Monday, Dec. 4, 2017

Monday, Dec. 4, 2017

The Briefing

December 4, 2017

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

It’s Monday, December 4, 2017. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

We’ll see what explains Ireland’s turn to the left and on Australian states turn to euthanasia. We’ll see the moral dimension of secularization and the shifting ground of medical authority. We’ll see why the millennials are turning to horoscopes, and we’ll see the belief vacuum at the heart of the modern embrace of the occult.

This is going to be a big week at the United States Supreme Court, particularly on Tuesday morning, when the nation’s highest court will hear oral arguments in the case known as Masterpiece Cakeshop vs. Colorado Civil Rights Commission. That might sound like innocuous language. It might sound as puzzling language. What in the world do cakes have to do with civil rights or religious liberty? But what we’re facing here is a major case that will have a great deal to do with the future of religious liberty in this country, and we’ll be looking at it more fully tomorrow in anticipation of the oral arguments later in the day.

Part I

Ireland’s turn to the left and the moral dimension of secularization

In the meantime we’re going to shift ground to Ireland, a major story that appeared Sunday in the New York Times, the headline,

“‘Demise of the Church’ Tilts Ireland to the Left.”

Liam Stack is the reporter for the article, and what he is telling us is that there has been a massive moral change in the nation of Ireland just in the span of one generation about 30 years. He writes about the fact that it is now likely that there will be a constitutional change in Ireland, a constitutional change to repeal the eighth amendment, which will then allow the legalization of abortion in what had been not only the most pro-life countries on earth, but one of the most Catholic as well. Stack then writes,

“What are the driving forces behind this significant shift in voter attitudes toward abortion and other social issues?”

He concludes,

“Ireland was long a bastion of Catholic conservatism, a place where pedestrians might tip their hats and hop off the footpath when a priest walked past. But economic and technological changes helped propel a shift in attitudes that accelerated with the unfolding of far-reaching abuse scandals in the Roman Catholic Church in the 1990s.”

The key sentence here,

“Over a generation, Ireland transformed from a country where 67 percent of voters approved the constitutional abortion ban to one where, in 2015, 62 percent voted to legalize same-sex marriage.”

In this article Liam Stack documents the shift to the left on so many moral and ethical issues that is now undeniable in Ireland, and even as it is undeniable, that shift requires a great deal of explanation. Now in the United States we’ve noticed a similar kind of shift, a shift just in a period that can be documented to about seven years, between about 2007 and 2013 when Americans virtually flipped in terms of the question of same-sex marriage. In 2007 a clear majority of Americans said that they did not support the legalization of same-sex marriage by 2013 that had virtually reversed about 60 plus percent in both cases. As we remarked previously on the Briefing, what makes that particular shift so noticeable is that conceivably it actually involves some of the very same people effectively changing their minds on the question of same-sex marriage in just a process of about seven years. That tells us a great deal about how moral change takes place here in the United States. But in Ireland it’s the question of abortion that is front and center because if there is been any single moral teaching that has been made clear in terms of that country’s Catholic heritage it has been opposition to legalized abortion.

Liam Stack documents Ireland’s shift to the left. He says that Ireland,

“decriminalized homosexuality in 1992, removed restrictions on the sale of contraception in 1993 and legalized divorce in 1996. The Irish voted twice, in 1992 and 2002, to permit abortion if the mother were deemed a suicide risk. In 2015, the country passed a gender identity law favored by transgender rights groups.”

Now those are just several indications in terms of the shift to the left and Ireland, but where the Christian worldview would point us is even deeper than these illustrations. It would be to the fact that this kind of shift on moral or cultural issues requires a prior shift, a shift that is more fundamental than ethics, a shift that is actually in terms of the most basic questions of worldview, most particularly a theological shift having to do with the existence and nature of God. Here we get to the very nature historically of religion. The core of the word of religion includes the sense of binding, and thus where you find genuine religious authority, you find what is called binding authority. This can be explained very easily. A religion is understood to be binding if for instance belief in that religion would prevent you from taking an action or performing an act that you would otherwise do. If you are bound in terms of the teachings of that faith then it is genuinely functioning as a faith and as a worldview in terms of your life. One of the things we need to note is that long before most people declare themselves to be secular the first great step of secular transition in their lives is the fact that religion whatever the religious faith they claim loses its binding authority.

But it’s not just a matter of individuals. What we’re looking at here in Ireland is the fact that the Catholic Church has lost the binding authority of its teachings amongst the citizens of Ireland, and the vast majority of those citizens at least historically have identified as Catholic. And furthermore as Liam Stack indicates in this article, they have even shown a remarkable deference to the Roman Catholic Church and to its clergy. But that was then this is now, a fundamentally changed situation there in Ireland. But this story points us to something else that evangelicals had better note very, very carefully. It turns out that in this article the Catholic Archbishop of Ireland, that is Diarmuid Martin, and Liam Stack the report in this article, agree that there were two basic fundamental shifts that explain the headline of the demise of the church in Ireland tilting to the left.

The first has to do with what they describe as massive social changes. Those include economic and political changes also technological changes. We would simply summarize this under the larger theme of secularization. But the second issue is not so much sociological. It is moral. It is the priestly child abuse crisis in Ireland that appears to have been more than anything else the fuse that exploded the secularization of that historically Catholic nation. And yet knowing the history of Ireland even as reflected in this New York Times article, the Priestly child abuse crisis was only one of the great corruption crises that rocked the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland over the course of the last several decades. Archbishop Martin who as Stack says has generally received pretty high marks for how he more recently has dealt with these scandals explained,

“It was a crisis of trust in the church, a crisis of betrayal by the church — and you can’t regain trust just by saying to them, ‘I’m sorry.’ ”

So as evangelicals in the United States are wondering in this country how regions that had been closely identified with the moral teachings of Christianity can have moved so far so fast. Well we have at least the first part of the equation here. We have that process of secularization that is clearly taking place and with that secularization comes a liberalization of morality. That’s something that seems to happen in virtually every single case. But in Ireland we have a further warning, a warning that should be heard by all. And that is the warning that once there is a moral crisis that shakes the church to its very foundations from that it is very, very difficult to recover. And thus oddly and sadly enough but important for us to recognize, the eventual legalization of abortion in Ireland might will be traced to a clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Roman Catholic Church. That’s the kind of sobering message we dare not miss.

Part II

Australian state turns to euthanasia amid the shifting ground of medical authority

But next we shift to another international story, this one not from Ireland but from Australia on a similar theme. Adam Baidawi reports for the New York Times that one state in Australia has now voted to legalize euthanasia. Now this headline comes even as the Australian government is in the process of legalizing same-sex marriage. But here we’re looking at a very different moral shift, but one we should note that seems to go hand-in-hand with the sexual revolution. Euthanasia is also only made possible morally and legally speaking because of a vast secularization of the worldview in the West. As Baidawi reports, this new law now adopted in the Australian state of Victoria will allow citizens there,

“with a terminal, incurable illness — and, in most cases, a life expectancy of less than six months — to obtain a lethal drug within 10 days of requesting it.”

Now as we think of euthanasia the issue arises so often in the news it would be natural to make the mistake of thinking it is legal in many jurisdictions. Of course, it is not. As Baidawi says, Victoria and Australia now,

“joins the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Colombia and Luxembourg in legalizing euthanasia.”

Now just note that list of countries. It’s not vast: the Netherlands, Canada, Belgium, Columbia and Luxembourg. But Baidawi goes on to say,

“Several other countries — and states and jurisdictions in the United States, including California, Washington, D.C., and Oregon — have passed laws allowing assisted suicide”

Now he goes on to say that,

“Globally, assisted dying advocates have long argued for it on grounds of compassion and averting prolonged physical suffering for the terminally ill.”

But when you look at this several things come very quickly to mind. In the first place what is often called assisted suicide quickly becomes physician-assisted suicide, and then that begins to justify euthanasia, first what is called passive but then active. That means taking actions positive actions to actually bring about death, and yet then it’s another slide from what is called voluntary euthanasia to involuntary euthanasia. When you look at some of the nations in Europe, including the Netherlands and Belgium, it is now conceivable that one can demand euthanasia simply because one is run out of meaning in life, and furthermore you know have assisted suicide, physician assisted suicide, active euthanasia being applied even to teenagers and children.

Premier Daniel Andrews who is the leader the government there in Victoria state and Australia assures the world that the legislation passed there is in his words the most conservative of any jurisdiction. In his specific words he said that Victoria’s law is,

“most conservative voluntary assisted dying model that has ever been proposed — let alone implemented — anywhere in the world.”

Just consider how many words he had to use in order to describe the law he declares to be so conservative: “voluntary assisted dying model.” Opponents of the legislation noting what has happened in so many other nations and jurisdictions warned that the current restrictions that are defined as so conservative are not likely to last very long. But there’s another very important worldview aspect of this story. It’s the revelation that the Australian Medical Association did not support the law. Lorraine Baker identified as the president of the Victoria branch of the Australian Medical Association said this, extremely revealing,

“Historically, for the medical profession, everything is about preserving life. That is such a fundamental ethical principle over centuries. However,” she says, “we’re living in a society where now, in first world countries, life can be prolonged. Therefore, by default, apparent suffering can be prolonged.”

Now just notice how she began the sentence. She began the sentence saying that for the entire history of the medical profession, I’ll use her words again,

“everything is about preserving life.”

Dr. Baker even if she appeared to be laying the groundwork for physicians adopting physician-assisted suicide went on to say that the majority of her colleagues unsurprisingly she said were opposed.

Finally on this story another very interesting worldview observation. It has to do with the fact that in this case the head of the medical society said that this is a matter we’re talking here about euthanasia, we’re talking about assisted suicide, we’re talking about life and death, she says that it’s a matter that is larger than medicine. Ultimately she said a matter for society and the government. But just notice how arbitrary that is. How often we are told now that we are to accept the sole authority of science and often specifically of medicine. We are told that when it comes to abortion the only meaningful moral participants are in the words of the Roe v. Wade a woman and her physician. But now you have at least one major physician officer in Australia saying now wait just a minute this is to big an issue for doctors who by the way are overwhelmingly opposed to it. What do we observe here? Well we observe just how these kinds of arguments work in public. When the authority of medicine is for your argument, then cite it. When it’s against your argument, then say it’s an issue bigger than medicine. In both of these cases from Ireland and from Australia the big story is the loss of the binding authority of historic Christian morality and behind that the loss of the binding authority of the historic biblical understanding of the sanctity of human life.

Part III

As millennials look to horoscopes, belief vacuum at modern embrace of occult is revealed

Next coming back to the United States, recently a couple of very interesting articles on an upsurge of interest amongst modern Americans, particularly amongst Millennials, in horoscopes and astrology. Kari Paul reporting for Market Watch tells us that Millennials are in her words,

“ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology”

The article begins,

“When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t ‘Where do you live?’ or ‘What do you do?’ but ‘What’s your sign?’”

She said,

“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them.”

We’re told that Lang herself is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices. She said,

“It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

That’s a very interesting way to express what she sees is behind this upsurge especially amongst Millennials in terms of horoscopes and astrology,

“a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”

Then Kari Paul goes on to tell us,

“Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials.”

We are also told surprisingly enough in this article, I quote again,

“more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science.”

Now that’s pretty troubling in and of itself that’s a confusion of astronomy and astrology, but it points to an even deeper worldview confusion. By the way that should be contrasted remember that’s more than half of young adults in the United States who confuse astrology with the science. The article tells us that less than 8% of citizens in China make the same mistake. There’s some other interesting dimensions to the article. We are told that,

“The psychic services industry,” maybe you didn’t even know that industry existed, it would include, “astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry,” amongst others, identified here as, “metaphysical services.”

We are told that it,

“grew 2% between 2011 and 2016.”

In terms of money we’re told that is now worth $2 billion annually. We’re taken to a Brooklyn-based metaphysical boutique where we are told that the store offers workshops like,

“‘Witchcraft 101,’ ‘Astrology 101,’ and a ‘Spirit Seance.’”

But in terms of the Christian worldview by far the most significant dimension of this article is a comment made by a proponent indeed a purveyor of astrology who commented about what she calls a belief vacuum in the society. She said,

“There is a belief vacuum: we go from work to a bar to dinner and a date, with no semblance of meaning. Astrology,” she explained, “is a way out of it, a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

Now what this speaks to for our purposes more than anything else is indeed the belief vacuum that now marks our society. And you also see here a very profound way of revealing a spiritual need. She describes astrology as a way out of it. She means a way out of the vacuum,

“a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”

That is exactly a part of what every single human being needs. We need to understand where we fit in the universe where we fit in the cosmos. Now here we must understand that the longing that leads so many people to astrology is not only not going to be met by witchcraft, the occult, astrology or any semblance thereof, but we also have to go further and say it will only be found within authentic biblical Christianity. The only worldview capable of explaining why the cosmos exists and what indeed our part is within it. But it certainly is true that within every heart is a desire to try to place ourselves in the context to use those words again of thousands of years of history and the universe. That is exactly what we all need.

In the article there is also a celebration of figures such as celebrity Gwyneth Paltrow, a former actress, now a corporate CEO in terms of this kind of occultic business. We are told that she and her company offer a variety of spiritual ware including a Jade egg that costs $66 rooted in ancient Taoist practice. She has an $85 Goop medicine bag that supposedly is,

“‘inspired by the Shaman’s medicine bag from various indigenous traditions.”

And she also offers for $59 a tarot card deck that features mystical artwork that we are told,

“mirrors Native American patterns.”

Meanwhile perhaps an even more amazing article by Alexandra S. Levine that appeared in the New York Times. Here she writes,

“Astrology has long had its believers and its cynics, but for a craft so often criticized for being nonscientific and, in some cases, fraudulent, horoscopes still cover the pages and websites of publications in New York and across the globe.”

Now wait just a minute. What in the world does it possibly mean to say that astrology has often been criticized for being nonscientific and then put the words in some cases fraudulent? Does that mean that the New York Times believes that some horoscopes might not be fraudulent? Well I don’t think so. Why? Because this article on horoscopes in the New York Times also explains why the New York Times does not and has never featured horoscopes. The article itself is interesting in every single way. The headline,

“Horoscope Writers Lean on the Stars to Help Make Sense of the World.”

But even as within the article there appears to be a debate amongst astrologers and amongst the horoscope writers as to whose legit and whose fraudulent, it turns out that at the end of the day even they seem to understand there is nothing objective to anything that they’re doing. One of the commercial advocates of astrology and horoscopes said,

“Between different astrologers, describing a chart is like poets describing a tree. You’re going to get 20 different poems.”

That source identified as Eric Francisco Coppolino a writer of horoscopes for the Daily News in New York explained the hunger behind horoscopes and their popularity with these words,

“Most people are shellshocked right now. They’re in pain. The world is devastating. People are exhausted. And a purpose of the horoscope at that point becomes a spiritual touchstone.”

That statement again is extremely revealing, but it also points to a hunger that can’t possibly be satisfied by horoscopes and astrology. A hunger that can’t actually be satisfied with anything short of the knowledge of the true and living God. And yet the most devastating refutation of any hope that that hunger can be met and satisfied by astrology is given by the prophet Isaiah. In Isaiah chapter 47, verses 13 to 14, Isaiah writes,

“You are wearied with your many counsels; let them stand forth and save you, those who divide the heavens, who gaze at the stars, who at the new moons make known what shall come upon you. Behold, they are like stubble; the fire consumes them; they cannot deliver themselves from the power of the flame. No coal for warming oneself is this, no fire to sit before!”

In verse 15 Isaiah concludes,

“Such to you are those with whom you have labored, who have done business with you from your youth; they wander about, each in his own direction; there is no one to save you.”

And when Isaiah speaks, Isaiah has the last word.

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.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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