Friday, March 30, 2018
Friday, Mar. 30, 2018
Tags: Audio, Easter, Good Friday, Happiness, Resurrection, Richard Dawkins, Science
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It's Friday, March 30, 2018. I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news, and events from a Christian worldview.
Elites who call for the end of Christianity might not like what comes next
On Tuesday of this week, we looked at alarming new research from a major British University indicating that the velocity of secularization in Europe is now speeding along faster, advancing more quickly even then had been understood, a matter of just a few months ago. The research indicates that young adults in Europe, that is young Europeans, aged 16 to 29, are now so essentially secular that they do not even have a memory of Christianity. They never had an experience, or an exposure to Christianity that they might even now be reacting, or rebelling against, they are truly in a post-Christian situation.
Now the reason we're looking at that again today is because we need to remind ourselves that those who had prophesied secularization, especially the intellectual elites, who championed atheism, and declared its eventual victory over Christianity in Europe, those persons celebrated the idea that one day atheism, and secularity would be triumphant, and Christianity would be in retreat.
Fast forward to the 1990s, and the arrival of the so-called new atheism. Think of someone like Richard Dawkins, a former professor, perhaps the most recognized evolutionary scientist in the world, holding one of the most important chairs that is positioned amongst any scientific faculty, but this at Oxford University. And consider Richard Dawkins, who had written the book The God Delusion that in many ways was the central leading manifesto of the new atheism, Richard Dawkins who said that the legacy of Christianity is intellectual repression, and a backwardness that simply must be overcome. Richard Dawkins, who said that Christianity is basically a long period of darkness from which Europe must appear in the light, that Richard Dawkins responded to that very same research we talked about this week, not by celebrating the demise of Christianity, but by warning Europeans that there just might be something worse, even worse on the horizon.
Dawkins in a tweet this week said, "Let's not forget Hilaire Belloc and his menacing rhyme, 'Always keep a hold of nurse for fear of finding something worse.'" Now what might be that something worse? Interestingly, it turns out the secularization in Europe isn't happening the way that the advocates of secularity had expected. But the ominous fear of Richard Dawkins and others, is that Europe, though post-Christian will not be post-theological, and their great fear is that that theology will not be Christianity, but Islam.
We discussed the research on Tuesday. On Wednesday, Richard Dawkins tweeted this, "Before we rejoice at the death throes of the relatively benign Christian religion, let's not forget Hilaire Belloc's menacing rhyme, 'Always keep a hold of the nurse for fear of finding something worse.'" Now you've heard the entire statement. What becomes clear is that Richard Dawkins is now describing Christianity in very different terms than he was during the 1990s.
It's not because he has become in any new sense of theist, abandoning his atheism, it is because even as an atheist, considering European society, the historic civilization that has honored human dignity, the very civilization that allows a university like Oxford University, and even allows the freedom of expression of an atheist like Richard Dawkins, Richard Dawkins has all of a sudden appeared to realize, we just might miss Christianity when it is no longer present.
Caleb Park of Fox News points to the fact that this isn't the very first time Richard Dawkins has expressed this kind of sentiment, but in previous expressions, it has not been quite this clear. For example, in times past, Dawkins has referred to Christianity as possibly, "A bulwark against something worse." So there's that expression yet again, something worse. Just in case there might be any mystery about what something worse might be to this very influential atheist in Great Britain, well he is also previously said, "It's tempting to say all religions are bad, and I do say all religions are bad, but it's a worse temptation to say all religions are equally bad, because they're not." He went on to say, and I quote, "If you look at the actual impact that different religions have on the world it's quite apparent that at present the most evil religion in the world has to be Islam."
Now one of the interesting realizations behind this, and a realization that surprisingly enough seems all too rare, even amongst western liberal secularists, is the fact that without Christianity they are not facing an intellectual vacuum, they are not facing an atheist panacea, they are facing a resurgent Islam. Even though the western elites, those very same western elites insist that any criticism of Islam is described as Islamophobia rooted only in fear, and in misrepresentation of Islam, the reality is that those very same intellectuals know that they can only make such comments safely outside Islamic control, outside a nation that is dominated by Islam much less ruled by Islamic law.
Christians looking at these statements by Richard Dawkins, his sudden appreciation for the cultural importance of Christianity as expressed over against his concerns about Islam, Christians have to look at comments like these with a certain degree of irony, with a certain amount of ironic amusement. But of course, this isn't amusing at all. It is simply very interesting to watch the elites who had called for the end of Christianity all of a sudden realize that they might not like what they get once Christianity is in full eclipse.
But there's an unspoken affirmation behind this that's also very important, and one that we dare not miss, and that is this, western society, even as it exists today, is only explainable as it is understood explicitly on a Christian foundation, the inheritance of the civilization that Christianity formed. The western civilization we know as Europe, the western civilization as a cultural project, it was not begun as an atheist project it did not come out of a Hindu, or a Buddhist, or an Islamic world view. It came, and it came only in the full inheritance of Christianity, and the influence of the Christian church, and the formative principles of Christian theology.
The view of human dignity held by western societies, the view of human dignity that Richard Dawkins does not want to lose is an understanding of human dignity that was explicitly grounded in a biblical world view, and the understanding that every single human being is God's creation, and what you're looking at here is a certain kind of panic among the secularists. Interestingly enough a certain form of panic amongst even one of the four horsemen of the so-called new atheism.
To those western liberals back in the 19th, and 20th centuries, the decline of Christianity looked like liberation, but now to those who have called for that liberation, but are looking squarely in the face of the reality that might now be coming, it doesn't look so much like liberation, as threat.
Why the Christian worldview never settles for mere happiness
But next, after thinking about how unhappy atheists might be if they did get what they asked for, we turn to another question about happiness, it might be even more fundamental. Just how happy should you be? Just how happy should you aim to be?
An article in the Atlantic by Lona Frank asked the question, can electronically stimulating your brain make you happy? The sub-head in the article, when doctors can directly access patients' cerebral reward networks, someone has to decide just how good people should feel. Now what's behind this is new medical technology that has over the last several years allowed physicians to reach the cerebral reward networks in the human brain by artificial external electronic stimulation, but that raises the huge philosophical, the huge moral world view question that is embedded in the sub-head of this article. If indeed happiness can now come at the push of a button by electronic stimulation, how happy should human beings desire, and intend to be, even demand to be?
Lona Frank points to the question being asked in a major scientific article, how happy is too happy? That appeared in an official paper in a medical journal. It went back to 2012, and as Frank explains, the article was grappling with the issue of how we deal with the possibility of manipulating people's moods and feelings of happiness through brain stimulation. She went on to say, "If you have direct access to the reward system, and can turn the feeling of euphoria up or down, who decides what the levels should be, the doctors, or the person whose brain is on the line?"
The article in the medical journal dealt with a 33-year-old German man who had been suffering with what was diagnosed as severe OCD, and generalized anxiety syndrome. Years before the writing of the research project, the man's doctors had implanted electrodes in a central part of his brains' reward system, as Frank says, that is the nucleus accumbens, electronically stimulating the patients' brain. It worked rather well on his symptoms, but now it was time to change the stimulator battery. The research was complex, and so is the situation, but the end result was that this man was asked how happy he wanted to be. The happier he wanted to be by electronic stimulation, the shorter would be the shelf like of the battery, which itself costs about 5,000 American dollars.
The question was, which do you want, longer battery life, or more artificial euphoria? The man settled for a kind of median position, but then even before he left the hospital, he demanded that he be given a little more stimulation to lead to even longer, and more intense euphoria. When doctors questioned it, he didn't come back, presumably finding a doctor who would give him the level of stimulation that he wanted.
At one point, the German man had indicated that the high level of electronic stimulation led to a feeling that was, "Fantastic, but a bit too much." He said that there was a little too much ecstasy that was almost out of control, which made his sense of anxiety itself now rise rather than fall. But when the doctors refused to increase the stimulation to what he demanded, the doctors after all said that they were there to reduce pain, not to bring about pleasure, it turned out that the man, again, went shopping, they believe, for a different physician.
Back in 2005, a prominent neurologist physician Helen Mayberg said, "It's not my job as a neurologist to make people happy." She said, "I liberate my patients from pain, and counteract the progress of disease. I pull them up out of a hole, and bring them from minus 10 to zero, but from there, the responsibility is their own. They wake up," said the neurologist, "to their own lives, and to the question, who am I?" But then again, it turns out that a good many of these patients might not want to wake up to that question, and might instead become well nothing less than addicted to euphoria, and the kind of stimulation that this deep brain electronic intervention can bring.
It tells us a great deal about fallen humanity. Humanity on the other side of the Adamic fall, that this neurologist says, "Our nervous system is set up to want more, and to go beyond the boundaries we run into." She went on to say, "You don't want just one pair of shoes, right? I fundamentally believe that you go into people's brains in order to repair something that is broken, but there is something strangely naïve," she said, "about wanting to stimulate the brains' reward system. Ask any expert on addiction," she said, "you will wind up with people who demand more, and more current."
Well indeed it turns out that that's exactly the case, and research in this particular field goes all the way back to 1986 in the journal, the scientific journal entitled Pain, which told the story of a woman, a middle aged American woman, who suffering from pain had a single electrode implanted in her brain, but she became addicted to the feeling, and wanted it to increase to the point that as Frank reports, "Several times, she developed atrial fibrillations due to exaggerated stimulation, and over the next two years, for all intents and purposes, her life went to the dogs." Frank goes on to report, "Her husband and children did not interest her at all, and she often ignored personal needs, and hygiene, in favor of whole days spent on electrical self-stimulation. Finally her family pressured her to seek help at the local hospital, they ascertained among other things, that the woman had developed an open sore on the finger she always used to adjust the current."
From a Christian worldview, understanding the most interesting aspect of this, is this neurologist pointing to the fact that somehow our nature appears to want to break the boundaries, the proper boundaries that would separate pain and normality, and pleasure which is artificially brought about, and on which we can become so dependent this artificial pleasure this ecstasy that is brought about by electronic stimulation deep in the brain. We can evidently become so addicted to it, that the very notion of a normal human life, which let's just be honest, as the scripture makes clear, includes both pain, and pleasure, and for that matter even what the normal human experience would define as boring normality. What you have in this research is an indication of the fact that modern medicine has now detected yet another way that our fallenness becomes all too transparent.
But this brings us to another very important fundamental affirmation of the Christian worldview rooted in scripture, and one to which we need to turn again, and again, but this time, in a very different context. The Christian worldview never settles for happiness. The Bible never tells us that God having made human beings intends for us, most importantly, to be happy. The Christian biblical worldview points us to something far more substantial than happiness. The Christian worldview points us to joy, and that joy is rooted in truth, and that truth is rooted in Christ. Joy is something that can't be taken away from us, even under persecution, even under poverty, and deprivation, even at the very threshold of death.
One background issue in this research, and in the question that is asked here, how happy is too happy, is the fact that this all points to the fundamental truth that human beings could be so easily bought off with happiness, so much so, that we will abandon the real joys of life, and simply satisfy ourselves with happiness. But it's an artificial happiness, and as we've seen here, one point that isn't made very clear in this article, is that this is happiness that lasts only so long as the electrode stays in place, only for so long as the battery maintains its power.
This is a happiness that is promised by the touch of a button, but apparently comes to a crashing end as soon as there's no power behind the button, or as this article also makes clear, one wears the button out. The question asked in that journal, how happy is too happy, is a question that the Christian worldview really doesn't answer. Not because we're unconcerned with happiness, but because we're not all that concerned with happiness. We will not settle for happiness when we know joy, true joy, lasting joy, transcendent joy.
What is good about Good Friday? Reflections on the substitutionary death and bodily resurrection of Christ
Finally that brings us to this day in the Christian calendar, which is known as Good Friday, and that day which looms just three days before us, which the Christian church celebrates as resurrection Sunday. You put those two days together, and what you have is a recounting of the events that lead to our salvation, that atonement accomplished by the Lord Jesus Christ, the sinless savior who died as our substitute in our place, on that Friday we dare to call good. Not good because what happened to Christ was good, but good because what God was doing in Christ was the infinite good of purchasing our salvation.
But Christ's substitutionary death of course would not be good in any sense if that Good Friday were not followed by resurrection Sunday, on the third day as the apostle Paul said, God raised him from the dead. Writing to the Corinthian church in that letter we know as First Corinthians, Paul said to the Corinthians, and by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit of God says to Christians in all places, at all times, that the apostle Paul delivered to the church exactly what he had first received, that Christ died for our sins, according to the scriptures, and that God raised him from the dead, according to the scriptures.
How essential is the bodily, physical resurrection of Christ, the historical, actual reality, resurrection of Christ from the dead to Christianity? It stands at its very center, without the resurrected Christ there is no victory over the tomb, there is no victory over death, there is no victory over sin. I can remember years ago in an evangelism class hearing the professor ask the question, "What do you tell a Christian who doesn't believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead?" I remember indelibly, the professor turning to the student and saying, "What you tell that person is that he or she is not a Christian."
The cross and the empty tomb are not just essential truths of Christianity as the apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, they are the very heart of Christianity. They are the very heart of the gospel, without a space/time, crucifixion of Christ for our sins, as the sinless son of God, as our substitute, without a space/time reality of the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, without, as Paul says, again in First Corinthians 15, "A bodily resurrection, a physical resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, then we are still dead in our sins and trespasses."
The central miracle of the Christian faith is the incarnation of the Lord Jesus Christ. The central miracle of the incarnation is the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. Over a hundred years ago, one of the founding fore professors of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, the renowned scholar Dr. John A. Broadus pointed to the centrality of the bodily resurrection of Christ in these words, "It was the signed manual of his deity. It was the seal of the sovereign of the universe, a fix to his claim. It declared him to be all that he had ever professed to be, and so it establishes the truth of all his teachings, and the truth of the whole Christian society. The great facts," said Broadus, "that Jesus Christ rose from the dead is the central fact of the evidence of Christianity."
Biblical theology points without embarrassment or hesitation always, and everywhere to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the cross, and the empty tomb. Thus, as Paul came to the end of that discourse with the Corinthians, he wrote in these words, "The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law, but thanks be to God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore," said Paul to the Corinthians and to Christians of all ages, "Therefore my beloved brothers, be steadfast immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, your labor is not in vain."
It's in that light and in that truth only that we can speak to one another about this Friday we dare to commemorate, and even to call good. It's only in that light, only in that faith, only in that truth that we can look to one another, and speak to one another as those who know salvation through Jesus Christ and the power of his resurrection. It is only in that light that we understand we would never trade joy for happiness, and in Christ we have a joy that cannot be taken away from us, a joy eternal inexpressible, and immortal.
It is in that light that Christians through the ages have known how to preach the gospel, how to sing the gospel, and how as we are recounting the events of the gospel, we can turn to one another and say, "May the Lord bless you this Good Friday as we wait together for the resurrection Sunday that is to come." Why? Because Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.