November 19, 2015
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, November 19, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Generic view of religion undermines ability to respond to theological significance of Paris attacks
Huge theological questions are inevitable in the aftermath of the Paris attacks and in our cultural conversation. One of the most interesting developments in recent days has been a couple of articles that appeared in the mainstream media. One of them was an opinion piece written by David Brooks, a regular op-ed writer for the New York Times. In a piece that ran this Tuesday entitled,
“Finding Peace Within the Holy Texts.”Show Full Transcript
He goes at the accusation that religion is behind most warfare. He writes,
“It’s easy to think that ISIS is some sort of evil, medieval cancer that somehow has resurfaced in the modern world. The rest of us are pursuing happiness, and here comes this fundamentalist anachronism, spreading death.
“But in his book “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence,” the brilliant Rabbi Jonathan Sacks argues that ISIS is in fact typical of what we will see in the decades ahead.”
One of the most significant sentences in the article is this,
“The 21st century will not be a century of secularism, he writes. It will be an age of desecularization and religious conflicts.”
Now in the latter part of the article David Brooks goes at the fact that warfare is actually not mainly attributable to religious conflicts. He cites historical studies indicating that only 10 to 15 percent of all warfare in terms of human history has actually been tied to any specific theological or religious conflict. But he’s citing Rabbi Sacks who now says, it’s likely that the 21st century may be a bit different. And in this sense, the Islamic State may be a harbinger, a signal of things to come. Rabbi Sacks is indeed one of the major intellectual figures on the world scene today. He’s the former chief Rabbi of London, which means of Great Britain and he is by any measure a force to be reckoned with in the intellectual world. David Brooks is also a significant intellectual figure in American public life. As a columnist for the New York Times, he has a considerable degree of influence. He is himself Jewish by background, but not by particular conviction. That’s what makes this article very interesting, because in citing Rabbi Sacks, David Brooks then gets on to a very interesting argument. His argument basically comes down to this, if there’s going to be a theological corrective for the Islamic state it’s going to have to come from within Islam. Rabbi Sacks points to both Judaism and to historic Christianity arguing that those correctives basically did come. The correctives in terms of what many identify as the Reformation in the 16th century in terms of Christianity in which there was not only a break with the papacy, but at least in some part, the opening of an argument for the separation of church and state for eventually what historians call the separation of Crown and altar.
But what we’re looking at here is also something that is very unrealistic and it comes back to a recurring issue we discussed on The Briefing. There is no basic reality called religion in which there are just some different brand names, Islam and Christianity and Judaism being merely three of them. David Brooks writes as if religion is just a social construct that provides some level of meaning and in his previous writings he’s made more or less the same points. In the column he writes,
“The great religions are based on love, and they satisfy the human need for community. But love is problematic. Love is preferential and particular. Love excludes and can create rivalries.”
He then writes,
“Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.”
Well if you’re looking at religious belief as simply one great reality that marks humanity and if you think that Christianity and Islam and Judaism to take those three, are just different brand names in terms of this generic reality called religion this argument would make sense. Furthermore, David Brooks’ concern that one particular love can both exclude and include has everything to do with humanity, not just with religion, it’s basic to the understanding of the family, at least to be involved in identified with the family means that one has particular obligations to other members of the family before extending those obligations to others in the community, much less on a global scale. But the sentence that should draw our greatest attention is where he says that,
“Love of one scripture can make it hard to enter sympathetically into the minds of those who embrace another.”
Now that’s a sentence that can match two and only two worldviews. One is the worldview of the rather sympathetic form of modern secularism. The other is an explicit form of religious liberalism or universalism. On the one hand, there are secularists who want to argue that religion is not all bad in terms of its effects upon society. There are many thinkers on the public scene today like David Brooks who want to argue that evidently religion helps at least some human beings and add something to the human experience. And so therefore what David Brooks would want to do is to encourage more of the right kind of religion and to discourage more of the wrong kind of religion, with in particular the Islamic State representing the extreme case of the wrong kind of religion. This also fits a certain form of theological liberalism, explicitly what is called universalism, the idea that all religions are just human constructs that eventually point to God in one way or another or to one degree or another. So when David Brooks writes that the love for one Scripture can exclude the respect one might have for other Scriptures and those who follow them, he’s really writing in this relativist Universalist mode. But even more seriously when it comes to David Brooks he’s writing more as a secular observer of religion, rather than as an insider to any particular faith. Rabbi Sacks on the other hand, is decidedly an insider and what he is arguing in his book is that we need to encourage a basic kind of Reformation in Islam, but there’s the problem. Islam does not have the mechanisms for that kind of Reformation.
One of the things that Christians need to note very carefully, Protestant evangelicals in particular is that the Reformation was important and its assertions were true, specifically because they were not new. The reformers were not claiming to come up with a new understanding of Christianity, to the contrary, they were arguing that their understanding of Scripture and gospel and truth and doctrine was essentially that handed down by Christ to the apostles, their direct argument was that it was the Roman Catholic Church that had occluded and confused and in many ways compromised those very doctrines. The last thing the reformers would’ve wanted to claim is that they were believing, teaching or affirming anything new. And yet, there’s another problem when we look at extending this kind of argument to Islam. Many times these days we hear people say what Islam needs is a Reformation. Again, that’s the argument made in a very cogent way by Rabbi Sacks and it’s an argument also made in the second article I mentioned and that’s a column by Miroslav Volf of Yale University writing in the pages of the Washington Post. The title of his column,
“In light of the Paris attacks, is it time to eradicate religion?”
Now Miroslav Volf is not a secularist, he is a theologian on the faculty of the Yale Divinity School. But Miroslav Volf is also not an evangelical, but it’s very interesting that he writes this article arguing that religion itself is not the problem, rather pointing to the attacks in Paris and the rise of the Islamic state; he argues very similarly to David Brooks that it’s the rise of the wrong kind of religion that poses the problem. Now in a very interesting and sophisticated argument, Miroslav Volf argues that what has changed in terms of Christianity over the centuries is that there has been a division in the Christian mind between church and state. Now that is a very important development, one that we have already cited in terms of the Brooks article. But then we need to ask the question, where did this separation of church and state come from? Well, as Christians must understand from the New Testament, it doesn’t come from some later theological development; it comes from the words of Jesus himself. When Jesus was asked about paying taxes and he referred to the coin and then he said famously “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s and render under God that which is God’s”, he was speaking of that very separation. In effect, he was saying that if Caesar believes so much in himself that he puts his image on a coin, let him have the coin, but God the creator has stamped us as human beings in his image and Caesar has no claim upon the human soul. Jesus himself for his disciples was making a distinction as we might say in contemporary language between church and state, but this is where Miroslav Volf’s article gets all the more interesting. He explicitly calls for that kind of Reformation that David Brooks was also suggesting must happen. He writes,
“For the sake of the identity and reputation of the religions themselves and for the sake of justice and peace in the world, religions need permanent reformation.”
He then continues,
“At the heart of reformation must lie the conviction that, as the Apostle Peter put it in the first public sermon he preached, that “we must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29), asserting that “religion” and “state” are two distinct cultural systems.”
He then concludes,
“Such reformation of religions will not stop the blood and tears from flowing, but religions will no longer be implicated in the carnage.”
A very interesting argument, one we’re likely to see more and more often. But here’s the problem, Christianity’s distinction in terms of what the great theologian Augustine called the city of God and the city of man is directly traceable not only to the New Testament, but to Jesus himself in his instructions to his disciples. We need to note that there is no similar theological foundation for that separation anywhere in Islam, nowhere in the Quran. Instead, the Quran actually demands a theocracy that is the rule of Islam under sharia law that is essential to the actual integrity of Islam, it goes all the way back to Mohammed and to the earliest days of Islam and it is the consistent teaching of Islam in all of its major forms throughout the centuries. Now one of the things we also here is that as we said there needs to be a Reformation in Islam as took place in Christianity in particular in the Protestant Reformation. But what we need to note very carefully and very specifically is that what Islam lacks is not a Reformation, but Jesus Christ. If you look at the teachings of Christianity, compared with the teachings of Islam, the fundamental theological distinctions are massive, but they come to a head and to a center in the person and work of Jesus Christ. And it’s Jesus Christ who told Peter to put his sword away there in the garden of Gethsemane; it was Mohammed who called his followers to take up the sword after him. Jesus was identified even in messianic prophecy as the Prince of peace. But Mohammed was a man of war and Islam proudly holds forth Mohammed in terms of the wars of conquest and his role as a military leader. In that sense, there is no opportunity for a Reformation of Islam that would be in any way, as was the Protestant Reformation, a claim to be continuing the original teachings of Jesus as handed down to the apostles. the corrective that is needed by Islam is not a Reformation it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. That’s not an analysis you should expect to hear in the secular press, but it’d better be the theological conviction and the great missiological burden of believing Christians.
Abortionist physician for South asserts concern for pregnant woman, neglects baby
Next, an absolutely chilling article appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times. The title,
“Why I Provide Abortions.”
And it’s written by Willie J. Parker, who is the board-certified obstetrician gynecologist who provides abortion care in the South. He is also according to the identification here, chairman-elect of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Health. This is a frightening, tragic, and absolutely horrifying article, but it’s the kind of argument from which we dare not turn our eyes. We have to look at it and look at it very carefully. Willie Parker writes,
“In public health, you go where the crisis is. If there is an outbreak and you have the ability to relieve suffering, you rush to the site of the need. This is why, a year and a half ago, I returned to my hometown, Birmingham, Ala., to provide abortions.”
Now before we go any further in the article, just consider those words in the opening paragraph. He says that where you see an outbreak and you have the ability to relieve suffering you rush to the site the need. So what’s the need? He’s identifying the need as the woman’s right to an abortion. And he’s identifying the place for that need was manifest as Birmingham, Alabama, and that’s why he went there. Listen carefully to a following paragraph,
“My decision to provide abortions represented a change of heart on my part. I had been working for 12 years as an obstetrician and gynecologist, and had never performed abortions because I felt they were morally wrong. But I grew increasingly uncomfortable turning away women who needed help.”
Now we need to look at language very carefully because language always matters. And in writing an article on a moral issue of this importance, the language chosen by an author or a speaker often betrays more than they intend. One of the sentences here speaks of the fact that he had been opposed to abortion because,
“I felt they were morally wrong”
Let’s look at the verb there. It is “felt” that is probably an honest statement, but it points to the heart of the problem. Our moral feelings are not trustworthy, not in a fallen world. And here you have a doctor saying that he believed that abortion in the past was morally wrong, but it’s because he felt that way and now he feels otherwise. This is one of the issues that Christians must watch very carefully. Sometimes our moral feelings are consistent with biblical truth, but sometimes in a fallen world, since we are sinners our moral feelings do not correspond to Scripture, they have to be corrected by Scripture. We are so influenced by peer culture, by entertainment, by other signals around us that our feelings can actually be quite distorted. This is one of the reasons why even though the conscience is a part of what it means to be made in God’s image, after the fall human sin explains why we can’t trust our conscience, our conscience also has to be instructed and corrected by Scripture. But there were other words in those sentences that also demand our attention. He writes about turning away women who needed help. Later he writes something very similar. He says,
“I stopped doing obstetrics in 2009 to provide abortion full time for women who needed help.”
Twice in this article, whether he realizes it or not, and apparently no editor caught it, he uses the same words, speaking of women who need help. Now let’s think about that for a moment. A woman seeking an abortion is indeed a woman who needs help. That’s why we should be so thankful there are crisis pregnancy centers and churches and others who should be there and must be there to provide help for women when they’re in such a moment of crisis, a moment of crisis in which even the idea of abortion can come to their minds. But the obvious answer to their need, according to Dr. Parker is to kill the unborn child within them. And we need to recognize what a horrifying moral leap that is.
We also must assume that Dr. Parker is writing with moral sincerity, there is no reason to believe that he is not sincere in the beliefs reflected in this article, as a matter of fact, writing an article like this is really only explainable by the fact that he does sincerely believe these things. That raises a second huge issue for the Christian worldview. Sincerity is important, but it is not enough. One can be sincerely wrong, sincerity must match the truth as well, which means it also has to be corrected and instructed by Scripture. Dr. Willie Parker concludes his column with these words,
“We who provide abortions do so because our patients need us, and that’s what we are supposed to do: respond to our patients’ needs. It is the deepest level of love that you can have for another person, that you can have compassion for their suffering and you can act to relieve it. That, simply put, is why I provide abortion care.”
Let’s think about that very seriously. Here you have a physician who left a practice in which he was assisting life to be born in order to devote his life to killing unborn human beings in the womb. This seems to be virtually incomprehensible, but it clearly makes sense to him and that raises an even more basic question, how is it that the human being in the womb can be absolutely absent from this article? When he writes the article,
“Why I perform abortions.”
There is absolutely no reference to the unborn child at any point in this article and that is incredibly revealing and instructive. If you can somehow forget or deny or convince yourself that the inhabitant of the womb is not a human being deserving of the sanctity and dignity of life, then an abortion just might make sense, it might in some sense be the answer to a woman’s problem, political, personal, emotional socioeconomic. But if you believe, and if you cannot deny that the inhabitant of the womb is a living human being deserving of full protection, then abortion is unthinkable on these terms and that’s the most basic issue we face.
One final issue in this article before leaving it, Dr. Parker is very concerned that not enough of his fellow obstetricians are leaving that practice to perform abortions, or are even adding abortions to their practice of assisting in giving birth. That’s really the point isn’t it? He points to the fact that only a very small number of obstetricians will perform abortions and we know why. They went into medicine to assist in bringing forth life and celebrating that life and nourishing and protecting that life not in extinguishing that life. This is one of those articles that simply hits us almost across the face with the reality we would rather not read, rather not hear, rather not know. But it is so important for us to recognize the real challenge we face. But here we see it in plain and simple and unmistakable language. This is one of those articles about which it can truly be said, read it and weep.
Atlanta considers billion dollar casino, fails to consider fallout of casino economies
Finally, today’s edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution comes with a headline in the business pages,
“Atlanta boosters to study impact of $1 billion casino.”
This is one of those articles that also defies the imagination, especially because of recent experience in communities that have been devastated with the economic collapse of gambling casinos and other gambling venues. Kristina Torres writes,
“The possibility of a $1 billion casino in downtown Atlanta has prompted an influential city booster group to pursue a study of how local businesses may be impacted.”
We are told that there is now under consideration gambling in terms of casinos in five different geographic zones in Georgia, they would include Atlanta, Columbus, Macon, Savannah and South Georgia. The proposal is that those who are building the casinos spend at least $200 million each in the outlying cities, but they will have to invest $1 billion in the city of Atlanta if they’re going to have the winning proposal. And of course this article in the business page of yesterday’s Atlanta paper, tells us that they’re all kinds of promises coming with the proposal of this $1 billion casino. We are told that it would become a destination casino resort that would be licensed to bring in massive tax revenue for the state. The governor by the way is demanding that the proposed 12 percent take of the state from the revenue of the casino be increased to about 24 to 35 percent. The state in other words, is looking for big bucks. They’re also the promises, of course, of massive jobs and other economic development coming not only to Atlanta, but to the other sites as well. But at this point we just have to ask the question, has anyone in Atlanta thought to call the folks in Atlantic City, New Jersey? That’s been ground zero for the collapse of so many of the dreams and promises of the casino industry and of the governments that have begun to rely upon that income.
Atlantic City as well as other sites have seen a devastating loss of jobs, the collapse in a large sense of the local gambling economy and a sense of economic despair. Atlantic City is now dotted with dark skyscrapers that had been built as some of the most expensive casinos ever developed on planet earth and yet with a straight face, there is the proposal that Atlanta, Georgia follow the example of Atlantic City, New Jersey. One of the things we need to note here is that in a fallen world affected by sin, everybody is tempted by the opportunity to make a fast dollar, in order to make a fast fortune. Everyone is tempted to find some substitute for the economic virtue of work and investment in thrift, that’s exactly how gambling sells itself. But what we need to note in this article is that long before gambling can sell itself to individual gamblers, it has to sell itself to the politicians who decide whether or not a license is going to be granted in many cases, waivers and allowances and laws will to be changed and those politicians are also doing the very same thing, but on a much larger scale there also being tempted to believe that somehow an economic bonanza, a vast amount of tax revenue, economic incentives and lots of jobs can come by an enterprise that is based upon the exploitation of human weakness. So political leaders in Georgia, ask yourself the question, if you won’t accept a moral argument against gambling, maybe you at least ought to call Atlantic City, New Jersey and ask the question, how’s that working for you?