briefing, Albert Mohler

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

It’s Wednesday, May 22, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Secularizing America: The Worldview Divide in the American Electorate is Not Just Political, It’s Also Theological

One of the major changes taking place in America is the rising number of Americans who identify as secular in worldview. They might use the word atheist, they might use the word agnostic, they might use humanist or secular. They might use any number of words to describe themselves, they might even continue to claim some kind of religious or spiritual affiliation. But when it comes to their worldview, they are increasingly secular.

Increasing numbers of Americans are identifying as having no religious affiliation whatsoever. The recent data from The Pew Research Center indicates that at least one out of five Americans and one out of three Americans under age 30 now identifies as secular in some way.

How will this affect American politics? Christians understand that one’s worldview inevitably affects everything. And now you’ve got pollsters and political scientists and candidates asking how is this going to affect the 2020 American presidential election.

The Washington Post ran a recent article by David Byler addressing that question. The headline was this, “Religiously unaffiliated voters are leading US politics into uncharted waters.” Byler writes, “Though most Democrats identify as some type of Christian, the narrative about religion and Christianity in the United States has long been dominated by a powerful, well-organized religious right. But in 2019,” he writes, “the religious left is making its own bid for power and relevance.”

Now you might raise the question about the continuity between that leading paragraph and what you see as the headline. The headline talks about religiously unaffiliated, but the article begins by talking about the rise of candidates amongst the Democrats who identify with the religious left. Well, the reason for that incongruity is that Byler is going on to suggest that all of this might change with the rise of an increasing number of religiously unaffiliated voters.

He points to the fact that most of the Democrats still claim some kind of religious identification. And some of them, of course, are now identifying with what’s been described as the religious left. You have seen the case made, that we’ve considered on The Briefing, that South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg is really the representative of a new renaissance of liberal Protestantism in the United States.

But even as you look at that, you come to recognize that when you look at numbers, there aren’t enough people who identify as religious liberals to be highly significant in the election. The number who are now religiously unaffiliated, more explicitly secular, might turn out to be more politically and sociologically important.

But as the Byler article goes on, he tells us that Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and other Democratic candidates, including Mayor Buttigieg, have been talking about their faith on the campaign trail. But, he says, in the background a growing number of Democrats and Republicans have decided not to associate with a specific church or traditional faith. As of 2017, he writes, religiously unaffiliated voters made up a third of all Democrats and 13% of all Republicans.

Now, that’s one of those sentences that requires some kind of background explanation. It also points to further questions. When you’re looking at that 13% among those who identify as Republican, what exactly does that mean? And is 13% higher than when a previous study like this was taken? The big action clearly is now in the Democratic Party in secular direction. We’re talking about one out of three, one third of those who identify as Democrats also identifying as religiously unaffiliated.

But this takes us back to research that’s now over a decade old. Research undertaken by figures such as Robert Putnam at Harvard University, in which one of the most insightful dimensions of recent elections is the fact that if one attended church services the previous Sunday before the election, there was an incredible likelihood that that very same person would vote Republican in a presidential race. And by the same token, if you were to find out that the person did not attend church services the previous Sunday before the election, there is a very good indication that that individual would vote Democratic.

So we’re not just looking at those who explicitly identify as secular, we’re looking at those who live more or less secular lives, or you might say more or less religious lives. At least defining these sociologically.

Byler points out that for the Democrats, this is now a political opportunity because, as he tells us, the religious nones, those with no religious affiliation, now became as numerous as evangelical Christians in the broader population. That is interesting and in statistical surveys, it’s looking that way. You’re looking at the fact that the number of people who identify as evangelical Christians, and the number of people who identify as religiously unaffiliated are now becoming basically equivalent.

But that’s where you have the self-identification problem. One of the issues we face here is that given Constitutional limitations in the United States, the United States census does not ask religious questions. It is actually prohibited from asking questions of religious identity or belief or affiliation. So we are dependent upon other kinds of investigation and all of those studies turn out to be based upon self-identification.

Here is a very interesting thing, it turns out that when you look at church attendance, and you look at the reports on say church affiliation, they don’t add up. People tend to say that they are more religious than they are. But now the coin has also been flipped. Some people now say they are more secular than they actually are.

So, the limitations of this kind of research are very clear, but we’re not contesting the fact that we are looking at increased secularization, and of course that would mean an increased percentage of Americans who one way or another are basically truly identified as secular in some sense.

In one of the most interesting sentences of the article, Byler writes, “The basic numbers suggest that stereotypes about godless, or at least, not-church-synagogue-or-mosque-attending, liberals flocking to the Democratic Party are, on some level, accurate.” That’s a pretty stunning statement published in The Washington Post.

In documentation, Byler points to a study by The Pew Research Center indicating that in the 2016 election, 65% of voters who identified as religiously unaffiliated voted for Hillary Clinton. Only 24% voted for Donald Trump. So there you’re looking at a tremendous demonstrable, now well documented, worldview divide in the American electorate. And that divide is not just partisan, it’s not just political in liberal or conservative terms. It is deeply theological. And that becomes especially clear when you consider the fact that the religiously unaffiliated are explicitly reporting themselves that way.

The worldview implications become very clear in the article. Byler writes, “The Democrats are also in step with religious nones on some key issues. Religiously unaffiliated voters are generally pro-choice,” that’s the language of the article. 74% think abortion should be legal in all or most cases. 72% of those who identify as unaffiliated opt for the new sexual liberty, even at the expense of religious liberty when it comes to the case of “allowing a small business owner in to refuse to provide products or services to gay or lesbian people if doing so violates their religious beliefs.” 79% of those who identify as religiously unaffiliated voters support same-sex marriage. And, as Byler then concludes, “It shouldn’t be surprising that a pro-LGBT, pro-choice, anti-wall group has mostly gravitated toward the Democrats.”

The article gets even more interesting, though not so much in political terms when Byler begins to describe the different varieties of unbelief that are included in this category of the religiously unaffiliated. He cites Daniel A. Cox of the American Enterprise Institute, who used a novel new survey question to find that on a scale from one to ten, one being total certainty that God doesn’t exist, to ten, total certainty that God does exist, atheists were on average 1.6, agnostics 3.8, and the unaffiliated at 5.1. The 5.1 means that there are lots of Americans who are in effect hedging their bets, not willing to say that they really believe that God does exist or doesn’t exist.

Byler goes on to point out, and in worldview analysis there’s absolutely no surprise here, “Religiously unaffiliated Democrats seem to be pulling their party to the left.” That turns out to be a very interesting analysis and it just underlines the fact that even political scientists, or reporters for The Washington Post, have to pay attention to the fact that one’s basic theological worldview will inevitably determine, or at least influence, how one’s going to vote, look at the big questions of life and engage the entire sphere of politics.

Part II

Why Are There No Openly Atheist Candidates for President?

But next we turn to another argument that appeared in The Washington Post, this by columnist Max Boot. The headline of his article, “It’s time for us to have an unapologetic atheist in the Oval Office.” Now let’s consider the headline for a moment, “It’s time for us to have an unapologetic atheist in the Oval Office.” Why the unapologetic insertion there? Well, it’s because Boot’s going to argue that there have been atheists, or at least agnostics, in the Oval Office, but they have not been willing to publicly declare themselves so.

Boot begins his column, “Among the 21 candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, virtually every ethnic, religious, and sexual identity is represented. There’s a gay man, six women, three African Americans, a Chinese American, multiple Catholics and Protestants, even a Hindu. But,” he says, “there is one conspicuous absence: Not a single candidate publicly identifies as an atheist. That’s not to say they are all religious believers,” he insists, “but if they aren’t, they are keeping it to themselves.”

He then raises questions about the worldview of one of the most interesting figures in the race, Independent Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He writes of Sanders, “Although raised Jewish, Sanders has acknowledged that he is ‘not actively involved in organized religion.'” But when he was pressed on this question during the 2016 Democratic race, he equivocated, “It’s a guiding principle in my life, absolutely. You know, everyone practices religion in a different way. To me, I would not be here tonight, I would not be running for president of the United States if I did not have very strong religious and spiritual feelings.”

We just have to do an autopsy of sorts upon that statement, it turns out to be one of the most confused and indeed equivocal statements one could imagine. It appears to be a man who is clearly secular, trying not to appear as secular as he is, and frankly as secular as he has appeared and thought in public and so many other contexts. In the context of running for president, it is still not politically plausible for a candidate to be an out front, absolutely unapologetic atheist.

Boot goes on to complain about this, saying, “So a candidate,” speaking of Bernie Sanders, “who doesn’t mind calling himself a socialist refuses to say that he is a secular humanist, if, in fact,” he says, “that’s what he is.”

That’s really very insightful. The word socialist right now is not so much of an outlier that it would disqualify someone for running for the presidential nomination in the Democratic Party. But evidently acknowledging that one is a secular humanist or an atheist is still a step too far. Why would that be so?

Well, Boot says the reticence is understandable, in his words, given that animus against atheists is one of the last prejudices still acceptable in polite society. That’s a very interesting statement, so that animus against atheists is one of the last acceptable prejudices even in polite society. Where would that be true? It’s clearly not true in elite academia, atheism or agnosticism there is celebrated, it’s not censured. It’s not true amongst the creative elites, it’s not true amongst the media elites, so where would it be true?

Well, it’s true where one gets the job by convincing Americans to vote for you. That’s where it turns out there is still clearly a prejudice against atheists and agnostics when it comes to high office. So what that means is that where the elites get to elect to themselves, tenure or election to a faculty of a university, a job in one of the big positions at Silicon Valley, or for that matter, amongst the cultural elites in Hollywood or the media, where the elites hire the elites, they’re quite willing to hire atheists and agnostics and other secular people.

But when the people get to decide who’s going to be elected senator or governor, or ultimately president of the United States, guess what? They don’t operate like the secular elites. They want to elect someone who at least says that he or she believes in God.

Boot, by the way, identifies himself as someone who is affiliated with Judaism ethnically and culturally, but who is not religiously observant. He’s, in other words, identifying as basically secular himself. He then goes on to make his central assertion and that is that the American people misjudge atheists and thus have not yet supported an atheist candidate for president of the United States because there is an underlying prejudice on the part of voters that an atheist would not be sufficiently moral.

He goes to argue that atheists can be as moral and often are as moral as anyone else. And then he predicts that eventually America will get over the prejudice and sooner or later, and he certainly hopes sooner, there will be an avowed atheist sitting in the Oval Office.

This is not an entirely new argument, it has come up again and again, especially since the number or percentage of religiously unaffiliated Americans is rising. And especially because we have this partisan divide in the United States in which the Democratic Party is certainly trending secular and even more so you could say secular Americans are trending Democratic. And on the other hand, more religiously identified Americans are trending Republican.

So looking at this, the question is really how long will it be before it is acceptable in the Democratic Party to run as, you might say, an out of the closet atheist? And it’s extremely vexing to atheists that you can now have a socialist in the race, who is willing to say he is socialist though not secular, and you can have an openly gay man in the race, who nonetheless identifies as religiously affiliated, but what still seems to be impossible would be to have a straight or gay, male or female, and regardless of ethnic identity, Democrat run identified as an atheist. This is to atheists extremely frustrating.

But let’s look a little more closely at the argument made by Max Boot, the argument against the link between atheism and morality. Once again, we have to look at that question more closely and understand that you have to ask the question very carefully. You have to understand what we’re really talking about here. Would Christians, thinking from a biblical worldview, argue that an atheist cannot be a moral individual, that is making generally upright moral decisions and living a generally upright life by the definitions of secular morality? No, Christians should not make that argument.

There have been noble atheists, when nobility is judged by secular standards. And sometimes, judged by those standards, individual atheists have actually demonstrated a more noble character than some who have identified as religious believers of one sort or another.

So, do Christians argue that an atheist can’t be moral in that sense? No, that’s not our argument. The Christian argument would be that atheism cannot sustain adequate moral judgment, nor produce character. That doesn’t mean, again, that an atheist doesn’t have character and cannot act morally in these secular terms. It does mean that atheism as a worldview is not sufficient to sustain any kind of adequate morality because it denies, here’s a big theological term, any ontological basis to moral truth claims. It denies that there is any absolute right or wrong, but that right or wrong are instead evaluated by a humanistic human secular perspective, and thus it becomes endlessly negotiable.

But Christians understand there’s something even more basic here, even more basic than thinking of worldview. We have to think of what it means to be human. And here’s we have to remember, consistent with the biblical worldview, that even atheists and agnostics, actually secular people no less so than believing Christians, are made in the image of God and thus have a soul. And have, whether they acknowledge it or not, not only a consciousness of God as their Creator, but they also have a moral conscience, which is not there produced by evolution or some kind of mere accident, it is there because written on their hearts is actually a good deal of the moral law. So much so that when an atheist thinks that as an atheist, he or she is being moral by atheist standards, the very standards by which they are operating in their own conscience, are actually, we understand, put there by God, whether or not they recognize that.

Part III

This Just In: A Man Can’t Have a Baby

But next, we’re going to look at another of the inevitable consequences of increasingly secular worldview, and we’re going to see again that the problem is the separation of ontology, that is absolute being, from the questions of morality. Christian theology grounds morality in the absolute existence of God. And thus when you have a secular worldview, you have a very hard time grounding morality in anything other than some kind of human invention or social construction. Some kind of intuition that the secularist can only attribute to something like evolution.

But let’s just consider that when we look at the headline story from NBC News, “Trans dads tell doctors: ‘You can be a man have a baby.'” Well, let’s just stop right there and say, no, you can’t.

Julie Compton reporting this ridiculous story for NBC News, tells us, “When Jay Thomas decided he wanted to get pregnant in 2016, he spoke to his physician. Thomas, a cook who lives in Louisville, Kentucky, explained to his doctor that he and his wife, Jamie Brewster, a bank employee, are both transgender, and that he had been on testosterone for more than two years. The physician said Thomas had likely gone through early menopause, and that if they were able to conceive at all, he would have to go off the hormone for at least 18 months. But none of that turned out to be true, according to Thomas, who gave birth to the couple’s son Dorian, age 2, less than a year after that doctor’s appointment.”

So here you have celebrated in this article the fact that we are now able to reach the point that a man can give birth to a baby. But, of course, that’s not true. And this article, which is supposed to tell us that it’s true, actually at every fundamental level tells us it’s not true.

Just consider the fact that what you have here, even through all of this confusion, is what can only be rightly described as heterosexual reproduction. Heterosexual reproduction, the reproduction of a human baby, requires a male and a female. It requires a sperm cell and an egg. It requires, at one point or another, the egg and the sperm to come together. And, once that happens and the gift of life is given, then you have a baby. And in every case, the successful birth of that baby requires the process of gestation in a womb. And that womb, regardless of what the transgender revolutionaries want to claim, is actually the womb of a woman.

So, in the photograph in this article, you have a person presented as a man, and an individual presented as a woman. But when it came to reproduction, the one presented as a man was actually functioning as a woman. And the one presented as a woman was actually functioning as a man. As they say, you do the math.

But the big worldview issue for us to consider is the fact that this was reported on NBC News and is thus a form of moral signaling in the society telling us that this is the way we are supposed to see reality. We are supposed to look at the photograph and say, “Yeah, we’ll go with that.” But the article then again makes very clear, that’s not going to work. The article is arguing that it will work, but if you read the article you understand it won’t work.

Speaking of the advice from the physician, the article continues, “It’s just one example of the misinformation and discouragement transgender men say they face from the medical establishment when they decide to get pregnant, a problem,” says the article, “advocates and experts blame on a lack of training and research around transgender health care, as well as doctors’ biases.”

This is the predictable kind of argument. It’s prejudice, once again, that limits people from understanding that a man can have a womb and give birth to a baby. And you can have a woman who can impregnate another human being. But I want us to see how this article, trying to tell us that this is real and good and the future, actually points out that it’s not.

Consider these words, “There is no data on how many transgender men and nonbinary people give birth in the United States each year, because medical systems track them as female.” Well, why would that be the case? Why would medical systems track individuals having babies as female? It is because if you’re actually going to practice medicine, regardless of what you’re going to say, regardless of how you might take a political pose, regardless of how progressive you might want to appear to be, you are going to have to treat that pregnant woman as a woman.

A part of the difficulty in talking about this on The Briefing is that there is vocabulary in this NBC report that I’m not going to be able to cite. But let me just say that one of the open assertions in the article is that when you have male parts and female parts, that doesn’t mean the individual is either male or female. But, of course, it does! And if one is going to practice medicine, of if one’s going to have a baby, it really does matter and it cannot not matter, no matter how much nonsense you try to accept or advocate.

Further evidence that the transgender revolution is not going to work and that it can have deadly consequences comes later in the NBC report. “Transgender and nonbinary people describe gaps in medical professionals’ understanding ranging from an ultrasound technician calling them by the wrong name to doctors who tell them hormone therapy probably ruined their fertility. The consequences,” we are told, “can be dire.” Again, this is a direct quote from the article. “A recently published case study described a transgender man who went to an emergency room with severe abdominal pain, but doctors were slow to realize that he was pregnant and in danger. The man delivered a stillborn baby several hours later.”

It’s really hard to come up with more concentrated nonsense in just one sentence than that. The patient is even described in the report as a man after the medical authorities are castigated for believing that it was a man who was presenting, claiming to be a man, and they missed the fact that this man they insist was pregnant, and thus they missed the pregnancy and this led to the death of the baby. Even after that, we are told, “Doctors were slow to realize that he was pregnant and in danger.”

One of the basic principles of the Christian worldview, I remind us, is that ontology trumps autonomy, which is to say, being as created by God, trumps all of our self-perceptions, our claims to autonomy. Even all the social constructions about what it means to be male and female. The bottom line in this story is that it begins by telling us about a couple identified as both being transgender, who have had a baby, but when you read the article, you find out they actually had a baby the very old fashioned way.

And regardless of what they want to tell us and celebrate as the switching of these gender identities, it took a male and a female, a man and woman, to make this baby. But the real question is whether or not any civilization can survive this level of attempted nonsense. That’s the big question that is certainly not asked in this article.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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I’ll meet you again tomorrow for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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