Let’s Make it Legal to Execute Disobedient Children!

If this were to show up in a storyline for a police procedural—and by the way, I give that two months, max—it would prompt rolled eyes and audience harrumphs about cartoonishly implausible characters. But it’s real. Charlie Fuqua, a Republican candidate for the Arkansas House of Representatives who is an opponent of abortion, makes a case for the legal execution of disobedient children by their parents.

The book in which he makes the case is called God’s Law—The Only Political Solution: A Prophecy of the Downfall of the United States or a Blueprint for National Prosperity. I’ve just read it. A lot of the book consists of sweeping generalizations, with many things presented as fact which are not supported with evidence so much as asserted. (Direct quotation: “Humanists believe that no one should strive to acquire profit but that everyone in the world should be equal and work for the mutual good of all humanity.” Oh, okay.)

But here, as I understand it, is the basic argument:

  • Christianity, the true religion, recognizes that humans have a “sin nature.” That’s why we need a savior. That’s a theological claim, but it’s also (according to Fuqua) true everywhere and in all times and places. Therefore, public policies which assume a depraved human nature will end up working out well and efficiently.
  • Capitalism, inasmuch as it assumes people are selfish and depraved, works and is efficient. So too with deregulation, and with the removal of a social safety net. These things create wealth, incentivize work, and preserve individual freedom from government interference.
  • Liberals and humanists mistakenly think human beings can be improved, and that’s why they want to use government to make things better.
  • But government equals unfreedom, so liberals are anti-freedom.
  • However, imposing God’s laws about who needs to obey whom—which is laid out clearly in the Bible, which is not, despite appearances, a collection of texts written by different people in contexts very different from ours—is not anti-freedom, because after all God is real and is owed obedience by all those people living it up in the capitalist wonderland with their sin natures.
  • So there has to be some sense in which it’s okay to execute disobedient children, seeing as how that’s in the Bible, which is the collection of things God, who is in charge, has said.

Well, there seems to be a contradiction here, yes? Fuqua would have us believe that humanity’s depravity should pretty much be accommodated by a capitalist economy. On this view, capitalists are the sober realists. They understand human nature, recognize that no tax is going to make well-off people be charitable, and perceive that more government equals less freedom. Liberals, socialists, humanists and their ilk are a bunch of credulous and self-important Pollyannas telling everyone that they are special and imploring us to get along, never contending with how people just plain are, which is selfish. 

Ah, but when it comes to the preservation of a particular social order—wherein children are subject to their parents and owe them obedience, for example—suddenly Fuqua’s concern for individual freedom is, er, rather muted. God gets the obedience God is due when parents get the obedience they are due, and others in authority get the obedience they are due. And Junior, if that means you have to obey your parents out of literal fear for your life, well, take heart: following God’s law will work out best in the end, for God wouldn’t have instituted it otherwise.

But how does any of this follow? Wouldn’t it be more consistent to adopt an across-the-board policy of shoulder shrugging? Or, alternately, to try to regulate every last thing anyone does that you think is wrong? It’s not even clear how Fuqua’s position is any more persuasive than its precise opposite—the position of someone who shrugs and says “Eh, people are gonna do what they’re gonna do when it comes to setting up households, finding mates, and raising families. That’s not Christianity’s job to police. On the other hand, maybe the government could do some kind of health care reform so that, whatever else happens, children are less likely to die from lack of health insurance. After all, Jesus sure seems to have advocated for the most socially marginal of his day.”

But I think we have to consider the foundation upon which Fuqua’s manifesto is built, and how it distinguishes between economic and social relationships.

Economic relationships serve, here, to signify the whole humdrum world wherein you sell me an apple and I give you a unit of our common currency. Or where I say things using words that I know you know, because I hope that you will thereby understand what I’m getting at. Dollars for apples, words for comprehension, individuals doing stuff, and common mediums of exchange making the whole system move along. Authority doesn’t really enter into it. My dollar’s as good as yours whether I’m a saint or a charlatan; if I say “ice cube” and you speak English you know what I’m saying even if I’m a stranger or someone you find morally repugnant. 

But when it comes to the question of who’s in charge, well, it’s a different matter altogether. Absolutely everything depends upon who’s in charge. And if parents can’t command obedience from their children, why then people might get the idea that God doesn’t really command obedience from us… which in turn would cause even more disobedience, which would then dishonor God, which would make for even more disobedience, which would then dishonor God, and so on and so forth until America becomes a depravity-fest practically begging for divine smiting and (as warned in the title) the downfall of the United States.

God’s authority is everything. That’s what matters. Which means that the injustice afflicting your neighbor is maybe not a big deal in itself. Injustice becomes a big deal mainly if it’s visited upon God. To the extent that you have an obligation to seek your neighbor’s good, it can only be because God has demanded your obedience. There’s no sense in which you owe something to your neighbor just for your neighbor’s own good. Seek your neighbor’s good for some other reason—like that it might make his or her life better—and you’re capitulating to secularism.

For this reason, I think it’s wrong to dismiss Fuqua as an outlier or crank. No, his book isn’t the pinnacle of theological scholarship, but it still reflects the time and place he lived. (Rather like—*cough*—the authors of the books of the Bible, but I digress.)

In fact some of the theological distinctions Fuqua has observed are really influential right now. (EDITED TO ADD: Not the part about executing children, as far as I know.) You’re likely aware of the rather smug strain of liberalism that said to Christianity, “Please put all your beliefs in some sort of common currency that everyone else can access and correct and regulate and if necessary disprove. Or if you can’t do that, keep them to yourself and call them ‘personal feelings.’” To which a triumphalist strand of Christianity responded—and not entirely without reason—“No.” 

What we’ve been seeing in recent years, I think, is the effect of that refusal becoming more and more fierce: “No, we won’t justify ourselves. No, we won’t be regulated. No, we’re not beholden to data. No, we won’t give you reasons for why our claims are true, beyond the fact that we believe they are true. Meanwhile, we insist that we be able to heed our convictions without compromise, whatever the effect on other people. Because our being obedient to God… why, it can’t possibly work out badly. It can’t possibly do so. After all, it’s God. He’s in charge. Just obey.”