The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 12, 2023

It’s Thursday, October 12, 2023.

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

Part I

The Reality of Natural Evil and Moral Evil: Devastating Earthquake in Afghanistan, Genocidal Attack in Israel

We have to learn to speak of two different forms of evil. It’s a necessary distinction. Both of them, of course, are deadly. Both of them are indications of human sinfulness. The first of these, however, is natural evil. This is evil, an injury in the form of hurricanes, tornadoes, termites, tumors; you go right down the list. In other words, this is not the result of some intentional human conscious action, it is nonetheless a sign of the fallenness of the world and the effects of sin in terms of the cosmos as we experience it. We come to understand that the entire creation is now groaning under the pain of judgment upon human sin. And thus, we’re looking at the reality that earthquakes can kill, hurricanes and tornadoes can kill. They can do vast destruction. The other category, of course, is moral evil. And that’s the evil that comes about by human moral agency, by people doing things that are absolutely wrong. And that includes murder, crimes, robbery, all kinds of things of which only humans are capable, and there is conscious moral responsibility assigned to it.

And so this week, even as, understandably, the biggest story before us is the Hamas attack upon Israel, it’s also important to recognize that natural evil has also shown up in the headlines, and actually on the very same day. Hamas attacked Israel early on Saturday morning, and on Saturday a major earthquake hit the nation of Afghanistan. That earthquake has at least reached a death toll right now known to be about 1,000, but observers on the ground are pretty certain that that is just a hint of the total death toll. We’re looking at 6..3 in terms of the Richter scale for this earthquake.

And even as it took place on Saturday, the same day as the invasion, here’s something interesting about us: We are more immediately concerned by human moral evil than by natural evil. I think there’s a good reason for that. We come to understand that in moral terms, human moral evil, it’s the more urgent of these issues, it’s the more personal of these issues. It’s the one that hits us closest because we understand this has happened because some human being or human beings have done this. When it comes to an earthquake, a tornado, a tsunami, it’s very different. But we need to understand that death is death and injury is injury and grief is grief no matter the source. Even as the attack on Israel and the war that has now begun has understandably dominated the headlines, it’s important for us to recognize that one of the deadliest earthquakes ever to strike Afghanistan has occurred, and we’re looking at massive death and suffering.

We’re also looking at some other things. As you’re thinking about an earthquake 6.3 on the Richter scale, that’s a big earthquake anywhere, but it is particularly devastating where you have homes and communities that lack structural steel, that are basically stone and masonry, because stone and masonry are extremely vulnerable to a major earthquake. And the loss of life in the case of this earthquake in Afghanistan is so large that entire villages are now likely to be permanently uninhabitable. Just about every single dwelling, every single building in these villages has just been flattened. And as is so often the case in human history, this is why you have entire cities, entire villages simply abandoned as people have to leave and go elsewhere to build a new home and a new life.

But even when we’re dealing with this kind of natural evil, we don’t turn to blame someone for an earthquake, we don’t blame someone for a tsunami. Human moral agency still enters into the picture because it makes a difference whether or not you have building codes. It makes a difference whether or not you give warnings to people. It makes a difference whether or not you have an infrastructure that can respond civilizationally to this kind of disaster. And so you really find out how competent a government is in the aftermath of this kind of disaster. You find out whether or not there were building codes. And quite frankly, you’re looking here at a nation that has so many villages that are so old and with so little functioning government that building codes are actually unimaginable. They’re not a part of the existence or the experience of the people who are living in that part of the world.

A team of reporters for The New York Times describes the aftermath of this earthquake, “In a matter of minutes, a handful of entire villages, once clusters of mud brick homes, their thick beige walls blending into the endless desert, were transformed into mounds of dust. Nearly everyone in the area lost at least one relative when their homes crumbled. Many have lost most, if not all, of their immediate family.”

We’re also facing, in this case, the reality that the death toll may never be known for a couple of very important reasons. For one thing, villages are burying their dead without keeping adequate records. There is an imperative, and at least among those who are Muslim, there is a very strong Muslim imperative towards burying the bodies and doing so rather quickly. Record keeping is not such an imperative. And frankly, when it comes to many of these villages, there are very few written records anyway, so the death toll here is likely to be far greater even right now than 1,000. And it’s humbling to recognize the total death toll may never be known. Entire villages wiped out. No one actually knows how many persons may have been killed there.

The loss of life, and Christians understand this, the loss of life, the loss of a single human life, not to mention here possibly thousands of human lives, is a matter of great tragedy. And you can understand the heartbreak and the grief that now marks so much of Afghanistan. And we recognize this is a story that is replicated over and over and over again. And it points to the fact that even these natural terrors are reminders of the fact that we are yearning for a new heaven and a new earth where such things no longer happen. There are no more termites, there are no more tsunamis, there are no more tumors. But we are not there yet. In this world of many dangerous toils and snares, one of the dangers is in this entire category, many of those dangers of natural evil. And we as human beings, we’re very small compared to something so great as an earthquake.

But then we turn to look at moral evil, human evil. When we look at the Hamas attack upon Israel even in the last few hours, more atrocities, largely unspeakable, have become documented. And this is something new in human experience we need to recognize. The video evidence of the severity, the absolute abominable nature of the nihilistic attack by Hamas upon Israel, this is an attack that is quite different from what has been experienced before partly because of the advent of smartphones, partly because there are so many people, indeed, there are millions of people who have immediate access to a camera, and they can record videos. And so there is evidence in this case that has never existed before in human history on this scale.

We also know, speaking of scale, that the attack upon Israel is now the most deadly undertaking against the Jewish people, any group of the Jewish people going back to the Holocaust in World War II. We are looking at modern civilization that thought it had advanced far beyond where the world had to come face-to-face with the holocaust a half century ago and more, the reality is that now we know the human heart is still capable of this kind of grotesque, unspeakable, horrifying, indescribable evil.

Developments there on the ground in Israel include the fact that a coalition government has been put together, and it is still headed at this point in terms of the senior leadership, and it’s still led in the top leadership right now by the current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The opposition party has representation. Without going into detail, this is a very important issue for Israel; putting together a war government, a coalition government that, by its very existence, says that at least for now, because of the urgency and the necessity of common action and a common political and national unity, all the political divisions that have so marked recent controversies in Israel, all of those now become secondary, tertiary. They are put way down the list in terms of priority. Defeating Hamas right now is the greatest priority.

The other big development on the ground is, of course, the amassing of thousands upon thousands of Israeli troops. That appears to be evidence of the fact that a ground invasion of the Gaza Strip is imminent. That will be a major development. But it’s almost impossible at this point to imagine that Israel could stop short of a ground invasion with major military effect. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s made very clear that is the plan, but frankly, even if he hadn’t said anything, the sight of all of those troops amassing for action along the border is a very clear, undeniable indication of Israel’s plan.

And at this point, the big issue is it’s not just solidarity inside Israel, but there’s a remarkable solidarity right now, at least, in the world because of the absolutely undeniable horror of the atrocities undertaken by Hamas against the Jewish people, including children, including mothers, including babies. The reality is that there is a remarkable amount of international commonality. Doesn’t mean all, but it does mean, for instance, the United States and our natural allies are at this point pretty much in solidarity to defend the right of Israel to defend itself against this murderous onslaught, which is a direct existential threat to the nation. How long that lasts in terms of political support and solidarity, that’s something else we’re going to have to watch.

Part II

Harvard’s Complicity: School Broiled in Controversy After Response to Student Statement Supporting Hamas’s Attacks on Israel

But meanwhile, as we’re watching these things, we need to turn to a development here in the United States and a center of controversy in the aftermath of the Hamas attack upon Israel. This controversy is not located on the West Bank, it’s not in the Gaza Strip, it’s not in Jerusalem, it is in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and its epicenter is the campus of Harvard University. The big controversy at Cambridge has to do with what happened and what hasn’t happened and certainly hasn’t happened in a satisfactory form. What did happen? Well, I’m going to read to you a report from JJ Kimchi published at the Wall Street Journal. The headline is Harvard Shrugs at Jew Hatred.

Here’s how the article begins. “Hamas’ attack on Israel was a small scale holocaust, a moment no Jew alive with the tiniest speck of communal feeling will ever forget As a Jewish student,” writes this author, “I was similarly chilled by the reactions at Harvard.” The university’s Palestine solidarity groups, identified here as a collection of some 30 student groups, “Issued a statement exculpating the terrorists for their acts of murder, rape, kidnapping, and mayhem.” The statement included these words, “We, the undersigned, student organizations, hold the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all of the unfolding violence.” As this author tells us, and I quote, “The signatories groups such as the Harvard Islamic Society and the Harvard Law School Justice for Palestine Group, they made clear that they stand shoulder to shoulder with this ‘resistance,'” put in quotation marks. The author then says, rightly, “Fashionable doublespeak for those feverishly working to wipe Jews off the face of the earth.” Now, this report also tells us that this is not a problem merely at Harvard University. We’re told that some 50 student organizations at the University of California at Berkeley also declared what they described as their, “Unwavering support for the resistance in Gaza.”

Let’s just step back for a moment; recognize what we’re looking at here. You have more than 50 student organizations at the University of California at Berkeley. You have more than 30 student groups at Harvard University taking sides in this conflict. They’re taking sides with those who have attack babies, who have kidnapped children, taking them out of the arms of their mothers, who are holding hostages, who have wiped out entire villages, who killed more than 320 people at a music festival, just people gathered together. An attack that was undertaken by parasail ground troops and rockets. You’re talking about a murderous attack, and the response here is side with those who have launched that murderous attack. It’s not a small group. Again, we’re not talking about 30 students in Harvard, we’re talking about more than 30 student groups. Not talking about 50 students at the University of California at Berkeley, we’re talking about at least 50 student organizations. The author, speaking of fellow students, says this: “Not only have our fellow students failed to condemn this proto genocide, they’ve justified and celebrated it. The authors and signatories of the statement, men and women with whom we share dormitories and libraries, have exposed themselves as worse than common anti-Semites. They are enthusiastic proponents of our slaughter, a vanguard of apologists for those who seek the extermination of the Jewish people.”

Now, these criticisms are not just coming from students at Harvard, a central indictment of what’s going on at Harvard has come from Lawrence H. Summers, former US Secretary of Treasury, and notably in this case, former president of Harvard University, who has condemned the current leadership of the university for not denouncing the actions undertaken by these student groups indicating their support for the Palestinians. In a statement published on Twitter, now called X, of course, Dr. Summers said, “In nearly 50 years of Harvard affiliation, I’ve never been as disillusioned and alienated as I am today.” He went on to indict the silence from Harvard and its administration, saying that this has, “Allowed Harvard to appear at best neutral toward acts of terror against the Jewish state of Israel.”

Something to watch here. This is really important. We talked about the fact that the left is moving very fast further left. And in this case, you’re talking about a former US Secretary of the Treasury, someone well-known in Democratic party circles. Never on the far Democratic left, but very much on the left in terms of American politics, at least as you’re looking at, say, Democrat versus Republican. But we are looking here at the fact that these young activists at Harvard, they’re light years further to the left. And furthermore, there’s already a rather radical distinction between Lawrence Summers when he was the president at Harvard and the current leadership at Harvard, which has responded in a very inadequate way. Its current President, Claudine Gay, has had to release repeated statements, none of them as yet has achieved the moral clarity that is requisite here.

We’ve been looking at these developments in the elite American college and university circle for a long time. It indicates a larger problem that is very much endemic in the cultural elite on both sides of the Atlantic. There is a basic, very deep vein of antisemitism that becomes apparent once an issue like this breaks and people either say or fail to say what must be said under these circumstances.

The failure to indict Hamas for these atrocities, that’s bad enough, but becoming an apologist for Hamas in this situation, that should be absolutely unthinkable. But on the campus of America’s prestigious institutions, the left has moved so far left that here you see a rather open antisemitism that is directed towards Israel.

And we come to understand that at least a part of what’s going on here is the claim that if faced with oppression, and there’s no doubt, by the way, that the Palestinian people have been oppressed from many directions for far too many decades, but the analysis here is that the only thing that matters is the calculus between the oppressed and the oppressor. And if you can define a nation like Israel as the oppressor, you can find yourself justifying just about anything, including mass murder, genocide, anti-Semitic actions, even the murder of babies and the mutilation of their bodies. That’s what we are facing here.

Now, here’s the other question. How long will this last? It’s an interesting question for this reason. Because some people might say, “Well, when this statement came out, when these more than 30 organizations at Harvard, more than 50 organizations at Berkeley, when they came out with that statement, some of this information wasn’t known. The depth of the depravity might not yet have been fully documented.” Well, here’s the fact. As of now, it has been fully documented. The evidence is irrefutable. Even international governments have recognized this. Even the mainstream media across the board, regardless of their position on many of these issues, they have had to honestly address the horror that has been inflicted here, the moral responsibility of Hamas. Has it led to any difference? There are some who may argue, “Look, this statement was dated before that was known.” Well, okay, where’s the new statement? Where’s the clarification? Where’s the moral correction here? The lack of that is absolutely astounding. But it also confirms the fact that these groups meant exactly what they said when they said it, and that should frighten us all.

We’ll be tracking these issues in days ahead, and that’s going to be absolutely necessary.

Part III

A New Speaker of the House? Republicans Have a Nomination, But No Consensus

But it’s also necessary at this point that we come back to the United States, go to Washington, DC where yesterday the House Republican caucus came up, although narrowly, in a divided vote with a nominee to be the new speaker of the house. That nominee, and by the way, in this case, Steve Scalise, gained 113 votes, Jim Jordan of Ohio gained 99 votes, so 113 beat 99. That’s still a very divided caucus. Nonetheless, the House Republican caucus will move forward in at least in days to come in bringing to a vote on the house for the election of Steve Scalise, Republican of Louisiana, as the new Speaker of the House of Representatives.

Now, how many votes are necessary? 217. How many did he get in the caucus? 113. He is at this point at least 104 votes from being elected Speaker of the House. It is unlikely in the extreme that he will get one Democratic vote, so that means that somehow he has to come up with 104 Republican votes, and that’s 104 votes he doesn’t have yet, in order to be elected Speaker of the House of Representatives. He has to get 217 others to vote for him. You add his own vote to that, that’s 218. That’s the majority in the house. You have a new speaker. Steve Scalise, by the way, has served since 2008 in the House as a Republican representative of the first District of Louisiana. He currently serves as majority leader, very important political position in the Republican caucus. Will that be enough? Time will tell. Remember, it took 15 ballots to elect Kevin McCarthy of California the Speaker of the House just a matter of months ago. The house right now certainly does not want to go through that experience again.

But there’s another issue here we have to keep in mind. We are facing war, mayhem, challenges in the world. This requires an American response. That requires the house being functional. That requires a speaker. There is a worldwide focus on this election of the next Speaker of the House because a lot more than whose name will be designated as speaker is at stake here. And the political and historical importance of this vote is now considerably more than it would have been just a matter of, say, a week ago. History changes and thus priorities change, urgencies arise. And now the question is will the House be up to meeting this urgency without dragging the nation through days of uncertainty?

Part IV

More Celebrations, With Drum Circles? — National Coming Out Day 2023

Finally, here in the United States, yesterday was a National Coming Out Day. And, of course, that means coming out of the closet. It’s a project of the Human rights campaign, a major LGBTQ activist organization. We’re talking about it today not because this is such an important day on the calendar, it’s just a very revealing day on the calendar. And an article by Julie Kratz published at helps to make clear why. Here’s what’s said in that article, declaring National Coming Out Day to be October the 11th, and then reading this, “It is important for allies in the LGBTQ+ community alike to celebrate inclusivity. In 2023, these celebrations are more vital than ever.” Later in the article, it simply says, “The simple act of coming out does more to change people’s hearts and minds than almost any other action.”

Now, what I want us to look at here is that this is one indication of how moral change takes place in a culture because the orchestration of this kind of day, well, that’s undertaken by just all kinds of groups for all kinds of purposes. But the big issue here is that if you’re trying to drive a revolution in morality, a day on the calendar, in the case of the LGBTQ+ community, you got Pride Month, you got so many dates on the calendar, but National Coming Out Day, well, the effectiveness of it is seen in the fact there’s so much media attention to it and there’s so many events related to it. And there is so much corporate responsibility that is attached to it, that is to say in terms of employers.

But here’s one of the ways that moral change has taken place, especially on LGBTQ+ issues, but also the larger issue of, say, sexual morality, gender roles, and all the rest. The big messaging here has been carried on very loud platforms. The point here, well, coming out is a pretty good metaphor just in terms of those two words. Or to put it differently, what this makes very clear is that moral change, these groups are absolutely convinced and their right takes place when forces are very loud, clamoring, demanding attention. Because that eventually breaks down opposition. It makes it look like the movement is much larger than it is. It creates the impression of an enormous cultural shift, and that’s basically how so many of the LGBTQ issues have advanced. Certainly, it helps to explain how they have advanced so quickly.

The argument here undertaken by the LGBTQ+ activists is that being in the closet and silent about these things simply leads to no good political result, no big moral change, which is what they’re after. Being loud, well, that’s very much what’s going on here. And the media are absolutely complicit in this. And you’re looking at the fact that magazine after magazine, article after article, newspapers, television media, streaming media, all the rest, you would think the National Coming Out Day is a major cultural happening. Actually, it’s a politically manipulated event, but we’re talking about it on The Briefing because it is a very effective politically motivated event. Being very loud in making the demands about identity and social change in today’s climate in the United States, this does lead to moral change. We need to recognize this. And it’s one of the reasons why you see Drag Queen Story Hour and all the rest. And of course there are drag parades to celebrate National Coming Out Day.

There’s also a very clear and intimidating message sent to employers, to the business community, and that is you better celebrate National Coming Out Day or you’re going to be targeted as the enemy.

We need to understand that educators and schools are also being recruited to be cheerleaders here. I want to read to you one paragraph in this article: “Educators need to counter new anti-LGBTQ+ laws by introducing students to uplifting biographies of LGBTQ icons, from LGBT History Month whenever possible. These celebrations should not rely solely on LGBTQ+ individuals to organize and educate others. Healing spaces like drum circles and community service outings at local LGBTQ organizations can also be great ways to celebrate.” Drum circles? I mentioned that the cultural strategy here to bring about vast moral change is intended to be loud, but I didn’t actually know that that meant something literally loud. Drum circles. Well, there you have it. They’re not just going to beat the drum for this revolution in gender morality, the entire structure of civilization, they’re going to beat the drum in a circle loudly.

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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