Thursday, Nov 1, 2018

Thursday, Nov 1, 2018

The Briefing

November 1, 2018

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

It’s Thursday, November 1, 2018. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

How do Christianity and Islam differ on the issues of blasphemy and honor?

We’re going to be looking at several different stories from different parts of the world with a common theme today, all in the news just in the last several days. The big issue is blasphemy.

The first news story comes from Pakistan. As reported by The Washington Post, “Pakistan’s highest court has spared the life of a Christian woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, in a long-awaited ruling prompting celebration among human rights activists and countrywide protests by religious parties.”

Asia Bibi, a mother and farmer, had spent eight years seeking mercy from appeals courts while imprisoned on death row. Pakistan Supreme Court acquitted her on charges of making derogatory remarks about the Muslim Prophet Muhammad, ruling that the evidence against her appeared fabricated and insufficient. Note with alarm the following words, “If she had been found guilty and not received presidential clemency, Bibi would have been the first person hanged under Pakistan’s strict anti-blasphemy law which carries a mandatory penalty of death.”

So as we think about this story, what we are told in just the introductory sentences is that a Christian woman, who had been not only accused, but convicted of blasphemy. A crime that in Pakistan brings a mandatory sentence of death, she has been acquitted by that nation’s highest court because the court said that the state had failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that she had indeed blasphemed the Prophet Muhammad.

At the very same time, we need to note that the high court in Pakistan never raised the issue as to whether or not blasphemy should be a crime. It did not raise the issue at all as to whether the rightful punishment for the crime of blasphemy in Pakistan should be mandatory hanging. It simply asked the question as to whether or not this Christian woman had actually committed the crime.

What we’re going to see on today’s edition of The Briefing is that blasphemy as an issue, as potentially a crime or not a crime, it has appeared in recent stories in Pakistan, also in Ireland, and then before the European courts. What we’re going to be seeing is that the issue of blasphemy represents a major divide, a major undeniable, very important worldview divide on the world scene today. And we’re also going to see that modern nations in Europe, secular nations to the core, are now having a very difficult time understanding if they believe that blasphemy is a crime or should be a crime or not.

Looking again at the story that was datelined yesterday from Islamabad in Pakistan, what is most concerning is not the fact that the court acquitted this woman, that’s reassuring. What’s of greatest concern and should be of international concern, is that increasingly in the Muslim world, blasphemy is considered not only a crime, but a crime that can only be punishable by death. And in Pakistan, even as the nation’s highest court acquitted this particular woman, this led to outrage and indeed violent protests on the streets of many major Pakistani cities.

The worldview divide we are seeing here is first of all between the Muslim world and the rest of the world. It is the Muslim world that increasingly understands blasphemy to be a crime and understands the responsibility of the state, of the government to prosecute this crime all the way to the death penalty. And at the very center of that Islamic concern is the honor of the Prophet Muhammad and the realities that extend from the prophet and the Quran and Islamic teaching.

But what we are seeing here is a fundamental theological issue. In Islam it is considered the responsibility of a faithful Muslim to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad. Again, in Pakistan, that nation’s highest court raised no question as to whether or not that kind of activity should be a crime, making derogatory remarks against the Prophet should be punishable by death. Indeed, the court did not question whether those derogatory remarks should lead to the death penalty, the court only said that the government had failed to prove the case of this woman beyond a reasonable doubt had committed the crime.

But there are also twists and turns in this story, as you might imagine. As the court recognized, the original complaint against the woman probably came down to a local dispute that had nothing to do with religion at all, but we are seeing that these anti-blasphemy laws are being used routinely in order to suppress religious minorities throughout much of the Muslim world.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Imran Khan, called for calm, but the nation was not calm in light of the high court’s action. We are told, “Bibi, a farmhand and mother, said to be in her late 40s, was accused of blasphemy after arguing with Muslim co-workers nearly a decade ago. She was immediately charged with the crime and put in prison.” The provincial governor of Punjab, where she lived, made speeches defending her and implicitly questioning the blasphemy laws. He was assassinated by his own bodyguard who confessed and later said that he had shot his boss to defend Islam. Again, this is reported by The Washington Post.

We then read this, the killer of the governor, who had defended the woman against the charge, the governor who was assassinated, the killer was hanged by the government for murder in 2016, “but by then,” we are told, “he had become a celebrity cause and a religious hero to many Sunni Muslims. The movement in defense of the Prophet,” we are told, “was born.” The only error in that statement are those last words, the movement in defense of the Prophet Muhammad was born centuries ago. It is at the very heart of historic Islam.

In reality, anti-blasphemy laws throughout much of the Muslim world have called for the death penalty consistently throughout the centuries. But in light of a resurgence of Islam in the modern age, these anti-blasphemy laws and the application of these laws has become more of a social and cultural concern, even an urgency. As The Washington Post reported yesterday, “The cause of defending the Prophet through blasphemy laws has spawned a fervent religious movement in recent years that has attracted millions of mainstream Pakistani Muslims. It has led to mass protests and inroads in Parliamentary elections.”

We need to note that this report is in The Washington Post, one of the most influential, one of the most liberal, one of the most secular newspapers in the western world. And we need to note that in this report, it reports quite accurately that this anti-blasphemy fervor is not on the fringes of the Muslim world, but as it reports, in the very words of The Washington Post, this has now attracted millions of mainstream Pakistani Muslims. And it’s not only in Pakistan. This is becoming common throughout the Muslim dominated world.

At this point, we need to recognize a great worldview divide that is explicitly a theological divide between the Muslim world and the Christian world. In the Muslim world, the logic is very clear. It is the responsibility, given the theological logic and the explicit teachings of the Quran, for a faithful Muslim to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad. That is considered an essential religious duty, defending the honor the Prophet Muhammad.

Christianity, on the other hand, is not an honor religion. Islam is, in its very essence, an honor religion. It is a matter of dignity and the honor of the Prophet. In Christianity, we need to recognize that beginning with the Old Testament prophets and continuing to the gospels and throughout the New Testament, we are told that the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, was despised of men, he was rejected of men, he did not call upon his disciples to defend his honor. Instead, he declared that he would, on the end of the days, defend his own honor and until then, his disciples are not to defend his honor. It was shortly before his crucifixion that Jesus refused to defend his honor and he also told his disciples that they were not to use the sword in defense of his honor.

Christians are assigned the mission of preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ, not defending the honor of Jesus Christ. That is a fundamental distinction. Now that’s not to say that throughout much of European and western civilization there has not been blasphemy laws. There have been. But those laws are not driven by the logic of Christianity. And long before the rise of the modern age, there was a turn against blasphemy as an understood responsibility of the state, of the government.

In the western world, driven by understandings of human dignity and human rights deeply rooted in Christianity, an understanding of religious liberty and freedom of speech and freedom of thought, freedom of expression has led to the fact that blasphemy laws have become largely unthinkable in the western world. To state the matter just as simplistically as possible, anti-blasphemy laws and free speech are fundamentally incompatible.

Furthermore, anti-blasphemy laws put the state, put the government in the position of making theological judgments. What is actually constituted by blasphemy? What kind of speech is blasphemous? What kind of action represents an insult to the dignity of a religion? What truth claims are to be recognized as privileged and unassailable? Those are theological questions and over the last several centuries in the western world, it has been understood that theological questions are not the responsibility of government. That is exactly the opposite logic increasingly dominant in the Muslim world.

But something else we need to recognize here is that there is an increasing temptation in the west, especially amongst the politically correct and amongst the cultural elites, to say that any criticism of Islam is a representation of, you’ve heard it before, Islamophobia. That simply meets the modern expectation of the left that if you resist something that the left prizes, it must be because you fear it and do not understand it.

But in this case, it’s actually the documented reporting of The Washington Post, which is likely to complain about any sign of Islamophobia it sees, its own reporter, in its own pages, in its words has described the fact that this kind of blasphemy concern, as represented even by calls for the death penalty and the assassination of public leaders in Pakistan, all of this has become even a concern of mainstream Muslims throughout much of Pakistan and beyond Pakistan, throughout much of the Muslim world.

So what you see here is a confusion in the secular left. Do we take theology seriously? How do we take theology seriously? We do not take theology seriously if that theology is Christianity. But if we don’t take that theology seriously, if it’s Islamic theology, then perhaps we are insulting Muslims. That’s a very contorted form of reasoning that represents the very deep confusion in the post-Christian secular west.

Now just consider where we are, just looking at this news story from Pakistan. The western world looks at blasphemy laws and says, “No one should have those laws. Those laws represent a repressive past. We should get over those laws.” The laws are scary in a nation like Pakistan. We should not put the state in the position of defending religion or even making religious judgments. Blasphemy might be a religious concern, but it’s not a governmental concern. But what’s truly troubling is that the secular west can’t keep that story straight. Again, we’re talking about the theme of blasphemy in major news just over the last several days.

Part II

As Europe sends contradictory messages on blasphemy laws, we see that a secular society can’t stay secular for long

So, let’s switch from Pakistan to Strasbourg in France. A story is reported by The Wall Street Journal over the weekend. It’s reported by Bojan Pancevski, the headline is this, “Woman Who Insulted Islam Loses in Europe Court.” Again, we’re here talking about Europe. As the reporter tells, “Europe’s highest Human Rights Court ruled on Friday,” that’s just last Friday, “that disparagement of religious doctrines such as insulting the Prophet Muhammad, isn’t protected by freedom of expression and can be prosecuted.” This is a major story by any estimation.

The Wall Street Journal report continues, “The European Court of Human Rights upheld a 2011 verdict by an Austrian court that sentenced an unnamed woman to pay a fine for alleging that the figurehead of Islam had pedophilia tendencies.” Listen to the story unfold. The woman was originally convicted under Austria’s law against disparaging religious doctrines for referring to the marriage between the Prophet Muhammad and a six-year-old girl as pedophilia. This in a 2009 seminar which was sponsored by the Right Wing Freedom Party and entitled, “Basic Information About Islam.”

Now again, let’s just slow down a moment and consider what we’re looking at here. We are looking at an Austrian court convicting a European citizen of the crime of insulting Muhammad because she said that it was pedophilia that the prophet Muhammad had been married to a girl, in this case, according to Islamic tradition and sources, a nine-year-old girl.

Now this very same court would find, in any other situation, that a 50ish man married to a nine-year-old girl would represent pedophilia, and certainly would represent a deep moral horror. But you have the very same court saying that when a woman said this about the Prophet Muhammad, her speech is not indeed protected by free expression laws and she has been convicted and her conviction has been upheld for insulting the Prophet Muhammad.

I think the scariest part of this report in The Wall Street Journal are these words, “The European Court of Human Rights said it rejected her appeal after finding that the Austrian courts,” and here’s the quote, “carefully balanced her right to freedom of expression with the right of others to have their religious feelings protected and serve the legitimate aim of preserving religious peace in Austria.”

Now, here you have the European Court of Human Rights quoting there the Austrian court. And you will notice that the balancing that is called for here, the balancing that is verified and affirmed by the high court in Europe, it is the responsibility or even the authority claimed by the Austrian government to guard speech within that nation in order to prevent any citizen’s religious feelings from being offended.

Religious feelings from being offended? Let’s just consider how out of step that is with the entire logic of western civilization. Let’s just consider the fact that it’s inconceivable that this Austrian court would have brought any similar kind of charge or conviction against someone who might have offended the religious feelings of Christians. But then again, biblical Christians should make clear we do not believe that the government has the responsibility or the authority to be concerned one way or another about our own religious feelings.

It’s also important to recognize that Christians have a moral responsibility, a Christian responsibility, but not a legal responsibility to speak only in ways that are accurate and respectful of our neighbors. And that would include what our neighbors believe, all the major belief systems of the world. But it is also impossible, if we are going to be convictional Christians, that even defending the Gospel or telling people the Gospel can avoid offending someone’s religious feelings. That’s simply impossible. And the American understanding of religious liberty, which after all, was supposedly the same understanding of religious liberty enshrined in Europe, it was the liberty to risk offense in order to the have the liberty to speak the truth, to speak out of our own, anyone’s own religious convictions.

The European court on human rights also ruled that this woman had offended the law because her speech “goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate and in its effect, could stir up prejudice and put at risk religious peace.” Now, just consider again that language. It’s the very language of the court. The court first in Austria, reaffirmed by the European Court on Appeal. The judgment here is twofold, that the woman’s speech goes beyond the permissible limits of an objective debate. In whose judgment? How exactly is that judgment to be made? It’s very clear, when you look at this court decision, that it is merely a kind of negotiated pragmatic judgment. It’s not being judged on principle at all. It’s actually being judged, dangerously enough, in anticipation of what kind of subjective reaction might come from others. It’s exactly the opposite of the way that western courts are supposed to work.

And then the court also found that she had violated the law by stirring up prejudice, at least theoretically or possibly, and also potentially putting at risk religious peace. Religious peace, that’s the responsibility of the government? How exactly would the government define religious peace? And how would it identify crimes against religious peace? In this case, that’s exactly what the court in Austria and the European Court of Human Rights has decided to do.

We need to understand that what’s going on here is a desire to try to maintain peace, even at the expense of constitutional liberties. It’s an attempt to try to negotiate some kind of cultural settlement which would accommodate Islam. Even if this means not accommodating the free speech or free expression rights of Christians or other non-Muslims in Europe. It also puts the government in a position, we need to recognize, the governments have now declared themselves to have this responsibility to maintain the religious peace and thus to deal judicially and legislatively with explicitly theological and religious matters.

Make no mistake, these courts have decided that they are going to render essentially theological judgments. The very same courts that have defended the honor of the secularity of European law. This is a court of the very same European governmental system that refused just a few years ago even to acknowledge in its official documents that Europe had a Christian history. Not mention any kind of legitimate Christian influence in the present. That’s so unthinkable, it would not even be acknowledged by the new European union. But when you look at this court, the court has decided that that’s how it applies to Christianity, even in the past. When it comes to Islam, especially in the present, it’s going to be a different story.

But then I mention Ireland before we leave the blasphemy theme because it also appears in the news in recent days. As reported from London in The Guardian on the 27th of October. The headline, “Ireland Votes to Oust ‘Medieval’ Blasphemy Law.” The subhead in the article, “Decision is the latest in ‘quiet revolution’ of seismic social and political changes in the country.”

The referendum last week saw Irish voters vote to remove the prohibition on blasphemy. And you had the chairperson of Atheist Ireland saying, “It means that we’ve got rid of a medieval crime from our constitution that should never have been there.” Now that’s an interesting argument, it makes sense coming from an atheist. But you’ll notice, this is a statement in Ireland, made the same week that is utterly contradictory to that statement made by the European Court of Human Rights.

What makes the article even more interesting is how The Guardian explains the meaning of this anti-blasphemy law that has now been removed in Ireland. We are told that it is to celebrated because it represents the decline of Christian influence even in heavily Catholic Ireland. And furthermore, it also tells us that even as in Ireland, right-minded people are to celebrate the removal of this law, the law actually hasn’t led to any prosecution in a very, very, very long time. It’s an archaic law that doesn’t even make sense in modern Ireland.

But as we’re thinking about the European court’s concern about offended religious feelings, in that case of Muslims, let’s look in contrast to how The Guardian reports the story from Ireland. “Three years ago, Irish police investigated comments made by comedian Stephen Fry on TV, when he described God as ‘capricious, ‘mean-minded, and an ‘utter maniac’. They,” meaning the Irish police, “ultimately dropped the case, deciding that not enough people had been outraged.”

Well, exactly how many people would have to be outraged before it would supposedly be a concern of the Irish police? I would argue it should never be a concern of the Irish police, but apparently the Irish police thought it was only a concern if a sufficient number of people had been outraged. But in increasingly secular Ireland, but evidently in increasingly secular Ireland, an insufficient number of people were outraged, so there is no crime. That is absolute nonsense. But it’s not tame nonsense, it is dangerous nonsense. Especially when you consider how there was utter nonsense that came from the European Court of Human Rights the very same week.

The Christian responsibility to tell the truth means that we must speak accurately. That’s also a matter of respect. The Christian responsibility to love our neighbor means that we must speak respectfully, even when we disagree. Even when ultimate religious convictions are at stake. But what we see is that once again a secular society doesn’t stay secular for long. And, when you’re looking at post-Christian Europe, it’s a secular society that has basically disarmed itself against even understanding how to deal with any strong theological argument.

Europe declared its secularism in response to its refusal to accept a strong Christian argument. Now it faces a strong Muslim argument. And as we can see, there are basically no defenses in Europe against a strong Islamic argument.

Christians must remember the theological definition of blasphemy. It is an insult to the character of God. And we also understand that according to the Bible, God takes that with infinite seriousness. The church takes it with seriousness in making sure that no blasphemous speech would happen amongst ourselves, much less in our worship. And of course, we grieve when we hear any blasphemous speech.

But there’s a difference between grieving and calling the police. That’s a distinction that Christians must recognize. It is not our responsibility to defend the honor of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. That is not because our Christ’s honor is not of ultimate importance and will not be defended. It will be defended, he will defend it. The book of Revelation makes that abundantly clear. But that is not our responsibility and that is not now, but then.

Part III

The politicization of ice cream: Ben & Jerry’s joins the ‘Resistance’ in most recent display of corporate activism

But finally, as we bring The Briefing to a close today, we have to recognize that nonsense, of course, is not limited to Europe or elsewhere in the world. There is plenty of nonsense right here at home. Yesterday’s edition of USA Today, on the front page of the money section, tells us that national politics and this nation’s deep political divide is now showing up in a new flavor of ice cream.

Yes, it’s on the front page of the money section of yesterday’s USA Today. The story is by Zlati Meyer, the headline is this, “Pecan Resist Arrives Just In Time For the Midterms,” the subhead, “Ben & Jerry’s launches Trump-inspired dessert.” I report to you the story as USA Today tells us the story.

“Ben & Jerry’s is launching a new flavor, Pecan Resist, which the company made to promote activism in the United States. The Limited Batch flavor – chocolate ice cream with white and dark fudge chunks, pecans, walnuts and fudge-covered almonds – is part of the company’s campaign to ‘lick injustice and champion those fighting to create a more just and equitable nation for us all.'” That according to Ben & Jerry’s on Tuesday.

No kidding? Here you have an ice cream company declaring that with a limited batch flavor, it is going to campaign and it’s going to lick injustice, it’s going to champion those fighting to create a more just and equitable nation. And let’s just note, somebody’s buying this. And I don’t mean the ice cream.

The article also tells us that Ben & Jerry’s is going to donate $25,000.00 to four activist organizations and the company released a statement saying, We “cannot be silent in the face of President Trump’s policies that attack and attempt to roll back decades of progress on racial and gender equity, climate change, LGBTQ rights and refugee and immigrant rights – all issues that have been at the core of the company’s social mission for 40 years.”

USA Today then tells us the ice cream maker made the announcement at the National Press Club’s First Amendment Room in Washington D.C. What do we note here? Here we have a company that is trying to promote activism and also to exercise one giant act of virtue-signaling by releasing a limited batch ice cream timed for the midterm elections in the United States. Otherwise, you could just say this is yet another form of cultural insanity.

This kind of corporate liberal moral activism isn’t new for Ben & Jerry’s. We are told by USA Today that, for example, Chubby Hubby became Hubby Hubby in 2009 to celebrate same-sex marriage in Vermont. Chocolate Fudge Brownie was temporarily renamed Food Fight Fudge Brownie to support GMO labeling and EmpowerMint in 2016 was used to promote voting rights, that according to the company.

It’s, of course, highly questionable as to whether those who were eating the ice cream, thinking that it actually was ice cream, had any intention to send a political message. It’s more likely that they actually just liked the ice cream. But buyer beware, these days ice cream isn’t just ice cream. Not especially when it’s named Hubby Hubby.

But on the other hand, perhaps we should take seriously the warning that is now coming to us from Ben & Jerry’s ice cream that when you eat certain ice cream, you’re not just consuming ice cream, you’re not just consuming calories, you’re also consuming a worldview. I’m not making that accusation; Ben & Jerry’s is very proud to declare it themselves in their own words in their own flavor.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

Human life inevitably progresses through four stages. As Christians, we’re summoned not only to recognize the stages of life, but to live in them as God intends for his glory. That’s why I wrote a new book entitled, “Life In Four Stages: A Biblical Celebration of Childhood, Youth, Adulthood, and Age.” If you want to explore what it means to live for God’s glory in every stage of life, you can download this e-book for free today at That’s

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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