The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 11, 2021

It’s Monday, October 11, 2021.

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

Part I

Tesla Joins Influx of Californians In Texas With Move of Its Headquarters to Austin — And With It, California Cultural and Voting Patterns To Follow

When you look at economic patterns, sometimes you see some huge issues of worldview significance, big headlines in the financial pages in recent days. We’re going to start out with the move of Tesla from Silicon Valley to Austin, Texas. What does that mean? Well, let’s just remind ourselves that Tesla is a company that sees itself as forward-focused in renewable energy and battery power, that is to say, electric-powered automobiles, and Tesla now has an entire range of rather pricey, but also very attractive vehicles and it is now a brand name. The value of Tesla is greater than the value of at least some of the established American automobile companies. Its equity is huge.

Furthermore, as you think about the society, Tesla is indeed forward-focused. It is to say, it appears that the society and Tesla are moving closer together looking at the future rather than further apart. But Tesla and California have now grown further apart. But this might have less to do with the business decision just in terms of the raw profit and loss ledger, it might have more to do with the decisions made by Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla. Elon Musk is often considered a genius when it comes to technology. Now, everything he has done has been a sure fire success, but even as you look at his forays into outer space as well as his vehicle company, you’re looking at the fact that there is enormous credibility, expertise, and vision behind Elon Musk and Tesla. Tesla, of course, named for Nikola Tesla, one of the founders of the age of electricity, the age of the future.

Nikola Tesla was one of the founders of the modern age and Elon Musk contends for Tesla as the automobile company to be one of the founders of the postmodern age. Well, Elon Musk has had enough with California, he’s had enough with California Governor Gavin Newsom, he’s had enough with the pandemic shutdowns, he has been one who has taken a rather libertarian perspective in the COVID-19 pandemic, he has railed against and resisted the absolute economic shutdowns and the stay-at-home orders in the state of California. He believes that the state is far too sluggish in coming out of the pandemic in terms of state policy, but he’s really against the very high taxation and the hyperactive regulatory state, that is the modern state of California.

California, in this sense, often speaks of itself as the world’s fifth largest economy but you have coming behind that one of the world’s largest and the most aggressive bureaucracies, a state government that is insatiable in terms of its desire for tax income and a state that really has been transformed into a hyperenergetic regulatory or administrative state, its regulations stifle business and what we have seen in recent years as a flight of capital beginning with individuals, but also now extending to corporations, corporations as famous as Tesla moving from California to other states. But not just to other states, but to the state of Texas, and not just to Texas, but to the city of Austin. And therein lies a tale with a lot of interesting worldview twists and turns. Because if you’re going to look at the state of Texas, you’re going to color it red. In terms of conservative, Republican voting patterns, it is in one sense, the very heart of red America.

But as you look at California, it’s the very heart, the capital you might say, of blue America certainly when it comes to its population and its political and economic strength. But you’re looking at an exodus of capital and of people from a state like California now moving eastward, moving into the Intermountain West, moving into Idaho, moving into Austin, Texas, not just Texas, but Austin, Texas. There are individual Californians and California businesses that have moved elsewhere in Texas. But why Austin? Austin, of course, is the capital of Texas. But perhaps more importantly, it is the home of the University of Texas, an elite public university, one of the most powerful of the state universities in the American college and university universe and you’re also looking at a very liberal campus in a rather conservative state. Austin itself has a famously liberal culture given to new age spirituality, leftist political activism, all kinds of radical movements.

You have the arts and the entertainment culture, the technology sector, you have Dell computers that has been there for a very long time, and now, Tesla, that is moving into town, real estate in Austin has skyrocketed in price, and the culture of Austin has changed remarkably and Austin intends to change the culture of Texas. And that’s the big issue we need to consider. Yes, you have an exodus of people from California to Texas. But in one sense, they are bringing their California with them. They are bringing their California worldview, they are bringing their leftist politics, they are bringing their moral progressivism as they would style it, they are bringing their California voting patterns to Texas. And eventually, it will be a trend that will affect not only Austin and the larger Austin area, but will affect the entire state of Texas.

This is something that is both learned by and demonstrated by the State of Virginia. Virginia, in terms of its Northern suburbs, very close to Washington, D.C., is largely recession proof because the government’s going to keep on spending. You have an entire economy based upon government spending, whether it be the military or, for that matter, just about anything connected to the government, it’s going to be recession proof because the government is going to pay its own people, its own bills, it’s going to continue to grow. But what we have seen is that Virginia has changed from a reliably red state to what is now really a reliably blue state. You had people saying that Virginia was turning purple but if it turned purple, it was basically only for a matter of hours.

The general voting pattern in Virginia, especially in national elections, is now blue. And that’s not because you had Virginians changing their mind. It’s because you had people coming from outside Virginia who moved to Virginia. And in one sense, what has taken place around Washington D.C. in the Northern Virginia suburbs is very much akin to the developments in Silicon Valley. So, you have Silicon Valley voting patterns in Virginia. Now, will Texas turn as blue as Virginia? That remains to be seen. And of course, even in a state like Virginia, you can have a genuinely competitive gubernatorial election going on right now. We’ll be looking at that in future additions of The Briefing. But in the State of Texas, you are looking at the slow transformation of that state. No one knows exactly what Texas is going to look like in the future, but we do know this as much as Texas, even many Conservative Texans are going to be crowing about Elon Musk and Tesla moving to Texas.

There may be many conservatives in Texas who will not be so pleased when all those people from California bring their California voting patterns with them.

Part II

How Should Christians Think of Global Tax Policy As International Agreement Claims to Raise Corporate Tax Rate?

But other economic news also comes with big worldview issues attached. Consider the story that broke just as we were going into the weekend about an international agreement to set a minimum corporate tax rate of 15%. The Wall Street Journal, you could expect the journal would give very close attention to this story, over the weekend, it ran a headline, “Global Corporate Tax Clears Hurdle.” The article’s by Paul Hannon and Richard Rubin. The article begins with these words, “A global agreement to set a minimum 15% corporate tax rate cleared its last major hurdle Thursday after Ireland, a low-tax country that is the European headquarters for some of the largest U.S. tech companies, said it would join the overhaul effort.”

We are then told, “The change in Irish policy comes ahead of a Friday meeting of 140 governments and jurisdictions that have for years been negotiating a way of taxing international companies to limit tax avoidance and divide tax revenue in a way they say is fairer. The group seems likely to give its backing to a final agreement that would aim for implementation in 2023.” Now, we are told that Ireland was one of the last countries that was a holdout, saying it was not ready to go along with this agreement. Now, why would Ireland be in that position? Why wouldn’t Ireland’s government want more tax money from American and other international corporations? Well, the reality is that Ireland became what was known as one of the Celtic Tigers, that is with a fast growing economy, largely because it offered low tax rates to corporations and thus corporations began to move their headquarters there or at least their European headquarters there.

There was a movement of capital, a big movement of investment to Ireland and that came with all kinds of benefits to Ireland. But Ireland is also a part of an economic unit that is putting pressure on all those governments to come in line with this American-led effort to come up with a minimum global corporate tax. We’re told that’s going to be 15%. But here’s the thing, let’s say that we want to send out a fair and equitable taxation program all across the world. Well, for one thing, you just have to start with the fact there is no worldwide governing authority. Thanks be to God by the way, there is no worldwide tax authority. It’s going to take all these nations agreeing. What we have here is you might say a huge political achievement if this is what you’re trying to achieve, the American-led movement and it’s been spearheaded by Secretary of the Treasury Janet Yellen, it has been trying to bring some of these countries like Ireland and Hungary along and it has used both a carrot and a stick.

The carrot is, “We will give you these political benefits if you will join this plan.” The stick is that, “If you do not, we will attach these political and economic penalties.” Ireland gave in. But here’s what we need to know. Ireland gave in sort of, Hungary gave in sort of, it turns out that Hungary said, “We’re going to join the agreement but with a phase in that allows it to have a lower corporate tax rate for a number of years.” Ireland took out language that said at least 15%, that makes the 15% rather aspirational rather than required. The Wall Street Journal’s right on its editorial page when it says the big issue here is that this will give the American government under the Biden administration what it considers to be leveraged in continually raising the American corporate tax rate. And you have the president and others going out saying that we need the companies to pay their fair share in taxes.

Well, if you put it that way, we believe that everyone, including every company should pay its or theirs fair share of taxation. The question is, how in the world do you know what is a fair share? And furthermore, every time the government it gets into this, and this is the government’s action after all, it messes things up because it walks all over its own message. You have it put together a taxation system but then you have politicians, regulators and others who decide we need to tweak the system this way in order to favor this business, in order to favor this kind of investment, in order to attract this kind of company, in order to push a green new deal, whatever it is you’re trying to push. The point is, you also have all these governments honestly and looking out for their own advantage.

Here’s a promise. Many of these signatories to this agreement simply will not raise their taxes anything like what you see in the United States because they want those American companies to do business there, to prefer them over others. They may join this agreement in a political and public sense, but as we just saw in the examples of Ireland and Hungary, they have their fingers crossed behind their back. But there’s another big issue in taxation that Christians need to keep in mind and that is that you are looking at, let’s just define taxation, it’s the confiscation of money, it’s the confiscation of wealth by governments. Now, that was such a hot issue in the United States that it took a constitutional amendment for the United States government to be able apply an income tax. That would have been a complete violation of the Constitution until the Constitution was amended. Are you glad that happened?

Now, of course, we believe in a sane and healthy society, we have the aspiration for a just system of government such that there would be a fair and equitable sense and system of taxation in order to have a functioning society. But the problem is the government always wants more. But the government, at the same time, because after all it’s run by politicians and in a fallen sinful world, every one of those politicians has his or her own agenda, every one of those states has its own favorite businesses, everyone has a political agenda to bring to this and you can count on the fact that the Democratic Left is bringing the Green New Deal, as they call it, into everything. This is one of the reasons why the American tax system at every level, individual and corporate, being so cumbersome often actually has disincentives for the good things and incentives for the bad things.

And, of course, you also have another reality, which is that in a global economy, and frankly, that’s what we have, capital is free to go anywhere it wants to go. Now, you may say, “Well, money that is held by American companies ought to stay in America.” Well, good luck with that. Because even your own investments, even your own mutual funds, even the bonds in which you are invested, whether you know it or not, your own retirement plan, really has at least some global scope and application. And that’s because the money’s going to go where the people holding it believe that it will grow and where there will be security for the investments, predictability in the economy, governments are going to do what the governments believe is in its own best interest, every single one of them. And yet, the agenda of the American government is also very clear, it wants higher taxation rates but it doesn’t want to tell the American people that the long-term goal is really an ever escalating amount of corporate taxation.

And you say, “Well, let those mean old corporations pay those taxes.” But again, those corporations are actually human beings, employees, and of course, you have customers, but beyond that you have stockholders and stakeholders. If you start looking at business just as some kind of infinite sea from which you can draw infinite taxation, you’re going to discover that those businesses have moved overseas somewhere where, with fingers crossed behind the back, some countries decided to offer a better deal than those companies can find here. You may say, “That’s not fair,” and you may protest against it, but you may be counting on returns in your IRA that will also depend upon those kinds of moves of capital. We have to understand that when you have the government say, “Look, here’s free money we can get.” That money’s never free. And sometimes, you find out in the end that money was actually yours.

Part III

The ‘Nones’ Are Growing — But What Does This Really Mean? Moral and Theological Factors Are Impossible to Separate

But next we’re going to turn to a major headline that appeared on the front page of USA Today. This headline is this, “Millions Giving Up Organized Religion.” The subhead, “America’s fast-growing movement, the Nones”–N-O-N-E-S–“as in no religious affiliation. Deena Yellin is the reporter on the story in state line from North Jersey. But what we are told here is that there’s this vast movement in the United States in a more secular direction with the fastest-growing movement in religious terms, being those with no religious affiliation. We’re told this is a big new thing but we’re also told something else and that is, stunningly enough, it turns out that a lot of these unreligious nones are actually pretty religious after all. And that’s a part of the story that’s actually covered here although, in a way, that doesn’t quite acknowledge the fact that it runs, in some sense, counter to the headline.

We’re introduced early in the story to two individuals. Jay Brown is a missionary who realized he was an atheist, and then Zalman Newfield is identified as a sociology professor from Hoboken, New Jersey who, “left his ultra-Orthodox Jewish upbringing years ago but still holds tight to the traditions of his childhood. Each week, he gathers his two young daughters to story the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.” So, just to make a point before going further, it turns out that at least this second secular person isn’t quite secular in essence studying the Torah, studying the first five books of the Bible with his daughters. But he’s no longer ultra-Orthodox in terms of his Jewish identity, that’s not insignificant. The article tells us that the fastest-growing movement in America, again in religious terms, is the nones, “people whose relationship with institutionalized religion can best be described as none or nothing.”

USA Today then says this, “In a country founded on tales of devout worshipers willing to risk everything for religious freedom from Puritans to Quakers to Mormons, surveys say the nones now account for about one in every four Americans. It’s a sea change set to transform the country’s religion, culture and politics.” Now, USA Today, as a major popular national newspaper, really loves this kind of sensational story. Furthermore, it likes this kind of story so much it keeps running the same story over and over again with some new twists. The emergence of the nones as the fastest-growing affiliation when it comes to religious identity or religious self-identification in the United States, that’s not a new story. It’s been out for so long that the first time I discussed the nones, I had to make very clear that we were not talking about orders of Roman Catholic sisters, but rather we’re talking about the N-O-N-E-S, this group of unaffiliated Americans.

But if we learned anything about the nones, it is not only that they are growing in numbers and of course, in influence, it is the fact that their religious identity is really not none. And this is where we as Christians understand that’s because everyone is religious in his or her own way. Everyone is religious because God made us in his image, we are religious creatures. Linda Mercadante, identified as a retired theology professor at the Methodist Theological School in Ohio, spoke of spirituality as the new mandate, “America has a long religious heritage so won’t be thrown out soon. Instead, it will be replaced by a more vague spirituality.” She went on to say, “A lot of people won’t say the word God because that’s not popular but they will say universe.” The next paragraph, “There’s no one explanation for why people are fleeing organized faith. The nones themselves offer myriad reasons, including abusive experiences with religious communities, doubts about doctrine, disagreements with church leaders or the rigorous demands of a developed lifestyle.”

The most important sentence in the entire article is this, “It’s more socially acceptable today to identify as a none, sociologists note.” That I believe, is the big issue here. That’s the take home, that’s the important issue that Christians need to think about. That’s the change. The development of these alternative spiritualities, not new at all. Just go to your library, just look at all the books written in the ’60s about these new religious movements. When you’re thinking about growing secularization in the society, no doubt it’s happening, not exactly as the original profits of secularization had indicated, but there’s no doubt that religious authority, theological authority, is on the wain in the United States and so is institutional religion. Now, I’m happy to say your local church may be very strong, but the fact is that we are looking across the country at what had been identified as cultural religion, in institutional terms, withering away.

But here’s what is new. Those stories really aren’t new. They may be accelerating, but they’re not new. This is new and it’s important. We are told that it’s more socially acceptable today to identify as a none, that is to say, no religious affiliation. So, the big change here might not be so much that you have fewer people who are authentically engaged with their own religious faith. It might not be for Christians the fact that there are fewer Christians who are eagerly and actively involved in the work of the local church if it’s a gospel preaching, Bible believing church. Many of those churches are, well, facing their challenges but actually holding their own. Some of them are growing. But the reality is that the society has changed around us and it is now increasingly socially acceptable to identify as having no religious faith whatsoever. That may be the most profound impact of secularization in terms of how people speak about themselves in our lifetime.

It does change the mission field to which the church, the believing church, must address itself. It does change the morality of a society or at least you might say this, a society that has been liberalizing socially in terms of its moral code will eventually liberalize theologically. It might take a while for that to work out at the level of popular or cultural religion, but that’s exactly what we are witnessing now. To illustrate the point I’m making about the tie between theology and morality is we look at social transformation, the article cites Roberta Rosenthal Kwall, a professor specializing in Jewish law and culture at DePaul University in Chicago, she’s author of the book entitled Remix Judaism: Preserving Tradition in a Diverse World. She said this and this is also important, “It follows into social issues as well, nones tend to support gay rights and abortion rights.”

Now, we just see the circularity, liberal theology, liberal morality go together. Which comes first? In some sense, it is almost like a chicken and egg equation. It doesn’t perhaps even matter in the end which comes first, what matters is they come together. And that’s true for all of us and it’s good for us to recognize that. Our theology and our morality will be closely coordinated, they’ll be correlated, they’ll be tied together inextricably so. Christians operating out of a biblical worldview understand why that is so and we understand that ultimately at the end, foundationally at the bottom, it’s always theology that’s first, the morality follows. But we also understand something else. Moral misbehavior often leads to an adjustment in theology. In the Christian Church, we’ve seen that too, people adjust their theology to their own moral lifestyles and expectations. These days, people may be also adjust their theological views to meet their political views and their political choices.

We should expect that in a highly politicized age, we’re going see some of that too. Our job as Christians, our job as Bible believing Christians, our job as faithful gospel Christians is to make certain that our theology and our morality, and our politics is grounded in the same truth and is united in that truth, accountable to that truth.

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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