briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, April 30, 2020

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

It’s Thursday, April 30, 2020. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Do You Believe in UFOs? What the Pentagon’s Release of “UFO” Videos Tells Us About Humanity and the Big Questions

Throughout my lifetime I’ve been asked over and over again, do you believe in UFOs? And my answer has always been, yes, of course I believe in UFOs because it is a demonstrated fact that not all flying objects have yet been identified. That’s a very different question than, do you believe that aliens have visited the cosmos, that indeed you’ve had extraterrestrials come somewhat near to planet Earth or to planet Earth? And the answer is, I have no idea, but I seriously doubt it. The burden of proof would be amazingly high to indicate A, that there was an extraterrestrial life and B, that it is intelligent and C, that it has shown up here either on the surface of the earth or in our atmosphere.

At this point what we do know is this: there have been throughout all of human history flying objects or objects in the sky that have been unidentified or at least unidentified for some time. But this also points to something basic about the human consciousness. We’re always asking big cosmic questions because we can’t avoid asking big cosmic questions. Is life on planet Earth alone? Is this the only place where life has to be found or as is often phrased, intelligent life? Now from a biblical worldview by the way, that is our assumption. There is no direct reference in the scriptures to the possible or actual existence of any other worlds. There is simply the affirmation of the reality and existence and divine creation and providence over this world. It’s also interesting to note that it is in the age of the declining influence of the Bible and Christianity that the fervor of interest in the possibility of extraterrestrials or aliens has become very much more vivid.

You have people who are fascinated with the question. Some of them pay a lot of money, thousands of dollars, to travel around the world in the hopes of seeing some kind of alien or some kind of evidence that aliens had visited planet Earth. But it is very interesting that this often actually leaps into the public square and yesterday of course it appeared in most of the mainstream media that because the department of defense of the United States of America has released evidence, especially video evidence coming from Naval aviators, that there have been objects in the sky that are yet to be explained. It was on Monday that the department of defense in Washington made the announcement, but the major media has carried this story over into Tuesday and even into Wednesday. You can count on the fact that this story is going to continue. Coverage is going to proceed simply because there is so much interest.

Alan Yuhas reporting for the New York times tells us, “The defense department has confirmed what seekers of extraterrestrial life have long hoped to be true, they’re real. At least,” he writes, “these three videos are what the videos show, the government isn’t so sure there.” Now, honestly as an editor, I would not have allowed that lead sentence because it is toying with us. It’s a bit misleading. The defense department has not confirmed what seekers of extraterrestrial life have long hoped to see and that is evidence of extraterrestrials. The next paragraph of the story makes that clear, but there are those videos and the videos are yet unexplained. Most importantly, the videos were made in late 2004 and early 2015 over vast bodies of water, either the Pacific or the Atlantic. In both cases or in all three cases, depending upon how you count the evidence, you had documented video coming from Navy aviators that indicated that they had had visual sightings of, and as these videos reveal even recordings of, unexplained objects in the sky that were behaving erratically and were not behaving like the aviation technology that we understand today. They were not planes.

The interesting announcement that came from the Pentagon on Monday is that the videos are real. They’ve been thoroughly studied by the Pentagon and in the final analysis the Pentagon says, no, they’re real. That is the videos are real, but whether what they show can be understood or identified, well, that’s actually not so certain. After all, there is no such thing as an unidentified flying object that has been identified at that point. It’s an identified flying object and that’s of a lot less interest to those who are fascinated with UFOs and the question of extraterrestrial life.

As Yuhas reports for the New York Times, “The videos captured by Naval aviators show objects hurdling through the sky, one rotating against the wind and pilots can be heard expressing confusion and awe. When they first appeared online, they breathe new life into the decades long conversation about whether interstellar visitors had ever come to Earth.”

Now, the release of these videos, the declassification of the videos by the department of defense has been radically cheered by UFO interest groups and others who are at least hopeful for or even currently claiming the reality of interstellar visitors or extraterrestrial life. This has offered those groups radical excitement. They’re often overclaiming what the Pentagon has released or stated about the videos. All the Pentagon is saying is that the videos are real, but that raises some huge questions. One of the questions is if the videos are real, what did they really show? Well, the Pentagon says it doesn’t have any idea. Furthermore, there is the evidence that the videos might be explained by, for instance, software in the video display systems of the airplanes themselves, the jet aircraft. It could be any number of things, but the fact is they are unidentified. The objects that are at least apparent in the sky and were seen by these pilots are not identified. You will make of that what you will. That’s the interesting part of all this.

Sometimes this kind of interest can appear in unexpected places. For example, the former Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, the former Democratic Senator from Nevada, had a very long interest in UFOs and the idea of extraterrestrial life and he wanted the United States government to investigate these matters thoroughly. In response to the declassification and release of these videos just this week, the former Senator said, “I’m glad the Pentagon is finally releasing this footage, but it only scratches the surface of research and materials available.” He went on to say, “The US needs to take a serious scientific look at this and any potential national security implications the American people deserve to be informed.”

Well no doubt the American people deserve to be informed, but it tells us something that the former Democratic majority leader of the United States Senate believes that a major national research project should be undertaken with a view to national security. Remember it is the Department of Defense that released and declassified these videos. In fact, not often mentioned in the media is that the former Senator did represent the state of Nevada and in Nevada is—many of you enthusiasts are there already—Area 51.

Area 51 is actually better known as the Nevada Test and Training Range, at least a portion of it designated as Area 51. It was a highly classified area under the supervision of the United States government and the Department of Defense and a highly classified project that goes back to 1955 and the very height of the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. The larger facility is known as the Nevada test and training range. Nothing classified there because by its very name it was telling us that the Department of Defense there is doing testing and training. You don’t have to be a spy to figure that out.

The Central Intelligence Agency, the CIA, habitually made no comment positively or negatively about the existence of Area 51 but then it did acknowledge the existence of the restricted territory in the year 2013. Since then, the area outside the classified zone has become something of a tourist attraction, not only nationally but internationally for the devotees of UFOs. The air over what has been called Area 51 is technically known as restricted area 4808 North and the restricted airspace means that you cannot fly within the area and thus that just adds to the interest of the UFO enthusiasts and those who hold to conspiracy theories.

The area is formerly designated on a map as Homey Airport and Groom Lake. But again, Area 51 just fits the consciousness. It fits into the idea that something is going on there, that our government knows of the existence of extraterrestrial life and that it is hiding it from the American people. There have been all kinds of movies and television shows and short stories and of course, as I said, it has now become UFO tourism as well.

Again, this points to a basic fact about humanity. We ask those big questions, are we alone? What is the meaning of life? In a secular age, it’s not an accident that there is more interest in whether or not the meaning of life on this planet is going to be found on some other planet or even in some other star system or galaxy. That’s not to say that there are no Christians who have this interest or that an interest in the topic is somehow incompatible with a Christian worldview. It is to say that Christians understand that nothing can ever be found ascertained or discovered from outer space or anywhere else that is going to be in fundamental conflict with the biblical worldview.

By the way, the New York Times article concludes with this: “The US government has periodically looked into reports of unidentified aerial phenomena since at least the 1950s. In 1954 President Dwight D. Eisenhower told reporters the Air Force had assured him that flying saucers were not invading the Earth from outer space. For decades, NASA has searched for conditions that could allow life beyond Earth and for evidence of any life itself. And for at least as long bands of astronomers, scientists, and enthusiasts outside the government have looked for signals in the silence and the noise of space.” Again, we have questing minds. We want to know. Sometimes that interest and drive can be led into fairly bizarre directions and interests, but nonetheless, we understand as Christians that we have these huge questions precisely because we’re made in the image of God.

Furthermore, it tells us something else about the human condition that the president of the United States in 1954 would have to tell Americans that the Department of Defense had convinced him that flying saucers were not invading planet Earth. Why would Americans have thought so? It is because there is enormous capacity for mass communication of untruth in the United States or anywhere you find human beings. This reminds us of what happened on October the 30th of 1938 when Orson Welles read an adaptation of HG Wells’s novel, The War of the World. And at least we are told that many people believed that the account, as it was fictional, was received as news and believed to be real.

And finally on this issue, it also tells us something of considerable interest that many people simply will not believe the denials. No doubt there were people who heard President Eisenhower, the president of the United States say that the Pentagon had assured him that flying saucers were not invading planet Earth. Remember that was in 1954 and no doubt there were people who turned to one another and said, “The little green men made him say it.”

Part II

How Does Radical Social Change Happen? Extinction Rebellion, 3.5 Percent, and the Pareto Principle

But next, in the middle of so many developments taking place in the world around us, I want to raise an issue that thinking Christians should think about very seriously, and that is this: How does social change come about? How does it happen? How can a minority for social change, intellectual change, moral change, because that is exactly what has taken place in Western societies over the course of the last several decades—massively so, a complete revolution in morality and it didn’t start out by people being convinced that at the beginning at least their argument, that is the argument of the revolutionaries was right. It was originally just loud, but as it was loud, it became persuasive and it became pervasive and eventually the revolution happened. We need to ask some deeper questions. How exactly does it happen?

Material for our thinking here comes in an article that appeared just this month in the London Review of Books by Jeremy Harding. The headline of the article is “The Arrestables.” Now, this is a very lengthy essay about the climate change activist group mostly well known in great Britain, known as Extinction Rebellion, sometimes summarized merely as XR. The title of the article, “The Arrestables” has to do with the fact that as an activist organization, Extinction Rebellion tries to separate amongst its members those who can afford to be arrested. They don’t have professional lives or other personal situations that would prevent them from being arrested and thus they go into the protest expecting to be arrested, indeed planning to be arrested and they’re referred to within the organization as “The Arrestables.”

Now, even as the article begins, it tells us that when you look at activist groups headed by people such as the teenage activist, Gretta Thunberg, the frustration of groups such as Extension Rebellion is that she is directing her arguments to elected leaders to the international elite and they’re arguing change just doesn’t come that way. Instead, Extinction Rebellion is arguing that change comes by putting so much pressure on common people that they begin to demand the change. In particular XR as it calls itself has been staging protests, especially in cities such as London that have prevented people from doing business, preventing people from getting into stores, preventing business people from getting to their offices. And they are trying to cause maximum frustration in order to lead to a public pressure for politicians and leaders to meet their demands. It is also interesting that early in the article Harding points to the fact that the activists who originated the Extinction Rebellion had been involved in other radical activities for other causes before. That’s another pattern that we also need to recognize.

Typical of many of these activist groups that claims not to have a centralized leadership structure instead it refers to its leadership as holacratic. That is to say it does not have an elite. It is basically run by the organization itself, but that’s never true by the way. For any organization to continue, it has to have some kind of leadership and that’s true for Extinction Rebellion as well. In telling us about the organizational life of Extinction Rebellion, Harding tells us by the way, that the group avoids having anyone appear as an expert or for that matter they also avoid applause or the clapping of hands or the raising of hands as indicating agreement or for that matter disagreement. Instead, he tells us this, “Members express approval and uncertainty with a strange semaphore which I first saw at an induction meeting in Hackney. Fingers flutter at head height if they like something someone is saying or lower and slower at waist height, if they’re not sure. Disagree is signal that knee height and isn’t always obvious.” I guess as you’re hearing this you can flutter your fingers at some height if you find that of interest.

What’s most important in the article by Jeremy Harding is this paragraph, “The founders of XR have what they call a theory of change, a blueprint for escalating disruption that will force government to accede to their demands. Supporters may or may not subscribe to it and many do not, but all must abide by certain principles above all nonviolence. It goes on to describe this theory of change by which Extinction Rebellion intends as an acknowledged very small minority, nonetheless, to have its way in the politics of the United Kingdom. Eventually, the United States and beyond.”

We should note that the group considers itself to have a spirituality. Harding writes, “Spirituality is a word you often hear from XR members and it has many inflections.” For Rupert Reed who teaches philosophy and is a spokesperson for XR, spiritual is shorthand for changes in human subjectivity that will enable what Reed called “a massive shift of consciousness towards a networked view of our place in rich ecologies alongside other sentient beings.” We’re told that another person affiliated with XR refers to spirituality as “an appreciation of sacred life forms.” When Harding suggested to this individual that she is a pantheist, that is someone who sees the divine within the material world, according to Harding she, “Doubled down and announced she was a pagan.” What we see here of course is the fact that as we see over and over again, theology is right there, right under the surface if not on the surface. The word “spirituality” is even being invoked by Extinction Rebellion and we as Christians understand that’s because human beings are spiritual creatures. We’re not that by accident. We’re not that by evolution, we are spiritual creatures because we are made by God. He made us as spiritual creatures.

But for our purposes of understanding how social change happens what is most interesting in this article is not just that Extinction Rebellion has a theory of change. It’s a tiny minority, but it intends to change the entire politics of the United Kingdom. How? Well it’s because they have a certain math in mind and that math comes down to 3.5. They argue that once 3.5% of a population is activated for their cause, they will win. Not 95%, not 99%, not even 9%, just 3.5%. As Harding tells us about Extinction Rebellion, “Crucially, they believe that it only takes 3.5% of a population, sometimes less to mount a nonviolent protest and achieve success.” He goes on to say, “In XR’s short lifetime, many activists have been transfixed by the 3.5% figure, which suggests that civil disobedience, breaking the law in mass can change everything. But,” he says, “XR turnouts have yet to surpass the tens of thousands and 3.5% of the British population not including children is closer to 2 million.”

Now, here’s my point. It’s not that Extinction Rebellion has the exact math 3.5%, it is to say that they are onto something that Christians need to understand. Minorities can change the world. And when you’re looking at activism, activist minorities often do change the world. They don’t even change the world often by persuasion but by pressure and they eventually, sometimes when because a dedicated band that is a minority can sometimes have a good deal more energy, persistence, and eventual success than a very large minority that doesn’t respond with equal energy and that comes down to a disequilibrium. Those who are activists for a specific cause are generally very, very dedicated. They are activists because they give themselves to a movement and to an argument and they will not be satisfied until the movement reaches achieves its ends.

Now as you’re thinking about the moral revolution that has taken place in the United States, you think about divorce reformulations, you think about the argument on behalf of premarital sex and extramarital sex, you think about the abortion rights movement and for that matter even the movement that resulted in birth control and its legalization, and then you think about the issue of the LGBTQ revolution and it all begins to make sense. One of the issues that we saw early in that movement was the fact that those who were the activists pressing for this massive turning of the entire structure of morality in the Western world upside down, they understood that they were a very small minority. At the same time they were convinced that they would change the world. And let’s face it, they did.

Now this takes me to some similar kinds of math. For example, it has been said that in the Muslim world, going back to the Middle Ages, there has been the belief that 11% is the number. That is, once the population was 11% Muslim, Muslims could dominate the political and public life of the community and you saw that happen from the Middle Ages until now.

And then of course there are those who know whether they know it or not, what is known as the Pareto principle and that is the principle that says that 80% of the wealth is held by 20% of the people and eventually that means that 80% of the power is wielded by 20% of the people. It often comes down to the same pattern, 20% of the people do 80% of the work and 80% of the people within an organization, especially a voluntary organization, do 20% of the work. You begin to understand how these patterns work. This 80/20 principle shows up again and again and again. The Pareto principle as it has been known even comes down to church life where we are told that it’s a recurring pattern that 20% of the members do 80% of the work and 80% of the members do 20% of the work. 80% of the givers give 20%, 20% of the givers give 80%.

Now, there is no way that that math reveals an inflexible law, but it does seem to reveal a sociological principle. Human beings seem to organize along these lines. Now, 20% is a lot more than 3.5% but face it 20% means only one out of five in a population. But Pareto was convinced that if you had the control of 20% of the population, then you would eventually have control of the population if that 20% was active and intelligent representing an elite.

The economist behind the Pareto principle was Vilfredo Frederico Damaso or Pareto. He was born in 1848, he was an Italian, but he was known mostly for his teaching at the university of Luzon in Switzerland. Pareto was not a Marxist, not at all, but his ideas were taken over by the Marxists as well as by the Fascists. Both of them understood that as political movements they began in a minority, but they believed they could take over an entire nation. And of course the Communists did it and the Fascists did it in the 20th century proving, in essence, the Pareto principle.

The point of the article in the London Review of Books by Jeremy Harding is that like it or not that 3.5% figure that is assumed by Extinction Rebellion might turn out to be true in UK politics or you could go back to the reputed Muslim principle of 11% or the Pareto principle of 20%. In any event, what they demonstrate is that a minority can have its way in a society. It can transform a civilization if indeed that minority is adequately committed. And of course Extinction Rebellion has its cause and its causes a very radical approach to addressing climate change. But beyond that, it’s really clear that climate change is only the pretext for what Extinction Rebellions activist communities want, and that is a total revolution of Western societies. Behind that as a Marxist worldview and a lot more.

Part III

A Small, Yet Committed Minority Can Transform the World: Sound Familiar?

But perhaps you are already where I’m headed as we come to a conclusion for The Briefing today. The story of Extinction Rebellion is still yet to be told as to whether it’s successful or not. You can look at the 20th century and see what happened with the Fascists and with the Communists. But you can also understand the moral revolution in the United States and elsewhere and come to see, evidently a minority can have an outsize influence in society. Even leading to the transformation of a society. Where am I headed? If you think about it, that is also the story of the early church. Christians deeply and passionately committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ are a far more revolutionary force than a group like Extinction Rebellion. One big question is this, do today’s Christians know it?

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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