October 2, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Friday, October 2, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Oregon community college shooting tragic demonstration of evil and sin
We’re facing this kind of tragedy, yet once more. The headlines came from Oregon yesterday that a gunman at a community college in Roseburg, Oregon had killed at least 10 people and injured many more. As CNN, the Washington Post and others reported the shooter was believed to be a 20 year old man, and it is believed that he had at least four guns and that he killed people in multiple classrooms in a largely rural community where this little community college was located. One of the most ominous aspects of this story as it appears to be developing is the role of social media in this particular horrifying tragedy. We’re looking at the fact that there are those in law enforcement, who last night were already reporting that there appears to be an announcement made by this shooter that he intended to kill people in a mass shooting. There seems to be chatter on social media in which there was an interaction between this shooter long before the shooting and others, some of which appeared to have been egging him on and giving him suggestions about just how it might take place.
Now this is one of those very confusing stories that will eventually be clarified, at least we can expect that it will be so. In all likelihood, we will know more about this in terms of the facts of the case just in the hours ahead as the story continues to unfold. But what we know right now is that this is an unspeakable tragedy. We know that once again, this is a multiple shooting and we know that there have been multiple deaths. There are multiple victims beyond and this raises the question that can only be answered by human moral responsibility. When we ask how anything like this might be explained we have to come back to the fact that there is a deep brokenness in the world, and there is a deep evil in terms of human hearts and in some people that the human evil comes out in the form of this kind of violence and our heart breaks when we see this kind of headline.Show Full Transcript
Political authorities across the spectrum have responded to this tragedy in Oregon with concern and with shock and yet as human beings we are capable at one time of only so much moral shock. There is only so much they can shock us and in a world in which violent events like this take place and become known to us it is increasingly difficult to understand how anyone can deny the reality of evil and how anyone can really deny what the Bible identifies in terms of that evil as sin. Who can really look at an incident like this in terms of the premeditated murder of multiple people in Oregon, how anyone can look at the fact that this was evidently announced by the would be shooter in terms of social media, even before the shooting began. That there were those who knowing the announcement of this kind of intention to commit mass murder, not only did not intervene with law enforcement to prevent it, but may have actually egged him on and encouraged him. We’re living in a deeply dangerous world and one of the greatest dangers we face as the Christian worldview makes very clear is an effort to try to minimize or to deny the evil that resides in the human heart and to deny the human responsibility that is clearly at stake when we see a headline like this and when we wait for answers. But in terms of the most pressing question in this case, the question of why? It is a question that can only be framed in terms of good and evil, of right and wrong and there will be no way around that short, three letter word that is so essential to the Christian worldview, that word is sin to which the only remedy is the gospel of Jesus Christ. And once again we face the fact that without that one word, without the word sin, we are unable to make sense of the world around us. Not only when we read the headlines, but when we look in the mirror.
Obama's call to combat ISIS ideologically rejected by UN intimidated by strength of Islam
And next, speaking of sin in an increasingly violent world, or at least a world that in so many places is growing more violent, the headlines draw our attention to Syria and to the fight against the group known as the Islamic State. And in recent days, the New York Times had a really important article by Gardiner Harris and Eric Schmitt, the headline of which was this,
“Obama’s Call at U.N. to Fight ISIS with Ideas Is Largely Seen as Futile.”
That’s an amazing headline. President Obama earlier this week spoke to the general assembly of the United Nations. And when he did so he spoke as this headline indicates of the responsibility of the Democratic nations of the West to fight the group known as the Islamic State with ideas. Now let’s look at how this headline interprets the President’s speech or interprets the effect of his speech. What the headline tells us is that those who heard the President of the United States speak about fighting the Islamic State with ideas, they largely saw the proposal as, here’s the word in the headline, “futile.” As Harris and Schmitt write,
“President Obama called upon a conclave of world leaders on Tuesday to fight violent extremism not just with weapons but with ideas, jobs and good governance, a strategy he has long advocated. There are few signs that it is succeeding.”
Before the United Nations summit meeting Mr. Obama had said that military force will be insufficient to defeat groups like the Islamic State. The President said,
“This means defeating their ideology,” he said. “Ideologies are not defeated with guns. They are defeated by better ideas — a more attractive and compelling vision.”
We need to look closely what the President said. From a Christian worldview, there is much with which to agree here. We do agree that there is a battle of ideas and furthermore, a battle of ideologies and even more fundamental than that, a battle of worldviews. When we are looking at the worldview of the Democratic West and we compare it with the worldview of the Islamic State, we are not looking at worldviews that disagree at several points, but at virtually every single point, from the worth of the individual, to the moral reality of violence, to an endless, seemingly endless series of other issues as well. But you’ll notice that the headline says that those who heard the President of the United States speak largely heard his proposal as futile and even the New York Times, a staunch editorial defender of President Obama, even the New York Times ended the lead paragraph by saying that, in terms of the president’s strategy,
“There are few signs that it is succeeding.”
What we see here is that the United Nations and liberal media, such as the New York Times, the liberal establishment in general is losing confidence that we can win the battle of ideas. They’re losing confidence that the worldview of the modern Democratic West is actually a match for the worldview of groups like the Islamic State. They are befuddled that so many young people, Muslim young people in particular are leaving the advantages and the comforts of the West to go to difficult places in the world to join a holy war, to join a jihad and to join in particular groups like the Islamic State. They are concerned when they look to the world picture and they see the caliphate announced by the Islamic State as expanding rather than retracting and they are depressed when they look at the facts on the ground that indicate that in terms of the military conflict and the ideological conflict, the west is losing and the Islamic State is gaining.
Now the most important thing we need to recognize here is that this sense of depression and panic in terms of the intellectual elites on the West is not misplaced. There is every reason to believe the futility that is reflected in this headline is real and there is every reason to believe that as that opening paragraph in the New York Times concluded there are few signs that the approach of President Obama is succeeding. That his goal of defeating the Islamic State with ideas is actually gaining ground and that leads us to a deeper concern from the Christian worldview. Why would that be the case? And we come back to the fact that the ideas with which President Obama and so many others would have us to defeat the Islamic State are ideas that are rooted, not only in modern western democracy, but in the secularizing worldview that has become most dominant in the intellectual elites in Europe and increasingly in the United States in recent decades. And one of the things we need to note is that the panic that is setting in is setting in particularly amongst those who are most committed to that secular worldview. To those who are most committed to the idea that the future of human societies must be less theistic, less religious and more explicitly secular. The reality is that even as secularism is growing more and more dense in terms of the reality amongst the Western elites, it is growing more and more thin, that is to be less influential in other parts of the world.
As I have stated repeatedly, the modern secular worldview is no match for the theological worldview that is now represented by the Islamic State. And this is a fundamental fact, the modern secular vacuum that is created by the isolation and rejection of the Christian worldview is not going to lead to an inevitable secularization. It is more likely to lead to some new strong theological argument, and especially when you’re looking at Europe that strong theological argument is increasingly coming from Islam and it is increasingly gaining ground among the young, especially young Muslims. Because as it turns out, even as they have been born in modern western democracies and even as they received the benefits, you recall that so many of these young people who have joined the jihad are not coming from the poor in these Western countries, they are coming from the wealthy, they’re not coming from the dispossessed, they’re coming from those who have advantages. So many of the young men and young women who are leaving cities like Amsterdam and London to join the holy war are leaving private schools and colleges, they are leaving context that are clearly advantaged and not disadvantaged and that’s because there is a basic hunger for significance and meaning that is not being satisfied by the modern Western secular state.
The Christian worldview also reminds us that this isn’t just an ideological issue as we are made in God’s image we are made spiritual creatures and secularism cannot satisfy that spiritual need. And that’s why even as many young people come to understand the urgency of that need they are looking for theological answers they’re looking for spiritual satisfaction. And even as that comes back to them in such an unsatisfactory form from modern western secularism, they’re looking for answers elsewhere and President Obama is right to understand that we are in a battle of ideas, but as this story indicates, as the headline reveals it is a battle of ideas that we are losing and that’s because it cannot be won on the terms President Obama wants to fight it.
Majority of Harvard freshman class secular, foreshadowing future of American elites
But next, looking at the growing influence of secularism in American life, there comes a headline story from the Washington Post telling us that there are more atheists and agnostics entering Harvard in its current freshman class than Protestants and Catholics. It’s a really interesting story; Harvard conducts a massive survey of incoming freshmen who will be in the class of 2019. And even as they are looking forward to their graduation, they are being examined in terms of their worldview as they enter one of the most elite institutions to be found anywhere in the world. As Sarah Pulliam Bailey writes for the Washington Post,
“How religious are America’s best and brightest? A Harvard Crimson poll of the university’s class of 2019 provides a glimpse into the beliefs and practices of incoming freshman, including sex, politics and drug use. Some of the interesting findings included the religious breakdown, especially when compared to other millennials in the U.S.”
Here’s the most interesting aspect of the study,
“Harvard’s combined number of atheists and agnostics among its incoming class exceeds the number of Catholics and Protestants.”
So if you add together the categories atheists and agnostics on the one hand and Catholics and Protestants on the other hand, for the first time ever atheists and agnostics account for the larger group. So what’s really interesting to us at this point from a Christian worldview perspective is to understand the trajectory, the direction of the elite culture forming influences in American life. And in terms of those institutions, it’s hard for anything to rival Harvard University. The most elite university in American life and considered by many to be the most influential University in the world. And yet the most interesting aspect of the story from the Washington Post is that what we see in contrast, are the millennial’s who are entering Harvard University’s freshman class, those 18-year-olds in the class of 2019 there and others their same age. It turns out that Harvard University’s incoming class of freshman is markedly more secular than others in their own generation, other young people of the same age. As Bailey writes, combining influence from the Harvard Crimson poll and other data on the millennial’s from the Pew Research Center,
“Among the general population in the U.S., 52 percent of millennials identify as Protestant or Catholic, according to Pew, compared to 34.1 percent of Harvard’s incoming class.”
So you’re looking at a difference between 52 percent and just over 34 percent. That is a massive distinction which tells us that in terms of the social and ideological sorting of students who end up in the freshman class of Harvard University, secular students are far more likely to end up there. Atheist and agnostic students are far more likely to be represented there and at the end of the day we’re talking about the fact that for the first time in history of Harvard, atheist and agnostics in the entering class outnumber Catholics and Protestants.
Now from the concern of the Christian worldview, one of the things we need to note is that institutions vary in terms of their culture shaping influence and potential. While when you look at higher education in general, just about any educational institution has an outsized influence in its community. When it comes to influence around the world and in the culture shaping industries of the United States, when it comes to shaping the ideals and the ideologies of the elites, Harvard University and the other institutions that make up the most elite category of higher education institutions they have an outsized influence and so what we should watch is the fact that if incoming freshmen at Harvard are now for the first time, representing more atheists and agnostics then Catholics and Protestants, we’re looking at a long-range cultural influence and impact that can be traced to those who are as 18-year-olds currently entering the class of 2019 at Harvard University. We have every reason to expect that the graduating class of Harvard of 2019 will go on eventually to get the tenured positions on the faculties of other colleges and universities. They will go on to become executives and influencers in terms of Hollywood and the banking industry and finance and politics.
But to go back to a point I raised recently on The Briefing, Justice Antonin Scalia recently pointed out that of the nine current justices of the United States Supreme Court, all of them are graduates of Ivy League law schools and the majority of them are graduates of the Harvard Law School of Harvard University. We’re talking about an illustration of that outsized influence and were talking about tracing the trajectory of the worldview of the future in terms of the elites in America by where 18-year-olds are when they arrive at Harvard University. To state the matter even more emphatically, it is extremely unlikely that the influence of Harvard University on these 18-year-olds is going to make them less secular. There is every reason to believe that that secularizing influence will mean that they will leave Harvard, even more secular in their worldview than when they arrived. So if you want one glimpse into the future of America, just take the glimpse into the present class, the freshman class of Harvard University for 2015.
In light of secular confusion, important for evangelicals to assert biblical basis of value of all living creation
Next Kirsten Powers of USA Today wrote a recent column about a movement known as ‘Every Living Thing’, a campaign that intends to call evangelical Christians to condemn the abuse of God’s animal creation. She went on to report about a statement known as an evangelical statement on responsible care for animals that was released this Wednesday at the National Press Club in Washington. Listeners of The Briefing may wonder why it was timely for evangelical Christians to release a statement on responsible care for animals. It is because at this time of maximum confusion it might seem between the value of humans and the value of animals, at the very time the secular worldview has sown the seeds of that confusion and in a very time when Christians are asking some very urgent questions, well that’s why it’s timely for a statement like this to come out.
The statement was largely the work of Barrett Duke a Vice President of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He was joined by Michael Cromartie of the Ethics and Public Policy Center and Mark Rodgers of the Clapham Group and they came together to create a statement to which many evangelical leaders have fixed their names and I was one of them. Why this statement now? Well, it is necessary at this time to make very clear, two things and make these things clear simultaneously. And they are deeply rooted in the Christian worldview and they are deeply related to contemporary issues, controversies and headlines.
The first is this; human beings are not merely animals. Human beings, as the statement makes very clear, are the singular creature made in God’s image and that creates a categorical difference between human beings and all other creatures. In a time of secular confusion, one of the problems is you have a largely secular animal rights movement that defines human beings merely as animals and suggests that it is a form of speciesism, that’s their word, to claim that there is something distinctive about human beings other than we have a greater intellectual capacity and we might have some other capacities that would distinguish us in degree, but not in kind from other creatures. On the other hand, there are those who are arguing that the Christian worldview says nothing in particular about the value of animals and that is abundantly untrue. Nobody can read the first two chapters of Genesis, or for that matter, the concluding book of the Bible, from the book of Revelation and believe that animals are of no consequence. As this statement makes very clear, animals are a part of the gift of God to creation and God created the animals for his pleasure and for his glory and he finds in the animals a delight that is uniquely his because he created them.
As the statement reads explicitly,
“We understand from Scripture that humans are uniquely created in the image and likeness of God and so have greater worth than every animal; but that God has given all animals the breath of life, that He sustains them, that they belong ultimately to Him, and that He has declared them “good,” indicating they have value to Him independent of human use.”
The statement continues directly,
“We understand from Scripture that God has given us all animals into our hand and for food as part of our responsible rule; but as we live in a fallen world and are prone to sin, we also have the capacity and inclination to cause suffering instead of care for animals and to act cruelly towards them.”
This statement achieves a very important balance, stating that we have a responsibility to the creatures that God made for his glory. That we have a responsibility to animals, but the first responsibility we have is to understand that human beings are not mere animals. That there is a distinction between human beings and other creatures that is not merely of degree but of kind. We come to understand that that is rooted in the fact the human beings and human beings alone are made in God’s image. But we have also come to understand that the animals are not evolutionary accidents anymore than ourselves. And we come to understand that God the creator, takes delight in these animals and that he created them for his glory and he created them for his pleasure. But he also created them for our use and they are as Scripture says, given unto us, for that use including explicitly for food. But even as we understand there is this categorical distinction between the human being and other creatures. We also understand that as we are given the responsibilities of stewardship and dominion in Scripture, we are given a responsibility to prevent cruelty to animals.
This gets down to a very basic theological distinction made by Augustine, that very important theologian of the early church, when he made very clear that if we understand the glory of God in creation and in the creatures, we will come to understand that they are to be enjoyed and not merely used. That is a very important category. The secular worldview really has no such category, but the biblical worldview does. We are to look at the creatures understanding that they are different than we are; different in kind not just in degree and that they are given to us for our good. They are given to us, even for food but they are not given to us as objects of our cruelty, they are given to us as objects of our care and respect and that is because God has given us everything in creation not merely to be used, but to his glory and for the purpose he intended it to be enjoyed. That too is a categorical difference and one that’s very important to the Christian worldview.