June 10, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, June 10, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Charles Blow of The New York Times yesterday published an op-ed entitled “Religious Constriction.” He writes, “I am both shocked and fascinated by Americans’ religious literalism.” Now when you see the word literalism used in a context like this, especially in a secular context speaking about religious beliefs, you have to question what literalism means. Well he makes that clear. He means any actual understanding that the Bible would convey factual information. He writes citing last week’s Gallup report indicating that 42% of Americans believed “God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago.” In other words, this very secular writer for a very secular newspaper has come to the very secular conclusion that he’s absolutely shocked that 42% of Americans believe that the Bible’s account of creation is true. He writes:
Even among people who said that they were “very familiar” with the theory of evolution, a third still believed that God created humans in their present form 10,000 years ago. Whatever the case, on this issue as well as many others in America, the truth is not the light.
That’s a very interesting statement in itself. He goes on to say:
[This] is in part because, compared with other developed countries, America stands out for the level and intensity of its religiosity. People are generally more likely to say that religion is an important part of their daily lives in relatively poor countries, but as Gallup pointed out in a 2010 report:
“The United States is one of the rich countries that bucks the trend. About two-thirds of Americans — 65 percent — say religion is important in their daily lives. Among high-income countries, only Italians, Greeks, Singaporeans and residents of the oil-rich Persian Gulf states are more likely to say religion is important. Most high-income countries are further down the religiosity spectrum.”
So Charles Blow, citing this Gallup report, cites the conventional wisdom of the secular left that has for the better part of the last century and a half predicted that religious faith in America would disappear or at least go into great decline as the income of Americans was raised along with their educational level and other social factors.
Well that has indeed happened, but it hasn’t happened to the degree that the prophets of secularization promised that it would. And you have figures such as Charles Blow who are absolutely shocked about this fact and they continue to be shocked as poll after poll, survey after survey, comes out. Blow writes:
In America, when people say that they are religious, they overwhelmingly mean Christian. In fact, nearly eight in 10 Americans identify as Christians. It’s not only that Americans are more religious — Christian, in particular — but that for many, their beliefs in their religious text — the Bible, in particular — are literal.
Well there’s that word literal. In other words, the literalism that Charles Blow is talking about is the fact that the Bible would convey factual information, accurate truth claims, that are making claims about events that have taken place in space and time and history. He goes back to that Gallup report that came out last Wednesday and reports that nearly a third of Americans continue to believe that the Bible “is the actual word of God and is to be taken literally word for word.” He continues, “Furthermore, nearly half believe that it is “the inspired word of God but not everything in it should be taken literally.” So you put those two together and you end up with about a third and about a half who suggest that they believe that the Bible in part, if not in whole, should be taken as the literal word of God. That’s about three quarters of Americans and that’s absolutely shocking to this very secular writer for The New York Times.
He identifies himself straightforwardly in those terms, by the way. He writes:
Now, I don’t seek to deny anyone the right to believe as he or she chooses. I have at points in my own life been quite religious, and my own children have complicated views about religion. As my oldest son once told me, “I’d hate to live in a world where a God couldn’t exist.” That is his choice, as it is every individual’s choice, and I respect it.
Well he seems to respect his son’s choice, but he says he respects everyone’s choice, and that he clearly does not do, as this column makes abundantly clear. And when he uses the word literal here, once again, he makes very clear he’s referring to the fact that anyone would believe that the Bible is actually conveying factual information. That becomes clear in his statement when he says, “What worries me is that some Americans seem to live in a world where facts can’t exist.” Here’s his next paragraph:
Facts such as the idea that the world is ancient, and that all living things evolved and some — like dinosaurs — became extinct. Facts like the proven warming of the world. Facts like the very real possibility that such warming could cause a catastrophic sea-level rise.
Well note the use of his word facts here. In other words, he is explicitly, conclusively limiting all that he refers to as facts to that which can be produced by a naturalistic or materialistic worldview through the intellectual process of modern empirical science. In other words, science produces facts. Whatever religion does, it doesn’t deal with what Charles Blow considers facts. He expresses his deep concern when he writes:
How does America remain a world leader in an increasingly technological, science-based world, when so many of our citizens — and even our leaders, including Republicans who might run for president — deny basic science?
Well now we go back to the last several presidential races when, as Robert Putnam of Harvard University and others have pointed out, the single most clear indicator of a person’s vote for president was the question of whether and how often the individual voter attended church. There is, of course, a deep partisan and political divide in this country that points to an even deeper ideological and worldview divide, but that divide points to an even deeper theological divide. And as Charles Blow both demonstrates and documents, that is a divide between the seculars on the one hand and the religious on the other, and Blows exactly right: in America, the religious are overwhelmingly Christian, and whether intentionally or not, and probably very unintentionally, the revealing statement by Charles Blow in this statement comes in the paragraph in which he writes:
Americans, particularly political leaders, who choose religious piety must also create an intellectual framework in which things of faith that exist without proof can make space for truths for which there is proof.
So there you have the materialistic, rationalistic worldview laid very evident for us all to see. That worldview holds that the only facts that can be known are facts that can be demonstrated by human reason, facts that can be demonstrated by the operation of human reason in some intellectual enterprise such as empirical science. Nothing else can produce facts.
That is a direct and diluted rejection of the very possibility of divine revelation, and that points to the most basic worldview collision in America today between those who believe that the only source of knowledge is that of secular reason and those who believe that knowledge includes not only what is learned by what might be called secular reason, but by divine revelation. And, furthermore, those in that second category understand that even what is claimed to be the knowledge gained by secular reason is only made possible by the fact that a very un-secular Creator has made the creation intelligible and knowable to His human creatures. In other words, secular knowledge, insofar as it is true knowledge, isn’t actually so secular after all. We are deeply indebted to Charles Blow for making that deep intellectual divide in America very, very clear. That in itself is a form of a gift.
By the way, The New York Times also made that very same point emphatically just a few days prior to the arrival of Charles Blow’s opinion piece. Writing in the same paper a few days previous, George Johnson, one of The New York Times science writers, wrote an article entitled “Creation in the Eye of the Beholder.” Now in this article George Johnson is trying to do something monumental. He’s trying to tell us that when we look at the complexity of the created world and we see evidence of an intelligent Creator, we’re merely being fooled by what we see. He writes:
When we see such intricate symmetry, our brains automatically assume there was an inventor. Overcoming that instinct took centuries, and it was only then that the living world began to make sense.
So here you have another very secular writer, writing from an exceedingly secular worldview, who tells us in the pages of The New York Times that when we see what we believe to be evidence of design in creation, we’re merely being fooled by our own eyes. We’re being driven by an evolutionary instinct we have to overcome in order for the world actually to make sense. He cites William Paley, who wrote in defense of intelligent design back in the 1800s:
The English clergyman William Paley argued that if you were walking in the countryside and found a watch on the ground, you would be right in inferring that there was a watchmaker. By the same token, he argued, the intricacy of a living organism implies the existence of a creator.
How does he follow that? Well just listen to the next paragraph:
What creationists and conspiracy theorists share is a deep disbelief in accidents like the ones that drive evolution, and a certainty that everything that happens was somehow intended.
That’s an absolutely amazing paragraph. He writes that creationist and conspiracy theorist belong in the same intellectual camp. Why? Because we share “a deep disbelief in accidents” like the ones, he says, that drive evolution. Well just remember the fact that earlier he suggested that the world certainly looks as if it were designed and created. In other words, he explicitly said we have to overcome that intuition of design in order rightly—and he means in this term by secular science—to understand the world. Later, he says, that it basically is common cause with conspiracy theorists that those who believe in divine creation share a deep disbelief in accidents.
Well I would suggest that George Johnson and others who try to make this argument are on very weak ground. They’re clearly not being very persuasive. Charles Blow’s own column that appeared just a few days later makes that very clear. Most Americans aren’t buying the argument. Why? Well it goes back to the kind of thing that Abraham Lincoln talked about when he was talking about the practice of law. He said that a lawyer’s in a very weak position when he has to say to the jury, “Who are you going to believe: me or your own lying eyes?” Well the reality is most of us see so much evidence of design in the universe that it doesn’t take a conspiracy theory to believe that someone had to have designed this.
The frenzy of the secular left, in terms of these issues, is abundantly clear. Papers such as The New York Times, but not just The New York Times, repeatedly run this kind of article because the secular left finds it absolutely almost impossible to believe that a majority of Americans aren’t accepting the theory of evolution and the naturalistic and materialistic worldview that goes with it. Why? Because there is so much evidence of design that these arguments coming from very powerful intellectual authorities in the secular academy just can’t overcome that impulse and intuition to see what is obviously there; evidence of the fact that what we’re seeing in the cosmos is not an accident, profoundly not an accident, but rather that at the giant macro level and the most miniscule micro level there is at every turn fundamental, undeniable evidence of design.
When we think of the culture war and the great worldview clash in America, we often think of how the battles in this particular kind of intellectual conflict are meted out. And in so many cases, they’re demonstrated in conflicts that occur in terms of Hollywood entertainment, national politics, economic theory. But as yesterday’s Wall Street Journal also makes clear, you can see this basic intellectual worldview conflict on the pages of America’s comic books. Writing in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal, two men with vast experience in the comic book industry write about how the worldview issues are now being hammered out in terms of the transformation of American comic books. The two men are Chuck Dixon and Paul Rivoche. Mr. Dixon is the author of hundreds of comics. He helped to create comic characters such as Bane and The Spoiler. Mr. Rivoche co-created the 1980s figure Mr. X and has illustrated dozens of Batman, Superman, and Iron Man comics. But, as these two men write, the culture war has landed squarely in the world of American comic books. They write:
In the 900th issue of Action Comics, Superman decides to go before the United Nations and renounce his U.S. citizenship. “Truth, justice and the American way’—it’s not enough anymore,” he despairs. That issue, published in April 2011, is perhaps the most dramatic example of modern comics’ descent into political correctness, moral ambiguity and leftist ideology.
The two men with vast experience in American comics then write:
We are comic-book artists and comics are our passion. But more important they’ve inspired and shaped many millions of young Americans. Our fear is that today’s young comic-book readers are being ill-served by a medium that often presents heroes as morally compromised or no different from the criminals they battle. With the rise of moral relativism, “truth, justice and the American way” have lost their meaning.
Well they go back to the story of comics in America, especially since the Great Depression and the war against the Third Reich in Germany. They say the story goes all the way back to the 1930s. They write:
Superman, as he first appeared in early comics and later on radio and TV, was not only “able to leap tall buildings in a single bound,” he was also good, just and wonderfully American. Superman and other “superheroes” like Batman went out of their way to distinguish themselves from villains like Lex Luthor or the Joker. Superman even battled Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan during World War II.
But they also say, he “led domestic crusades, the most famous against the Ku Klux Klan.” They go on to reveal that in the 1950s the great comic book publishers, including DC and what later became Marvel, created what was known as the Comics Code Authority. As they describe it:
[It was] a guild regulator that issued rules such as: “Crimes shall never be presented in such a way as to create sympathy for the criminal.” The idea behind the CCA, which had a stamp of approval on the cover of all comics, was to protect the industry’s main audience—kids—from story lines that might glorify violent crime, drug use or other illicit behavior.
In the 1970s, our first years in the trade, nobody really altered the superhero formula. The CCA did change its code to allow for “sympathetic depiction of criminal behavior . . . [and] corruption among public officials” but only “as long as it is portrayed as exceptional and the culprit is punished.” In other words, there were still good guys and bad guys. Nobody cared what an artist’s politics were if you could draw or write and hand work in on schedule. Comics were a brotherhood beyond politics.
But, as they make clear, the 1990s brought about a vast change. “The industry weakened and eventually threw out the [code], and editors began to resist hiring conservative artists”. In a very important paragraph, they write:
The superheroes also changed. Batman became dark and ambiguous, a kind of brooding monster. Superman became less patriotic, culminating in his decision to renounce his citizenship so he wouldn’t be seen as an extension of U.S. foreign policy. A new code, less explicit but far stronger, replaced the old: a code of political correctness and moral ambiguity. If you disagreed with mostly left-leaning editors, you stayed silent.
But they say it now goes far beyond:
The political-correctness problem stretches beyond traditional comics into graphic novels. These works, despite the genre title, are not all fiction.
They report that some comic adaptations of texts are making their way even into American schools.
This article in yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal is priceless in terms of its worldview content. Here you have two insiders in the comic book industry making clear that a comic book is never merely a comic book. It is an artifact of culture and it is sending an intellectual and a moral message, and as these writers make very clear, the message, in terms of so many comics these days—indeed, coming from the mainstream comic industry—is no longer one that has clear distinctions between good and evil. There are no longer clear good guys and bad guys. Instead, not only is moral ambiguity now the order of the day, but even something more pernicious, and that is the glorification of violence and the questioning of whether there is indeed even a distinction between good and evil.
There’s a political dynamic to this, of course, when it comes to the United States and Superman renouncing his American citizenship, but far more than that there is a worldview issue here. And it’s one that should have the attention not only of young people, but of parents and all others. There is no sector of our culture that is untouched by this basic cultural conflict. Every artifact of culture, no matter what the medium, is making a play for hearts and minds, trying to convince and to conform the heart and the mind to the worldview that is being presented. It’s very important to us to know there is no worldview neutrality, and those of us who are committed to developing a Christian mind need to understand how other messages are being sent very effectively throughout the conduits of culture. We know that that’s true in terms of Hollywood and movies. We know it’s true in terms of the mainstream media, but yesterday’s edition of The Wall Street Journal helps us to understand something else that is profoundly true and urgently important. Not even the comic books are immune, not by a long shot, as these two insiders have made abundantly clear.
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. Remember that we’re taking questions now for the next season of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition beginning late in the summer. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. I’m speaking to you from Baltimore, Maryland, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.