Out of Africa

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Look at the children of the land leaving in droves, leaving their own land with bleeding wounds on their bodies and shock on their faces and blood in their hearts and hunger in their stomachs and grief in their footsteps. Leaving their mothers and fathers and children behind, leaving their umbilical cords underneath the soil, leaving the bones of their ancestors in the earth, leaving everything that makes them who and what they are, leaving because it is no longer possible to stay. They will never be the same again because you just cannot be the same once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same. (148)

NoViolet Bulawayo, We Need New Names
New York:  Little, Brown and Company. 2013

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Coming to America?

At Calvin in Common, Clayton Libolt is concerned with a variant of the Christian Right, the Dominion theology with its vision of a thoroughly Christian America, a state where biblical norms are explicitly enacted. The theology was developed by R. J. Rushdoony in the middle of the century and has taken root in some parts of conservative Protestantism. Well, and Texas. While the explicit teaching sounds whacky, there is also a softer side, with its appeals to “creation order” — could  this be the creeping future for America and more specifically for the Christian Reformed Church? Libolt captures the question in a quote from  from David Brockman in the Texas Observer:
To be clear, I’m not saying that religion has no place in the public square. Far from it: religious persons have just as much right as anyone else to advocate laws and policies that line up with their beliefs and values. Government officials, however, are in a different position. No, they don’t have to “walk away from what they believe,” as Patrick puts it. Their religious beliefs can inform their personal morality in office — don’t lie, don’t steal, and so on — and give them comfort and hope or motivate them to serve others. But they can’t make policy based on those beliefs. Government officials have a duty to uphold the Constitution, not to enact their personal religious convictions. They are obliged to serve all of the people, not just members of the officials’ own religious community.
I am a lot more blasé about this. The so-called “soft-dominionism” looks an awful lot like American religious nationalism, a perennial theme at least since the post-WWII era and its emergence in plain folk culture of Orange County. The SoCal origin (home of Rushdoony, too) explain the sort of fundamentalism Mark Noll identifies in Paul’s post, although Christian nationalism was, at least in origin, engaged in the great ideological war against Communism.
Thus, I am more inclined to ask Joe Stalin’s question, “so how many divisions have they got?” In terms of practical politics, the Religious Right does nothing without an alliance with Catholics, and here the dominionist political theology falters. Our “soft doiminionists” and their followers are simply useful idiots for the harsh, hard-right agenda of the economic rightists. Sure, they can have their prayer meeting with the President, even lay hands on him, but the real social agenda will advance and pretty much betray the believers. Oddly, though, such betrayal will likely only intensify their politically idiosyncratic views.
Even in Texas, I suspect the internal contradictions doom dominioinism, even of the soft variety. As dominionism shares the same sort of political architecture of conservative Islam, it is difficult to privilege Christian communities without also empowering Muslim ones. Thus the soft dominionist must either be revealed as a hard liner — a political dead end – or confront the Islamophobia of the supporting religious community.  The Muslim protests in Texas have already shown how far THAT would go. In the end, I rather think the religious communities will forgo the full Christian freedom schtick if it means granting power to their Muslim neighbors.
And can we so easily dismiss, the “gosh, I’d like to” demurral (I’d love to support you, but the Bible…)? At present, we need something like this appeal to conscience if we are to rid ourselves of this President; well-meaning Republicans will have to find that backbone and say in effect, “gosh I’d like to go along, but….” Think of how one starts moving folk like Sen Ben Sasse.

Senator Milquetoast

It’s good that U.S. Senator Gary Peters has spoken out against the President’s anti-immigration Executive Order. But sadly, the voice is muffled.

“As a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Armed Services Committees, my top priority is ensuring we’re doing everything we can to keep Americans safe. But I am also proud to represent vibrant Muslim and Arab American communities that are integral to Michigan’s culture and our economy.

The first sentence is pure political muffery: “my top priority… doing everything… keep Americans safe.” What is missing is a clear point of view, what he (or his office) thinks. The second sentence is little better: he’s “proud to represent.” yeah yeah yeah. This is indirect speech, at a distant from a straight forward presentation of the case.

There are big, legitimate issues of national security involved. This is the natural forceful lead. And it’s powerful, as Mother Jones demonstrates.

In the second paragraph Sen. Peters compounds his wishy-washiness.

“One of America’s founding – and most sacred – principles is the freedom of religion. I am extremely alarmed by President Trump’s executive order that effectively implements a religious test for those seeking to enter the United States…

The shift to First Amendment issues has a nice ring to it, but again one may ask whether it demonstrates a grasp of the actual Constitutional issues involved with the Executive Order. If anything the focus on Freedom of Religion plays into the cultural push of the President’s order, namely that of privileging Christian America. Immediate feedback from Trump supporters indicates their approval of the action. So rather than change opinion the appeal to the First is a sign of political boundary making. It is a lost opportunity.

And then finally there is a return to muffery with the final sentence:

 “While I support continued strengthening of the refugee screening process, I remain opposed to the suspension of the refugee admissions program.”

This is the sound of a man trying to have it both ways. “While I….” Oh, be direct. Know what time it is, and what the issues are. In the days ahead the battle needs far more direct, far clearer expression of ideas. Now is no time to waffle.

 

 

The Long War

Stephen Walt at Foreign Policy asks a useful question regarding WW I,

An equally important question and one with considerable contemporary relevance is: why did the war last so long?

The answer is not simply historical, the reasons extend to all sorts of conflict. Why do we keep on fighting? He outlines three lessons:

First, and most obviously, it is much easier to get into a war than it is to get out of one. This is true not only of war, but our political conflicts (think partisanship) or even marital conflict. Once you’re in, the reasons all seem to line up to convince you to stay in.

Second, the long and bitter experience of World War I reminds that truth is the “first casualty” in war. Often it is not the “lie” but the bubble that prolongs the conflict. We lose sight of the impact of the conflict, sometimes because we are too removed (e.g. the turn to easy answers on immigration as in “just send them back.” As if.), and sometimes because of our own optimistic and finally self-referential self-talk. We opt for propaganda because it matches our political goals. This is the path that the philosopher Henry Frankfurt rightly labeled as bullshit.

Third, the tendency to demonize and dehumanize the enemy remains a central feature of modern warfare. And not just warfare, but in most conflict. This is an extension of the propaganda, instrumental use of communication. Demonization is the necessary component of the bubble, it misrepresents.

Thus, to get out of the long wars, interpersonally, politically, and certainly internationally, it takes a commitment to truth. And that invariably appears as the harder task. Harder, but ultimately the only path for whatever salvation we seek.

 

 

Taking a Step on Immigration Reform

Justice  Scalia left no doubt where he stands on immigration. And Keith Miller at Mere Orthodoxy approves. While Scalia’s comments have been roundly denounced (see this from Richard Posner), Miller embraces them as a corrective to the the stance of  Tom Minnery from Focus on the Family, which Miller sees as being especially soft on the issues of deportation and national sovereignty.

Nowhere in anything Focus or the “Table” wrote up was any recognition of Scalia’s principle of sovereign exclusion. Sure, there are allusions to the “rule of law” and “secure national borders,” but deportation is discounted as a non-starter due to the immigrant’s inherent human dignity. Without providing a philosophical defense of the exercise of the power to exclude, these Evangelicals are allowing national sovereignty to atrophy.

Far from being discounted, it is the scale and impact of present deportation policies that have repeatedly raised the issues for congregations, as Minnery’s article points out. Moreover as deportation is not humanely possible for the 10 to 11 million non-documented, deportation must necessarily be selective and so constantly prone to an erosion of the rule of law.

Further, it is the human cost to these deportations that in turn have been the basis for the statements of the Focus and of the evangelical round table above. The core issue, has always been working to have some sort of recognized status for workers, to bring them and their families from out of the shadows where injustices continue to fester.

As to national sovereignty being allowed to atrophy, what sort of national sovereignty is it that turns away young people who desire to serve the nation? Or discounts the desire of others to actually get on a path to citizenship?

In short, the Scalian / libertarian viewpoint so snarkily defended promises nothing by way of solution; it is a politics of denial, of Dives refusing to look outside his gate at Lazarus. This indifference is hard to square with Christian teaching.

And finally, if nothing else should catch one’s attention it is this: that the politically sectarian viewpoint evidenced by Mr Miller, a viewpoint so clearly affirmed by the GOP nominee Mitt Romney in the primary season, is a political non-starter. Particularly for those who would bring Christ’s lordship to the political sphere.