"Jesus was a refugee, pope says on world migration day" (Catholic News Service, 1/18/11, via Brothers Judd):
VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- Jesus was a refugee -- a fact that should be remembered as societies deal with modern issues of emigration and immigration, Pope Benedict XVI said.
"Migration today sometimes is voluntary and at other times, unfortunately, is forced by wars or persecution, often in dramatic conditions," the pope said Jan. 16. From its very beginnings, the church has taken an interest in these situations, he said.
"The parents of Jesus had to flee their own land and take refuge in Egypt, in order to save the life of their child: the Messiah, the son of God, was a refugee," he said.
Throughout the centuries, he said, Christian populations have at times suffered the necessity to leave their homelands, impoverishing the countries where they and their ancestors had lived.
On the other hand, the pope said, the voluntary migration of Christians through the ages has increased the church's missionary dynamism and ensured that the witness of faith reaches new frontiers.
The pope made the remarks at the Vatican on a day that was celebrated in most countries as the World Day for Migrants and Refugees. Late last year, he issued a message on the theme of this year's celebration, "One Human Family."
The pope said he wanted his message to underline that in the church's vision, human migration has a unifying goal: to form a single human family that is enriched by differences but that lives without barriers.
Exactly, well said. I was thinking about the state of the immigration debate on this blog up till now. Tom and Nato mostly agree with me. Dissent has come from JM, MS, and SDS.
SDS seems mainly concerned that he perceived in me a judgmental attitude towards advocates of migration restrictions. It is never amiss to be told to love the sinner while hating the sin, for even if one has not fallen into hating the sinner, one may succumb to that temptation at any moment, and it is good to be warned. However, SDS's main grounds for claiming that I had fallen into it was my use of historical analogies that compared advocates of migration restrictions to fascists and to the slaveowning antebellum South. The problem with this line of argument is that if to compare nativists to fascists or slaveowning Southerners is to "judge their hearts," presumably the hearts of fascists and slaveowning Southerners have already been judged. And not only would that be contrary to "judge not that ye be not judged" and "hate the sin but love the sinner," but it would impoverish our historical understanding of fascists and antebellum Southerners if we simply "explained" their beliefs and behavior by saying that they were evil and we are not. I think we should recognize that we are not immune to letting veneration of the state blind us to the moral law; to desiring order more than our own freedom and especially that of others; to letting our perceived economic dependence on a system induce us to condone its violations of natural rights, in a spirit of cynical "realism." Americans are prone to feel that, because our country has historically behaved morally better than other great powers, that moral superiority is a sort of birthright. It is not that; it depends on our actions; and inasmuch as we imitate one of the most infamous practices of slavery by separating families by force...
Using Census data and figures released by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report estimates that just over 1 million family members have been separated from their loved ones by... deportations.
we risk forfeiting our moral superiority to societies which we view as cautionary tales.
JM offered the widest range of arguments against my positions, some of them monstrously bad. Among them was the worst, logically and morally, of all the arguments made against illegal immigration, namely the confusion of property with sovereignty, as if the entire territory of the United States were the private property of the US government, and for unauthorized foreigners to enter is some kind of trespassing. This is an argument worthy of pharaonic Egypt, to accept which is to repudiate in its entirety the heritage of liberty, which views man as a rational being with rights, and government as based on consent of the governed, and to make us all the slaves of the state. She also hinted at paternalistic arguments, suggesting that maybe not all those who say they would like to come to America would really benefit by coming. The idea that it is for the benefit of migrants that the migration decision be taken away from them and put in the hands of a State Department bureaucrat, who is not only not adequately incentivized to decide for the desiring migrant's good, but is not even trying to do so, is so absurd that one is reluctant to bring in the fact that most migrants to the US enjoy large income gains, lest by mentioning empirical evidence one seems wrongly to concede that the argument has enough prima facie validity not to be rejected at once. I was also struck by JM's claim that my advocacy of policies that don't involve separating families by force was an unrealistic desideratum, and she used the example of war. Now, first of all, JM may not be aware of this, but the United States does not practice conscription, so a polity that does not separate families by force in order to staff its armed forces is not only realistic, but a realized fact. Second, it might be appropriate to resort to a measure in emergencies when the survival of a society is threatened by a violent assault, but intolerable to make that measure a part of one's everyday policies. Third, even conscription has traditionally separated only fathers from their offspring by force, not mothers, and this I think makes a big difference, since the mother-and-child bond seems especially intimate and sacred. Slavery and migration restrictions, by contrast, will even separate a mother from her child. It is probably quite possible to have a society which never severs that bond, at least when the mother has not committed a crime; at any rate, we have to try. I recall another disappointing bit of sophistry from JM. I was arguing that migration restrictions are unique to our time, that comprehensive migration controls were never attempted before the 20th century, and certainly did not exist in the era she tends to admire, though of course travel was dangerous then and some were better able to engage in it than others. She said that some people could travel, it depended on who you were, just like today. She somehow glossed over this, I can't remember the exact artful formulation she used, but it was a bit like arguing that there is nothing unique about slavery, because there is always work to be done, and people can't be completely equal. (I remember she also once made the bizarre suggestion that my position on immigration is "defeasible pacifism." As it isn't any kind of pacifism-- not a general rejection of state violence; not a rejection of just war-- I can't make head or tail of this one.)
However, there was one argument that JM made which I found extremely interesting. Both JM and MS have often used "community" as a slogan with which to argue against open borders. This is a seeming nonsequitur, since (a) migration restrictions constantly divide communities, and/or prevent their formation, since actual and potential communities (including families!) regularly cross borders and are forcibly separated by migration restrictions, while on the other hand (b) how migration restrictions could possibly contribute to "community" even among native and naturalized US citizens is unclear, since the crossing of the Rio Grande by an illegal immigrant would seem to have no effect on the love and friendship and trust that any particular Americans have for each other. By pressing JM hard with this argument I provoked a very intriguing glimpse of the conception that might underlie this argument. From what I remember (it would take a while to find it), JM said that people need not only food, shelter, etc., but also community, friends, and that if everyone is friends with their neighbors then everyone has friends. It is a sort of social safety net in community: let everyone have, and fulfill, a moral obligation to know their neighbors, and while some people may have many more friends than others, yet no one will be completely friendless.
If this argument is accepted, there is a fairly plausible case for some kind of migration restrictions, because it might be necessary to ensure that one's neighbors are the kind of people one can make friends with, e.g., that they speak English, and have some degree of cultural similarity. The argument could be used even more plausibly to support some kind of domestic segregation, but I don't say that to delegitimize it. I would actually be very interested to see where a serious and consistent application of the argument that coercion is justified as a means of ensuring that people know their neighbors would lead. However-- and it's odd that JM doesn't seem to have seen this-- this is not at all a defense of the status quo, because in fact, nowadays hardly anyone seems to know their neighbors. I was particularly struck by this a few years ago when I visited a friend of mine in Louisville, KY, who is very community-oriented. He's choir director of the church, he's president of the local Hibernian Club (an Irish-American organization) and organizes the annual St. Patrick's Day parade, he keeps in close touch with many friends from Notre Dame, he grew up in Louisville and moved back to his home town. And we were having a conversation about community and the theme of how people don't know their neighbors anymore, and he said that he thought about that too, but that even he didn't know his neighbors, even though he is such a community-oriented kind of guy. Of course, he'd recently bought a house; probably he knows his parents' neighbors. Still, the point stands. A society in which no one is friendless because everyone lives next to someone and everyone is friends with his neighbors is not, at this time of day, a practicable proposal. It's far more utopian than my modest proposal to tax immigration rather than restricting it by force.
One reason that I wish JM and MS would be more serious and systematic in thinking about "community" is that I think it would eventually become clear to them that while their concerns might motivate serious and far-reaching changes in our customs and policies, it certainly would not provide any basis for defending immigration control such as the US practices today. I think that even when reason is abused to defend the indefensible the results are sometimes good, because argument has a tendency to lead to truth even when that is not the motive of the arguer. I experienced this personally in my own life, when as a teenager my efforts to defend an indefensible religion, Mormonism, awakening my conscience and intellect in a way that eventually led me out of the Mormon church and to orthodox Christianity. I think the American South is another example: the libertarian, romantic, aristocratic conservatism that originally emerged there in part as an attempt to rationalize the indefensible institution of slavery lingered afterwards and changed, and became, much later, an important component of the American political instinct that enabled the United States to avoid the encroachment of the social-democratic state which is now slowly smothering Western Europe. Similarly, there may be a genuine need to revive and rethink the idea of community and make our society more conducive to its development and health, but not to shut out the foreign-born by force.
Finally, MS's main argument seems to be simply that I'm in a small minority and that it's just too improbable that I'm right. She hopes that I will "moderate" my views. The truth is that I am the moderate here, looking for practical and just solutions, the extremist position being the view that every single human being in the six-million-square-mile territory of the United States must be here only with the permission of a government bureaucracy. Oddly enough, it's not even clear which of us-- myself, or JM and MS-- is more critical of the status quo, since I, after all, want those who are here to be able to stay here, and to that extent am an advocate of the status quo over against the presumptive advocacy for mass deportation of JM and MS... though on the other hand, I'm not really sure whether either of them stand on the issue. Whatever It Takes is the title of a book by J.D. Hayworth and a co-author, which I certainly will not read, but the title is a useful summary of the immorality inherent in nativism/"enforcing the law." What would Hayworth say, if I said that nothing short of regular pogroms will sufficiently offset the economic incentives to come here (especially since there is no moral reason for foreigners to obey this particular law if it is not in their interests to do so)? Presumably, "whatever it takes." What about JM and MS? I would be glad if they would draw the line somewhere, if they would say, "we'll try to enforce the borders, but we won't resort to x." So far I don't think they have ever done that. Hopefully they would draw the line at murder, at least. It's hard to see where else they would draw it, since we're already separating families by force. As for whether I'm in the minority, that's not clear. Most ordinary Americans just don't seem to have any idea of what our immigration policies is; they'll complain about illegal immigrants, then say they just want them to come in legally, following the rules, as if they're under the impression that most or all illegal immigrants had the option of coming legally and just chose, for some reason, not to take it. Wir haben es nichts gewusst, said the Germans after the Holocaust-- "we didn't know." I'm not saying migration restrictions are the moral equivalent of the Holocaust, of course, but there is a similar (wilful?) ignorance among Americans about what immigration enforcement involves. It's not clear in what sense a person who blames illegal immigrants for not using non-existent legal channels can be said to have an opinion about immigration policy at all. They have an opinion about immigration policy in an alternate universe. And it seems like most people, even some prominent pundits, are in exactly that situation. Moreover, if you were to poll the opinions of mankind about what US immigration policy should be, I might well find the vast majority supporting my position.
Still, MS's argument deserves serious examination. To what extent should one defer to the judgment of the majority? How likely is it that an individual is right and society is wrong? The multitude has more information, more experience than the individual, after all. And there is one area of life in which I think the value of deference to the general opinion of moralizing mankind in the teeth of one's own desires and reasoning can hardly be overstated: sexuality. Here the immediate mutual benefit seems so obvious and natural, the long shadow of negative consequences so impossible to explain, or rather, the explanations seem so threadbare and silly. Who can understand the mysterious interwovenness of body and soul, how deep the bonds and how potent their vengeance when violated? Who can foresee the way the pleasures of romance and of parenthood, so different and incommensurable, are yet bound together so that the latter must succeed the former for it to be complete? The wisdom of one's elders is invaluable here, for only those who have seen all the stages of a human life unfold can begin to appreciate how scarce a resource is youth's capacity for sexual love, and how prudently that resource must be spent. Nor is it easy for a young person to perceive and to credit the kind of stake that his or her family has in whom he or she marries, and why it ought to give them a say.
However, it is not tenable that deference to local majority opinion is always a better guide than an individual's judgment. After all, local majority opinion differs from time to time and place to place, and where there is disagreement at least one side must be wrong. For example, it is universally held today, at least among Americans and Western Europeans, that slavery is a horrible evil. But now think about this: for centuries, nay for millennia, slavery was practiced wherever mankind achieved a certain degree of wealth. I recently read Rodney Stark's account of how that ended, and in particular of the dominant role which religion played, from beginning to end, in the movement to abolish slavery. Slavery first disappeared from western Europe in the early Middle Ages. Later, when it was revived during the "Expansion of Europe" in the 16th and 17th centuries, it never penetrated Europe itself (at least not on a large scale), but instead was established in the New World and other overseas colonial possessions of Europe. The popes were unambiguously opposed to it from the beginning, even decreeing excommunications for those who enslaved others, but the Reformation and Counter-Reformation had greatly weakened them vis-a-vis secular rulers, and their opposition was mostly ineffectual, though-- Stark shows-- the Catholic Church did manage to ameliorate slavery by getting slave codes passed in Portuguese and Spanish colonies that were more lenient and humane than those in Protestant Barbados and North America. Yet in the end slavery lasted longer in the Catholic countries than in the Protestant countries, where abolition was pioneered by the Quakers, and later embraced by the Methodists and Protestant evangelists of the early 19th century like Charles Finney, and British abolitionists financed the antislavery movement in France.
Stark makes an important point which is relevant to the immigration question today. Slavery is by no means explicitly condemned by the Bible. Although the slave code of the ancient Jews, as described in the Mosaic law, is unusually lenient, the ancient Jews did practice slavery. The apostles, moreover, encouraged slaves to obey their masters, although in an epistle to Philemon, Paul seems to encourage him (but gently) to manumit a slave, Onesimus. So how could Christians come to the conclusion that slavery was sinful? Contra the biases of some historians, they certainly did not derive the concept from secular, liberal morality, for secular intellectuals mostly favored slavery: this idea began among Christians and became part of liberal morality later and as a side-effect. Rather, Christians derived this conclusion by reasoning from Biblical and theological premises:
[The 1754 Quaker anti-slavery pamphlet by John Woolman] was a model of gentle Quaker persuasion. He began by quoting Matt. 25:40: "For as much as ye did it to the least of my brethren, ye did it unto me," with the direct implication that to enslave a "Negro" was to enslave Christ. Although clearly aimed at slaveholding Quakers, it did not single them out but reminded all Quakers that "Negroes are our fellow creatures, and their present condition amongst us requires serious consideration," and that Friends are committed to justice, love, and the better of all humankind, not to self-interest. In his final paragraph he expressed his belief that while God has so far not intervened, he sees that "[Negroes] are trodden down and despised, yet he remembers them: he seeth their affliction," and soon God is apt to "humble the most haughty people" who prefer "gain to equity"...
[Later, under Woolman's influence, the Quaker Yearly Meeting] agreed to publish a tract of its own, constituting a far more direct attack on slavery: An Epistle of Caution and Advice, Concerning the Buying and Keeping of Slaves.
Written by a committee, this statement began by asking whether it was consistent with the Golden Rule to deprive "our fellow creatures of the valuable blessing liberty," or to "grow rich by their bondage"... Then... the committee got to the clincher. "Finally, brethren, we entreat you in... Gospel love, seriously to weigh the cause of detaining them in bondage. If it be for your own private gain, or any motive other than their good, it is much to be feared that the love of God, and the influence of the Holy Spirit is not the prevailing principle in you."...
Not to be outdone, many Christian groups and luminaries took up the cause of abolition, and soon abolitionist societies sprang up that were not associated with a specific denomination. But, through it all, the movement (as distinct from those it made sympathetic to the cause) was staffed by devout Christian activists, the majority of them clergy...
In 1833 leading abolitionists formed the American Anti-Slavery Society. Led by the fiery agitator and editor of The Liberator, William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), the group adopted and published a ringing Declaration of Sentiments, filled with religious justifications. Noting that to hold a human being "in involuntary bondage" is, "according to Scripture" stealing, the docuemnt proclaimed it a certainty that "the slaves out instantly to be set free, and brought under the protection of law." Furthermore, all current laws "admitting the right of slavery, are therefore, before God, utterly null and void... an audacious usurpation of Divine prerogative" and "a presumptuous transgression of all the holy commandments."...
The American Roman Catholic Church faced not serious internal conflict over slavery because it had few Southern parishes, and, at least by the start of the nineteenth century, the clergy followed the pope in opposing slavery. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Pope Pius VII (1800 to 1823) demanded the suppression of the slave trade. Then, in 1839, Pope Gregory XVI (1831 to 1846) sent an Apostolic Letter to the Provincial Council of American Bishops in which he condemned slavery. It began with a fine example of theological "deduction." In his opening paragraph the pope admitted that the Apostles counseled slaves to obey their masters, but went on to note (as Woolman had also done) that just as Christ declared that whatever was done to the least of all humans, it was done to Him, "it naturally follows" that Christians should treat slaves as their brothers. He then pointed out that "In the process of time, the fog of pagan superstition being more completely dissipated and the manners of barbarous people have been softened, thanks to Faith operating by Charity... there are no more slaves in the greater number of Christian nations." Unfortunately, there were "among the Faithful" men who were "shamefully blinded by their desire for sordid gain," and who went to distant countries and there "did not hesitate to reduce to slavery Indians, Negroes, and other wretched people." Then, desiring to remove such a shame from all Christian nations" and "walking in the footsteps of Our Predecessors," the pope demanded an end to slavery...
The larger point is that abolitionists, whether popes or evangelists, spoke almost exclusively in the language of the Christian faith. And although many Southern clergy proposed theological defenses of slavery, pro-slavery rhetoric was overwhelmingly secular-- references were made to "liberty" and "states' rights," not to "sin" or "salvation." This was conclusively demonstrated by Auping, who performed a content analysis of writings by randomly selected samples of prominent abolitionists and defenders of slavery. The abolitionists were far more likely to invoke God, and the difference persisted even when only clergy were compared...
But there is another and far more persuasive tack taken to minimize the importance of religion in abolishing slavery. It is argued that many sincere Christians were quite able to square slavery with theology-- as Francis Asbury, first Methodist bishop of the United States, put it in 1798, "Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians... in the highest flights of rapturous piety, still maintain and defend [slavery]." This being the case, the argument goes, it must have been not religion per se but something else that prompted some Christians to conclude that it was a sin to hold humans in bondage. But, as Asbury was fully aware, that conclusion misses the point. The case against slavery is theological, not revelational. Had Moses been given a commandment against slavery, then only heretical Jews and Christians could have owned slaves. Or had Jesus proclaimed that no slave master shall enter heaven, there would have been no ambiguity as to what Christians must do. But theology is based on human interpretations, and therefore sincere and brilliant seekers may reach opposite conclusions. Asbury did not propose that those who accepted slavery were ignorant of revelations, but that they had drawn incorrect theological conclusions, that they had neither "a sufficient sense of religion nor of liberty."
Abolition was not inherent in Christian scripture; it was only a possible conclusion... I do not propose that monotheism or even Christian culture was a sufficient basis for deeming slavery to be a sin. Instead, I propose that it was a necessary basis, in that only those religious thinkers working within the Christian tradition were able to reach anti-slavery conclusions (with the exception of two Jewish sects). (Rodney Stark, For the Glory of God, pp. 340-345)
The immigration issue today seems to be in a similar place. It is not that the Bible unambiguously condemns immigration restrictions or declares for freedom of migration, although particular episodes, like the Exodus from Egypt, are suggestive. But reasoning from Biblical premises cannot but strongly point towards open borders, particularly when the existence of illegal immigrants and their families on US soil transforms the issue into one of what kind and degree of violence will be resorted to in order to enforce a law which can be given no basis in justice. The Golden Rule is certainly sufficient to condemn migration restrictions, for who of us can seriously say that if he had illegally entered the United States in order to feed his family, or earn enough to provide medical care for a child, he would wish to be deported? And yet Matt. 25:40 makes the Golden Rule far more powerful, for while the Golden Rule seems abstract, Matt. 25:40 compels us to imagine that what we do to our fellow man we do to Christ. The fact that, as Pope Benedict observes, Jesus and the Holy Family were refugees, drives the point home. Current US law would deport the Holy Family to be executed by the agents of Herod. "Inasmuch as ye have done it to the least of these My brethren, ye have done it unto Me."