Thursday, April 25, 2024

It’s Thursday, April 25, 2024.

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

Part I

America’s Elite Campuses Are in Chaos: Columbia University’s Protesting Students Are the Tip of the Leftist Iceberg

Americans are accustomed to seeing those black-and-white images of campus protests from the 1960s, and of course, you’re looking at the protests against the Vietnam War, and we pretty much know those images when we see them. But we’re seeing them again right now and they’re not coming at us from the 1960s, they’re coming at us from the last 60 minutes. We are looking right now at a resurgence of protest movements on the campuses of America’s elite academic institutions, and at least a part of what we need to consider today is the fact that it is not by accident. Much of this is deeply orchestrated, and we need to understand very clearly who and why this orchestration is taking place.

First of all, what are we looking at here? Back in the 1960s, it was the political left that was protesting pretty much the same thing now. Because as you are looking at those who claim they are protesting in the name of the Palestinian people, and no doubt some of them have an actual honest concern that is being demonstrated on behalf of the Palestinian people, but what we’re looking at, by and large, is a highly orchestrated protest movement that once again shows us how the left works. Now, if you hear me say that and you say, “Well, this could happen on the right and on the left,” yes, of course it can. But ever since the end of World War Two, primarily in Western nations, this has been a phenomenon of the political and cultural, ideological left. You go back to the 1960s, that’s exactly what was happening in cities, in countries all over the Western world, and it’s happening right now. And once again, it’s not just happening in the United States, but it is clear that right now the US is the epicenter.

Now, exhibit A of what’s going on here, of course, is Columbia University. We’ve discussed it already, but now we have to update ourselves on events. The speaker of the United States House of Representatives went to the Columbia campus yesterday and directly addressed the issue, even calling upon the president of the university to resign if she could not immediately restore order. The fact is that Columbia University President Minouche Shafik really is in no position to establish order after she’d appeared before a congressional committee and stated that her intention was to limit anti-Semitism threats to Jewish students and violent protests that would disrupt academic affairs on her campus. And even as we now know, before she got back to New York, she had to go to a law firm in order to have a huddle, a strategy session in which she decided to allow the police to go on and arrest more than 100 protesters.

That, by the way, didn’t stop the movement, it basically accelerated the movement. Even as she might make the pledge that she will handle this, I want to tell you right up front she can’t, or to put it another way, she won’t because when you are looking at the president of a university like Columbia, you are looking at a very powerful position on the outside, it is likely not so powerful on the inside. Like so many among the most prestigious institutions in the United States, we’re talking here about historic prestige, especially as attached to the elite universities known as members of the Ivy League, you look at the outside and those presidencies look very, very powerful. And just consider the fact that at least two of them have been toppled in the course of the last few months, and on related issues, after congressional testimony.

So we are looking at the fact that on the outside view, these positions look very, very strong, and quite frankly, President Shafik bears a lot of responsibility, but at the same time, you have conservatives like the US Speaker of the House calling on her to resign, but you also have the academic progressivist left filing official charges against her from the left. And it’s easy to look at her position and say, “She really can’t win,” and in a sense, she can’t. On the other hand, she took the job. She knew what she was getting into, even as she’s only been in that job for a matter of months. She bears this responsibility. I’ll just state right up front, it’s hard to imagine how she does survive this turmoil. On the other hand, it’s even harder to imagine how Columbia can offer any kind of real corrective to its pattern set over the course of the last several decades, a pattern in which it is basically forfeited control of the university to the ideological and political, the cultural left.

It has done that in a way that no one can really deny. It has done that in a way that historically has already led to a tradition of anti-Semitism on that campus. And yet at the same time, even as Columbia was badly bruised during the 1960s because of the images of the student protests that took place on that campus back during that strategic decade, you have to think that the leadership of Columbia knows they’re going right back into another period. It’s like the same song and the second verse. And yet as you compare the 1960s and now, the faculty now is far more liberal than was the case in the 1960s. And quite honestly, so overwhelmingly is the student body. Speaking before the university’s famous Low Library, the Speaker of the House yesterday spoke of the ideological commitments made by the founders of the university, including some of the founders of the American experiment such as Alexander Hamilton, John Jay.

And he went on to say, “The founders and the great leaders who had come through this institution in the past believed in religious liberty, they believed in democracy, they believed in morality and virtue and the dignity of every human person. They believed in the free exchange of ideas and they detested mob rule.” But even as the speaker spoke those words, you have to know that he knew in his heart, “Well, that was then, but this is now.” As if to make the point, the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives was basically drowned out by the protesters shortly after he made those comments. To be honest, one of the frustrating realities of our age is that it is still very difficult to get many conservative evangelical Christians to understand what and who we are up against when it comes to this ideological conflict. There are far too many evangelicals who would be very glad to gain some social status by sending their kids to some of these elite schools.

But quite honestly, once you understand what is taking place on those schools, it is absolutely horrifying in ideological terms. So what’s going on right now at Columbia should come as a surprise to no one. Even the open anti-Semitism at Columbia right now and at other universities should come as a surprise to no one. The antipathy towards the state of Israel as a Jewish nation should surprise no one. The support for the Palestinian cause based on critical theory and leftist ideologies should surprise no one. This is not a new development. It’s newly on the lawn in tents. It is newly on the headlines in terms of the words and the images, but if you’re surprised by this, you simply haven’t been aware of what’s going on on these elite campuses, for a long time. So the first issue here is the abdication of the academic culture to this ideological left, but there’s more to it than that.

As Steven Stalinsky makes very clear in the Wall Street Journal, you’re also talking about the direct involvement of Islamic groups including Hezbollah and Hamas, or at the very least, the agents and funders behind them. It’s not an accident that some of the slogans that are being heard in these protests are the slogans that have come from the Palestinian liberation movement. It is not an accident that you have some of these students actually expressing support for Hamas. Remember, this is an extremist, murderous, terrorist Islamist organization that carried out that brutal murderous attack upon Israel on October the 7th. And that’s not the first time Hamas had shown exactly what it believes, had shown exactly where its ideology leads. And as we’re looking at this, you need just to take into full account that there are people, and that means students in particular, there are students on these campuses who are now wittingly, in many cases, or unwittingly, the agents of terrorist organizations.

And honestly, this is where in the 1960s you had the neoconservatives come to the clear understanding, and many of them were in New York on campuses such as Columbia University and the majority of them were Jewish, they had been liberals, but in the words of one of those who designated themselves neoconservative, the new conservatives, they were liberals who were mugged by reality. They were mugged by reality when they found out that the ideologies of the 60s were not about human liberation, but actually came down to the embrace of anti-Semitism and the destruction of permanent values. And that was in the 1960s that continued in the 1970s. Now we’re talking about ideologies that are far to the left, ideologies that wouldn’t have been imaginable in the 1960s and the 1970s, and they are now mainstream. Just yesterday, USA Today put on its front page the headline, “Columbia,” meaning Columbia University, “a Natural Nexus of Activism.”

And in this case, the article, on the front page, simply documents once again that this is not new at Columbia. And I just want to come back and say that ideologically, the only thing new about this is how much further left the student body and also the faculty have gone. I want to underline one other fact and that is that when you have a university like this that gets into trouble, this kind of public turmoil, this kind of campus unrest, it is quite likely that this president will lose her job. But no one on the conservative side should think that that means anything fundamental will change. The only way for real change to take place on that campus is not just to have a new president, but a new board, a new faculty, and a new student body. You and I both know that’s not going to happen. So the likely outcome of this is that they will eventually reach some kind of truce.

They will eventually clean up the lawn. They will eventually, and of course, summer’s coming, so these students are, at least in the main, going home for a matter of weeks, they will work this out by the time the students come back. I can’t tell you who’s going to be president, but I can tell you that nothing fundamental is going to change.

Part II

Democrats are Going Back to the Future? The Democratic National Convention Faces Tumult in Chicago — And Deserves It

But next, I want to shift to a political dimension of this that you might not be thinking of, but I’ll guarantee you the Democratic Party is thinking of this. The Democratic Party in the United States is traumatized more than anything else by one year, that year, 1968. Now, that was the year of horrifying political assassinations including Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy, the United States Senator, the former Attorney General, and brother of the assassinated President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.

By the time the Democrats met for their nominating convention in Chicago in 1968, the fuse had been lit, so to speak, and riots broke out, protesters on the streets. It was a humiliation to the Democratic Party and the Democratic nominee in 1968, the then Vice President Hubert Humphrey, he really didn’t have much of a chance after the unrest in Chicago. It was an absolute humiliation to the Democratic Party. Unfortunately, the lesson learned by the party was not to shift to the right, but to shift to the left. The next nominee was the even more liberal Senator George McGovern in 1972. This past Monday, the New York Times put on the front page the worries of the Democratic Party. The headline is this, “For Democrats, an Echo of ’68 in War Protest.” Jeremy W. Peters is the reporter on the story, and he’s absolutely right. Guess where the Democrats are going back for the nominating convention in 2024?

You got that right, they’re going back to Chicago. The protesters on the ideological left who are already protesting the President because of US support for Israel, they are likely to show up in numbers on the streets. The Democrats are afraid that it’s going to be back to the future, right back to 1968. The article cites David Axelrod, longtime Democratic strategist and senior White House staffer who pointed to 1968, and then to 2024 said, “We’ve got a big anti-war movement, lots of tumult, a convention in Chicago. What could go wrong?” The New York Times added, helpfully, but unnecessarily, that Axelrod was half joking. One of the other things we need to recognize is that these campus protests have now spread all across the United States. By one count, more than 200 locations were involved, and this includes more than 100 college and university campuses where, of course, the protesters were primarily students.

So it’s going to be very, very important to watch what takes place over the next several weeks. In one sense, the timing is important in this simply because you have most universities and colleges going into their summer break pretty quickly. So this is not like a movement or a contagion that breaks out, say in February, and there’s an entire semester ahead. No, in this case, the scene is likely to change when the population changes on America’s elite college campuses. But that is not to say that it’s going to go away. And in one sense, it is likely that many of these students and others who on the left are protesting here against Israel, it is quite likely that they are just going to move those protests. And I think, many of these protests are going to be not only relocated, but transformed in terms of the composition of the protesting crowd. It’s likely to be made up, yes, of students, but of others as well, including some of the activists on the ideological left.

Part III

What Exactly are Israel-Protesting College Students Demanding? Nothing Less than the Elimination of Israel

One final issue we need to talk about before we leave the issue for today, and that is, what exactly are the students on these campuses demanding? Well, in general terms, what they’re demanding is a break in America’s historic relationship in support of Israel. What they are demanding also in general terms, is that there be a shift in US policy away from Israel toward the Palestinian cause. They are also demanding, though often without specifics, the recognition of a Palestinian state. Some of them, as we have said, have gone further and have identified with Hezbollah, with Hamas, and with others in actually calling for the abolition and demise of Israel. But one of the demands that has gained prominence just in the last few days, is the demand that the universities themselves divest from holdings in their endowments, and in their financial reserves that are connected to Israel, the investment funds have to do with Israeli financial interests.

And without going into detail about how exactly that works, the point is that this is a continuation of the divestment logic that fed so many protests in decades past. And even as many Americans would hear that demand, they might think, “Well, that’s not such a big deal.” It is a very, very big deal. It would effectively put Israel in the position of being a pariah state as, quite frankly, South Africa became, during the period decades ago when it was under the reign of the apartheid government, that is strict racial segregation. South Africa was exposed as a racist state, a racist government. That’s exactly what these protesters want to do to Israel. But then again, that’s what they’re demanding today. You know this is not even where this will end. And as fast as this story is unfolding, by next week, we may be dealing with an entirely different set of demands. However, we do know what the ultimate aim is, and that aim is the severing of the relationship between the United States and Israel. Eventually, that end is the disappearance of Israel.

Part IV

‘Belief in God is Not Only False, It Should Be Made Shameful’: Daniel Dennett, One of the Four Horsemen of New Atheism, Dies at 82

But next, I want to turn to an obituary with vast worldview significance. In this case, the obituary is a large piece published in the New York Times about the death of Professor Daniel C. Dennett of Tufts University. Professor Dennett died last Friday. He died at age 82. Now, it might sound strange that we would be discussing, at this level, the obituary of a scientist professor at Tufts University who has died. It might seem like there must not be much to this story, but I promise you, there’s a great deal to this story. Daniel Dennett is not just known as a famous scientist at Tufts University. He is not just known as a scientist, as he was described, of human consciousness, he was one of those described as the four horsemen of the New Atheism.

Along with others, including Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett was one of the four figures, and Sam Harris was the fourth of those who pioneered the attack upon theism that was reframed and repackaged as the New Atheism, especially in the 1990s. I wrote a book entitled Atheism Remix, engaging and refuting the arguments of those four New Atheists. Daniel Dennett was, if anything, the most candid of the four. And Daniel Dennett saw himself as a man of intellectual honesty and a man who saw things clearly. And what he thought he saw as the human consciousness itself is a mere product of evolution. When you are talking about the theory of evolution based on an essentially materialist worldview, which is to say the only reality that exists is a material reality, Daniel Dennett was one of the most strictly observant materialists of all time.

He believed that human consciousness had nothing to do with anything beyond the interaction of units that evolved over time. There’s nothing more to it. The human mind was simply an accumulation of biological materials that operated according to biological laws and biological processes. He said, “Not only is there no soul,” he said, “human consciousness is just simply a material thing.” Now, eventually, that meant that he would even deny free agency because if you understand what he was saying, he says, basically, you have no control over what you think, it’s just a matter of the interaction of materials in the human brain and the accumulated experiences that evolution has taught the brain to learn by. Back in the 1990s, Dennett wrote a book entitled Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, and in it, he began with a parable. It’s a very powerful parable.

He said that as a boy, about junior high or middle school age, he had imagined something that might be like a science fiction nightmare. It was a universal acid. So as a boy, he envisioned whether it would be possible one day for some scientist, perhaps a mad scientist, to develop an acid that was so powerful that it would dissolve everything. And you can see exactly how this would work in the mind of a teenage boy. Here’s how it would work. You would have this acid that is developed, and it’s so powerful that before you know it, it has dissolved the test tube, it has dissolved the laboratory, it’s dissolved the scientists, it dissolves the city, it dissolves planet Earth, eventually, it dissolves the entire cosmos. That notion of a universal acid is what Daniel Dennett applied to Darwinism.

He said that Darwinism, rightly understood, is the universal acid. It dissolves everything. You claim that human consciousness is something special? Evolution dissolves that. You believe that human beings, homo sapiens, are somehow separate from the rest of the animal world? Well, Darwinism dissolves that. You believe that love between a mother and a child is something real and transcendent beyond just the engagement of one human consciousness that is simply material with another human consciousness that is simply material? Again, Daniel Dennett said, you are fooling yourself. At one point, when Daniel Dennett was asked about the existence of the soul, he simply responded, “I don’t believe in the soul as an enduring entity. Our brains are made of neurons and nothing else. Nerve cells are very complicated mechanical systems. You take enough of those and you put them together and you get a soul. Got it?”

Whereas even among some of the atheists, it was considered bad form to attack religious believers in the United States. That means, of course, predominantly Christians. Dennett felt no such reluctance. He said that belief in God was not only false, it should be made shameful. Speaking of religious belief, he said, “Far from being honorable, it is not even excusable. It is shameful.” So you might ask, given the rather chilling consistency of Dennett’s worldview, let’s ask the professor where religious belief comes from. Where does belief in God come from? And he says, without breaking a sweat, “It is simply evidence that sometimes evolution goes astray.” It has to eventually work it out in order to make the correction. A corollary and inevitable question is whether Professor Dennett believed in religious liberty. Basically, he did not.

He said this, “A faith, like a species, must evolve or go extinct when the environment changes. It is not a gentle process in either case. We preach freedom of religion, but only so far.” He said this, and I quote, “It’s nice to have grizzly bears and wolves living in the wild. They’re no longer a menace. We can peacefully coexist with a little wisdom. The same policy said can be discerned in our political tolerance in religious freedom. You are free to preserve or create any religious creed you wish as long as it does not become a public menace.” But of course, so far as Daniel Dennett was concerned, the moment it took on public significance, it was a public menace. Dennett was, I think, a fundamentally consistent thinker, or he sought to be. He was absolutely consistent in his materialism. He didn’t believe that anything beyond the material world actually existed. He believed in the theory of evolution so much that he saw it eventually as exactly what he had imagined as a boy, the universal acid.

Later he would reflect saying these words, “Little did I realize that in a few years I would encounter an idea, Darwin’s idea, bearing an unmistakable likeness to universal acid. It eats through just about every traditional concept and leaves in its wake a revolutionized worldview with most of the old landmarks still recognizable but transformed in fundamental ways.” So this meant that the challenge for Daniel Dennett was talking about morality, when actually, morality doesn’t exist, only evolution exists. It meant talking about the responsibility of human beings, say as citizens and as neighbors, but it was all just a fiction in order to serve the larger purpose of evolution. He drew the line, of course, at accepting that there was any plausibility or respect to be given to religious belief because it was so far outside his system that those who believed in it weren’t even worthy of having a seat at the table.

Now, you might also not be surprised to know that Daniel Dennett made several enemies in the scientific field, and in the field of human consciousness as well, and it’s because he basically picked a fight with almost everyone. But as tragic as it is in eternal terms thinking about the death of Daniel Dennett, it is an opportunity for us to recognize that he gave us something we need to recognize, and that was, he gave us a consistent argument for atheism and for evolution, and for Darwinism, even as others, including many on the Evangelical left, want to act as if you can reconcile biblical Christianity and evolution, Daniel Dennett saw what I believe we must see, and that is the absolute incompatibility of those two worldviews. Daniel Dennett’s death last week reminds us once again of the sobering truth that ideas have consequences. And we understand, as Daniel Dennett understood, at least in material terms, that ideas have consequences. But we understand as Christians that ideas have consequences. That truth has consequences, not only in this material world in a temporal frame, but eternally.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing. 

For more information, go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to For information on Boyce College, just go to I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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