The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Friday, October 6, 2023

It’s Friday, October 6, 2023.

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

Part I

‘The Top Takeaway of the Study is That There’s A Lot More to Learn’: NASA Admits Lack of Knowledge of Any Extraterrestrial Origins of UFOs

There are simply some issues that won’t go away, and I think it’s safe to say they’re probably never going to go away. You can look through human history and there’s always been a great interest in what is out there we don’t know, who is out there we don’t know, of whom we are unaware. The question of UFOs in the modern age has been a constant, particularly since the late 19th century when at least there began to be some kind of fantasy literature, science fiction you might call it, imaginative literature about travel outside of our solar system and somewhere into outer space, often fanciful, just imagining what that might be–think Jules Verne, other writers of the day. But then recognize that by the time you get to the 20th century with all the massive technological advances that were made, and of course by the 1960s we are even, as the United States, putting a human being on the moon and returning that space crew safely back to Earth. But then the question becomes, well, if we’re sending missions to the moon, who is trying to send missions to us? There is also just a huge human fascination with the unknown, the spectacular, the inexplicable.

I think this is sometimes a good thing for Christians to think about, why are human beings drawn to these kinds of issues? Well, it is because we’re a contradiction, even to ourselves.

We are, as creatures, just as we think and feel and as we socially relate to one another, we’re given to two things that are sometimes contradictory. One of them is we are deeply attracted to pattern. We’re incredibly attracted to pattern. We can look at something and say that parking lot didn’t just happen. Someone set it out. Look at all those spaces, look at the lines. Someone did that. There’s evidence that human beings were here. They left a parking lot. That attraction to pattern, of course, is larger than human conscious activity. I mean, we’re interested in pattern if it’s in the stars, if it’s in the shape of a flower. We’re interested in patterns as human beings, for some reason, at least a part of what it means in the way our Creator made us, we’re attracted to pattern.

But that means something else, and this is something for us to think about. If we’re attracted to pattern, we’re even more attracted to a break in the pattern. We’re incredibly attracted to what doesn’t belong here. Even a baby, one of the earliest things say a baby, a toddler, a preschooler learns is what things belong together. You look at that and you say, “Well, they’ll line things up by like and then they’ll separate them by unlike and this is a pattern recognition. When there is a hippopotamus in the middle of where the chickens are gathered, there’s a problem. There’s a break in the pattern.” This is simply true in architecture in which some people play with this kind of thing, but the fact is we’re attracted to pattern, even more attracted to a break in the pattern.

The inexplicable also is something that just fascinates us, and furthermore, here’s something else. We’re made by God in his image as conscious beings. We’re the only creature that is made in God’s image. We’re the only creature able to know Him and able to use language, and able to communicate and imagine and do the things that human beings can do, but our imagination is also directed towards questioning whether we’re the only pattern. Is there another pattern? Is there a break in the pattern? Are there those who are from outside planet Earth who also are conscious beings? If we’re trying to figure them out, are they trying to figure us out? This is where you also have something else to watch and that is that a break in the pattern is often judged as morally suspect.

This is just interesting. This is just something that can be noted even among very young human beings. If there’s a break in the pattern, it must be wrong, we have to fix it. Thus there is the question, if there is a break in the pattern, if there are creatures outside of our solar system, outside of our known world, are they friendly or are they unfriendly? If they’re looking for us, are they looking for us with good purposes or bad purposes?

The question of UFOs has just fascinated people in many countries over the course of the last century in a way that from what we can tell is pretty new. At least a part of that is because it’s very new that we’re able to put airplanes in the sky, we’re able to put rockets into space.

So this does raise all kinds of questions, and there are those who are absolutely certain that UFOs are visitors from outer space, from other planets, from other solar systems. They cannot be convinced otherwise. Recently I spoke about the fact that the United States government has acted as if it’s taking this very seriously. It’s created panels. In just recent weeks, NASA and its leadership have announced that there is nonetheless no evidence that UFOs, unidentified flying object, which are now sometimes called UAPs, unexplained aerial phenomena, NASA, with whatever authority you ascribe to NASA, it has now said there’s absolutely no evidence that they have extra terrestrial origins.

Now, what’s interesting is not just that people say, “Hmm, I don’t think that ends the question. I don’t think that definitively closes the door.” What’s interesting is that many people hearing that are actually angry about it. They’re angry that NASA or some kind of government panel will come out and say that UFOs seem to have no extraterrestrial origin, at least in terms of any evidence. They’re angry about it because, you know what, that just proves those government panels are in on the conspiracy.

Now, I want to be intellectually humble and honest. I have no evidence one way or the other. As a theologian, I’m often asked about this question, sometimes come up even on Friday sessions of The Briefing where a listener will ask about UFOs, and that’s where I just need to point out that the U is the most important letter in all of that, the unidentified, and I’ll just be frank, I am not able to make the identification. It is really interesting that a public statement by NASA’s administrator Bill Nelson, former Democratic senator from Florida, he said, “The top takeaway of the study is that there’s a lot more to learn.” Now, that’s one of those government statements that is irrefutable. The top takeaway of the study is that there is a lot more to learn.

Yes, there’s a lot more to learn. I just want to let you in on a secret, that’s the government way of saying, “We have no idea what we’re talking about.” Administrator Bill Nelson also said, and The Washington Post reported on this, that NASA is keeping an open mind on this issue. This is what’s really interesting, “He personally believes that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the vastness of the universe.” Oh, wow. Now that’s a little outside the norm. That’s a break in the pattern. We notice it. The pattern is government statements say basically nothing other than there’s no evidence that UFOs have extraterrestrial origins. But then the break in the pattern comes when the NASA administrator says, “Oh, I just admit to you personally I do believe that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the vastness of the universe.” Well, on what basis? Well, there is no basis. This is just his own opinion. This is just his own hunch, or it’s at least his own public statement for whatever reason.

But it is really interesting that there’s so much fascination in this that NASA has to hold press conferences to discuss it and even to explain what they mean when they say, “We don’t know.” It’s also really interesting, by the way, that we discussed this last on The Briefing when a former U.S. analyst of intelligence, a man by the name of David Grusch had spoken before Congress, Congress held testimony on this and said, The Washington Post describes it this way, that for decades the government has run a classified program that retrieves alien spacecraft and even bodies, “And in Mexico City this week, a self-described ufologists displayed for lawmakers what he claimed for two alien corpses discovered in Peru in 2017 alleged to be about a thousand years old.”

The next paragraph tells you a lot about how these things work. “Reporters queried national officials on both these sets of claims. Nelson noted in Grusch’s account, it was by his own description, secondhand, referring to the alleged alien bodies displayed from Mexico’s Congress.” Well, this particular spokesman for NASA said, “Anyone who claims to have discovered evidence of extraterrestrial life ought to provide samples to the scientific community for analysis.” In other words, don’t show me pictures of thousand year old dead alien bodies before the Mexican Congress. Bring them here for examination. I want to see those aliens face-to-face.

By the way, the panel has recommended that NASA should “play a prominent role” in the government effort to try to understand unidentified aerial phenomena using “existing and planned Earth observing assets to probe the local environmental conditions associated with UAP that are initially detected by other means”. That’s how government talks when government wants to say something but not much.

Part II

Once the Dress Code Goes, What Goes Next? The Senate Casts Aside Professional Dress and Raises the Question of What Historical Decorum Will Go Next

But next, I just want to go back a little bit in time and recognize that just a matter of days ago, another major building block of civilization fell and that ought not to go without notice. In this case, it is the dress code in the United States Senate. Senate Majority Leader Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer of New York announced that the unwritten rules of the dress code in the Senate were going to be changed in order to relax the dress code that had previously required business attire for men that included suit and tie and dresses with covered shoulders or pant suits for women. Now evidently, all the rules are off. Now, why did this happen?

Well, for one thing, you’ve got this general impulse of casual dress throughout so much of the society. You think if there’s any place, if there’s any physical place in which you wouldn’t show up except dressed in some kind of formal sense and business attire, looking like you’re there for serious business, you would think that that would be the United States Senate. The Senate, of course, has historically been differentiated from the House and that the Senate is the upper chamber. It’s the most traditional of the two houses of our legislature. Congressmen, well, they can dress in different ways and they have a different set of rules, but senators are supposed to look like senators, whether they are men or women, they should not show up in casual dress on the floor of the United States Senate.

But it’s not just the growing casual, it’s the normalization of this kind of casual dress just about everywhere you go, just anywhere in public, you get on an airplane. I mean, it’s amazing what people wear, or you might say what they’re not wearing. But nonetheless, you look at this and you recognize there is something significant that is happening here. It’s possible to make too much of this. This is not the breakup of the American constitutional order. But on the other hand, this is a really big deal. We’re talking about approaching 250 years of history in the United States Senate. We’re talking about a chamber that requires norms and decorum and operates by rules. We’re talking about a chamber that in its elegance reflects the dignity of legislation, particularly in Congress’ upper chamber.

Yet you look at this and you recognize, well, sometimes outlaws change the rules. In this case, the leading outlaw has to be Pennsylvania Democratic Senator John Fetterman who was elected after having campaigned as a populist wearing I guess what you describe as dark sneakers, gym shorts and a hoodie. That’s now how increasingly he’s showing up in the United States Senate. I’ll simply say he dresses intentionally in order to establish his brand. His brand is appearing in public as unprofessional as possible. I just want to say this isn’t just about some kind of partisan issue. It’s not just about John Fetterman. It’s not just about the United States Senate. It is about the fact that we do send signals to one another by how seriously we take things by how we dress and how we present ourselves.

This is the Senate presenting itself in a very different way. If the dignity of making and maintaining the laws of this constitutional republic, if that does not require at least showing up at least in a way that would be required in the most formal of business occasions, of cultural occasions, then why do we have a United States Senate? Why is there the notion of an upper chamber? Why have the elegance of the U.S. Capitol Building? Why have the norms of professional etiquette and the kinds of structures that make a culture work? This is a bigger issue than dress. As I say, it’s possible to make too much of this, but on the other hand, you have to ask another question. Once you change this rule, how do you ever get the genie back in the bottle, so to speak? How do you ever say this is really turning out pretty bad?

Because evidently the airlines can’t do it. Evidently resorts can’t do it. Evidently, a decreasing number of churches are even interested in it. You just have to wonder what comes after this. It’s easy to say this is just about clothing and it’s irrelevant. But well, ask Adam and Eve who once they had eaten the forbidden fruit, decided all of a sudden, “Whoa, we’re naked. We got to put on some clothes.” You look at the children of Israel, and for one thing, men and women are told to dress in ways that you can tell a man is a man and a woman is a woman. You also have a distinction between the priests and those in Israel. It’s just a reminder of the fact that the clothes really do matter. We can make too much of it, but we can also make too little of it.

The reality of someone like Senator John Fetterman showing up in the United States Senate wearing big sneakers and PE shorts and a rumbled hoodie, and frankly looking as if he despises the institution as he’s sitting there. That’s sending a signal. It’s not just a brand, it’s a signal. These days it’s a signal that pretty much goes to a lowest common denominator. I don’t know where the Senate goes from here, or for that matter, the rest of the society.

One final thought. There was some wisdom that still gets reflected, by the way, in what we require children. So if you go back to the development of the boys schools that were so much a part of culture in the United Kingdom, in Britain, England, and in the United States, boys wore uniforms including, in many cases, shirts and ties, even jackets in class in order to send a signal you’re in class. Athletic gear was for the athletic fields and those were taken very seriously too. But there was a distinction between what was called athletic kit and dress for school.

It’s interesting that given a lot of the challenges faced by educational institutions, a lot of schools have decided there’s a link between behavior and dress. It’s not one-to-one, doesn’t guarantee everything, but there still is a distinction between people who dress for school and those who just happen to be at school. Now, I don’t want to absolutize my own personal taste, I’d be glad to talk to you about that, but I will tell you that I well remember what my dad said to me when I was getting ready to go take a major test. He said, “Put on a tie, you’ll do better.” I did put on a tie. I think I did do better. I knew what I was doing. I was getting dressed for the game. It tells you something that when it comes to the U.S. Senate, the game itself appears to be in big trouble.

Part III

What Practical Advice Would You Give to College Students Considering Marriage While They Are Still in School? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

I want to turn to questions from listeners. Rob wrote in to ask a question. Rob’s a pastor in Virginia and he says, “In the past I’ve heard you encourage young people toward marriage and starting families.” He says, “I certainly encouraged the same and practiced it. My wife and I married when I was 19 and she was 21.” Rob goes on to say as a pastor, “I am curious what kind of practical advice you might give to a college student, especially a freshman or sophomore, is considering getting married while in school?” What a good question. I appreciate that. Of course, this pastor is in Charlottesville, Virginia and University of Virginia is right there. You look at this and you say, “Well, okay.” As you look at human history, there’s been a lag time between puberty and marriage in most cultures, but it’s been a short lag time.

So you can look at the fact that puberty arrived somewhere in the early teens. Its reproductive capacity and full physical growth generally by the end of the teens into the early twenties. At some point along that continuum, marriage was to be on the horizon and not as something way out there in the future, but as something practical and fairly near. As a matter of fact, most parents considered it at least a central part of their responsibility to make sure that their children were successfully married. Now again, marriage is not the calling for everyone, but it is the calling Christians understand for the vast majority of believers. That’s simply the norm. As you understand both the Old Testament and even say look at the Apostle Paul’s letters to the churches, this becomes very clear.

Most people are going to get married, most people should get married. The question is if they delay marriage, why and at what cost? As I point out, the delay of marriage, which is unique in our culture, it’s in terms of precedent found only in times of plague and war. In other words, only in times of plague and war has there been such a lag time in terms of marriage. But now we’re looking at a time in which those aren’t the case. But over the course of the last several decades, the age of first marriage, that’s just the way the statisticians put it, has been getting older and older and older, and marriage has been subverted and marriage has been weakened. I’m not saying that it doesn’t work when you get married when you’re older, I’m simply saying there is real wisdom in understanding that God’s intention is to get married, make that a major goal of life.

I think for most people, young people, we just have to say that for Christians, we understand there’s this urge in the vast majority of young Christians to get married. That’s a right thing, not a wrong thing. It’s a good thing to desire a wife if you’re a young man. It’s a good thing to desire a husband if you’re a young woman. Godly marriage is just a very important thing. I think it’s a crucible for discipleship as well. I also think just a matter of fact that younger parents are in a stronger position to raise families in many ways, and reproductive capacity is something that can be tracked.

Right now you’ve got the age of marriage and the age after peak reproductive capacity, which is becoming so clear, that’s why you have a lot of these assisted reproductive technologies that are becoming much more a part of even just normal human experience. It wasn’t meant to be that way. Again, as a Christian, we simply have to say sexual sin is a big issue here. Temptation, sexual desire, it has a rightful context. We are drawn to marriage, and even the sexual desire is I think something God puts in us in order to awaken a calling to marriage. So at age 19 or 20, what I try to say to people is the age of adulthood should be the age of marriage, at least that should be considered a norm. That should be at least considered an aspiration.

So I’m not saying that it’s unfaithful if you’re 22, 23, 24 and not married, I am saying that marriage at least ought to be very much a part of the horizon. The Christian Church should have that very much in mind. But one of the functions of marriage is economic as well. That’s also I think biblical. So the question becomes, is the marriage of a 19 and a 20 year old economically viable? I would simply say there are conditions of which it is and there are conditions of which it isn’t. I think that what we’ve seen in terms of the extension of adolescence, and I don’t mean that physically, I mean that socially, the extension of adolescence generally until graduation from a four year college experience, that’s pretty much the norm.

It’s one of the reasons why as that American college experience became more and more normalized, marriage right after college became something of a norm. That was just to be expected. It was not surprising to anyone. So Rob, in many ways wish I had a magic answer to this and knew exactly what to say in terms of specific advice to everyone. But I think it’s one of the reasons why we need wonderful gospel churches and wonderful godly pastors who like you are asking this question and trying to be good counselors to young men and young women who I think are really in many ways just looking for encouragement to do what they already yearned to do and to figure out how to do that faithfully.

So I’ll simply say the delay of marriage is not a sign of social or moral health. I think we know that the subversion of marriage is one of the most destructive factors set loose in our society right now. If nothing else, the church of the Lord Jesus Christ ought to be the place where pressing back on that is celebrated by all.

Part IV

How Can We Pledge Allegiance to a Country as a Christian? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

But next, a mom sent in a really interesting question. There’s some good historical background to this and obviously practical application right now. Mallory writes about the Pledge of Allegiance and she says she came across the argument that the pledge actually started as a socialist and progressivist indoctrination scheme in schools. They added the under God in part to appease the more mainstream Christian culture at the time.

Points out the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Many speakers took out the under God. This gets to the point. What is your understanding of the history of the pledge? Is it okay to say the pledge as believers even with the under God included? Can you please speak to pledging allegiance to a flag and a country as believers? But then she ends by saying, I also have a hard time explaining to my sons why we would pledge allegiance to anything but Christ. So let’s think about it. Mallory, good question. Here’s the Christian issue, first and foremost. In the Old Testament and in the New, there is a proper allegiance given to subordinate entities, but the only ultimate allegiance can be given to the one true and living God.

So you’re absolutely right that there can be no ultimate allegiance given to anyone but God. As in the Old Testament, you cannot bow the knee to an idol. You cannot bow to anyone who would claim to stand in the place of God. You can give no ultimate allegiance to anything earthly or subordinate. The only ultimate allegiance can be given to God and to God alone. For full evidence of that, all you have to do is look at the 10 commandments, you shall have no other gods before me. Ultimate allegiance is owed to God and God alone. For Christians, that means that we have no lord but Lord Jesus, and that has to be just abundantly clear and actually primary to every other consideration.

But at the same time, even in the Old Testament, not only with Israel, but even as you look at the young Jewish boys who were with Nebuchadnezzar, and you look at other political entities, there’s a proper allegiance that is to be given to a king, a proper allegiance that is to be given to a people, even what we might say as a nation. So it’s really interesting, in the New Testament, on the one hand, you have kind of a relativization of the nation, and then at the same time without any apology, you have Paul who identifies himself as a Roman citizen and demands recognition as a Roman citizen, so evidently that’s not wrong. The Apostle Paul models it. So that means there are different levels of this kind of allegiance, properly seen.

A proper allegiance is certainly owed by parents to children, and by children to their parents, that again, in the 10 Commandments. You also have a proper allegiance to community. I don’t think the nation state is an improper abstraction of that. I think in many ways that’s a representation of what it means to understand love of neighbors. Not limited to that in terms of ultimate allegiance, but there’s something fundamentally right about Paul saying, “I’m a citizen of Rome.” I think there’s something fundamentally right about me claiming that I have the rights and privileges and responsibilities as a citizen of the United States of America, and I owe to the United States of America a certain allegiance, a certain faithfulness that’s not ultimate.

I am not to bend the knee to Caesar and not to bend the knee to an idol. I’m not to give any ultimate allegiance where no ultimate allegiance is owed. Ultimate allegiance only to God. Those subordinate realities, they have to find a proper level of allegiance and it’s partial. I think that’s one of the reasons why the insertion of the words under God really did kind of smooth the Christian conscience in terms of the pledge of allegiance, just because that became very clear in those two words, no matter who put them in or what was the intention. That’s a complicated story, by the way, just in terms of history of the pledge. But nonetheless, it was made as a way of making it easier for Christians to acknowledge an allegiance that’s not an ultimate allegiance.

There are Christian traditions, by the way, that say you can take no oath and you can give no vow of allegiance to any of the subordinate orders. So for instance, the Anabaptist tradition has sometimes been characterized by this kind of principle. The Anabaptist including say the Amish who would not take oaths and would not pledge allegiance, and frankly, in some cases, do not claim any earthly citizenship. That’s not the mainstream Christian position. I think both in the Old Testament and in the New, just using the example say of Daniel on the one hand and the Apostle Paul on the other, there is an allegiance, but it’s a subordinate allegiance. Keeping that straight, that’s an important Christian responsibility.

Getting it wrong means that we idolize the subordinate, but getting it wrong another way would mean we don’t recognize the subordinate is also a part of God’s order. So thanks for the question. I think it should be a good topic of discussion in your family and in a lot of other families as well.

Part V

Is There Inherent Value in Praying or Speaking Truth Even If We Are Not Fully Engaged Mentally? — Dr. Mohler Responds to Letters from Listeners of The Briefing

Very practical question is asked by Justin about prayers. He says, “My question is regarding spoken prayers. I’ve been attempting to recite certain prayers every morning to both focus myself and to pray impactful truths over my life and day. I found, however, that I do not always have mental engagement in those prayers.” He’s asking a very practical question, “Is there an inherent value in speaking truth, prayers, creeds, et cetera, even if we’re not fully engaged?” He cites Jesus saying that we’re not to heap up empty phrases in our prayers as the Pharisees do. Justin, very good question. I simply want to start with a humble Protestant confession and that humble Protestant confession is really important, and that Protestant confession is we are never 100% mentally engaged.

In our fallenness, this is one of the results of the fall, it’s called one of the noetic effects of the fall. We are never 100% focused on anything. To be human is to have some kind of attention disorder, simply what it means to be distracted and distractable. Furthermore, we’re actually fooling ourselves if we think we’re ever absolutely fully engaged. Just to give you evidence of that, I don’t care sometimes how exhilarating an experience is, you are simply moved beyond words by seeing something, and the next thing you realize, I got to go to the bathroom or I really want a hamburger. You recognize we just can’t keep ourselves as constant as we would like to.

For one thing, we’re embodied creatures. Our bodies aren’t constant, and so there are all kinds of issues here. But practically, Justin, you ask about prayer and outspoken prayers and you might say even reading scripture or singing hymns. I just want to say it’s all, when you look at the means of grace as Protestants described them, that they’re all of a similar thing. We’re listening to a sermon, but we’re never 100% engaged. We just know we need to be. We need to aspire to that. We need to learn how to discipline our minds and give the sermon as much attention as possible. When we’re in a conversation with our spouse or with our children, frankly, we’re in the very same position. We just need to learn how to give ourselves to that and try to learn how better to give ourselves to that.

In prayer, I think it’s very helpful that we have so many biblical models of prayer. I think also in Christian history. One of the most helpful assisting me in thinking about prayer was actually offered by one of my colleagues, Don Whitney, who has become such a powerful advocate for praying the Bible, praying the scriptures. The scripture will order our prayers when we can’t, and that doesn’t mean that we don’t use our own words and form our own phrases. Jesus informs us how to do that as well. But Jesus also gave his disciples, I wrote a book about this, Jesus was asked by his disciples, “Lord teach us to pray,” and he taught them to pray and what we know as the Lord’s Prayer or the model prayer is certainly a great place to start in terms of understanding how to pray.

But Justin, you’re really asking about a larger issue. I say hymns, the same thing. You’re never as 100% engaged in a hymn as you might think you are. At times, your mind might be about the music or about someone singing next to you and it’s all glorious, and yet you’re singing the words. This is one of the reasons why we need to come back every Lord’s day and do it again and do it again and do it again, and eventually the word of God resides in our hearts and eventually even those great hymns in their biblical content and in their doctrinal substance, they begin to live in our hearts. We play them in our minds. They help to frame our thoughts for us. Our thoughts go beyond that. So Justin, I appreciate your question.

I think, first of all, we turn to scripture and there’s everything right with reading the scripture and praying what we read. There’s everything right I think with the praying as Jesus taught us to pray, even the words of the prayer he gave to his disciples. We go beyond that, but I just want to say that honest assessment again, we’re never as in it as we think we are, but we’re trying by God’s grace every day to be more in it than we were the day before.

I thank you for your questions, all of them, and I look forward next week to getting to more.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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Today I am in Dublin, Ireland, and I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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