I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
Richard Dawkins’ Free Speech, Chinese Atheism, and New York’s Judges of Love
Today we’re going to find out why atheist Richard Dawkins was disinvited from an event with a California radio station, why the Chinese Communist Party is so determined that communists be atheists, and why a group of retired New York State judges has formed itself as judges for love.
RICHARD DAWKINS EVENT CANCELLED OVER CRITICISM OF ISLAM. WHY THE DOUBLE STANDARD?
Richard Dawkins is back in the headlines again, this time from Berkeley, California, or sort of from Berkeley, California. Actually this headline comes from London, England from the Guardian. It tells us,
“Richard Dawkins event cancelled over his ‘abusive speech against Islam’”
Alison Flood reporting for the Guardian says,
“Berkeley’s KPFA Radio cancels appearance by evolutionary biologist after learning of his ‘hurtful speech’ against the religion – a charge the author contests.’”
Flood begins her article by telling us,
“Richard Dawkins has denied using ‘abusive speech against Islam’ after a California radio station cancelled a book event with the scientist, citing his comments on Islam, which it said had ‘offended and hurt … so many people’.”
Now who are we talking about here? Richard Dawkins is one of the best-selling scientific authors of all time. He might be the most famous single scientist in the world today. The only person who might come close to rivaling him in terms of that celebrity status might be Stephen Hawking also of Britain. Richard Dawkins is also the best-known atheist in the world today. He is perhaps the most vocal of the so-called new atheists who emerged in the 1990s and beyond. A vociferous opponent of theism, his biting critiques of theism and of Christianity have resounded throughout a great deal cultural conversation. Years ago I wrote a book entitled Atheism Remix seeking to address and to answer Richard Dawkins and his peers, but it’s really interesting that in this case Richard Dawkins isn’t in trouble whatsoever for his critique or biting comments about Christianity, but rather about Islam. And as you might expect, there’s a big story there.
The big story is also about a public radio station, KPFA. And as I said here in the beginning, we’re talking here about Berkeley, California. We’ve noted in recent weeks and months that Berkeley, California was the birthplace in the 1960s of the free speech movement. And yet Berkeley has been in headlines in more recent months not because of its advocacy for free speech but because of the left on that campus shutting down free speech. And now it’s Richard Dawkins who’s been shut down in terms of this public appearance on behalf of Berkeley’s very, very liberal public radio station. But why Richard Dawkins now? Well it comes down to what’s identified as hurtful language he used about Islam.
On its website the radio station said,
“While KPFA emphatically supports serious free speech, we do not support abusive speech. We apologize for not having had broader knowledge of Dawkins’s views much earlier. We also apologize to all those inconvenienced by this cancellation.”
Now before we even look at the speech let’s just consider the distinction there. Here you have a public radio station that says it emphatically supports serious free speech, but it does not support abusive speech. Well what exactly would abusive speech mean? Richard Dawkins has basically insulted the intelligence of anyone who believes in God. Richard Dawkins has made extremely caustic comments about Christianity, but only that against every theistic religion, including Islam. He’s been rather pointed in his critique of Islam. As the paper tells us,
“Dawkins, the author of anti-religious polemic The God Delusion, called the decision ‘truly astonishing’, and a ‘matter of personal sorrow’.”
When he lived at Berkeley for two years decades ago, he said,
“He had listened to KPFA ‘almost every day’.”
But he goes on to say, he has been liabled, abused by the station for being accused of hate speech against Islam. He says instead that his critique has been against Islamism against Islam. Now that’s not necessarily a case that holds up when you actually look at Dawkins’ statements because he’s identified Islam as the problem. But then he says this,
“I am known as a frequent critic of Christianity and have never been de-platformed for that. Why do you give Islam a free pass? Why is it fine to criticize Christianity but not Islam?”
Now that’s a really good question. Why is Richard Dawkins not de-platformed for criticizing Christianity, but rather for Islam. It is because of the very twisted understanding of sensibilities and the redefinition of speech and the protection of certain groups rather than others. In this case Christians are understood to be numerous and influential. Therefore, it’s fine to abuse Christians or Christianity but not to use the same kind of speech against Islam. And this is so selective and frankly, sadly so predictable on the part of the far left. This is a pattern we are seeing now over and over again. It’s also a denial of reality. Because to his credit, Richard Dawkins has been rather accurate and truthful in talking about many of the theological claims of Islam and the larger pattern in terms of Islam as a challenge to the West. At least Richard Dawkins understands, it is a challenge.
There’s another important issue for Christians. And that is this: we should not seek to de- platform persons who critique Christianity or belief in God. We shouldn’t in any way seek to de-platform even the most ardent atheist in making his or her case. Why? It’s not just because their freedom of religion is the same as our freedom of religion. It’s also because as Christians we do not fear nor run from the argument. As a matter of fact, it’s the Christian responsibility to answer the argument, to answer the opponent, to answer the critic of Christianity, not to try to silence that person. But as we pointed out that’s a crucial distinction between Islam, which is an honor religion, and Christianity, which is not. The story also sadly tells us how a radio station that’s supposed to be public radio can actually be an agent not of encouraging and allowing, facilitating conversation, but rather simply shutting it down.
INSECURITY OF ATHEISM ON FULL DISPLAY AS CHINA BANS RELIGION FOR COMMUNISTS
Next while we’re dealing with atheism, let’s switch from the United States to China. A recent headline,
“China bans religion for communists”
Jamie Fullerton, reporting from Beijing for the Times of London, tells us,
“China’s estimated 85 million members of the Communist Party have been warned that they are not allowed to have religious beliefs, and that those who do will be punished.”
We are told that the,
“director of the state administration for religious affairs, said that religion undermined communism. Party members must be,”
In the words of the director,
“firm Marxist atheists, obey party rules and stick to the party’s faith”.
Now at the very least, we have to recognize that it is the director of the state of administration for religious affairs who at least understands what communism is, and he understands that communism is indeed undermined by Christianity. That’s the very argument that he’s making. It’s just even religion generically that undermines communism. Is that true? Well let’s just go back to the fact that communism didn’t emerge from a vacuum. It emerged most particularly in terms of Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels in terms of a commitment to what was known as dialectical materialism. That is a philosophy that denies the existence not only of God, religion you’ll remember they dismissed as the opiate of the peoples, but a philosophy that is based upon the fact that the material world is all that there is. You add to that hegelian dialecticism arguing that there is a dialectical pattern to history, and you end up with communism, and communism, of course, came with revolution. And that revolution came with state enforced atheism. That was true not only in China, but also in the Soviet Union in terms of the Bolshevik revolution and subsequent developments there.
But it also points to the fact that China, which has been modifying its communism in terms of its economics moving towards at least a qualified market economy, is still ideologically trying to remain steadfastly communist. It also tells us that there’s some insecurity there in China. The number of Christians has been growing exponentially in that country. And by the way, Christians aren’t the only religious group growing in China but by far the largest group. It is estimated that China might now be even at this time the largest Christian country on earth – that is the country with the largest number of Christians – but it certainly will be in very short order. It is known that there are more Christians in China than there are members of the Communist Party. But evidently the communist party wants to make sure those numbers do not overlap, and thus you have the director of the administration for religious affairs saying that members of the Chinese Communist Party must remain steadfastly atheist or they’re going to be punished.
The reporter of the Times of London reminds us that state-sponsored, state-enforced atheism does have effects. When I was in the former East Germany just recently, what had been on the other side of the Iron Curtain, Christians there reminded me of the fact that the University of Chicago here in the United States had recently undertaken a study indicating that only 8% of the residents of the former East Germany believed in the personal God. That’s the legacy of state-enforced atheism there behind the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe. But we are told in this article that China is already the most secular country in the world. 61% of the population describe themselves as atheists. That’s a huge number of people when you consider the vast population of China. But you’ll also notice the insecurity of the Communist Party, the insecurity of dialectical materialism, and the sense of threat that comes from Christianity in China today. And a sense of threat that comes all the way down to an official dictate handed down by the guardian of atheism for the Chinese Communist Party that has made its way all the way in the headlines in Western capitals.
One of the interesting aspects of this particular story is the fact that it points to the insecurity of atheism even when it comes with the coercive power of a government and in this case the Chinese Communist Party. That’s a massive political and social coercion power. But what we’re looking at here is the fact that atheism is always insecure because human beings are not born inclined toward atheism. Given the fact that they are made in the image of God, they are inclined towards a hunger to know the God who created them. That’s not going to go away in China. It’s not going to go away even as supposedly enforced within members of the Chinese Communist Party. Why? Because it simply won’t go away.
SEARCHING FOR LEGITIMACY IN A SECULAR AGE, COUPLES TURN TO RETIRED NEW YORK JUDGES
We shift back to the United States and a story about marriage. Marriage has been in the headlines all too often in recent months and years, but this one’s a little interesting. It comes virtually out of the blue telling us that in a secular age people still need some kind of formality and presence in terms of the person officiating at the wedding. We are to hold that in this secular age in a rather secular state in this case New York State, a group of retired judges and justices have formed Judges for Love in order to bring a certain stature amongst those who want a wedding, a secular wedding, but they still want some kind of majesty. Vivian Wang reporting for the New York Times tells us that,
“For a long time, people dreaded seeing Justice Alan D. Marrus. Justice Marrus spent 30 years on the New York State Supreme Court, so meeting him often meant something had gone terribly wrong.”
As Wang then reports,
“In his retirement, Justice Marrus has become one of five Judges for Love, a group of former New York Supreme Court justices who perform civil marriage ceremonies for couples who want more pomp and circumstance than is provided by a quick trip to City Hall.”
Justice Marrus said,
“I’m dealing with people now who want me to give them a life sentence.”
But then the article tells us this is part and parcel of the modern redefinition of marriage. Wang writes,
“Clients, many of whom are about to enter same-sex, interfaith or nonreligious marriages, meet with a judge for a consultation. They discuss everything from the procedural — where should the judge stand? — to the playful: Could the judge please incorporate the song “Take On Me” by the Norwegian pop band A-ha into the vows? (That was a request from Halley and Todd Agnello,” we are told, “a couple he married in February). Judges for Love,” we are told, “promises a wedding with a degree of personalization that is not available the city clerk’s office, but also with a guarantee of legitimacy that can sometimes prove elusive.”
The New York Times report then tells us that only clergy and some public officials can perform legally binding marriages in the state. Now let’s just pause there for a moment. It tells us something that even in this very confused society, even in this very confused society, even in a very secular, indeed, culturally liberal state like New York State, people still long for the legitimacy – there’s the word— that is brought with a marriage license. And with the marriage license, they then want a marriage ceremony. This tells us a great deal. Even if we didn’t know anything in terms of the Christian worldview, we would know that human beings that are about to make a commitment to one another, long for social recognition, they long for stability, they long for ceremony, they long for something bigger than themselves, and they’re looking for witnesses to the occasion. Weddings are not by accident.
The Times also tells us that New York,
“State law prohibits sitting judges from accepting money for performing weddings”
That’s probably one of the reasons why they’re rather reluctant to do so. But there is no legal prohibition upon retired judges or Supreme Court justices from offering themselves as well officials for higher for weddings. Now I’ll just interject here, this seems a bit embarrassing, I would think, for someone who is retired justice of the New York State Supreme Court. It seems almost implausible that they have come up with a group they actually called Judges for Love. But they’re actually retired judges for higher. They’re there to do your wedding if you are secular, same-sex, or other nontraditional couple. Somehow you want a wedding, and you want it with all the trappings, you want someone in the front to be wearing a robe, and in this case you don’t want to clergyman because that would bring Christianity or for that matter historic Judaism, it would bring a moral frame of reference you don’t want at your wedding, so you reach out for a retired judge that seems to do.
The article ends with the retired justice’s wife saying,
“I can’t say that a judge presiding over a wedding will guarantee anything.” But she said, “it’s a nice thing for couples to see that the judges presiding over these marriages know the importance of the commitment.”
But what exactly is that commitment that the presence of the judge is supposed to remind of? It is a commitment to the lifelong covenant of marriage? That’s not really likely because these very judges are part of a judicial system that has made possible what’s called no-fault divorce. No, it’s more likely merely that this is what Peter Berger, the late sociologist called, a rumor of transcendence. In his book The Rumor of Angels, he discussed the fact that even in a secular society wants to continue with the trappings of transcendence and that becomes especially acute at ceremonies such as a wedding. There’s no shortage of irony in this story, but this is where Christians have to understand that we know that people are not just seeking a rumor of transcendence. They are actually, whether they know it or not, seeking the real thing.
Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information, go to my website AlbertMohler.com. You can follow me on Twitter by going to @albertmohler.For information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to sbts.edu. For information on Boyce College just go to boycecollege.com.
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