May 7, 2014
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, May 7, 2014. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Monday’s 5-4 decision by the United States Supreme Court in the case having to do with the city of Greece, New York, is continuing to send shockwaves through the community. And what’s most interesting is the discussion in the aftermath of the Supreme Court decision because that discussion reveals that the great cultural divide in America is not just between liberals and conservatives, certainly not just between religionists and secularists, not between Republicans and Democrats, but, increasingly, between those who believe that something like prayer can only be only divisive and dangerous and those who see it as a natural response of the human being to the Creator.
Now when you begin looking at this situation, the editorial response has been fierce. But let’s go back to the case. On Monday, by a majority of five out of the nine justices of the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court ruled that the city of Greece, New York, had not violated the Constitution by allowing ministers to open the meetings of the town council in prayer. Now, as a matter of fact, most of those who prayed were Christian ministers and, as might be expected, the prayers they prayed were distinctively Christian prayers. The city did not limit those invited to deliver prayers to be Christians, but the city itself is overwhelmingly Christian. And it has to be said that the city had to go to some extraordinary lengths in order to find persons who weren’t Christians to deliver prayers. But they did do that and they pledged to continue to do that.
In the syllabus of the court’s decision, that’s the official court summary of the decision handed down on Monday, the court declared this:
To hold that invocations must be nonsectarian would force the legislature sponsoring prayers and the courts deciding these cases to act as supervisors and sensors of religious speech; thus involving government in religious matters to a far greater degree than is the case under the towns current practice of neither editing nor proving prayers in advance nor criticizing their content after the fact.
Now that’s a very important statement and actually gets to one of the two or three most crucial insights in the aftermath of this court decision; in other words, in response to the public conversation about it. Now one of the things that we have to keep in mind is that the two women who brought the case against Greece, New York, were not arguing that the city had no constitutional right to have an invocation prior to the meeting of the town council. That’s already an established matter of constitutional law. Instead they were arguing that the only prayers that should be constitutionally permissible were prayers that, in the words of their lawsuit, were nonsectarian prayers to what they called a generic god. That’s what was rejected by the Supreme Court—narrowly, we point out; it was a 5-4 decision. But now you have people crying out that that was a failure of the court to uphold the Constitution.
Now we have to go back to the fact that the Supreme Court on Monday, in terms of Justice Kennedy’s majority opinion, stated the common sense presupposition that the Constitution must be interpreted in light of the actual practices of the ones who framed it. In other words, the fact that the founders and framers of the Constitution and our constitutional order opened their own meetings with distinctively Christian prayers, that was an indication that they did not intend to make unconstitutional what they were continuing to do. That’s just common sense, and common sense that should prevail in any similar situation.
But going back to the controversy after the decision was handed down on Monday; you have many people saying that the Supreme Court should have required nonsectarian or generic prayers. And what’s really interesting is that Justice Kennedy and the syllabus of the court’s decision clearly indicated the problem with that. Who is going to judge whether or not a prayer is adequately nonsectarian or whether the god referenced in a prayer is adequately a generic god? That gets to really the heart of the issue. Are we going to trust government? Are we even going to assign some government, some legislature, or some court to decide which prayers are and are not sufficiently nonsectarian, sufficiently nontheistic, sufficiently generic? Interestingly, we need to note even the typed form, the printed form, of the Supreme Court’s decision. The word God is generally capitalized. That indicates that the God who is referenced is considered a theistic deity, but when you look at the religious systems of the world, many are not explicitly theistic at all. Many would not have a God to capitalize in terms of deity. Many would not have a personal God that can be capitalized in terms of a proper noun. In other words, even in the formatting of its decision, the Supreme Court actually made the point. How in the world do you come up with some kind of generic prayer? What kind of prayer would be adequately nonsectarian? And who wants to assign to government the assignment to identify the content of prayers and judge, by their content and by their effect, whether or not they are nonsectarian enough?
That was the common sense form of reasoning that led Justice Kennedy and four of his colleagues to say that the town of Greece was right in neither proscribing the prayer nor prescribing it, declining to say what should be offered in a prayer and declining to say what should not be. Furthermore, in a very interesting point, the justices noted that the town of Greece, New York, neither said what should or shouldn’t be said nor criticized a prayer after it was offered.
Another key issue that plays into the current controversy after the handing down of this decision is a point that Justice Kennedy made in his opinion. He wrote this:
Congress continues to permit its appointed and visiting chaplains to express themselves in a religious idiom. It acknowledges our growing diversity not by proscribing sectarian content, but by welcoming ministers of many creeds.
Very interesting. The judicial branch of our national government pointed to the legislative branch and said, “They’re doing it right.” What Congress does is daily to invite clergy or representatives of world religions to pray and each is allowed to pray in his or her own way. They’re not told how to pray. They’re not told to pray nonsectarian prayers. You expect then that a Muslim is going to prayer Islamic prayers and a Jewish rabbi’s going to pray Jewish prayers and go on. You can imagine just how that would work. Recently, it was reported that Congress had welcomed its first Sikh ceremonial chaplain, offering prayers for the Senate that day.
Now evangelical Christians have to understand that this is the cost of religious liberty. It’s also the gift of religious liberty. Religious liberty for Christians means religious liberty for all, and the religious liberty that allows a Christian pastor to pray a legitimately Christian prayer in public is the same religious liberty that allows a Sikh to pray a Sikh prayer, Daoist to pray a Daoist prayer, a Buddhist to pray a Buddhist prayer, and going through the catalog. We, therefore, cannot claim to be offended when we hear a prayer other than our own, when we hear or experience a prayer that is something with which we do not agree, referencing a God in whom we do not believe, using language that we would never use.
Now it is actually impossible for a Christian, a gospel-minded, biblically-minded Christian, not to be theologically offended by those prayers. After all, we believe they’re false prayers to false deities. The Bible makes that very clear, but being theologically offended is very different than being politically or constitutionally offended. We have to run the risk of being theologically offended in order to uphold religious liberty. And the religious liberty that we would claim for ourselves is the religious liberty that we have to claim and protect for others as well.
In a rather predictable editorial outrage against the decision handed down on Monday, yesterday’s edition of The New York Times included an editorial statement that ended, “It was disappointing that the Justice Department urged the justices to uphold the prayer practice in the town hall meetings, which skirted the constitutional principle of religious neutrality.” The keywords now follow: “and caused some residents to feel like outsiders.” In other words, the insinuation—no, the direct statement—in this editorial is that if a prayer is offered that isn’t your prayer, that doesn’t comport with your religious beliefs or your worldview, if you hear that prayer, you then feel like an outsider. You know, that’s the problem. You should then feel like an insider in America. You should feel like an insider in a community and in a nation that welcomes persons regardless of their religious beliefs and welcomes them to pray in public regardless of their religious beliefs.
We also need to note something that is revealed in this controversy. We need to give this very close attention. There are now some people in our society who are not merely outraged and offended by these prayers, their claiming something akin to a psychological harm by being required in some circumstances to hear a prayer with which they do not agree. Religion News Service quoted Edwina Rogers, the executive director of the Secular Coalition of America. She said she was very disappointed that the Supreme Court—and these are her words—“chose to ignore the very blatant burden sectarian prayer imposes on the conscience of citizens with diverse religious beliefs and those without religious beliefs.” In other words, this Edwina Rogers, the spokesperson and executive director of the Secular Coalition for America, says that sectarian prayers, that is, prayer with any kind of theological content, imposes on the conscience of citizens; a harm upon the conscience of citizens. That’s a very strange notion of conscience. My conscience would be violated, seriously so, if anyone were to force me to pray or to worship in some way they did not match my own convictions. But my conscience is not impinged in any way, is not violated in any sense, simply by hearing someone else pray according to his or her own conscience and convictions. That’s a very strange understanding of conscience that claims to be harmed simply by hearing something with which we do not agree.
But that tells you something that is really going on in the secular mind and increasingly in the secularized culture that America’s becoming. People are claiming that it is their constitutional right never to hear something with which they do not agree. They’re claiming that there is a psychological harm in being required to hear someone with a conviction not their own articulate those convictions in public. That’s deadly dangerous not only for religious liberty, but for free speech and any notion of liberty that make any sense whatsoever.
And just when you think that kind of the illogic can’t possibly be topped, along comes Jeff Schweitzer, writing in The Huffington Post. And he suggests that if you take the prayers that are documented as having been prayed in Greece, New York, before the town council meetings, if you take out the name Jesus and put in the name of Allah, he says, “We’re living in Tehran instead of New York.” Well, that’s a very strange reading. Is he actually claiming that allowing Muslims to pray a Muslim prayer before the opening of a town council in a small village in upstate New York is somehow making New York State become Tehran, an Islamic theocracy? That’s the kind of overstatement and exaggeration that should be immediately identified as being the kind of argument offered from a position of very weak intellectual credibility, of very week rationality. He even said that this is evidence of what he calls a shift of theocracy in which, as he writes, Jeffersonian principles have been set aside for the convenience of promoting Christianity over all religions. He then writes, “Welcome to the United States of Saudi Arabia.”
Now when you see that kind of argument and obvious hyperbole, you might wonder what’s behind that. Well he makes it abundantly clear as he concludes his article. On the last page of his essay, he says this, “The time has come for us to fight the arrogant certainty among Christians that they hold a truth more valid than Jews, Muslims and those who eschew all religion.” In other words, what’s really driving Jeff Schweitzer’s outrage isn’t the decision handed down on Monday by the United States Supreme Court. It’s not actually the idea that Christians or Muslims or anyone else would be praying prayers before the town council of Greece, New York. It’s the fact that he’s absolutely outraged that Christianity as a belief system would claim to have, in his words, “a truth more valid than Jews, Muslims, and those who eschew all religion.”
Now let me just state what should be obvious and a matter of simple common sense. We all hold beliefs. The fact that we hold beliefs means that we’re human and the fact that we hold specific beliefs is because we believe those beliefs are more superior in terms of truth and authority than other beliefs. In other words, there isn’t a single human being on the planet, who is sane, who doesn’t believe that his or her beliefs are superior to the beliefs that he or she does not hold. So when Jeff Schweitzer writes, “The time has come for us to fight the arrogant certainty among Christians that they hold a belief more valid than Jews, Muslims, and those who eschew all religion,” we just need to point out that those who eschew all religion believe that their worldview is intellectually superior to those who believe in Christianity.
Now religious liberty means that Jeff Schweitzer has the right to pen that article and to have it published and to have it discussed. But it also means that Christians have the right to be Christians and that Christians have the right to hold to Christian convictions and to pray in public as Christians. That’s what religious liberty means and that’s why Monday was so important.
Next we go back to Nigeria. Yesterday, we discussed the fact that there is international concern and outrage, indeed, heartbreak over the fact that approximately 270 teenage girls were kidnapped in that nation and taken by the group known as Boko Haram from a school where they were studying for their annual exams. Boko Haram is an Islamic group, a terrorist organization that has killed many in the past and kidnapped many as well. They are now threatening to sell these girls as sex slaves, to sell them as wives. And the very name of the organization means they’re against Western education, and they’re blaming these girls and their families and the government of Nigeria for having put these girls in the situation of receiving a Western education. Their response is to kidnap them and to sell them into slavery. The leader of Boko Haram, as we reported yesterday, has said that Allah told him to do this and to sell these girls as slaves.
Now there’s increased outrage on two fronts. One is the fact that as recently as Sunday night, Boko Haram has kidnapped more teenage girls. The exact number is not known, but it is now believed that the total number of kidnapped girls between the ages of 12 and 17 may exceed 300. The fact that Nigeria has not been able to get those girls back that were kidnapped on April 14 is bad enough, but the government there in Nigeria seems to be unable to protect even the girls who are in schools now.
The other outrage was reported by The New York Times; reporter Adam Nossiter pointing out that it was a year ago that the leader of Boko Haram put on the Internet a video in which he threatened to do what he has now done. In other words, Nigeria had warning that this would happen, and yet you had the kidnapping of these girls in April, a year after Boko Haram and its leader put on the Internet a video saying that they had intended to kidnap these teenage girls from schools wherever they were found in Nigeria and to sell them as wives. The Boko Haram leader, Abubakar Shekau, had said in this 57 minute video released last year, “Western education should end. Girls you should go and get married.” He went on to say that he would “give their hands in marriage because they are our slaves. We will marry them out of the age of nine. We would marry them out of the age of 12.”
The New York Times also reports that Boko Haram has been kidnapping girls, but murdering teenage boys. They report earlier this year:
More than 50 teenage boys were slaughtered — some burned alive — at a government school in the north [of Nigeria]. That attack, like many others, was quickly forgotten in Nigeria and barely noticed outside of it.
You know, Christians looking at a news report like this or even several news reports like this, all related to the same kind of terrorist activity in Nigeria, have to recognize just what is required for a society to have a level of order and of respect for law and indecency. What you have is a breakdown of civic order and of morality and of law enforcement in a place like Nigeria that is making it possible that a group like Boko Haram can simply go into a girls school and kidnap the girls and sell them into slavery, or to go into a boys school and murder the boys, burning some of them alive. But this also points to the fact that the worldview that makes that kind of civilizational order possible is a worldview that requires a certain understanding of human dignity and human rights, and that is exactly what a group like Boko Haram is rejecting. And in the strangest and most haunting sense, while this news out of Nigeria that should break our hearts and lead us to add our voices to Christ for international outrage and international action, it should also affirm to us the lesson that we already know. Worldview matters and underneath the worldview is theology. Theology always matters.
Coming back to North America, specifically the United States and Canada, back in 2011, we discussed the fact that a Canadian businessman had founded a business that went to the cover story of BusinessWeek, now known as Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The man was Noel Biderman. He’s a Toronto businessman who wants to sell you an adulterous affair. The cover story in Bloomberg BusinessWeek reveals that he’s doing a great deal of business. His business is known as Ashley Madison or Ashley Madison.com. It is known as the premier dating website for aspiring adulterers. And, by the way, that’s the way the magazine described. He says he came up with the idea after serving as an agent for professional athletes. That job required him to negotiate around the adulterous affairs of his clients. He decided that adultery could be big business and now—and this dates back to 2011—Ashley Madison grosses $60 million a year in yearly revenue, produces $20 million in annual profits. Now if you’re looking for ironies, note the fact that this business owner is a married man with two young children. His wife said, knowing his business—and, by the way, he has a sign on his desk that reads, “Life is short. Have an affair.” His wife, in response to the question that came from the magazine’s reporter, said, “I mean, yeah, I’d love it if he were working on a cure for cancer, but it’s a business and that’s how we look at.”
But that was back in 2011. Now Ashley Madison’s back in the news. The Washington Post reported on May 1—the reporter is Max Ehrenfreund—that the financial crisis of 2008 may have driven many people to betray their wedding vows. Ashley Madison has released details on its business from 2008 when the economy suffered that significant recession. An analyst at Ashley Madison found evidence of a relationship between the economy and infidelity when they examined user data and individual states. They compared the change in the number of employed people in each state with the growth in Ashley Madison’s membership. Their tentative conclusion: People who have lost their jobs might be more likely to cheat or at least are more likely to sign up for an adultery-dating site.
The Washington Post goes back to the site’s founder Noel Biderman. He said he believes that adultery is “a normal part of human experience and that greater tolerance of infidelity would preserve more marriages and more families.” That’s the kind of Orwellian moral doublespeak that points to the absolute irrationality of the worldview. Noel Biderman claims to be assisting marriage by undermining it, helping people to stay married by helping them to be disloyal and adulterous. One of the most interesting insights in this article in The Washington Post is this paragraph:
Dishonesty among those surveyed has been a real obstacle to research on infidelity. Sociologists and psychologists have long sought to understand how many married people are unfaithful and why they do it, and estimates of the proportion of cheaters based on surveys range widely — from 25 percent to 75 percent of married people.
In other words, any statistic that tells you that the proportion is somewhere between 25% and 75% is absolutely useless. You don’t have to have a degree in statistics to know that if something ranges between 25 and 75%, it ranges into stupidity. But what’s even more stupid is the fact that someone seems to be surprised by the fact that people who would commit adultery will lie about it. Why would someone consider that an individual, ready to break his or her marriage vows, is going to somehow feel morally obligated to tell the truth about breaking those vows? So The Washington Post reports on this supposed research coming from Ashley Madison, a business that makes its $20 million in annual profit on facilitating adultery, and then complains about the fact that adulterers tend to lie about their adultery and no one actually knows what statistics can be trusted.
But then again comes The Huffington Post, writer Lisa Haisha, suggesting that the time has come to change our views of adultery and marriage so that we just don’t worry about it anymore. She says the modern version of marriage emerged a mere couple of hundred years ago. By the way, you’re going to hear that argument over and over again, and actually it’s just talking about wedding customs. Everyone knows that heterosexual marriage, the union of a man and a woman as a monogamous union, doesn’t go back a couple of hundred years; it goes back to Adam and Eve. But she really gets to her point when she says that it’s time for the concept of marriage to continue to evolve. She asked the question, “Are we really supposed to be with just one person our whole life? And if not, must we get remarried five times? Are there alternative ways to perceive and participate in a marriage that will guarantee its success?” How will she guarantee its success? By not including monogamy in the marriage equation. She says, “I’m not condoning adultery as we know it, because I’m not strictly talking about sex. But because it is so taboo, when you consider the historical context of marriage, isn’t being shocked by adultery a bit of an overreaction?” Well, let me just suggest an intellectual principle to keep in mind. If we shouldn’t expect someone who commits adultery to tell the truth about it, we shouldn’t expect someone who proposes adultery to be rational about it. If you’re wondering what Ms. Haisha’s view of evolved marriage looks like, she says it’s this:
Maybe the tenets of a successful marriage should not be whether the couple stays monogamous for decades, but rather whether the couple openly communicates about what their unique marriage will look like, what will be deemed acceptable and what will not, and then honoring that joint decision.
Those who hold to a Christian worldview have to look at an article like this as a symptom of the absolute breakdown of the marriage culture in our midst. We have to look at the absolute loss of rationality and moral reason on marriage that is now becoming endemic in our culture. But we also have to look at the basic moral irrationality in the argument. Even as it’s irrational to believe that those who commit adultery will tell the truth about it, why is it rational to believe that people entering into marriage, but agreeing to commit adultery, will agree to tell the truth about it in advance? This is absolute nonsense. The real problem is not everyone sees it as nonsense, and that tells you something of the challenge we now face.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. Remember the weekly release of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition. Call with your question in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058. 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. I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.