The Briefing 12-15-14

The Briefing 12-15-14

The Briefing


December 15, 2014

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


It’s Monday, December 15, 2014.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Sydney hostage situation points to importance of government preventing evil

This morning, about 10 o’clock Sydney, Australia-time apparently a lone gunman took control of what is known as the Lindt Chocolate Café in Sydney (that is of course Australia’s largest city). And in so doing apparently began what is an ongoing example of Islamic terrorism, or at least it is certainly intended to be understood that way. The lone gunmen put a flag known as a shahadah outside the café for everyone to see this morning that reads: ‘There is no God but God. And Mohammed is the prophet of God.’ That is the most central theological affirmation of the religion of Islam. And one that will be recognized by Muslims anywhere and this does send a very clear signal.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he and his government at this point do not know the motivation for the hostage taking but he also said,

“…we don’t know whether this is politically motivated — although obviously there are some indications that it could be,”

That’s one of those statements in the midst of a controversy or a crisis like this that is often spoken by politicians or government officials who don’t want to say anything but have to say something. With full sympathy to the Prime Minister’s predicament, in this case he actually succeeded in doing both; saying something and saying nothing. He went on to say,

“The whole point of politically motivated violence is to scare people out of being themselves. Australia is a peaceful, open and generous society and nothing should ever change that,”

Well that certainly true, nothing should ever change that. But this kind of attack is a significant indication that something could change that. A society cannot sustain the kind of continual suspicion and fear that this kind of terrorist approach is intended to engender. And that’s why when Western governments respond to this they have to respond in such a way that not only tries to explain what took place but to assure the people in their own societies that this is not a routine occurrence and should not occur again.

At least in that respect Tony Abbott and his government deserve some very important credibility because over the last several months the Prime Minister and his government and been very clear about what they saw as mounting signs of Islamic terrorism within Australia. As this event unfolds we can only hope and pray that no lives will be lost but it’s also very important that Western security agencies learn not only how to explain this kind of incident, not only how to end it, but how to prevent it in the first place.

As we speak about this incident at this point it also serves to underline the fact that we simply don’t know how big a story is, not just when it begins but until it ends. But the issue for Christians and for anyone intellectually serious engaging the news media is often not only how big a story is this, but is this a story at all? Or does the story turn into the story?

2) Confusion on Pope’s view of pets’ in eternity reveals priority of sentimentality, not Scripture

That’s what took place over the weekend when many headlines around the country, indeed around the world, trumpeted the fact that Pope Francis the first had declared to a young preschool boy that he should expect to meet his dog in heaven. The media headlines all around the world immediately trumpeted that the Pope declared that animals, indeed pets, would be in heaven and that we would know them. This was applauded by groups such as the Humane Society in the United States, and animal rights groups, and so many others, and it reached the point that I was receiving – in terms of my own mailbox – questions as to whether or not it was true that pets would be in heaven.

When I first started receiving those emails I wondered what in the world could be the source of such an urgent issue for it to arrive from so many people in so many different places all at once. And then I discover the headlines and came to understand that the Pope had told a five-year-old boy – distressed over the death of his dog – that he should expect to meet his dog in heaven. As a matter fact what was reported that the Pope had said was this, he had supposedly said,

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

Now, to state the obvious, the Pope saying it so doesn’t make it so. But, to state another equally obvious issue, it would be important to know that the Pope actually said it – which in this case, Pope Francis most assuredly did not.

The first thing to learn in looking at this story is that there is a certain credibility factor that is built in to anyone claiming that someone like the Pope said anything. The President of the United States, a Prime Minister of a country, a major celebrity, or in this case, the Pope, when they are said to have said something, it often gets repeated before anyone has the opportunity to find out if the words actually were said. And one of the things that also has to be said is that when you have the kind of religious celebrity that Pope Francis the first is – someone who is very media-genic and who tends to say things the media loves – it sounded like him, indeed it sounds like the one he chose as his namesake, Francis of Assisi. But, once again, the more important question is, did the Pope say it? And he didn’t.

There is a lot to learn from this. The Pope gave a general audience at the Vatican on 26 November, that’s where this story originated. And according to the transcript from what the Pope had to say there, he said,

“Sacred Scripture teaches us that the fulfillment of this marvelous plan [he’s speaking of eschatology] cannot but involve everything that surrounds us and came from the heart and mind of God.’

He went on to say,

“The Apostle Paul says it explicitly, when he says that ‘Creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God’ (Rom 8:21).”

The Pope there is explicitly citing Romans 8:21. He goes on to cite the text about a new heaven and a new earth from 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1. In this sense, he says,

“…the whole universe will be renewed and will be freed once and for all from every trace of evil and from death itself. What lies ahead is the fulfillment of a transformation that in reality is already happening, beginning with the death and resurrection of Christ. Hence, it is the new creation; it is not, therefore, the annihilation of the cosmos and of everything around us, but the bringing of all things into the fullness of being, of truth and of beauty. This is the design that God, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, willed from eternity to realize and is realizing.”

Notice what the Pope didn’t say: anything about dogs, anything about pets, anything about consoling a little boy. The immediate confusion of the Pope’s comments came after an Italian newspaper, Corriere della Sera,interpreted the Pope’s remarks to say that dog should go to heaven. It is not at all clear how the newspaper jumped to that conclusion.

The newspaper actually then drew a comparison between what Pope Francis the first was said to have said and what a late Pope, in this case Pope Paul VI, actually said. So a Pope did say the words attributed to Francis the first but as Pope Paul VI back in the 1960s or 70s. It was not Pope Francis I, but it was Pope Paul VI who said to a little boy, consoling him upon the death of his dog,

“One day, we will see our animals again in the eternity of Christ. Paradise is open to all of God’s creatures.”

A couple of footnotes in terms of Catholic theology here: Pope Pius XII explicitly denied that animals will be in heaven. One of the successors to Pope Paul VI, that is his second successor, Benedict the XVI, currently the ex-Pope, the only living ex-Pope in centuries, he said that dogs and cats will not be in heaven in terms of a conscious identity with what they had been on earth as pets, because they lacked that kind of soul or` consciousness. Now Pope Francis I, as far as we know, is actually not intoned on the issue at all. What he was talking about in that November 26 General Audience is something that is rather common to Christian eschatology whether it is found in the Roman Catholic tradition or among Protestant evangelicals.

So if the Pope didn’t actually say it, and even if the Pope did, it wouldn’t make it so, how in the world has this become a major issue for us? Well in the first place, there is a big lesson here about the news media. When you see a comment like this, especially one that was first offered in an alternative language, in this case the language first spoken was Italian, you simply can’t always trust what you see is exactly what was said. But something else to count on is this: you do have cross reporting and you do have media watching and reading each other and you do have professionals in journalism who are going to pretty quick to say, ‘now wait just a minute the Pope didn’t say that.’ but what does that say about us? That is as journalists.

So looking at the issue from this first dimension it is interesting to see how many major news media outlets, including those as venerable and professional as the New York Times and others, are trying to say, ‘whoops, we got the story wrong. We were dependent upon a translation from another newspaper in another nation and they got it wrong and we’re trying to get the story right now.’ But the bigger dimension from a Christian worldview perspective is this: why is it that so many people want to believe that their dogs and cats, in particular their pets, will be with them in heaven?

The Christian worldview based in Scripture makes very clear that animals are not an accident, that indeed animals are part of the diverse glory of God’s kingdom, that God created these animals, these beings, for his own pleasure and for ours as well. And for his rule and for ours as well, as is made very clear in the stewardship and dominion assigned to the human creature – the only creature made in God’s image – even in the book of Genesis, in the first two chapters of the Bible. It is Adam who names the animals for example; the animals do not name Adam. So one of the first things we need to affirm is that the animals are part of the goodness of God’s creation. God declared the creation he had made, with the diversity of all these wonderful creatures, to be good and for these animals themselves to be good.

Furthermore, the biblical worldview also affirms the fact that there is consciousness found in the animal kingdom. There is a consciousness that is there and we know it and we recognize it. We do know that we can have something of a relationship with some of these creatures. And any of us who has a pet or has ever had a pet understands the incredibly strong bonds that can then emerge from that kind of relationship; a relationship of mutuality. That is invaded by a couple of very important things that are important for us to know. The first of these is the fact that we tend toward sentimentality. That is, as sentimental creatures, we tend to read onto not only animals but other objects of creation sentiments and emotions and knowledge that simply are not there. We tend sometimes to want to see things and we judge we have seen them because we want to. This relates to the fact that our sense of apperception, our rationality, our intelligence, is itself affected by the fall. This is known theologically as the noetic effects of the fall; we simply think we know things that we actually do not know. And even if we know them partially we don’t know them in whole. Or in some cases we are partly right but in other ways partly, indeed sometimes largely, wrong.

The second thing for us to keep in mind here is the tendency of human beings towards anthropomorphizing. That is, we tend to look at these creatures and read onto them our own intelligence, our own spiritual understanding, our own language ability, our own intelligence and emotional states. And so especially when it comes to pets – and it’s not only house pets but it’s also (as any farmer or rancher will tell you) the relationship that inevitably emerges out of those who were involved in that kind of animal husbandry and the animals themselves – when it comes to that kind of relationship there is a desire within us that it would continue beyond this life. Now by the way here’s a very important issue in terms of apologetics, that is the evidence for the reality and truth of the Christian faith, if secularists are indeed as secular as they think they are, why would they be concerned for the fact that there will be any continuation of consciousness or of knowledge or relationship beyond death because they believe that our life is basically a cosmological accident and our death is simply the end of the story. So when you’re looking at this, it is one of those very odd affirmations of the fact that even in a highly secular age even the most secular people aren’t close to being as secular as they think themselves to be.

But backing out of that issue for just a moment, understanding our tendency toward sentimentality and toward anthropomorphizing there’s another tendency and that is we sometimes want to answer a biblical silence with some kind of answer we think we can infer and then justify in terms of the biblical text. What does the biblical text say about our pets in heaven? It says absolutely nothing.

One of the most sophisticated analyses of the question about pets in heaven came from C.S. Lewis in the 20th century. Lewis wrote in two different of his writings about the continuation of pets in heaven. In The Great Divorce he actually wrote about in terms of it happening. But, as he said himself, that was a work of fiction that was intended to have a larger spiritual meaning. But in a work that wasn’t fiction at all and in which he wasn’t telling a story, in his book The Problem of Pain, he dealt in that book with the continuation of animal life – indeed with our pets in heaven. In the book he actually suggested that some of his colleagues had warned him against even thinking or writing about this since it would put him “in the company of old maids” – that is simply in a sea of sentimentality. But Lewis wrote back,

“The complete silence of Scripture in Christian tradition on animal immortality is a more serious objection.”

However, he went on to say that silence doesn’t mean it isn’t true. He said,

“…the curtain has been rent at one point, and one point only, to reveal our immediate practical necessities and not to satisfy our intellectual curiosity.”

So Lewis said the fact that the Bible doesn’t say that our pets will be in heaven doesn’t mean that Bible says that they will not be – which is a profoundly of saying the simple truth that the Bible actually is silent on the question. The Bible is not silent however on the fact that there will be a new heaven and a new earth and that on this new earth there will be animals. As a matter fact, we have eschatological references to Lions and the lambs but that is a different thing altogether than suggesting that there will be the conscious continuation of our own pets in terms of lives in the eternal life to come in that new heaven and new earth.

The deeper problem from a Christian worldview, from a theological consideration, is the fact that the human being is the only creature made in God’s image, is the only creature able to know God directly, to have a personal relationship with him, and to be directly morally accountable to him. And in that sense the human being stands out from all the rest of the creatures in terms of that conscious continuation of life. Christian eschatology points to the fact that the life to come on that new earth is going to be richer and fuller than anything we could have imagined even in Eden, such that every good thing here is not only present but present in its idealize perfect form.

One most emphatic points made in terms of eschatology and animals is the predation will cease. The lion and the Lamb will safely sleep together. It does tells us great deal that so many people, secular folks and Christians, seem to want to jump to affirm and to celebrate the fact that Pope Francis I said to that little boy who needed consolation that he would see his little dog in heaven. Quite honestly I can tell you I would be very happy to know that it’s so but that’s all I can say because the Bible says nothing directly about it. And indeed, even as we are told that there will be animals in the eschaton, we are given no indication whatsoever that they will be a continuous personality with one’s that we’ve known here on earth. But we do know this, the creatures we know right now, even in this fallen Earth, the creatures we know as pets are creatures that do show the glory of God and we should celebrate that in them. But we should be very aware of the sin of anthropomorphizing, of reading on to them more than they are because that is not only to do something that is wrong to the animal, it is to do something wrong in terms of understanding the human creature – the only creature made in the image of God, the creatures for whom Christ died.

3) Declining birth rate despite rising economy shows rewriting of ‘adult script’

For the last several years we’ve been talking about a falling birthrate in the United States and one of the points we’ve tried to make over and over again based on the data, and more importantly based on the biblical worldview, is that a birthrate is a very important signal of worldview because it is the deepest convictions about life, it’s one basic worldview that eventually determines whether or not one aims life towards having children and sees children as great and good gifts or whether or not children simply become something like an accessory, something that can well be done without. In the United States fewer and fewer children are being born. Tamara Lewin reporting for the New York Times last week tells us that the birth rate has declined for a sixth consecutive year. The last part of the headlines is really important; it’s these words, “Economy Could be Factor.” Now why is the second part of that headline so important? It’s because for the last several years as America has been experiencing these lower birthrates, we’ve been told over and over again that economics is the factor. We’ve been told by economist, by sociologist, and by demographers, that the reason the birthrate has been falling in the United States is the recession that began in 2007 and continued into 2008 and took several years for America to emerge from. But the point is this, America has now emerged for a number of years now out of that recession and the economy has improved dramatically. And yet, the birthrate has not only not gone up, it has actually gone down. That’s why you see that indecisiveness that, that question mark in effect at the end of that headline when the headline reads, “Economy Could be Factor.” Well, if it could be a factor, the obvious inference to draw is it might not be a factor after all.

Lewin reports the number of women in the United States who gave birth dropped last year according to federal statistics released just a week ago. The National Center for Health Statistics reported that there were 3.93 million births in the United States in 2013, down from 3.95 in 2012, 9% below the high in 2007. Now you’ll notice that’s almost a 10% fall in the number of births in the United States since 2007. As Lewin goes on to report,

“The general fertility rate in the United States — the average number of babies women from 15 to 44 bear over their lifetime — dropped to a record low last year, to 1.86 babies,”

That is below the 2.1 needed for replacement. So you need 2.1 merely to replace the previous generation. We have now dropped to not only under that, but we’ve dropped under any recently known statistic – to 1.86 babies.

One other factor this leading demographers to scratch their heads as Lewin writes, the decline is particularly notable because the number of women in their prime childbearing years – that’s rated between age 20 to age 39 – has been growing since 2007. So you have more women and remarkably fewer babies. In the most revealing statements of trying to evade the issue, Andrew Cherlin, a family demographer at Johns Hopkins University, says we shouldn’t worry about it because we’ve always got immigration. He said,

“Americans haven’t worried much about birthrates in the past, because we have the faucet of immigration to turn on and off. It’s a bigger problem in Europe, where countries like Germany and Spain have much lower rates. And even at 1.8, we’re in the ballpark with the highest rates in Europe.”

That reminds me of a statement I often think of said by former United States Senator Alan Simpson. When asked about an issue he said, ‘look, it doesn’t really serve to have your main ambition to be the last horse to the glue factory.’ In other words, saying that we’re basically keeping pace with the best of the European countries in the worst sort of way is not exactly something we should brag about.

A more directed mission of confusion came from William H. Fray, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, who said,

“On just about every demographic indicator involving young adults, whether it’s marriage, buying a home or delaying childbearing, it’s all been on hold since the beginning of the recession. I think it’ll come back up, and each time new numbers are coming out, I think maybe this will be the moment.”

But this statement is said in the context of the fact that moment has obviously not yet come. Other observers are actually speaking directly to the issue suggesting that clearly many Americans, especially those Americans who are young and not get married or married and not yet having children or for that matter are women who are not planning to have children, there’s obviously been a vast exchange of values that has taking place; a vast change in the target of light perception and of targeting of life ambition. What we have here is a fundamental rewriting of the adult script in the United States, whereas in almost any previous generation – not just of the United States but of humanity – the qualification of being an adult would’ve been in the main to aim towards having children. Now that has become something as an accessory, something of a hobby, seen in light of some younger Americans and something that can be done without – avoided altogether or postponed rather indefinitely.

Just keep in mind the fact that as we discussed several weeks ago you have Silicon Valley firms now offering to pay as a fringe benefit for egg freezing for their female employees – just put it off. But as many suggested even in responding to those headlines, it’s not so easy. One of the issues the Christian worldview affirms is the closer you get to the basic institutions of life the more apparent and abundant the worldview issues really are. Worldview issues determine more than anything else the most important decisions we make and those important relationships we create and nurture as well. Also our expectations, the picture of the life we expect to have and what and whom will be included within it.

One thing becomes abundantly clear, one of the great distinctions between the Christian worldview and the modern secular worldview comes down to, of all things, babies. What they mean when they are in the womb, what they mean once they are born, what they mean in terms of who has ultimate say over their lives in terms of their education, their health, and other choices, and of course whether they are in the picture at all.

Finally let me mention that tomorrow I’ll be bringing a review of Ridley Scott’s new movie Exodus: God’s and Kings. It’s a movie being talked about in the culture and for good reason. I’ll be talking about it tomorrow and will be positing a major review online at as well.

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’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

Podcast Transcript

1) Sydney hostage situation points to importance of government preventing evil

Martin Place Lindt Chocolate Cafe siege: public transport and traffic diverted, Sydney Morning Herald (Patrick Begley, Tom Allard, and Jacob Saulwick)

Black Flag Is Hoisted as an Armed Person Takes Hostages in a Sydney Cafe, New York Times (Michelle Innis)

2) Confusion on Pope’s view of pets’ in eternity reveals priority of sentimentality, not Scripture

General Audience, Vatican (Pope Francis I)

Dogs in Heaven? Pope Francis Leaves Pearly Gates Open, New York Times (Rick Gladstone)

Pope Francis suggests that pets can go to heaven, The Independent (Andrew Buncombe)

Reports Wrongly Suggested Pope Francis Said Animals Go to Heaven, NBC News (Claudio Lavanga and Erik Ortiz)

3) Declining birth rate despite rising economy shows rewriting of ‘adult script’

U.S. Birthrate Declines for Sixth Consecutive Year; Economy Could Be Factor, New York Times (Tamara Lewin)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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