The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

It is Wednesday, October 25, 2023.

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

Part I

Worse Than Useless? The United Nations and Its Failure Revealed

Some ideas die a very hard death even though they prove themselves to be unhelpful. Many bad ideas have lives, half lives, they continue. One of the dreams of the Enlightenment, one of the dreams of the modern age has been a cosmopolitan regime of enduring peace. Now we are to seek peace. We are to pray for peace. But the reality is that in a fallen and fractious world, peace is often illusory and it is almost always temporary. But as you’re thinking about this Enlightenment dream, you need to understand that people really believed–particularly the more liberal wing of the Enlightenment beginning in the 18th century and beyond–they really did believe that reason, that human reason could be deployed to prevent human violence. That if people just had enough information or if they were just met with sufficient rational arguments, if a regime of rational people could be put in control, then violence could be restrained and peace could be found among nations.

Now, that wasn’t true in the 18th century. It wasn’t true in the 19th century. There was a period of peace in Europe during those years, but the reality is that by the time you come to the end of the 19th century, it is clear that there is no perpetual peace. It’s an illusion. By the time you get to the 20th century, it is a murderous, even genocidal illusion. But you see the illusion come up again and again and again. So before the savage attack upon Israel by Hamas, beginning on October the 7th, going back to the meeting of the United Nations, very important global organization, very self-important global organization, a realization of that Enlightenment dream of a cosmopolitan peace, back in September, the United Nations met. What was most interesting just in terms of facts on the ground is not even who was there, but as we mentioned on The Briefing at the time, who was not there.

Vladimir Putin was not there because he’s actually wanted on international war crimes charges. And if he’d shown up in New York, he just might have been arrested. Xi Jinping didn’t show up. He had his own reasons as the leader of the Communist Party in China for not showing up. Rishi Sunak, that is the British Prime Minister who would usually certainly be seen at that kind of event, did not show up, and it was pretty obvious that he just didn’t even think the United Nations General Assembly was worth his time. The President of the United States, Joe Biden did show up, but a part of the reason why he showed up is that it’s a very short plane flight, certainly on Air Force One from Washington D.C. to New York, and there was every reason for the American president to show up. But here’s what’s really interesting. The United Nations General Assembly met. It is supposedly one of the most important political gatherings in the world, certainly on a regular basis. And few major world leaders showed up, and few people around the world even cared.

Now, Antonio Guterres, the Portuguese diplomat, who is the current Secretary-General of the United Nations, he gave his address back in September and in his address, he distressed the importance of international organizations, the international rule of law, the idea of the United Nations. Now he’s expressed his own exasperation because the United Nations isn’t what it looks like. Now, you might be thinking just in terms of the words there is very little united in United Nations, but nonetheless, as you look at it, you see the General Assembly. You just need to know that all of those nations represented in the United Nations General Assembly, in the General Assembly itself, there’s an awful lot of show and very little substance because there is very little the General Assembly of the United Nations can do.

So even going back to 1945 and prior to that, the League of Nations in the early 20th century, the dream was that somehow world peace could be brought about, national and international conflicts could be brought to an end. International peace could be brought into effect by the nations united in an international, cosmopolitan global government. And that would be what is now the United Nations, founded just after the Second World War. But it was founded in 1945, and that meant right after the Second World War, and thus you are looking at the fact that the United States and Britain are very, very powerful. So is the Soviet Union. And so you put together and you actually have the nations, the big nations, most particularly the United States and the Soviet Union, both of them really don’t want to turn over things to a mass of individual nations that would look like the Tower of Babel.

And so the only way they could get the United Nations established in such a way that the United States, for example, and the USSR would both show up, is if those nations were not only in a very elite Security Council, which would actually do all the major things representing major power insofar as there is any major power in the United Nations. But those biggest nations would not only have a privilege to permanent seat on the Security Council, they would also be given veto power.

So just to make the matter clear, all kinds of people think that the United Nations as an organization has all kinds of power when actually it is, and has been from the beginning, and was intended to be a toothless tiger. It is basically all show, it’s all talk. It is all a demonstration of an ideal that no one actually believes in except for maybe Antonio Guterres.

So the United States had been down this road before. Woodrow Wilson in the aftermath of World War I as president actually departed from the United States and went to Europe, very controversial at the time, and frankly not a smart constitutional move. He put his entire political reputation on the line to establish a League of Nations, but couldn’t even get the United States Senate to ratify the treaty. The US never joined the League of Nations, but the United States has been a member of the United Nations, has been a member of the Security Council, has held veto power from the very beginning. So just do the math. If Russia and the United States just right now, if you just had those two nations and each is on the Security Council, each has a permanent seat and each has veto power, well that means nothing can basically be done. Pretty much period.

And that just points to the other giant moral problem here. Russia invaded Ukraine, one United Nations member state invaded another United Nations member state, violating international law, violating international treaties, violating the very idea of the United Nations. And yet guess what? Russia is still a full member of the United Nations, still there on the General Assembly, still having a permanent seat on the Security Council, still with veto power. And so it turns out that if the United Nations is important, it just might be importantly dangerous.

Now, from a Christian worldview perspective, we just need to understand that makes sense because the Christian worldview with the principle of subsidiarity, and that’s just a way of saying that creation order says that the most important authority is that in the most basic unit of society. So that means first of all, that’s why Christians have to be so focused on marriage and the family, parents and their children, and then after that, the church and the school and the neighborhood long before you get to say a statewide agenda. And that more important than a national agenda, and that far more important than an international or global agenda, which by definition and the principle of subsidiarity is likely to be very reckless, very dangerous, very liberal, and very unhelpful.

Another way of putting this is to say that civilization depends, above all things, it depends just in pragmatic terms upon a society having parents who have babies and raise them successfully. That’s not done very well by a government at any level. It’s certainly not done well by the United Nations. That’s laughable. It requires parents. So that again is subsidiarity. The authority, the goodness, the human flourishing, it subsists at the most basic level. And to state the obvious, the least basic level is anything called the United Nations. But all this might be making the point that the United Nations is a toothless tiger, but the problem is it’s actually worse than that.

Just a matter of a few days ago, the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal ran a major editorial piece entitled: The Irrelevant United Nations. I’ve just spent a few minutes trying to argue that the United Nations is, and by the way, thanks be to God is irrelevant in this sense. I’m not saying that nations that combine their efforts could never do anything good and right. Thankfully that’s not always true. I am saying that anything that claims to unite all the nations of the world in some kind of political order that is to bring universal peace on the basis of reason. Well, the only reasonable Christian response is to say good luck with that, but frankly not to mean it.

But the point made by the editorial board of the Wall Street Journal and profoundly well-made is that, “The UN has been worse than useless during the Ukraine conflict.” Now, that’s a very clear statement, worse than useless. If it were useless, that’d be bad enough, but it’s worse than useless. Why? It is because with the Russian veto on the Security Council, the United Nations has not even been able in a clear way to condemn the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It’s not only not been able to stop it, it’s not been able to reverse it. It isn’t even able to make a clear statement about it.

Now, there are a few positions with less authority and the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, has made some rather interesting statements about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but it can’t be translated into any kind of UN policy because that would bring about a Russian veto. But it is the Secretary-General himself who has really muddied the water when it comes to the savage attack by Hamas upon Israel. The Secretary-General and others. And this would include a range of religious leaders such as the archbishop of Canterbury, and basically also the Pope calling for a ceasefire, saying that the moral thing to do right now is a ceasefire. Well, once again, the United Nations is worse than useless because what you have here is the call for a ceasefire that would basically concretize the status quo ante, which would leave Hamas as a threat to Israel and of course an existential threat to Israel at that.

But before leaving this, I just want to go back to that editorial statement by the board of the Wall Street Journal. They said rightly in conclusion, “Multilateralism as practiced at the United Nations is increasingly irrelevant as China, Russia, Iran and other rogues assert their power. The liberal internationalists in the Biden administration can’t give up their vision of groups of nations meeting to settle their differences,” said the editorial board. “But the truth about today’s world order lies in the rubble of Bakhmut.” That is a destroyed village.

In worldview analysis, that’s just a very, very important statement that the liberal internationalists and the Biden administration can’t give up their vision of groups of nations meeting to settle their differences in peace. It is not the success of the United Nations that would put that statement to the lie. It is the abject failure of the United Nations that underlines its truth.

Part II

The EU Cannot Meet Its Own Climate Goals: Why the Age of Fossil Fuel Is Not Coming to an End

But next, at the intersection of the climate change controversy and the failure of the international system, you have a headline coming from The Guardian in London. The headline, and this is European Union or EU, must cut carbon emissions three times faster to meet targets, that according to a report. Now we are basically drowning in these reports. Just about every international body, every consultancy, all kinds of multinational entities and non-governmental organizations, they continue to release ream after ream of paper, volume after volume of reports, and the media reports on them just like what you see here. But the interesting thing about this, and The Guardian’s rather liberal, actually very liberal newspaper in Britain. But the point here is that even the European Union we were told is not meeting its own goals. You look at all these reports and no entity appears to be meeting its goals.

And that just points to something else. You can have all kinds of goals met. And I’m not even taking on the argument of climate change right now. I’m simply saying even if you take the climate change ideologues at their word, they can’t keep up with their own argument. They’re not meeting their own goals. Their own nations, even liberal entities such as the European Union, they are we’re told so far behind that they will have to cut their carbon emissions three times faster just to meet the targets. No one actually believes they’re going to meet those targets. No one believes the United States is going to meet its targets. No one believes that the international organizations are going to meet their targets. And furthermore, things are actually going backwards from the ideology of climate change and carbon emission reduction. And there is no evidence about that than what has just happened in the business world in the last few days.

For example, over the course of recent history, the largest petroleum, that is to say oil, that is to say fossil fuel company in the world spent billions of dollars to buy another company. Exxon would be the big company. Pioneer is the smaller company. Then just in recent days, the second-largest oil company in the world, that would be Chevron, announced that it was going to buy the oil company, the gasoline brand Hess for $53 billion. That’s $53 billion. So if you’re doing the math, what this means is that the fossil fuel industry is pretty certain that people are going to be using fossil fuels for a long time into the future. Not only using them but using more of them. So you put this together and you realize something big is really going on here and I want to think about it for a moment.

I want us to think about fossil fuels, not just in terms of the climate change equation. I just want to make a very clear statement about human history over the course of say the last 200 years and understand what has happened, which explains what’s not happening at the moment. What’s not happening is that the climate change people and all the governments, even the governments who say they want to meet those demands, they’re not meeting them and they’re not going to be able to meet them. It’s just a matter of basic honesty before they admit they’re not going to meet those goals. Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister there in Britain basically came out in the open and said, “There is no way any government’s going to meet the goals that were set. I’m just going be honest and say we’re not going to meet them.” That’s very rare. Frankly, more common is what you have with government saying, “Oh, we’re adjusting. Oh, we’re going to have to meet with new policies.” They’re not admitting what they know, which is they’re not going to come anywhere close to those goals.

I want to take us back in history for a moment. If you go back, just a matter of say 200 years, the world is very cold, the world is inhospitable. You’re not traveling any faster than a horse with a buggy is able to travel. You do not have engines that are producing power. You do not have power plants that are bringing electricity into your home. Your home is dark, your home is damp, your home is cold. Or for that matter, it’s hot. When it’s hot, it may be very hot; when it’s cold, it may be very cold. What brought about this revolution that brings heat in a whole new way into your home and light into the room, and furthermore, everything from the medical technologies that keep people alive to the cars and the airplanes and the trains, the ships that keep you moving, all that was brought about by the revolution that can simply be summarized as fossil fuel. Now interestingly of course, the first of the fossil fuels to make a big difference was coal.

As listeners to The Briefing know, I was recently in England, Scotland, Ireland, and one of the interesting things is that in the older cities and of course the great imperial cities of Britain, the United Kingdom at that time, as you look at the smokestacks in the cities, there were individual chimneys. Sometimes there will be 7, 8, 9, 10 smaller chimneys within a big chimney. And it’s because in order to heat a house, you had to have a separate coal firing oven or furnace in every single room. You had to have a coal heater in every room, and you can just imagine how dark the skies were with all that coal dust and with all the smoke coming from all those fires because a city like London would mean potentially hundreds of thousands, not only of people, but hundreds of thousands of fires. But guess what? People were not going to trade blue sky for a frigid house. They were not going to put their babies in a room with freezing temperatures just in order to cut back on the coal smoke.

Now, there have been significant advances in cleaning up fossil fuels, but fossil fuels still lead to carbon emissions and the climate change people insist that that is going to bring lasting damage, climate change, a rise in the temperature, destruction of the ozone, all these kinds of things.

Now, they may be true, but here’s the point. People are not going to be willing to go back to the pre energy era. They’re not going to be willing to go back to cold houses. They’re not going to be willing to go back to people dying of heat exposure in tenements, in packed cities during the summer. They’re not going to be willing to go back to a time when hospitals basically had coal lamps and nothing that was basically modern in terms of technology. They’re not going to go back. They’re not going to go back, frankly, from modern transportation. Even the people going to the conferences in order to talk about ending fossil fuels, they use fossil fuels on their private jets or their government planes in order to get there and make the point. Hollywood celebrities, where do you think all those private planes are? They’re parked very near the homes of those Hollywood celebrities so they can get on them and go to climate change conferences and preen themselves before the world.

So a part of what I want to do just in terms of this attention to this story is to say, you look at the headlines in the business pages, you see that Chevron’s paying $53 billion for Hess. You see that the even larger Exxon has paid untold billions of dollars for Pioneer. You look at that and you recognize, guess what? The age of fossil fuel is not over. Not only that, these big companies are betting on the fact that Americans and others around the world are not going to use less fossil fuel in the near future, but more. And by near future, you’re talking about long-term investments of multiple tens of billions of dollars. So to put it another way, Chevron is not buying Hess at such a high price in order to turn the fuel pump off. What I’m calling for is just a bit of basic honesty from our political leaders, from our cultural authorities, from the creative class, from the climate change bureaucrats. What I’m looking for is just a little bit of honesty about what’s going on here.

Another indication of how worldview issues work is that sometimes you can’t find honesty in the pages covering the politicians, but you can find honesty where you understand the money is changing hands, like $53 billion as Chevron buys Hess. So money does, in this case, speak louder than words. And what this money says is that these companies are banking on the fact that people are not going to want to put their children, put their babies in cold, frigid rooms without heat. They’re not going to want to ride on horseback once again, and they really do want their hospitals to have power. In this kind of situation, honesty may be rare and a little bit of honesty would go a very long way.

Part III

Things Are Not Always How They Appear: The Complexities of the Labor Strikes Taking Place Right Now

But finally for today, we’re looking at domestic issues, most importantly as we close here, looking at massive strike actions, labor actions in the United States. Most famously you’ve got the actors, the Screen Actors Guild continuing to hold out against the Hollywood establishment, and you also have the United Auto Workers now expanding the strike in this case to a major truck plant owned by Stellantis, which is the successor corporation to Chrysler. You’re talking about big factories building things like Dodge pickup trucks. And of course the biggest action before that was the strike here in Kentucky at the Ford truck plant, which is the biggest single installation of the Ford Motor Company.

So you’re looking at the UAW and they say they’re going to hold out, they’re going to hold out, they’re going to hold out for demands that by the way, they’re not going to get because they’re not economically feasible. Hollywood actors are saying they’re going to hold out, but the longer these groups are on strike, it is true they’re causing economic injury to the employers, to the industries. But you know what? Those industries are likely to be able to survive this a lot better than families that are not getting income and actors that actually have no work because they’re on strike.

By the way, one of the more ludicrous developments just in the last few days, the Screen Actors Guild actually sent out a communication to striking actors saying that they better be very careful about their Hollywood costumes because you know that’s coming up. And evidently that’s a big issue because it is going to violate the strike terms if these actors wear anything connected to the products they’ve been associated with in Hollywood. So instead, it was suggested that they just be particularly careful at Halloween not to break the strike rules and even accidentally promote a Hollywood product. Now, the point I want to make is that if you’re a union boss and you’re down to sending emails and text messages to your striking labor union members about what to wear and not what to wear for Halloween, well, you just might be becoming a farce.

Now, I want to point to something else, and this would include most importantly, the striking United Auto Workers. And as I’ve said before, the labor unions played a big and important role in American history, particularly for the cause of workers in the early 20th century, but that’s quite different than the situation right now. And the striking United Auto Workers not only want all kinds of economic demands from the major auto companies, and these are American auto companies against which they are striking, but it also means that they want to return to an economy that just doesn’t exist anymore. But in analyzing headlines and trying to think through these things together, I want to point to a recent Associated Press story that made headlines in many newspapers. For instance, one that simply read, “Most Americans support auto worker pay raises, according to poll.”

Now you have a major poll that says most Americans say they support auto worker pay raises. It doesn’t cost the people who respond to any of these polls anything, but the question wasn’t asked, “Are you willing to pay another $3,000 for your next car in order to help meet these economic demands?” I think we all know the answer would’ve been different. If you’re going to ask people, “Do you think these other people should be paid more?” They’re almost assuredly going to say, “yes.” And in the United States, there is a labor prejudice, which by the way is understandable given our history and in moral terms, it’s understandable in terms of urgency and numbers where people would say, “I think people ought to get paid more.” And they often mean, “I think I need to be paid more.” And it’s very easy to say, these are rich companies, so they should simply be made to pay more.

Now, I’m not saying those arguments are always insane. I am saying this, these companies, especially when you talk about these auto companies, they’re number one in a competitive environment. Yeah, you say that Ford and General Motors and Stellantis have to meet these cost requirements, and that’s going to raise the price in cars. Well, guess what? Toyota and Kia and other companies, they don’t have to follow the same rules. So guess who gets the advantage and ultimately guess who loses the jobs.

The other thing is these big American companies are not just big companies with very highly paid executives. They’re publicly traded corporations, which means that the real owners of these companies are really not fat cats in Detroit. The real owners of these companies come down to pension funds for teachers in states like California. So it’s actually Aunt Liz who is one of the owners of this company because of her pension for a public school teacher in even a very liberal state. And so you have liberal politicians who are posing saying, we need to make sure we’re standing on the side of the workers. At the very same time, the public workers in those states and the professors who are often making the same statements and their pension funds at the local state university in many cases, those are heavily invested in the auto companies. The owners of those companies are not, as I said, fat cats in Detroit. They are Aunt Liz and cousin Tom and whoever else just might be on one of those pension funds as a beneficiary.

And by the way, you might be one of those persons as well, or at least you know someone who’s in one of those plans as well, because if you’re in a 401(k), you’re in a mutual fund, guess what? You might be one of those owners of General Motors, or of Ford, or of Stellantis, or a little of all three. In any event, you probably don’t really know right now because if it is a mutual fund, you only find out more or less in retrospect where those funds have been invested. But the point is the way the economy works now, these labor unions are asking for the impossible, and it’s very easy for other Americans to say, “I think we ought to give them what they’re demanding,” because it doesn’t cost them anything to say that. But you flip the equation and say you’re willing to pay more for your next car. Well, that might be a very different answer. Or if you say that might mean less income in your 401(k), I can almost assure you you’re going to get a different answer. That doesn’t mean that one side’s automatically right and one side’s automatically wrong. It is to say, we’re in a complex economy where everything’s related to everything else, and what you see is not necessarily what you think you see.

One final point on this. The reality is that these companies have some margin for enduring these kinds of strike actions and these kinds of labor actions. They can take this kind of damage for some time. Ford’s not going to close up shop and roll up the carpet simply because a couple of its plants have been closed for a few weeks. But the point is this, before long, real damage is going to be done to these companies. And before long, the very people who are striking, they’re doing grave damage to the companies they hope will employ them in the future. But all that’s just to underline the fact that we can think we’re serving our own interest when sometimes we can be undermining that very interest. Sometimes it’s a balancing act. Sometimes we simply don’t know. But one thing we can know, the longer this kind of labor action or strike continues to shut down major American factories and portions of the American economy, the damage gets pretty big pretty fast, and at some point, that becomes a very real problem.

One final issue here, you have some people who are demanding now the state-by-state unemployment coverage be extended to those who are striking. Unemployment coverage was intended for those who involuntarily lost their jobs, not for those who just said, we’re going to go on strike. And of course, the labor unions have a lot of political power. Their allies have a lot of political power, especially in the Democratic Party, especially on the left. But American workers better just remind themselves before they encourage too much coverage through unemployment insurance. The bottom line is some of the people saying, “Oh yeah, we need to cover these people,” might change their tune when they find out their own unemployment insurance fees and costs and taxes are going to go up accordingly. All these complications underline how different the world is economically from when these labor unions came into being. We’re all a part of this economy, and in one sense, we’re all owners now.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

The EU Cannot Meet Its Own Climate Goals: Why the Age of Fossil Fuel Is Not Coming to an End

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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