Monday, March 12, 2018
Monday, Mar. 12, 2018
Tags: Audio, Death, Diplomacy, North Korea, Obituary, Transgenderism
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, March 12, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Statecraft in the 21st century: What happens when a drama is played out on the world stage
At its very best, statecraft can become soulcraft but at all times, statecraft is also stagecraft. That's especially true when it comes to international relations and diplomacy. The relationships between nations are never merely about formalities and treaties and policies and agreements. They are also about staging the appearances of how the relationship is to be understood.
This is a delicate issue because diplomacy then becomes an art form but if that it is a performance art and we were introduced once again to diplomacy as performance art just in the last several days. With the announcement made that the President of the United States will meet with the totalitarian dictator of North Korea and according to the White House, that meeting will take place by the end of this May. That puts a time limit of about 12 weeks on the fulfillment of that announcement and it's a stunning announcement.
Just consider the fact that the world was told this past Thursday that President Donald Trump and the dictatorial leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un would meet together in what will effectively be a summit, a face-to-face meeting between the two leaders. Just consider the fact that that would have been inconceivable just seconds before it was announced.
The story behind the announcement is also a course of interest and we have here the role of South Korea and South Korea is very clearly invested in doing its best to avoid any kind of military conflict not only between South Korea and North Korea but between North Korea and the United States, the most pivotal ally of South Korea.
In order to understand the dramatic nature of this announcement, just consider the kinds of verbal exchanges that have gone between President Trump and Kim Jong Un just over the last several weeks and months. The Korean leader called the American President an aging dotard. The American President called the North Korean leader little rocket man. They debated as to which one had a larger button with which to launch nuclear weapons and each had declared the intention to destroy the other.
All these underlines just how dramatic the announcement was last Thursday, much less the meeting if indeed it takes place between the American and North Korean leaders. But even as we're seeking to understand just why this announcement is so shocking, we need to place it in the context of traditional foreign policy and international diplomacy. In such a context, the face-to-face meeting often described as a summit in recent decades between two world leaders, two heads of state, that is the most rarefied context of international diplomacy. Such meetings generally take place under only the most carefully planned and restricted circumstances.
The kind of meeting that took place during the Cold War between, for example, American and Soviet leaders, those events were very carefully planned. Months and months, sometimes years went into the political calculation and of course, the dramatic calculation concerning whether or not the summit should take place even at the last minute, if the summit would actually happen and exactly how it would be orchestrated.
We're talking here about a relationship that is one of the hottest conflicts on the world stage. We're talking about two leaders who not only have never met, we're talking about the fact that an American president and a North Korean dictator have never in history met face to face, and according to traditional American foreign policy for good reason. Nicholas Kristof, prominent columnist for The New York Times, is exactly right when he wrote yesterday that the announcement of this meeting does not in any sense whatsoever indicate a concession by the North Korean regime. Instead, it is at this point an unqualified diplomacy victory for North Korea. Why? Because the leader of North Korea will be seen on the same world stage with the President of the United States. That's nothing less than stunning.
But did President Trump do the right thing in agreeing to this meeting? It is very interesting to note that many of the same analysts and foreign policy experts who had been criticizing President Trump for bellicose language are now criticizing him for a willingness to meet with a North Korean leader. Now, their argument is not impossible or even at this point contradictory. What they had been arguing for is diplomacy through intermediate means, through midlevel and lower level conversations that could, at some point, lead to an appropriate agreement that might lead to an appropriate meeting between the president and the dictator.
But President Trump clearly intends to bring the same disequilibrium and unpredictably that marks his domestic agenda to the international scene. And in making the announcement on Thursday, the president through the entire foreign policy establishment not only of the United States but basically of the entire world into a sense of turmoil wondering what exactly could come out of this meeting, what the president intends and at least at this point, this one meeting just proposed and received in a matter of hours last week has become the most interesting development in foreign policy in many, many years.
There are so many other questions to be answered. Why would the meeting be taking place? Again, it is because the North Korean dictator announced his willingness to meet with the American president. South Korean diplomats brought that message to the White House and the president, who under normal circumstances, that is under normal circumstances a President of the United States would be expected to confer with members of his own administration.
In distinction to that, President Trump immediately affirmed that he would accept the invitation and now, there are other huge questions. We moved almost immediately from if to when and where. And here, we need to track those questions really carefully because the where becomes a matter of that international diplomacy. The symbolism set by where is massive. Just about everyone who understands the situation would advise the president that there are at least two places on Planet Earth this meeting must not take place.
The first one is Washington, DC in the White House. That would simply give the North Korean dictator too big a diplomatic victory without any kind of preconditions or agreements. But the other place on Planet Earth this meeting must not happen is in North Korea and particularly in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. It must not become a propaganda victory for North Korea, again, without North Korea rectifying its situation and making very clear concessions to the United States and the international community about its nuclear weapons.
Put bluntly, the international community has been unified at least in official policy in demanding that North Korea surrender its nuclear technology and all of its nuclear weapons. Whether that happens or not, the important thing to recognize is that whatever credibility the so-called international community has rest in the fact that it has decided and has spoken with a very clear voice saying that North Korea must not be a nuclear nation.
But the big argument for holding the meeting and we can hope the impetus behind the announcement that was made by the White House on Thursday is that traditional diplomacy clearly has failed. It simply hasn't worked in dealing with North Korea. Traditional diplomacy, thus far at least, has been shown to be radically inadequate when dealing with what we have to call a rogue state.
Those who have been counseling traditional diplomacy year after year, crisis after crisis, development after development with the relationship with North Korea simply have to face the fact that all their diplomacy and all their previously announced agreements, concessions and gains have turned out to be less than nothing.
At this point, it appears safe to say that President Trump has simply decided to transcend all of that traditional diplomacy and in effect, take a tremendous risk both for himself and for the United States of America in agreeing to this meeting. Will the meeting itself turn out to make the world safer? That remains to be seen, and between now and when any such meeting might take place and underwent circumstances, well, between here and there, there are other huge questions to be asked and answered.
But there's no doubt that the signal sent to world capitals is this: The United States and its foreign policy are not operating by business as usual. The diplomatic world generally goes into some kind of a panic when the guidebook has changed from business as usual. Whether or not this is fruitful, only time will tell but at this point, we know this, we don't even know what will happen between now and tomorrow.
How a recent decision by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals may threaten religious liberty
Next, back in the United States, no shortage of headlines but one of the most important developments really did not receive many headlines. That becomes part of the story. Last week, the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 covers transgender persons even though they do not appear in the legislation. Of course, back in 1964, it was inconceivable that legislators intended to include amongst those who are protected classes from discrimination in the workplace transgender persons.
It's easy to make that argument. It is emphatically honest to make that argument because the word did not even exist, nor did the issue, nor did the entire sexual revolution that has given us the vocabulary and now, this latest judicial precedent. Mark Joseph Stern, an attorney, celebrating the decision writing at Slate.com explains the importance of this decision by saying that the court "Also held that employers may not use the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to justify discrimination against LGBTQ workers. He went on to say the court's landmark decision is an emphatic rejection of the legal theory that businesses may fire or mistreat female and minority workers under the guise of religious liberty."
I read it just as Stern wrote it because I want us to understand what he's doing here. He is using some of the protected classes explicitly in the legislation from 1964. There's really no argument over what those classes represent. Then, he is arguing that in this, he called it landmark decision, this federal appeals court has decided the LGBTQ persons are to be included even though they are not named nor would any honest analysis be able to argue, it was conceived by the legislators that they should or would be included.
But even as some previous federal courts including at least one other US Circuit Court of Appeals has held similarly saying that LGBTQ persons are included under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. What makes the decision last week so important is the denial of the religious liberty claim. The three-judge panel said unanimously that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not apply to Title VII and the Civil Rights Act and the LGBTQ persons whatsoever, that religious employers have no right to use their own religious conviction when it comes to employment and in particular to hiring and firing and advancing employees.
NBC News reported this dimension of the story this way, "While the Sixth Circuit is not the first appeals court to find the Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act prohibits workplace discrimination based on a person's gender identity of sexual orientation, it is the first to assert that there is no freedom of religion exemption to Title VII."
Now, what also becomes very, very interesting here is the logic, the legal and supposedly constitutional logic that would lead a US Federal Court of Appeals to this conclusion. The language of the decision includes these works, "Discrimination against employees either because of their failure to conform to sex stereotypes or their transgender and transitioning status is illegal under Title VII."
The opinion was written by Circuit Judge Karen Nelson Moore. She writes and I quote, "The unrefuted facts showed that the funeral home fired the employee because she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex." Now, let's just note what's in that language because it's about as slippery and messy and convoluted as any legal argument you are ever likely to confront but it's also undeniable evidence to the fact that US courts are now going to extremities of logic and law in order to bend both statutes and the constitution to the demands of the moral revolutionaries.
What we have here in the language that the employee was fired because "she refused to abide by her employer's stereotypical conception of her sex" is actually the abolition of biological sex as a category at all because in this decision, it's very hard to determine what the court even means to say or in similar situations would say again is actually the sex that is involved. The only meaningful sex or gender that appears in this decision appears to be whatever gender and individual may claim at any given moment.
But when you understand this language and the decision about stereotypical conceptions of sex, what it really gets to is whether or not there's any distinction between male and female. This decision by the Sixth US Circuit Court of Appeals, let's just face it, effectively says, "There is no determinate meaning to sex or gender under the sun in the United States of America." But what we must recognize is that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was written with a very clear understanding of the fact that human beings are separated into men and women and the law, again passed in 1964, said that employers may not discriminate on the basis of biological sex, the only sex understandable at the time.
The Sixth Circuit claims that what they are doing is extending the logic of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Let's just stop and say that's problematic enough as if we really should look to judges in order to extend legislation that is itself a constitutional problem, but the other thing is that what they are doing actually undoes the logic of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. That act only makes sense if we know what a man is and a woman is in order to say you cannot prefer one to the other in most workplace situations.
This a moral and legal mess but far more than that, it is a direct threat to religious liberty because in this decision, the Sixth Circuit said that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act has no bearing on this employment question whatsoever. There is no right to a religious exemption on the basis of religious conscience and conviction.
You can count on the fact that this Sixth Circuit won't be the last word but that's mostly because we will end up with conflicting Federal Court decisions which eventually will have to be decided, you've already guessed it, by the Supreme Court of the United States. But that fact should give us very little confidence when we consider that it was the Supreme Court of the United States that found this supposedly in the US Constitution a legal right to same sex marriage.
What we see here is just how quickly religious liberty is explicitly denied in this context. The moral revolution has one great barrier to its complete victory and that barrier is religious conviction and in this country, that means in the main Christian conviction. The decision handed down last week by the Sixth Circuit indicates yet again that the Federal Courts are taking sides and as the moral revolutionaries now celebrate, the courts are taking sides against those with religious conviction.
The inevitability of the obituary column: the quest for longevity reminds us that there is nothing more certain than death
But finally, we turned to a headline story in yesterday's edition of The New York Times is by Pagan Kennedy who often writes interesting articles. This one has the headline "No Magic Pill Will Get You to 100" the subhead, "The not-so-delayed deaths of the scientist devoted to longer lives." Now, I found this article interesting in part because it is a parallel argument to one I've been making for years.
Years ago, I received a call from a reporter from one of the nation's most influential newspapers. As a matter of fact, the very same newspaper. The reporter asked me, "Who would be the most credible faith healer to talk to?" And without skipping a beat, I simply said, "I wouldn't talk to one and consider one credible who is less than, say, 300 years old." My point was simply this, there is no credibility to those who claim the word faith, health and wealth gospel and those who claim the power to defy death. Well, the fact is they die right on time.
But in a parallel argument, Pagan Kennedy is writing about the fact that those who have promised longevity by diets or other kinds of health mechanisms, well, history record they've died right on time too, sometimes even earlier than the norm. Kennedy writes, "In the field of anti-aging and longevity research, self experiments are all the rage." She cites many of them but then she goes on to say that many Americans are imitating those who are promising longevity and, well, very long and fruitful life if you will just follow their diet or their mechanism or take their drugs or their medical treatment.
But after citing so many of these, she asked the question but how much do our individual choices really matter? She says that question centered on what she describes as a safari through the obituary pages "hunting for dead longevity experts so that I could find out how their experiments had ended." Well, she goes on to say let's start in the 1930s when an American nutritionist named Clive McCay designed a low-calorie diet for his lab rats at Cornell. They gave them all the nutrients they needed but kept them as thin as supermodels and she says presumably ravenous. She went on to write and I quote, "The diet seemed to act like a time machine and Dr. McCay's hungry rats maintained their dapper glossy coats of fur and frisk about their cages. Their well-fed counterparts doddered about in shabby coats and then died."
"In the laboratory today are two male white rats that are the equivalent in age to men more than 130 years old." Those are words from Dr. McCay himself as Pagan Kennedy says he was promoting the benefits of caloric restriction. Well, Dr. McCay died. He died fairly early even after following his own diet. "Though trim and athletic, he had two strokes and died at 69." Later, she cites another scientist that is Dr. Roy Walford. He also claimed that a strict diet could double the span of mice and according to Kennedy, he stuck to about a 1,600-calorie a day diet. He was promising about 120 years. He actually wrote a work entitled the 120 Year Diet but he died at a fairly young age.
Some will remember decades ago the man she describes as "the wild foods enthusiast" Euell Gibbons. She says he was far ahead of his time and his advocacy of a diverse plant diet but he died at age 64. The nutritionist, Adelle Davis, according to Kennedy, she helped to wake millions of people to the dangers of refined foods, she died at 70. Nathan Pritikin, one of the foremost champion, she writes, of low-fat diets died at 69, nearly the same age as Dr. Robert Atkins who believed in the opposite diet regimen.
But then perhaps the greatest parable she records she writes, "Then there is Jerome Rodale, founder of the publishing empire dedicated to health. In 1971, Dick Cavett invited Mr. Rodale onto his TV show after reading a New York Times Magazine article that called him the guru of the organic food cult. Mr. Rodale then age 72, took his chair next to Mr. Cavett and then proclaimed that he would live to be 100. And then within seconds, he made a snoring sound and died." We are then told that the recorded episode never aired.
Kennedy's article goes on and on but from a Christian biblical worldview perspective, the most important thing to recognize is that mortality is simply a part of humanity. It has been ever since Adam, and it will be until Jesus comes. The secular worldview is still looking for some kind of salvation from mortality by diet or blood transfusion or just about anything, and of course, Silicon Valley right now is rushing into a head-long experiment pouring billions of dollars into longevity research. But it's likely to end up just like that unaired episode of the Dick Cavett Show.
Thanks mostly to changes in public health, life expectancy has increased for the average American and also for the average person around the world, but we are still essentially and chronologically very mortal. The fact that Kennedy called her research "a safari through to the obituary pages" actually makes the point. We all end up there one way or another pretty much on time. The obsessive seeking after a secular salvation will end up, well, just as this article makes clear, only in the obituary pages. Salvation is found only in Christ, never in a diet, never in a pill, never in anything or anyone else.