Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, spoke with Epoch Times senior editor Jan Jekielek at the Western Conservative Summit about the subversion and rejection of America’s founding principles, including respect for freedom and liberty and beliefs in universal truths and virtues rooted in a Judeo-Christian worldview.
Mohler also discussed the threat of socialist ideology, especially for America’s younger generation, and the “battle for the culture” with the left.
Jan Jekielek: Albert Mohler, wonderful to have you on “American Thought Leaders.”
Albert Mohler: Good to be with you. Thank you.
Mr. Jekielek: A big topic that you talk about, and is also very important to The Epoch Times—”Truth and Tradition” is our motto—is traditional values and traditional American values. And this is something you’ve spoken a lot about, you’ve been thinking a lot about. How do you even define traditional American values? What does that mean?
Mr. Mohler: Well, maybe we first need to define tradition, because tradition is a part of being human. Every single conscious human being is traditioned. We’re a part of a tradition. The question is whether we are aware of it, whether it’s the right tradition, and then how we protect that tradition and pass it onto our children. G.K. Chesterton once said tradition was the ultimate democracy, because it gave a vote to the dead. And it’s just a reminder of the fact that we haven’t just emerged in the 21st century. We’ve been brought here by certain ideas, certain truths, and by a respect for those truths.
And so when you speak of … the traditional values of the United States, many of those were pre-political. That is, they were before the United States. They were the people who came here out of religious conscience, deeply devoted to truth. And those … originally who came were very clearly identified as Christians. I think of the Puritans and the pilgrims. And so they were very much committed to what I would summarize as a basic biblical worldview, and to perpetuating what it meant to serve to the glory of God, and to build a community and to build a nation. There were virtues that were very, very important to that.
So even though I’m comfortable talking about traditional values, I’m not really happy with the values talk, because the left uses values talk as if they’re nothing more than just personalized sentiments. I believe they’re actual truths and virtues. When I speak of traditional values, I’m going to speak of respect for freedom and liberty. Exactly what you see is constant—the Declaration of Independence. When you think about what it meant for there to be self-evident truths, for the founders to speak of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, clearly predicated upon a foundation of absolute truth, of what’s really right and what’s really wrong, of virtues necessary, of education as the means of raising the new generation in those same virtues and in those same truths. So without that, you just don’t have America.
Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting to me … as these folks came, the thing that they shared was this belief in God, right? But they certainly didn’t share their particular approach to that belief, right? And they had to work it out.
Mr. Mohler: First of all, you just look at the history of the colonies. You have the 13 colonies [which] became the first 13 states. They all have different religious histories, but they’re all basically out of the Judeo-Christian tradition … you have Maryland, historically Catholic, you would have Virginia historically Anglican or what we would call Anglican now, and then the Quakers in Pennsylvania. But they shared a basic worldview. I think that’s really important. And, it’s the absence of that shared worldview now, that means that even though there are serious theological differences between Quakers and Roman Catholics and Anglicans, they shared a basic worldview. And that’s what’s at stake in America today—whether we share that basic worldview.
Mr. Jekielek: You’re saying it’s at stake; is it under attack?
Mr. Mohler: Well, under attack, yes. I would have previously been a bit reluctant to use that kind of militant language, but there’s no denying it now. When you listen to the political discourse in this country, a lot of it is a direct subversion and rejection of the founding truths and virtues that brought this nation into being—the very idea of ordered liberty that produced our constitutional form of government. But even where it’s not attacked, it’s being marginalized and largely forgotten.
The founders understood that education in those virtues, education in those truths would be essential. But now we have an educational system that’s doing the exact opposite. It’s not raising children and young people in those truths and virtues, but rather, it’s deliberately subverting them.
Mr. Jekielek: What is the role of media in all of this? I think we’re seeing a lot of this type of activity that you’re describing in the media. I’m trying to understand how you see it.
Mr. Mohler: Well, the media is a class unto itself. I’m talking about the mainstream media, the brand names that control media discourse in this country for almost all of the 20th century. The major newspapers, the major television networks, etc. They were all in the hands of basically those who were left of center, but they still occupied a part of that center for the better part of the 20th century. That’s not true any longer.
Now, the dominant media class is a part of what was in the 20th century called the adversary class. Very much opposed to many of the most important values—as the word you used—to virtues and truths that established America. And so there’s been a radical shift to the left in the mainstream media. But this is where we have to say when we use the word media, which is itself plural. You’re a part of the media. I’m a part of the media. So I’m thankful for the fact we have a First Amendment, and I’m even thankful for technologies that have created disequilibrium, such that the media elite aren’t in complete control of the conversation. They were—from even when I was a young adult, a young man—they were still in control, and they’re just not anymore. But we can’t underestimate their influence, and we can’t underestimate the importance of alternative media.
Mr. Jekielek: That’s actually very interesting to me because we’re hearing a lot about anti-conservative bias in some of these social media giants. But yet the growth of these social media giants and so forth has actually facilitated this break of complete control of the media giants that existed previously.
Mr. Mohler: What we’re looking at now that there’s a real threat to that. I think there are real threats to conservative voices being silenced in much of social media, much in the digital world. And that’s something we’re going have to watch very carefully. But yes, it was an unintended disequilibrium. … There’s been nothing like the internet since the printing press. The printing press, in the Gutenberg revolution, was a massive disequilibrium. No longer did merely kings and princes control—or popes, even—what was printed. There was a radical democratization and now even more radically in the rise of digital media.
Mr. Jekielek: Would you call this a kind of a culture war? I’ve heard that term brandished about.
Mr. Mohler: It is, and again, I don’t lean into the militant language, but I’m not going to run away from it. It is. It’s a struggle. You know, the word “culture war” goes back to the 19th century. It’s a German term, “Kulturkampf,” which emerged from the Bismarck era in Germany, when they understood there was a real battle for the culture. And that’s what we’re in now; undeniably, it’s a real battle for the culture. And the major weapons, thankfully, aren’t shooting or exploding weapons. They’re ideas. And that’s why it’s really important that conservatives respond in this war of ideas with what we firmly believe are the right ideas: Truth.
Mr. Jekielek: And so where do you feel things stand today in the culture war then? Is there someone that’s winning? Is there someone coming back?
Mr. Mohler: The left has been winning for decades, and the reason is because the 20th century largely ended exhausted: philosophically and morally exhausted. The very ideas that made America possible really weren’t ardently defended by the powers that be. And so now you have an entire generation or two that has come to adulthood, frankly, not even knowing what they’re rejecting. You go to the average college or university campus and you see young people saying things, adopting socialism for example, and frankly, they don’t even know what they’re talking about. They don’t understand nor do many of them care, the history of socialism in the 20th century. It’s the new cool idea, and they don’t have any defenses against it.
Mr. Jekielek: So what kind of defenses do you have in mind?
Mr. Mohler: Well, there are two defenses. One is truth, and the other is history. But let’s begin with history. Where in the world has socialism worked? The answer is: Nowhere. What did socialism produce in the 20th century? Disaster. Now when you have people in kind of the center-left talk about socialism, they’ll point to Scandinavia. Well, Scandinavia is not actually socialist. They’re liberal, well-funded welfare states. That’s very different than socialism. Socialism is confiscatory. Socialism is coercive. Socialism is the enemy of freedom. You don’t see that acknowledged by even many people who use the term today.
History’s a part of it. And when I say history, I don’t just mean the 20th century. I mean, just one word: “Venezuela.” You’ve got mass, if not starvation, then you’ve got mass impoverishment and under-nourishment, and it’s a failed state. And that’s what socialism produces. Look at Cuba. Not to mention again the entire legacy of socialism in the 20th century.
But the other weapon we have to use is truth, and that is, socialism begins with a certain definition of human beings. It has begun generally with a very secular understanding of human beings as primarily economic units. As a Christian theologian, I can’t accept that. We are economic units, but we are much more than that. We’re creatures made in the image of God.
Liberty is a part of what it means to be made in the image of God. And so anything that is the enemy of liberty, and frankly the enemy of the virtue. … So for instance, where does socialism really reward hard work? Where does socialism respect property? Where does socialism understand the value of initiative? The respect for capital? It’s just not there. It reminds me of Margaret Thatcher’s statement … the third thing would be the truth pragmatically, the fact that socialism doesn’t work and can’t work. As she said, socialism is a wonderful idea except for the fact, you will eventually run out of someone else’s money to spend. … Even right now, it would be hilarious if not so frightening.
Mr. Jekielek: Ominous, yes.
Mr. Mohler: But to hear so many prominent politicians speak of expanding federal spending in a socialist spree, without acknowledging we haven’t even been paying our bills for decades now. What we’re really doing is robbing our children and our children’s children in order to give things to ourselves.
Mr. Jekielek: So what can leaders in faith communities and leaders in general in America do to help the next generation?
Mr. Mohler: As a Christian, my first imperative is to raise children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and that would mean inculcating in them truths and virtues that will make them good citizens, apart of what it means to join in the commonwealth of building the United States. But to all Americans, I would say, we’ve got to raise our children and teach our young people the very foundations of what it means to enjoy the freedoms that we know and are respected within the U.S. Constitution, the form of government that we have, which is far more rare in human history than the average young American would ever understand.
And frankly, we need to make them pay some bills, because the minute they start paying some bills, they come to have a greater respect for money. And it turns out that that points to fundamental truths. Where did this come from? What does it mean? How do you get it? What does “work” mean? How do you inculcate a work ethic? How do you respect truth and respect the Ten Commandments: “Thou shall not steal.” Well, the moment you have something, when someone threatens to steal it, you all of a sudden have a new respect for private property. There are all kinds of things like that—trust. A society cannot exist without trust. How do you trust one another? What does it take to trust one another? These are the things we need to be talking about.
Mr. Jekielek: Wonderful. So we’re going to finish up in a moment. Any final words for our audience?
Mr. Mohler: I respect your two words there: “Truth and Tradition.” And you can’t have the one without the other. Truth produces tradition, and tradition respects truth. And that’s what we’ve got to honor ourselves. We have to understand that tradition is only worth keeping if it’s true. But if it’s true, then we have to give our lives to preserving it and passing it on to the next generation, intact and in full.
Mr. Jekielek: Wonderful place to finish up. Albert Mohler, pleasure.
Mr. Mohler: It’s a pleasure to be with you. God bless you.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.