briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

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

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

Part I

You Saw this Coming: Greta Thunberg Named TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year

TIME Magazine’s Person of the Year for 2019 is Greta Thunberg. The subtitle in the cover story: “The Power of Youth.” The photograph on the front shows Greta Thunberg looking out at a crashing wave on an ocean as she’s standing on a rock wearing a pink pullover. Her hair is not tightly bound, as is usually the case in her public appearances, but is long and flowing behind her. She’s looking off to the right side of the magazine as if looking off into the future. And of course that is the very point that TIME Magazine is trying to make.

This tradition of TIME Magazine goes back for decades. The magazine has had an iconic role in American public life. The cover of TIME Magazine for many of the last several decades has been some of the most prized real estate in all of the American and international media. TIME Magazine came during the 20th century to represent the United States of America in the worldwide mind, and that’s because TIME and its founder, Henry Luce, believed in the 20th Century as what TIME Magazine declared as the American century. Henry Luce was one of those individuals who was certain that the United States had arrived in the 20th century as the leader on the world scene. The events of the two World Wars and especially the events after the second World War only confirmed that in Luce’s mind. But Luce wanted Americans to understand what was going on in the world and TIME Magazine throughout many of those decades was the central American source for international coverage and commentary that also came with photographs, beginning as black and white and then transitioning to color.

TIME Magazine was, as indicated by its very title, a magazine of the times and thus we are told that the person of the year for 2019 is an individual of the times. Now it is Greta Thunberg in this case, she becomes the youngest person ever to be profiled as TIME’s person of the year, but because of changes in the culture, the man of the year had to give way to the person of the year. And sometimes it’s not actually even a person, during the 60s at one point, it was a generation and also the person of the year has been at times an organization much as the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded sometimes to individuals and sometimes to organizations.

At certain moments, TIME’s man or person of the year has been quite obvious and TIME has also been very clear throughout most of its history that the choice of the individual as person of the year is not an endorsement, the article is often not positive. At one point, Adolf Hitler, then the rising leader of the Third Reich was TIME Magazine’s man of the year. That was not intended to be an affirmation, but rather a recognition of the historic role that was being played by Adolf Hitler and the fact that the entire world had better come to terms with the man and what he represented as a threat.

But it is also very clear that the choice of TIME’s Person of the Year is intensely political. It’s for that reason that political candidates and in particular, presidents of the United States, they want to be the person of the year and if they are not, they sometimes express their exasperation that they were not. It’s most often not expressed personally but by someone within the administration. But just about anyone looking at the year 2019 could have seen this coming. Greta Thunberg, as the leader of her strike movement related to climate change, she’s the very kind of individual that you would expect TIME Magazine to choose, and once again it is a political choice.

The cover story in TIME declares, “Thunberg stands on the shoulders and at the side of hundreds of thousands of others who’ve been blockading the streets and settling the science, many of them since before she was born. She is also the first to note,” says TIME, “that her privileged background makes her one of the lucky ones as she puts it in a crisis that disproportionately affects poor and indigenous communities. But,” said TIME, “this was the year the climate crisis went from behind the curtain to center stage, from ambient political noise to squarely on the world’s agenda and no one did more to make that happen than Thunberg.”

The TIME story also declared, “That Thunberg is the youngest individual ever named TIME’s Person of the Year, says as much about the moment as it does about her. The 92-year-old franchise,” by that they mean the man of the year franchise, “is rooted in the so-called great man theory of history,” said TIME. “The notion that powerful individuals shaped the world. Historically,” said the magazine, “that has meant people who worked their way up the ladders of major organizations and were at home in the corridors of power. But in this moment when so many traditional institutions seem to be failing us,” says TIME, “amidst staggering inequality and social upheaval and political paralysis, we are seeing new kinds of influence take hold. It is wielded by people like Thunberg, leaders with a cause and a phone who don’t fit the old rubrics, but who connect us in ways that institutions can’t and perhaps never could.”

Now, before going any further, I think it’s really interesting to note once again that virtually anyone who knows anything about TIME Magazine could have and should have seen this coming. The second thing is what TIME declares to be new here really isn’t all that new, and as a matter of fact, the cover story itself goes into detail about the fact that Greta Thunberg is in a sense following in a succession of child leaders on particular issues throughout human history. But in its introduction time concluded, “For sounding the alarm about humanity’s predatory relationship with the only home we have, for bringing to a fragmented world, a voice that transcends backgrounds and borders, for showing us all what it might look like when a new generation leads, Greta Thunberg is TIME’s 2019 Person of the Year.”

You’ll notice once again that TIME has in a very heavy way editorialized in this very article introducing Greta Thunberg as Person of the year. TIME is not for the first time declaring a side and a controversy. But of course Greta Thunberg has for the better part of 2019 dominated many new cycles because she is one of those child symbols. Oddly enough, by the way, she calls herself a child. That’s not something that is very typical of 16-year-old adolescents, but she does. She does so in order to make a point, her point is this, adults have failed the world, world leaders have failed. There is a climate emergency and if we do not act, the planet is going to die and we are going to be responsible for it. And furthermore, she says, “The science is settled.” She goes on in speech after speech to say, “We know what to do, we must just do it.”

But whether or not you believe that that voice represents the innocency of youth, as it is often understood in the culture, the reality is that the climate change situation is not just so simple as she insinuates and as the media help her over and over again to communicate. Is there a climate emergency? It depends upon how you define the climate emergency. Is there a real issue of climate change? About that there is really no question. What to do about it, well, that is a very complicated answer and we’re going to actually look at that as we come to a conclusion and consider the odd irony of the timing of TIME’s Person of the Year, Greta Thunberg and the very event that had brought world leaders together to address climate change that came out the very same week. But as we’re thinking about that, just remember the Greta Thunberg did not come out of a vacuum.

Sometime ago on The Briefing, I cited a major investigative article in Standpoint, a British magazine that pointed out that her mother, a very accomplished opera singer, and her father had been active in the climate activism community for some time. Furthermore, the very idea of the strike originated with an organization, an organization that found out that Greta Thunberg was willing to do this and of course she had a ready-made platform for doing it. The headline of the article in Standpoint was “Greta’s Very Corporate Children’s Crusade.” The author of the article then was Dominic Green who wrote, “The family story is that Greta launched a one girl school strike at the Swedish parliament on the morning of August 20, 2018. Ingmar Rentzhog who was the founder of the social media platform, We Have No Time, happened to be passing. Inspired, Rentzhog posted Greta’s photograph on his personal Facebook page. By late afternoon, the newspaper had Greta’s story and face on its website, the rest is viral.”

But as the story turns out, it wasn’t actually true. It wasn’t true that this activist simply happened to be passing by when Greta Thunberg was holding the first of her climate strikes. It’s really not plausible that a 16-year-old school girl in Sweden could all of a sudden be catapulted for so long into a position of such symbolic influence on an issue that really is being addressed to governments worldwide. The vast cover story in TIME Magazine, it is far more extensive than many in the past, says that when Greta Thunberg was 11 years old, she fell into a deep depression for months. She stopped speaking almost entirely and ate so little that she was nearly hospitalized we’re told, but all of this was about what she defined as her “endless sadness” over what she perceived to be the threat to the world largely by climate change.

A bit more of the story is filled out by TIME, when the article states, “In May, 2018, after Thunberg wrote an essay about climate change that was published in a Swedish newspaper, a handful of Scandinavian climate activists contacted her.” Again, you didn’t hear about that months ago. TIME celebrates the fact that the climate strikes had spread from Sweden all around the world by September of the very same year and then explains about Greta, “Her moral clarity inspired other young people around the world.” And then come citations from teenagers around the world, both male and female from various nations. The TIME Magazine article also includes her now much discussed and storied trip across the Atlantic by means of a sailing vessel. She returned by a similar sort of vessel to get back to Madrid for the climate talks that had taken place and just ended as a matter of fact, earlier this week.

All of this was celebrated of course, as a great ecological act because in taking a sailing vessel, she had avoided the carbon emissions that would have come by flying by air. But as many investigative reporters pointed out, the crew of that vessel in order to make this possible had to travel by air and at least it should be recognized that many, many figures, including in the media bought tickets both ways across the Atlantic in order to be there to cover Greta as she left on her sailboat and as she arrived. There’s a basic dishonesty in the midst of all of this that at least ought to be named for what it is.

Part II

‘Fairy Tales of Economic Growth’: Big Issues Behind the TIME Cover Story

But there’s something else to be recognized and that is that Greta Thunberg is talking about a very serious issue and she insists upon being taken seriously. She does speak with a certain form of clarity, a certain form of moral clarity. Again, we ought to at least look at her argument. When she spoke to the United Nations—remember, you’re talking about a 16-year-old speaking to the United Nations—earlier this year, she said, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you?”

Well, one way to look at this is the audacity of a 16-year-old speaking to the United Nations and the leaders of the world saying, “How dare you?” If the issue were only so simple, you could imagine that world leaders would have done what she had commanded a long time ago, it’s not so easy. But it is also important to recognize that Greta Thunberg may well believe that it is so easy because much of what is communicated in the worldwide press insinuates that there is a settled science that also demonstrates an easy way or at least a very clear way to resolve the issue to lower carbon emissions. And thus to lower, at least in theory, the rise in the world’s temperature and thus to avoid all kinds of horrifying effects that might well come by that kind of climate change on a scale that would rise too high.

But of course we’re also looking at the fact that there would be an incentive for these world leaders to solve this problem if it were able to be solved in a clear way long before a 16-year-old would stand up at the United Nations and yell, “How dare you?” One of the most interesting aspects of what Greta said there and is quoted in this TIME Magazine article is where she said, I’ll repeat it here, “We’re in the beginning of a mass extinction and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” You’ll notice in that middle part she says that all they talk about is money and in her words, “fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” What is she talking about?

Well, first of all, she’s talking about the fact that there’s no way to talk about this without money. The fact is that it will take vast sums of money. Indeed, it’s beyond almost what we can quantify at this point to bring about such a change in human society that carbon emissions would be reduced as much as we are told they must be reduced. It would also mean, at least at this point, winding back the human clock, and this is something that just isn’t often acknowledged.

It is however, implicit in what Greta Thunberg said, if we’re only paying attention, she basically said it. What I mean by winding back the human clock is that there is no way to provide all the energy needs of the present or what will be demanded in the future without the use of these fossil fuels for a very long time, unless we’re going to rewind to a time before the use of cars, before the reliance upon airplanes, before the use of electricity, as we use it, before refrigeration and before air conditioning. That is to say before all of the things that the people who are calling for climate change are themselves unwilling to part with. That last part of that middle statement is where Greta Thunberg talked about the United Nations and world leaders pushing, “Fairy tales of eternal economic growth.” That is a very, very revealing statement because it reveals the great economic divide, that is also a worldview divide that we see in the world today.

It is between those who do want more or less to call halt to the economic activity of the world, and there are others who say that human flourishing and human good can only come by increasing and prolonged economic growth. But the blunt fact is that without economic growth, there would be an end to human economic activity, which would mean far more horrifying effects than what even Greta Thunberg warns about with climate change. Let’s just put the point blankly, there is no way the human history is going to be rewound. There is no way that human beings having come to not only the reliance upon modern transportation and modern technology and modern forms of energy, there is no way that that is going to be undone and the very world system that Greta Thunberg is addressing in what she must honestly believe is a prophetic voice is a world system that depends upon those very same energy sources and technologies, that is not going to change.

Now, that’s not to say that in response to the challenge of climate change, there will not be changes in the economy. They’re already have been and there will be. Under even the current conditions, there has been a declining use of fossil fuels and an increasing dependence upon alternative forms of energy, but they will only become truly functional when they are economically possible. In reality, the wisest leaders looking at this recognize that every major decision undertaken by any world leader or by any CEO of a corporation or by any president of an institution or for that matter by any consumer, by any family, the reality is that every major economic decision is a matter of tradeoffs. We will let that go because we want to have this. Using this energy source is a tradeoff, it comes with very low costs and it comes with easy access, but it also comes with high carbon emissions. But this other alternative over here comes with very high upfront costs and at this point it’s not yet economically sustainable.

But you do begin to see even the market investments shifting to these alternative sources of energy because they do represent the future and investors are always in a rush to get to the future. But the language Greta Thunberg used in which she derided, “Fairy tales of eternal economic growth,” that’s the very kind of language that in worldview analysis, we need to recognize emerged from the early ecological movement that saw human beings as a blight on the planet. And that movement also came as this new movement does with increased calls for human population control. The reality is that human beings not only expend energy, we require a great deal of energy, we require a great deal period. The more of us, the more that is required.

But just remember that all the dire predictions of the 1960s and 70s about the population explosion didn’t happen. The population actually exploded even bigger than it was imagined, but there was no mass starvation. Instead you saw in the same time period the greatest growth and efficiency in agriculture such that there was no mass extinction of humanity obviously. But in truth, even as we face the current realities and discuss them intelligently and honestly associated with what’s called climate change, we have to recognize at the same time that this has never severed from a fundamental worldview. And Greta Thunberg’s fundamental worldview comes shining through very clearly in her speeches, in her comments, in her demands and in this TIME cover story.

Part III

Irony in Madrid: World Leaders Affirm Urgency of Problem, But No Agreement on What to Do Next

But then there is a second point, I mentioned it earlier, Greta Thunberg cut short her visit to the United States a few weeks ago in order to rush, if you can say you rush on a sailing vessel across the Atlantic, in order to be in Madrid, Spain, for the climate talks, the international talks that took place and ended just a few days ago.

Now just to understand the irony, the juxtaposition here. This cover story in TIME Magazine came out online just before last weekend. It arrived in the print edition this week, at the very same time that international climate meeting in the aftermath of the Paris Accords was being held in Madrid and was supposed to come to a conclusion at the end of last week, but on an emergency basis, it was extended into the beginning of this week because at the end of the week there had been no agreement. Well, it actually ended earlier this week with no agreement.

Here’s something we need to know, when you have someone like Greta Thunberg who is after all of this point an iconic symbol of a movement, when you have the clarity, what TIME Magazine even calls, “The moral clarity of her demands,” when you have all of the media support behind it and all of the cultural influencers that have joined in the movement, it is easy to understand why world leaders, when there are media cameras that are focused on their faces, say, “Greta Thunberg is right, we must do what she says. We must act now. It is indeed an emergency. As she says, ‘The future path is clear.’ We must do it.” And yet when they have a chance to do it, they don’t do it.

Frank Jordans and Aritz Parra of the Associated Press make this irony clear when they write, “Marathon international climate talks ended Sunday as major polluters resisted calls to ramp up efforts to keep global warming at bay and negotiators postpone the regulation of global carbon markets until next year.” They go on to say that this came even after there had been this emergency extension to the meeting.

But then the reporters tell us, “The final declaration cited the urgent need to cut planet heating greenhouse gases in line with the goals of the 2015 Paris climate change accord. That,” we are told, “fell far short of promising to enhance countries’ pledges to cut gases next year, which developing countries and environmentalist lobby the delegates to achieve.”

Here again is the irony: There are those who want to say, even at the meeting, “We know what to do,” and yet when they have to do it, they say, “We really don’t know what to do.” And when it comes to the necessary tradeoffs, it is easy to say when you go into the meeting, “This is what we’re going to do,” but thus far it is not what has happened. And then we also have to face the continued irony that the very people who attended this meeting on climate change, in order to say that carbon emissions have to stop now, they’re the very people who couldn’t come up with a plan now and instead had to get on their airplanes to fly all over the world going back home because they had to get home now.

Christians do not take our stewardship of planet earth less seriously than those who operate from a secular worldview, we actually must take it more seriously because we’re going to give an answer to God, not to the United Nations, nor to Greta Thunberg about our stewardship of the earth. But we also have to understand that we operate within certain realities that are beyond our creaturely or our political or economic control. We also have to recognize that there are basic issues of justice and all kinds of questions that arise, none of these are easy to untangle.

And even as, when you’re speaking of tradeoffs, the modern technological revolution and the industrialization of the age, they have come with enormous problems. They have also brought enormous advantages that the very people who identify the problems are not willing to do without. And as the ironies pile up, just recognize it would consume far more energy and fossil fuel for people to build all of those millions of sailboats that would be necessary and to get the people on those boats able to do what they’re supposed to do to cross the Atlantic without the use of jets. The reality is there is no turning back at this point. It’s just not feasible and the math doesn’t even work.

Part IV

Why Was U.S. Marine PFC John R. Bayens’s Obituary Published 76 Years After His Death? A Reminder of the Debt We Owe to All Who Gave Their Lives for the Sake of Freedom

But finally, today I want to close on a very strange but important obituary that appeared here in Louisville in the local paper, The Courier-Journal. I was struck as I looked at the obituary page by the name and the photograph. The name is this: “Private First-Class John “Jack” Richard Bayens, US Marine Corps.” The picture was of a young 20-year-old in full dress Marine uniform looking out from the photograph. This was an obituary that ran in Sunday’s edition of the newspaper, dated December 15, 2019, but this Private First-Class of the United States Marine Corps was killed between the 20th and the 23rd of November in 1943. Only Sunday did his obituary run in The Courier-Journal. Why?

The obituary read simply, “US Marine Corps, Private First-Class John Richard Bayens, 20, of Louisville, was killed in action during World War II’s Battle of Tarawa, on the island of Betio in the Tarawa Atoll, Gilbert Island. Private Bayens was a member of B Company, 1st Battalion, 6th Marine Regiment, Second Marine Division, Fleet Marine Force. The Private First-Class was awarded a Purple Heart, The American Defense Medal, The Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal and WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, and the Presidential Unit Citation. He was buried on Tarawa in an unmarked mass grave, and later he was classified as Missing In Action.”

The obituary continues by telling us the burial site was discovered only in March of this year, March 2019 by a dedicated team from History Flight Inc, a non-profit organization that works in cooperation with the United States defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. POW you’ll recall means prisoner of war, MIA, missing in action. The obituary then tells us that Private First-Class Bayens started his journey back home to Louisville in July of 2019 when his remains along with the remains of 21 other Marines were flown to Hawaii to be positively identified.

76 years after his death, he was buried on Monday, December 16, close to his parents in Louisville’s Evergreen Cemetery. This Private’s story is itself not only interesting but inspiring. He was born on November the 15th, 1923, in Louisville. He attended the St. Elizabeth Catholic Elementary School, St. Xavier High School, and Male High School, where he was in the ROTC. He joined the Marine Corps on August 27, 1941. He was only 17 years old, but as his obituary says, “In his heart, he felt the call to serve.” The teenager had not only grown up in Louisville, but he and his sister to whom he was very close, had shared a sailing boat with which they sailed up and down the Ohio River along the Louisville shoreline.

The battle in which he was killed was one of the bloodiest of the Pacific Campaign. It took place between the 20th and the 23rd of November, 1943, in an effort undertaken by the United States to gain the initiative and to start pressing back against the Japanese empire, and at this point at the Gilbert Islands. The battle was a part of what became known as Operation Galvanic, it was massive. The biggest at that point in the Pacific theater, involving 17 aircraft carriers, eight heavy cruisers, and no less than 66 destroyers.

Eventually the United States Marine Corps and the Navy would provide 35,000 troops directly involved in the battle. The casualties were horrifying, out of the 35,000 US troops, there were at least 1,000 casualties, many of them buried in those unmarked graves on the island. Amongst the Japanese, the code of honor forbade surrender, and thus they fought to the death. 97% of the 4,500 Japanese troops on the island were killed in action. This was an indication to the Americans and to America’s allies of the kind of resistance they were going to face all the way through the Pacific Campaign and of course they did.

But in Christian worldview analysis, one of the deep questions is, why would so many decades later, there be such an effort to repatriate the bodies, the remains of a soldier such as this young man from Louisville and to bring his body home to be buried here? Why? It is because of the deep understanding of the importance of every single human life and of the debt we owe as a nation to those who die on foreign shores in order to purchase and pay for our freedom.

This is why you see the flags and the bumper stickers with those letters, POW/MIA. And that’s why this obituary is so morally important, even as it ran at long last in the Louisville newspaper on December the 15th, 2019.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can find me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, just go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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