Archive for October, 2018

Birthright Citizenship & Executive Orders

President Trump has thrown the political world into a tizzy. In itself, that’s nothing new; he seems to delight in doing so rather regularly. The latest instance is his suggestion that he can end birthright citizenship by issuing an executive order.

I’ll come back to that assertion shortly, but first, let’s look at the issue itself.

The idea that anyone having a child born in the United States automatically makes that child an American citizen has been judged constitutional by our federal courts. The controversy now centers on illegals giving birth. Are those children American citizens if their parents entered the country in opposition to the country’s laws?

All of this stems from the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. How about some historical context here?

The 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments were all added to the Constitution at the conclusion of the Civil War, and all were concerned with slavery and the condition of former slaves. The 13th abolished slavery; the 15th gave former slaves the right to vote. The 13th never caused controversy after the fact; the 15th suffered from attempts to limit that right to vote, but those attempts were eventually banned.

It’s the 14th’s statement about citizenship that is the focus of our current debate. The actual language of the amendment is this:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.

The first thing to consider is that it was written in the context of ensuring that former slaves were not excluded from citizenship. It was the antidote to the infamous decision in the Dred Scott case in 1857, a decision that upended previous American experience by saying that no black person is or ever was a citizen of the United States. That was at odds with the many free blacks who always considered themselves citizens and had even voted in elections.

That was the main reason for the 14th Amendment: to correct that false belief promulgated by the Dred Scott decision. That is the historical context.

Another part of the historical context is to consider the words uttered on the Senate floor by the author of the amendment, Sen. Jacob Howard, who, in 1866, clarified what was intended by the citizenship clause. Howard stated,

This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.

According to Howard, citizenship does not apply to foreigners/aliens and those who are representatives of other countries residing in America as ambassadors, etc. In my reading of the statement, I see a distinction between that particular class of foreign representatives and the general connotation of foreigners and aliens. Wouldn’t an illegal alien fit into that latter category?

I realize there can be differing interpretations. That’s why I wouldn’t mind having this debate be open and free, and even submitted to the courts for further clarification.

Now, on to the president’s assertion that he can do his own personal clarification on the issue.

He cannot.

No executive order from any president can undo a constitutional amendment and/or the courts’ decisions based on that amendment. If Trump were to try to undo this precedent merely by the wave of the magic wand of Executive Order, he would not accomplish his purpose—it would immediately be challenged and go directly to the courts.

His goal in making this pronouncement appears to be purely political, an attempt to rally the base as the midterm elections draw near. While that may be understandable politically, it is nonsense constitutionally.

Here’s where I must challenge my conservative colleagues: if you decried how Obama misused executive orders (and I was one of the decriers), you must be consistent and apply that reasoning to Trump’s proposed use of this particular executive order.

If you excuse what Trump proposes as legitimate, you have tossed away your integrity and have decided that constitutional principle no longer matters as long as a president you support resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

On the substance of this birthright issue, I agree that the original intent of the 14th Amendment has been skewed. However, the old cliché remains true: two wrongs do not create a right.

I’m actually glad that the nation might be led into a debate on whether children born to illegals have the privilege of citizenship, but that debate needs to go forward in the constitutionally prescribed manner, not by a phony application of a presidential executive order.

Socialism: A Principle-Based Critique

Conservatives speak out against socialism, and I am glad they do. Often, though, the critique is too much on the surface. I wish more conservatives would base their critique on solid Biblical principles.

While I agree that socialism simply is unworkable and has never shown any indication, in any nation, of being the engine that brings prosperity, my critique is more fundamental.

Defining socialism is important. The definition that I think is most appropriate is when the government controls all the means of production and distribution of goods. That can be by outright nationalization of all industries or by regulating them in such a manner that they, in practice, are no longer truly private—the ostensible owners can’t really make the decisions they wish because the government has intervened and interfered on every level.

Where does my critique begin? It starts with the belief that God has created each individual in His image, which includes the abilities to reason and to make decisions in life.

The second principle is that God seeks to lead us into maturity by teaching us how to govern our own lives—under His laws and guidance. He wants us to grow up and be able to know, without someone always standing over us, what those right decisions are.

Third, if that principle of self-government is correct, the natural extension is that we are to make our own economic decisions also. If government makes all those decisions for us, we never learn how to be accountable in that arena. We can never graduate from God’s School of Accountability if the government takes over our lives.

That’s why I believe that limited government and a free market are the ideals. That’s why I believe that capitalism is the source of genuine prosperity.

Can capitalism go wrong? Every human endeavor dependent on sinful men can go wrong. But it can go very right as well. Socialism, meanwhile, is inherently wrong because it violates all those principles I just described.

I said socialism hasn’t worked anywhere. I can give the former USSR and its satellite states as a prime example: 70-plus years of abject failure.

Nations like Sweden, which are often used as shining examples of socialism, have never outlawed private ownership of businesses; the government has simply tried to use the prosperity that stems from those businesses to finance a welfare state. if you haven’t noticed, there is now trouble in that nation trying to maintain its high level of social welfare. As Margaret Thatcher so famously stated (and I paraphrase)—socialism always runs out of other people’s money.

Venezuela is the latest tragic example, where people are searching garbage cans for food, and where hordes of its citizens are now voting with their feet, leaving their native land—a land that was once the richest in all of South America. The late Hugo Chavez, the dictator who began this disaster, was the instigator of this move away from reason, and let’s be honest: it was also a play for complete control over his people and maximum power for himself.

He didn’t live long enough to witness the full fruit of his warped ideology, but his people have lived with the consequences ever since.

Young Americans seem rather taken with socialism. I believe it’s because they don’t really have an understanding of it. They seem to think it’s some newfangled theory that no one has ever tried. Take Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the new darling of the socialist agenda in the Democrat party. She actually seems unaware of the many failures. She somehow thinks we can pay for everything she wants to make “free.” She is woefully educated.

Her rapt audience is a sad combination of the ideologically blind and the gullible, both of whom are devoid of solid principles:

Democrats are counting on those young voters in the upcoming midterm elections. For some reason, they seem to want to remake America in the image of Venezuela.

Maybe this is the argument they need to make to convince people to vote for the socialist agenda:

Meanwhile, we need to speak out on these principles: man is made in the image of God; God expects us to grow up and mature, making our decisions based on His truth; we are to learn accountability by making our own economic decisions.

And the system that these principles all lead to is capitalism.

May those principles be re-established.

From Atheism to Christianity: Lewis’s Winding Path

C. S. Lewis’s winding path from atheism to Christian faith is a fascinating journey. We can take that journey with him in Surprised by Joy, his step-by-step account of how God led this proud young intellectual to the point of surrender—to becoming, in his own words, “the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.”

Lewis, the avidly voracious reader, found, at a certain point in his life, all of his books beginning to turn against him. They kept leading him to Christ. “I must have been blind as a bat,” he wrote, “not to have seen, long before, the ludicrous contradiction between my theory of life and my actual experiences as a reader.”

He then offered a litany of those experiences:

George MacDonald had done more to me than any other writer; of course it was a pity he had that bee in his bonnet about Christianity. He was good in spite of it.

Chesterton had more sense than all the other moderns put together; bating, of course, his Christianity. Johnson was one of the few authors whom I felt I could trust utterly; curiously enough, he had the same kink. Spencer and Milton by a strange coincidence had it too.

The ancient authors like Plato, Aeschylus, and Virgil, Lewis complained, were the kind he could best admire, and they were the ones who were the most religious, even if not Christian. He knew, as a modern intellectual, he was supposed to like others better, but found them wanting:

Those writers who did not suffer from religion and with whom in theory my sympathy ought to have been complete—Shaw and Wells and Mill and Gibbon and Voltaire—all seemed a little thin; what as boys we called “tinny.” . . . There seemed to be no depth in them. They were too simple. The roughness and density of life did not appear in their books.

It was at this point in his life that Lewis became so uncomfortable with God’s infringement on his proud self that he began to refer to the Deity as “My Adversary.” Lewis famously noted that “a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.”

A self-examination led him to a most depressing realization. What he found inside himself was appalling: “a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was legion.”

Out of all of Lewis’s poignant comments in Surprised by Joy, this one stands out to me:

People who are naturally religious find difficulty in understanding the horror of such a revelation. Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about “man’s search for God.” To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat [emphasis mine].

All his life, Lewis had been on this relentless search for an undefined sense of “joy.” He thought if only he could recapture those fleeting moments of joy he had experienced off and on, he could find the meaning in life. Yet he finally came to the understanding that those experiences were not the reality, “for all the images and sensations, if idolatrously mistaken for Joy itself, soon honestly confessed themselves inadequate.”

All said, in the last resort, “It is not I. I am only a reminder. Look! Look! What do I remind you of?”

Lewis concludes his autobiography with the perspective that those moments of Joy are merely signposts telling us where the right road lies. They are not the destination; rather, they point us to the destination: “We would be at Jerusalem.”

I’m thankful that God is the Great Interferer in our lives. I’m grateful that He continues to beat down our defenses and make the proud humble. For only the humble will see Him.

But He gives us more grace. This is why it says: “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” James 4:6

When Society Becomes Unhinged

Reason goes astray when it separates from God and His ways. Emotions then rule and give rise to the most insensible, upside-down comments. Some events, such as the recent Kavanaugh hearings, bring out the worst in those who have given themselves over to a depraved mind and a seared conscience.

Even though there was no real evidence brought against Kavanaugh, but only the uncorroborated words of one woman (accusations from two other women were so bizarre they don’t deserve mentioning), we were told we must always believe whatever a woman says.

As if women never lie? As if women can’t have ulterior motives inspired by their worldview and what they want to see in politics? Women are human, too, you know. And sin abounds.

We also saw in this latest episode that bullying has become a cornerstone of their tactics. Disagree with them, and you will pay the price.

I’m 67. I’ve witnessed a lot of cultural change over the years. In my view, most of it has been negative and fueled by a rejection of the basic Biblical framework of thinking that used to guide our society.

Can you imagine how something as magnificent as the first moon landing would go over today?

If you really want to know how unhinged so many have become, think about how the next Supreme Court nomination will go. What if it’s a woman being nominated the next time? Will she be believed if she is a conservative? What about if she’s not only a conservative but a bold proponent of the Christian faith? What will see then?

At all times, God calls His people to be strong, courageous, and faithful, but especially in times like these. That strength, though, doesn’t lie in acting like those who oppose us; it rests instead on humility and dependence on Him. We must be genuine witnesses of His truth by the character we display.

America Discovers Lewis at the Wade Center

Last night I spoke at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College. Topic: my book, America Discovers C. S. Lewis: His Profound Impact. The Wheaton campus was quite active last night, what with a Michael W. Smith concert and approximately six other events. Parking was at a premium, I was told, which made some of my audience a little late in arriving. Overall, though, there were about forty very interested people who wanted to know more about one of their favorite authors—that would be Lewis, of course, not me.

I offered a short history of how my interest in Lewis began and how I felt the Lord was guiding me into a niche in Lewis studies that had not yet been fully explored—his relationships with Americans and how Americans have received his writings.

From Chad Walsh (who wrote the first book on Lewis and became his close friend), to Joy Davidman Gresham (Lewis’s American wife), to Walter Hooper (the American who served briefly as Lewis’s helper/secretary and then became the executor of the Lewis literary estate), to Clyde Kilby (the Wheaton professor who had the vision to begin collecting not only all of Lewis’s papers and writings, but then extended that collection to six other famous British authors), it was a joy to share their stories.

Yet those are the ones people are most likely to know about anyway, so I was able to broaden the field of knowledge about other, lesser-known Lewis acquaintances and/or regular correspondents, and how his interaction with them provided spiritual guidance over many years.

Finally, I shared some (not as much as I wanted because I was running out of time) of the responses I got from a survey I sent out during the research for the book. How did you first come into contact with Lewis’s writings? Which ones have impacted you the most? What personal testimonies can you share? Those were some of the questions I asked in that survey, and the responses ranged from very interesting to poignant. I was not surprised that Lewis has truly made a “profound impact.”

I always love being at the Wade Center. Today and tomorrow I will do more research. My new interest in is Dorothy Sayers (one of those famous British authors that the Wade collected information on), her relationship with Lewis and how her Christian writings have had their respective impact.

Many thanks to David and Crystal Downing, the new co-directors of the Wade, for having me come to speak. They are Lewis scholars, and have been for many more years than I. Their appreciation of my first foray into Lewis scholarship has been an encouragement to me personally.

On Sunday, I’ll be speaking at a local church, one where I’ve spoken before. I’ve been asked to provide a solid overview of why Lewis has been one of the Lord’s most effective spokesmen. It will be a joy to do so.

On Monday, it will be back to my students, whom I love, and all that grading, with which I don’t have quite the same loving relationship. God’s calling isn’t all glory, you know.

John Eliot Prepared Indian Converts

Here’s a post I received from the Christian History Institute that I think is worth passing on.

JOHN ELIOT arrived in Massachusetts from England in 1631. He would become one of the colony’s most famous immigrants. Educated at the University of Cambridge, he was ordained to the ministry before coming to America. In the New World, he temporarily filled a vacant pulpit in Boston before moving on to Roxbury in 1632. That same year he wed Hannah Mumford. They would have six children.

Three years after his arrival in Massachusetts, Eliot’s concern for the  Native Americans got him into trouble with colonial authorities when he protested the manner in which a treaty was made with the Pequods without their consent. But his actual ministry began in 1646. His Algonquin hearers asked thoughtful questions such as whether God would understand them if they prayed in their language, Massachuset (also called Natick). By then he had learned the Natick dialect.

He traveled throughout New England preaching among the tribes who spoke Natick, resulting in many Native Americans converting to Christianity. Some became pastors and missionaries among their own people. Eliot also obtained land for them. To provide for their spiritual welfare, he translated parts of the Bible and other religious works into Massachuset.

On 13 October 1652, after fasting and praying all morning, a number of members of the Massachuset tribe gave their testimonies and made confessions so that they might be admitted to a church of their own. However, the confessions took longer than expected and had to be postponed to a later date. War arose, and it was not until 1660 that the converts got a place of worship at Natick, Massachusetts. At the outbreak of King Philip’s War in 1675, there were eleven hundred Christian Indians in Natick and other towns, but their church would face impossible odds. Unconverted Indians attacked the “praying Indians” as traitors, and whites attacked them as “red men.” Caught in the middle, many died.

Eliot lived until 1690, doing good to the end. A visitor from England described him as “the best of the ministers who we have yet heard.” Among the work of his last years was instructing African slaves and teaching large passages of scripture to a blind boy. Hannah, his “dear, faithful, pious, prudent, prayerful wife” died three years before him, as did four of his sons. One son and daughter outlived him.

Holding to the Faith

I have a rather large tome called The Timeless Writings of C. S. Lewis, which consists of The Pilgrim’s Regress and two of his essay collections: Christian Reflections and God in the Dock. Prior to my sabbatical back in 2014-15, I had read, over time, all of those essays.

I’m the kind of person who marks up his books, putting stars next to key passages and underlining the most significant sentences, in the hope that I can go back when needed and find the best parts more readily.

As I’ve pored over those essays again, I’m actually quite surprised by how detailed my earlier markings were. I’m also grateful I did that if, for no other reason, I cannot even recall now that I’d ever read some of those essays—they all seem so new to me. I trust that’s not Alzheimer’s.

For instance, one of Lewis’s essays in Christian Reflections, “Religion: Reality or Substitute?” caught my attention this morning as he explains the necessity of holding fast to the faith. Sometimes we question—we waver—but that is the nature of life itself. Lewis experienced that phenomenon not only as a Christian, but even when he had been an atheist.

Just as the Christian has his moments when the clamour of this visible and audible world is so persistent and the whisper of the spiritual world so faint that faith and reason can hardly stick to their guns, so, as I well remember, the atheist too has his moments of shuddering misgiving, of an all but irresistible suspicion that old tales may after all be true, that something or someone from outside may at any moment break into his neat, explicable, mechanical universe.

Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems obvious that this material world is the only reality: disbelieve in Him and you must face hours when this material world seems to shout at you that it is not all.

No conviction, religious or irreligious, will, of itself, end once and for all this fifth-columnist in the soul. Only the practice of Faith resulting in the habit of Faith will gradually do that.

Even though Lewis was quite strong in his apologetic writings, he acknowledges that pure reason and/or argument is not what normally leads a person into or out of faith. “It is always assumed,” he opines, “that the difficulties of faith are intellectual difficulties, that a man who has once accepted a certain proposition will automatically go on believing it till real grounds for disbelief occurs. Nothing,” he counters, “could be more superficial.” Then he offers an example from his own environment.

How many of the freshmen who come up to Oxford from religious homes and lose their Christianity in the first year have been honestly argued out of it? How many of our own sudden temporary losses of faith have a rational basis which would stand examination for a moment?

I don’t know how it is with others, but I find that mere change of scene always has a tendency to decrease my faith at first—God is less credible when I pray in a hotel bedroom than when I am in college.

It isn’t, at bottom, a conflict between faith and reason, Lewis concludes. It’s more of a conflict between faith and sight—what we see around us at a particular moment. Reason may be divine, he reasons, but “human reasoners are not.”

The sort of arguments against Christianity which our reason can be persuaded to accept at the moment of yielding to temptation are often preposterous. Reason may win truths; without Faith she will retain them just so long as Satan pleases.

We need to pray for that gift of continuing faith, Lewis urges, “for the power to go on believing not in the teeth of reason but in the teeth of lust and terror and jealousy and boredom and indifference.”

He ends the essay with a question/warning about what might really be going on inside us when we waver in faith:

And the answer to that prayer will, perhaps, surprise us when it comes. For I am not sure, after all, whether one of the causes of our weak faith is not a secret wish that our faith should not be very strong. Is there some reservation in our minds? Some fear of what it might be like if our religion became quite real?

I hope not. God help us all, and forgive us.