The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, June 11, 2021

It’s Friday, June 11th, 2021.

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

Part I

The Pentagon Will Release a Report on UFOs Later This Month: What Should Christians Think About the UFOs and the Massive Interest in Them?

Well, buckle your seat belts, the United States government, sometime this month, is going to release a report of previously unreleased information concerning UFOs, unidentified flying objects, referred to more specifically by our government not as UFO’s but as UAP, that is unidentified aerial phenomena. As I say, it’s a much-anticipated report. It is being actually required because of a funding mechanism that was put in place by the United States Congress. Members of Congress have been pressing the government to be more forthcoming. And it has been to some degree. There’ve been reports out of the United States military and intelligence organizations confirming the fact that there are documented UFOs that have been observed by American military, intelligence, and civilians.

But, there is often a good deal of confusion about exactly what that means. Unidentified flying objects, let’s just deal with the term, it means a flying object, an aerial phenomena to use the government’s term, that is unidentified. The fact that it is unidentified means that if it is indeed a UFO, by definition, we do not know what it is. Now, all of this gets mixed up with a matter of speculation, legitimate interest, and of course, what is an important interest of the United States government. There are a host of issues that come up here.

What in the world should we think of unidentified flying objects or unidentified aerial phenomena? Well, we are looking at the fact that we now know a great deal more about the cosmos than ever before. We know a great deal more about what it means for objects to be able to fly through the atmosphere. We know a great deal about what it means to be able to launch spacecraft into the sky. We’ve actually not only launched those spacecraft on manned missions, but we have also seen human beings go into space all the way to the moon and come back safely. But we don’t know more than we know. That’s a very humbling realization for human beings. It’s a part of the fact that we are, indeed, as the Christian worldview reminds us, the creature rather than the creator. We do not know what the creator knows. And even as we have constant reports telling us that there are probably thousands upon thousands of unidentified animal species, species of birds, not to mention insects and all the rest, the fact is that we do not understand everything we want to understand or may even say we need to understand about what is inside of us. As we speak of the internal workings of the human body, there are also unidentified objects within ourselves and unidentified biological processes.

But let’s admit it, there is a particular interest in UFOs, there’s a particular interest in trying to explain why there are objects in the sky. They are detected in space, and we don’t know what they are, and we want to know what they are. All this gets mixed up with other questions such as the potential existence of what’s called extraterrestrial life. The search for extraterrestrial intelligence, or SETI, has also been going on for some time. Now, as you’re thinking about the federal government releasing this report, it’s mandated by Congress, you have people in the media reporting that we are finally going to know what the government knows. Well, I do not say this out of any conspiracy theory, but just out of a rational understanding of the way the military and the government work. What we will know when this report is released is what the government and the military are willing to tell us that they know and do not know. We will never know what they know they don’t want us to know.

Just in terms of cultural and worldview observation, it’s very interesting to see just how much attention, curiosity, just how much imagination, just how much fervor is sometimes given to the UFO issue. Many people in the United States date it back to about 1947. Why then, and in the United States? Why here? Fascinating questions. Let’s think about it for a moment. For one thing, if you go back to the earlier decades of the 20th century, all of this is simply referred to as science fiction. That’s all it was. The idea that you could have some kind of mission going into outer space was only science fiction until after World War II. World War II actually became one of the engines for what would become the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. And that is because the original rocket race was between the allies and Nazi Germany. And make no mistake, Nazi Germany was winning.

Its V1 and especially V2 rockets turned out to be beyond the state-of-the-art at the time. And with the collapse of Nazi Germany with the allied powers coming in, the big question is, who would get the rocket scientist? Would it be the Soviets or the Americans? And we understand a great deal was then at stake, looking at the future of what would become the Cold War. For the most part, they fell into American hands. Most importantly, Wernher von Braun, the German rocket scientist who actually became one of the masterminds of the American man space program. Developing, if you just think of one issue, the mighty Saturn V rocket that was used in the Apollo missions.

So 1947 is two years after the end of World War II. By then, there was enough public consciousness about the existence of these rockets and the future of rocket technology that ideas of man to travel into space became potential as well as imaginable. But you’re also looking at the fact that if the transportation could go one way, the imagination quickly turns to the fact that it might come another way. The idea of this didn’t emerge in 1947. If nothing else, it emerged in 1938 with the Orson Welles broadcast War of the Worlds. But even as there were a stunning number of people in that radio audience that took it seriously, no one upon reflection actually believed that such travel would be possible. And especially at that point, there was no imagination that led to a concrete proposal of how human beings might leave planet Earth and travel into outer space.

There was concern about someone else from outer space coming to us. That was the entire drama of War of the Worlds. But in 1947, a Polish immigrate to the United States by the name of George Adamski claimed to have had a rendezvous with those described as “kindly Nordic-looking Venusians,” that is from Venus. But the biggest issue for the United States in 1947 came, as is reported by Gideon Lewis-Kraus of The New Yorker, when, “An alien spaceship was said to have crashed near Roswell, New Mexico.” As The New Yorker explains, “Conspiracy theorists believed that vaguely anthropomorphic bodies had been removed there and that the crash debris had been entrusted to private military contractors who raced to unlock alien hardware before the Russians could.”

Now, The New Yorker makes the interesting observation that as much as this became an issue of real interest to the United States military, it simultaneously became a matter of real interest to the Soviet military as well. But this was during the Cold War, there was no cross information transfer. The fact is that the Russians in their world and the Americans in our world were trying to figure out whether or not aliens had come, and if so, what their intentions were, who they were, where they had come from. But then again, the big question was whether or not it had ever happened.

Now, here’s where you also have some interesting worldview analysis necessary. Because the fact is that there are certain persons who operate with logic going one way, and there are others who operate with logic going another way. And when it comes to issues like UFOs and extraterrestrial life, sometimes people who operate on the basis, usually of logic A shift to logic B. The same kind of issue comes up sometimes with questions about whether or not there was a conspiracy behind the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 in Dallas.

What are the two lines of logic? One line of logic, let’s call it logic line A says, “I should not believe something until there is adequate evidence or adequate cumulative argument to compel me to believe, to indicate that my moral responsibility is to believe this. But you need to provide the evidence and argument, and then I’ll consider whether or not I should believe it.” In other words, logic A requires positive proof. “You need to show me that this is true. You show me that it’s true, and I’ll believe it.” To state the matter really clearly, that’s how most of us operate on almost every question routinely all day long.

But there is a logic B. The logic B comes along and says, “Well, you can’t prove that it’s not true, or you haven’t proved that it’s not true.” That is a negative test. Now, we obviously can’t require a negative test in most questions of life. We have to go with positive data. There is no time in order to, say, sort out negative data. And furthermore, there are so many issues in which the stakes are the negative judgment might be downright deadly. The logic of, “You haven’t proved it’s not true,” is one of those issues of logic that is applied to questions like conspiracy theories and the existence of UFOs and whether or not the federal government has been involved with the military in suppressing information. The information that we are told might include the fact that aliens have been routinely coming to the planet and visiting even in the United States. And for some reason, they tend, according to these theories, to show up in places where conspiracy theorists also show up. I’m sure that’s a coincidence too.

One of the theories held by those who call themselves ufologists, they’ve claimed, for example, as The New Yorker tells us, that all of this has been covered up by a group called Majestic 12, “a clandestine para-governmental organization convened under executive order by President Truman.” Well, is that true or false? I’ll simply say that there is no adequate evidence that has been produced to indicate that we ought to believe such a thing. But if you’re going to say you can’t prove that it didn’t happen, yes, I’m going to tell you right up front, I can’t prove that it didn’t happen.

There’s a lot of expectation baked into the cake of this report to be released. We don’t know when it’s going to be released. It’s to be released to Congress, as a matter of fact, sometime this month, likely toward the end of the month. What will Congress then release to the people of the United States? Let’s just put it another way. What kind of political uproar will ensue if Congress does not release the report? The report, if it is released, or when it is released, is likely to be very frustrating to people who want to find documented evidence that there has been some kind of visit from extraterrestrial life. But enough has already been released by the military and confirmed by national intelligence authorities to tell us that there are phenomena that have been observed, and observed by very responsible people, not just by people who are a part of some kind of ufology cult. No, they are indeed seen by, for instance, F/A-18 pilots for the United States Navy. Documented, and in some cases, even caught on film, there are objects that appear to be in the atmosphere, moving in ways that no contemporary understanding of physics would allow for. They simply can’t be explained given what we know now.

Of course, there are others who will come along and say, “Yes, but it could have been something that’s just a freakish impression.” This happens as you’re often in the atmosphere with refracted and reflected light. It could have been some kind of meteorological phenomenon. It could have been any number of things. It is unidentified because it has not yet been identified. And frustratingly enough, to very prideful human beings, it may be that these objects are never identified. It may be that when Jesus comes, so far as we know, these are still unidentified flying objects or unidentified aerial phenomena. American military intelligence authorities have already confirmed that, for example, two United States military pilots, they were Navy pilots, flying F/A-18 jets, they saw what were described as an object that was a giant Tic Tac, about the size of a commercial plane.

What’s known so far is that the Navy has confirmed that the pilot saw something, and they agree it was something like a very large Tic Tac. It was off the coast of Southern California. What it means, no one knows. Will we know a great deal when this report is released? Well, we might, we might know a lot more about what’s been documented by the United States Intelligence Services and the United States military. We might know a good deal more about what had been described as unidentified flying objects. But as for extraterrestrial life, you see, that’s the tied-in issue, that’s the connected issue that so many people want to jump to. The report may or even almost certainly tell us nothing about that. That’s because we know virtually nothing about that. And when we say nothing, we mean nothing.

But the speculation is massive. And at least from a Christian perspective, you have to wonder if a lot of this speculation doesn’t just come from technology and the space age and from our expanding knowledge of cosmology and the cosmos, the universe. Maybe a lot of this is rooted in the fact that a secular age is looking for some kind of interesting intelligence beyond us. That may well be a big part of it. You have to wonder as a Christian, “Is this because a secular age has to believe that somehow we are not just knowers but known.” That’s the most fundamental issue of the Christian worldview, it starts with the existence of God. He made us, we did not make Him. We did not make ourselves. He knew us. He knows us before we know ourselves. Also, he knows us better than we know ourselves.

There seems to be a transference of religious interest in the truest sense, away from the existence of God towards the existence of some kind of extraterrestrial intelligence. But when it comes to how the military and the United States intelligence services will talk about this, let me give you the example of the kind of statement that has been released thus far, this from former director of the Central Intelligence Agency, John Brennan. He said, and I quote, “Some of the phenomena we’re going to be seeing continues to be unexplained and might, in fact, be some type of phenomenon that is the result of something that we don’t yet understand, and that could involve some type of activity that some might say constitutes a different form of life.” Now, if you follow that, that’s a whole lot of words to say, “We really don’t know. We probably won’t know. We won’t know exactly what we don’t know. But what we might know is something related to something that might be called by some the possibility of life outside of planet Earth, some other form of life.” That’s not just being evasive, that’s basically about as intelligent a statement as we can possibly make right now.

The interesting issue for us is not so much the fact that there are unanswered questions, but the fact that there is such intense interest in these unanswered questions. Many in the media pointed to the fact that former President Barack Obama seems to have an interest in this and in what it might mean if indeed it were to be determined that there would be extraterrestrial life. Speaking of the observations of UFOs or UAPs, the former president said, “What is true, and I’m actually being serious here, is that there is footage and records of objects in the skies that we don’t know exactly what they are.” Yes, Mr. Obama, this is why they’re called unidentified, because they’re not yet identified. But in a more recent conversation in the media, the former president said about the discovery, potentially, of some kind of extraterrestrial life, he said, “It’s interesting. It wouldn’t change my politics at all because my entire politics is premised on the fact that we are these tiny organisms on this little speck floating in the middle of space.” That’s a very interesting statement of his worldview. You’ll notice it’s not based upon any kind of creator, establishing meaning, just that we are in a cosmos which is fascinating because it’s so big and we’re so small. But about the potential of extraterrestrial life, the former president said, “But no doubt, there would be immediate arguments about like, well, we need to spend a lot more money on weapon systems to defend ourselves. New religions would pop up,” he said, “and who knows what kind of arguments we get into? We’re good at manufacturing arguments for each other.”

The most interesting statement there in what the president had to say is that he predicted that if we were to identify or to encounter some kind of extraterrestrial life, “new religions would pop up”. So just to bring this segment to a close, there is nothing in the scripture that forecloses any of these questions. There is every reason in scripture to believe the cosmos to be far more complex, far larger an issue than we have ever imagined. But when it comes to any kind of intelligent life outside of the planet, the Bible says absolutely nothing, nothing at all. Therefore, Christians should be extremely reluctant to speculate. And furthermore, what we do know is that the scripture tells us something absolutely audacious, and that is that even as it tells us that the creation of the entire cosmos, beginning in Genesis 1, we are told that the creation of the entire cosmos of this universe, galaxy, of this Planet Earth, this pale blue dot from the perspective of outer space, the entire existence of the cosmos is for the drama of redemption, whereby a holy and righteous God would save centers through the atonement accomplished by his incarnate son.

No matter what may or may not, and may never be known about the human curiosity about UFOs, UAPs, extraterrestrial life, go down the list, the most important issue for Christians has never what we don’t know, but what we do know. And thanks to God’s gift of scripture, we do know all we need to know.

Part II

How Many Oceans Are There on Earth? National Geographic Nows Says There Are Five — What Does This Announcement Tell Us about Our Understanding of Nature?

Next, very briefly, I want to turn to an announcement concerning how many oceans exist on planet Earth. I don’t know how many you think. Some say three, some say four. National Geographic now joins other scientific authorities in saying five. Why are we talking about this? Well, from worldview perspective, it really doesn’t matter how many oceans you think exist because the fact is they exist whether we think or count them at all. They exist because God made them. And there they are, we can observe them. How you divide up what some scientists argue is just one great ocean divided up by landmasses, well, that’s an intellectual issue. But it is really telling that even as we’re talking about matters extraterrestrial and unexplained, the fact that there are still debates about how many oceans exist on planet Earth tells us something about the nature of our scientific knowledge.

The newest ocean, according to National Geographic and other scientific organizations, is the Southern Ocean, the ocean in the south. It is an ocean that surrounds the continent of Antarctica. There had previously been at least three oceans identified, the Atlantic, the Indian, and the Pacific, but you also have the Arctic Ocean to the north, and now you have the Southern Ocean to the south. Interestingly, the Southern Ocean is unique in that it surrounds a continent rather than being bordered by continents. And yet, the movement of the waters in what is now identified as the Southern Ocean is identified as being independent of other oceans in the way that separates the Pacific from the Indian, the Indian from the Atlantic, even though the great waters are interconnected, they’re all a part of one great ocean system. Now we are told there are five oceans.

If you believe there are three, the oceans didn’t ask you, they don’t care. If you believe there are four or five, or even if you want to identify other oceans, the point is here, it’s really interesting that you have scientists having to revise their understanding even of the nature and composition of the great oceans on this planet. The fact that National Geographic has put out the announcement that there are now five tells us not so much about the oceans, they haven’t changed a bit, but about human understanding. It constantly changes on issues of this kind of natural phenomenon.

Part III

Renegotiating Our Understanding of Villainy and Evil: ‘Cruella’ Tells the Story of a Misunderstood “Feminist Fantasy,” But What’s Really Being Communicated About Right and Wrong?

Finally, as popular culture continues to tell us something about ourselves, we turn to the interest in the new Disney movie, “Cruella.” Lots of people are going to see it. It marks, at least in part, a return to the cinemas on the part of many American families. But what does it tell us about ourselves? Well, it tells us that we are kind of renegotiating our understanding of villainy and evil. For one thing, there’s been an interesting turn in the culture in which so many of the villains are now the central effective heroines or heroes of the story. Cruella de Vil has now been transformed from the undeniably, undiluted evil, kill-the-puppies evil of the original Disney movie of “101 Dalmatians” that was released in 1961, based on a 1956 novel.

Now, you could just say that in one sense, evidently good and evil were more clearly and distinctly portrayed in 1956 and in 1961 than more recently. This has happened in the Batman series with the character of Joker. It’s happened with many others. And there is now an entire industry, and Disney’s at the center of that industry, of going back to revisit the pre-stories, the story before the emergence of the previous story, especially when it comes to villains. Here’s something else that tells us about ourselves, we’ve become a people who want to believe that if villainy exists and it must exist, we have to deal with it one way or another, it must be because of some kind of psychological trauma. There must not be something deeply evil inside a human being that runs against our pride. It must be that something has happened to people.

So these newer tales tell us something of the psychotherapeutic revolution that has taken place around this as well. Cruella is not really evil, she just had a very, very hard life. There are some other observations that have been made by many, including the fact that if you are going to have a villainous in the case of Cruella De Vil, if she’s going to be at the center of the story, she has to be pretty attractive. By the way, this reminds us of the fact that nature reveals sometimes evil is very beautiful, even glamorous. That’s a part of the allure of evil. It’s a part of why we cannot trust the delight of our eyes. Critics have noted the emergence of what is now called the villain origin story. And again, it’s really about the origin of evil, not just people who do evil. And we’re rewriting the script. It’s another step from a biblical worldview that tells us that human sin is the result of human sinfulness to telling us that human evil, redefined not as sin, but as misbehavior or some kind of antisocial behavior, it is now being rooted in the fact that these villains are not so much evil as they are misunderstood.

That’s the point made by Stephanie Zacharek in her review of the movie in TIME Magazine. “The word misunderstood is key to all villain backstories, whether we’re talking about TV’s “Ratchet,” which details the origins of the most infamous psychiatric nurse in literature and movies, or Broadway’s “Wicked,” which unmelts the legend of Oz’s Wicked Witch of the West. These works are sometimes fun excuses for whacked-out makeup and hairdos and cartoonist exaggerated performances. But they’re also,” she tells us, “convenient vehicles for big entertainment franchises to expand their empires. At what point,” she asks, “do we ask for more?.

Sarah Bahr of the New York Times points out that Cruella began her career at Disney by a married woman with a cat and the evil intentions of turning Dalmatian puppies into a coat. But the new Cruella, as is observed by The Times, is a feminist fantasy, “She is unmarried and childless by choice, independently wealthy, has two henchmen at our beck and call, and is unwilling to let anyone or anything stand in her way. She also,” as The Times points out, “has a killer wardrobe.” If you look back to the fairytales that emerged in medieval Europe, they emerged as morality tales. They were tales to tell us, “You ought not to go into the woods alone. You ought not to go with an adult you do not know. You ought not to trust the wolf. You ought not to trust the wicked witch. There are people who will do evil. There are evil people.” Dressing them up and making them less evil makes the stories less effective and also less honest.

Sometimes the issue is not so much what we think of popular culture, but the effect popular culture has on us when we’re not thinking about it. You’ve been warned, Cruella is back, so guard your puppies. But also guard your minds because what she’s coming for this time is not so much for the little puppies as it is for the idea of right and wrong. Oh, and by the way, Cruella the movie is rated PG 13. Say goodbye to the G-rated movie as well. That also says a lot about us.

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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