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The publishing world sees very few books reach blockbuster status, but William Paul Young’s The Shack has now exceeded even that. The book, originally self-published by Young and two friends, has now sold more than 10 million copies and has been translated into over thirty languages. It is now one of the best-selling paperback books of all time, and its readers are enthusiastic.
According to Young, the book was originally written for his own children. In essence, it can be described as a narrative theodicy — an attempt to answer the question of evil and the character of God by means of a story. In this story, the main character is grieving the brutal kidnapping and murder of his seven-year-old daughter when he receives what turns out to be a summons from God to meet him in the very shack where the man’s daughter had been murdered.
In the shack, “Mack” meets the divine Trinity as “Papa,” an African-American woman; Jesus, a Jewish carpenter; and “Sarayu,” an Asian woman who is revealed to be the Holy Spirit. The book is mainly a series of dialogues between Mack, Papa, Jesus, and Sarayu. Those conversations reveal God to be very different than the God of the Bible. “Papa” is absolutely non-judgmental, and seems most determined to affirm that all humanity is already redeemed.
The theology of The Shack is not incidental to the story. Indeed, at most points the narrative seems mainly to serve as a structure for the dialogues. And the dialogues reveal a theology that is unconventional at best, and undoubtedly heretical in certain respects.
While the literary device of an unconventional “trinity” of divine persons is itself sub-biblical and dangerous, the theological explanations are worse. “Papa” tells Mack of the time when the three persons of the Trinity “spoke ourself into human existence as the Son of God.” Nowhere in the Bible is the Father or the Spirit described as taking on human existence. The Christology of the book is likewise confused. “Papa” tells Mack that, though Jesus is fully God, “he has never drawn upon his nature as God to do anything. He has only lived out of his relationship with me, living in the very same manner that I desire to be in relationship with every human being.” When Jesus healed the blind, “He did so only as a dependent, limited human being trusting in my life and power to be at work within him and through him. Jesus, as a human being, had no power within himself to heal anyone.”
While there is ample theological confusion to unpack there, suffice it to say that the Christian church has struggled for centuries to come to a faithful understanding of the Trinity in order to avoid just this kind of confusion — understanding that the Christian faith is itself at stake.
Jesus tells Mack that he is “the best way any human can relate to Papa or Sarayu.” Not the only way, but merely the best way.
In another chapter, “Papa” corrects Mack’s theology by asserting, “I don’t need to punish people for sin. Sin is its own punishment, devouring you from the inside. It’s not my purpose to punish it; it’s my joy to cure it.” Without doubt, God’s joy is in the atonement accomplished by the Son. Nevertheless, the Bible consistently reveals God to be the holy and righteous Judge, who will indeed punish sinners. The idea that sin is merely “its own punishment” fits the Eastern concept of karma, but not the Christian Gospel.
Wednesday • October 14, 2015
A venerable parable from Confucian China told of an elderly man who had seen emperors and events come and go, and observed from his Confucian worldview that good news and bad news were often difficult to tell apart. “Good news? Bad news? Who’s to say?,” he would reply to any news from his neighbors.
I thought of that parable when I read the headlines that announced the news that Playboy would cease the publication of nude photographs of women in its magazine. From any moral perspective, that should appear as good news. The headlines might suggest that Playboy has had a change of heart. A closer look at the story, however, reveals a very different moral reality. Playboy acknowledged that its decision had nothing to do with any admission that pornography is morally wrong. Instead, the publishers of the magazine were acknowledging that their product was no longer commercially viable as explicit pornography because pornography is so pervasive in the Internet age hat no one need buy their product.
Scott Flanders, Playboy CEO, told the media that his product had been overtaken by the larger culture. “You’re just one click away from every sex act imaginable for free. And it’s just passé at this juncture.”
That is one of the most morally revealing statements of recent times. Playboy has outlived its ability to transgress and to push the moral boundaries. As a matter of fact, it was a victim of its own sad success. Pornography is such a pervasive part of modern society that Playboy is now a commercial victim of the very moral revolution it symbolized and promoted for decades.
Reporting on the story, Ravi Somaiya of The New York Times commented: “Now every teenage boy has an Internet-connected phone instead. Pornographic magazines, even those as storied as Playboy, have lost their shock value, their commercial value and their cultural relevance.”
That is a stunning and sadly accurate assessment on all three fronts. The iconic magazines of the sexual revolution, the very magazines that promoted the sexual revolution and opened the floodgates to even more explicit and graphic pornography, have lost their ability to shock, their ability to sell themselves to the public, and their cultural relevance — and it is precisely because the culture has become Playboy and what was once shocking is now a feature of mainstream American culture.
Playboy once had a paid circulation of near 8 million. According to the Times, it has only 800,000 subscribers now. The market is much larger than ever, but the marketplace is now the polymorphous perversity of the digital age.
“That Battle has Been Fought and Won”
Another very revealing comment from Flanders was more ambitious. “That battle has been fought and won,” he said. “That battle,” we should note, was the declared battle to overthrow an entire system of sexual morality that had once defined pornography as sin and affirmed the responsibility of a civilized society to uphold the dignity of sex and the sanctity of marriage.
As Elizabeth Fraterrigo, author of Playboy and the Making of the Good Life in Modern America, noted: “Playboy magazine played a significant role in defining an alternative, often controversial, and highly resonant version of the good life.”
That was the goal of Playboy founder Hugh Hefner. Hefner saw himself as a moral revolutionary, even bragging that Playboy “certainly made it possible to open up the floodgates” to the deluge of sexual libertinism that it encouraged, commercialized, and symbolized.
Flanders told the Times that the world has now adopted the Hefner worldview to the extent that his libertarian views on an entire range of moral and social issues are now so widely shared that the magazine’s ability to package pornography is outdated.
By almost any measure, that statement rings true. Pornography is now mainstream entertainment and available 24/7 just a click away. The vision of sexuality glorified by Playboy is no longer on the cutting edge of moral change. Playboy won the battle and can now leave the battlefield commercially wounded but culturally victorious.
The Playboy Philosophy and its Underlying Theology
Hugh Hefner was never less than ambitious and he was never covert in his goals. He wanted to transform American sexual morality and break down the Judeo-Christian sexual morality that was once dominant in the culture. He presented what he identified as the Playboy philosophy of life, and he packaged his product as a way of selling men on the sexual objectification of women — while claiming to present a portrait of sophisticated male sexuality that was both glamorous and free from the shackles of traditional morality.
Underlying every moral philosophy there lies a theology. In Hefner’s case, that theology was also in public view. He told journalist Cathleen Falsani that he was a “spiritual person, but I don’t mean that I believe in the supernatural.” He said that he believes in a creator, but not in the God of the Bible.
As he explained: “I do not believe in the biblical God, not in the sense that he doesn’t exist, just in the sense that I know rationally that man created the Bible and that we invented our perception of what we do not know.”
Further: “I urge one and all to live this life as if there is no reward in the afterlife and to do it in a moral way that makes it better for you and those around you., and that leaves this world a little better place than when you found it.”
As Falsani understood, there was a “Playboy Theology” that explained the Playboy Philosophy:
“Hef doesn’t believe in a ‘biblical God,’ but he is fairly adamant about the existence of a ‘Creator.’ He hasn’t been to a church service that wasn’t a wedding, funeral, or baptism since he as a student at the University of Illinois in the late 1940s, but says he worships on a regular basis while walking on the grounds of his own backyard. And he follows a system of morals, but not those gleaned from the Methodism of his childhood–or at least not the ones that pertain to sexuality.”
A theology that rejects the “biblical God” and any notion of divine judgment or the afterlife is integral to the Playboy Philosophy, and the overthrow of Christianity as a belief system precedes the rejection of Christian sexual morality. And all this came as Hugh Hefner made millions exploiting women and mainstreaming pornography.
Saturday • June 27, 2015
Everything has changed and nothing has changed. The Supreme Court’s decision yesterday is a central assault upon marriage as the conjugal union of a man and a woman and in a five to four decision the nation’s highest court has now imposed its mandate redefining marriage on all fifty states.
As Chief Justice Roberts said in his dissent, “The majority’s decision is an act of will, not a legal judgment.”
The majority’s argument, expressed by Justice Kennedy, is that the right of same-sex couples to marry is based in individual autonomy as related to sexuality, in marriage as a fundamental right, in marriage as a privileged context for raising children, and in upholding marriage as central to civilization. But at every one of these points, the majority had to reinvent marriage in order to make its case. The Court has not merely ordered that same-sex couples be allowed to marry – it has fundamentally redefined marriage itself.
The inventive legal argument set forth by the majority is clearly traceable in Justice Kennedy’s previous decisions including Lawrence (2003) and Windsor (2013), and he cites his own decisions as legal precedent. As the Chief Justice makes clear, Justice Kennedy and his fellow justices in the majority wanted to legalize same-sex marriage and they invented a constitutional theory to achieve their purpose. It was indeed an act of will disguised as a legal judgment.
Justice Kennedy declared that “the right to marry is a fundamental right inherent in the liberty of the person, and under the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment couples of the same-sex cannot be deprived of that right and that liberty.” But marriage is nowhere to be found in the Constitution. As the Chief Justice asserted in his dissent, the majority opinion did not really make any serious constitutional argument at all. It was, as the Chief Justice insisted, an argument based in philosophy rather than in law.
The Supreme Court’s over-reach in this case is more astounding as the decision is reviewed in full, and as the dissenting justices voiced their own urgent concerns. The Chief Justice accused the majority of “judicial policymaking” that endangers our democratic form of government. “The Court today not only overlooks our country’s entire history and tradition but actively repudiates it, preferring to live only in the heady days of the here and now,” he asserted. Further: “Over and over, the majority exalts the role of the judiciary in delivering social change.”
“The majority,” he made clear, “lays out a tantalizing vision for the future for Members of this Court. If an unvarying social institution enduring over all of recorded history cannot inhibit judicial policymaking, what can?”
That is a haunting question. This Chief Justice’s point is an urgent warning: If the Supreme Court will arrogate to itself the right to redefine marriage, there is no restraint on the judiciary whatsoever.
Justice Antonin Scalia offered a stinging rebuke to the majority. “This is a naked judicial claim to legislative–indeed super-legislative–power; a claim fundamentally at odds with our system of government,” he stated. Justice Scalia then offered these stunning words of judgment: “A system of government that makes the people subordinate to a committee of nine unelected lawyers does not deserve to be called a democracy.”
The President at the Prayer Breakfast
Tuesday • February 10, 2015
Presidents of the United States are usually awful as theologians. In far too many cases, the closer they get to anything theological, the bigger the mess they make. President Obama seems rather adept at making such messes, but he is hardly the first. The only President of the United States to be baptized while in office was Dwight D. Eisenhower. In remarks made at the Freedoms Forum at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel in 1952, the recently-elected Eisenhower said: “In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”
Of recent presidents, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton were probably the most theologically literate, and both claimed deep roots as Southern Baptists. In his infamous Playboy interview of 1976, Carter cited Reinhold Niebuhr and Paul Tillich as influences and Clinton seemed cut from the same theological cloth. Both men have, in their own way, distanced themselves rather clearly from the theological and moral convictions held by Southern Baptists. Ronald Reagan’s evangelical faith seemed to be vague and he rarely attended church services during his eight years in office. George H. W. Bush seemed to be a very conventional mainline Protestant of the old establishment but his son, George W. Bush, may well have been the most clearly evangelical president of the modern age.
President Obama identifies openly with a very liberal version of Christian thinking and reasoning. He cites religious concerns from time to time, but he seems to operate more as a secular cosmopolitan. When he does address religious thoughts openly, as at the National Prayer Breakfast last week, he made a considerable mess.
That he holds to a universalistic understanding of religion is not in doubt. President Obama spoke of faith, of his own “faith journey,” and “professions of faith.” The common denominator in his thinking seems to be faith as an act without any concern for the content or object of that faith. Thus, “part of what I want to touch on today is the degree to which we’ve seen professions of faith used both as an instrument of great good, but also twisted and misused in the name of evil.”
When people do evil in the name of faith, the President asserted, it is because the faith has been perverted or distorted. Any faith can be perverted in this way, Mr. Obama said, and no religion is inherently violent. In his words: “Our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth — our job is to be true to Him, His word, and His commandments. And we should assume humbly that we’re confused and don’t always know what we’re doing and we’re staggering and stumbling towards Him, and have some humility in that process. And that means we have to speak up against those who would misuse His name to justify oppression, or violence, or hatred with that fierce certainty. No God condones terror. No grievance justifies the taking of innocent lives, or the oppression of those who are weaker or fewer in number.”
The fact remains that Western civilization — and much of the world beyond — is directly threatened by a militant form of Islam that has the allegiance of millions of Muslims. While the vast majority of Muslims in the world are not fighters in a jihad against the West, and for that we must be thankful, the fact remains that the President’s own national security authorities directly disagree with the President when he recently said that “99.9 percent” of Muslims do not back Islamic terrorism.
On Islam, President Obama is not the first to sow confusion on the issue. In the aftermath of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush argued over and over again that America is not at war with Islam. We can understand why a president would say this, and we also need to admit that there is an important element of truth in the statement.
The West is not at war with Islam if that means a war against all Muslims and against all forms of Islam. But, true as that statement may be, we must also be clear that we are facing a great and grave civilizational challenge from millions of Muslims who believe, quite plausibly, that their version of Islam is more faithful to the essence of Islam and the Quran. This understanding of Islam is growing, not receding. It is now drawing thousands of young Muslims from both Europe and North America to join the jihad. We have seen the hopes of a moderating Arab Spring dashed and we have seen the rise of even more brutal and deadly forms of jihad in groups such as the Islamic State. Clearly, there are millions of Muslims who do believe that God condones terror. They celebrate the fact that Muhammad was a warrior, and they understand that it is their responsibility as faithful Muslims to bring the entire world under the rule of Sharia law. Their actions are driven by a theological logic that has roots in the Quran, in the founding of Islam, and in the history of Islamic conquest.
And yet, at virtually every turn, President Obama and his administration remain determined not to mention Islam in any negative light, and even to redefine some acts of terror committed in the name of Islam as “workplace violence.” His refusal to acknowledge the worldview of those who declare themselves to be our enemies is neither intellectually honest nor safe. It is a theological disaster, but it is a foreign policy disaster as well.
In the most controversial portion of his address, President Obama said:
“And lest we get on our high horse and think this is unique to some other place, remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.”
President Obama would not mention Islam by name, but he did bring judgment on the Christian past, with specific reference to the Crusades. At that point a good measure of Christian humility and honesty are called for. The centuries of the Crusades were a brutal epoch in which horrible things were done, often in the name of Christ. The union of medieval Catholicism and the power of kings was disastrous, and there are lasting stains on the Christian conscience from this era. The same is true of the era of slavery and Jim Crow laws in the United States.
But honesty is hard to come by when it comes to distant history, and that is why we should be rigorously critical when it comes to the very real and horrifying reality that terrible acts have been perpetrated in the name of Christianity. At the same time, historical honesty and humility demands that we acknowledge that in the age of armed conflict between Christian kingdoms (as they claimed to be) and Muslim armies, even the stoutest secular critics of Christianity must recognize that our current age would be very different if Muslim armies had won, for example, when the forces of the Ottoman Empire were stopped at the gates of Vienna in 1683. All those professors of gender studies and post-colonial literature in European universities might well be professors of the Quran, instead.
This is an edited transcript of The Briefing podcast from early Tuesday morning, November 25, 2014, hours after the Ferguson, Missouri grand jury announcement.
The grand jury decision Americans were waiting for came Monday night in the suburbs of St. Louis, Missouri. As the Washington Post reports,
“A grand jury on Monday declined to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager, resolving a secretive, months-long legal saga and reigniting powerful frustrations about America’s policing of African Americans.”
The lead article on the issue in the New York Times offered a similar view of the facts:
“A St. Louis County grand jury has brought no criminal charges against Darren Wilson, a white police officer who fatally shot Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, more than three months ago in nearby Ferguson.”
The reporters, Monica Davey and Julie Bosman, go on to say,
“The decision by the grand jury of nine whites and three blacks was announced Monday night by the St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch, at a news conference packed with reporters from around the world. The killing, on a residential street in Ferguson, set off weeks of civil unrest — and a national debate — fueled by protesters’ outrage over what they called a pattern of police brutality against young black men. Mr. McCulloch said Officer Wilson had faced charges ranging from first-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter.”
But as the news reports uniformly indicate, the grand jury found no probable cause to bring an indictment on any one of these crimes against Officer Wilson.
For the most part, the announcement is exactly what legal analysts expected. It is very difficult to bring a charge against a police officer who was involved in this kind of shooting in the line of duty. In almost any jurisdiction, this kind of police shooting would have led to an internal affairs investigation—not to a grand jury consideration. But the political stakes in Ferguson, Missouri were always high—especially after the images of the body of Michael Brown on the ground on a residential street in that city spread throughout St. Louis and the world.
As big a story as the announcement from the grand jury was in itself, the aftermath has become an even larger story, and exactly the kind of larger story that was feared. For what happened in the aftermath of the announcement from the grand jury was an outbreak of violent protests that set at least some parts of the neighborhood of Ferguson, Missouri on fire.
Furthermore, the protests in the St. Louis area turned violent with police reporting widespread automatic gunfire in the city. Americans saw a constant video stream of arsonist protesters and looters rampaging through some St. Louis neighborhoods. As the night wore on, the Federal Aviation Administration stopped all incoming flights into St. Louis’ major airports, citing automatic gunfire in the immediate area of the airport as the cause. As the evening wore on, protest spread to other major American cities as well. In the aftermath of the grand jury’s announcement, the family of Michael Brown, including his parents, called for protests to be peaceful, but their own admonition was not heeded.
Furthermore, as the evening continued, President Obama spoke to the nation from the White House about the decision of the grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri. Christians trying to understand what is at stake in this very sad spectacle should pay particular attention to President Obama’s comments. The president stated,
“As you know, a few moments ago, the grand jury deliberating the death of Michael Brown issued its decision. It’s an outcome that, either way, was going to be subject of intense disagreement not only in Ferguson, but across America. So I want to just say a few words suggesting how we might move forward.”
In one of his most important public statements to date, President Obama continued saying,
“First and foremost, we are a nation built on the rule of law. And so we need to accept that this decision was the grand jury’s to make. There are Americans who agree with it, and there are Americans who are deeply disappointed, even angry. It’s an understandable reaction. But I join Michael’s parents in asking anyone who protests this decision to do so peacefully. Let me repeat Michael’s father’s words: ‘Hurting others or destroying property is not the answer. No matter what the grand jury decides, I do not want my son’s death to be in vain. I want it to lead to incredible change, positive change, change that makes the St. Louis region better for everyone.’ Michael Brown’s parents have lost more than anyone. We should be honoring their wishes.”
As the president continued his remarks, he turned to address law enforcement officials saying,
“I also appeal to the law enforcement officials in Ferguson and the region to show care and restraint in managing peaceful protests that may occur. Understand, our police officers put their lives on the line for us every single day. They’ve got a tough job to do to maintain public safety and hold accountable those who break the law. As they do their jobs in the coming days, they need to work with the community, not against the community, to distinguish the handful of people who may use the grand jury’s decision as an excuse for violence—distinguish them from the vast majority who just want their voices heard around legitimate issues in terms of how communities and law enforcement interact.”
Finally, the president said,
“We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation.”
The president’s comments were restrained and responsible. As a matter of fact, it’s hard to imagine a more suitable and responsible set of comments for a president to make—much less the nation’s first elected African-American president.
Over a hundred years ago, the great Dutch theologian Hermann Bavinck predicted that the 20th century would “witness a gigantic conflict of spirits.” His prediction turned out to be an understatement, and this great conflict continues into the 21st century.
The issue of Halloween presses itself annually upon the Christian conscience. Acutely aware of dangers new and old, many Christian parents choose to withdraw their children from the holiday altogether. Others choose to follow a strategic battle plan for engagement with the holiday. Still others have gone further, seeking to convert Halloween into an evangelistic opportunity. Is Halloween really that significant?
Well, Halloween is a big deal in the marketplace. Halloween is surpassed only by Christmas in terms of economic activity. According to David J. Skal, “Precise figures are difficult to determine, but the annual economic impact of Halloween is now somewhere between 4 billion and 6 billion dollars depending on the number and kinds of industries one includes in the calculations.”
Furthermore, historian Nicholas Rogers claims that “Halloween is currently the second most important party night in North America. In terms of its retail potential, it is second only to Christmas. This commercialism fortifies its significance as a time of public license, a custom-designed opportunity to have a blast. Regardless of its spiritual complications, Halloween is big business.”
Rogers and Skal have each produced books dealing with the origin and significance of Halloween. Nicholas Rogers is author of Halloween: From Pagan Ritual to Party Night. Professor of History at York University in Canada, Rogers has written a celebration of Halloween as a transgressive holiday that allows the bizarre and elements from the dark side to enter the mainstream. Skal, a specialist on the culture of Hollywood, has written Death Makes a Holiday: A Cultural History of Halloween. Skal’s approach is more dispassionate and focused on entertainment, looking at the cultural impact of Halloween on the rise of horror movies and the nation’s fascination with violence.
The pagan roots of Halloween are well documented. The holiday is rooted in the Celtic festival of Samhain, which came at summer’s end. As Rogers explains, “Paired with the feast of Beltane, which celebrated the life-generating powers of the sun, Samhain beckoned to winter and the dark nights ahead.” Scholars dispute whether Samhain was celebrated as a festival of the dead, but the pagan roots of the festival are indisputable. Questions of human and animal sacrifices and various occultic sexual practices continue as issues of debate, but the reality of the celebration as an occultic festival focused on the changing of seasons undoubtedly involved practices pointing to winter as a season of death.
As Rogers comments: “In fact, the pagan origins of Halloween generally flow not from this sacrificial evidence, but from a different set of symbolic practices. These revolve around the notion of Samhain as a festival of the dead and as a time of supernatural intensity heralding the onset of winter.
How should Christians respond to this pagan background? Harold L. Myra of Christianity Today argues that these pagan roots were well known to Christians of the past. “More than a thousand years ago Christians confronted pagan rites appeasing the lord of death and evil spirits. Halloween’s unsavory beginnings 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 believed 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.”
Thus, the custom of wearing costumes, especially costumes imitating evil spirits, is rooted in the Celtic pagan culture. As Myra summarizes, “Most of our Halloween practices can be traced back to the old pagan rites and superstitions.”
The complications of Halloween go far beyond its pagan roots, however. In modern culture, Halloween has become not only a commercial holiday, but a season of cultural fascination with evil and the demonic. Even as the society has pressed the limits on issues such as sexuality, the culture’s confrontation with the “dark side” has also pushed far beyond boundaries honored in the past.
As David J. Skal makes clear, the modern concept of Halloween is inseparable from the portrayal of the holiday presented by Hollywood. As Skal comments, “The Halloween machine turns the world upside down. One’s identity can be discarded with impunity. Men dress as women, and vise versa. Authority can be mocked and circumvented, and, most important, graves open and the departed return.”
This is the kind of material that keeps Hollywood in business. “Few holidays have a cinematic potential that equals Halloween’s,” comments Skal. “Visually, the subject is unparalleled, if only considered in terms of costume design and art direction. Dramatically, Halloween’s ancient roots evoke dark and melodramatic themes, ripe for transformation into film’s language of shadow and light.”
But television’s “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown” (which debuted in 1966) has given way to Hollywood’s “Halloween” series and the rise of violent “slasher” films. Bela Lugosi and Boris Karloff have been replaced by Michael Myers and Freddy Kruger.
This fascination with the occult comes as America has been sliding into post-Christian secularism. While the courts remove all theistic references from America’s public square, the void is being filled with a pervasive fascination with evil, paganism, and new forms of occultism.
In addition to all this, Halloween has become downright dangerous in many neighborhoods. Scares about razor blades hidden in apples and poisoned candy have spread across the nation in recurring cycles. For most parents, the greater fear is the encounter with occultic symbols and the society’s fascination with moral darkness.
For this reason, many families withdraw from the holiday completely. Their children do not go trick-or-treating, they wear no costumes, and attend no parties related to the holiday. Some churches have organized alternative festivals, capitalizing on the holiday opportunity, but turning the event away from pagan roots and the fascination with evil spirits. For others, the holiday presents no special challenges at all.
These Christians argue that the pagan roots of Halloween are no more significant than the pagan origins of Christmas and other church festivals. Without doubt, the church has progressively Christianized the calendar, seizing secular and pagan holidays as opportunities for Christian witness and celebration. Anderson M. Rearick, III argues that Christians should not surrender the holiday. As he relates, “I am reluctant to give up what was one of the highlights of my childhood calendar to the Great Imposter and Chief of Liars for no reason except that some of his servants claim it as his.”
Nevertheless, the issue is a bit more complicated than that. While affirming that make-believe and imagination are part and parcel of God’s gift of imagination, Christians should still be very concerned about the focus of that imagination and creativity. Arguing against Halloween is not equivalent to arguing against Christmas. The old church festival of “All Hallow’s Eve” is by no means as universally understood among Christians as the celebration of the incarnation at Christmas.
Christian parents should make careful decisions based on a biblically-informed Christian conscience. Some Halloween practices are clearly out of bounds, others may be strategically transformed, but this takes hard work and may meet with mixed success.
The coming of Halloween is a good time for Christians to remember that evil spirits are real and that the Devil will seize every opportunity to trumpet his own celebrity.
Today’s decision in theHobby Lobby case represents a huge win for religious liberty in America, and the 5-4 decision will now stand as a landmark case that will reshape the religious liberty debate for generations to come. At the same time, the deeply divided court also revealed in startling clarity its own internal debates over religious liberty — and that division of understanding at the nation’s highest court is very disturbing indeed.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito declared that the Obama Administration had profoundly failed to meet the demands of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act [RFRA] and, more importantly, the demands of the U. S. Constitution. By mandating that corporations provide all forms of contraception or birth control for all female employees at no cost, the government had burdened the consciences of the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, Mardel, and Conestoga Wood, the three corporations involved in the decision.
The Court restricted its decision to “closely held” private corporations. Hobby Lobby and Mardel are owned and operated by the family of David Green, who with his wife Barbara, began the company in their own home. Though much smaller than Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood is also a privately held corporation. The Green family is a bulwark of evangelical Christian conviction and generosity. The company pays its employees about twice the minimum wage, closes on Sundays, and references the Christian gospel in advertising. All along the way, the Green family makes clear that they are driven by Christian convictions in their corporate policies.
Similarly, Conestoga Wood Specialties operates on the same convictions. The Pennsylvania company is known for its quality wood products. It was founded by a deeply committed Mennonite couple, Norman and Elizabeth Hahn, who continue to operate the business with their three sons.
Both companies sued the Obama Administration over the contraception mandate authorized under the Affordable Care Act — a mandate that required them to provide and pay for birth control coverage that would have included four specific forms of birth control that may cause early abortions. Neither company sought a complete escape from the contraception mandate.
As the majority opinion in the case made clear today, one of the largest questions hanging over the decision is this: Why is the Obama Administration so deliberate in attempting to violate the religious convictions of Americans on the contraception and birth control issue?
Today’s decision is yet another repudiation of the heavy-handed and blatantly unconstitutional overreach of President Barack Obama and his administration. The President could have covered contraception and birth control under any number of other means which would not have specifically targeted religious liberty. Instead, the Obama Administration appeared to take the route most likely to trample upon religious liberty and offend Christian conscience. Today’s decision is another rebuke of the President and his approach, coming just days after a set of cases in which his arguments were repudiated by the same court in 9-0 decisions.
Furthermore, the President faces the looming threat of even greater rebukes to come.