Ep. 129: Jesus in a Post-Truth Culture (with Abdu Murray)
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Confusion is good and certainty is bad? Our post-truth culture thinks so. We’re joined by North American Director of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries this week, Abdu Murray. He’s recently written a new book that delves into the task of bringing both clarity and meaning to a post-truth world. Abdu also defines terms like freedom and autonomy, which is very helpful – especially since our culture often thinks they mean what they don’t. If you’re a Christian, this conversation will encourage and strengthen your beliefs in Jesus. If you’re a skeptic, this conversation will help you reflect on your own beliefs.
With me today is Christian apologist Abdu Murray. Abdu is the North American director with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries. He’s written three books, and he’s done multiple speaking engagements and debates around the world, so it’s a great privilege to have you with us today, Abdu.
Thanks, Isaac. It’s great to be with you.
You have a bit of a unique testimony, and although we could fill 25 minutes easily with that, I’m sure, I’m wondering if you could kind of share your two-minute version for those who have no idea who you are.
Sure, absolutely. Appreciate it. Basically, I was raised as a Shiite Muslim, and I was serious about it. I was very serious about Islam. I would have none of this sort of nonsense that what’s true for me is true for me, what’s true for you is true for you. I thought Islam was true, and people should believe true things and not false things. And so from a young age, like we’re talking middle school, high school, and on, I was engaging in conversations with people who weren’t from my same faith about why Islam was true and everything else was wrong.
So I took it upon myself to study quite a few different worldviews, and I encountered people of two stripes from the Christian perspective. There were most people who didn’t know why they believed what they believed, so when I asked the question, “Why do you believe that?” They were like, “I don’t know. I guess I’m a Presbyterian,” or whatever the denomination was, “Because my parents are.” And I’d respond by saying, “Tradition is not a good reason to trust your eternal soul to a worldview. Have you actually thought it through?” And the answer was usually no, and I would begin to launch into my attacks on why Christianity was wrong. But I did it in the nicest way possible. It was more conversational.
The other people, and there were only a few of them, but they were a blessed few. They actually knew what they were talking about. They not only responded to my objections, but they had some objections of their own that I had to respond to. So I began to look into the Christian faith a little bit more, because they were the more difficult people to actually sort of pin down. And a funny thing happened on the way to the mosque, as they say. And I saw the credibility of the Gospel, not only in its historicity, which is one of the pinnacle things in terms of the resurrection of Jesus. Not only in terms of the reliability of the Bible, which I think is solid. But also in the philosophical and the scientific. And then more personally for me, what really sealed the deal was the existential. You know, it mattered to my life. It wasn’t just an intellectual curiosity about a fact that’s true. It was true in the most important sense. It actually could change who I was.
Now, it took me nine years to get to that point. Not because the answers were hard to find, by the way, because they were pretty easy to find. It was that the answers were hard to accept, because there’s a fundamental shift and change when truth confronts you. It’s not always convenient. It’s often inconvenient because it requires change. And Jesus actually specifically says that, that we have to die to ourselves in order to follow him as the way, the truth, and the life. And it took me nine years, but I did get there. And I realized that everything I was hoping was true in Islam was actually true in the Gospel, and that’s when I gave my life to Christ.
That’s so good. And how long now have you been traveling and speaking to multiple different people and all that kind of stuff about this?
Yeah, I started off my ministry– I became a believer in 2000. Started off my ministry on a part-time basis as a working trial attorney, business lawyer. You know, I was doing it on a part-time, sort of on the side thing pretty early on, like 2004 or so, 2003, but I got more and more opportunities, so now I do it all over the world. Been doing that for probably six, seven years now. And I joined RZIM as the North American director about two and a half years ago and have been doing that ever since. And I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to speak in so many diverse places, major universities, influential places where the Christian worldview is not the dominant worldview. Seeing hearts and minds opened, and also blessed with the ability to write, including the book Saving Truth.
Yeah, that’s awesome, and that’s kind of what we’re talking about here. So you’ve just written this new book, which the full title for those listening, is Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-truth World. So I guess the quickest and maybe perhaps easiest question is, what is this book about, and what’s the problem that you are addressing in this book?
Sure, thanks. So the title sort of hopefully gives it away a little bit. We’re currently enmeshed in a culture, especially in the West, but I’ll tell you this, all over the world I’ve seen it. We’re having this flirtatious dance with truth, but we don’t want to marry the truth. We just want to date her. We don’t seem to want it, as valuable as it really is. So what ends up happening is the culture we’re currently seeing is a culture I call the culture of confusion. It’s a culture that values confusion as a virtue, but clarity is decried as a sin.
And how that works out is, for example, if you’re confused sexually, you’re a hero. If you’re confused morally, well, you’re progressive. If you’re confused religiously, you know, all roads lead to God kind of a thing, then you’re considered tolerant. But if you’re clear on the boundaries of sexuality and even gender identity, well, then you’re a bigot. If you’re clear on moral boundaries, well, then you’re regressive. And if you’re clear that there’s only one true path to God and that that has been offered to all of us, well, that’s considered intolerant.
So confusion is a virtue, clarity is a sin, and the reason is because confusion allows us to play with the edges and to not have bright-line rules and never see ourselves outside the bounds. There are no bounds, so we can’t be outside them because everything is confused and fuzzy. But clarity requires discernment, clarity requires the hard work and also requires us to rein in our preferences. And so what we’re seeing now, this culture of confusion, Oxford English Dictionary’s named in their 2016 word of the year, we are in a “post-truth” culture. A culture that values preferences and feelings over facts and truth. So we don’t deny that truth exists, we simply don’t care if it happens to conflict with our preferences, and so all of us have become sort of these autonomous little gods who have our little worlds of preference. And the problem I see is that’s going to lead to an ultimate chaos. But truth, we need to save the truth in the mind of the culture so that the culture can actually understand the saving truth of the Gospel.
That’s so good, and you know, I was blessed to receive an advanced copy, and I’ve started reading Saving Truthand really enjoying it. I was talking to my wife about this idea. You kind of provide a mirror to our culture today, and a language that’s not super difficult or anything, which I found it very refreshing to read. It’s kind of like the same way when James says that, you know, the Bible is like a mirror that we can see ourselves truly, and there’s a sobering reality that comes from that.
Now, you kind of touched on this already, Abdu, but I’m wondering if you could even go a little bit further and just kind of give us an analysis of our culture today in terms of things like truth, autonomy, and freedom. I really found the definitions of autonomy and freedom, you kind of explained those and it was really powerful. Yeah, so kind of reflect our culture to us a little bit.
Sure, absolutely. So, in a post-truth culture we have this flirtation with the truth but we only like the truth if it serves our preferences. So when we have certain … whether it’s sexual preferences or identity preferences or just religious preferences, whatever it might be. If the truth happens to conflict with that, well then, we just either ignore it or we twist it a little bit to serve our agenda. Truth is, by definition, that which conforms to reality. Post-truth culture is not as interested in reality as we are in preferences. But this, we think, is liberating and freedom-inspiring.
Os Guinness once said that you can tell the health of a culture, of Western culture for example, by its interaction with its most important values. And the most important value that defines Western culture is the idea of freedom and liberty. So how do we interact with freedom? Well, the problem is that we say freedom all the time. The freedom to be, say, do, act, or whatever we want, whenever we want, in whatever way we want. That’s not actually freedom. That’s autonomy. And autonomy and freedom, we use them synonymously, but they’re not the same.
Autonomy comes from the Greek words autos, meaning self, and nomos, meaning law. So when you’re autonomous, you are a law unto yourself. The problem with that is, if I’m a law unto myself and I have certain preferences, and you or someone else is a law unto themselves and they have conflicting preferences, and truth is no longer the determiner of who’s right and who’s wrong, when we come together in the public square to discuss our ideas, to see who’s right and who’s wrong, and truth is no longer important, we are at a very serious risk of having might and power be the determiners of what’s right and wrong. So truth won’t decide, power will decide. That will result in chaos, and ultimately, and ironically so, it will result in enslavement, because some voice, some Superman, some Superwoman, will rise up and say, “Hey, you’re all amidst this chaos. I can lead us out of this.” And because we’re suffering under the chaos, we will gladly give our allegiance to such a person, and before you know it, we’re enslaved by our own autonomy. How ironic would it be that our own freedom enslaves us?
Freedom is different. Our culture used to value freedom in its truest forms. Freedom is not boundless. Freedom has to have boundaries. It was Chesterton who said that even art requires limitations. The essence of every picture, he says, is the frame. You may feel that you’re free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, only to find out that you’re not actually free to draw a giraffe at all. You may free a camel from his humps, but you’ll find that you’ve actually freed him from being a camel. In other words, whenever you deal with facts and truth, you always deal with limitation.
So truth and freedom are linked logically, but Jesus actually says in John 8:31-36 that we know the truth, and the truth sets us free. The culture says, you know “autonomy, that will set you free.” That’s not true. That leads to enslavement. Jesus says truth and freedom are always linked. Then he goes on to make one more statement when he says, the Son will set you free, and whoever is set free by the Son is free indeed. So if the truth sets us free and the Son sets us free, then the Son is the truth. And so I think that’s where we see the issues. The culture has rejected the Son, Jesus the Son of God, as the source of truth, and in rejecting truth, has rejected freedom in favor of this chaotic idea of autonomy.
Yeah, and that’s so helpful. Thank you. Now, you say in your book, Abdu, that even the Church to some degree has become in and of this culture of confusion, as you coined that phrase. So, pretty much, how so? In what ways has the Church kind of succumbed to this?
This is one of the most difficult chapters. I wrote a whole chapter in the book about this. It was difficult because it requires tons of self-reflection. We have this mentality now, especially in our extremely polarized Western culture, where “whoever they are, if they don’t agree with me, they’re Hitler or they’re Stalin” or something like that. So we have this, and no matter if you’re on the right or on the left, whoever’s not on your side is obviously the evil person. So it is a very us-versus-them dichotomy, and I think the Church sometimes succumbs to that part of our culture by not realizing something. We were once them. Every redeemed sinner was a sinner. And if that’s the case, then we have no right to look at them and say, somehow I’m better than you morally. We’re saved by God’s grace, not by our merit, and so how can we look down our nose at anybody? But the Church begins to do that sometimes. Instead of reaching out to the culture, we find ourselves reaching down, and that’s a mistake.
But how do we do this? Let me give you an example. In the United States, for example, there was this decision in 2015 when the Supreme Court of the United States legalized same-sex marriage across the entire country, the Obergefell decision. I got a bunch of emails and saw my news feed popping up with stories about how gay activists were using the Obergefell decision to justify claims to ban the Bible as hate speech across the United States. Well, it took me about three minutes’ worth of research to find out none of that was true. Yes, somebody had sued some publishers in federal court, but it wasn’t after the Obergefell decision, it was seven years before. And the case wasn’t to ban the Bible, it was for money because they thought that they had experienced emotional damages because of what the Bible actually said. And it was dismissed as frivolous within, I think, 21 days of having been filed.
So when you think about this, Christians who might have been well-meaning in the sense of saying, “We have to protect our religious freedoms” actually were willing to or maybe even inadvertently fostered a false narrative by clicking share or like on social media. It’s far too easy right now. The Christians want to react to the issues of the day with the same speed at which the culture says them, but the problem is that we are to be people of truth. If it requires us to be a little slower but more accurate, I think we’d have to do that. We cannot contribute to the confusion, because like it or not, the integrity of the message is always judged by the integrity of the messenger. And we have to be people of integrity if we are to ever, ever have any hope of clearing up the confusion.
Yeah, and you know what? I’m wondering if you could even just say a couple words on the example used that you take from Matthew 7 about, “Judge not that you may be judged.” I think that’s powerful.
Yeah, this is the pendular swing, isn’t it? So, the Church in one way is in and of the culture in its polarizing effect with the us-versus-them mentality. But then in another way, the Church sometimes will actually look at Scripture verses and say, “I don’t want there to be an us-versus-them,” so we have this pendular swing all the way over to the other side and say, “I don’t want to disagree with anybody.” So we rely on probably the most oft misinterpreted phrase of the New Testament, when Jesus says, “Do not judge that you be not judged, for the judgment you use will be used to judge you as well.” As if we’re saying, in Matthew 7, Christians are not to judge anyone’s actions or have moral judgment. Of course, it doesn’t say that at all. In fact, Jesus goes on to say, but when you do judge, or, “When you judge, before you get the speck out of your brother’s eye, make sure you remove the log from your own.” What he’s saying there essentially is don’t judge hypocritically. So if the Church is acting in a post-truth manner, we ought to get the post-truth log out of our eye before we get the culture of confusion’s speck out of its own eye.
But I think often Christians want to misuse Matthew 7 because they don’t want conflict. Again, it’s preferences over truth, isn’t it? We fail to see the rest of the verse that says when you judge, judge correctly. That’s the issue here. So our preference is to be liked, and so we end up either ignoring or misusing the truth. But if our preference is to be victorious, we do the same. We end up ignoring or misusing the truth. And either way, the Church loses.
Yeah, that’s good. Now, in your book Saving Truth, you go on to bring clarity to issues of freedom (which you talked about a little bit), human dignity, sexuality, science and faith, and so on and so forth, there’s a lot to dig into there. But I’m wondering if you could, Abdu, bring some clarity to one area of your choice in which you think young adults today need most. And I even ask, maybe even in Canada, ’cause I know that you do some work in Canada. I remember actually, I was at the Apologetics Canada conference at Northview Church in Abbotsford, and you were there, two years ago or a few years ago now. Anyway, so you have been in Canada. Yeah, please, share with me your thoughts there.
I’m actually in Canada quite often, and I love being in Canada. As the North American director, I help to advance the mission and the cause of RZIM in Canada. We just had a wonderful youth event recently where we saw so many youth coming out and asking the important questions, so your question couldn’t be more timely. I think there’s two areas of clarity. All of them are important, but there are two areas of clarity that I think are important. They’re controversial, so we have to treat them with the utmost sensitivity, but at the same time we can’t shy away from them. And we’re going to have to be willing to sort of get our hands dirty, as it were, or get in the ring, or get into the civil public square, which now becomes more like a Colosseum than it is a public square.
But it’s the issues of human dignity and sexuality. See, we often … these are related, I think, because what ends up happening is the culture’s confused on these two ideas. And a confused culture wants to affirm human dignity, but then says that we’re just either monkeys with big brains or we’re chemical machines. Well, how can we have human dignity if we’re chemical machines or monkeys with big brains? In fact, how can our professions be noble? It was a famous jurist, Richard Posner, who, when asked about his judicial philosophy, he said, “As far as I’m concerned, we’re just monkeys with big brains, period.”
Well, if that’s the case, how can he possibly, this influential jurist who adjudicates the affairs among the people fairly and honestly with a sense of justice, as opposed to just being a zookeeper who keeps the animals from biting each other? His whole profession loses dignity. And if we want to give people the dignity of their choices, then they can’t be mere chemical machines that respond to stimuli, nor can they be animals that simply act with their baser instincts. They have to be free moral agents, and I think the only basis for that is that our image bears God’s image, and that’s how we have true and human dignity.
But that leads into the sexuality question, because there are people who have either wanted or unwanted sexual attractions, whether it’s same sex, or it’s bisexual, or it’s just sexually immoral when it comes to heterosexual sex. This thing is real. Autonomy says, do whatever you want, in whatever way you want, however you feel. Freedom says that there has to be boundaries on things. So I think the Christian perspective is this, the biggest source of confusion I think the culture has is that the Bible stands against sexual expression because the Bible is anti-freedom. The Bible is not anti-freedom, the Bible is anti-autonomy, because autonomy leads to chaos. Freedom leads to true identity of who you really are.
The Bible says that in his image, God created male and female. In his image, he created them. In other words, being male is to bear the image of God, being female is to bear the image of God, and sexuality within the bounds of marriage between a man and a woman affirms the inherent dignity in the image of God in the female and in the male. Because to swap them out and interchange them as you please actually doesn’t affirm the dignity of the male and the female, it actually disconfirms it and says they’re not at all special in and of themselves. Beyond that, there is the beauty of the reflection of the divine in human marriage and sexuality. There’s a unity of diversity when a male and a female come together, and when that happens, we reflect the unity of diversity of the creator himself. One God in three persons, eternally in community. And we get that opportunity to reflect that here on Earth.
So I think the clarity I would seek to have, especially young people, is that, don’t think of the Bible as an instrument for prohibiting certain conduct that’s icky as opposed to protecting certain conduct that is sacred. And the reason sexuality is sacred is not because it feels good, but sexuality is sacred because it results in the creation of another person who is made beautifully in God’s image, and it gives us the chance to reflect the divine. That’s why it’s sacred spiritually, and sacred things need to be protected, and that’s what the Bible’s all about, protecting the beautiful, not prohibiting the arbitrary.
That’s so good. As we finish up, Abdu, we’ve got about three minutes left. You write in your book, “Having listened to many voices and examined many worldviews, I’m convinced that Jesus’s voice is the truest.” So, I guess, as the last question here, how would you explain this voice to unbelievers? And then how would you also remind believers of this very voice?
That’s a great question, and I think there are two aspects to it, and we don’t have a lot of time, but I’ll be quick about it because this is so profound. So profound. I think that to understand how Jesus’s voice … If you’re a non-Christian, to understand that Jesus’s voice is the truest is to understand this: Jesus’s voice, when he says things, he says things that conform to reality as we know it. Truth is that which conforms to reality. Jesus’s voice conforms to reality. When he said in John 18:37, “Whoever is on the side of truth listens to me,” he was equating his voice with the very sound that truth makes. What that means is this. He tells us what we need to hear, not what we want to hear. The world tells us, “You are your own saviour. You can be your own avatar, your own saviour, your own individual deity, whatever it might be, and that through all your problems in life, you can save you.”
Jesus doesn’t say that. He says, “Out of the heart comes evil thoughts. Murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, and slander.” That’s the human heart. But the good news is that Jesus comes to change the human heart. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear, he tells you what you need to hear, even if it makes him unpopular. That is refreshing, especially in a culture, Western culture, where politicians and celebrities tell you what you want to hear all the time.
So the truest voice tells you what you need to hear, but for the Christian, that truest voice not only tells us what we need to hear and that which conforms to reality, but also speaks to us internally. We have that inner witness of the Holy Spirit. We have the Holy Spirit glorifying the Son, who tells us, “You are to go into all the world and make disciples of every nation and baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
And I would say this, especially to young people. When you are faced with the trials that are coming, and they are in fact coming, when it’s difficult to be a Christian and stand up for the truth or say, “I can affirm you as a person even if I don’t agree with everything you say,” you can do it lovingly, kindly, and answering each person, not each question, but you have to have a conviction that the voice of God is speaking inside of you, telling you “You are making a difference even when it looks like you aren’t.” No matter what’s happening, no matter how much they shout at you, remember the still small voice ironically is louder. And if you do it with grace and truth, that voice will become deafening.
Thank you so much, Abdu. It was an honour chatting with you today. If you’re listening and you enjoyed this conversation, it piqued your interest, then I’d first recommend definitely picking up Abdu’s new book, Saving Truth: Finding Meaning and Clarity in a Post-truth World. And secondly, share this conversation on your social network or with your friends or family so that others can think critically and biblically about this post-truth culture today. You can also head to abdumurray.com to find out more about Abdu and also where you can find his book. But anyways, I’ll put all the links on our episode podcast page. Again, thanks so much, Abdu. I hope to talk to you again.
You, too. It was a great time.