The Briefing 03-03-15

The Briefing 03-03-15

The Briefing


March 3, 2015

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.


It’s Tuesday, March 3, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Decriminalization of adultery in South Korea reflects global trend of personal autonomy 

The headlines that came over the weekend from around the world tell us that a great deal is changing when it comes to family life – not just here in the United States, but globally. As the report came in from the New York Times and others, on Thursday of last week the constitutional court in South Korea struck down a law that was 62 years old and made adultery a criminal offense, an offense punishable by up to two years in prison. As the New York Times indicated, this represents,

“…the country’s changing sexual mores and a growing emphasis on individual rights.”

Five of the court’s nine justices issued a joint opinion, in which they stated,

“It has become difficult to say that there is a consensus on whether adultery should be punished as a criminal offense. It should be left to the free will and love of people to decide whether to maintain marriage, and the matter should not be externally forced through a criminal code.”

According to numerous media outlets there have been several constitutional challenges to South Korea’s adultery law, but these have been unsuccessful – even as recently as the year 2008 – until just this past week when the law was struck down. Again, according to the Times,

“The adultery law was adopted in 1953, with the stated purpose of protecting women who had little recourse against cheating husbands in a male-dominated society. But divorce rates and women’s economic and legal standing have soared in the decades since, leaving many to argue that the law outlived its usefulness.”

As the Wall Street Journal reported: as the chief judge was releasing opinion he stated,

“It’s realistically impossible that all unethical acts face criminal justice,”

Back in 2008 the same court had ruled that the law was constitutional and necessary by stating,

“…a legal perception that adultery is damaging to the social order and infringes on other’s rights.”

One of the most important things that Christians need to recognize is that when the court ruled,

“It’s realistically impossible that all unethical acts face criminal justice,”

that is certainly stating a fact, but the most important fact in this case is that in South Korea the issue of adultery is now considered to be something that falls beneath legal scrutiny – at least when it comes to the criminal law.

Christians understand that the law functions with several purposes. One of the purposes of the law is that it instructs those who are under the law about what is the vision of the moral life that is expected within a community. We understand that biblical law fulfils the function, by its teaching authority, to tell us what is right and good and leads not only to righteousness, but also to human flourishing. When it comes to the civic law, one of the things that Christians understand is that there are always limits to what can be criminalized. And yet, even as this court has decided that adultery now falls beneath that barrier of criminal justice, it also tells us that there has been a vast change in the morality of that nation. But before we pile on South Korea in terms of recognizing this moral shift, we need to recognize that that same kind of moral shift has happened elsewhere.

In both Europe and in North America, in both the United States and Canada, adultery has also in the past been considered a criminal offense. And for the very same reason that in 2008 this same South Korean Court upheld the law then, stating and again I read from the opinion back in 2008,

“…a legal perception that adultery is damaging to the social order and infringes on other’s rights.”

Long before the moral revolution was announced in these terms last week in South Korea, that same moral revolution had swept away our societal determination to make adultery a matter of public significance – at least when it comes to the law. And in the United States and in Europe, even as the legal restrictions on adultery by criminal offense were taken away (mitigated step-by-step), the understanding was that adultery itself was taken with far less significance.

In our own legal history and tradition, largely drawn upon English common law, the very same moral principle – the very same legal principle – had pertained: the understanding that marriage is not fundamentally just a private affair – it’s not a private relationship – it has a social function. And a social function that the entire society must recognize, and having recognized, protect. The issue of the criminalization of adultery was not merely to bring about the public shaming of someone caught in adultery, but to emphasize the importance and the sanctity of marriage.

One of the things we thus need to recognize is that when something changes, such as the determination of a society to recognize the importance of adultery in the criminal law, prior to that there has been a shift in the understanding of marriage. And as the New York Times reporter indicated very clearly, this can be traced to a priority on personal autonomy – something that we have noted in recent days and weeks on The Briefing as being behind the massive marginalization of marriage and family not only in Western societies but increasingly, as we even see today, around the world. And the marginalization of marriage leads to the idea that adultery is no longer a matter of great societal importance, and the protection of marriage and the sanctity of that marriage is no longer a clear social priority.

In South Korea this came long after the same kind of change had happened in the United States and Europe. But in Korea, it still came as something of a surprise given the fact that that same court had upheld the very same law less than a decade ago. It is also still rather surprising that the majority in South Korea’s constitutional court (that voted to strike down the law last week) did so while being so publicly explicit about the reasoning for the ruling. Let me repeat what they said,

“It should be left to the free will and love of people to decide whether to maintain marriage,”

Just stopping there; that represents a vast moral shift. A shift away from marriage being a matter of public significance to marriage being just a private contract to be held together so long as both parties, simultaneously, will for the contract to continue. They stated finally,

“…the matter should not be externally forced through a criminal code.”

At this point we simply have to note from a biblical perspective that the law will continue to make moral judgments, it just will make no moral judgment on the issue of adultery when it comes to the criminal code of South Korea. Every society is eventually understandable by its laws, and even as this change came just last week in South Korea in terms of its criminal code, according to its constitutional court we can be very certain that the moral change had already taken place amongst the South Korean people. And in this respect, they’re simply following the same kind of moral logic that has led to the breakdown of the family and the marginalization of marriage in the Western world long before South Korea’s court ruled last week on the matter.

A final very important observation for Christians must be this: even though legislatures, even though executive branches, even though courts may eventually rule on law indicating this kind of revolution and morality, the law of God does not change. Many people, looking at the church from outside, wonder why the church simply doesn’t revise its moral understanding on these issues in order to keep pace with the times. The reason for that is abundantly clear: we do not believe that the law of God is ours to change – it is not. South Korea may now state that the matter of adultery is not a matter of criminal law, but the law of God remains – as you know from the 10 Commandments – thou shalt not commit adultery.

2) Chinese wedding industry growth obscures underlying tragedy of one-child policy

Shifting from South Korea to the nation of China, the current edition of The Economist, a major newsmagazine from Great Britain, indicates that the wedding vows and the wedding ceremonies in communist China are now being transformed largely due to that nation’s notorious one-child only policy. The reporting in The Economist seems to celebrate this moral development. As the magazine reports, there is now a large industry when it comes to weddings – something the Communist Party had frowned upon and something that was not really a part of Chinese culture even in generations and centuries past. Based on a Confucian understanding of the family, the issue of marriage had largely been arranged by parents with the determination to continue, especially the groom’s family, in terms of heirs. But now the rise of a culture of personal autonomy has reached even communist China and the magazine reports that the reason for this is that Chinese families have fewer children and those children are receiving the doting and the very devoted attention of parents. These parents are now willing to spend an enormous amount of money on the weddings of their singular offspring. And furthermore, this rise of personal autonomy and the focus upon the individual means that there is a new ethic of romantic love when it comes to these attachments that lead to weddings even in China.

As the magazine reports,

“The change in wedding frippery also reflects a fundamental shift in society. For the first time in the history of Chinese family life, the child—rather than ancestors or parents—is regarded as the centre of the family,”

That is according to professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.

“Most newly-weds now are single children, born since the one-child policy was introduced more than 30 years ago. Parents have more to spend if they only have to fork out for one wedding (they usually share costs with the spouse-to-be’s family).”

As you look at news articles, one of the questions you always need to keep in mind is not only what’s present but what’s absent. And in this case, what’s absent is even more important than what’s present. Because what absent is the recognition that even as the magazine seems to be celebrating the effective westernization of weddings and marriage in communist China, what’s not recognized is the millions of young men in China who will never have wives because of this very one-child only policy. In the nation of China, the one-child only policy (which has used government coercion, sometimes even forced abortions and infanticide) has also lead to a vast gender imbalance because when parents in China can only have one child, and given the preference in China (and in India and in other nations as well) for boys rather than girls to perpetuate the family line, than what is happening is the selected abortion of girls in the womb. And as we now know is well documented, the selective infanticide, the killing, of many baby girls even after they are born.

So what’s present in this article is a seeming celebration of the westernization of the wedding and marriage picture in China. This is treated is something that is an unintended benefit of the one-child only policy, but what’s not even addressed in the article is the really murderous nature of this policy. And the fact that the real story in terms of weddings and marriages in China is not what’s taking place in the weddings that happen, but about the weddings that will never happen because so many millions of Chinese young men who will never know any wedding or any marriage. They are described by some demographers as the ‘broken branches.’ That is to say, the family tree ends with them because given the horrible nature the one-child only policy, given the fact that the Chinese Communist government – sometimes even driven by and encouraged by Western secular elites – has adopted this policy, the net result is the fact that what you have is government coercion that leads to abortion, forced abortion, infanticide, and a total breakdown and subversion not only of marriage and the family and of parenthood, but of the very nature of what it means to be human. The very definition of human dignity.

3) Failure to regard consequences of divorce in Ireland causes indifference towards gay marriage

The last article in this series comes not from Asia but from Europe. In particular, from Ireland where Carol Hunt writes in the Sunday Independent that the nation of Ireland should simply welcome the advent of gay marriage. She writes,

“Relax. Gay marriage won’t hurt straight marriage.”

And she writes this because she says even as the nation of Ireland now considers the potential legalization of same-sex marriage, they should understand that previous changes such as divorce really didn’t bring about any strong, any enduring, national trauma. As she writes, there were those who were suggesting that when Ireland finally changed its divorce law, making divorce easier to obtain, there are many people who argued that there would be a rampant run on divorce. And she said at least thus far in Ireland that hasn’t happened. Therefore, she says the Irish should learn from that circumstance and simply affirm that the legalization of same-sex marriage is not likely to bring about any tsunami in terms of morality.

She actually writes the what’s gay marriage is legal this “doesn’t mean everyone will have to get one.” That’s one of the sentences that hardly even makes sense, but if it does make sense it’s a very very troubling sense. It’s the sense that since marriage has changed already when it comes to divorce, same-sex marriage is no big deal.

But even as we know the moral illogic and the very dangerous reasoning of her argument, we need to recognize that it is simply true that long before same-sex marriage would’ve been imaginable marriage already had to be redefined. It had to be revised – it even had to be subverted by the easy access to divorce.

In the United States the same kind of pattern happened. It would be possible to think about something like same-sex marriage if the divorce revolution hadn’t taken place in a previous generation. Divorce was very difficult to obtain in the United States up until the late 1960s and the early 1970s when the first so-called no-fault divorce laws were put into effect. We need to note that in United States there has been since the arrival of no-fault divorce a veritable tsunami of divorce. The divorce rate has skyrocketed, making every marriage effectively a tentative marriage. Meaning that even as marital couples joined together in a wedding still tend to use the historic language from the Book of Common Prayer –  that is, ‘till death do we part,’ – there is no longer actually the affirmation that that’s the expectation.

One of the great betrayals in this is how many couples are now being advised to arrange prenuptial agreements (what would happen indeed if the divorce were to happen later) even as they are taking their marital vows using the language about the fact they’re going to be together until they’re parted by death. In reality we need to recognize that the moral revolution that we are now experiencing has only been made possible because of our complicity, our cooperation as a society with the breakdown of marriage, the redefinition of marriage long before same-sex couples arrived as a matter of public consequence.

And when you now have this argument coming from Ireland saying, ‘don’t worry about same-sex marriage – we didn’t have to worry about divorce,’ the reality is that divorce rates in Ireland are going up too. It was the novelist Pat Conroy who several years ago in one of his novels wrote that every single divorce is in his words “the collapse of a small civilization.” Indeed every single divorce is the collapse of a small civilization. And writ large the redefinition of marriage and the easy access to divorce has met also the breakdown of much of our civilization. But in an age this seems to be absolutely determined to make individual happiness at the expense of any covenants, any bonds, or any responsibilities our sole preoccupation, we’re all complicit in the breakdown of that civilization.

4) Rise of psychic demand reveals Christianity never replaced by pure secularism

Finally sometimes you come across a news article that just seems to affirm what Christians must always understand. Everybody has some basic beliefs, and in some way those beliefs inevitably turn out to be religious. The Wall Street Journal yesterday had a story entitled “There’s a Lot of Spirit At School for Psychics.” Matthew Dalton reports from Stansted, England;

“In a stately Victorian mansion, Julie Grist is teaching the psychics of tomorrow how to speak to today’s dead for a living.”

Christians looking at this article have all the evidence we need to be reminded all over again that when Christianity fades into the cultural background it’s not replaced by a true secularism –  it’s replaced by religious nuttiness and craziness. As Dalton reports, this is a school or the training of psychics and is meant to be taken seriously.

One of the very interesting things from this article by the way is that even as the psychics are being trained, they’re being trained in a way that is perhaps more honest than was intended to appear in a newspaper such as the Wall Street Journal.

It’s known as the Arthur Findlay College. According to the Wall Street Journal it’s been offering courses for practicing psychics and mediums – those who claim to communicate with spirits now for 50 years. But evidently there’s a renaissance of growing enrollment because in this supposedly secular age there is a whole new interest in psychics. The school was once known according to the Journal as Spook Hall at least according to locals.

The school is located in a rambling estate 40 miles from London. Its instructors, according to Dalton,

“believe the powers of a psychic aren’t just gifts from the gods.”

Instead, mediumship, according to Steve Upton (an instructor there) is a skill that can be acquired like many skills. As I said, the article is very honest. It tells us for example that when it comes to today’s, even tomorrow’s psychics are being trained in this school for psychics, they’re being told that even as they used the occultic arts in order to supposedly bring up voices from the past – these voices a better speaking very happy and encouraging terms, because the people who are paying for psychic readings aren’t paying for bad news.

Even the Wall Street Journal notes of that’s quite a shift from the Delphic Oracle in terms of the ancient world where the word that came supposedly from the dead was often a word of judgment or of warning. That’s not going to work, say the instructors in this school because people now want only an encouraging message. As the Journal reports.

“Psychics report demand for their services has grown as people turn away from established religions and psychologists for counsel.”

It really gets interesting when you find out that even in this therapeutic age there are people who think that psychologists simply aren’t encouraging enough. One of the things that is claimed in this article is that people grow frustrated with psychologists because they ask so many questions and don’t offer so many answers.

People want answers according to the instructors in the psychic college, and as they want answers they were only happy answers. Instructor Grist (quoted in the beginning of the article) tells young or at least future psychics and training that when they phrase advice supposedly being drawn up from a dead person they’re supposed to give advice in such a way that as she says,

“You know they support you, and whatever you decide to do they’ll be with you.”

Now the pathetic nature of this of course is that what we’re watching here are people who were claiming to be psychics indicating even as they’re training future psychics that they’ve got to be very careful in order to get people exactly what they want and exactly what they’re paying for; and that’s not judgment, and that’s not warning –  it is only encouragement. ‘You be you’ seems to be the message that people want from psychics. And as this college now says to future psychics, ‘you’d better give them what they want.’And how do you find out what they want? Well, here the article is amazingly honest. You have to ask them questions say the instructors in the school for psychics. You have to ask the people who come to you for answers to answer the questions in which they’ll give you the material you can then give back to them as if you are getting it from a psychic occultic source.

They’re saying this right out loud and they’re even telling it to the Wall Street Journal. Even one of the students in the class identified as a yoga teacher from the Netherlands asked the obvious question, “Is that cheating?”

Needless to say from a Christian worldview perspective, from the understanding of the Bible, there is no reality to this at all. And furthermore it is absolutely dangerous –  deadly dangerous – to fool around with the occult in any form. But in terms of what’s revealed in this article it simply affirms the people who are looking for occultic readings. And the people who are paying for them are people who expect exactly what they pay for –  they want to hear back to mirror image of themselves. And they’re even willing to tell the people who claim to be using occultic powers all the information that they’ll then receive back from the psychic.

It is incredibly revealing that people who claim to be too advanced, too educated, too sophisticated in this modern age to believe in God (the God of the Bible), they will actually pay people to pander to them with this kind of occultic nonsense. Oh, and by the way, the last sentence of the article is simply too good to miss. It’s stated by one of the people of the college who says,

“It’s nice to be with like-minded people. You don’t feel so odd.”

Well, perhaps someone needs to tell her that the only reason the story made the front page of yesterday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal is because the Wall Street Journal found her and her school very very odd.


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Podcast Transcript

1) Decriminalization of adultery in South Korea reflects global trend of personal autonomy 

Adultery Is No Longer an Affair of the State in South Korea, New York Times (Choe Sang-Hun)

South Korea Legalizes Adultery, Wall Street Journal (Jeyup S. Kwaak)

2) Chinese wedding industry growth obscures underlying tragedy of one-child policy

Wedding wows, The Economist

3) Failure to regard consequences of divorce in Ireland causes indifference towards gay marriage

Is it going to be hello marriage equality, bye bye Mammy?, The Independent (Carol Hunt)

4) Rise of psychic demand reveals Christianity never replaced by pure secularism

There’s a Lot of Spirit At School for Psychics, Wall Street Journal (Matthew Dalton)



R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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