Thursday, July 29, 2010

Why the Arizona Immigration Law is Unconstitutional.

Since it was passed, I have been against Arizona’s illegal immigration law. So, needless to say, I was pleased when a Federal Court ruled against the law one day prior to its going into effect. The Arizona law runs counter to my understanding of Federalism. To explain, let’s run several laws/rulings through the Tenth Amendment.

The text reads, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” This states a principle in our system of government known as “enumerated powers.” Simply put, the responsibilities of the Federal government are listed in the Constitution, while all others are left to the several States. This jurisdictional line has often been blurred.

Take abortion. From a legal standpoint Roe v Wade (1973) was a terrible decision. Even liberal law professors (Lawrence Tribe of Harvard for example) admit this. If Roe v Wade is overturned, it will not make abortion illegal. It will simply return the issue to the states. At that point all fifty state legislatures will determine their own abortion laws.

In a similar vein, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. This law states that no State shall be forced to recognize any same-sex union considered a marriage in another State. The law also defines marriage as being between one man and one woman. This law was recently ruled unconstitutional, and rightly so. The Federal government has no jurisdiction over the marriage laws and rites of any State.

What about drug enforcement? The same principle applies. The Federal government has no jurisdiction. The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) should not exist. The very idea of a “war on drugs” is laughable on its face, but from a legal standpoint, every State ought to be able to pass it’s own drug laws. If California wishes to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana (or cocaine for that matter), it should be able to with no Federal intervention.

I understand that there are moral and societal arguments to be made in each of these cases, but purely from a jurisdictional and Constitutional point of view, the States have primary jurisdiction in each of these cases.

So why is the Arizona immigration law unconstitutional? In a nutshell, the law requires police officers who encounter persons engaged in a criminal offense (even a traffic stop) to inquire the suspect’s immigration status. Persons are thus required to keep proof of their status on them at all times.

Again, we have a jurisdictional problem. The Constitution grants the Federal government the power to admit persons into the United States, grant them residency status, and determine the process of naturalization for aliens. People are admitted to the United States, NOT Arizona, or Texas, or California, or New York. The States have no legal right to enforce any immigration law, and officers who represent a State or local municipality have no right to inquire the status of any person within their State. We cannot have a patchwork of fifty different standards of immigration enforcement. Arizona knew this when it signed up to enter the Union in 1912.

Ruling the Arizona law unconstitutional is a victory for our Federalist system of government.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Ethics and Justice. Part 10: The Eight Principles of Moral and Ethical Behavior

Consider the first nine parts of this series on Ethics and Justice to be an introduction. After all these principles, the question is still out there, “Okay, so what should I do?” Once certain principles are ingrained in your subconscious mind, the right thing to do will be the natural thing to do. So here are eight principles that can be used by anyone to live just and ethical lives.

1. Do no Harm
You’re not really proactively good, you just have the courtesy not to intentionally hurt people. Most people define ethics and morality in terms of not hurting anyone. People define goodness negatively - “Of course I’m good. I’ve never killed anyone or robbed a bank.” One man said to his wife, “You know, I’m a good husband. We’ve been married for thirty years, and I’ve never once hit you.” If you can’t do any good, just don’t do any harm!

2. Do Good
James 4:17Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” Doing the right thing, initiating good, taking proactive steps is to swim against the tide. It is human nature to be led, to go with the flow, to blend in - this is why mobs of people will commit crimes that, individually, people would never commit. Goodness requires empathy. If you are incapable of putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, you are capable of doing great evil.

3. Tell the Truth
One of the 10 Commandments is “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Living consistently with what you say is at the heart of personal integrity. Lying is the antithesis of who God is. Jesus says in John 14:6: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” If God is truth, then falsehood is like kryptonite – it goes against everything that God is. God can’t lie, and He will not tolerate deceit in people who are created to be like Him.

4. Keep Your Promises
This builds on the commitment to always tell the truth. Giving your word is a serious thing. And again, it’s about having respect for other people. Ethical people build reputations of honesty and integrity. Ethical people are reliable and dependable. Psalm 15 says, “Lord, who may dwell in your sanctuary? He who keeps his oath even when it hurts.” God does not take lightly the breaking of covenants. Keep your word. Do what you say. Be faithful to your commitments because it honors God.

5. Respect Other People’s Freedom
This is staying out of other people’s business. Don’t meddle. Don’t be a busybody. The freedom to make our own decisions is a wonderful thing because it is a gift from God, and cannot be taken away by any person. This is why religion can never be coercive. Ethical behavior is built on the principle of respecting other people. When respect for another human being, created in the Image of God, is breached in any way, we are guilty of unethical behavior. Don’t tell adult people what to do just because you would do it differently.

6. Practice Fairness
Proverbs 29:7The Righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern.” Ethical people are just and fair, and treat those who are weaker than them with respect and dignity. Here's a good measure. Ask yourself, "How do I treat people who are not in a position to do anything for me?" It's easy to be nice, and kind, and polite to people who can do something for us, people who have some power over us. But what about people who are weaker than us, people who are poorer than us, people who have no power over us? How do we treat them? God is deeply concerned with how we treat each other - so practice justice and fairness, and the more power and wealth you have, the greater the responsibility you have to act justly, and to be fair.

7. Make Reparations for Wrongs Committed
This practice of restitution, of reparation is deeply rooted in the principle of justice in the Hebrew Bible. If you stole something, you repaid what you took - a simple “I’m sorry” was not enough. This principle of restitution is an important step in addiction recovery programs - you’ve got to go back and fix what you did wrong. This is an important New Testament principle. It’s called repentance. 

8. Show Gratitude
We teach our kids that the foundation of politeness is to say “please” and “thank you.” It’s a wonderfully simple message, and yet it’s the most openly violated principle of polite behavior. Give thanks in all circumstances. Why? Because we who have tasted God’s love view all of life through the lens of thankfulness. “Thanks be to God.”

And finally, to quote Jesus, “Now go and DO likewise.”

Monday, July 05, 2010

Ethics and Justice. Part 9: The Nature of the God Who Demands Moral and Ethical Behavior

The Jewish people taught the world two significant things:

1. There is only one God, and morality stems from the nature of the one and only God.

This is why God revealing Himself to Moses and calling Israel and delivering them is of great importance for all humanity, because when God delivered the 10 Commandments on Sinai, for the first time in human history a people said, “There is only one God, and this is the type of behaviour He demands of us.” The implication of ethical monotheism is that morality is not a cultural variant. When God said, “Don’t murder,” that became true for all people, at all times, in every culture. There is no competing God to offer an alternative morality.

2. God’s primary demand is that we act with decency towards each other.

This statement doesn’t have the revolutionary impact on us that it should, because we live in a world heavily influenced by 3000 years of first Jewish and then Christian thinking. But consider the impact of this kind of thinking in the ancient world. In the ancient world, one could be devoutly religious and immoral at the same time. One could be a devoutly religious Greek or Roman and not be “good.” These people went to prostitutes as an act of religious worship.

So people ask with confusion sometimes, “How could a people as advanced as the Romans murder, and adulterate, and leave their unwanted babies out with the trash?” The answer is because that’s how the gods they worshipped behaved. Humans always become like the object of their worship. Christians insisted that religion impacts morality. One’s relationship with God is lived out in terms of relationships with other people.

So, if humans become like the object of their worship, what does scripture teach us about God’s nature in terms of our moral and ethical obligations?

1. God is Supernatural
God is above the natural world; He is not a part of it. The Bible begins with the words, “In the beginning, God created.”

The point of Genesis is not to provide a scientific account of the origins of the Earth; it is to provide people with an account of the nature and character of God. He is transcendent, He creates, He rules, He is self-sufficient. In a world in which nearly all people worshipped nature, God wanted Israel to know that nature was subservient to Him.

Why is this important? Because nature knows nothing of good or evil. Nature is amoral. In nature there is no right, only might. Into the ancient world where human sacrifice was a means of placating disease and disaster, God said, contrary to the laws of nature, “If something is weak don’t kill it, protect it.” The worship of Baal was a form of nature worship. They believed that in the winter Baal died, and went into the underworld, so the plants died also, in the spring Baal would be resurrected and the plants would be revived. The Canaanite practice of sacred prostitution was meant to help Baal revive and ensure the fertility of flocks and plants and people.

Nature cannot teach us right and wrong, only God can, and He is above nature.

2. God is Personal
God is not an unnamed, unknown force. He has a name, He has revealed Himself to us, and He cares about His creation.

When God revealed His name to Moses in Exodus 3 He also revealed His personality, His character, and His nature. God is not an “unmoved mover,” who has set forces in motion and moved on. We are created in His Image, He knows us, He loves us, He cares for us, He has numbered the hairs on our head, and out of His personhood, God cares how we treat each other.

Disrespecting a human being is dishonouring the God in whose Image they have been created. The ultimate demonstration of God’s personhood is that He became a man. In the incarnation of Jesus, God taught us what it is like to be truly human, and to be truly human is to be like God.

3. God is Good
A God who is not good cannot demand goodness from His creation. The ancient Babylonians and Canaanites and Greeks and Romans were not good because their gods were not good. God rules the universe by a code of moral standards.

Despite the temporary victories of evil people and the suffering of good people, a moral and just God rules the universe, and ultimately, if not in this life, then in the next, good and evil will get what’s coming to them. God is not neutral in the battle between good and evil, and neither can we be.

4. God is Holy
To be holy is to be set apart, to be different, distinctive. You don’t have to be like the world to have an impact on the world. You don’t have to be like the crowd to change the crowd. You don’t have to lower yourself to other people’s level to lift them up.  

Holiness isn’t being odd or a misfit - holiness is simply being like God, and the result of having a relationship with God is that you become like Him. To be holy is to elevate ourselves above our animal nature, and act like beings created in the image of God. No matter how meaningful, or beautiful, or well intentioned something may be, if it is separated from the goodness of God it can easily lead to evil. This is why the same culture that produced Wagner and Beethoven and Mozart also produced Hitler. 

Everything we do must be grounded in the goodness and holiness of the one God – art, education, law, love, compassion, reason, patriotism, life, ritual, business, profits, psychology, economics, sports - everything that we are involved in must be guided by the goodness and holiness of God.

Friday, July 02, 2010

What is an Intelligent Person?

I often say that I need to be around intelligent people. What do I mean by that?

Firstly, an intelligent person is not someone who comes across as the smartest person in the room. It is not someone who is inundated with facts and complex systems of hyper-knowledge. An intelligent person does not exude the thin air of esoteric concepts and vocabulary. A person who tries to dazzle you with their intelligence lacks humility, and ironically, humility is the first prerequisite of true intelligence.

In that same vein, an intelligent person is not a bully. A truly intelligent person begins the search for knowledge and understanding from a posture of humility. Knowledge and ideas and words are not weapons to win arguments and dominate dissenters, rather they are steps on the ladder that leads to truth.

An intelligent person is a curious person, and cannot be satiated with encyclopedic facts, because the search for understanding does not have an end. An intelligent person is one who speaks with both confidence and kindness because they recognize that every human being is created in God’s Image, and possesses some measure of truth.

Most of all, an intelligent person has an insatiable desire for truth, understanding, and clarity. An intelligent person is madly in love with ideas for the sake of truth, not their own interpretation of ideas for the sake of self-promotion.

And finally, an intelligent person realizes that we have two ears but only one mouth for a good reason! 

Thursday, July 01, 2010

Ten Words You Should Know

English novelist Evelyn Waugh once said, “One forgets words as one forgets names. One's vocabulary needs constant fertilization or it will die.” I love language! For me, words are like a rich and vibrant palette of color. Conversations are canvases on which people collaborate to create a rhetorical work of art. So, in that spirit, here are ten words that are rarely used, but if used at the right time and in the right context, can fertilize your speech.

1. Defenestrate: To throw somebody or something out of a window.

2. Garbology: The study of waste materials. The study of a cultural group by an examination of what it discards.

3. Digerati: People who have or claim to have a sophisticated expertise in the area of computers, the Internet.

4. Antipodes: Places that are at exact opposite sides of world.

5. Hallux: The first digit on the foot. The big toe on the human foot.

6. Otiose: Something that is not effective; with no useful result or practical purpose. A person that is worthless or lazy.

7. Cullet: Broken or waste glass returned for recycling.

8. Pellucid: Transparent or clear in meaning. Easy to understand.

9. Borborygmus: The rumbling sounds made by the movement of gases in the stomach and intestine.

10. Embrangle: To confuse, perplex, or entangle somebody or something.