The Republic of Korea once outlawed adultery. No more. According to news reports, the highest South Korean court earlier this year has removed from the law any ban of adultery.
It was a constitutional ruling, supposedly not based on popular opinion. Still, throughout the democratic world, marriage is in trouble in public opinion. Christians are not holding their own amid this trend.
Contrary to what most Americans probably assume, South Korea has a considerable Christian population, accounting for 30 percent of South Korea’s people. The current president identifies herself as an atheist, but she was preceded by 10 presidents, four of whom were Christians.
Pope St. John Paul II visited Korea in 1989, and Pope Francis was there recently. Many said that prompting both visits was the exceptional vigor of South Korean Christianity. So, the current Korean civilization is not devoid of Christianity. It is not like North Korea in the grip of atheistic communism, or a society totally secular or pagan.
Yet, ancient Christian values strenuously oppose adultery, intimate relations by a person with someone other than her or his spouse. Culturally, fidelity to a spouse in such matters still seems to be respected and still is expected in most circles, in this country at any rate. But, the definition of marriage has become so fluid, secular and subjective that this may, and probably will, change.
In a time when everything is about personal choice and less about responsibility to anybody other than self, and when sexual relations have no purpose other than entertainment, why bother about adultery?
For several generations, divorce not only has been increasingly more easily available, but many people consider marriage with the clear thought that divorce is an option if “things do not work out.”
Obligations? Divine revelation? How? What? Why?
Recently, a pastor told me that one couple in his parish came to discuss marriage with him. Bluntly, they said that they both believed that if their marriage did not prove to be what they wanted, whatever that meant, then they would divorce without hesitation and re-marry. No problem.
He told them that if they believed this, they could not be married in the Catholic Church. Furious, they bad-mouthed him as the bogeyman, heartless and out of step. They quit the Church. He was right.
To be married in the Church, one must sincerely accept Church doctrine, in this case that marriage is literally until the death of one of the spouses.
Then, there is the phenomenon of cohabitation. The number of Catholics who now live together before marriage with all that entails is stunning, especially considering the not too distant past.
Today, again to cite data, most Catholics practice birth control. More darkly, if a pregnancy comes, more than a few resort to abortion, at least social studies say as much.
Now, sweeping the country is the demand for same-sex marriage. Public opinion not too long ago was against this idea, but that has changed. Same-sex marriage grows in acceptance by the day. More than two-thirds of the American states accept it legally, and I have not seen any prediction of a pending U. S. Supreme Court ruling on the question that suggests the court will forbid it.
I strongly fear that Western Civilization is on a slippery slope regarding views about marriage, and that more traditional restrictions will collapse, or be outright removed, because public opinion rejects them.
Korea’s prosperous, educated society is much like our own. Korea is a long way geographically from America, but not far culturally. Where are we going?
Msgr. Owen F. Campion is OSV’s associate publisher.