The Briefing 05-15-15

The Briefing 05-15-15

The Briefing


May 15, 2015

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


It’s Friday, May 15, 2015.  I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.

1) Mobile games take advantage of unwillingness to delay gratification among many players

Two articles appearing in two different newspapers tell us a great deal about human nature. The first of them appeared on the front page of the Wall Street Journal just a few days ago; the headline, Mobile Game Makers Hunt For ‘Whales’. No, they are not looking for seafaring mammals, they’re looking for big spenders when it comes to online gaming, especially mobile gaming.

As Sarah Needleman reports for the Journal,

“Allen Sokol enjoys playing ‘Candy Crush Saga’ on a smartphone during his lunch break as assistant manager of a tire store in Grand Rapids, Mich., but often runs out of free turns.

“Rather than wait 20 minutes for one more free turn in the puzzle game, he presses a button on the screen to spend 99 cents for five turns. When he uses them up, he buys five more turns.”

Sokol said,

“I could get ahead without spending,”

But he goes on to say he has increased his spending on ‘Candy Crush Saga’ to about $50 a month during the past year. He says he could wait for the free games, but “then you have to wait.” This is one of those incredibly revealing articles about human nature, and of course it’s important it appears not in some page of the gaming magazine but on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. What does that tell you? It tells you the big dollars are at stake.

Where does the word ‘whale’ come from here, when it comes to the fact that these gaming companies are looking for whales as consumers? That goes back to the gambling industry where whales are those who enter into casinos and into gambling enterprises and are willing to spend a lot of money. It turns out that if you’re a casino operator you really can’t spend too much time getting people just to come in and spend a little bit of money, you’ve got to pay an incredible amount of attention to attracting and keeping the biggest gamblers of all, known as whales. And we shouldn’t be surprised that that is now being translated into the online gaming industry.

So what’s the importance of all this in the Christian worldview? It comes down to this, one of the things that is documented in this front-page article is the fact that there are people who are trying to build their entire business plan with billions and billions of dollars at stake on the fact that there are human beings who are unwilling to exercise what is called delayed gratification. It’s very, very interesting. We know, in terms of the human species, that what is called delayed gratification is one of the necessary signs of adulthood. The taking on of adult responsibility requires delayed gratification. We also know that children who show the capacity to delay gratification are the same children who tend to do so much better in school and so much better in other arenas of life.

A famous experiment was done years ago in which preschoolers were seated at a table. They were given one marshmallow. They were told that they could have that marshmallow right now, but if they could wait just a few minutes looking at that marshmallow they will be given another marshmallow as a reward. If they could just wait they would have not one marshmallow but two. They then divided the children between those who just couldn’t wait and immediately ate the marshmallow and those were willing to wait back and get the two marshmallows as a reward. The children who had waited, they were far ahead when it came to academic achievement, and they moved into adulthood – in terms of taking on adult responsibility – faster than those who had not developed the skill of delay gratification.

But as it turns out, it’s not just preschoolers who are at stake in this kind of experiment, here you have a man who is 29 years old and can’t wait for free games and has now increased his spending on online gaming on his smart phone to $50 a month – that qualifies him, says the Wall Street Journal, as a whale. And that’s where the online gaming industry is now directing their attention. They are looking for whales; they are looking for those who do not have the capacity of delay gratification.

There’s something else that becomes very clear in this article, the issue of the tie between this online video gaining and the gambling industry becomes clearer when it turns out that the same kind of pattern of response is operational here. It turns out that there are those who even have a medical explanation for what’s going on here. It turns out that being involved in certain repetitive activities brings about a certain thrill and that thrill even releases endorphins into the brain which can become an addictive phenomenon.

And so you have these customers who are buying these games over and over again on their phones, some of them to hundreds of dollars a month, because they are now accustomed to that jolts that comes by these hormones being released in the brain. And when you look at people who are sitting at slot machines hour after hour after hour, they are experiencing very much the same thing. And when you look at someone with a smart phone, looking at a break from working at a tire store, in order to spend what amounts to $50 a month now on this kind of gaming, you’re looking probably the same phenomena.

The article in the Wall Street Journal says that,

“Whales are a big deal because less than 3% of all mobile-game players make any in-game purchases. Buyers spend a rough average of $5 to $25 a month. Whales rank in the top 10% of all in-game spenders, and the mobile-game industry is scrambling to spawn and catch many more of them.”

And just in case you’re wondering if this is big business, the Wall Street Journal tells us that about 750 new videogames are added to app stores every day. Another little stat that is embedded in this is that it takes 15 hours of playing time on average before the typical mobile game user makes the first in-app purchase. So if they’ve got you for 15 hours, they probably got you to make a purchase. And if they can get you to make that purchase, they can probably get you to make more purchases. And what they’re trying to do is to create more and more whales.

The Wall Street Journal wouldn’t be giving attention to it if it were not a winning strategy, and again that tells us a great deal about how sin works within the human heart and in the human brain – even within our biochemistry. It tells us that the development of something like delayed gratification, which after all is very essential for Christian maturity, it turns out that there are all kinds of enemies of delayed gratification and some of them can be as easy as 750 new mobile videogames being added to app stores every single day. They are being added because somebody’s using them, somebody is spending a lot of time, and now we know, a lot of money, because they are effectively being hooked on the experience of these videogames.

2) Consumer debt linked to encouragement of easy credit on disregard self-control

But it’s not just that, even this very week in the same newspaper, the Wall Street Journal, on the op-ed piece there is an essay entitled This Is Your Brain On Easy Credit – that too tells us something very revealing. Peter C. Whybrow writing for the Journal tells us,

“The reward circuitry of the human brain is vital to our survival, but it wasn’t built to grapple with seductive credit card offers and no-money-down mortgages. Easy credit feeds our love of immediate gratification, distorts self-regulation and diminishes prudent market behavior, creating a destabilizing positive-feedback loop. Analysts trying to understand the explosion of consumer debt should look no further than neuroscience.”

Well, from a Christian worldview we do need a little bit deeper than neuroscience, but the neuroscience does tell us a great deal. So on the front page of the same newspaper you have an article about the mobile game industry looking for whales trying to hook them on buying videogames, and inside on the opinion page you have a complaint about the fact that easy credit is now becoming a form of the same kind of feedback loop when it comes to Americans – a lot of Americans are making easy purchases on credit for items they can’t afford, spending dangerously simply because the credit is easy and the experience is fun.

It tells us great deal that we are learning about human nature because even secular observers are somewhat concerned about it. Whybrow writes and I quote,

“Thanks to the seductive appeal of today’s consumer economy, perhaps for the first time in human history it is the affirmation of reward rather than the fear of punishment or failure that dominates the calculus of risk. We have become addicted to the quick fix, be that tasty junk food, the electronic cocaine of the Internet, or the painless ease of a credit card purchase.”

Finally, we point to another parallel to which we pointed several times on The Briefing and that is that the arguments for why pornography is so seductive, also comes back to many the same arguments. And of course there’s an entire industry trying to hook people on pornography – tragically, very successfully. And the same kind of techniques are now being used to sell Americans on easy credit they can’t afford, and for videogames as the makers are trying to create and keep new whales for their industry.

In one sense, a look at the book of Proverbs should be sufficient to understand the biblical priority on delayed gratification: wisdom, stewardship, thrift, maturity, common sense. But it’s important that Christians understand that every biblical virtue has enemies in the common world, some of them quite seductive, some of them not often recognized; a few of them here revealed in the most unexpected way in the pages of the Wall Street Journal.

3) Alabama considers empty promise of gambling to resolve tax shortfall

Next, in recent days the New York Times has run an article telling us of the state of Alabama may turn to gambling in order to make up a shortfall from tax revenue. The article is by Campbell Robertson and the important thing about this article is the fact that it is datelined in Alabama, indeed in Montgomery – Alabama’s capital. Why is that big news? Because Alabama has been one of the state’s most resistant to any form of legalized gambling, and it has been so largely because Alabama has been so steadfastly rooted in an historic Christian biblical aversion to gambling as being reckless, as being a demonstration of forfeiting stewardship, and of preying upon the poor.

Robertson reports,

“After years of crackdowns, police raids, Bible Belt oratory and admonitions about corruption, Alabama lawmakers have had a change of heart. They are now seeking fiscal salvation at the casino.”

The article goes on to describe the Alabama state Senate president, a Republican, who is pushing a state constitutional amendment that would not only institute a lottery but also allowed traditional slots and casino table games at several horseracing tracks across the state. Meanwhile on the house side of the Alabama legislature, the Republican caucus,

“…while supporting an array of limited tax increases, is championing a stunning and unexpected offer from the Poarch Band of Creek Indians, the state’s only federally recognized tribe: In exchange for a compact giving the tribe exclusive gambling privileges in Alabama at its three casinos, as well as setting aside land for a fourth, the tribe would foot the bill for nearly the entirety of next year’s state budget deficit.”

The New York Times tells us that Gov. Robert J Bentley of Alabama continues to insist that gambling is not the answer to the state, but rather it needs to reform its tax code. But the article cites the Senate President as saying,

“Republicans, by and large, aren’t big advocates of gaming, but they sure…don’t like taxes.”

Now his statement was a little more salty than that, but we get the point. He is saying that Republicans don’t like gambling, but they don’t like taxes even more so they might turn to gambling. So let’s look at the argument that is being deployed there in Alabama. Anyone who has been following this issue for any length of time will recognize the argument exactly as we would expect it to come. The Senate President who is behind this,

“…acknowledged the surprising politics but pointed out that his draft bill includes language barring racetrack operators like Mr. McGregor from making campaign contributions (a similar bill was introduced in the House on Wednesday). And though, as the governor has pointed out, this plan might take some time to start paying dividends, Mr. Marsh insisted that it would create thousands of jobs while negating the need for tax increases.”

That is always the promise. Just consider the fact that in recent months we’ve covered the absolute collapse of some multi, and I mean multi-million-dollar casinos in places like Atlantic City, all the jobs that were promised simply evaporated. The same thing is taking place in the Delta of Mississippi where casinos have been closing because the market falls off as more casinos open elsewhere. And all those jobs that were promised, and sometimes almost immediately materialized, almost as immediately disappear.

And now you have the state of Alabama, that it is interesting to note the New York Times acknowledges has been held back largely by a Christian resistance to gambling. Well we now are beginning to see that opposition crumbles, at least in the legislature. The big question is going to be, is it crumbling amongst the people of Alabama? Eventually the people of Alabama are going to have their say – even the Senate President is trying to bring about what would require a constitutional amendment. The people Alabama better speak up on this issue.

But we also need to recognize that in many other states, those who have held out in terms of the morality of gambling for a very long time sometimes tend to crumble when they’re being told it’s either gambling or taxes. And look at the promise of all these jobs, well that’s a promise that has been made many times before. People Alabama: simply look at the data from the states around you. Simply look where casino gambling has had its way and ask, is that we want for our state? You see those who are pressing this kind of thing don’t go to the pawn shops and they don’t go to the places where those who have been financially wrecked by their addiction and their practice of gambling simply have to go to feed their addiction or to feed their practice – literally to feed their sin. I guarantee that the people who are pressing this kind of proposal aren’t going to show you the shuttered casinos of Atlantic City and elsewhere.

The Christian worldview has resisted gambling for the very reason that it subverts biblical virtues and it encourages vices at every conceivable turn. It doesn’t entice people to be good stewards of their resources, but rather to waste them. It doesn’t encourage people to rely upon an ethic of hard-working labor and its proper reward; instead it honors games of chance. And, as we know, eventually the state becomes a predator upon its own people. Just look at how states try to encourage their citizens with the lowest incomes to spend the most when it comes to the lottery. Any way you look at it, this is big news. The New York Times knows it is big news because if this can happen in Alabama, it can happen anywhere.

Of course finally, we need tie this back to the pew research study that came out earlier this week on the secularization of America and the fact that secularization is happening in all regions of the country and, to some extent, in all generations. This kind of story coming from a state like Alabama wouldn’t be possible if the buckle were still on the Bible Belt so to speak. It wouldn’t be possible if we still had a clear exceptionalism when it comes to states like Alabama, clearly dominated by the vast majority of a citizenry, that indicates that they are Christians of one sort or another. The binding power the Christian worldview is what is at stake here. It’s one thing for people to say, ‘I’m a Christian’ – to self-identify on a survey saying, ‘I’m a Christian’ or ‘I’m a member of this church or this denomination,’ –  it’s another thing to see how the binding moral authority of the biblical worldview begins to crumble right before our eyes.

Journalistically, it’s a coincidence that this article from Alabama appeared in just the same period of a few days when the Pew Research Center data was released. But coming from a biblical worldview it’s not really a coincidence, we understand that the moral change reflects a deeper spiritual and theological change. And if something like this form of gambling can become plausible in a state like Alabama, it can only become plausible because of more fundamental shifts that are taking place in the hearts and minds of the people of the state. That’s the real warning to us here: Christians who are committed to a biblical worldview have to understand that we are increasingly finding ourselves arguing against even some of our neighbors who believe themselves to be Christians, and who may even tell themselves they are Christians, but who no longer feel bound by the moral teachings of the biblical worldview.

4) Gay couples object to likely requirement of marriage in order to gain health benefits 

Finally, here’s another front page article from the Wall Street Journal that caught my eye. It appeared in Wednesday’s edition; here’s a headline: Wed or Lose your Benefits, Firms Warn Gay Couples. The article is by Rachel Emma Silverman and this is one of those stories we’ve been watching for a long time. It’s one of those in inevitable stories, and here it lands this week on the front page of the Wall Street Journal. What is it telling us? It’s telling us that there are some gay couples who do not want to get married, but they do want the domestic partner benefits that their companies have given them largely because same-sex marriage wasn’t yet legal.

You can tell what’s happening here, when same-sex marriage becomes legal, many corporations are saying, ‘okay, now you have to get married in order to get the domestic partner benefits – especially when it comes to insurance and other employee benefits.’ As Silverman writes,

“Wedding bells will ring later this year if the Supreme Court decides that gay couples are constitutionally entitled to marry. But health insurance, more than romance, may nudge some couples down the aisle.”

That’s an interesting lead, but that’s not the most interesting portion of the article. The most interesting portion of the article is gay couples who are saying that it’s not fair that they be required to get married. Here’s how Silverman reports it,

“Now, some employers who offer benefits targeting same-sex partners say it is only fair to require those couples to marry where legal, just as their straight co-workers must do to extend coverage.

“That is causing some consternation among gay and lesbian employees and their advocates, who say they could be vulnerable to discrimination.”

Well as you follow the logic going on, they are simply saying that they want to be able to get married or not get married and still get the same benefits as if they were married. Well here’s the issue: if equality is equality, as being defined in the current secular legal context, then how can same-sex couples get those marital benefits without marriage if heterosexual couples can’t get those marital benefits without marriage? You see this is how the argument gets immediately turned, and here is what is also very revealing. Even as these companies are now saying, ‘okay if same-sex marriage is legal, then you have to get married in order to get the benefits,’ and even as there are those who are saying, ‘we don’t want to get married, but we do want the benefits’ and even as heterosexual couples are then going say, ‘okay, then we don’t want to have to get married in order to get the benefits,’ you can see where this is going – some of these companies are simply deciding to avoid the issue of marriage altogether.

Silverman reports,

“Recognizing that some employees, gay or straight, simply prefer not to marry, a number of employers are taking marriage out of the equation for benefits. Large companies, such as Google Inc. and International Business Machines Corp. are offering partner benefits to all unmarried couples,”

Well just imagine what that now means. Now we’re looking at the marginalization and subversion of marriage to the point that the confusion over marriage means that employers are simply say we’re not going to be able to look to marriage as a criteria at all. Look back at the words I just quoted from the Wall Street Journal, they say they are offering partner benefits to all unmarried couples. Let me just state the obvious, I don’t believe that. I don’t believe that couples who are hooking up for a weekend are getting these benefits. I don’t believe that some romantic or sexual coupling taking place between two people is going to be recognized for these benefits. No, I can assure you these companies are coming up with some criterion for how they’re going to determine how a couple becomes a couple in order to be covered by these benefits.  In other words, they are trying to come up with something that isn’t marriage that they can recognize as being almost marriage – for now.

The most important issue from the Christian worldview is this: you can try to deny marriage, you can try to redefine marriage, you can try to reject and subvert marriage, but eventually you’re going to have to come up with something like marriage. But if it isn’t really marriage, in terms of God’s gift to humanity, then it isn’t going to work. The controversy over insurance policies that made the front page of the Wall Street Journal tells us that, but of course from a biblical worldview it also tells us a great deal more.


Thanks for listening to The Briefing. For more information go to my website at You can follow me on Twitter by going to For more information on The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary go to For information on Boyce College just go to Tomorrow morning there will be a new edition of Ask Anything: Weekend Edition released. We are still collecting your questions. Call us with your question, in your voice to 877-505-2058. That’s 877-505-2058.


I’ll meet you again on Monday for The Briefing.


Podcast Transcript

1) Mobile games take advantage of unwillingness to delay gratification among many players

Mobile-Game Makers Try to Catch More ‘Whales’ Who Pay for Free Games, Wall Street Journal (Sarah E. Needleman)

2) Consumer debt linked to encouragement of easy credit on disregard self-control

This Is Your Brain on Easy Credit, Wall Street Journal (Peter C. Whybrow)

3) Alabama considers empty promise of gambling to resolve tax shortfall

Alabama May Turn to the Gambling It Has Long Fought, New York Times (Campbell Robertson)

4) Gay couples object to likely requirement of marriage in order to gain health benefits 

Firms Tell Gay Couples: Wed or Lose Your Benefits, Wall Street Journal (Rachel Emma Silverman)

R. Albert Mohler, Jr.

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