Wednesday, November 29, 2023
It's Wednesday, November 29, 2023.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Why is President Biden Skipping this Meeting of the UN’s Conference of the Parties? Climate Change Hypocrisy, Wars, and Political Expediency Are Parts of the Picture
We are looking at a very complex world situation. Two major wars right now, both of which demand our attention, one, of course, between Russia and Ukraine after Russia's invasion, and the other in the Middle East, the war between Israel and Hamas after the invasion by Hamas of Israel. And both of them are front-page news stories, and they're going to continue to be so for a long time. We will revisit both of those stories, but there are other big stories in the international headlines. One of them has to do with who's not going where. In this case, the big news that had to make the headlines is that the President of the United States is not going to the Conference of the Parties meeting over the next weekend in Dubai.
The fact that the president's not going is actually the big story. Now, why such a big story? What is the Conference of the Parties? It's an awkward name for the United Nations group that is meeting in order to monitor and sound alarms about a lack of progress towards limiting climate change and in particular, carbon emissions. There was a climate change framework drafted by the United Nations in 1992. The Conference of the Parties refers to the parties to that agreement. Well, here's the bottom line. None of the parties is keeping faith with the agreement. And one of the things we need to recognize is that when you're talking about climate change, and you don't have to be a denier of climate change to understand that an awful lot of what is said about it is absolute nonsense. And I think there's a political reason. You can almost be assured that there's a political reason the President of the United States is not there.
And it is because if the president were present at this meeting, he would be the focus of condemnations of so many others who point to the United States and say, you ought to be doing more. And Joe Biden right now can't afford to come back to the United States and say that he intends to do more, not with the two wars that are being fought right now and, frankly, not with some of the complications that both of those wars bring. So let's take a closer look at what's actually going on here because, first of all, you have the UN climate talks that are undertaking the Conference of the Parties, and the number after that is 28, as in 2028, as in setting the stage for what is promised to be significant advance between now and 2028. Now there are huge intellectual questions, questions very relevant in worldview significance to asking, how do we know exactly what is happening when it comes to the claims about climate change?
Well, frankly, at least in terms of recorded weather history, we are looking at some very, very hot periods. We're looking at some very, very cold periods. We are looking at significant changes in the climate. No sane person, no intellectually honest person can deny changes taking place in the climate. The problem is that, if you look at a larger scale, we really do not have the records. No one was standing outside of a building in medieval London holding a thermometer, keeping adequate records. So an awful lot of this is simply extrapolated by scientific models.
And recently, it's become more and more clear that in the academic debate about this modeling, there are huge presumptions that are being baked into the cake. And when it comes to the fact that there is huge financial incentive for persons to create an entire new industry or to shift an entire economy, there are going to be new winners and new losers, and some of the people who think they're going to be new winners have a very important financial motivation to try to say that climate change is real and here's where the data points and here's how we can fix it.
There's a huge incentive there. This is not to say they're not pointing to something real. This is not to say that we do not face real climate changes, but we do have to say that much of this discussion, certainly the United Nations discussion, these international fora, an awful lot of these are simply setting up a situation in which, quite honestly, there's modeling going backwards that is at least questionable and there is modeling going forwards that is probably equally questionable. But there's something else going on here. And that is the fact that, for instance, the Conference of the Parties having to do with climate change and with trying to stop using fossil fuels is being hosted in Dubai, which is the fifth-largest producer of oil on all planet Earth. And these Gulf nations, the oil-rich nations, largely Arab nations that have been producing so much of the world's oil, they are themselves wanting to be a part of the new energy future because, after all, they don't want to be left behind.
But at the same time, they are still selling fossil fuels, and everyone expects they're going to continue to do so. There has been increased honesty, at least in economic terms, in recent months where an awful lot of people are simply saying this transition to non-fossil fuel forms of energy is just not working. And quite frankly, what has been witnessed in recent months is a fall off in the number of electronic vehicles sold. And one of the reasons is there aren't enough charging stations, and frankly, someone's eventually going to have to ask the question, where's that electricity going to be coming from? Because it really doesn't make sense to abandon using fossil fuels in the tank if you have to use fossil fuels to power the chargers. And also, of course, we're facing the reality that these new technologies require some raw materials, including precious metals, that may be absolutely devastating in ecological terms to mine.
And furthermore, it means that we're going to have to be doing business with reprehensible sources. And so this is a morally complex situation, which is exactly what Christians should anticipate. Christians understanding the doctrine of sin and how this works out. We must honestly see a very complex situation, which will defy simplification. If someone says, I can explain this in a simple way, they're probably not telling you the truth. But there's another reason the President is not showing up there in political terms. Why is he not there? Well, it's because he'd be in a very awkward position, but the president is saying the White House is at least saying that he's not going because there are other priorities. And the White House pointed to two major wars, and no doubt the president's attention has been directed to both. But as it was pointed out awkwardly, the White House schedule doesn't appear to be stacked in terms of those meetings.
Instead, the president is to be going to a formal ceremony honoring persons at the Kennedy Center, and the president and the First Lady are going to be hosting a reception on Sunday for the Kennedy Center honorees. Let's just say that that does not look like a pressing moral, political, war-related reason why the President of the United States is not going to Dubai. The more likely answer is that the President can't afford to be there at this time when the 2024 election are looming before him because his presence there is likely to draw attention to the fact that he is now alienating many on the political right, and that means also the political center, by his pushing for the end of the use of fossil fuels against all evidence that that's even going to be possible, extrapolating the fact that new technologies will exist that aren't even known now, that are going to make this possible.
But he also can't face the increasingly aggressive left in his own party, which is also unhappy with him for equal and opposite reasons. So politically speaking, I think we can understand why the President of the United States, who might actually have a plausible reason not to go related to war in the Middle East, maybe that is an adequate explanation, just not showing up yet on the calendar, the more adequate explanations probably that politically he cannot afford to be there, but that also means something else we need to note, and that is that this issue is not at least at the present, so urgent and important that the President of the United States can't afford not to be there. That also tells us something about where this issue really falls in world affairs.
One final issue about the Conference of the Parties, the Associated Press is reporting that UN chief, that is to say Secretary General Antonio Gutierrez. He has been visiting Antarctica preceding this meeting in order to draw attention to climate change and the drastic actions that must be taken. The UN Secretary General has spoken repeatedly, and he's spoke in Antarctica about his grave concern that the parties in the Conference of the Parties, that is to say, the nations are not doing enough, they're not doing much fast in order to meet the goals that were adopted. But you'll notice he's not in the position where he really has to speak honestly about this because if he did, he would've to say, honestly, there is no hope whatsoever of these nations meeting these goals, but then that wouldn't be a palatable message to take to the meeting that he is at least in part hosting. Yet, one more issue on this. The President of the United States is not going, but guess who is going?
Pope Francis. That's going to make its own headlines, and the Pope has been sick frankly in recent days, but he considers this meeting so important that while the President of the United States is at the Kennedy Center, the Pope, at least, it is announced, will be at the Conference of the Parties in Dubai. And let's just note that the Pope, the head of the Roman Catholic Church, is not going to be walking there. Once again, there will be a parable before our eyes as all these leaders will get onto jets and fly using fossil fuels to land to a meeting to condemn the very same thing.
The Dangers of Social Media Now Out in the Open: Lawsuit Documents Reveal Social Media Platforms Intentionally Prey on Teenage Users
Next, I want to turn to another issue, and I think there's some really interesting material here in terms of applying the Christian worldview. One of the things we note is that many issues confronted in our culture right now, they very clearly divide blue from red.
They very clearly divide left from right, conservatives from liberals, Democrats from Republicans, but you know, at times issues arise that do not fall out that way. And the fact that they fall out differently is actually very important. Sometimes something emerges as, say, a concern or an emergency that demands common attention. It's not a left-right issue, it's not a liberal-conservative issue, it's not a Democrat-Republican issue. Sometimes there are surprising areas of concern that lead to a surprising ground of, say, common agreement or at least a possibility for a common approach. That, interestingly enough, is what's happening right now when it comes to digital media where you have people on the political right and the political left, and you have Democrats and Republicans. You have conservatives and liberals who are saying something big is wrong here and something is going to have to be done. And in particular, there is a strategic danger to young people, to children and teenagers, and maybe that's not all just by accident.
There was a big and important development on this reported in the Wall Street Journal in the financial section of this Monday's edition. The headline is this: Meta targeted Teen brains, states allege. Meta, in this case, of course, is the larger company that is also represented by Facebook and Instagram. Notice the headline, Meta targeted Teen brains, states allege. So this is not just some internet source, this is the Wall Street Journal. This is not a screening headline on page one. This is in the financial pages, and the headline says that the accusation of these states is that Meta targeted teen brains. That sounds significant. The closer you look at it, the more significant it appears to be. Now, something else to keep in mind is that the Wall Street Journal is, in general terms, very much a pro-business, pro-capitalism newspaper. It is, after all, the Wall Street Journal.
And so when you're talking about a concern about a major area of the economy and these big corporations, the fact that the Wall Street Journal reports this so directly is significant in and of itself. For instance, the Wall Street Journal's Jeff Horwitz points to the fact that Meta platforms "sought to design social media products to take advantage of known weaknesses of young users' brains." Listen to this, "According to newly redacted legal filings citing internal company documents," that's an astounding lead. Here you have the Wall Street Journal saying that this major company, Meta, is now being the subject of investigation and legal action undertaken by the states because of internal documents that reveal that the company was seeking to exploit a particular kind of "known weakness" in the brains of young users. So listen to this, the very next sentence, "An internal 2020 Meta presentation shows that the company sought to engineer products to capitalize on the parts of youth psychology that render teens "predisposed to impulse, peer pressure, and politically harmful risky behavior."
The most important issue to recognize here is that those words in that order are being cited from internal Meta documents. That is not something being said about Meta, that is something said internally by employees and leaders at Meta. The Meta presentation also included this, "Teens are insatiable when it comes to feel-good dopamine effects." And this is referring primarily to the impact of Facebook and Instagram. "And every time one of our teen users finds something unexpected, their brains deliver them a dopamine hit." So you see immediately the financial impact of this, Meta through Facebook and Instagram and other manifestations, but in particular, the platforms of Facebook and Instagram sought to take advantage, the states are now alleging, of what the company itself identified as a particular pattern to which adolescents and children are susceptible, adolescents, in particular, in order to increase the clicks, increase activity on the site, increase their income, and thus these attorneys general are arguing increased the damage to the very young people they were attracting to their own platforms.
Later in the article, "The states alleged that Meta has long known that its platform has weak protections against use by children below the age of 13, who are generally barred by both Meta's rules and federal law." In the United States, company algorithms estimated Meta has as many as four million underage users, rather than seeking to crack down on underage usage. According to the complaint, Meta created charts "boasting Instagram's penetration into 11 and 12-year-old demographic cohorts." So Meta's very much on the line. At the same time, other evidence is coming that adolescents, and it's not just adolescents, it's in particular adolescent girls are particularly vulnerable to injury coming by social media. And I think all of us can now pretty much understand exactly how that works. Enormous social pressure, enormous social comparison, enormous self-esteem damage that is being inflicted upon young women and, in particular, adolescent girls.
And the very mechanisms that lead to greater participation on those platforms are the very mechanisms that arguably, if not demonstrably, lead to increased damage in many young lives. Now by the way, there are, of course, other issues of digital temptation when it comes to adolescent males and advantages being taken of them as well. The very same day, the New York Times reported on the same story, the same action being taken by these states. "Instagram users under 13 were well-known to Meta states assert in complaint." The claims made by the states also use statements made by leaders at Instagram and Facebook. One of them said back in 2021, in November of that year, "Tweens want access to Instagram, and they lie about their age to get it now." But then the next month, the very same individual said in Senate testimony, "If a child is under the age of 13, they are not permitted on Instagram."
Well, again, you can say one of those things. You can't say both of those things, not basically at the same time. Obviously, there are big issues here for the entire society, and the fact that there are Democratic attorneys general and Republican attorneys general, there are red states and blue states commonly involved in this effort. I think this says a lot about the common concern, even a common urgency. The fact that there's this much common concern underlines the fact that this must be a really big moral problem. And indeed, I think we all know it is, but then we've also been talking about the fact that you have school systems that are now saying teenagers can't have phones at school. And yet I'm amazed by how many parents allow children, and tweens, and teenagers to have virtually unrestricted access through smartphones and other mechanisms in order to be rather constantly online and constantly engaged in social media.
A Parable of Parental Negligence Over Social Media: Mother in Hot Water After Giving Twin 7-Year-Old Sons Access to YouTube
But just when you think you've seen it all. Another story appeared, this one in the New York Times; again, it appeared in the business pages' and this one, by the way, on the very same day, all three of these articles appeared on Monday of this week. It's as if there's a pattern being revealed here, but this one on the front page of the financial section of the New York Times headline is this, When Posts Are Misread As Abusive. Kashmir Hill is the reporter. Now, I'm not going to mention names here. I'm simply going to describe what this news article is telling us, because the reality here is simply so staggering. It's frankly hard to imagine that it's true, but evidently it is very true. Here you have a mom who's making a complaint because her 7-year-old twin boys took an action using one of her digital devices, that led her to be banned at least on one platform.
This one YouTube, because there was a nudity, a child nudity charge made against the account, thus YouTube shut it down. This woman said that impacted her business, and the woman says she didn't do it. Rather, there was such a posting made of childhood nudity, and it was made, however, not by her, but it was made by one of her 7-year-old twin boys. According to the article, "Her seven-year-old twin sons used a Samsung tablet, logged onto her Google account to watch content for children and to make YouTube videos of themselves doing silly dances. A few of the videos had more than five views, but the video that got this woman in trouble "was different." So I said, just when you think you've seen it all here, you have a parent allowing twin 7-year-old boys to have access to a tablet computer in order she knows to make YouTube videos to share with their friends.
So let's ask the obvious question, what could go wrong? The answer to that is everything. And yet, there is no apparent censure or judgment made in this article about what I can only describe as the complete misjudgment and malpractice of this mother. It's as if that isn't actually even a thing.
‘Heresy’ is Indispensably Theological, So Why Did the New York Times Use It? The Death of a Bishop and the Ever Present Danger of Heresy
Finally, I want to take note of a development that happened, and we found out about it in the obituary section of the New York Times. It was the obituary for Bishop Carlton D. Pearson, who died just a matter of a few days ago. Now, Bishop Carlton D. Pearson was described by the New York Times with these words that he had been "deemed a heretic." Now, it's a remarkable thing that a paper like the New York Times would use the word heretic in a headline about anyone. But in this case, we are talking about someone who became, in his day, very well known for advocating heresy and for being declared a heretic.
Bishop Carlton Pearson had grown up in very conservative circles within American Pentecostalism, what's known as classical Pentecostalism. He was later to rebel against those doctrinal strictures and moral teachings. But as a young man, he went to Oral Roberts University, then and now more commonly known as ORU. It was, at that point, pretty much the center of the charismatic movement institutionally in the United States. Carlton Pearson went there as a teenager. He went as a young man. According to his own autobiography, the first question he heard from Oral Roberts himself was, "Can you sing?" Well, it turned out that he could sing, but it also turned out that he could preach, and he did both from the platform there at Oral Roberts University. He was very closely associated with the university. He became very closely associated with Oral Roberts and was described by some as Oral Roberts' black son.
But he decided to lanch out on his own, and he eventually formed a ministry there in Tulsa, known as Higher Dimensions Family Church. It would attract thousands of people. He would be named a bishop, a Pentecostal bishop. He would become a television personality. He would be associated with the Bush White House in terms of public meetings. And he was also very much involved in the music scene. He hosted a major charismatic conference. He was a rising star, no question about it. But then something happened. In his own words, Carlton Pearson said that it all started by seeing the images of suffering children in Uganda. And according to his own reflection, seeing those pictures led him to rethink his theology, and in this case, to rethink basic Christian orthodoxy. And he began to think about the doctrine of hell. And the more he thought about it, the more he said he thought that hell was right here on earth, as evidenced in those photographs, rather than the result of the judgment of God in a future state.
And so he basically came to, first of all, deny the reality of hell or to deny that anyone would go there. And then he went on to full-blown universalism, saying that those who hold the other world religions may be saved and will be in heaven to use his own argument without faith and personal knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. He went on to affirm universalism pretty much in his full-blown form as an ancient Christian heresy. And he did so, resisting correction. And that attempted correction came first of all, from within the Pentecostal movement and a group known as the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops, that group called Bishop Carlton Pearson to account for his heresy. And yet the bishop was unrepentant. He was obstinate in his heresy. For one thing, the bishops pointed out that Jesus clearly believed in hell and spoke very definitely about the threat of hell and hell in biblical terms as an eternal state of torment, which is God's righteous judgment for those who have not come under the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ by faith.
But Carlton Pearson did not correct his theology. And eventually, the Joint College of African-American Pentecostal Bishops, they threw him out. They declared him to be a heretic. They used language as bracing in its clarity. The Bishop said, "Because of our concern for the many people that could be influenced to adopt this heresy, and, in so doing, put at risk the eternal destiny of their souls, we are compelled to declare Bishop Carlton Pearson a heretic." So just this past week, the New York Times described the late Carlton Pearson as one who was deemed a heretic, and I believe he was rightly deemed a heretic. Now, as a theologian, I want to underline something. Heresy is one of the most indispensable words in the theological vocabulary. It's not to be used carelessly. Heresy is not a doctrine we don't like. Heresy is not a mere doctrinal disagreement. Instead, heresy is the denial of a doctrine both central and essential to Christianity. To be deemed a heretic in this sense is to be declared an enemy of the Christian faith, and apostate, and a threat to the theological integrity of the Christian Church.
And that's exactly what these Pentecostal bishops did in relation to Carlton Pearson, and they were exactly right. Now, classical evangelicals stand in many areas of theological disagreement with classical Pentecostalism. But again, I just have to say, these Pentecostal bishops did exactly the right thing, and they did so in a way that demonstrated doctrinal clarity and courage that is woefully missing elsewhere. The Episcopal Church in the United States never declared Bishop John Shelby Spong to be a heretic, though he clearly is. And yet the Church of England has had a succession of heretical bishops and has not defrocked any of them, nor declared them to be heretics, though they certainly were or are. All of this to remind us that if there is no heresy, let's face the honest truth, there is no orthodoxy.
If there is no heresy, we do not know what Christianity is. There are no definite doctrines. If there is no potential for heresy, then there is no actuality of understanding the gospel of Jesus Christ. And the New Testament makes very clear that heresy is a real and very present danger. We're living in very strange times, and frankly, there are far too many who consider themselves Christians. And frankly, there are far too many who would even claim to be evangelicals who would never use the word heresy, even when they're facing heresy, who would never use the word heretic, even when they are confronted by a heretic. It takes an awful lot of courage and clarity to use this vocabulary. And yet, without it, the Christian Church is doomed to theological disaster. But it does stand out.
And that's why I want to draw attention to the fact that the New York Times actually used the word heretic in a headline and did so, by the way, accurately. And that ought not to go without notice.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com.
You can follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.