The Briefing 05-08-15

The Briefing 05-08-15

The Briefing


May 8, 2015

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


It’s Friday, May 8, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Anniversary of V-E Day should not be neglected as opportunity to thank veterans of WWII

Those alive then will remember now where they were and what they were doing when they heard that the war in Europe had come to an end – that war known as World War II. It was 70 years ago today that VE Day was first declared. It was declared first on the other side of the Atlantic where crowds gathered before Buckingham Palace in order to celebrate the end of what would be known as the bloodiest war of human history – at least thus far. In London King George invited then Prime Minister Winston Churchill, for the first time a nonmember of the Royal family, onto the balcony at Buckingham Palace to celebrate the end of the war. Churchill himself had been so instrumental to that war and to the defeat of the Nazi regime.

In the United States iconic pictures and immediately come to mind from Washington, DC and especially from New York City, when VE Day was declared here and that again was May 8, 1945; 70 years ago today. From the perspective of 70 years it’s very important that we put this war into its historical context and is important we do so knowing that the number of people alive during that war, and especially the number of people who were fighting in uniform in that war, is decreasing day by day.

The distance of 70 years requires us to go back and recognize the fact that World War II was the bloodiest war that humanity had ever yet seen. And it stands in history almost as an unparalleled example of human evil when it comes to the demonstration of human warfare. When you look at VE Day 70 years ago and you think back to what it meant then, it met the end of sustained years of warfare that had drained virtually every major European nation and much of the United States as well.

The death toll of World War II is simply staggering and the fact that the death toll is estimated to be between 60 and 80 million people by the time you put the war together, the fact that that estimate includes the difference of about 20 million people simply defies and staggers our moral imagination. About 60 million people were directly killed at one point or another by the warfare itself in both the European and the Pacific theaters. The other 20 million casualties are generally explained by the fact that there were so many millions of people who were eventually starved by the war and died by privations that came as a direct consequence of the military action in World War II.

Now taken by the standard of the world’s population in 1939 that 60 million represented 3% of the total population of the world; you add the other 20 million and that comes at almost 5%. That means we’re looking at a war, taken in total that amounted to casualties that would mean five out of every 100 persons alive when the war began.

The end of World War II in the European theater actually came as we dated on May 7, that’s when Karl Dönitz – then the Reich’s President – surviving as the leader of the Nazi regime signed the instrument of total capitulation and total surrender. But it wasn’t until the 8 of May that the allied powers officially received that surrender and declared victory in the European theater of World War II. What they were declaring was the end of the Nazi regime. Adolf Hitler and his wife Eva Braun had committed suicide on the 30 of April and that came in the breakdown of the Nazi regime as Russian forces were entering the city of Berlin and as the allies, including the Americans and the British, were closing in from the West.

Those who were alive 70 years ago will tell you that the end of World War II in the European theater was one of the happiest moments of their lives. It meant that many people, who were then alive wearing uniforms, would live to see another day and would survive the war. And yet we need to remember that vast numbers of Allied servicemen actually were transferred into the other theater of war that lasted for an additional matter of months.

There is one surviving President of the United States who was a World War II veteran and that is George H.W. Bush – now over 90 years of age. And President Bush had signed on by doing what many American men did at the time, they signed on lying about their age. George H.W. Bush was too young to join the Air Force and yet he did – eventually becoming a war hero in the Pacific theater. That means that it has been since 1993 that a President of the United States was a veteran of the Second World War. That places us generationally a far, far distance from that major world conflict at the center the 20th century.

Keep this in mind, the youngest soldiers – at least by regulation, who could have been serving in the American uniform in the European theater in the year 1945 – were then 17 years old, which would mean that today they are at least 87 years old. That means with every passing day and every passing week we lose an opportunity to pay a debt of gratitude to a generation that defeated the Nazi regime and did so officially 70 years ago today.

2) NSA phone collecting ruled illegal as court weighs moral goods of liberty and privacy

Next, one of the issues that have become abundantly clear is how war has changed in the period from 70 years ago until today. We now fight a war that is at least in part a digital conflict. That was made abundantly clear yesterday when a federal appeals court in New York ruled that a National Security Agency program, that was once secret and became exposed in the so-called WikiLeaks scandal, is illegal because it systematically collects the phone records of Americans and does so without asking permission. This is one of those very interesting stories, it’s very revealing. In this case you have a three-judge panel for the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit there in New York that issued a 97 page ruling that says the federal government has no right under the United States Constitution to collect that data. That’s a very important legal argument. It’s also one that is likely, at least in terms of where the United States now stands, to lead to a significant weakening of our ability to predict terrorist strikes.

And it comes just days after many Americans are asking why the United States government and our extensive national security apparatus didn’t prevent an attack that took place in the suburbs of Dallas, Texas that was ended only in a shootout with law enforcement officials. One of things that became abundantly clear in the aftermath of that incident just days ago is that the FBI and the national security agencies had been watching at least one of these gunmen and had been doing so for some time. But even armed with that knowledge they had lost track of him.

Now, national security officials are saying that it will be increasingly difficult – and that seems to be an understatement – to collect the data that at least many of those agencies say they must have in order to prevent at least some terrorist attacks on American soil. From the Christian worldview this leads to some really big questions. The Christian worldview does prize privacy and liberty. We understand that whenever there is a totalitarian force or whenever there is government coercion or collection of that data, it comes at the expense of individual security, of identity confidentiality, and of some extent liberty. But we live in a fallen world in which there is no such thing as absolute liberty. We live in a fallen world in which there is always a contest of moral goods. But if we were able to ask most Americans I would conjecture, not just this three-judge panel in New York City, how they would strike the balance between their own individual confidentiality and an increased need for national security – including their own security – my guess is you end up in a very different place than the editorial board of the New York Times or even this three-judge panel sitting in New York City.

The really interesting development in all of this is that even as the United States and even as the US Congress is considering how to define the legal boundaries of this kind of data collection, in France there is a very rapid movement in precisely the opposite direction. In the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks there in Paris, the French government is moving towards an aggressive and open declaration that it intends to collect vast amounts of information from its citizens without asking their permission in any sense. And the French are doing so simply because the French government was caught embarrassed that it had not been able to prevent that attacked. The French people are saying the government should have been able to follow these terrorist and to prevent that attack, and the French government is saying in order to do that it is going to have to radically increase the amount of information it is collecting.

This means that in the United States we are going to have a very robust debate. And one of the interesting things to watch is how that debate is likely to fall out other than the traditional Democratic and Republican, liberal and conservative divides because when it comes to issues such as the balance between individual security and national security, there is no easy fallout along ideological lines.

But the Christian worldview reminds us that we do have enemies, even as we look back 70 years to the defeat of the Nazi regime in World War II we recognize that we do have enemies even now and they have declared that they intend to do us damage. The trade-offs Americans are willing to make when it comes to individual confidentiality over against national security, it’s not yet clear where the American people might be on that but it is clear we’re not going to be able to avoid the issues. But from the Christian biblical worldview it just affirms all over again that in the fallen world you have a contest of moral goods. You cannot have absolute confidentiality and absolute security in a fallen world – not when someone intends to do harm and someone says we ought to be able to know that.

3) British elections present surprising success for Conservative Party

Next, even as the polls closed at 10 o’clock last night London time, in terms of the British election, it looks like the Tory party – the Conservative party – is actually doing much better than had been expected even in the days just before the election. Exit polling reported by the British Broadcasting Corporation, the BBC, indicates that the Tory party is likely to claim 316 seats – that places it just 10 seats short of a majority able to form a government. It appears that a surge that had been reported for the Labour Party in the days prior to the election did not actually happen. We will be watching over the weekend as results are finalized and as a new British government begins to come into sight. But we will also be watching, knowing that what happens in the British elections often times is an indication of what will happen next in American elections as well.

4) Survival of increasingly premature babies underlines fact all fetuses are babies

Next, a really important headline story appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, the headline: Preterm Babies Can Be Viable at Early Birth. Pam Belluck reporting for the New York Times acknowledges even in the subhead of the article, “a study could affect the abortion debate.” Of course it could, and of course it should. Why? because one of the most interesting things about this article is the fact that there are now medical findings that some babies at 22 to 23 weeks of gestation can indeed thrive if they receive immediate and successful medical intervention.

Belluck reports,

“A small number of very premature babies are surviving earlier outside the womb than doctors once thought possible, a new study has documented, raising questions about how aggressively they should be treated and posing implications for the debate about abortion.”

As we said, of course it does. The next paragraph,

“The study, of thousands of premature births, found that a tiny minority of babies born at 22 weeks who were medically treated survived with few health problems, although the vast majority died or suffered serious health issues. Leading medical groups had already been discussing whether to lower the consensus on the age of viability, now cited by most medical experts as 24 weeks.”

This is one of those very encouraging articles that tells us that medical progress is being made when it comes to very young babies. The so-called age of viability is being pushed back, it had been about 30 weeks, then it went down to about 26 weeks, now medically defined at about 24 weeks – and we’re now being told the good news that there are some infants being born at even 22 weeks who, when receiving the right kind of medical treatment, are able to thrive and have very few long-term medical complications.

Even as the study documents that right now it’s a minority of those very premature babies, at every stage it was a minority. It was a minority at 30 weeks, then it was a minority at 26 weeks, then at 24 weeks, and now even at 22 weeks as is documented here. What’s the first major Christian worldview insight from this article? It is the noun – the word being used of these babies, in the front page of this article in the New York Times – is babies.

That is a very revealing issue because this is the same secular culture and the same newspaper that repeatedly refers to babies, if they might be aborted, not as babies but as fetuses; and at the very same stage of development or even later in gestation. There we see the great moral revelation in a noun. Is that inhabitants of the womb merely a fetus or a baby? If it indeed is going to survive and thrive after 22 weeks of gestation, it is clearly a baby. But the Christian worldview reminds us that means at every single point it was always a baby – it could be nothing other than a baby. If it survives, it is a surviving baby; if it did not survive, it would be a baby that did not survive – not merely a fetus.

The article in the New York Times mentions, even in the subhead, “this is a study that could affect the abortion debate,” but the actual article doesn’t really get into the details of how the newspaper thinks that debate might be modified by this finding. The simple fact is this: if on the front page of your newspaper you’re talking about a 22 week old baby in the womb and you’re using the word baby, you’ve already revealed that you know that the inhabitant of the womb is indeed a baby. If these inhabitants of the womb are babies than every single inhabitant of the womb is a baby.

5) Researchers ponder whether advantage of loving parents is unjust in equal society

Finally, a study that affirms the importance of the family in an altogether unexpected direction. In the United States ABC as a network refers to the American Broadcasting Corporation, but in Australia ABC refers to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. And it is the Australian ABC that featured in recent days an interview by its own Joe Gelonesi with a philosopher of the University of Warwick in Great Britain – that philosopher, Adam Swift. The headline of the article, based on the interview, raises a question. Here’s the question: Is Having a Loving Family and Unfair Advantage?

It turns out that in the world of modern moral theory, the family is controversial for reasons you might not have recognized. It also turns out that Swift of England has co-authored a book with Prof. Harry Brickhouse of the University of Wisconsin, Madison and the title of that book is “Family Values: The Ethics Of Parent-Child Relationships” published by Princeton University press. That work sets the backdrop for the interview that appeared in Australia.

And that interview certainly demands our attention because Professor Swift in the interview says that the family is inherently unjust, it leads to unjust outcomes, because as it turns out – follow this argument very closely – children who are raised by loving parents have significant advantages over children who are not. It’s a really investing argument, it is an obvious argument. But what isn’t so obvious is that this is now a matter of moral debate, in academic circles at least, where the question is being raised, if a child being raised in a loving family has an unjust advantage over a child who is not?

Now that advantage is very well documented. This ABC news story goes at it very clearly. That advantage comes down to the fact that a child being raised by loving parents has the advantages of security, has the advantages of being talked to by parents. One of the things we looked at recently is studies demonstrating that children who receive a flood of words from two parents are at a significant educational advantage over children who do not.

The other thing that becomes apparent is that even reading books to children can be an unfair advantage according to current moral theory. According to professor Swift if one is committed to egalitarian, then one obvious answer might be to abolish the family – something he credits going back, correctly, all the way to Plato in his utopia who suggested that children should be taken away from parents so that some parents could not unjustly advantage their own children over others.

In one really interesting part of this research they compare the fact that some parents are able to buy elite private schooling for their children and yet they point out that over time it is actually a greater advantage to children to be read to by their parents as children than even to be sent to elite private schools. Professor Swift said and I quote,

“The evidence shows that the difference between those who get bedtime stories and those who don’t—the difference in their life chances—is bigger than the difference between those who get elite private schooling and those that don’t,”

That’s a fascinating finding in and of itself. The really interesting thing about the ABC interview with Prof. Adam Swift is that Swift method actually doesn’t want to abolish the family and he doesn’t want to end parenthood. But he is an egalitarian by his own political philosophy, and thus he laments the unjust outcome differential between children who have loving parents and children who do not. He’s actually trying to quantify that. He and Brickhouse in their study published by Princeton University press try to quantify the advantage – economically speaking – that children raised by loving parents have over those who do not in order the government may try to meet that shortfall. Of course anyone looking at the equation recognizes that no government could possibly make up for the absence of loving parents.

Here again we see a conflict of moral goods because these two authors are committed to two principles of justice. The first they say is the egalitarian challenge that, as they say, focuses on the distribution of goods and opportunities between children born into different families. They then describe what they call as the distribution of freedom and authority between parents, children, and the state. In their words liberals think it valuable that individuals be free to make an act on their own judgments about how they are to live their lives. Justifying authority requires an account of how anybody can have the right to decide for others and that includes parents making major decisions for their children.

In the introduction to their book the authors write,

“As egalitarian liberals we take both challenges seriously. Our egalitarianism leads us to condemn the inequalities that arise between children born into different families. Our liberalism makes us worry about the rights that parents and children have over their own lives and with respect to each other and about the proper limits of state authority with regard to both parents and children. The two challenges intersect.”

And as the book also makes clear these two commitments not only intersect, they sometimes directly collide.

And of all things it turns out, as this interview with ABC Australia makes clear, sometimes they collide over the simple issue of a bedtime story. It is unjust that some children are loved by their parents and are read bedtime stories when others are not. It is unjust that these children have an advantage over the children who do not receive bedtime stories. What isn’t stated in this article is the absolute obvious and that is that no government is going to tuck a child in bed at night and no government is going to read a child a bedtime story.

To the credit of these two academics, even as they ask the question, if the family is unjust, they come to the conclusion that anything else would be even more unjust. And they refer to the fact that the eclipse of the family would lead to what they describe as a dystopian future – a very dark and dangerous future.

Christians operating out of a biblical worldview, looking at this controversy, need to recognize that it is the oddest affirmation of God’s glory as revealed in the institution of the family and in the relationship between parents and children. And it also affirms that in a fallen world we should limit the fact that any child is not tucked in safely at night and any child does not have loving parents, we should even lament the fact that there are children who go to bed without a bedtime story. So as you tuck in your own children in bed at night and as you read them a bedtime story, recognize you are doing something that by some moral calculations is unjust or leads to an unjust result as measured with other children. But as you know, you’re doing the right thing. You are profoundly doing the right thing. So read your children a bedtime story and pray with them as you tuck them in at night. And pray for all those children who do not have loving care to do the same with them tonight.

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

I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Anniversary of V-E Day should not be neglected as opportunity to thank veterans of WWII

V-E Day, 70 years later, and memories abound in France, USA Today (Bill Hinchberger)

2) NSA phone collecting ruled illegal as court weighs moral goods of liberty and privacy

N.S.A. Phone Data Collection Is Illegal, Appeals Court Rules, New York Times (Charlies Savage and Jonathan Weisman)

3) British elections present surprising success for Conservative Party

Election 2015: Exit poll puts Tories close to majority, BBC

4) Survival of increasingly premature babies underlines fact all fetuses are babies

Premature Babies May Survive at 22 Weeks if Treated, Study Finds, New York Times (Pam Belluck)

5) Researchers ponder whether advantage of loving parents is unjust in equal society

Is having a loving family an unfair advantage?, ABC National Radio (Joe Gelonesi)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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