briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, September 20, 2019

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

It’s Friday, September 20, 2019. I’m Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part I

Mercury Retrograde, Ayahuasca, and Amazonian Frog Secretion: New Age Therapy Makes It into the Mainstream

One of the interesting patterns to watch in our society is how movements and ideas that begin on the cultural fringe begin to move into the cultural mainstream. Just take for example, the New Age movement as it has been known for the last 20 years or so. The New Age movement was considered at first a fringe movement. It was something of an elite preoccupation. It had to do with ideas that were outside of the cultural norm. But you also had a movement that attracted a great deal of attention from the cultural elite and from the media. Hollywood was very enamored with the New Age movement and so were many people on both coasts, and for that matter, a good many places in between. But one of the things that made the New Age movement unique when it began is that after all, it was declaring the dawn of a new age, a new spiritual age.

Now in worldview analysis, we have to note that with the New Age movement came at least two or three interesting developments. One was the eclipse of biblical theism. That is, the biblical understanding of God. The entire biblical worldview had to be in retreat for the New Age movement to appear. But there was something else. And that is that even as the New Age movement declared itself to be a New Age, it really drew from many ancient forms of paganism.

Now, a couple of those ancient forms of paganism require a little closer attention. You have animism, that is the idea that everything is alive, that there are spirits within just about any inanimate object. Then you have the ideas of pantheism and panentheism. If that sounds like a lot of syllables, just consider the fact that pantheism means that everything is God, and God is everything. Panentheism says that God is in everything, even as God is greater than everything put together.

How does that actually work out in the worldview? Well in pantheism, you end up worshiping just about everything, because everything is God. There aren’t many pantheists today in that sense. But panentheism says that even though God is a spirit and larger than objects in the world, those objects can contain God. God can be in them. Then there is also this animism, pantheism, panentheism. It all gets swirled together. Frankly, it often comes down at the popular level to people just adding water and stirring their own spiritual worldview. And declaring it their own religion, or their own outlook on life.

Very famously about 30 years ago, the sociologist Robert Bellah did a vast study on the religious beliefs of Americans. In one very important part of that research, he interviewed a woman named Sheila. She described her own religious beliefs as being so individual, that at the end of the day, what now just declared her religion to be Sheila-ism. That’s the direction of the New Age movement, eventually it just becomes you-ism.

But as we’re talking about movements that begin in the fringe, moving at least closer to the center, The New York Times had an interesting article lately. It’s by Sanam Yar. The headline: “New Age Care Finds a Place in Therapy.” Now, therapy in this case, is not just some kind of esoteric psychotherapeutic action. It has to do with the kinds of therapy that people actually pay for, and insurance sometimes contributes to or covers. We’re talking about moving closer to the mainstream, that’s what explains the interest in the headline.

Yar begins the article this way, “Jonathan Kaplan, a clinical psychologist in New York recently noticed that more and more of his clients are referring to mercury being in the retrograde. ‘I’m not familiar with cosmic cycles,’ he said. Instead, his specialty is cognitive behavioral therapy.” The psychologist went on to say, “Nor do I try to be, but I want to understand what that means to a person and how that influences their understanding of the world.” The New York Times then summarizes, “Now he like many other therapists is learning something new, to better communicate with patients. Alternative treatments, rituals, and metaphysical organizing principles loom large in popular culture.”

The article goes on to say, “Astrology and tarot cards have permeated apps and social media. Sound baths and other forms of energy medicine appear not only in healing centers but also in hospitals.” Let’s just pause there again, moving from the cultural fringe to the mainstream. Moving from some kind of post office box or some kind of abandoned store in a largely marginalized strip mall, to ending up at the hospital and on the medical chart.

Speaking of this pattern, it’s directly in the article. Charlynn Ruan, a clinical psychologist and founder of the Thrive Psychology Group in California, said, “A lot of things in psychology or once considered edgy and alternative.” She goes on to speak of different alternative treatments and approaches that she’s learning about. “I’m not teaching it, but I’m not saying you can’t bring it into the room. That would be disempowering and arrogant.”

But again, we just have to step back and say it used to be understood as part of the role of a therapist to define reality. It also tells us a very great deal that therapists are now allowing patients to define reality. The therapists are trying to adapt to the patient’s reality. Even when what the patient wants to talk about is the authority in their lives of mercury in retrograde.

The Times goes on to speak of these alternative movement saying, “People are placing their trust and their money into these practices which they view as pathways to enlightenment. The wellness market, which encompasses fitness, skincare, travel, and nutrition was valued at $4.2 trillion in 2017. That according to the organization known as the Global Wellness Institute.”

You won’t be surprised to know that California, and particularly Los Angeles are at the center of this story. The Times tells us, “In Los Angeles, most likely the wellness capital of the world, plant medicine, shamans, astrology, reiki, and sound baths come up frequently in sessions.” Kristie Holmes, identified as a therapist with Thrive in Beverly Hills, California said, “In LA, you’ve always said, ‘My therapist says.’ That’s not a weird thing to say. But now, name dropping a shaman is normal.”

So in LA we’re being told even as a long time ago, it became okay to say, “My therapist says.” Now, it is absolutely okay to say, “My shaman says.” But as we saw yesterday on The Briefing for some people, they’re evidently ready to say my house plant says.

There is some regionalism here. We are told that in New York and Chicago, the current trends include ayahuasca, tarot readings, astrology, and mediums. But in Austin, Texas, it’s crystals, anahuasca, and mediums. The New York Times is at least honest and telling us that there’s a pattern here, and the pattern skews young, rich, and female.

I often draw attention to the fact that this becomes interesting when you consider that this article is published in a newspaper with the status of the New York Times. Pay attention to this next paragraph that quotes Dr. Ruan quoted above. “‘Am I looking up with a person’s sign is? No,’ said the doctor. But she has scoured research journals for studies on ayahuasca and watched documentaries on kambo, a secretion from Amazonian tree frogs touted for its healing powers. She has connected with hypnotherapists and somatic healers when clients have raved about them, to better understand what they do. Though she doesn’t refer patients to such practitioners.”

You heard that correctly. The New York Times is reporting on the fact that it is now considered mainstream in some circles for therapists who have to come to terms with patients who come saying that they are now using kambo, and again I quote, “A secretion from Amazonian tree frogs.” It is indeed touted for its healing powers. I won’t go into detail as to exactly what kind of secretion from a tree frog it is. But if you’re the kind of person who wants to use a product secreted from a tree frog, you’re probably willing to use just about any secretion.

The article goes on at same length to tell us about patients who are now talking to their therapists about their conversations with their mediums. The article continues at some length. Here’s one of my favorite passages, “In the corner of Anthony Freire’s otherwise nondescript Manhattan office sits a bronze bowl he bought on Etsy, etched with a swirling poem and piled with silver ‘angel cards.’ Mr. Freire, a psychotherapist and the clinical director at the Soho Center for Mental Health Counseling, uses them in his practice.”

The article goes on, “Printed on the cards are abstract words like peace, respect, and forgiveness. At the end of each session, patients can pluck a card from the bowl and describe its meaning in the context of the appointment. He says, “It was a gag at first, but then he noted that he had bought the cards after seeing a therapist use them in a Vice Media show. Then it was like he said, ‘Wait, this really works.'”

One of the things to watch by the way, and this is big in worldview significance, is what insurance companies will pay for because that becomes at least one defining issue in knowing what is mainstream in this society. You’ll also notice something else. Even as you have multiplying diagnoses, you now also have multiplying alternative therapies. And someone, or in one way, everyone is paying for this.

The American Psychological Association is cited in the article as not having an official stance on alternative practices, but the association did want to insist that it maintains, “An evidence based practice policy.” What exactly that means however, is anyone’s guess.

One psychologist quoted at the conclusion of the article, put it this way. “If someone is pursuing psychological evidence-based therapy, while meditating with crystals, while mercury is in retrograde, I’m fine with that.” I think it’s probably not a leap of imagination to consider here that when evidence-based science is cited here, it’s probably not your definition of evidence.

Part II

Latest Research Shows Abortion Rate Continues to Fall, But What Does This Report Actually Tell Us?

Next, big headlines this week concerning abortion. For example, The Associated Press headline was “Number of Abortions in U.S. Falls to Lowest Since 1973.” NPR ran a headline, “U.S. Abortion Rate Continues Long-Term Decline In Most States.” One thing we need to note is that those two headlines are not necessarily even telling us the same thing. One headline refers to the number of abortions. The other refers to the abortion rate.

David Crary reporting for the Associated Press tells us, “The number and rate of abortions across the United States have plunged to their lowest levels since the procedure became legal nationwide in 1973, according to new figures released Wednesday.”

Now there can be various ways in defining the abortion rate. You could consider the population writ large in the number of abortions that are reported. You could isolate it to the population of women. You could also compare it to the number of live births in a society. But there is no absolute number here. This is something of a benchmark. It is a suggestion about a trend, and that’s what’s most important. How should Christians consider these headlines? Well, it would be incredibly important good news to know that either the number of abortions or the abortion rate would be falling. It would be even better news if both are falling, and that is what is reported here.

National Public Radio makes clear that the definition of the abortion rate that is used in the study released by the Guttmacher Institute is measuring how common abortion is among women of childbearing age. And by that definition, they say that in 2017, it dropped to 13.5 abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44. That’s down from 14.6 in 2014, and we’re told that continues a downward trend since the peak in 1980 of 29.3 abortions per 1,000 women in that year.

Now the Guttmacher Institute has been closely allied with the abortion rights movement and with Planned Parenthood from the very beginning. It is often described as the research arm of the abortion rights movement. But its numbers and its reports have been given a great deal of credence by the pro-life movement as well. At least in this case, the statistics are largely commonly held.

It is really interesting to see how the story is reported in the media. That Associated Press report by David Crary cited the Guttmacher Institute as arguing that the fall in the abortion rate and the number of abortions is traceable, “To increased accessibility of contraception since 2011.” And it went on to credit the Affordable Care Act. But many other mainstream media reports acknowledge that there is nothing in the research that offers any absolute answer to why there would be a decrease in the number of abortions and the abortion rate. Again, Christians look at this as very good news indeed. But we do want to understand what is happening here.

The New York Times report is by Pam Belluck. She begins by reporting, “Abortion in the United States has decreased to record low levels, a decline,” she wrote, “that may be driven more by increased access to contraception and fewer women becoming pregnant than by the proliferation of laws restricting abortion in some states according to new research.” The New York Times article and many others in the media are indicative of an effort to say that this fall in the number of abortions and in the abortion rate has nothing to do with the increased number of restrictions on abortion adopted by many states. Now if that’s counterintuitive, it also becomes a deeply suspicious argument.

At this point, we need to look at a few issues the mainstream media are not paying attention to, certainly not drawing attention to. Here’s the issue: If indeed the arguments made by so many in these articles would be true that the restrictions on abortion aren’t affecting the numbers, then how at the same time, can you have the abortion rights movement protesting in the streets in Congress and elsewhere saying that these restrictions on abortion are going to make abortion impossible for women to obtain? You can’t make both of those arguments simultaneously. You may believe one, you may believe the other, you may believe neither, but can’t believe both.

Another issue has to do with the fact that this is news, and it’s news that appeared in just about every major American newspaper. Why? Why would this be a big story? Why would a slight statistical decrease in the number of abortions and the abortion rate one year over the other, or even a longer pattern since 2014, why would this be a news story? If abortion is not morally meaningful, if it is after all nothing more than what the abortion rights movement claims it to be, then why would this be news? And if we are told that it is supposedly, indeed Christians know truly good news that the abortion rate and the number of abortions would be falling, doesn’t this indicate that abortion is something that we shouldn’t and don’t want to happen?

This reminds us of the atheist quandary, the frustration of not being able even to say the word “atheist” without including the word “theist.” And it’s another conundrum because when people insist, when they call out in public and say, “Abortion is not a big issue, there’s nothing wrong with abortion,” they’re actually drawing attention to the fact that there is something wrong with abortion, because otherwise, they wouldn’t be initiating so much conversation in order to insist that there’s nothing wrong with it.

Actually we understand, as we’ve referred to in the past, that God has made us in his image as morally conscious creatures in such a way that we cannot even successfully deny to ourselves what we know and what is embedded in that moral consciousness. And that is that abortion is a horrifying moral wrong. That it is, regardless of how one might mean to redefine the unborn human being, it is the killing of a human being, of a human person, in the mother’s womb.

But this brings me to a final point about this report. And for the final point, I turn to the actual report that was published by the Guttmacher Institute. Its title: “Abortion Incidence and Service Availability In the United States, 2017.” I looked at the primary source. I looked at this report because I was looking to answer a question that wasn’t addressed in the mainstream media. That question came to me this way, is it actually true that the number of abortions would be going down? Is it actually true that the abortion rate would be going down? And then in the report itself, I saw these words that I have seen reported nowhere in the media. I read them directly. “Factors that may have contributed to the decline in abortion were improvements in contraceptive use and increases and the number of individuals relying on self-managed abortions outside of a clinical setting.”

In other words, maybe this headline isn’t actually true at all. Maybe the number of abortions reported is not the number of abortions. Here, we find out only at this point that the number of abortions reported are those abortions that at least originate in a clinical setting. But right here on the front page of the actual report, is a concession that the falling numbers might have something to do with an increased number of women who are obtaining abortions through nonclinical settings.

Also note that there are those who want to make abortion so routine through so-called medical abortions or the use of abortion pills, they want them to be available without prescription in a local drug store. At that point, you would not only be looking at inaccurate abortion reports, you would look at the fact that abortion reports would become absolutely impossible. The agenda in that sense is very, very clear to make abortion so accessible, that no one even needs a doctor and to put abortion out of sight in order that they will hope abortion is then out of mind. Committed Christians have to make absolutely certain that abortion is never out of mind, and is never allowed to be outside the nation’s moral conscience.

Part III

When All Hope Is Lost: Secularism Can’t Provide Any Adequate Hope

But next, I want to shift to an article that appeared just this week in The New Yorker. It is by novelist Jonathan Franzen, and it is deeply revealing as we think of the theological worldview that both drives the society around us and diagnoses that culture around us. Jonathan Franzen writes the article in The New Yorker and the headline is, “What if We Stopped Pretending.”

Pretending what? Well as he says, pretending that we have hope about the future. He writes about climate change, and he writes about impending doom that cannot be prevented. He writes, “Even if the Green New Deal were to be adopted, it’s too late,” he says. “We need to stop pretending that it’s not too late.” He writes this way, “If you’re younger than 60, you have a good chance of witnessing the radical destabilization of life on earth. Massive crop failures, apocalyptic fires, imploding economies, epic flooding, hundreds of millions of refugees fleeing regions made uninhabitable by extreme heat or permanent drought. If you’re under 30,” he writes, “you’re all but guaranteed to witness it.”

But he says it is unrealistic to hope that catastrophe is preventable, and he goes on to say that even as this denial makes sense psychologically — and he writes, “Despite the outrageous fact that I’ll soon be dead forever, I live in the present, not the future.” He goes on to decry both major political parties in the United States. He says that the Republican Party is in denial against science. That’s his accusation. But he says that the Democratic Party and even those who are the proponents of the Green New Deal, they are living under the delusion that it will matter. He says it won’t. It’s too late.

He says if we were rightly to respond to this challenge, he says, “The first condition is that every one of the world’s major polluting countries institute draconian conservation measures, shut down much of its energy and transportation infrastructure, and completely retool its economy.”

Let me just point out that what that would actually lead to is mass starvation. It would lead to millions of people freezing to death in the cold. There is no way to do what Jonathan Franzen demands in his first demand, and perhaps that’s why he has no hope about the future.

But The New Yorker is after all, one of the major periodicals of the cultural elite. And Franzen, an elite novelist, is writing to fellow members of the cultural elite basically saying, “You’re doomed. Deal with it.”

He also apparently has very little confidence that whatever climate change options and directions may be taken by people, for example in New York City, they are going to still be doomed. As he writes, “Making New York city a green utopia will not avail if Texans keep pumping oil and driving pickup trucks.”

And when it comes to what must be done, he says right now in order to recover even a hope for hope, he says, “Finally, overwhelming numbers of human beings, including millions of government-hating Americans need to accept high taxes and severe curtailment of their familiar lifestyles without revolting. They must accept the reality of climate change and have faith in the extreme measures taken to combat it.”

Well extreme? How extreme. Well so extreme that virtually everything has changed. Nothing remains as it is, and all the energy is turned off, and all the economic activity will come to an end. And then he says, this will only be possible if overwhelming numbers of human beings agree to a severe curtailment of their familiar lifestyles without revolting.

Well the fact is — and I’ll insist that this is true — the fact is that people in Manhattan would be the first to revolt even before the people in Texas. It would be just to put the matter as bluntly as possible, far easier to live without modern forms of technology and energy in most of Texas than in any of Manhattan.

But the big worldview issues so demonstrated in this article has to be with the collapse of secular hope. And that’s really interesting because if you were to rewind history and go back to the end of the 19th century in both Europe and in the United States, you would see that a secular hope, a hope in humanity, a hope in some arc of history had begun to compete with the Christian theology of hope. And in many places, especially amongst the intellectually sophisticated, that secular understanding of hope completely replaced a biblical understanding of hope.

But that secular understanding or theology of hope hasn’t fared very well because human beings, as the 20th century demonstrated, can’t rightly or sanely put much confidence in human beings, much less than human moral progress. If you look at the 20th century, you have two horrifying world wars caused by human beings. And in a moral insanity that even in retrospect cannot fully be explained, you have all the horrors of the Third Reich. You have genocide. You have all of the evidence of the 20th century into the 21st century that there is no basis of a secular hope. Then you absolutely put an end to that secular hope with the climate change predictions and prophecies, which is exactly where Jonathan Franzen is. If you come to understand the science of climate change, he says, then all hope simply evaporates.

But as we come to an end, we do have to understand that human beings can’t live without hope. God made us that way. And perhaps this represents for Christians an opportunity to speak to our increasingly hopeless neighbors of the hope that is within us.

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 on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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