Syria. We can’t say we didn’t know, and we can’t say we haven’t known.
The Obama Administration has documented those horrors even as the President years ago drew what he called a red line in terms of the Syrian situation announcing that there would be consequences and of course those would include military interventions if the president of Syria, Bashar Assad, crossed that line. But almost immediately, the Syrian president did just that, and the President did not respond—that is the American president—did not respond with any credible, moral, much less military, action against Syria. Meantime, we have seen millions of Syrians displaced, becoming refugees that have been flooding much of the world, and we have seen hundreds of thousands of casualties among civilians, many of them children.
Americans recently had their hearts ripped by the sight of a preschool boy sitting in an ambulance covered with dust and blood, and it was the expression on his face even as he was sitting virtually alone in that ambulance, a look of abject horror and helplessness. And yet the question remains, what have we done about it? The reality is that any kind of military intervention, whether it be by aerial bombardment, much less ground forces, would require a moral commitment on the part of the United States. That’s very hard for President Obama to bring about precisely because he framed the moral issues in terms of what America must not and should not do, rather than in terms of what America should do.
There’s another very important dimension of this in terms of worldview. President Obama proudly is described in terms of that worldview as being cool and rational and analytical, but we need to note that that worldview is no match when persons do not respond by being cool and rational and analytical. In a world in which the moral consequences and issues are so grave and great, we have to be prepared to deal with people who will not respond on rational terms, who do not share that worldview, and are not going to be persuaded not to do evil things merely by the power of persuasion.
In the middle the 20th century, Sir Winston Churchill, the Prime Minister of Great Britain, offered an example of a very different understanding of how to see the world. He was abundantly clear about the fact that we could not and should not expect the world to meet us on our own terms. Instead, we would have to deal with the world as it is, not as we might want it to be. Moral action requires an accurate understanding of the world and what is at stake. Huge moral crises, especially those that are being prompted by men of evil such as the dictator Bashar Assad in Syria, can only be met by some kind of compulsion that goes beyond moral persuasion because they are clearly immune to that kind of persuasion.
Sadly, it just might have been excusable in one sense back in 1901 to miss this very obvious fact about the world. We have to deal with the world as it is, not as we might want it to be. It’s far less excusable for that same worldview to be represented in the year 2016. One-hundred and fifteen years is a very long time to learn a lesson, and the long bloody history of the 20th century and the early years of the 21st century are abundantly filled with illustrations of just how resilient to moral persuasion the world can be.
Why isn't this bigger news? Preeminent secular journal finds link between birth control and depression
Next, a very interesting headline appeared throughout the world media in recent days, and it has received not too much but far too little attention. The New York Times headline was this,
“Contraceptives Tied to Depression Risk.”
The reporter is Nicholas Bakalar. He writes,
“Hormonal contraceptives are associated with an increased risk for depression, a large study has found. Danish researchers studied more than a million women ages 15 to 34, tracking their contraceptive and antidepressant use from 2000 to 2013. The study excluded women who before 2000 had used antidepressants or had another psychiatric diagnosis. Over all, compared with nonusers, users of hormonal contraception had a 40 percent increased risk of depression after six months of use. Some types of contraceptives carried even greater risk.”
The study was published in JAMA, that is the Journal of the American Medical Association, Psychiatry, and the study also found that the risk was greater in adolescent girls. But, says the author,
“This may be because they are especially susceptible to depression.”
Here’s the big issue of worldview significance. There are actually several dimensions. First should we be surprised by this? The use of the word hormone tells us something of what it means that human beings were made as psychosomatic unities. What do we mean by that? That is the biblical worldview that tells us that we are not souls trapped in a body, but rather we are both soul and body in a unique combination as God made us this way. And thus we do not know ourselves as anything other than embodied creatures, and our bodies are made up of many different chemicals and tissues and, well, at least part of that is hormonal. And hormones do have an effect on us. Now, that means that we should expect that if we are, as the Bible says, a psychosomatic unity, that if we tamper with something so basic as hormones, we should expect there will be some kind of effect. The question is, why has this study waited for so long to be done?
The second dimension is likened to the first. If you’re going to do something so radical as to put a chemical in a woman’s body that will prevent her from the normal process of human reproduction, then that’s going to be something pretty significant in medical and in chemical terms. The sexual revolution was aided and abetted, driven by the development of the oral contraceptive. Without the pill, there would’ve been no sexual revolution, and the celebration of the pill was so central to the sexual revolution and to the entire project of personal autonomy from the 1960s and 70s onward that there is very little interest in finding out any kind of bad news about the oral contraceptive, about the pill.
But you’ll notice a third dimension here. Not only does it tell us that women in general using the pill had on average a 40% greater increase of depression, but that that increase was significantly greater in adolescent girls. Now at this point, we should pay very, very close attention. What’s going on here? We’re being told that there is a significantly even greater chance of the development of depression in adolescent girls who use the pill, the oral contraceptive. Now keep in mind the fact that the sexual revolutionaries have been pushing school-based health clinics in terms of American public schools in which adolescent girls would be given contraceptives, including the oral contraceptive, without even their parents knowledge, much less permission.
There has been the pushing on adolescents of all kinds of so-called safe sex rhetoric, which is basically the gospel of the sexual revolutionaries, and they have been particularly insistent upon pushing this message of sexual liberation upon American adolescents precisely because that will separate those teenagers from the moral values of their own families and parents. The research published in this study that made some headlines around the United States and the world is itself extremely significant. But what’s even more significant is not how much but how little attention the story has received. It wasn’t published in some kind of fringe medical journal. This is JAMA Psychiatry. It wasn’t reported in fringe newspapers. This is the New York Times.
But if you were told that any substance or any medication that was widely available to American women would increase the chance of depression by no less than 40% on average and that among adolescent girls the chance of developing depression would be even greater, wouldn’t you think there would be immediate cries for an investigation about how this could have happened and whether or not it could be prevented? But here’s the big message: the pill is so central to the sexual revolution that this culture has now gone so far along that revolutionary path that a story like this makes minor headlines and achieves a very small place in our national conversation. That tells us not so much about the pill as it does about ourselves.
Marijuana on the ballot ... and in our pet bowls
Next, we shift once again to the issue of marijuana. The reason for that is simple. It is on the ballot in no less than five states in a matter of less than a month. As Russell Berman writes for The Atlantic,
“As many as five states could approve its recreational use this November, potentially signaling a point of no return for legalized pot.”
Well, the argument can certainly be made recreational marijuana is now legally available in states “representing about 5 percent of the U.S. population. By the time Americans wake up on November 9, that percentage could be swelling to more than one-quarter.” 25% of the total American population.
The question raised in this article is whether or not this will represent politically, if not morally speaking, a tipping point for the country, and there is reason to believe that it might. We’ve been watching on The Briefing over the course of the last several years how the pattern of public acceptance and moral change on the question of marijuana has been tracking along with same-sex marriage. But of course same-sex marriage is not on the ballot in November, and the reason for that once again is simple. The United States Supreme Court took it out of the hands of the public. But the question of marijuana? Well, it is still right now largely being debated on a state-by-state basis. The states dealing with it in just a matter of days will be California, Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada. And at this point, just about every poll or survey indicates that the “yes” vote for legalizing recreational marijuana, as it’s called, is gaining ground and winning by fairly large percentages in at least some of these states.
But in terms of revealing human nature, I don’t think any headline can do so more powerfully on this issue than one that appeared Sunday in the New York Times. The headline of this article by Laura Holson,
“Pets on Pot: The Newest Customer Base for Medical Marijuana.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the New York Times. Holson reports,
“When Lisa Mastramico needed relief for her ailing tabby, Little Kitty, she turned to an unlikely source: marijuana. At 12 years old, the cat had arthritis. For a long while she spent her days hiding in a closet, where Ms. Mastramico had built her a bed of plush blankets. After trying various supplements that proved ineffectual, she went to a meeting for Women Grow, an industry group for cannabis entrepreneurs. She was not sold on the idea right away. ‘My concern was that it’s not my place to get my cat high.’”
But she evidently changed her mind.
“But with Little Kitty becoming increasingly isolated, it was time to give it a try. She got a medical marijuana card and purchased two edible oils made for pets and derived from cannabis that she squirts into her pet’s mouth. Little Kitty doesn’t hide anymore.”
As I say, this article is even clearer in revealing human nature. Take this,
“Other animal lovers who have turned to cannabis-based products to alleviate a host of pet maladies, including seizures, inflammation, anxiety and pain, are reporting similar results.
“Maria Ellis Perez, 55, a mold inspector from Pompano Beach, Fla., gives Treatibles chews made from hemp to one of her pets, a domesticated female skunk named Ricochet. At age 12, Ricochet limps and has cataracts. At one point, she had grown so withdrawn that she refused to eat. ‘We thought it was her time,’ Ms. Ellis Perez said. But after a few days of nibbling hemp, Ricochet seemed more content. ‘She was turning her head and looking up with the good eye,’ Ms. Ellis Perez said. ‘She showed up for breakfast.’
Also embedded in this article is the fact that veterinarians are now facing a problem they really hadn’t faced before, and that is pets showing up absolutely stoned, often times by getting a hold of the marijuana edibles that were not intended for them, but rather by their owners, leading to the fact that many owners have to sheepishly eventually admit that the reason their pet is sick is because the pet ate their marijuana-laced brownie.
Also embedded in this article is the fact that sometimes these pet owners will have to get the marijuana given to themselves in order for them to give it to their pets. One woman said,
“I went to the weed doctor and said, ‘I need a card so I can get it for my dog who had cancer,’” He said, ‘I don’t have a solution for that.’ So I told him I had insomnia.”
You’ll have to love the close of the article in which one woman announces that she wants to,
“have a full-service storefront where people can take their pets for consultations and care. ‘This way,’ she said, ‘I can combine my two favorite things: dogs and pot.’”
So now we have the situation where human foolishness is revealed not only in human beings using so-called medical marijuana for reasons ranging from insomnia to aching knees, but to the fact that they are now giving it to their dogs and their cats and their skunks. It may be that the five states that have marijuana on the ballot may reveal the future of America’s understanding of the morality of marijuana. But in the bigger picture, I think the more revealing headline is the one about people and marijuana and their pets. It’s one thing to have five different states with so-called recreational marijuana on the ballot. It’s another thing for the New York Times to believe that it’s now timely to report on the phenomenon of Americans giving pot to their pets.