The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, April 1, 2021

It’s Thursday, April 1st, 2021.

I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

President Biden Unveils $2 Trillion Infrastructure Plan, And It’s About Far More Than Roads and Bridges

President Biden yesterday laid out a $2 trillion public spending bill that he describes as an infrastructure bill. And even as this was widely expected, what was actually produced was just about half of what the White House intends to bring.

Now, this becomes a very interesting story, infrastructure is a necessary part of any kind of nation. Infrastructure can be as basic as, say, just building a road as the Romans did, or an aqueduct for carrying water, also as the Romans did. You can still find the ruins of ancient Rome in the infrastructure that Rome built. The more complex the economy and the more urbanized the civilization, the more ambitious the economy, as it turns out, that means that you need even more infrastructure. If you’re going to have trains, you need train tracks and all that goes into even getting the property and the design of train tracks. If you’re going to have car transportation, or even for that matter, horses and buggies, you’re going to need some kind of roads. But infrastructure these days, in the United States, includes an entire array of infrastructure requirements that previous generations not only could not have imagined and could not have afforded, they wouldn’t have understood the reason why anything like this would become part of a nation’s infrastructure.

Furthermore, when you look at a country like the United States, a constitutional Republic, an exercise in constitutional self-government, you have a government that basically spends what it is allowed by the population to have, and the population does generally care for infrastructure. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative, you generally want roads that run straight and are safe. Whether you are a liberal or a conservative, a Democrat or a Republican, you basically want to make sure that someone is designing the runway safely and the entire infrastructure of the civilization. Whether carrying water or producing electricity, or taking away sewage and waste, regardless of the aspect of the infrastructure, we really do need it to work. And when the infrastructure fails, just consider that giant container ship stuck in the Suez canal, also a part of the global infrastructure. You understand that a failure in the infrastructure can be not only inconvenient and disruptive, it can be very dangerous.

But you’re also looking at fiscal limits. One of the realities of the United States over the course of the last several decades is that we have seen the rise, in the United States, of our own version of a welfare state. This is a government that spends vast amounts of money on social programs. Those social programs are often mainly driven by what are called entitlement programs, which means that people consider themselves entitled to these benefits and any kind of cut back on the benefits or for that matter, even a cut back on the increase of those benefits becomes very controversial in a society. Conservatives understand the danger of this as the ever expansive administrative and welfare state.

But as you’re looking at this situation, you recognize that what President Biden intends to bring is a total transformation, not just of the infrastructure, but of the society, spending as much as $4 trillion. Remember we just had an almost $2 trillion so-called stimulus bill that was passed and now you’re looking at a $2 trillion infrastructure bill to be followed by another $2 trillion infrastructure bill.

Why would it be in two parts? Is it just to take four trillion down to two? Not really. The two parts have to do with the fact that the first legislation, the one that the White House rolled out yesterday, is basically about, at least mostly about, or at least somewhat about, what is classically defined as infrastructure, roads, bridges, railways, transportation, the kinds of things that are necessary for our civilization and our economy to work, the kinds of things that are likely to bring some kind of popular support. Because people want the potholes filled, they want their infrastructure safe, they want the electricity to stay on for that matter, these days, they want to make certain that they have constant access to a wifi signal.

The other half of the package, and the White House made clear it’s coming just in the next several weeks, is going to be called infrastructure but it’s not actually going to be what traditionally would be classified as infrastructure. Instead, the President is likely to bring initiatives that will incorporate everything from the Green New Deal to a total expansion of welfare benefits, social service, and social spending benefits and things such as paid maternity leave. All kinds of things that actually don’t have anything to do with the mechanical or physical infrastructure, but instead have to do with what the White House is now characterizing as a social and an individual infrastructure, a human infrastructure. Well, that’s going to be much more controversial. We’ll get to that when that bill rolls out, but we have to mention it now because this is, after all, what was rolled out yesterday, just part A of what is actually going to also include part B. Don’t forget B.

But coming back to A, it’s not fair to say that this entire bill is really about filling potholes, and building up the electrical grid, and protecting airports and building runways. No, it’s about much more than that. It represents a massive advance of a very progressivist agenda. And of course, you’re also facing the fact that when you’re looking at $2 trillion, when you have Congress coming up with how those $2 trillion are going to be spent, well, I can guarantee you that there is an almost infinite amount of politics in this bill just about everywhere you look.

We also have to keep in mind something else, when the government plans and plots to spend this much money, it is going to favor some businesses, some sectors of the economy, even some corporations, more than others. One of the big problems that has arisen in our economy in recent days is what is described as crony capitalism. That is the fact that you have simply too tight, too close a relationship between many governments and government regulators and the businesses that they purport to regulate. Crony capitalism means that its politicians who are choosing economic winners and economic losers.

And by the way, the government is not very good at this. Just to take the example of Joe Biden himself before he was President Biden, when just a few years ago, for eight years he was Vice President Biden, he was in charge of the rollout of what was described then as the Obama Stimulus Plan. And just as we’re going to see in this bill, the government was choosing winners and losers. But I’ll simply mention the company name, Solyndra, to remind us that sometimes when the government picks who’s going to win, actually the company loses and thus, so does the taxpayer. Even when it comes to something packaged as a response to climate change, understand that you’re looking at the government deciding, “We think this particular proposal is superior to that one,” and as you look at the people involved, sometimes those people actually have very explainable relationships with the people who are making the choices. It is sometimes an extremely cozy relationship.

But another question that immediately comes is if you’re talking about expanding federal expenditures by $2 trillion in this initiative, then where’s the money going to come from? That’s where we’ve discussed, at least some people, especially in the democratic party, now hold to something called modern monetary theory, which basically comes down to the assertion that if you are a government you never have to worry about repaying your bills. But of course, the people who are buying the bonds and standing behind our debt actually think we are going to pay the bills. It doesn’t take much ability in math or in human economics to understand someone is going to have to pay this bill, and that bill is likely to be our grandchildren, our great grandchildren and our great-grandchildren. If we’re not paying our bills in the present, let’s just face the moral fact, we are putting the bill on those who will live after us.

But in this case, there’s something else to watch, and that is that the Biden proposal says that all of this will be funded by two different revenue sources. The first big revenue source is going to be increasing the corporate tax rate in the United States from 21% to 28%. So politically, you can understand why this is being separated from that plan B part because the argument here is that, “Taxpayers, you’re not going to have to worry about paying increased taxes. We’re just going to put this on those big anonymous corporations.”

What’s the problem with that? Well, the problem with that is that we to understand that corporations represent people, people who are yes, the CEOs and the board of directors, but people who are also the employees, people who are the neighbors of the employees who are dependent upon the same economy, shareholders in the corporation, that include, say, teachers planning for their retirement in the state of California. In other words, there is no such thing as just a corporation that pays taxes without people paying taxes.

Furthermore, the most likely way that these taxes will actually be paid, these new taxes, are that corporations will charge more for their goods and services. Because after all, you’re not going to really be able to go to your employees and say, “We’re going to lower your salaries because there’s an increased corporate tax.” Instead, there will be a squeeze elsewhere in the economy. That squeeze is going to explain why the bicycle that you intend to buy at the local discount store is not going to be as inexpensive as it is now. And yet you don’t have the politicians acknowledging that.

It’s just a basic fact that wealth doesn’t exist on its own, wealth for a government, or wealth for a corporation, or wealth for individuals. Wealth has to be produced. Someone’s going to have to produce that wealth. Someone’s going to have to decide how that wealth will be spent and invested, how that wealth is going to be taxed. But in the bottom line, the government will have to pay its bills. And the government, let me just remind ourselves, comes down to us. It’s going to be an interesting political dance in coming weeks and months to see how this proposal moves forward. But you can count on the fact that the Democrats and the majority in the House and in the Senate, particularly in the Senate in this case, are going to intend to use the budget reconciliation process because this does represent a tax increase, which allows them a way to get around the filibuster, otherwise requiring 60 votes, and that means requiring at least one Republican vote.

The reality is that this bill is likely to get through the United States Congress one way or another with the only meaningful debate being among Democrats, not between Democrats and Republicans. In any event, it’s going to be interesting to watch, and we’ll be watching it together.

Part II

A Crystalized Effort to Coerce Moral Change in America: Biden Administration Celebrates Transgender Day of Visibility with New Military Policies

But next, speaking of Joe Biden running for president, Joe Biden made very clear his advocacy for the LGBTQ agenda, every single letter of it, even the plus sign eventually. Especially on the transgender issue, he indicated as candidate that if he were elected he would remove the Trump administration limitations upon the service of transgender persons fully throughout the military and the armed services. Yesterday, the White House announced it was following through with that plan, the president issuing a proclamation of what has been identified as International Transgender Day of Visibility. It was a day of visibility and it has been days of visibility in a new age of visibility for the transgender revolution and the revolutionaries.

Just consider the fact that days before the President released this new policy, Time Magazine featured actor Elliot Page, that’s the identity, on its cover with the headline words, “I’m Fully Who I Am.” The subhead, “Actor Elliot Page and the Fight for Trans Equality.” Now remember that this was the actor previously known as Ellen Page. In coming weeks, we’re going to take a closer look at exactly what we are facing here, and we’ve discussed this issue even in terms of recent developments.

But what we’re looking at here is another crystallization of a moment. When you’re talking about something like international transgender day of visibility, when you have the President of the United States issuing a presidential proclamation of similar form on that day, then what you’re seeing is a crystallized concentrated effort to try to change the morality of the civilization. And of course, we’re looking here at the combination of so-called hard and so-called soft means of changing the society. The hard means are those that are openly coercive, changing the law, calling in the military, doing something that is simply by force of policy or force of law. But when you look at the softer means of moral coercion, well, that’s the cover of Time Magazine. This is where the engines of cultural production conspire with the powers of cultural coercion, and you see how this all comes together.

The presidential announcement’s interesting because it states not only that by the White House’s new policy, transgender persons will be able to serve relatively without distinction or restriction throughout the American military, it also says that those in the military that are diagnosed as experiencing gender dysphoria, that’s the new psychotherapeutic term, they will have access to military-funded sex reassignment surgery, or what’s now euphemistically called, as if that wasn’t euphemistic enough, sex affirmation or gender affirmation surgery. So what that actually means, by the way, is not only a change in the deployment of those identified as transgender in military units and all branches of the military, it also has financial consequences. It also produces something of a financial inducement for persons to enlist in the military because the military says that under normal circumstances it will now fund this kind of sex reassignment or gender reassignment surgery.

We’re also witnessing right now a very significant, rather urgent shift in the nation’s conversation concerning, say, girls and women’s sports and the conflict with the newly asserted transgender rights. We looked at that in the past, we’re going to be looking at it in the future. The media coverage right now is extremely thick on this issue and there are a lot of arguments being asserted in the public square. We’re going to be looking at them and analyzing them from a theological worldview. That in coming days.

Part III

Why Would the New York Times Give Three Pages to a Sensationalized Story about Long-Lost Fragments of Deuteronomy Long Ago Identified As Forgeries?

But next we’re going to shift from all this to the book of Deuteronomy. Yes, the book of Deuteronomy, the fifth book of the Bible, the last book of the Torah, of the Pentateuch, of the five books of Moses. Why in the headlines? Well, because Deuteronomy was the focus of about three pages in the print edition of last Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. Three pages in The New York Times about the book of Deuteronomy, what could be going on here? It turns out it’s a big story. But it’s a big story about something that’s not really a big story. It’s only a big story because The New York Times and others are making it a big story.

But it doesn’t start in 2021. No, this story goes back to 1883. It was in the year 1883 that an antiquities dealer in Jerusalem named Moses Wilhelm Shapira announced that he had discovered a very remarkable text, an artifact, a text of the Bible, a fragment of Deuteronomy. This according to the report by Jennifer Schuessler reporting for The New York Times. She reports that Shapira, back in 1883, had claimed to have discovered 15 manuscript fragments of Deuteronomy “supposedly discovered in a cave near the Dead Sea.” She went on to say, “blackened with a pitchlike substance, their paleo-Hebrew script nearly illegible. They contained what Shapira claimed was the original book of Deuteronomy, perhaps even the copy that had been owned by Moses himself.”

But the story of Shapiro doesn’t end with him being heralded as the discoverer of an ancient text of the Bible, but rather with him being charged with being a fake. Actually it was not the first time nor the last.

As The Times reports, “The discovery drew newspaper headlines around the world. Shapira offered the treasure to the British Museum for a million pounds. While the museum’s expert evaluated it, two fragments were put on display attracting throngs of visitors, including the British Prime Minister, William Gladstone. “Then disaster struck. Charles Simon Clermont-Ganneau, a swashbuckling French archeologist and longtime nemesis of Shapira,” says the report “had been granted a few minutes with several of the fragments after promising to hold his judgment until the museum issued its report. But the next morning he went to the press and denounced them as forgeries.”

Then the report continues, “The museum’s expert agreed and a distraught Shapira fled London. Six months later, he committed suicide in a hotel room in the Netherlands. The manuscript was auctioned for a pittance in 1885 and soon disappeared altogether. Since then, the Shapira affair has haunted the edges of respectable biblical scholarship as a rollicking caper wrapped in a mystery wrapped in a cautionary tale. But now, a young scholar is taking his own credibility by asking, what if this notorious fake was real?”

So the setup here and the time of year when people are thinking about Good Friday, and about Easter and about Passover, the setup here is for a blockbuster story that what was believed to have been a forgery back in the 1880s was actually real, or at least real in some way, or at least not a fake and that the entire way we look at the Bible is then likely to change. This is the setup for the kind of story that belongs in a sensational tabloid, not in the pages of The New York Times, which is what makes this story most interesting, perhaps. But there’s actually more to it because indeed behind this is a way of understanding the Bible, a way of trying to dismiss the Bible’s divine authorship and thus its authority, not only in the church or in the synagogue, but in Western civilization. That’s the more that’s actually at stake here.

You understand the background to this, it doesn’t just start in 1883. It actually goes back to the beginnings of the enlightenment and the effort to try to replace an understanding of the universe, of humanity, of life, of meaning, of truth that had been grounded in biblical Christianity with a secular worldview. But that secular worldview faced one great obstacle, and that obstacle was the claim of divine revelation, the authority of Scripture. If the Bible is the word of God, then guess what? We do not live in a secular universe. We are not secular beings. We are not left out in the cosmos on our own. We are not accidents. If God exists, then he is not only the creator of the universe, but as he reveals himself in scripture, he is also the law giver. He is the definer of reality. And thus, you understand why humanity, trying to declare itself having come of age in the enlightenment and throwing off all kinds of supernatural authority, had to direct its energies at subverting the Bible. And that’s exactly what happened.

It came in various stages but the ultimate strategy for denying biblical authority was to argue that it is not a divinely-inspired revelation, but rather it is simply ancient human literature. The Bible is simply written by ancient people, it was collected as a part of a religious tradition and then claims were made about its divine revelation, foisted upon the civilization, as well as the church and the synagogue. But now we see that this project deliberation meant they had to eliminate the authority of Scripture, and one of the ways they did that in the enlightenment was by trying to argue that we can understand the Bible as simply the product of an historical process. We can go back and see ancient tribesmen who were writing on fragments of animal skin and these were all eventually collected, all of these fragments, and they were then put into the shape of books and this took place over a course of centuries and then claims were made about divine revelation. But the point is the enlightenment prophets said you can basically come up with a secular explanation for the Bible.

By the time you get to the 19th century, liberal biblical scholarship has emerged, repackaged as historical critical scholarship, with the claim that the Old Testament in general is nothing more than fragments that were put together over various centuries. But that the Pentateuch itself, the first five books of the Bible, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, were actually four different traditions from four different sources that were patched together having nothing to do with Moses, if there ever even had been anyone who lived as Moses.

This particular article is occasioned by an argument made by a young scholar at Harvard named Idan Dershowitz. He’s identified as a 38-year-old Israeli American scholar at the University of Potsdam in Germany. He’s now a fellow at Harvard. We’re told that he is making the claim that the fragments that were dismissed as a forgery brought forward by Moses Wilhelm Shapira in the 1880s were actually real. But remember, those fragments have disappeared, so on what basis does he make this claim? He makes this claim for the authenticity of a document then dismissed as a forgery, which hasn’t existed, or at least hasn’t been known or found for over a century. Indeed, well over a century. It is an audacious claim. It’s the kind of claim, as I said, that is sensationalism. It belongs in a tabloid, or it belongs in some kind of esoteric seminar discussion. The big story here is that we’re looking at three pages of The New York Times dedicated to it. There’s something going on here.

What’s going on is academic sensationalism that doesn’t deserve this kind of coverage. And this kind of coverage can only be explained by the further explanation, given the further project of trying to deny the legitimacy of scripture to try to say that, “If this young scholar’s argument is true, then after all the book of Deuteronomy couldn’t have been written by Moses, if there even had been a Moses. It’s a later invention and thus yes, the Bible is just a human book. Here’s further evidence that the Bible is just a human book. It’s nothing more than human ideas. You can reduce it to human scale, deny its divine inspiration and basically be done with the Bible. It’s anything other than an interesting document from the past.”

But even The New York Times has to acknowledge that in the booming antiquities market that has been the case about fragments of the Bible, additions of the Bible, Dead Sea scrolls, pottery fragments, and all the rest, when it comes to this particular individual, Moses Wilhelm Shapira, he undoubtedly was guilty of foisting forgeries in a previous incident that went back 10 years before. In this time, in 1873, he claimed to have discovered Moabite pottery, that’s ancient pottery, and he sold it to the German government. But the very same man who denounced his fragment as a fraud had 10 years earlier identified his pottery as a fraud. And The New York Times says that even as he made the denouncement, he was certainly correct, the pottery “false from beginning to end.” Again, to at least give The Times credit for this, the news report cites many experts who have summarily dismissed the claims made by the young scholar, Idan Dershowitz.

Christopher Rolston, a scholar of ancient texts at George Washington University, who himself is writing a book about forgery, said that the Shapira strips “have all the hallmarks of a modern forgery”. And furthermore, the fact that no one has actually seen the fragments for more than a century is in his words “an absolute deal-breaker.” Rolston went on to describe the claims made by Idan Dershowitz as “a pile of hypotheticals”.

But as you’re thinking about this, just remember the fact that this is about the book of Deuteronomy. Deuteronomy. Deutero-nomos, the second giving of the law. Deuteronomy is the very pinnacle of the Old Testament law, and modern progressives hate the Old Testament law.

But it’s absolutely stunning that in the year 2021, The New York Times would give this much space to an untenured scholar at a foreign university, now a fellow at Harvard, who writes about a fragment that was dismissed over a hundred years ago as a forgery and hasn’t been seen for over a century but he is sure is real. And he will tell us not only that it’s real, but what it means.

But then as I was looking at all of this and reading the arguments, I recognized that I thought I had seen this name and this line of argument before. And indeed I had seen it before, and I’d seen it before in The New York Times, the very same young scholar, Idan Dershowitz. He made the argument several years ago, this was the year 2018, that the book of Leviticus, in its condemnation of male homosexuality, had actually, in the beginning, argued the opposite. And it was only a deliberate scribal effort that produced the book of Leviticus as we know it today, with a very clear condemnation of homosexuality. Again, you see the hatred of the Old Testament law.

It’s also important to recognize you’re looking at a young scholar who is not all that well-known in the Academy and whose arguments are not all that well taken, even in the liberal Academy. But his arguments seem to be absolutely fascinating to The New York Times.

All this reminded me of a comment that was made by the late rabbi Jonathan Sacks, he’s the former chief rabbi of Great Britain of the United Kingdom. He said, “Speaking of the Pentateuch, of the five books of Moses, that they were the books horribly out of step with our times. But then speaking of the book of Leviticus, and you could extend this to the book of Deuteronomy,” he went on to say that Leviticus is “the one most out of step with contemporary culture.” And given the texts that was addressed by Idan Dershowitz, we can understand why he would have said that.

What is here described as scholarship in this entire package of news coverage represents an act of desperation. One that should be humiliating to The New York Times and to Harvard University considering the scandal that emerged in recent years over a Harvard scholar’s claim about the discovery of what was described as the gospel of Jesus’s wife. It turned out not only to be a forgery, but a forgery that was produced by a pornographer in Florida. This can’t be about scholarship. This can’t be about journalism. It has to be about something else, and that something else is antipathy to the Bible as the word of God.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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