August 23, 2017
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, August 23, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Today we’re going to understand why different worldviews have come up with different explanations of the solar eclipse, we’re going to understand why the breakdown of order in Afghanistan is more than a military problem, and we’re going to look at the terror attacks in Barcelona and understand that once again, what you have in Europe is the denial of the obvious.
Explanations of the eclipse reveal clash of worldviews
Just as predicted, it happened: a total eclipse of the sun on Monday. And it happened within view of millions and millions of Americans. In the path of totality — that was the area in which the total eclipse of the sun would be captured invisible within the United States from the Pacific Northwest all the way down to the Atlantic coast — about 200 million Americans lived within a one-day drive of that path of totality, and Americans by the millions did view the total eclipse of the sun; the first in the United States for 99 years. And one of the interesting things to ponder in terms of this eclipse is not so much that it happened or even where or when it happened, but what it means. Interestingly, yesterday in the major media there were all kinds of articles about the fact that the total eclipse of the sun in the United States, the first visible in the United States for almost anyone living, that this was an object of absolute fascination that it brought about emotional responses, even those described as spiritual responses; responses that included all and all kinds of different emotions. The question for Christians is “why?” And this is where Christians have an answer — an answer that the rest of the world simply doesn’t have. But what’s really revealing, what’s very interesting is the fact that even as millions of Americans were looking at the eclipse and they were experiencing awe, we also know they had to be asking questions that went far beyond the scientific basis of the prediction of the eclipse and its meaning in terms of astronomy. They had to be asking the question, “Why?” What does all this mean?
The first recorded human experience with a total eclipse of the sun goes back more than 3,000 years to 1223 BC. Since then there have been many, and in the modern era they have been not only predicted but very accurately predicted going back to the 19thcentury in the United States. In 1878 when there was a total eclipse of the sun in the United States, figures such as Thomas Alva Edison went all the way to the American West just to see this total eclipse. And when you look at other eclipses such as 1919, on that particular occasion off of the African island of Príncipe Arthur Eddington, a very gifted well-known English astronomer, was able to prove by means of the observation of that eclipse that Albert Einstein’s theory of what was called gravitational lensing was accurate; thereby making not only Eddington, but Albert Einstein very famous in terms of the scientific world.Show Full Transcript
Until Monday Americans had waited 99 years for a total eclipse of the sun that would be measured coast-to-coast, the last one was in 1918. Carrie Black, an associate program director of the National Science Foundation, said:
“This total solar eclipse across the United States is a fundamentally unique opportunity in modern times, enabling the entire country to be engaged with modern technology and,” she said, “social media.”
That’s profoundly true. At no previous total eclipse have there been anything like the experience of Americans bound together in the experience in almost real time by means of digital technology and social media. But back to the issue of meaning. Even those who operate out of a very secular worldview had to ask big questions of meaning, or at least they had to acknowledge that someone was asking big questions of meaning.
In an article about the eclipse published in the Wall Street Journal by Daniela Hernandez, I read,
“Today, people mostly regard eclipses as entertainment and as opportunities for scientific study, but,”
she went on to explain,
“various societies throughout history have also viewed them as ominous.”
She cites Anthony Aveni, an archaeoastronomer at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, who recently published a book about cultural perceptions of eclipses. He pointed to the fact that societies such as
“The Mayans equated an eclipse with ‘the moon, the ruler of the night … telling lies about the sun about evil things’ that humans do. In the Hindu culture,” we are told, “humans ‘make noise’ in an attempt to bring back the sun, and to ‘preserve the cosmic order.’”
In her article in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fiza Pirani actually offered five different religious explanations that have been offered for eclipses in times past. One of them is that,
“Sun-eating demons make the sky go dark.”
As Pirani writes,
“According to a variety of astronomers and historians, including Edwin Krupp of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles, California, ancient cultures around the globe often blamed sun-swallowing beasts for the abandoning sun.”
“The ancient Chinese,” we are told, “apparently believed an evil dragon living among the stars devoured the sun and, according to Noel Wanner,” she writes, “producer and director of NASA-funded Ancient Observatories, they would create a big, noisy commotion during an eclipse to scare the dragon demon away.”
Secondly, the reporter tells us that there were references in India to a Hindu deity — in this case a Hindu demon named Raul, who took revenge on the sun and the moon. It’s explained,
“Seeking immortality, the Hindu demon Rahu, stole a magic potion disguised as a god. As described in ancient Indian mythology, both the sun and moon watch the crime unfold and warn the god Vishnu.”
Third, the reporter tells us,
“Mythical thieving dogs are the culprits.”
This as believed by the Vikings, who believe that a wolf,
“named ‘Skoll’ temporarily stole the sun, causing the eclipse.”
Fourth, we are told that some believe that eclipses happen when the sun and the moon are fighting. Actually several different ancient cultures believed in this kind of cosmic battle that was ongoing and the disappearance of the sun in the middle of the day was the belief of some that the moon had at least temporarily triumphed over the sun. Both of them being supernaturalized and in some cases recognized as rival, competitive deities.
Similarly, Jonah Engel Bromwich writing for the New York Times tells us citing Dr. David Dearbornan astrophysicist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California,
“If you were the Greeks, before they came to have an understanding of eclipses, you might think it was a bad omen, something the gods were telling you you had done wrong,”
In today’s secular society, those who tried to explain this from a purely secular worldview had to use their own kind of language. For example, Kev Brock reporting for USA Today cited people saying it’s,
“one most incredible things I’ve ever seen. It made me cry and my children cheered,”
that according to one man.
Another woman said,
“There’s something so fabulous about the cosmic magic bringing us all together.”
There was a lot of that in social media and in the national conversation, but certainly as Christians we have to understand there’s more to it than that. But before turning to what we believe is revealed in all of this, we need to recognize that also revealed is the fact that human beings looking at the world that God has made simply have to ask some in evitable, unavoidable questions when events such as a total eclipse of the sun take place. And we as Christians understand that it’s because that God has made the universe is the theater of his glory, that was John Calvin’s explanation. As the psalmist tells us in Psalm 19:1,
“the heavens are telling the glory of God.”
And of course it doesn’t take a total eclipse of the sun for the heavens to tell us the glory of God. Every day and every moment, the heavens are telling us the glory of God, as is all of creation revealing the glory of the creator. But it’s really important that Christians understand that around us on Monday, not only in the United States where the total eclipse was visible, but also elsewhere in the world where there was an intense fascination with it, people were having to ask some really big questions.
This is where Christians understand, for just one example, that the predictability of this kind of eclipse is only made possible because God to his glory fine-tuned the universe in such a way that there are predictable laws and principles whereby the movement of celestial and heavenly bodies can not only be measured, but also predicted. Frankly, one the difficult things for Christians is to truly understand that there are people around us, operating out of a secular worldview, who are trying to explain why they feel awe and to whom this kind of awe would be directed if indeed the universe just happened. But of course the universe didn’t just happen and that’s the whole point, and even those who are trying to explain this purely in secular terms found themselves using emotional and even spiritual language because it was just unavoidable. That, too, is a reflection not only of the glory of God in creation, but the imago dei, the fact that he’s made every single human being in his image and thus there are certain things we cannot not know, including the fact that this couldn’t have just been an accident.
But going back to all those explanations offered, especially in theological terms by ancient cultures, I simply have to say at the end of the day its more plausible that the demon dog ate the sun than that it just happened. But the sun wasn’t eaten by a demon dog and the sun and the moon weren’t fighting and it wasn’t just an accident. Once again, as we have seen from the moment of creation until the dawn of the new creation, the heavens are telling the glory of God.
Why Afghanistan is far more than a military challenge
Shifting from the eclipse to the issue of Afghanistan, on Monday night the Pres. of the United States addressed the American people, and President Trump indicated a change in his position — the position of his administration towards the American military efforts in Afghanistan. The bottom line is that the president indicated a redirection and at least a partial escalation. From a Christian worldview perspective, it’s not the numbers that are so important. The best estimates are that this may mean an additional 4,000 American troops with boots on the ground, as it is said, that’s in addition to the approximately 8,400 currently there.
From a worldview perspective, what we need to recognize is that Afghanistan remains the kind of problem that, humanly speaking, resists all efforts at resolution. Afghanistan stands at the crossroads of ancient civilizations, and it has been a place of chaos and instability and warfare for millennia. When America entered this effort 16 years ago, it did so in the aftermath of the terror attacks in the United States undertaken by Osama bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. But it was a bigger effort than perhaps the United States understood it was initiating because it’s one thing to establish some kind of military victory in Afghanistan, it’s another thing to keep it, it’s one thing to solve a problem in Afghanistan only to find numerous additional problems emerging in the aftermath.
Afghanistan is what’s often described as a failed state, that’s something that’s not often articulated in terms of American official diplomacy, but the fact is that Americans are having to escalate our presence there in Afghanistan, precisely because the Afghanistan government is not able to establish sufficient security and stability within the nation. That’s not just a problem for Afghanistan. The President was very honest on Monday night in stating that this change in American policy is not so much in terms of his concern about what’s going on in Afghanistan, but rather how what’s going on in Afghanistan can affect the security of the United States of America and the larger world. From a Christian worldview perspective this should help us to understand that one of God’s greatest gifts to a people is stability and security, as a matter fact, those two realities are actually prerequisites to any kind of stable society, any kind of healthy culture. The absence of security and stability mean that Afghanistan and its people continue to be victims of just about every kind of social ill imaginable. And you have a breakdown into ancient tribalisms that is overlaid with what has often been called ‘the great game of politics’ with Afghanistan and other territories in that area, often used as pawns in terms of conflicts between the great powers. Administration after administration, an American president after president has been perplexed by the continuing problems represented by nations and by territories such as Afghanistan.
Americans were certain that we could bring order out of disorder, but every time there’s a new order established it seems that it falls very quickly right back into disorder. In that sense, in light of what the president said on Monday night, Americans and especially Christians need reflect upon the fact that the most basic issue here isn’t military, it isn’t diplomatic, it’s spiritual and it’s a moral and until there is a moral context that can support stability and a desire for security, that it really won’t matter because the problem is insoluble; there are problems that even the United States military can’t fix.
After Barcelona attacks, secular Europe still denies the obvious...it’s theological
Finally, shifting from Afghanistan to Barcelona in Spain, you’ll recall that last Friday an ISIS inspired car attack killed 15 people and wounded dozens of others. What’s really interesting in terms of worldview, is the response to what has been discovered subsequent to that horrifying attack. So what’s been discovered? It’s been discovered that there was a terrorist cell linked to this attack that is traced back to Catalonia and furthermore, from Catalonia back to Morocco. It appears that this was a very intentional attack undertaken by a group that had been radicalized by a particular Imam, a particular Islamic teacher, and one of the other things that has become clear is that this teacher seems to have targeted brothers, young men who were brothers. One of the anticipated reasons for that is that it would be more difficult for a young man to exit the organization or to betray the plan if the young man had brothers are multiple relatives who were within the group.
Here, once again, we’re looking at the radicalization of Islamic terror, and we’re looking at the world scratching its head in wonder at what it has seen over and over and over again. One of the realities we see here is that you have secular Europe denying the obvious. There appears to be an absolute shock and surprise virtually every time the same thing happens. The pattern appears to be hauntingly familiar: You have an Imam who has been radicalized who particularly attracts young men who are radicalized in terms of jihad and terrorist plans. They are then set loose and they are set loose in such a way that neighbors are completely surprised because the young men had appeared to be so normal, they had appeared to be so peaceful.
Reporters for the New York Times reported it this way,
“Until Thursday, just hours before the Barcelona attack, many of the young men seemed to be living completely normal lives. One had slept late, his mother said. Another had worked as a waiter serving wine in a mountaintop restaurant days before. Several were eating kebabs, looking relaxed.”
“By Friday morning, seven were dead, an eighth was critically wounded, and one was on the run.”
That last young man — believed to have been the driver of the vehicle who was also believed to have stolen the vehicle, killed the driver, put the driver in the backseat before murderously running the car into the crowd — that young man was apprehended and eventually shot by Spanish police on Tuesday, after he had yelled, Allahu Akbar, that is God is great, and revealed what was apparently a suicide vest. Later investigation indicated that the actual bomb was fake.
Neighbors of the young men in the small Catalonian village indicated the same kind of observation we’ve heard before. One of them, a middle-aged Spanish man said this,
“I knew some of them. They spoke Spanish. They spoke Catalan. … They seemed like us.”
News media from around the world indicated that one of the challenges here is that law enforcement say that they’re perplexed as to how they can prevent this kind of attack when the attackers, as have been said here over and over again, seem so normal. But here’s the other point, they knew Spanish authorities had information, plenty of intelligence, that this Imam had been radicalized, and yet they did nothing.
Secular Europeans seem absolutely incapable of understanding that theology matters until it matters and they still refuse to believe that it matters. But whether we’re talking about an eclipse of the sun, the breakdown of social order in Afghanistan, or terrorist attacks in Barcelona, we come to understand that theology always matters and it’s always there, just under the headlines.