The Briefing 09-01-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Tuesday, September 1, 2015. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Enduring nature of temptation to idolatory illustrated in current events
The more things change, the more things stay the same. The biblical worldview reminds us that primal temptations simply don't go away. Even though there are new technological platforms and there are new delivery systems for sin and temptation, the reality is, sin remains very, very basic. At the root of sin is the temptation to idolatry. That becomes very clear, oddly enough and not just one article but in a series of articles that have appeared just in recent days in the New York Times. Here's one that appeared yesterday, it's by Kenneth Rosen. The headline is this: “Militants damage a temple in Palmyra”.
As Rosen reports,
“A week after reports of destruction by Islamic State militants in the ancient city of Palmyra in Syria, fighters severely damaged the Temple of Baal there, one of the oldest and culturally significant in the region according to activist.”
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an activist and monitoring group based in Britain said Sunday that Islamic State fighters had destroyed part of the nearly 2,000 year old temple. What's going on here is the destruction of what archaeologist considered to be a very valuable, indeed an invaluable ancient archaeological site. It is a temple that was built in AD 32 and it was a temple that was built for idolatry's worship.
Now, there's no theological concern on the part of the New York Times, there's also no theological concern on the part of the archaeologist and those who were concerned about the destruction of what's recognized as a world heritage site, that is this ancient temple. You'll notice with the biblical understanding that this isn't just any temple. Rosen gets straight to this when he writes consecrated in AD 32 to the Semitic god Baal, the temple was a source of pride for Syrians and stood not far from where the other building the temple of Baalshamin was destroyed.
Both of these ancient temples, one now destroyed and the other now damaged by the Islamic State represent a name familiar to anyone familiar with the Scripture. That is the name Baal, B-A-A-L, found throughout the Old Testament. In terms of the warnings to ancient of Israel that they are not to follow the idolatry's worship of Baal, they are not even to take over the worship sites of Baal and consecrate them to Jehovah. Instead, they're to have nothing to do with Baal whatsoever. Many people have heard his name pronounced as "Bail" but it's actually a diphthong. It is actually "Ba-al" and Baal was an ancient fertility god, understood as the god of power who's spoken thunder in terms of the deities of the Canaanites. Someone in the year 2015 reading this headline in the New York Times, may think that that kind of theological issue is safely in terms of our prehistory, back there millennial ago.
Even some Christians who are reading the Old Testament will assume that perhaps the idolatry's temptation is something that was limited back to the time of the Old Testament, without recognizing that it is a persistent and enduring temptation. It continues of course in the New Testament and it continues until now. The Christians have to understand the irony of having the idol named Baal, all of a sudden show up in terms of the current edition of the New York Times. We also need to know that even though the New York Times is not driven by any theological concern, the Islamic State was. The Islamic State particularly targeted this temple and the temple they destroyed before it, also consecrated to the worship of Baal because of the idolatry that was represented in this ancient sites. Christians look in this headline also need to remind ourselves that idolatry is at the very root of sin.
Paul in Romans 1 describes sin as exchanging the worship of the creator for the creature. You don't have to go to Palmyra in Syria and you don't have to go back to Mount Carmel in the Old Testament to find the reality and the threat of idolatry. Nor do you have to go beyond page A4 in yesterday's edition of the New York Times. You could go to page A8. Here's the headline in an article by Swati Gupta, Indian scholar who criticized worship of idols is killed. This isn't about ancient history. This is about the last few days in India.
"An Indian scholar whose criticism of idol worship had angered religious groups was fatally shot Sunday according to police. The killing of the scholar…[drew] immediate comparisons to a 2013 murder of another professor who had spent decades spoke debunking gurus, sorcerers, healers and god men."
According to the report, the professor who was murdered on Sunday had angered followers of the Lingayat Hindu sect over his assessment and a scholarly work of the sect's founder. As the article says and I quote,
"As a criticism escalated to denunciations and then threats, the professor eventually renounced his findings. According to the International Business Times, an Indian publication, the professor said at the time 'I did it to save the lives of my family, but I also committed intellectual suicide on that day."
In the modern age, we're tempted to think that idolatry is something safely in our past, you're on page A8. Again, of yesterday's edition of the New York Times, it's a second story on idolatry in the very same edition of the newspaper. This having to do with the Professor in India assassinated for his criticism of idolatry; not in the past, but in the present.
In terms of the fact that theology is always barely under the headlines, consider another article from the New York Times yesterday, another headline story. This one's found in the print edition on page A9. We're just nine pages into one edition of this newspaper. In the headline here is, North America's tallest peak will again be called Denali. Reporter Julie Hirschfield Davis tells us that Mount McKinley, as it has been known for a century named after the assassinated twenty-fifth president of the United States, is now going to be known by the name by which it was called by Native Americans, and that is Denali. The Obama Administration announced over the weekend that the name changed would be made by executive order. As Davis reports, the Central Alaskan mountain has officially been called Mount McKinley for almost a century. In announcing that Sally Jewel, the Secretary of the Interior had used her power to rename it. Mr. Obama was paying tribute to the state's native population which has referred to the site for generations as Denali, meaning the high one or the great one.
Then, listen closely to the next paragraph in the New York Times,
"The peak at more than 20,000 feet plays a central role in the creation story of the Koyukon Athabascans, a group that has lived in Alaska for thousand of years."
According to academic articles on this particular Native American people, they had associated Denali with the creation of the world, and in particular the creation of animal species. According to their understanding of creation, all the animals were made out of human beings who were transformed into these animal's various forms. The great Mount Denali we are told is central to that story and Native Americans have been putting pressure for years upon the government to go back to the name by which they had known that mountain long before the Russian's first and the American second arrived. The Americans of course, buying Alaska from the Russians and then naming it's highest peak for President William McKinley.
Now, by action of the Obama Administration, it is Denali again. Once again, we understand that Denali, shallowly under the headlines is a matter of very intense theological interest. The name Denali it turns out, is not just the name of the mountain, it is central to the creation story of this ancient native American peoples. In other word, it's a part of their theology, and thus, there is a theological dimension to the renaming of this mountain. It's not just about a name, and it's not just about the right to claim the name.
Finally, on this issue, it's one thing to point to this kind of theological confusion, even outright idolatry when it comes to many people that are distant from us in space and time. It's a little closer to home that consider a front page story over the weekend in the Times, where the headline is this, "Seeing Freedom in Their Future, Psychics Reveal All. It's a Scam."
Michael Wilson – and remember this is a front page article in the New York Times - says,
"Is it real or a bunch of baloney? It's a question New Yorkers and visitors to the city may ask themselves when they pass any of the seemingly countless storefront fortune tellers. Cecilia Mitchell, age 38 was pointedly asked the exact question last year, "What is the psychic business? Is it all real or a bunch of baloney?" She answered, "It's a scam, sir." The whole thing is a scam?' 'Yes."
The reporter goes on to say that Mitchell would know, she herself was a psychic, but after making a living portraying herself as a vessel of supernatural powers, she was coming clean. She's coming clean because she had to come before the parole board in New York State, hoping to get out of prison, having been convicted of crimes related to stealing from the public by means of her psychic foretelling. It turns out she couldn't foretell when she's going to be arrested. As she later told the parole board, it was entirely a scam.
She was making it up all along. Now why in the world would this story make the front page of the New York Times? What has to do with the fact that this is not only corky and interesting, it's also relevant economically? It turns out that an incredible number of Americans are paying a lot of money to have their fortunes told by those who claim to be able to see the future. But when they're trying to get out of prison, and when they appeared before the parole board, these psychics admitted they're not psychics at all. There's nothing to it. They were making it up. It's all a scam. The article tells about one so called psychic, 26 years old who was charged with taking $713,000 from a marketing professional from Brooklyn,
"After promising to re-unite him with the woman he loved, even after the man discovered that the woman had died."
According to this article, she's in jail awaiting trial.
Wilson then tells us that reviews of transcripts in several parole hearings in recent years, shine a light behind the hanging beads of the psychic paroler. The inmate's reflection on their careers may give, Palsy says, to the passerby willing to pay $20 or $50 or more, as we now know a whole lot more for a promise peek of the future. The story says another psychic convicted of grand larceny and she's named Betty Vlado, age 46, called herself a gypsy and said she started out reading Taro cards.
“"Was it useless?" A commissioner asked her in her 2014 parole hearing.
"Yes, pretty much."
“She was then asked, "Are you pretty much just telling a story, basically lying, just making stuff up?"
“Three friends entered her shop in the upper east side of Manhattan in 2011, she recalled one of them in particular, "She was telling me her problems and I pretty much took advantage of that."
The reporter said quite obviously, she maybe selling herself short. She convinced one woman to pay her $14,500 for a rock she said came from a meteorite that she had obtained from a NASA insider. One of the most interesting confessions made by the psychics trying to get out of prison, is the fact that they were listening to their customers and from what they heard from their customers, they made up the future that the customer wanted to hear. The parole board asked one of these psychics, "You don't think there's any legitimate psychics out there?" The response, "If they're taking your money, they're not for real."
The biblical warning is against idolatry and against sorcery are abundantly clear. It's very tempting for us to think in the modern age, that something that can be dismissed in the ancient past, separated from us by miles and miles and centuries. It turns out, it's not so separate from us after all.
First of all in time, it comes raising at us in a single edition of the New York Times and then it comes raising at us when we recognize how many of our neighbors evidently are paying money to soothsayers and the psychics in order to hear what they want to hear. We are living in an increasingly secular age, but that doesn't mean it's not an age marked by spirituality. It's just an age that continually now celebrates a false spirituality. The biblical worldview underlines the fact that we are made in God's image and we will worship something. If we do not worship the one, true and living God, then we will worship something. That's the testimony that comes from the ancient temple to Baal that made the headlines of the New York Times just in recent days. It's a headline that comes to us in the same newspaper about the psychic who could be operating right down the street, and those who were paying that psychic money in order to hear the future they want to know.
A generation to go, Bob Dylan wrote a song "Gotta serve somebody." That's true. You've got to serve somebody. You've got to worship somebody too. That comes to us fresh in the headlines.
Indiana editorial's celebration of total non-discrimination exposes pervasiveness of sexual revolution
Next, as we're observing the culture being transformed right before our eyes, I was preaching in Indianapolis, Indiana on Sunday. I looked at the local Indianapolis paper. The lead headline editorial is a full page, half of the page just art work for the editorial. That's very, very unusual. Here's the editorial, "Equal rights for all. It's time for Indiana to act." The editorial board of the Indianapolis Star, not one of the most liberal newspapers in America is nonetheless calling for the inclusion of sexual orientation and gender identity in anti-discrimination legislation there in the State of Indiana. Indiana's one of those states that represents mainstream America. If you will have this kind of development in Indiana, then you'll have it anywhere. That's what makes the story so interesting.
It's also interesting that the Indianapolis Star thought that this was the right time to run the editorial, and they run it in such a graphic way. A massive statement in terms of the editorial board, of their own intention to influence the legislation there in Indiana. They write,
"Last spring, at the height of the controversy surrounding the passage of the religious freedom restoration act, the Indianapolis Star called for expansion of Indiana's civil rights law to include sexual orientation and gender identity. We plan to follow up this fall with an editorial board campaign, aimed in convincing the state legislature to adapt this law."
Now here you have a newspaper announcing that it's going to be launching an editorial board campaign that's their word for it in order to see the more revolution in Indiana now recognized in terms of the law they demand.
We've been tracking how the collision between sexual liberty or erotic liberty on the one hand, and religious liberty in the other, is being increasingly shaped and formed by the elites in the United States for whom, if there is a direct religion, it is religious liberty that we'll have to lose. You also recalled that in the very opening words of this editorial, the editorial board went back to the Spring when Indiana's legislature had passed, and the governor signed in the law, a form of the religious freedom restoration act. It was this newspaper that called for an immediate revision of that law in order to a significant extent to gut that legislation of its religious liberty protections. In this editorial, they make an amazing statement,
"And as defenders of the first amendment, we believe deeply in religious freedoms, but protections for all in religious freedom can co-exist."
The remarkable thing about those two sentences is that they are not explained in any way. The editorial board actually doesn't take the responsibility to try to even define what they mean by religious liberty and they're absolutely, intellectually dishonest in suggesting even as they began their editorial with reference back to the legislative controversy of the Spring, that as they say it again,
"Protections for all in religious freedom can co-exist."
That means that they are redefining religious freedom. They may claim to protect and to respect religious liberty, but when they write the editorial this way, and they announced they are beginning an editorial board campaign, it's clear that once again, when there's a collision between erotic liberty and religious liberty in the view of this editorial board, and that should tell us a great deal. Coming from Indianapolis, Indiana, it's religious liberty is going to have to give way.
Finally, the editorial board ends on a statement that also demonstrates a very clear example of the kind of intellectual dishonesty we're increasingly hearing across this country. The editorial board says they call for a state, "Where discrimination is not tolerated in any form." What in the world would that mean? A society that has no discrimination whatsoever? That's an incoherent society. They're actually not calling for a state in which there's no discrimination whatsoever. They're calling for a state the doesn't discriminate, where they don't wanted to discriminate. They profoundly do want to stay that does discriminate, where they think discrimination should continue. They say they want to stay to which discrimination isn't tolerated in any form. That would be moral anarchy. We make discrimination all the time.
When a parent hires a baby sitter, you better hope they're making discrimination as to which baby sitter is more morally qualified than another. If you're not discriminating it all, then you would simply hire anyone to be the baby sitter for your children. You would hire anyone to be the teacher in the classroom. You would hire anyone or trust anyone with anything. You would furthermore, when it comes to sexual morality, if you're not discriminating at all, you would endorse polygamy, or any number of other arrangements. That's not what the editorial board is doing. Here you see the kind of language that is used as mere propaganda. It's not a serious moral argument. When someone tells you that they want to live in a state that doesn't discriminate at all, or to use their exact language, a state where discrimination is not tolerated in any form, recognize that that means opening up all the jails.
Recognize that statement for what it is, an irresponsible and dishonest moral claim. But one that looks good as the the final sentence in your editorial.
Polygamy lawsuit depends on Supreme Court gay marriage ruling for defense
Meanwhile, on the issue of polygamy, in the aftermath of the Obergefell decision by the Supreme Court, back at the last of June, we talked about the fact that the majority opinion in that decision, the decision that legalize same sex marriage across the United States. We talked about the fact that that majority opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy opened the door wide to polygamy, precisely because, it didn't close that door. Furthermore, the very arguments used by Justice Kennedy and the five person majority in that case, also point to the inevitable acceptance and normalization - indeed, the legalization of polygamy in some form in the future.
Now Reuters tells us that in a very real case, now before the Tenth Circuit US Court of Appeals, the very arguments used in the Obergefell decision are being used in favor of polygamy. Often times, when you see a legal precedent set that you know will lead to something else to take some time to get there. Let's just note the fact that we're talking about the distance on the calendar just from June until September. Jonathan Turley, the attorney in this case for the polygamist, in his arguments to the court said,
"It is clear that states can no longer use criminal codes to coerce or punish those who'd choose to live in consensual but unpopular unions."
By unpopular unions, he's talking here about polygamy. In this case, the arguments are being made for a man and his so-called wives, who are the stars of the reality television show "Sister Wives."
As Reuters tells us, the TLC television network first aired "Sister Wives" in 2010 and it began a new season next month. The Brown family, as it is known and their seventeen children, who formally lived in Lehi, Utah are now living in Las Vegas and are members of the Apostolic United Brethren, a Utah based church, says the article, that follows plural marriage doctrine or polygamy. Years ago, as the arguments for same sex marriage were beginning to be discussed in the public square, many of us warned that it wouldn't stop with same sex marriage, that polygamy and any number of other things will be close behind. Yet, to be honest, none of us really saw it would be this close behind. Then, when the decision was actually handed down this past June, the decision in terms of its arguments was actually even worse than many of us had expected.
Anthony Kennedy once again running for the majority, really did lead the door wide open for the legalization of polygamy. Now, Jonathan Turley, one of the most influential lawyers in America is rushing in to do just that, to put polygamy before the nation's highest courts. This is in something in the abstract future. We're talking all ready about the court level just before the Supreme Court in the United States, in this case, the US Circuit Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit. By the way, before we leave this, we need to know that the "Sister Wives" folks are not at court because they lost the case at the lower level, but they won it. It's the state of Utah that's appealing.
The lawyers and others arguing for the legalization of same sex marriage were making the case that it is a horrible form of discrimination, to say that marriage has to be and can only be the union of a man and a woman. Now, just as predicted, are those who were showing up at court, some of the highest courts in the land argued that it is an improper discrimination. It acted odious and unconstitutional discrimination to say that marriage can only be limited to the number two. I just have to wonder what the editorial board of the Indianapolis Star really thinks when it comes to stating that they want to live in a state where discrimination is not tolerated in any form. The headline on the polygamy case reminds us that they just might get, sooner than they might think, what they asked for.
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