The Briefing 12-8-15
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, December 8, 2015. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Dividing line in America defined by theism, not belief in the transcendent
Most of us recognize that America is marked by a deep dividing line when it comes to worldview. One of the most interesting conversations in this country today is where that dividing line is to be found and how it is to be defined. That draws our attention to a very important recent piece that appeared at CNN. The author of the piece is John Inazu, identified as associate professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. In this piece Inazu argues that the current dividing line is belief in a transcendent God. Inazu writes,
“The war of words over "thoughts and prayers" in response to the San Bernardino massacre is the latest illustration that our culture is fractured not only politically, but also along the transcendence line: The line divides those who believe in a God who intervenes in the world and those who do not.”
Now from the onset, it’s really important to recognize that an article like this appearing at CNN by a law professor is noteworthy, just in itself, but it’s also noteworthy that this is an article arguing for that most basic of worldview divisions that is between those who believe in a God who intervenes in the world and one who does not. John Inazu calls that the transcendence line. I differ with John Inazu primarily on how he names this dividing line that he described so well,
“A dividing line over whether or not there is a God who intervenes in history.”
My problem is with the word transcendence. It’s not wrong, it’s just not totally right. It seems to me that the dividing line is actually rightly identified as theism, the belief in the very God he describes who intervenes in history versus one who does not. But John Inazu deserves credit for getting to the fact that this deep worldview divide is real and it is the most urgent worldview divide in America today. He writes,
“We see the transcendence line in sharp relief when some people are moved to pray in response to tragedy and others insist that prayer doesn't "work" and isn't "doing" anything. We see it in the puzzled and impatient reactions to the acts of forgiveness extended by the family members of those killed in a church in Charleston, South Carolina. We see it in critiques of Christian missionaries who care for the sick and dying in Ebola-stricken lands.
We see the transcendence line play out in other ways.”
He says he goes on to argue that,
“America is deeply divided along the transcendence line. Tens of millions of Americans profess belief in a transcendent God. They include Christians, Jews, Muslims and people of many other faiths. Yet these generic labels are also imprecise; many self-identifying Christians and Jews reject the idea that God intervenes in the world in miraculous and supernatural ways.”
From a worldview perspective, this article is absolutely explosive. Professor Inazu is right and he’s courageous in pointing to this basic dividing line in American culture and he rightly without using the word points at that very foundational reality of worldview, this is a worldview division. He refers to it in terms of transcendence and yet a good many people who would actually theologically affirm transcendence would not be marked by his definition that is believing in a God who intervenes in history. We’re talking here about theism, the belief in a personal God, a God who rules over the universe and a God who indeed intervenes in human history and Inazu is exactly right. That is perhaps at its most basic level, the great dividing line in America today. And this is a dividing line that explains how so many people can claim to be religious or spiritual without claiming any actual theological connection to a theistic faith, in particular to Christianity or Judaism or Islam. All three of which in their Orthodox versions emphatically believe in a God who intervenes in history. Inazu is onto something else here when he says that the mere designation, for instance, of being a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim doesn’t exactly define the issue because there are some who claim those designations who actually do not believe in a God who intervenes in history by means of miracles or some kind of divine intervention. Now in theological terms, we call those theological liberals in Christianity, we’re talking about those who denied the clear teaching of Scripture, the God who reveals himself in Scripture is emphatically a God who intervenes in history and we’re talking about a secularized worldview that has increasingly denied the very possibility of the miraculous and going back for longer even than the label of theological liberalism has argued that God does not intervene in history. That goes back at least to the worldview of Deism that was shared by at least some of the founders of the American Republic.
So Inazu argues for a basic dividing line in this culture at the issue of worldview between those who believe in a theistic God that is in a personal God who intervenes in history and those who do not. And at that point we simply need to note there could be no more fundamental urgent or basic dividing line than this, because in terms of worldview, everything follows from whether or not you believe in God, and we’re talking about a God here who has self-defined, self-revealed characteristics that he tells us about, a God who reveals himself in an inscripturated Revelation. The dividing lines in theological belief between Judaism and Christianity and Islam are massive and they are real and they have eternal consequences. But we need to note that at least the orthodox adherence of all three of those very important religious systems on planet earth today; they are in one accord in believing in theism, in a God who is personal and a God who intervenes in history. And over against those three religious worldviews is the massive secularizing worldview of the modern age. A worldview that increasingly demands that the only culturally accessible and culturally relevant, indeed culturally allowable god is a God who does not intervene in human history. Now when you think about it that explains why so many people reflexively were offended by statements that thoughts and prayers are with those who are grieving and suffering in San Bernardino. Because those who do not operate out of a theistic worldview actually don’t believe that thoughts and prayers matter at all. They don’t believe that prayer works to use the word used in this article, because they don’t believe in a God who would hear those prayers, much less act upon them.
Before leaving Inazu’s article, he makes another very important observation and that is that everyone has a deep belief system. He says the line is not between those who have deep beliefs and those who do not. He very correctly, and in a way absolutely consistent with the biblical worldview affirms the fact that everyone, including the most ardent atheist has very deep-seated beliefs. As he writes perceptively,
“The liberal atheist who stands up for "equality" and "dignity" relies on foundational and tradition-dependent assumptions in much the same way as the religious conservative who defends "morality" and "truth.”
I’m hoping that John Inazu’s article at CNN got a great deal of attention. This much is clear. It deserves a great deal more.
Feminist Gloria Steinem's individualism glaringly excludes the individual in the womb
Next, speaking of that great dividing line in America, the issue of abortion is one of the most crucial fronts in that dividing line and something’s been bothering me for some time, and I’ve been waiting to talk about it on The Briefing and that is a new book by famed feminist icon Gloria Steinem. Her book is a memoir of sorts, entitled,
“My Life on the Road.”
And as many have since reviewed the book, it is indeed her recounting of a lifetime of travel largely on behalf of the feminist movement of which she has been one of the most primary theorists and publicists. Gloria Steinem dedicates the book to a London physician who in 1957 gave her an illegal abortion. In the dedication she writes,
“Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death:
I’ve done the best I could with my life.”
Steinem explains that she wrote this because this Doctor, Dr. John Sharpe, who gave her the abortion back in 1957 did so, but he demanded,
“You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name, second you will do what you want to do with your life.”
I first heard Gloria Steinem’s statement in an interview she did with National Public Radio’s Terry Gross. An answer to why this dedication had been framed as it was and why now she dedicated a book naming the Doctor who asked her not to give his name. She said this,
“I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would've had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn't mine, that wasn't mine at all.”
She went on to say,
“It seems to me that every child has the right to be born loved and wanted, and every person has the right to control — male and female — to control their own bodies from the skin in.”
Now while we’re thinking about this great worldview divide and we’re looking at the particular issue of abortion that great divide is over whether or not the inhabitant of the womb is a human being. Because if the inhabitant of the womb is a human being that human being has certain rights, including the right to life and so at one level the dividing line simply is between those who accept that the baby in the womb is a human being deserving of protection and those who deny that it is a human being who is in the womb. But there is a deeper worldview divide, even than that and that is over who gets to decide the gift of life and who determines what human life actually is. And that’s where that line at theism comes back once again. We either believe that every life is sacred, because we believe that a divine creator has created every single human life and given it dignity, or we try to come up with some other reason why human life might be sacred and might have some kind of inherent dignity.
As we’ve been watching the worldview divide grow wider it has become increasingly clear that if there is no theistic, that is if there is no divine assurance of human dignity, then human dignity quickly gets compromised away. Looking back at Gloria Steinem’s dedication, it tells us a very great deal. She not only acknowledges now she had the abortion back in 1957, that was an illegal act on the part of this doctor, she valorizes him, she honors him by naming him now over a half-century later, and thanking him for breaking the law. But then she goes on to describe the worldview that was behind her decision. Again, she told Terry Gross of NPR,
“I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would've had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn't mine, that wasn't mine at all.”
That is an almost symphonic expression of the modern protean autonomy that so many people claim, an absolute autonomy that is one of the most toxic ideas that is part and parcel of the modern secular worldview. That idea of radical individualism by which Gloria Steinem actually says that she wouldn’t have been who she means to be, which means who she wants to be, if she had been forced to have this baby and thus to become a wife and a mother at that point in her life. What she is stating emphatically is that the unborn life within her was getting in the way of her own plan for her life and thus that life had to go in order for her to have the life she wanted for herself. But she said more and you heard these words,
“It seems to me that every child has the right to be born loved and wanted.”
That’s one of those statements that sounds right until you actually look at what it means. It actually means, according to this logic that if the child is not at that moment wanted, then that child should not exist. But then she continued by saying that she believes,
“Every person has the right to control — male and female — to control their own bodies from the skin in.”
Now you’ll notice that that completely excludes the personhood of the inhabitant of the womb, and that’s the point. And there we see that great worldview divide made very, very clear, chillingly clear on the issue of the sanctity of human life, an individualism that completely jumps over the question, if we have the right to control ourselves from the skin in who put us in that skin in the first place?
Bermuda hotel celebrates inclusion by excluding marriage event in the name of diversity
Next, another story has our attention and it should yours. In recent days, it was reported that a major hotel in Bermuda had canceled an event because speakers at the event were going to make the argument for traditional marriage. The group is known as preserve marriage and the event was being held at the Princess Hotel that is the Hamilton Princess Hotel in Hamilton on the island nation of Bermuda. One speaker the event was to be Ryan T. Anderson, who is a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation and someone who has made a very eloquent argument on behalf of the normative idea of marriage as the union between a man and a woman. But that was too much for the hotel that is the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel there in Bermuda. The hotel released a statement after it canceled the event, in which it said,
“It has come to our attention that a meeting to oppose gay marriage was to be held at our hotel. Immediately upon learning of the nature of the meeting, we called the organisation to explain that our policy is one that celebrates diversity and that the hotel is not a venue for anti-diversity discussions.”
The statement went on,
“It is a standard hotel practice that upon making a reservation, groups disclose the nature of meetings that will take place on our premises. This meeting originally was reserved under a different guise and would never have been accepted if the group had disclosed its intentions at the time of the reservation. The Hamilton Princess does not accept any booking that promotes discrimination of any kind.”
The guise supposedly under which the reservation had been made was the guise of a group known as preserve marriage. When they actually found out the group was going to talk about preserving marriage, it turns out that was just too much. Now one of the things we need to note is a kind of statement to which we are now accustomed. Though it is a statement that is inherently dishonest, it’s one we increasingly see. In this form, the manager of the hotel said,
“The Hamilton Princess does not accept any booking that promotes discrimination of any kind.”
That is a claim that the hotel has to hope is not tested, because that is a claim that no morally sane institution individual or organization can make. Every morally, sane individual, every morally sane organization, hotel management presumably included, makes some discriminatory judgments, it must. The hotel makes one of the most hypermodern moral assertions that is imaginable, saying that it’s simply a hotel that
But then it goes on to define that by saying that the hotel,
“Is not a venue for anti-diversity discussions.”
In other words, in the name of diversity, no diversity. So at the very time that Christian organizations, corporations and individuals are being told that they have to serve as photographers, cake bakers, and florist for same-sex weddings, because to fail to do so would be an act of discrimination. Here you have a hotel group with many important American locations; that says it is so committed to diversity that it will not allow this kind of conversation to take place within its premises. Now you’ll recall that the position that’s being articulated here is one that is supported still by the vast majority of nations worldwide and it is a position that was held by, well, every nation on earth until about 20 years ago. Columnist, Anthony Esolen writing at the website, the public discourse pointed out that if Planned Parenthood wanted to hold a gala celebration of its abortion business. Well, he goes on to say,
“The management of The Princess would have made sure they were served oysters and caviar.
But alas, the conferees were convening only to reconsider some of the metastases of the sexual revolution.”
Now the argument can be made that the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda has the right to discriminate on these grounds. Well, if that argument is made then where is the equal right to discriminate on other moral grounds? This is another sign that the moral revolutionaries push only one way and that their idea of tolerance and diversity is one that is inherently intolerant and lacking in diversity. So that great dividing line we’ve been talking about on this edition of The Briefing is one that now extends to where you can and cannot speak of marriage as exclusively the union of a man and a woman, where you can in where you cannot hold a meeting. There are those who might argue that in moral terms this is simply payback. Well, maybe so, but if so, you can’t call it diversity.
Canada primed to legalize marijuana, eyes consequences in Colorado
Finally, Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is wasting no time getting to his agenda and as the Canadian media have noted, he’s trying to undo several years of conservative government as quickly as he can. One of the major issues he promised in the election and one of the issues on which he is now moving is moving the government towards the legalization of marijuana. That’s not a surprise, he announced it in his campaign, but now that it’s coming about, what’s really interesting is what’s being said in Canada, not so much about Canada, but about Colorado, here in the United States. Because it turns out we can learn a great deal by listening to the Canadians in their debate talking about us. Reporter William Marsden of the Washington Post tells us that even as Trudeau and his government are moving towards the legalization of marijuana, there are some were asking some big questions, especially about how this relates to young people. One of the persons quoted in the article is Rebecca Jesseman, she is with the Canadian center on substance abuse. She has warned against rushing into legalization, but she has especially asked the government to be very specific about what it intends to do by this legislation. This is where Colorado comes in very interestingly; the Washington Post says that Jesseman reported,
“One of the more important lessons from Colorado was that the state appears to have lacked a sense of clear purpose and finds itself unable to control a growing industry that is clearly targeting young people.”
As Jesseman told the Washington Post speaking of Colorado from Canada,
“They are selling cannabis as candy.”
Once again we see the tie between economic incentive and the moral revolution when we are told in this article that plenty of big businesses in Canada are ready to join the cannabis bandwagon as soon as pot is legalized in that country. They’re lining up to the same extent we saw in the United States where the original advocates for legalizing marijuana, largely those who are refugees from the 1960s and 70s in the college campuses are now offended that big business is moving in, now that marijuana is legal, where it’s legal. One law professor in Canada said,
“My goal is to have what is inevitable in our society be as safe as possible and to try to discourage harmful use. That is very different from what big industry would want with cannabis.”
And there you have one of the utopian dreams of the 1960s, every little pot farmer tending his own little plot of pot. The dreams of the 1960s die hard, whether in the United States or across our northern border in Canada.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You follow me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to Boyce College.com.
I want to make sure you know about a conference to be held next year on March 18 and 19, it’s known as the Driven by Truth conference. Join me, Russell Moore, Greg Thornbury and Dan DeWitt, we’ll be discussing how the Christian worldview must be driven by the truth of God’s word. Registration is open now at eventsatsouthern.com.
I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.