August 25, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, August 25, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
God and the natural order: How should Christians process the deadly earthquake in Italy?
A major earthquake woke up residents of central Italy and its surrounding area at about 3:36 AM on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning. Once again people found themselves facing the reality of an earthquake, and this a major earthquake in a very historic area with many antiquated buildings not up to code in terms of modern earthquake specifications. We’re talking about an earthquake that was approximately 6.2 on the Richter scale. That’s a major earthquake wherever it is found, whenever it happens. But one of the most interesting things to note here is that an earthquake brings about a certain kind of fear, a certain kind of horror, that isn’t found even with some other natural disasters.
The timing of this tells us something. It was at 3:36 AM local time. People had gone to bed the night before hardly expecting some kind of disaster. They were awakened in the middle the night by one of the most horrifying of experiences, the earth shaking under their feet and under their beds. And of course we now know that there is a rising death toll, approximately 159. It is expected that that death toll will rise.Show Full Transcript
It’s interesting and important for us to note that even just a few decades ago we might never have known of the story. We certainly wouldn’t have considered it an issue of overwhelming magnitude. The reason for that is quite simple. The world is filled with all kinds of horrible headlines and disasters, tragedies and death tolls. We’re talking here about a death toll that is now rising to about 160.
That’s truly awful, but it’s even more awful to imagine just how many death tolls and events, natural and unnatural, have been reported just this year from various spots in the globe. A hundred and sixty people matter because the Christian worldview validates every single human life and its value. But the scale of what makes for a major news story, well that’s all changed, and it’s changed largely because of television, even before the digital age. The rise of the ability to have images broadcast of a disaster like this humanizes the event and the tragedy in such a way that we are able not only very quickly to gain images and news, we can see live feed and live broadcast. Social media has just amplified what really came in terms of the television revolution.
It also leads to a certain overwhelming quality, except when it comes to certain kinds of disasters—and an earthquake is at the very top of that list. The earthquake comes with such stealth, usually almost always unexpected, and it comes in such a way that it simply arrives with the announcement that the earth is shaking, shaking sometimes dangerously, shaking sometimes as in this case with deadly force.
But Christians need to remember that earthquakes have functioned in other ways as well. Sometimes an earthquake can be of such a magnitude that it can change the way people think. It can mark a major turning point in a culture.
That was the case in Lisbon, Portugal in the year 1755. An earthquake took place that is now estimated to have killed between 30,000 and 40,000 of the citizens of that city, and the total population is now estimated to have been than about 200,000. But of course it did happen, and one of the changes that came to the European mind there in the middle the 18th century with that earthquake was a change in the way many people understood nature. A worldview had emerged in the early modern age that is often identified as Romanticism. It had a big influence in Germany but also in the British Isles and throughout much of Europe. The Romantics held that nature was basically a positive and benign force. They often looked to nature almost in a sense of nature worship. They certainly exalted in what they saw as an almost perfect natural order. Except sometimes nature isn’t so perfect, and this is a very clear example.
This led to the fact that many of the Enlightenment philosophers there in the middle the 18th century looked to the Lisbon earthquake and changed the way they understood making arguments about the relationship between God and the natural order. This is the question theologians identify as theodicy, the question of how a good God is to be understood as ruling in the universe that comes often with such ill effects, not benign at all, and certainly nothing that can be romanticized. When you consider the scale of the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, Romanticism simply falls by the way. It’s an inadequate understanding, and nature proves itself to be not so benign after all.
The worldview of the Romantics did not allow for the impact of sin. That was simply not a category that really played a part in their worldview. And because of this, they were inadequate and unprepared in terms of dealing with the kind of natural evil, as we call it, the kind of disaster that was represented by that 1755 earthquake. We need to note that in our own day there is a certain new kind of Romanticism that’s also very present on the intellectual scene. There are people now, especially those who have abandoned the Christian worldview, who find themselves unable to explain how a universe that is so finely tuned for human existence and often brings such blessings and opportunities for human flourishing, can turn with such vehemence and violence upon us, just as was the case not only in that 1755 earthquake in Lisbon but in that earthquake that shook the ground on Tuesday night or Wednesday morning in this little village in a rural area of Italy.
The Christian biblical worldview affirms and underlines the fact that we have to understand nature through a dual set of lenses. That first lens is the fact that nature is indeed the creation of a sovereign and omnipotent and perfect creator God who made the entire cosmos for his glory. But the second lens through which we have to look, also made very clear in Scripture, is the understanding of the fact that that cosmos is affected by human sin—that sin, first of Adam and Eve, and then of every successive generations of human beings, distorts even the natural world. This is affirmed in the New Testament in Romans chapter 8 where we are told that sin’s corruption extends even to the created order.
This is an important dimension of the Christian worldview, and it should prepare Christians to expect that not only is there the possibility of seeing headlines like this, but the inevitability. And that’s one of the reasons why we await with such expectation the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ. Remember also, and this flies in the face of so much current nature worship, that the New Testament promise is not of the healing of this planet, but rather of the promise of a new heaven and a new earth.
ISIS turns to kids for its future, recruiting new suicide bombers with toys and ice cream
Next, earlier this week we talked about the headlines out of Turkey and the fact that the president of Turkey had announced that the assassin, the suicide bomber at a wedding, an attack that led to the deaths of dozens of people, was actually most likely a 13- to 14-year-old boy or by other press reports 12- to 15-years-old. Now, the Turkish government says they’re not exactly sure how old the boy was. But the headline that came this week in USA Today tells us that this is not an isolated incident, but is to be understood as part of a larger pattern. We acknowledged already that very difficult question. How in the world could a worldview lead to the use of a 12-, 13-, or 14-year-old child as a suicide bomber?
But Oren Dorrell for USA Today in a front-page story tells us that this is now an official policy undertaken by the group known as the Islamic State. Dorrell writes,
“A child whose attempted suicide bombing in Iraq was thwarted Sunday, and other minors used in successful terror attacks, are part of the Islamic State’s strategy to develop a new generation of believers to carry on its violent ideology.”
Now, I’m going to pause with that paragraph, because the noun in that last part was very important. The noun was “believers”—“a new generation of believers.” That raises some huge questions. Are these children actually believers in what they’re doing? Maybe they are. One of the most frightening aspects of this is the potential of corrupting a child’s worldview so much that the child would actually willingly become a suicide bomber even at such a young age. We’re talking here about older elementary school age or middle school. Dorrell went on to quote John Horgan, a researcher at Georgia State University, he is the author and co-author of works on the issue. He said,
“Most terror groups find it difficult to rationalize or explain child recruitment. The Islamic State is one of the few groups that is very proud to announce to the world, not only are they doing it, but it’s also the future.”
Now that paragraph follows immediately on the lede, and that’s truly disturbing. Because now we have a group that is not only justifying in terms of its ideology and worldview the use of child suicide bombers, it’s announcing that it is the future. It’s not ashamed of doing it. It’s proud of doing it. Dorrell writes,
“On Sunday, a boy age 12 or 13 was captured in Kurdish-held Kirkuk, Iraq, before he could detonate an explosive belt he said had been strapped to his body by masked men, the Kurdish news agency Rudaw reported. Security officials carefully diffused and removed the bomb.”
Dorrell later tells us,
“The use of children to carry out such heinous attacks is not new. The Islamic State has drawn attention with videos of children participating in firing squads and beheadings. The group’s propaganda videos and other publications make clear the role of children in the extremist organization is a norm and not just a shock factor.”
Well consider that paragraph a shock factor of sorts, the announcement that this is an ongoing plan, the future according to ISIS. And it’s not just for shock value, there’s something else going on here and that’s why it requires even more of our attention. The United Nations, we’re told, has documented that in just one month—that’s April of this year—362 children were recruited to fight in Syria and 274 of them were recruited by the Islamic State. How exactly the United Nations comes up with that figure is not clear, but some humanitarian organizations have said that parents are generally the ones who report their children missing and recruited by groups such as ISIS. Dorrell goes on to tell us,
“The terror group is following a strategy for the long haul.”
John Horgan is quoted as saying, and I quote,
“On an almost daily basis, children are featured in multiple contexts, from highly publicized executions and training camps to Quran memorization fairs and dawa (charity) caravans.”
In an interesting note, we are told that armies have historically used boys as drummer boys and standard-bearers, but that’s very different than making them executioners, not to mention suicide bombers. The militant groups Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza, according to this report, “teach children to hate Israelis and look forward to killing them.” Similar things have taken place amongst radicals in Sri Lanka. But then Dorrell tells us,
“The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, goes even further in developing a system to recruit, indoctrinate and deploy children.”
There are four points to this process that are made very clear in this article, and once again they really do demand our attention. We are told that the way the recruitment process for children is undertaken by the Islamic State is this: First, there is an initial seduction phase of young children. We are told that fighters,
“roll into a village or neighborhood, hold Quran recitation contests, give out candy and toys, and gently expose children to the group.”
Now just consider that. One expert said that it “often involves ice cream.” So we’re talking about recruiting children with toys and attention and Quranic recitations, and also ice cream. But the second phase of the recruitment is this:
“Schooling provides exposure to the group’s ideology and allows talent spotters to identify prospects for various jobs.”
Expert Mia Bloom cited in the article says,
“To desensitize them to violence, they’re shown videos of beheadings, attend a live beheading.”
“Then the children,” we are told, “participate in beheadings, by handing out knives or leading prisoners to their deaths.”
In stage three,
“Children are taken from school to military training, with uniforms, marching, drills, weapons training and continued indoctrination. This period usually lasts one to two months.”
The fourth phase amounts to the mobilization of children for mass murder.
“The subjugation phase exposes children to a brutal boot-camp type of experience …. They graduate with a deep camaraderie with fellow troops.”
Remember, we’re talking about children and “fellow troops.” Now, let’s consider what we see here. We’re seeing a process, whereby very young children are first recruited with toys and candy and ice cream, and then they are corrupted by a very rigorous form of education. That is followed, we need to note, by a process of desensitizing these children, morally desensitizing them to the very events to which they are taken and then asked to participate. Then, having stripped these children of any moral sensitivity to what they’re going to be sent and assigned to undertake, they send them out, knowing that it is far easier for a child to penetrate security and be unnoticed in order to fulfill a suicide bombing or similar kind of attack.
Once again we’re thrown back on the question of worldview. What worldview could possibly justify this? But then we note that that’s not the only question. Because the Islamic State doesn’t merely justify this, it celebrates this very process in the use of children in this way. This tells us just how little human life means to the Islamic State, not only in terms of the victims of their murderous attacks, but also of their own children.
When a group like the Islamic State reaches the point of celebrating the recruitment, desensitization, and then of course the assignment of children for something like a suicide bombing, and when they make very clear this is a long-term strategy, it’s what they define as their future, well, just ponder this: when you reach this point of moral rationalization and when you reach this point that an entire moral worldview, which in almost every case by common grace begins with the responsibility to protect children, well then you’re seeing an entire moral universe turned upside down, and the doing so celebrated. That tells us, right now, that when we look to what is coming out of the Islamic State and what comes at us in these headlines that that also means that, according to this worldview, there is nothing they will not do.
New federal transgender rule threatens backbone of the American health care system—religious hospitals
Next, when we consider the world around us and what’s taking place and threats to religious liberty and, for that matter, the inevitable aftermath of the sexual revolution, here’s a headline that came in yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal:
“United States Sued Over New Regulation on Gender.”
Well, that kind of headline now comes at us so often, it seems like it must not be anything really new. But in this case, it is. The report comes to us in the Journal by Ian Lovett and Louise Radnofsky. They write,
“Five states, a Catholic health network and other Christian health-care providers sued the federal government on Tuesday, hoping to block a new rule they say could require doctors to provide gender-transition treatments and procedures that conflict with their beliefs.”
As the story unfolds, you see it’s even bigger than that first paragraph might indicate, because it’s not just about doctors. It’s about an entire array of healthcare professionals, but furthermore, it’s also about the healthcare providers, not only insurance companies, but many hospitals.
Now something interesting and ominous has entered our cultural conversation in the background chatter in recent months. And that’s the fact that, for example, some recent stories have appeared on both coasts and in some points in between pointing to the fact that in many areas and in many towns and cities, there’s an almost utter dependence upon private hospitals for medical care. And that’s not the real story. The real story is that they are religious hospitals. Now that points back in American history to the fact that many, if not most, of the original healthcare providers in this country—and we mean by that specifically hospitals and clinics—were established by religious bodies often because they were the only organizations with the kind of breadth and depth to actually pull that off.
So in community after community you can look at the names, especially the historic names of so many hospitals, and there’s an immediate church reference, usually a denominational reference. To be sure, there are Jewish hospitals and medical centers. They might be named Mount Sinai or similar, or they might just be called Jewish Hospital. But the vast majority are going to be named something that makes a very clear Catholic statement, or you’re likely to find the words Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, or Lutheran in the name of the hospital or medical center. But this raises the very issue that we now confront in this Wall Street Journal news story and in the lawsuit that was established just this week, filed by states and hospitals and others.
The reason for this is the fact that the Obama Administration, once again, is handing down a directive. In this case, the directive is to healthcare providers that they must not discriminate or show bias when it comes to sexual orientation and gender. As the reporters tell us,
“The lawsuit, filed in Texas federal court, objects to a nondiscrimination regulation issued by the Department of Health and Human Services in May. The health-care nondiscrimination rules broadly require insurers to cover treatments for transgender people that they would cover for other patients. Hospitals, physicians and other health-care workers are required to provide treatment, and providers with gender-segregated facilities will have to allow people to use facilities that match their gender identity.”
Now at this point, we need to know what’s going on here. It’s really not at this point the big headlines about the bathrooms. That’s not incidental, but that’s not what’s driving this. What’s driving this is that you could have Catholic and Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist and Lutheran medical centers, among others, told that they must fund and provide gender reassignment surgery and other kinds of procedures that would absolutely violate the religious convictions of those bodies. Now in terms of the secularization of the culture, the words Baptist, Methodist, or anything else in many of these healthcare providers is simply an historic reference. But that’s not always the case. In particular, many Catholic hospitals continue to be accountable to and furthermore under the direction of local Catholic bodies and even with tremendous influence of the local bishops. And Catholic hospitals are the ones who immediately filed this lawsuit, and for no surprise.
We’ve been watching in recent years the constriction of the conscience clauses that had been carefully put in place by legislators out of respect for those whose consciences would not allow for participation in such things as abortion and euthanasia. But, we’re seeing the constriction of those conscience clauses. We’ve seen pharmacists and pharmacies, even those that are completely directed by Christians, ordered to violate the Christian conscience when it comes to the dispensing of certain prescriptions. And we see this in other professions. It’s almost as if they’re all falling in line.
But this lawsuit indicates that there is still a pushback. And it’s important to recognize that several states have officially entered into this lawsuit. It’s not just about healthcare professionals or healthcare providers. It’s also about some states themselves who understand what’s really at stake. And what is really at stake? Most fundamentally, this is a religious liberty and Christian conscience issue, but it’s also something else. And this is what might have the attention of at least some who might otherwise really not pay much heed. That’s this: if you take these hospitals out of many communities, there won’t be a hospital.
One thing to note in this is that bureaucrats and regulators in places like Washington D.C. don’t have to worry that some hospital is going to close in their neighborhood, that they’ll not have access to healthcare if these regulations are enforced. But that’s not true throughout much of middle America, and that demonstrates something to the condescension if not contempt of many of the elites on the two coasts for those who do live in what is often dismissed as fly over country.
The second thing we need to note is even more important, and that is that there’s now an open antipathy towards anyone who would stand over against the sexual revolution, even if they are the healthcare provider upon which the community is dependent. The isolating of Christian colleges and universities in the state of California for the threat of what we saw as Senate Bill 1146, the targeting of other professions and professionals in terms of the conscience clauses, and now these regulations in the Obama Administration, added on top of so many others—they’re an indication of the tightening of the noose we’re now experiencing. And we have to hope and pray that this lawsuit will not be for naught, that it will actually lead to something that would not only clarify the issue, but protect conscience.