The Briefing, Monday, November 26, 2012

TODAY: Autocracy in Egypt as Morsi Launches an Islamist Coup / The Real Aims of Hamas / India Executes a Terrorist / An Oklahoma Judge Sentences a Teenager to Church / Larry Hagman Dies — But Is Death Really “Just Another Stage in Our Development?”  I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

1. An Islamist Coup in Egypt — Autocracy on Display

“God’s will and elections made me the captain of this ship.” So declared Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi last week as he issued a presidential edict that gave him unchecked power in that nation. Morsi is the first democratically elected president in Egypt’s history, but he was elected with the support of the Islamist group the Muslim Brotherhood. This fact gave rise to the fear that his election would lead to an anti-democratic end: one citizen, one vote, one time.

Morsi had previously discharged the Egyptian legislature and with this new edict he defied the authorities of the courts to constrain his power. The New York Times warned that Morsi’s actions raised the specter of “a return to autocracy.” Actually, Morsi’s moves created the reality of an antocracy.

Dashing the hopes of many who had championed the so-called “Arab Spring” of 2011, Morsi has created a virtual dictatorship with one exception — he does not hold direct control of the military. Indeed, the draft constitution proposed by the Muslim Brotherhood does not put the military under civilian control.

As The Wall Street Journal pointed out, this puts Egypt on the road to becoming the next Pakistan — a very lamentable truth. The Journal was right to call Morsi’s actions an “Islamist coup.”

But, as the Journal warns:

“Mr. Morsi says his diktat will merely last as long as it takes the country to adopt a new constitution, which is what authoritarians always say. They claim to be a necessary step on the way to democracy, but democracy never arrives. Mr. Morsi’s rationalization is that he must have this power to “protect the revolution,” as if the demonstrators who deposed Hosni Mubarak in 2011 merely wanted another Mubarak with a beard and prayer rug. Mr. Morsi is claiming more power than Mr. Mubarak ever had.”

As is almost always the case, President Morsi claimed to assume unlimited power for the cause of saving the revolution that brought him to power. “The people wanted me to be the guardian of these steps in this phase,” he told Reuters.

This is the language used by autocrats who assume absolute power. It happened in the French Revolution and in the Bolshevik Revolution. It is still the language of the Communist Party in China.

Christians understand exactly what is going on here — human beings will seek absolute power if they can gain it. In a fallen world, every leader must be held accountable by checks and balances, and every healthy system of government requires a real separation of powers. Otherwise, tyranny inevitably results.

This just proves Lord Acton’s observation that “power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely.” Christians, informed by the doctrine of sin, understand why this is true.

2. The Real Goals of Hamas

We just pray that the fragile cease fire in Gaza and Israel can hold, but Israel’s predicament was made clear by the fact that the international press claims the cease fire as a victory for Hamas, the terrorist organization that controls the government in Gaza — the same organization that launched the recent rocket attacks on Israel.

Clearly, Hamas sees the cease fire as a victory. Young men in Gaza bragged to Western reporters that their rockets had landed for the first time in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.

Furthermore, The New York Times reported that the relatives of slain Hamas military leader Ahmed al-Jabari were celebrating his death. “Rest in peace. The mission is accomplished,” read one sign near the home where his relatives, including two wives, were staying.

One of his widows made her understanding clear:

“Allah give him a big honor because he is going to go to paradise; thanks for God for all this . . .  All this happened because this is from our God and this is the work of Jabari and the fighters here in Gaza. Thanks for God. It’s a big victory.”

Keep in mind that one of the central goals of Hamas, as made clear in its founding charter, is to raise “the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

That is what Israel is really up against when it comes to Hamas and its aims.

3. India Executes a Terrorist

India hanged a terrorist last week, its first execution since 2004. Officials executed Ajmal Kasab, the young man who was the sole surviving terrorist in the 2008 attack on Mumbia that killed 164 and wounded more than 300 people.

At his trial, Kasab admitted that he was one of 10 terrorists who conducted the attack and he also admitted that the attack was supported by Pakistan’s intelligence agency, the ISI. Kasab was clearly visible on video, shooting and killing civilians in Mumbai.

He was sentenced to death, and hanged last week after appeals for clemency failed. He was barely out of his teens when he participated in the terrorist operation.

India has the death penalty, but it is used very infrequently. Like many nations, including the United States, there is growing discomfort with the death penalty itself. Nevertheless, India’s citizenry offered wide support for the death penalty in this case, eventually resulting in Kasab’s hanging.

What does this demonstrate? At the very least, it indicates that, even in nations that are moving away from the death penalty as a common sentence for the crime of premeditated murder, some crimes still seem to demand the ultimate punishment available to human justice.

But that justice, vital as it is, cannot restore the lives Kasab and his accomplices took that day.

4. An Oklahoma Judge Sentences a Teenager to Church

Another aspect of human justice was evident in an Oklahoma courtroom recently when a judge sentenced a teenager to attend church for ten years.

Erick Eckholm of The New York Times reported,

“Initially there was little outcry in Muskogee, Okla., last week when a judge, as a condition of a youth’s probation for a driving-related manslaughter conviction, sentenced him to attend church regularly for 10 years. The judge, Mike Norman, 67, had sentenced people to church before, though never for such a serious crime. But as word of the ruling spread in state and national legal circles, constitutional experts condemned it as a flagrant violation of the separation of church and state.”

The Tulsa World reported the facts of the case:

“The defendant, Tyler Alred, 17, was behind the wheel of a Chevrolet pickup about 4 a.m. Dec. 3 when he crashed into a tree on a county road east of Muskogee. His friend and passenger John Luke Dum, 16, of Muskogee died at the scene. Alred, a high school and welding school student, admitted to Oklahoma Highway Patrol troopers that he had been drinking, records show.”


“Although not legally drunk – he was given two breath tests, which, at 0.06 and 0.07, fell below the legal 0.08 blood-alcohol threshold for legal drunkenness – he was underage and, as a result, considered to be driving under the influence of alcohol. Alred was charged with manslaughter as a youthful offender. He pleaded guilty in August, with no plea deal with prosecutors to govern his punishment.”

Judge Normans ruling is now challenged by the ACLU and others, who charge that the sentence is unconstitutional. The judge was clearly attempting to find an alternative sentence that would accomplish some approximation of justice, mixed with an effort to reclaim a young life.

As a matter of law, the sentence probably is unconstitutional. At the same time, the sentence demonstrates the painful limits of human justice. What is an appropriate sentence for a 17-year-old boy under this circumstance? What are the aims of justice? Even Judge Norman’s critics will be stuck on that excruciating question.

5. Larry Hagman Dies — Is Death Really “Just Another Stage in Our Development?”

Actor Larry Hagman, star of television’s Dallas series on CBS, died last Friday in Dallas, Texas at age 81. He died of complications from cancer, which he had discussed openly in recent months. Hagman had previously undergone a liver transplant and other health crises.

He was at one point the most recognizable male actor in the world, given the audience attracted to Dallas. The “Who Shot J.R.” episode of that series drew the second-largest audience in television history (exceeded only by the final episode of M*A*S*H).

Hagman delighted in his work as an actor, playing the loathsome character J.R. Ewing with relish. His fellow actors professed their enjoyment of working with him.

Speaking several years ago, Hagman said that death is “just another stage of our development.”

He continued: “I honestly believe that we don’t just disappear. We don’t go into a void. I think we’re part of a big energy curtain, an energy wave, in which we are like molecules.”

Every worldview has to answer the challenge of understanding death. Larry Hagman’s worldview, perhaps influenced by Eastern religious thought, is on full display in that comment.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. LISTEN HERE.

Links to articles cited:

The Briefing, Monday, November 19, 2012

TODAY: Conflict between Hamas and Israel intensifies / Monarchy out of step in the modern world / Mail order ordination in a secular age / The Twinkie goes the way of the Studebaker — extinct. I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview.

The Rockets’ Red Glare — Israel’s New Challenge

Israel, which has endured periodic rocket attacks and similar assaults from Hamas terrorists in Gaza for years, is now facing an escalated conflict and a new danger — powerful rockets that originate in Iran.

Ethan Bronner of The New York Times is providing some of the most important coverage of this conflict. In both Saturday’s and Sunday’s editions of the paper, Bronner provided key insights into Israel’s new challenge.

Hamas has obtained ‘Fajr-5’ rockets capable of hitting Israel’s major cities. How has Hamas obtained such advanced weapons? Bronner reports:

“The rockets are assembled locally after being shipped from Iran to Sudan, trucked across the desert through Egypt, broken down into parts and moved through Sinai tunnels into Gaza, according to senior Israeli security officials. The smuggling route involves salaried employees from Hamas along the way, Iranian technical experts traveling on forged passports and government approval in Sudan, Israeli officials said.”

This is a major development and a dangerous escalation in the risk of an open ground war in Gaza.

On Saturday, Bronner reported that the Israeli government and a majority of its citizens have come to the conclusion that Hamas does not want peace. As he explains:

“Their dangerous neighborhood is growing still more dangerous, they agree. That means not concessions, but being tougher in pursuit of deterrence, and abandoning illusions that a Jewish state will never be broadly accepted here. ‘There is a theory, which I believe, that Hamas doesn’t want a peaceful solution and only wants to keep the conflict going forever until somehow in their dream they will have all of Israel,’ Eitan Ben Eliyahu, a former leader of the Israeli Air Force, said in a telephone briefing. ‘There is a good chance we will go into Gaza on the ground again.'”

Over the past two years, Israel’s security has been threatened in new and ominous ways. I discuss these threats in today’s edition of The Briefing.

Hereditary Monarchy in the Modern Age — Badly Out of Step

Reports out of Jordan indicate that the Hashemite dynasty headed now by King Abdullah II may be in real danger. Crowds of young men and boys, numbering in the thousands, have surged through the streets of Amman, calling for revolution and “the toppling of the regime.”

Much of this is surely due to the so-called Arab Spring that toppled governments in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. But a larger part of this picture may be explained by the fact that a hereditary ruling monarchy is just badly out of place in the modern world. We can sometimes forget just how strange it is that the ruler of a people is simply the biological offspring of a previous ruler.

When protests against monarchy hit the streets like this, it seldom goes well for the monarch.

Mail Order Ordination — So What’s the Problem?

It seems that the issue of mail order ministers has become something of a problem in New York State, and probably elsewhere. As Vincent M. Mallozzi of The New York Times reports,

“An increasing number of couples are steering away from traditional religious and civil wedding officiants in favor of friends and relatives who become ordained through online ministries. But many couples are unaware that while New York State recognizes marriages performed by those who became ministers by the power vested in a mouse, there are five downstate counties where such officiants are not technically legal.”

The very existence of these mail order ministers is evidence of an increasingly secular age. As Mallozzi reports, the couples wanting their friends to officiate at weddings, complete with mail order ordination, simply do not want the presence of a recognized minister with “a lot of formulaic vows.” What they want is intimacy and secular affirmation.

The report reveals something of the extent of the mail order ordination business, with firms such as the Universal Life Church, the Church of Spiritual Humanism, and the Temple of Earth offering online ordination, for a fee.

New York State may be confused about who is and who is not a “real” minister, but the faithful church cannot be confused on the question.

The Twinkie is Terminated?

News out of Chicago indicates that the Twinkie, that iconic form of American snack food, is about to go extinct. Hostess, maker of the Twinkie, has decided to liquidate rather than face defeat by strangulation. The company’s labor unions have been strangling the company, which lost $341 million in 2011.

Labor unions held the company to 372 different collective-bargaining agreements, that required the company to offer 80 different health and benefit plans, dozens of pension plans, and more than $30 million in wage increases for next year.

The editorial board of The Wall Street Journal declared the death of the company a suicide. More than 18,000 Hostess employees killed their own company — and their own jobs.

According to The Chicago Tribune, the Twinkie was born on April 6, 1930 at Chicago’s Continental Baking Company. Hostess will attempt to sell the company’s recipes — including the recipe for the Twinkie.

I discuss all these and more in today’s edition of The Briefing: A Daily Analysis of News and Events from a Christian Worldview. Listen here.     Links to all articles cited also provided.