briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

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

It’s Wednesday, November 27, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Michael Bloomberg Officially Enters the Presidential Race: An Unlikely Candidacy Driven by Contradictory Social and Fiscal Policies

It just might say something when the former three-term mayor of New York City announced his official entry into the 2020 race for the Democratic presidential nomination that his hometown newspaper, the New York Times, put the story squarely in the print edition on page A14 — fourteen pages into the front section of the newspaper. The headline was this: “Bloomberg Hits Democratic Presidential Race Running to the Center.”

Before we even look at the article, let’s consider the headline. How in the world could Michael Bloomberg be considered in the center of anything? It’s only because the Democratic party’s moved so far left. When Michael Bloomberg did serve those three terms as mayor of New York City, he believed in the expansive power of the state so much so that his vision for New York City and for the nation began to be described in terms of a nanny state. It was Michael Bloomberg who tried to press the New York City government to pass limitations upon the sale of sodas right down to how many ounces could be sold and how much sugar could be contained in a legally sold serving.

But by the time Michael Bloomberg left office, even though he was famously pro-abortion, pro-LGBTQ rights, and pro just about everything else when it comes to social causes, he was described as a moderate in the Democratic party. His entry into the race in recent days was described as a race to the center and a threat to the prevailing moderate candidates, as they are described, particularly the former vice president of the United States, Joe Biden. But the reason why Mayor Bloomberg is now described as a moderate is because he is not a socialist. It’s on economic issues that Michael Bloomberg has turned out to be to the right of so many who are now running, indeed are the front runners for the Democratic presidential nomination.

His entry into the race is a massive sign of a lack of confidence of those in the race right now. He believes that those to his left are, by nature of their extremism, unelectable when it comes to the general election. But he also appears to think that former vice president, Joe Biden, even if he can win the Democratic nomination, is unlikely to win the general election. Just months ago, Michael Bloomberg tested the waters for the 2020 race and announced, what appeared to be conclusively, that he was not going to enter the election, but rather had hopes on Joe Biden. Evidently, things have changed.

Alexander Burns reporting for the New York Times tells the story this way: “Michael R. Bloomberg announced his run for president in 2020, bringing his enormous wealth and eclectic political biography into the tumultuous Democratic primary and seeking to win over skeptical liberal voters, by presenting himself as a multibillion dollar threat to President Trump.”

But here’s the parabolic nature of all of this. The Democratic left that has seized the initiative and the momentum at the present and the party is absolutely opposed to the existence of billionaires, any billionaire, no matter how they gained their billions. This has been a song sung by Elizabeth Warren and by Bernie Sanders. Bernie Sanders is a self-declared democratic socialist. Elizabeth Warren doesn’t identify as a socialist, but is running on basically the same economic platform. But when you look at Michael Bloomberg, he not only is a billionaire, he is considered one of the 10 richest people on planet earth. That puts him in a different category entirely from President Trump and Tom Steyer. They’re identified as billionaires, but they basically might have one or two billions. When it comes to Michael Bloomberg, you’re talking about something between $60 and $80 billion. By most rankings, he comes in squarely at about point eight or nine in the world’s 10 richest people.

And make no mistake, his money is going to make a difference. It was announced just days ago that his entry into the race was coming with a $30 million ad buy. That’s unprecedented in the history of American politics. By early this morning, that was advanced to $35 million. That’s a single ad buy over just a few days. And the former New York City mayor who was at one point a Democrat and then a Republican and then an independent before running again as a Democrat, what you see in Michael Bloomberg is an unlikely candidacy that is oddly revealing.

But the Wall Street Journal points to another interesting complication when it comes to a run by the billionaire Bloomberg, and it has to do with the fact that he himself stands atop a vast media network, most importantly, the one name for himself, Bloomberg News. And that organization employs something like 2,700 analysts, reporters and investigators. But in a very interesting twist to Bloomberg announced in recent days that it will continue its policy of not investigating its owner even as its owner is now running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.

But in another interesting twist, Bloomberg then announced that it was also going to be extending the same principle to all of those running for the 2020 Democratic race. And thus we have to turn for this kind of parable to the editor in chief of Bloomberg, John Micklethwait who said this: “We will write about virtually all aspects of this presidential contest.” Well, wait just a minute. They’re going to be writing about virtually all aspects of this presidential campaign except all of the Democratic candidates. That’s a very interesting definition of “all.” In his own words, after saying that they were going to report on virtually all aspects of this presidential contest, he went on to say, “We will continue our tradition of not investigating Mike,” that means Michael Bloomberg, “and his family and his foundation, and we will extend the same policy to his rivals in the Democratic primaries.” Notice that odd phrase, “we will continue the same tradition.”

But as the editors of the Journal noted, “That same courtesy won’t be given to President Trump, at least for now. Bloomberg’s reporters will ‘continue to investigate the Trump administration as the government of the day.’” But the memo from Bloomberg said that that question will be reassessed if Mr. Bloomberg eventually wins the Democratic party’s nomination and let’s just say that still very unlikely. But what it does point to is something that seemingly no one in the media seems to have noticed, and that is the fact that Michael Bloomberg is not just in recent days getting heavily involved in American politics. Even in his announcements and in his television commercials, he brags about how involved he has been, and most importantly not serving three terms as the mayor of New York City, the nation’s largest municipality. No, his major involvement has been pouring hundreds of millions of his own dollars into specific political issues, particularly on the left. This includes the redistricting of congressional seats. It includes, most pointedly for Bloomberg, his efforts to support gun control and the candidates who will also support gun control legislation.

But in worldview analysis, the most interesting aspect of the Michael Bloomberg candidacy is the fact that he’s trying to sell himself as a social liberal and a fiscal moderate. The argument is that there is some kind of runway for that kind of candidacy in the Democratic party. But here’s where we need to note that those who represent the left wing of the Democratic party actually have the more consistent and less hypocritical argument. It actually is rather inconsistent to argue for an economic system that is at odds with the social values that you articulate in the campaign. This is where the left has the upper hand and that’s why in both parties, what we have seen over recent years is the working out of an inherit logic that has a mind of its own, the logic begins to show. If you’re going to redefine marriage and the basic structures of society, if you’re going to set loose vast kinds of social change, it is inconsistent to believe that you can still hold to the same kind of economic structure.

This is something that conservatives have understood going back to the beginnings of conservatism as a political philosophy. It has been endangered among conservatives in recent years who seem to be forgetting some of those conservative principles concerning the fact that democratic norms are essential to the survival of democracy and also that debt and deficits spending will eventually undermine the very social values that the conservative parties try to articulate. But for now what we have is one more interesting entrant into the Democratic party’s primary circus. The three rings of this party are getting more interesting all the time.

And this is where Christians just need to remind ourselves that as interesting is all of this is, it’s also deeply revealing of basic moral, political, economic and worldview issues that we all have an interest and investment in, not just those who will vote in the Democratic primaries.

Part II

Pope Francis Makes Appeal to Abolish Nuclear Weapons on Visit to Japan: The Moral Problem of Knowledge When Discussing Nuclear Disarmament

But next, we’re going to shift to the nation of Japan and the recent papal visit there. Pope Francis came, in a series of international visits that has become more and more a norm in successive papacies. But Pope Francis has made even more of those visits than usual of late, thus, each one of them has attracted less attention. But the visit to Japan is really interesting in worldview analysis, primarily for what the Roman Catholic Pope said about the morality of nuclear weapons.

As Motoko Rich of the New York Times tells us, “In recent days, the Pope spoke to a Japanese audience about the immorality of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power.” Speaking of the latter, Motoko Rich reported, “In the first visit to Japan by a pontiff in 38 years, Pope Francis edged close to calling for the renunciation of all nuclear power in a country that experienced the worst nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, but has yet to determine a viable alternative for its energy needs.” Motoko Rich continued that Francis “noted that the Catholic bishops of Japan had called for the shutdown of all nuclear plants in Japan after the 2011 disaster, in which waves from the tsunami overpowered the Fukushima nuclear power plant and set off catastrophic meltdowns into reactors.”

The interesting thing on that point is that the Pope called for the renunciation of nuclear power, even as Japan, which did experience this horrifying nuclear accident, has honestly admitted it has no alternative for its current energy needs. And there’s a certain amount of incongruities here in the fact that the Pope uses himself fossil fuels to do just about everything that he does, including his travel to Japan. Nuclear energy right now represents one of the main alternatives to fossil fuels. It’s not morally uncomplicated, but it’s also not morally responsible simply to dismiss it on the basis, even of one reactor disaster or when it comes to Fukushima and Chernobyl together, two.

Here’s one of the interesting things we need to watch about how human beings think. It is often referred to as the plane crash problem. A plane crash anywhere in the world that has fatalities instantly makes worldwide news. The reason is because the numbers are big. But if you add up the total number of automobile accidents taking place on the same day, the death toll will be tremendously higher than in any conceivable plane crash. But those automobile accidents don’t make the same international headlines because the numbers are individually smaller. The same thing is true when you look at something like the disasters at Fukushima or even Chernobyl. The reality is that if you add up those deaths, they are incredibly haunting, but it’s also true that if you were able to calculate the deaths that come by other forms of energy retrieval and energy usage, you would likely find that this situation is not going to be so simplistically explained.

But the bigger issue in the papal visit was the fact that he officially declared the Roman Catholic church to consider the possession of nuclear arms to be immoral. As the Associated Press reported, “Pope Francis changed official Catholic church teaching to declare the use and possession of atomic weapons as immoral. A move,” said the Associated Press, “That makes clear that his rejection of the Cold War era doctrine of deterrence is to be official church policy.”

A team of reporters for the Washington Post pointed out that the Pope made this statement in the city of Nagasaki, the second city in human history to suffer an attack by an atomic weapon. Nagasaki, we should note, is also the primary metropolitan center of Catholic influence in Japan. But the pope speaking there made very clear that he believes that not only the use, but the possession of nuclear weapons is immoral.

He said, “Not just the use, also the possession because an accident, a possession, or the insanity of a leader or someone can destroy humanity.” In extended comments in Nagasaki, the Pope said, “In a world where millions of children and families live in inhumane conditions, the money that is squandered in the fortunes made to the manufacturing, upgrading, maintenance, and sale of evermore destructive weapons are an affront crying out to heaven.”

The Pope had even earlier in a visit to Hiroshima, the first city that suffered an atomic attack at the end of World War II, he made a statement there that he demanded later should be put into the catechism of the Catholic church that is becoming official doctrine of the Catholic church in which the possession of nuclear weapons would be declared to be itself immoral.

There are a couple of issues to consider here. For one thing, it’s interesting to note that these comments were made in Japan. It was Japan that was bombed with two nuclear weapons at the end of World War II as the United States developed those horrifying weapons and came to the conclusion that the use of those weapons strategically on those two cities after Japan had refused to surrender would bring about an earlier end to the war with a net reduction in the number of dead as compared to what would have been involved in a massive invasion of the Japanese home islands by Marine, amphibious, and land troops. Furthermore, Japan had already been subjected to sustained bombing that had still not broken the will of emperor Hirohito and the Japanese high command to continue the war.

But leaving the Pope’s argument for a moment, we need to remind ourselves that sometimes as we’re looking at historical analysis, we have to consider what just might have been the least worst option. When you look at the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction or MAD as the acronym became to be known, it is clear in retrospect that it just might have been the least worst option. Why do we say that? Because whatever its moral deficiencies, the doctrine of mutual assured destruction had one great benefit. It did not lead to an actual nuclear war. It did not lead to an exchange of nuclear weapons. The most important good thing we can say about the Cold War is that it stayed cold and did not become hot with an exchange of thermonuclear weapons between the United States and the Soviet Union, that would have assuredly led to the deaths of hundreds of millions of people.

It was neither leaders in the United States nor leaders in the Soviet Union who designed at the end of World War II the doctrine that would become known as Mutually Assured Destruction. It was not a doctrine that was designed. It was a doctrine that happened. This has made very, very clear in diplomatic and historical analysis of the era. It turned out that within four years of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union also had operational nuclear weapons, and at that point, with both of the superpowers having the ability to produce and to deliver these weapons of mass destruction, they both recognized that the big issue was not the ability to make a first strike, but a second strike. The doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction did not refer to the first strike, but to the second strike. The ability of both of these superpowers to survive a first strike and to launch a second strike is what led to the stalemate that is defined as Mutually Assured Destruction.

Was it a moral argument? Well, it certainly was in the sense that it prevented the exchange of nuclear weapons and the massive loss of human life. Was it an argument heretofore ever known in human history? No. In the entire history of just war theory and moral thinking about war, there had been no such thinking because there had been no such weapons. But that doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction is now not limited to the United States and the former Soviet Union or now Russia. It is also a tripod now. It is China and Russia and the United States and its allies primarily defined by NATO.

When you’re looking at this, however, you also have to recognize that the nuclear nonproliferation aims shared by the West and the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War, they didn’t hold and there are now an expanding number of nuclear powers. You can count at least France and Israel and Pakistan and India and perhaps most infamously, North Korea. The point here is that we should hope that something like the doctrine of Mutually Assured Destruction keeps any and all of these nations from ever launching a nuclear weapon as a hostile act.

Now, all of this is to say that I believe the Pope’s comments to be detached not only from reality, but also from historic Christian reasoning on this issue. And that’s because historic Christian reasoning has been based in realism, the realism that also understands the morality of knowledge. Very quickly, it comes down to this: let’s just say that you could get all of the existing nuclear powers of the world into a room and let’s just say that you could get all of them honestly to agree to the total destruction of all of their nuclear weapons. Where would that leave us?

Well, it would leave us without nuclear weapons, but it would not leave us without the knowledge of how to construct a nuclear weapon. The reality is that in a fallen world, the problem comes down to this: once we know something, we cannot unknow it. That actually is one of the most significant moral issues we are left with in the aftermath of the Cold War. In the nuclear age, we’re always going to be in the nuclear age. And even if we destroy all the nuclear power plants and all of the nuclear weapons, the knowledge of how to do it will not disappear nor will the willingness of any of those countries to go back to being nuclear armed if events should demand it. But the events are actually going to demand that they never relinquished their nuclear weapons in the first place. And we honestly all know that.

But finally, as we’re thinking about the morality of knowledge, let’s just remind ourselves that this is at the very start of the human story of sin. for example, it was only after Adam and Eve had sinned by eating of the forbidden tree, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, that in Genesis 3:7 we read, “Then the eyes of both were opened and they knew that they were naked and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loin cloths.” There’s that morality of knowledge. All of a sudden they knew that they were naked. And then in God’s condemnation of human sin, we read in Genesis 3:22, “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the Tree of Life and eat and live forever.’ Therefore the Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.”

So the start of the human story of sin is the start of our understanding of the morality of knowledge and of the awful reality that once we know sin, we can actually not unknow it. And that’s also true when it comes to nuclear weapons.

Part III

A Biblical Theology of Thanksgiving: True Thankfulness Is an Act of Worship to God the Creator

But finally, as we think about the Christian doctrine of knowledge, we have to be reminded of what in Romans 1 we are told that following human beings do want to know, and that is the reality of God. As Paul makes clear in Romans 1:18, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them because God has shown it to them.” There’s that morality of knowledge. “For his invisible attributes, namely his eternal power and divine nature have been clearly perceived ever since the creation of the world and the things that have been made, so they are without excuse.”

Then verse 23, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened, claiming to be wise, they became fools.” The point here is, as Thanksgiving approaches tomorrow, as Paul writes, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him.” A biblical theology reminds us that ingratitude is a primal foundational human sin. As a matter of fact, here in Romans one, when Paul is indicting our sinfulness — in just two chapters, he’ll be making the point that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God — the point that Paul is making here is that there will not be a single human being who will have an excuse for ingratitude to God.

As Thanksgiving approaches, it is important for us to recognize that there is no more radical, there is no more fundamental Christian act than thanksgiving. In this sense, Thanksgiving is itself the most deeply theological act we can imagine. It becomes in Romans 1 a summary for our sin as it takes the shape of ingratitude. But in contrast it also becomes a symbol, a way of understanding what faithfulness looks like because faithfulness issues in a grateful heart. Paul elsewhere in his letters makes that point over and over again. Gratitude is a sign that one knows that everything we have, we have received from another. Gratitude means that we begin with a worldview that understands that we have no purchase in ourselves, even upon our existence. Everything about us, as Paul argues in Romans 1, everything we see, the entire cosmos, all of this is due to the glory of a creator who created the cosmos for his glory and made human beings in his image. We are the only creatures on earth capable of either gratitude or ingratitude.

It is really interesting to watch the secular world speculate about just how Thanksgiving is to be celebrated. Certainly just about everyone gets the family gathering and the feast and just about everyone has a vague and sometimes incorrect and in other times, simply wholly confused understanding of the first Thanksgiving, but at least something thankfulness does shine through as a symbol in theme for the festivities.

But when you look at the secular mind, you have to ask the question, “To whom can a secular individual be truly thankful?” Here’s one of the things we see in the run up to Thanksgiving almost every year in opinion pieces, in essays, in the media. We hear people speculating about how we need to inculcate in ourselves a generalized spirit of thanksgiving. But here’s where a biblical theology also corrects that impulse. It turns out that we really do not have the human ability to be thankful simply by saying, “I’m thankful to the great spirit of the cosmos. I’m just thankful for the cosmic accident that produced my life.” No, instead, in a biblical understanding, it isn’t a what to which Thanksgiving can be addressed. It is always a whom.

And not just any whom. It is the great Creator, the self-existent God who made the cosmos for his glory. The same God who revealed himself in Jesus Christ, the Son. The same God whose gospel is summarized in that most famous of all verses John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him might not perish but have everlasting life.” Thankfulness, rightly understood, is not an attitude. Thankfulness is a theological act. It is an act of worship. It is the act of one who knows the one to whom we are thankful. And thankful, not just in the respect of the things we can list, but thankful for everything we know, everything we will ever think, everything we will ever feel, and most importantly, everything we will ever set our hopes upon.

So looking at Romans 1:21, where we are told that the Fall is given full evidence in the fact that “for although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him,” we can reverse that and say that by the grace of God in Jesus Christ our Lord, we have the sure and certain hope that we can know God and that we can honor him as God and that we can and must, rightly defined, give thanks to him.

So with that in mind, my great hope today is that you and your family, all of your loved ones, will experience a glorious Thanksgiving in which you genuinely give thanks to the Creator.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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