The Briefing 02-19-15

The Briefing 02-19-15

The Briefing


February 19, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, February 19, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Trials for aged former Nazi guards reveal innate human hunger for justice

How long can justice wait? That is a huge question in a question looming over some headlines that have appeared in the last several days. Specifically, both of these headlines have to do with men who are now 93 years old. And both of these men, now in their 10th decade of life, are being arrested for complicity in murders that took place over a half-century ago, and those murders took place in the context of World War II and in what we now know as the genocide of the Holocaust against the Jews.

Just days ago CBS News reported that an accused Nazi guard, now age 93, has been charged as an accessory to murder and he’s been charged with the 173,000 counts of accessory to murder. That’s right, 173,000 counts; because under the new standard of international law anyone who served in the death camps as a part of the death machine is at least an accessory in every one of the murders of the Jews and others that took place in those camps during the time that they served there. This is an indication that this 93-year-old man is now being indicted and, it is announced soon, to be tried for his complicity in the death of 170,000 people as he was accused of being in service to the death squads at Auschwitz and Birkenau from a period from January 1942 to June 1944.

But the second headline came in a very important essay that appeared in the February 16 edition of the New Yorker. In that magazine Elizabeth Kolbert reports on the fact that another man, also age 93, is now being charged with 300,000 cases of being accessory to murder for the same kinds of crimes. In this case the man is Oskar Gröning, who is now known as the bookkeeper from Auschwitz. He was born on June 10, 1921 in Nienburg, a town about 30 miles south of Bremen. According to the report,

“Gröning graduated from high school in 1938 and went to work at a local savings bank. He became a member of the Nazi Party just as the war broke out, and then, not long afterward, volunteered for the Waffen S.S. He had seen pictures of S.S. men in magazines and he thought they looked dashing.”

Looking back over the decades Gröning then wrote,

“It was spontaneous enthusiasm, a sense of not wanting to be the last one in the game, when the whole thing was practically over,”

Here you have a man looking back over six decades – indeed even more than that – to a time when he was not yet even 20 years old, when as a teenager he joined the Waffen S.S., the deadliest part of Hitler’s Wehrmacht, in order to join the movement he was afraid he would miss because as he said, it appeared that the war might be over and he would miss the opportunity.

And make no mistake, in his own writings after the events of the war, he wrote that he did understand what was going on. As the New Yorker reports,

“Gröning knew that the prisoners had come to Auschwitz to die. This didn’t much bother him. Jews, he’d been taught since his days in the Stahlhelm youth league, were the enemy. They were conspiring against Germany and so had to be dealt with. As for the gas chambers, those were, as he once put it, just ‘a tool of waging war—a war with advanced methods.’ But certain things [according to the New Yorker] did upset him. One day, he was stationed on the Auschwitz ramp, where incoming prisoners were sorted into groups. When the process was over, the place, in his description, looked ‘just like a fairground. There was lots of rubbish left. And amongst this rubbish were people who were ill, who were unable to walk.’”

As the story goes on, he saw a child on the ramp and then he saw the child brutally murdered by one of the guards. After the war, according to the report, Gröning took up his life more or less where he left off. He ended up getting married, he had two sons. Then in mid 1980s he saw a pamphlet known as “The Auschwitz Lie”, a pamphlet that was claiming that the Holocaust had not really taken place. Gröning responded by saying that the events that were documented in the Holocaust had indeed taken place, and he should know because he was there.

He wrote a response to that pamphlet, “The Auschwitz Lie,” and he eventually gave interviews in the media; as recently as 2013. Then the New Yorker reports,

“Gröning is now ninety-three. He is widowed and has trouble walking. A few months ago, he was charged with three hundred thousand counts of accessory to murder. His trial, to be held in the city of Lüneburg, is supposed to begin in April.”

From a biblical perspective these reports are really important because they document the innate human demand for justice. Understanding what took place in the Holocaust – we’re talking about the murder of upwards of 6 million people, most of them Jews – we come to understand that it’s an enormity that simply cries out for justice. But we also understand the same is true, though not in scale, with the death of any single human being in terms of murder. We understand that any kind of murder calls for justice, of course so does every sin, so does every crime. But we do understand that in the scales of justice there are certain crimes that simply have to be prosecuted. There are certain criminals that have to be documented. There are certain perpetrators that have to be tracked down and tried, even if they are age 93 – in the 10th decade of life, and even if their complicity with this evil is now over six decades ago.

Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece in the New Yorker is really important because it documents the failure of Germany after the war to prosecute these criminals who were not only evident, but were very publicly living in their midst. She defines the generations of those who responded to the Holocaust in Germany in terms of three different generations; one in which, in the earliest generation, Germany was so morally traumatized by the war and unwilling to take responsibility for the Holocaust that it basically let the Nazis become re-integrated into German society without much attention. Then came the second generation when there was an effort to track down many who had been actively involved in the Holocaust. This was largely due to the fact that you had people such as Simon Wiesenthal, a famous Jewish tracker of these World War II criminals, who brought the matter to international attention. And then also in the 1960s you had the worldwide publicity that came with the trial of Adolf Eichmann, one of the most famous architects of the death camps.

American Christians also have to understand that we are not without complicity in this ourselves; in the sense that after the second world war and after the surrender of Germany, the United States government strategically and specifically allowed some members of the Nazi party – including some military officers from the fallen Third Reich – to become a part of American society in order to fight the Russians in the Cold War, particularly with the development of rocket technology in the space race during. During the 1960s and 70s the United States began to deal with some of the Nazis who had arrived here, as well as calling for the prosecution of Nazis who were in Germany and elsewhere. As Kolbert writes,

“By the mid-nineteen-seventies, it had become clear that lots of seemingly innocent refugees who had been admitted to the United States were, in fact, anything but. In one particularly infamous case, Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan, a housewife living in Queens, was revealed to have been the Stomping Mare of the Majdanek concentration camp, a guard known for brutally kicking prisoners with her boots. (When Joseph Lelyveld, then a young reporter at the Times, showed up at Braunsteiner Ryan’s door, her reaction was ‘This is the end of everything for me.’)”

And so it should have been. The New Yorker goes into some detail, pointing out that there were people embedded in many American neighborhoods who had been admitted, not by any strategic action of the United States, but simply by the fact that they were not recognized as the criminals complicit in the Holocaust they were later revealed to be. Some years ago the novelist Stephen King wrote a novella about a young boy who discovers a German war criminal living in his neighborhood. It is a horrifying and haunting tale, but it’s true that in some American neighborhoods such as Queens they were embedded people like Hermine Braunsteiner Ryan who appear to be harmless elderly retirees, immigrants from the old world who were in fact those who were fleeing from justice. And fleeing from a justice that the human moral instinct says simply must be served.

In the third wave of the prosecutions, not only in Germany but elsewhere against these who had been Nazis complicit in the death camp, was an understanding as Der Spiegel, a major German magazine, documented that,

“The unspeakable required untold numbers of helpers,”

There were hundreds and thousands of people around the death camps who were complicit in the business that was going on there. That is a truly horrifying realization. But the announcement of these two 93-year-old men to face charges of complicity and murder – one, 170,000 counts, the other 300,000 counts – it does serve as a reminder that even as justice may be long-delayed, it is still important to press the claims of justice.

The New Yorker cites Deborah Lipstadt, a Holocaust scholar at Emory University, who called of these kinds of more recent indictments,

“…proof that the rule of law works, however slowly.”

One of the most interesting developments right now is that Germany has decided that even as almost everyone who could possibly have been involved in the Holocaust directly is now age 90 or at least in the late 80s or beyond, there is no excuse for not prosecuting these cases. Therefore, as the New Yorker says, Germany’s central office for investigating Nazi crimes has announced that it is looking to build cases against 50 former Auschwitz guards.

“In view of the monstrosity of these crimes, one owes it to the survivors and the victims not to simply say ‘a certain time has passed,’ ”

That according to Kurt Schrimm, the head of the prosecutorial office.

Here’s the really haunting thing from the New Yorker article: it may well be, as even the German government affirms, that there were tens of thousands, maybe even over hundred thousand, who should have been indicted but will never face a court of justice here on earth. And just in terms of a reminder of what it cost to delay justice, let me read you these words from the New Yorker,

“In September, 2013, the office announced that nine of the fifty guards on the roster had, in the intervening months, died. Others simply could not be located.”

So what we’re looking at here is list of 50, and out of that 50 you can then extrapolate there were two headlines about two men arrested at age 93 for their complicity in these crimes. In the end the most horrifying realization from this is that there were tens of thousands of people well over that, as a matter fact, who appear just to be normal Germans who became a part of the death machine of the Holocaust. As several of the prosecutors have noted, you simply can’t look at these people and tell who was involved in the murder and who wasn’t. We like to believe that we can simply look someone in the face and know if they’re capable of such horrifying crimes, but we can’t. We like to believe that humanity itself is not capable of such crimes, but clearly humanity is.

And as Christians we do understand that even as there will be not only tens of thousands or over a hundred thousand involved in the Holocaust who will escape the human bar of justice, we also realize there are millions who will never face the earthly justice that they deserved. But we also understand that is not the final verdict. That’s the most important distinction between the Christian worldview and the secular worldview of these articles. At the end of the day it simply will not be the case that those who perpetrated these crimes or any other crime will escape justice; not divine justice, because that Day of Judgment is coming and as the Scripture says, it will surely come.

2) Execution of Coptic Christians by ISIS raise important issues of martyrdom for Christians

The headlines also continue as they should, to deal with the fact that ISIS or the Islamic state executed 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians earlier this week simply for the crime of being Coptic Christians. This has alerted many Christians once again to the reality of martyrdom. And the reality of martyrdom is not something that should surprise the church, Jesus himself told his own disciples – including those he later sent out as apostles – that some, if not most of them, would be martyred; that their lives would end simply because they were disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Furthermore, in the history of the church there has been a waxing and waning of periods of persecution and of martyrdom, and one of things the early church had to deal with was the understanding of martyrdom itself. And remember that the Greek word from which we draw the word martyr is the very word ‘witness’, and there is no more powerful witness than those who give their witness with their blood.

One of the interesting questions being raised by some evangelical Christians is how we should understand martyrdom when we understand those who were martyred as those who would hold to a very different understanding of Christianity and perhaps even a very different gospel than we hold to be both biblical and true. Before we think about this just in terms of the Coptic Christians who were executed by the Islamic state, we need to remember that some of those same questions pertain when we look to some from the early centuries of the Christian church. In some cases, especially in the third and four centuries, we’re not actually sure what some of these people believed. We do know this: they died because of their allegiance to Christ and they died in his name, they died because they would not deny him.

It is certainly possible in this kind of situation for evangelical Christians to say too much, to say that we know exactly what these people believed and that what they believe is the same gospel in which we believe. That will be saying too much, not only about these Coptic Christians, it’ll be saying too much about any number of those who have been martyred in the name of Christ throughout the 20 centuries of church history behind us. But we do know this: there have been those who have been martyred through the ages simply because they would not deny the name of Christ. And by any estimation, they died solely because they were targeted as those who were known to be followers of Christ; they were Christians in some sense in terms of their identification.

We do not believe as evangelical Christians in the doctrine of justification by martyrdom alone, but we do know this, every single authentic follower of the Lord Jesus Christ is called to be faithful even if that faithfulness means we’re faithful unto death. And it shows absolutely no disrespect to the gospel when we respect those who have given their lives for the sake of following the name of Jesus.

3) Secularists eagerly import ‘mindfulness’ – promoting Eastern religious practices

Next, an interesting article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal, the headline is A Mindful Child May be a Focused One, the article is by Emily Holland. She writes,

“‘Mindfulness’ has gotten a lot of buzz recently, with everyone from tech executives to professional athletes to lawmakers saying they use it to combat stress, stay balanced and perform better on the job. Now some educators and psychologists think schoolchildren could benefit from the practice, too.”

Listen carefully to how she defines ‘mindfulness’ as the subject of her article. She writes,

“Mindfulness is a form of meditation rooted in spiritual teaching in which people focus their full attention on the present moment. They acknowledge what they are feeling and experiencing—and accept it without judgment or criticism. The idea is to quiet the mind and heighten awareness.”

Now remember that is her definition of what she’s talking about in this article. She then writes,

“The movement is making its way into public schools across the U.S., propelled by advocates who say teaching children how to use techniques such as meditation and controlled breathing to clear their minds can help sharpen students’ focus, reduce their stress and anxiety, and boost academic performance.”

She goes on to cite authorities who say all these things can help children immensely, even young children: preschoolers and especially elementary school aged children. She mentions one program called “MindUp” that is sponsored by the actress Goldie Hawn. She says that approximately 13,500 teachers and more than 400,000 students in the United States have already been exposed to mind up training since 2011. She summarizes,

“Proponents say there is other evidence that mindfulness programs for children work.”

But later in her article she writes this,

“That said, not everyone likes the idea of meditation being taught in schools.”

She quotes Candy Gunther Brown, a professor of religious studies at Indiana University in Bloomington, who charged that promoters of mindfulness are essentially taking

“…Buddhist practices and changing the vocabulary,”

Now about a year ago I did a Thinking in Public program with none other than Candy Guenther Brown of Indiana University and in that conversation, as in this one, she makes clear that these mindfulness programs are inherently theological, they are inherently religious, and they are being put forward as something like a neurologically-based program. But I want you to remember exactly how this article began. Emily Holland writes, and again I just remind you of these words,

“Mindfulness is a form of meditation rooted in spiritual teaching in which people focus their full attention on the present moment.”

Now how in the world can something be “rooted in spiritual teaching” and there be any question that in some sense it is religious? The very claim itself falls apart when you read the second paragraph of her report. But quite honestly, she writes the article as if those who have concerns about the religious dimension of what’s basically an eastern meditation practice being foisted upon children, are themselves alarmists or those who simply don’t understand what we’re talking about here. It is interesting that when she cites Candy Guenther Brown, again that professor at Indiana University, Professor Brown points out that it is her business to teach about these things. But as she says,

“I teach about meditation, I do not have my students [and these are college students – she says,] I don’t have them meditate. I instead talk to them about what these meditation practices represent as part of a larger religious system.”

Well that’s a crucial distinction, and remember she’s talking about college students. And even this college professor understands there’s a crucial distinction between teaching about meditation, teaching about different religious systems that may include meditation, and having her students meditate. I also want you to remember something else that came from that very second paragraph in the article. Again Emily Holland writes about mindfulness being rooted in spiritual teaching, but then she writes about those who do it saying,

“They acknowledge what they are feeling and experiencing—and accept it without judgment or criticism. The idea is to quiet the mind and heighten awareness.”

One thing I want to note very clearly is that that is essentially a practice of Eastern religion. That has nothing to do with Christianity. In no mode of thinking, in no mode of discipleship, in no theological model, does Christianity ever suggest – on the basis of any biblical teaching – that our responsibility is to simply accept whatever is in our minds without judgment or, as she says here, without criticism. Indeed we are instead to measure everything by Scripture; we are to seek to have not our own mind but the mind of Christ. We are not to meditate going inward, but rather we are to look externally to the God who created us and spoke to us in Jesus Christ and in Scripture. We are to learn from the Scripture, we are to learn from the Scripture, we are to meditate in his word according to the Scripture day and night. We are not to meditate on our own thoughts and marinate in our own ideas.

In her article Emily Holland quotes Joel McNenny, identifies as a school counselor in the Plain Local School District in Canton, Ohio – that’s a school district that pioneered a mindfulness program in 2011 –

“…incorporating techniques such as ‘belly breaths’ to improve students’ focus and emotional control. He says the results were so good that the district incorporated it into five other schools. In 2013, however, parents and other community members raised concerns regarding the religious aspects of the practice and the program was stopped.”

Then Mr. McNenny says, and I quote,

“The biggest misconception was that we were somehow teaching religion,”

And then Emily Holland says,

“While mindfulness does have roots in Eastern religion, he insists the type of meditation used in the schools was secular and nonreligious.”

From a Christian worldview perspective we simply have to respond, ‘if only.’ If only it were possible to have some form of mindfulness or some form of spirituality or meditation that had no content. But every model of meditation has some content. Every idea has some focus. And in every legitimate sense this entire system of thought is based in Eastern religion. It is so interesting that a secular culture so adamantly determined to separate what they call church and state, and to keep religion out of the public square and the public schools, is now ready to import it –along with the support of Hollywood and others – so long as it comes in the form of meditation. Which is they say, is rooted in spiritual practice. And as they say, it’s based in Eastern religions. But as they say, it has nothing to do with those things now. And if you believe that, I would simply invite you to meditate on that thought a little more clearly.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to  Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. 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) Trials for aged former Nazi guards reveal innate human hunger for justice

Germany: Accused Nazi guard, 93, charged with accessory to murder, CBS News (AP)

The Last Trial, New Yorker (Elizabeth Kolbert)

2) Execution of Coptic Christians by ISIS raise important issues of martyrdom for Christians

3) Secularists eagerly import ‘mindfulness’ – promoting Eastern religious practices

Can ‘Mindfulness’ Help Students Do Better in School?, Wall Street Journal (Emily Holland)

Are We All Syncretists Now? – A Conversation About Evangelical Christianity and Alternative Medicine with Historian Candy Gunther Brown,

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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