Friday, April 30, 2021
It's Friday, April 30, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
An Increasingly Godless America: Good Thing or Bad Thing? The Answer Depends Completely on Your Worldview
An increasingly godless America: good thing or bad thing? Well, your answer to that question has everything to do with your own worldview. The point made recently in a major research project coming from the Gallup organization is that there has been a precipitous drop in church membership by church identification over the course of the last 20 years. Back on April the 18th, they released a major report with a headline, "U.S. church membership down sharply in past two decades." Well, there's been a lot of conversation about this report and the larger project of which it is a part, but some of the most interesting conversation has come, not just among Christians wondering what this might mean, but amongst others who might see this as good or bad, and nonetheless see the news as important, we'll turn to that in just a moment.
But the most important thing for us to recognize is that there are huge worldview implications to all of this. Make no mistake, this kind of big fall in church attendance, and also in church membership in the United States points to more fundamental changes in the American worldview or the worldview held by increasing numbers of Americans. Before we look at the responses, just a couple of reminders about the data, you're looking at a precipitous drop that is to say something unexpected and how fast that it has happened. You're also looking at the fact that one of the most interesting patterns that emerged in this research was generational. From every generation, most particularly from the baby boomers to then Generation X and then the millennials, there is a remarkable fall off in religious attendance and identification.
Also, linked to that church membership. The thing that I wonder about here is whether or not this is a permanent pattern, but the indication is that it is likely to be. Because we are looking at generations that are far along enough in terms of their own progression, that there is unlikely to be some kind of major change in the pattern of any one of these generations.
By the way another footnote, this is something that Christians have understood for a long time. This is one of the reasons why Christian churches that love the gospel and love their own young people have got to understand they have a major responsibility to keep that connection strong because there is no current pattern as we saw in the past in American history of young people moving away and then coming back. The coming back is not happening, and that's a big part of the picture here. But let me go back to where I began, an increasingly godless America: is that a good thing or a bad thing? It is very interesting to observe those who are making the argument that it's a good thing. We need to look at the argument we need to look at what's behind it. What are the most interesting if predictable responses to this research has come from Professor Phil Zuckerman. He's head of the program of secular studies at Pitzer College, one of the Claremont colleges in Southern California.
Now, when I mentioned that he's head of that department, you need to recognize that at least when it was established a few years ago, it was the only department of its kind. Phil Zuckerman is a specialist in secular studies and he also holds to a secular worldview and is a much published secularist author. Thus, we shouldn't be surprised that the headline of his opinion piece in The Los Angeles Times in response to this research comes down to this quote, "Why America's record godlessness is good news for the nation." Well, provocative headline. What's he telling us here? The first sentence, "The secularization of U.S. society, the waning of religious faith, practice and affiliation is continuing at a dramatic and historically unprecedented pace." He continues, "While many may consider such a development as cause for concern, such a worry is not warranted. This increasing godlessness in America is actually a good thing to be welcomed and embraced." Very, very interesting.
Now, how does he continue an argument like that? Well, he says, "Democratic societies that have experienced the greatest degrees of secularization are among the healthiest wealthiest and safest in the world, enjoying relatively low rates of violent crime and high degrees of wellbeing and happiness. Clearly, he concludes, a rapid loss of religion does not result in societal ruin." It goes on to document the research coming from Gallup and he puts together other research as well, indicating the progress of secularization that is the loosening of religious ties and religious identification in the United States. While many people are worried about this and see it as a cause for concern, he says that right minded Americans should celebrate this development. Increasing godlessness should mean a better society.
That's his argument, he makes his straightforwardly. Professor's Zuckerman says that he doesn't agree with the kind of force to secularism as was the case in the official atheism of the Soviet union. But he writes and I quote, "However, there is another alternative kind of secularization. One that emerges organically amid free and open societies where human rights, including religious freedom are upheld and respected." He continues, "Many societies qualify for this label, including those in Japan, Scandinavia, the United Kingdom, the Czech Republic, Australia, Canada, and Uruguay, among many others. In these places..." He argues, "Religion is not actively repressed nor do governments promote secularization. And yet, it occurs simply because people living in those societies lose interest in the whole religious enterprise." Interesting later in the article, professors Zuckerman says that one of the reasons for this spreading secularization or perhaps the acceleration of the pattern is the arrival of the internet.
No basic argument there. But let's go back to the headline and the article he wrote and that headline tells us that record godlessness in the United States is a good thing. It's good news. Why would it be good news? It is because he says we will have a more liberated, we'll have a more advanced society. Basically the argument is that traditional religion is holding us back from a kind of social and moral progress. And of course, if you're looking at it from the viewpoint of one who is going to push or advocate for the moral revolution taking place around us, increasing godlessness is what you want because increasing secularization means also increasing moral liberalization. No doubt about that. But we also need to look at what we are facing in the definition of good here and perhaps even the definition of religion. I say the latter part because we are not living in a world that is markedly less religious.
There's a religion all around us. There is all kinds of what we might call ersatz religion. That is basically artificial religion, new age spirituality. You have all kinds of spirituality is taking place in everything from yoga to nature worship to increasing popularity of outright occult movements in the United States and the entire enterprise of positive thinking and self-care that has become a religion for millions and millions of Americans. What's really receding is traditional theism. It's the belief in a personal omnipotent creator, God. That's what's in recession and frankly, Phil Zuckerman understands that and it is the decline of theism. And in particular, in the United States, Christian theism that he sees as a good thing, it will be liberating for society. I had a thinking in public conversation with Professor Zuckerman sometime back about the book that he wrote a few years ago, entitled Living The Secular Life.
In that book, he writes and I quote, "Being secular means loving family and friends rather than a deity or savior. Being secular involves seeking to do good and treating others right simply because such behavior makes the world a better place for all. Being secular, he continues, is about finding joy, splendor and fulfillment in newborn babies and thunderstorms, peaches and tears, harmony and inner thighs, algebra and forgiveness, squid and irony without attaching any supernatural or divine masking tape to such inexplicable wonders of life."
But as I pointed out, when the book was released, how from a secular perspective do you actually talk about doing good? How do you know what good is? What does good mean? Does it simply mean that things work out better for the larger number of people or it doesn't mean that there's any objective good? But if you deny any kind of supernatural reality, then you also deny any kind of transcendent morality. How do you speak of joy and splendor and fulfillment? Well fulfillment, maybe you can define in simply personal terms, but joy and splendor?
If we are just naturalistic accidents, what in the world do those terms mean? They seem to point to something far beyond atoms and molecules and the intersection of say energy and matter, but you no doubt are looking at Professor Zuckerman being very honest and we are no doubt looking at the fact that his honesty actually compels him to say increasing godlessness is a good thing. Something else is interesting here, you look at the kind of cultures that he points to as showing the advanced status of this kind of increasing godlessness. He mentioned Scandinavia, for example, but if you look at reviews of his own argument in Scandinavia, one of the interesting things pointed out is that Scandinavia is not historically secular. It was largely pagan then it was Christianized during the medieval period and then most of Scandinavia came under very clear reformation influence, generally the Lutheran reformation.
And if you look at Scandinavia, what many people there note is that even though you have a rapid decrease in public identifiers of belief in God, you're looking at a rapid decrease in church attendance, the reality is that the fundamental structures of the society, its impulses, its moral drives, its basic worldview are still dependent upon the Christianity that formed the entire culture. So these cultures, even in Scandinavia are not nearly so secular. As people may claim. Professor Zuckerman has written other articles and other books and one of the key questions he knows he has to answer is how secular people raise children to be moral? Or for that matter, how are any human beings able to live a moral life from a secular worldview? In this book, Living The Secular Life, he answered the question with this, "The bald truth is secular morality doesn't have a simple observable, obvious origin. Secular men and women don't get their morals from some singular readily sizable source or supernatural deity.
Rather our morals are complex creations. They are the outcome of numerous forces factors and influences working simultaneously. Many of which we aren't even fully aware of, at least most of the time." Now I want to give him credit for being honest. But if we understand what he's saying there, there is no true objective reality to any kind of moral judgment. It is simply the product of complex forces that are somehow negotiated amongst human beings. We will call something right, we will call something wrong, but these are also judgements that are in progress. We'll call something wrong now, we'll call it good later. We'll call something good now, we'll call it evil later. Now, as I pointed out so many times, that's exactly what's going on right now when it comes to secular morality. What was called right is now called wrong. What was called wrong is now called right.
Get with the program. But this is where Christians have to step back and say, whatever you call that you might call it morality. And mean by that just a social contract to human beings have developed amongst ourselves, but you really can't call that good and you really can't call that evil, not in any kind of real terms. And that's where we have to understand that being made in God's image, our inner selves cry out for an objective morality. We don't believe that inherently evil acts are just considered evil in some kind of program of secular consideration and human negotiation or evaluation. If that's all morality is, then you can just wait and then it's going to change. It doesn't really mean anything. Professor Zuckerman does make one point in this book that I think is profoundly true and as a warning to Christian parents and for that matter to all Christians who care about the transmission of the faith. What he calls a loss of generational transfer is one of the greatest dangers we face.
If there is not a successful transfer of the faith once for all delivered to the saints from one generation to another, then the line of Christian formation is simply broken. And that's what the secular is think is very good news. That's what Christians have to understand is one of the greatest challenges we now face.
Considering an Argument About to Explode Before Our Eyes: Is Christianity Just Another Form of Identity Politics?
But next we're going to shift to Australia. Australia is itself as a nation of very interesting test case. It was never fully evangelized. In one sense, Australia is much like in the United States, the Pacific Northwest. On the other hand, there are many Christians there, including many evangelical Christians, many who hold to that faith once for all delivered to the saints. And as you're looking at worldwide Anglicanism, one of the centers of evangelical influence are the Sydney Anglicans. That is the Anglicans of the Anglican diocese of Sydney. They have influence all over the world.
There's also a quite visible, charismatic Christian community in Australia and the current prime minister of Australia, Scott Morrison is himself a Pentecostal or charismatic Christian. That's led to an awful lot of interest in Australia in not only Christianity and not only charismatic Christianity, but what it means that the head of government there is actually a very clear self-identified Christian who talks about it. Marion Maddox writing for The Guardian of London begins by writing, "What does our Pentecostal prime minister think of the devil?" Now we have at least a partial answer. The quote, "Evil one is using social media to steal young people's hope and we need to raise up spiritual weapons." That's in quotes, "In response." The next sentence that was among rare glimpses into Scott Morrison's theology revealed while bearing witness at the Australian Christian churches national conference last week. Now this is coming from a London newspaper, but clearly the report is coming from Australia telling us that you have Australians trying to figure out what the theology of the prime minister means.
And he spoke at the Australian Christian churches national conference, and he spoke not only as prime minister, but as a Christian. Well, looking at the article, there's the implication that it was odd that the Australian prime minister should speak at such an event, even odder and more noteworthy that he spoke at this event, identifying himself as a Christian and in particular as a charismatic Christian and speaking of his own charismatic worldview and understanding that included the fact that he is quite ready to identify where he sees Satan network and he is quite keen to identify what he sees as supernatural interventions in his own life. By the way, this report doesn't make a very clear or accurate distinction between just say, biblical evangelical Christianity and charismatics. That's not the major point of the article. It's not the major point of our consideration on the briefing today.
Rather it is the fact that so many people in Australia see the fact that the prime minister is a Christian who speaks as a Christian and speaks as a Christian to other Christians is extremely unusual, probably suspect and perhaps something that we should be careful to avoid in the future. The report in The Guardian tells us, "Some might see the prime minister's insider talk, turning from the evil one to churches as community as a 23-minute-long exercise and identity politics aligning him with some group." This would be namely the Pentecostal audience. Now this came after the prime minister had warned, I think quite rightly, about the development of identity politics, but the accusation of this colonist is that Christianity is just another form of identity politics. "Some might also see many of the Australian Christian churches concerns as identity politics, its doctrinal basis divides humanity into two groups. Believers who have been made pure in heart and wholly sanctified to the operation of the holy spirit by the blood of Jesus in the word of God and the wicked" who "willfully reject and despise the love of God manifested in the great sacrifice of his holy son and are therefore destined for eternal punishment in the lake which burns fire and brimstone."
Something very important going on here. And this is not just about Australia. Christians in the United States and Christians elsewhere need to watch the argument that appears here. And by the way, this argument is about to explode before our eyes. I knew that this was going to be an interesting news report. Quite honestly, when I began it, I had no idea how interesting it would become nowhere it would lead me. Come along with me as we consider this article. Here you have the suggestion that identity politics is basically what Christians are about because we make a distinction between the saved and the loss between Christians and unbelievers.
But you'll notice also that in this article, it's not clear or at least it doesn't appear to be at all clear that there's a basic understanding that this just isn't some kind of Australian charismatic Christian quirk. This is historic biblical Christianity, the distinction between believers and unbelievers, the distinction, even as Jesus made between sheep and goats, the difference between the children of light and the children of darkness. The difference between those who are in Christ and those who are not in Christ whereas Jesus himself said those who are his and those who belong to the devil. Scott Morrison, the prime minister of Australia didn't come up with that. That's in the new Testament. It comes directly from Jesus. But here you'll notice that what you see is Orthodox biblical Christianity being pigeonholed as just another form of identity politics. This is the kind of marginalization. This is the kind of isolation that we're increasingly seeing in liberal societies and is taking place in the United States, not just in Australia. But then the article in The Guardian cited an academic article published in the Australian Journal of Human Rights by the Reverend Dr. Elenie Poulos.
And we are told that she wrote about the issue of religious freedom, the idea of religious freedom, "As a stalking horse to assert and maintain the privilege of the institutional hierarchical patriarchal church." Well, we need to look at that article because what we are seeing here is an argument that is increasingly being used elsewhere. This is not just an Australia. It is the argument that when you are looking at religious Liberty claimed as the right of Christians to hold a Christian conviction or Christian ministries or a Christian college or school to operate on the basis of Christian conviction. When you look at something like the looming equality act in the United States, again, advocated by president Biden called for in his address to a joint session of Congress just this week. You are looking at a law that would seek to chorus Christians into speaking as if we're not Christians, operating as if we're not Christians and our own churches, denominations in our schools.
And you see here, the argument that when Christians cite religious freedom, it is just "a stalking horse to assert and maintain the privilege of the institutional hierarchical patriarchal church." Well, you've heard a lot these days, perhaps about critical theory, perhaps about critical race theory I've discussed on The Briefing, but the whole idea of critical race theory or critical theory and intersectionality is based upon the idea that society can only be liberated if the existing structures are overthrown and the existing structures are claimed to be deficient because they were put in place for immoral reasons, that human liberation can only come by overthrowing what exists in order to get to a new liberated age. But of course, a part of what exists and as we have just discussed a part of what has formed western society is biblical Christianity. But here you have the open assertion that when Christians claim a right to hold the Christian conviction, it is instead a disguised assertion of privilege. Privilege held by the, "Institutional hierarchical patriarchal church."
In other words, the church itself representing historic Christian teaching is a hindrance to the moral progress of the society. Now by the way, this also reminds you why someone like Professor Zuckerman at Pitzer college would see an increasingly godless America as a good thing. It turns out that in the United States, as well as in Australia, this is an increasingly prevalent argument. But I went to that academic article, what exactly is being asserted there? Well, put plainly what's being asserted is that religious liberty claims made by conservative Christians holding to a biblical sexual morality and a biblical understanding of divine revelation and God's purpose in creation. We are basically trying to maintain privilege in western civilization. We're trying to guard our own interests. As the article concludes, the churches are seeking to, "Both protect their institutional privilege and entrench their particular moral code in Australian law."
But you can see where this argument's going. And this is another form of critical theory. The argument in this article by the way, is that churches are trying to protect privilege in the form of, wait hold for it, Christian supremacist theories. The article cites in a context that is approving research done by other scholars about conservative Christian groups in Australia. And it says that what these churches are trying to do is a form of discrimination, "These specific Christian centric and in some cases, Christian supremacist voices purposely set out to undermine the social movement towards more inclusive policy and protection of rights." There you have just further evidence right there in actual text. The text is referring to what it calls Christian centric. And that would mean, of course, just any kind of reference to Christianity is true. And then Christian supremacist, meaning that Christian truth claims, we make them as exclusive claims.
We say that there's only one God, there's only one savior. There's only one saving gospel that is just dismissed here as a form of hierarchical claim that is a demonstration of a form of privilege that must be undermined if there is going to be any moral progress in society. Well, at least we know the looming arguments that are coming before us. We can see the shape of the kind of challenge that we're going to face. You can also see where critical theory applied in one area inevitably is applied in another area. When you're looking at intersectionality, that's the whole point. It is the claim that there are intersections of various forms of oppression and that the structures of oppression must be done away with that people are going to be liberated. And of course, this is now referred to as everything from homophobia and transphobia, but now you have the overlay of Christianity being presented as a form of privilege and a form of supremacist thinking that clearly must be overcome if human liberation is ever to arrive.
The bottom line in all of this is to recognize that this is not just a theoretical assessment. This is not just a theoretical argument. This comes down to how public policy will be enacted. The equality act is not theoretical legislation. It is actual legislation. These ideas may begin in an academic context, but as we see, they do not remain there.
The Left Is Moving So Quickly to the Far Left That No One Can Keep Up . . . Not Even Yesterday’s Humanist Hero, Richard Dawkins
But finally, as we're thinking about big changes in society, here's a headline for you, "Richard Dawkins loses humanist of the year title over trans comments." This particular report is also from The Guardian is by Alison Flood. And the article tells us in recent that the American Humanist Association has withdrawn its humanist of the year award from Richard Dawkins 25 years after he received the honor criticizing the academic and author for “demeaning marginalized groups and using the guise of scientific discourse." Another illustration of the fact that you can be on the far, far left, but the left is moving so left so fast that it's going to pass you up.
And yesterday's liberal is well today's oppressor and the oppressor who has just been relieved of his honor 25 years ago as humanist of the year. By the way, how do you go back and remove a humanist of the year war given 25 years ago? I doubt Richard Dawkins is going to send the trophy back. But the point is this, he was on the left wing until the left wing passed him by, but there is a deeper worldview issue here. Richard Dawkins made a comment in a tweet. Basically he argued that trans identity is not real. Back in 2015, he had written, "Is trans woman a woman? Purely semantic. If you define by chromosomes, no. If by self-definition, yes. I call her she out of courtesy." Well back in 2015, that might've been seen as somewhat progressive, but now, well you got to strip the man of his Humanist of the Year Award given 25 years ago.
But here's the big worldview issue, it's not just moral change in society. It's not just the ludicrousness of humanism redefining itself over and over again. It's the fact that when you look at this particular case, Richard Dawkins is actually being consistent. He is an absolute materialist. He denies any supernatural reality. And he says that the world is simply made up of atoms and molecules and the things that make up atoms and molecules were just stuff. And the point is this, if you believe we're just stuff well, that stuff for human beings takes the forms of genes and chromosomes. And it turns out that those chromosomes and human beings are going to come out X X or XY. If you're an absolute materialist, it turns out that the material is all you're left with, but Richard Dawkins is now left without his award. Yesterday's humanist hero is today's humanist chump, or you might say an ex hero, send back the trophy.
But of course, Christians begin with a worldview that makes very clear that the material is not all that there is that the natural well is only explained by the supernatural, but that's a conversation we will have to maintain on another day.
In the meantime, thanks for listening to The Briefing.
For more information, go to my website at albertmohler.com. You can find me on Twitter by going to twitter.com/albertmohler. For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College, just go to boycecollege.com.
I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.