The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, August 31, 2023

It’s Thursday, August 31, 2023.

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

Part I

The Biden Administration Intends to Send Dangerous Message to Hostile Regimes: We Will Pay Ransom for Your Hostage Taking

Christians seeking to think faithfully, which is to say, seeking to think Christianly, trying to operate out of the basis of a consistent biblical and Christian worldview, sometimes we come to an understanding that on issue A, there is a right or wrong answer, and we can get to that pretty quickly. On issue B takes us a little more time to get to where we understand what’s right and what’s wrong, what’s true and what’s false. On some issues, Christians have to acknowledge there can be genuine disagreement and sometimes we reach an issue that is just extremely vexing. Even a moral issue can operate this way, but still, there has to be a decision made one way or the other. There has to be some policy determined one way or the other, and that’s going to come with moral consequences one way or the other.

So let’s think about a story right now in the headlines. This is not one of those issues in which you look at it and you can say, “Okay, that’s absolutely right,” or, “That’s absolutely wrong,” but it is absolutely urgent and some decision is going to have to be made, and even when we think that the decision that say the Biden administration is making is wrong, we need to think through why it’s so and what kind of alternative policy could be put in place? I want to start this issue by saying I think the Biden administration is doing the wrong thing. In this case, it’s not about an issue so clear as abortion or say same-sex marriage or something like that. It is about whether or not it is morally right and it is politically just to relieve Iran of certain restrictions on $6 billion of its oil funds that have been held because of Iran’s misbehavior to give them access to those funds to secure the release of five hostages in Iran.

You look at that and you say, “Well, if you can rescue those people, if all it takes is for instance freeing up those $6 billion, then what could be wrong with that?” Well, just about everything on reflection is wrong with that, but it’s not an easy thing just to jump to in terms of a conclusion. We need to think about this. For one thing, you have five human beings, and in this case we’re talking about five American citizens in Iran being unjustly held. That’s a moral issue. We understand that every single one of them is made in the image of God. Every single one of them is an American, right now, not in the United States, but in Iran and basically taken hostage in Iran. Iran is holding them hostage for some reason, and you look at this and you recognize, well, if America has some opportunity to free those hostages, then whatever we can do must be right.

So we had to begin by saying it would be a very good thing for these hostages to be released. So what could be wrong with such a deal? Well, that also requires the keeping of a moral ledger, and then things are going to get just even a little more complicated when you ask the question, how did those hostages actually get in Iran? Iran did not take them from the streets of Cincinnati. They were actually in Iran where they were taken hostage. That turns out to be a morally significant issue as well, but let’s look at the policy dimension of this.

Many people looking at this would understand that this is a long, long, long-lasting moral issue. This is a quandary that reaches back into ancient history. The taking of hostages is not a new idea. As a matter of fact, this is as old as the Old Testament for sure, where the children of Israel were invaded and sometimes subjected to very similar kinds of treatment. In an age of instant global communications, all of this can be known by just about anyone, and thus this becomes a political cause writ large across the landscape.

But as you look at this, an argument emerges such as what is offered by columnist Bret Stephens in the New York Times. He ran a piece asking how much is an American hostage worth? And he says, “Well, evidently the answer to that question, according to the Biden administration that’s making this proposal, it has conducted this negotiation with at least authorities related to Iran.” The question is answered, $1.2 billion because you take $6 billion. You look at the five American hostages, that’s $1.2 billion a person. So Bret Stevens asked the question, “How much is an American hostage worth?” And the answer is $1.2 billion.

Well, what would be wrong with letting Iran have access to these funds? Because in one sense they are Iranian funds, but that’s where we have to understand an awful lot of Iranian funds have been confiscated, held and put on hold precisely because Iran is one of the most malevolent and evil countries on earth in terms of its behavior. It is Iran’s radical misbehavior at the cost of the peace of much of the region that has forced many countries that had not wanted to be close to either the United States or Israel to pretty much develop very close relations with both the United States and Israel because the United States and Israel both are crucial to checking Iran’s evil plans. There’s no other way to put it. They’re evil intentions throughout the region.

Saudi Arabia is scared of Iran, the United Arab Emirates is scared of Iran, and you have other nations that are experiencing the very same reality politics, understanding that they need help to counter Iran. If Iran has those $6 billion, it will continue to do what Iran does and it’s going to use that money for malevolent purposes. Thus, it raises the moral question, is it right to somehow offer an exchange where an evil regime gives us hostages and then we give them access to $6 billion?

Now, the Biden administration here is a bit dishonest because it’s coming back and saying, “That’s Iran’s money and we’re going to go through a third party nation to supervise this to make sure that this money isn’t used for evil purposes.” Well, that’s a huge moral evasion and that requires a vocabulary lesson. Many of you know this word already, but the vocabulary word is fungible. Fungible is a financial term that means this money can actually be used in just about any way.

Another way to put it is this, if indeed you have say $6 billion that is being withheld from you and you have $6 billion in the bank, you have a total of $12 billion. If someone says, “We’re going to give you access to this $6 billion, but you can’t use it to buy a house,” well, that all of a sudden means you got $6 billion in this other account to use to buy the house. In other words, any way you look at it, this funds Iran doing Iran’s things, and those are very dangerous things in world affairs.

Bret Stephens explains it this way, “Every dollar the Iranian regime doesn’t spend on basics can be used for other regime priorities like buying surveillance technology from China, torturing women funding terrorist proxies and attacking American service members.” He then asked the question, “How much will Americans have to spend to help defend Ukrainian airspace after the Iranian-made kamikaze drones that Russia is using to attack civilians in Kharkiv or Kyiv?”

But then Brett Stephens actually points to another larger moral issue that’s behind this. He writes, “Iran’s leaders have learned that an excellent way to erode American sanctions is to take more hostages. They’ve also learned to treat $1.2 billion as the baseline price for their eventual release.” Noah Rothman, writing in the magazine National Review, points to the fact that the US government in general, but specifically the Biden administration, has already made the situation globally more dangerous for Americans abroad by playing this game with others, including the basketball star, Brittany Griner. As Noah Rothman writes, the lesson learned by the Kremlin was this, “For the low, low price of taking one athlete hostage, Russia won the release of arms dealer and convicted hitman Viktor Bout.” “Now,” he says, “The Biden administration is reportedly scouring the West for infamous Russians it can trade for a Wall Street Journal reporter, Evan Gershkovich, who is being held in a high security Moscow prison on bogus spying charges.”

Biden, says Rothman, “Wants to show the world that Americans do not leave their own behind.” But he says, “All foreign autocrats see is the concessions they can win by seizing our citizens.” Another observer looking at this situation says here’s the way it works. There’s a bully on the playground. The bully says, “You do this or I’ll do that.” All he wants is your lunch money. So you give him the lunch money and you think the deal is sealed, and then the next thing you know, every day you’re doing his homework. That’s the way bullies work. That’s the way evil regimes work, and in this case, Bret Stephens is exactly right. The payment of this $1.2 billion effectively for all of the five American hostages in Iran, putting the price at $1.2 billion on every American head makes every American head all that more valuable for hostage taking by an evil power.

So from a Christian perspective, we understand that it’s a good thing for a country to try to secure the release of its citizens, but doing so at any cost simply raises the moral risk.

But then we get to another issue that the worldwide media aren’t giving much attention to, and the situation on this hand has a lot to do with looking at a nation like North Korea. North Korea has all of a sudden in recent days–and remember, this is one of the most repressive, evil, murderous regimes on the entire planet–North Korea has been giving signals that it may open up for more former citizens of North Korea or those with relatives in North Korea to come and visit. Here’s the warning, once you are in North Korea, you may face the possibility of being used for international leverage. It has happened over and over and over again.

So what were the people in Iran doing, these five Americans? What were they doing in Iran? You look at the travel advisories, they’re pretty clear about Iran. You look at many situations around the world, including North Korea, the United States does not legally allow its citizens to travel to North Korea. There’s also the moral dimension of why some American is in that place. And that does raise the question under many circumstances of what exactly would be the responsibility of the United States of America to try to secure the freedom of someone who went where he or she was not supposed to go?

The final consideration on this comes from hearing some of the relatives of those who are now hostages in Iran and elsewhere, but in particular, the five held in Iran, hearing their pain, seeing the go on national television and say, “We know, we know it’s complicated, how our loved one got there. We understand there are complexities here. We understand that it’s wrong to pay kidnappers, so to speak, and to reward bad behavior,” but as one particular relative said very clearly on a national interview, “You have the first responsibility to get my relative home, then you deal with those issues.”

Now, I understand personally that that would be the urgency, but the problem is that’s exactly what feeds the problem. The United States government several times has said, “We don’t do business. We don’t pay ransom for hostage taking, and then the United States government does it. It says it’s not going to do it. It says it’s policy is not to do it, but it does it. It finds some kind of financial camouflage as in this particular proposal to try to say, “We’re not doing this directly.” Well, that means you are doing it indirectly and the evil regimes around the world understand entirely how the game is being played, and the price of the game just goes up. This is where the situation with these five hostages in Iran takes on a particularly ominous overtone. Even by the standards of this kind of deal in the past, $1.2 billion per person, that’s a cost that’s extremely high. You can count on this. Malefactors around the world are going to see that price tag and they’re going to salivate.

Part II

It’s Wrong to Believe That Moral Judgments Are Real? The Modern Age and its Justification of Sexual Misbehavior

But next, we’re going to turn to a big picture issue that’s going to take us to some of the deepest principles of the Christian worldview. Jonathan Guthrie, writing a column Nature Therapy in the Financial Times, that’s one of the most influential financial newspapers in the world, it has a pretty famous weekend edition that has all kinds of coverage, and you’re really reading what the financial elite around the world would be reading, particularly in the English-speaking world. So it tells you something about how people involved in international finance and international business and the elite of international culture think. In this case, Jonathan Guthrie’s article is entitled, “It’s Not Love, Actually.” This has been in the article is what I think will have your attention. This is it, “Contrary to received wisdom, most birds are not monogamous and it is as futile to moralize about their infidelity as it is about humans.”

Wow, so here you have in the Financial Times, in an article just a nature feature saying, “Scientists have long thought. The birds are pretty monogamous, but it turns out they’re not as monogamous as we thought in terms of their mating habits, but that’s really not a moral issue and neither is human infidelity.” That’s just how the article is packaged. Now, Jonathan Guthrie writes it, tells us about the fact that indeed human observers have thought that albatrosses and other birds were pretty much monogamous. It turns out that many of these mating pairs, the male and the female have been flying all over the world, and then they come back to find one craggy rock in the middle of an ocean where they do what they do annually in order to produce offspring. And the fact that they are drawn to one another and that the male waits for the female or the female waits for the male, they are not together so much of the year, but when it comes to this activity, they’re drawn together.

Scientists, naturalists have been looking at this and they’ve been saying, “Look, this is just how it works,” but at least according to Jonathan Guthrie, scientists have been taking DNA samples and it turns out that at least some birds are not nearly as monogamous as they thought. These birds are actually fairly non-monogamous, at least some of them when it comes to some of the time. And the proof is in the pudding, they would say, and by that they would simply point to the DNA testing. There it is, irrefutable evidence that these birds are not as monogamous as you thought, but that’s not why we’re talking about this today because the monogamy or non-monogamy of birds is not a crucial matter for the Christian worldview.

What is a crucial matter for the Christian worldview is human beings and morality, and remember that that cut line, that statement taken out of the article advertising why readers should read it goes on to say, “It is as futile to moralize about their, meaning bird infidelity, as it is about humans.” Now, that’s just explosive. Here you have the argument being made in a nature column in a financial newspaper read by elites all over the world. The argument being made is that human sexual infidelity is not worth moralizing about or it’s not even possible to moralize about it. It’s just a false morality that says that is a moral issue. It’s just false to make the argument that sexual misbehavior outside of marriage is somehow morally wrong. I read the sentence again, “And it is as futile to moralize about their,” that’s the bird infidelity, “as it is about humans.”

Now, here’s where Christians need to pay attention because we are looking at not a particularly new argument, but a pretty old argument. What’s new is that it’s appearing as it is right now. And for some reason, that’s what we’re going to see, it’s appearing rather over and over again right now in the culture. So when that kind of pattern emerges, maybe we better watch it. What this pattern tells us is that there are people who are trying to say, “We think we’re moral creatures, but we’re really not.” That’s just a social construct. That’s just a social game. There’s no real moral right or wrong. What’s right or wrong is, well, it’s wrong to say there’s a moral right or wrong, and it’s right to say, “Look, all of this is just a matter of moral judgmentalism. There is no fundamental reality to moral judgment.”

Now, just looking at the technical issue at stake here, which has to do with mating pairs, the fact is that throughout much of human history, the effort to deny an objective morality has a lot to do with the effort to justify or somehow to plausibly come up with an argument for sexual misbehavior. As a matter of fact, one modern observer of our age says that modernity can be summarized as rationalized sexual misbehavior. There it is. In other words, the entire project to the modern age is to rationalize sexual misbehavior. It shows up right here in this headline, ostensibly about birds, but even in the subhead here, it’s clear the real interest is not birds. How interesting could that be? The real interest is human beings and what used to be called the birds and the bees.

I’m not going to give much attention to the argument in this long article about the relative reality of bird promiscuity, but I am going to get particular attention to where he turns to human beings. He says, “It is as futile to moralize about bird families as human ones. The most important thing in both cases is that the fledglings end the day with full crops and their poop disposed of. Worryingly, breeding failure is becoming more common among some birds due to climate change.” You know that had to come up here somewhere. “Black, browed, albatross pairs are more likely to split when summers have been hot.”

He ends with this, “Divorce is not a social issue among albatrosses as it is sometimes said to be among people. It’s another sign of how badly we manage the planet.” So all of a sudden he’s saying, “Look, divorce is not a social issue among albatrosses.” Did you see what he said? “As it is sometimes said to be among people.” So you really are looking at an argument here that destroys morality, not just some morality, but all morality. Now, I don’t think the author would take responsibility for having done all of that, but you know what? If there is no real moral wrong when it comes to adultery or divorce, promiscuity or faithfulness, if it’s all just a matter of some kind of game we play that we call morality, then you have to extend that to the entire range of human behaviors, and even to the entire reality of human nature.

The fact is that simply doesn’t work. G.K. Chesterton famously said that the doctrine of total depravity is in his words, “The only scientifically verifiable doctrine of the Christian faith.” Now, I’m not accepting his definition. I am accepting, however, his emphasis in which he says, “If you don’t know anything else about human beings, the fact that we’re sinners should be front and center, rather undeniable.” The thing about sinners is that sinners are involved, and you see this in Romans chapter one, as Paul makes clear, sinners are involved in a conspiracy to suppress the truth in unrighteousness, and there are clever ways to do that. You’ve got all kinds of moral arguments about moral relativism. You’ve got all kinds of arguments made in the academy. You have all kinds of things you already know about, but you also have the effort to try to rename things, to call something by another name.

Part III

If it’s Possible it’s Natural? A Transhumanist Denies the Meaning of Nature

You also have in this case, an argument that hey, nature is just nature and that’s all there is to it. There is no real right or wrong, so act like the albatrosses, overthrow morality. I said there’s a pattern these days, Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli intellectual who’s very popular on the left and the globalist set. Barack Obama says that he likes an even blurbed, one of his books. Yuval Noah Harari recently tweeted this, or at least he posted it on X, that used to be Twitter. I don’t know how exactly we’re going to say that over time, but nonetheless, X, that used to be Twitter. Here’s what he said. “From a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. A truly unnatural behavior, one that goes against the laws of nature simply cannot exist, so it would need no prohibition.”

Now, that’s the kind of statement that intellectuals make thinking that they are smart. It is actually one of the stupidest things I have ever heard a human being say, think, write, or post on X, that used to be Twitter. The statement here is a direct refutation of Romans chapter one, where Paul uses the phrase against nature. Now, you have Harari writing, from a biological perspective, nothing is unnatural. Whatever is possible is by definition also natural. Now, just pause for a moment. Let’s assume he needs to be taken seriously. Let’s just play this game for a moment. Anything that is possible is natural, and the implication is if it’s natural, it’s right. Well, what’s possible in nature that you know is unnatural? The Apostle Paul directly addresses that, and specifically by the way in Romans one, he refers to female-female and male-male relations as being against nature.

Along comes Yuval Noah Harari to say, “Hey, if it’s possible in nature, then it’s not unnatural.” This is an absolutely insane moral argument, by the way, because murder is quite possible in nature. That doesn’t make it not a moral evil. It would be a moral evil. Even in the view, I think of Yuval Noah Harari, I think he would say murder is bad, but you know what? If you say that whatever’s possible in nature cannot be unnatural, and that means if it’s not unnatural that it’s not morally wrong, then you had a huge problem because nature can do all kinds of things, and it does.

It was Michael Jones who said that the modern age is basically the age of rationalized sexual misbehavior, and I think you now have to extend that to the revolution in gender, the non-binary transgender revolution, all the rest, and then the general sense that what modern people want is complete moral liberation, that’s it, and liberation from biology. Well, Harari doesn’t appear to promise liberation from biology, but we need to note that is what he’s working on. He is a transhumanist. He is actually arguing for a redefinition and reformulation of human nature in such a way that for instance, we no longer die. He acknowledges in some writings that that might mean that our intelligence gets uploaded to some kind of other thing that we would continue to live or exist in some sense in that state.

When it comes to the transhumanist stuff, we’ll have to look at that another time, but basically it is all an effort to try to transcend what is actually natural. And remember, in a fallen world, nature does evil things, but they’re contrary to the creator’s design, and by the way, there is plenty of moral evidence that it is so. There’s plenty of moral evidence just in nature that sexual misbehavior is not a moral good. There is plenty of evidence just in nature that a mother and a father caring for their young is a good thing.

There’s plenty of evidence in nature for why the goods that are revealed in Scripture as goods such as marriage and family and neighborhood for human beings, all of this, there’s plenty of evidence in Scripture, but there is also, according to God’s design, his creator, plenty of evidence in nature, but if you want to transcend all morality, if you want to declare that God is dead and that we are an accident and that we can redefine ourselves, we can liberate ourselves from all the prejudices and oppressions of the past, including the idea that there was even such a thing as sexual misbehavior, especially when it comes to adultery.

And by the way, you’ll notice that in this case, neither of these writers comes out and says, “I really think the Me Too movement is a bunch of hogwash.” They’re not going to say that because they want to get invited back to speak at Davos. If nothing else, this should point to Christians the fact that we are entirely dependent upon the moral reality revealed to us in Scripture, God’s law, God’s commands, and the larger biblical theology showing us the goodness of good things and the evil of bad things.

But if you’re looking for evidence of just how confused this world can be, you need look no further than these particular statements directed very much to the elite of the cultural elite, who evidently are in the market for an entirely new moral understanding. In both of these cases, that’s exactly what they are presenting. That’s what’s on offer, and in both cases, what a disaster.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to

For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to

Today, I am speaking in Charlotte, North Carolina, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).