The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, March 1, 2023

It’s Wednesday, March 1st, 2023.

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

Part I

How Did Roald Dahl End Up on the Wrong Side of Published History?: The Velocity and the Comprehensiveness of the Moral Revolution

I think we all understand we’re living in a time of pretty comprehensive moral change. From time to time we talk about the comprehensiveness, that is to say the breadth of that change, but sometimes we need to think about the velocity of that change, the speed of the cultural and moral change taking place.

And one of the things you note in terms of both comprehensiveness and speed is that literature is quickly out of date, quickly out of style, and quickly out of favor, and that’s exactly what you see with the British children’s author, Roald Dahl. His books are now being rewritten. There was an outcry and the publisher has since said, at least the English language publisher, that it’s now going to release two different editions of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s books, and that would include both the rewritten books and the ones that are at least pretty close to being the originals.

Now what are we talking about here? Well, we’re talking about a figure in children’s literature who’s pretty much iconic, Roald Dahl. We’re talking about someone who wrote books that sold by the thousands. No, by the millions, something like 300 million books. Dahl, a very prominent figure on the British literary scene was the author of children’s classics such as Matilda, that was 1988. Also Cloud Men. James and The Giant Peach really put him on the scene in 1961. And of course there were many other books as well. Remember that number by the way, 300 million copies sold worldwide. And so what that tells you is that these books have worked their way into the childhood experiences of many children, and those are now both young adults and older adults who came to age and came to a literary imagination by Roald Dahl’s books.

Now, I was not one of the children who was greatly affected by these books, nor were those who were quite close to me as children, but nonetheless, these are now a part of the vernacular of the English language cultural conversation, especially when it comes to children’s literature. And by the rights to translation, Dahl’s books have been published in many different languages and those international sales and foreign language editions also contribute to that massive 300 million books sold number.

But what happened to Roald Dahl? How did he find himself on the wrong side of say, publishing history? Well, here’s where we see that the comprehensiveness of the moral revolution means that nothing can be unchanged, nothing can be left as it is, not if it contains some kind of moral message, and that means almost everything. That’s why the word comprehensive is well comprehensive. And as you think about that, you recognize that children’s literature and books for children and young people, they’re going to show up actually pretty high on the list of priorities for the very same reason by the way that the educational context and content of what’s directed to children and young people, that’s also extremely high on the list.

But when you’re talking about Roald Dahl, you’re talking about someone who really himself came to adulthood in the first half of the 20th century and in the early first half. Someone who was shaped by all the Titanic changes that transformed Western civilization in particular during that time and English society in particular. Now, what may Roald Dahl’s books interesting, and for that matter vastly interesting, was the fact that there’s a certain childish irreverence to them, and it’s not only the titles, but it’s the content, it’s the characters, it’s the discourse, it’s the descriptions. All of this is not exactly what you might intend to find or expect to find in, say Victorian children’s literature, but then again, before you congratulate the moderns on being so much different than those who came before, if you look to the Victorian era, you will also find some rather dark and realistic literature, but for the most part, just not for the children.

Just to get the story going, let’s go back just a couple of weeks ago to the original news story and it appeared in news sources such as the Wall Street Journal. Here’s the journal’s original story, “The British publisher of Roald Dahl’s, Charlie in the Chocolate Factory and other children’s books has made hundreds of changes to their texts altering passages that refer to body weight, race, and gender to make them more acceptable to contemporary readers. The modifications drew criticism from Britain’s conservative government as well as some high profile authors and free speech advocates.”

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak spokesman said that, “You could not gobble funk around with the words using a word coined by Mr. Dahl and that was used in his book BFG, that roughly means to tinker.”

What kind of changes are actually represented in all of this? Well, there is a vast number of changes by the way, and they show up pretty quickly. For example, the gluttonous boy named Augustus Gloop in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Well, he is no longer enormously fat. He is now simply enormous, but that’s a change that’s simply almost microscopic compared to some of the other changes in Roald Dahl’s texts. The cloud men in James and the Giant Peach, well, they’re now just the cloud people because you just can’t have that kind of gender-specific reference anymore. The giants in another book no longer eat “men, women, and children” because you can’t be that specific anymore, instead they merely eat people.

Now before going to some of the more ideologically laden changes, just notice that the gender revolutionaries are now saying it is exclusive to use categories such as men, women, boy and girl. Now, we might understand at one point that there could be language in a book like this that would be wildly out of step, and so I’m not going to mention some of these things, but it is now rather non-controversial to at least note that some of the language in a book is very archaic.

Now, let me just give you an example. You used the word queer these days and it refers to a very self-conscious LGBTQ identity. But just a matter of decades ago, the word queer used in a book for children or adults merely meant strange. And so if you had a character in some form of literature who was described as acting queer, well, you do the math, we might all agree that doesn’t particularly communicate well in the modern age, but do you change the book or do you explain the language? That’s a huge issue and what you see is the fact that you have publishers who are rushing to try to update classic works of literature in order to avoid triggering.

That’s one of the words of the new therapeutic ideology of the self in which you simply say, Look, this language is so morally problematic. We’re either going to have to tell you in advance so you can decide to leave the room before we read such a book or you just have to take responsibility for the fact that there might be some form of triggering by what’s mentioned in the book.” And these days that can mean almost anything. I heard recently of a triggering warning that was issued simply because there might be people who did not come from intact families and thus reading about an intact family might trigger.

Now, as you look at that, you recognize there’s no end to it, which is actually the point. We all understand the need for sensitivity genuinely and respectfully applied, but at the same time, we are talking about the demolition of an entire project here, otherwise known as civilization. We’re talking about making language just about unusable. It is really interesting to note that this is not exactly a left to right liberal conservative issue in the United States. The ideology is undoubtedly, unquestionably coming from the left, but some on the left don’t like this kind of literary cleansing at all.

Just consider Salman Rushdi. Now there you have a figure who himself has been quite controversial and by the way, barely survived a fairly recent assassination attempt and he was under of course, a death threat or a fatwa from the Ayatollah in Iran for a matter of decades. Here is someone who knows the power of words and indeed the danger of words, but he thinks it’s more dangerous to take a work of literature such as the body of children’s books by Roald Dahl and rewrite them in such a way that Roald Dahl would now not recognize those books. The statement from Salman Rushdi was pretty straightforward, “Roald Dahl was no angel, but this is absurd censorship. Puffin Books and the Dahl Estate should be ashamed.”

The streaming video company, Netflix is at least partially in ownership of the Roald Dahl Collection, and it was involved in this project as was Puffin Books. Other publishers were also involved, and as the journal reports, “In the latest editions of the book’s Penguin Random House says in a note on the copyright page, ‘Words matter.’ The wonderful words of Roald Dahl can transport you to different worlds and introduce you to the most marvelous characters. This book was written many years ago, and so we regularly review the language to ensure that it can continue to be enjoyed by all today.”

Now just notice that as that statement begins, it is emphatically, unquestionably accurate. The Christian worldview would affirm the first two words which constitute a sentence, we would affirm those two words emphatically. Words of course do matter. They matter fundamentally, but we also need to note that as that statement continues, it goes way off the tracks because it lays down a principle that has absolutely no logical conclusion.

You could rewrite anything at any time, and here’s the moral issue. It’s not just changing the text, it’s presenting the text in printed form and leaving the author’s name on it with the author long dead and uninvolved in the changes made to his or her texts. Now, from a worldview perspective that turns out to be important because we understand that human beings write books. Let’s just put in a footnote here, if artificial intelligence does we’ll deal with that another date.

Right now we’re just dealing with children’s literature in particular written by human beings, and in this case by someone now long dead. How in the world do you change the text without the author being involved? When someone reads one of these books now they have no access to the book as it was originally written and put into shape by the author. The author’s name is on the front cover of the book and you are told that this is Roald Dahl’s story, but as it turns out, it’s not exactly what he wrote.

Another author Nilanjana Roy pointed out that there’s a huge moral issue here, which is corporations making changes to texts that they own in terms of legal rights without the involvement of the author whatsoever. I think the writer, Nilanjana Roy, writing in the Financial Times from London, got the moral case right when she said the right way to deal with this might be to put it in a statement where you warn readers that what’s following was written in some bygone age and might include rather unexpected language or even uncomfortable language, but nonetheless, it was the author’s language. And then she makes the point that if books no longer serve a purpose, let them go out of print, don’t change them. If indeed a book becomes now on the wrong side of history by current judgment, then people just won’t buy it anymore and it’ll go out of print and go out of circulation and it won’t matter.

That’s an honest way to deal with such things, and it deals honestly with the importance of words. Again, the beginning of that statement, words matter. Now, before I leave this story, I have to say that the publisher has announced that it’s now going to put out two different lines of Roald Dahl’s books. It’s going to put out the original edition or at least something very, very close to the original, and then it’s going to put out this newly revised rather ideologically cleansed edition. Now, what will that mean for children going forward? Well, time will tell. It’s going to be interesting to see how many parents, regardless of where they fit on the ideological spectrum, who decide that they want the new and updated, we won’t say new and improved Roald Dahl. Now, Roald Dahl, by the way, just raises another issue as we’re thinking about authors and texts.

From what I can tell, he was a fairly repulsive person. Philip Pullman himself, one of the most controversial authors of recent years simply said about this controversy, “If Dahl offends us, let him go out of print.” I raised this because that affirmation that words matter is something absolutely central to the Christian worldview. And we also understand that the issues of publication and language translation and all the rest, they have a great deal to do very directly with the holy scriptures, with how the Bible is translated into English and some of the controversies about additions of the Scripture, translations of the Bible that have been mourned in some cases less faithful to the biblical text. Let me just state it another way. The biblical text, the infallible word of God, cannot be cleaned up to meet the expectations of the kind of people who are re-editing Roald Dahl.

If they didn’t like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, what in the world are they going to do with the Old Testament? But there is also this reminder of what it means to live in one of these times of comprehensive moral change at high velocity. Someone who’s extremely popular in the mainstream can be found on the wrong side of history in just the snap of fingers these days. And when it comes to Roald Dahl, the interesting thing, perhaps even more interesting than the controversy about Roald Dahl himself, are the figures who even from the left are speaking up saying, “You just don’t have the right to edit works this way.” But given the trajectory of modern publishing and political correctness, they are likely themselves to be found rather quickly on the wrong side of history. That’s the velocity part.

Part II

‘Power Corrupts, and Absolute Power Corrupts Absolutely’: The Christian Worldview Impetus for Limiting the Power of the Government

Now, as I said over the last two days, I’m speaking to you from the state of California, glad to be here, always an interesting place to visit, and as you’re doing cultural observation here, as you’re doing political and moral analysis, well, you are a ground zero for so many of the big changes that take place in American society. Also, many of the big controversies.

Now, one of the interesting headlines that ran in yesterday’s papers in the media here in California was the fact that Gavin Newsom, the state’s very liberal Democratic governor, has announced that he is going to end the State of Emergency declaration for COVID-19 that he himself declared almost three years ago, indeed within a matter of days three years ago. So for three years, the Governor of California, who is no stranger to grabbing as much power as he can, he grabbed an awful lot of power under the constitutional measure of declaring a state emergency. And by the way, it wasn’t just Gavin Newsom, an emergency was declared at the federal level as well.

And just over the course of the last couple of weeks, president Joe Biden has announced that that particular COVID-19 emergency, and with the federal response, it was actually two emergencies, one, a national emergency, another one which came down to a public health emergency. They’re going to expire in May, indeed on May the 11th. That’s more than three years after the process began.

Now, just to state the obvious, the vast majority of Americans, and that includes the vast majority of Californians have moved far beyond COVID-19, but not the President and not the Governor until now, and basically because they had run out of political plausibility for operating with all these expensive powers under the declaration of some form of emergency connected to COVID-19. Now, one of the things we’re going to look at this week is that at the federal level, one of the things we saw President Biden do was to try to put together an overreaching exercise of executive authority claiming this national emergency under a provision for veterans in order to basically forgive billions upon billions of dollars of student debt undertaken by Americans and basically fulfilling a pledge that he had made in the campaign.

COVID-19 was rather convenient for the President in that respect, but nonetheless, it was a blatant exercise of executive power that is, I believe, beyond the statute, and even if it had met the statute, which I don’t believe it does, it’s just not consistent with our form of constitutional government. When it came to California’s Governor, Gavin Newsom, well, he basically made even the President of the United States look like a rank amateur in the exercise of such power.

And by the way, one of the things we need to know, this is very important from the Christian worldview, is that as Lord Acton famously said, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” One of the most famous statements in English speaking political history. Lord Acton was absolutely right about the inherent dangers of absolute power. When you look at these national and state level emergencies, we understand there is a plausibility for the existence of these provisions.

There could be, and indeed it could be argued that COVID-19 for some period of time did constitute a legitimate emergency. Now, all kinds of things to review there. What did the government know and when did the government know it, both at the state and federal levels? But you have to wonder about just how serious some of the exercise of this power was when you consider the hypocrisy that was, well, just to borrow an expression, baked into the cake, Gavin Newsom had a shutdown order, and yet he was found in a very famous restaurant with friends eating out mask less at what was known as The French Laundry. The Los Angeles Times in reporting on this also told us, “Critics seized on the fact that Newsom’s children were attending classes at a private school while millions of California public school children were forced into distance learning programs from home.”

This led to a recall campaign and then to a recall election. Newsom won the recall election, but nonetheless, he did so as the state’s chief hypocrite when it came to the COVID-19 pandemic in many policies because he’s the one who made the policies, claimed the executive power, and then violated some of the very policies, both in terms of the text and the effect that he had put into place. In Britain, similar controversy over this kind of hypocrisy, but in the case of Britain, it was their then Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was the center of the controversy.

And by the way, if Boris Johnson is going to be in a controversy, he’s going to be in the center of it. It’s just good for Christians to remember that limitations upon political power are not mere political contrivances. They’re not just constitutional niceties. They are based in the Christian worldview because the Christian worldview explains why Lord Actin’s famous maxim, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely,” why it’s absolutely true, and it’s because of sin.

It’s not just because of misbehavior. It’s not just because of power. It’s not just because of the restraint or lack of restraint of the law. The law and the constitution are in place because when human sinfulness is concentrated in inordinate and unrestrained human power, well, you simply understand this from history, you might understand it from a situation very close to you. That’s a very toxic mix, and the end result is what in one form or another amounts to tyranny. This is one of the reasons why modern exercises and democratic self-government and constitutionalism emerged from civilization’s shaped by Christianity and by the Christian understanding of both human dignity and the power of sin. The danger of concentrating opportunity for sin among too few without significant constitutional barriers to the expansion and self-aggrandizement of that power and constitutional checks and balances on that power.

By the way, no constitution can prevent tyranny. It can’t prevent the expansion and concentration of sin, but it is an instrument to assist a people serious about such limitation on accomplishing what they set out to do. No constitutional order is without sin, but it lasts as a constitutional order if and only if it takes sin seriously.

Part III

Attorneys General Duel Over Abortion: Important Court Cases Force States to Rule on Issue of Abortion by Pill

Finally, today, as we understand the depth and breadth of the moral challenges we face, just considering the urgent issue of abortion once again because it’s in the headlines just about every day, and in this case once again in a big way because the Democratic attorney generals of several states, the states of Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Delaware, Arizona, Illinois, Connecticut, Colorado, Vermont, New Mexico, Michigan, and Rhode Island have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Washington claiming that there is a constitutional right by women or by pregnant people of course as the updated non-binary language demands, we’re not playing along with that, but let’s notice that that’s where the society is going.

These democratic attorneys general have gone to court in order to try to prevent any limitation by federal law or by the judgment of another federal judge on the right, as they would style it, of women to access the abortion pill or abortion pills as it may be. In any case, it is an effort to try to counter what is expected in a case currently before a federal judge in Texas, which does question and challenge the right of states to allow the distribution of the abortion pill, contravening laws that would prevent abortion and protect the unborn.

There’s more to it than that, but the bottom line is that the cultural cleavage in our country now comes down to the attorneys general of the various states. You have attorneys general, unconservative red states, pro-life states who are going to court to try to make it less possible for abortion to continue to expand by so-called medical abortion by pill.

You have others who are trying to preempt that move by going to the federal courts to try to get a sympathetic court in their case to rule that a woman has some kind of constitutional right for access to a medication abortion. All of this underlines what’s at stake because what we are talking about here is after all abortion, the intentional termination of a pregnancy, the ending of a human life.

And yet as you’re looking at this, you recognize we are in a society in which these issues are comprehensive, yes, but also unfolding at such high velocity that you could have a major development on the abortion front now that could erupt within one day and be of national consequence. That’s why we have to watch these issues very, very closely. By the way, embedded within some of the media reports about these dueling courts and dueling lawsuits, and in one case, dueling attorneys general.

Another thing you need to recognize is the number 54 because this tells us that at present, 54% of all abortions in the United States come by a pill. This was the great liberal dream of decades past. It’s the current moral nightmare we face, already 54%.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

One of my favorite days on the calendar’s preview day at Southern Seminary. That’s when we have students, perspective students, those who believe or are wondering if they’ve been called by God to Christian ministry, when they are invited to the campus, they get to meet our faculty. They come to know our programs. They come to find out just how serious we are about training the next generation of pastors and ministers for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, we have a Southern Seminary preview day coming up on April the 21st. That’s Friday, April 21, and I just want to invite you to come if you fit that category.

If you’re wondering if God has called you to ministry, if you’re looking for a serious, faithful, biblical, theological education, if you are a young man, you feel you’ve been called to preach. If you are a young man or young woman called to the mission field and to fields of service, this is when you are invited to come. I will be there. Look forward to meeting you on Southern Seminaries Preview Day. The website is simply, and listeners to The Briefing can sign up for the event for free. You’re going to need the code, The Briefing. I think you can remember that.

I’ll look forward to seeing you at Southern Seminary Preview Day on April the 21st. For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter, I go to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

I’m speaking to you from Orange County, California, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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