No, Jesus Would Not Demand Open Borders

Immigrants are all Gods children - Christian immigration protest

Those who make a Christian case for open borders and uncontrolled mass immigration do not apply the same altruism they demand of society to their own personal lives, and neither would tearing down national borders improve the common good. Those who use their faith (or even more cynically, the faith of others) as a bludgeon to agitate for open borders do so based on a deliberately superficial reading of Christianity, in which Jesus is little more than an easy-going aging hippie, or a benevolent Santa Claus figure

The Windrush scandal – in which British permanent residents and citizens, either naturalised immigrants or descendants of immigrants, were wrongly targeted for deportation because of bureaucratic incompetence and the eagerness of a fawning, rootless government to appear tough on immigration – has pushed the issue of immigration back up the list of top voter priorities in the United Kingdom.

At times like this, it is customary for cynical and opportunistic voices on the Left to exploit developments in order to agitate for their broader goal of open borders (or at least something perilously close to open borders – few left wing politicians are now willing to publicly articulate any restriction on immigration or sanction for immigration law violations which they actually support). And so it was this time, with a parade of Labour and other left-wing politicians effectively making the preposterous case that bureaucratic callousness with regard to the affected Windrush immigrants means that the government has now morally forfeited the right to control the borders at all.

Unfortunately, these voices are often also joined by left-wing Christians who waste no time extrapolating from one appalling example of Big Government callousness to press entirely tangential arguments about a more permissive immigration system. The Church of England’s own Migration policy subsite rather deceptively makes mention only of asylum and refugee issues, utterly ignoring the dominant economic migrant subgroup. One can only assume that this is because the CofE knows as well as the rest of us that pretending that the great migration wave consists entirely of the former type and not the latter is more likely to generate sympathy and lead to pressure for looser immigration policy.

As the depth of the government’s failure and mismanagement with regard to Windrush immigrants became evident, social media was swiftly flooded with tweets and sentiments suggesting that any attempt by politicians or civic leaders to dissuade or expel illegal immigrants – people entirely unconnected with the Windrush scandal – from maintaining unlawful residence in the United Kingdom is prima facie evidence of a missing or defective conscience:

 

Even Martyn Eden, political editor of Premier Christianity magazine, equivocates:

Some will see this affair as reflecting an underlying racism in British culture. Given that the density of population in the UK is 268 people per square kilometre, second only to Holland in the EU, a case can be made for limiting immigration, but the Brexit campaign certainly showed evidence of a xenophobic hostility to foreigners.

Our duty to love our neighbours regardless of their racial and family backgrounds, following Jesus’ teaching and example, will shape how Christians understand and respond to this distressing and shameful episode in our national life.

This mirrors the vague, evasive wooliness and anti Brexit bigotry which swathes of the Church of England (including all the senior hierarchy) displayed so prominently during the 2016 EU referendum campaign and its aftermath (see here, here, here and here).

Recently, Pope Francis has made noises (in the form of an apostolic exhortation) deeply suggestive that he believes open borders to be “pro-life” and the correct starting point for any Christian view of immigration:

102. We often hear it said that, with respect to relativism and the flaws of our present world, the situation of migrants, for example, is a lesser issue. Some Catholics consider it a secondary issue compared to the “grave” bioethical questions. That a politician looking for votes might say such a thing is understandable, but not a Christian, for whom the only proper attitude is to stand in the shoes of those brothers and sisters of ours who risk their lives to offer a future to their children. Can we not realize that this is exactly what Jesus demands of us, when he tells us that in welcoming the stranger we welcome him (cf. Mt 25:35)? Saint Benedict did so readily, and though it might have “complicated” the life of his monks, he ordered that all guests who knocked at the monastery door be welcomed “like Christ”,[85] with a gesture of veneration;[86] the poor and pilgrims were to be met with “the greatest care and solicitude”.[87]

We see exactly the same climate in the United States, where the progressive wing of the Church is enthusiastically embracing the concept of “sanctuary cities” and taking an increasingly extreme position against any kind of immigration enforcement. The argument usually goes along the lines of that advanced here by Michael Clark in Sojourners:

I currently live in Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city and most diverse metropolitan area. We’re a city with no racial or ethnic majority, where nearly 1 in 4 people were born outside the U.S. We’re also home to 400,000 undocumented immigrants, earning us the label “sanctuary city” from some.

[..] but Houston’s status as a sanctuary city requires a response from everyday residents, nearly three quarters of whom claim to be Christians. Will Christians make a sanctuary in our city?

Before we put our defenses up (They’re here illegally! They’re taking our jobs! They need to come in the right way!), let us remember that our allegiance is not primarily to this nation. Jesus himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). Paul reminds us that “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3:20), and though we are to respect earthly authority (Romans 13:1), when push comes to shove, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

Will we be a sanctuary in the tradition of the early church? Will we heed God’s commandment: “the stranger who resides with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 19:34)?

Will Christ say to us, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison [or an immigration detention center] and you came to visit me”?

Let us remember his words, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matthew 25:40).

This is manipulative schmaltz of the worst kind. All of it. Anybody can harvest quotes from the Bible to build a case that Christian compassion involves rolling over and doing whatever a particular activist wants at that moment in time. But what we lack in this argument (and we see this over and over again in Christian arguments for mass immigration or open borders) is any acknowledgement that the immediate benefit to one new incoming migrant is not the only important consideration at stake.

When Jesus performed miracles there was no tradeoff, with one individual newly afflicted by the disease which Jesus cured in another, or the alleviated suffering of one person displaced onto somebody else. Nobody died because Lazarus was raised from the dead. Those who were healed at Gennesaret by touching Jesus’ cloak were not offset by a similar number who were struck down in their place. Uncontrolled mass immigration does not work like this. While there is a clear personal benefit to each marginal unskilled migrant  (and we are talking economic migrants here, remember, not refugees) allowed into a developed country, there are offsetting costs to be considered, too.

Sometimes these costs are tangible and quantifiable, such as the additional burden on infrastructure, services and the welfare state. Other times these costs are uncertain and appear only in the form of risk (such as risk to public order or national security). But the net effect is that the “good” done by letting in unlimited numbers of unskilled migrants from poor countries is offset by a commensurate cost. And this cost is no less important or worthy of consideration just because it is diffused across society as a whole rather than concentrated on one individual.

Rod Dreher makes a similar point in religious terms, rebutting the idea that Christian hospitality must be open-ended to the point of self-destruction:

This is why St. Benedict’s rule of hospitality is not open-ended. Monks will certainly welcome guests as if they were Christ, but that welcome does not imply that visitors have the right to stay in the monastery for as long as they like. What’s more, monks cannot welcome guests who, whether by their behavior or their sheer numbers, prevent a monastery from fulfilling its purpose. No stranger has a right to expect the monks to abandon their way of life to accommodate his desires. It’s simply dishonest and manipulative for the Pope to invoke St. Benedict’s example in this way. One likes to think that even Pope Francis would not expect a monastery to fling its gates open and house as many migrants as want to set up camp there, indefinitely.

We know that these negative costs of open borders will be incurred, and that they will be borne by society at large. So why is it more Christ-like to prioritise one over the other? Welcoming the stranger is absolutely the right thing to do when there are no offsetting costs to that act of charity, but what if welcoming the stranger causes a completely innocent third party to suffer harm? What we see, though, is many Christians prioritising the needs of the former over the latter. And in a way this is understandable – the benefit to the migrant is obvious, easy to measure and enjoyable to bestow, while the cost to society is diffuse, sometimes intangible and only detectable on the macro level, not at the individual level. Choosing the tangible and immediate over the intangible and time-delayed is a natural human instinct, albeit a harmful one in this instance.

So perhaps the real question we should be asking ourselves is this: does Jesus want us to think purely from with hearts, or does He also want us to engage our brains?

Viewed this way, the emotionally incontinent “Jesus would let in all the migrants” line of argument is becoming increasingly tiresome and threadbare. Maybe He would, and maybe not – perhaps instead He would work miracles to improve the broken and dysfunctional countries which feed mass migration in the first place, rather than feeding an urban leftist’s fetish for infinite diversity. Presuming that Jesus would opt for the immediate solution, the easy answer, the quick fix, grant the superficial human desire rather than the deeper human need, is to fundamentally misunderstand how Jesus’ ministry unfolded. Claiming that Jesus would advocate open borders is to subscribe to an incredibly two-dimensional, aging hippie version of Jesus, one which reduces the Son of God to little more than a genial Santa Claus figure.

If – as the Christian open borders activists insist when it comes to welcoming strangers – we sought to emulate Jesus’ dealings with and instructions to his contemporaries in our geopolitical dealings then the world would be a very different, and likely much darker place. Nazism and Soviet Communism were not defeated through pacifism, after all. And if we were to take Jesus’ instructions to his immediate disciples and contemporaries as granular instruction for twenty-first century life we would forever be forsaking all material goods, leaving our families to pursue nomadic and ascetic lives of service and chasing after muggers offering them the few personal effects they haven’t already stolen from us. I know of very few Christians who meet – or even seek to meet – this standard, not because they are selfish and evil but because it is generally understood by everyone (except the far Left) that a one-time charitable binge or government wealth expropriation exercise is not a sustainable long-term solution to poverty and want. Dropping everything and working for the immediate benefit of the person in front of us is not necessarily in the interest of millions of other deserving people beyond our vision. Sadly, our loaves and fish do not miraculously multiply; ultimately, we can only improve the common good by teaching the five thousand how to bake and fish for themselves.

It is also very telling that the “Jesus would let them all come in” brigade only seem to want to apply His teachings so far as they can be twisted to support open borders. The activists who go to protests chanting “no human being is illegal”, the often-wealthy coastal leftists who support unconditional amnesty for all and the establishment media who make a point of proudly failing to distinguish between legal and immigration, very few of them would open their New York or San Francisco homes to those cities’ many homeless, share their shiny new Tesla car to help a poor family do the school run every day or hand over their iPhone X to whomever demanded it. Yes, some profess a willingness to pay a higher marginal tax rate themselves in order to fund more plentiful public services, but that is about as far as it goes – keeping the needy firmly at arm’s length. Otherwise, their “generosity” actually consists of nothing more than calling for the government to tear down borders and disregard immigration law, and loudly screaming that anyone who expresses doubt about this reckless course of action is a racist.

But the costs of unskilled immigration (for the kind of mass immigration entailed by open borders would inevitably be of the unskilled kind) tend not to impact the wealthy enclaves where the cognitive, financial and social elites live, falling instead on far less privileged groups and communities. Many of those calling for open borders or more immigration in the name of Jesus also conveniently stand to get cheaper maids, gardeners and cleaners as a result, or live in neighbourhoods where the principle consequence of immigration is a wonderful explosion of diversity in art, culture and food. They are not the ones who typically rely on increasingly stretched public services, compete for low wage jobs or live in areas of higher crime or social tension. Nestled within gated communities or exclusive neighbourhoods, many will be insulated from the kind of widespread social unrest which the implementation of open borders would quickly deliver.

These activists are, in effect, disguising their naked self interest as generosity, benefiting economically and making themselves feel good and progressive while pushing nearly all of the negative externalities of mass immigration onto others. Jesus, let us remember, said nothing about giving away one’s neighbour’s possessions – the whole point is supposed to be one of personal devotion and sacrifice. The Jesus 4 Open Borders crowd, on the other hand, seek largely to give away something which is not theirs, promising to bear a cost which in actual fact they have every intention of palming off onto people further down the social ladder. How very Christian.

Ultimately, if the Jesus 4 Open Borders brigade are to maintain intellectual integrity while holding to their extremist stance they must concede that the policy they want, if retroactively applied decades or centuries ago, would mean that human development would be far less advanced today than is currently the case and that net human suffering might well be significantly higher. They must also concede that if the policy were implemented today, there will be an unknowable but significant opportunity cost in terms of curtailed future human progress and relief of suffering. They must admit that one or other or both of these seismic and overwhelmingly negative changes would be a price worth paying to achieve their particular conception of social justice.

Why? Because the nation state forms the bedrock of our current prosperity and the stability of the world order, and open borders are an all-out assault on the concept of the nation state. Humanity is not homogeneous – some cultures and value systems are objectively superior to others, and even in the case of immigration between broadly similar countries, human nature is such that too fast a rate of immigration creates political resentment and the potential for societal unrest. Implementing open borders in this age, when access to information is so widespread and fast modes of transport so ubiquitous, would immediately trigger a wave of migration from poor and dysfunctional countries that make the present global migration crisis look like a slow trickle.

While immigration activists love to tout the many economic benefits that immigration brings, and rightly so, they generally neglect to point out that there is often a (significant) time lag between the marginal new immigrant arriving and local housing and infrastructure expanding in proportion to service the increased population. In fact, unless deliberate steps are taken by local and national populations, that increase might never happen at all. Even in the best case where the marginal immigrant is a net fiscal contributor, this does not instantly make the freeway a fraction of an inch wider or add a few thousandths of a new bed to the local hospital. This necessary growth in service provision requires political direction and civic planning, and must often be commenced in advance, long before the tax revenue stream from the new immigrant comes online (thus requiring deficit spending in the interim).

Now imagine a situation where developed countries receive greatly inflated numbers of new immigrants who are not in a position to be immediate positive fiscal contributors due to language, cultural or educational barriers which may also hinder quick and easy assimilation into the host country’s culture. Not only do housing and infrastructure continue to lag behind demand, now social tensions are also likely to spike, leading to scenes which make recent anti-immigration protests look like a model of peaceful, reasoned civility. We may well be looking a riots. Martial law. Deepening social division, violence and even deaths.

This kind of environment is not one in which great prosperity is easily created. Unless open borders were implemented everywhere in a coordinated way there would likely be a brain drain of the most educated and productive native citizens (many of whom had likely cheered on open borders while possessing the ability to skip out of town the moment their Utopian fantasy turned into a nightmare) to other more sensible developed countries with functional immigration systems, leading to a self-perpetuating spiral of decline among those advanced Western countries (and it is always Western countries – activists are not demanding that Japan drop its exclusionary immigration practices) which decided to throw open their borders.

In short, one does not have to play the tape forward very far to realise that there are alarmingly few steps between implementing a policy decision which makes woke, “no human being is illegal”, Jesus 4 Open Borders activists feel warm and virtuous on the inside and a situation where everything that makes their country an attractive destination for mass immigration in the first place is utterly snuffed out. Open borders is the kind of rash, ill-considered “Jesus, take the wheel!” policy proposal which its most ardent advocates would never replicate in any other area of their lives.

But of course, none of this matters. Christian immigration activists can adopt the “good-hearted” open borders position at zero cost to themselves, knowing that fully open borders (and the chaos that would be unleashed) will never plausibly be implemented. Campaigning for open borders is an opportunity to appear compassionate without having to either dip one’s hand into one’s pocket or seriously risk the unravelling of one’s present, privileged existence. And rather than wrestling with the far more thorny questions of why so many countries remain so dysfunctional and deeply unattractive to their own citizens, and driving solutions to help those countries help themselves, many Christians can opt instead to abdicate the intellectual work and simply shroud themselves in moral outrage that evil Western governments don’t let anyone and everyone breeze into the country.

As John Zmirak writes in Quadrant Magazine:

When we inflict such radical changes on our society, we should ask ourselves whether we are being faithful stewards of the prosperous, free societies for which our ancestors struggled, fought and sometimes died. Perhaps instead we are squandering our inheritance, for the sake of that happy frisson we experience when we do or say something supporting “openness”, “tolerance”, and “social justice”. We are purchasing approval from our fellow upper-middle-class citizens, with social capital stolen from our children and grandchildren. We are feathering our own cosy nests, while making life even more wretched for our own nations’ native poor—whose ancestors did fight and die, alongside ours, for their descendants’ stakes in the nation. We are stealing the precious gifts of freedom and order from our least-advantaged fellow citizens—the blue-collar workers, the unemployed, the troubled war veterans—in order to salve our confused consciences, and feed our self-esteem.

In the case of mass migration, Christian outrage would be far better directed at the fact that all too often, the West ignores or downplays pressing questions relating to the root cause and does little to help solve the drivers of continued poverty and instability in much of the world, often actively contributing to the problem rather than helping, be it though haphazard military interventions or discriminatory trade policies. This criticism would be absolutely justified, though the solutions are nowhere near as simple as clamouring for open borders.

It may not fit quite so neatly on a protest placard, but I am personally inclined to believe that the more Christian thing is to wrestle with these difficult questions and to make intelligent national and personal self-sacrifice in targeted areas to improve the lot of poor and unstable countries, while pressing for an immigration system which is fair and non-discriminatory to applicants and seeking to find the optimal “sweet spot” where the benefits and costs of immigration, however defined (and it should be an expansive measure) break even.

I’m no theologian, but something tells me that a well-considered policy which diligently aims to deal with the root drivers of mass migration is both superior and more authentically Christian than a rash, emotion-driven and deeply harmful policy whose primary benefit is to make overwhelmingly privileged, first world activists feel better about themselves.

 

Update: A thoughtful and balanced Christian reflection on the proper response to mass migration, written by Luke Bretherton in 2014, can be read here.

Update 2: See also this very thoughtful piece by Stephen Kneale of the Building Jerusalem blog.

Update 3: This is an excellent reflection from Fr. Alexander Lucie-Smith, published late last year in the Catholic Herald, concluding:

When it comes to welcoming the stranger, the wise must look to the future, and ask what the long term effects will be. What happens to the stranger five, ten, or twenty years down the line? This is the real question. Does the stranger return home? Does the stranger assimilate? Does the stranger live as what the Bible calls a “sojourner”, a resident alien who is not assimilated? Is it a violation of their human rights to ask new arrivals to assimilate?

[..] my impression is not that the Catholic Church has not got a firm teaching on immigration, but rather that the Church has not yet worked out the implications of what welcoming the stranger means. “Welcoming the stranger” sounds like a good principle, but what does it mean in practice? It would be an excellent idea for the Universal Church to hold some sort of synod on this matter. Then the American and European bishops could hear from bishops whose countries have welcomed large numbers of refugees and migrants, such as Kenya, South Africa, and in particular, Jordan and Lebanon. The latter is an important case study, as the huge influx of Palestinians into the country after 1948 and 1967 is generally regarded as one of the contributing factors to the country’s destabilisation and descent into 17 years of savage civil war. Even today Jordan and Lebanon are under huge pressure thanks to the effects of the Syrian conflict.

As for border controls, annoying as they are for first world travellers as well, these have to stay. Every country needs to know who is coming in, who is going out, as this information is useful in the matter of governing the territory. For in immigration matters the greatest of virtues is prudence, which must work hand in hand with justice and charity.

 

Who would Jesus deport - protest placard - Christian immigration debate - open borders

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A Strong, Christian Case For The Nation State (And Against The European Union)

Justin Welby - John Sentamu - Archbishops - Church of England - EU Referendum - European Union - Brexit - Remain

Here is an intellectually robust, theologically rooted argument in support of the nation state and against the European Union. Why are Christian EU apologists unable to produce a similarly heavyweight case of their own, instead of relying on woolly platitudes about ‘togetherness’ and ‘co-operation’?

The Reimagining Europe blog has just published a serious intellectual (and even theological) but highly readable case for the continuance of the nation state, and criticism of those who suggest that the age of supranational government is either logical, inevitable or a goal to which Christians should aspire.

While I do not agree with every single nuance of the argument put forward by Nigel Biggar (Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Christ Church college, Oxford) the overall thrust of his argument is quite unimpeachable. It certainly is rooted in a far deeper reading of scripture and theological analysis than the glib statements of support for the European Union and Remain campaign from Archbishops John Sentamu and Justin Welby.

Biggar begins:

Thirty years ago I was told by a senior Anglican clergyman that the nation-state was passé. I can’t remember why he thought as he did, but I do remember that his conviction was a fashionable one. Quite why it was fashionable isn’t clear to me now. The mid-1980s were too early for globalisation’s transfer of power from national governments to free global markets and transnational corporations to have become evident. Perhaps it was the recent entry of an economically ailing and politically strife-torn Britain into the arms of the European Economic Community that made the nation-state’s days look so numbered. And, of course, the Cold War, which would not thaw until 1989, made international blocs look like a monolithic fact of global political life.

Finally, someone raises the historical context of Britain’s entry into the EEC in their Christian argument about the EU referendum. Good. Nothing can be understood without understanding the history and purpose of the European Union, but also the circumstances which led Britain to join in the first place. For if those circumstances (global obsolescence and lack of a “role”, economic decline, industrial strife, the very real risk of being ejected from what Michael Moore might call the “Premier League” of nations) are no longer present, why on earth would we now wish to stay, given all of the EU’s manifold flaws and failings?

Biggar goes on to discuss differing national attitudes toward being a quasi-autonomous member of a larger supranational grouping:

But there’s another, historically deeper reason. This was graphically impressed upon me during a visit to last year’s exhibition at the British Museum, “Germany: Memories of a Nation”. (I’d strongly recommend the book, by the way.) One of the exhibits was a map of north-western Europe in the mid-18th century, on which were superimposed the coinages current in Germany and Britain at the time. In Britain, there was one coin; in Germany, about sixty. Britain was a unitary state; Germany a territory with a common language, but comprising dozens of different kingdoms and principalities.

And here’s where being both German and Roman Catholic comes into play. For the dozens of mini-states in mid-18th century Germany were the vestiges of the multinational, Catholic, Holy Roman Empire, which the Protestant Reformation had helped to destroy. For Roman Catholics, especially on the European continent, and especially in Germany, the notion of a federation of states, sharing a broadly common culture and subject to a transcendent, quasi-imperial authority seems a perfectly natural condition.

Not so for the English, who have inhabited a nation-state whose basic structures span a thousand years, and whose history has taught them to fear the concentration of continental power. It’s no accident, therefore, that one can find in Anglican thought a marked tendency, from F. D Maurice in the mid-19th century to Oliver O’Donovan now, to affirm the existence of a plurality of independent nations, whose external relations are governed by international law rather than a supranational state.

Quite so. The lived experience of Britons, and our national history, is simply too different to reconcile with that of continental Europe under the umbrella of an overarching set of political institutions. In some areas of Europe, particularly the disputed regions which have changed back forth between countries over centuries (think Alsace-Lorraine), people have a history of maintaining a cohesive identity almost separate to whichever nation happened to claim their territory at the time. There is no similar history in Britain (though one could argue that the experience of the non-England home nations within the UK comes closest).

The upshot is that there is precious little in our folklore, literature, art or indeed politics which well equips us to carry on functioning happily no matter which foreign king makes the key decisions, or from which city they may do so. We are not built for supranational rule – despite ourselves having presided over an empire which did exactly that, we have not been on the receiving end in a thousand years.

Biggar then gets biblical, something which too few of the most prominent Christian apologists for the European Union have been willing to do:

Christians tend to view the nation-state and so the prospect of a European federation differently, according to whether they are Roman Catholic or Protestant, and according to their historical experience. All Christians, however, are accountable to the Bible. What does it have to say about these matters?

On the one hand, the New Testament makes quite clear that a Christian’s affection and loyalty have to go beyond the nation. They have to transcend it. Primarily, they have to attach themselves to God and to His coming Kingdom or rule. This we read in the third chapter of the Epistle to the Philippians, where St Paul, having identified himself strongly with the Jewish nation—“a Hebrew of the Hebrews”—then firmly subordinates his Jewish identity to his loyalty to God in Christ:

“But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ…. [O]ur citizenship”, he tells the Christians at Philippi, “is in heaven” (vv. 7-9, 20).

Taken at face value, it would seem that Paul is saying that Christian identity must obliterate and completely replace national identity. But Paul, I think, is speaking hyperbolically here; he’s exaggerating. In fact, he never entirely repudiated his Jewish identity, but rather sought to understand how his new-found loyalty to God in Christ could actually fulfil his original national loyalty.

Biggar is right to suggest that St Paul’s injunction to completely erase national identity is a rhetorical exaggeration. And it is certainly the case that if British Christians were indeed called to renounce their Britishness, there is absolutely no reason why they should then take up a European identity – if any passing allegiance to country is wrong, then allegiance to a supranational body which is actively trying to become a country in its own right is just as wrong.

As Jesus Himself said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36). While we are indeed all brothers and sisters in Christ, it is made very clear to us that our common citizenship is at an embryonic stage in this temporal world, represented by the global Church, and that the nation to which we shall all one day belong is not one of Earth.

Biggar goes on to concede the transitory nature of nation states:

Against such idolatrous nationalism, Christians must refuse the claim that nations have an eternal destiny, and that their survival is an absolute imperative. Nations are in fact contingent, evolving, and transitory phenomena. They come and they go. The United Kingdom did not exist before 1707 (and could have ceased to exist this year, had the Yes campaign won the Scottish independence referendum.) The United States could have ceased to exist in the early 1860s. Czechoslovakia did cease to exist in 1993.

So a Christian cannot be a Romantic nationalist, idolatrously attributing an absolute value to any nation. That’s one part of the truth.

With this important counterpoint:

But there is another part. This is alluded to by St Paul’s continuing identification with the Jewish people. And it’s made explicit in the Old Testament, where the prophet Jeremiah addresses the Jews, who had been carried off into exile in Babylonia, after the sacking of Jerusalem in the year 586BC. This is what he says:

“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. Also, seek the welfare of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper (vv. 4-7).”

Though they are citizens of another country, though they are currently exiles in Babylon, the people of God should nevertheless “seek the welfare of the city”.

Why is this? The answer lies in our created nature as human beings. We are finite, not infinite; creatures, not gods. We come into being and grow up in a particular time, and if not in one particular place and community, then in a finite number of them. We are normally inducted into particular forms of social life by our family and by other institutions—schools, churches, clubs, workplaces, political parties, public assemblies, laws. These institutions and their customs mediate and embody a certain grasp of the several universal forms of human prosperity or flourishing—that is to say, the several basic human goods—that are given in and with the created nature of human being. It is natural, therefore, that we should feel special affection for, loyalty toward, and gratitude to those communities, customs, and institutions that have benefited us by inducting us into human goods; and, since beneficiaries ought to be grateful to benefactors, it is right that we should.

This is true – we do indeed feel special affection and loyalty toward communities, customs and institutions which give us utility. But we should be wary of where this particular strand of thought may lead us. For as we know, the European Union is particularly adept at “purchasing loyalty” by using funds raised from nation state taxpayers and sent to Brussels as EU membership fees to then bribe national citizens with their own money in the form of development spending or sponsorship of various arts and community projects.

Pete North warns about this very phenomenon with this brilliant observation:

The founding fathers were savvy in their design of le grande project. They always knew it could never be done all at once because the central vision would never secure a mandate. Integration by deception has always been the modus operandi. It salami slices powers little by little, so gradually that few ever notice. And you’d never see it unless you know what the game plan is. They were long term thinkers. They knew it would take a generation or so to advance their agenda and they had a roadmap to do it.

It has always used funding of local projects to manufacture consent. It’s why you’ll find EU logos emblazoned on any nature reserve or community hall or obscure museum out in the shires, to convince the plebs that their benevolent EU guardians cared more for them than the London government. It is why it funds universities too. Every strata of civil society has an injection of EU cash. Education, NGOs, you name it. And it works.

[..] The founding fathers always knew a day would come where the legitimacy of the EU would be questioned. And now you see how well their pernicious scheme worked, with the entirely of the civic establishment coming out in favour of remain. They have made idle supplicants of our institutions, robbing them of their vitality, curiosity and dynamism.

While Biggar is absolutely correct to make his point, defenders of the nation state must be careful that this is not then used as justification by EU apologists for the behaviour and existence of the EU – a kind of retroactive justification for unwanted supranational political union based on the wheedling claim that people like it when Brussels gives them back their own money.

Biggar’s conclusion is a resounding rejection of pessimism about the nation state and the ignorant embrace of the EU by many in leadership positions in the church, based only on the woolliest of Christian thinking (my emphasis in bold):

Of course, institutions at a national level are not the only ones that enable us to flourish as human beings, but they do remain among them; and they are still the most important. This is true, notwithstanding the easy illusion of global identity that today’s social media create. While international institutions such as the United Nations have developed since the Second World War, they haven’t replaced nation-states and don’t seem likely to do so any time soon. Indeed, the UN only has as much power as nation-states choose to give it. So the nation-state is here to stay for the foreseeable future, and it continues to have great power to shape the lives of individual human beings. Insofar as it has shaped our lives for the better, helping us to prosper, we owe it our gratitude and loyalty; insofar as it has mis-shaped our lives (or other people’s) for the worse, we owe it our commitment to reform. Either way, we owe it our attention and our care.

So, in sum, as I see it, the Bible teaches on the one hand that no nation-state deserves absolute loyalty. Every state is subject to the universal laws of God, of which it may fall foul and deserve criticism. On the other hand, Scripture implies that nation-states can, and should, and often do furnish the structures necessary for human flourishing. They cause us to prosper. Therefore, they deserve our loyal, if sometimes critical, care.

[..] In the age of global capitalism, they are less powerful than they used to be. And they have always been bound, more or less, to each other by need, by treaty, and by law. Nevertheless, nation-states remain the fundamental units in the international order, and the day when they will be superseded by a global state is nowhere in sight.

Nation-states are not in fact passé, and the Bible doesn’t tell us that they should be. What’s more, my German Catholic friend really shouldn’t argue for Britain’s remaining in the European Union on the ground that the age of the nation-state is over. Because, of course, a federal EU would be nothing other than a larger state, serving the newly self-conscious nation of Europeans, and able to hold its own against the United States on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other.

There may well be good reasons for Britain to remain in the E.U. But if that is so, the unchristian nature, or the obsolescence, of the nation-state is not one of them.

An intellectually rousing piece with a resoundingly clear conclusion – that the nation state, for all its flaws, has been the underwriter of our most fundamental freedoms and liberties for too long to carelessly cast it aside in the blinkered rush toward supranationalism.

Those with senior leadership positions within the church – I’m thinking here particularly of Archbishops John Sentamu and Justin Welby of the Church of England – are too intelligent not to know the history, purpose and inevitable future trajectory of the EU. Unlike the average man on the street, we need not extend to them the charitable assumption that they are simply ignorant on the matter – after all, our state church is about as deeply embedded in the British establishment as it is possible to be.

Therefore, when the likes of Justin Welby or John Sentamu argue that Britain should vote to remain in the EU in the coming referendum, they do so from a clear base of knowledge that this would mean our continued participation in a project whose ultimate direction has never wavered – the creation of a common European state. This means that they either want Britain to be part of this reckless European endeavour (though they are too dishonest to admit as much, perhaps believing it is their duty to mislead their congregations, who they consider too stupid to appreciate the necessity of political union), or they think that Britain can somehow flourish as a kind of “associate member” on the margins of an ever-tightening political union of the eurozone countries, in which our existing influence would be greatly diminished.

If it is the former, and the Archbishops are closet euro federalists who dare not declare their ultimate goal in public, then this is a truly reprehensible way for them to behave, advocating as they do a wishy-washy, hand-wringing argument for Remain based on economic fears rather than making their true political intentions clear. And if it is the latter, and they have convinced themselves that remaining on the margins of a steadily integrating European Union can do anything but marginalise us and diminish our presence on the world stage then their political judgement is bordering on the catastrophic – and only reinforces the case that the Church of England should be fully disestablished and severed from its anachronistic, unjustifiable constitutional role in the United Kingdom.

But here we have it – a muscular Christian case in support of the nation state, and implicitly against the European Union. Will we ever hear the equivalent pro-EU Christian case articulated so eloquently, or at such length? We have certainly seen nothing to date. In fact, the further up the church hierarchy the Christian EU apologists are found, the weaker and more insubstantial their arguments generally become.

I recently had an exchange on Twitter with Nick Baines, the Anglican Bishop of Leeds, in which I questioned his description of the Leave campaign as “insular” and asked when we might expect a substantive Christian case in favour of the EU:

Bishop Nick Baines - Sam Hooper - EU Referendum - Brexit - Christian case for EU

Bishop Baines promised just such an article, but none has yet been forthcoming. Indeed, a clear, unambiguous and unapologetic Christian case in favour of the European Union and a Remain vote in the EU referendum can scarcely be heard, despite the weight of establishment Christianity coming down on the side of remaining in the EU.

This is untenable. If the bishops are to retain any kind of temporal authority – at least in my eyes – it is not enough to make wishy-washy statements vaguely supportive of the Remain campaign without any intellectual or theological legwork to back them up. This reeks of confirmation bias – of bishops, comfortably ensconced in the establishment, making up their minds that the EU is a good thing in advance, and then cherry picking facts to support their existing viewpoint.

A common Christian complaint is that our religion is being increasingly forced from the public square in this new secular age. And it is partly true – freedom of speech and religious expression are sometimes outrageously curtailed in this country. But participation in the public square comes with a price: if one wants to be heard and taken seriously, one must say sensible things and be prepared to back them up with a solid argument.

At present, too many bishops of the church are willing to sell out the public square and everything else in this country to Brussels, and do so without offering a sound argument for remaining in the European Union based on our knowledge of the nature, purpose and direction of the EU. The bishops believe that a sprinkling of glib words about “togetherness” and “co-operation”, mixed with some hand-wringing concerns about the short term economic impact of Brexit taken straight from the Remain camp’s playbook, amount to a sufficient case. But they do not.

Ideally, the bishops should come down unanimously on the right side of this issue. But since that is not going to happen, they should at least participate in the debate with a shred of honour. And if they arrogantly proceed with their current approach, preaching the Remain argument on the flimsiest of pretexts, then they should not be surprised if they cause the gates to the public square to be permanently locked to Christians.

And what a dismal legacy that will be.

 

Postscript: More on the Christian case for Brexit hereherehere and here.

 

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Top Image: New Statesman

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Glenn Beck Analyses Reza Aslan

By now you have probably already watched the toe-curlingly, excruciatingly embarrassing car crash of an interview between Fox News host Lauren Green and her guest, the author and religious scholar Reza Aslan:

 

Every website, commenter and pundit has already said their piece, most to the tune of “what do you expect from Fox News, they are the unabashed mouthpiece of the religious, fundamentalist Christian right wing in America”. After awhile, watching and reading the variations-on-a-theme commentary became tiresome.

Until I discovered Glenn Beck’s alternative analysis on Reza Aslan and his book, “Zealot”:

 

Apparently, Aslan is a phony Muslim and a phony scholar. His true identity – of course – is that of a radical progressive. This is made clear by the fact that Beck sticks the logos of various liberal groups (and, of course, archvillain George Soros) tenuously associated with Aslan on his rotating blackboard:

Reza Aslan + Liberal Organisation Logos = Evil, apparently
Reza Aslan + Liberal Organisation Logos = Evil, apparently

Oh no! MediaMatters! The Center for American Progress! Beck has torn apart Reza Aslan’s shadowy liberal secret life in only nine minutes.

Because of course in Glenn Beck Land it is impossible to be a Muslim, a scholar and a liberal all at the same time. To acknowledge that fact would be to undermine his entire fear mongering, super profitable worldview.