The Briefing 11-02-17
Tags: Audio, Manhattan Attack, Motherhood, Science, Terrorism
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, November 2, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see why headlines from the New York City terrorist attack can't avoid theology. We’ll ask the question just what makes a terror attack a terror attack, and we’ll come to understand why a story on research into motherhood has become so politicized. And why the secular left just won't even enter into the argument.
Manhattan terrorist attack highlights insidious nature of sin
The headline in yesterday's edition of the New York Times reported the news with these words,
“Mile-Long Manhattan Truck Attack Kills 8”
It's one of those headlines that immediately gets our attention because by the time we see it in print we have already heard the news. We've already assimilated the information. We already know something about the math, eight killed and 11 injured. Of course we’re also looking at this against the backdrop of other terror attacks and other mass killings. In one sense, morally speaking, we are almost becoming automatically more and more numb when it comes to this kind of news, and we’re talking about New York City. Authorities describe yesterday's attack as either the first major or the deadliest terror attack since September 11, 2001, and we also have to note correcting many in the news media. There have been other attempted attacks. Most of them have been thwarted by intelligence and police authorities.
But in this case we’re looking at one of those attacks that not only was thwarted, it evidently wasn't detected in its planning stages. As the news unfolded in the New York Times we read,
“A driver plowed a pickup truck down a crowded bike path along the Hudson River in Manhattan on Tuesday, killing eight people and injuring 11 before being shot by a police officer in what officials are calling the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since Sept. 11, 2001.”
By now almost everyone knows the facts. What's important in looking to that lead paragraph is how the New York Times has summarized the story. What's important here is not just the recitation of the facts by now very well known, but the characterization of the attack as a terrorist attack in this case, to use the words of the Times, the deadliest terrorist attack on New York City since September 11, 2001. Now, as we will see in just a moment, those are words that demand our attention, and in some cases even demand the defense in our contemporary political context. As the story continued,
“The rampage ended when the motorist — whom the police identified as Sayfullo Saipov, 29 — smashed into a school bus, jumped out of his truck and ran up and down the highway waving a pellet gun and paintball gun and shouting ‘Allahu akbar,’ Arabic for ‘God is great,’ before he was shot in the abdomen by the officer.”
According to the news media this morning, he is still in critical condition, but he is expected to survive after surgery in a hospital there in New York City. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, more information was forthcoming although almost always excruciatingly slowly. We came to understand that the suspect is now believed to have been planning this attack, crude as it was, for a matter of weeks, perhaps even months. We now also know that the pattern here is exactly what we have seen in attacks in Europe and beyond, and it's consistent with the mobilization of lone wolf terrorists as they are known by the Islamic state as that state is losing its territory with the collapse of the caliphate due to allies and their defensive takeover of so much of their territory in Syria and Iraq. The Islamic state has moved to instead instill terror around the world by mobilizing persons with whom it may never have directly communicated, taking up the cause. One of the instructions from the Islamic state is that those who undertake attacks, very murderous attacks in the name of the Islamic state are to make that clear in the course of the attack. In this case that linkage was made clear by the statements made by the terrorist in the act of terrorism and in a note that was left in the cab of the truck he had used as a murder weapon.
From a Christian worldview perspective, one the most interesting things here to recognize is that we’re not just talking about the weaponization of a young man in this case an immigrant from Uzbekistan. We’re also talking about the weaponization of the mundane in this case a rental pickup truck. This points to the insidious nature of sin. We would like to think that we could at least identify the threat represented by something that is obviously a weapon. But in a fallen, sinful world people can use things that are by no means obvious as very deadly weapons. Increasingly, as we have noted in Europe and now in the United States, this includes vehicles, and the streets of New York City are packed with vehicles. It is not only unlikely, it's virtually impossible that anyone can identify in advance which amongst all those millions of vehicles will eventually be weaponized in one way or another.
There seems to be a resistance among the mainstream media in the immediate aftermath of the news breaking about the attack for the media to report the use of the words “Allahu akbar” by the assailant, but now we know that the use of those words was too well attested by too many witnesses for it to be denied. So to the credit of the New York Times and virtually every other major new source, by the time the story broke in the newspapers on Wednesday morning. Well, those words were included to the credit of the news media very early in the story. But that just points to the fact that there is a protective instinct right now in terms of the media elites in particular to try to avoid any linkage with Islam unless that linkage is undeniable and made utterly necessary.
The politicization of terror: Just what makes an attack terrorism?
The New York Times actually dealt with this straightforwardly in an article published in yesterday's edition by Max Fisher and Amanda Taub. They were asking the question, when is it terrorism? How a “simple”, they put the word simple in quotation marks divides a nation. The bottom line in their story is the fact that in their view as the New York Times observes the use of the word terrorism is inextricably political. It's political because one person might call it terrorism, and another one simply says it's a disaffected lone killer. But what’s the difference? First, it compares the mass killing that took place in Las Vegas with a lone shooter with what took place this week in New York City with lone driver. As we read,
“terrorism is often in the eye of the beholder, determined as much by the attacker as by the community that is targeted, which must decide whether the attack represents a broader threat requiring a response.”
I don't think that's particularly helpful, and I don't think it's accurate. First of all when we are looking at the mass killing in Las Vegas and we’re looking at the murders that took place by truck and New York City, both of them undeniably represent a broader threat requiring a response. It's insane to argue otherwise. But the first part of this particular point is that terrorism is in the eye of the beholder,
“determined as much by the attacker is by the community that is targeted.”
Now the insinuation here, indeed it’s explicit in the article, is that we are too quick to identify the word terrorism when the attacker is a Muslim. The argument then follows that it is unfair to use the word terrorism in one context and to deny it in the other. I think however that misses the larger point, a point that would be very clear in terms of any historical analysis of terrorism. A murder by terrorism is actually no more and no less deadly than a murder by any other motive. The motive is the issue. Terrorism has been historically defined as the use of acts of violence or threats of acts of violence, sometimes as we have seen all too often murderous violence, in order to send a message. Terrorism is about sending a message. Why is what took place in Manhattan terrorism? Because this terrorist clearly intended to send a message. How do we know it? He said it and he wrote it. And it is in the context of the larger movement of jihadist violence around the world. That's clear.
Why is the attack in Las Vegas not terrorism? Well at this point we don't know that it wasn't terrorism, but we know that at this point it's not likely that it was terrorism. And the basic fact underlining that is the perplexity that everyone articulates about Las Vegas. Why did the lone gunman kill so many people so deliberately without, here's the perplexity, any understanding of the motivation at all? Just in recent days, the New York Times actually ran an article beginning on the front page and continuing inside the paper, suggesting that studies of the brain of the killer in Las Vegas might actually betray some information that would help us to understand why he did it. Now there's a great deal invested in that hope, and we understand why from a biblical worldview. We want to understand the motivation. We want to understand the rationality. We want to understand the reason. The greatest perplexity of the evil that took place in Las Vegas is that there appears to be no clear message sent at all. The only message being the deadliest message that that killer intended to kill as many people as he could. Meanwhile, when you kill people and then jump out of your truck crying “Allahu akbar” and when you leave a note in your truck identifying your attack with the Islamic state, it's an act of terrorism. Again, no more or no less dangerous or murderous than other forms of violence but distinguished because there is an intentional message being sent.
The authors in the New York Times offer this concern,
“Because mass killings are such acute moments of public horror, this is not an area in which people can easily agree to disagree. The differing responses,” and remember we’re talking about here as to whether an attack is identified as terrorism or not and I quote, “can seem to impose a hierarchy of victims, in which those killed by one sort of attacker are deemed to matter more than others, and a hierarchy of perpetrators, sorted by those seen as posing the greater threat.”
Well at this point, let's just be honest. There is no hierarchy of victims. Every single human life is of infinite worth. There is no way morally speaking from Scripture to distinguish a hierarchy of victims, but a hierarchy of perpetrators well again, morally, there is no distinction. But strategically, of course there is. The question that has to press upon us and is made more urgent when the understanding of terrorism is around is the fact that we want to know if this is part of a larger pattern if there are other attackers being ready. That is not some kind of abstract concern, and that's why even though the cultural elites don't know what to do with the term that they themselves have helped to politicize they can't avoid using the word terrorism. Because at times, morally speaking, with reality intruding right upon our lives, there is no way to call it anything else.
Inconvenient science: Secular left refuses to acknowledge research on motherhood
Next we turn to an unexpected and very unusual article on motherhood that appeared in the Wall Street Journal over the weekend. As it turns out the article’s about a great deal more than motherhood. It appears in the “Weekend Interview” undertaken by journalist James Taranto of the Journal, and it's with Erica Komisar. She's a Jewish psychoanalyst who lives and practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Well here's how the article begins,
“Motherhood used to be as American as apple pie. Nowadays it can be as antagonistic as American politics. Ask Erica Komisar.”
Again, she's identified as a Jewish psychoanalyst who lives and practices on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. That's an interesting social and religious placement. What we’re being told right up front is that this is a person who clearly belongs within the cultural elites. She lives among them. She works among them. She's also identified as a psychoanalyst and as Jewish. Signaling as the Wall Street Journal understands that we’re not talking about someone here who's likely to be identified with the religious right. Taranto goes on to say,
“If that biographical thumbnail leads you to stereotype her as a political liberal, you’re right. But she tells me she has become ‘a bit of a pariah’ on the left because of the book she published this year, ‘Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters.’”
Now, in this case, the psychoanalyst went on to say that after she published her book, a secular book published by a secular publisher by a very respected Jewish psychoanalyst she found herself being welcomed into conversations by Christian radio stations, but absolutely shunned by the media elite of the left. The very context in which she lives, and of which she is a part. Why? Because, in her book she marshals scientific evidence to demonstrate why it is so extremely important that mothers be with their children and be the caretaker of their children especially in the first three years of life. Komisar said,
“I couldn’t get on NPR,” and “I was rejected wholesale—particularly in New York—by the liberal press.”
“She did appear on ABC’s ‘Good Morning America,’ but seconds before the camera went live, she says, the interviewer told her: ‘I don’t believe in the premise of your book at all. I don’t like your book.’”
Well, indeed, they don't like her book, and for the most part they have refused even to talk about it. Taranto goes on to tell us,
“The premise of Ms. Komisar’s book—backed by research in psychology, neuroscience and epigenetics—is that,” and these are her words, “‘mothers are biologically necessary for babies,’ and,” he goes on to say summarizing her research, “not only for the obvious reasons of pregnancy and birth.”
“Babies are much more neurologically fragile than we’ve ever understood.”
She cites the research of a prominent neuroscientist Nim Tottenham of Columbia University, and the scientist’s words are these,
“‘that babies are born without a central nervous system’ and ‘mothers are the central nervous system to babies,’ especially for the first nine months after birth.”
Taranto then asked the question,
“What does that mean?” Komisar answers, “Every time a mother comforts a baby in distress, she’s actually regulating that baby’s emotions from the outside in. After three years, the baby internalizes that ability to regulate their emotions, but not until then.”
Taranto then summarizes,
“For that reason, mothers ‘need to be there as much as possible, both physically and emotionally, for children in the first 1,000 days.’”
By now I think you'll agree this article is interesting, but it turns out to be even more interesting. Interesting at the level of what it tells us from neuroscience and epigenetics and current psychology about the need of babies for their mothers. It's really interesting that neurology now tells us that babies simply are born with a very inadequate neuro system, and that it takes the neural system of their mother's the central nervous system to actually develop the baby's own neural system from the outside in. And as Komisar tells us, this happens in the course of a mother being with her child. Every time she comforts the baby the baby's own central nervous system is actually not just being comforted, but even developed.
Some of the science behind this have to do the so-called love hormone known as oxytocin. As Ms. Komisar explains,
“‘The more oxytocin the mother produces, the more she produces it in the baby’ by communicating via eye contact, touch and gentle talk. The baby’s brain in turn develops oxytocin receptors, which allow for self-regulation at a later age.”
Now in the article fathers come into the picture too. They even come into the picture hormonally. According to the scientific research, fathers produce in their own biological children,
“different nurturing hormone,” especially the hormone known as vasopressin, “what we called the protective, aggressive hormone.”
Now how does that work? Well as Taranto summarizes,
“Whereas a mother of a crying baby will ‘lean into the pain and say, ‘‘Oh, honey!’’ a father is more apt to tell the child: ‘C’mon, you’re OK. Brush yourself off; let’s go back to play.’ Children,” we are told in the article, especially boys, “need that paternal nurturing to learn to control their aggression and become self-sufficient. But during the first stages of childhood, motherly love is more vital.”
It turns out that the Jewish psychoanalyst, the author of the book, the center of this story found herself perplexed by the increasing percentage of children that had been diagnosed with the different forms of attention deficit disorders or other kinds of patterns now so familiar in our day. And so she began to ask the question, why? And she found the clear linkage. The linkage had a great deal to do with whether or not a baby was with the baby's biological mother for the first 1000 days of life. Taranto goes on to say,
“As Ms. Komisar ‘started to put the pieces together,’ she found that,” and these are her words, “‘the absence of mothers in children’s lives on a daily basis was what I saw to be one of the triggers for these mental disorders.’”
It goes on to describe how she then ransacked the literature and the research, how she backed up her book and her argument with current epigenetics, current science, current neurology, well a great deal of current research. So why wouldn't the people who say we’re supposed to depend upon science, the so-called settled science, sound science, current science, why are those people absolutely resistant to, let’s just put it clearly, this science? Well in this case, the psychoanalyst says they're against it because even before they look to the research they dismiss its premise, not because they don't believe it's true, but because as that producer told her on a television program I don't like your book.
Ms. Komisar is particularly clear about what she sees as the downside of daycare. She's really clear about the fact that even if you test the saliva of children and especially of infants in day care it is clear that in terms of these hormones those babies in day care simply have a far lower level than the children who were at home with their mothers. Well, yet as Taranto began the article, he identified this author, the author of the book Ms. Komisar as a political liberal. Indeed, there is no way she can be described as a political conservative. Her answer to the absence of mothers in the lives of their children is for government to pay for away from others to stay home with their children. What's interesting about that is that the political left won't even touch the argument from one of their own, who clearly is using this as an argument for an expansion of government spending, an expansion of government programs.
Taranto concludes the article with these words,
“But if most conservatives find Ms. Komisar’s solution too coercive or expensive, most liberals won’t even acknowledge the problem.”
“If we defend the idea that mothers are not necessary, what chance do we have to get a maternity-leave policy?”
Taranto then says,
“As important as her insights into child development are, her policy proposal seems destined for the political orphanage.”
And on the political side, the interesting thing here is that this political liberal indicates that at least political conservatives are willing to enter into the conversation. Why? Because they really do receive the research, and furthermore they understand as she says that it comports with common sense. But the political left, the so-called party of science, well, they’ll have nothing to do with this science, nothing at all. Now you understand why the headline in the article is the politicization of motherhood. But as we’ve just seen this is an article about a great deal more than motherhood.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can call 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, go to BoyceCollege.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.