The Briefing 09-12-14

The Briefing 09-12-14

The Briefing


September 12, 2014

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Friday, September 12, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Ironically, unbelivers Harris and Maher teach importance of belief 

We are currently living in a very strange age, and this age is often also an ironic age. That was made very clear in the fact that sometimes we now recognize it takes an unbeliever to make a very important point about the centrality of belief. That came to light just in recent days in response to President Obama’s address to the nation that took place on Wednesday night. President Obama, as we discussed yesterday on The Briefing, studiously tried to make the point that the Islamic State in the Levant, known as ISIL to the President, is actually not Islamic at all. Speaking just a few weeks ago after the beheading of journalist James Foley by a British jihadist associated with ISIL, the Islamic State, President Obama said these words,


ISIL speaks for no religion… and no faith teaches people to massacre innocents.


Speaking Wednesday night to the nation, President Obama said,


Now let’s make two things clear: ISIL is not Islamic. No religion condones the killing of innocents, and the vast majority of ISIL’s victims have been Muslim…. ISIL is a terrorist organization, pure and simple.


On yesterday’s edition of The Briefing I made the point that the President’s evasion on the question of Islam is not only simply wrong, profoundly wrong, but downright dishonest and dangerously dishonest. Any honest look at ISIL, or ISIS as it is known also, reveals that the Islamic State is inherently Islamic – to press further and to claim that all Muslims are part of the Jihad represented by the Islamic State would be dishonest as well. But to step back and suggest that the Islamic State somehow is not Islamic, is just a profound confusion that is not only deliberate, but very dangerous – because it’s always dangerous to ignore the obvious, and in this case the obvious is the importance of Islam, indeed the centrality of Islam, to the worldview of the Islamic State. The Quran itself divides the entire world into two opposed realms.  The first is the world of Islam – that is the world brought into submission to the Quran under sharia law. The second realm is simply defined as the world of war – that’s the world of conflict, conflict that every Muslim, according to the Quran, has an obligation to join and bring about, in which there is a struggle to bring those remaining portions of the world under submission to the Quran. Now if that is at the very heart of Islam, and undeniably it is, it’s simply impossible to claim that something like the Islamic State, that roots itself in this very logic revealed in the Quran, is anything less than Islamic.


But as I said, today’s concern is in irony embedded in this situation. Sam Harris is well-known, not only an author, but as one of the so-called Four Horsemen of the new atheism. A militant atheist, he has written a great deal about the dangers of religious faith. And he has written a great deal in defense of a modern version of very radical atheism. But in a statement published on his own website in the aftermath of President Obama’s speech on Wednesday night, Sam Harris wrote this,


As an atheist, I cannot help wondering when this scrim of pretense and delusion will be finally burned away—either by the clear light of reason or by a surfeit of horror meted out to innocents by the parties of God. Which will come first, flying cars and vacations to Mars, or a simple acknowledgment that beliefs guide behavior and that certain religious ideas—jihad, martyrdom, blasphemy, apostasy—reliably lead to oppression and murder?


Sam Harris went on to write,


It may be true that no faith teaches people to massacre innocents exactly—but innocence, as the President surely knows, is in the eye of the beholder. Are apostates “innocent”? Blasphemers? Polytheists? Islam has the answer, and the answer is “no.”


Later in his essay he writes these words, again I quote,


But a belief in martyrdom, a hatred of infidels, and a commitment to violent jihad are not fringe phenomena in the Muslim world. These preoccupations are supported by the Koran and numerous hadith. That is why the popular Saudi cleric Mohammad Al-Areefi sounds [more] like the ISIS army chaplain. The man has 9.5 million followers on Twitter (twice as many as Pope Francis has). If you can find an important distinction between the faith he preaches and that which motivates the savagery of ISIS, [Sam Harris writes] you should probably consult a neurologist.


But Sam Harris isn’t even close to being finished, as he continues, he writes – again I quote,


Understanding and criticizing the doctrine of Islam—and finding some way to inspire Muslims to reform it—is one of the most important challenges the civilized world now faces. But the task isn’t as simple as discrediting the false doctrines of Muslim “extremists,” because most of their views are not false by the light of scripture. A hatred of infidels is arguably the central message of the Koran. The reality of martyrdom and the sanctity of armed jihad are about as controversial under Islam as the resurrection of Jesus is under Christianity. It is not an accident [he says] that millions of Muslims recite the shahadah or make pilgrimage to Mecca. Neither is it an accident that horrific footage of infidels and apostates being decapitated has become a popular form of pornography throughout the Muslim world. Each of these practices, including this ghastly method of murder, find explicit support in scripture.


And by Scripture in this case, Mr. Harris clearly means the Quran.


A further irony is found in the fact that a man I have never heretofore cited on The Briefing, Bill Maher, in a conversation with Charlie Rose, on Rose’s program on Bloomberg television earlier this week, got into an exchange over the very same question. Charlie Rose insisted, over and over again, that the Islamic State is not Islamic and is not representative of Islam. But Bill Maher, also a skeptic, an unbeliever, would have nothing of it. The televised exchange between these two men was very revealing. At one point in their conversation Bill Maher interjected,


There are illiberal beliefs that are held by vast numbers of Muslim people…


Charlie Rose, the host of the program, interrupted in to say


A vast number of Christians too.


Immediately speaking back to Charlie Rose, Bill Maher, a very militant unbeliever and of course no friend of Christianity as a belief system, simply responded:


No, that’s not true. Not true. Vast numbers of Christians do not believe that if you leave the Christian religion you should be killed for it.


Later he said,


Vast numbers of Christians do not believe if you draw a picture of Jesus Christ you should get killed for it.


Maher cited polling indicated that vast millions of people in the Muslim world agreed with these terrorist tactics, and then he said quote:


So to claim that this religion is like other religions is just naive and plain wrong. It is not like other religious. The New York Times [he said] pointed out in an op-ed a couple weeks ago that in Saudi Arabia just since August 4th, they think it was, they have beheaded 19 people. Most for non-violent crimes including homosexuality.


Charlie Rose then turned to ask Bill Maher if he would return to the program to debate a moderate Muslim. Bill Maher responded immediately,


Find one, yes. Find one.


It may well be that Charlie Rose can find someone who would qualify as something of a moderate Muslim here in the West, especially in United States, but he would be very hard-pressed, and that’s an understatement, to find someone who would fit that category in the parts of the world dominated by Muslim population. Now it’s very important to recognize that neither Bill Maher nor Sam Harris is any friend whatsoever to Christianity – especially to evangelical Christianity. Both of these men consider orthodox biblical Christianity to be, in its own way, dangerous – but dangerous in a very different way than the danger represented by the Islamic State. And at least both men have the intellectual honesty to demonstrate quite clearly, indeed even to argue in public, that it is simply wrong, dishonest, and profoundly unhelpful, to try to suggest that either, on the one hand Islam is not tending toward this kind of violence, and secondly to argue that if indeed Islam is tending in this direction, it must be doing so because it simply in the company of other religions with similar teachings, with similar effects. Bill Maher and Sam Harris rejected that argument, indeed both of those arguments, vociferously and very comprehensively.


But we need to note something else as well, in this case both of these avowed unbelievers, indeed very publicly assertive unbelievers, they both see religion itself as the problem. But they are at least very honest to suggest that worldview really matters, they note only suggest it, they insist upon it. They understand that theology does matter. It is those who are somewhere in the muddled middle who try to believe, in this secularized age, that theology is either simply a relic of the past or even if it intrudes in the present, it must be irrelevant. But Bill Maher and Sam Harris understand what every orthodox Christian must understand, and that is that belief matters – it always matters. The comprehensive worldview that guides an individual’s thinking always matters, and as the Scripture makes abundantly clear, that worldview, for every single individual, in its own way is inherently inescapably, irreducibly, theological. Sam Harris went on to make the point about his opposition to all revealed religion. He wrote in the same essay and I quote,


The idea that any book was inspired by the creator of the universe is poison—intellectually, ethically, and politically. And nowhere is this poison currently doing more harm than in Muslim communities, East and West. Despite all the obvious barbarism in the Old Testament, and the dangerous eschatology of the New [Testament], it is relatively easy for Jews and Christians to divorce religion from politics and secular ethics. A single line in Matthew—“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s”—largely accounts for why the West isn’t still hostage to theocracy [he writes]. The Koran contains a few lines that could be equally potent—for instance, “There is no compulsion in religion” (2:256)—but these sparks of tolerance are easily snuffed out. Transforming Islam into a truly benign faith will require a miracle of re-interpretation.


So, to use his own words, Sam Harris sees all theistic belief as dangerous – he sees any claim of a revealed the book, whether it be the Koran or the Bible or anything else, well, in his words, such a claim is simply poisonous. But at the same time he is at least making to profound points. The first we have already seen, that is that theology matters. It always matters, even when the secular press may try to argue that it can’t matter – it does matter. And secondly, it matters what theology one holds. Sam Harris and Bill Maher may reject all religion whatsoever, but they’re at least honest enough to know that religions are not the same thing – they don’t believe the same thing, they do not teach the same thing, nor do their believers in adherence perform and practice the same things.

2) Tech executive parents understand vulnerability of children to technology

As I said, we live in a very ironic age – and in this case, a new irony comes to light. Sometimes it takes an unbeliever to make a profoundly important point about the centrality of belief. Earlier this week, millions upon millions of people appeared to be waiting – transfixed – for the latest announcement from technology giant, Apple. Even as people in the past waited for a word from the Lord, or word from the king, millions of people these days appear to be waiting for nothing more than a word from Apple. Apple chairman Tim Cook revealed a line of new products, including two new smartphones – the iPhones – and also a promised Apple watch. But all that is eclipsed by an article that appeared in yesterday’s edition of the New York Times, the article really had nothing to do with the announcement made by Apple this week, but it has a great deal to do with the late Steve Jobs, Apple’s iconic former leader.


The headline in the New York Times is a shocker, “Steve Jobs Was A Low-Tech Parent.” Nick Bilton, writing in the disruptions columns of the paper writes, and I quote,


When Steve Jobs was running Apple, he was known to call journalists to either pat them on the back for a recent article or, more often than not, explain how they got it wrong. I was on the receiving end of a few of those calls [he writes]. But nothing shocked me more than something Mr. Jobs said to me in late 2010 after he had finished chewing me out for something I had written about an iPad shortcoming. “So, your kids must love the iPad?” I asked Mr. Jobs, trying to change the subject. The company’s first tablet was just hitting the shelves. “They haven’t used it,” he told me. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”


Bilton then writes,


I’m sure I responded with a gasp and dumbfounded silence. I had imagined the Jobs’s household was like a nerd’s paradise: that the walls were giant touch screens, the dining table was made from tiles of iPads and that iPods were handed out to guests like chocolates on a pillow. Nope, Mr. Jobs told me, not even close.


Bilton then writes,


Since then, I’ve met a number of technology chief executives and venture capitalists who say similar things: they strictly limit their children’s screen time, often banning all gadgets on school nights, and allocating ascetic time limits on weekends.


Nick Bilton says he was dumbfounded by the statement from Steve Jobs, and perplexed by the paradox of all these technology chief executives who do not allow their children and teenagers to have much access to the technologies they develop and then sell. Back to his article, he writes


Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired and now chief executive of 3D Robotics, a drone maker, has instituted time limits and parental controls on every device in his home. “My kids accuse me and my wife of being fascists and overly concerned about tech, and they say that none of their friends have the same rules,” he said of his five children, [aged] 6 to 17. “That’s because we have seen the dangers of technology firsthand. I’ve seen it in myself, I don’t want to see that happen to my kids.”


Remember, that was said by Chris Anderson, the former editor of Wired magazine, now chief executive of yet another technology firm. Nick Bilton then writes and I quote,


The dangers he is referring to include exposure to harmful content like pornography, bullying from other kids, and perhaps worse of all, becoming addicted to their devices, [he then adds the words] just like their parents.



Later in the article Nick Bilton tells us that most of these technology executives believe that the age of their children and teenagers is of utmost importance.


Children under 10 seem to be most susceptible to becoming addicted, so these parents draw the line at not allowing any gadgets during the week. On weekends, there are limits of 30 minutes to two hours on iPad and smartphone use. And 10- to 14-year-olds are allowed to use computers on school nights, but only for homework.


These technology executives told Bilton they have very clear restrictions for both children and teenagers on social networks. Then Bilton writes,


There is one rule that is universal among the tech parents I polled. “This is rule No. 1: There are no screens in the bedroom. Period. Ever,”


Bilton ends his article by referring to a conversation he had with Walter Isaacson, the major biographers of Steve Jobs. Isaacson told Bilton


“Every evening Steve made a point of having dinner at the big long table in their kitchen, discussing books and history and a variety of things,” he said. “No one ever pulled out an iPad or computer. The kids did not seem addicted at all to devices.”


In his article Nick Bilton asked a very interesting question, what do these technology executives know that other parents don’t know? Well, the obvious answer to that question appears to be this: technology never comes without a cost, technology, as the late French theologian Jacques Ellul said, always comes with a price. And that price is always exacted, and that price is particularly high among the vulnerable, and these tech parents, executives all, seen be very concerned about the fact that when it comes to their children and teenagers, they are the most vulnerable – and given that vulnerability, parents have to take kinds of defensive action such as are revealed in this article. But one of the most important insights from this column by Nick Bilton is that these tech executives, as parents, not only know something that other parents seem not to know, more importantly they are also doing something that other parents apparently aren’t doing – they are setting clear limits, they are not allowing the children to set their own parameters in terms of the use of these technologies, and they are using a word that is all too foreign to many parents but all too necessary to children and teenagers. That’s that short two letter word – no. These tech executives, as parents, are revealing to the world by this article that they are accustomed to say no to their own children about the devices they themselves have invented and developed and are now marketing to the world. So here’s a wake-up call for all parents – if technology executives know something that you don’t know, you need to know it fast, and this article is a quick way to get there. But it’s not only about knowing something, that is the dangers of these technologies and the addictive nature of these technologies in the lives, especially of the young, but also that parents have to be ready to do something. So add this irony to the ironies of the day – Steve Jobs may have been a high-tech executive, but he was a low-tech parent.

3) Bro. Richard Oldham, local church pastor and hero of the faith, passes on

Finally, hundreds of people in Bowling Green, Kentucky drawn from elsewhere in the nation as well, gather for the funeral of a man known there as simply, Brother Richard. This was Pastor Richard Oldham, who served for 57 years as pastor of the Glendale Baptist Church in that Kentucky city. I had the great honor of knowing Brother Richard, preaching often in his church, and seeing his influence. Today’s edition of the Bowling Green Daily News includes a news article about his funeral. Laurel Wilson writes,


In his 57 years as pastor of Glendale Baptist Church, Bro. Richard Oldham baptized over 6,000 people and today, hundreds of people whose lives he touched packed the church for his funeral.


It was a three hour-long service. One of the things you need to know by Brother Richard Oldham is that he not only baptized 6000 people in a little neighborhood church, but he was also father in the ministry to over 100 young men who became pastors and preachers out of his ministry. Richard Oldham never married, in one sense it was as if he was married to his ministry. But though unmarried, through his faithful evangelism, he had many sons and daughters in the faith and over 100 sons in the ministry – several of them spoke of the service yesterday. There are still heroes in this world, and Richard Oldham was one of them. He was a stalwart defender of the faith and a very compassionate and gentle shepherd. Most of the listeners to The Briefing probably have never heard of Richard Oldham, but you have now – and that’s a good thing. It’s a good thing at the end of the week to be reminded there are still heroes and heroines in the faith – Richard Oldham was one of them, and the world desperately needs more.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at you can follow me on Twitter by going to For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to I’m speaking to you from Atlanta, Georgia and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Ironically, unbelivers Harris and Maher teach importance of belief 

Sleepwalking Toward Armageddon, (Sam Harris)

Maher vs. Charlie Rose: To Claim Islam Is Like Other Religions Is Naive And Plain Wrong, Real Clear Politics

2) Tech executive parents understand vulnerability of children to technology

Steve Jobs Was a Low-Tech Parent, New York Times (Nick Bilton)

3) Bro. Richard Oldham, local church pastor and hero of the faith, passes on

Hundreds flock to Glendale Baptist Church for longtime pastor’s funeral, Bowling Green Daily News (Laurel Wilson)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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