Monday, March 18, 2019

Monday, March 18, 2019

The Briefing

March 18, 2019

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

It’s Monday, March 18, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing. A daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

When Horror Strikes: Mass terrorist attack in New Zealand leaves the island nation and the world shocked in the face of profound loss and unquestionable depravity

The late Zbigniew Brzezinski, he was national security adviser to former President Jimmy Carter. He famously described the 20th century as the age of mega death, documenting the tens, indeed the hundreds of millions of people killed by the various social experiments of the 20th century. But of the 20th century was the age of mega death, the 21st century has turned out to be the age of mass murders. In the case of what took place last Friday and New Zealand, a mass murder on the other side of the world that caused the entire globe to stop and pay attention. We’re talking about what’s believed to be at this time, the work of a lone gunman who killed at least 50 people, several others are wounded and attacks upon two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christ Church.

We’re also talking about the latest demonstration of how mass murder can be calculated to maximum media effect. Chillingly so and revealingly so especially in this latest case from New Zealand. A team of reporters from the Wall Street Journal reported the story this way, “This tiny island nation was left reeling after a gunman wearing military fatigues and, wielding five weapons, stormed into two mosque and killed 50 people on Friday in the worst massacre in New Zealand’s history.” We are then told that police have arrested a 28-year-old Australian suspect, I am not going to give his name following the general principle of denying to these individuals the publicity that they crave. The Wall Street Journal reporters go on saying a lengthy manifesto posted under the man’s name on Facebook around the time of the attacks, claimed responsibility expressing white supremacist views and describing the author as from a working class Australian family.

The terrorist spree the journal tells us was captured in graphic video footage posted online by the shooter that has since been removed. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand said, “While the nation grapples with the form of grief and anger that we have not experienced before, we are seeking answers” Well, of course, the nation is seeking answers. Every observant person would be seeking answers in the wake of this kind of horror. Why? Who? How could this happen? And of course, we watch a secular society trying to answer these big questions, especially the questions of moral responsibility and moral meaning out of an essentially secular worldview. An enterprise that is not only frustrating, but impossible. But as we look at these headlines, we need to understand the scale of what we’re talking about.

The murder of 50 people, at least thus far in Christ Church represents for New Zealand a terror attack, which is proportionally tantamount to the September 11 2001 attacks in the United States. If you take the population of New Zealand, it’s only about 4.6 million, and you take the population of the United States, you look at the death toll from those two terror attacks, and there is a parallelism that many Americans will miss simply because of a misunderstanding of the numbers. New Zealand’s population is not large. The islands have actually only been known to Europeans for 250 years. It goes back to October 6 1769, when none other than Captain Cook made what the Europeans called the discovery of the islands all ready inhabited. European settlements came shortly thereafter, but Christchurch interestingly enough, became the first city with the Royal Charter from Britain when it was established in 1856.

New Zealand on the map famously takes the shape of two separate islands, the Northern Island and the Southern Island, which is smaller. Christ Church is the largest city on the South Island, but it also the third largest city in New Zealand, following Auckland and Wellington. Christ Church was named for Christ Church, Oxford, which tells us a great deal about the British character of the settlement of New Zealand by Europeans. In settling New Zealand, the British sought to put a British stamp upon it, and this first city with a royal charter was named for the Oxford college established in 1546 by none other than Henry VIII. It is also the Oxford college that has produced the largest number of British Prime Ministers. Again, pointing to the political dynamic and the historical significance of Christ Church, Oxford, leading to the conflation of the two words Christ and church into one word as the name of the New Zealand city.

According to some historic records, Islam arrived in New Zealand and indeed and what became Christ Church even before the Royal Charter was given for the city. That was an 1856 when the charter was given. We are told that historic records indicate that at least some Islamic presence was there in New Zealand two years previous in 1854. But that’s very easy to understand. When you look at the map and understand the trade and imperial roots that arch the maritime enterprise that even led to the discovery of New Zealand by Europeans in the 18th century. By the time you get to 1854 and 1856, you are talking about a great deal of maritime travel and the exchange of populations between the East and the West. New Zealand, there in the southern hemisphere became one of those areas in which there was a mix of worldviews even though the emerging society was clearly British in orientation.

Several aspects of the terror attack last Friday in Christ Church demand closer attention for one thing, there is no doubt that it was carefully planned, strategic premeditated, and that the targeting of Muslims in the two mosques was intentional from the very beginning. And lest there be any mistaking the intentions of the suspected attacker, in a 94 page manifesto that he posted on the internet just before he started the attack, he made very clear his opposition to Islam. He’s concerned about a cultural displacement and replacement of European civilization within Islamic civilization, also pointing to other waves of immigration. He furthermore made very clear that he was intending to create a massive cultural disruption that would bring attention to his ideas and bring about the cultural crisis in the West.

The manifesto reveals a mash, a horrifying mash of truly toxic ideas drawn from all over the dark places of the internet. But even if it lacks intellectual coherence, it does very clearly demonstrate a mind, a heart driven by many forms of hatred. Patrick Kingsley in an article for the New York Times wrote, “The massacre in New Zealand on Friday highlights the contagious ways in which extreme right ideology and violence has spread in the 21st century, even to a country that had not experienced a mass shooting for more than two decades, and which is rarely associated with the extreme right.” Now this raises is a host of worldview questions, we must take responsibility to try to understand this individuals ideas and place them within the landscape of cultural, moral, and political thought. You will see in the mainstream media common reference to the fact that he represents the radical right but in this case, we have to understand that the radical right is not understood as being extreme conservatism.

When you talk about liberalism and conservatism, and you put it in the contemporary political context, we often do refer to those political polarities as left as in liberal and right as in conservative. But by the time you get to the extreme left and the extreme right, you have really left any kind of responsible or coherent political argument, it devolves into a form of hatred driven anarchy. But it is also very clear that the writer of this manifesto was making explicit reference from all over the place, from many different sources in supportive arguments for racial superiority and supremacy. He turned that into a massive manifesto for an act of mass murder.

Part II

How the role social media played in the New Zealand terror attack reveals the fading distinction between online extremism and realized evil

Another dimension that demands our attention is understanding the unique role played by the internet. The deliberate use of the internet in order to broadcast this act of mass violence and to gain as much attention as possible as the New York Times Richard Perez pinion pointed out, “The shooting represented a staggering corruption of a form of communication used innocently by millions, that promise to draw people together but has also helped pride them apart into warring camps. It also shattered a veneer of civility and security in one of the safest and most highly developed countries in the world.” Authority say that the individual warning of what he called White genocide, put a live camera on a helmet and live stream to the attack in the two mosques.

A front page article in the Wall Street Journal included this statement from Mary and Frank’s law professor at the University of Miami and President to the Cyber Civil Rights Initiative. She said, “This latest atrocity only underscores the fact that there is no responsible way to offer a live streaming social media service.” It’s unlikely that live streaming is going to disappear from the internet or from social media, but this does demonstrate the limitations of social media enterprises from blocking this kind of content once it is offered online. This became very clear in the tragedy in Christ Church. Again, The Wall Street Journal reported, “Artificial intelligence experts said no technology is available that would allow for the foolproof detection of violence on streaming platforms. Even teaching machines to recognize that person brandishing a gun is difficult, as there are many different types of guns and many different stances for holding them computers. The article tells us also struggle to distinguish real violence from fictional films.”

The New York Times article said this, “New safeguards developed by tech companies over the last 18 months were not enough to stop the video and statement from being widely posted on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram. While Facebook and Twitter took down pages not to be linked to the gunman, the posted content was spread rapidly through other accounts. Some people appear to be using techniques to evade automated systems that find and delete content.” A perceptive comment came from Kevin Rose, reporter for The New York Times in another front page article published Saturday. In his words, “People are used to conceive of online extremism as distinct from the extremism that took form in the physical world.” But now he writes, “Online extremism is just regular extremism on steroids. There is no offline equivalent of the experience of being algorithmically nudged towards a more strident version of your existing beliefs, or having an invisible hand to steer you from gaming videos to Neo-Nazism.”

An editorial that appeared over the weekend in the Wall Street Journal made the very important point that free societies simply by virtue of their freedom, are never able totally to prevent this kind of massacre. By the way, it is also true history will document that autocratic societies have also been incompetent at preventing these kinds of attacks. But there can be no question that free societies have a particular vulnerability in this regard. As the editors of The Wall Street Journal said, “Friday’s rampage shows all to grimly the harm that a few evil and motivated individuals can do in a free society.” The editors concluded their column with this, “Democracies are vulnerable to attacks from extremists of all types, including white supremacists. New Zealand’s wrenching reassessment of threats will be familiar to Americans who recalled 911 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995 that killed 168. The sad lesson is always,” conclude the editors, “is that healthy societies require vigilance as much as an ethic of public tolerance to defend their values.”

Part III

In times of tragedy like this, Christians must understand our unequivocal call to “weep with those who weep”

Looking at this from a Christian worldview perspective, there are several dichotomies that are immediately apparent. If you do honor a free society, then you have to understand that a free society honoring freedom comes with certain vulnerabilities that are inescapable with freedom. You are looking at the fact that vulnerabilities can never be totally overcome, especially in a society that honors freedom in any sense. Freedom comes with the inherent vulnerability that the people most determined to do evil may accomplish that evil before they are stopped.

Another dichotomy is the internet itself. Yes, it does bring the opportunity for the free exchange of ideas. It does bring the opportunity for establishing community and relationships. But it also comes with a horrifying opportunity to become a platform for extremism, hatred, violence, and worse. But like the ancient parable of Pandora’s box, once the internet is operational, once the box is open, it is very difficult to bring controls. It’s very telling that just 48 hours after the massacre, the mainstream media had come to the assumption that even as the major social media platforms were seeking to eliminate and take down this material, the material was traveling faster than the evolving politics of these internet corporations.

But finally, there’s another dimension that demands Christian attention. That is the fact that this attack was specifically targeting Muslims, who had gathered together in two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. That’s an inescapable part of the story. The Scripture tells us that we are to weep with those who weep, and right now, you’re looking at a community there in Christ Church, and specifically, you’re looking at a Muslim community that is weeping. This is genuine morning. And we should mourn with those who mourn wherever they are found in whatever their belief system. But we also have to note how quickly the mainstream media and the Western political elites have jumped to make the argument that any criticism of Islam is equivalent to Islamophobia and begins to fuel what inevitably will take the form of violence. That’s not a legitimate argument. This points to something that is very difficult on the other side of this kind of moral atrocity, whatever its form, wherever it takes place, whomever is targeted. It comes down to the fact that there is an almost immediate shut down of conversation in such a way that there is no moral responsibility to distinguish between a legitimate conversation and an illegitimate conversation. Rather, conversation is just shut down.

Now, that won’t last. But it is very important to recognize that as I began, when you have a secular society trying to deal with moral evil of this magnitude in an entirely secular way, it faces limitations in which it can only come to the judgment that this must be explainable by some kind of toxic idea that can be traced back to something that we resist because of our own worldview. As we have said, the Western world view in its increasing secularism is unable to come to terms with the fact that anyone would be driven by a deeply theological worldview. Wherever you find a culture shaped by Western civilization, particularly in Western Europe, North America, or to the same extent, in Australia and New Zealand, you find this secular impulse to say, we must identify any theological argument and any criticism of any theological argument, as rooted in something other than a question of truth. It must be rooted in something that is merely psychological.

Therefore, something that can be reduced to and dismissed by a phrase like Islamophobia. Christians who hold to the gospel of Jesus Christ are not Islamophobic, but rather are driven by an understanding that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. And that no one comes to the Father but by him. We owe the gospel to all people and that includes our Muslim neighbors, Muslims, and others, whatever their worldview, wherever they are found on planet Earth. Furthermore, there are deep and legitimate cultural questions that have to be asked when we consider Islam and Western civilization. But in the wake of this kind of massacre, it’s not the right time to have that discussion. It is, however, interesting to see how many people will want to use this kind of incident in order to shut down that necessary and legitimate discussion.

The part of our witness to the gospel of Jesus Christ is our obedience to Scripture, when we are commanded to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn. And we should also observe the fact that there is something to be thankful for, and something that we can only attribute to the authority of God himself, and the moral order he has imprinted upon all creation that there is an international overwhelming global revulsion at this kind of moral horror. Even in an age overwhelmingly dominated in many circles by moral relativism, moral relativism clearly breaks down in the face of this kind of headline and Christians understand why.

Part IV

How a delayed obituary from Germany (Hermann Goering’s daughter) raises the biggest questions of moral responsibility

But next, as we are thinking about moral evil, a headline in the form of an obituary from Germany. It’s a very unusual obituary. It’s a very compelling obituary. The headline in the New York Times, Edda Goering, 80, Daughter of Hermann. Daniel East Slotnik reports, “Edda Goering was practically a princess of the Third Reich. As the only daughter of Herman Goering, the leader of the Luftwaffe and Adolf Hitler’s right-hand man and potential successor, Ms. Goering was a national celebrity from the day she was born. Her early childhood resembled a fairy tale. She grew up,” we are told, “in Carinhall, an estate in the countryside replete with priceless works of art and a child-size play palace. Hitler was her Godfather, and her birthday inspired national celebration.” Slotnik continues, “Her youthful idyll ended with the Allies defeating Germany in 1845. Goering, who had been convicted of war crimes and other charges at Nuremberg, committed suicide with the cyanide capsule in his cell hours before he was to be executed in 1946. Edda was eight at the time.”

Now, here you have the obituary for someone that most Americans did not know even existed or still was living in our own times. But it’s also interesting because this was not a recent obituary, even though it was recently published in the New York Times. It was published just last Thursday, March 14, 2019.

When did she die? Well, it turns out that she died on December 21, 2018, at age 80. But the German government wanted to bring no attention to her death because the German government wanted to bring no attention to her life. Thus, the news of her death came only slowly and the major obituary is not in Germany, but in the United States. As the Times tells us, “The Civic authority in Munich, where she died, acknowledge the fact that her death had taken place only last week and we are told that there would be no other details provided.” German news reports say that only a few close associates had been informed of her death.

Now, here’s where the story gets very interesting especially as we are thinking about the horror of moral evil. It’s hard to come up with any moment in world history more immoral, more demonstrative of moral evil, than the Nazi regime and the Third Reich. It’s hard to imagine anyone closer to the heart of this that Herman Goering, who was indeed the first officer at the side of Adolf Hitler, who was the head of the Luftwaffe, and whose daughter had Adolf Hitler as her godfather. But the interesting turn comes with this paragraph, “Children of Nazi officials have often had complicated relationships with their parents. Misgivings feelings for her father, who doted on her were straightforward.” She said, “I love him very much. And it was obvious how much he loved me.” This she told to the journalist Gerald Posner for his book Hitler’s Children: Sons and Daughters of the Third Reich Leaders, a book published in 1991. Ms. Goering said, “My only memories of him are such loving ones, I cannot see him any other way.”

Now, on the one hand, you can understand the love of a daughter for a father, even an infamous, morally horrifying father, because the father demonstrated a very different self, a very different face to this daughter. This was a daughter of Nazi privilege who grew up with a doting father, but there’s something even more sinister under the surface. This is a daughter who refused to come to terms with the moral evil that her father represented, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Once confronted with the evidence, she refused to acknowledge any loss of affection for her father, who, as we know, was actually a moral monster. One of the figures undeniably responsible for the attempt of the total elimination of the Jewish people from the face of the earth, one of the people against whom must be counted 10s and 10s of millions of human victims who died either because of the explicit death wish of the Nazi regime, or of the world conflagration that the regime sparked.

Ms. Goering’s inability or unwillingness to face the evil of her father was made clear in another statement she made, “My father’s problem was his loyalty to Hitler. He had sworn personal fealty to him and would never abandon it even when Hitler had gone too far. The things that happened to the Jews were horrible, but quite separate from my father.” Well, they were not separate from her father, and they were not merely horrible, and her father was not morally guilty merely a fealty to Adolf Hitler, and Hitler had not merely gone too far. Ms. Goering’s complicity, that word is the only possible word to use here, was also made clear when even in recent decades, she sought legal action against the German government, especially in Bavaria, seeking to regain millions and millions of valuables that had been owned by her father, even as they very clearly had been looted from much of Europe, including most particularly Jewish Europe. When Gerald Posner visited with her in preparation for his book published in 1991 in her apartment, he saw the Goering family crest and many portraits of her mother and her father.

It’s very easy, certainly tempting for Americans and others, to simply act as if the atrocities of the 20th century are very far from us. But history sometimes reminds us that those atrocities are not nearly so far away as we might have thought, or we might want to think. But this is where Christians have to think very seriously. What would bring together in a meaningful way, what would make inseparable the headlines from Munich and from New Zealand. it would be the reality of moral evil. It would be the functional reality of human moral responsibility. It would be the understanding that we are inescapably moral creatures. It would be the understanding of the power of sin and its deadly nature amongst us, a power that all too often does make the kind of horrifying headlines we had to talk about today from the 20th century and the 21st, from just in our own time.

But here’s where Christians also have to understand and think most seriously about the fact, that moral evil often doesn’t make the headlines because it is not on the scale that gets national and international attention. It comes right down to our own sin and our own moral responsibility. But here’s where Christians also have to understand, evil is evil in a theological and Biblical worldview and on the cosmic scale of God’s justice, even when it doesn’t make the headlines. The secular world looking at headlines like this wants to make the rightful moral verdict, that these actions are evil, but then it wants to move on. Christians are those who understand that evil is evil in God’s eyes, even when it doesn’t make those headlines.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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