The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, November 1, 2023

It’s Wednesday, November 1, 2023.

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

Part I

‘Settler Colonialism’ and Anti Semitism: The Ideology Behind Virulent Opposition to Israel (and the U.S.) on College Campuses

There’s some great big issues that we simply have to consider as Christians, looming issues that require a Christian response, issues that are so deeply and experientially urgent, bursting into the headlines that we have to think about how we could possibly be talking about these things in this time. But that’s exactly what’s going on as we look at the Hamas attack upon Israel and Israel’s fightback. That’s exactly what we’re talking about in the outbreak of anti-Semitism that we see throughout much of the West, particularly on the political left. That’s exactly what we see in the confusion on the part of so many people, especially intellectuals in the cultural elite, politicians in the political elite about whether or not you can use a word like evil, now in our vocabulary, we have to trace these ideas. It’s an important part of our work, thinking through the responsibility of our times.

So let’s look at what’s going on right now on so many college campuses. Let’s look at the intellectual left turning on Israel, and let’s just answer the question, why could this be so right now? Because something had to happen a long time ago in order for these ideas to have germinated for so long only to leap onto the headlines right now. So we need to do something of an intellectual, say, examination; not an autopsy because these ideologies are very much alive, but still an understanding of what we’re dealing with here.

As you are looking at the left’s opposition to Israel, understand that a part of this is just open antisemitism, but that’s been hard to pull off in Western cultures for a long time. Instead, you have at least for recent decades, had much anti-Semitism redirected into what was claimed to be an anti-Israelism, you might say, against the political order in Israel, against in some cases Israel’s existence as a state. And thus, even though there was some pretty clear anti-Semitism in the background, people could say, “No, this is a political argument I’m making.”

And it has to do with the claims to the land, the claims made by Palestinians, the claims made by Jewish people. And yet, as you look at this, we simply have to understand that there was something more basically anti-Semitic in all of this. And now it’s burst out onto the streets. It’s burst out into arguments being made on American college campuses that support Jihad against Israel, that support a vision, which is the vision of Hamas as an extremist, Islamist terrorist organization of reclaiming the land all the way from the sea to the river. That means Israel will no longer exist. And if you think that’s not theologically and ethnically specifically anti-Semitic directed, well, you just need to look at their own words, because that means no Jews will dwell in the land.

But in the ideological soup that is so much of the progressive left on America’s college and university campuses, and not just in the United States, but around the world, particularly in Western Europe and in the United States but increasingly the United States is kind of the vanguard of much of this leftist thought.

It had been originally in one sense, German and French, and it spread into the English-speaking world, and now it is spreading across America’s elite college campuses like wildfire. And it is a very dangerous mix of toxic ideologies. One in particular we need to consider today. And it goes under the name of settler colonialism. And my guess is most of you have never heard about this ideology or this theory, but you need to know about it because this is what is driving academically, ideologically, intellectually what’s going on here.

Now, we need to reverse history just a little bit and remind ourselves of a couple of words and where they come from. And so you had empire as in well, the Roman Empire, the Babylonian Empire. This was a big imperial power. What made an empire, an empire rather than just a nation, is that an empire claimed dominion over different kinds of peoples. And so if you just had Rome, that would be a Roman kingdom or principality, but Rome was far more than that. Rome assimilated in its vastness just as Babylonia or Ancient Egypt assimilated in its vastness and in its reach.

All three of those empires, Rome, Babylon, and Egypt, all of them like the Assyrians, and those who came before, had established empires in the sense defined by the fact they had different peoples, different nations, ethne as the word appears in the Scripture included within their domain. Now, you fast-forward and reach from the Roman Empire. Let’s go through the Holy Roman Empire, which was Europe and the medieval ages. Let’s go to Britain, the British Empire. As you look at the 19th century, it was the age of empires, and in many cases, it was European empires. The French had an empire, the Dutch had an empire, and there were others, including Belgium and Germany, or at least the German states, they had empires. But the British Empire eventually became the most imperial of all, so to speak. By the time you get to the late 19th century, the British Empire largely represented by the power of the British Navy, was covering a decent percentage of the world’s surface, and it was the most comprehensive empire the world had ever seen.

And there were those who looked at it and said, “We like this.” And there were those who looked at it and said, “We hate this.” And clearly, within the domain of empire, there is the element of coercion. And yet as Paul Johnson, the British historian pointed out in the 20th century, the question of the morality of empires is one of the most difficult that human beings can consider. Because it’s true that the British Empire brought its imperial force, brought its colonialism, moral on that in just a moment, brought its navy brought its troops. It also ended up bringing things like plumbing and portable water and modern medicine and modern democratic theory of constitutional self-government. There were understandings of human rights that were brought by the British Empire. And I think most people around the world and Christians in particular would say those groundings of human rights essentially grounded in a biblical worldview of human beings were essential, are essential to human civilization, human flourishing, and human dignity.

But Christians understand that in a fallen world, some things can be a very mixed picture. And empire is one of those mixed pictures. Intellectual honesty just requires saying yes. Empires, they require force. In some cases, they also lead to extraction. You have diamond mines in the southern tip of Africa that are owned by British imperialists like Cecil Rhodes as in Rhodes Scholars. And you just don’t deny the fact that there was coercion, there was extraction, there was oppression in many cases. But at the same time, as you just think about some of those places, some of those nations that became a part of the European empires, quite frankly, they were unable to feed themselves. They were warring nations of various ethnicities without any kind of national government. They did not function well socially. They had no access to modern technology. And in case of human rights, just to give the example made famous by William Carey, one of the early missionaries of course to India, as William Carey pointed out, when he got to India, widows were expected to be burned alive on their husband’s funeral pyres, the practice that was known as sati.

And yes, the British Empire put an end to that. It was a mixed picture, and that’s what intellectual honesty requires. And Christians are prepared to say that We’re prepared to say that in every single war, it’s a mixed picture. But just to take the case of World War II, it was not a mixed picture where you could say on the one hand, on the other hand. It’s a mixed picture saying that no war can be conducted with absolutely clean hands, but it is absolutely insane to say that the two sides were on equal moral grounding in World War II. It meant everything for the future of human dignity and human civilization that Nazi Germany was defeated, just to give one example.

So during the period after World War II, you did have an academic left that started to develop ideas. And one of the ideas they developed is that the great evil was imperialism and an extension of that great evil was colonialism.

And in colonialism, you had a major power that took control or sovereignty over a weaker power and sometimes made that area a colony. Now, in American history, we talk about the 13 colonies. The 13 colonies were of course, not all the same thing. Some of them were established by different kingdoms and different empires and different ambitions and different groups on different governmental understandings, but eventually, they came under the dominion of the British Empire. So that’s a part of America’s history too. But those on the academic left who were really trying to work through new theory, that came to the theory that imperialism was something of an original sin. Colonialism was its extension, and by the time you get to the new academic left fueled, yes, by a certain form of cultural Marxism and by critical theory applying all this ideology, one of the ideas that developed has become known as settler colonialism.

Now, I think to some of you, it may sound abstract, it’s not. It’s not abstract. This is what is actually being played out before our eyes on America’s elite college campuses right now. This is the argument that has taken hold of so many on the left, and as we’re looking at the fact there’s so much anti-Semitism and open antipathy to Israel is now being revealed, particularly on the political left in the United States. There’s always been a problem with anti-Semitism, and the right has hardly been innocent of this throughout human history, but right now we’re talking about an ideology that has clearly shown up on the left. And the demonstrators right now in America’s college campuses are not at all coming from the right. They’re virtually all coming from the left. And that surprised many people. You ask why? Well, settler colonialism is a part of the answer.

Adam Kirsch, a literary theorist actually wrote an excellent summary of this for the Wall Street Journal, and he points out that a political theory about Israel has taken hold in much of America’s academic elite, especially on the left. And this has led many on the left to excuse the massacre by Hamas. You say, “How could that happen?” Well, we need to look at the idea, that’s a part of what we do. In worldview analysis, let’s say, “How are these people thinking and where are these thoughts, where does this ideology lead?” Settler colonialism comes down to this: the understanding that empire comes with colonialism, and the colonialism brings settlers and the settlers claim the land and say, “This is ours.” And displace the people who were there and they displaced the people, not only bodily, but they take their land and they make it their own, and they displace original native, or the current word is Indigenous peoples.

And then they exercise rule by oppressing those they have displaced. So settler colonialism is an argument that the land really doesn’t belong to the people who hold the deeds. The land morally belongs to the people they displaced. And because much of this is now centuries ago, where in the case of Israel decades ago, the land would belong to those who are the heirs. And that doesn’t necessarily mean those who would legally be the heirs. Those who according to ethnicity and identity politics would be the heirs. They own the land, the argument is the others are just settlers, and they are in place by the power of settler colonialism, and that’s oppressive. And so the right-minded people will oppose that oppression and seek to push the settlers out and bring an end to settler colonialism and return the land to its rightful owners.

Okay, so you look at this and you say, “Wow, that really has relevance to the war going on right now, as Israel is defending itself against this terroristic attack by this extremist group Hamas.” Because Hamas did so in the name of its vision of Palestine, a Palestine that by its own charter it says, “Will be devoid of Jews and Israel will be non-existent.” Israel is a settler colonial state, it’s a false state, it’s an immoral state. It’s a state that was imposed by someone outside as an extension of imperialism, and it needs to be brought to an end in order to liberate the people who are oppressed, the students who are out on the college campuses, those who are waving the Hamas flag or the Palestinian flag, by and large, they have bought into this ideology. Now, one clause here we just need to assert is that this is not to say that the Palestinian people do not have rightful concerns and some rightful claims. It’s not to say that it is to say that that’s not what this ideology is about.

This ideology is not about a fair settlement of interest between Israel and the Palestinians. This ideology is about the non-existence of Israel and the pressing of the Jewish people off the land, period. That is exactly what these marches are all about, taking place in cities like London, but more to the point here in the United States on many of the most elite college campuses in the United States.

But once you realize this is about Israel, you also need to realize, wait just a minute, this is also about the United States of America. This is about our country. The same ideology as settler colonialism says that we don’t own this land either, that this land was owned by somebody else, and it was the extension of an empire that led people to come, or not just one empire, you could say empires that led people to come to what became the United States, and to claim this land and to displace this land from its rightful owners. You have the same claim being made about nations such as New Zealand and Australia.

You notice a common theme here. The common theme here is that primarily this argument is made against the imperialism, it is claimed of the English-speaking people. So it’s the British Empire, it’s the legacy of the British Empire that conjoins Israel and the United States, Australia and New Zealand. And all of these nations are declared by this ideology, which is now rampant on America’s college and university campuses, this settler colonialism ideology says that we are false states that need to be eradicated for the cause of the oppressed. Now, if you want to know what settler colonialism looks like on most campuses, it looks like most campus lectures, arguments, books, seminars, but ideas have consequences. And here you have the graphic deadly example of how these ideas have consequences. Here’s also where we need to step back and understand that this particular ideology follows as every ideology inevitably does its own substitute for a theological logic, its own substitute for a biblical logic.

So you have a before, in the beginning here. So what is the genesis story of this ideology? It is innocent and Indigenous people living in peace on the land, eating organic food. That’s basically it. And then you ask, what’s the original sin? The original sin is imperialism. And so what you have here is a basic redefinition of history. And obviously, this doesn’t make sense, but at least it follows a logic. The logic is you had Indigenous peoples living in peace on the land. They were ecologically very sensitive, all the rest. Now, of course, history reveals that there were people virtually everywhere before someone else got there. And yet at the same time when you’re talking about original or Indigenous or Aboriginal people, well, the reality is until you have an adequate understanding of exactly the course of human history going all the way back to creation and beyond, you don’t know exactly who was there before the people who were there when you found them.

And furthermore, when you come to North America, just to point to one particular example, because let’s face it, this hits pretty close to home. Well, this explains why you walk in many liberal schools and you walk in their library and you see spaces like this is blank land, you can insert some Native American tribe or ethnic group there. And of course, that doesn’t change anything. The students just walk past the marker. But it’s a political way of saying, “Hey, we bought into this ideology.” But here’s the fake play in all of this, the libraries, the state universities, the elite private universities that have bought into this, they’re not changing the deeds. In many cases, they’re not changing anything. They’re just doing this kind of politically correct gesturing, virtue signaling. But ideas do have consequences and those students are out there protesting on behalf of the attack of Hamas upon Israel, a murderous attack, the most murderous attack since World War II on the Jewish people.

And it’s being justified with this idea of settler colonialism. The Jews don’t belong there. They’re there simply because of a powerful empire. And in this case, it would be the British Empire backed their presence with the ideology of Zionism and put them there where they didn’t belong and took the land of those to whom the land rightly belonged, being the Palestinians, and gave it to the Jewish people, even if originally, the carve-out was a relatively small amount of the land that Israel currently holds. Little lesson in history: let’s remind ourselves. Israel was originally a very, very, very small state. It was the enemies of Israel that made it a bigger state by trying to wipe it off the face of the earth. For example, in 1973, the Yom Kippur War, which was a combined Arab attack upon Israel, its stated aims were to regain territory lost to Israel earlier. But it was also very clear that there were those particularly, for example, the ruler then in Syria who wanted to erase Israel from the map.

And so the argument is it was just Western power and Western power played a role in that 1973 role just as Western power played a role in the original granting of the right of Israel to exist. It was American arms that resupplied Israel in 1973 bringing about the possibility of Israel winning that war. And so that’s just another example of settler colonialism. The empire strikes back.

Now, Christians listening to this, you’re likely having a very interesting thought. You’re probably thinking, “Now, wait just a minute, I understand that there were Palestinians there in that land when Israel was declared in 1947 and 1948. I understand that they were there, but you know what you really can’t do, you really can’t call them Indigenous peoples, if you’re going to press back in history because wait just a minute, there is an Old Testament, and in that Old Testament, it’s very, very clear that God had given the land to Israel, and Israel had to fight the Canaanites, of course, wars of conquest in order to gain the land, but they did gain it, and Jerusalem was their capital. That is where the temple was built.”

And thus, if you’re going backwards in history, you don’t end up just with those who are identified as Palestinians now, who, as I said, have some rightful claims to make. But the claim that is based in the ideology of settler colonialism is not about fairness with Israel. It is about the elimination of Israel. It is not about living in peace side by side with the Jewish people. It is about erasing the Jewish people. And this settler colonialism, this ideology that fits into what’s often referred to as post-structuralist theory. It fits into what some people years ago would’ve called postmodernism. It is an ideology based in what I prefer to call cultural Marxism. It is the basic ideas of Marxism translated into a political ideology of warfare, and in this case, warfare between the oppressed and the oppressor. The oppressed are declared to be the Palestinians. The oppressor is declared to be Israel, and thus there is claim to be a justification for the Hamas attack upon Israel.

So we just need to dissect this very carefully. Just note the distinction. These protests are not by and large just against Israel and its settlements and all the rest. No, it’s against Israel’s right to exist. And so we need to realize that for those who are primarily engaged in these marches, the problem is not Israel’s behavior, the problem is Israel’s existence.

Part II

The Great Sin of Imperialism and the Revolution That Liberates: Dissecting the Worldview of the “Post-Colonial” Left

Just to make the parallel between say, biblical theology and an ideology like this clear, let me just remind us that when you’re looking at biblical theology, you’re looking at four great moves, creation, fall, redemption, and new creation. You have God created the heavens and the earth. You have human beings sinning against God, and that thus brings evil into the world and guilt. And then you ask the question, how can this problem be solved? The answer is redemption. That’s atonement by the Father through the perfect obedience of the Son and a substitutionary atonement, death, burial, and resurrection.

And then you take the final question, where is all this headed? And of course, the Bible makes very clear, it’s all headed ultimately into the Kingdom of Christ. So there’s very clear structure, creation, fall redemption, new creation. Every false ideology has to answer the same questions, and inevitably it takes on the same shape. So in settler colonialism, what’s the beginning? Indigenous peoples living in peace on the land. What is the fall? It is imperialism, colonialism, settler colonialism, which creates a perverse new world for which the only answer is yes. How is the problem solved? How do we have any hope? It is by revolution. And you’ll notice that that also leads to the justification for terrorist action, and that’s exactly what’s going on here. Then you say, “Where is all this headed? What is the eschatology of this ideology?” It is the land being returned to its rightful owners who will then again live at peace with nature and each other.

And that’s what has taken so many of the students to the streets saying horribly anti-Israel things and saying now horribly anti-Semitic things and siding with an extremist terrorist group that has murdered by the thousands. Now, I know this is heavy. This is really tough stuff, but this is exactly where Christians need to be thinking, and we need to be understanding what’s going on, and that requires us to take these ideas apart and understand what they really represent.

Part III

Coming to a Conversation Near You — Denying the Evil of Hamas

But as we conclude today, sometimes you just see another symptom of what goes wrong when this goes wrong. And so you had an article that appeared just in recent days yesterday at the Washington Post, and the headline is Hamas and the Problem of ‘Evil.’ But evil is put in scare quotes. It’s put in quotation marks, as if evil is a term of art as if we don’t know what evil is, as if evil’s a word that doesn’t really apply here. If you believe that that word doesn’t apply, here we are in huge moral trouble. We’re leaning into moral insanity, but that again, is an indictment of our age.

Because there are people who think that what Hamas did is evilish, maybe evil-like, but nonetheless not evil. One of the arguments made by some is that the people who are doing this are not entirely evil. Some of the people supporting it, they’re not entirely evil. Well, again, the biblical worldview says yes, there are some who give themselves over to evil, and Hamas clearly meets that category, but there are others who are just ready to ride in some kind of complicity with evil.

Shadi Hamid, who is identified as a columnist and an Editorial Board member at the Washington Post says that it would be a mistake to dismiss Hamas’ terrorism as mere evil. He says, there’s more to it than that. Well, Christians understand there’s more to it than that about just about everything. Human beings are extremely complicated, but what is uncomplicated is the fact that what Hamas did and the aims to which Hamas is committed are absolutely evil.

If we lose the ability, if we lose the moral seriousness, if we lose the moral clarity to be able to say that this kind of murderous genocidal action by a murderous genocidal group, if we become uncomfortable in assigning that group and its actions the word evil, well, we have lost all moral sanity. It’s one thing to say, well, there’s more to it than that. Of course, Christians understand there’s always more to it than that. The more important thing is there’s not less to it than that. And denying evil, and in any case, putting quotation marks or scare quotes around evil, that’s a sign of something very, very dangerous, not just ideologically toxic. It’s that, but it’s far more than that; it is dangerous and it is deadly, and evidently it’s showing up on a campus or in a political conversation near you.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Today, I’m in Lynchburg, Virginia. I’m speaking in Chapel at Liberty University, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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