The Briefing, Albert Mohler

Monday, October 23, 2023

It’s Monday, October 23, 2023.

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

Part I

Wars and Rumors of Wars Combined: Will President Biden’s $100B Proposal Be Approved?

The President of the United States gave an address last Friday in which he asked for over $100 billion of combined military assistance for Ukraine, Israel, and Taiwan. There is a lot to this, but what you have here is a loaded political package, and it’s at a very decisive moment in world history. I think most of us recognize that things are breaking loose all over the globe. You have Ukraine; Russia invaded with Ukraine fighting back–a war that is going on. There is no clear path to victory for either side, but we are talking about what is now the first land war of any kind, of substance or duration like this, in the European theater ever since World War II. Nothing like this had happened for decades. Now it’s all too real.

And then of course you have the Hamas invasion of Israel, and that is threatening to become a much wider war. Hezbollah there in the north is sending very clear signs of interest in joining the fray, that would present Israel with an enemy to the north and an enemy to the south. You’re talking about a change in the world situation in which you have what I call a new axis of evil that is now developing with Russia and China and Iran. We’ll be tracking that in days and in weeks to come. This is a major reshaping of the globe, of the world picture, and that reminds me of a couple of terms we ought to think about. Worldview is one of those terms we have necessity to use on The Briefing over and over again. We talk about news and events through a Christian worldview. That is a Christian understanding of the world, a Christian understanding of reality, a Christian understanding of human life, a Christian understanding of morality.

That means the great truth claims of Christianity shape the reality and then we seek to understand world occurrence, all the basic issues of life, through the lens of a Christian worldview. A world picture is a bit different. A world picture is our understanding of the way the world is, how it exists, what the globe looks like. And thus we have a changing world picture, we need to have a maturing ever more faithful worldview. We need to make sure we have an accurate world picture that is based in reality, based in truth, and adjusting to changes–changes in national borders, changes in international affairs, changes in technology. Our world picture needs to meet reality as it is on the ground, on the globe. Our worldview needs to meet the test of Scripture based deeply in scriptural truth and in the great profound eternal truths of the Christian worldview.

One day our world picture will be gone, but our worldview will continue. That’s a distinction that makes sense, I think, this day simply because our world picture is changing constantly. Fundamentally, in the last say two to three weeks, that world has changed. The Russian invasion of Ukraine now well over a year ago, our world picture changed. Our picture of what’s politically plausible, our picture of who our friends are, our picture of who our enemies are. This is all changing before our eyes. And right now, as I said, it looks like there is a triumvirate lining up to reshape the world at the expense of the United States, Western democracies, and of course the nation Israel. We’re talking about Iran and Russia and China. And not by coincidence, those three are very much involved with one another, even as you see the headlines of the days pouring out. More on that in days to come.

Meanwhile, let’s go back to the President’s proposal. The President made a proposal to Congress of a combined omnibus spending bill that would amount to more than $100 billion dollars. That’s more than $100 billion. Now, the largest portion of that would be military aid to Ukraine, but put an asterisk on that for a moment because that gets just a little bit complicated. Then you would have military assistance to Israel. And as you’re thinking about military assistance to Israel, you need to think about the fact that one of the biggest issues Israel now faces is that a technology that was developed with the United States–the Iron Dome missile defense–Israel is in grave danger of running out of defensive. That is to say defensive missiles or rockets, even as the enemy holds thousands and may launch a barrage that could overcome the Iron Dome defenses. That would make virtually all the population centers in Israel very vulnerable.

As I said, the largest recipient in terms of those American defense funds would be Ukraine. But as I said, there’s an asterisk there because a good portion of that money is actually not money or armaments that would now go to Ukraine. That’s not what at least a large portion of those billions of dollars would go to. Instead, a lot of that money would go to replenishing America’s armory, because we have sent so much equipment, we have sent so much ammunition, we have sent so much of our own military defense technology to Ukraine, it’s going to take billions upon billions of dollars just to rebuild what the United States needs. And that’s in view of the fact that we understand the world to be even more dangerous to the United States and to our interest and to our allies than just a matter of say two years ago, or for that matter two months ago.

At the same time, the United States is also proposing to spend a great deal on aid to the Palestinian people in Gaza and beyond who have been displaced and threatened by this military action. All of them morally are in one sense victims of Hamas. But even as Israel now seeks to undertake military action to destroy Hamas, there are many in the West who are going to be working very hard to try to get water, medical equipment, other things to the Palestinian people without allowing those resources to fall into the hands of Hamas. And the most controversial of all the issues there is not power, it is not water, it is not food, it is not medicine. It is fuel. And that, right now, is the biggest sticking point in terms of Western attempts to bring aid and Israeli attempts not to arm and refuel their deadly enemy.

It’s also interesting to note just very quickly that we’re talking about fossil fuels here. We’re talking about the continued reality that the world runs on those fossil fuels, and right now hospitals and desalination plants, other institutions there in Gaza that are necessary for the continuation of life of the citizens there, they require fuel. But Israel can’t afford for that fuel to fall into the hands of Hamas. It’s a very tricky situation. It’s a situation made all the more complicated by the fact that you have Arab nations which are playing a public game and a private game, and at this point, no one’s really sure how the public game or the private game is turning out here. Which is to say, in public, these nations are making a lot of noise about helping the Palestinians, but in reality on the ground, many of them are not doing what they could do to help the United States and others help the Palestinian people under this circumstance.

So this is just where we have to begin this week with this massive proposal unveiled late, just as the nation went into the weekend, by the President of the United States. And thus, the big question is, will this legislation get through Congress? Will it be well received by the Senate? Most importantly, the House of Representatives holds the power of the purse in terms of budgetary funds, and nothing can happen until the House is functioning. Then the question will be, how will legislators of both parties respond to this Biden administration proposal? Here’s where things get really complicated. The first complication is the House of Representatives is not now operational.

To recap, just as the nation went into the weekend, a second Republican nominee for the Office of Speaker of the House failed on a third vote. That would be Ohio Congressman Jim Jordan. He followed the withdrawal of the previous nominee, who had been Louisiana Congressman Steve Scalise. All this made necessary because of the removal of Kevin McCarthy of California, the previous Speaker of the House. His name is still on the office door, but there is no Speaker. And here’s something some Americans just learned in a rather awkward civics lesson: the House of Representatives cannot operate without a Speaker. No legislation can progress without a Speaker.

So we’re looking at a political crisis domestically. The Republican majority must elect a Speaker, and we simply underline that. The removal of Kevin McCarthy came before the Hamas attack upon Israel, and we’re now looking at the fact that it’s clear we need an operational House of Representatives. And that means mature leadership in place, able to function legislatively and provide leadership to the House of Representatives. The House is without that leadership right now. That could quickly become a basic matter of our own national security.

So the first complication in terms of the President’s proposal and how it will be received by Congress is the fact that the House of Representatives is not currently operational, because it has no Speaker, but there’s a second complication. This one’s really interesting. Who would support the President’s proposal and who would oppose it? Now, when you’re looking at something of this magnitude, you’re looking at something in a political context, a couple of things are in play here.

Number one, there will be many who will seek some kind of political unity in standing behind the President and this kind of proposal in order to help Israel, to help Ukraine, to help Taiwan, and furthermore, just to send a signal to the watching world that the United States is united on this. But there will also be those who will say, this is a sly political move by the President, putting all these things together, because there are actually some in Congress who would support aid to Israel who do not support this scale of aid to Ukraine. There are those who want to offer military assistance to Taiwan against the threat of China. But putting all this together was a political act by the administration hoping to divide and conquer, so to speak, so that the bill would actually get through or get through in some kind of form acceptable to the administration.

But here’s where the issue also gets very complicated. Usually, the dynamic is between Democrats and Republicans, but when it comes to this kind of spending proposal, these crises around the world, you’re looking at Taiwan, you’re looking at Ukraine, you’re looking at Israel, you’re looking at the fact that there are some Democrats who would not stand with the Democratic President on at least part of this funding. And there are some Republicans who would stand with the Democratic President, but would stand over against other Republicans who would see at least some of this differently. That’s to say that the funding for Israel is likely to bring the Democratic President overwhelming Republican support. The support for Ukraine, not so much. On the support for Israel, the President’s big problem is not likely to be Republicans. The problem is likely to be, rather, anti-Israel Democrats–in other words, in his own party, the left wing of his own party. The squad, just to give an example.

But as you’re thinking about aid to Ukraine, the situation is the opposite. There would be many Republicans in favor. There would be probably most Democrats in favor, but there would be an increasing number of Republicans ready to say, “Now wait just a minute. What is the exit strategy here?” And especially now that we are looking at war in the Middle East as well as war there in Ukraine, we better be very careful how we channel these long-term defense investments. So you’re looking at a very complicated picture. The next few days are going to be absolutely strategic, but I just underline again, unless there is an elected Speaker of the House or some mechanism with a temporary Speaker to move things forward, all of this is relatively hypothetical at a very dangerous moment in world history.

Part II

God Does Not Live in a Temple Made by Human Hands: The Theological Significance of New Jersey’s New Hindu Temple

Coming back to the United States, a very important, interesting development in the State of New Jersey. You can’t talk about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine without talking about the Russian Orthodox Church, without thinking about Ukrainian opposition, even right now, Ukrainian opposition to the Russian Orthodox Church. You can’t talk about the conflict in the Middle East without talking about Israel as the Jewish state being attacked by an Islamist terrorist organization, Hamas. So theology is in the headlines. It’s right there front and center in the headlines. Theology is in the headlines coming from New Jersey, but in this case, the theology is Hinduism. And that comes as something of a surprise to most Americans. As you are looking at the major world religions being present in terms of adherence in the United States, Hinduism is very low in terms of percentage, and most of them are immigrants to the United States from the Indian subcontinent.

But the State of New Jersey actually has the largest population of Hindus in the United States. And that amounts, we are told by US News, to about 3% of the population. And 3% in this case is pretty massive. But massive doesn’t even come close to describing the new Hindu temple that in recent days was dedicated there in Robbinsville, New Jersey. The photographs are very stunning, and the architecture is immediately recognizable as a Hindu temple. You think of the Hindu temples built, especially in India and elsewhere around the Indo-Pacific world, it’s a recognizable architecture. And in this case, this temple is massive by any Hindu proportionality. It is able, we are told, to swallow the MetLife Stadium almost four times. That’s the campus itself. The temple dominates that campus. It is now described as the largest Hindu temple in the world. Which now is not, we are told, in India, but rather in New Jersey.

Deena Yellin of US News reports it this way. “The gleaming edifice of marble and stone is graced with decorative arches, intricate carvings depicting stories from Hindu scripture, and about 10,000 statues. Its spire reaches 191 feet into the sky.” Now, let’s just look at that math again. 10,000 statues. By definition, Hinduism is polytheistic. That is to say, believes in many gods. How many gods? More than anyone can count. There is no definitive count of Hindu gods. The carvings in this case, the statues reveal 10,000 different statues depicting different Hindu deities.

The same report tells us, “Almost 13,000 people from around the world spent 12 years working on the project constructing the largest Hindu temple in the world. Ahead of its official opening and dedication last week, which included dedicating not just the temple, but also a welcome center and a religious museum, devotees said it would be a landmark moment for America’s large and growing Hindu community, including almost 300,000 living in New Jersey.” But this temple is not just for the reported 300,000 Hindus in New Jersey, but rather it’s intended to be a symbol of the presence of Hinduism in the United States, this massive temple and its grounds, but also something of a tourist attraction as well as a religious attraction, especially for the Hindu devotees here in North America.

Another fact that is widely advertised about this temple is that it was built by volunteer labor. This is based upon the Hindu principle of Seva, which means that millions of hours of labor went into the construction of this campus based upon the devotion of Hindus who volunteered. But there is a great deal of controversy about this, and the controversy made it into the headlines, because there are arguments being made, accusations being made, criminal investigations being conducted into how exactly the word volunteer was defined here. US News reports about a 2021 lawsuit against the sect, “charging that volunteers were abused and held as virtual prisoners on the work site, as well as a criminal investigation undertaken by federal authorities following a raid on the complex in 2021. The suit accuses the group that built the temple of trafficking hundreds of laborers from India and forcing them to work in poor conditions and for below minimum wage pay. Workers, according to the suit, were subjected to ‘shocking mistreatment, including 12.5-hour days seven days a week, little time off throughout the year.'”

But that case, that lawsuit has been put on hold so that a New Jersey criminal inquiry can proceed. The US attorney’s office in Newark would neither confirm nor deny an active investigation, but lawyers for both sides acknowledge that the investigation is now underway. Sarah Pulliam Bailey of The New York Times reports the issue this way, “Even as visitors are making their way to the Robbinsville Temple, the treatment of some of the people who worked on its construction is still at issue. When the temple was raided in 2021, dozens of workers were taken from the construction site.” Because of this, this reporter described the temple as being “clouded in controversy.”

My main interest here is theological and Sarah Pulliam Bailey gets right to the point when she tells us, “For Hindus, the temple is the heart of a religious life and where they believe god resides in sacred images of deities. That, according to Yogi Trevedi, identified as a scholar of religion at Columbia University, has served as a volunteer spokesman for the temple during its dedication weekend.” He also said, “Temples are used for rituals such as the waving of a sacred lamp, communicating with the divine, music and chanting, and the bathing of the sacred image of a deity.” So, just go back to that, the bathing of a sacred image of a deity. That bathing is known as a sacred illustration or an act of devotion. But again, at the center of it all is the presence of a deity in the form of an idol, as it is claimed. That is central to Hinduism. And as I said, an official count is actually impossible.

Obviously, this is a major distinction between Hinduism and biblical monotheism, biblical theism, the God of the Bible revealed in both the Old and the New Testaments. This is made most graphically clear in the Old Testament’s comprehensive condemnation of all attempted images of God. And this is even in the 10 Commandments where God said, “You’re not to make an image of me.” And for that matter, you have the prophets who are making very clear the deadly danger, the lie of idolatry. But in the New Testament, this point was made most graphically clear with direct relevance even to exactly what’s presented in the news of the dedication of this Hindu temple. It’s made clear by the apostle Paul in Acts 17, when Paul spoke in Athens at the Areopagus. That is of course the Temple mount there in Athens.

You’ll recall the beginning of Verse 22, we read, “So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus said, ‘Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you’re very religious. For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription: ‘To the Unknown God.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you.'” Then in Verse 24, this is what Paul tells the Athenians there in a temple to idolatry. So he knew exactly where he was. He knew exactly to whom he was speaking, and this is what he said boldly in Verse 24 of Acts 17. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.”

So in other words, God, the God of the Bible, the one true and living God, the maker of heaven and earth, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, he cannot be represented as an idol. He will not be represented as an idol. He does not live in a temple made with human hands, nor does he want human hands to serve him as if he needs anything. And that includes a bath.

So all of a sudden, in the headlines of the day, you find not only controversy about a temple that’s caught the attention of law enforcement. That’s not my main concern. But rather, my main concern is to point to the theological conflict, the worldview conflict, the deep essential right at the heart of biblical Christianity conflict. And even as we understand how this story is being reported in the news, we understand that theologically, this is even bigger news, and in one sense, older news than America’s mainstream media could possibly understand.

Part III

Theology Matters, and It Shows in a Census: The Continuing Influence of Hindu’s Caste System Comes to the Fore in India

But finally on this, I need to shift to a major report that came out almost at exactly the same time. This report appears in The Economist of London, one of the most authoritative news sources in the world. This tells us about an explosive census taken in India, and it’s so controversial because it’s sought to count people by Hindu caste. That’s C-A-S-T-E, caste–a status to which you are assigned by birth, in which you are ranked from the very lowest, known as the untouchables, historically, all the way up to the highest hierarchical aristocratic class.

The Economist reports it this way, “The census shows that Bihar, that is one state in India, Bihar is home to about 130 million people. Some 63%, that is a clear majority, belong to castes considered other backward classes or extremely backward classes. A further 20% are Dalits, formerly known as untouchables, at the very bottom of the pyramid.” So that’s 63% plus 20%. That’s 83% identified as either other backward classes or extremely backward classes. The Economist simply says that the census is very controversial and “these numbers are explosive because they show that the share of backward castes in Bihar’s population is higher than previously estimated.”

Time’s running out for this consideration today, but I simply want to affirm, even by pointing to this report in The Economist, that theology matters. It always matters. It matters everywhere, and it matters for a very long time. And what you see here is that the influence of Hinduism within the historic caste system of India, it’s easier to say you want to get past it than to actually get past it. And so what you’re looking at here is the report telling us that something over 80% of the people in this Indian state are considered to be of lower castes or extremely lower castes. And that has to do with economic status, it has to do with political status, it has to do with whether or not one basically can function in public. And I just underline again, this is deeply rooted in theology there in India.

We don’t have time to unpack this, but the understanding of history as a cycle with reincarnation makes a great deal of difference in which the argument is you live what Hindus describe as a more holy life, at least in part, in order that you may be reincarnated to a higher status. By itself, that should be enough to underline not only that theology matters, but that the distinction between biblical Christianity and the gospel of Jesus Christ and every other religious truth claim or religious system in the world, it is not only distinct, it is when rightly understood, nearly infinite.

Thanks for listening to The Briefing.

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R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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