Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Refugees - Part II

There are people on both ends... er, all points of the political landscape who make no clear distinction among the people not born in America who come to live here. They don't obscure these distinctions for the same reasons. Some just don't like people who come from other places, especially if they are different in appearance and don't have English as their first language.  There's no good denying that such people are out there. I've met them live, and the ones online can't all be sock puppets and trolls. Hell, some of them aren't convinced that letting in so many Irish, Jews, and Italians was a good idea.

There may not be many in pure form, but there is a continuum, and we can sense that there are others who are influenced by such thinking somewhat.  The people of the left assure us that all opposition to immigration is mostly just that, with maybe some economic self-interest thrown in.  The evidence for that largely consists of a) the fact that many people assert that it is so, and they are the best people, so they must be right and b) examples can be found of the pure form, and the opponents do not spend their entire lives denouncing them.

Elsewhere, no distinction is made among arrivees in order to accept and provide support for all of them.  They are here, or on the launch pad to get here, and they have suffering we could ameliorate, so we should do that.  No human being is illegal* and all that. I have considerable sympathy with that point of view in terms of our individual behavior with those we encounter. At it's simplest level, God put them there, the Old Testament tells us how we should treat strangers and the New Testament is pretty clear about generosity to all. When people come to our hospital they get treatment. Whatever political events there are in the background are irrelevant in the Bible. Person, need; Christian, give.**

Yet as we live this out in a practical way, it gets complicated and contradictory very quickly. This is not just because it is America, and as citizens we bring our Christian sensibilities to bear on political questions, while also retaining a responsibility to fellow-citizens. Most of the complications would be the same in any culture. In shortest form, when we influence the society we live in to give any thing of worth from the common storehouse, we are giving away something that does not belong to us.  That would include safety, food, education, shelter, medical care, money - these things are not entirely ours to give, even in a tribe of 150 in Papua New Guinea. In America, we come quickly up against the wall of giving away jobs (or finite governmental support) that current citizens might have some claim over.  These are not who would immediately come to mind.

It is for this reason that Jacques Ellul declares that Christians should never have gotten involved with government and power at all - because it introduces contradictions and prevents us from the simple Gospel demands of generosity. In my recent post on Ellul, commenter Dave linked to his 1980 essay on Christian anarchism. (We'll see if the link to a pdf works. If not, I'll restructure it.) It is not what we are used to reading; not in America, not in Europe, not even in the Orthodox tradition, though that has closer elements.) I will likely go over my general thought on that in the near future. Unless we go fully in that direction and renounce power altogether, however, we are stuck with complications.  Some regions and employment sectors experience this more sharply. At what point does the sojourner become a coloniser? What's the number, or the density?

And also - if we are determined to give, is bringing people here the best way to help them? Isn't a protected portion of their own country, or a culture more similar to their own kinder (and way cheaper)? We could give some other country a lot of money, who could more successfully and efficiently integrate these people. I've seen some refugees who have been here for years who are still sorta helpless, as are their children.  Among legal immigrants, should we be draining the best talent from other places?  It works great for America, but it is generous to the needy of the world?  Or even more abstract, as with the founding fathers, should we be helping in any way other than exporting the ideas which would bring them better government?

Well, I have asked questions, not answered them, because I think the tension between our calling as Christians and citizens doesn't have clear lines. If you have some, I'd be glad to entertain them.

*Hey, thanks for giving your blessing to the European colonisers of the New World, even the worst of them.
** The philosophical foundation for those without a religion demanding generosity is not clear to me. It seems feelings-based, the sad puppy faces of people who merely ache and want to do something. Who of course therefore rob Peter to pay Paul. Or worse, they want to induce discomfort in their fellow-citizens who will absorb the main cost, in their neighborhoods, in their schools, in their employment applications. Virtue-signalling is cheap to the signaller, but some hidden figures have to pay.

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