Friday, October 29, 2021
It's Friday, October 29th, 2021.
I'm Albert Mohler, and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
There Must Be no Confusion Between The Gospel And Dark Spiritual Forces: Christian Considerations For Halloween
Well, we're looking at a clash of worldviews all around us. And Halloween is one of those moments when we see it on display. Now, as you think about a cultural celebration like Halloween, which now by the way, is one of the big five in consumer spending in the United States. Just think about that. When you're looking at this kind of cultural occasion, sometimes you look and you see more than is there. Sometimes you look and see less than is there. I think for Christians, the great danger is looking and see less than is there. Herman Bavinck, the great Dutch theologian, over a hundred years ago said that the 20th century would exhibit "a gigantic conflict of spirits". That means a great clash of worldviews, but it also means a spiritual battle.
Herman Bavinck, and he was writing from the Netherlands, but he did visit the United States... he knew us too... he was writing about this great clash of spiritual forces in the 20th century. And what he was really writing about was the fear that a society that had once been shaped by Christianity, having abandoned that Christianity, is now spiritually defenseless against the spirits of the dark side and make no mistake, those are exactly what are being celebrated in what Americans call Halloween. When we talk about the size and scope of Halloween, Nicholas Rogers has reported, "Halloween is currently the second to most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism, he writes, fortifies its significance as a time, but public license, a custom designed opportunity to have a blast, regardless of its spiritual complications. Halloween is big business."
Now indeed, it is big business. It's also a big deal and I recognize many Christians, Christian families, young people are trying to think through what Halloween means. I just want to give you some ammunition, some theological and historical ammunition for thinking this issue through. And by the way, Nicholas Rogers is helpful for this on the historical side. He's a professor of history, York University in Canada. He's written the book Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Now the issue of pagan roots just needs to be considered a bit... what pagan roots and what's the continuation of the influence of those roots. The main pagan route is the Celtic festival of Samhain. And that came at the end of summer, the beginning of fall. It was a harvest festival. As Rogers explains, "paired with the Feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life generating powers of the sun, Samhain belonged to winter and the dark nights ahead."
Now there are debates even now as to the extent to which that festival was a celebration of the dead, but nonetheless, even if that was not a part of the ancient Celtic paganism that produced the festival, it became such, relatively quickly. But at least the celebration or the commemoration of the dead was there. As Rogers writes, the idea of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity, heralding the onset of winter, it was there from the very beginning. Harold Myra, once with the magazine Christianity Today, years ago, argues that the pagan roots of Halloween were well known to the Christians of the past. He wrote this "more than a thousand years ago, Christians confronted pagan rights, appeasing the Lord of Death and evil spirits." "Halloween's unsavory beginnings," he writes, "preceded Christ's birth when the Druids in what is now Britain and France observed the end of summer with sacrifices to the gods."
It was the beginning of the Celtic year and they believe that Samhain, the Lord of Death, sent evil spirits abroad to attack humans who could escape only by assuming disguises and looking like evil spirits themselves. Well, if that looks like your street right now in suburban America or your downtown walk, the explanation is, there are continuities and Christians need to understand those continuities. Now, there are people who will say, well, what about Christmas? There were ancient winter festivals that at least have some influence. And there are those who've argued even with the evergreen tree or what came from the German tradition known as the Christmas tree. There are those who say, look to the celebration of the resurrection that Christians observe in the spring and you can look back to the fact that even the name Easter has some roots in ancient pagan practices.
Yes, but here's the point. Here's the point. You can make any number of debates about Christmas and the festival of the resurrection. And I'm speak as an unreconstructed Protestant here. But the point I'm going to make is, that both of those festivals during the time of the Christian year are filled with Christian content. The whole point of Christmas is to celebrate the incarnation of the Lord, Jesus Christ, the word become flesh. The whole point of the festival of the resurrection is to point to the historical truth that Jesus Christ is raised from the dead, bodily, physically, historically raised from the dead. But when you're looking at Halloween, there is no filling with any kind of Christian content. And the reason for that is actually symbol. Given the pagan roots, the specific pagan roots, and the attachment to the celebration of death and to the spirits of the dead, there is nothing that Christians can do to build upon this particular holiday.
Now, where does that leave us? Well, it leaves us by the way, looking for the next day. And again, Halloween, at least in its common expression now, even as the word has come into the English language, comes from a shortening of, or a corruption or mispronunciation of All Hallows' Eve. All Hallows means all souls. And at least on the old historic Christian calendar, All Souls Day was a Christian Day of celebrating the power of Christ over death, the power of the resurrection over death, the communion of the saints, All Souls Day. It was a declaration of Christian truth. The night before was All Hallows, or All Souls Eve and that became just conflated into Halloween. Again, the average person on your block with all the Halloween decorations has no idea that Halloween actually comes from All Hallows Eve and points to a Christian celebration.
But the point is, Halloween has now been associated with Samhain, it has now been taken back to the Celtic roots and it has all of the dark elements, albeit highly commercialized and stylized these days, those roots are still there. Now, one thing for us to think about is that the custom of wearing costumes, particularly costumes imitating evil spirits is indeed tied to those ancient pagan practices of the Celtic culture. Harold Myra summarized it this way, "Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rights and superstitions. But even as you're looking at, say the jump from an ancient Halloween to a more modern Halloween, one of the things we should note is that in recent years, Halloween has not grown tamer, it has grown darker. We have gone from 1966 and, "It's the great pumpkin Charlie Brown" to a succession of slasher movies. And to those that are even darker than the slasher movies of the 1980s and '90s.
As I've often argued, the fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into a post-Christian secular condition, while the courts are removing all theistic references in America's public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil paganism and new forms of occultism, that as we see, new forms of occultism basically have very long traditions and ties to old occultism.
Well for Christians, what does all this mean? Well, for one thing, Halloween is at least as a cultural occasion, an opportunity for us to remember that evil spirits are real, that the devil Satan is real and that the scripture says he will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity. Perhaps the best response to the devil at Halloween is that offered by the great reformer Martin Luther. He said, "The best way to drive out the devil, if he will not yield to texts of Scripture, is to jeer and flout him for, he cannot bear scorn."
Well, what you're looking at these days in this cultural celebration is not a scorning of the devil and evil, but rather an attempt to try to commercialize it, to try to domesticate it and in some ways to try to celebrate it. So how does that come down to what Christian parents should and should not do? I want to state this emphatically, you should not, must not, allow your children nor yourselves to portray in any way the evil forces and the spirits of the dead as attractive or deserving of that kind of attention, much less celebration. There must be no hint of any kind of occultic complication or involvement. Now, what does that mean? If you have a little boy dressed up as a cowboy or dressed up as policeman, what do you have with a little girl who's dressed up as a princess? Well, I am not going to dictate what that means for individual Christians. I'm simply going to say there can be no confusion about the gospel and the dark side and the infinite eternal distinction between the two.
But that's Halloween. And you can find many resources. I've written about this at my website, albertmohler.com.
So Your Son Wants to Be a Princess? A Halloween Opportunity The Gender Revolutionaries Cannot Miss
But I was using the illustration of a little boy dressed like a cowboy and a little girl dressed like a princess. But what if that gets mixed up? That's the second story. And yes, it's brought to you courtesy of USA today. The headline is this, "What to do when your son wants to be a princess for Halloween," then in parentheses, "(Hint: have fun)." The subhead in the article at USA today, "Halloween actually brings with it an incredible opportunity to encourage your children, to embrace their authenticity, whatever that looks like." Yes, we're going to have to take a look at this.
You have the argument that Halloween is an opportunity. The gender confusion movement can't possibly miss. And in this case, we'll simply say, at least there is a continuity with ancient paganism in the same kind of confusions. But what do we do about this confusion? Well, it tells us something about what we need to understand in the culture around us. Lisa Kenny's the article writer and she says, "my son wants to be Elsa for Halloween. What should I do?" She goes on to argue this type of question pops up frequently on parenting message boards, Reddit threads, and Facebook groups. She continues, "every year around Halloween, parents reach out to me and ask how to navigate the situation. Their son or daughter wants to dress up as something outside of gender norms. And they're not sure what to do." And I'll just assert that I think most listeners to The Briefing have a pretty good clue of what to do, but let's look at the article, listen to the very next sentence.
"The first thing to understand is that there's nothing problematic about your son wanting to dress up like Elsa or your daughter wanting to dress up and use The Force to get candy as Kylo Ren. Now again, just notice the argument. This is the public shaming. We saw it just Wednesday on The Briefing with that statement from former president Barack Obama, that the ship has sailed. If you missed it, you're just off the ship. Speaking of the moral revolution, speaking of the LGBTQ revolution. But now you have it in an article in USA today where parents are being told, if you have a problem with your son wanting to go trick or treating as a princess, the problem isn't your son, the problem's you. No, the problem's the argument, but notice again the language, there's nothing problematic about your son wanting to dress up like Elsa. Now I want to state something else at this point. When we look at this kind of article, when we look at this kind of public argument published in something with, let's say, the platform size of USA today, speaking, supposedly to mainstream America, one of the points I want to make is that if you have to say this, it probably isn't true.
That is to say, if you have to say, there's nothing problematic about this, well then, why are we talking about an article about this? Why does USA today give the space to it if there's nothing problematic here? Oh, there's something problematic. But of course the suggestion here is that it's those who have a problem with this, who are the problematic. Lisa Kenny goes on, "It may make you uncomfortable, and you may be concerned about the response they, or you, will get from other kids and parents, "but letting these concerns get in the way of your child being able to wear what they want on Halloween, is the wrong approach to take here and can leave young people feeling unsupported and ashamed for their interest like they need to hide part of themselves."
Well, the article goes on to tell us about the unbridled joy that children have when they're out in costume, "showing off their looks to neighbors and friends is a powerful thing." And, she goes on to say, "it can be a very special time for many young people." The next paragraph must not be missed. "Gender has a lot to do with that. It's a moment to break free of limiting gender norms that hold back many of us while having some fun with self-expression." She goes on to say, "I encourage parents to not only 'allow' their kids to dress up as whatever they want, allow, put in quotation marks, "but to affirm those choices and help their young people feel proud." She goes on to give an illustration, "A shiny example of that is this father who not only supported his son's choices, but dressed up as Elsa himself last Halloween for an extra dose of affirmation."
Now I just want to say, I just want to offer, that if there's a knock at your door and you open it up and there's a father and a son dressed up as princesses, that's going to be a very scary day, regardless of whether you call it Halloween. Later in the article, we are told this and I want to make reference to this argument because it's the kind of thing we need to recognize when we see it and simply call it out. So here it is, "Of note, 23% of GenZers," that means those who are a part of Generation Z, "expect their gender identity to change at least once in their lifetime according to a 2019 report from Irregular Labs. And a Vice"--that's the publication Vice, a Vice survey--"found 41% say they identify as neutral on the spectrum of femininity and masculinity."
Let me just state, that's a lie. Regardless of whether this research supposedly says that, it's not true. And all you have to do to prove to yourself it's not true, is go out in public and look at young people, including members of Generation Z. We're told that 23% of them expect their gender identity to change at least once in their lifetime? Let me just state it bluntly. I don't believe it, but it's written as if you're supposed to look at that and say, oh, well that means it's quite normal. And then the survey we are told that found 41% of GenerationZers "say they identify as neutral on the spectrum of femininity and masculinity." Again, go to the mall, go to a football game, go out in public. Just look at the people who are around you. Look at the people in your own neighborhood. Look at the people in your community. Look at the people who are even just seen in public and ask yourself if 41% appear to be neutral when it comes to femininity and masculinity, even younger adults, as those who are identified here is GenerationZers.
I just want to say, I don't believe it's true. I don't think you think it's true. I don't believe it's true at all, but it's being presented in this argument as if it's so true, you need to realign your entire understanding of reality and morality to comport with this truth. I'm simply going to end by pointing out that the author identified as the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, of the group Reimagine Gender and the former Executive Director of Gender Spectrum. So, formerly the director of Gender Spectrum, now the CEO of Reimagine Gender. Well, again, that explains a lot. It actually explains just about everything you need to know.
How Should Christians Think About Eating Meat? — Dr. Mohler Responds To Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing
But next we're going to turn to the Mailbox. Always interesting questions. I always appreciate hearing from listeners to The Briefing when you agree, when you disagree, when you raise an issue, ask a question. My discussion recently on The Briefing of the issue of fake meats brought some very real attention. And I appreciate that. An opportunity for clarification's always important. I was told that there are those who are vegans who eat and promote fake meats, not because of the environment, but because of what's described here as the insane suffering that animals endure as we mass produce them, like they were a commodity and not breathing sentient beings. And this was an issue raised by April who says, "Thank you for your podcast. I listen daily, but don't always agree, but I enjoy them sincerely." Well, I sincerely appreciate your response April, and what I want us to think about here, my first thought when I saw what you wrote was that you're making a distinction between those creatures that aren't sentient or those organisms, say, even plants that definitely aren't sentient and those that are sentient.
And then you mentioned the slaughterhouse context. Well, I think arguments can be made about the proper and appropriate way for us to think about the slaughtering of animals for food. But I just want to point out that right now, I am teaching word by word and verse by verse through the book of Leviticus. And, especially in those early chapters, there is so much attention to the sacrifice that will require animals and the killing of those animals, whether from the herd or from the flock--and the flock, by the way includes both goats and sheep, respective sacrifices and birds. And so what you're looking at there is the fact that I don't think there's any way to separate when you're thinking about sentient beings. I don't think there's any way to eliminate the meaning of slaughter. And I think that's just something we need to think about. The meaning of the fact that a life is taken in order that human beings might accomplish either obedience to the sacrificial system, as we find in the Old Testament, and the experience of Israel or for that matter eating.
And that also takes me to something else. Again, I welcome your point April, and it makes us think these things through. Someone else wrote in, Bill, to say that there's also a health side to the use of fake meat, mentioning that in his experience, cholesterol had been raised, something about the health side of fake meat would be nice. He says, as we're also stewards of God's creation and our bodies in this case. Well, Bill, again, that's a good point.
I simply want to say that I don't think in a biblical worldview that can be categorical because as you look at the Noahic covenant in Genesis 9, when meat is given to us to eat, and then you look at the internal testimony of Scripture, not only in terms of the narratives that tell us about what was eaten and the festivals at which you had all kinds of meat eaten, particularly lamb and the experience of Israel, but you also have the Book of Acts and the fact that the kosher laws, as we know them now, the laws related to food and diet for Israel were taken away in the new covenant and not just by some kind of inference or argument, but by a direct biblical vision that was given to Peter.
So at least as we read the Scripture, but the Old and the New Testament, a part of the goodness of the world for humans, a part of the goodness of the world as a human habitation, includes the eating of meat. And that would require are the killing of those animals. So that's something that I think a lot of Americans probably don't say out loud, but nonetheless, it's true. And I appreciate both of these letters for making us think through that a bit better. Now that doesn't mean that there are not people, and there are not diets, that eat too much meat or eat meat cooked the wrong way or any number of other considerations maybe taken into effect. But I'm just talking about the basic fact that the goodness of creation as testified to in both testaments includes the enjoyment of meat. And speaking of the modern livestock issue, that really is something to take into consideration, that there are moral dimensions to just about everything and certainly to this.
But we also have to understand the moral dimensions of feeding billions of people. And the reality is that simple agrarian pasturing won't feed the billions of people who need food. Now, there are those of course, who use that argument to say, there shouldn't be so many people, but again, that should raise all the concerns of anyone with the biblical worldview. So that tells us that some kind of large farming is going to be necessary, regardless of what people say. There is no way that everyone's going to be able to eat organic everything. And that's not just an economic or local problem... that's just a scale problem. And the same thing is also true when it comes to understanding how human beings can have a diet that includes meat. But again, serious moral issues here. I respect that they have been raised. They give us all things to think about here.
Should Christians Expect Life Outside Of Earth In The Cosmos? — Dr. Mohler Responds To Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing
Speaking about the possibility of life on other planets, and by the way, I've never argued that it's categorically or biblically impossible. I would simply say there is no biblical evidence to consider the question and that's the way I try to address it. There's simply no biblical evidence for us to consider the question. But what we do know, and as Greg wrote, this is Gregory in this case writing this, he speaks of the astonishingly vast and complex varieties of life, species, climates, and ecosystems that God chose to place on this tiny spec. As he writes, perched way out on a spiral arm of the Milky Way, he asked a question, "Why would we, who profess to know Him, think even for a moment that he would leave all those billions of galaxies and worlds in barren sterility", he says, "seems like a cosmic waste of space?" He put a smile face after that, by the way.
So at least this is an issue raised for consideration. And I'll simply say, it's all for God's glory. Whatever it is, it is all for God's glory. And it is all to point to God's active redemption of sinners on planet earth. Is there more to the story? Well, one day we may find out. There's no biblical evidence for us to consider the question. But one thing that is made clear in the Scripture, and that is that the vast expanse of the cosmos, which we are only understanding, and the tiniest of fractions, is actually made entirely meaningful because it is the sovereign Creator. God, who made it all, who rules over it all. And he has revealed to us that the purpose of it all, is that human beings on planet earth may know Him and that he would act to redeem us so that he's revealed as both Creator and Redeemer.
In that sense, there is no possibility that there is a particle, an atom or a molecule anywhere in the cosmos without meaning.
Why Was the Death Sentence For the Boston Marathon Bomber Argued at the Supreme Court? — Dr. Mohler Responds To Letters From Listeners Of The Briefing
On the issue of the death penalty, I appreciate the contact from Matthew and as a recent law school grad, he writes that, "Indeed the issue before the Supreme Court in the recent hearings, was the sentence handed down to Dzhokar Tsarnaev, the Boston Marathon bomber, the surviving bomber, who was convicted on 30 counts, including six capital counts. Of course the death penalty issue is exactly what the Biden administration was arguing for. They were arguing for the reinstatement of the death penalty in this case. What I pointed out is the incongruity between that fact and the fact that the Biden Administration, indeed the president himself, has said that he will not execute by the federal death penalty. He will put a stop to federal executions.
And so what's the point of going before Supreme Court to supposedly defend the death penalty, when you have stated that you think the death penalty at the federal level must come to an end. By the way, I wrote an article about that on "The death penalty and the American conscience," published on Wednesday at World Opinions. But Matthew's point about the sentence being the issue before the Supreme Court's exactly right. The issue is not the conviction. It is rather the sentence.
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.
Today, I'm in Asheville, North Carolina, and I'll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.