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Culture Friday: Forgetting the cost of moral confusion


WORLD Radio - Culture Friday: Forgetting the cost of moral confusion

Pope Francis and Western media, university elites fail to appreciate the intrinsic evil of Hamas, and Erick Erickson on Speaker Mike Johnson

Two hundred chairs with portraits of Israeli hostages kidnapped by Hamas militants during the October 7 attacks are installed in front of the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. Associated Press/Photo by Martial Trezzini/Keystone

MYRNA BROWN, HOST: It’s Friday the 27th of October, 2023.

Glad to have you along for today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Myrna Brown.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. It’s Culture Friday.

Joining us now is John Stonestreet, the president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint Podcast. John, good morning.


BROWN: Pope Francis declared today (Oct. 27) as World Day of Prayer for peace, inviting all Christians and people of any faith to join.

But it's what he's not saying about Israel and Hamas that's drawing sharp criticism.

WORLD Opinions contributor Daniel Suhr writes, At a time of nearly universal outrage and condemnation for the brutal terrorist attack on Israel, one voice on the world stage has been especially troubling—Pope Francis.

He goes on to say, Even as the pope finally recognized Israel’s right to defend itself, he immediately criticized how Israel has gone about defending itself without placing the moral responsibility on Hamas for starting the war in the first place.

The Pope is being called out by other voices around the world as well. Is this calling out warranted you think?

STONESTREET: Yeah, I think it's part of the long history of Catholics calling out Pope Francis for confusing or misleading or far from conclusive statements that seem to walk back either historic understandings of Christian theology or historic moral conclusions about righteousness and evil. And this is another example. I think, also, he's been called out a lot for the ideas that have shaped his worldview. And most of us remember the sort of concern that was voiced when he was identified as a candidate for the papacy and eventually named Pope is that, where's his formation really been? What ideas have really shaped his view?

And he comes from a part of the world in which there was a strong influence of a kind of a syncretistic theological framing of Christian theology with Marxism, kind of a liberation theology. And he often speaks and thinks and talks in categories that smell a little Marxist, and is the way that justice is often talked about by whole segments of the church. And he's been an example of that. So I think it's a real problem. I think a lot of members of the church are very uncomfortable with it. My understanding of the faith doesn't place him in that role as a theological authority in that sense. But it certainly affects an awful lot of people. And it's also widely recognized as a voice of Christian authority by the wider world. So it is a source of confusion, it does confuse the moral witness of the church, and that what the church is supposed to have to the wider world.

EICHER: Well, help us think this through, John, properly. I know you’re well versed in the principles of just-war theory. We know where the pope is coming from on this, we know where a lot of the secular moral-equivalence, both-sidesism is coming from. Talk about the Christian frame for thinking through this conflict.

STONESTREET: Well, it's gonna be really hard to think this through because every single major media voice right now immediately trusts the words of the ones who have proven themselves to be evil. You know, the story of the bombing of the hospital, I thought Ben Shapiro's analysis which certainly came out of a good deal of I think righteous anger was really accurate. It goes, you know, really at the heart of this is not only that the explanation that Israel bombed this hospital didn't really make sense, but that the information came immediately from the organization we know carried out all these other atrocities. So the fact that the entire world, particularly the media elites and the academics of the world, believe the ones that beheaded children, when they say, this is what happened here and this is the numbers that we have. The fact that they immediately take this information from Hamas, and then turn around and proclaim it as if it's true, tells you the moral backwardness of the institutions that are getting their information. So before we get any further, that's this is the place that the rest of us find ourselves in, who don't have access to government reports, who don't have access to intelligence briefings is that we know now clearly that the information that's coming is from morally upside-down people. I don't know how else to say it. I mean, it has proven to be just an absolute disaster, morally, these institutions.

But what we're talking about here are those who think the good guys are the bad guys and the bad guys are the good guys and we're not talking about people that are in a close race. We're talking about Hamas. We're talking about the activities of warfare that were completely common throughout human history until Christians stepped up and said, You know what, this is what we know to be true about human people so there's this thing called just war. But the thing is, is what Hamas did on October the 7th changes the whole ethical debate, it changes the whole moral framework. They have to do this, in order to honor the innocent, or they themselves are evil. This is the idea of just war. And it's a framing that has deeply influenced international law. And it's a framework that Christianity gave the world and that the world has embraced, because it's the only one. Otherwise, it's the only one that offers an innocence for civilians. It's the only one that can offer a distinction between a combatant and a civilian. Otherwise, everyone's guilty by who they belong to, which, by the way, is the fundamental premise of critical theory, ironically. So the framing of the human person that underscored the worst atrocities in the history of war throughout human history, are the same assumptions about human identity that are then driving these upside-down, backwards Harvard students to completely get this ethically upside down. I mean, look, it is a crazy time right now to try to do any ethical analysis, because we are so far away from any solid foundation.

Now, none of this gets Israel off the hook. Israel has subjected itself to international law. In essence, it's subjected itself to these ideas that are rooted in just war theory, that they can't just wage war whenever they want, they have to have a just cause they can't just wage war any way that they want. They have to have a just methodology. And I think right now, the problem right now that they're really struggling with is what's the end game? And that's really hard. And I think that's one of the things that's delaying the ground invasion. But where are we going to end this? What's going to be the end of this? What's peace in the end? And those are the three ideas that shape just war, the three kind of categories of ideas that you have to wrestle with in order to get the just war. So, I don't know if I brought more clarity or just explained the confusion a little better, but that's kind of where we're at.

EICHER: No, no, that’s helpful, and I know this’ll be going on for awhile, so we’ll just keep watching. But we’re going to cut our time short because we want to add a little more about an interesting development in the House of Representatives, where an openly evangelical Christian, culture-war constitutional lawyer is now the speaker. So hang on for that, but first thanks to John Stonestreet. John, of course, the president of the Colson Center and host of the Breakpoint podcast. We’ll not see you next week, but the week after. Thanks, see you back November 10th.

STONESTREET: Thank you both.

EICHER: Well, up next, getting to know the new Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Our colleagues at WORLD Opinions turned to political commentator Erick Erickson for a fast turnaround on Speaker Mike Johnson, and so we turn to him now for the same.

ERICK ERICKSON: After three weeks, the House of Representatives finally settled on a Speaker of the House. Republicans rallied around Congressman Mike Johnson of Shreveport, Louisiana. He'll be the most socially conservative speaker ever. Johnson is a Southern Baptist, who spent time in Louisiana House of Representatives before heading to Washington in January of 2017. His dad was a firefighter who was critically burned in the line of duty and took disability. The family relied on their faith during that time. Johnson grew up and went to LSU and its law school. After law school, Johnson became a pro-life warrior. He served as a national spokesman and senior lawyer for the Alliance Defending Freedom. The organization represents a lot of Christians in the Supreme Court, including Colorado baker Jack Phillips. Johnson and his wife led pro-life marches in North Louisiana for eight years. Johnson serves as a trustee for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention. 

He and his wife also championed a Louisiana law in the 90s that ended no fault divorce in the state. In the state legislature, Johnson fought aggressively for religious liberty, life and traditional marriage. He authored religious liberty legislation. It failed to pass the state legislature but Governor Bobby Jindal at the time used Johnson's legislation as the framework for executive orders protecting faith-based small businesses from persecution by gay rights activists. Johnson has also been a very vocal opponent of Common Core, the program at one time backed nationally by business advocates sought to put students on common National Standards for Education. But the program actually made it more difficult for parents to help their kids with homework, degrading math education and disincentivized advanced reading standards. Despite strong business support for it, Johnson campaigned pretty vocally against it as a parent and helped kill Common Core in Louisiana.

In 2016, Johnson ran for Congress and won. He's not been there long enough to become a committee chairman or play a role in leadership. He sits on the Judiciary Committee and the Armed Services Committee. Going back to his time in the Louisiana legislature, Johnson has always been considered extremely smart and a constitutional law nerd. Pundits suggest he'll be overwhelmed by the job and out of his league, but his background, demeanor, and reputation suggests he'll be smart enough to rely on those around him and seek solid advice without a lot of ego. In Louisiana, he was known to have a good sense of humor and be more accessible than some of his colleagues.

Stepping into the position is going to be challenging. The nation is less than 30 days from another government shutdown. Johnson is believed to want to cut a short term spending deal with the Senate that would last until no later than April 15 of next year. During that time, he wants to push the House to go through the regular appropriations process, something that hasn't been done in quite a while, and pass all 12 of the required appropriations bills Congress is supposed to do. Each of those bills would then go to the Senate. And the House and Senate could negotiate on those bills. Congress lately has instead passed continuing resolutions that just increased government spending based on prior budgets. Passing that last short term continuing resolution provoked the ouster of Kevin McCarthy, a fate Johnson hopes to avoid. 

Can he survive? Most likely he can, because there really are no other options. The moderates don't want to fight. The conservatives think they've won the fight. And even if they don't get much legislatively, they like Johnson. They've got one of their own in office. The media and Democrats will assert Johnson's an election denier. He did, in fact, challenge the results of the 2020 election and push litigation before the Supreme Court to throw out those results. But Johnson is savvy enough to make the fight about the future, the debt, and the present culture, not dwell on the past. 

What Johnson has going for him is October. We head into the holidays and then into the heart of the presidential election season. This was the year to get anything accomplished. The season of hard sells and aggressive pushes is now going to give way to retail politics and campaigns. Congressmen will be distracted by reelection. That buys Speaker Mike Johnson, the most prominent federal politician from Louisiana since President Zachary Taylor in the 1800s, buys him more time to stretch his legs and learn the ropes.

EICHER: Commentary from WORLD Opinions writer Erick Erickson.

Erickson is a lawyer by training, has served as a political contributor for CNN and Fox News, and hosts the Erick Erickson Show broadcast nationwide.

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