June 2, 2016
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Thursday, June 2, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
China prepares to reap disastrous societal effects from infamous one-child-only policy
The link between theology and birthrate is one of the best established in statistical history. The link between religion and reproduction is incontestable across human history and across current sociological analysis; we understand that it as Christians quite readily. Worldview determines how we look at all ultimate questions of life, and the questions of marriage and of having children are amongst the most important questions that any human being can face. Inevitably our worldview shows in whether or not we see children as gifts from the Creator to be celebrated and received under all circumstances as gifts, or whether we see children as economic cost centers or as existential projects or as goods that may be convenient, or not convenient depending upon our definition of the good life.
But now you have a major story coming out of China, it’s published in The Atlantic, and it tells us that right now there are two very interesting debates that will shape the future of two very different societies. On the one hand passing reference is made to the immigration controversy in the United States. Howard W. French, who writes the article entitled, “China’s Twilight Years” published in the latest edition of The Atlantic, tells us that on opposite sides of the world, the two different questions are immigration in the United States and a collapsing birthrate in China. And the Chinese story he says is by far the larger of the two stories. He tells us that what’s going on in China right now is an absolute demographic collapse and as he writes, it’s now virtually impossible to imagine how it can be reversed.Show Full Transcript
French points to the fact that in recent years there’s been much discussion of China as a resurgent power in the world. We’ve been looking at the fact that China has been radically expanding its navy and that in that country, one of the most interesting current debates is just how large that navy should be, symbolic of China’s quandary as to how far it wants to extend its national power and influence. But that debate really doesn’t mean all that much in the end, writes French, because what’s going on in China right now is a population implosion. That means the debate over the size of the navy is actually the least of the country’s problems. The bigger problem is who might even serve on those ships. In his essay, Howard French writes,
“In the years ahead, as China’s Baby Boomers reach retirement age, the country will transition from having a relatively youthful population, and an abundant workforce, to a population with far fewer people in their productive prime.
“The frightening scope of this decline is best expressed in numbers. China today boasts roughly five workers for every retiree.”
Now keep the math straight. That’s five workers for a single retiree.
“By 2040, this highly desirable ratio will have collapsed to about 1.6 to 1. From the start of this century to its midway point, the median age in China will go from under 30 to about 46, making China one of the older societies in the world. At the same time, the number of Chinese older than 65 is expected to rise from roughly 100 million in 2005 to more than 329 million in 2050—more than the combined populations of Germany, Japan, France, and Britain.”
Now just keep in mind what he’s telling us here. In mathematical terms, he is telling us that the number of the aged in China by the year 2050 will be more than the combined population of all ages of the total population of Germany, Japan, France, and Britain added together. French goes on to tell us that the consequences for China are profound. If anything, that’s an understatement. He points out that China has been building towards an increasing prosperity and it has been promising that prosperity to its expanding population. But the population is not expanding anymore. As a matter of fact, it is shrinking and, as it turns out, the Chinese government is largely responsible for this.
One of the most horrifying laws ever adopted by any government at any time was the law adopted in the early 1970s by the Chinese Communist Party that limited every couple in China to have only one child. This was put in place to avoid the population explosion that China thought was the great danger in the future. It turns out that the problem for China was not having too many babies, but too few. And as we now know, an aging population with a declining birthrate is a recipe for disaster on a massive and absolutely colossal scale, in the case of China, a scale never before experienced in human history.
But that one-child-only policy, we need to note, that was put in place by the Chinese Communist Party was also put in place with coercive efforts that included forced abortions, forced sterilization, the intrusion of the Chinese Communist Party into the most intimate lives of its citizens, the destruction of families, and also infanticide. And what we’re looking at here is what is reaped by a harvest of that kind of immoral policy.
As French writes, the single child households are now the norm in China and the nation’s one child policy “is likely to go down as one of history’s greatest blunders.” But morally speaking, it’s quite an understatement to call it a blunder. It wasn’t a blunder, it was an evil policy from the very beginning, a policy that invaded the intimate lives of citizens, a policy that was against the birth of children, a policy that led to forced abortions, forced sterilization, and even the killing of young children. That is not a blunder, that is a horrifying crime against humanity, and now China is facing a future that it cannot reverse.
One of the most interesting aspects of French’s article is that it points to the fact that there is nothing the Chinese Communist Party now can do to avoid the looming and inevitable crisis. One demographer at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences is quoted in the article as saying this very profound and haunting statement:
“It really doesn’t matter what happens now with the fertility rate. The old people of tomorrow are already here.”
Now just hear those words again.
“It really doesn’t matter what happens now with the fertility rate. The old people of tomorrow are already here.”
Now you have the same demographer making the comment in terms of this article that China is going to face an absolute economic meltdown with the aging of its population and the radical decline of young workers entering the economy. French’s article also raises a new kind of vocabulary for us as we look to the political issues that are going to be faced not only by China, but other governments. It’s a question, he says, of “guns and canes,” quoting Mark L. Haas, a political scientist at Duquesne University. By using the phrase “guns and canes,” he’s drawing attention to the old formula that used to be discussed of the political decision between spending money for guns or butter—that is, the decision faced by government as to whether or not it would spend government funds on national defense or on social programs—also there, guns and butter. But now it’s guns and canes, says Haas. It is going to come down to whether the government has to spend money primarily on social services for the elderly, there are the canes, or for guns. French goes so far as to say that China is now faced with a nearly impossible situation. At the very moment it wants to expand its national influence around the world by means of spending money on guns, especially on a modern navy, it finds itself faced with a political dilemma. In the words of Professor Haas,
“China’s political leaders beginning in roughly 2020”—let’s note that’s just four years away—“will be faced with a difficult choice: allow growing levels of poverty within an exploding elderly population, or provide the resources necessary to avoid this situation.”
This might lead to what he calls a geriatric peace, which will not be limited only to China. That’s a peace that is brought about, he says, because these aging populations really have no way to wage war. That’s an interesting new development in terms of human history, but it’s one that doesn’t necessarily promise increased peace worldwide, but increased political instability and risk of war. To put the matter very clearly, younger nations may be encouraged by means of this demographic implosion to take military action against older societies, in this case that should be a big concern to China. But China is not alone in facing this kind of demographic implosion, Italy and other European nations are also facing the same. And from a worldview perspective, what’s really interesting here is that this tells us that the secularizing nations of the West, those nations that had been steeped in the Christian worldview, are now beginning to catch up because of their secularization with the forced secularization of the worldview that took place by the power of the Communist Party in China.
The BBC, that is the British Broadcasting Corporation, recently put out a headline story,
“Italy set to double child benefit to combat low birth rate”
The story tells us that just 488,000 babies were born in all of Italy in 2015. That’s lower than in any year since the modern state was founded in 1861. Here in Italy we’re seeing a plummeting birth rate. One of the government spokespersons quoted in the article said,
“If we carry on as we are and fail to reverse the trend, there will be fewer than 350,000 births a year in 10 years’ time, 40% less than in 2010.”
She then said that would be “an apocalypse.”
“In five years we have lost more than 66,000 births (per year)… If we link this to the increasing number of old and chronically ill people, we have a picture of a moribund country.”
In other words, a picture of disaster. The article in the BBC tells us that the Italian government is trying to reverse the trend immediately by adding to the government benefits it pays for children, especially for a second child or even a third child, trying to create a financial incentive to have children. Italy, we are told in this article, now has one of the lowest birth rates in Europe. Now that’s astounding when you consider the historic role that Catholicism has played in the life of Italy and of the Italian people. It is indeed almost impossible to imagine Italy without the pervasive influence of the Roman Catholic Church, a church, we should note, that teaches very actively a promise of reproduction, indeed an expectation of reproduction, in marriage and a church that opposes all means of artificial birth control. Very clearly, here you have a nation that had once claimed Catholicism as central to its identity that is now living in flagrant opposition to the teachings of the Catholic Church.
But more importantly for evangelical Christians is the understanding that it’s the secularization of the Italian society that explains this. It is the loss not only of the Catholic identity of the Italian people and their authority, understood in terms of the Catholic Church and its moral teachings, but it is the larger loss of the moral authority of biblical Christianity and of the basic mandate of reproduction that is so clear in any biblical theology, going all the way back to Genesis chapter 1.
What we see here is a very ominous sign in terms of the future of Europe, and of those formerly Christian societies that had once been the very foundation of Western civilization. What we see here is what happens when biblical Christianity is rejected and some kind of secular worldview attempts to take its place. That worldview is, as these statistics make very clear, sterile—sterile in every sense; sterile in particular in the sense of understanding that the secular worldview evidently does not prize, nor hold central, the responsibility of human beings to reproduce. All this is tied together in the sterility of a nation that is made more clear—first understanding the sterility of the secular worldview.
Sad and bizarre paganism on display as women in Thailand care for fake plastic children
But next, before leaving this very important understanding of the biblical worldview link between human dignity and reproduction, what it means to be made in the image of God and given the mandate to reproduce, what it means to see children as divine gifts rather than biological accidents—all this is made very clear in an article that was published in the May 2016 edition of The Atlantic. It’s an article datelined from Thailand, and as the article tells us, a big development there is fake children. The author tells us, and that’s Audrey Wilson reporting,
“In Bangkok, a plastic-baby boom is under way. Thai adults have lately been towing around lifelike dolls known as luk thep (commonly translated as “child angels”), which are believed to be inhabited by spirits that bring good fortune. There are few places the dolls don’t go: They are carried through street markets, they receive blowouts at salons, they take up seats on airplanes, they are even served restaurant meals.”
Now Wilson goes on to say,
“At first glance, the dolls—which seem to be most popular among middle-class, middle-age women—might appear to reflect Thailand’s low fertility rate (which has plummeted in recent decades from six children per woman to 1.5 today.”
That’s a rate that’s not only devastating, it’s significantly lower than Thailand’s neighboring countries. Yet there is another angle here, and that is the spiritualist angle. It turns out that these artificial children are strongly connected to Thailand’s “complex religiosity.”
We are then told,
“Although nearly 95 percent of Thais practice Buddhism, many also make offerings to Hindu gods, and the country has a long tradition of object worship, thought to have roots in animism.”
Now animism, we should note, is the prime paganism—that is, it is the original form of paganism, a worldview that holds that inanimate objects are actually inhabited by animate beings, spiritual beings either wishing well or wishing evil. This is going back to totemism and idolatry. And now we are told that Thais’ have formed an amalgam of Buddhism and Hinduism and animism that is reflected in these “child angels,” as they are called. The magazine provides a picture of a middle-aged Thai woman carrying around two of these dolls rather than children of her own. One businesswoman told the Bangkok Post,
“These are my children; my children are part of my success.”
Now it’s hard to come up with a more poignant symbol of our contemporary confusion than this. It is directed towards the Thai culture with an explanation of why this caught the attention of the writers and editors of The Atlantic, a major American publication. But it also points to something that goes far beyond Thailand and something that goes far beyond Thai women of middle-age carrying around artificial children rather than raising real children of their own. It has to do with the fact that human beings, once they accept some form of paganism, any alternative to the Christian biblical worldview, will try to find some substitute for the goods that God has given us in creation. The confusion of the goods is symptomatic of theological confusion, and that means that rather than celebrating children—that is, real children—as divine gifts and raising those children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, in our confusion we turn to something else. Rather than receiving children as divine gifts, these Thai women are carrying around plastic children they say bring them good luck.
But before leaving this to the issue of Thailand, as troubling as this story is, we need to recognize that what we have here is a symbol of what happens whenever the good gifts that God has given us in creation are rejected in favor of something else or something lesser. And anything else is always less than what God has given us in the goodness of his creation. Once we abandon the good gifts God has given us, such as the gift of children, and we invest that kind of meaning and care in something else, we inevitably destroy the goodness of the pattern that God has given us, and we bring not happiness but great sadness, and that comes to Americans too.
You have to ask the question, where are modern secularized Westerners behaving more or less like these women in Thailand? Well, it’s found with those who have replaced what should be the proper joy of marriage and family and children with something like materialism or political power or influence, or even pets.
Dolls for boys? Christians must recognize that even the toy aisle reflects a worldview
But while talking about dolls, oddly enough, finally I come to a story about dolls that demands our attention, not from Thailand, but rather from Chicago. It’s an article that appeared recently in The Chicago Tribune written by Heidi Stevens in her “Balancing Act” column. The headline,
“Boy Story creators want to give boys a doll of their own.”
Now just wait, here it comes. Stevens writes,
“When Kristen Johnson was pregnant with her second son, she went hunting for a boy doll for her older son to play with and nurture.
“But boy dolls are hard to come by — especially boy dolls that aren’t plush, glorified pillows or muscle-bound, weapon-wielding warriors.”
The mother said,
“I wanted a doll like him, especially to help learn about being a big brother. My search went from disappointed to frantic to angry as I realized that my options were to buy a girl doll or buy a baby doll. I ended up finding a boy doll, but it was so feminine that my son kept calling him a girl, and it set me back $125.”
Now this is one of the stories where, frankly, it’s hard to know where to begin. Here you have a mom who thinks that somehow a boy doll will help her little boy be able to understand how to nurture a baby brother, and that assumes that a little boy wants to play with any kind of doll in the first place. Breaking through all of this confusion is the little boy himself, who thought that the little boy doll was so feminine that he kept calling the doll a girl, which, as the mother says, set her back $125, raising a whole different kind of question.
But the article tells us that this mother out of her frustration has created an alternative to the famed American Girl doll line for girls, this time for boys. Johnson and her sister have designed the dolls and launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund their production. They expect to receive orders beginning in June, so mark your calendar. The mother told the Chicago Tribune,
“Our goal is to diversify the doll market as it currently stands. We wanted to round out what our kids have to choose from for their imaginative play.”
The mother went on to say that the dolls, who are aimed at boys, ages three through eight, “have individual ball joints in their arms and legs, which helps them function like poseable action figures”—but note the next words, and I quote—“even though they’re sized more like huggable, tote-able playmates.”
I’m just going to suggest, I don’t think this is going to be a big success with boys of any age,, including boys age three through eight. They may have bendable ball joints in terms of their arms and legs, but if indeed they look like “huggable, tote-able playmates,” my guess is they’re not going to be either hugged nor toted. As you might suspect, there is almost always a larger ideological or political or worldview point behind something like this. That’s made clear by the mother who said,
“As a mom of two boys, I’m constantly trying to teach my kids about diversity and acceptance. For me, Boy Story is about offering a really fun, cool, back-to-basics toy that kids can play with and imagine with, that also encourages nurturing and empathy.”
Now I have full sympathy for a mother of two little boys in terms of understanding what’s going on in those two little minds, but I think I can speak on good authority to say that what’s going on is not going to be something that’s going to be attracted to little dolls for little boys, even if they are entitled, “Boy Story.” I am so thankful that God intended that boys would grow up with both a mother and a father, and it’s clear that boys need both a mother and a father. And one of the things we need to note from this kind of article is that no doubt, here you have a well-intended mother who think she’s doing something that will be positive for her sons, and yet what she’s doing is creating a doll that will come down to the fact that this is a doll which is going to be the kind of doll a mother would design to be attractive to her sons, and that’s not likely to be a winning project.
The article by Heidi Stevens ends by saying that maybe the emergence of these new dolls can move the needle a bit in terms of the doll section of the toy market. Once again, I’m just going to go out on a limb and say, I don’t think this is going to work. From a Christian worldview perspective, by the way, one of the things we need to note is that there is nothing that doesn’t come with worldview foundations and worldview significance, and that includes toys.
And as we’re thinking about the things that bring us pleasure and that brought us pleasure as children, the things that draw the attention of either boys or girls, and admittedly sometimes boys and girls, depending upon the sport or the game or the toy, the reality is that boys and girls are different, and that’s going to show up in many, many, many different ways. And of course, men and women are different, and one of the interesting things about tying all these articles together today is that these last two demonstrate that across culture, there really is a distinction between men and women, boys and girls, males and females that shows up.
In Thailand you have these middle-aged women, sadly, tragically, heartbreakingly carrying around these plastic dolls. Here in the United States, you have a mother who’s trying to create dolls that will be attractive to little boys. You’ll note in Thailand it is not middle-aged men carrying around these dolls, and in the United States I don’t expect to see a new movement of boys carrying around dolls either. And it’s not just the culture, it’s not just nurture, it is also nature.