hands of those from different cultures on the backdrop of the American flag with the Mexican flag fingerprint

The Intersection of Family and Immigration Enforcement

Last week I was commended because my commentaries stuck to the Family Action Council of Tennessee’s focus on state laws and policies directly affecting the nature of marriage, the integrity of the family unit, the sanctity of life, and religious liberty. I was also chastised by someone for not speaking to federal “asylum” policies that separate “infants and children” from their parents. Today, I will speak to a federal issue—immigration—while trying to stay in my lane.

As it turns out, my critic wasn’t interested in asylum but in the enforcement of our immigration laws, a wholly different issue. What he was really interested in were my views on how President Trump is handling the prosecution of an adult who is here illegally when that adult’s child is also here.

The Problem of Intersecting Jurisdictional Claims

While that is still a federal issue, I will go outside my lane of state policy because this federal issue provides an opportunity to speak to a broader issue with which I do have to work—the intersection of different legitimate jurisdictional authorities and competing justice claims.

I believe it is within a nation’s God-given jurisdictional authority to protect its borders. I also believe it is within the God-given jurisdictional authority of parents to raise and nurture their child according to their value system.

Of course, there can be situations that militate against an unlimited exercise of that authority by either jurisdictional authority, and as in the case of immigration policy, those two jurisdictions can collide.

The Issue Not Debated

There is probably much I don’t know about our immigration policy and its enforcement, but here is what I’ve not seen debated: What’s the difference between separating a parent and child when it is the result of enforcing one type of law—immigration law—and separating them when it’s the result of enforcing other types of laws, such as those against murder, theft, or assault?

Is it any less heart-breaking or any less of an injustice to the child in the case of the latter than the former?

So, how do we, or even can we, distinguish between border laws and these other types of criminal laws so that we would be correct to say that an injustice is done to the child when separated by criminal laws regarding borders but no injustice is done to the child when separated by these other types of criminal laws? The adult, however, is not being done an injustice in either situation; both have broken the law.

But in answering this question, we also have to realize that laws themselves establish a kind of border, a border that protects the law-abiding from the non-law abiding.

We do an injustice to the law-abiding citizen when those who do not abide by the law are allowed to do so with impunity. So why is it an injustice to an innocent victim of assault if the violation of assault laws are ignored, but not an injustice to those who abide by the rigor of the immigration laws if violators of those laws are not prosecuted?

These are hard questions on which few want to engage. I suspect it is because no one wants to be viewed as hard-hearted or against the family and the integrity of the family unit. But sometimes we fail to see that our choices in these hard matters are not just about whether to enforce the law or not.

Possible Solutions?

As I understand it, the separation complained of here is caused by the fact that federal law does not allow minors to be incarcerated with adults pending the outcome of the adult’s prosecution, and for good reason. But those reasons can give way if there are other ways of handling the situation that allow for just distinctions.

For example, we allow some people to be paroled but require monitoring bracelets that allow them to be tracked and reapprehended if necessary. Could that not work here pending trial so that the adult could stay with his or her child?

We also incarcerate DUI offenders in what are basically camps, which most likely segregate minor offenders from adults. Given the number of immigration enforcement actions, could not the facilities be outfitted to hold only adults with their minor children pending trial? We already have facilities that separate different types of adult offenders, so why could this not be one more type?

Both of these solutions do no injustice to the incarcerated adult who has no child here vis-à-vis the adult who does have a child here. The freedom of the adults in all these situations is in some manner restricted, but the presence of the child provides a justifiable basis for distinguishing between the ways in which those restrictions are handled.

The Bottom Line

The issue is probably more complicated than I’ve pictured it, and maybe my suggestions won’t work. After all, this isn’t my area of expertise. But here is my point: When either/or thinking leads only to outcomes that appear to produce an injustice—disparate treatment without identifiable distinctions between those in similarly situated circumstances—then it just may mean we need to think (and pray) more.

But we probably all agree with this: Congress has not done enough thinking on this issue for way too long.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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What Are We to Make of the ‘Muck’?

As our culture unwinds, some thoughtful conservatives are calling for a return to the Enlightenment’s principles of human autonomy (often couched as “liberty”). Others say those very principles will bring us to a societal dead-end if we don’t redevelop other conditions that undergirded the success of Enlightenment thinking, such as a shared sense of morality, strong familial support, and vibrant private associations. So, what is my response to those who think I’m either a nut or a Neanderthal for suggesting last week that the only alternative to cultural death is to again acknowledge the sovereignty of God?

To respond to that accusation, it is first necessary that I dispense with the most likely reason for such a criticism, which I’m sure would be mine, too, if I shared the worldview of my critics.

Returning to Christianity Is Going Backward

My critics would most likely accuse me of discounting, if not outright rejecting, the many positive advances made since the Enlightenment and wanting to return to the past. They would assume I must be for going back to the “Christian” days when a woman lost her identity and right to own property upon marriage, poverty was perpetual for those not born into privilege, or an ecclesiastical hierarchy or its designated representative dictated the actions of government officials.

I would deny all of that. I agree that much good has come over the last 300 years, as Jonah Goldberg rightly notes in his book Suicide of the West.

How Can One Be Against Both Going Back and the Enlightenment?

The reason I can be against returning to the way things used to be and yet not embrace the principles of the Enlightenment is because I have a fundamental disagreement with Goldberg (and all Enlightenment thinkers), namely, what caused the positive “effects” we’ve experienced over the last three hundred years.

In this regard, the senior editor of National Review in the opening paragraph of Goldberg’s book says, “There is no God in this book. The humans in this story are animals who evolved . . . We pulled ourselves out of the muck, not some Garden of Eden.” I, on the other hand, believe that God created this world and all that is in it, and He is, therefore, sovereign over it.

These two fundamentally different belief systems produce different answers to the cause of the muck Goldberg references, which, in turn, affects the way we evaluate the cause of progress that’s been made over the last three hundred years.

If muck is our natural state, as Goldberg assumes and holds in faith,1 then the extent to which we’re not in as much muck as we once were would have to be due to our efforts. I grant him that.

What’s the Cause of the ‘Muck’?

Of course, Christians do not think muck is our natural state, nor do they attribute the muck to God. Rather, Christians believe we were made for something more than muck, and the muck is due to our rebellion against God. Muck is what Christians call the condition natural only to the apostate condition of humanity, from which muck God alone can draw us. Psalm 40:2 says, “He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings” (KJV).

But even if I grant Goldberg’s assumption that muck is our natural state and grant that we’ve seen much progress since the Enlightenment, I do not grant him the proposition that the correlation of Enlightenment ideals and certain phenomenon—material progress, abolition of coverture, etc.—proves causation. Those who suggest there were other factors at play obviously agree.

The Cause of Past and Future Progress

But for me, if there is a sovereign God, then that necessarily means that what comes to pass is from His ordering of things to His purposes, even if He does so through the secondary causes of human actions. (Aristotle and Aquinas address types of causation, and Luther and Calvin speak to what influences the human will by which we make choices that bring about various effects, but I won’t put you through that discussion.)

It’s because of my belief in the sovereignty of God that I can think much good has come since the period described as the Enlightenment and not be a humanist. It’s also why I do not share Goldberg’s fear over the abandonment of Enlightenment principles.

But it’s also why I don’t look back nostalgically and wish everything is as it once was. Instead, I look to the future with excitement because my expectation for the future rests not in human autonomy and human reason, but in the sovereignty of a God who I have good reason2 to believe is good and is moving things forward to a glorious end that He has appointed.

Having dispensed with this reason for not acknowledging the sovereignty of God, I will speak next week to another such reason. Then we’ll cap things off with an explanation for how the sovereignty of God speaks to the issues that are killing us.

NOTES

  1. No, science has not proven there is no God nor can it. “[W]hether there is anything behind the things science observes . . . this is not a scientific question. . . . The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book 1, Chapter 4).
  2. I think Him good because He could have left all of us in the muck, since it was our doing, not His, and none of us had a way out on our own. I think the end glorious because any final end that is not glorious would be “out of character” for God since God, by definition, is the summation and personification of that which is most glorious.

Read the series of commentaries responding to Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West:


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Invite David Fowler to speak at your ev

DNA helix, Bible, lightbulb and the American flag

Is Anyone Willing to Say What the Cure Is for a Dying America?

Jonah Goldberg’s latest book, Suicide of the West, contends that America is committing suicide by rejecting the Enlightenment’s emphasis on individual autonomy (liberty) and the sufficiency of human reason to build a better world. His critics suggest that embracing these Enlightenment principles will naturally lead to the death of a culture. So, what’s the solution?

Last week, I noted that some of Goldberg’s critics have said that the Enlightenment’s principles of individual autonomy and the sufficiency of human reason produced stunning material progress because of the milieu of other values with which they were mixed.

More Than Enlightenment Principles Were at Work

For example, John Daniel Davidson rightly notes that “an older order, one that predates liberal democratic capitalism,” is what “gave it its vitality in the first place.” Nathaniel Blake adds this helpful thought about the context in which the liberalism of the Enlightenment was born: “From the family to the variety of intermediary non-state institutions and associations, liberal democratic capitalism depends on commitments and virtues it does not generate.”

What happened, however, was those “other things” went away, either intentionally or necessarily, leaving us today with only individual autonomy (liberty) and human reason.

Davidson suggests that we intentionally “left some things behind,” and quotes professor Patrick Deneen’s observation in Why Liberalism Failed, that in the 16th and 17th centuries, “a series of thinkers embarked on a fundamentally revisionist project ‘whose central aim was to disassemble what they concluded were irrational religious and social norms in the pursuit of civil peace that might in turn foster stability and prosperity, and eventually individual liberty of conscience and action.’”

That disassemblage was, of course, culminated in the French Revolution. Davidson rightly notes that it replaced “moral philosophy and religion with liberalism and applied science.”

Blake fell more into the latter camp. He said, and I agree, “liberalism’s emphasis on individual autonomy and indulgence of the passions (rather than restraint) vitiates the bonds of families and associations that it relies upon but cannot itself produce. Liberal individualism undermines the foundations it is built on.”

What’s the Solution?

Blake suggests that Goldberg make “Edmund Burke his intellectual avatar.”

Davidson says Goldberg needs to “rediscover the old morals and virtues that informed the pursuit of happiness, that gave shape to human flourishing and gave people something greater than themselves to belong to.” Of course, those values were espoused by Burke.

These suggestions are fine, but I don’t think they go far enough.

The Only Alternative Solution

If reliance on liberty and human wisdom have brought us to where we are, then why would we think those two building blocks will now make us either the kind of persons we once were or suddenly make us better persons than we now are? More of the same thinking doesn’t produce different results.

In my view, where these solutions stop short is not articulating the only alternative to the Enlightenment’s twin sources of autonomy—the person and his or her reason—the autonomy of the one and only God, what Christians call the sovereignty of God.

We only have two choices in this regard. We can believe that each of us is absolutely sovereign,1 in which case this may be as good as it gets, or we can believe that God is, in which case there is a source outside of ourselves from which change could come.

Why the Silence?

The critics of Goldberg have not gone this far because, I suspect, it would have been impolitic with their publishers; they were writing to a large, diverse audience.

But what about professing Christians? I suspect many Christians cringe at such a stark choice, as have I in the past.

To avoid it, some will say that God is sovereign only over the human heart (or insert some other limited aspect of our temporal existence). I find that many Christians like to think things like that. Such thoughts still come to my mind with a degree of frequency I loathe. Relinquishing sovereignty to anyone or anything is unnatural. We cling, scratching and clawing, to whatever aspect of sovereignty we can. Of course, a God who is only sovereign over certain things is not really sovereign.

But what is really surprising is that the stark choice I’ve articulated is not often heard in our evangelical churches, particularly the seeker-sensitive ones. The leadership in so many churches today seems to be increasingly unwilling to proclaim that which is the only deathblow to the very thing that keeps “seekers” from God—their pretension to ultimate sovereignty and self-determination. Of course, such a proclamation will never be popular to natural-born seekers, primarily because we are told that there aren’t any (Romans 3:11).

But I’m sure my critics will say, “We tried Christianity in the 16th and 17th century and left it behind because of all the wars and oppression that existed. How does a ‘return’ to that help? Are you against all the progress that’s been made? Fowler, you’re at best a nutcase and at worse a Neanderthal.”

I’ll speak to that next week.

NOTES

  1. Of course, Thomas Hobbes, who in Leviathan was bold enough to assert this, said we could give up our sovereignty to a ruler in order to alleviate the chaos that individual sovereignty produces, but even he left the autonomous individual an escape valve—when the appointed sovereign would take the individual’s life.

Read the series of commentaries responding to Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West:


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your ev

Wedding Cake and U.S. Supreme Court building

Supreme Court Refuses to Bite on Wedding Cake Case

Religious conservatives had to have felt like they’d been left at the altar, so to speak, on Monday by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision involving the refusal of Masterpiece Cakeshop’s owner, Jack Phillips, to make a custom wedding cake for a government-licensed marriage involving two men. But Justice Gorsuch’s concurring opinion served up something for us to chew on.

Highest Court Sidesteps Main Issues

Throughout the various legal proceedings, Phillips’ primary complaint was that forcing him to make a custom cake for a government-licensed same-sex marriage violated his First Amendment free speech rights, because designing a cake is expressive conduct not unlike the expressive conduct associated with burning the flag. His secondary argument was grounded in the free exercise of religion. He argued that being forced by the state to make a wedding cake for a government-licensed same-sex marriage violated the free exercise of his religious beliefs.

The Court sidestepped both of these issues. Phillips “won” because the Court said the Colorado legal proceedings evidenced overt hostility toward his religious beliefs. Moreover, the Court said some of the considerations taken into account in evaluating Phillips’ claims seemed to be different from those applied to three bakers who were accused by a Christian man of discriminating against him because they refused to design cakes expressing disapproval of government-licensed same-sex marriages.

An Appearance of Religious Neutrality

As I read the opinion, all the U.S. Supreme Court really decided was that Civil Rights Commissions and the courts that review their decisions must treat religious defenses to claims of discrimination in the same manner and by the same standards of review as non-religious defenses. In other words, the record of the proceedings must show “neutrality” in the evaluation of different defenses given for non-compliance with a non-discrimination law.

But here is where Justice Gorsuch nails the majority. He notes that the majority’s standard doesn’t really ensure equal administration of the law; it just “invite[s] civil authorities to gerrymander their inquiries based on the parties they prefer.” In plain English, couch your questions and concerns in secular overtones so as to create the appearance of religious neutrality.

Justice Gorsuch realizes that all the majority really said was this: If you want to put the screws to bakers who object to providing services based on what their faith in God tells them about marriage while protecting secular humanist bakers who object to providing services based on what their faith in man and the non-existence of God tells them about marriage, then just be careful what you say. But Gorsuch seems to understand why that approach should not be allowed to work.

Without really saying why, it is because he equates the “secular commitment” of the bakers who refused to bake cakes expressing disapproval of government-licensed same-sex marriages with Phillips’ religious commitments:

[T]he Commission allowed three other bakers to refuse a customer’s request that would have required them to violate their secular commitments. Yet it denied the same accommodation to Mr. Phillips when he refused a customer’s request that would have required him to violate his religious beliefs. (emphasis added)

Why Gorsuch’s Connection Was Correct

What I believe Justice Gorsuch was saying, without doing so explicitly, is this: All our actions are based on some value system that is grounded in an ultimate belief that we have to hold in faith.

Many today want us to think that we should hold beliefs based strictly on science and reason, that this is “neutral,” but those things are no help when it comes to the beliefs that undergird our value systems.

Science can tell us how something works and, in some cases, why it may exist, but it can’t provide a foundation for values.

Reason argues from premises that reason can’t prove, at least not without resorting to some other belief that reason then can’t prove. Using reason to prove reason is what we call circular reasoning.

So, one thing I think the religiously-minded can take from Phillips’ case is this: When your values are under attack because they are informed by your religious faith, then help the other person understand that their values are informed by their faith, too—their faith in themselves (because science and reason can’t help them) and in the irrelevance of God to their value systems.

To hold that faith commitments based on God are not acceptable and faith commitments based on the denial of God are acceptable is the essence of discrimination against religion. Maybe someday the majority of the U.S. Supreme Court will understand that.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

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Lady Liberty against a black sky

If America Is Dying, Why Is That?

Last week I focused on the debate that Jonah Goldberg’s newest book, The Suicide of the West, has generated, not about whether Western civilization and the United States are dying, but whether that death is a result of either rejecting or embracing the ideals of the Enlightenment. I believe America is dying, but the side I agree with is right for the wrong reasons.

Personally, I agree with those who oppose Goldberg’s conclusion that we are dying by suicide because we are rejecting the Enlightenment’s premise of the individual’s autonomy and the power of human reason.

Why I Agree with Goldberg’s Critics—Death by Natural Causes

I agree with Goldberg’s critics because I agree with the assessment of Dr. Nathaniel Blake, Ph.D., in The Federalist that “the blessings of our civilization” do not stem just from the Enlightenment, but from “the actual conditions of mankind for the millennia before modern civilization.” That’s because, as Goldberg critic Richard M. Reinsch, editor of Law and Liberty, said, “no political and economic order can emerge ex nihilo.”

In other words, the Enlightenment “arrived” in a certain context from which it can’t be divorced. John Daniel Davidson, whose critique I referenced last week, describes that context as consisting of “the old morals and virtues that informed the pursuit of happiness, that gave shape to human flourishing and gave people something greater than themselves to belong to.”

What the Critics Dared Not Criticize

But none were willing to challenge the premise with which Goldberg began his book:

There is no God in this book.

The humans in this story are animals who evolved from other animals who in turn evolved from ever more embarrassing animals and before that from a humiliating sea of ooze, slime, meats, and vegetables in the primordial stew.

We pulled ourselves out of the muck, not some Garden of Eden. Indeed, if the Garden of Eden ever existed, it was a slum. We created the Miracle of modernity all on our own, and if we lose it, that will be our fault too.

Interestingly, Reinsch, who says he’s happy to join Goldberg in going “the whole hog with Darwin,” does identify a God of sorts:

A clue to the strangeness of our times is that our principal categories of Modern science and the unassailable assertions of our autonomy are the god terms we must all come and pay homage to. Left unnoticed is that those who tell us that we are nothing but highly intelligent chimps, usually stated with passing contempt for religious Americans, then breathlessly assert their autonomous individualism, usually stated with passing contempt for the communal, familial, and patriotic traditions of America. Emancipated chimps all the way down. How’s that?

This indicates why we need to account for why it is that man is born to trouble, and why man—amidst the incredible pleasing delights in the modern world, a world we have labored so hard to make for ourselves—is so prone to anxiety, misery, and despair. What is the ground of freedom? Or, as the late Peter Lawler would ask, “Why are there no dolphin scientists?” These are immaterial, I almost said spiritual, qualities and clues that point to man as a being born to wander and wonder.

But capitalism… Right, I understand.

Did you notice that just as he reaches the point of suggesting the problem may be “spiritual,” he transitions to something he “understands”—capitalism—instead of exploring whether and how the spiritual fits into the equation? Of course, he must do so since he embraces Darwinian naturalism.

Why the Critics Stopped Short

But this much he has right, and it is the reason I think Goldberg’s critics only get it mostly right: Their critiques “pay homage to” “[m]odern science and the unassailable assertions of our autonomy.” In other words, their critiques rest on the same humanistic foundation as the Enlightenment.

For example, Blake says Goldberg has “a too-narrow philosophical framework” for explaining the Enlightenment “Miracle,” because “he focuses on the distinction between Enlightenment reason and reactionary Romanticism, casting John Locke as the philosophical hero and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as the villain.”

But his solution? It’s not to go outside the philosophical framework of the Enlightenment for an assessment of the death he sees coming. Rather, he says, Goldberg should have considered “making Edmund Burke his intellectual avatar rather than Locke.” Had he done so, Goldberg might have had “an exemplary work of popular political theory.” (emphasis supplied)

If political theories to be right (or “exemplary”) must be “popular,” then I don’t think there will be a cure for what’s killing us. The reason Western civilization and the United States is dying, and will die if nothing changes, is that no one seems willing to do the unpopular.

I’ll talk about that next week, and, no, I’m not talking about joining President Trump, Roseanne Barr, or Tim Allen in taking on the PC culture.


David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.

FACT-RSS-Blog-Icon-small Get David Fowler’s Blog as a feed.

Invite David Fowler to speak at your ev