The Briefing 11-06-14

The Briefing 11-06-14

The Briefing


November 6, 2014

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


It’s Thursday, November 6, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Political world re-calibrating from changes due to election

Sometimes just the passage of a brief amount of time seems to indicate that what was thought to be really big one day appears not so significant the next. A good many voters probably went to bed on Tuesday night wondering indeed if the election that day was as big a deal as it seemed when the reports started coming in on Tuesday evening and Tuesday night. And yet 24 or so hours later it’s very clear not only is this story as big is it seemed to be, in the long run it’s even bigger. A little bit of perspective is given the understanding that what happened on Tuesday, the so-called wave election that has put so many Republicans into office and has given Republicans control of the United States Senate, the what that really represented was something that’s going to take some time to figure out. What exactly was on the minds of the voters when they voted in their respective states and congressional districts with the elections of governors and so many others, with propositions of proposals on the ballot, what were they trying to say?

By any estimate it’s a mixed message; on the issue of abortion, the pro-life movement won big in Tennessee but lost in North Dakota and Colorado. What does that say? At the same time the Colorado voters turned down a personhood amendment they also elected to office a pro-life Republican senatorial candidate. Likewise in North Dakota – were they turning down the personhood amendment? Were they actually trying to defend abortion rights? Or were they lacking in understanding what the proposal was actually all about? In terms of marijuana it was pretty much a clean slate when it came to the legalization issues with the District of Columbia and Oregon both deciding, rather sizably indeed, to approve the legalization of that particular substance. When it came to medical marijuana the voters of Florida overwhelmingly said yes but not overwhelmingly enough. The 57% of voters in Florida who approved that measure were 3% short of the necessary 60% in order to put that measure into effect.

When it came to the partisan divide in America, as yesterday we discussed the fact that it reveals an even deeper worldview divide, still state-by-state, election by election, there are huge questions that remain to be answered. How do you explain the fact that in a state like Maryland, the state elected the second Republican governor since Spiro Agnew? How do you explain the fact that you have a Governor such as Andrew Cuomo in New York State – who ended up being rather unpopular – who was reelected by a much smaller margin than would’ve been expected a year ago and yet there’s actually no prospect of any Republican candidate coming very close in terms of that state’s gubernatorial election on at least the same terms.

When you look state-by-state and election by election there are very clear patterns. One of most important of those patterns was a repudiation of the leadership currently in Washington; most particularly as the New York Times put in its headlined yesterday, it put the President of the United States, Barack Obama, significantly on the defensive. That’s what made us so interested in what President Obama had to say in a very important press conference held yesterday at the White House. And it wasn’t just what the President said, it was the way he said it.

Now in looking at the leadership challenge the President faced yesterday, you can imagine that he had several different avenues he could’ve taken in terms of response. He could’ve come out being defiant, saying that he is absolutely not going to compromise in any way with the new Republican majority in both houses of Congress, or he could’ve come out in a much more conciliatory fashion speaking of the message that voters clearly set on Tuesday and making very clear how he intended to incorporate that message into his own presidential administration; now facing the last two years of his term in office. But President Obama actually took neither of those avenues; instead what he did yesterday appeared to be rather in keeping with his personality and his persona in the previous six years in office. Now one thing to note as Christians think about this is that the leadership challenge, as evidence now by President Obama, is one for which we all need to learn and this means that sometimes we also need to learn from people with whom he may be in deep political disagreement about any number of issues.

Yesterday as I was watching President Obama as I was standing in an airport waiting to board an airplane, what immediately came to my mind was the dramatic contrast between the way President Obama handled this situation and how former President Bill Clinton handled virtually the very same situation during his own administration. Bill Clinton came out and faced a similar set of political circumstances but he didn’t come out as did President Obama. President Clinton came out with a sober look on his face only to break out into a smile and make very clear that he had learned the message that the American people intended to send; and furthermore he intended, in the words that he often said during his administration, to do business – to do big business for the American people. In contrast yesterday President Obama never seemed actually to get to a smile. That too was a failure of leadership. He didn’t respond with any kind of warmth, not only to the new political situation but even to the American people. And when it came to what President Clinton would’ve called ‘big business’ – big business to be done in terms of the political system –  President Obama seemed intentionally to downplay the opportunity for some kind of combined and cooperative effort with the new Republican leadership in Congress.

This is going to put the President of the United States in a very lonely position because now he controls of course the executive branch of government – that’s massive – but he has lost his allies in terms of the leadership of Congress and especially now in the Senate. And given the power of the Senate to advise and consent, given the power the Senate to confirm presidential nominees, given especially the power of the Senate to deal with judicial nominees, and given the fact that Committee Chairman in the Senate can exert vast power over the political system – power with which even the executive branch has to deal – you can understand the President Obama found himself in a new political world when he woke up Wednesday morning. And yet when he spoke to the American people later in the day he seemed to be following the very same script as the previous six years; much is going to be riding on what happens in the next two years. America’s at a very crucial turning point in its own history, much is taking place, great challenges now lie before us – the challenges of Ebola and the Islamic State that were not even known to the voters or to the President in a matter of just a couple of years ago. And furthermore, issues that will certainly be on the nation’s agenda that we can’t even envision right now. But in the final analysis we should certainly understand that though it matters what both President Obama and the new congressional leaders will say, it matters far more – infinitely more – what they do.

2) Kansas and Missouri same-sex marriage bans struck down, furthering courts’ advocacy 

I spent the last three days in the states of Kansas and Missouri, and both of those states ended up in the headlines yesterday on the issue of same-sex marriage because in both of those states, neighboring states, judges struck down bans on same-sex marriage; first in Kansas then in Missouri. In Kansas the judicial action was taken by a federal judge, US District Judge Daniel Crabtree, who in a 38-page judgment ruled that the Kansas ban violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution and its guarantee of equal protection. This federal judge cited the fact that the 10th US circuit Court of Appeals in Denver had similarly struck down measures in the states of Oklahoma and Utah – that is the same circuit covered by the state of Kansas. This judge then cited the precedent from the 10th circuit and simply struck down Kansas’s ban on same-sex marriage. In the state of Missouri it wasn’t a federal judge; it was a circuit court judge in St. Louis. In this case, St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage declaring,

“The freedom to marry is a fundamental right and liberty deeply rooted in the history of the United States.”

Interestingly the Supreme Court in its decisions passed down on the issue of same-sex marriage last year, especially the Windsor decision, did not explicitly declare that the right of same-sex marriage is a fundamental right. It may yet do so, but in this case you have a circuit court judge in Missouri who went even beyond the legal reasoning of the United States Supreme Court when he struck down Missouri’s ban on same-sex marriage. We’re looking here at an avalanche of these cases, of these judicial decisions, and of these states.

When you’re looking at the number of states that now have legal same-sex marriage, we are now inching up towards 40 – and that means that in short order roughly four out of five states in the union will have legal same-sex marriage. Only two groupings of states remain, they’re states included within the 5th and 6th US Circuit Courts of appeal and those courts will also be ruling on this issue. That sets up a very interesting constitutional question: will either of those two courts, as many legal observers now expect, rule in favor of the constitutionality of some ban on same-sex marriage? If so, that will send the issue almost automatically right to the threshold of the United States Supreme Court. On October 6 of this year the Supreme Court punted on the issue, clearly wanting to avoid the issue if it possibly could. It now comes down to what these two US Circuit Courts of appeal will do – the 5th and the 6th. As for the rest of the country, the issue is for now – at least in terms of the courts – effectively settled.

3) Climate change ads present humans as the blight, not stewards, of nature

Next, it’s very interesting to note that the issue environmentalism, often packaged as issue of climate change, brings out sometimes the best but even more often the worst when it comes to worldview reasoning. What’s often exposed now in the public comments and the public arguments on this issue is a basic anti-humanism, an antipathy towards human beings; where it is suggested that human beings are themselves – the human species at large – a blight upon the planet and a danger to nature. Now a group known as Conservation International is coming out with a set of videos using Hollywood celebrities in order to express basically that very message; that human beings are the problem, that nature itself left alone is the answer.

As Brad Wieners reports, one of the voices in the voiceover on these videos representing Mother Nature is actress Julia Roberts who says,

“I’ve been here for eons. [She says, as Mother Nature,] I’ve fed species greater than you. And I’ve starved greater species than you. My oceans, my soil, my flowing streams, my forests: They all can take you—or leave you… Your actions will determine your fate. Not mine.”

Now what is the worldview being expressed here? What are we really looking at in this kind of statement? Well we’re looking in the first place at that basic anti-humanism, we’re looking at the accusation that human beings are the problem. That human beings are not, as according to Scripture, the pinnacle of divine creation but a rather biological accident that are a threat to the rest of the cosmos, and in particular to the planet. According to Brad Wieners of Bloomberg BusinessWeek, this new effort includes a,

“…A-list of movie stars [who] donated their time and intonations to the project, which was produced by Washington, D.C.-based Conservation International and co-created with Lee Clow, the ad legend responsible for Apple’s Think Different campaign. In the segments [says Wiener], we hear from various natural elements and sentient beings questioning why humans pay so little attention to the hazards posed by overpopulation, an overheated climate, and other ecological pressures. Harrison Ford [he says] holds forth as a deeply exasperated ocean. Kevin Spacey is an unbearably smug rainforest.”

And Ed Norton appears as the voice of the soil, soil that according to Bloomberg Businessweek has anger issues. Wiener summarizes the project by writing,

“Longer than the typical 30- or 60-second broadcast commercial and with very limited branding (a title before and after), the ‘Nature Is Speaking’ [that’s what they are called] videos aren’t quite advertisements, but neither are they exactly public service announcements. No specific action is suggested, no instruction given. They add up to more of an existential wake-up call, like the one delivered to earthlings in [the movie] The Day the Earth Stood Still.”

So looking explicitly at the script given to Julia Roberts when she’s speaking on behalf of Mother Nature, I read again where she says,

“I’ve fed species greater than you. And I’ve starved greater species than you.”

So not only is there a deep, very apparent, anti-humanism in this effort but also in the script that I just read to you, there’s an explicit hostility coming from Mother Nature to the human beings who inhabit the planet. That hostility comes out in another paragraph in the script where Mother Nature, in the voice of Julia Roberts, says,

“How you choose to live each day – whether you regard or disregard me – it really doesn’t matter to me one way or the other. Your actions will determine your fate, not mine.”

Well just one little footnote here. That messaging isn’t exactly what we’ve been hearing from the United Nations and from so many others who are telling us that actually what human beings are doing does matter to nature. The biblical worldview reminds us that we as human beings are given the responsibility of dominion, that’s found in Genesis 1:28. But that dominion does not take the shape of an exploitation of nature, a misuse of the created order, but rather the understanding that as creatures we are given the stewardship of the garden; that is the cosmos God has created, at least on this planet, and we are given a responsibility for which we will give an answer. And that’s why there is a proper environmentalism for every faithful Christian. That is the environmentalism of stewardship – that’s a doctrinal issue – that does not consist in treating the created order is an end unto itself but rather as an exercise in our discipleship. And furthermore the biblical worldview eliminates – eradicates – any possibility of speaking of human beings as a blight upon nature, as a blight upon the planet, because as the Bible makes clear, it was God’s final supreme act of creation in which he made the only creature made in his image and gave to those creatures, both male and female, this responsibility of stewardship and dominion.

Lee Clow, who was the director of media arts for the program, told the Guardian in London,

“We thought the idea of giving nature a voice … might make it clear to all of us that the planet will evolve with or without humans. It’s our choice,”

Now just note very carefully – that came by the way in the form of a prepared release that was given to the media – what Lee Clow is basically saying there is that nature is entirely an accident, it’s just a cosmic accident. Human beings are just one complicated accident within that larger accident and as it turns out human beings are really the problem, not the solution. Humans are not seen in this case as stewards, who have a divine mission and responsibility, but rather as a blight upon the planet – a planet according to this messaging that can very well do without us. Indeed the actual words found in these scripts suggest that planet would indeed be better off without us. There’s also an absolute affirmation of evolution here, to the point that we are told that the planet will continue to evolve without us. By the way, it’s insinuated that that just might be a rather good thing.

M. Sanjayan, who is Conservation International’s senior scientist, he said,

“With any campaign, even one as carefully planned as this one, you have no idea how it’s going to work,”

He went on to say,

“We are going to get some flak, without a doubt. Not everyone’s going to like this. It’s not happy talk. The ocean is angry, Edward Norton is edgy, [Kevin] Spacey drips with sarcasm. You can feel that.”

Indeed if you watch these videos you’ll see you can feel this hostility, you can sense this anger, but you also scene, you also come to understand something else, there may be no greater illustration of the basic worldview collision between the biblical worldview and the naturalistic materialistic worldview evolution than these short videos. And there is a further very important point to observe here, the list of voices employed in this program, they are from the A-list of actors and actresses in Hollywood. We’re talking about Harrison Ford, we are talking about Kevin Spacey, we’re talking about Julia Roberts, we’re talking about those who have won Academy Awards – some of them, multiple Academy Awards – and what does this tell us? It tells us that when we’re looking at this cause, when we’re looking at this message, you have a good number of people in Hollywood who say, ‘I’m evidently supposed to say this. I’m supposed to consider it an honor to take on this role.’ You have to wonder if they actually heard what they were saying. Do they not understand that the hostility they were voicing on behalf of nature is directed not just to humanity at large but to themselves?

Finally the worldview at work here is actually made very clear in a manifesto released by conservation international along with these videos. Avoiding the word manifesto, presumably because of its gender connotations, instead they call it a Humanifesto. It subtitled, ‘Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.’ This document is important enough; you deserve to hear the statement as a whole. The document reads,

“Human beings are part of nature. Nature is not dependent on human beings to exist. Human beings, on the other hand, are totally dependent on nature to exist. The growing number of people on the planet and how we live here is going to determine the future of nature. And the future of us. Nature will go on, no matter what. It will evolve. The question is, will it be with us or without us? If nature could talk, it would probably say it doesn’t much matter either way. We must understand there are aspects of how our planet evolves that are totally out of our control.  But there are things that we can manage, control and do responsibly that will allow us and the planet to evolve together.”

Let me just stop here for a moment and say, there you have the worldview made very, very clear. It is the co-evolution of human beings and the planet that is called for as the only plan of action that is actually mentioned in any of the material released by this group thus far. The statement goes on to say,

“We are Conservation International and we need your help. Our movement is dedicated to managing those things we can control better. Country by country. Business by business. Human by human. We are not about us vs. them. It doesn’t matter if you’re an American, a Canadian or a Papua New Guinean. You don’t even have to be particularly fond of the ocean or have a soft spot for elephants. This is simply about all of us coming together to do what needs to be done. Because if we don’t, nature will continue to evolve. Without us. Here is to the future. With humans.

4) Flavor house boom displays society’s expectation of unlimited choice

Finally, sometimes you find issues of worldview significance in unexpected places – even on the business page with a story that has the headline, “The New Science of Taste: 1,000 Banana Flavors,” the article is written by Annie Gasparro and Jesse Newman of the Wall Street Journal and it begins with a rather astounding statement about how our world is so different than the world of just a generation or so ago. They write,

“In the first 90 years of making its signature product, Campbell Soup Co. developed just over 100 varieties. In the past 30 years, that number has quadrupled, and now includes soups as diverse as Thai Tomato Coconut Bisque, Philly-Style Cheesesteak and Spicy Chicken Quesadilla.”

They go on to say,

“The soup smorgasbord reflects Americans’ growing appetite for food with bold and exotic tastes and textures, which in recent decades has spurred companies to add thousands of new flavorings, spices, colorings, thickeners and preservatives to their recipes, shaking up the country’s menu.”

Just a few years ago some Americans began talking about the tyranny of choice – indicating that in our consumer society we’ve now reached the point that a certain kind of choice fatigue has set in. How do you choose between hundreds and hundreds of varieties of soup? That’s not a small question. Nowadays Americans expect to so customize our lives and so specialize our tastes that eventually every manufacturer, every supplier, every companies, is going to have to come to terms with exactly who I am and which kind of banana flavoring I want. Oh yes, banana flavoring. Just one company in the Chicago area known as Synergy has offered now more than 1,000 different varieties of banana flavoring. Oh and by the way, these companies are called ‘flavor houses.’ Most Americans probably didn’t even know there were such businesses but flavor houses are expected to do about $4 billion in business this year alone in the United States – that’s up from 2.5 billion in 2003. And that’s what’s got the attention of the business pages in the Wall Street Journal. H.J. Heinz company – well, for a 124 years it made just one kind of ketchup – just one flavor of ketchup – but in the last several years it had to diversify. It now makes eight of them, including jalapeño infused and balsamic vinegar ketchups.

In concerning these flavor houses they write,

“Synergy Flavors, an Illinois company that makes ingredients for ice cream, yogurt and other products, says its flavoring formulas number about 80,000.”

That’s 80,000 different flavors available from this flavor house, that’s up from 13,000 flavors in the year 2002. As I said, it has about 1,000 banana flavors alone – ranging from green banana to banana Foster. On a recent afternoon, said the reporters,

“…its employees wearing white lab coats were testing a French-toast flavoring for vanilla ice cream.”

So now you know you can prepare your taste buds. So what’s the worldview importance of this? Well it tells us just what kind of society we are now becoming. We’re becoming such a consumer society that we expect a multiplicity, we expect indeed such a rich diversity of flavors and options that somehow it makes sense that just one flavor house in Chicago, Illinois has 1,000 different varieties of banana flavor. And where the vanilla flavorings far outnumbering the banana flavorings, are now soon to include a French toast vanilla flavor – coming soon to a shopping cart near you.

Well in economic terms we talk about economic inequality and we talk about the vexing continuing problems of poverty, we are a nation that somehow involves such purchasing power and such consumer interest that flavoring houses – flavoring houses – are going to do $4 billion dollars of business in this year alone. So what we’re talking about where we stand economically let’s just pause for a moment and recognize we’re a nation that is going to spend billions and billions and billions of dollars developing new flavors for banana.

But this is report doesn’t just reflect upon the economy writ large, it reflects upon every single one of us and the fact that we do expect almost unlimited choice when it comes to having what we want – even down to our individual taste. And in this age of almost unlimited and radical choice, it seems absolutely un-American to tell people there’s only one way, there is only one variety, of anything. That’s one of the things the places orthodox biblical Christianity at such a disadvantage in terms of the contemporary culture because when we’re talking about the love of God and we’re talking about human problem and we’re talking about God’s answer to the human predicament of sin, we’re talking about one way of salvation – one way – we’re talking about one faith, one Lord, one baptism. We’re talking about one Scripture, we’re talking about one. And so the next time you get into a conversation with someone who seems absolutely puzzled that you really do believe that there’s only one Savior and only one way of salvation just recognize that runs directly against the grain in a society that has over 1,000 different forms of banana flavor from just one flavor house. Thoughts about theology then appear rather unexpectedly in an article in the Wall Street Journal about the explosion of flavor houses.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.



Podcast Transcript

1) Political world re-calibrating from changes due to election

 President Obama Left Fighting for His Own Relevance, New York Times (Peter Baker)

Transcript: President Obama’s Nov. 5 news conference on midterm election results, Washington Post

2) Kansas and Missouri same-sex marriage bans struck down, furthering courts’ advocacy 

Federal judge declares the Kansas same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, Kansas City Star (Mark Morris)

Missouri ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, court rules, Reuters (Carey Gillam)

3) Climate change ads present humans as the blight, not stewards, of nature

‘Nature is speaking’: will consumers listen?, The Guardian, (Greg Harman)

Julia Roberts as Mother Nature: ‘I Don’t Really Need People’, Business Week, (Brad Wieners)

Our Humanifesto, Natureisspeaking,org

4) Flavor house boom displays society’s expectation of unlimited choice

The New Science of Taste: 1,000 Banana Flavors, Wall Street Journal (Annie Gasparro and Jesse Newman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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