The Briefing 11-20-14

The Briefing 11-20-14

The Briefing


November 20, 2014

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

It’s Thursday, November 20, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview. 1) Jerusalem synagogue attack reveals seriousness of modern anti-Judaism The scene of carnage in Jerusalem is absolutely horrifying. As Josef Federman of the Associated Press reports, Israel now vows harsh retaliation for a Palestinian attack that took place on Tuesday killing five people, that left blood-smeared prayer books and shawls on the floor of the synagogue in Jerusalem. As Federman reports, the attack took place during morning prayers in the West Jerusalem neighborhood of Har Nof. It was carried out by two Palestinian cousins wielding meat cleavers, knives, and a handgun. The two Palestinian terrorist cousins entered the synagogue and began stabbing people, killing indiscriminately. It was the deadliest assault upon Jews in the holy city of Jerusalem since 2008. According to the Associated Press, four of the dead were rabbis; one was a police officer who died of his wounds hours after the attack. Of the rabbis, three were born in the United States and the fourth is born in England. All held dual Israeli citizenship. Five others were also wounded in the attack. One of the others wounded was a father who tried to shield his own 12-year-old son. The 12-year-old son eventually was able to escape and call for help. Yesterday’s edition of the New York Times reports, “The Orthodox Jewish men were facing east, to honor the Old City site where the ancient temples once stood, when two Palestinians armed with a gun, knives and axes burst into their synagogue … shouting “God is great!” in Arabic. Within moments [writes the Times], three rabbis and a fourth pious man lay dead, blood pooling on their prayer shawls and holy books.” Today’s edition of the Washington Post runs a front-page article by William Booth and Ruth Eglash suggesting that both Israelis and Palestinians now fear that their decades-old conflict is moving beyond what was described as the traditional nationalist struggle into two peoples fighting for their homelands and spiraling into a raw and far-reaching religious confrontation between Jews and Muslims. As Booth and Eglash wrote, “The threat — perhaps more accurately the dread — of an incipient but deadly “religious war” was expressed by Muslim clerics, Christian leaders and Jewish Israelis one day after a pair of Palestinian assailants, wielding meat cleavers and a gun, killed five Israelis, including a prominent American Israeli rabbi, in a Jerusalem synagogue.” Oded Wiener, an Israeli Jew from the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land, said quote, “All of us are scared that there will be a religious war, that extremists from both sides will start fighting each other.” But Christians observing these horrifying scenes in Jerusalem need to be reminded of what’s actually here at stake. And there is not a great deal of clarification in terms of much of the worldwide media, and for good reason. There’s a basic anti-Semitism – perhaps more accurately described as an anti-Judaism – within much of the Western mind, even now. Furthermore there is a great animus towards Israel, an animus that is been building over the last generation and is now reaching something of a fever pitch. We need to look very closely what took place here: two cousins Palestinian terrorists entered into the synagogue in a Jewish area of Jerusalem (this is not contested territory) and entered with an abundant intent to kill. They entered with axes, meat cleavers, knives, and a gun and began killing as many as they could before they were stopped with deadly force by the Israeli police. By the time they had finished their carnage, four rabbis lay dead, and a fifth man also – a police officer – eventually would die. And what we’re looking at here is not only an example of the kind of ‘lone wolf’ terrorism that is now a major concern of intelligence authorities, but we’re looking here also at the naked face of anti-Judaism. At least some major Palestinian authorities expressed regret about the attacks, but they did so only after there was sustained calls for such statements by United States Secretary of State John Kerry. And even then went Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas did condemn the killings, he did so only after complaining about what he called Israeli provocations. There has been an increased sense of tension on the Temple Mount in particular, and Muslims in the area of Jerusalem and beyond have been infuriated at Jewish incursions into that territory. But those incursions have not been deadly. There’s been no deadly force. This is a religious offense that was responded to with deadly killing. And that’s what we need to really look at here. Because even as Mahmoud Abbas did make a rather reluctant statement condemning the killings, the opposite came from Hamas, the terrorist organization with which the government of the Palestinian Authority is now allied. As the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, Hamas praised the attacks. The scenes of carnage in the Jerusalem synagogue brought to mind many of the most horrific acts of anti-Semitism in modern times. There are Jews in Israel still living who experience the Holocaust, and the images of Jewish prayer shawls drenched in blood on the floor the synagogue after a mass murder – this is simply too much for some to take. And yet here it is once again. Yossi Klein Halevi, writing in the pages of the Wall Street Journal, suggests that what’s going on here is a concerted Palestinian effort to try to regain territory in Jerusalem. And once again to partition the city, a city that had been united under Jewish authority that is Israeli authority after the Jews regained the territory in the 1967 War. But as Halevi, a veteran observer, notes if these territories were to be partitioned once again, if the city were to be divided, there is virtually nothing that would keep the Arab portion of the city from being taken over by Hamas, an organization that has stated its steadfast and enduring hatred of Israel and its determination to put an end to the Israeli state. President Barack Obama and the United States State Department unequivocally condemned the killings in Jerusalem. But both did so in a sense that adds to a certain kind of moral equivalence between the Palestinians and the Jews in this kind of situation. But it is immoral to insinuate in any sense a moral equivalence between the Palestinian terrorists and the Israeli government and the people of Israel there in that nation. According to the logic of Hamas, Israel is simply a Crusader state that has to be cast out of the Middle East entirely. And the Jews are a people who should be driven out of the entire land. In response the Jews are steadfastly determined not to give up the Jewish state of Israel, and yet from its very beginning Israel has been in a dangerous and precarious situation. It has been surrounded from the very beginning with peoples who wish for it to be exterminated and extinguished. And for that reason it is immoral for anyone – especially those in the West with the legacy of anti-Semitism in the Holocaust – to fail to point to the difference between issues for which there can be a very legitimate complaint and mass murder for which there can never be any moral justification. Getting right to the point in a very accurate statement, the editors of the Wall Street Journal wrote yesterday, “To understand why peace in Palestine is years if not decades away, consider the Palestinian celebrations after Tuesday’s murder in a Jerusalem synagogue of five Israelis, including three with joint U.S. citizenship. Two Palestinian cousins armed with meat cleavers and a gun attacked worshipers during morning prayers, and the response was jubilation in the streets.” The editors went on to write, “The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine claimed responsibility, while Hamas praised the murders as a “response to continued Israeli crimes.” The main obstacle to peace [says the Wall Street Journal] isn’t Jewish settlements in the multireligious city of Jerusalem. The barrier is the culture of hatred against Jews that is nurtured by Palestinian leaders.” So as Christians are properly horrified by the scenes of murder in Jerusalem, we should also be somewhat mystified by the moral equivalence put forth by so many Western leaders and so many in the Western press. This kind of moral equivalence is itself deadly – deadly to truth, deadly to morality, and as the bloodstained remnants of the synagogue in Jerusalem show, deadly to human life and human dignity as well. 2) Roman Catholic decline in Latin America result of theological, not cultural or political change Meanwhile, in other news, big headlines concerning the Roman Catholic Church also point to issues that evangelical Christians should be watching as well. Michael Paulson, reporting for the New York Times, tells us that even as Roman Catholics are enjoying a great deal of publicity with Pope Francis in so much conversation in the international media, in Latin America it turns out that the Roman Catholic Church is in a rather marked retreat. As he writes, “after a century in which nearly all Latin Americans identified as Catholic, the church’s claim on the region is lessening..” He’s referring to the fact that the Pew Research Center found that only 69% of Latin American adults say the Catholic. That’s down from 90% for much of the 20th century. He writes, “The decline appears to have accelerated recently: Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they were raised Catholic, meaning there has been a 15-percentage-point drop-off in one generation.” Paulson goes on to report, “it has been evident for some time that evangelical, and particularly Pentecostal, churches are growing in Latin America, generally at the expense of Catholicism. But the Pew study … conducted by in-person interviews with 30,000 adults in 18 [Latin American] countries and Puerto Rico, provides significant evidence for the trend, and shows that it is both broad and rapid.” Neha Sahgal, a senior researcher at Pew said, “[Latin America] in most people’s minds is synonymous with Catholicism, but the strong association has eroded…And it’s a consistent trend across the region” From an evangelical perspective, perhaps the most interesting aspect of the result of the study from Pew is this: the people who declared that they were shifting from Roman Catholicism to evangelical identification said they were doing so because they wanted a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. That’s a very important issue. It points, for example, to the fact that this shift is theological – not just cultural or much less that, political – as many in the sociological world have tried to suggest. The second thing that is cited in the Pew study is that many people who shifted from Catholicism to evangelicalism also wanted a more direct experience in worship, and a more direct experience in terms of Christian fellowship. Both things that they found within evangelical Christianity. But in perhaps the most shocking aspect of the report, it was discovered that many of the people now identifying with evangelical Christianity in Latin America did so because of moral conservatism. They did so because evangelicalism in Latin America is more associated with the traditional defense of marriage, with a standard of personal righteousness, with an understanding of biblical sexuality with an affirmation of the sanctity of life ethic, than is Roman Catholicism in those same nations today. That’s a rather shocking and surprising development. Mark Woods, reporting for the British website ChristianToday, writes, “Another factor may be the relative conservatism of Latin American Protestantism. On average, Catholics are less opposed to abortion, homosexuality, contraception, sex outside marriage, divorce and alchohol than Protestants.” Recognizing this, the Pew report simply states, “These differing views on social issues may help explain why many former Catholics who have become Protestants say they were looking for a church that 'places greater importance on living a moral life'.” Pew also tried to measure what is called a ‘Pope Francis effect’ noting that the first Latin American pope has been the cause of a great deal of interest in Latin America. But Pew also noted that that has not translated into a slowdown in terms of converts to Protestantism, nor on the other hand greater interest in joining the Roman Catholic Church. 3) Disregard of American Catholic youth for doctrine a warning against feel-good religion  But even as the Pew study was gaining a good many headlines and even more important development was released within the Roman Catholic Church in the United States. As the Catholic News Agency reports, “While a failure to understand doctrine is present in many segments of the Catholic population, young adults are exhibiting an alarmingly casual attitude towards accepting Church teaching.” That, Mark Hadro reports, is the result, the findings, of a study was commissioned by the United States bishops. Responding to the study Archbishop of Miami, Florida, Thomas Wenski said, “They [speaking of Catholic young people and young adults] feel completely Catholic even while disagreeing with the Church. We often heard ‘the Pope is entitled to his opinion.’” From an evangelical perspective, the study just gets more interesting. For instance, the Catholic report on Catholic devotion found the most faithful and fervent Catholics were often very frustrated with the leadership of their own church and their own parish priest. Believing, in the report of the Catholic News Agency, that in their own churches, their own parishes, they found priests who were failing to teach and to inspire and they found an emphasis on activities rather than doctrine and teaching. Speaking for the Catholic bishops, Archbishop Wenski of Miami was particularly pointed once again in speaking about younger Catholics. He said, “Young singles engage the Church with a remarkable amount of pride and ambivalence.” He went on to say that many within the church felt that the church had ‘goofy rules.’ Young adults surveyed “simply identified the rules as ‘to be nice to everyone, the Golden Rule.” He said that if any of the church teachings conflict with their own young perceptions, young people simply “tune out the teachings.” In terms of doctrine the main doctrinal principles to which these younger Catholics seem to be committed, according to this report is in the first place the Golden rule (be nice to everyone), and in the second place ‘agree to disagree.’ There are no issues of truth that are considered to be central and mandatory, regardless of whether the church teaches them. Then, in an especially revealing portion of the report, Archbishop Wenski said that for these young Catholics quote language like ‘hate the sin love the sinner’ means ‘hate the sinner’.” He spoke of the fact that these younger Catholics were especially allergic and averse to any language that implied moral judgment of any kind, on any topic. Now this study is really interesting. It’s really interesting as you consider the future of Roman Catholicism in the United States. But it’s also really interesting to evangelicals – urgently interesting – as we think about our own young people and our own challenges. Writing at the website GetReligion that monitors religion coverage in the major media, veteran journalist Terry Mattingly gets exactly the importance of this report. He writes, “The U.S. Catholic bishops just heard a major – terrifying is a better word – presentation on the doctrinal state of life in their pews, especially among the young. I realize that arguments about Pope Francis and politics are fun, and all that, but this new survey offered some really crucial stuff, folks, if you care about the future of the church (and the news that it makes).” Later in his article, Terry Mattingly (again, a veteran journalist himself) writes, “Call me idealistic, I would assume that journalists who have been following – to any degree whatsoever – survey work in the marketplace of American religion in recent years will have run into sociologist Christian Smith and the concept of "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."” Now, time and again on The Briefing and elsewhere we’ve looked at this very issue of moralistic therapeutic deism, or its shorthand ‘MTD.’ This is the very form of faith the Christian Smith and his fellow researchers found among young people when they surveyed the first as early adolescents, and then have been following them through what is now called ‘emerging adulthood’ into their late 20s. What they found is that most of these young people – Roman Catholics, evangelicals, and others – basically held to a form of the faith that was moralistic: they believe that God expects people to behave, therapeutic: they believe that there is a God who wants them to be well and authentic and psychologically healthy, and finally, deism: a deistic faith the holds even though there is a God, he is not a personal God who is personally invested in our everyday lives. Nor is he a God exercises any kind of direct or meticulous providence in the world he has created. As moralistic therapeutic deism is summarized by Christian Smith and his fellow researchers, it comes down to these points: First a God exists who created in order the world and watches over human life on earth. Two, God wants people to be good nice and fair to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions. Doctrine three: the central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself. Doctrine four: God is not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem. And doctrine five: Good people go to heaven when they die. That’s what Christian Smith says is moralistic therapeutic deism; that’s the summary of its doctrines what you might call the five points of moralistic therapeutic deism. Terry Mattingly’s point is plain enough: how is it that major religion journalists, looking at this new report from the conference of Catholic Bishops, wouldn’t understand that previous research has already revealed the very same pattern? But the main point of the research by Christian Smith and others is that where these young people got these doctrines is the real problem. They got them in their local churches and they got them from their parents. This is the form of American civil religion that is simply serving as a substitute for authentic Christianity in many circles. Perhaps most pervasively as the study reveals in modern Roman Catholicism in the United States, but our main concern should not be the future of American Catholicism but rather the future of American evangelicalism – of American evangelical Christianity. The bottom line is this: if we cannot teach our children and young people –  if we do not teach them any better or more clearly; if we do not ground them in biblical truth and in the doctrines of the Christian faith, we should not be surprised that they end up with the same kind of ‘take it or leave it,’ ‘your opinion is as good as any,’ other nonjudgmental form of nondoctrinal Christianity. The bottom line is that ends up being no Christianity at all. This major Catholic study just reminds American evangelicals of what we should have known all along. If you want to produce a generation of young people of teenagers and young adults who represent this kind of confused Christianity, just entertain them rather than teach them. Develop in them a feel good faith and tell them that’s Christianity. The bottom line is that moralistic therapeutic deism isn’t Christianity. It’s a gospel that cannot save. But for us the greatest scandal is not that moralistic therapeutic deism is found in Roman Catholic circles. No, the greatest scandal is it is found in far too many evangelical circles as well. 4) Youth vote declining for Democrats due to perceived permanence of moral revolution Finally thinking further about young people in the future, Mark Bauerlein writes a very important article the New York Times entitled “Are Democrats losing the youth vote?” This article’s more interesting that at first you might think. Bauerlein teaches English at Emory University; he knows young people because he sees them in the classroom every day. And is point here is about politics, but his bigger point is far larger than politics. Bauerlein looked back to the November 4 midterm election, and noted the decreasing percentage of younger Americans who turned out to vote in the midterm election. He also notes that the strategy employed by the Democratic Party was to try to scare young people into voting by telling them that Republicans are coming along with conservative policies that would infringe upon their social liberalism. As Bauerlein writes, the Democratic strategy didn’t work. And he wonders why. Could it be the case that these younger Americans are actually turning more socially conservative? Bauerlein looks to the data and says, ‘no, that is not what’s going on.’ He writes, “The same surveys show that 18-to-29-year-olds are just as liberal as ever on social issues: They roundly support same-sex marriage and legalization of marijuana, and, according to Pew, “They are more likely than older generations to say they support an activist government.”” So then Bauerlein asks, “What gives?” Put simply, he said, the reality is that for these younger Americans the moral revolution in a more liberal direction on social issues has gone so far, it’s velocity is now so fast, that they can’t now be scared into believing that even electing a Republican would be able to turn back the clock on these social issues. The Democrats failed not because they disagreed with the young people on policy, but because the young people simply aren’t scared that there will be reverses in terms of the moral revolution. In the most interesting section of his column, Bauerlein writes this, “It’s not that they have become less socially liberal; it’s that social conservatism is a paper tiger. Liberalism has won so handily in the culture and courts that it no longer serves as a rallying cry.” So while you’re pondering the contours of the moral revolution, and why you’re observing just how quickly this new moral reality is taking shape around us, consider this argument by Professor Bauerlein and recognize how truly important it is. He’s telling us that for the vast majority of America’s secular young people, social liberalism – in the movement of same-sex marriage, the legalization of marijuana, and so many other issues – is now seen as so safely protected in the culture, the direction so established and irreversible, that they can’t even be scared by political efforts to try to get them to vote out of fear that the direction might be reversed. As we think about the culture and its future that’s a very bracing assessment. 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 San Diego, California and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.      

Podcast Transcript

1) Jerusalem synagogue attack reveals seriousness of modern anti-Judaism

Israel vows harsh response to synagogue attack, Associated Press (Josef Federman)

Israel Shaken by 5 Deaths in Synagogue Assault, New York Times (Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner)

Fear of deadly ‘religious war’ between Jews and Muslims raised after synagogue attack, Washington Post (William Booth and Ruth Eglash)

The War on the Israeli Home Front, Wall Street Journal (Yossi Klein Halevi)

Jihad in Jerusalem, Wall Street Journal (Editorial Board)

2) Roman Catholic decline in Latin America result of theological, not cultural or political change

Latin America Is Losing Its Catholic Identity, New York Times (Michael Paulson)

Religion in Latin America, Pew Research Center

Latin America: Why thousands of Catholics are defecting to evangelical churches, Christian Today (Mark Woods)

3) Disregard of American Catholic youth for doctrine a warning against feel-good religion 

Agree to disagree: Why young Catholics pose a unique challenge for the Church, Catholic News Agency (Matt Hadro)

U.S. Catholic bishops quietly offer update on Moralistic Therapeutic Deism in the pews, GetReligion (Terry Mattingly)

4) Youth vote declining for Democrats due to perceived permanence of moral revolution

Are Democrats Losing the Youth Vote?, New York Times (Mark Bauerlein)


R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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