The Briefing 06-04-15

The Briefing 06-04-15

The Briefing

June 4, 2015

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


It’s Thursday, June 4, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) American exception to secularization no longer true in Pacific northwest


Secularization is largely a social process. That’s because, no surprise here – we are social creatures. Secularization is the process whereby societies as a whole or in part become largely detached from their theological worldview and that’s what has happened in Europe. When you’re looking at the continent of Europe you’re looking at a continent that has been in a process of secularization for well over a century. You’re looking at the fact that in some European nations, there are so few people going to church that church buildings are being sold, being turned into bars and nightclubs and any number of other things including mosques. You’re also looking at the fact that the larger issue is the detachment, the distancing of those societies from the beliefs of the Christian worldview that had given the civilizations their birth.

For a long time, even within the last 20 years or so there were many in America who felt that this nation was the great exception to secularization. Now we know that is not actually the case. We now know that what we were looking at in the United States was not a society that was over the long-term resistant to secularization. We’re looking at something like a delayed fuse and there are a couple of issues in recent headlines that should bring this to our attention.

In the first place, from Seattle comes an article from the Seattle Sun Times. The headline is this,

“10 percent of Seattle residents identify as atheist.”

The writer, Kim De Guzman, points to new research largely coming from the Pew Research Center indicating that Seattle is one of the most secularized Metropolitan areas in all of North America. When you’re looking at the fact that in Seattle, 10 percent of the residents identify as atheists, you’re looking at the fact that that’s the highest rates amongst the largest Metropolitan areas in the entire nation. This is a standout – even though the number of none’s, that’s n-o-n-e-s, those with no religious affiliation, even though that number and percentage has been growing rather significantly, there has been no vast increase across the country in the number of people willing to identify as atheist. But Seattle is something of an outlier. We’re talking about a Metropolitan area in which one out of every 10 residents identifies now as an atheist. That is something that is completely new when it comes to American history and American society. It’s pointing to a very different American future. That’s because Seattle, even if it is an outlier in this respect, is an indicator in other respects of the direction of the culture.

Why Seattle? There are a couple of things to keep in mind. First of all, when we’re looking at the Pacific Northwest in general, all the way from the Bay Area in California up to the Canadian border, we’re looking at the region of the Continental United States that has been least evangelized throughout all of American history. When you think about American religious history you think about the fact that so many of the colonies were directly established for theological reasons by very self-identified theological communities. Then you think about the fact that the United States in terms of its history was shaped by two Great Awakenings – two periods of religious intensity – without which we wouldn’t understand the United States and Christianity in the United States as we do now. The Pacific Northwest had none of those experiences. But there’s something else to keep in mind, the Pacific Northwest is outsized in terms of its influence now on the rest of the culture. Which is to say if you’re looking at Seattle and Portland, San Francisco, you’re looking at metropolitan areas that give us a pretty clear indication of what the rest of the country may one day look like, indeed, it’s a likelihood.

James Wellman, who is Chair of the Department of Comparative Religion at the University of Washington, told the press that one of the reasons why Seattle might have such a high degree of nonbelief, again 10 percent being atheists, is because as he said people come to Seattle to find cultural freedom. In his words,

“When people come to the Northwest, they come across the Cascades and all their old affiliations just drop out the door,” Wellman said. “I think they find a bit of paradise – you can think what you want, you can do what you want, you can make of your life what you want. Old affiliations, especially family affiliations, aren’t around to bring you back into the fold.”

That’s a very interesting analysis from a scholar of comparative religion looking at the situation there in Seattle and I think he’s really onto something. That is Wellman makes clear a lot of the people in the Pacific Northwest are not so inclined to become atheist as they are to adopt some kind of nontheistic spirituality something akin to what’s been called for decades now, the New Age movement. But for a significant minority of those in Seattle, a standout from every other Metropolitan area in the United States, fully one out of 10 is going to identify now as an atheist. In that sense, Seattle is beginning to look like something of a metropolitan representation of Europe, right here within the continent of North America.

2) Effect of individualism in Millennials reveals increasingly secular future for America 


The other thing we need to note is that across America’s northern border a border to which Seattle is relatively close, the nation of Canada is already and has been for decades following that European pattern rather than the American pattern. And in this case, it’s that pattern that’s influencing the United States, rather than vice versa. But if geography matters, it is also clear as is documented in another news story of recent days that a generational reality is also something we need to keep in mind. And when it comes to Christians thinking about the Pacific Northwest this makes very clear a bit of cultural analysis is important to our understanding of what it means to be a great commission people. This helps to define our challenge in terms of Christian witness, especially as we are looking not only to the reality of today’s Seattle, but the indication that that would point to in terms of the future. It simply follows the even more emphatic, and indeed coast-to-coast, a generational pattern is even more fundamental. And that’s why a headline that appeared recently in Science News also demands our attention.

This is a press release that came originally from San Diego State University there in California. The headline,

“The Least Religious Generation.”

Looking at 11.2 million U.S. adolescents of the last 50 years, researchers we are told, find that the Millennials are by far the least religious American generation. The summary of the research found at Science News, tells us that,

“Unlike previous studies, ours is able to show that millennials’ lower religious involvement is due to cultural change, not to millennials being young and unsettled.”

That comes from Jean Twenge, a very well-known analyst of adolescence in America, who is one of the lead researchers on this study. Twenge went on to say,

“Millennial adolescents are less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age.” She says, “We also looked at younger ages than the previous studies. More of today’s adolescents are abandoning religion before they reach adulthood, with an increasing number not raised with religion at all.”

One of the most interesting aspects about this research is the attempt of the researchers to understand why this pattern is taking place. Why the millennials are now the most secularized generation of recent Americans and of course when we say that we really mean the most secularized generation in American history. Twenge said,

“These trends are part of a larger cultural context, a context that is often missing in polls about religion, one context” she said, and this is so important “one context is rising individualism in U.S. culture. Individualism puts the self first, which doesn’t always fit well with the commitment to the institution and other people that religion often requires. As Americans become more individualistic, it makes sense that fewer would commit to religion.”

Now this is the generic language of social science, but it tells us that in the United States where the vast majority of these teenagers are leaving behind Christianity rather than something else, it makes very clear that secularization is displacing any identification with Christianity on the part of an increasing and fast-growing number of youngest Americans, especially those who are now adolescents. Those millennials turn out to be the most secularized generation in our nation’s history and it’s very interesting that Twenge and her researchers writing entirely from a secular viewpoint come to the conclusion that the underlying shift is in the worldview towards individualism and as she indicates individualism is something of a solvent. It tends to dissolve all religious commitments, all religious truth claims, all religious authority – that simply makes sense.

One of the most interesting small issues in this study is the fact that the rate of nonbelief among these adolescents actually increased faster, according to the study amongst teenage girls than amongst teenage boys. Also reading directly from the published report,

“The rise of individualism (focusing on the self rather than on others and society) may have led American adolescents away from religious orientation.”

As a secondary issue, the researchers point to the potential role of increased religious pluralism in the United States they see it can also result “in the questioning or minimizing of all faiths.”

“In conclusion, survey results from 11.2 million American adolescents demonstrate a decline in religious orientation, especially after 2000. The trend appears among adolescents as young as 13 and suggests that Millennials are markedly less religious than Boomers and GenX’ers were at the same age. The majority are still religious, but a growing minority seem to embrace secularism, with the changes extending to spirituality and the importance of religion as well. Correlational analyses show that this decline occurred at the same time as increases in individualism and declines in social support. Clearly, this is a time of dramatic change in the religious landscape of the United States.”

The more fundamental concern here, however, is not just the present but the future. Because if anything, this report points to a far more secularized future in the United States than even the present, much less the past. Christians looking at this kind of research need to understand that this should alert us to a vast change in the society around us. Of course, one of the problems is we can look at this and just say this does, as the researchers indicate, change the religious landscape when it comes to the United States. But there is more to it than that because these issues by our world are not merely sociological, they are deeply theological, always biblical, very spiritual and they are always personal.

Our concern isn’t that Christians can’t be merely with a generation writ large, although that is clearly a concern, but with the young people who are a part of this generation, perhaps even a part of our families. It’s really important for us to recognize that, that underlying worldview of individualism is, as even the secular researchers understand, directly subversive of Christianity in a biblical faith. It is impossible to hold to a consistent worldview of individualism, as much as that is trumpeted by virtually every cultural authority in this society, and hold on to biblical Christianity with faithfulness. The biblical worldview points to the importance of the individual, but it does not allow the worldview of individualism. It doesn’t allow the worldview that says the most important unit of value, the most important unit of truth is the human individual.

But looking at these two developments together, the report on just how secular a metropolitan area like Seattle has become and is becoming, and just how secular the generation of the Millennials is and is becoming, these should serve to alert us to the challenges biblical Christians are going to face as we look ahead. But this isn’t just about the future. It’s very much about the present and for biblical Christians in this culture, this is a clear and present challenge.

3) Scientist remains committed to anti-human secularism despite unrealized overpopulation crisis 


Next, as we’re talking about patterns in the society we often don’t revisit, ideological disasters of the past that still have the continuing legacy in the present. That’s why Christians should be so interested in an article by Clyde Haberman that appeared recently in the New York Times, the headline,

“The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion.”

Now notice the second word in that headline was ‘unrealized’, which is to say that the horrors never happened. Haberman writes,

“The second half of the 1960s was a boom time for nightmarish visions of what lay ahead for humankind. In 1966, for example, a writer named Harry Harrison came out with a science fiction novel titled ‘Make Room! Make Room!’ Sketching a dystopian world in which too many people scrambled for too few resources, the book became the basis for a 1973 film about a hellish future, “Soylent Green.” In 1969, the pop duo Zager and Evans reached the top of the charts with a number called “In the Year 2525,” which postulated that humans were on a clear path to doom.”

Now as Haberman points out, the man at the center of so many of these doom prophecies was none other than Paul R Ehrlich, who was a biologist at Stanford University who wrote one of the most famous – we should say infamous, books in the1960s, his 1968 book “The Population Bomb.” Paul Ehrlich, I will point out is simply one of the most ideologically reprehensible people of the 1960s and all the way to the present. As Haberman points out, that book “The Population Bomb” sold in the millions, he calls it a jeremiad, teaching that humankind stood on the brink of Apocalypse because they were simply too many of us. Haberman then writes,

“Dr. Ehrlich’s opening statement was the verbal equivalent of a punch to the gut: “The battle to feed all of humanity is over.” He later went on to forecast that hundreds of millions would starve to death in the 1970s, that 65 million of them would be Americans, that crowded India was essentially doomed, that odds were fair “England will not exist in the year 2000.” Dr. Ehrlich was so sure of himself that he warned in 1970 that “sometime in the next 15 years, the end will come.” By “the end,” he meant “an utter breakdown of the capacity of the planet to support humanity.”

Haberman then writes,

“As you may have noticed, England is still with us. So is India. Hundreds of millions did not die of starvation in the ’70s. Humanity has managed to hang on, even though the planet’s population now exceeds seven billion, double what it was [in 1968]  when “The Population Bomb” became a best-seller.”

Now just looking back, I should say the 1960s and 1970s; Paul Ehrlich was one of the most quoted intellectuals in America. He made repeated appearances, not only in terms of the newspapers and the scientific journals; he was a frequent guest on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson. Now as we now know, his prophecies came to nothing, but as Haberman says,

“After the passage of 47 years, Dr. Ehrlich offers little in the way of a mea culpa. Quite the contrary. Timetables for disaster like those he once offered have no significance, he told Retro Report, because to someone in his field they mean something “very, very different” from what they do to the average person.”

Now let’s just hold on for minute. When you have someone who says 65 million people in the United States are going to die in 1970s, that England probably will not survive in the year 2000, when he says that hundreds of millions of people will die of starvation decades ago, when it didn’t happen. The fact that they didn’t happen, he says, is not significant, because those claims don’t mean the same thing to scientists as they do to ordinary people. Now let me just suggest to you, if you’re buying that, you’ll buy anything. Haberman goes on to explain about Ehrlich,

“The end is still nigh, he asserted, and he stood unflinchingly by his 1960s insistence that population control was required, preferably through voluntary methods. But if need be, he said, he would endorse “various forms of coercion” like eliminating “tax benefits for having additional children.” Allowing women to have as many babies as they wanted, he said, is akin to letting everyone “throw as much of their garbage into their neighbor’s backyard as they want.”

Now you see why I wanted to draw attention to this article. Because when you look at a fundamental collision of worldviews, it’s hard to come up with any more fundamental collision than that between the population explosion worldview as represented by Paul Ehrlich and the biblical worldview that begins in Genesis and continues all the way through revelation. That immoral reprehensible language that Ehrlich used describing having babies as,

“Throwing as much of their garbage into the neighbor’s backyard as they want.”

That shows a deep anti-humanism, which gets to a point made so accurately and so emphatically by Francis Schaeffer in the 1970s and beyond when he said that as you watch humanism, that secular humanism will one day become no humanism at all. It will take on an anti-human worldview. And that’s exactly what we saw, even in this book in 1968, and we’re seeing it right now in the fact that Paul Ehrlich is unrepentant about the fact that not only was he wrong, but that his worldview is disastrous and that it is a direct assault upon the dignity of humanity.

By the way, one of Ehrlich’s colleagues in the 1960s and 70s was a man by the name of Stewart Brand. He became rather famous in the 1960s and 70s for his role in pop culture as the founder of what became known as the whole Earth catalog. But on this topic, given the experience of the decades since 1968, Stewart Brand changed his mind. Why? He quoted the economist John Maynard Keynes, who said,

“When the facts change, I change my mind.”

Stewart Brand asked the brilliant question,

“How many years do you have to not have the world end” to reach the conclusion that “maybe it didn’t end because that reason was wrong?”

It’s really interesting that in this article from the New York Times, a paper that often sounds its own alarm about the so-called population explosion. This article by Clyde Haberman points out the fact that on the way to what Ehrlich and his friends promised was doom,

“The world figured out how to feed itself despite its rising numbers.”

A couple of things we need to note from the Christian worldview. In the first place, all these prophecies about doom in a population explosion have largely ceased to have any credibility, but that doesn’t mean that they cease to be asserted in public. Another thing we need to note is that even as we’re looking at the population of the earth, it is rising but it is expected by almost all demographic projections to peak in the year 2050, and then to begin a process of decline. And third, it turns out that that is the real problem. The decline of the population is likely to be a far larger problem. It is likely to bring about far greater concerns than the rise of the population. Largely because this will lead to a vast increase of the numbers of the very aged and to a decrease of the young. We also have to note – fourthly, that what we’re looking at here is a vast challenge of worldview, because it’s clear that some of those who were holding to these doomsday prophecies in the 1960s, even though, and for this we should be thankful they proved to be so colossally and massively wrong. Not just off by a degree, but totally, completely wrong.

And so finally we as Christians need to ask ourselves, why would people hold so tenaciously to this kind of ideology when it clearly has been proved to be wrong? How can they, like Paul Ehrlich, be so unrepentant and even so unreflective in looking at the fact that they made very specific claims about hundreds of millions of people starving in 1970s , 65 – he gave a number to it, 65 million Americans starving to death in the 1970s. How can he remain so steadfast in his beliefs when they proved to be so wrong? It’s because once you abandon the Christian worldview and its understanding of the meaning of humanity. You’re going to have to come up with some other understanding of what it means to be human. And when it comes to a significant number of those in the intellectual elites, they eventually come to the conclusion that humanity is a scourge on the planet. That humanity is a form of pestilence or to use the very metaphor that Ehrlich used, “having too many children is like throwing too much trash in your neighbors backyard.”

At the end of his article Haberman writes,

“Dr. Ehrlich, now 83, is not retreating from his bleak prophesies. He would not echo everything that he once wrote, he says. But his intention back then was to raise awareness of a menacing situation, he says. He remains convinced that doom lurks around the corner, not some distant prospect for the year 2525 and beyond. What he wrote in the 1960s was comparatively mild.”

In a recent statement Ehrlich said,

“My language would be even more apocalyptic today.”

Well, it would be even more apocalyptic and we need to note even more wrong. If you abandon the Christian worldview, and its affirmation that human beings are creatures made to the glory of God by a divine sovereign creator who made those human creatures in his image; if you jump from the biblical worldview that points out that every single human life is then of worth because after all, we were made by an infinitely worthy creator; if you abandon that worldview that eventually you’re going to see human beings as something quite different. You’re going to see human beings as something less than creatures made in the image of God. And eventually, as Paul Ehrlich now becomes Exhibit A, you’re likely to see the human beings aren’t merely a challenge, they’re a problem – even a form of pestilence.


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 more information on Boyce College just go to


I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) American exception to secularization no longer true in Pacific northwest

10 percent of Seattle residents identify as atheist, says study, Seattle Sun Times (Kim De Guzman)

2) Effect of individualism in Millennials reveals increasingly secular future for America 

The least religious generation, Science News

Generational and Time Period Differences in American Adolescents’ Religious Orientation, 1966–2014, PLOS ONE (Jean Twenge, et. al.)

3) Scientist remains committed to anti-human secularism despite unrealized overpopulation crisis 

The Unrealized Horrors of Population Explosion, New York Times (Clyde Haberman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me using the contact form. Follow regular updates on Twitter at @albertmohler.

Subscribe via email for daily Briefings and more (unsubscribe at any time).