The Briefing 11-14-17
Tags: Atlanta, Audio, Christianity, Humanism
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Tuesday, November 14, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
We’ll see why a vote in Atlanta tells us a great deal about the American future. We’ll see a congressman come out of the closet as a humanist, and we’ll see an evolutionist trying to explain religion and morality and accidentally give convictional Christians an important challenge.
What the Atlanta mayoral election tells us about the American future
Atlanta has become the symbol of the new South. It became that early in the decades of the 20th century. It has certainly become even more that as we are now in the 21st century. Atlanta is in many ways the capital city of the south. It gained that status in the last part of the 19th century because Atlanta grew to have such cultural, political, and economic prominence within the South. And of course, Atlanta became a symbol of what many people hoped the South would become in that period, especially during the 20th century when the South was experiencing, along with much of the rest of the nation, so much of the turmoil of the 20th century. Atlanta became the city known as the city too busy to hate. Now that was something of both a euphemism and an invasion since of course Atlanta was also a city that was marked by significant strain and stress when it came to civil rights. But it's also true that for the last roughly 44 years Atlanta has had an African-American mayor, but also note for almost the last 140 years it has had a Democratic mayor. This appears to be however in question as there is a genuinely competitive race in the runoff election for Atlanta Mayor. And again it’s significant that this might be the first time in almost 150 years that a Republican is actually within striking distance of being elected Atlanta's mayor. The advantage is probably still the Democratic candidate's. In this case that Democratic candidate is Keisha Lance Bottoms, but the Republican challenger is also a member of the city Council, Mary Norwood.
Now, this is a complicated election, and it's one of those elections that deserves to be watched rather closely. It's a Democrat versus Republican, yes, but it's also an African-American Democrat versus a white Republican candidate, both of them of course women. And you're looking at a very interesting unfolding story, and you're also looking at the fact that here again we see in Atlanta, at least in the city of Atlanta as distinct from its surrounding suburbs, we see how Atlanta is becoming not so much now a symbol of the new South as it is as a city, it’s becoming far more a symbol of the new America in this case a very liberal urban America. That's made clear by the fact that both of these candidates are clearly identified as liberal candidates. The headline in Sunday's edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution was this,
“Atlanta mayoral candidates fight for progressives”
That is they’re fighting for progressive votes. To make that point rather emphatically clear, the subtext in the headline was this,
“Same voters who supported Bernie Sanders could be difference for two remaining contenders.”
Now, as you look at this, many people in the United States would be surprised that we’re talking about the city of Atlanta. This sounds perhaps more like the city of, say, Seattle or perhaps a city on the northeast coast. But here we’re talking about Atlanta, Georgia. But of course thinking in worldview significance, we’re reminded of the fact that as you get closer to a metropolitan area, as you get closer to a coast or closer to a city, the percentages of those who identify as operating out of a secular worldview and holding to a more liberal moral position begins to increase rather significantly. So you add the coast the city and a campus together and you get something of a triple threat in terms of secularism and moral liberalism. But when it comes to a city like Atlanta, one of the important things we need to recognize is that these major American cities are actually becoming morally and even religiously a lot more like each other than the rest of their states.
Last week looking at the election in Virginia, we pointed to the distinction and increasing distinction between NOVA – that is northern Virginia, Metropolitan, highly educated, rather affluent and generally very liberal compared to the rest of the state – and ROVA, which is the rest of the state, the rest of Virginia. And that chasm is beginning to grow state-by-state. You see it in the state of Texas where you see a state that’s clearly red, pervasively red, with dots of blue. Those little islands of blue, however, tend to be highly populated areas and very highly influential areas, one of them by no coincidence home to both the state capital and the University of Texas. Austin has the motto “Keep Austin Weird.” And politically speaking in Texas, Austin is weird, but Austin's not alone. Just consider the fact that a few years ago the mayor of the city of Houston, an openly gay mayor, actually issued a subpoena for the sermons of conservative evangelical pastors in that city about homosexuality. Now those subpoenas eventually failed, but the interesting thing is that they were ever issued. That's the really threatening reality and that was in the city of Houston. That wasn’t in Portland.
But whether it's Atlanta or Houston, there's a pretty radical distinction between these cities and the rest of the state and also the cities and even their surrounding rather suburban communities. But as you're looking at this headline story in Sunday's edition of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, it's really interesting to note just how liberal both of these candidates are. That raises the question, what kind of Republican could actually come within striking distance of being elected the mayor of Atlanta? Well, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution story makes it very clear,
“In an interview, Norwood talked about her record championing sustainability and said she was the first mayoral candidate in 2009 to speak out for marriage equality.”
In the same interview she also said that she recently supported legislation to decriminalize marijuana. In her own words of self-description,
“I'm a progressive independent.”
Well she's a progressive independent running as a Republican. What that tells us is that in a city like Atlanta, and remember we’re talking about the city of Atlanta, we are looking at the fact that this is the kind of Republican who might actually be competitive. That is to say Republican who stands in contrast to virtually every major point of the Republican platform, especially when it comes to major moral issues. Here you're talking about a candidate, a Republican candidate, who brags about the fact that she says she was the first mayoral candidate to speak out in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, and of course then she just has to sneak in the fact that she has recently supported the legalization of recreational marijuana or at least it's decriminalization.
So as we try to think carefully about how worldview shifts occur over space and time, it's important right now in 2017 to look to the city of Atlanta and recognize that the headlines coming out of Atlanta could come out of almost any major American city. The cities are becoming more like each other, and they’re becoming more different and distant from the rest of the country regardless of the state of the city's location. So voters in the city of Atlanta are going to face a choice for mayor, but it's a very limited choice. It's a choice between two candidates, both identified by the city's major newspaper as progressive as socially and morally liberal. The fact that that is true in the city of Atlanta tells us something very important about how moral and cultural worldview change is transforming the entire nation.
A congressman comes out of the closet...as a humanist
Now we shift to a headline story from the Washington Post. Here's the headline,
“This lawmaker isn’t sure that God exists. Now, he’s finally decided to tell people.”
Michelle Boorstein is the reporter behind the story. She writes,
“For years, as he rose from California state government to Congress, Jared Huffman felt justified — even a bit smug, perhaps — when he’d decline to answer questionnaires about his religious beliefs.”
As the Post article continues,
“He’d always put one form or another of unspecified, decline to state or ‘none of your business,’” that according to the 53-year-old house lawmaker, “who comes,” says the Post, “from a left-leaning district that runs from the Golden Gate Bridge to the Oregon border. That made him,” says the Post, “one of nine members in the 535-member Congress who opted this year to keep their spiritual profiles blank.”
But that was then; this is now. He had decided to leave it blank. Now he’s going to fill it in, and he's going to fill it in in a way that made headlines in the Washington Post. He said this,
“I don’t believe in religious tests, and I don’t believe my religion is all that important to the people I represent, and I think there’s too much religion in politics. For those reasons I felt good about not even answering it,” that according to an interview he gave the Post.
Let’s just look at that for a moment. First of all he says,
“I don't believe in religious tests.”
Well in terms of a test that would be required by the government that's absolutely unconstitutional. That’s not to say that voters can't take religion into consideration as they go into the voting booth. But then he says he doesn't believe his religion is,
“all that important to the people I represent”
Well let’s just stipulate that he represents a rather secular district in terms of the United States Congress. This district would include Marin County and much of northern California. That is just demographically and statistically speaking a rather more secular region than the rest of the country or for that matter even the rest of the state. But it's also interesting for Christians to recognize that voters should consider religion to be important in terms of our understanding of a candidate. That is to say worldview is very important. We understand candidates in terms of not only what their positions are, but what those positions tell us about how they think and what they believe. And for this reason American voters have been very clear about expecting candidates actually to identify in terms of their religious beliefs, and Americans have demonstrated a voting pattern of voting more regularly for candidates who identify more easily and consistently in terms of their religious identity, which is to say even as this article says there only nine members out of 535 in Congress who aren't identified religiously. That's a reflection perhaps an unarticulated reflection of the fact that the American people have an intuition that they want to vote for candidates who they can understand in terms of character and basic worldview.
Now that word worldview is one that Christians biblical Christians have had to think about and to use a great deal more often over the last several decades. It's interesting, however, that in this article the Washington Post uses the word. Speaking of this development last week, the Post states,
“On Thursday, he will release a statement saying he is a humanist, a loose philosophy based on the idea that humans should work to improve society and live ethically, guided by reason, not necessarily by anything supernatural.”
The Post goes on to say,
“While there are some humanist organizations and congregations, generally it describes a worldview, not an affiliation.”
So Congressman Huffman is going to identify as a humanist. He says the tag atheist offers a level of certainty that he's not comfortable with. He said this,
“I’m not hostile to religion, and I’m not judging other people’s religious views.” He also according to the Post, “thinks that in 2017, people like himself should be able to be open about,” the Post calls, “their basic faith perspective.”
That's an interesting language in itself, especially when that basic faith perspective is particularly not about faith. Some of his language sounds very much like a politician. Take this statement. The Congressman says he's a,
“nonbeliever, a skeptic,” but the Post says he’s open to having his mind changed. In his words, “I suppose you could say I don’t believe in God. The only reason I hesitate is — unlike some humanists, I’m not completely closing the door to spiritual possibilities. We all know people who have had experiences they believe are divine … and I’m open to something like that happening.”
Humanist authorities representing humanist organizations cited in the article indicated that this Congressman just might face some stigma in terms of making this announcement, and again we understand why even as there are escalating numbers of people in the United States who identify as having no religious affiliation, the so-called nones. It turns out that even more self-identified secular people tend to vote more regularly for more religiously identify candidates. That should bring to mind some research we recently discussed on the Briefing, indicating in terms of very credible scientific research that even atheists have less confidence in other atheists when it comes to moral credibility and decision-making. The Post article ended with a statement from the Congressman,
“I think in this day and age, it needs to be okay for there to be a member of Congress with my particular religious views, and I will tell you there are many who would agree with me — this place is full of humanists, agnostics and folks with nonreligious views of various types who are driven to public works for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.”
Now that's the blockbuster statement in the article. Who is he talking about when he says this place? Well the previous statement makes clear he's talking about Congress. He says, speaking of his fellow members of Congress and that would mean out of the 535, both the House and the Senate, he says, “this place,” presumably that means the U.S. Capitol is full of humanists, agnostics, and folks with nonreligious views of various types. He says that they are,
“driven,” again using his words, “to public works for reasons that have nothing to do with religion.”
Well we’ll see just how many of his congressional colleagues rushed to follow him in identifying as a humanist. Just even in terms of politics I wouldn't expect that to be a stampede.
Is it a surprise that Christians who go to church think, act, and behave as Christians?
But that takes me to a recent article at Religion News Service by Dimitris Xygalatas, who is assistant professor of anthropology at the University of Connecticut. The headline in this article,
“Are religious people more moral?”
He then goes on to raise the very research I indicated about why there is such distrust in those who identify as atheists. And then Xygalatas writes,
“Survey data show that Americans are less trusting of atheists than of any other social group. For most politicians,” he writes, “going to church is often the best way to garner votes, and coming out as an unbeliever could well be political suicide. After all, there are no open atheists in the U.S. Congress. The only known religiously unaffiliated representative describes herself as ‘none,’ but still denies being an atheist.”
Well let’s just note that Congressman Huffman also said that he's not ready to identify as an atheist even though he will now identify as a humanist. But then Xygalatas asked the question,
“How does religion relate to morality?”
He writes this,
“It is true that the world’s major religions are concerned with moral behavior. Many, therefore, might assume that religious commitment is a sign of virtue, or even that morality cannot exist without religion.”
He says, however, that both of those assumptions are in his view problematic. In one of the most interesting paragraphs in his very interesting article, he writes,
“In any case, religiosity is only loosely related to theology. That is, the beliefs and behaviors of religious people are not always in accordance with official religious doctrines. Instead, popular religiosity,” he writes, “tends to be much more practical and intuitive. This is what religious studies scholars call ‘theological incorrectness.’”
Well indeed, that's a very useful term. But the interesting thing in terms of this research is that when he makes the argument that for many people beliefs and behaviors are not always in accordance with official religious doctrines or the teaching of their organization or church, the important thing to recognize is that that particular consistency is extremely correlated with religious activity. To state the matter more plainly, Christians who don't go to church tend not to act or behave as Christians. Christians who do go to church do at far higher rates tend to think and act and behave as Christians. Is that a surprise? Or to use Xygalatas’s term “theological incorrectness” we shouldn't be very surprised at all to find theological incorrectness amongst those who really are very theological to begin with. Persons may identify as Christians, but if they do not attend church and they do not hear the preaching of the word of God, if they are not students of God's word, we shouldn't be surprised that the Bible means very little to them and certainly that the Bible doesn't show up in terms of a discernible impact upon their beliefs and their behavior.
The Christian confidence is actually that the Bible is the inerrant and infallible word of God. It is the word of God written, and the Christian confidence is that when the word of God is preached, the Holy Spirit actually applies the word to our hearts and minds in such a way that we cannot even perceive, conforming us to the image of Christ. Later in the article we read,
“sociologist Mark Chaves called the idea that people behave in accordance with religious beliefs and commandments the ‘religious congruence fallacy.’”
Now that's an important concept, the religious congruence fallacy, but here we have to note that's why as Christians we must be taught the scriptures, we must be students of the Scriptures, and we must seek to operate out of a worldview that is completely consistent with the Scriptures. That's how we define Christian maturity. That's what we hope happens in terms of the lives of believers as they are part of the life of the local church. As a matter of fact, we could define one of the central purposes of preaching as to prevent the so-called religious congruence fallacy or as the previous term indicated theological incorrectness.
Finally, as the article comes to an end, he writes,
“Not all beliefs are created equal, though. A recent cross-cultural study showed that those who see their gods as moralizing and punishing are more impartial and cheat less in economic transactions.”
The article continues,
“In other words, if people believe that their gods always know what they are up to and are willing to punish transgressors, they will tend to behave better, and expect that others will too.”
Now, seriously, we have to ask, are we supposed to be surprised by that research? Did it actually take research in order to come to that conclusion? As a matter fact it is central to our understanding of the God of the Bible, central to our understanding of the one true and living God that He indeed is a God who is a moral lawgiver, and furthermore He is omniscient. And beyond that, He will judge. If that doesn't make a distinct change in behavior, then what possibly could? It's also interesting anecdotally to note that we were previously talking about a politician, a United States congressman related to these questions, but here we have an argument made by an assistant professor of anthropology that if people believe that God knows what they're up to they tend to behave better, and in particular they tend to cheat less in economic transactions, which is to say, it's one thing if Americans decide that they really do want a believer in terms of Congress, it's another thing when they recognize they really do want a believer as a bank teller.
By the end of the article. Professor Xygalatas has told us that all of this is actually explained by evolution anyway. Human beings need rules by which to operate in order to live together in an orderly way, and religion supposedly was developed in terms of evolution as a way of creating that kind of rule system. But, of course, here we need to recognize that even the most ardent evolutionists can only even pretend to speak about the answer to the question of what is, not the question of what ought. But the bottom line for Christians in all of this is that this article should serve as a challenge to us to make very certain that’s what's identified here as the religious congruence fallacy when it comes to our lives, our families, and our churches is actually the religious congruence fact.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website at AlbertMohler.com. You can 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 BoyceCollege.com.
Today I’m in Providence, Rhode Island, and I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.