Monday, August 5, 2019
Monday, August 5, 2019
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Monday, August 5, 2019. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Mass Murder in El Paso and Dayton: The Awful Reality of Hatred and the Absurdity of Evil in the Human Heart
The headline in the Washington Post was perhaps most succinct and most tragic, “2 Cities, 13 Hours, 29 Dead.” The New York Times headline, “Back-to-Back Bursts of Gun Violence in El Paso and Dayton Stun the Country,” and indeed the country was stunned. We're talking about two mass killings within the span of about 13 hours.
A common thread in both of these shootings was an alienated young male. First of all, in El Paso on Saturday, a shooter killed 20 and wounded 27. The shooter was 21 years old and is now in custody. As the story unfolded, it turned out that he is believed to have posted a manifesto on a dark recess of the internet just minutes before the assault began. The manifesto perhaps modeled on a similar document, written by a mass murderer in New Zealand, identified his object of concern as what he called the “Hispanic invasion of Texas.” The manifesto undoubtedly spews hatred in the form of animosity against immigrants, but it's also clear that the document itself is an amalgam of conspiratorial ideas that come from a very confused mind with sources from both the right and the left.
Most Americans found out about the shootings in Dayton as they awakened on Sunday morning. It turns out that shortly after midnight, another assailant, this time 24 years old, opened fire within a crowded nighttime district of the City of Dayton, Ohio. He killed nine people and injured others. One of those dead included the assailant's sister.
One of the most interesting dimensions of this story is the fact that law enforcement was already on the scene, and police had disabled, indeed killed the shooter within 30 seconds of the first shot being fired, that according to National Public Radio, and so the fact that there were police there and that they did intervene immediately indicates just how fast this kind of tragedy can unfold. There are huge questions of worldview importance that immediately come to us in the aftermath of this kind of headline news, and these headlines come again and again.
How does such an assault happen, and what kind of heart and mind can such a plan even be incubated? How does any human being turn murderous and especially on this kind of scale? What can explain it? Who can understand the human heart? How can we anticipate? How can we identify those young men, and they are overwhelmingly young men, who seem to carry out these attacks? What kind of prevention can be put in place? How can we know which alienated young man is going to turn violent as opposed to others?
One of the developments of the last half century has been the deinstitutionalization of mental health, and in particular, the fact that it is very, very difficult to institutionally constrain even the seriously mentally ill if they are unwilling to be so constrained. In the aftermath of this kind of shooting, there are immediate discussions about the fact that those who carry out such murders must be mentally ill, and indeed, even reading the document of the suspected shooter there in El Paso indicates that kind of very mentally-troubled mind. Advocates for the mentally ill often come right back and say, "Don't discuss this in terms of mental illness because that stigmatizes those who have some kind of mental health issue," but this is one of the issues we have to face. It is certainly true, and let us be thankful for this truth that the vast, vast majority of those who struggle with mental illness will never turn murderous or violent in any way. But that cannot keep us from speaking the obvious here, and that is that we are facing a very serious mental health crisis and we now lack the cultural will, and for that matter, even the legal mechanisms to deal with many of these threats, but the Christian worldview reminds us that the problem is even bigger than that because we cannot read the human heart.
There is no adequate psychological or psychiatric measure to understand who is likely to turn violent in this kind of case. We can't read anyone else's mind or heart. We don't know what they are plotting. We don't know what they are planning. We don't know what kind of hatreds and resentments they are burying in the crevices of their heart, or for that matter, forming as a worldview that will turn inherently violent. When you look at what took place in El Paso and Dayton, and you put it in the larger context of so many other mass shootings and mass killings that have taken place, there can be no doubt that we're looking at the confluence of so many different evil streams, but we're also looking at the fact that one word that is obvious here is often missing, and that is the word “hatred.”
The Bible actually speaks very explicitly of hatred, of the disease of hatred, of the pathology of hatred, of the evil intent of hatred. Harboring hatred in the human heart is a very deadly matter, and so when you're looking at the mental health issue, when we're looking at the political conspiracy issue, when we're looking at all of the confusions that are, for example, in all their corruption evident in that twisted manifesto, we also have to understand that there is hatred there being demonstrated, and hatred has an object, in this case, a human object. It appears that Hispanic immigrants were at the center of that young man's hatred, but at this point, we don't even know the hatred that has driven the mass murder there in Dayton, Ohio.
There's another dimension to this: our own moral nature as God made us leads us to want to know why. We want to get inside the mind of anyone who would carry out this kind of horrifying, murderous attack, and we want to know the reason. We have the sense that if we just knew something of the reason, this might help us to prevent further assaults and murders in the future, but the fact is, there is no rationality in the clearest sense to this kind of evil. One of the answers to the problem of evil throughout the Christian tradition has been understanding that some evil is quite literally absurd. It is impossible to account for in rational terms. One cannot get into the mind of the irrational in order to come up with a rational explanation for their behavior or motivation.
We also have to admit that one of the limitations of being human is that we do not even have an adequate moral measure to take account of such horrific crimes. In The Washington Post report on the shootings by Robert Moore and Mark Berman, this is pointed out, "There is no universally agreed upon definition of a mass shooting. Federal law defines a mass killing as three or more people killed in a single incident, a definition the FBI has cited in studies of active shooters. Other attempts to track the number of shootings, such as the online Gun Violence Archive, include cases in which multiple people were shot but not killed."
When it comes to legal charges, authorities in Texas have already filed capital murder charges against the young man arrested there, whose name I am not going to mention, but as of yesterday, it was also announced that the federal government intends to bring federal charges, which could also lead to the death penalty, including hate crimes charges.
As of yesterday, federal authorities and also law enforcement officials there in Texas were referring to the shooting there as a form of domestic terrorism. Here, vocabulary is very important, and sometimes overly politicized. Should the word “terrorist” be used in this case? I think undeniably, it should. You have a young man who made a statement. He filed a manifesto shortly before he carried out mass murder. Terrorism is defined as an act of violence intended to send a message, and there's no doubt that that is exactly what this is. The young man sent his message even through one of the dark corners of the internet just before he began carrying out his murderous rampage.
The word “terrorism,” we should note goes back to the end of the 18th century and the historic event of the French Revolution. In the deadliest years of that revolution, The Terror, as those years are known, terror was unleashed by the power of the state. Since then, most uses of the word “terrorism” have referred to actions not by state actors, but rather by insurgents, often lone insurgents, sometimes as part of a concerted political strategy. Terrorism has been one of the darkest marks of the modern age undertaken by anarchists and anti-monarchists, and now by Islamic terrorists, and others who for whatever twisted reason turned to mass murder precisely in order to send a political message. That is what makes terrorism, terrorism.
Understood as such, terrorism is a calculated and intentional act of violence to create terror within the hearts of people that undermines the very stability and security of society. It's a political message, but it is also a highly emotional message. It is intended to be sent as such and received as such. It reminds us of other truths underlined by the Christian worldview, including the fact that trust makes society and makes freedom possible. If that trust is destroyed by terrorism or by any other evil force, then society becomes impossible or implausible, and freedom is no longer sustainable. This also reminds us that in a hierarchy of human needs, and this is evident throughout history, oftentimes security becomes an even greater need than freedom or liberty. Sometimes, when you're looking at terrorism like this, it is precisely intended to bring about an end of a free society.
Theologically, Christians must even as we are praying for those who are grieving in Mexico, in Texas, in Ohio and beyond, we understand that we are looking at the problem of evil. Ultimately, the only answer to the problem of evil is a far stronger force than evil, and the only one capable of defeating evil is Jesus Christ our Lord. And yet, we are looking at the fact that in this age, evil is still a force to be reckoned with. Death is still a reality to be reckoned with, and Satan who roams to and fro, seeking whom he may devour, is still a force to be reckoned with. The Christian worldview reminds us of the absolute and objective categories of good and evil, and we understand that we have to use that vocabulary not only in cases like this, but in all other human endeavors as well, but we have to call evil by its name, and that's exactly one of our responsibilities in light of the murderous assaults over the weekend.
One of the most important and helpful statements made in the aftermath of the headlines came by the Editorial Board of The Wall Street Journal on Monday morning. The title of the editorial, “The Killers in Our Midst.”
The first paragraph, "The mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton over the weekend are horrifying assaults on peaceful communities by disturbed young men. American politics of the editors will try to simplify these events into a debate about guns or political rhetoric, but the common theme of these killings is the social alienation of young men that will be harder to address." The editors point to the fact that this is not a new reality, it's a reality that spans several presidential administrations of presidents of both parties, and then it points to what it calls "the twisted motivations that are varied and often too convoluted to sort into any clear ideology." The editors write of the El Paso shooter, "He expressed sympathy for the racial motivations of the Christchurch killer and denounced Hispanic immigration, but he also raged against 'unchecked corporations' who support immigration and pollute the land.” As the editors said, "This is the rant of someone angry about a society he doesn't feel a part of and doesn't comprehend."
The editors went on to say, "It is all-too-typical of most of these young male killers who tend to be loners and marinate in notions they absorb in the hours they spend online. They are usually disconnected to family, neighborhood, church, colleagues at work, or anything apart from their online universe."
The editors point out that many of these shooters seem to draw inspiration from one another, and then they call for action. The editors write, "Politicians and other leaders do have a responsibility to condemn and marginalize those who indulge the ugly instincts that infect any human society." They continue, "That includes the President of the United States."
The editors wrote that they had, "Long warned Mr. Trump about the divisive tone of his public rhetoric." They continued, "He should separate himself forcefully and consistently from alt-right and white supremacy voices." In following paragraphs, the editors warn however against politicizing this kind of event, but they say, "A president has a special role in the American system, even if our politics has elevated the presidency more than it should." They call upon the president to speak on behalf of the nation, and to do so in ways that are racially and ethnically healing. The President did release a statement on Sunday, making clear, "Hate has no place in our country."
Even as these shootings took place in our country, the problem doesn't begin in our country. As the Christian worldview reminds us, the problem begins in the human heart. But as the Bible also makes clear, what starts in the human heart all too often does not stay there.
‘Heir and a Spare’ Maximum Announced by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex: Does the Earth Need Us?
Next, we turn to a very different headline, this time from London. The New York Times version of the headline was this, "Prince Harry Plans 2 Children 'Maximum,' for the Sake of the Planet." Palko Karasz is the reporter.
The paper states, "Months after Prince Harry and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, welcomed their newborn son, the prince, one of the most prominent young fathers in Britain, again had some baby news. It's not what you might expect. In an interview published this week, he made it clear that he and his wife planned to have no more than two children, a decision that he appeared to link to a greater consideration for the planet." The prince's words emphatically were, "Two maximum." They came in a conversation that was published in the online edition of the British version of Vogue Magazine.
It was a conversation with Jane Goodall, a very famous British primatologist. The interview is to be published in the print edition in September of the magazine. Prince Harry said, "We are the one species on this planet that seems to think that this place belongs to us and only us. Surely," he said, "being as intelligent as we all are or as evolved as we are all supposed to be, we should be able to leave something better behind for the next generation."
The paper explains, "Prince Harry's wedding to the Duchess in the spring of 2018 was seen by some as a symbol of change in the British monarchy. Since then, the couple has disregarded royal protocol and tradition more than once, including for the birth of their son, Archie." It turns out, according to this interview, or at least according to Prince Harry, that Archie will have one and only one sibling if even one.
And, of course, it also tells us that the prince was tying this to an environmental and ecological agenda. That brings to mind the fact that indeed, Prince Harry is the son of Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, who has made a very hyper new age spiritualized form of environmentalism central to his worldview. I've had the experience of being in a meeting with the Prince of Wales when he discussed this worldview, including his affirmation of the fact that he believes in something like the infamous Gaia hypothesis, the fact that the cosmos is itself animated, or alive, ensouled.
In this interview, Prince Harry seems to be following, perhaps quite naturally in the worldview of his own father, but it also tells us something about the intersection of celebrity and this kind of ideology, the fact that any other father speaking of such a commitment would not make headline news on both sides of the Atlantic for that matter, but we are talking about the extreme interest in the royal family that basically exists as a celebrity reality when it comes to headlines like this.
Prince Harry after all is not very high right now in the line of succession, and Archie would be even behind him. In reality, even as there has been something of a royal or imperial mandate throughout generations and millennia, for royalty to produce more children, not less, it has become now politically correct to have less and not more. The so-called famous “heir and a spare” of royal aspiration is all that Prince Harry and Meghan are evidently committed to.
The conversation with Jane Goodall is really the kind of conversation you would expect in a magazine like the British edition of Vogue. This is not a highly-intellectual, this is not a scientifically detailed conversation at all. Jane Goodall is a scientist, Prince Harry is not. At one point, as a matter of fact, interviewing Goodall, he said this, "I always think to myself, whenever there's another natural disaster, a huge increase in volcano eruptions or earthquakes or flooding. How many clues does nature have to give us before we actually learn or wake ourselves up to the damage and the destruction that we're causing?" I'm not at all certain that most scientists consider volcanic eruptions to be even connected to climate change.
Celebrating a Coming Crisis: Why the Secular Worldview Champions Declining Birth Rates
But the larger worldview implications became very clear in the pages of The Financial Times. That's a very influential newspaper, also published in London. An article by Camilla Cavendish ran right after the Prince's announcement with the headline, “The Only Child is Becoming the Norm.” The subhead, "As populations shrink, we will have to redefine our notion of the family." Now, I draw attention to this article because it appears in The Financial Times, it was timed to appear right after the royal announcement, and what becomes so clear in this article is the fact that a reduction in the number of children is part of a larger ideology to redefine the family, as we shall see. This is not just something that Camilla Cavendish observes or thinks she is observing happening. This is something she wants to happen.
Listen to this paragraph, "The good news for the planet is that globally, families are shrinking. In 1964, the average woman had just over five children. By 2015, she had only 2.5. There are now 83 countries home to nearly half the world's population with fertility rates below replacement rates, roughly 2.1 births per woman."
As you look at this article, it becomes clear she's celebrating this precipitous fall on the birth rate. It is actually for humanity a disaster, but she's celebrating it, and that's not only due to the kind of environmentalism that is cited by so many as the reason for a basic anti-human aspect taken, and this goes all the way back to the 1960's and warnings about a population explosion and mass starvation coming. It turned out not only did this mass starvation not happen, but even as the population of the world has expanded, we are now looking at the reality that a falling birth rate is a far greater threat to humanity than an expanding birth rate.
Even as you look at that reality, what becomes clear in this article is the fact that the redefinition of the family is an even bigger issue she celebrates. Listen to what she writes, "On Thursday, the Office for National Statistics announced that the birth rate in England and Wales in 2018 fell to 11.1 live births per 1,000 members of the population, the lowest rate since records began in 1938. Italy, once the home of romance and big Catholic families has hit the lowest birth rate this century, accentuated by record immigration. Japan's population shrank last year with a total fertility rate of 1.42." She continues, "In the latter two countries, women are throwing off the shackles of family duties." One Japanese executive told her, "I wouldn't mind having a child, but I can't imagine putting up with a husband."
Well, there you see exactly what's going on. This isn't dispassionate journalism. She writes about women throwing off the shackles of family duties. This is the great good that she thinks she's celebrating. This is the great goal to which society should be aspiring. She celebrates a falling birth rate because it both makes possible and indicates the fact that increased numbers of adults, women and men, are simply throwing off the shackles of family.
Consider those words, “the shackles of family,” the most important unit of human civilization, one of the greatest gifts that God has made us. The gift of the family is now described as a prison or at least shackles that we should celebrate overcoming. We need to note that she's exactly right, that having fewer children is going to mean that there will be fewer family bonds. There will be a decreased amount of human attention to raising children. There will be a decreased societal priority towards the raising of children, and for that matter, even the having of children, the education of children. This is something that she celebrates, and we have to assume the way she writes, she fully expects the elite readers of The Financial Times to celebrate with her.
She goes on to say that, "Only children are becoming the norm. In the United Kingdom, 40% of married couples have only one child," she writes, "And among unmarried cohabitating couples and single parents, the share is even higher." Again, her agenda becomes very clear in the conclusion of the article, where she writes, "A shrinking world will challenge us to redefine our notion of family, and to build different support networks for old age. But,” she says, "it should also be positive for the planet if we can tackle the continuing population growth in Africa."
As a matter of fact, we need to be thankful to Africa for being one continent that is still having children. When she mentions Japan and women overthrowing the shackles of family, she doesn't mention the fact that the employment base is falling so precipitously, that you're looking at a very real threat to the sustainability of Japan as an economy and as a society. You're talking about the fact that there are political authorities in Japan talking about having to turn to robots for the care of the elderly.
She celebrates the redefinition of family, even as she acknowledges that we're going to have to "build different support networks for old age." But since she celebrates the fact that we're overthrowing the shackles of the family, she evidently thinks that human beings can come up with something even better than the family. You have to wonder if that Japanese executive was willing to admit that she's looking forward to being taken care of in her old age by a robot.
As we conclude on this issue, I want to turn to a very important argument made a few years ago by Mary Eberstadt in her book, How the West Really Lost God. She turns much of the conventional wisdom rightly on its head, and she points out that when you ask the question, "Does a secular society lead to lower birth rates, or would lower birth rates lead to a more secular society?", she points out that actually, the latter is the better argument.
In her book, she points to the fact that it is actually lower birth rates that point to increased secularization. It's easy to understand when you think about it, the experience of being a child nurtured by parents, the experience of being parents to a child, the experience of having that obligation, the experience of teaching and raising children is inherently non-secularizing. One of the things we note, and this is because of the image of God, is the fact that children are ardently theistic. The fact is that it's easy to understand that secularization, moral liberalization and a falling birth rate go together. The factors are eventually inseparable, and of course, the breakdown of the family is not only an effect. As that article in The Financial Times made clear, it is often a central part of the agenda.