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Christmas Meditation 2002: Christ, The "Other", And Counterfeit Citizens
Also see: War Against Christmas 2001
[See also: Christmas Meditation 2001: St Augustine and the National Question, by Chilton Williamson Jr.]
By J.P. Zmirak
[Previously on VDARE.COM by J. P. Zmirak: Good Fences and Free Markets]
Christmas marks the birth of a universal religion, which reaches across all racial and cultural boundaries, which transformed a noble tribal creed into a cosmopolitan Faith. Again and again, in inspired Scripture, Jesus commands compassion for the poor, mercy for sinners, and self-sacrifice on behalf of strangers—even enemies. He conditions eternal salvation upon one's kindliness towards the hungry, the naked, the sick—the "least of my brothers."
Perhaps His birthday is not the best time of year to discuss border control. One risks being cast as Ebenezer Scrooge, accused of consigning needy aliens to "prisons and workhouses" with a heartless chuckle.
In Europe, the argument's a little easier to make, as the influx of highly fertile Moslems threatens to fill the emptying cradle of Western Civilization. Dissipated Dutchmen and Italian cardinals alike can see the danger to Europe's identity and liberty. As John Vinson has documented, in Immigration And Nation: A Biblical View, the Old Testament is replete with commands to the Israelites to preserve their land and faith from invasion or corruption by alien peoples and creeds. (Exodus does command us to "not to vex the stranger" (22:21). But if you look three lines up, it also says, "You shall not suffer a witch to live" (22:18). Churchmen have lit a number of fires over the centuries by applying such statements literally.)
As a Catholic in America, I know the chances are good that many of the immigrants we turn away each year are my co-religionists—that is, members of my immediate sacramental family. Most of the priests I see under the age of 60 are immigrants—as are many of the good people I meet each week at church. As Philip Jenkins has argued in The Next Christendom, the near future of Christianity is undoubtedly in the Southern Hemisphere—where the churches continue to grow in numbers and popularity, despite the effects of technology and globalization and the moral poison that leaks into them from a post-Christian West. (I've argued in The Atlantic Monthly that Western attempts to impose on the developing world population control and the sexual revolution—the two are inseparable—actually foster social disruption, family breakdown, and outward migration to the U.S.)
Clergy and bishops—not just the golf-playing, mitred veal calves who reign through much of the U.S., but solid, serious, Mexican bishops—speak up for virtually open borders. They treat as an "epistle of straw" the venerable, official Church teaching that a nation has the right, and hence the duty, to control its borders. Instead, they favor of a sentimental "embrace of the Other."
It's a sentiment I understand, because I've shared it. I'm a cradle Catholic, but a convert on the National Question.
Even so wise and good a man as John Paul II (opining fallibly, as Popes can do) has compared openness to newcomers to openness to life— bizarrely conflating immigration restrictionism with abortion. I prefer to believe that speech was written by an American employee of the U.S.C.C.—which is ever eager to establish to anyone who's still interested that the bishops are not conservatives. (Have you got that? Write it for homework, a hundred times, then bring it up and show it to Sister.)
Of course, the American clergy do oppose abortion, contraception, pornography,, gay advocacy, and most elements of American pop culture—but for heaven's sake don't call the bishops conservatives. Someone might confuse them with the Southern Baptists—when, in fact, they want to be mistaken for Episcopalians.
On any issue that's not prescribed for them by recent papal statements, the bishops lean as far to the left as possible, as if to counterbalance the immoveable moral traditionalism to which the Church is irreversibly committed. Which simply gives cover to squalid post-Catholic degenerates like Ted Kennedy, by allowing them to pretend that they are better advocates of Church social teaching than conservatives.)
So I ask myself: "Do I really want to emulate those innkeepers who told the pregnant Virgin they had no room, and sent her to birth in a stable? Maybe I ought to shut up at this time of year, and wait for the warm Christmas sentiments to fade, to spread my crabbed gospel of prudence in sunless February…."
That's exactly what I'd do, if open borders really were the most Christian policy, if I were trying to "get away" with something by falsifying the Gospel for narrow political purposes—if I were, let's say, Frances Kissling, the abortion peddler who masquerades as a Catholic on Planned Parenthood's dime. (To be sure, that organization is utterly shameless—witness its grotesque "Choice on Earth" cards for Christmas. What's next—eugenics for Kwanzaa?)
But, in fact, a prudent control of this and any nation's borders, and a just enforcement of its citizenship laws, is implied in the duty of citizens to work for the common good. It is actually commanded in the Gospel—by Jesus Himself.
First, the Bethlehem story. In St. Luke's beloved account, what's really happening? For one thing, St. Joseph and the Virgin are not immigrants; in fact, they are each of royal Jewish birth, more akin to Romanovs hiding in Bolshevik Russia than Afghans sheltering in Iowa.
They are called to Bethlehem by a faraway imperial government that has trampled the liberties of their homeland, to answer a census—something the Jews abhorred as a mark of hubris and tyranny, which Yahweh had punished the Kingdom of Israel for presuming to conduct.
Did the Holy Family refuse to follow this (arguably quite unjust) law? No, they obeyed it, without recorded complaint. Score one for respecting the law.
If, as Catholics believe, Mary never sinned, then it was certainly no sin to cooperate with an imperial authority as it maintained control over its subjects—much less with a republic enforcing its laws.
It's true that not long after His birth, St. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus had to flee Bethlehem to avoid murder at the hands of the deranged local satrap, King Herod—a foreigner placed over the Jews by their Roman masters.
Where did they go? To the next safe country, Egypt. Economic opportunities for carpenters were certainly better elsewhere—for instance, in Rome, a short trip across the sea. But the Holy Family did not abuse their status as legitimate refugees. They returned to their impoverished home village as soon as it was safe.
That's precisely the refugee policy proposed by reformers across the West—safe refuge, followed by safe repatriation—for which they are soundly thrashed as hatemongers and xenophobes.
The Gospels don't make much of Jesus' "hidden life," so let's move straight to His public ministry. What's the most famous, most powerful parable told by Christ to His disciples? I'd argue it's the tale of the Good Samaritan. (A close second would be the tale of the Prodigal Son, which recounts a son sinfully abandoning his homeland for better material advantages in an alien country—then repenting and returning home. Score one more for growing where you're planted….)
Here lies the heart of the Christian ethic: Who is my neighbor, and how should I treat him? To rankle the Pharisees and make His point more strongly, Jesus chooses a foreign heretic, a Samaritan, as the hero of his tale. Let's take this seriously, and imagine an illegal Moslem immigrant in his place. This pious Shiite, living covertly in (let's say) Brooklyn, finds an American lying wounded on the street after a mugging. A priest and a Levite (= a bishop and a monk) have already walked past, leaving the man for dead. The foreigner takes the man to an inn, pays his medical expenses, and cares for him until he has recovered—serving as a model of human compassion that mirrors divine love for men.
A beautiful, moving, shocking story, whose impact I wouldn't wish to dilute. Let's appreciate for a moment what it tells us about common human nature, the equal dignity of every human being who sprang from the hand of God, and the universal moral law that binds us all. The meaning of Christmas lies here.
And then let's move on to note what does not happen in this story. The hero of the tale is not a prosperous Israelite who smuggles Samaritans into Israel. He does not lobby the Romans to allow Parthians, Sarmatians, and Goths to resettle Judea, so he can hire them for less than native citizens are willing to accept, or in order to organize them as a political constituency, to overturn local customs and laws. He does not take the crime victim in and nurse him back to health in order put him to work at an illegal wage. Nor does he ship the man back to Samaria and force the Samaritans to take care of the man at their expense. In other words, the Good Samaritan's actions have nothing whatsoever in common with open-borders advocates of the Left or the Right. His charity towards the needy Israelite is not politically motivated, and does not violate any divine or human law.
The final Gospel narrative I'd like to address is the most directly pertinent: when Jesus is asked by Pharisees attempting to trip Him up whether they ought to pay Roman taxes. Should they contribute to support of a distant, alien, pagan government—whose legitimacy was quite arguably dubious. Does Jesus tell them to cheat on their taxes, to undermine this occupying power? Does He advocate tax resistance, or any other form of disobedience, civil or otherwise?
Well - no. In fact, He tells the Pharisees to "Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's, and unto God what is God's." This famous passage is the starting point for every Christian reflection on the state. The key question, which such greats as Augustine and Aquinas, Bellarmine and de Maistre, Orestes Brownson and John Courtenay Murray have struggled to resolve, remains "What is Caesar's?"
From Jesus' own lips, we know that this includes at least the right to issue currency and collect taxes. What other rights must a rational observer admit belong to the state? It is inarguable that these include controlling the borders and regulating the movement of persons into the country. When Caesar ceased to exercise this right, and masses of barbarian peoples entered the Empire's borders too quickly to be assimilated, something happened to the Roman Empire: It collapsed.
I'd like to press this analogy a little further, to help show the genuine evil entailed in violating (or politically undermining) the just exercise of immigration law. It's hard for many Christians—it once was for me—to see the sin in letting "just one more" person into the country, in granting amnesty to just one more wave of existing illegal migrants. The human dignity of the Other—which emphatically does include the immigrant—can blind us to this reality. We need to use a metaphor to make the matter clear.
I suggest we consider that enabling illegal immigration amounts to counterfeiting citizenship, and is every bit as evil as counterfeiting currency.
Why is counterfeiting immoral? Let's say I have a printing press in my basement. I can churn out perfect copies of U.S. currency. But I do not use this for my own benefit. I distribute the forgeries to the poor.
Who does that harm? Assuming that the bills are indistinguishable from real currency, then the merchants who sell these poor folk food and clothes will not be damaged—nor will anyone who accepts the bills subsequently, at least not directly. I might even tithe ten percent of my print-run to the Church. So what's wrong with my printing the bills? Should the Catholic Worker and the Catholic bishops get in on my project? We could wipe out the Third World debt in a matter of weeks. (See the uproarious Alan Arkin/Peter Falk comedy "The In-Laws" for a depiction of just such a plan.)
I think even the religious Left would agree that I was not rendering unto Caesar what is his. By seizing control of the currency from the government, and cheapening the value of every dollar legitimately earned and traded, I would be damaging the common good.
Likewise, when we foster illegal immigration, and legitimize it later through inevitable amnesties, we are cheapening irreparably the value of citizenship—a privilege for which thousands of people have worked and waited patiently, something which men in the past have enlisted in the U.S military and risked their lives to earn. (That was how the first Zmirak, my grandfather Patric, earned U.S citizenship during World War I.)
U.S. citizenship, or even residency, is not a basic human right. It is a limited good, a precious and scarce commodity—like currency, except in time of mass inflation. Good capitalists used to understand the importance of a sound currency—which makes it all the more puzzling that the people at The Wall Street Journal don't understand how irresponsibly they are behaving when they promote open borders.
They would solve the illegal immigration question by licensing everyone on earth to print U.S. citizenship papers. Are they really so blinded by ideology that they can't see what this would mean? It's like turning the Federal Reserve over to the General Assembly of the United Nations, so that other countries could inflate the dollar out of existence.
Mr. Taranto, Mr. Bartley, think: Weimar. Imagine wheelbarrows full of U.S. passports. That is the logical outcome of your blandly upbeat proposed constitutional amendment: "There shall be open borders."
It is not Christian to degrade the citizenship and undercut the wages of the native poor, of working class people whose ancestors paid U.S. taxes and fought in American wars—many of whom toiled as slaves for centuries, only to receive citizenship after a Civil War, and its full rights after grinding struggle for civil rights.
It is not Christian to encourage the social upheaval and political chaos that attend multicultural states.
It is not Christian to attack the common good by allowing the peaceful colonization of one's homeland.
Imagine if you can Jesus Christ, redeemer of man, winking at the Pharisees, and explaining to them how to produce fake gold coins with Caesar's image.
That is the face of the open-borders Christian.
Merry Christmas - 2002!
Dr. Zmirak is author of Wilhelm Röpke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist. He writes frequently on economics, politics, popular culture and theology.
December 23, 2002