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The Briefing

Friday, August 6, 2021

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It's Friday, August 6, 2021.

I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

Part

Paganism Is The Most LGBTQ+ Religious Identity in US: Why That Should Not Be a Surprise

Theology is always there somewhere in the headline or under the headline. We're going to be looking today at several stories, two news stories, and two obituaries in which theology is actually front and center, and all of these demand our attention.

First of all, we have some interesting questions. Why would certain religious world views, and I put it just that way, lend themselves toward certain kinds of moral convictions or certain moral positions on crucial issues? That's an interesting question. It's, of course, of interest to someone who's thinking theologically. It's of interest to Christians. It's of interest to us theologically, it's of interest to us apologetically, even evangelistically. But it's also of interest to the wider world, trying to understand how the world works.

A very interesting story appeared in Religion News Service back just a few days ago. The headline is this. "Paganism, gods and goddesses aside, is the most LGBTQ affirming-faith in the United States." That's exactly the way it's put and it should be profoundly to be expected that paganism would be on the moral left. That raises a question, why would that be so?

Well, for one thing, let's look at the article. Heather Greene's the author, and she tells us that in a recent profile study, Kathleen Marchetti, identified as an associate professor of political science at Dickinson College, "Reported that likely 93% of American pagans agree with policy supporting LGBTQ rights, a larger share than the 69% of non-pagans who do." The article continues, "According to a March 2021 report from PRRI, the pagan community collectively shows the highest support for LGBTQ individuals of any religious group." What follows is this. "The next closest are white mainline Protestants at 82%, followed by Hispanic Catholics at 81%." That again, according to PRRI, the research group. The article goes on to quote Marchetti as saying that support for LGBTQ+ rights was connected to "Pagan religious identity."

Now, paganism is not new. That should be profoundly evident. Just consider the fact that paganism looms so large in the background of both the Old and the New Testament, right there in the text. In particular, in the Old Testament, Israel, God's covenant people, is called to define themselves not just in theology and in worship, but in ethics and in way of life from the various paganisms of the ancient world, whether they come from Mesopotamia or from Canaan, or for that matter, from anywhere.

But you're also looking at the fact that paganism is modern. Now, what I mean by that is that there has been a resurgence of paganism amongst the previously non-pagan. Let's speak explicitly. This means that as you're looking at the basic Christian structure of Western civilization, there has been a radical fringe that has emerged more or less on the left. They're not ancient pagan people showing up in Newark, New Jersey. We're talking about modern, relatively wealthy, generally well-educated, middle-class people who are dabbling with ancient paganism as a way of trying to construct a post-Christian spirituality.

Now, that's the point. The paganism that's referenced here in this research, the paganism that's showing up in this kind of avid support for LGBTQ+ rights, is not really ancient paganism showing up on American shores. It's modern, do it yourself, just add water and stir, post-modern, individualistic, very morally liberal paganism. And in this case, paganism is a direct refutation of Christianity. And by that, I mean, it's a refutation of Christianity as an overarching worldview. It's a refutation of Christianity, particularly in the distinction between the Creator and the creation, that most fundamental of all those distinctions that comes in the flow of biblical history and in the biblical revelation.

Instead, paganism, in its modern do-it-yourself version is a form of trying to recreate some kind of earth worship. It's also very much associated with pantheism. That's the view that the earth is god or divine in some sense, or panentheism, which rejects the separation between God and creation. In other words, all basic material matters have some kind of spirit within them and some kind of evidence of God's presence in them. And you also have the fact that, as David Salisbury quoted in this article says, and by the way, he's identified as a pagan author and LGBTQ+ advocate. He said, this gets right to the point, "That sounds about right. Pagans have always been seen outliers and oddballs," and as Religion News Service says, "that accounts for the level of empathy that is expressed," according to Salisbury. Salisbury said, "In the 1990s, it was adults creating these spaces and beginning the narratives on these topics. They invited young people to participate. The pendulum has swung in the opposite direction. Today, the youth are in charge, particularly in online spaces."

A pagan trans woman identified also as leader of an Annual Trans Day of Remembrance ritual named Brianne Raven Wolf, said that when she joined the pagan community, she was "blown away at how accepting it was." She said, "When they invite you to sit around the campfire and drink mead," that's M-E-A-D, a supposedly modern version of an ancient fermented drink. She said, "That to me is accepting."

The general openness of this modern or postmodern paganism to the LGBTQ+ spectrum was made clear again by Brianne Raven Wolf, who points to the fact that she has seen more, "Nonbinary rituals at pagan events," and, as RNS says, "a growing willingness to talk about diversity and inclusion."

The article goes on. It's pretty much more of the same. LaSara Firefox is identified, another nonbinary pagan, but it's Firefox who says that sometimes even the pagan community doesn't live up to its inclusive ideals," execution "often doesn't equal ideals."

But the big point in this article is that if you look at all the identified religious groupings, at least in the study from PRRI and from others, it is the pagans, identifying themselves, by the way, that way, who turn out to be the most LGBTQ+ positive. A lot of things to think about here. For one thing, you'll notice how much attention in this article is given to nonbinary or transgender identity. Again, if you're blurring the distinction between the creator and creation that's central to modern paganism, blurring the distinction between humans and other creatures and blurring the distinction between male and female is part and parcel of that project. That's exactly what you see here.

No surprise. Theology has consequences. Pagan theology, and yes, there actually is such a thing, even if it's not very well developed, the reality is that pagan theology also has consequences, and the LGBTQ+ acceptance and the fact that there is no way to put a boundary on that ever-growing list of transgressive behaviors and identities, that's one of the consequences of the pagan revolution. So, as we look to this story, the bottom line is that paganism has consequences and those consequences turn out to be rather conveniently allied with the social position and the basic moral worldview of those who claim this modern, rather consumer-oriented, very individualistic pagan identity.

By the way, before leaving this, we should note that this kind of paganism, it's making its way into some mainline Protestant circles. The Massachusetts Review, based in Cambridge, ran a story about the ordination of some cherry trees. Yes, an ordination service for cherry trees. It turns out that the remarks were given by Kanshin Ruth Ozeki identified as a novelist, a Zen priest, Smith College professor, and resident of Warfield Place there in Cambridge, and there was also the association with another, who was identified as senior Director of Buddhist Studies at Union Theological Seminary. The point here is Union Theological Seminary, that's more or less the aircraft carrier, you might say, of Protestant liberalism in the United States. That's the school we discussed on The Briefing back in September of 2019, where students held a service in which they confessed their sins to plants.

The report in The Massachusetts Review included these words spoken at the ordination ceremony. "We are here today to ordain these seven venerable Kwanzan cherry trees that the city currently plans to cut down as part of a controversial and, we believe, ill-conceived repaving project. And in addition to these seven, the three younger trees on the end of the block, a rosebud, a younger Kwanzan cherry tree, and a Montmorency cherry tree, have said that they would like to be ordained, too." That's pretty much a part of the modern pagan picture. You'll notice also some syncretism there with traditional Buddhism, but with the imprimatur of a supposedly Protestant theological seminary. But before leaving this particular issue, we need to understand that the theological issue that is really front and center is that blurring of the distinction between the Creator and the creation.

But formally, it is the rejection of revealed religion. That is the rejection of divine revelation, specifically the rejection of Scripture.

Part

How Did Evangelicals Become More Pro-Life? The Bible Can Answer for That

And that leads us to the second headline. In this case, the outlet is Physician's Weekly. In other words, this isn't a theological journal at all. It's not a journal that normally would have anything to do with Christianity, but it's asking a question of interest to physicians. Here's the headline. Why is the south the epicenter of anti-abortion fervor? Well, the article gives some background and it's very interesting in that is the fact that if you were to go back to the beginnings of the pro-life movement in the United States, the epicenter was not the American South, commonly referred to sometimes as the Bible Belt, it was the Northeast.

Sarah Varney, the author of this article at Physician's Weekly asked the question, why was famously liberal New England so opposed to abortion? She answers with two words, the Pope. She cites Daniel Williams, a professor with two books relevant to the issue, but what she's really pointing to is the fact that there was a large concentration of Roman Catholics in the American Northeast, and it was primarily the Roman Catholic church that was really clear about the intrinsic evil of abortion. Therefore, even as New England was culturally liberal, it was also the residence of many Roman Catholics who were ardently pro-life.

Now that raises an issue. How did the epicenter shift then from New England, very liberal and by the way, by now with incredibly liberal abortion laws? States such as New York and Rhode Island have abortion laws that are so liberal, that abortion is basically legal right up until the moment of birth, but the point is that theology matters again. Physician's Weekly is answering the question, why did the epicenter of anti-abortion conviction shift from the American Northeast, which was at that time very significantly, Roman Catholic, very significantly thus pro-life, to the American South? The big question is, how did the south that wasn't so pro-life become, so pro-life. That's the big question, and it's very important that we recognize the answer given in this article in Physician's Weekly.

By the way, the right answer is theological. It was a shift in the theological understanding, the biblical understanding of Christians in the south. The article says, "Religious scholars say white evangelical Protestants did not support unfettered abortion rights, but without a strong theology about when human life begins less restrictive abortion laws were not a moral threat. Evangelicals viewed abortion as a Catholic cause." Now that's discussing the period up until the early to mid-1970s when everything began to change. It began to change inside the Southern Baptist Convention. It began to change inside various, if not just about all, evangelical circles in the South. It was an awakening to the fact that we had to develop a theology that answered the question, when does human life begin? Where is human dignity grounded? When does the sanctity of human life pertain? And the reality is asking those questions led to a biblical and theological reconsideration that led to overwhelming pro-life conviction.

The Physician's Weekly article states this, "As opposition to abortion among Catholic voters and lawmakers eased, white evangelicals and fundamentalists grew more strident on the issue. By the late 1970s, white evangelicals had fully embraced the position that legal abortion was an assault on moral values. As biblicists committed to the text of the Bible, evangelical leaders found new meaning in certain verses they believed gave credence to prenatal life." Here's a quote from that scholar, Daniel Williams, "The connection these conservative evangelicals saw was that when Americans drifted away from God in public life, a change in gender roles came in. Christianity was being replaced by secular humanistic, sexual ethics and Roe v. Wade became the symbol for all that."

Well, that's the big exploding issue. The hand grenade that went off was the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, because at that point, American evangelicals who had largely, really given little thought to the issue of abortion, had to give a great deal of thought to abortion. The point is this, their theology drove them, and just speaking as an evangelical, that theology drives us to deep pro-life conviction based upon the revelation of God and Scripture, what God has said about human dignity, what it means to be made in God's image, and about our Christian responsibility to contend for and to preserve human life.

Before leaving this story, another big issue here is the fact that the article ends by stating that the physicians ought to know that the younger generation of evangelicals is even more pro-life than the older generation. Why would that be the case? Well, I think once again, it's like the logic of Roe v. Wade. Roe v. Wade was a grenade that blew up awakening evangelicals in the seventies to the reality of the curse of abortion. But by now, you're looking at decades after Roe v. Wade, the horrifying evidence of abortion is all too clear. One more thing, there is further visible evidence, undeniable evidence of the personhood and the dignity and the life in the womb that has come by ultrasounds and other technology. It makes it very difficult to put up a picture of little brother or little sister on an ultrasound on the refrigerator and then turn around and say it doesn't matter when it comes to legal abortion.

Here's the issue, two different reports, one about paganism and the LGBTQ spectrum, and that acceptance, the other about evangelical Christians and how evangelicals became increasingly pro-life, and in both articles, the point is just emphatically made, it's right there, explicit theology matters. As Professor Williams says in that article in Physician's Weekly, it is the Bible. It was that evangelicals were biblicists committed to the text of the Bible. It was the Bible that drove evangelicals to pro-life conviction.

Theology matters. The Bible matters. If your morality, your moral vision, is boundaried by Scripture, you've got nowhere to go than the dignity of human life. On the other hand, if you're a pagan and you reject any kind of biblical revelation, then you're free to make up whatever morality is good to you and Earth Mother.

Part

"We Materialists Cannot Allow A Divine Foot in the Door": The Obituaries of Two Scientists Make Clear that Theology Matters—Even Among Unbelievers

But then, as I said, two obituaries, both of them of famous scientists, scientists that at some point had been associated with Harvard University. The first of them, Richard Lewontin. Richard Lewontin was one of the most famous or infamous geneticists of the 20th century. He had vast scientific influence and he was a fighter. He self-identified as a Marxist, he was famous for doing things like chopping his own wood. He was also famous for his feuds in the world of science, including his feud with another Harvard professor, Edward O. Wilson. But the point to be made about Richard Lewontin is that he was one of the most powerful voices on behalf of an absolute materialism. Of the fact that we are, the universe is nothing but matter. There is no supernatural. There is no God, there is no purpose to human beings, and furthermore, human survival depends upon the eradication of religion as a worldview.

He was often a writer for the New York Review of Books, that's very influential amongst the intellectual elites in the United States, and he was one who tried to interpret science and the scientific worldview for the other rather liberal readers in the main of the New York Review of Books. In one particular essay, he spoke of the need to keep even God's foot out of the door in the worldview. There must be no space, whatever for God to be a part of the equation. He also made an amazingly candid statement. He said, "It is not that the methods and institutions of science somehow compel us to accept a material explanation of the phenomenal world, but on the contrary, that we are forced by our a priori adherence to material causes to create an apparatus of investigation and a set of concepts that produce material explanations, no matter how counter-intuitive, no matter how mystifying to the uninitiated." Finally, "Moreover, that materialism is absolute, for we cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

That's an argument for what he acknowledges is a matter of faith. He says here, it isn't that science drove him to be a materialist. It is that his commitment to materialism, and notice he doesn't just say my, he says our speaking to scientists, our commitment to materialism as a philosophy drives us to these conclusions, and in order to prevent any kind of religious influence, any idea of a creator, any kind of crack in the wall, so to speak, or crack in the door, for any kind of divine presence or influence, he says, "We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door."

Now, in that sense, Richard Lewontin became one of the primary prophets of two of the most non-Christian or anti-Christian ideas. That would be the ideologies of materialism and of scientism. Both of them are in that statement. First, the ideology or the worldview of materialism. Everything is merely matter. Matter merely exists. Only matter can explain matter. There is no creator who made the matter or had anything to do with the organization of the matter. Evolution, the Big Bang, a materialistic explanation for everything is the sufficient and necessary worldview, and you can't have something like theistic evolution.

By the way, I agree with Professor Lewontin on that but from the opposite perspective. He says from the materialist perspective, you can't have something like any kind of divine influence, for example, theistic evolution, because only material is real and only the material can explain the material. There is no room whatsoever for anything that might be theistic when it comes to evolution. Remember, "We cannot allow a Divine Foot in the door," but something else really important about Richard Lewontin was the fact that he acknowledged this was a priori. That is to say, he came right out and said, "That's my assumption. I'm a materialist before I'm a scientist. My science didn't lead me to materialism. My materialism led me to science." That's profoundly important because you have people who say to us, "It is your theism that leads you to, well, the entire Christian worldview." That's true by the way.

But it's very, very important that this scientist who died just a matter of weeks ago, there in Cambridge, made the acknowledgment that his position also begins with an a priori. That is what you would say is a basic matter of conviction at the beginning, that conviction materialism. Richard Lewontin was born March 29, 1929. He died July 8, 2021.

But just a few days later on July 23rd, Steven Weinberg died. Also, he had taught at many years at Harvard University before finishing his teaching career at the University of Texas. He was a Nobel Laureate sharing the Nobel prize for his discovery, or his shared discovery, of the fact that of the four supposedly elemental forces in the universe, two of them are the weak force and electromagnetic interaction. He and others made the argument they are actually the same thing. Now that's a very complex matter of physics. It's beyond our consideration today on The Briefing. But the point is that was considered deserving of the Nobel prize, and by the time Steven Weinberg died, there were many who said he was one of the most influential scientists of any field of the 20th century.

I was first introduced to Steven Weinberg when, as a student, I was assigned to read his book, The First Three Minutes. It's a cosmological and worldview tour de force. He's a very honest man. It grew out of a speech that he had given to undergraduate science majors at Harvard University. He had described what he said was the evolution of the universe as centered in the first three minutes after the Big Bang. He said about the first three minutes, "After that, nothing of any interest would happen in the history of the universe." In other words, everything is basically encoded in the first three minutes after the Big Bang. Well, without following that, the point is that he said the universe is pointless. By the time you get to the end of his book, The First Three Minutes, he speaks of Earth as just a tiny part of an overwhelmingly hostile universe, and he also concluded "the more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless." That's an amazing statement. The universe is pointless.

Steven Weinberg, Nobel Laureate, was also a dedicated materialist. He believed that only the material world is real. That existence is merely material, and there is no supernatural. There is no God. He recognized that that means that there was no creation. It was just an accident, and the entire cosmos is thus pointless. He called upon human beings just to be brave enough to acknowledge that fact. Weinberg, by the way, was a defender of the state of Israel, and he identified with his Jewish tradition, but only as a tradition. He didn't want anything to do with the theology. He even didn't want anything to do with the ritual. He wouldn't even go to Jewish observances. He saw religion as pernicious, and by the time he reached the end of his life, he said that he hoped to see religion eradicated. He's still associated with Judaism, but only in terms of a cultural history. It was that which explains his family and his origins, but he wanted nothing to do with the theology or even the ritual. There are some who identify as Jewish, who do want to keep the ritual, even without the theology.

The point for Christians is it's all one package. It all comes down to whether or not God exists. The ideology of materialism that says the material world is all that exists, you can't even let a Divine Foot in the door, and the ideology of scientism that says the only way you can ever really discover anything real is by the methods of a materialistic science. They're two of the most dangerous ideologies of the 20th century. Oddly enough, they show up in these two neighboring obituaries published just days apart in the New York Times, but also in the scientific literature.

"The universe is pointless," said Professor Weinberg.

"You can't even let a Divine Foot in the door," said Professor Lewontin.

And then, of course, we have the pagan acceptance of LGBTQ and the explanation as to why evangelical Protestants are pro-life.

There it is. Theology matters. Wow, does it matter. Every day it matters. In every story, it matters. In every second it matters, from the first three minutes to the last three minutes, even so, Lord, come quickly.

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.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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