The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, November 15, 2021

It’s Monday, November 15th, 2021.

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

Part I

China Adopts Party-Approved History to Heroize Its Leader and Establish Supremacy of “Xi Jinping Thought.” Guess What? The New History Says He Is a Genius

If you control history, you control politics, you control the worldview. You just might control the present and the future. That’s the hope of the Chinese Communist Party with a new version of its official history of the Chinese communist revolution in the last several decades. And there is no mistaking the fact that the Chinese Communist Party comes out as the hero of the story, but the greatest hero of all is not only Mao Zedong, the communist revolutionary, who led the communist revolution going back to 1949, but it also shows the current communist leader, the head of the communist party and the current president of China, Xi Jinping as being very much the hero of the story.

The best headline is that offered by the New York Times, “To steer China’s future, Xi rewrites history.” He comes off well. Well, indeed he does come off well, and that’s the whole point. It is a false history. It is a history that is intended all of a sudden, as newly constructed to serve the interest of a totalitarian regime. Now, just think for a moment about recent controversies in the United States about history. And even as you’re looking at a story like this, you recognize that history is always controversial in some sense.

Someone writes the history, someone is saying what happened. Someone is offering at least some explanation for the meaning of these things. But even as you’re looking at some of the controversies in the United States in the United States, primarily the argument is over what actually happened and how we are to know it. Now, critical theory, entering the picture, denies the very eye idea of objectivity. It suggests that objectivity as an intellectual principle, a focus on facts, objective facts that can be ascertained that that’s actually a service to the powerful regime. That is a discriminatory regime.

That’s the basic approach of critical theory to the powers that be, and in the United States, that would mean the United States government, our history, constitution, et cetera. But in the main, most Americans understand history to be at least in its goal, a retelling of the past as it actually happened. And we understand there are various perspectives to be brought. It matters whether you’re on the winning side or the losing side of an argument in terms of how you understand that history.

But Christians understand that at the center of it all is a set of historical facts. What did and did not happen. The correct sequence in understanding them. You can argue causality. You can argue historical consequence, but we should not have to argue about the reality of facts, of space, time, history, facts. By this new history of China undertaken by the Chinese Communist Party now as a matter of its party ideology, isn’t about facts. It’s actually about rewriting the story in order to perpetuate the heroic stature of the Chinese Communist Party within the country.

It allows no variant history. It allows no alternative history. It’s not really concerned with facts, it’s all interpretation. And that interpretation is all about serving the ideology of the totalitarian government. And that’s a sign of a totalitarian government. It has to control everything. It has a party approved official history.

Now, just a matter of a few days ago, I was speaking in Florida and a man came up to me who had been a teenager during the time of the communist revolution. He was in that country. He was in at schools and he said, one of the first thing he noted was how the official history changed immediately. This new history, as he explained, and this was the first thing he noticed, argue that it wasn’t Alexander Graham Bell who invented the telephone, rather it was a premier Soviet scientist.

Now, let’s just state the obvious. That’s not true. But the communist revolutionaries in Cuba had to make the Chinese Communist Party, the hero of every story, the ultimate realization of a human utopia, breaking dawn. So what you’re looking at there is the official history. Now, the Soviets were masters of this. Now, let’s be clear. They were clumsy masters. They sought to rewrite history continuously. And that meant whichever dictator was in charge got to tell the history.

When Stalin was in charge, he told the glorious history of Stalin. When Nikita Khrushchev famously became the successor to Stalin, he held a meeting of the Soviet leadership in which he revealed the evil of Joseph Stalin. But at least part of that was not just to exercise the ghost of Joseph Stalin, one of the most terrifying leaders in all of human history, but to make Nikita Khrushchev look better by comparison.

The Soviets were clumsy in other ways. There were people who were in and out of favor with the communist party, and that meant that they were… Well, there’s no other way to put it. In and out of photographs. Very crudely in and out of photographs. This is before Photoshop. This is before digital technology. The only way to take someone out of a photograph was to use an X-Acto knife and cut them out. But in my favorite picture from the Soviet encyclopedia, and I saw this when I was in high school, once you see it, you can’t forget it, there is a shaking of hands of a group of Soviet leaders, but there are more hands than people. Someone cut out the person, but they couldn’t cut out the intertwined hands.

Those hands cut off from the person reflected the fact someone is missing from this story out of favor with the party. As Chris Buckley reported for the Times, “The glowing image of China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, greets visitors to museum exhibition celebrating the country’s decades of growth. Communist party biographers have worshipful chronicled his rise, though he has given hint of retiring. The party’s newest official history devotes over a quarter of its 531 pages to his nine years in power.”

The next sentence, “No Chinese leader in recent times has been more fixated than Mr. Xi on history and his place in it. And as he approaches a crucial juncture in his rule that preoccupation with the past is now central to his political agenda.” Well, last week, the Chinese Communist Party, no surprise here met and adopted this new official history. And there are basically three great heroes. Mao Zedong, the original communis revolutionary, who was the victor in that revolutionary battle that brought the Chinese Communist Party to power in 1949.

Then after that, Deng Xiaoping, the leader during the time of the middle decades of the communist revolutionary era, and he led disciplines in the party and an outgrowth that led to China’s expansive economy, then Xi Jinping. Just the nine years he has been in power, he has projected his own idea of China as the most dominant culture in the world. That’s his point. And the Chinese Communist Party is counting upon the nationalist ambitions of the Chinese people to mean that they will fall right in line with this new history and see Xi Jinping as the man of destiny.

There have actually been only three official versions of history. Every one of them to serve one of the dictators. The first was for Mao Zedong. The second was for Deng Xiaoping and now Xi Jinping. And we have to face the fact that this means not only a new history, it means Xi Jinping is setting himself up to be the equivalent of dictator for life.

Now, we have seen the very same pattern, although in what you might describe as a post-communist totalitarian regime when it comes to Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia. He has also set himself up as basically a dictator for life. This gets to one of the basic rules about being this kind of dictator. At some point, you make so many enemies, you had better be dictator for life. Otherwise, if you try to retire, you’re going to discover that you are devoured by your own successor, or even by your party. Once you’re out of power, you are a danger to those who are now in power.

Kevin Rudd, the former prime minister of Australia, he’s currently the global president of the Asia society in a very insightful article published in the Wall Street Journal, entitled Xi Jinping Thought’ Makes China a Tougher Adversary. He talks about the language used in this kind of historical resolution. He writes, “There have only been three such resolutions in the party’s 100-year history, and there are always major epoch defining events. With this resolution, the party has elevated, Mr. Xi and ‘Xi Jinping thought’,” that’s put in quotation marks like Mao, “to a status that puts them beyond critique. Because both are now entrenched as objective historical truth to criticize Mr. Xi is to attack the party and even China itself. Mr. Xi,” he writes, “has rendered himself politic untouchable.”

Now, this is to also state that there is probably no more dangerous place to be on Planet Earth than believing yourself to be the head of a totalitarian regime in which you have rendered yourself politically untouchable. History is filled with autocrats, totalitarian leaders who thought they were untouchable, who got, well, touched. The language is very similar, the kinds of claims that were made about Mao. For example, the leadership Xi Jinping is described as being of decisive significance.

Now, as former prime minister Rudd points out, that is a particularly crucial phrase for China. He writes, “The plenum communiqué is replete with praise for Mr. Xi’s leadership demonstrating a cult to personality that would’ve been political anathema under Deng Xiaoping.” He then summarizes the bottom line, “Internal disagreement won’t be tolerated as Mr. Xi campaigns to be reappointed effectively as leader for life at the party congress next fall.”

Now, if your country or your communist party is going to adopt an official history that makes you the hero, there has to be a language for it. The resolution says that Xi Jinping thought is “the Marxism of contemporary China and for the 21st century.” He is credited with “a new breakthrough in adapting Marxism that plays a guiding role for the new era.”

But whatever ideology Xi Jinping thought turns out to be, Mr. Rudd is exactly right. “Most important Xi Jinping thought is a malleable ideological tool to legitimize whatever political course Mr. Xi deems necessary the future.” But there’s something else going on here that ought to have our retention rightly. so many headlines are about the newly aggressive, newly assertive China trying to present itself and project itself as the dominant power.

But there’s something else here, and this has to do with Marxism because even as the Chinese Communist Party has adapted Marxism to its own purposes, the basic Marxism shines through. The Marxist idea that this kind of unfolding communist revolution will bring about a new utopia and will eventually win the great argument of the world.

Gideon Rachman, columnist for the Financial Times summarizes this well: “The Chinese media portray the west and the United States in particular is in inexorable decline. The Chinese government believes that the country is well ahead in some key technologies of the future, such as green tech and artificial intelligence. Beijing may believe that the world now needs China more than China needs the world.”

But as we conclude this section of The Briefing today, and we think about the clash of worldviews globally, and we understand the enduring clash between Western constitutional democratic understandings of freedom and totalitarianism especially is seen in the classical form of Marxist communism, it’s dialectical materialism, here, we have to understand that this battle of ideas continues. There were those who believed at the end of the 1980s in the beginning of the 1990s that the ideological battle had been won by freedom, and liberty, and democracy, not by totalitarian regimes.

But the persistence of these kinds of regimes in the People’s Republic of China and in North Korea, and the transformation of a formally communist regime into just a different form of strong man autocracy in Russia, these remind us that the arguments continue, if anything, with greater stakes now than in the past. And Christians understand that as you’re looking at the danger of totalitarian government in any form, and as you’re looking at the ideological challenge of Marxism, which at its very heart denies God, then you’re looking at the fact that these worldviews carry not only temporal, but eternal significance.

Part II

History Always Has A Reckoning: F.W. de Klerk, Last South African Apartheid President, Dies At 85

But next we shift to another international headline, and this one is in the form of an obituary that means a lot more than just an obituary. Frederick Willem de Klerk died just a few days ago at age 85 in Johannesburg, South Africa. F.W. de Klerk was the last white political leader of South Africa. He headed a regime that had been committed to apartheid from the years 1948 until it’s slow and agonizing death in the 1990s.

What was apartheid? Apartheid by the way is an offer counter word. It’s derived from the Dutch language and that has to do with the colonial history, what is now known as South Africa, built the British empire and the Dutch empire had colonial stakes, and what is now known as South Africa. And by the away the Dutch and the British went to war, or at least those who were the Dutch settlers, the Boers went to war with the British empire.

But the bottom line is that the modern nation of South Africa was based upon an ideology of legalized, enforced, strictly applied racism. And it’s the kind of racism that ought to have our attention just to understand how close we are in history because the apartheid regime came to an end during the time of the late 1980s and the early 1990s.

Now, that’s much closer to our own times that many people might understand. We’re looking at the fact that according to the ideology of apartheid, all South Africans were identified by the government as belonging to one of four racial classes. And there were subclasses, but the four racial classes were white, black, colored and Indian. There were different neighborhoods. There were jobs that were open to some and not to others.

But you need to know this entire regime and ideology was the way that a white minority kept itself in power in South Africa, subjugating native South Africans and those who were deemed to be of inferior races. And again, we’re talking about something that is within the lifetime of millions and millions, billions of people around the world right now.

We’re talking about an ideology that finally exhausted itself during the transition from the 1980s to the 1990s. FW de Klerk eventually became the state president of the apartheid regime in South Africa. And a part of how that regime held itself in power was by imprisoning those who opposed it. The most famous of those political prisoners was Nelson Mandela. There was both a national and an international context to this picture.

The national picture had to do with the fact that the South African minority regime could only hold itself in power by brute force. Eventually its ideology, so abhorrent in the beginning became known to all. And by the time that happened, the world had simply externally come to the judgment that the South African apartheid regime had to fall.

There were successive efforts taken in terms of financial sanctions and political isolation. Eventually South Africa could not survive under the situation of that international pressure, and it was on February 2nd, 1990, that state president F.W. de Klerk, the man who died just days ago at age 85, announced to the South African government that Nelson Mandela was to be released from prison after being in prison as a political prisoner for 27 years.

Now after that, things began to move rather quickly. And F.W. de Klerk who intended to remain in office, nonetheless lost his office when there was an opportunity for the vast population of South Africa to choose a new leader. That new leader was none other than Nelson Mandela. And yet at given that transition and the relative lack of political violence during that transition, there was violence, but there was not the use of the South African army, there was an acquiescence of the white minority government eventually to the fact that it would fall.

And the Nobel committee eventually awarded the Nobel Peace Prize dually to F.W. de Klerk and to Nelson Mandela. But even as we’re thinking about this, the first issue is for us to recognize the inherent biblical sinfulness of racism. In this case, it is the biblical sin of preferential treatment. And in this case also, preferential treatment raised to the level of official law and the requirement of the state with its repressive and coercive power.

Now, keep in mind that Jim Crow segregation, as it existed for so long in the United States, particularly in the American south, was an American parallel to South African apartheid, but there is a crucial difference, and that difference shows up in the numbers. When it comes to the South African version of apartheid, it was a minority that was in power.

In the United States, it was a minority that was oppressed. Now, the issue here is that political change came. It came in different ways in both of these societies. But it is really telling that that hold of power, the apartheid government in South Africa went all the way to the late 1980s and the early 1990s. And it fell only after very significant outside international condemnation.

That 1993 Nobel Peace Prize given both the Mandela and to de Klerk recognized that the two men had in some sense cooperated to some extent in the negotiation of the process from the apartheid regime to a new South Africa. But even as the Associated Press report some of de Klerk’s obituary, the statement came from the Mandela Foundation: “De Klerk legacy’s is a big one. It is also an uneven one. Something South Africans are called to reckon with at this moment.”

History always demands some kind of reckoning. The question is, how do we reckon with history? In South Africa, one of the greatest obstacles to understanding FW de Klerk is the fact that he knew that the apartheid regime was over, but he never actually took personal responsibility for the apartheid regime, and for its suppression. It is significant that F.W. de Klerk had recorded a statement to be released by video on the announcement of his death.

And in that statement, he said, “Let me today in the last message repeat. I, without qualification apologize for the pain, and the hurt and the indignity, and the damage to black, brown and Indians in South Africa.” That statement no doubt means a great deal as you’re thinking about the historical reckoning that is happening and will continue to happen in South Africa. But from a Christian perspective, it certainly would meant more had that statement been released while F.W. de Klerk was still alive.

Part III

Hunger In A Fallen World — In the Main, the Problem of Hunger Today Is Moral, Not Material

We’ll turn to domestic issues tomorrow, but we’re going to stay on the international theme with another headline. This one came just yesterday telling us that regional rivalries slow food aid to Afghanistan. The article is by Mujib Mashal. It’s a very important article because it points to something that we really need to think through for a moment. As you are looking at the problem of hunger, we need to recognize that in the main, the great problem of world hunger or for that matter hunger just about anywhere in the world is not because there is an insufficient amount of food.

Thanks to many developments, including the agricultural revolution of the last part of the 20th century, there is not a shortage of food. The problem is not material. The problem is moral and political. It is the fact that there isn’t enough food for many people because it’s not getting to them for one reason or another.

And in this case, that reason has to do with international relations and with conflict between nations including conflict between Pakistan and India. As this article makes very clear, even as Afghanistan under the Taliban is a failed state. And one of the clearest signs that it is a failed state is that it cannot sustain its own people. It can’t feed its own people.

Well, that’s a big story and we’ll be looking more closely at that in time to come. But the big issue right now is that India, which is geographically, not that far away has offered massive food relief to Afghanistan, but it’s not giving to Afghanistan. Why? Because of Pakistan. India’s historic opponent in the area, the conflict between India and Pakistan goes all the way back to the partition that came after the Indian independence in which you had a predominantly Hindu India separated from a predominantly Muslim Pakistan.

Pakistan, one way or another is seen as quite friendly to the Taliban and in some ways as the necessary protector, politically, economically, and in terms of refuge of the Taliban and other Islamic extremist groups.

As Mashal reports, “Even as India struggles to navigate the reality of the new Taliban led Afghanistan, it responded to the United Nation agencies appeal for assistance by preparing 50,000 tons of wheat.” Now, just imagine, that’s a lot of wheat. It might not last a long time to feed the hungry population of Afghanistan, but that’s a big start. 50,000 tons of wheat. But then the Times tells this quote on October the 7th, the Indian government delivered a letter to the Pakistani authorities highlighting the urgency of the matter and requesting help in expeditiously granting transit for wheat and medicine to go by road to Afghanistan. That according to a senior Indian official.

But the Times tells us, “There was no response from Pakistan to India’s request.” Pakistani diplomatic officials acknowledged to the New York Times, the story tells us, “That they had received the request and that they were considering it, but would not comment on how long it could take.” Just another reminder to us of the fact that when you are looking at many of the most intractable human problems, they turn out not to be material problems, but moral and political problems. And that takes us back to one of the central errors of Marxism, and that is the fact that it is built upon a worldview of sheer materialism.

It denies any supernatural reality. It denies theism. It outright denies God. It has talked to outlaw religion, and in particular Christianity. And that was true of the Soviets. It’s certainly true of China when it comes to its repression of all kinds of religious believers these days. Just think of North Korea, where you can lose your life merely for owning a page or a verse of the Bible.

We do face material challenges as human beings. We face flood and hurricane, termites, and tumors, and all the rest, but when it comes to some of the issues that are the greatest enemies of humanity, and right now that includes famine, by and large, the cause of famine is political, not material. And again, that simply points to what Christians must know, and that is the most powerful realities on Earth when it comes to morality, politics, economics, and society, the most powerful realities on Earth are ideas. And the conflict of ideas eventually has everything to do with whether hungry people are fed or not.

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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