Current Events & Trends: September–October 2017

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September–October 2017

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Current Events & Trends: September–October 2017

MP3 Audio (20.4 MB)

North Korea problem not going away

A North Korea capable of and willing to use nuclear weapons is the stuff of nightmares for, at the very least, South Korea and its allies in the West. Even if we disregard the potential for long-range nuclear strikes on targets like the United States or Europe, the existential threat to South Korea’s densely populated capital, Seoul, cannot be ignored. Seoul sits just 35 miles from North Korea’s southern border and 121 miles from North Korea’s capital, Pyongyang.

The potential for destruction on such a massive scale is unthinkable for everyone but North Korea’s leaders—with supreme leader Kim Jong-un refusing to back down from establishing his nation as an elite nuclear power able to strike not only regional targets but long-range enemies as well.

“The cost of conflict at this point would be, in the words of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, ‘tragic on an unbelievable scale.’ U.S. Army General Mark Milley described any potential conflict on the Korean peninsula . . . as ‘highly deadly, horrific’” (Saagar Enjeti, “North Korea’s Nukes Are Probably Here to Stay,” National Review, July 31, 2017).

Seoul’s citizens in particular feel the heat of potential conflict, facing down a belligerent state that, in addition to its nuclear arsenal, is also armed with chemical weapons.

The time for diplomacy and sanctions may be past, as an ever-increasingly well-equipped North Korea seems unlikely to turn from its stated path toward what it feels will be greater fearsome prestige among the nations—potentially leading to direct conflict with the United States and its allies. The cost of such an outcome, especially for those in South Korea and its regional neighbors, is unimaginable. (Source: National Review.)

What’s behind Russian tension with NATO?

Increased tension between Russia and NATO alliance members was kick-started by Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, then a Ukrainian territory. Following the military intervention and subsequent annexation, the United Nations issued a resolution declaring Russia’s takeover illegal.

Since then Russia’s already complex relationship with Europe and the United States has cooled even further after disagreements over intervention in the Syrian civil war and allegations of Russian tampering in the U.S. presidential election.

The recent behavior of Russia has been so troubling that its nearest neighbors are on high alert. An article from the Jamestown Foundation, a global research institute that specializes in Eurasian geopolitics, speculates that Russia may pose a future risk to Europe’s poorest nation, Moldova.

“Moldova is a landlocked country, but unbeknownst to many, it has an international port on the Danube that is accessible to seagoing vessels. The Port of Giurgiulești (some 130 kilometers [81 miles] from the Black Sea) presents large economic opportunities as well as significant security vulnerabilities . . . Despite its strategic economic value, the port presents growing security vulnerabilities for Moldova. Following the annexation of Crimea, the security situation in the Black Sea region changed dramatically” (Mihai Popsoi, “How Vulnerable Is Moldova to a Russian Invasion Through Its Only Port?” July 31, 2017).

That sovereign European nations should even be concerned about the fidelity of their borders is cause for serious concern about the stability of Europe. Russia was instrumental in setting the world scene for the two World Wars and the Cold War in the 20th century, and President Vladimir Putin seems set on reestablishing Russia as a major disruptive force on the world stage. (Source: The Jamestown Foundation.)

Legality changes opinions on morality

“Two years after the [U.S.] Supreme Court decision that required states to recognize same-sex marriages nationwide, support for allowing gays and lesbians to marry legally is at its highest point in over 20 years of Pew Research Center polling on the issue” (“Support for Same-Sex Marriage Grows, Even Among Groups That Had Been Skeptical,” Pew Research Center, June 26, 2017).

Support for same-sex marriage has increased dramatically since the ruling. The research noted above has shown increasing support over the last few decades, but a notable jump after the Supreme Court decision. People began to change their views on the morality of same-sex marriage.

“By a margin of nearly two-to-one (62% to 32%), more Americans now say they favor allowing gays and lesbians to marry than say they are opposed” (ibid.).

Legality changes opinions. We have seen it in the past. After the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, public opinion shifted on the morality of abortion. Today you can hear comedians minimize abortions as a mere bodily discharge. That’s a far leap from the controversial court case all those years ago.

What the courts decide has a massive impact on what citizens decide is moral. This is especially dangerous with God being taken out of the picture more and more.

We teach children right from wrong and to avoid what is unsafe: Don’t play near the street. Don’t play with the electrical outlets. We recognize the danger because we have had the experience and the knowledge to understand the consequences of these things. A child’s limited perspective often hinders making the right choice.

The pride of man is now rejecting God and His eternal wisdom. The pride of man is determining that we can decide what is best and that we can know of ourselves all that’s needed for making  correct decisions.

We need to recognize that a court ruling cannot dictate morality by God’s standards—especially when the courts have rejected the legitimacy of God. Take heed in the coming years, as more evil will be ruled good. Make sure your moral compass is directed by the Word of God. (Source: The Pew Research Center.)

What are smartphones doing to our kids—and to all of us?   

The availability of the smartphone has changed the way we live. It’s so handy to have phone, e-mail, calendars, messaging, voice recorders, maps, music, camera and the Internet all in one place and available at any given time. The convenience can’t be beat. We can look up anything at any time.

A host of new studies have been coming out revealing the impacts smartphones are having on our lives—especially the lives of young people who have only known a world where smartphones and tablets exist.

A recent article in The Atlantic goes into detail about the effects of smartphones on the emerging generation—not the millennials, but the generation after them. “More comfortable online than out partying, post-Millennials are safer, physically, than adolescents have ever been. But they’re on the brink of a mental-health crisis” (Jean Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” September 2017).

Smartphones and the Internet are relatively new for all of us. Social media and the ability to see what all of our friends are doing at any moment of the day is also a new experience. What is this ubiquitous connection doing to our teens who know only this kind of world?

“Teens who spend more time than average on screen activities are more likely to be unhappy, and those who spend more time than average on nonscreen activities are more likely to be happy. There’s not a single exception. All screen activities are linked to less happiness, and all nonscreen activities are linked to more happiness . . .

“Psychologically . . . they are more vulnerable than Millennials were: Rates of teen depression and suicide have skyrocketed since 2011. It’s not an exaggeration to describe iGen [the generation born between 1995-2012] as being on the brink of the worst mental-health crisis in decades.” Yet this isn’t just a teen problem. There are parents and other adults who show similar symptoms.

Another seldom-mentioned problem with children having smartphones is exposure to online pornography. According to the Rob Jackson article “When Children View Pornography” on the Focus on the Family website, “Some researchers have stated that the average age of exposure to pornography is down to 8” and “One recent study found that 47 percent of school-aged children received porn spam on a daily basis.” And the pornography common today is far more hard-core and far more deviant than that of earlier generations. “With the Internet,” the article explains, “a child can be exposed to a wide range of sexual perversions in seconds.”

Having this knowledge should make us mindful of the grave dangers to our children and how much both they and we are connected and “plugged in.” There are psychological ramifications for all of us if we don’t keep the consuming power of our phones in check. (Source: The Atlantic, Focus on the Family website.)

A heinous ruling in Pakistan

Reuters recently reported on a shocking incident in Pakistan. “Pakistani police have arrested 25 members of an informal village council accused of ordering the rape of a 16-year-old girl as revenge for her brother’s alleged sexual assault of another girl” (Asif Shahzad, “Pakistani Council Orders ‘Revenge Rape’ of 16-Year-Old Girl,” July 27, 2017). As horrifying as this story is, it's not the first time this has happened in Pakistan. Revenge rape has been in the news before. “Earlier . . . [in July], a local council in the southern city of Multan was called after a family accused a 16-year-old boy of raping a 13-year-old neighbor” (ibid.).

These decisions are not coming directly from the Pakistani government, but from local tribal elders. “Pakistan has a centuries-old tradition of quick justice handed down by gatherings of local elders, known as jirgas or panchayats, seen by many villagers as preferable to the often-cumbersome and corrupt formal legal system” (ibid.). The case came to light when both families filed criminal charges with police accusing the other family’s son of rape.

We read in the Bible about “perilous times” in the last days before the return of Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3:1-2). Sometimes, it seems far off in our Western comfortable lifestyles, but news like this slaps us with the reality of the world we live in. What have we become when the way to right a sin is to commit another sin? What is the sense in, rather than punishing the rapist, calling for another rape of an innocent person—creating both a new perpetrator and victim?!

In Isaiah 59:9 we read: “Therefore justice is far from us, nor does righteousness overtake us; we look for light, but there is darkness! For brightness, but we walk in blackness!”

This is a stark reminder of the need for the Kingdom of God. May God speed that day. (Source: Reuters.)

Ten Commandments takedown underscores America’s identity crisis

hat role does religion play in the public sphere? Does America’s Christian heritage hold any lasting influence? How do public officials balance personal faith and civic duty? Such questions are points of conflict in the United States—as many Christians seek to reaffirm faith’s role in the nation, while many secularists attempt to remove religion from public life altogether.

The great moral code underlying biblical morality, the Ten Commandments, remains at the center of the debate. The removal of Ten Commandments monuments has made news before, but a different sort of removal made headlines recently.

“‘Freedom!’ cried the man as he drove his car into a six-foot monument of the Ten Commandments in Little Rock, Arkansas, toppling the sculpture from its base and shattering it to pieces. From where Michael Tate Reed II sat, behind the wheel of a Dodge Dart, the destruction of the Ten Commandments in the summer of 2017 was an act of liberation designed to free the nation from the tyranny of religion.

“This wasn’t the first time that Reed had dislodged the Decalogue from its pedestal. Several years earlier, in 2014, he had rammed his car into a Ten Commandments monument in Oklahoma City, but not too many people had taken note. This time around, Reed made sure they did by streaming his violent act live on Facebook” (Jenna Joselit, “Breaking the Ten Commandments: A Short History of the Contentious American Monuments,” Religion and Politics, Aug. 1, 2017).

America’s culture war rages on, and religion will continue to play a central role. Reed’s open acts of violence against Ten Commandments monuments show the lengths to which some will go to undermine the Christian religious and cultural heritage the majority of Americans share. (Source: Religion and Politics.)