Thursday, June 20, 2024

It’s Thursday, June 20th, 2024.

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

Part I

Israel’s Determined Enemy to the North: The Looming Challenge of Hezbollah Becomes More Urgent

Well, as the world grows increasingly dangerous, and it is, we need to take stock at least of what’s going on in several hotspots around the world. And in particular, we need to start there in Gaza where Israel is continuing its military effort against Hamas. And we just need to reset the equation here a bit because even as the headlines are not as pressing coming out of Gaza as they were a matter of just a few days and weeks ago, we do need to understand something that many Americans conveniently seem to forget. And that is that number one, Israel has a right to exist. And two, Israel exists always within a context of existential threat.

And Americans often talk about liberty being under attack, liberty always needing to be defended. But at the same time, we need to recognize that the United States is in a fundamentally different defense posture than a nation like Israel. Israel has never had a moment like we take for granted in the United States of America. As one geopolitical strategist pointed out in the late 19th century, the United States of America is greatly favored in so many ways. For one thing, we are a transcontinental nation with oceans to the east and the west. And we have friendly nations, not always an untroubled relationship, but very friendly nations when you look to the north with Canada, also a part of the English-speaking world. And then you look to the USA southern border with Mexico, again, a congenial neighbor. At the very least, let’s put it this way, it is inconceivable that the United States would go to war with either Canada or Mexico. And as you’re looking at Israel, we just need to recognize that everything is fundamentally the opposite.

Israel has never had a moment in its history since the formation of the nation, 1948, 1949, in which Israel has not been surrounded by mortal enemies who will its non-existence. And we’re also looking at the fact that even as Hamas undertook that murderous attack upon Israel last October the 7th, we’re also looking at the fact that an even greater military threat to Israel is increasingly rustling its own weapons in order to make very clear its present danger. We’re talking here about Israel’s North, we’re talking about the border with Lebanon, and we’re talking about the terrorist group and army known as Hezbollah. And it once again is backed by Iran. And Hezbollah has been an enemy of Israel going on for more than a generation now. And Israel has been involved in open war against Hezbollah in the past. But now Hezbollah is beginning to be very aggressive in terms of threats against Israel.

And there are forces within Israel and forces within Hezbollah who both believe, and perhaps in one sense both want, some kind of military engagement to expand. In Israel, the effort would be to try to nullify or reduce the threat of Hezbollah. On this side of Hezbollah what they want, and they’re very clear about this, is the non-existence of Israel. So it is interesting to see how in the American conversation, sometimes this does at least make the front pages. On the front page of yesterday’s edition of the New York Times was an article with the headline, just one column but still a headline in the New York Times, “Israelis fear Stronger Foe to the North”, and that stronger foe is Hezbollah. And it is of course, very much in control of at least parts of Lebanon and it can threaten Israel from right across Israel’s northern border. The Times explains, “Unlike Hamas, the Palestinian militia fighting Israel and Gaza, Hezbollah has troops who are battle hardened combatants, and the group possesses long range precision guided missiles that can strike targets deep inside Israel”.

Now that’s really crucial because you are talking about a much more powerful army. You’re talking about an army that is rightly described as being battle hardened. You have many military veterans, you have a great deal of military support and money going to Hezbollah from Iran, Israel’s declared foe. And you also have the reality that they do possess weaponry that Hamas does not possess. And it is interesting to note that even Iran at this point has not armed Hamas with this scale of weapons. We are talking about long range missiles that have precision guidance systems. And according to some reports could threaten virtually all of Israel, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and other population centers. And we’re not talking about an army or an air force of drones, we’re talking about precision missiles that could come with very deadly effect against populations in Israel. Now again, this isn’t the first time Israel has been threatened with war with Hezbollah.

It’s actually been at war with it in the past. The problem for Israel is that of course it now has enemies to the south and the north active at the same time. The Biden Administration recently sent a delegation trying to at least buy some time in terms of conflict with Hezbollah in the north. But as you look at this, we need to dissect the situation a little bit further because why would the United States take such a leading role in this? And here’s where I want to point out that as much as the national and international media don’t want to talk about this, and for that matter, American academics really don’t want to talk about it. Certainly American college students protesting in these ridiculous protests that have taken place on so many of America’s campuses, one thing to realize is that the geopolitics indicates that not only is Israel at stake in this, so is the United States of America, so is our own national interest and the national interest of others as well.

And so even as you have press coverage about this particular danger to Israel, and even as you have some people who are trying to say, “Okay, this fits into a larger context,” very few in the United States are pointing out that the United States and many of our allies are directly involved in this, not just out of allegiance to Israel, but out of our own national self-interests. And so that’s one of the major themes we’re going to consider today, and that is the fact that the United States of America and our allies, but let’s just take the United States for a moment, we have vital national interests far beyond the borders of the United States of America. It’s important we understand how dangerous the world is, not only to Israel in a direct way but also to the United States, to our national security and our national interest. So as you think about it, recognize that if you went back in history, say 100 years, you might be able to make the argument that what takes place in the Middle East is not directly related to the national security and the national interests of the United States of America.

Not only is it possible that you could have made that argument, that argument was actually made. There were those at the time on the American side who said, look, this is a French issue, it’s a British issue because of the clash of these historic European empires and colonialisms there. It is a matter of course of interest to those who live in the region, various nationalities, various ethnicities, various religious allegiances. But as for the United States, no, we’re pretty happy here between these two oceans and the rest of the world can pretty much take care of itself. Now, that kind of attitude and the foreign policy that followed it known as isolationism, saying that the United States could be isolated from the rest of the world, that’s what produced the fact that even as Nazi Germany was marching in Europe, the United States had a military that in terms of the number of personnel was not even in the top 10.

Did you know that as World War II was looming, the United States had an army smaller than some South American nations, and yet all that had to turn around or everything would’ve been lost in World War II? So ever since World War II, and remember it was followed so quickly by the Cold War in the conflict between the free world and the communist world, it’s important to recognize the United States has pretty much understood it had to be devoted to interests around the rest of the world because the rest of the world was not going to leave the United States alone. And furthermore, the United States has a stake in freedom, and in liberty in constitutional self-government, and frankly in an orderly world that affects our economy. Yes, no doubt about that. No apology for that. That affects freedom of navigation, freedom of travel on the sea and the air, yes, no question about that. And no hesitation to acknowledge that.

The United States also has interests that have to do with which nations are gaining in influence and which nations are losing in influence. That went back to the Cold War and the great worldview battle between the United States and our allies and the Soviet Union and its allies. But there were many people who thought at about the end of the 20th century, particularly with the collapse of the Soviet Union, that those days were over and the United States could go back to being preoccupied primarily with just sea to shining sea. The rest of the world can take care of itself. That was never true. And quite frankly, those who were the leadership of the United States government and the United States military, they understood it was never true. But for all kinds of political reasons, there were people who were very glad for the American people to believe that somehow we had been granted a holiday from history.

But of course, no one is granted a holiday from history. And the fact is that in the course of the rise of terroristic threats all over the world, the United States recognizes it isn’t going to stay there far from the United States. There are people who will leave those regions and come all the way to the United States to fly airliners into our skyscrapers. We are looking at a clear and present danger to the United States. And that means that just as we look at the war on terror, the threat of global terrorism, the United States came to the very quick conclusion that if we just allow these terrorist threats to grow the threat to the United States and our own citizens is only going to increase. Therefore, you had forward mobilization, you had global projection of America’s national security recognizing that this sometimes meant that we had to lob a missile halfway around the world, or we had to take military action against a terrorist group halfway around the world in order to prevent something from happening disastrously in one of our own major cities.

But there have also been other huge developments, and a lot of this has to do with the fact that all of a sudden we recognize that as we look at the year 2024 and we look at a globe or a map of the world, we really are looking at two major worldviews facing off once again. We are looking at two major constellations or networks of nations acting in what they perceive as their own self-interest facing off against each other.

Part II

A New Axis of Evil: North Korea, Russia, China, and Iran Oppose the West and Our Allies

And so earlier this week we talked about the G7 meeting. Those are seven major Western economies, and they also happen to be very close allies militarily. And we also tend to share a common worldview, at least common enough that we have common national interests and common interests around the world. This would include the G7: the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada.

So as you look at that, you recognize, well, I can see how those seven end up on the same list. And as I said earlier this week, it hasn’t always been seven. But it’s also important to realize there are other nations closely allied with us, including nations such as Australia and New Zealand. Again, we’re very close to them tied by mutual defense pacs. We also have other allies. For one thing, there are a lot of European nations that are very close allies of the United States, they just don’t have economies big enough to get on the G7 list. But they are no doubt a part of the European experiment, a part of western civilization. And as you’re looking elsewhere in the world, you recognize that in much of the world that in the last century or the end of the last century was described as the non-aligned world.

Well, more nations are actually becoming aligned, and a good many of them are aligned with the United States. So just to point to two regions of the world, there are a number of nations in Asia and Southeast Asia that would closely identify with the United States and Western interests. And the same thing is of course true in Central and South America. But increasingly, we are looking at the development of a very real threat, a clashing worldview, a clear and present danger. And the meeting of the G7 is one event that helps to point that out. But the other big event is the visit of Russian president Vladimir Putin to North Korea. That made history, nothing like that’s happened in about a quarter-century. The fact that it’s happening right now underlines this realignment we’re talking about. And quite frankly, it has a lot to do with the future security of the United States of America and the security of our allies as well.

Back a generation and more ago the United States was talking about an axis of evil. President George W. Bush used that kind of language, but it was also used by presidents like Ronald Reagan and President Bush’s father, President George H.W. Bush. And the word axis goes back to World War II when the enemy coalition against the United States was described as the axis powers. Most importantly among those axis powers, was Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. But now we are looking at the fact that, you fast-forward from that, there was another face off between two giant blocs of nations. And that was the Cold War in which had a face off between the worldview of communism and totalitarianism, most importantly led at that time by the Soviet Union. And then the forces of liberty and constitutional self-government that was led by the United States and our European allies and other allies, very close allies such as Australia and New Zealand, and then added to them after World War II increasingly was the nation of Japan.

You also have South Korea. Again, this is not an exhaustive list. It is just a reminder that we have two blocs of nations divided not only by national interest, not only by a different view of the world, but by a different worldview. And so we saw the clash between the forces of liberty and order in World War II, over against the forces of evil and mayhem. And then we saw the face off between communism and constitutional self-government, in the course of the Cold War. And now we’re looking at something else. So the axis of evil language was largely addressed, for example, to the war on terror, to a vast expansion of terroristic threats that took place at the end of the 20th century, in the beginning of the 21st century with the recognition there were state actors behind many of those terrorist organizations. And one of those of course was Iran, we understand that.

But what’s interesting and really important for us is to recognize that a generation ago it was quite common to believe that as you look at a face off between two different blocks of nations that would characterize the world today, a generation ago it was quite common to think that Russia might be on the right side rather than the wrong side. Now, you can look back at that and say it was unwarranted optimism, but there was reason to believe, at least early on in the experience of Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union, that it wanted to do two things, that it wanted to join western nations in some form of community and economy. And secondly, that it did want to dig out of its economic lethargy by means of engagement with Western economies. And so you saw leadership in Russia, including Vladimir Putin when he was early on in leadership in Russia, who was very much identifying with the Western nations wanted to show up at meetings such as the recent G7 meeting. Of course, if he had been there, it wouldn’t have been the G7.

But as you look at this, you recognize this isn’t just about math, this is about this clash of worldviews. I want to look at the second big development because it really is vitally important. Vladimir Putin flew to North Korea to Pyongyang to be greeted there by the dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong Un. And to be feted, having made statements, which by the way were already published in the North Korean media in which he presented North Korea as being besieged by other nations, most importantly the United States of America. Let’s just remind ourselves, as you look at North Korea, we are talking about what is almost assuredly the most repressive nation presently on earth. We are talking about the nation that has killed more of its own people, even starved more of its own people as percentage, than just about any other nation now on the map. Again, by percentage.

It has also been the most ruthless destroyer under the Kim dynasty of any kind of personal liberty. It is repressive in every possible way, and that includes, of course, the absolute denial of religious liberty. It is a neo Stalinist, ideological, atheistic state, driven by a cult of personality that is grounded in one family now in its third generation, its ruthlessness goes beyond almost description. Some of the enemies of the state have been killed, for example, by being tied to a stake and having missiles fired at them. Vladimir Putin years ago would not have been seen anywhere near Pyongyang. He wouldn’t have gone anywhere near North Korea. So why is he there now? Well, it is estimated that North Korea, which is a vast military empire in terms of building armaments and remember its nuclear weapons. Well, North Korea has been supplying Russia with what western nations have cut it off from, which is a lot of armaments, particularly for the Russian artillery. And we’re talking about what are estimated in the mainstream media to be millions of rounds of ammunition, millions.

Part III

Back to the Future: Once Again the World is Dividing in Two

So what I want us to see is that as you’re looking at the development right now of a new world picture, we just need to recognize that we are once again looking at a face off. And whether you want to call it the axis of evil, or whatever you might call it, you’re now looking at Iran, you’re looking at Russia, you’re looking increasingly at cooperation in that sense with North Korea and with the People’s Republic of China. You are looking at the fact that even as those four nations are almost, assuredly, the first four you would list, there are other nations around the world who are likely, if not assuredly, to be drawn into that orbit. And thus, once again, the world is taking sides. And the point I want to make is that worldview matters so much that it has geopolitical strategic importance.

It explains why totalitarians band together. It explains why nations as fanatical as Iran and as North Korea are now allied more closely with communist China and even with Russia. It explains why we’re going to have to recolor our maps of the world. And once again, it explains what Christians know. And that is that at the base of it all is not just geopolitics, it is worldview. That means that as we’re looking at this distinction between these two worldviews, it comes down to theological questions. It comes down to questions which are essentially rooted in theology. Including what does it mean to be a human being? What does it mean to rule over a nation of human beings? What respect, what rights are owed to those human beings? The different answers to those questions explain the reordering of the map. The different answers to those questions also point to the prior question, which is, as Christians know, inescapably, irreducibly theological.

Part IV

Thailand and The Legalization of “Same Sex Marriage” — Once Again, Worldview Issues Press Into the Headlines

But finally, for today, as we are talking about a clash of worldviews, here’s a headline that many Americans may see and just think, well, that’s interesting. It’s regrettable, but no great significance. Well, here’s the headline. “Legislature in Thailand Passes Same Sex Marriage”, that’s the New York Times. Washington Post, “Thailand Legislature passes landmark bill Legalizing Same Sex Marriage.” Well, they’re talking about the same thing, of course. And that is that on Tuesday of this week, the legislature in Thailand voted to adopt a form of legalized same-sex marriage. And so people are almost immediately saying, look, this is the first time this has happened in a nation in Southeast Asia. And that’s true by the way, it’s the first time this has happened in Southeast Asia. There are other Asian nations that have moved in that direction, although a minority of those nations. But as you look at this, you recognize, okay, a lot of questions actually all of a sudden kind of bubble up to the surface here.

Number one, why did this happen in Thailand and how did it happen? If Thailand did not have same-sex marriage before, what was the say worldview reality that prevented it? And why does it have it now? And what’s the worldview development that changed everything? Well, I think that’s easily answered actually. And it goes back to something that a lot of us don’t think about, including a lot of Christians. And that is the fact that Christianity comes with a very clear ontology. I know that was a lot of vocabulary, but what it means is that Christianity comes with an understanding of reality based in creation by the sovereign creator, which is revealed in creation order, which reveals his glory. And that means that the Bible, the very first chapter of the Bible, begins with the creator and with the Creator creating stuff. And the stuff is real, and the stuff is to his glory.

The Creator, God created the entire cosmos as the theater of his glory. And of course, in the Book of Genesis, what we have in the first chapter, is increasing detail in creation day by day until on the sixth day of creation, God makes the human being. And makes the creature made in his image. Male and female created he them. And so this means that Christianity begins with his ontology. It’s real. Male and female, not just social constructs. Real. Not just material real, as in dust real. But actually real, more real than the dust, more real than the dirt, because it’s grounded in the reality of the one true and living God. So Christianity, and the worldview that Christianity brings, and the civilization that Christianity produces is based even reflexively on that kind of ontology. Now, we’re seeing a rebellion against that in Western civilization right now, most particularly in the sexual revolution and the LGBTQ movement.

But it’s still there. And it’s one of the reasons why the T in LGBTQ, and on and on, is running into so much difficulty. It’s because there is a reflex, it’s a theological reflex, a worldview reflex that is among human beings. And that means continuing to be true among Americans, even confused Americans. They’re having a hard time actually pulling off, looking at a boy and saying “There’s a girl,” or looking at a girl and saying, “There’s a boy”. And again, ontology comes back, reality, creation order. Well, that’s entirely missing in other parts of the world, according to other worldviews. And for instance, Buddhism has a narrative about the creation of the world, but it doesn’t come with an ontology. And so the point I want to make is that if you are a nation influenced by the worldview of Buddhism, you do not have the theological defenses or the understanding of ontology that might prevent you from moving in this direction.

So marriage can be seen as a human institution, thus human beings have the right to redefine marriage. But understand, I am not throwing Thailand under the bus here because the United States has had legalized same-sex marriage by action of the Supreme Court, I believe illegitimate action, but by action of the Supreme Court, and we’re talking about years ago. So this is not just to criticized Thailand, but it is to say it will be interesting to see how other nations of the world that say also lack any cultural understanding or worldview of a revealed ontology, how they will hold back from approving same-sex marriage and legalizing it. Particularly under Western pressure, even the pressure of American foreign policy. Very sad. But under the Biden Administration, you can count on the fact that that’s happening. So that raises a very interesting question, and that question comes down to where then is the greatest resistance to something like same-sex marriage and the confusion of the LGBTQ revolution.

And so interestingly there, you see for example, what just happened in the United Methodist Church where you had an entire conference of a million United Methodist leave because of the influence of Christianity in particular in Africa. And you also have the reality. Let’s just state the obvious, that in the Islamic dominated world, there’s really no confusion about this. And yet that’s not so much because of the ontology as it is the binding nature of Islamic law. You can look elsewhere in the world and you can see similar kinds of patterns. For instance, the nation of India, the most populous form of self-government in the world, that is to say citizen involved government, India came very close to legislating same-sex marriage, but didn’t go that far. And it was because of the influence of Hindu nationalism, and the current Indian government led by Prime Minister Modi.

So you look at all this, you recognize worldview matters. Sometimes it matters right down to the headline, and it matters why this happened in Thailand and why this did not happen in Iraq or in Yemen or Saudi Arabia, or for that matter, why it has not happened in many of the newly Christian influenced nations in a continent like Africa. Another reminder to us that the map of same-sex marriage is increasingly around the globe, also a map of worldview. And the explanation for why the United States is in the wrong position on that issue is the fact that the Christian influence that brought this civilization into being is now being explicitly subverted by an age of radical secularization. And so all that comes with consequences, whether in the United States or in Thailand.

Thanks 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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