The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

It’s Tuesday, November 9, 2021.

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

Part I

But Who Will Regulate the Regulators? Who Will Govern the Governors? Frustrated Activists Protest at Glasgow Climate Summit

A good many people around the world have been looking to the city of Glasgow and Scotland for what is known as COP26, that is the Climate Conference, and it comes into sequence. It began in Kyoto and then moved to Paris, and of course now eventuates for now in Glasgow, Scotland. And a lot of attention was given over the weekend, not so much to the deliberations that are taking place inside the conference arena, but rather to the protest that took place outside. And does is the case in so many situations like this, the protests are far more interesting than the proceedings, and the protestors have been making some very interesting charges.

Number one, greenwashing. The argument is that as the final agreement is beginning to take shape, there are so many loopholes in the agreement that various corporations, various nations, various interest groups are basically trying to greenwash their reputations by making pledges, or for that matter exchanging things like carbon credits in a way to try to cover for their own ecological damage or lack of progress towards the declared goal of stopping or mitigating climate change. But then the second thing, it says outright hypocrisy. They are accusing participants in this process of hypocrisy. We’re going to be looking at one of the crucial grounds of that claim of hypocritical behavior, and there is no greater symbol of it than 400 private jets parked at the neighborhood airport. The third thing, and this is the most interesting from a worldview perspective, is the frustration being expressed by many of those protestors and some in the media and observers as well, that there is no adequate enforcement mechanism. And that raises, as I said, the most interesting aspect of this entire story.

The Financial Times, published in London, is one of the most influential newspapers of the global capitalist class. And the Financial Times recently ran an editorial about the Glasgow meeting. The final paragraph states this, “This raises the thorny question of enforcement. Pledges made at COP26 are not legally binding. The ill-fated 1997 Kyoto protocol, which the US signed but never ratified, underlined the difficulty of trying to turn pledges into reality.” The editorial continued, “Countries should nonetheless have to explain at the next COP why they have not complied with agreements made at this one.” Otherwise, write the editorial board, “It is all too easy to overpromise and underdeliver, as the path of the previous 25 conferences of the parties has demonstrated. Only one week,” wrote the editors, “is left to differentiate this COP from all the rest.”

We got to look at that paragraph for just a moment. For one thing, the last paragraph, the close of this editorial, begins with a lament that there is a lack of external coercion or enforcement in terms of any of these agreements. But then halfway through the final paragraph, they say that countries should have to explain at the next conference, why they’ve not complied with the agreements they made at this one. In other words, there is no enforcement mechanism, and the argument here is that nonetheless, the countries that come up short should at least castigate themselves in public for not having met their agreements, their pledges. But as you’re looking at this, you recognize, and this became very clear with some of the protestors over the weekend, there’s enormous frustration on the part of some, especially the very young protestors who tend to be anti-government in general in their protest. Their frustration is that there is no worldwide government to simply come in and settle this issue.

Now, for Christians, this is a huge issue. For one thing, one of the most basic principles of the scripture, but one that many Christians don’t think about very often, is what we define as subsidiarity. It is the principle that in creation God has created basic orders and anything beyond those basic orders becomes more diffuse. If that sounds abstract, it simply means this. God created marriage and the family for the first function of civilization, which is the procreation and raising of children. Once you get beyond the unit of the family, competence in raising children becomes significantly reduced. Now, at times, others have to step in. Grandparents, extended family, kin, church, neighborhood, sometimes even the government has to step in. But the principle of subsidiarity reminds us that any abstraction from the most basic fundamental unit assigned in creation leads to a basic incompetence.

Now, when this comes to government, and by the way, the word subsidiarity, let me just remind you, is that truth and authority and reality subside in the most basic unit. That is to say, a city is in one sense an abstraction, a family, a marriage, is concrete. Taken into the arena of the economy or politics, the same principles apply, which is to say, that your neighborhood is going to be more concerned about one of your neighbors than the city government will be. The city government will be actually more concerned than the county commission. The county commission, less competent to deal with a broken family situation, as you go outward, along come the state, along come the federal government, but notice what we’re looking at here is the claim that all these problems would be solved if we only had a global one world government.

Now Christians have a natural allergy to that conception. But for that matter, most people around the world also have a very natural allergic reaction to that kind of proposal. Just think about the hard lessons of the 20th century. The century began with what many people declared was a season of perpetual peace, that turned out to be an illusion. And instead the world, or at least much of the world, was at war by 1914. And a war that was so horrifying that it brought empires to an end and basically broke the idea of progress that had become so popular in the 19th century. That idea of perpetual moral and political progress, the killing fields, the deadly trenches of the first World War, then known as the Great War, put to the lie, those kinds of optimistic assessments of human nature and the potential of government.

You’ll recall that at the end of World War I, there were calls for the creation of what would then be called the League of Nations. And the League of Nations was supposed to be a forum of world governments in which there would be an agreement that war would happen no more. And there would be another regime of perpetual peace, which by the way, was the promise of the enlightenment. The first person to really articulate this vision of perpetual peace was Immanuel Kant, the major philosopher of the enlightenment age. But then of course, everything falls apart again, and we’re even skipping over the fact that major Western nations signed a treaty saying they would never go to war again. The Kellogg-Briand Pact, actually outlawed war, a fairly ridiculous assumption as we look backwards now.

But then came World War II, then came the Cold War. And again, after the second World War, where the League of Nations was judged to be a complete failure, even the United States Senate would not ratify the treaty and join the League of Nations, the United States took the lead in creating what became known as the United Nations. But the United Nations from the beginning has been toothless because in order to create the political consensus to start or to found the United Nations, major world powers, including in the beginning, nations such as the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union were given a veto power.

If you’re giving that kind of veto power in the security council, the United Nations is not going to be able to have any concerted effort when it comes to any particular issue. And the United Nations has basically been shown over time to be largely a toothless giant. Where you do have multinational agreements that come into play such as in the European Union, the big headlines in recent years have been retreats from that union. Most importantly, the Brexit vote undertaken by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, that vote taken in 2016. And then right now the rebellion of many nations in Western Europe, in particular, Hungary and Poland, against the moral dictates of the European Union. But we’re now talking about the Climate Conference, we’re talking about what’s going on in Glasgow, but you come to understand why there are those who believe that everything could be solved if there just could be a global government.

The global government would be efficient, all these problems would be solved, there would be a global enforcement mechanism. There would be a global police force. And of course, this is where Christians understand that that is taking the understanding based in scripture of subsidiarity and completely rejecting it. The idea here is that the global government would be a competent government. And of course that’s not only extremely unlikely, it’s impossible. But then again, the greatest fear should be that a global government might at least at times be competent because the problem is, and Christians understand this because of the doctrine of sin. If you concentrate all that authority in a very restricted elite, there is every evidence throughout human history and every evidence of scripture to believe that that will end in a very deadly blood bath. The simple principle is this. The larger the government, the larger the regime, the more concentrated the power, the greater is the danger of deadly effect and the use of state sponsored violence.

But as I said, there were two major charges made otherwise. And Greta Thunberg, the youthful activist, by the way. One of the interesting things that became news in the beginning of this conference is that her father who had accompanied her in so many of her media events and her travels before, did not travel with her this time. And that’s because she is now over 18, as he told the international media, “She’s an adult on her own now, and I have a job.” Speaking at protests over the weekend, Greta Thunberg, speaking not only for herself, but for an organization of younger activists, said that the Glasgow meeting is, “A global north greenwash festival.” She went on to say, “It’s not a secret that COP26 is a failure.” She said, “It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.” But the argument was clear as she made her comments that at the center of her target is the very existence of the nation state. Good luck with getting these nations to forfeit their own identity for her purposes.

But another thing simply to understand here, is that these youthful activists are complaining that these nations, if you just follow what they say and then watch what they do, they are doing, whether or not they’re saying, they are doing what turns out to be in their own assessment of their own best interest. Here’s the bottom line however. That’s what nations do. And one of the realities we have to face, and Christian realism helps us to understand this, is that in any complex situation like this, in which there are various moral arguments, eventually there will be a trade-off. If there’s not a trade-off, there will not be a successful meeting. And trade-offs are exactly how this particular challenge is likely to be faced, but it is not going to be resolved by a global government. It’s not going to be resolved by youthful activists, basically demanding the end of the nation state.

But another major criticism, which wasn’t so much made by the youthful activist, but by some of the older activists, was the fact that hypocrisy was demonstrated in this meeting by the fact that so many people were saying there needs to be an end, an end right now, to the use of carbon based fuels. And many of them flew on multimillion dollar private jets in order to be there and to get their camera time in order to say that no one should do what they just did. As a matter of fact, someone had the sense to go down to the local airport and count 400 registered and identifiable private jets. One of them by the way, is a jet that was estimated to be worth $65 million. It’s owned by Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the owner, not by coincidence also, of the Washington Post, that ran an article about this very issue. It turns out that Jeff Bezos flew on his private jet.

If you take what just one of those jets represents in terms of a carbon impact, and by the way, private jets are, this is just a demonstrable fact, they are a particularly carbon intense form of transportation. If you just take one of these flights, not to mention all of these flights, the estimation was that it amounted to something like all of the energy consumed in one day in Scotland. Others came back after that and said, no, that’s not true. But the very fact that there’s a debate about whether it could be true or not just underlines the fact that when you talk about a trade off and you talk about honesty, the fact is that almost all of the international leaders and government heads who came to this meeting came on the equivalent of private jets. And President Joe Biden, who went from Rome to the Glasgow summit, not only came with an entourage of many American jets, that’s just the reality of the American presidency. And the president also showed up in Rome, later in Glasgow, with a motorcade cars that by press count, at least in Rome, numbered 85 cars.

He went to visit the Pope in the Vatican in order to talk about shared concerns, including climate change and carbon imprints, and he went in a motorcade of 85 vehicles. And you can’t hide that as it snaked its way through the city of Rome, and the city of Rome was not too pleased about that either. So just to wrap this up, the conference on climate change, taking place in Glasgow, will continue for a little bit more than a week now. We’ll be anticipating what kinds of statements are going to come out. But right now the protests are the big story and the most interesting story, raising huge issues of worldview implication, as we simply remind ourselves, Christians know the scriptures. We know that we as human beings made in God’s image are assigned a responsibility of both dominion and stewardship. And those truths remind us that human beings are not a blight upon the planet.

The planet was made for human habitation and that reflects God’s glory. The human beings are given that responsibility of dominion. We are to use the world and to exercise the imago Dei in order to, for example, clear a field, plant a crop, and enjoy the produce of that crop. That is a sign of God’s glory and pleasure. We’re also to exercise a stewardship. Even as Jesus described in his parable, we are to understand that we’re given a vineyard, our responsibility is to use the vineyard, but also to return the vineyard to the vineyard owner, in this case, the Creator. We are to be able to give an answer for creation that we tended it well.

Part II

The Secular Worldview Asserts Itself: What Explains the Rapid Acceptance of Assisted Suicide in the West?

But next we’re going to shift our concern to another issue confronting Western civilization. And this one is the issue of assisted dying or assisted suicide, also the larger issue of euthanasia. Because The Economist, perhaps the most respected journal published in Europe, just in recent days, ran an article with a headline, “In the West, Assisted Dying is Rapidly Becoming Legal and Accepted.” Now this particular article in The Economist, demonstrates again, why that particular periodical is so important and often authoritative. It really does look deeply into issues and it also looks with remarkable honesty. The article on Death on Demand raises the issue of the hard questions that are now coming to the fore with increased societal pressure for a demand for assisted suicide. The article tells us that public demand for physician assisted suicide, and for that matter, you can leave the physician out. Just assisted suicide is going to the extent that in the year 2002, 60% of Spaniard’s polls said they agreed with assisted suicide in some form. Now that’s 71% in 2019. That’s 17 years, a significant increase.

Now, we as Christians looking at this, we look at the whole idea of the concept of euthanasia. That’s a Greek word, that means good death. It’s something that has a very long history because even the ancient Greeks talked about the ideal of a good death. But what we’re talking about now as a movement called euthanasia, is the demand being made by society’s increasingly committed to the idea of personal autonomy that we have the right to decide how we are willing to die. And we will set our own criteria for the death that we will find acceptable. Increasingly, and this article’s very honest about this, the grounds for the demand of a good death are now going far beyond how assisted suicide or euthanasia were sold at first to the public. As in people who have an incurable terminal disease and an imminent expectation of death, to the point that now many countries are offering a psychiatric or psychological diagnosis as sufficient to enable the legal application of assisted suicide with people saying, “Look, it’s not that there is any terminal disease, there could be just the presence of depression.”

This article in The Economist reflects the recognition that there are serious moral issues at stake. We are told, “After years of struggle, activists and politicians have found ways through or around reluctant legislators, the right to die has been ticked through American ballot boxes, squeezed through Australian legislatures, and gaveled through Canadian and European courts.”

Proponents, says The Economist, “Are using public consultations, campaigns and petitions to demonstrate public support. And growing evidence from countries with assisted dying laws has undermined fears it will become easy to kill granny.” The changes, they say, “Are snowballing as advocates in one country learn from their counterparts elsewhere.” But as the article goes on, we are told that even as 30 years ago, assisted dying was illegal everywhere but in the nation of Switzerland. The situation began to change in the United States, in Oregon, which legalized what was called Death with Dignity, in the year 1997. Now you’re looking at all this and you recognize one domino falls after another. And one of the things we need to recognize and understand very clearly, is that voluntary euthanasia very quickly turns into involuntary euthanasia. And there is one particular case reported here in The Economist that makes that point abundantly clear.

A right to die quickly gets translated into a duty to die. And even in some of the European countries where assisted suicide and euthanasia are now basically seen as part of the moral landscape, the reality is that the moral conversation shifts from, what are we going to do in this situation to how much will it cost. And perhaps it would be better for some of the aged and the sick or those who are simply declared to be not so productive to simply pass from the scene. We’re talking about a very ominous moral logic here.

The other thing we need to recognize is that even as voluntary euthanasia very quickly gets transformed into involuntary euthanasia, a right to die gets translated into a duty to die. The other thing we need to recognize is that the distinction between active euthanasia and passive euthanasia also begins to fade from the scene. That’s made very clear when you come to understand that some of the people who are now dying by means of so-called assisted suicide, they are being held in place, and their lives are ended, even if they have not expressed recently, any desire for assisted suicide. And when it comes to the grounds for the application of assisted suicide, we’ve seen that it has shifted from this diagnosis of a terminal incurable illness with an imminent expectation of death to now something that’s psychological. One other thing we simply need to note is the extension in some countries, including the Netherlands and Belgium, of euthanasia or assisted suicide, being extended from the adult lifespan into adolescents and even children.

But as you’re thinking about this particular article in The Economist, it is the psychiatric or psychological dimension that perhaps will gain the greatest attention. Mona Gupta, identified as a psychiatrist and bioethicist in Quebec, says that you’re looking at the mental health community, seeing depictions of mental illness that simply don’t affirm just how anguished some people are, thus justifying their demand for or desire for assisted suicide. The Economist makes the interesting observation in their report, that in the year 2020, in the Netherlands, “Only 88 people with mental illnesses had their request for help approved by a specialist euthanasia clinic.” Just consider that. Only 88? What kind of world are we living in, in which that number 88 becomes only 88? The issue of voluntary euthanasia, again, passive versus active euthanasia, all that becomes very clear in this one paragraph from the article, “The choice to die is often murkiest for those with dementia.”

In 2016, a Dutch woman with severe Alzheimer’s awoke during her euthanasia, and as she struggled, her family had to hold her down. Before dementia overcame her, she had made a written request for euthanasia, and the doctor prioritized that choice. In 2020, after the doctor was cleared of wrongdoing, the Supreme Court that is there in the Netherlands, “Clarified that doctors cannot be prosecuted for carrying out euthanasia on patients with advanced dementia, even if they no longer express an explicit wish to die.” We’re then told, the Netherlands averages around two such cases each year. Now just notice something. If that’s true, for those who now are diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, it will eventually be a logic that will inexorably be applied to others.

In worldview perspective, one thing we just need to keep in mind, this is so basic, is that life is God’s gift. And we as human beings made in God’s image, do not get to define nor to arbitrarily determine our own lifespan. Not one of us gets to decide when we are born, if we are born, to whom we are born, where we are born. That is God’s sovereign determination. But if God is sovereign in the beginning of life, the Christian worldview also affirms that he is sovereign throughout every moment of life. And even as the scripture makes clear, He chooses the time of our death, not we ourselves. That is not given to us. Only a society that is increasingly secularized to the point that personal autonomy and autonomous individualism become the idols of the age. Only in such a society can these arguments be taken seriously. But make no mistake, they are taken seriously.

Part III

What the Commissioning of Just One Navy Ship Tells Us About the Seismic Shift In the Morality Of Our Nation

But finally, as we think about moral change and what’s taking place in our society, sometimes a small story carries a big message. USA Today, just yesterday, published an article with a headline, “Navy Christens Ship Named after Gay-Rights Activist, Milk.” That would be Harvey Milk, a San Francisco supervisor, who was assassinated. He was clearly very open in his gay identity. That was the word that was used then. He was also a Navy veteran, and at least some of his relatives said that it was because of the policies of the Navy related to sexuality and sexual identity, that he had to retire from the Navy. It’s a ship that will be primarily a support ship, carrying fuel, a very essential mission for the Navy. The interesting thing is, and trust me, this is really interesting. The Navy orchestrated the entire event in order to make a very clear moral statement. You could call this the Navy department’s virtue signaling. They chose another veteran of the Navy. In this case, a transgender woman. That’s how the individual is identified to undertake the christening of the vessel.

That individual was identified as Paula Nira, “Clinical Program Director for the Johns Hopkins Center for Transgender Health, who according to USA Today, smashed a bottle of champagne on the ship’s bell before the launch this past Saturday into San Diego Bay.” It’s a relatively small news story on one of the interior printed pages of USA Today. This is not an earth shaking headline that’s going to be noticed all over the world, but we should notice it, most importantly for what it says about a vast shift, a vast seismic shift in the moral landscape of an entire civilization, from a situation in which a story like this simply wouldn’t make sense to a situation now in which a story like this, pun intended, doesn’t really even make waves.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’m speaking to you from Washington DC, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow, for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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