What We Need
Last month, Utah Senator Mike Lee gave a bold and, for many, wildly counterintuitive speech about the Green New Deal in which he concluded that
The solution to climate change is not this unserious resolution, but the serious business of human flourishing—the solution to so many of our problems, at all times and in all places: fall in love, get married and have some kids.
This advice, of course, was received derisively in much of the media, by commentators who consider it self-evident that “many of our problems,” (particularly climate change) stem from overpopulation (an old claim that keeps resurfacing). But Lee’s remark was also misunderstood. For example, after beginning her opinion piece with the quip, “At least one GOP senator believes that to fight climate change, all you need is love,” Colby Itkowitz of the Washington Post reported that “During floor debate ahead of a vote on the Green New Deal, Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) told his colleagues that if they really want to address environmental concerns they’ll encourage people to couple off and have more babies.”
Well, not really. Senator Lee did not suggest people “couple off.” I won’t presume to speak for him here, but I think Lee would agree that many of our culture’s social problems arise from denying the centrality of marriage, particularly when it comes to having children. His proposed solution was more precise than Itkowitz’s breezy recap—that is, “fall in love, get married, and have some kids.” The love and the marriage part are not ancillary.
Marriage, of course, is God’s idea, as is the begetting of children. God ordained that they belong together. This does not mean that children conceived apart from marriage are not created in the image of God, or are not precious in His sight. They certainly are, on both counts. But it is well established that having children apart from marriage leads to a host of problems, both psychological and societal, which children raised by married parents largely do not experience.
Yet, an increasingly substantial part of our culture thinks that our problems, whether social, environmental, or other, can be solved apart from God—and therefore apart from God’s ways—through a commitment to rights and/or the imposition of laws enforced by the State. The concerns with this line of thinking are legion, but let me mention just one. Unless compelled, people often will not respond to a call to duties imposed upon them, especially duties in which they do not believe. The threat of force therefore becomes necessary. A police state can be very effective in making sure people do what they are told.
Love, on the other hand, seeks the good of others, without compulsion and often at great cost. But love does not come naturally—it must be learned. And marriage and children are the means—not the only ones but perhaps the chief means—by which we learn to love. Concerning children, philosopher J. Budziszewski says it well:
Offspring convert us; they force us to become different beings. There is no way to prepare for them completely. They crash into our lives, they soil their diapers, they upset all our comfortable arrangements, and nobody knows how they will turn out. Willy-nilly, they knock us out of our complacent habits and force us to live outside ourselves; they are the necessary and natural continuation of that shock to our egotism which is initiated by marriage itself. To receive this great blessing requires courage. (What We Can’t Not Know, Dallas: Spence Publishing, 2003: 92)
In the end, courage is rooted in love. Costly sacrifice that is willing to lay aside one’s rights and/or desires for the good of another is rooted in love. This is not to say that rights and laws are not important. They are. But they are also less of a challenge. It is much easier to lay down and enforce a law than it is to take the long and hard road of learning to love. So while laws are important, they are a second-tier, rearguard effort. And they are never enough.
Let’s return to climate change, putting aside the science for the moment. A common refrain is that we must make costly sacrifices, particularly for future generations. Why would people want to do that? From where does a concern for future generations come? It is hardly surprising that it is precisely those who have children that are most concerned about future generations. And it is not just because such people care only about their own children. Again, children teach us to love—not just to love them, but to love others as well. The bonds of family are the primary training ground through which we learn to love anyone. Apart from love, all we have left are regulations, which in the end must be enforced.
Perhaps Itkowitz, albeit unwittingly, got to the heart of Lee’s message. I don’t know if Lee would say that “all we need is love.” Perhaps we need more, but most certainly not less.