The Briefing 12-4-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, December 4, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
In aftermath of San Bernardino massacre, nation continues to search for answers
We now know more than we did just 24 hours ago about the massacre that took place on Wednesday in San Bernardino, California. 14 victims are dead, 17 remain wounded and the two shooters in this case both shot and killed by police in the immediate aftermath of the incident are now known more to us than they were before. But even as we know more we do not know that much more. One of the observations we need to make here is that the advent of digital and social media everywhere on the present media means that news travels fast, exceedingly fast and yet much of that news is exceedingly shallow. The reality is that in order to understand more of what took place there in San Bernardino it’s going to require an in-depth and comprehensive investigation and that will take one of most frustrating realities of all, and that is time. But already we have an answer to one of the biggest questions, the question of motivation and in this case it appears to be a mixture of motivations.
In the larger picture yesterday President Obama made a public statement that it is now believed that the incident in San Bernardino may well be tied international terrorism. By late yesterday it was becoming increasingly clear that that is the case. Because we know not only the name of the primary suspect that is Syed Farook, but also Tafsheen Malik, his wife that turns out to be the second shooter and the second major suspect in this case. It is also known that even as Farook was an American citizen, Malik is his wife, but she was here on a wife visa, having been originally a citizen of Pakistan and having come to the United States after at least sometime in Saudi Arabia. But what is also clear is that at least one of these parties, Syed Farook had documented contacts with those who are involved in jihad and international Islamic terrorism. But unlike other attacks that have played out to form this particular attack seems to be rather unique in the fact that at least some of the victims were known not only by the shooter but were specifically targeted because of some offense he may have had in terms of his workplace.
Western security and intelligence officials have been warning about the potential of lone Wolf terrorist that might be activated by international Jihadi organizations. It is not yet clear if that’s exactly what took place here. What is clear is that Syed Farook and Tafsheen Malik had assembled a massive arsenal described by local law enforcement as being characterized by thousands of rounds of ammunition and a dozen improvised explosives including a remote-controlled bomb that was left at the center. FBI Special Agent and Assistant Director, David Bowdich said that,
“Investigators still do not know what motivated the couple.”
But they know that whatever it was it was long planned. In his words,
“There was obviously a mission here, we know that.”
At least some of the informed speculation coming from major law enforcement authorities across the country is that that Syed Farook likely was one of these lone Wolf assailants who was poised to take action and yet he may have been triggered in terms of his immediate action, not by some kind of international signal, but rather by something that happened locally. In any event, even as the total number of wounded was raised by some authorities from 17 to 21. It is now understood that the Arsenal the couple had assembled could’ve killed many, many more.
The theological controversy, we referenced on The Briefing yesterday having to do with the fact that there was a new pattern of prayer shaming that had emerged in the immediate aftermath, that theological conversation also continued and this much is clear, the massacre there in San Bernardino is going to be a matter of our ongoing and rightful concern for some time to come. It’s going to be the proper concern of law enforcement, it’s going to be the concern of international intelligence agencies and it’s going to be the continuing concern for all of us as we care deeply about families that are grieving and lives that are endangered and a community that is mourning. But we are also as Christians concerned that we be ready to give an answer for the hope that is in us, especially in the aftermath of a horrifying incident such as this.
Gospel minded Christians have to be ever vigilant that we are not only shamed by so-called prayer shaming, but that we are not reluctant in our witness by what we might call gospel shaming. It is a blatant offense to the world that Christians actually believe that salvation is found only in Jesus Christ and that the gospel is the only message that saves. There is an inherent offense in the gospel of Jesus Christ as it diagnoses the human problem, not as something that merely happened to us, but as ourselves located in the human heart. That is essentially and inescapably offensive to a secular culture and what we’re watching is that culture becoming more and more bold in its rejection of Christianity and the Christian truth claim. Looking back at what happened on Wednesday, one truly amazing issue upon which we ought to reflect is this, in a matter of immediate hours after this massacre some Americans had already leapt to a theological controversy trying to suggest that as the New York Daily News infamously put it,
“God isn’t fixing this.”
And others openly arguing that God was to be left out of the conversation altogether. The headlines out of San Bernardino remind us that indeed we are living in a very dangerous world, but we need to recognize it is theologically dangerous as well.
Pentagon lifts restrictions on women in combat, denies essential difference between sexes
Headline news came out of Washington yesterday when the Pentagon announced that all, absolutely all combat roles will now be open to women. As Matthew Rosenberg and Dave Phillips reported for the New York Times,
“In a historic transformation of the American military, Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter said on Thursday that the Pentagon would open all combat jobs to women.”
He said in a news conference and I quote,
“There will be no exceptions.”
As the Times explains,
“The groundbreaking decision overturns a longstanding rule that had restricted women from combat roles, even though women have often found themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past 14 years.”
Politically speaking, as the Times and others have indicated this decision also was the result of a deadline that had been established by President Obama three years ago in which the president ordered that all of the military branches were to integrate women into all jobs, including all combat jobs by 2016. But the president and his administration also said that that was to take place unless the military branches asked for specific exemptions. This is where the story gets a great deal more interesting, because the Navy and the Air Force asked for no exemptions, neither did the Army, but the Marine Corps did. As the Times explains,
“The Marine Corps has a 93 percent male force dominated by infantry and a culture that still segregates recruits by gender for basic training.”
The Secretary of Defense said that,
“He overruled the Marine [even as the as they asked for the exemptions by presidential authority] because the military should operate under a common set of standards.”
To the credit of the New York Times, the lead sentence says that this is,
“A historic transformation of the American military.”
And it certainly is. Christians looking at this story need to understand a couple of things very quickly. This is an attempt to argue that there is no essential difference between women and men, and that is exactly what the Obama Administration had declared in demanding the rule change by 2016. It has become increasingly clear that the military has been moving in this direction and at the same time, there have been serious questions raised. For example, the Marine Corps, the only major branch to ask for these exemptions had released a study indicating that the Marine Corps had released a study indicating that integrated combat units, that means those that included both men and women,
“Were slower, fired weapons with less accuracy and had more injuries.”
But the Secretary of Defense said that study aside the Marine Corps would not be given an exemption. Now as you’re looking at the story there are some other huge issues in the background. For one thing, this allows women and men to have equal access to applying for all combat roles.
“That does not mean,” said the Secretary of Defense, “that many women will be given automatic acceptance into all combat roles, but that both men and women could apply in order to meet the requirements of specific roles and purposes.”
But one of the things we need to note is that there has been abundant evidence that the military and all of its branches is actually rewriting those requirements, even as there was the denial upfront that that would happen. The Marine Corps simply refused to play along with the other branches by saying it does make a difference. The units in which women and men are included in combat are units that fire less accurately, that are slower and that have higher rates of injuries. The larger worldview issue that Christians need to understand is that this is actually inevitable in a culture that seems to be absolutely determined to erase any major distinction between men and women, any actual distinction. Just in recent days, we talked about a study released in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, once again, showing the interplay of politics and science when the researchers indicated that understanding of binary between men and women was not only to use the phrase of the researcher “politically wrong”, but also scientifically wrong. The use of that category “politically wrong” indicates just how political the study actually was. But we are living in a society that wants to deny increasingly that there is any difference whatsoever, any essential difference between men and women. And we need to understand why that is the case; the only explanation for this is the increased secularization of a society that no longer operates out of either an explicit biblical worldview, or even the continuing binding authority of that biblical worldview and cultural memory.
We are now living in a situation in which human beings are trying to define themselves and defining themselves, we need to note, while denying any essential difference between men and women. There’s something else we need to note here, even though this is in the context of an all-volunteer army, the reality is that the legal principles are very secure and they indicate this, if there is an equal opportunity to apply for all combat positions, then under a situation of war with conscription there would be an equal obligation. My guess is most Americans have never actually thought through the implications of this kind of policy change, because it means that in time of war, not only can the government by legal means, come and claim sons, but also now daughters. A society that is absolutely determined to deny any basic distinction between men and women is a society that is not only a biological revolt, but also in a moral revolt and one of the signs of that moral revolt is the insistence that is now absolutely politically correct that there should be no reason why women should not be in forward deployed combat groups. This is part and parcel of the moral revolution taking place all around us and to quote that short sentence from the United States Secretary of Defense yesterday,
“There will be no exceptions.”
That is the short and concise language of a moral revolutionary.
Attempted gay rights ordinance in Jacksonville next stage in moral war of attrition
Another major story came this week in the New York Times, the headline is this,
“After a Defeat in Houston, the Fight for Gay Rights Shifts to Jacksonville.”
That Jacksonville is Jacksonville, Florida, and as Sheryl Gay Stolberg tells us,
“The first major gay rights showdown since Houston’s rancorous vote to repeal its anti-discrimination ordinance is shaping up here in Jacksonville, the largest city in the nation whose leaders have never enacted civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people.”
Here’s the sum and substance of the story. After voters in Houston overwhelmingly repealed that city’s ordinance that was declared to be an LGBT antidiscrimination ordinance, but which quickly gained publicity because one of the features of the ordinance was that it would have ended any real distinction between men’s and women’s restrooms, public restrooms in the city. Now the scene has shifted to Jacksonville and one of the lessons we need to understand in terms of the moral revolution is that those who are pushing it simply come back again and again and again. The strategy is to bring back the issue again and again, to wear down resistance and eventually to gain a political victory by one means or another. There’s also something we need to keep very much in mind here and we can only hope that the political leaders in Jacksonville, Florida have read some recent history, including the headlines. For example, the ordinance that Houston voters repealed overwhelmingly was previously adopted by Houston City Council at the insistence of the Mayor. This New York Times article also makes clear that those who are pushing the moral revolution there in Jacksonville are seeking to have it done, not by a vote of the citizens, but rather by action of that city’s counsel.
Once again, we also see that many business interests lineup for the moral revolution, and yet they do so in a way that should particularly have our attention. The New York Times article cites Steve Halverson, the Chief Executive of the Haskell Company, identified as one of the city’s largest private employers, he said,
“We are handicapped if we have a culture that is the least bit intolerant or uncomfortable for anybody.”
That’s one of those statements, we simply have to look at very carefully and we have to note he certainly doesn’t mean what he says. He is saying something that is intended for public consumption, and for political effect. But he cannot mean, if he’s sane and we presume he is, what he says. He said that Jacksonville would be “handicapped.”
“If we have a culture that is the least bit intolerant or uncomfortable for anybody.”
Even the least bit uncomfortable for anybody. When you’re looking at a sexual moral revolution on this scale, either way it goes, someone is going to be uncomfortable and someone is going to be accused at least of being intolerant. There is no society on earth in which it can be said that there was achieved a culture that wasn’t the least bit intolerant or uncomfortable for anybody or everybody. But the fact that his major business leader in Jacksonville felt both the freedom and evidently the obligation to say this tells us a great deal about the power and the comprehensive force of this moral revolution. Finally on this topic, we need to note that there is also an intentional effort to target certain major cities, traditionally described as being in the Bible belt, and that’s because LGBT organizations understand that if they can win these battles there, they will eventually have won them everywhere.
On 100th anniversary, moral relativism shown as unintended consequence of Einstein's theory
Finally, it’s important for Christians understand that ideas indeed have consequences and some of those consequences are unintended and unforeseen. One of those ideas now celebrates its 100th anniversary just in these recent weeks, and that is Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Einstein presented what became known as his general theory of relativity in four lectures presented to the Prussian Academy of Sciences in the month of November in the year 1915. Those lectures were released to the public and they were published in December 1915 that is 100 years ago this month. That is a huge idea. Most Americans have heard of Einstein’s theory of relativity, it is actually two different theories, the special theory of relativity and the general theory of relativity. The general theory was Einstein’s attempt by mathematics and physics to come to terms with some of the biggest questions about the universe. If you’re trying to understand what Einstein’s general theory of relativity is all about, we simply turn to Einstein’s attempt to summarize it in his own words. He said that his general theory comes down to this and I quote,
“The totality of physical phenomena is of such a character that it gives no basis for the introduction of the concept of absolute motion, or shorter but less precise, there is no absolute motion.”
Einstein’s general theory of relativity paired with his special theory of relativity made the argument that the world had been fundamentally misunderstood by the physics that came before him, in particular, Newtonian physics. Because that understanding of the physical world argued that time and space and motion are absolutes. Einstein argued based upon his mathematical theory 100 years ago this month that there is not an absolute but a relative relationship between time and space and matter. Put simply Einstein’s general theory of relativity quickly changed the way that scientists look at the world. They came to understand that space was not essentially empty and that time and space were relative to one another, not only by observation, but in physical reality. Dennis Overbye, summarizing the importance of the theory said this,
“This is the general theory of relativity. It’s a standard trope in science writing to say that some theory or experiment transformed our understanding of space and time. General relativity really did.”
Einstein’s general theory of relativity implied the existence of what is now called a black hole later verified by scientific observation. The first worldview importance of this anniversary is understanding that the modern understanding of physics brought about by Albert Einstein’s intellectual revolution did change the way we look at the world. Einstein’s revolution led to the development of all kinds of things, including the atomic bomb and also a great deal of modern cosmology. Einstein himself a legendary figure was primarily involved in physics and mathematics and he was looking for the most elegant of equations that would explain the universe. But the biggest issue of importance as we think about the anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity is what historian Paul Johnson described going back to the early years of the 20th century when the theory became known and advertised. As Johnson wrote,
“From that point onward Einstein was a global hero, in demand at every great University in the world, mobbed wherever he went, his wistful features familiar to hundreds of millions, the archetype of the abstracted natural philosopher. The impact of Einstein’s theory was immediate and cumulatively immeasurable. But it also illustrates what Karl Popper was later to term the law of the unintended consequence.”
What was that unintended consequence? Paul Johnson makes that clear in this statement,
“At the beginning of the 1920s, the belief began to circulate for the first time at a popular level, that there were no longer any absolutes of space and time, of good and evil, of knowledge above all of value. Mistakenly but perhaps inevitably, relativity became confused with relativism.”
That is actually my main point in raising the anniversary of Einstein’s general theory of relativity on The Briefing today. That 100 year anniversary is in a worldview perspective, not so important in our everyday lives with anything that might have to do with physics, but it is when it comes to morality. Einstein’s theory had nothing to do with morality whatsoever. He was denying the absolutes of space and time and of motion, but very quickly, his theory of relativity as Johnson indicates became popularized as an understanding not only that space and time were not absolute, but that neither was morality. When you look at the 20th century, you see the spreading infection of the idea of relativism. Relativism when it comes to issues of truth and most especially, relativism when it comes to issues of morality. You can’t understand the world around us, without coming to terms with the fact that in incredible number of our neighbors actually are moral relativist and we also have to understand that that was an intellectual possibility only in very recent decades. And it came hand-in-hand with the argument that if space and time are not absolute then neither is right and wrong.
It’s hard to identify Albert Einstein in terms of his theological worldview with precision. He made some very oblique statements, but it is clear that he was basically what we would call an agnostic. But it’s also clear that he did not intend to start a revolution in morality, and that no revolution in morality was inherent in his physical theory, that is the general theory of relativity. But that’s how ideas are transformed in a culture, from one thing to another in a line of moral rebellion. And perhaps the lesson for us, 100 years after Einstein’s lectures are published is that what happens in the laboratory doesn’t stay in the laboratory.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to BoyceCollege.com.
Listeners of The Briefing will want to know about the Driven by Truth conference to be held at Southern Seminary and Boyce College, March 18 and 19 of 2016. Join me with Russell Moore, Greg Thornbury and Dan DeWitt. We’ll be discussing how the Christian worldview must be driven by the truth of God’s word. Registration is now open at eventsatsouthern.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.