The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Thursday, October 26, 2023

It’s Thursday, October 26, 2023.

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

Part I

Good News for the House of Representatives: Conservative Mike Johnson Named Speaker of the House

Good news out of Washington DC. Most importantly, the United States of America has a Speaker of the House of Representatives. It came yesterday when representative Mike Johnson of Louisiana, first elected to the House in 2016, was elected by virtually all members of the Republican Conference. It’s a big step, and even as he achieved the requisite number of votes, we remember he was the fourth individual to be nominated for that post by the House Majority of Republicans just in the last three or four weeks since the toppling of the former Speaker of the House, Kevin McCarthy of California.

So it’s good news that we have a Speaker of the House. It’s good news for a number of reasons. Number one, it’s good news because the House of Representatives cannot act without a speaker. That’s something a lot of Americans had not understood and frankly may not understand now. The Speaker of the House fulfills a very important constitutional role. The Constitution calls for this office and of course puts it in the line of presidential succession.

In the Senate, the Vice President of the United States serves as the presiding officer or president of the Senate, but isn’t primarily responsible for legislative advance. That goes to the party leaders. You have a majority leader and a minority leader, a Democratic leader and a Republican leader depending upon which party has the majority. But the fact is that those are not constitutional offices. That is a mechanism created by the Senate. The speakership is not a mechanism invented by the House. It is a constitutional mechanism. It’s a very important role. The House cannot advance legislation without the speaker. And as of yesterday, the House has a speaker. Indeed, in this case, the 56th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Michael Johnson. Mike Johnson, as he is known, congressman from Louisiana.

There’s a second reason. This is very good news, and that is who the new speaker is. Mike Johnson is a solidly conservative Republican legislator. And in terms of worldview commitments, I think it’s very safe to say he has worldview commitments very much in line with what we would be looking for in a Speaker of the House of Representatives. Now, the progressive media are going to be catching onto this, and even last night they were really beginning to catch onto a lot of this.

Mike Johnson has been associated with the Southern Baptist Convention. He has been associated as a board member with one of our agencies. He has been an attorney and spokesman for the Alliance Defending Freedom, which is one of the most important religious liberty litigators as an organization here in the United States. He has also been a faculty member, including service currently as an adjunct member of the faculty at Liberty University.

So we are talking about a self-consciously committed evangelical Christian. We’re talking about an attorney who has put his reputation on the line to defend religious liberty. We’re talking about someone who clearly is willing to identify with evangelical Christians as an evangelical Christian, and he comes with a great deal of experience, not only as a legislator, both in Louisiana and now in the House of Representatives, but also as a litigator and attorney with Christian commitments.

Over the next few days it’s going to be very interesting to see what signals are sent by the new speaker. The House Republican Conference was clearly relieved finally to have elected a speaker of the house, and we’re also going to be watching the media response, the cultural response to Speaker Mike Johnson once Americans begin to understand what he’s about. What he believes. What his biography represents. What his worldview is. All that’s going to be very interesting.

But it’s also interesting from a Christian worldview perspective to understand why it was Mike Johnson and not someone else who is elected the Speaker of the House by the Republican majority. Why Mike Johnson? Well, you could say on the one hand he had fewer enemies than the three previous nominees. That turns out evidently to be true. You could also say that the further you go in terms of the number of nominations that have failed, the more likely it is that a nomination would succeed. That’s just a political reality. Eventually, a party grows embarrassed for failing to pull off a leadership election, especially in a time where Israel’s been attacked savagely by Hamas. You have other national and international stories that demand congressional attention, and thus the Republicans were under a lot of pressure. So you could say, well, that was certainly a factor here.

You have the political positions and the convictions held by representative Mike Johnson, now Speaker Johnson, and those are important too. But there’s something else that is playing into this and that is that most of his colleagues like Mike Johnson. Now you say, it might not be the most important thing that the Republicans would elect a speaker who is nice. On the other hand, that is also a biblical issue. The biblical issue simply tells us that we are to treat people with respect. We are to seek to get along with people in goodwill. That is a matter of Christian testimony.

So you look at this and you understand, well, that can be abused. People can be friendly, sometimes friendly at the expense of conviction. But in the case of Mike Johnson, he has somehow pulled off the task of being very convictional and I believe right on most of these issues, and at the same time considered to be respectful and gracious even well-liked by members of his own party, and presumably by members of the other party as well. But of course, the party issue here is so clear that the Democrats voted for the Democratic leader and the Republicans voted for who is now the Republican leader. Thus, the house has a speaker and Congress can move back into full session.

It does remind us of the importance of being winsome and demonstrating integrity and earning the respect of our colleagues. It turns out that that’s really important in the House of Representatives, and I think most parents want their children and young people to understand it’s really important in just about every arena of life. It’s important in the church as well. But it is like so many things first learned in the family or in many contexts it’s never learned at all.

Part II

The New Axis of Evil: Are We Ready to Defend Our Civilization?

But today I want us to zoom back and take a big picture of the world. I wrote a major piece published yesterday at WORLD Opinions entitled The New Axis of Evil, and I want to come back to that for a moment. And I saved this discussion until today on The Briefing. Because I just want to offer the bracing observation that we are living in an increasingly dangerous world. And one of the things that was learned throughout human history, but particularly in the 20th century, is that it is extremely dangerous not to recognize how dangerous developments in the world are becoming.

It’s also a reminder to us that freedom has enemies. That civilization has enemies. So I published this article, The New Axis of Evil, and asked the question, Are we ready to defend our civilization? And I’ll come back to the fact that at least some people didn’t like the fact that I asked the question. But first let me get to the new axis of evil.

In order to understand that, go back to the year 1936: Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany declared what was known as the Rome-Berlin Axis. Axis was an intentional word that was to be used here. So in other words they saw power as revolving around the axis that would be aligned from Berlin to Rome. The creation of the axis is why we speak of the Second World War in terms of the allies versus the axis powers. And those axis powers would eventually include Imperial Japan, and what they were united on.

You might say what the axis of this power came down to in terms of an alliance was opposition to Western Europe, to the constitutional democracies, opposition to freedom loving people’s, opposition in a very real way to civilization. And by the way, that was explicit and opposition to the United States of America, American interest and American power. So you look at the axis that developed in 1936, and you understand that it was formalized by what Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy called the Pact of Steel in 1939. And you know the story of World War II and a part of that story is the failure of most nations to realize the threat until it was almost too late. Indeed, it was arguable at the time that it was already too late. Thankfully, it was not yet too late to defeat Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy and Imperial Japan. But it was a close call. And history allows for only so many close calls.

In the period after the 9/11 attacks on the United States, then President George W. Bush described what he called an axis of evil. It came out in one of his speeches, it became an iconic statement, and of course, he was hearkening back to the axis powers of World War II. He used the phrase, axis of evil. Interestingly, there emerged a debate inside the administration as to who had first coined the phrase and the phrase had worked its way into President Bush’s speech, but the point is it stuck.

He was speaking particularly of Iraq and Iran and North Korea and what he warned was an ominous coalition that was developing against the United States. You look at that and you understand, he was talking about three very malign nations. As you consider Iraq and Iran and North Korea I’m going to argue that two of them are very much a part of the clear and present danger of the new axis of evil.

That phrase gained traction in the early 21st century because as President Bush made clear and he was right in this respect, civilization does have enemies and those enemies are increasingly forming into a coalition and they are increasingly aggressive. We currently right at this moment, we also face a existential threat to Western civilization by at least four nations that are increasingly coordinated and they are increasingly identified with a common goal, which is the end of the power of the United States of America, and in so far as it is possible, the end of American power and interest around the world and beyond that the end to what we would refer to as Western civilization. They’re looking for a very different world order.

What would be those nations? Well, first of all, we start with Russia, then China, then Iran, and North Korea. I mentioned two of the nations back from the axis of evil in the early 21st century. That would be Iran and North Korea. They are not only still on the list, they are increasingly dangerous. But let’s start with Russia. When you’re talking about Vladimir Putin’s Russia, you’re not talking so much about a normal nation. You’re talking about what’s actually a vast criminal enterprise, which is armed with a massive nuclear arsenal in modern strategic weapons.

The ideology of Vladimir Putin basically comes down to the interest of Vladimir Putin. As you’re looking at Russia today, it’s not so much driven by an ideology as it is by a mobocracy. It is more like organized crime as a gangster state than anything else. Basically, all of the nation is considered one giant engine for the criminal enterprises of Vladimir Putin and the oligarchs who are his political allies. He has established himself as a new Russian czar, and his interest is he will tell the Russian people in restoring Russia to its former glory according to his vision, and there is some truth in what he’s attempting to do there. But in reality, you’re not talking about imperial Russia, you’re not even talking about the Soviet Union. You’re talking about a gangster state.

Vladimir Putin’s basic worldview comes from his experience as an officer with the dreaded Soviet KGB. But we know that Putin’s really not a dedicated communist. This is not about a communist ideology. This is not so much about communism as it is about Putinism and gangsterism. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is part of a far larger plan, and other nations are noticing this, which is why some of the nations that have been unaligned, well, they want to align as fast as they can with NATO, with the United States and with Western Europe. And you have as examples of this, nations such as Finland, who are now working very hard to be deep in the NATO orbit. That’s nation number one, in the axis of evil.

Nation number two is China. Xi Jinping’s China is an ideologically communist regime, and it now has ambitions that outstrip anything that would’ve been imagined by Mao Zedong who led the communist revolution that took power in 1949, and engineered what became known as the Cultural Revolution, other acts that led to the deaths of millions, potentially hundreds of millions of people inside of China and beyond.

Under Xi Jinping and the leading ruling Chinese Communist Party, China has emerged as an empire–a communist empire–determined to rule the world, or at least determined to reshape the entire world to its own national interest. That national interest is demonstrated in such projects as China’s vast belt and road initiative. Its design on developing deep water naval bases, even in the Western hemisphere. That by the way, is in violation of a sterling principle of American foreign policy going back to the very early national era that would be the Monroe policy.

China seeking control of international commerce and the sea lines and incredibly aggressive navy even right down to headlines in the last 72 hours, about threats to shipping, including Philippine shipping. It is also offering direct threats to Taiwan, backed up with the belligerence and backed up with an open agenda of trying to destabilize the global order led by the United States and its allies. China sees itself as the successor power to the United States of America. It sees China as rising the United States as setting.

We then turn to Iran, which is the axis power at this point, with greatest intent to destroy Israel, greatest intent to destabilize the world order and the great ambition to undermine the United States. And for that matter, directly threaten the United States to the limits of its ability. An increasingly powerful and ominous ability. Iran works by subversion and it works through countless proxies including Hamas in Gaza, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. Driven by a radical Islamic ideology, which is wedded to the use of terror as an extension of state power, the Shia Ayatollahs of Iran they see the United States as the great Satan. They’ve been saying that going all the way back to the 1970s, this isn’t new. Iran is a medieval theocracy, animated by murderous passion, and it’s also unrestrained by international norms. One of the things that so many people, especially those with a globalist worldview fail to understand is that Iran doesn’t care what the international order thinks. A medieval theocracy driven by Shia Ayatollahs is not going to be restrained by any international treaty.

It is abundantly clear and confirmed by western intelligence that Iran was almost assuredly directly involved in the Hamas murderous attack on Israel that began on October the 7th. It is the major funder behind both Hamas and Hezbollah, and furthermore, many other radical Islamist terrorist groups. Iran openly threatens the United States of America. Iran is openly seeking nuclear power and nuclear weapons. Iran has been mishandled by successive American administrations. Most importantly, right now, the administration of President Joe Biden.

Missile restrictions and other restriction on Iran have been basically lessened or allowed to expire under the Biden administration because the administration had thought it could gain interest and influence in Iran. That is an illusion, a very dangerous illusion, as the Hamas attack among Israel makes abundantly clear.

North Korea is the most mysterious and one of the most dangerous of all. It’s often referred to as the hermit kingdom, that tells you something about the secrecy and the paranoia of North Korea. That nation is really the homicidal fiefdom of a family dynasty, of the Kim dynasty. It combines ruthlessness with paranoia, and it is the world’s most deadly cult to personality. Remember that the Kim family dictators and Kim Jong Un is the third generation of those dictators. They not only have ruthless absolute power, they not only have a state religion Juche–the God of that state religion is the dictator himself. This is the dictator who is not only to be obeyed, but who demands to be worshiped. It is like this is right out of the Old Testament. But instead, North Korea is a clear and present danger to the United States and to the world order right now.

The Kim family maintains its power by terror and the threat of death, and it’s mostly directed in terms of the threat of death against its own citizens. Western intelligence sources are convinced that Kim Jong Un had several enemies, including his own uncle, executed by anti-aircraft guns. It’s not just execution, it was a ruthlessness that was intended to send a signal, and this is something that is now becoming increasingly routine in North Korea.

Following in the footsteps of his dictator father and his dictator grandfather, Kim Jong Un seeks to subvert Western interests, and he counts on the protection right now, both Russia and China. A little footnote here. Neither Russia nor China is particularly comfortable with North Korea. North Korea poses something of a dangerous outlaw nation to both China and Russia. On the other hand, they have opposed any effort by western nations including the United States to sideline or isolate North Korea and even to prevent it from gaining nuclear weapons. So it’s another illustration of the old fact that sometimes enemies just count on combining enemies against a common focus. In this case, the United States of America. Kim Jong Un no doubt scares China, but he’s too useful not to be a part of this alliance.

Of direct relevance for the United States is to recognize that North Korea is now armed with nuclear missiles and some of the regime’s rockets and delivery systems are believed capable of striking the Western United States. Some military analysts believe the entire Western half of the continental United States. This is a very new thing in terms of the American experience. And it’s a very ominous development. More ominous still is the fact that these four nations, China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea are increasingly combining their interests and their plans and conspiring together.

We need to note, they don’t have to conspire quite as closely as did the Axis powers in World War II, at least not until things reached that fever pitch. At this point, they basically encourage one another. But there’s more to it than that in the sense that Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin showed up in Beijing in order to meet to talk about the Belt and Road Alliance. Again, you see an alliance taking shape right here. And then you look at North Korea and you look at Iran, both of which are now suspected not only of giving arms to groups like Hamas, most importantly, Iran, but you have Iranian drones that are now being bought by the Russians to further their aims based upon the war with Ukraine after Russia savagely invaded Ukraine.

So you can see how this works. And you can see how the arms industry becomes an extension of this conspiracy. You can see how all of these nations now with a very evil intent, they’re focusing on one great enemy, which is the United States and our allies. But here’s the worldview dimension of this. They’re not all driven by exactly the same ideology. It is Shia Islam in a medieval form in Iran. It is the worship of the dictator there in North Korea. It’s the mobocracy in Russia, which is also aided and abetted by a very patriotic Russian Orthodox Church that is clearly sided with Vladimir Putin. And when it comes to China and officially atheist society, it is even the dialectical materialism of the Chinese Communist Party that becomes a part of this as their ideology.

The point is, you could argue those are four different ideologies. They’re not defined so much by their commonalities except for the fact that every one of these nations ended up with an ideology that hates constitutional self-government. That hates the civilization established by the West. That hates European and American influence and hates the idea of human dignity and human rights, which are the very achievement of Western civilization. They know what they hate, and they’ve declared themselves to be our enemies.

The question is, will this generation and the next generation in the United States and in Europe understand the threat that we face? Because the great problem we see in retrospect is that too many people watched the coalition of the evil enemies that would become the Axis in World War II. Saw them combining their interests, saw them re-arming, even heard them make their threats, and they weren’t believed until it was almost too late. That’s too late for us to wait.

It’s a lot to talk about, but I wanted to put all that together in order that we could understand. Well, here is a framework for at least seeking to understand the challenge that we now face. This shows up in the Hamas attack upon Israel. That shows up in the chaos in the United Nations. That shows up, and the fact that European nations that are often somewhat at odds with the United States have decided, we got to be really clear, we’re standing on common ground with the United States on these issues. You see an alignment of nations taking place on one side, you see an alignment of nations taking place on the other side. We have seen this pattern before. It’s a very ominous development, but more ominous still is failing to understand what we face.

Part III

More Than 40 State Attorneys General Sue Meta for Harm to Teens: In Warning Call to Parents, Lawsuit Exposes Harm and Addictive Traits of Social Media to Teenagers

But finally, looking back to the United States, a big issue has developed here, and it’s actually so big it demands our attention, and this is the fact that more than 40 state attorneys general filed a lawsuit against Meta, claiming that Meta was harming children and teenagers by intentionally using and continuing to use features of its technology and platforms that basically led to reckless, harmful, and in some cases addictive behavior, at least repetitive behavior that was harmful to children and to teenagers. Very interesting development, at least a part of what makes it interesting is that you have 40 states indeed, by some counts, 41 attorneys general of the states. 50 states here, about 40 of them at least. So you can do the math. That’s four fifths at the very least, that’s 80%. They’re joining together in one massive legal effort against a massive American corporation.

So what’s so big about that? Well, these attorneys general represent two different parties. They represent very different states. They often have very different interests for, four out of five of them to combine in this one effort, one combined legal action, that tells you something big is going on here.

Another very interesting development in this is that the attorneys general are charging that Meta was involved in a vast effort to perpetuate its business model while knowing that its platforms, most particularly Facebook and Instagram, were causing harm to children and teenagers. Harm when it came to body image, harm when it came to addictive and pattern behavior, harm when it came to all kinds of things that are simply driven by and driven through and on social media.

So you look at this and you recognize, okay, this is pretty big. Because the teeth in this lawsuit are not just that the injury, the harmful dimension of Facebook and Instagram. It’s not just that there was real harm, but the company sought to stifle employees who saw the harm to restrict access to the information that documented the harm, and basically to perpetuate this business model by continuing the harm. Well, it’s going to be very interesting to see how this develops. It’s likely to be one of the longest and the largest legal actions of its kind in the history of the United States. Right now what we have is the headline news, and it’s been headline news just about everywhere that the attorneys general have joined together in this effort.

But let me tell you what should not be news and frankly is inexcusable of coming as news to America’s parents, and that is, that social media can and often does have a very negative effect. Indeed, a harmful effect on teenagers and on children. But let’s expand it and say, let’s be honest, it’s had harmful effects on adults as well. We come to understand that the development of social media turns out to be one of those big developments that actually presents a clear and present danger.

Now, that’s not to say that we can avoid it entirely. It’s not to say that it is somehow going to be corralled by some legislative action or a tort case. It is to say, we’re looking at the inescapable understanding that it is up to parents first of all in the home within the family to protect their children and teenagers from harm. And yes, that includes from harm from the wrong exposure to social media.

And then of course, there’s going to be the hotly contested question as to whether or not social media exposure is addictive. And sadly, I think all you have to do is look at some of the people around you with phones in their hand to know, well, evidently, if it’s not addictive, I don’t know what is. So put down that phone, and listen to The Briefing.

Thank you 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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